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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.

9 Comments

  1. Jacob Nanfito
    March 11, 2015 @ 10:53 am

    But didn't the pilot for this show feature Bones? I seem to remember you weren't bothered by that at all. So couldn't we say that it was "Encounter…" that broke the doors between generations down?

    I don't disagree with your points or your take on this. However, I've never been bothered by Sarek or any other TOS characters in TNG … but I kind of view this show through my 12-year-old-self lenses, when I thought appearances and references like this were cool.

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  2. Josh Marsfelder
    March 11, 2015 @ 11:08 am

    That's certainly Behr's argument. He said he didn't understand why there was such a moratorium on references when Bones was in the pilot.

    I think my response would be that "Encounter at Farpoint" was special. It was Star Trek: The Next Generation before it had been established in a sense justifying its existence to a world in which Star Trek could only mean the Original Series: That bit of torch passing was needed there so Bones' appearance made sense, but Sarek being here is entirely inappropriate in my opinion because the torch doesn't need to be passed anymore (TNG should unquestionably have it by now) and that's not even what this episode is about in the first place: Sarek's not here for any other reason then just to be Sarek and bait the Trekker contingent.

    And remember also that Bones was never mentioned by name in "…Farpoint": If you'd seen the Original Series, you'd know who he was and get something special out of it, but if you didn't you could just enjoy Brent Spiner bantering with DeForest Kelley and be none the wiser nor lesser for it. In my post on "…Farpoint" I even said something along the lines of "I shouldn't like this and this shouldn't work but it does here for very specific reasons and circumstances".

    This episode, by contrast, I don't think works at all if you don't know who Sarek is and are deeply invested in him as a character from the Original Series. You have to be a hardcore Star Trek fan to appreciate this episode where you don't necessarily with "Encounter at Farpoint".

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  3. Adam Riggio
    March 11, 2015 @ 1:07 pm

    You make a solid point about the problem of Star Trek canon and the dangers of fanwank slowly growing within the franchise. As a lifelong Doctor Who fan as well, I understand its dangers, as fanwank has contributed to serious damage to that franchise four separate times, by my count, in its history. The first and most damaging instance was the influence of Ian Levine on the production of the actual show during the mid-1980s, and twice during the Wilderness years to produce some of the worst novels and audio plays of that time period, some unfortunate books like Legacy in the Virgin Publishing years, and the most ridiculous of the Sabbath Arc in the BBC Books period, and the Zagreus 40th anniversary audio.

    A franchise the size of Star Trek or Doctor Who can only breathe and actually be creative again when its central figures just throw off the weight of continuity and make stories and characters because they're interesting and fun. This is the purpose of my own little fanfic experiments in Star Trek imagination that I'm running on my blog the occasional Saturday.

    Speaking one more time as a Doctor Who fan, the problem of continuity and fanwank's spectre is still a factor in the way of getting people into the show. I've met quite a few people who have heard wonderful things about Doctor Who, but are intimidated by the depth of its history: I have to work really hard to convince them that they don't have to watch the entire 51 (35) years of television to understand what's going on. It's a show that works best when the only story continuity that really matters is that season or the past couple of seasons.

    If the creative minds behind Star Trek can get themselves into that headspace, they'll be able to create another renaissance for that franchise, just as began with TNG.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    March 11, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

    I am also obligated to mention Dirty Pair, which explicitly and openly reboots its universe and continuity every single incarnation. The TV series, the OVA series, the novels and each individual movie all exist in their own separate story continuities, and you can enjoy one perfectly well without knowing a thing about any of the others.

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  5. K. Jones
    March 11, 2015 @ 4:12 pm

    It's inarguably fanwanky.

    Though it's not as if Mark Lenard's Sarek was long forgotten – he'd been in the films all along, after all, nearly concurrent with this appearance.

    My big thing is not that it makes a good show of the effect of aging and losing identity and mental faculties, though they're all potent things to discuss in a utopian future setting with longer lifespans and whatever. My big thing is the deterioration of your father.

    Of the Enterprise crew we've met only one father – Riker's, and he's a virile older guy. Worf and Wesley's fathers are dead, and so is Deanna's. Picard's is still unknown to us though we know his mother has passed on. Geordi's, Beverly's, and O'Brien's are entirely nonexistent at this point.

    Telling this story with a father of one of our core protagonists seems like a no-brainer (Imagine we'd gotten Suzie Plakson's Selar to stick around and it was her dad, for instance!). Instead we get it told with the most "dad" dad in Star Trek, a dad from another series. And good for them they wrote the crap out of it so that there's emotional resonance. They make a pretty damn good Picard episode out of it with some nice "ah, look, a TOS guest star" moments from the ensemble. And Spock not being there ironically jives with the relationship between them established back in Journey to Babel.

    So it's either Spock's story told in the wrong venue or a missed opportunity, an inelegant attempt for the TNG cast. The fact it's as good as it is goes straight to the rapport and acting skill of Stewart and Lenard – there is no relationship, so they had to build one. And trust to those guys' performances, they built it.

    Anyway part of what excited me about Star Trek is that they do well balancing accessibility with nostalgia. A critical eye can be drawn down hard on some of the examples, some of the reverence for the source material, the trite and precious ways the expansive universe gets incestuous, sure. But that's all of fiction – "continuity" is just another word for "to be continued". Logic demands that if every ship called Enterprise is always the flagship, it might meet the same dignitaries. And that's just internal story logic. Metatextual logic demands that when you call something "Next Generation", you're probably going to have to acknowledge the "Previous Generation". Like any movement (I think of art movements), one is a reaction to the one previous.

    We'll cross this hurdle again when we get to Blood Oath, I imagine.

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  6. Strejda
    August 10, 2017 @ 10:10 pm

    I promised myself I won’t comment on the se old reviews, but I just can’t help myself, partly due to your childish comment at the end.

    Yes, constant self-referencing is a problem. That’s not what refusing to acknowledge existance of franchise’s history at all is. In season one or two, yes, that would be a mistake, but in season 3? I am sorry, but that IS narrow-minded.

    Sarek’s role in the story elevates it, because we have seen all those great things first hand. The story does work well without it, but it’s in no way a flaw.

    As for fanwank somehow killing the franchise: How? Voyager distancing itself from any familiar setting of the franchise? Enterprise being a prequel never mattering until season 4 with exception of rare instances of random fanservice? NO. It was continuing refusal to modernize its storytelling, lack of new ideas and resolve to adolescent gimmicks and writers being either inexperienced or running out ideas for a project they had no passion towards, due to restriction on what they wanted to do. Not making one episode in hundred about a returning character from one of the most iconic fictional works in history.

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    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      August 10, 2017 @ 10:16 pm

      It’s OK. I get the e-mail notifications of these, not Josh, so he literally has no idea you’re here.

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      • Strejda
        August 10, 2017 @ 11:06 pm

        Thank you, I but it’s more about leaving comments on something old period. I thought you two were actually the same person. BTW, I regret callinfg his accusation “childish”. It was a word I wanted to use in different context at first and kept it out of OUTRAGE!!!. I still find his claim insulting and wrongheaded though.

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        • Josh Marsfelder
          September 8, 2017 @ 6:29 am

          I do now.

          Enterprise was cancelled in its last season partly because it had become too fanwanky. Only hardcore fans were watching it, and only then out of a sense of obligation. The ratings were tanking, and it’s hard not to see that as at least part of the reason why.

          I maintain TNG got far too self-referential. If TNG fans thought the theme song to Star Trek V was from their show and not from the film series, that says something. The more you do this sort of thing, the smaller and smaller your potential audience becomes. Hence, Enterprise. And, by the looks of it, this new show.

          Perhaps my comment was childish. Not as childish as grimdark and fanwank though.

          Reply

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