To boldly go where men have gone before

This article was originally published in The Varsity, page 11, on Oct 14, 1987.

It’s back! The much discussed and overrated ’60s revival has finally swung about 360 degrees! (That’s 2 pi radians for those of you so inclined). Gene Roddenberry’s classic Star Trek has returned to television.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, a spanking new Enterprise, heralded by Alexander Courage’s familiar fanfare, rockets across TV screen into adventures within and beyond the final frontier.

On paper, this undertaking was an astoundingly brilliant idea. The time was ripe for some reaping of the carefully sown Star Trek crop. This was mostly due to the success of the motion picture Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. There was also a new generation of videophiles eager to taste the rare artistic majesty prevalent in the Trek concept. And besides, further Star Trek movies (the fix we Trek addicts have been subsisting on for so long) will be slow in coming due to the geriatric state of the original cast.

In the new series, Roddenberry adheres to the Trek concept of Starfleet officers, as mighty defenders of humanity’s moral precepts.

The premiere episode, in fact, incorporates this very principle as its central theme, and once again, the crew of the Enterprise must prove to some almighty alien that we humans aren’t really quite as bad as we may at first seem.

D.C. Fontana, the original series’ script writer (who, incidentally, wrote all the bad episodes), is back as well. Her style is evident in the incongruous pseudo-emotional scenes slipped in here and there in this first episode.

But things have changed, and it is evident that this is, in fact, an ’80s show. Women and minorities populate the cast to a noticeable degree — not just the token Lieutenant Uhura of the original series.

The new Enterprise is big and shiny, but Roddenberry must realise that our love for the original vessel was not due to her shape or the size of her engines, but to the actual character she projected — the anachronistic ship with Shatner as the chief sailor.

I do, however, like Patrick Stewart as the new Captain. While not as endearing as Shatner’s Kirk, Captain Picard does add an unexpected bit of malevolence to the scenario. This is great — as long as the producers don’t let him degenerate into a soap opera character.

It is reassuring, though, to see that the power of the original characters has not been taken lightly. Kirk’s presence in this show is noted in the two characters of Captain Picard and Commander Reicher, the token adventurer.

Spock’s presence (if such a character can have an equal!) is noted in Data, an emotionless android, and in Counsellor, a resident psychic. Each of these characters, individually, is too weak to do the job as satisfactorily as Nimoy’s pointy-eared officer.

Data so resembles Spock, in fact, that Admiral McCoy (special guest star DeForest Kelley) likens him to one of those “damned annoying Vulcans.”

But with such a fine background, the show may go the way of Dr. Who, which is now such a disappointment if the Doctor fails to save the Universe twice each weekend.

Will the show last? Of course not; it’s too intelligent to pass as a space opera and too stupid to be an intellectual’s romp. What it is, though, is probably the best pulp science fiction television series since the original Enterprise came home that fateful day in 1969.