I Could Not Imagine Leaving The Federation

I’m one of those Star Trek fans who doesn’t think the United Federation of Planets is a perfect utopia (you can often recognize us by noting that we think Deep Space Nine the best show). It is a governmental system with a lot of flaws. But I’ll say this: it sure seem pretty darn close. So much so that, were I a human born into that society, I sure wouldn’t leave. And yet we see humans on Star Trek all the time who seem to prefer to leave the relative paradise of the Federation to just go elsewhere.

A lot of the time these unaffiliated humans seem to just be scoundrels who want to go to places where they can scheme and profit. Maybe they just feel like the “rules” in the Federation don’t give them room for that. We’ve seen that kind of personality exist within the Federation (Richard Bashir comes to mind), but if that’s how you get your jollies, certainly leaving the Federation may be your only choice. And then I suppose there’s some amount of people who have a kind of wanderlust, but also an aversion to structure that makes them avoid Starfleet or any of the other various scientific organizations the Federation has to offer. Certainly I, PDR, would never feel at home in Starfleet, so I can understand that much. But you know what I don’t understand? The people who live on Tasha Yar’s homeworld. Sure, they ones born there are presumably caught up in it through no fault of their own, but surely the adults are trying to leave, right? Get out of there, people! There are whole worlds for humans that are paradise, just around the corner. Surely the Federation would take in such refugees the way they did Tasha, right?

Anyway, it says something about the Federation that humans are willing to leave it, but I’m not sure what right now. All I know is that I started this as a post about Bolians and it changed to this as I started writing, so my next Trek post will have to be the one about Bolians.

It’s Not Called Spock Trek

Look, I get it. I like Spock. Spock is great and is, realistically, a big reason why Star Trek was ever a success to begin with. But Star Trek doesn’t have to revolve around Spock.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation happened, they made a wise choice. The sequel show was going to feature an all new cast unrelated to that of the first show. In spite of being called “the Next Generation” it isn’t about the original cast’s children even. It’s about the same universe, but different characters, later. It gave permission for us to think of Star Trek as not being about seven or so chumps, but to be a vast sci-fi universe bristling with interesting characters with lives to get invested in.

A couple shows later, Voyager brought in Tuvok, another Vulcan, and there were Spocklike elements, but he was a different character in a different role. It wasn’t too bad. Then came Enterprise, which sought more directly to parallel the original setup with its Vulcan, T’Pol, being in the second-in-command role, but she was again a bit different, so it wasn’t the same thing. But after that, Star Trek decided it just can’t not have Spock. The reboot movies took the exact setup from the original series and did that again, and even occasionally doubled-up on Spock thanks to time travel. Discovery allowed itself to get near Spock by giving him a sister and making her the main character, which allowed Spock to show up as a guest star and also allowed the Discovery spin-off Strange New Worlds to just put Spock back on the original Enterprise in almost the exact role he had in the beginning (and on a canonical track to become exactly what he was in that original role).

Here’s the thing about a sci-fi franchise set in a supposedly vast galaxy full of adventure: if one guy is always there, and all the important events revolve around him or his family, the galaxy feels a lot less vast.

And it isn’t just Spock. The franchise seemingly just won’t do a show ever again that did what TNG did and create a fresh new cast for us. That’s not what popular culture is anymore. We don’t let characters rest anymore. We apparently just want everything back forever and for things to never end. I don’t like it, but I’m not the one making money off these big successful franchises.

So I don’t know, as with everything I post on this site, I’m just rambling my opinion as if it is correct in a space where nobody cares about arguing with me. Personally, I’d be thrilled to see a new Star Trek featuring a cast utterly unrelated to those that came before and maybe, just maybe, we can see the old cast now and then just for fun. I’m just saying that the Star Trek universe is a fertile one with plenty of room for ideas to grow, and if we stagnate, that’s, I dunno, illogical I guess.

Mingling With Aliens? There Goes The Neighbourhood!

This one still technically has to do with the depiction of aliens on Star Trek, but it isn’t about my craving for better designs. This one is about places where multiple species of aliens hang out.

Now, I’m not talking about places like Starfleet ships that are 80% human, 15% aliens that look human, and 5% the occasional cool alien. I’m taking about places where humans are strictly in the minority but there is a wide variety of aliens on display, making for an exotic locale. You can usually find these in the forms of shady businesses where a cadet might get stabbed in the heart, bars where greedy business owners illicit deals with shady alien traders, and neighbourhoods where idiot Boimlers can bumble around and not know the right way to deal with the people there. The idea generally is that if you’re in one of these racially-(specially?)-mixed areas, you’re somewhere seedy. I think a lot of it is an attempt to recreate the feel of the Cantina scene in Star Wars. Which, sure, if you want to create a wretched hive of scum and villainy, but the United Federation of Planets is meant to be a near-paradise of dozens of worlds, working together, right?

I admit, we’ve had a few good scenes of aliens in, like, military meetings and stuff (generally in the movies and usually with plenty of humans still there), but apart from that, even Star Trek’s places of mixed species company are seen as bad neighbourhoods where “decent human folk” should fear to tread.

I demand that Star Trek show us some scenes that are as diverse as a Mos Eisley drinking establishment, but are wholesome. Give me an alien crowd in a library or a farmer’s market or something. Show us that aliens can get along without it being a threat.

Star Trek Needs PDR’s Aliens

I first got into Star Trek when I was around ten years old. So this was after I played the Space Quest games and experienced world with truly weird aliens. This was after I watched that Star Wars documentary about how they made all the alien puppets. This was possibly even after I read collections of Marvel’s pre-Fantastic Four sci-fi stories I got from the library with Kirby and Ditko-designed aliens abounding. What I’m saying is that, even though I came to love Star Trek, I was disappointed with the aliens on the show since Day One. That’s why so many of the Trek Thoughts I’ve posted have been about that.

As a child new to Star Trek, I responded the way a PDR responds to everything. I wondered what I could do if I got to make Star Trek. I daydreamed about a type of alien I would make. Well, today, more than three decades later, I finally got around to putting ink to paper:

This is the one. It’s nothing radical by the alien designs I prefer, but by Trek standards, it’s some unknowable beast. I pictured them being about half the size of humans (probably E.T. sized, if I’m looking for more of my likely inspirations), and in closeups I assumed they’d be worked like puppets, or more specifically Muppets given what I watched back then. But the real innovation that little PDR had was how we’d show this alien get around the ship in wide shots. The reason the alien is designed with the big dress is to hide the remote control car that lets it move!

Now, keep in mind that as a ten-year-old I did not assume that they would build some remote-controlled wheel system or whatever, I assumed they would need an entire remote control car under there for it to work.

Remote control cars are peak technology to ten-year-olds.

I accept that would probably not be how they do it now, but I’d still want keep the dress for the design. Just assume there’s some alien business going on under there. Anything that makes them less humanoid.

Now, a full-grown PDR would have named the species and thought up stuff about their homeworld and all kinds stuff. Little PDR didn’t do that. He just thought that this little design deserved to be represented in Starfleet. Well, Old PDR can agree with him on that.

The Chase is Just Not A Good Enough Episode

If you don’t know it by name, “The Chase” is the episode of The Next Generation where they reveal why most of the aliens in Star Trek look just like humans with funny ears or whatever.

I haven’t rewatched the episode before making this post (if I can’t bother to check for typos when I do these, I’m certainly not adding homework) but I have seen the episode probably about five times in my life, so I know the gist. The Enterprise is one of a group of competing ships who go on a rollicking adventure around investigating the DNA of various alien cultures to find clues to some great treasure. The find it and it all comes to a head with all the groups meeting at the final place, they turn the stone and look beneath it, “Peace On Earth” was all it said. Or whatever.

The gotcha moment of the episode is the humans and the Klingons and Cardassians and Romulans all being embarrassed when an old alien pops up and is like “I’m from the species that seeded all your planets and I’m happy you found this because it means you all worked together” but actually they hadn’t. It’s supposed to be a lesson about how, deep down we’re all the same or some baloney. I don’t like that lesson. Even beyond Star Trek, we shouldn’t use “we’re all the same” as a reason to get alone, because large or small, we have differences and the lesson that paints our similarities as the thing that connects us implies that our differences are actually bad. That’s not good. We should celebrate our differences. Star Trek especially is supposed to value Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Instead we get this episode as an excuse to not make aliens look different. Is that better?

But furthermore, evolution just doesn’t work like that! Even if life was seeded onto the planet Earth millions of years ago (something I believe is contradicted by “All Good Things” anyway), it does not follow that that microbial life would then evolve to humanoid form because that is the form that seeded the planet. Evolution is not the process of life going “forward” in a march toward humanoid form. Evolution just goes every which way finding whatever works. Even if we assume the progenitors encoded their DNA with instructions so that it was closer to intelligent design than actual evolution, what happens when life becomes humanoid? Does it just stop? Does it act as if it has reached the pinnacle? What about all the rest of the life on Earth? Do ants just keep evolving until they become humanoid? And dogs and bats and whales? Are they all on the path to humanoid form? Is Bojack Horseman the future of the Star Trek universe?

“The Chase” is a decent but dumb episode of TNG that proves something proved by other episodes: Star Trek writers don’t understand evolution. And those other episodes are even worse. I’m sure I’ll get to them at some point.