Pop Between Realities, Home in Time For Tea 35 (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

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There are several angles from which to approach Star Trek: The Next Generation in terms of Doctor Who. Most of them entangle themselves in a sort of anxiety of influence, either picking over the ways in which Star Trek and Doctor Who’s histories are intertwined or stomping their feet adamantly over the ways in which they are fundamentally different. I think the more interesting relationship, staring from a post-2009 vantage point, is one based far more on material conditions of broadcast and production. But let’s deal with what everyone else is interested in first.

As I noted when last we talked about Star Trek, at the time they were both being made in the 1960s the extent of influence the two shows had on each other was “none whatsoever.” Short of elaborate theories, it’s just not possible to posit that anyone involved in one show had even heard of the other, little yet seen enough to be influenced.

Come the 1970s, though, when Star Trek was off the air, it began having considerable influence on Doctor Who. The obvious one is the roundel in the Season Fourteen control room, but the larger influences come in the Pertwee era. Under Letts and Dicks the show never became a Star Trek clone, but it nevertheless existed in what was clearly a post-Trek era of science fiction. Colony in Space, The Mutants, Frontier in Space, and the two Peladon stories all clearly existed in a world that presupposed a human-dominated Galactic government with at least some degree of colonial leanings. Being written in a country that had experience in colonialism instead of longing for it, Pertwee-era flirtations with Star Trek’s themes were always short on the military pageantry and longer on a political messiness, particularly when Malcolm Hulke was involved. Star Trek, in all of its incarnations, is terribly fond of being Master and Commander or Horatio Hornblower in space, whereas Doctor Who, when it’s intersected those tropes, has tended to take a less reverential approach (c.f. The Pirate Planet and The Space Pirates, or Beryl Reid in Earthshock), and, more to the point, has never been prone to collapsing space imperialism and the Hornblower aesthetic into being one thing.

On the other hand, there is something to say about the UNIT crew having some Star Trek influences. Certainly there’s something to the fact that Doctor Who introduced a regular set of military characters in the immediate wake of Star Trek airing in its timeslot during the off season. But again, what stands out is the sardonic quality of the influence. Star Trek unfailingly saw Captain Kirk as the pinnacle of American masculinity. The Brigadier, on the other hand, even though he represents a cultural ideal of masculinity just as much as Captain Kirk does, is less straightforwardly viewed as the best the world has to offer, not least because he’s continually shown up by a glam rock space messiah.

So while Star Trek was unquestionably an influence on Doctor Who, the influence was fairly diffuse. It’s more accurate to say that Star Trek embodies a particular vision of science fiction, and that Doctor Who, a show based on pilfering other genres, played with that vision periodically. But in 1987, with the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was finally an opportunity for the influence to run the other direction.

While it is easy to make too much of this, but equally, there’s fairly explicit evidence of influence. The first season episode “The Neutral Zone” features an easter egg in which a character’s family consists of a list of the first six Doctors, for instance. So clearly people involved in Star Trek: The Next Generation had seen Doctor Who. This inevitably raises the question of the Borg, who Doctor Who fans delight in suggesting were nicked from the Cybermen.

The evidence here is mixed. It certainly is a striking coincidence that a race of humans turned into emotionless drones via cybernetic enhancement debuted in a story called “Q Who.” But equally, watching “Q Who,” there’s more ambiguity involved than Doctor Who fans like to admit. The Borg are initially presented not as corrupted humans, a la the Cybermen, but as a metaphor for unchecked capitalism. The humanoid roots of them are downplayed save for the deeply creepy scene of the Borg nursery, but even that serves to marginalize the “humans with their emotions stripped away” aspect of the Cybermen. That doesn’t really come in until their second appearance in the consensus best-ever Star Trek story “The Best of Both Worlds,” in which Picard undergoes assimilation, a somewhat clearer lift of cyber-conversion. On the other hand, that does happen, as does an Enterprise two-parter featuring Borg at the North Pole that’s called “Regeneration.” So even if the Borg weren’t inspired at all by the Cybermen, certainly there are enough details that beg for comparison.

But let’s be honest, the concept isn’t exactly what you’d call the single most original thing ever designed. Stressing that the Borg draw some obvious influences from the Cybermen is just asking to have Jack Finney rise from the grave to demand royalties. No, the more interesting angle to take with regards to Doctor Who influencing Star Trek: The Next Generation is down to its basic premise, in which a rugged ideal of American masculinity is removed from the lead role and replaced with a British Shakespearean actor, a move done at the height of Doctor Who’s US popularity in the 1980s.

There are, of course, still some problems with this interpretation. For one thing, even if Patrick Stewart is British, Jean-Luc Picard is French. That said, he’s played straightforwardly in an English accent, and the constant sense is that Gene Roddenberry may have had a somewhat hazy sense of the fact that there was a material difference. The larger problem is that Picard is very much unlike the Doctor in temperament and attitude. But in a show that doesn’t seem to understand that there’s a difference between Britain and France or Horatio Hornblower and the British Empire, we should perhaps not credit anyone with thinking too hard about the details here. Crass as it is, the fact remains that the key signifier of Picard really is “he’s British.” That’s it - the extent of the character trait, much as Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov were Black, Asian, and Russian respectively.

It does not seem overly far-fetched, in other words, to think that the decision to move to a British captain was in part a response to Doctor Who, especially given that Doctor Who, like Star Trek: The Next Generation, had a diffuse distribution network in which episodes did not air at a fixed date or time nationwide. Given that the show Star Trek: The Next Generation most immediately resembled was British, and traded in part on the respectability implied by airing on PBS (then, as now, a more “sophisticated” network), the idea of casting a British lead to emphasize the show’s own respectability makes an intuitive sense. Even if it was almost certain to gain a much bigger profile than Doctor Who, Doctor Who and Max Headroom were about the only two major pieces of science fiction on television in 1987, and both were British imports. So yes, of course they hired a Brit for Picard. It was what you did at the time.

If all of this seems a little thin, frankly, I agree. The truth is that Star Trek’s influence on Doctor Who is, on the whole, occasional, and that Doctor Who’s influence on Star Trek is superficial. And there’s a reason for that, which is that in the end, the shows have diametrically opposed systems of ethics. And it’s really clear in the period when Star Trek: The Next Generation is being made alongside the Sylvester McCoy era. Especially in its final season, the McCoy era is routinely ripping apart the notion of some sort of set endpoint to history, and is constantly embroiling itself in the politics of the here and now.

Compare that, then, to Star Trek: The Next Generation, particularly its first episode. There’s something deeply unsettling about the view of history presented in “Encounter at Farpoint.” On the one hand, it opens the door to a considerably less utopian take on things than is normally associated with Star Trek. It’s openly acknowledged that in the early 21st century humanity nearly destroys itself in a nuclear war, a shockingly pessimistic view of our then-present fortunes. But this is presented as just a stepping stone on the way to the utopian, classless future of Starfleet. And Starfleet is unambiguously presented as the end point of human development - the great future awaiting us. But if this future is both inevitable and following a nuclear catastrophe near the time of transmission the implications for contemporary politics are almost completely nihilistic. Just lie back and think of Starfleet.

Some of this is down to Roddenberry’s influence on the series - he was the major force opposing openly political stories, for instance. But even outside of his influence (and I largely find it difficult to give him much credit beyond creating a vague frame of things - he is very much the American Terry Nation, only with more stories of appalling behavior) the fact remains that Star Trek, in all of its configurations, embraces the idea of an endpoint of history in which Western values fan out across the galaxy in a frontierless manifest destiny.

Yes, “Encounter at Farpoint” actively holds the show’s utopianism up for critique, but it’s a show trial at best. Utopianism wins, hands down, and, having vindicated itself, goes on to scatter its enemies and confound their politics. It’s imperialism with the serial number filed off, presenting an absolutely fixed and eternal vision of the future. The Doctor would blow it up without a second thought. And this, in the end, is why the shows are never going to be “friends” so to speak.

Still, there’s something in Star Trek: The Next Generation that, as of the end of 1989, is of immediate and massive interest to any Doctor Who fan and an obvious thing to rip off. It’s a cancelled science fiction show that came back from the dead to enormous popularity. And that’s a road map that Doctor Who could use right about now.

It is easy, especially after three subsequent series that were unambiguously “cult” television, to miss the fact that while it was on Star Trek: The Next Generation was a broadly popular show in much the same way that Doctor Who has been at any period in its history where it’s had a healthy status as a successful BBC show. This, in turn, stems from the status that its predecessor had in the 1970s and 80s, which was as a tremendously popular show in reruns. People - not just devoted fans - really liked watching old episodes of Star Trek.

In an age where reruns are increasingly the province of DVDs and Netflix, it may be necessary to explain briefly how American broadcast television works. Television stations are local affairs, serving a given region of the country. Many stations are affiliates - that is, they’re signed on to carry programming from one of the major networks, but aren’t owned by that network. And so most of the country is serviced by a set of local stations, one of which shows the programming for each of the major networks, as well as, normally, a PBS member station, which is a different financial model. But for a long time, in a lot of markets, there were also independent stations that weren’t affiliated with a network.

Even the network affiliates, however, get certain chunks of time where nothing is provided by the network to air. Some of this is used for local programming, but others are there for the affiliate to fill with whatever they want. And independent stations have reams of this sort of time to fill. Hence the idea of syndication - shows that are sold directly to stations to be run during the hours where there isn’t network programming, or all hours for independent stations. No two stations have the same set of syndicated series, and they don’t run at the same time of day from station to station. So Star Trek was, in the 70s and 80s, something that might run at 4pm on a random station, or, equally often, at 4am.

It was, in other words, something made almost entirely for the casual viewer. It was television to be enjoyed as background noise - as something that would come on and happen to be enjoyed. Often it aired during working hours, and so had a heavily female audience (something still regularly borne out in Star Trek fandom, which female skews like no other piece of straight sci-fi). It was, in other words, not a cult sci-fi audience. And Star Trek: The Next Generation was, from day one, designed to appeal to that broad audience. (This is increasingly leaving us in the odd position of talking a lot about “cult” television without having any examples. They’ll come - we’re just waiting for 1993. Well, 1994, actually, since that’s when the obvious book to connect The X-Files to comes up.)

Crucially, Star Trek: The Next Generation was also distributed by syndication. This involved some creativity from Paramount. They frequently used a technique called “barter syndication,” in which they actually gave the program away for free with seven minutes of ads pre-programmed, allowing local stations five minutes of their own advertising. They also, when push came to shove, refused to sell the enormously popular original series reruns to any station that didn’t also carry the new one. The result was that they managed to build a syndication network that covered 90% of the country, allowing Star Trek: The Next Generation to air exactly like the original series did - in syndication, wherever it fit on a given station’s schedule.

The gist of this is that the series was overtly focused on casual viewers, and it existed in the context of Star Trek not as a phenomenon that got people lining up at sci-fi conventions but as a phenomenon that aired at 2am and was watched by insomniacs and people unwinding after the evening shift, or in the early afternoon and was watched by mothers waiting for their kids to get off the school bus. Never mind all the lessons about how to do “reboots” that were learned from this show. That’s the real one: the proper way to bring back a “cult” show is to not actually have it be a cult show.

Comments

Jack Graham 4 years, 6 months ago

I was strongly reminded of 'Encounter at Farpoint' during 'The Dark Knight Rises'. Dr Crane (AKA Scarecrow) conducts rigged show trials of establishment figures in front of a baying mob (I'd mention the offensively highlighted interracial make-up of both mobs... but that's pretty much par for the course. At least 'DKR' didn't have an evil oriental dwarf banging a gong). Commissioner Gordon gets his little self-righteous whinge about "due process" (forgetting the wonderful Dent's Law he's been using for years to lock people up without possibility of parole) just as Picard gets to quote Shakespeare at Q. "Kill all the lawyers" comes, of course, from 'Henry VI ii'... in which Jack Cade is a cynical, machiavellian revolutionary who is fooling the idiotic mob into following his revolution and subjecting establishment figures to rigged show trials... just like the Judge/Q, just like Bane, etc... Is it too much to suggest a direct genealogy of ideas here? Either way, we know that the 'current' status quo (which is the optimum social arrangement possible, natch) will win in the end.

On the politics of 'Star Trek', may I puff this thing wot I wrote... http://shabogangraffiti.blogspot.com/2011/10/enterprise-initiative.html ...because I'm becoming accustomed to getting hits from this site.

Also, your remarks about the Borg and capitalism pre-empt a big thing about the Borg and the Cybermen I've been tinkering with for ages. So, stop it. ;-)

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Iain Coleman 4 years, 6 months ago

On the casting of Picard, it's worth reading this 1987 letter that gives the casting short-lists for the main roles on TNG:

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2010/08/star-trekcasting.html

The shortlist for Picard is:

Patrick Stewart
Mitch Ryan
Roy Thinnes
Yaphet Kotto
Patrick Bauchau

- with a note that, following an early reading, the front runners seemed to be Patrick Stewart and Patrick Bauchau.

Now Bauchau is Belgian, while the other intriguing possibility, Yaphet Kotto, is American. So there's no indication that the goal was to cast a Brit.

What seems more plausible - and which could still fit with the idea of a Doctor Who influence - is that the goal was to cast a strong character actor rather than a conventionally heroic leading man.

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Aaron 4 years, 6 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Aaron 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, and of course there's the episode "A Matter of Time," which started life as an explicit Doctor Who crossover, but on broadcast still features a Time Traveling rogue in a small pod who appears in the enterprise unexplained and begins to shake things up.

Also, you're going to cover Babylon Five when we get to talking about cult television, right? I just ask, because it's a better example of cult TV than the X-Files ever was, because it creates a very influential fandom, but also because Rebecca Levene was heavily influenced by it when she took over as editor of the New Adventures. Just curious, because I'm excited to hear what you have to say about it.

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talestoenrage 4 years, 6 months ago

Hardly an important point for this whole entry, but: Best of Both Worlds is probably the best Next Generation episode. As for overall, I know that I prefer Deep Space Nine's "In The Pale Moonlight." I can accept that part of the reason why that episode (and Deep Space Nine in general) were so good was because of Next Generation's learning curve, so I won't say that Deep Space Nine was just the better show; if it was, it's because it got to benefit from its immediate predecessor. But still, Andrew Robinson and Avery Brooks having an actor-off is just magnificent.

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Abigail Brady 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, and of course there's the episode "A Matter of Time," which started life as an explicit Doctor Who crossover

It did now? I would be interested to hear more about this.

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Tommy 4 years, 6 months ago

"he is very much the American Terry Nation, only with more stories of appalling behavior)"

I'd say he was more like the American John Nathan Turner, with an equal portfolio of stories of appalling behaviour- certainly at this stage in his career. Both being rather neurotic control freaks with a paranoid, proprietorial behaviour when it came to their show (most likely stemming from being undermined by higher ups, Gene being removed from any control over the films after the Motion Picture fiasco, and JNT having an overseer in Barry Letts forced upon him in his first season), and propensity to alienate people and interfere needlessly in scripts in ways that just made them worse. And basically turned their respective shows into a plastic, pretentious, apolitical (yet unbearably preachy) 'brand' show, full of sterile sets and characters, occasionally interrupted by shrill forced melodrama and incoherent violence (such as Tasha Yar beating up one of Q's guards out of the blue in Farpoint).

It also perhaps demonstrates that had JNT's control over the show been like Gene Roddenberry's control over TNG- just onboard for those two or three early seasons to define this new version of the show and then let the rest take care of itself, and let the new team build on that foundation, then 80's Doctor Who could have worked out fine and gone onto greater popularity.

In a way I see the 80's Trek films, as the Tom Baker era. Wrath of Khan of course being the Hinchcliffe era, Search For Spock being the transitional Season 15, The Voyage Home being City of Death, the comedic, feelgood one that drew in the highest audiences. And I guess The Final Frontier is Creature from the Pit, where it all gets too silly and the lead actor's ego takes over too much.

Next Generation is of course Season 18/19, where suddenly the earthy, human tone of the films is gone, replaced by this technofetishism and plastic-ness and set of overserious, preachy reductio ad absurdum characters. We have our own Tegan in Tasha Yar, our own Nyssa in Troi, and our own Adric in Wesley Crusher. We have the killing off of a regular, and I guess Best of Both Worlds is Trek's answer to Earthshock.

"That’s the real one: the proper way to bring back a “cult” show is to not actually have it be a cult show."

SFdebris has said the malaise that led to the cancellation of Trek was that the fans became taken for granted.

The Next Generation had the same standalone, new adventure every week, appeal as the original series. They could have actually made a Babylon 5-esque story arc out of the Borg threat, but for better or worse they didn't. But then of course with Deep Space Nine it becomes more arc driven and more niche. And it's format doesn't seem particularly appealing or adventurous. From there Trek became more and more niche.

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Tommy 4 years, 6 months ago

I think Next Generation was the only one of the Trek shows that had a decent final story. So much so that it made the successive TNG films become quickly redundant (certainly after First Contact, which dealt with the one bit of unfinished business left from the TV show).

With DS9 the Dominion war arc came at a price, as it led to a rapid burnout of ideas. The final season of DS9 is a major comedown with the business of the Pah Wraiths, the final battle in the fire caves between Sisko and Dukat is just a rehas of Kirk versus Gary in Where No Man Has Gone Before. Really Dukat should have disappeared from the show after Waltz. And the resolution ends up being too pact and impersonal- really we should have had a throwback to In The Pale Moonlight, where Sisko's duplicitous streak is taken to another level and he wins by revealing some devious winning strategy or a card up his sleeve.

Voyager was just more of the cliches of Next Generation at a time when they were clearly getting old hat. They had some boost of interest with Seven of Nine's character, but even then her spontaneous duplicitous streak gradually vanished and she just turned into a token love interest, whilst with each passing season the jeapordy of getting home was lessened into a foregone conclusion, at around the time of Series 4.

So we ended up with a show where the overall jeapordy lesened with each season rather than where the stakes rose. Infact had they got home around Series 5, it might have left the audience on a high. Instead they protracted the show for two more seasons, by which time it was easy to just lose interest.

I would have been happy with the first 20 minutes of Endgame with older Janeway adjusting to life after Voyager, but then she decides instead of accepting her lot, she's going to change history with the time travelling delta flyer. The whole thing falls apart when she activates the Bat shields on the thing, and from there it's as if the episode loses interest with what it was doing, and scraps it all and starts again. And we don't even see 'our' Janeway and her crew arrive home and be properly reunited with their families. You could even have shown something like that muted over the credits (including a scene of the Voyager ship becoming a museum).

With Enterprise I never got past the incomprehensible pilot, or the stuffy cast.

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Jesse 4 years, 6 months ago

Yaphet Kotto was up for the part? Apparently there's an alternate universe where I'm a Star Trek fan.

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David Anderson 4 years, 6 months ago

If UNIT have something of a British critique of Star Trek about them, I wonder if Q has something of a US critique of the Doctor. I gather there was a crossover in the comics earlier this year; the only way I can see that working is if the Doctor and Picard treat each other as falling into those two roles.

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Tommy 4 years, 6 months ago

Funny, I always thought Q was meant to be Trek's answer to the Master.

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Tommy 4 years, 6 months ago

Or at the very least was meant to be as much Picard's own Moriarty, as the Master had been to the Doctor.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

Going through the archives, my eyebrows were raised at the idea that Star Trek, the original, was a cult show; it seemed to me to have been straightforwardly shown as family entertainment. Did you change your mind, or do you feel that it only became broad-based with TNG?

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, the format was very adventurous when it showed up on Deep Space Nine! I don't think the "taking the fans for granted" really happened until Voyager and the TNG movies.

An excellent point on early TNG having the same kind of showrunner syndrome as '80s Who, though it went in the opposite direction - more cerebral, less visceral.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

The latter. The original Star Trek got middling ratings, was kept on the air an extra season due to unusually passionate fans, and then survived in reasonable popularity for a decade because of the sheer dedication of its fans. That is, by and large, a cult show. I think that the movies and the cult appeal made it a popular thing to pick up for syndication, and that led to the situation from which TNG arose. So I don't think it became broad-based with TNG - I think it became broad-based in the early 1980s.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

Q isn't villainous, though. Plus, he's a renegade space god from a race of space gods who comes down and shows the normal humans what's what - not to mention the time he was stripped of his powers by his fellow space gods and left to work with the pseudo-military, and that time he took on a human traveling companion.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

Interesting. I just don't feel like a cult show would have gotten a series of big-budget theatrical movies in the first place.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, a lot of them weren't that big budget. Wrath of Khan was $11.2 million. That's not peanuts in 1982, but it's not one of the biggest films of the year either. (The Dark Crystal, Conan the Barbarian, Rambo, Gandhi, Firefox, and Tootsie all beat it, and that's just looking at other films in the top twenty that year)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture's $46 million was more eyebrow-raising, but seems to have been based more on the assumption of a large body of hardcore fans. It was also a boondoggle - way too expensive for how well it did, and more expensive than Moonraker, The Muppet Movie, or Apocalypse Now. But it still did well enough to justify a cheap sequel, and that's about where the franchise belonged. Budgets slowly crept up, but the last five original series movies were all under $30m. Accounting for inflation, The Motion Picture cost over three times what Star Trek VI did, and its costs are comparable to those of Batman Begins. It was a ludicrous amount of money to spend.

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Tommy 4 years, 6 months ago

I believe The Motion Picture's reported $46 million budget included the budget for the abandoned Star Trek Phase II series, which was already deep in the production stage and even had standing sets ready which were then scrapped in favour of doing the film (with the TV pilot script In Thy Image being adapted into the movie, and rewritten to a pulp).

It impresses me actually how the first film failed to make the translation from TV to cinema (althogh having said that, from reading the original TV script it was far better and slicker before Gene's rewrites), with the bright visuals being out of control to the point of being dull and lacking any cinematic punch, and yet the next three sequels manage to learn from the mistakes of that film and pick up the language of cinema and the power of audiovisual storytelling very, very quickly and effectively.

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encyclops 4 years, 6 months ago

I like the connection you've made between TNG and 21st Century Who. Even though I'm not a huge Trek fan, I did watch most of TNG, at least the earlier seasons, largely because my mom was into it.

I have to wonder a bit about a couple of the comments you've made. Specifically:

* Is Picard really reducible to "British guy"? You don't think his character started with anything more than that? I assume you don't mean to say they never developed him beyond that.

* The Borg were intended as a critique of capitalism? Dude, they're called a "Collective," aren't they?

On the topic of cult SF, the other show my mom and I watched religiously during this time period was Quantum Leap.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

They are, I think - the initial description of them in Q Who is as "the ultimate users" who consume everything they find, and they're initially stressed more in terms of an "ultimate evolution of humanity," with the hive mind being described as a clever evolutionary advantage.

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C. 4 years, 6 months ago

Trek's "mass" popularity was slow in coming, but it mainly happened in the '70s due to the show being on constant syndication. (it always seemed to be airing in the pre-dinner slot on some channel). By 1976, Saturday Night Live could do a detailed, letter-perfect parody of the show and the audience generally got all the jokes: http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/star-trek---the-last-voyage/280280

I agree that the first budget-bloated movie nearly killed the franchise, and that the secret to the '80s films' success was their relative cheapness---they were high-end B movies, really.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

Sounds more like a critique of consumption itself than its capitalist or collectivist incarnations.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

I'd point out my earlier comments on the way in which a "survival of the fittest" sort of logic and capitalism are natural allies, but I might call down the wrath of BerserkRL. :)

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encyclops 4 years, 6 months ago

I think I need a little more to be convinced that they weren't intended as a loose communist critique. Particularly in a series that already featured the Ferengi.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

It's worth noting that Q Who is the only episode by its writer - I have little problem with the assumption that Rob Bowman had a different version of the Borg in mind than everyone else did. They became a critique of collectivism, certainly, but Q Who really didn't go in that direction (and was the one Borg story I watched for this entry).

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

Gah, Maurice Hurley, not Rob Bowman. Read the wrong line on IMDB.

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Dr Mabuse 4 years, 6 months ago

Hiya. Long time reader, first time poster.

I happen to own The Making of Star Trek, The Motion Picture, published to coincide with the release of said film. Oddly, there is absolutely no explanation therein for the massive costs of the movie. I believe there were problems with the initial special effects team that led to John Dykstra and his team being brought in at the last moment. Even then, it's difficult to see what caused the run-away budget. I suspect it's the old studio game of assigning the costs of other productions that flop onto what they expect to be a success. Had STTMP done Star Wars levels of business - which they confidently expected it would - they might have escaped censure, but is middling level success brought it to attention. Certainly, at one time it held the record for "Most expensive film ever made" in The Guiness Book of Records, and for quite some time at that. Odd, for a film without then-major stars.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 6 months ago

terribly fond of being Master and Commander or Horatio Hornblower in space, whereas Doctor Who, when it’s intersected those tropes, has tended to take a less reverential approach

I don't see the Master and Commander series as being terribly reverential toward empire; doesn't the character of Maturin represent an ongoing critique and subversion of such values?

The Borg are initially presented not as corrupted humans, a la the Cybermen, but as a metaphor for unchecked capitalism.

As per encyclops, aren't the Ferengi a better choice for critique of capitalism (antisemitic signifiers and all)?

By the time of Voyager, at least, the Borg have become such a Soviet metaphor that Seven of Nine ends up essentially imitating Greta Garbo's Ninotchka -- with the incoherent result that someone whose natural reaction to being unwillingly exiled from a collective consciousness would naturally be to seek as much connection with others as possible, is instead presented as aloof, independent-minded, and self-confident in a way that seems more Vulcan than ex-Borg -- just because doing so echoes Ninotchka.

As for the Ferengi, the "doux commerce" thesis at least gets a boost in DS9 when Quark says something like "say what you like about the Ferengi, but at least there are no death camps in my planet's history. Where's the profit in killing your customers?"

the key signifier of Picard really is "he's British."

Straczynski tells the story of how at one point Michael York was up for the role of B5 captain (or maybe it was Crusade captain, I forget when this was) and was very interested in the role, to Straczynski's excitement, but the studio execs rejected York on the grounds that "we don't want to give the impression that all starship captains are British."

Some of this is down to Roddenberry’s influence on the series

Which is why DS9 is so much better than TNG; Roddenberry's death finally allowed Star Trek to include a) political stories, b) moral complexity, and c) decent roles for female characters.

So I don't think it became broad-based with TNG - I think it became broad-based in the early 1980s

I think the late 70s. When I was in high school, Star Trek was almost as popular with the jocks as it as with the nerds.

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Dr Mabuse 4 years, 6 months ago

On the subject of popping between realities, I can't help but think that you've missed an important one, Chris Boucher's Star Cops. It is one of those things-we've-forgotten-to-remember but in '86 Michael Grade was pushing this series as a serious replacement for Dr Who in the hearts and minds of sf fans during the suspension crisis, and was bigging it up in the newspapers as such. Of course, he expected Starsky and Hutch in outer space rather than Boucher's cerebral mystery/character work.

Let me make clear that I love Star Cops, but there is no getting away from the fact that it was broadcast in the summer, on Monday nights on BBC2 between 8.30 and 9.20. That's a graveyard slot if ever there was one ( they are still doing it now, viz Vexed starring Toby Jones on BBC2 on a Wednesday evening). As a result, nobody watched it and I suspect that its perceived, if manufactured, failure led to the BBC under Jonathan Powell turning away from science fiction towards SF-lite stuff like Bugs.

Of course, your big problem is the ridiculous price demanded for the Star Cops dvds these days, so you may decide to pass it over. Nevertheless, it should at least be given a tip of the hat for ever existing in the first place.

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Jack Graham 4 years, 6 months ago

It's very hard to read the Borg (at least, as has been said, the *original* Borg) as collectivist monsters... given that they arrive pretty much at the exact historical moment when soviet-style communism is tottering and collapsing. They look more like the terrifyingly triumphant shadow of 'the West', seemingly unstoppable and trampling everything before it, ending history itself by sheer efficiency, turning everything useful into itself like capital. At the start, the disinterested and ruthless rationality of the Borg looks like the ethic of the self-interested rational actor, made a general principle.

Even later, when Hurley's original conception of the Borg is surplanted by the version that concentrates on the supposed horrors of collectivism, the Borg start getting more and more vampiric in that way that looks monopolistic (as in Moretti's reading of 'Dracula').

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BerserkRL 4 years, 6 months ago

Re the Michael York story, Straczynski tells the details in one of the CafePress books, and so not in anything online, but I found the quote: PTEN was "afraid people would think that all future space-faring captains were British." And the role York was up for was B5's captain -- the second one, the role that Boxleitner ended up with.

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Iain Coleman 4 years, 6 months ago

I'm a fan of Star Cops, though inept production errors did as much to sink it as the terrible time slot.

The DVD box set is well worth getting, if only because the first episode is so much better with Chris Boucher's miserable, depressed commentary. It starts with (approximately) this:

"Hello, I'm Chris Boucher, and I created Star Cops. Now, this is the title sequence, and this is the first thing I don't like about this show..."

- and continues in like vein for the rest of the episode. It's quite instructive about the realities of TV production - the challenges, the pitfalls and the successes - and has inspired me and my wife's most obscure shared catchprase: "I wanted a booth!" (This will make no sense if you haven't heard Boucher's commentary.)

But on the substantive point, yes, Star Cops was apparently poised to be the next big thing in British sci-fi, but then it fizzled out. A shame, because it was a nice concept, with some good scripts and performances. Boucher was initially invited to produce it as well as write it, but he didn't feel confident enough to take on that role. Given the subsequent clashes with a producer who didn't get what Boucher was trying to do or why, perhaps the show would have done better if he'd taken that leap.

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daibhid-c 4 years, 6 months ago

The other mistake The Motion Picture made, I think, was that they had 2001: A Space Odyssey as the image of what sf cinema was about. Don't get me wrong, 2001 is great, but it was like they hadn't noticed that George Lucas had changed what filmgoers expected from space opera.

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daibhid-c 4 years, 6 months ago

One review I read of the DS9 finale made the point that the Trek show that had made a point of flawed heroes, affable villains, and a lack of Absolute Good and Evil, ended with an incorruptable hero ascending bodily to Heaven and a ranting villain getting sucked into Hell. Honestly, the whole Emissary thing had the feel of an idea that sounded good in the pilot, and then the creators had to worry about what it actually *meant*, and whether it fitted with what else they were doing, which it mostly didn't.

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encyclops 4 years, 6 months ago

I don't have a lot invested in fitting the Borg into a political allegory, and certainly I wouldn't be prepared to argue that they're an _effective_ shot at communism -- I was talking intent, not effect, and I was more perplexed at the idea that they were intended as capitalist monsters. I suppose you could make a case for it, though I think the reason you can do so is that they're about the horror of remorseless absorption and loss of individuality, a kind of headless totalitarian regime which is in theory orthogonal to those categories. So if you identify capitalism with loss of individuality (and I don't think you do, from what I read of the essay you linked above), then I guess you can get to the Borg from there.

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arcbeatle 4 years, 6 months ago

"as does an Enterprise two-parter featuring Borg at the North Pole that’s called “Regeneration.” "

It was a one-parter.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regeneration_%28Enterprise%29

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David Anderson 4 years, 6 months ago

IIRC it was being shown in the UK on weekday evenings about six just as the BBC's children's television wound down during most of the early eighties. That, and that each episode was self-contained, meant that it was easier for a casual viewer to follow it than to follow Doctor Who.

Star Trekkin' made number one in the UK in 1987. (For those who don't know what that is, find out.)

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

Like the best monster, there's a juxtaposition of opposites in the Borg that makes them more mirror-like, allowing us to project our own individual fears onto their initial appearance.

They're the ultimate users, and yet they're a collective. They have no command structure, yet wield tremendous power. No individuals, yet their only communication is a warning of punishment. I find both capitalist and collectivist critiques problematic, for the Borg have no interest in "political conquest, wealth, or power as you know it," according to Q.

If anything, it's the seemingly trivial conversation between LaForge and Sonya (whose name derives from Sophia, the personification of Wisdom) that sets up the premise, as the engineer chides the newcomer about her employment of manners in the face of artificial intelligence and the dehumanization of constantly working with technology. Coupled with Picard's arrogance, the godlike power of Q, and a technology that behaves more like Life than any kind of political economy, I think this story draws more from the same roots as Mary Shelley than anything else, and speaks more to the question of what it means to be human (who are you?) than it does of political allegory -- though I don't object to the multiple and contradictory readings it's invoked here in the slightest.

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Ike 4 years, 6 months ago

My understanding was that "A Matter of Time" was originally supposed to be a vehicle for Robin Williams. The Memory Alpha TNG wiki site mentions that. I can't find any reference on the Web to it being a Doctor Who crossover originally. At the time, I fantasized about a crossover with Sylvester McCoy's Doctor instead of what we got, but that would have required a much different script.

Ultimately, and unfortunately, "A Matter of Time" is not one of the better episodes of ST:TNG's fifth season, and the time-traveling character doesn't end up being much like the Doctor. You're teased with the possibility at first -- he's played by Matt Frewer, who might make a plausible American Doctor under the right circumstances, but it's all very thin and under-written, as if, indeed, they had planned for Robin Williams to fill up several minutes with his rambling comedy improv.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 6 months ago

Yes, DS9 lost its way a bit toward the end. Depriving Gul Dukat of his moral complexity and just making him a straight villain was, in particular, a horrible mistake.

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Tommy 4 years, 6 months ago

Of course Sisko was hardly incorruptible, given his sip from the devil's cup when tricking the Romulans into joining the war. In a way that really brings into question whether the behaviour of the 'villains' of Paradise Lost, For The Uniform and the Section 37 arc is really any worse or more a threat to the moral integrity of the Federation than Sisko's.

As for the ranting villain burning in hell, it always felt wrong to me that he gets such a merciless comeuppance, whilst the Changelings who are guilty of far worse war crimes get off comparatively easy. One of various ways that the finale feels like it's written by two different people who just aren't on the same page together.

The final season is an odd one. IMO it took a while for Deep Space Nine to develop its own sense of identity without feeling like it was trying too hard to be different from TNG. And then in Series 7 it's like the show became unsettled and prone to trying too hard again with contrivance after contrivance. At a point where it should have been soaring toward the end with its usual sharpness, it instead started chugging along and kept looking to distractions, with the Pah Wraiths business particularly feeling like pointless season filler.

I can't think of any outright terrible stories in the final season, but none of them particularly stand out as memorable either, they just kind of blur into each other, which is ironic given how simultaneously ill-fitting a lot of the ideas introduced into the season are. And some of the character developments just come off as moronic, particularly with Worf, and the immaculate conception of Sisko.

Did they just get complacent, or did they start panicking, or both?

"Honestly, the whole Emissary thing had the feel of an idea that sounded good in the pilot, and then the creators had to worry about what it actually *meant*, and whether it fitted with what else they were doing, which it mostly didn't."

I think All Good Things introduced the rather wrongheaded thinking that the final story now has to link back to the pilot somehow. It worked with All Good Things, perhaps because the show wasn't particularly arc driven, so a reminiscence story wouldn't bring things to a halt. Endgame I think tried too hard to be about Janeway reliving her 'decision' again, when surely that was as old news as the Kazon themselves.

The Prophets really didn't need to contribute more to the Dominion war arc than the occasional deus ex machina helping hand in Sacrifice of Anels, or the odd 'vision' to boost Sisko's morale in Far Beyond the Stars. So making the actual Dominion war resolution secondary to the firecaves battle was just pointless.

The point of Sisko being the Emissary needn't have been any more than just establishing his relationship with the Bajorans as their spiritual figurehead, which had naturally developed over the seasons to the point where Sisko felt a fondness for the Bajorans and an obligation to defend them from any further tyranny and to 'draw the line here'- which gave a piquancy to stories like The Quickening which showed what Bajor's fate could be if Sisko let them down and the Dominion won.

The fact the finale had to make him literally an instrument of God against an instrument of the devil really shows that they were trying too hard with the idea and turning it into something ludicrous.

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Tommy 4 years, 6 months ago

"Depriving Gul Dukat of his moral complexity and just making him a straight villain was, in particular, a horrible mistake."

If he'd vanished after Waltz, he would have retained his ambiguity, and have gone out a bit like Kaiser Soze.

I think confused matthew said it best how Dukat's reasoning that whilst Damar killed his daughter it was somehow 'Sisko's fault' was so stupid it was clearly a forced attempt to forge this new dynamic of them being blood enemies, and reduced a previously well-crafted character who's motives were always realistic and believable, into a writer's puppet.

A part of me thinks it would be better, and more memorable if it was Dukat rather than Damar who became disillusioned with the Dominion, and turned against them. Especialy coupled with how he'd lost his daughter and now realised just how much her sacrifice had been in vain. In service of a military power that just didn't care about them. It would have been a nice full circle return to the early days where Sisko and Dukat were forced to work together. This time across enemy lines and with far more heavy hatchets to bury between them, so that the ending would be the meeting point between them and have a real sense of emotional conflict.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 6 months ago

I must point out to Jack, though, that Communism is by no means the general good you paint is as... particularly not Soviet-style or Mao-style Communism. In those instances, the loss of the individual is an integral part of those societies, in order to move, say, a "Five-Year Plan", or a "Great Leap Forward".

It's not quite the evil the West painted it as in the 20th century, but nor is it sunshine and roses, bub. :-P

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Jack Graham 4 years, 6 months ago

Oh, absolutely. I'd hate anyone to think I had any kind of rosy view of the old Soviet Union, Mao's China or any version of 'really existing socialism'. Authoritarian travesties based on bureaucratic state capitalism (but with red banners) and generalised scarcity. Yuck. The political tradition in which I (broadly) place myself has a long history of bitterly criticising such societies.

I would, however, take issue with the idea that the "loss of the individual" need have any necessary place in an actual Communist society (no more than it does in *any* society, anyway). There was, in my view, no greater champion of individual rights in the history of philosophy than old Marx. :-)

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ferret 4 years, 6 months ago

Sadly, Matt Frewer is also very annoying in the role. I can't comment on whether this is his performance or the part as written, but I saw this episode last week and it couldn't end quickly enough for me (TNG is repeating in Australia 3 eps every Thursday evening on Eleven).

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ferret 4 years, 6 months ago

For me, the important thing about TNG's broadcast in the UK is that it came in late September 19990 when it was quite literally the ONLY serious science fiction on television.

Wednesday 6pm BBC 2 - 45 minutes of sci-fi and that was it for an entire week.

Until Babylon 5, Lexx, Deep Space Nine and Stargate SG-1 came along, if you wanted to watch serious Science Fiction you could not begin to exercise any choice - TNG was all there was. My decision not to watch Stargate SG-1 was the first time I felt able to say "I don't need this sci-fi show, I have enough", and that was over 8 years after Doctor Who was cancelled.

TNG was desperately consumed - the relatively poor quality of the first 2 and half seasons barely registered, because to a starving man the taste of the food is low on the list of requirements. Luckily, the quality skyrocketed, but for many years there it would have made no difference at all.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 6 months ago

I thought he was Star Trek's answer to Desmond Llewelyn... ;-)

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 6 months ago

Oh, I completely understand. :-)

The typical Communist state, though, was under either a godlike leader or some sort of all-emcompassing bureaucracy, which, in both cases, meant subsuming the individual to become either just another worker for the god-head or just another cog in the machine... like the Borg.

(Not saying you don't understand that, of course; just laying out the promiment similarities between the fictional and real-world situations.)

It really doesn't get more collective than using "we" and not meaning it in the royal sense.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 6 months ago

I've wondered whether the Borg were partly inspired by the Marshak/Culbreath 1983 Trek novel Triangle (the weakest of their four Trek novels, IMHO), where the antagonist(s) is/are a collective mind.

Since the authors were Randians, they at least probably didn't have a critique of capitalism in mind.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 6 months ago

It was from Season Five, one of the weaker seasons of TNG — probably only the first and second were worse in average episode quality. Matt Frewer also makes a good link to Max Headroom, though.

Ultimately, the episode reiterates Star Trek's complicated relationship with rogues and renegades. Frewer's character appears, and is first coded as a figure of intrigue, this mysterious man from the distant future. But he turns out to be a con man and a thief, morally reprehensible.

Throughout Star Trek, there's a similar tension between the importance of law and order (Starfleet is a military organization, and everyone is constantly giving and following orders), and the importance of rebellion and free thought. All the captains are renegades to some degree, bending or stepping over the rules of their organization when the situation calls for it. But they also, especially from Picard onward, are very adamant that the rules justify themselves, and are there to be followed. Sisko is probably the biggest rogue among the five captains, and Picard starts to move on this trajectory in the final seasons, when the politics of TNG's world become more visibly compromising, as in the Federation's realpolitiking with the Cardassians. Doctor Who has always been far more comfortable critiquing and rejecting authority than Star Trek ever really was, no matter how much we may tell ourselves what rebels the captains are while we watch.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 6 months ago

If Q is a Star Trek articulation of the Doctor (and it's true, there are parallels), then it's a sign that the Star Trek ethos can't wrap its head around the Doctor. Q is a trickster god who appears among humanity to disrupt them. But Q, at least in the TNG version of his character, never had a morality that was at all hopeful. When he did act according to some moral code, he did it as a supreme judge, no longer mercurial, but the hammer of an authority with universal scope. At all other times, he was screwing with the main cast for his own amusement.

Basically, Star Trek (in its general conceptual tendency as an institution) can't understand having a moral perspective without its being wedded to the law. The Doctor acts from moral principles, but at his best, he articulates them mercurially, destabilizing situations and pointing to ways forward through his action as an individual. The Doctor's morality is that of a guru or a guide. Star Trek's morality is essentially that of the legislator or policeman. Nothing necessarily good or bad about either approach to morality (there are destructive gurus and helpful policemen, after all). But those approaches are incompatible.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

Adam: It's an interesting tension, and honestly, one I don't mind seeing this side of - the person originally a straight arrow bending off the path, rather than the person who starts as a renegade. (Of course, that's kind of Romana's arc, isn't it.)

Also: Season Five was great! What.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 6 months ago

Having watched Lexx (and my father was good friends with the actor who played Stanley in that show, which makes me more socially connected to that than any other major sci-fi show of the time), I can't understand how you'd call it "serious" sci-fi. Intricate and detailed in the construction of its world, but I could never think of it as serious.

If we end up popping between realities to Lexx, I'm willing to be shown the error of my perceptions. But that was definitely what I perceived.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

I think Star Trek can understand that, but only in its most dramatic, dig-to-the-depths-of-the-character moments - it can't just have a mercurial character, it has to have one who's driven outside their society's code by circumstance.

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Jack Graham 4 years, 6 months ago

And yet the Borg end up using "we" in the royal sense, don't they? They end up with a Queen. But - the facile hive analogy aside - the Queen ties in with their increasingly vampiric depiction. Vampires have, until relatively recently, been firmly semiotically linked to aristocracy. And monopoly. In 'Dracula', van Helsing (from Holland, home of free trade) has to fight the vampire who is simultaneously a feudal aristocrat and a budding global monopolist. Interestingly enough, you can see the same mixture appearing in 'Doctor Who'. Arcturus in 'Curse of Peladon' is capitalist in that he's a representative of the Federation (ha!), which will bring development and trade, etc., but he's also a monopolist who is sponsoring Hepesh's attempt to keep Peladon in the feudal era. That's why he's a skulltopus... but that's another story.

I'd agree broadly with what you say... but I'd point out that capitalism has its godlike leaders and all-encompassing bureaucracies. Capitalism subsumes the individual (while also worshiping individualism). And isn't everyone in a corporate workplace, to some extent, a cog in a machine? And, of course, thanks to uneven and combined development, capitalism has kings and queens. The essential similarity between 20th century 'Communism' and capitalism shows in the fact that Stalinism was, essentially, a form of state ownership and control of capital. At the same time, you can see the intense meshing of capital with the state in Europe and America (even today, in the neoliberal age, the state is hardly in decline really). And that's without looking at corporations as states-within-states. They are massive, pyramidal, undemocratic, bureaucratic hierarchies... "pure tyrannies" as Chomsky puts it.

I guess I'm driving at the idea that there's actually less structural distinction between capitalism and what we tend to think of as 'collectivism', i.e. Stalinism... hence, I suppose, the way the Borg can be read as both (though, given the historical moment of their appearance, I think they work better as the technocratic, capitalist West - rampaging triumphant).

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

C.: Both your points make utter sense.

daibhid: Another 2001-style movie could have worked... only, nobody who was imitating 2001 actually understood what made it tick. Star Wars was a bit easier to grok, though, as we've seen in previous Pop Between Realities entries, there were quite a few failed attempts at that style as well.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

"It's very hard to read the Borg (at least, as has been said, the *original* Borg) as collectivist monsters... given that they arrive pretty much at the exact historical moment when soviet-style communism is tottering and collapsing. They look more like the terrifyingly triumphant shadow of 'the West', seemingly unstoppable and trampling everything before it, ending history itself by sheer efficiency, turning everything useful into itself like capital. At the start, the disinterested and ruthless rationality of the Borg looks like the ethic of the self-interested rational actor, made a general principle."

And thus, in a sense, the dark mirror of the Federation - the qlippothic, self-generating shell around the noble intent behind Kennedy-era interventionism.

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Jesse 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, 1994, actually, since that’s when the obvious book to connect The X-Files to comes up.

Which reminds me: Will we be popping through to Twin Peaks?

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

Ah, got it on the right post this time. ;)

I'm doing them in the same entry, actually.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

@Matthew: "I must point out to Jack, though, that Communism is by no means the general good you paint is as... particularly not Soviet-style or Mao-style Communism. In those instances, the loss of the individual is an integral part of those societies"

@Jack: "Authoritarian travesties based on bureaucratic state capitalism (but with red banners) and generalised scarcity. Yuck. The political tradition in which I (broadly) place myself has a long history of bitterly criticising such societies.

Having lived in two different communes, I find the Borg absolutely terrifying. The reason is two-fold. First, how the individual is completely erased by the Borg, and second, how there's a complete lack of accountability for the power the Borg wield. Not that these were general characteristics of collective living, but that these were the problems that posed the greatest challenges for such enterprises.

I think it's easier to speak about power issues. I think it's true that wherever groups form, leaders emerge, and hierarchies become established. Not true -- inevitable, because as individuals we bring different skills and different investments of time, energy, and resources into a collective effort. It's part of the nature of being individuals. And without making the structures of power clear and verbalized, there's no way to redress the failures of leadership, which will also be inevitable. (Not to mention the inevitability of resentment of imbalance, but that's a whole nuther kettle of fish.)

What's harder to write about is the loss of individuality and the sacrifice of self in groups, any kind of group. Partly it's the tearing away of ego, and partly it's the reception of ideology, and both are aptly shown by the Borg of Q Who. It's a problem for capitalist structures, turning people into machine parts, and it's a problem for collective enterprises, insofar as for such ventures to be sustainable, there has to be a setting aside of self interest for the group -- especially in adhering to a philosophy.

If anything, the Borg reminds me of religious communities, and this is what's really scary, because my most ecstatic experiences have involved the complete lack of my "self" only to discover an utter and profound sense of "oneness" with the group -- indeed, with all creation. It's the death of the ego, but then it's over, and the ego is reborn, and we go back to being individuals. So there's a part of the Borg I find really really attractive, except for the lack of individual "rebirth" in their practice. So I really like how the episode opens with religious referent (Sonya) and how we're introduced to the Borg through an ostensible god.

And all this comes back to what I like about the current incarnation of Who, because it's so focused on the interior experiences and personal stories of the individuals. I think it's the only way for collectivism to work, and part of what makes the Classic series less effective as a critique of capitalism is not just how individual characters get lost in the shuffle for lack of personal characterization and growth, but also how monsters and villains usually get no interiorization or sympathy at all as they end up standing in for or symbolizing some "evil" of the day, for it's this kind of thinking that more than anything else that can destroy a collective: it's a metaphor for failing to see a person as anything less than fully human.

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Jesse 4 years, 6 months ago

Ah, got it on the right post this time.

Gotta watch where I click...

I'm doing them in the same entry, actually.

Makes sense. Go for the hat trick & work in Northern Exposure, too.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 6 months ago

Ahhhh, I was worried "qlippothic" was going to go unsaid, considering Phil didn't use his favourite Cyberman term in the post... :-D

Jack, I honestly don't think anyone (save, perhaps, Vladimir Putin) mourned the end of the Soviet Union; leftists idealized it for the ideals it espoused, but it never lived up to them... and, finally, openness killed it.

But Communisim at least thrives on insularity, and so can be killed by breaching the wall; pure capitalism, which is really the worst form, thrives on openness and free trade, which is really quite necessary for a nation to function in the modern world... and, thus, the wage-slaves of China, worked to death, go unmourned because of the profit margin.

A heavily socially-restrained capitalism is really the best thing for everyone (benefiting, hopefully, the poor so they don't have to be poor)... but, unfortunately, there are more dishonest than honest people, and they always find loopholes. :-(

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 6 months ago

From what I've heard, the actual reason Patrick Stewart was picked was because Bob Justman and Rick Berman really liked his theatrical background and ability to lend a commanding, dramatic gravity to the show. They in fact overruled Gene Roddenberry's original choice (Steven Macht) and had to convince him Stewart was blatantly the better option.

Really, Gene Roddenberry's role on TNG has been badly overinflated and was in truth more along the lines of one colossal bad idea after another. It's a good thing he was only showrunenr for two years, honestly.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 6 months ago

Season 5 is one of the show's best seasons, in my opinion...

Also, the character of The Traveller in the Season 1 episode "Where No One Has Gone Before" and the Season 7 episode "Journey's End" is pretty clearly a Doctor stand-in, at least to me.

And Riker uses a Sonic Screwdriver in the second-ever episode. Give it a look.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 6 months ago

I believe the Borg were intended as a critique of runaway technologism. That was the sentiment I always picked up from their episodes and from interviews with the writers. If anything, the Borg were the first real sign All Was Not Well in the rosy utopian world of the Federation, a critique the Cardassian war knocked the door down with.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

For some, intricate and detailed construction of the world is the only seriousness that counts.

:(

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 6 months ago

That arc of the straight arrow going renegade is Picard's through season six and seven, culminating in the very underrated Insurrection film. I still consider Sisko the greatest of the Star Trek captains in terms of the complexity of his character development, but this movement (and the fact that I can see the potential for that movement in the earlier seasons when he was more comfortable in Starfleet) is clearly Picard's.

I do think there were some very good stories in season five, but that its low points were lower than the low points of seasons four and six. Here are how I see TNG's seasons breaking down in terms of quality.
1: Corny, stupid, superficial.
2: Starting to improve, held off by the writers' strike.
3: Picking up into classic territory.
4: The perfection of the Star Trek storytelling style.
5: Further perfection, but with noticeable stumble episodes.
6: Brilliant boundary pushing of what Star Trek can do (DS9 would pick this up best).
7: Brilliant at times, but running out of steam.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 6 months ago

Regarding Wesley Crusher. I've always thought Adric was, in many ways, far worse than Wesley. Annoying and whiny as Wesley could be, he actually was highly intelligent and resourceful as a character, not just with technobabbly last-minute resolutions, but in his best episodes with genuine skill at dealing with danger. I'm thinking especially of the episode where he and an injured Picard were trapped in a cave and had to improvise wildly to survive.

Adric was never all that resourceful, or even that competent a lot of the time. So there weren't nearly as many redeeming features for the character as they managed for Wesley. At least Wesley justified his presence. But I remember what Steven Moffatt said in the Earthshock documentary: "Why do sci-fi writers think we like boy geniuses? Everybody hates boy geniuses!"

Even in real life, Matthew Waterhouse was a dick in 1982, and remains a dick to this day. Wil Wheaton, meanwhile, has become one of the coolest guys on the internet, cooler today than Jonathan Frakes.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 6 months ago

Jack G.,

Vampires have, until relatively recently, been firmly semiotically linked to aristocracy.

Though Anne Rice put a neat twist on that by portraying the tendency of contemporary civilisation as the universalisation of aristocracy, and having vampires love it for that reason.

Matthew B.,

pure capitalism, which is really the worst form, thrives on openness and free trade

Um, no.

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Jack Graham 4 years, 6 months ago

@Ununnilium - I'm afraid I don't think Kennedy-era interventionism had a noble intent.

@jane - It may be true that it's inevitable that leaders and hierarchies will always emerge automatically in any communal group... or it may be that communal groups in our time are always drawn mostly from people socialised by class society, and so are prone to replicate some class structures. I find the instabilities you mention especially prevalent in those groups which attempt to use 'consensus' rather than formal democratic structures. In the noble attempt to do away with the tyranny of the majority, the abandonment of structured democratic forms (for fear of things like bureaucratization, etc.) leads to a situation where the loudest or most lucid or most pushy or most educated voice ends up dominating more than it could if it had to submit to that very tyranny of the majority. As you say "without making the structures of power clear and verbalized, there's no way to redress the failures of leadership".

You say that collectivism entails the "setting aside of self interest for the group -- especially in adhering to a philosophy". But don't class societies, including capitalism, require just the same. Robert Tressel pithily described his painters and decorator characters as 'philanthropists' because they charitably donated their labour to the enrichment of their bosses. And capitalism is, of course, a philosophy. Those painters and decorators were much devoted to the philosophy of their bosses, much to Owen's dismay.

What you say about religious communities - and the religiose presentation of the Borg in 'Q Who' - is fascinating. Religious and ego-sublimating elements are, of course, found in political tyrannies. And we could get onto the sublimation of the libido here too. Orwell has Oceania work by supressing and then tactically harnessing everyone's sex drive... and also the death drive. One of his other global totalitarianisms was called 'the Death of the Self'. He called his great tyrannies 'oligarchial collectivism', of course... but isn't there a contradiction there (of which he was, of course, aware)? How can you have a true collective with a ruling oligarchy? Interestingly, the Borg end up replicating this paradox (which was a real world phenomenon) with their ruling Queen. She's supposed to be a sort of command node which generalises the minds of all others... but then the politburo were supposed to be something similar.

@Matthew - Eeee, we obviously disagree quite profoundly about capitalism and Communism after all. I don't think Communism thrived on insularity - it was part of an international economic system! - and I don't think pure capitalism runs on openness and free trade. I think that's ideology, masking deep-seated protectionism and state power... and it always has been. And that's without delving into what 'free trade' means anyway. At the most crude level, capitalism couldn't have become a global system the way it did without the 'free trade' in slaves! You say the wage-slaves of China go unmourned... well, I think their plight gets at least as much attention as the plight of Western wage-slaves, probably more (for reasons that are unmysterious). And I don't think you can have a socially-regulated form of capitalism that will last, or one which will get rid of poverty.

@Josh - yeah, "runaway technologism" is definitely in there, as part of (I think) a certain liberal queasiness about the apparently unstoppable forward march of capitalism.

@BerserkRL - Yes, I remember being struck by passages like that when I read 'The Vampire Lestat' (which was a looooooooong time ago). I'm not convinced by the idea of the 'universalisation of aristocracy' (I'm sure that doesn't astonish you)... though it's interesting as a perception.

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Anton B 4 years, 6 months ago

Please also consider Eerie Indiana as another example of a 'Kids TV' show that punches above its weight.

Isn't the difference between Trek and Who the basic difference between pulp U.S. and British/European Science Fiction? The tropes of the Victorian/Edwardian lone adventurer and his companions (epitomised by Wells, C.S. Lewis and Verne) set against the quasi military group adventuring or displaced heroes of the Hugo Gernsback/Heinlein/Asimov era.

All accusations of sweeping generalisation will of course be accepted graciously.

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Gnaeus 4 years, 6 months ago

Dukat was never an ambiguous character, morally. He was always a smiling Macbeth, wheedling and self-justifying. The whole point of In the Pale Moonlight is that it shows us how the road to becoming Dukat begins. But Dukat was always - always - evil. That's what Kira's character is there to remind us of. His self-justifications are post-hoc excuses. There is no good, no balance in him, really. The only moderating influence is Ziyal (and/or his family) and with these gone, the self-delusion is stripped away (in Waltz) along with his sanity. The cognitive dissonance is laid bare to him and he faces the disjunct between action and justification, and accepts his role as servant of Satan.

The more interesting flaw is Kai Winn, whose turn to the Pah Wraiths is far more problematic in the light of her character developments in season 5. The "The Reckoning" U-turn on her part is more believable but also more problematic: up until that moment she could not see the difference between her own ambition and her faith, and in this sense, she too is forced to realise her own cognitive dissonance (or should have been; instead, she gets a revelation of the Pah Wraiths and decides evil is more fun.)

As for Sisko, I don't think his character is really messianic, so much as apostolic. Even the word "emissary" is a possible translation for the word "apostolos".

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

I wouldn't say season one was quite as bad as all that, but otherwise I'd agree.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

jane: That is an AWESOME comment. <3

Josh: I thought it was less "something is wrong with the Federation" and more the (IMHO more interesting) "Even though your system is leaps and bounds beyond anything humanity has previously achieved, do not think there is but a single step between yourselves and gods."

Berserk: Interesting. I'm-a steal that maybe.

Jack: How do you definite "capitalism", anyway?

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 6 months ago

I mean, they go unmourned by the assholes on top, the ones who were focused on the profit margin to begin with.

About Communism, I meant the 20th century counties that only seemed to produce inward: the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea... all under one "glorious leader", with most everyone else living in shitheaps.

By free trade, I mean the sort that doesn't care about the people harmed, only the profit margin; the sort of thing that makes people lose their jobs to "more efficient", cheaper-producing factories in other countries. This is one of the dangers of pure capitalism; the other... well, just look at the financial situation. With no regulations, everyone's economies went to shit.

Suppose I didn't explain enough before, but that's what I meant by all that. :-)

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

You don't have to be serious to be awesome. (Of course, I've never seen Lexx, so I don't know if it's either.)

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Henry R. Kujawa 4 years, 6 months ago

Ferret:
"TNG was desperately consumed - the relatively poor quality of the first 2 and half seasons barely registered, because to a starving man the taste of the food is low on the list of requirements. Luckily, the quality skyrocketed, but for many years there it would have made no difference at all."

Sounds about right.


Iain Coleman:
"Star Cops was apparently poised to be the next big thing in British sci-fi, but then it fizzled out."

I had a few episodes of this on tape (I may have wiped them since). I found it almost completely unwatchable. But maybe that's just me. It was so DULL...

By comparison, the show I loved (which seemingly caught nothing but hell and derision when it was on) was Gerry Anderson's "SPACE PRECINCT". I found it better and more fun to watch than all the late-model STAR TREK spin-offs combined. It had likable characters,, exciting stories, terrific music, the best use of "old-fashioned" special effects I've ever seen on TV, and, and this is really worth noting, MORE imaginative use of science-fiction ideas than anything I saw in 7 years of ST:TNG. And it did it all without "technobabble". Of course, having the captain of the police station on an alien planet have a NYC Irish accent was funny!

I still get a kick out of how the show came about. Anderson kept submitting ideas to distributors. they kept saying they wanted something "new". but they kept buying cop shows. And they said they wanted aliens, just not puppets. So he had live actors, and actors in "puppet" suits (it was like a sci-fi version of FRAGGLE ROCK). Also, 9 years passed between the pilot and the show being picked up, which is how Shane Rimmer got replaced with Ted Shackleford (MY HERO!).

In the long run, SPACE PRECINCT actually wound up having the BEST writing of any Gerry Anderson show I've ever seen. Sure, a lot of them had terrible writing (from THUNDERBIRDS straight up to SPACE: 1999). But this is more on the level of FIREBALL XL5 or TERRAHAWKS-- only much better.

There's few TV series I can honestly say that I love every frame of every episode of. But that's how I feel about SPACE PRECINCT.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

I really like Josh's take on the Borg most of all. The Borg represent the fear of runaway technology (but also runaway life, how DNA exploits every niche it finds) and the fear of being utterly dehumanized. And using a technological metaphor is particularly apt, because the root value of technology is control; it's not just a symbol of power, it's an instantiation of it.

The Borg are so effective because there's nothing emotional or *personal* about them; again, the opening scene of this episode really bears some study. Sonya Gomez (Gomez means "son of man," another religious signifier) suggests empathy is the key to overcoming dehumanization, and she's right. But empathy is hard work, for everyone involved, it's messy and imperfect (not utopian) and it can't be substituted with political ideology or political systems, and while I do think some systems facilitate the process better than others, any system can be corrupted without it. Systems aren't empathic, people are.

So the question is begged, what does it mean to be human? Who am I, and who are you? And this question can't be answered by theories of political economy, not by capitalism or collectivism. It's ultimately psychological -- how we dehumanize ourselves and others comes from a lack of empathy for our own interior experiences and the interior experiences of others, experiences which are rooted in emotions, not logic or reason.

Tying this back to the overall gist of this blog, it's clearer and clearer to me that it's crucial for the continued evolution of Who as an alchemical mythology that to focus on personal stories and interior experiences, and to realize that the Good/Evil "destroy the monster" narrative where characters are reduced to symbols for political ideas is a kind of dehumanization. The Pertwee era really stands out as an exemplar of this problem, while the McCoy era seems to have finally figured it out.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

And that's an important point - any system is only as good as the people in it.

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Russell Gillenwater 4 years, 6 months ago

Phil, I think it is funny that you said these series can’t be “friends” while IDW is publishing an ongoing Doctor Who/TNG crossover that features the Borg and the Cybermen.

With that said, at the time of broadcast I had a feeling of jealousy toward TNG because, at the time I thought, the Borg was what the Cybermen should have been and in the end were just cooler. A course (IMHO) the writers of TNG and the other Trek show and movies eventually eroded what made the Borg great. I think one of the main reasons was they were too powerful for Picard and company to plausible defeat. Their decline was different than the Cybermen who after their first appearance became stand in villains for the Daleks (and I don’t think the Cybermen’s B-list standing has improved in the modern series).

Also, you mentioned, the Utopianism of Star Trek was one of the reason I liked Doctor Who better. While I was a fan of both shows, I always found a future where corporations would disappear and be replaced by a society where money no longer matter just not very plausible. However, as Jack Graham pointed out on his blog maybe this post-capitalist Utopia is not really that post-capitalist at all.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

In a stochastic universe, every system eventually fails. But this is reflective of the most natural cycle, that of death and rebirth. Everything changes -- that's what Time is.

And within each system, everyone is both angelic and beastly -- no one is wholly one or the other. So it's imperative that we exercise empathy as much as possible (not all the time, because compassion isn't limitless, nothing is limitless) and that includes empathy for our beastly selves.

I suppose my biggest problem with systemic approaches (and again, tying into the blog themes here, this includes "grand narratives") is that it's so often an attempt to avoid the messiness of personal interaction, individual variation, and the emotions accompanying interior trauma. As if any kind of system can substitute for the work of empathy and relationship.

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dm 4 years, 6 months ago

I was watching Twin Peaks only last night (2nd season, when Bob's host is revealed) and I was just thinking how much the music and mood (especially the scene where Cooper assembles them all in the bar) reminded me of Cartmel-era Who, especially Battlefield.

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ferret 4 years, 6 months ago

Ah my mistake Adam, I forgot to remove Lexx along with Red Dwarf and Farscape when I decided to limit the list to 'serious' sci-fi - as Red Dwarf aired in 1988 in the UK, and while brilliant wasn't Science Fiction first and foremost, so did little to sate my 12-year-old need for science fiction after Doctor Who went off the air.

Farscape is an interesting one though - it has a boot firmly in both the comedy and serious sci-fi camps, but the environment John Crichton finds himself in is so far removed from Earth and Earth influences that on casual viewing it can appear to be science-fanatasy more than science-fiction, even though on analysis I don't think that's really the case. It probably should have been in my list.

I actually skipped Farscape when it first aired, seeing the promo for episode 1 on the BBC and deciding I didn't need to watch another sci-fi show about Americans In Space. How wrong I was!

Lexx, while definitely not serious was certainly was wonderful. I've always wondered if Brian Downey was in any way related to William H. Macy, to me they have a lot in common about the face and voice. Would love to see more of Brian Downey in film - watching the DVD extras of Lexx he strikes me as a very capable actor.

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Jack Graham 4 years, 6 months ago

Also, Worf's kid and Troi's mother in it too much. And there were too many holodeck malfunction episodes.

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tantalus1970 4 years, 6 months ago

Patrick Stewart was originally considered for the Data role (while it was still being developed), but once that character started to become more like the Data who finally appeared, they began to think about Stewart for the Captain. It's pretty clear that they always wanted him in the show.

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tantalus1970 4 years, 6 months ago

"But equally, watching “Q Who,” there’s more ambiguity involved than Doctor Who fans like to admit. The Borg are initially presented not as corrupted humans, a la the Cybermen, but as a metaphor for unchecked capitalism. "

I'd agree with this; the Borg in Q Who are nothing like what they became later. The Best of Both Worlds is MUCH more entertaining, but the Borg are reduced to Generic Powerful Invader. The Borg in Q Who don't want to conquer/assimilate humanity; they're indifferent to us, they just want our resources.

On the other hand, they are like the Cybermen in that they don't hate us, they just don't CARE.

"in which a rugged ideal of American masculinity is removed from the lead role and replaced with a British Shakespearean actor"

The problem with this is that for the first couple of seasons, Picard isn't really the lead character, Riker is. Picard often just steers the ship. When they did the inevitable clip show at the end of Season 2, it's Riker's memories that are used; Picard isn't in many of the scenes used, especially ones such as Tasha Yar being zapped and the death of Troi's child.

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Col. Orange 4 years, 6 months ago

Fun:
http://www.idwpublishing.com/news/article/2224/

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GarrettCRW 4 years, 2 months ago

@Adam: Given that Roddenberry was a cop before and at the start of his career as a writer, your analysis rings quite true.

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GeneralNerd 3 years, 2 months ago

There are several episodes of TNG, especially in later seasons, that deal with the idea that the Federation is not the utopia it seems, and that it's particular brand of space colonialism is not the best for everyone. This is explored even more in Deep Space Nine and is woefully underexplored in Voyager (where nothing is really explored except Seven of Nine and the Doctor (no not that Doctor)).

Also, the concept of the Prime Directive, I think, was originally meant to avoid the negative connotations of colonialism by making it clear that Starfleet did not engage in the exploitation of species that were less technologically advanced than them. At it's best, it's used to explore this tension between Starfleet's colonial aims and it's high-minded morals. At it's worst, it's used to justify genocide (look up SFDebris for a rant about that).

In general, I think you're a bit hard on Star Trek, but it's your blog and your opinions. I have half a mind to start my own blog exploring Star Trek and it's relationship to American culture following the model of this blog.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 2 months ago

Josh Marsfelder has already had an entire mind: http://vakarangi.blogspot.com/

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