Someone added me recently to a Star Trek group in Facebook. It made me realize how much of a Trekkie I am. A Trekkie for much of my life, actually. I dug up this rather long piece I wrote about Star Trek in 2004, expressing my anguish at the cancellation of ENTERPRISE after only 4 seasons. I’m glad it’s still online somewhere, and I’m reposting this here. Remember, I wrote this almost 10 years ago, and I was feeling a little more verbose than usual. If you’re part of the TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) crowd, well, there’s nothing for you here. Go read some tweets or something.
I write and draw comics for a living, and I have to say that it’s a pretty nice job to have. Me and my wife live comfortably in our own spartan way. I get to pay the bills, I get to help out my parents once in a while, and we get to splurge at Pizza Hut once every few months. I’m also an architect and I’m active in our local architect’s organization which brings me all over the Philippines a couple of times every year.
The only reason I’m saying this here is to say that yes, I have a LIFE.
And in my life I allow myself the occasional interest, which may or may not be absolutely necessary for my continued physical existence. Everybody has their own interests they follow, sometimes even obsess over. These are interests that make their life somewhat more fun to live. And in some cases, these interests give their lives meaning.
One of my bigger interests is Star Trek.
I remember being very young, perhaps 7 or 8 back in the mid 70′s, watching an episode of Star Trek in black and white. I remember seeing Captain Kirk chasing a comet. It was probably the most thrilling thing I saw on TV back then. My dad made me go to bed although it was only 8 pm. I felt so frustrated. My first exposure to Star Trek was so brief and yet it was a flash so bright that would last my entire life.
I eventually found Star Trek Fotonovels (comic book adaptations using pictures from the actual episodes), books, magazines and even got to watch a bunch of episodes (in color this time) and motion pictures many years later. I devoured and enjoyed anything that had anything to do with Star Trek that I could find.
I did not think about why I liked the show so much back then. I just knew that I loved it, but it was only after college did I realize just how much it meant and how much of an impact on my life it was having.
I had graduated from architecture and I was working as a construction supervisor where I dealt with my boss Archt. Edgar Lee, painters, carpenters, masons, and building officials. There was no foreman, so I had to fill in that role as well. It was a job that frequently required me to make leadership decisions on the spot. And boy, there were times when situations become so difficult that it really tore me up trying to deal with them. And in those times, I would either read the Bible, where the answer to my problem would usually be on the first page I randomly opened, or I’d think of Captain Kirk, and wonder what he would do in my place.
Captain Kirk’s decisions on the problems he encountered in the stories helped me find solutions to my own problems, and I got through the day okay.
A POSITIVE FUTURE
I began to think about why Star Trek had such a significant part of my life. It was a science fiction show, very much like Star Wars was, like Battlestar Galactica was, like Logan’s Run was… how was Star Trek so different? Mind you, I liked those other movies and TV shows as well, but Star Trek sort of struck much more of a chord within me.
Perhaps it is because Star Trek presents an Earth where there is no racism, no poverty and starvation, no terrorism, an Earth filled with humans united without borders, devoting their time to the pursuit of knowledge, reaching out a hand of friendship towards the rest of the universe. Unrealisitc, perhaps, but it’s a great dream to have, and perhaps that’s just what Star Trek really is. It is a dream of a positive future that we today can strive and work towards. It is Star Trek creator’s Gene Roddenberry’s dream and it has become my dream as well.
When I hear comments that Star Trek needs more “angst”, more dirt and grime, more conflict, and less sterility, sleekness and diplomacy, I feel they miss the point of Star Trek altogether. Star Trek was meant to show man at his best, after centuries of bettering himself. Star Trek is meant to show how man has evolved from his barbaric and unenlightened past. Storytellers complain that it’s difficult to find drama and good stories where people are as near perfect and as civilized as they can be, and it’s an “unrealistic” kind of reality, the fact that it’s science fiction aside.
I disagree. It only shows a lack of imagination on their part to tell good, effective stories in this kind of reality. Dreams, for the most part, are “unrealistic”, but there is nothing wrong with hoping for such a thing, specially when you know it can lead to nothing but good.
THE NEXT GENERATION
When news came of a new Star Trek featuring a new crew in a different century, I was skeptical. I could not see a “Star Trek” that did not have Captain Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy in it. In fact, I really believed it would not be real Star Trek without them.
But I did check out the comic books and I found them to be interesting. I eventually saw episodes of the first season and a few episodes into it, I was hooked. I’ve come to accept Capt. Picard, Commander Riker, the android Data and the rest of the crew. I not only accepted them, but I enjoyed their stories as much as I did Kirk’s Star Trek stories. This Star Trek had more advanced technology, different characters, different settings, different aliens, but I soon realized it was still Star Trek at heart.
I soon began to look to Capt. Picard as well in the decisions I made in my real life. While Capt. Kirk had his heart on his sleeve, this new Captain rarely let his emotions drive him. His brain and his unrelenting adherence to what is right informed his decisions. And thus I had help from both the heart and the brain, in a much more balanced mix of guidance whenever I needed.
Data was a particular favorite character. Strangely enough, it was him I related to the most even though he was an android. He was such a fascinating character. He had extreme strength, intelligence, and immortality, and yet he would exchange all of it just to be human.
More Star Treks followed. Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and more motion pictures. I was more open this time to new kinds of Star Trek and it was with an open mind did I start watching Deep Space Nine. I didn’t like it at first, but it sort of grew on me, specially during the final season when this series was at it’s finest. I never did get much into Voyager, although I did like a few episodes here and there.
Star Trek is by no means a perfect universe. I quite often rant in front of the TV when a particular situation in the show comes up that I find ridiculous. For instance, why send people down right away into an unexplored planet? How about sending a probe first? That could certainly have saved the lives of a LOT of red shirts. In Star Trek parlance, “red shirts” are those nameless characters played by extras that die through the course of the episode and are quickly forgotten. More often than not, they wear red shirts.
Picard’s Enterprise had families in them because as a Galaxy-class starship, it would be far from home for many years. In their case, 20 years as they explore the far reaches of the galaxy. So why don’t they go much into the far reaches of the galaxy? More often than not we see them flitting from one Federation planet to the other settling disputes, delivering supplies, shuttling delegates, and when they do find themselves in uncharted territory it was most likely not of their own free will. It’s either the Q sent them there, or they had an accident with an engine, or maybe they stumbled upon on a wormhole or two unknowingly. And when they do find themselves there, all they want to do is go back home.
These are valid arguments I think, which a fellow Trekkie would no doubt have answers for. And yet I still watch the show, because there are still universes within it for me to like, appreciate and enjoy.
WHERE NO HUMAN HAS GONE BEFORE
And then there was Star Trek: Enterprise. It’s a series set 100 years before the time of Captain Kirk, and 100 years after Zefram Cochrane discovered warp technology. It a series that would tell the story of how the Star Trek of Kirk and Picard came to be. It is the first star ship named Enterprise with a captain named Jonathan Archer. In Picard’s time it’s already a granted fact that man has evolved to point that much of his prejudices, superstitions and ignorance are no longer there. It would be a great idea to explore the journey man takes to reach that kind of height, to see his struggles, his difficulties and the sacrifices he has to make to get where he is.
A lot of the things said about this series comes from the fans’ wishes to see Star Trek move forward, instead of backward. Where is the thrill in telling the story when we know how it ends?
Well, if we only thought like that, then there would be no documentaries. There would be no period movies. There would be no Titanic, no Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List. There would be no Diary of Anne Frank, Ten Commandments, or Ben Hur. No Das Boot, The Right Stuff, or Gladiator. No Seven Samurai, Ikiru or Shogun. There would be no Roots, no Empire of the Sun, and no Bridge on the River Kwai. All great movies, some based on real events. We know the Titanic sank, and yet it still made for a compelling three hours on film.
The investigation of the past is a worthwhile thing. We know less than we realize and what we don’t know can still astound and thrill us. The past of Star Trek is still a frontier for fans who wants to know the journey mankind took to create a universe that Kirk and Picard can enjoy the kind of existence they have.
I want to know who the first captain and crew of the Enterprise was and how they felt going into deep space for the very first time. I want to know how they communicated with aliens they’ve never met before. I want to know what the people of Earth thought of aliens and how they overcame their fear of them. I want to share in the kind of pioneering adventure they would surely have going where no human has gone before.
The first thing I noticed of course, was the opening theme. I was surprised that they did not use a classical theme like the previous Star Treks, but rather a song… with someone actually singing it! It was something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with at first, but my attention was soon grabbed by the extraordinary graphics. There is something poignant and inspiring at seeing the evolution of man’s pursuit of the unknown, bravely striving forward, ever forward. As for the song, listen the lyrics, will you? As I saw more episodes, I realized the song captured the spirit of the show perfectly, and now, every time I see this opening theme, seeing Chuck Yeager walking triumphantly from another supersonic flight, Alan Shepard nodding and astronauts bravely walking towards the unknown, I never fail to get all choked up. Never in all of my nearly four decades of watching television have I been so moved by an opening theme as this one.
The first two seasons of Enterprise gave me exactly what I had wanted and more. It was with delight and amusement did I react to the Enterprise crew’s struggles with things that Picard and Kirk’s Star Trek took for granted. Things like the crew’s astonishment and excitement at reaching Warp 5, their reluctance to use the transporter (which resulted in a few interesting storytelling twists), launching torpedoes that were actual solid torpedoes (like what you see in submarines) rather than energy balls, and grappling hooks with cables in place of tractor beams. I thought it was fantastic and fascinating!
To anyone who feels that Enterprise is more advanced and modern than Kirk’s Enterprise should look past the surface and look more closely. This is Enterperpise that is more cluttered, more claustrophobic, more mechanical. They still cook with pots and pans, they still use water to bathe in, and they still more or less wear recognizably contemporary clothing when off duty.
ALIENS SPEAK ENGLISH!
In Kirk’s time, nearly every Alien spoke English. That’s probably because the universal translator was in perfect working order. But what about the time when they still didn’t have much of a computerized translator to speak of?
Captain Archer and crew’s first encounters with aliens were met with difficulty because they couldn’t understand what the aliens were saying. It is to Captain Archer’s credit that he got a genius linguist named Hoshi Sato to be his communications officer. Hoshi is not an astronaut, nor has she intended on going to space at all. In fact, she actually hates to be in space and she jumps every time the ship shudders unexpectedly. But Captain Archer knew her talents would help in their adventures ahead.
It’s fascinating to see how Hoshi slowly digests the language as she listens to the aliens speak and in just a few minutes she can manage to carry on a workable dialogue between them. THIS is how a communications officer is supposed to be. It is not someone whose only dialogue is “Hailing Frequencies open, sir!” This is an actual communications officer who truly communicated and saved the ship more than few times because of it.
THE PRIME DIRECTIVE
The Prime Directive is one of the most important laws in the Federation which states that no person who is a member of the Federation will in any way influence, through their presence or technology, the natural evolution and way of life of another planet.
But of course, in the time of Archer, the Federation hasn’t even been formed. Archer, in his innocence and excitement at space exploration, has had to learn the value of such a directive the hard way.
I react with a little unease at Archer’s willingness to blunder into situations that a much learned Vulcan (T’Pol, his first officer) have advised caution against. His eagerness to get out there and explore and possibly make friends sometimes blinds him to the possible dangers that not only that his crew will face but the new life forms they will get in contact with.
A lot of fans interpret this as arrogance and insensitivity. But one has to take into consideration that this is a journey that Archer, or any such early explorer, has to take and discover for his own. Us fans have already been at the end of that journey with Kirk and Picard, but for Archer, wide eyed and innocent to the ways of the universe, all these things are yet to come.
And learn his lessons he does. One can see much evolution in the character of Archer from the eager and innocent explorer of the first season to the weathered, angry and somewhat cynical Archer at the beginning of the 4th season. A loyal fan is there to see this evolution happen, and yet one is still startled at how much Archer has changed in 4th season’s “Home” where he gets a chance to spend some time with another captain, who is set to leave on her own starship soon. Still wide eyed and excited, Captain Erika Hernandez is pretty much who Archer was before he left earth many years before.
On a related note, fans have objected to the idea of a female captain during this era, based on the remarks of Dr. Janice Lester where she says, “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women.” in the last episode of the Original Series. Fans, are you so ready to believe the word of a seriously mentally disturbed woman who lies consistently throughout the episode and tried many times to kill Capt. Kirk? Isn’t it more plausible that it is more consistent with Gene Roddenberry’s universe of equality that women captains will not really be extraordinary but rather commonplace?
A lot of the objections of the fans against Enterprise stem from “seeming” inconsistencies like this (which can easily be explained anyway this being science fiction after all).
THE LITTLE MOMENTS
All of the main characters left a very lasting impression on me. My favorite character has to be Trip Tucker, the ship’s engineer. He has a casual, easygoing manner that I most identify with. In fact, all of the characters, except for maybe T’Pol the Vulcan, have a casual, easygoing and comfortable manner about them that I find very appealing. This is a crew that seems more closer to my life than any of the Star Trek casts that came before. It is perhaps they are more closer to my time that the actors are allowed to be more contemporary in their manner of acting.
But I think I can attribute that to their talent as actors as well. Unlike previous casts, there is NOT a bad actor in this group. Although I believe The Next Generation had the best actor in all of the Star Treks in the person of Patrick Stewart who played Captain Picard, Star Trek: Enterprise is probably the best acting ensemble in all of Star Trek. Every single one of them, including the recurring characters and extras act extremely well.
And it is to the shows’ writers’ credit that they wrote a preponderance of character driven episodes that showcased that talent. It is these episodes that have been called “boring” by action starved fans, and yet it is these same episodes that resonate the most with me. I got to know these characters more than I did any of the previous characters in other shows. The writers pepper the episodes with seemingly unimportant details and yet as a whole they paint a picture of a crew that are probably the most human of them all.
“Shuttlepod One” is an episode set mostly inside a shuttlepod in space, where the two occupants, Trip Tucker and Armory Officer Malcolm Reed believe that the Enterprise had exploded and they need to find a way to survive. Trip does all he can to try and find a way to solve their problem, while Malcolm spends his time writing farewell letters to his family and loved ones, believing that they are doomed to die. Then they get rescued in the end. Nothing much by way of story happened, and yet it is one of the most entertaining Star Trek shows I’ve ever watched. Every bit of characterization spewed out by a despondent Malcolm and a cranky and frustrated Trip I enjoyed tremendously and I came away forever loving these characters by the end.
“Breaking the Ice” showcased two wonderful moments for me. One is where Archer and crew answer questions from school children, like how astronauts would in our own time, to be transmitted back to earth. Questions range from “What do you eat?” to “When you flush your toilet, where does it go?” It’s truly a nice moment, and something that’s wholly logical too, and it’s great that the writers had the sensitivity to include something like this in the show.
In the same episode, Malcolm and Helmsman Travis Mayweather land on a frozen comet and they proceed to make a Vulcan snowman and have a laugh about it. It’s a simple scene, and yet it’s a refreshing kind of way to develop their characters and make them more appealing.
A Vulcan captain tells Archer in this episode, “You’re easily impressed.” Which may well be applicable to me. But not really. I’m actually quite picky about what I chose to watch and I’m far less impressed with what’s on TV today than I was before. I guess I’m just more sensitive to what Enterprise is trying to accomplish, and I try not to fuss about inconsequential details.
“Silent Enemy” tells the story of just how unprepared the Enterprise was in dealing with hostile forces. Archer struggles with the decision of going home to get more weapons or stay and deal with this enemy on their own. It’s a terrific story on its own, but what made the show special was the running subplot of the entire crew trying to find out what Malcolm’s favorite food was so they could prepare an appropriate gift for him on his birthday. It’s a poignant moment when Malcolm receives his gift and wonders in amazement how they found out what he really wanted.
The first two seasons are peppered with great low key moments like these which for me brought the show much closer to my heart than any of the other Star Trek shows. I would prefer their characters to be developed under these conditions rather than a running gunfight with a renegade Tholian warship. Although I do admit that a running gunfight with a Tholian warship would be nice once in a while.
THOSE LYING VULCANS!
A lot of fans complain that there are just too many inconsistencies that ruin the show for them. And apparently, one of the major inconsistencies would be that of the Vulcans. Vulcans of Enterprise are condescending, conniving, lying bastards, and not at all like the Vulcans of Kirk’s time who are known for their truthfulness, intelligence and spirituality, embracing the edict of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
Any casual Star Trek fan knows that Vulcans don’t lie. I know it, and any Star Trek fan who reads this article know it. It’s practically a household fact, very much like how everybody knows Kirk’s ship is also called Enterprise.
Does anyone seriously think that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, who have worked on Star Trek for so many years would not know this fact? Of course they do! To think otherwise would be ridiculous.
So why are the Vulcans of Enterprise such despicable liars? There’s an easy answer to this question. The writers are telling us a STORY. It is a running subplot which begins in “Broken Bow” and culminates with “The Forge”, “Awakening”, and “Kir’Shara” of the 4th season. This is not “damage control” as some fans seem to think it is, but a story takes 4 seasons to tell. It’s a pretty major inconsistency that deserves to be explained as long as it needs to be. And it’s a pretty satisfying conclusion that ties up every Vulcan inconsistency there ever was on Enterprise.
Another fan who followed the show loyally for many years dropped the show because the warp nacelles on the ship were wrong. I think it’s a pretty shallow reason to stop watching a show, and it does a disservice to the quality of the story telling, character development, production values and every major element that makes a show compelling.
There are admittedly a lot of other inconsistencies but upon further investigation they are all easily explained. I find the reasons of the producers and writers to be credible and it really falls down to the fan if he will believe them or not. It’s disappointing that a lot of fans reject perfectly good explanations, preferring to fixate on these little details, quibble and fret over them, depriving themselves the opportunity to enjoy perfectly good, well made and well written shows.
SWALLOWED BY THE DARK SIDE
I feared for the fate of the show and by the 2nd season it was apparent that the show wasn’t getting as much support as it deserved. The third season was perhaps a misguided attempt to win back the attention of fans who stopped watching the show by upping the action, throwing in more destruction, more phasers and torpedoes, millions of deaths and cranking up the angst. The last episode of Season 2 and the whole of Season 3 were very dark. The producers thought that perhaps this is what the fans wanted and it turns out it wasn’t. This is perhaps their only real fatal mistake. To devote an entire season to tell one story, cliffhanger after cliffhanger, was an interesting idea, and it did get exciting plenty of times, but I missed the little moments that made the show special to me. Character development was subverted by large explosions and flashing phasers.
I blame the fans and the producers for Season 3. I blame the fans for failing to see the kind of show that the producers wanted to make and the kind of stories they wanted to tell in Season 1 and 2. I blame the producers for mistakenly believing blood, mind numbing action and loud explosions for an entire year were what the fans wanted.
By the time Season 4 rolled in and really good episodes started to appear, then it was far too late.
Seeing “Terra Prime” and “These are The Voyages…” back to back was very emotional for me. I dreaded for weeks the time when I’d finally see the end of Enterprise. I had been watching Season 1 again via the DVD set, and I knew it truly was something remarkable. I felt really sad and I thought it such a shame that something like this could not continue.
I held my breath and finally the last 2 hours of the show rolled slowly in front of me.
For the first time in all my life watching a television show I cried. I felt my heart breaking when the ships of Captain Picard, Captain Kirk and Captain Archer flew across my screen and disappeared into the depths of space. I despaired not only because one of my most favorite characters died, but because like Trip, the life of a perfectly good series was cut way before its time. I felt like a significant part of my life was ending, that a connection I’m realizing had much substance in the workings of my everyday life is being severed. It was very devastating. It still is, as it’s only been less than a week since the show ended.
It’s very disappointing that not enough of us appreciated the show as much as we did to save Enterprise. It’s very disappointing a lot of people, including the executives who held the fate of the show in their hands, failed to realize just what they had. Star Trek is more than just a show on television. It has given a lot of people “a life”, something that critics contend that die hard fans of this show doesn’t have. I can hear those people muttering the same thing now as they read this, although I doubt they’d have read this far.
OUR FINAL FRONTIER
Star Trek has inspired people to become astronauts, engineers, doctors, inventors, scientists, astronomers, and explorers. Prominent people worldwide have counted Star Trek as inspirations in their own lives, even though their careers have taken them in directions that may or may not have anything to do with Star Trek. Dignitaries have visited the Star Trek set… people like former US President Ronald Reagan and famous physicist Stephen Hawking, who even appeared as himself on the show. Real astronauts came on as extras in the final episode of Enterprise, as a tribute to the show that inspired them to be pursue the exploration of space as their careers. If one looks at NASA’s official site right now you would see Scott Bakula (as Captain Archer) hosting Nasa’s Return to Flight in several videos.
The first Space Shuttle was named “Enterprise” and the launch was graced by the presence of many Star Trek actors.
Technologies that were speculated on the show are slowly becoming reality. Communicators as they appeared in Picard’s Enterprise are now being used in hospitals as a quick and efficient way of locating staff, nurses and doctors.
In a San Francisco Chronicle article called “Trek Tech”, Bernadette Tansey writes:
“And in 2004, many of the high-tech instruments simulated on the “Star Trek” set are a reality, used to treat patients in hospitals and clinics around the world.
Rather than undergo exploratory surgery, many patients now rest on tables similar to the Enterprise’s sickbay bed while an automated scanner delivers diagnostic images of the body’s interior.
Blade-free “surgery” is possible with equipment like the CyberKnife, developed at Stanford University. And devices like McCoy’s needle-free “hypospray” injections are now commonplace vaccination tools.”
In fact, something as improbable transporter technology is on the way to being made a reality. In a 2002 report from CNN, it reported:
“…Australian university researchers in quantum optics say they have “teleported” a message in a laser beam using the same technology principles that enabled Scotty to beam up Captain Kirk. ”
The impact of this show is far deeper, and far more significant than people realize. People are using this show as something to point the way in which technology will develop. I may accept people not liking the show, but it cannot be denied that Star Trek has made possible a lot of good things for us. It has evolved to more than just a television show, and it is something that you just don’t cancel like just any other thing on TV.
Star Trek has become something we need, whether we realize it or not, whether we want it or not. In a television landscape full of cynicism, pessimism, darkness and insensitivity, we need a show like Star Trek that gives us hope. Hope that our lives will become better one day. Hope that in our future world, everything will be OK.
Our future may not exactly resemble that of the future that Star Trek shows us, but its vision of a positive future for mankind, Klingons and Borgs notwithstanding, is a dream worth pursuing.
San Pablo City