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Editorial
08 Sep 2016

50 Years of Political Messages in Star Trek

50 years ago today, on September 8, 1966, the very first episode of Star Trek, "The Man Trap", aired on NBC. Although this TV production was ambitious and accordingly expensive for its time, no one would have anticipated the long success story of the franchise. Star Trek is the yardstick for intelligent science fiction on television still today. Leading scientists and engineers tell us Star Trek has been an inspiration in their career. And looking beyond the merely scientific or technical aspects of the show, to this day Gene Roddenberry's creation is unrivaled within the genre as a vision of a bright and desirable future. We could say that Star Trek's positive prospect is so powerful that no television producer would dare to enter a competition with the clear market leader in the field of utopian science fiction.

These days, columnists like to muse about what Star Trek would be if Gene Roddenberry were still alive, which they interpret in a way to either praise or criticize recent developments. Would Roddenberry like the Abrams movies? A gay Sulu? Bryan Fuller's still unaired "inclusive" series Star Trek Discovery? I don't like to engage in such speculation, so I rather look back at the political messages I see in Star Trek, and ahead at what I expect from it in the future.

Read the full essay.

Bernd Schneider

Archive

Recent EAS Updates
  • 22 Sep 2016
    A new story by Travis Anderson in the Tales of the SID series: Collaborators. Multiple assassination attempts across allied lines with old intertwined enemies claiming responsibility, the triangle of attempts stretches between the Federation, member world Bajor, and the Cardassian Union. Every world seems a victim as well as a potential threat. The SID is brought in to sift friend from foe.
  • 14 Sep 2016
    The premiere of the new Star Trek series Discovery has been moved from January 2017 to May 2017. Well, I can wait a few more months.
  • 10 Sep 2016
    The latest episode of the fan film series Star Trek Continues: "Embracing the Winds". Here is my review.
  • 08 Sep 2016
    50 years ago today, on September 8, 1966, the very first episode of Star Trek, "The Man Trap", aired on NBC. On the occasion of the anniversary I look back at the Political Messages in Star Trek over the years, and ahead at what I expect from it in the future.
  • 29 Aug 2016
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  • 27 Aug 2016
    Here is a new story by Travis Anderson: Star Trek Deep Space Nine: True Faith. Five years after the failed assassination of Vedek Bareil, Neela is given a second chance at life. But will she free herself of Winn's influence or will she remain a willing instrument of the Kai?
  • 20 Aug 2016
    Here is a poll on the on the USS Discovery ship design. There is also a new write-up on the reasons why Starfleet's ships have saucer-shaped main hulls at Canon Fodder.
  • 13 Aug 2016
    More "Star Trek Beyond"-related updates: the galleries with Abramsverse Federation Vessels and Abramsverse Alien Vessels, the Abramsverse FAQ and a write-up on Krall's backstory at Canon Fodder.
  • 11 Aug 2016
    Bryan Fuller revealed some details on the new series Star Trek: Discovery. It is set ten years before Kirk, has a female lead character who is not the captain and will feature many aliens.
  • 08 Aug 2016
    I have expanded the article on Continuity Issues of the Abramsverse regarding the apparently new official policy on how we are supposed to understand the Kelvin Timeline.
Latest Comments on EAS Articles
  • 27 Sep 2016

    Why?

  • 24 Sep 2016

    Definitely a good decision. Also considering how the prices have dropped.

  • 24 Sep 2016

    I'd prefer to keep them separate and not to compare them so directly.

  • 21 Sep 2016

    Oh yes. How could we miss that one.

  • 21 Sep 2016

    There's another from Spock in TOS: A Taste of Armageddon. Before he nerve pinches the Eminian guard he says, "Sir, there's a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder," where there wasn't one.

  • 20 Sep 2016

    I don't suppose Bernd has plans for guest reviews on the fan episodes? ;)
    So far I watched the first three (since I'm just done watching the entirety of the official series), that includes the pilot. Overall it's quite impressive.

    "Come What May" was an interesting introduction, like Bernd I felt that they did a terrific job recreating the sets. And the guest was really good as far as acting skills go; too bad she's not part of the main cast! I was also surprised to see some of the changes in hair style: Uhura and Rand not having a bun feels just weird (and very ST2009ish), even Jadzia Dax used the bun style in Trials and Tribble-ations due to its iconic style. But then it is Phase II and it's meant to bridge the gap to the movies, so it does make logical sense (albeit Uhura's hair style was still never loose).

    "In Harm's Way" was certainly action-packed... But that's the main problem I had with both of the first episodes: I felt completely lost more often than not. In the official series, they always made sure that the plot is crystal clear, everything that happens has an obvious purpose. Meanwhile here, without remembering every little TOS detail, I could hardly make heads or tails of the story. Why did they even go back to 2006, just to watch a tape? (And those actually still existed in 2006?) Why were there antiproton readings then, and not at some other point, like before Decker's death? How did the crew return, givent hat the timeline didn't seem to have been corrected? I get the idea of involving the previous actor for Decker, but it was fairly grating with regards to the plot and could have been done in a simpler way (not to mention that Decker was completely nuts when he rammed the Doomsday Machine). Then, like Bernd, I was completely puzzled at there suddenly being two Pikes, one on a cargo vessel... Then multiple Kirks... And the time travel aspects of it to begin with. Why was Spock in that timeline to begin with? Who altered it? Why could they travel back in time further when they had already travelled back in time by the Guardian? And so on and so forth... Lots of stuff happening, none of it adequately explained. And the end result is everything getting back to status quo, rather than something having been achieved (the Doomsday Machine has already been defeated once, after all).

    "To Serve All My Days", on the other hand, was a huge improvement, which made me relieved to see that they can indeed make plot that is not completely unintelligible. Quite the opposite, the plot in this episode actually followed the classic A-B formula and it worked really well. It was clear, it was intriguing, it was touching. It was definitely on par with official Star Trek episodes, and the better ones, at that. Also, the new Chekov actor is really close to the original, compared to what we've seen in the pilot. And Walter Koenig, woo! He had a field day with this episode. Then the acting has improved as well: Kirk is really Kirkish now, Sulu looks a bit different but the acting is spot on, and Scotty is also now like his original self. At this point the crew is definitely closer to the original than the Abramsverse one, and that's saying a lot! So overall I was really happy with this episode. That is, if we don't take into account the two elephants in the room... One, the A-side is about how Federation is in an economic crisis and whole planets are being abandoned due to problems with credits. ...wait what? Credits? Those exist in Mass Effect, not Star Trek! The whole point of Star Trek is that there is no money, because replicators exist! People work not because of the money, but because of their ambition! (I think in one of the previous episodes a month's pay was also mentioned...) The only currency that exists is gold-pressed latinum, and that's only used by Ferengi and such. Also, worlds would never fall into Klingon hands like that, people would fight tooth and nail to keep their colonies, like we've seen with the Maquis. So while an interesting idea for a plot, it's a gross violation of continuity. Some other motivation should have been there. And the other elephant is of course the deus ex machina at the end. Actually, I had forgotten that Chekov appeared in the movies that are set after Phase II, so I was completely unsure of where they were going with it in the log run. Of course, the ending made it all just a dream... Which of course makes the episode pointless, like several official episodes that had reset buttons like that. Well, at least now we know that the existence of credits and humans surrendering planets was also just due to Chekov having one too many glasses of vodka!

  • 20 Sep 2016

    One possibility: The Phoenix was not considered a Ship, but a prototype vessel. Ship indicates a vessel designed for distance travel, and the Phoenix is not capable of such, being too small and not with enough life support. The Bonaventure could then have been the first ship, modeled on Cochrine's Phoenix design.

  • 19 Sep 2016

    Sadly, Gene Roddenberry really did seem to embrace the axiom 'History is written by the victor.' So sorting out TOS' true past can be a tricky business.

    (But I do recommend These Are The Voyages, vol 1-3 in that regard; it sources not only interviews- including with Roddenberry- that are about 30 years fresher than modern recollections, but it heavily sources production documents and internal memos from the production itself, correcting faulty memories and popular myths with documented accounts and records. Plus, it's a fun read! The early drafts of Court Martial and Cogley's 'space jalopy' alone are worth the price of the book.) ;-)

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