Star Trek: Adventures on the Big Screen (Part 4)

It’s been a while (well, it’s been a week) but the wait is over: it’s time for my next dip into the movies that boldly went you-know-where…. Just one this time, so let’s take a good long look at:

Star Trek: Generations

Change was called for. There was a whole new generation of Trek fans – a ‘next’ generation, if you like – and it was time for them to have their turn. But how to hand over the reins from Kirk to Picard, from Spock to Riker, from McCoy to Crusher, from Uhura to…. Worf? It was time for a cross-over movie!

 

Plot: It’s the maiden voyage of the new Enterprise B, under the command of Captain Harriman and the watchful gaze of the honoured guests, Kirk, Scotty, and Chekhov. On this short inspection flight, the ship receives a distress call and rushes to a rescue mission – two refugee ships  are caught in a ribbon-like spatial anomaly. They rescue many of the refugees, but not without a cost – whilst working to keep the deflector shields active, a section of the hull is destroyed, and Kirk is lost…

Skip forward nearly 80 years, and the same ribbon threatens the 24th Century, and this time it’s the Enterprise D and the Next Generation crew that come to the rescue. Picard learns from Guinan and a Doctor Soran that the ribbon (known as The Nexus) doesn’t kill it’s victims, it transports them to a kind of limbo dimension, where they remain in stasis whilst their mind dreams a perfect life. It appears that Dr Soran is trying to get back to the Nexus, whilst Guinan, who was on one of the refugee ships, knows that Soran will stop at nothing – he intends to alter the ribbon’s path by destroying stars, aiming it at a planet he’s on. Picard can’t stop him, and is transported to the Nexus with Soran – where he finds good old Captain Kirk. Picard convinces Kirk to return to the real world, and they arrive back just a few minutes before the Nexus hits. This time, will two Captains be enough to stop Soran?

 

Goofs: There are a huge number of things wrong with this movie – not just the unintentional things! But let’s cover a couple of those, just to let you know what kind of thing I mean.  Basically, these goofs fall into two camps. The first is the ‘I don’t care what Scotty says, apparently you CAN break the laws of physics” camp, such as the central premise for the movie – that The Nexus is travelling above light-speed, in a 39.1 year loop and an accurately defined course determined by gravitational forces. This is clearly not the case, as every shot of it over the planet shows it as moving very slowly – light-speed travel would make it disappear almost before we see it. And even if it DID travel through space so predictably, everything else moves, so how on earth would the constantly changing gravitational forces of all these massive stars and planets that keep moving all the time, steer the Nexus so accurately?

The second goof-camp (I should make t-shirts and caps, really I should) is almost more serious.

It’s wrong to deviate from Star Trek Canon.

We all know that. But apparently, it was forgotten many times during this movie. Like in the sub-plot (not mentioned above) when the Enterprise crashes. The dome on the roof of the bridge shatters – but canon states that glass hasn’t been used for centuries. It is really transparent aluminium – and aluminium don’t shatter. Or like the fact that when Scotty came out of transporter suspension in that TNG episode with the Dyson Sphere, he was expecting to find Kirk – even though according to Generations, he was there when Kirk ‘died’. Or also like the fact that the El-Aurian refugees that are rescued at the beginning (thus setting up the whole storyline) only became refugees after fleeing the Borg (we already learned this from TNG). But they never mentioned the Borg, and so we remained in blissful ignorance of this xenophobic race of assimilating machines for a whole century? It just doesn’t make sense.

 

Thoughts: There are a number of ways to view this movie. You can view it as a light piece of sci-fi fluffiness, and no doubt it serves well at that level. You can view it from the Command Chair of the Trek-Master, looking at all the scientific and canonical errors that really are strewn throughout the movie with liberal abandon, and vow never to watch the thing again for fear of retinal burning. Or you can look at it like I do – as a turning point in the movie saga. It’s a roundabout.

The thing about roundabouts, is that some carry on straight, others turn. You’ve got to let those already on the roundabout leave, and those approaching the roundabout take their place. And you’ve got to understand the priorities.

It’s the same with Generations. Kirk and Co couldn’t go on forever, movie after movie. They were simply getting too old to be the action heroes we all knew and loved. And so, this movie serves as a way to move them on with respect and a final swansong, and allow the new guys their chance of making the jump to Odeon-space.

The Next Generation team pretty much act as if this is an extended, big-budget episode of the show. And as a fan of the show, that’s perfectly fine for me. Where Generations falls down is that an episode’s worth of material doesn’t always stretch to movie-length in terms of pace and excitement, so what they did was effectively run two plots simultaneously – there’s the main plot referenced above, and a sub-plot with the rest of the crew battling Klingons – a battle they win but at terrible cost, when the Enterprise saucer section ends up crashing into the planet. The second on-screen movie destruction of a ship called Enterprise is done much more graphically than it was at the end of The Search For Spock , and on the whole works well visually, transparent aluminium notwithstanding. This mixing of the two plots is disjointed on occasion, and whilst I know why it was done, merging the two plots seems clumsy at times.

But this isn’t really a movie that can be assessed on technical terms. It’s all about the handover from Kirk to Picard, and the two Captains perform their roles very well. Shatner shows elements of humour seen so clearly in The Voyage Home, and combines this with enough action and drive that you’re reminded of the young man from the 60s. Stewart also gets to run about and fight – something he often missed out on during the TNG run – and overlays this with the stoicism and grittiness that was his hallmark. The two work well together, and even for a die-hard TNG fan, Kirk’s final moments are close to tear-inducing.

Was the baton handed over with panache? Well, the movie was commercially successful, and led ultimately to First Contact (about which we will talk next time) so on that level it worked. It may not be the best Trek movie by some distance, but for me, it’s the best odd-numbered one so far…..

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Star Trek: Adventures on the Big Screen (Part 3)

Time for another installment, so here goes with…

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Plot: Spock’s got a brother. Well, a half-brother really, called Sybok, who long ago rejected the Vulcan ideals of logic, and as a result became an outcast. Well, he’s back now, and he’s on a mission, Blues Brothers style. When he captures the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan ambassadors on the planet of Nimbus III, Kirk and the crew of the new Starship Enterprise-A are pressed back into service to come to the rescue. The ‘rescue’ goes slightly wrong, however, when Sybok seizes control of the Enterprise and puts it on course for the center of the galaxy where he and his followers believe they will find God. Yes. God.

Goofs: One big one: We know now (from Star Trek: Voyager) that it takes seventy years to travel 70,000 light years at high warp (or 1000 light years per year. But the Enterprise A, under Sybok’s command, can apparently travel the 22,400 light years from Nimbus III to the Galactic Center in a matter of days.

There’s more. Although not so much goofs, but interesting: Industrial Light and Magic couldn’t do the effects for the movie, so they had to get a little creative with sets and effects. Shots of the Enterprise in Spacedock were ILM shots repeated from The Voyage Home, and many interior shots of the Enterprise (most notably corridors and Sickbay) are actually the Enterprise-D from The Next Generation, which was shooting at the same time.

Thoughts: Where to start? OK – let’s get the biggie for me out of the way. This isn’t why I don’t like the movie, but it annoys me that the ‘logical’ result of Sybok’s rejection of logic is crazed religious fervour, as if belief in God is the opposite of a calm, measured, logical mind. It gets to me more somehow than anything that the Python lads did in Life Of Brian, and almost as much as the representation of God as a petulant child did in the Travolta/Newton-John schlock-fest that was Two Of A Kind. Anyway – let’s leave that one there.

The Final Frontier is simply a very weak story held together with the ‘battle of the brothers’ motif flowing through it. If Sybok had been at all likeable, maybe you would have cared. But somehow, the reaction of Spock (very much “he ain’t crazy, he’s my bruuthaaaaah” school of acting) is exposed by the fact that in every TOS episode and in every movie before this, in which references to Spock’s family are liberally scattered, there’s not a single mention of Sybok’s existence whatsoever. Not one. And as the entire movie hinges on the closeness of the relationship, it all comes together with a gigantic feeling of ‘meh…”

The directorial reins were passed from Spock to Shatner for this installment, and La Shatner also co-wrote the script. Thankfully, he returned to just acting like he was in charge, when we arrived at….

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Plot: There’s a real danger of peace breaking out in the galaxy. Talks are afoot between the Federation and the Klingons, which might suit most people, but there are certain parties on both sides with vested interests in an all-out war. In an attempt to derail the peace process, Kirk and McCoy are framed for the murder of a Klingon Ambassador and sent to the penal colony at Rura Penthe, from which nobody escapes. With assistance from fellow inmates, Kirk and McCoy make it to the surface – a little too easily. It’s a set-up, but they manage to outwit their captors and beam up to the Enterprise. But is there time to get to the secret location of the peace accord before assassins strike?

Goofs: Only really three of note. One is a bit techy-Trekkie, in that the Excelsior has been supposedly charting gaseous anomalies in the Beta Quadrant. And we know subsequently (thank you, Voyager season seven) that the beta Quadrant would put the Excelsior some years away at high warp. The second goof is more an oversight, in that when standing on the surface of the ice-cold Rura Penthe, you don’t see any breath from their mouths. The third one is pretty much inexcusable though. She’s been in three series of Star Trek (79 episodes in all). She’s been in six movies. She shared American TV’s first ever inter-racial kiss with Kirk. So why oh why, in the name of all that’s Roddenberry, did they spell Uhura’s name wrong in the closing credits?

Thoughts: Keeping the pattern alive, this even-numbered movie has pace, action and plot twists in abundance. It manages to retain intrigue and suspense whilst bringing humour and creativity. It really does go to show what you can do with a properly good director in Nick Meyer, a well-crafted story, decent effects, and actors that know how to wring every drop of character out of their roles.

The scenes with the murder of the Klingon ambassador are well done, as is the investigation the crew undertake to clear Kirk and McCoy. Rura Penthe appears to be hard, but flimsy – it doesn’t look as bad as folk say, but then again it’s situated underground on an isolated planet where surface temperatures hover around minus thirty, so escape isn’t an option for most. And the race to Khitomer to prevent more murder adds more excitement and tension right up to the last.

This is the first movie where the crew of the Enterprise are split up – Sulu has been granted command of his own vessel, the Excelsior. It’s good that he gets to play such a key role in the plot, and indeed this setting was reused in an episode of Voyager, when Tuvok regressed back to his time service under Sulu (as a junior officer) whilst undergoing mental illness. Which makes two connections with later TV shows – we see an ancestor of Worf as the Klingon assigned to defend Kirk at the trial, played with ease by Michael Dorn.

As a farewell to the Original crew, The Undiscovered Country was a fitting place to stop. It’s my second favorite of the early movies, after Wrath of Khan. And it set the scene nicely for what was to come – but more of that in my next blog….

Star Trek: Adventures on the Big Screen (Part 2)

 Time to move on in our epic voyage through the known and unknown, through the wonders and blunders, that is Star Trek writ large for the big screen. Oh yes. Third on the list is…

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

Some might level the accusation at the writers that, seeing as Spock died at the end of the last outing, calling the movie The Search for Spock might be giving away a rather large slice of the plot. Just saying, that’s all…

Plot: The crew of Enterprise are back on Earth, and have been forced into semi-retirement. Only Uhuru appears to still be working full time, as a communications officer (a.k.a. telephonist). Kirk, Scotty and McCoy are troubled by memories of their dead friend. McCoy seems more disturbed than most, and it seems Spock is to blame. Learning that they should have taken his body back to Vulcan, Kirk determines to go get it from the Genesis planet. But to get there, he has to steal the Enterprise. Even when he manages this, there’s Klingons after the Genesis secret, who let nothing – not even Kirk’s son- get in their way.

Goofs: It seems picky to mention this, when there are so many reasons for me to dismiss this movie entirely – but the Enterprise is just plain screwy in this movie. For a start, there’s more battle-damage at the start of this movie than at the end of Wrath of Khan – but no explanation why. There’s plenty of work for Scotty to do on the way home, but apparently, he found time to completely redesign the turbo lift interiors! And several times – such as the interior to Spock’s quarters – we see scenes shot in the old, pre-refit days of the Enterprise instead of the new interior.

Also –between the two movies, Kirstie Alley seems to have somehow transformed into Robin Curtis. Scotty MUST have been busy with his engineering team…

Thoughts: This movie is proof that the success of The Wrath Of Khan wasn’t just down to the use of primary colours. Nor was it the presence of a ‘good’ baddie, as Christopher Lloyd is a surprisingly successful Klingon. No – this movie suffers through a complete lack of pace and effective direction. Leonard Nimoy is a great actor, but he seems to have brought too much of his ‘logical Vulcan’ persona to his directing, because there’s nothing at all throughout the entire movie that surprises you. You know that Kirk and the crew will get back to the Genesis planet. You know that they will escape before the planet explodes. You know that Spock’s katra will be returned to his reincarnated body. You even know that David, Kirk’s son, will end up dying. There’s simply no tension, no pace, the action pretty much all takes place on or near a single planet, and we get none of the grand scale that big-screen Trek is supposed to deliver. Not even at the end, when they sacrifice the Enterprise. Never mind, there’s always….

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Plot: Once again, we’re talking the threatened destruction of good old Planet Earth. Instead of a long-lost deep space vessel returning home, this time there’s a large, dark cylinder approaching Sector 001, which drains power from all vessels and space stations that come within range. When it reaches earth, it begins transmitting some kind of signal, which has the effect of vaporising the oceans. Soon, the cloud cover will block the sun and cause devastation to all life on the planet. The only ship that appears to understand what’s going on is the Klingon ship carrying the crew home. Surmising that the transmissions are aimed at the oceans, Spock discovers that the signal is the call of the long-extinct humpbacked whale, and the only way to respond is by going back to the mid-80s and getting some. So they do….

Goofs: The IMDB lists many, many goofs in this movie. 44 to be precise. There are numerous instances of the film crew showing up in the movie (whether reflected in the bus or store windows, or in one case holding the broken wiper-blades of the helicopter and waving them back and forth.) There are continuity and equipment errors. But my two favourites are just silly. When Kirk and Spock are ‘walking back to San Francisco’, the scene is shot in San Francisco already. And in the Plexiglas factory, there’s no way that Scotty could call up such a complex chemical formula on a 1986 Mac!

Thoughts: OK, let’s get this whole time travel thing out of the way first. From what I see, it’s easy. In the words of Doc McCoy: “you slingshot around the Sun, pick up enough speed – You’re in time warp”. I’m not quite sure how this differs from the elusive Warp 10, or the Borg trans-warp conduits, that apparently allow you to go anywhere real quick, but not anywhen… it’s a blatant plot enabler, and rates as one of the most obvious Deus ex machina devices ever shown on screen.

But never mind, because without it, we wouldn’t have got to see Spock swimming and mind-melding with whales, Kirk eating pizza and drinking beer with the first woman they see (who just so happens to be an eminent whale expert), Uhura and Chekhov trying to steal nuclear particles from a US Navy wessel, Sulu stealing a helicopter, and McCoy and Scotty revealing the secrets of transparent aluminium in trade for enough Perspex top build a whale tank.

The Voyage Home was played for laughs. You had a serious start, and a serious ending, when the successful crew returned to face the music over the whole Genesis affair. But the movie shows what Nimoy could do when given the chance to direct a well-written, funny script, with something for the characters to actually do. Watching Spock trying to ‘fit in’, and seeing Kirk’s inept attempts to explain exactly why he wants the whales, are just two elements of the charm that The Voyage Home has, and that The Search For Spock severely lacked.

Star Trek – Adventures on the Big Screen (Part One)

Following on from my last blog, I was asked to say what I thought of the movies. There have been 11 in all, stretching over thirty years, So I’ll break them up and try to do two or three each blog post. So, with no further ado, let’s kick off with….

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Plot: Something’s coming. Klingon Battle Cruisers are no match for it. And it’s headed straight for Earth. Apparently the only ship in its way is the Enterprise (displaying a lack of preparation only matched in Starfleet by the lack of primary colours). They ignore final refit steps and head off to meet the entity head on. Kirk (now an Admiral and on a narratively very timely tour of inspection) takes command and thus begins the most turgidly boring voyage a Starfleet vessel surely ever had.

Goofs: The whole introduction to the new Enterprise. I get the need to do an extended fly past – it’s a new movie series, and a new ship (not to mention the most impressive bit of the whole movie) but it’s unnecessary. They do a shuttle trip because the Enterprise transporters are malfunctioning, completely ignoring the fact that this doesn’t matter – just use a transporter on Earth. You only need the one, guys….

Thoughts: This movie came to being after a planned new TV series failed to launch. They re-used the concept, some of the scenery, and the plot from one of the episodes. And not to put too fine a point on it, but it shows. As a 45 minute TV episode this may have worked. As a 132 minute movie, the pace is such that in a race, it would be beaten by both the tortoise and the hare. It’s like the additional 87 minutes are ALL filler, with excessively lengthy flight sequences through space, through the nebula, and out to the entity itself. Everything feels so slow, that you wonder how they managed to get the green light for a second movie. Thankfully, they did, otherwise we’d just be left with this pastel pastiche…

Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn

Star Trek returned with a vengeance – and a quest for vengeance – in the second movie instalment, when we met up with a man destined to become possibly Kirk’s greatest adversary – Khan Noonien Singh. TOS viewers will recall the episode Space Seed, when a stasis pod containing some genetically enhanced humans from the late 20th century was discovered, and after thwarting Khan’s attempt to take the Enterprise, Kirk maroons them on Ceti Alpha V.

Plot: roll forward many years, and the USS Reliant (complete with science officer Pavel Chekhov) have picked Ceti Alpha VI as the ideal testing ground for a new terraforming device, codenamed Genesis, which basically scours all life from a planet and reforms it from the sub-atomic level upwards.. They pick up faint life signs, and when they beam down, Chekhov and Captain Terrell discover the remnants of Khan’s crew, and realise that they have landed on Ceti Alpha V. They are forced to abandon the Reliant to Khan and his men, who set off in search of Kirk and Genesis. They succeed in damaging the Enterprise, marooning Kirk and the others on a lifeless rock, and stealing Genesis. Kirk of course escapes, chases Khan down, and the scene is set for the final showdown – but what price victory?

Goofs: The movie does a good job of tying in the old and the new, with the plot-line in the TOS episode faithfully supported…. with one key omission. Space Seed is a season one episode, and Pavel Chekhov didn’t join the Enterprise crew until season two. However, he recognised Khan (sure – he could have seen a picture or have been told about him) but how did Khan recognise a Starfleet officer that he had never met before?

Thoughts: The second movie in the series is so far ahead of the first effort on just about every level, that it’s generally accepted as a great movie. This perhaps says more about the failings of the first movie than the strength of the second, because there are a number of things that they could have done better. The whole sub-plot about Kirk’s family feels thin, the dialogue between Kirk, Carol Marcus and David is stilted and weak. For a genetically perfect superhuman, Ricardo Montalban appears to have aged terribly in the years since Space Seed – even accounting for the harsh conditions on Ceti Alpha V. However, the positives far outweight the negatives, the pace zips along very nicely, the end battle is great, and Khan does make a wonderful baddie. The final scenes, however, tend to steal the show. The way that they handled Spock’s death was touchingly frank and showed levels of emotion that few would have credited either Shatner or Nimoy.

Star Trek – The Best and the Worst of All Worlds

So I’m a Trekkie. So shoot me (but only with a phaser set to stun). Therefore I’m predisposed to like the shows, and think the best of them. However, I’m fully prepared to accept that some people (some poor, misguided people) don’t like the stuff.

There’s much I could say about the different incarnations, but here’s why I think they worked (and why in some cases they didn’t):

Star Trek: The Original Series – A space-faring three-way tie?

Star Trek was the brainchild of Gene Roddenberry, and first saw the dim, flickering light of television screens back in 1966. What we now refer to as The Original Series brought Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty and the rest onto our screens, and a raft of alien races and cultures came with them. TOS lasted for three series, and after an abortive attempt to relaunch the show failed, the cast went on to make six movies.

So why IS the old Star Trek so endearing? The premise is pretty simple – it was envisioned by Roddenberry as a “Wagon Train to the Stars”, a frontier western, but set in space. And to be fair, that’s pretty much all it ever was. The bandits and rustlers became Romulans and Klingons, but the story was the same. I’d argue that it was the characters, and the different alien races, that made the show so successful and endearing – more popular than ever these days, even after forty-six years. For me, there’s a simple reason why:

The Kirk / Spock / McCoy Triangle

One thing that always confused me about the early Star Trek shows is how, whenever there was the need to go to a planet and do something obviously dangerous, the three most vital people always went – the Captain, the First Officer, and the Doctor. Sure, they also took some random security guy in a red jersey, knowing that he was the one that would get killed and they would therefore be perfectly safe.  However, it was clear that these three could only really function in some kind of futuristic, non-sexual love-triangle. Kirk needed his two comrades to warn him of the danger / lack of logic in his intentions, then to form an appreciative audience when he managed to survive. Spock needed the passion and exuberance of his fellow officers (one physical, the other emotional) to counterbalance his cold, pure logic. And McCoy needed the others to rail against like Victor Meldrew needed the bloke next door. All three had their strengths, all three had their weaknesses. But they only became real when thrown into dramatic relief against the other two.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (a.k.a Star Trek 2: Electric Boogaloo)

TNG was Boss, to use the street vernacular. A cool ship, some great new characters, and (after the first series at least) some real action and non-flimsy sets.

They had an older, more thoughtful  captain and a dynamic First Officer,  but then they went a little too far and ended up with a futuristic vision of the prefect post-nuclear family. You had the sensible, controlled-emotion  Captain Picard, and his loose-cannon No 1, Will Riker, who seemed to settle into his role whenever the producers allowed him to grow a beard. Then you had Worf – the softest, least aggressive and calmest Klingon in the known galaxy. There was Geordi LaForge – migrating from helmsman to Chief Engineer somehow – I certainly never saw him get any additional qualifications. Maybe he got the gig because they realised it wasn’t a good idea to have the blind guy driving. You had Beverley Crusher – ruddy-haired Doctor and on-off romantic liaison with the Captain. And her son, the frankly utterly annoying Wesley. Who they let drive the starship, even though he wasn’t old enough to ride a moped. Then there was Deanna Troi – the ships counsellor. She was an Empath, which basically was the most useless form of telepathy going. She would make someone mad, and she could tell they were mad. But she’d have no idea why

Now I liked Picard, because Patrick Stewart is a damn fine actor and an Englishman, but there were two other characters that really caught my eye.

Lt. Commander Data was an Android. More accurately, for those that know their sci-fi, he was a positronic robot, as envisioned by Isaac Asimov many years before. And the series made references to the three Laws of Robotics often. For a robot, Data often exhibited more humanity than the rest of the crew, and served as a neat little counterpoint to the rest.

Then there’s my favourite: Lt. Reginald Barclay. Barclay is you or me. He was clever, but clumsy. He was eager, but inept. He would come up with the most brilliant solutions to problems, but be too scared to speak out. And, like us all, he crapped himself whenever he needed to step onto the transporter pad.  That sounds like the sort of Starfleet officer I’d be.

Deep Space Nine: Boldly going…. nowhere

DS9 changed the game. Suddenly the idea of a frontier western found a home on a real frontier outpost – a space station out in deep space, far from the reaches of Starfleet Headquarters, but highly militarised due to its recent occupation by those dastardly Cardassians.

I have mixed emotions about DS9. Some of the characters are great. I love the concept of the symbiotic Dax, and the shape-shifting Odo. And whilst they may not always have been written well, or given the right opportunities, by and large they worked. Some characters didn’t work so well, sadly the biggest culprit was Ben Sisko, probably the wettest lead character the series had. The Commander of DS9 was played with all the fire and intensity of Uncle Remus in Song of the South.

We had a Ferengi running the bar, we had all manner of aliens and humans, we had Cardassians and the Dominion as the baddies, we had the Bajoran Resistance – and yet for me, it didn’t feel right. The stories were strong, they had cood characterisation, but it could have been anywhere. It didn’t have the classic Star Trek vibe.

Star Trek Voyager: Please State The Nature of The Spatial Anomaly.

Voyager marked two events at its birth: The return to a travelling, space-faring storyline, and the end of TNG. Seven years after Star Trek had returned to our screens, we were in for something new. And boy, did we get it.

Voyager’s mission to capture renegade Maquis fighters is interrupted when the star ship, and the Maquis vessel, is hurled 70,000 light years across the galaxy to the Delta Quadrant.  The creature that did this ends up being destroyed, and they now have a journey back home – but at only a thousand light years every year, it’ll take then seventy years to get home. Don’t bother doing the math – I’m pretty sure as well that there are numerous instances of a star ship at high warp travelling more than three light years in a day…

Cue loads of new races, loads of new enemies, and nothing but the resources of the ship and it’s half-Starfleet, half-Maquis crew to rely on.

Where Voyager wins for me isn’t just the reliance on the resources they have, and it’s not just the new locations and the always-present goal of finding a short-cut back to Earth. It’s the Characters as well.

They broke with tradition and gave the top job to a woman. Janeway is strong, feisty, and decisive – and also caring and vulnerable. There’s more than just a bit of Kirk in her make-up, which is good to see.

B’Elanna Torres was an interesting half-human, half-Klingon paradox. On one occasion, she was separated into her two genetic halves, and the stronger, more aggressive Klingon female and her weaker, more intuitive and less impulsive human counterpart learned to trust each other and succeed.

Other characters, like Tom Paris and Tuvok, work well because they are not just one-dimensional. Others, like Chakotay, Harry Kim, and Neelix, fail to work well often, simply because they ARE one-dimensional. The best, though, has a mirror in previous incarnations.

Just as Data and Barclay showed that an artificial life form and an officer uncomfortable with the responsibility can work separately, the Doctor is a superb amalgam of these two traits, played by the brilliant Bob Picardo. He’s a very good character actor, and his portrayal of the holographic medic always signals an upturn in the shows.

And just as the Kirk/Spock/McCoy team needed each other, the Doctor really came ‘alive’ when playing opposite a good foil, and on Voyager there were two. In seasons 1-3, there was Kes, an Ocampan whose gentle, enquiring nature led her to draw the Doctor out of his original program parameters and grow into a far more rounded person. At the start of Season 4, Kes left, but was ‘replaced’ by the former Borg drone Seven of Nine. Now the Doctor became the master, teaching Seven how to function as an individual, as a part of a non-connected crew, and how to grow. Both Jennifer Lien as Kes, and Jeri Ryan as Seven, brought the Doctor’s character to the fore and allowed him to shine.

Star Trek: Enterprise. The Pre-Incarnation

Enterprise was a step back in time to when space travel, and Starfleet, was new and untested. And whilst it didn’t really catch the imagination enough to rank alongside the other series for most people, it’s worth noting at the outset that it managed to outlast TOS for number of episodes.

The technology was new, the outfits were basic and functional, nobody trusted the transporter, and everything was new and surprising. It was a bit like watching sheep travelling through the cosmos. Except….

This was an attempt to return to old values. The ships looked like they were bolted together, the instrument panels had switches, dials and proper buttons, and the crew distrusted everyone. And as a Star Trek series, it was no longer what we were used to. And so despite the good cast (including Scott Bakula as Captain Archer) the series was pretty much panned by the critics. It had a dodgy power-ballad as a theme tune, which didn’t help.

The writers, actors, and designers tried their best. The direction was good, the intent honourable. But somehow, because it was so different, it just wasn’t the Star Trek we all wanted to see. And so it stopped after four seasons (for reference, TOS did three, and TNG, DS9 and Voyager seven each).

Where do we go from here? Will we see a Star Trek back on the small screen? I hope so. And as long as they keep it recognisable as well as innovative, as long as they write good characters and cast good actors, and as long as they let them get on with the job at hand, it’ll be as successful as its predecessors…