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.

Trek Aliens Could Be Better

Any person who knows me and has ever had to endure my thoughts about Star Trek knows one thing for certain: PDR wishes the aliens in Star Trek were better. I am, in general, a fan of science fiction that presents us with aliens that are weird and imaginative. Classic sci-fi novels have given me a taste of alien minds and I just crave more forever. I feel like if we can expand our minds to encompass the weirdest and most unearthly viewpoints, then understanding our fellow humans gets a little easier. That’s one of the coolest things about sci-fi, I think. Star Trek is the most prominent ongoing source of cool sci-fi ideas that I ingest, so I want the best aliens to be in that franchise. They’re not though.

Star Wars, for example, had aliens that really impressed me as a child. Growing up I very much enjoyed a documentary called Star Wars Classic Creatures: Return Of The Jedi. I’d go do far as to say it was my favourite Star Wars movie. A lot of it is about the design of the aliens in Star Wars and how they brought them to life with puppets and stuff. When I came to be a Star Trek fan around aged ten, one of the first things I did was sketch little alien puppets that I would put on the show if I could. Even then I recognized the “rubber forehead aliens” the franchise was famous for as a weak spot.

But why do they look like humans? Well, the budget is one of the first and foremost reasons. It’s hard to make the actors look like aliens without paying for it. And also, they want those actors to be able to emote and stuff to get things across to the audience. Of course, they’ve given an in-universe explanation for why the aliens in Star Trek are basically just humans, and believe me I’ll get to that garbage in a future Star Trek thoughts post.

As for the desire to make it easy for audiences to connect to the characters? Well, I call that laziness at this point. We’ve got Vulcans and Klingons and Bajorans and literally a hundred other aliens that already can do that. Use one of those if you need to. Any time they create a new race of aliens that looks like humans they are simply being too lazy to work that little bit harder and make the connection to the audience through better writing or acting skill. I’d go so far as to say that if you put that effort in to reach the audience, the connection would actually be stronger.

It’s hard to argue with the budgetary concerns. Star Trek is a show being made to profit some jerks and if those jerks don’t get their profit they stop making Star Trek, with or without cool aliens. But make-up technology has surely gotten cheaper over the years. CGI as well. And puppets are an almost untapped potential for aliens in Star Trek. Also, at this point either one or two ongoing Star Trek shows are animated (the fate of Prodigy is up in the air as I schedule this post). The shows have done a little bit of cool alien design, but they both feel like they are sometimes limiting themselves to humanoid aliens because that feels more like “Star Trek”. I consider Lower Decks especially guilty of this. This animated show has given us aliens that looks just like humans but are orange or have bumps on their head or whatever. Look at the aliens on Rick and Morty, a show that I believe shares some creative DNA with Lower Decks, and those aliens are ALIEN. Lower Decks could do that. But, apart from the occasional exception, they don’t.

The quality of Star Trek’s aliens has definitely improved since I was a child, I don’t deny it. But it also feels like a failure every time they take the lazy way out. And I will complain about it until that changes. I’ve kind of rambled this time, but I can promise now, more of my Star Trek thoughts will be about this, though more focused.

I Think About Star Trek A Lot

For years now I’ve been putting my non-stop thoughts about Superman up on this site, right? And I’ve also put more thought into Rocket Racer than anyone else on the planet, right? So you must think those are the only things that ol’ PDR ever thinks about! But no! I think about Star Trek too!

I felt the need to post about Superman so much because I got to reading what other people thought about Superman on the Internet and I so rarely felt like I agreed with what was being said that I felt ostracized from the “fandom” of the character. And I post about Rocket Racer because nobody else cares. But when it comes to Star Trek, I feel like I mostly agree with what the Internet at large has to say. Sure, there’s a lot of difference among the fans. I may not enjoy one series in the franchise as much as some others, or maybe I dislike an episode or two that are considered classics. But overall, it’s a massive franchise the size of which builds in room for such disagreement. You’re allowed to think the reboot movies are the funnest thing if you want to. You’re allowed to think Voyager is the best show. I may not agree, but I’ve already got DS9, so I’m good.

But there are nits to pick. Believe me, I can overthink any franchise of fictional stories. Ask anyone who knows me. So I’m gonna start doing that to Star Trek here on this site. I’ve got to do something with the constant torrent of thinking my brain does and, while I may watch other shows, Star Trek is where I feel at home, so my brain doesn’t shut up about it.

PDR’s Controversial Beliefs: Yeoman Colt Should Be An Arkonian

Later this year I plan to do a series of writings all about aliens and how we depict them in fiction, but before I can get to that, I want to write up what has to be one of the most niche things I’ve ever written, and on this site that is saying something.

I am declaring it loud and clear:

This is about Star Trek, and it is about Star Trek so obscure that I bet most people who actually love Star Trek wouldn’t care about it. But to me, this is a chance to do something cool.

It’s like this: On the Star Trek series Enterprise, there was a species of aliens called Arkonians who were enemies of the franchise’s more famous aliens, the Vulcans. They only appeared once. On the Star Trek series Discovery, we saw an alien yeoman serving on the bridge of Christopher Pike’s Enterprise. She didn’t do much.

You may notice that the yeoman doesn’t actually look all that much like the Arkonian. I disagree. It is only in the world of Star Trek, where a few ridges on your nose or a point to your ears makes you an alien, that these two individuals don’t look like the same species. Sure, I admit that they have different skin colours and eye colours and one has hair and the other doesn’t but, little known fact, you can find examples of the human race on Star Trek where one has a different hair colour or skin colour or more/less hair than another. And the show expects us to believe that those are members of the same species. So, why not use this as a chance to show some variance in what Arkonians look like and make them seem more like a real species?

But there’s more to it than that. Star Trek has a long tradition of turning former enemy species into friends. The Next Generation gave us a good Klingon, a species who had been an enemy in the original show. Deep Space Nine gave us good Ferengi and Voyager gave us good Borg, both of which were enemies on TNG.

I don’t even know if this yeoman is going to show up on the new Star Trek show that will be continuing Pike’s adventures, but if they do, why not make her an Arkonian? What’s to lose? I don’t know if she’s the first Arkonian to join Starfleet or if the Arkonians were the first species to join the Federation after the founding four or what, but it’s the right choice to make.

I yield the remainder of my time.

PDR Into Darkness

Sometimes I remember that posting my opinion of movies is a perfectly valid use for a website.

So Marq and I saw the new Star Trek movie the other day. I’m going to preface this by saying that I enjoyed it. I have to clarify that because it is basically all complaining from this point on:

I’m going to try to avoid spoiling the movie, but I must say that my biggest complaint is one that I and many others predicted. I went in accepting that this was the case, so I was actually thinking for some time that I liked the way they were going about it. They’d taken what I didn’t want to see and were showing it in such a way that I thought “Hey, they’re doing it differently than I expected, so that’s good” but then it all came crashing down.

I thought the point of the whole movie time-travel reboot relaunch thing was to do things in a new way for a new generation of viewers. The cast of the new movies is definitely good enough that I want to see them doing their thing. Their own thing, specifically. Large plot points in this movie are only significant in their relation to old Star Trek stuff and I think that that is a shame. At least, I suppose, now that they’ve shot their wad for this particular plot they will get to do something new next time around (Note: I will pay Hollywood as much as Ten Canadian Dollars to make a movie based off the Frog of Fortosia).

Secondly, I know I’m just a cranky old man, but can we have movies rely just a little less on setpieces? It really takes me out of movies when I have thoughts like “Did this fight scene really need to happen on a flying car?” I fully accept that plenty of people will just say that I don’t like fun, and those people are probably correct, but I stand by it. If a fight scene is meant to have emotional importance in the narrative, you shouldn’t have to try so damn hard to dress it up and make it interesting.

Finally, I honestly hope that this is the last movie I will ever see in which someone is hanging over a ledge, clinging on for their life and at the exact second they lose their grip someone appears to grab their hand. Honestly.

There’s at least two other things I consider worthy of discussion, but they’re both give away even more of the plot, so maybe I’ll get back to those some other day.