My Favourite Film of 1991.

Film Right, let's talk about Star Trek.

I don't actually remember the first time I watched Star Trek. From 1969 onwards the show was in almost continuous broadcast on first BBC One then BBC Two and it's entirely feasible that like Doctor Who I was propped in front of it at some point, not least because it often shared the Saturday night timeslot.

If I have a conscious memory of watching it being broadcast it's during the mid-80s BBC Two showings, which began as the BBC Genome reminds me on the 5th September 1985 with The Changeling (having ploughed through the first season on BBC One during the winter). Magically the junction and continuity for this have been uploaded to YouTube:

This was during the soon legendary, though still vaguely primordial at this point "cult" slot and on that day was followed by an episode of The Adventure Game with Sarah Greene, Anne Miller and Richard Stilgoe as guests a fragment of which is ...

At this point I was probably more of a fan of The Adventure Game. Note this was at a time when BBC Two was off air for most of the day, which was filled with Pages from Ceefax and Star Trek's lead in was coverage of the World Chess Championship.  Full schedule here.  When the cult was in full swing, the continuity for that week's episode would be supplied over a starfield, or rather asterisk field generated on a BBC Micro.

But there were two other steps which would ultimately tip me over into becoming a fan.

By that time I was buying, or rather being bought, remaindered copies of Starburst from Speke Market (along with DWM and the like) with the title torn off the front. In amongst the news pages was the first image of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a smudgy photograph in which everyone, including the humans, looked like aliens. In these pre-web days, such things were the only source of information for such things and I seem to recall that Geordi was still being called George in the text.

Come the next year, the first batch of episodes were released by CIC into the VHS rental market and I ploughed through them in weekly trips to Video City in Garston, this being about the time when were loaned our first video player and it was still a novelty and especially since the only classic Trek tape they had was a version of The Cage which amalgamated the colour pieces from The Menagerie with black and white fragments from the original version (ala The Mind of Evil, Who folks).

Around that time I also befriended someone at the local library who loaned me the way through her collection of Star Trek novels which included everything from the original James Blish adaptations through the original publications and movie adaptation and thence the pocket books.  I read and read and read and somewhere in there became a fan, buying my own novels and lending them back to her.  I have a vivid memory of being on a camping holiday reading David Gerrold's The Galactic Whirlpool.

Then the broadcasts of Next Gen began on BBC Two and that was that.  That was my first major recording from the television project even to the point of asking a disinterested friend in school to record The Big Goodbye one week because I was away on holiday.  Much as I can see its flaws its the first season of Next Gen I know best because it's the one I watched over and over and over again.  Even Justice.  Especially Justice.  I was at that age.

From there the fan experience is pretty much what it always is.  Meet like minded people.  Talk and talk and talk about it.  Slightly different to now because then it was simply people you met at school rather than the whole of the internet, but nonetheless, nothing has changed that much.  There's video footage somewhere of the seventeen year old version of me explaining the IDIC (smirk) and reading from the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual to other friends who really didn't care.

Why Star Trek?  Why anything?  Fans with a slight whiff of embarrassment about being a fan of a thing often become philosophical when describing their favourite show (I know my type) and Star Trek with its optimistic outlook tends to offer a number of potential possibilities in this regard and still does even as that's been degraded in the post-Roddenberry incarnations, especially DS9, which have allowed Starfleet officers to have some shades of moral ambiguity.

But my own sense is that it's not that much different to Doctor Who.  The characters, the quotability, the variety of stories often subverting genre expectations, the world building with what at the time seemed like an endless supply of mythology.  Never mind the novels, my shelves were also filled with those reference books including the Okuda Chronology.  Like I said, my interest in the franchise wasn't motivated by anything much different to Doctor Who.  I probably fancied Troi a bit too.

The Undiscovered Country appeared probably about equidistantly in the middle my Trekkerdom and still not quite old enough to go to the cinema by myself and not really having any interested friends at that moment, was taken along to the then MGM Cinema at Edge Lane by my Dad (now a Cineworld after spending a few years as a Virgin Cinema) (remember them?).  This was two years before Groundhog Day for those of you taking notes.

Not really his fault but my biggest memory was missing half the signatures at the end because he was asking me if I wanted any more popcorn not having realised it was the end of the film, I don't think.  I also remember him being very tolerant of me as I explained at some length on the bus home about how the film linked in to Unification, the special double episode of The Next Generation which was available at just that time on rental tape (hired from Blockbuster on Allerton Road).

Purists would probably choose one of the installments from the central trilogy, usually The Wrath of Khan (which is why Into Darkness is little more than an extended homage at just the moment when the reboot should have been going out on its own) (though was at least worth it for the comics spin-off which spends a good three issues explaining why one of the most prominent Mexican characters of all time isn't any more)(not very successfully).

The Undiscovered Country, despite the mangled meaning of the title, has the greater depth as the characters face their biggest enemy yet.  Old age.  Yes, it doesn't stop Kirk from having a near fling with Iman, but even Spock is starting to realise that his friends won't be with him forever.  It also has the best uses of Klingons of all the films (Christopher Plummer for goodness sake) and also a complex political storyline that throws forward to the sort of thing which would be central to DS9.

Anyway, so yes, I was a Star Trek fan right through my secondary school days, through university and right into the post graduation years.  When it was appearing on VHS months before television I collected those and when money ran out I hired the episodes from Roughleys Newsagents on Aigburth Road, eagerly awaiting the moment when each new release would appear on the shelves, knowing full well I'd be the first to borrow them each time.

But somewhere during Voyager my interest began to weign.  It was a gradual process which mainly had to do with Voyager being a bit rubbish and repetitive somewhere in the fourth series and I simply stopped being able to justify spending the money on hiring each of the tapes (though I suspect the rot began to set in just after Threshold) (the only episode which Paramount itself has apparently disowned from canonicity) (one where Paris and Janeway devolve into lizards and have babies together).

Eventually I watched the whole of Enterprise and loved that, but only in the same way as most of the shows you admire but of which you're not an out and out fan, you'll watch once but not return to and don't build up a knowledge of really (see Game of Thrones of which my guess is only the true fans know all the character names, the GoT equivalent of episode stardates for Trek and production codes for Doctor Who).

By then my Whovianism had taken hold and since, although I like the new films, well, ok, love the new films and read the rather brilliant spin-off comics, I haven't watched much in the way of Trek on television since buying that taster blu-ray of the remastered Next Gen episodes.  There's so much else to watch I simply haven't had the inclination to revisit though even as I write those words, I'm checking the price of the complete TNG on BD on Amazon.  Wow, that's expensive.  Not yet then.

Falling out of love with franchises is an odd thing.  That whole process occurred before I had the internet at home and perhaps if the web had been there still fuelling my interest it might have continued especially since it wasn't through a lack of content.  Parts of the final couple series of Voyager were pretty good, I hear.  If I'd known that then via a web discussion, I might have kept the faith much as I have since the first Capaldi series, my biggest Who wobble so far.

Star Trek's now experiencing its own wilderness years with the ongoing saga across various incarnations contained in novels and comics and audios punctuated periodically by the odd movie.  The parallels with Who are spooky.  Why isn't there a television series right now?  No appetite for space show?  Potentially too expensive?  Not wanting to upstage the cinematic version?  It'll be a travesty if something isn't sorted out for the anniversary next year ...

No comments:

Post a Comment