Friday, July 31st, 2015

The trouble with Star Trek


kirk-khan-shoutStar Trek is sick, and the cure for what ails it isn’t another bombastic brofest.

Allow me to explain. Though I’m best known as a Doctor Who nerd, my first introduction to science fiction in a visual medium was Star Trek. As a six-year old in the mid-70s I was intrigued by the colorful costumes and derring-do of the original series, and I never really lost that interest until the series started hitting the dirt around the mid-point of Voyager.

Though some would say Star Trek was revitalized by the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot, I’m of the opinion that while entertaining, the first movie more or less misses the point of Star Trek and the second film is just a lazy rip-off of Wrath of Khan, a far superior product in every way. The upcoming Star Trek: Beyond, though primed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the franchise, doesn’t look promising.

But if you ignore Paramount’s missteps, there’s a lot going on in the margins. Fans of the show have taken it upon themselves to recreate the old show with Star Trek Continues, push the universe forward with Axanar, frankly amazing VFX in Star Trek New Voyages, Renegades…the list goes on.

There’s a precedent for this explosion of fan creativity, back in the “wilderness years” of Doctor Who between the cancellation of the original show in 1989 and its return in 2005 (with the TV Movie speed bump in the mid 90s). In that time, a profusion of fan-created and demi-official work came out in the form of novels, Big Finish’s audio productions (which are still going strong), and many other creations.

And when Doctor Who came back in 2005, it returned arguably in better shape than ever, and has only improved since that point. Doctor Who has taken the spot in the pop culture firmament once held by Trek, and other series have captured the imagination of new generations of fans.

Star Trek’s 50th anniversary is next year. It’s time to mark that with more than just another loud, derivative film that might as well be called “Shiny Explosions.”

Here’s what I would do. Star Trek has always been known for pushing boundaries, on and off screen. When TNG hit television screens in 1987, they took the previously unheard of route of working around networks and going straight to syndication. It was widely predicted that this would be a disaster, but in fact it worked wonderfully and removed a layer of corporate meddling from production of the show.

We’re now in a new Golden Age of Television, and yet Trek, a universe rich with creatures, stories and history, has no place in it. Put it back on television. Or more accurately, put it on a streaming service, as Netflix has done with Marvel properties and its own productions like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.

More importantly, USE the history of the show for more than just nostalgic callbacks and fan service. Making the show as sex-filled or violent as Game of Thrones is probably inappropriate, but use the multi-layered storytelling of that program to create a limited series. Make it 10 or 13 episodes, involve the many factions and empires in the Trek universe, and set it far enough in the future that it can be its own thing.

And make it feel like Trek. There’s an ineffable feeling that even Enterprise, dire as it was, conveyed to the audience. It’s a feeling of exploration and discovery. What it isn’t is loud, blockbuster-y nonsense.

And until Star Trek gets back on TV, that’s what we’re stuck with.

Warren Frey is a journalist, freelance writer, podcaster, video producer, and all-around media consultant currently based in Vancouver, Canada. His written work has appeared in such publications as Metro Vancouver, the Westender, Mac | Life and the Japan Times.

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