Nothing says Christmas like moaning about old TV. I am watching Star Trek The Original Series – I used to love this when I was ten or so. It lit up my world with wonder. Now, rewatching, please send help, because it’s terrible.
I’m not particularly fussed about the terrible clunky sets, the lack of common sense like seat belts, and the fact that it was thirty years behind written SF in addressing either bold speculative ideas, or social issues. In the Christmas Spirit of putting the boot in, I call in evidence:
- The teeth-gritting sexism. Female characters as one episode love interest, professional women constantly characterised as flighty idiots incapable of driving a shopping trolley, women getting no lines except screaming and screwing things up. The uniform with incredibly short skirts. Women who get married leave Starfleet. Everyone wanting to shag Kirk (ewwwww).
- The balls-aching line of command. No-one ever has any independent authority. Kirk has to tell Spock to tell someone to do the bloody obvious thing. In a real warship, they’d be blown out of the sky waiting for permission to wipe their own arses.
- The teeth-gritting sexism can’t be entirely excused by the times. The pilot famously had a cool, competent, strong First Officer who was a woman, and they dropped the character because test screenings didn’t like it. In the pilot, all the Starfleet women wore trousers and weren’t stupid. So, don’t tell me the team were prisoners of their time – they backed down under pressure.
- Even as a kid I noticed that they sent exactly the wrong people down to the surface, and let’s all face front so the monsters can jump them from behind. Although some nerd has shown wearing a red shirt is not an indicator you are going to die. Endless terrible decisions.
- Broadly racist, white Americans tend to hold all the positions of power. My ten-year-old-me’s crush, Nichelle Nichols, was urged to stay by Martin Luther King; she inspired other black women into TV; I know she’s an icon, but she’s never given that much to do. Sigh of relief when Uhura’s shown with a soldering iron doing something. Soldering, not just smouldering.
- The science. I don’t mind ‘handwavium’ – I don’t think the point of science fiction is to explain exactly how your faster than light works. It is the GCSE level science that everyone watching ought to know. Like, if you bombard a planet with incredibly bright ultraviolet light, aliens hiding in the dark still won’t be touched by it. Light doesn’t bend round corners. Humans looking up would be burned or blinded. Also, antimatter isn’t ‘evil’.
- The world seems inconsistent from episode to episode. For example, if you don’t have enough energy to run the warp engines, can you still have enough energy to have shields and full impulse power? This stuff really matters to the story, different episodes give different answers. What happens when a nut locks themselves in Engineering, which happens every Wednesday? Different solutions in different episodes.
- Primitive people enslaved by a god/god like computer – three times in the last eight episodes I watched. Women choosing flightily. Immortal chasing immortal for all time (twice).
- Spock is not that credible a character, Vulcan an unbelievable society, Amok Time might be the worst episode of any science fiction programme ever. Not least because of the teeth-gritting and illogical sexism. (The modern take – Vulcans have emotions but suppress them, is far more logical, believable, and dramatic.)
- Jim, Bones and Spock ‘joshing’ humourlessly may cause cancer and should be banned.
- Characters give speeches which are plot points, not consistent with their character.
- The story telling is sometimes ponderous, the acting hammier than a pork sausage, but AT LEAST THE MUSIC SUBTLY TELLS YOU WHAT TO THINK. Oh, the Woman is Being Seductive
- Bonus point, Chekov is impressively annoying as a character. The Wussians probably agreed to a nuclear arms treaty on the promise Chekov would be frozen in ice for two billion years.
STTOS is optimistic. It espouses diversity and peaceful cooperation, even if it doesn’t deliver. It aspires to progress. Its penal system is based on rehabilitation, the culture aspires to be meritocratic. Not every episode is terrible. But sometimes when you go back to something, the river has flowed on. Nothing ages like the future.
(Apologies to Pigs In Space)