What I’ve Been Watching: Star Trek!

Happy Fiftieth Anniversary, Star Trek!

I’ve been a Star Trek fan for a long time — not quite 50 years (I’m not yet 45 myself), but since the late 1970s, when the original series was being shown in syndication (probably on Saturday evenings). I also have a few memories of watching episodes of the animated series on Saturday mornings. I knew enough about Star Trek as a small boy that I played it with neighborhood friends, and I went to see the first movie, the infamous “Motion Picture,” with my DadStanPelkey@1977
(This is me, Stan, in kindergarten, in the Fall of 1977. This is about the age that I probably saw my first episodes of Star Trek.)

As a child of the 1980s, Star Trek was for me really the cinematic series of the original crew, plus the Next Generation television series, which first aired when I was a sophomore in high school. Both Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and especially Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home  were powerful movie-going experiences for me as a pre-teen and teen, respectively. Rosenman’s outstanding score for Star Trek IV remains among my all-time favorites. I also became a committed fan of the Next Generation. I can remember wondering as the season 3 finale’s cliff hanger unfolded whether or not I’d even be able to watch the season four premiere / resolution at college that fall. This was before cable TV was readily available in many college dormitory rooms! I was grateful that several of my new friends at college were also Next Generation fans, and even Heidi ended up watching a number of the later seasons with me.


(This is me in 1989 — late in high school: a serious piano student, and a committed fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as Doctor Who! I had also written my first fantasy / sic-fi novel by the time this picture was taken.)

I wasn’t a huge Deep Space Nine fan, but I loved Voyager. It remains my favorite series in the Star Trek collective. The ensemble cast of the Next Generation was amazing, but I liked the characters on Voyager just a bit more, and I thought some of the pairings among characters (often tense at that) gave Voyager a flavor reminiscent of the original series, with its ongoing tension between Spock and McCoy. I particularly liked the interactions and relationship between Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay (he is among my absolute favorite Star Trek characters); having been a huge fan of Spook, I also deeply appreciated Tuvok and his flawless portrayal by Tim Russ. By the way, can I admit that in my twenties, I had a huge crush on Captain Janeway / Kate Mulgrew? The “Chaotica” episodes were funny, though not my most favorite, but when Mulgrew portrays Janeway pretending to be Arachnia, the Bride of Chaotica, I am in movie-watching heaven!

And yes, I even liked Star Trek: Enterprise and was disappointed when it was canceled. True, some of the continuity issues bothered me a bit — I tend to be obsessed with continuity issues (and how, you might ask, can I be a Doctor Who fan given that admission?). But I enjoyed seeing into the pre-history of the Federation and, like the crew of Voyager, having heroes facing significant challenges far from the technological and political resources of a powerful space faring empire. But what do I know? I loved The Phantom Menace, too!

There are many reasons to like Star Trek. It taps into important tropes and topics within the science fiction traditions. Its endless optimism is refreshing, even for a fan, like me, of darker dramatic television (e.g., Dexter, Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot). Next Generation achieves a balance of plot, character, and reasonably sophisticated production values that was really revolutionary for television science fiction at the time. Doctor Who does much better today, but even 1980s Doctor Who was struggling to achieve more sophistication in terms of its effects. Star Trek made that leap much more convincingly and confidently in the 1980s. But I think what Star Trek has done admirably is to build dozens of characters over hundreds of episodes who are reasonably complex and keep rewarding our sympathy, our interest in them, and our time with them. Doctor Who does that, too, but its companions tend to stay on the series for less than half the time of most Star Trek ensemble members, and the trend since Tom Baker’s reign as the Doctor has been for the principal actor to also shift in less time that the average run of a Star Trek television series.

My personal favorite Star Trek characters:

Original series: Spock

Next Generation: Data

Voyager: Janeway and Chakotay

Enterprise: Trip

My personal favorite Star Trek episodes:

Original series: A Taste of Armageddon (1967); The City on the Edge of Forever (1967)

Next Generation: Yesterday’s Enterprise (1990); Cause and Effect (1992); Thine Own Self (1994)

Voyager: Unity (1997); Think Tank (1999); Endgame (2001)

Enterprise: Carbon Creek (2002); North Star (2003)

Perhaps my most favorite Star Trek episode of them all: Thine Own Self (1994) — and certainly the best and most nuanced story centering around Data. He ends up being so human without his annoying habit of trying TO BE human!

My favorite Star Trek movies (in order):

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Star Trek Generations (1994)

Stan Pelkey

September 8, 2016