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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.

6 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    March 19, 2014 @ 8:06 am

    It's with Star Trek: TMP / In Thy Image that your alternate-universe motif comes into its best use. Really, it's working through counter-factual situations through the science-fictional motif of the alternate universe: changing a few core details of a situation such that the world completely transforms. It also articulates the political use of the counter-factual as utopian thinking: It doesn't so much rewrite the past as actually transforms history. I tried to do a similar thing with my imagined timeline of Assignment: Earth, but this works much more effectively, because you already have the In Thy Image script to work from.

    When I was younger and looking into the history of Star Trek, I usually saw Star Trek: Phase II regarded as a curious also-ran not really worth thinking about, a dry run or inferior iteration of what eventually became TMP. Now that you've shown clearly what was in the original script, I can see how that received view amounts to a whitewashing of history in favour of the lionization of Gene Roddenberry.

    I find the role of Xon in the Phase II timeline particularly interesting, because it gets to a key concept in how we understand the nature of Star Trek (which I think will be especially important when covering Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock): the reification of the original seven crew. The notion that there is no Star Trek without Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekhov all together seems to have become so pervasive that it isn't even discussed. After all, the first Abrams film was structured particularly to give every member of the original crew at least one sequence of ass-kicking. I wonder if we'd see it this way if Leonard Nimoy had gotten his wish, and was allowed to be written out of Star Trek in favour of this remixed version of the TOS crew in Phase II (Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, Xon, Decker, Ilia, Sulu, Uhura, Chekhov, Chapel, feat. Rand). If In Thy Image is any indication, Phase II would have included more character drama in its sci-fi settings and narratives. Having such a large crew to play with, along with creative staff unafraid to shake things up could have resulted in a television masterpiece. Instead, we got a movie so dull that, even though it ultimately made money, had a public impact that nearly killed the franchise.

    Definitely, TMP showed that the biggest weakness Star Trek had, was Gene Roddenberry, which was why he ended up marginalized in the production of the future films.

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  2. Josh Marsfelder
    March 19, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

    The reification is key, I think. The presence of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and to a lesser extent Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock absolutely ossifies one specific idea of what Star Trek is supposed to look like.

    I have a feeling this is a major reason that Star Trek: The Next Generation met with the resistance it did at first, which was considerably more then Star Trek Phase II got: The movies made it eminently clear that without Kirk, Spock and McCoy you couldn't have Star Trek. And, no matter how successful The Next Generation eventually became (and also how successful Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was at first, though most people seem to have forgotten that), the myth and structure of the Original Series remained, and still remain to this day, a big monolithic thing that we can't seem to move beyond.

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  3. Daru
    March 19, 2014 @ 10:49 pm

    Wow what an article. Agreed with Adam above, I love your alternate universe work here, and the framing narratives you use from other civilisations who appear highly advanced. Great stuff.

    I first watched this when I was about ten years old and pretty much was in awe of the whole experience and then felt a lot of nostalgic love for the film for a long time after. The main elements that still draws me to the film are Robert Wise's direction (he adds a lot to Start Trek's visual iconography), and the sequences inside V'Ger which still blow me away. I feel that there is a whole story missed there somehow in that journey that is shown inside V'Ger. I can't fully grasp what it is, but my capacity for awe still gets grabbed every time I see those sequences.

    In Thy Image sounds far, far superior – I would have SO watched that. I certainly feel that it is one of the biggest mistakes ever made in Trek to have Roddenberry allowed to hack a working script apart and remove its heart.

    "UPGRADE OR DIE. PREPARE TO BE ASSIMILATED. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE" – rings in my ears like Roddenberry talking at us and all around him as he tries to fulfil his mission of getting his own narrow vision of storytelling accepted.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    March 20, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

    Thanks for the kind words!

    I absolutely agree with you about V'Ger: I wished I could have spent more time talking about it, but the post was running super long already. But, thankfully, you got it across well yourself!

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  5. BerserkRL
    March 30, 2014 @ 8:17 pm

    While this is surely obvious, I never noticed it before: the Riker/Troi relationship is simply the Decker/Ilia relationship rebooted — male human action hero and female alien empath with prior history together.

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  6. Josh Marsfelder
    March 31, 2014 @ 4:11 am

    That's not the only thing from Star Trek Phase II Gene Roddenberry recycled into Star Trek: The Next Generation. Picard as originally conceived was basically the older Kirk from "In Thy Image" and Data was basically Xon.

    Pretty much anything special and unique about that show came solely from the actors and subsequent creative teams who expanded on everything considerably.

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