Haunt the Future

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. Jack Graham
    September 16, 2014 @ 10:28 pm

    I've often thought that a lot of narrative texts would benefit from being reduced to a one sentence summary and then rewritten from the ground up by someone who knows nothing else about them.


  2. Adam Riggio
    September 16, 2014 @ 11:39 pm

    I did a similar rewrite in my head with the old Davison Doctor Who story Arc of Infinity in the comment threads of its TARDIS Eruditorum essay. Although I have a pretty sketchy memory for most of the Doctor Who I've seen in my childhood, I'm certain that I've never seen Arc of Infinity. My first exposure to Doctor Who came in my early childhood, when the Canadian children's cable TV station YTV first started, and filled some of its programming with British family sci-fi like Doctor Who.

    At the time, I don't think I could appreciate the generally flawed Davison stories. I would have suffered from the same immature reactions to the Davison regeneration as most of the emotionally stunted fans: I thought he was dull because he was less the centre of attention than Tom Baker, and couldn't perceive the subtle aspects of his performance. I at least had the more reasonable excuse that I was five.

    So I tuned out for most of the Davison era on its Canadian rebroadcast in the early 1990s, and missed most of the Saward era. "Well, I'll tune into a random episode and see if Doctor Who is any better," I'd say. And I'd hit Terminus part 3 or Timelash. And I'd just change the channel, then come back when the McCoy episodes started again.

    I'm actually thinking of taking that new story, removing all the Doctor Who elements, and turning it into an ecologically mystical sci-fi theatrical play.


  3. Adam Riggio
    September 17, 2014 @ 12:00 am

    But about Star Trek.

    I don't think I've watched the episode since its initial broadcast. My experience of it was very interesting. I watched the show like a 4 year old at the time (largely because I was 4 years old), sitting cross-legged in front of the TV, ever since it first came out with Farpoint. But it was really only my childhood persistence that I was watching new Star Trek. I barely even knew was Star Trek was at the time, but I knew from whatever culture I had managed to absorb that it was some kind of magical epic story of our culture, and that if it was being made again, I should watch it. I don't even think analogies are useful, as I wouldn't have known anything to allude to at the time. I only knew that Star Trek was an amazing, powerful story, and that I had to take part.

    And as I watched this story, I was confused. I couldn't quite put my finger on why, because I was 4 years old and didn't know what racism was. I could only see that this story seemed so stupid and useless, that it was weird and strange, but not in a good way. It unsettled me, but not in a way that I would have wanted to be unsettled, the way those creepy Doctor Who stories with the anti-matter man and the evil brain and the zombie vampires from the future unsettled me. I'm not sure if there's a word to describe what I felt, but I remember a combination of disappointment, non-directional disgust, and boredom.

    I think this is why I've avoided revisiting TNG Season One, preferring to dip into the Netflix catalogue with the best episodes of Seasons Two through Four, before we get to the more radically cynical stories of the later years. I remember Geordi and Worf being wasted, none of the women having anything worthwhile to do, Riker coming off as more boyish than Wesley, and Wesley being fucking insufferable. And the costuming for the guest characters that embody the most offensive of 80s aesthetics. The only first season stories I think I could revisit are Farpoint, and anything involving Data doing cool things.

    Yet at age 4, I kept watching. It was almost as though I knew there was more than this.


  4. K. Jones
    September 17, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

    I've now rewatched the entirety of TNG enough times that the clunkers are tolerable, not because they're better than garbage, but because it's hard for me to enjoy the good long runs and great episodes without the context of where they fall and what came before them. Often times episodes I barely remember (few) or hated for immature reasons featured really exquisite character beats – you'd get some junior officer interaction in the subplots, between characters who didn't always get to interact with one another (think of things like Worf and Pulaski bonding over tea).
    However, the tendency with "getting through" these bad episodes is that I let them run, then do something else – read or write or whatever and just let it be Star Trek background noise. So I haven't ever actually watched Code of Honor with a critical eye before. So yesterday, I did.
    It's pretty unforgivably bad. There are almost no character moments or subplots with the unbelievably minor exception of "Riker stayed on the ship, ran things competently." But as I watched knowing how deserved this thing's reputation was, I was also stricken that it was a bit of a missed opportunity. Within the skeleton plot, which I hadn't quite put my finger on as an Amok Time retread, so thanks, I thought that this "TOS" type storyline was hardly a bad style of story to retread. We saw the epic failure of Naked Now retreading a bad TOS episode, a retread of Amok Time could have been epic – if the aliens were allowed to be aliens. Allegory doesn't really work if it's not allegorical, and progressive ideals fall dead in the face of walking back a few decades and having it staring your idealistic actors in the face. I couldn't help thinking as bad as it was that somehow properly alien aliens would've made this pretty memorable for a first season episode. You know, if they were visiting like, the Gorn, and a lizard-man kidnapped Tasha.


  5. BadCatMan
    September 18, 2014 @ 1:09 am

    Ha! I finally found new copies of Wil Wheaton's reviews/recollections: "Oh good! We're going to be racist and sexist in this one!"

    I'm not familiar with the behind-the-scenes stuff, but according to Wikipedia, the casting was also down to director Russ Mayberry. It's not clear whether he was fired for the racist casting, racist behaviour, or both:
    I imagine it was too late to undo the mess at that point.

    Writer Katharyn Powers redid the story for "Emancipation" in Stargate SG-1, also the third episode:
    This time with Mongols. And it also comes across rather poorly:
    Well, like TNG, SG1 gets better.


  6. K. Jones
    September 18, 2014 @ 9:53 am

    I do want to take a moment to compliment the early bit in the episode where Data talks about counting coup, and refers to French as a dead language, thereby angering Picard. Glorious comedy.


  7. Alex
    September 19, 2014 @ 11:59 am

    "However, the tendency with "getting through" these bad episodes is that I let them run, then do something else – read or write or whatever and just let it be Star Trek background noise."

    That's exactly how I "watched" the episode "Justice" last night!


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