Star Dreck

Hey everybody, I've been watching Star Trek!

Yes, I realise this may not seem notable in itself. Seeing as I can, with current TV schedules, watch Deep Space Nine with breakfast, a Voyager double bill with lunch - or switch to The Next Generation on a different channel - and even catch up with the original series before bed.

Enterprise is on too, but I do have some standards.

No, this is Star Trek: Phase II, also known as the New Voyages. It's a fan made series on the web - meticulously, accurately and lovingly recreating the sets, uniforms and special effects of the original series. Yes, and the characters too.

William Shatner's brand of camp overacting is recreated by James Cawley with a Fonz hairstyle - or at least, the overacting's there. James Doohan's American-Irish version of a Scottish accent gets reincarnated as something that migrates between Glasgow and Texas by way of Mars. Uhura's black and has nothing to do, which is certainly faithful to the original.

And best of all, lots of actors from the original series get to recreate their original roles - hence the plots about age viruses and time travel. Some original writers are on board too.

The result of all this goodness is...crap. Not crap in a harmless fun way, not crap in a way you can watch ironically, not so-bad-it's-good. Just a bit crap. So why? What's gone wrong?

In a word, politics. If you're going to shoehorn politics into your plot, make it implicit with no preaching, and try to have a basic grasp of the issues.

If the only politics you've got are idiot politics, leave them out, and you can still be a good writer. Just look at Orson Scott Card. Or Robert bloody Heinlein.

These shows were made at the height of Bush's War on Terror, and the insipid sugar-coated imperialism infects the script, together with the xenophobic paranoia. You know the kind of thing - the white man's burden, civilising the natives, spreading christianity, sneaky foreigners, the enemy within, your neighbour could be a communist spy homegrown terrorist.

In an early scene, Kirk explains to Spock how the hymn Amazing Grace is about the ideals of the federation - "extending compassion to those in need, saving the lost, helping those who can't help themselves and asking nothing in return".

Religious framing, paternalism, crusading theme, claiming noble motives - sound familiar?

Later we get a stream of silly foreigners aliens too prideful and blind to do the sensible thing - which is always what's convenient for the federation. We also get ominous warnings of enemies inside the federation - disloyal and subversive groups.

The original series had something of the same undertones. Gene Roddenberry may have been big on civil rights and a kind of internationalism - hence the multiracial and multinational crew - but in his universe every planet apart from Earth had strayed from the one true path, and needed to be set right. Usually with fists and guns phasers.

Oh, and he was a foaming homophobe, which caused problems in the production of The Next Generation.

But...this is much worse. Which is a great shame, because it turns what should have been an innocent and fun slice of nostalgic entertainment made with affection and care...into something painful and embarrassing.

1 comment:

  1. Ya know, sometimes, I watch those fanvids just for the laughs. But it does suck when they become political propaganda.

    Speaking of Star Trek, I have to admit that I rather enjoyed Star Trek Enterprise. But my fave has to be DS9, because it was so dark and the characters and plots were complex, and I like how they explored the dark side of the Federation. And it was the writers on this show that made me want to watch Battlestar Galactica, and I was blown away that they finally got to explore those dark themes and human (and inhumane) nature that was hinted at in DS9 and the PG rated Star Trek Universe.