50 Years of Star Trek
Let me make this clear from the start; I wasn’t alive when the first episode of Star Trek was broadcast on the BBC. The last episode (discounting the ‘banned’ episodes – in the 70s the BBC was not as ‘enlightened’ as it is now… maybe) was aired 7 months before I was born. Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the show, the franchise, which marks its 50th Anniversary this year.
In just 47 years’ time, the first warp flight will be carried out by Zephram Cochrane under the watchful and teary eyed gaze of the crew of the USS Enterprise-E and, just by chance, a Vulcan Starship will spot the warp signature and our world will be changed forever.
Stop for a moment and think about that, 47 years’ time… that’s less time than the franchise has been going. And, there is a slim chance I’ll be alive in 2063 to see it. Though, if the Eugenics war really happens then all bets are off. Think about it, 47 years and we could be in space, travelling the stars, meeting new races, visiting new worlds, experiencing new civilisations, leaving our small blue dot behind and taking our place amongst the cosmos.
How can you not be excited by that dream?
And we can add more to that. We will put behind us the petty greed, religious schisms, political upheaval, racism, sexism and all the other –isms that define our world today. By time Enterprise (NX-01), the series before The Original Series (it gets confusing, not quite as much as the Star Wars movie chronology… well, not until they added the two new films which reset the continuity (for reasons I still can’t quite fathom (and now I have to work my out of all these parenthesis (somehow)))), launches all of those were gone and we humans had become an enlightened race.
And how can you not wish for that to become the truth?
Through every series; The Original, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, the underlying premise of universe never changes – humans seeking to be the best they can, to break the constraints of evolution, to grow and to learn.
Every series is of its time, tackling issues of the day in ways that only science fiction really can. The first interracial kiss is obviously one of the most famous, but there are many others, and I am sure that there are folks out there who will quote more than I can here.
‘Let That Be Your Last Battlefield’ from the Original Series tackles racism head on, in perhaps a heavy handed way, but makes clear the inherent stupidity and self-destructive nature of such prejudice.
‘Loud as a Whisper’ stars a deaf negotiator who loses his ability to speak to the warring factions and must overcome this to bring peace to a world.
The Next Generation explored what being human meant, and would artificial life be a possibility both in a ‘hero’, Data, and the greatest enemy, the Borg.
Voyager had a female captain, Janeway, who was tough, intelligent, compassionate and thoughtful.
Deep Space 9, set on a space station, had a black captain who had suffered an unimaginable loss and yet, though suffering in his grief maintains the ethics and morals of Starfleet.
And then there are all the aliens. All of the series contain senior crew that are not human. The Next Generation include old enemies that have joined Starfleet. Episodes deal with the need for reunification and forgiveness, and there is death too. Not just the eponymous ‘redshirts’ that seem present merely to provide someone to be killed, but other characters too. Main characters, their children, siblings and loved ones die in various episodes throughout the series. Space isn’t safe. Exploration is not easy. Life is a risk.
Speaking to a colleague who has never watched an episode of Star Trek or Star Wars, it was simple to describe the different between the two: Star Wars is an adventure, Star Trek is a blueprint of who we could be.
Is it so much of a surprise, that less than a month before the last episode aired in 1971 (on the BBC) that John Lennon’s “Imagine” hit the number one spot on the UK charts?
You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us,
And the world will be as one.
Lennon described “Imagine” as “Anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugar-coated it is accepted … Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey.” And isn’t that kind of like Star Trek, though that is not anti- any of those things… it is just that the human race has finally, thankfully, passed beyond the need to define people and existence by them.