50 Years and Counting...
I haven't been there for all of that time. At time of writing I'm 46. Even I didn't emerge from the womb wanting to watch Star Trek reruns, of course, so to me, Trek is about 38 years old. I have fond memories of watching it with the family as a kid. You could do that with Star Trek, because it's one of those shows that has the kind of fun stuff kids like - weird places, weird aliens, phaser guns, fistfights - whilst having, at least sometimes, the more smart stuff that grownups like - intelligent plots, good characters, and even an actual message hovering there under the surface.
As a consequence, Star Trek is something I've loved all my life. It felt like as I grew up, the show grew up with me. In reality, of course, it was more a case of my growing into seeing what had been there all along.
I remember the first stories circulating about Star Trek : The Next Generation. A sequel to Star Trek? Without Captain Kirk and Spock?! Preposterous! It couldn't possibly work! Next Gen hit UK TV screens when I was in university. I would watch it in the TV room of the student union building. You had to get there early, because five minutes before it started that room would pack out! Every chair with somebody sitting in it, every inch of floor with somebody sitting on it. And then it would empty again, the instant the episode finished.
I always figured Next Gen season 1 and 2 got an unfairly bad reputation. Yes, the show was kind of goofy back then. Yes, it sometimes veered into outright "what the hell is going on" territory. But you know, the original series could get pretty damn goofy too.
But what Next Gen did have was the same appeal that TOS had. I liked these characters, and I had fun watching them working together trying to solve problems.
Sometime around the mid 1990s, I decided what the hell, I'd make my own Star Trek site. It was just a bit of fun at first. A little online guide to ships, weapons, etc. Back then it was called the "Starship Reference Page". I knew damn little about websites back then, but happily my brother Ian did. So he did the tech side, and I did the writing side. My new hobby fascinated me, and the site began to grow... and grow... and grow. Twenty plus years later, it's still growing.
Deep Space Nine came along around the time I went back to university to get a teaching degree. It's always been the least popular of the Trek shows, but I loved it. The characters were still great, and if it slipped into goofy territory now and again, it also went to places Trek had never been before. Characters who didn't fit Gene's "future people are perfect" template. Situations where sometimes the problem of the week couldn't be solved satisfactorily, or at all. And of course, it's the show where Trek went to war. I loved it, and I still love it.
When Voyager came around when I was out of university and into work. It seemed like it would be the perfect Star Trek show - a lone ship out in the middle of nowhere, every single episode bringing us new things we'd never seen before. All that, combined with the conflicted characters that Deep Space Nine had given us! What could be better? In the event, Voyager never really lived up to that promise. The promised "darker" premise and conflicted cast just kind of faded away after the pilot episode, and the procession of new exciting strangeness tended to turn into bland and slightly dull strangeness. Still, there were things to love in Voyager. We saw characters grow and change; Tom went from a smart but slightly lost guy struggling in the shade of his father to a grown up family man with a wife and kid. Seven of Nine came back from the ultimate abusive background. The EMH went from being software to being a person.
When Enterprise rolled around, I was in my thirties. I gotta be honest, I never liked the premise of the show. Every previous Trek had looked forward, into unknown territory. Enterprise felt like the creators had decided to take a giant step backwards. And when I saw the NX class, I knew the show would suck. That ship didn't belong in that timeframe... and the people making the show knew that, and didn't care. Because they wanted a ship that would look cool. At that moment I knew that they weren't actually interested in making a prequel; they were making a Trek show just like the original series and Next Gen and Voyager, which just happened to be set in a prequel time. It didn't fit.
The show itself confirmed my worst fears. I won't rehash it all here, but suffice to say - Ferengi? Borg? Time travel? No. Just... no. Even then, I did find things to love in Enterprise. Especially when Manny Coto came, and brought with him a hurricane of fresh air. He actually seemed to want to do a prequel, a REAL prequel! If season 1 of Enterprise had been like season 4, I suspect that show would have been on the air a lot longer and would be regarded a lot better than it is. (By me, at least. If you love Enterprise, more power to you.)
Enterprise was cancelled early, the first show since the original not to reach the magic seven seasons. Lots of people wondered if we would ever see Star Trek again. I didn't. Trek has become immortal, I argued. It's become one of those things like Sherlock Holmes or Alice in Wonderland - no matter how hard it might die, sooner or later somebody somewhere is going to realise that they still own the rights, and wouldn't it be interesting to dust that old show off and do something new with it...?
So in 2009 we got the reboot universe. (Yes, it's an alternate timeline and the Prime timeline is still out there. But let's not pretend that it isn't a reboot, because no matter what the excuse, it so obviously is.) By this time I was living in a home of my own. My brother Ian and I went to see Star Trek on the first day it came out, on the first showing of that day at ten in the morning. When it finished we walked out, bought two more tickets, and went into the next showing. And then we did that again. And again. And again.
Yes, we watched that movie five times in a row. Never done it before, never done it again.
And the next day, we drove 70 miles to an IMAX screen and watched it again. Just the once, this time!
There are things to love and things to regret about the reboot movie series. They've turned Star Trek into big action movies. I don't wail and scream about this to the extent that some do. Star Trek has always included action. Lest we remember, the first episode ever broadcast featured a monster that murdered people. The third ended with a phaser rifle and a fistfight. But the key word is "included". The original series had action, but it was not primarily about action. And it certainly wasn't an excuse to have action. The new movies do at least wander in that direction. But dammit, the characters are fun! There's energy, there's things to laugh at, there's sad moments, there's excitement. It's a couple of hours pleasantly spent.
Now here we are, 50 years in, and the next iteration of the show is heading our way. I have my issues with what we know of it so far, as regular readers will know. Having written this today, it occurs to me that my reaction to the USS Discovery itself is so strong because of the echoes of the NX class, so many years ago. The Discovery is wrong, and by implication, the show is going to be wrong too.
But who can say? Maybe they'll do it right. I certainly hope so. If the past is any guide, I hope I will find things to like in Discovery. Fingers crossed.
That's been my Star Trek journey. Who knows, with a dose of luck maybe one day I will be able to write about how the next fifty years panned out...