Monday, May 12, 2008

My Second-Favorite Trek...

I was a Trekkie back when there was only one Star Trek, and that was Star Trek. I can't claim to have been on board with the show from the very beginning, although I suppose that as a toddler I may have staggered through the living room when the episodes originally aired (although knowing my parents, I'd be surprised if they ever watched the show), but by the mid-Seventies and my ninth or tenth year, I was already a confirmed Trek fan.

Early on, I was familiar with Trek more through the Saturday morning animated version and James Blish's paperback short story adaptations, which I spent most of my allowance money on and voraciously devoured on the school bus, playground and on long car trips. I also had non-fiction books like The Making of Star Trek, The World of Star Trek, and The Star Trek Concordance. One of my most treasured possessions was the Starfleet Technical Manual (though I never had the Enterprise blueprint set, damn it).

I still have all of those books, by the way.

As to the show itself, it took me a long time to see all of the original 79 episodes, as reruns aired infrequently in our television market, and when they did air, the schedule was maddeningly irregular. WCSH was the station most likely to slot in a Trek on a Sunday afternoon if a sporting event was delayed or ended early, though WMTW aired the series on weeknights for a few months around '74. Unfortunately, it was on during homework time, right after the news, so I rarely got to see it. On occasion, we would visit relatives or family friends who lived in major markets, and I'd catch an episode on their sets... man, it was tough to be a Trekkie then.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture in '79 was a big event for me. The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock helped me get through High School, and in '83, when I went off to art school in New Jersey, I finally found regular Trek on the tube, courtesy of cable and the New York TV stations. I only had an 8" black & white TV, but it was good enough.

When The Next Generation debuted in '87, several of my geekier friends and I gathered in my first apartment to watch the premiere... and while it was good to see new Trek, it just wasn't the same. While I watched the show regularly, I never really warmed to Picard and company the way I had to Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and the rest of the original crew. It certainly didn't help that that pompous, Anglo-Franco fop surrendered his ship three times in the first four episodes! The 24th Century just wasn't very exciting to me. Everyone got along too well, and there was virtually no conflict among the cast. Too much technobabble and pop psych, and not enough shooting of phasers and photon torpedoes. The final frontier had become far too tamed.

Deep Space Nine, on the other hand...

At first, I was unimpressed, and didn't make much effort to keep up with it. But while I was living in Florida, the show aired on Saturday afternoons in a large block of syndicated fantasy shows with Babylon 5 and Xena, so I started catching more episodes, and was soon watching it regularly. And I started to recognize that this one was different from Next Gen in some significant ways.

In this show there was a solid episode-to-episode continuity. The characters – and their relationships – grew and changed as the overall story progressed. Further, this show wasn't afraid to reference directly the original Trek, bringing back characters (Klingons Kor, Kang and Koloth) and concepts (Tribbles, The Mirror Universe) from the classic series, and like that series, DS9 wasn't afraid to do a comedy episode once in a while, either.

And then, they did something completely unexpected – they shook up the status quo by starting a galactic war. Plenty of phasers and photon torpedoes were unleashed, but more than that – alliances – both between individuals and governments – crumbled, and new ones were forged. New races and political entities were introduced from another part of the galaxy, and our main characters were forced into situations that required them to reevaluate their beliefs and codes of conduct/honor.

The final frontier got wild again.

(Unfortunately, subsequent ST series didn't measure up to DS9. Voyager was a cosmic bore, and Enterprise – well, I'd had high hopes for that one, but it just didn't work for me. I was never convinced that Scott Bakula's universe was the same as William Shatner's. It played far too fast and loose with continuity, and, like TNG and Voyager, it had no edginess at all.)

Recently, the wife won an Amazon gift certificate in an online contest, and as we had just completed acquiring the classic Star Trek on DVD, she decided to use it to purchase all of the DS9 seasons on disc, as well. The fact that Amazon was having a huge sale on sci-fi DVDs at the time influenced the choice, too.

We've been watching an episode or two each evening, and are now about halfway through season 2. I'm surprised to find that the producers and writers had planted the seeds of their universe-shaking star war earlier than I remembered. Also, the main characters started out a bit more three-dimensional than I originally realized, with a number of character conflicts built right into the original premise. Even episodes that I remembered being unimpressed by back in the early 90's, when the show originally aired, seem a lot better now.

As you've guessed, I'm really enjoying watching DS9 again, and I've decided that it's the best of the Trek spin-offs – at least as far as I'm concerned. In addition to everything mentioned above, there's something about Avery Brooks' broad overacting that brings to my mind the enthusiastic thesping of the great William Shatner....

...And that's Trek to me.

5 comments:

laughingwolf said...

i'm with you on the ds9 series, chris, as the best since the original

the others were mostly hype, and i could not identify with them

worst character: that wussy kid of the medic on tng

thx for the memories...

Andy said...

DS9 is the absolute best Trek since the original series. There was depth of character there that was seriously lacking in TNG, Voyager and Enterprise.

bish8 said...

I'm with you on DS9 -- Avery Brooks is 'da bomb!

Charles Gramlich said...

I think I would have enjoyed DS9 more if I had been able to keep up with it. but I was in the middle of a very busy time in my life and didn't get to watch much of it. I did come to enjoy "Next Generation" quite a bit but I know what you mean about it being "too nice." I thought it was a bit "overly" enlightened and without enough conflict at times.

Craig Zablo said...

It's the original series or none at all as far as I'm concerned... although I'm willing to give the reboot a more than fair shake.