I don’t like Star Trek anymore

I have a terrible confession to make, one that may drive away many readers: I am tired of Star Trek. I was a kid when the original series aired, I watched them religiously, I still have nothing but fond memories of it all. By the time Star Trek: The Next Generation rolled around, though, I was at the point where I was watching reruns to mainly groan at the bad science and the cheesy special effects, and ST:TNG didn’t help — more bad acting, more terrible writing, more ludicrous plots written by people who seemed to have more of a background in soap operas than in science fiction. All those other series that were subsequently shat out? I didn’t even watch them.

I know. I should be drummed out of the old SF nerd club. I feel terrible for not being able to share in the pleasure so many people still get out of the series, but you all go right ahead. Have a good time, while I roll my eyes at all the Trek worship.

I would rather see something with a fresh take. Something that is genuinely about ideas, rather than milking a comfortable old story to death.

But still, here’s something I did enjoy: a site that catalogs all the reused props from Star Trek. You need a strange futuristic device on a desk? Add some odd lighting to a CD rack. Glue random geometric shapes together, spray paint them silver, and done–we’ll find a use for it. Rearrange the shapes, you’ve got something new.

Nothing goes to waste. You can use them same props in different series!

Kudos to the props department for their creativity and economy. This I could enjoy reading, even as I’ve lost all interest in the plots of the stories they support.


  1. Eirik van der Meer says

    Same here, more or less. Too young for the TOS, but loved TNG back in the days. Tried rewatching it a while ago, but it had aged terribly as most sci-fi tend to do. None of the spin-offs caught on either, although I did hate-binge 1. season of Picard.

    B5 holds up pretty well though.

  2. says

    You might consider watching STrange New Worlds. I’ve been turned off by the rehashing of plot lines in DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, etc. However, ST:STN is a fresh look at things, and the writing seems to be very creative.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    Like you, loved the original as a kid. Hated the TNG characters and most of the stories. DS9 and Voyager meh (though I liked Janeway). Thought Enterprise was pretty good. What I’ve seen of the most recent stuff has been incoherent garbage.

  4. wzrd1 says

    Picard, aka Star Trek: The Geritol Generation.

    PZ forgot one prominent prop, used in nearly the entire original series, Dr McCoy’s salt shakers, turned medical scanner.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    Also liked pre-Russell Davies Doctor Who, and, um, that’s about it until Babylon 5 came along. Still mourn its passing. What little I saw of The Expanse looked really good, as did Raised by Wolves.

  6. says

    I totally agree with you here: I loved TOS as a grade-schooler, saw each episode at least 5 times, got most of my basic civics/history lessons from it; TNG was lame-to-so-so; DS9 and Voyager were okay; and I was pretty much done with the whole universe/storyline after that. (What I liked about DS9 was that it was set in a space station, not a starship, so people generally couldn’t avoid what came their way, and had to stick around to deal with longer-term consequences of whatever they did.)

    TOS was new and quite daring for its time, nonwhite officers and all; and it deserves respect for that. But times have changed, TV has changed, and we don’t need to keep on rehashing what used to be “new” long ago. It’s okay not to keep on rewatching all that, just like it’s okay not to want to reread a beloved novel, or dutifully follow every sequel or spinoff thereof.

    Lots of kids learned a lot about US history and social development from “Star Trek.” But since we’ve all learned what we could from it, there’s no need to repeat the same lessons, is there?

  7. andywuk says

    Now if you want re-used dodgy props there’s nothing quite like British TV SF sets and props from the 1970’s (mainly Doctor Who and Blake’s 7, although UFO and Space 1999 had their moments too)! The one that sticks in my memory was the rather obvious steering wheel from a Triumph Herald used as an airlock door handle. Cinema from that era was similar, the spacesuits from 2001:A space Odyssey were reused in at least 2 other B-movies from the era (Moon Zero 2 was one).

    Come to think of it I do remember a Buck Rogers spaceship console featuring a Commodore PET – not sure if that was product placement or cheap-ass set design.

    Nostalgia – it’s like crack for old people…

  8. antigone10 says

    You might enjoy ST: Lower Decks. I find it very funny and engaging, and it doesn’t actually forget that all the weird stuff is logged, so logically any crew afterwards would have access to the information of what worked.

  9. mordred says

    TOS and later TNG were some of the very few SF stories to be found on German TV when I was a kid, so I do have fond memories of both series, but even then I never really felt captivated by the storiea like I later did when watching B5 or Doctor Who for the first time.
    Rewatching some episodes on Netflix years later I definitely noticed the bad science, but it didn’t really bother me. I don’t expect actual science from “science” fiction ;-) The important thing for me are the stories, but ST rarely has stories that interest me.
    Barely watched anything of the spinoffs at all.
    So thats where I am with Star Trek (and Star Wars), I remember being entertained by the stuff at some point and now I’m pretty indifferent to it.

  10. Gaebolga says

    [Puts on ST nerd hat]

    Okay, the lower right quadrant in the first image (the one with Nomad in it) is attributed incorrectly; the episode “In the Cradle of Vexilon” is from Lower Decks, not TOS (the fact that it’s clearly from an animated show is a dead giveaway).

    Also, since it is Lower Decks, that’s probably supposed to actually be Nomad, so it wouldn’t count as a repurposing of a set piece, just straight up reuse…except that Lower Decks is an animated series, so it’s reuse of an image of a set piece.

    Also also, if you don’t want to watch a bunch of rehashed scripts, you should check out Lower Decks; it’s hilarious, and they make fun of all the Star Trek stupidity, including the reused scripts/tropes. The fact that it qualifies as canon in the ST universe makes the whole ST franchise better in so many ways…

  11. says

    I haven’t seen a single full episode of any Star Trek series ever (I did see snippets here and there on occasion), neither did I see any of the movies, and I do not feel inclined to do so. I do know a bit about Star Trek of course, because it is such a massive cultural phenomenon, but that is all knowledge acquired by cultural osmosis, not by actually watching the shows themselves. They might be good, I shall never know for I cannot be arsed to care.

    The last Star Wars movie made was The Last Jedi, a perfect end to the series. There was no movie after that.

  12. birgerjohansson says

    The Expanse was very good, so it got cancelled. Along with most other original things the executives find too weird.
    -As a five year old I watched the German Raumpatrouille 1966 (first episode just two weeks after the first ST episode), a perfectly professional and -for its time- original SF TV series, with a female space admiral bossing over the main protagonist. It shaped my concept of what SF should look like.

    The American Star Trek was only shown on TV ten years later, with subtitles of course (as all civilised countries should translate TV and film).

    BTW, a proper countdown should start with “zehn” and reach “null” just as the telescopic elevator reaches the lower hull of the spaceship, the final crew boarding at the moment of take off.

    För security, the base should be on the sea floor, allowing the spaceship to reach the surface surging out of a huge vortex. Star Trek never had any take-off scene as emotionally powerful as that.

  13. hemidactylus says

    I watched the original ST off and on and thought it ok. I watched the movies and was underwhelmed. Kirk no. Denny Crane yes!

    It took a while to warm to TNG. The Borg were cool. Some of those movies were better. Never got into any other ST series.

    I guess I like Star Wars a little more. New Hope, Attack of the Clones, Rogue One and the couple most recent movies.

    The Mandalorian is pretty good IMO though maybe it’s Grogu and Starbuck for me.

    IMO BSG reimagined was my favorite SF franchise. I tried watching the reboot of Lost in Space and it fell flat. Not sure if Foundation is worth watching. I rolled my eyes at Psychohistory in the books. I think Gouldian contingency kept me too skeptical to suspend disbelief.

    With Star Trek and Star Wars I was never that devoted for them to disappoint me much. Phantom Menace was hard to take though.

  14. hillaryrettig1 says

    Any Babylon 5 fans out there? Best TV show ever; it’s got a few clunky moments, but even 20+ years later remains remarkably fresh and relevant.

  15. birgerjohansson says

    Instead of looking back, SF needs to experiment. A lot.

    Stargate # 1 was decent, Stargate # 2 surprisingly original.
    With Stargate # 3 the script writers painted themselves into a corner, and the series was very dark.

    It is easy to make fun of the effects in Blake’s 7, but many episodes had the “sense of wonder” good SF should have.

    The one story arc of Doctor Who that stands out was Genesis of the Daleks, written by a young man named Douglas Adams.
    “Lost” was sort of SF, but the script writers never had any idea of how they would resolve the plot twists and potential paradoxes.
    It was obvious there were parallel universes involved (neatly solving many paradoxes). The smoke monster was plain stupid, but could have been explained as a cloud of nanotech, a swarm robot.

    I keep saying a group of clever teenagers could probably come up with many more neat explanations for the convoluted plot, but you don’t become a successful TV script writer by scaring off the executives with concepts they don’t understand.

  16. mordred says

    @16: Uh, Genesis of the Daleks was written by Terry Nation, a few years before Douglas Adams would join the team. The only Dalek storry DA had something to do with was Destiny of the Daleks, and that one does not stand out in a good way.

    And I’d say theres a bit more to Doctor Who than one particular story!

  17. nomaduk says

    Star Trek (TOS) is the ne plus ultra for me; it was the first, it was the best. I did watch almost all of TNG when it came out; it was all right, but I didn’t really like it all that much. The dynamic of the holy triumvirate — Kirk, Spock, and McCoy — was simply impossible to duplicate or improve upon. The character of Captain Kirk, particularly as established in the first two seasons, was played to perfection by Shatner — you can say whatever you like about the actor himself, but his portrayal was iconic. Likewise Nimoy and Kelley; they simply nailed those roles. And the writing of several of the episodes (at least, the initial scripts, before editing by Roddenberry and others) by actual science-fiction writers, elevated the show above anything else that had come before, except possibly The Twilight Zone. Yes, some episodes were less than stellar, but, given the lack of support from network, it’s amazing they pulled off what they did, and so well.

    Someday, perhaps, I’ll take a look at Lower Decks; I like the idea of its irreverence regarding the original. I’m not so sure I’ll try Strange New Worlds, though. I like the idea of a Pike-based series, but, to be honest, the writing and world-building (if one can even use that term) of the later series (particularly anything touched by Rick Berman) have been so execrable that I really doubt I’ll enjoy them.

    For what it’s worth, by the way, I loved Babylon 5 when it first ran; I’d like to rewatch it, but I wonder if it will hold up. Probably. And The Expanse is nothing short of fabulous.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    If you had script writers well versed in science and a bit of absurdist humor, Stanislaw Lem’s ‘Star Diaries’ would be a good starting point for a TV series.
    (The German TV version was a bit meh).

    Red Dwarf is rarely mentioned because it was comedy, yet it made great use of the tropes. This is the right, light kind of touch. Most TV and film SF takes itself much too seriously. Newsflash: You are not Kubrick or Tarkovsky.

    The two recent novels ‘Semiosis’ and ‘Interference’ would make a great basis for a series, taking off from the weird biology and the very different kinds of sapient organisms. Steveland is my favourite extra-terrestrial organism.

    The “Ancillary” book series could also be a starting point for TV or film, with an AI protagonist trapped in a human body.

    And my final suggestion is “All Systems Red”, with the most sympathic AI/robot/android I have read about in a long time.

  19. birgerjohansson says

    Mordred @ 17
    I stand corrected!
    In my defence, my memories are not perfect.
    Terry Nation produced many interesting things, before Blake’s7 he did The Persuaders (a bit dated , but fun as Tony Curtis and Roger Moore run into baddies everywhere).
    BTW, ,Doctor Who; Swarm was an interesting story arc- how much remains of a human mind that has been absorbed by an alien?

  20. moarscienceplz says

    I like ST: Lower Decks a lot. Stargate SG-1 was a lot of fun, partly because of Richard Dean Anderson and partly because they had a writing team that really cared about SF for television. Most writers seem to be unable to care equally about those two areas.
    What has reignited my interest in Star Trek is the podcast The Shuttlepod Show, hosted by Conner Trinneer and Dominic Keating from Enterprise. They are good friends, excellent raconteurs, and they have gotten guests from nearly all parts of the TV production world, not just actors. I have learned a lot about the behind the scenes part of the business, and it is just a fun time to hang out with them.

  21. says

    Props always get reused, and often turn up on other programs later on. After all you want to save money wherever possible. Conversely some stuff you might think were props specific to a show aren’t. Space: 1999 for example used a lot of late ’60s and early ’70s “modern” products such as furniture. The distinctive hooded lamp seen in various places on Moonbase Alpha is a Sorella, designed by Rodolfo Bonetto and produced by the Guzzini company in 1972.

    (Martin Willey’s Catacombs pages are a great resource about Space: 1999, and he doesn’t flinch from pointing out mistakes and problems with the science of the episodes. https://catacombs.space1999.net/ )

    Another way to save money on props is to use interesting looking stuff to represent something it’s not. I’ve seen cases where electronic musical instruments are shown as other devices. For example the Eko Compurhythm, one of the first programmable drum machines, turned up as spaceship equipment in ’70s Italian sci fi films.

  22. birgerjohansson says

    Props- I suspect the model of the lunar base in Space: 1999 is the same, or derived from the base in ‘2001’.

  23. rietpluim says

    I rewatched quite a few episodes of TNG when I had the flu earlier this year. I didn’t recall the acting being that bad when I was a teenager. I quit when Guinan was introduced. I still enjoyed most of the plot though and the visuals were nice.

  24. says

    The 2001 influence on Space: 1999 is obvious. If there had been a 2001: The Series it would have been very close in appearance and tone to the first season of Space: 1999. Brian Johnson, who was in charge of special effects on the series, was one of the special effects crew on 2001 Kubrick felt the similarities were blatant enough that he tried to sue to force a name change to the series, which was unsuccessful.

  25. mordred says

    birgerjohansson @20: I think we have been watching Doctor Who in two different universes.Your reality has Genesis written by Douglas Adams and a serial called “The Swarm”. ;-)
    Could it be you mean “The Ark in Space”? Definitely a great story.

  26. wzrd1 says

    andywuk @ 8, Space: 1999 got really into recycling everything in their second season, due to budget cuts. Recycled monster of the week, props and even scripts that were massively rewritten to cheap and dumb them down below their already low limbo bar.
    Always loved how lasers could stun someone… Or make someone disappear, because that whole conservation of energy thing isn’t a real deal to television productions.

  27. says

    Yes, budget constraints doomed the excitement for many of us. I laugh when I think of Spock in that red painted shower curtain ‘space suit’. And the orig. series with all the plywood and cardboard sets painted gray. I am fairly certain the ‘tri-corder’ was in reality small battery powered CRT TV set. How many times has ‘robbie the robot’ from forbidden planet been revamped and reused?
    I have always found written science fiction much more interesting and thought provoking than almost any TV science fiction show. The best plots/writing on Star Trek was always from serious/recognized science fiction writers (or was ideas swiped from them).
    PZ, I know it is a pain changing hosting companies, but, the one you use seems completely incompetent. Our hosting company has only been offline once (for about an hour) in over 20 years.

  28. says

    @27 wzrd1 said: Always loved how lasers could stun someone… Or make someone disappear,
    I reply: You are so right. So many times science was ignored in order to make cool effects ‘work’. That reminds me of Stargate SG-1 (full of sciencey silliness) and when they would make fun of themselves with episodes showing the made up TV show ‘wormhole extreme’. So, silly, yet fun.

  29. wzrd1 says

    shermanj @ 29, not to mention that a competent hosting company also would password protect one’s account, preventing someone from just e-mailing or calling to switch things around.
    Sounds like an outfit who used an admin password of “letmein” I once dealt with.

  30. says

    Not just props were re-used. About 15 years ago I did a collection of screen captures from TOS, and I noticed the same exact red dress being worn on different planets.
    One was being worn by one of Harry Mudd’s androids, though, so I suppose the explanation is that Harry saw it while visiting one planet and had it re-created for his android women.

  31. says

    If we’re talking about possible future TV SF series, I’d suggest Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars” trilogy, and other novels set in the same timeline. Maybe also something based on one of Neil Stephenson’s books, like the Baroque Trilogy? Or Liu Xijin’s “Earth Remembered” books?

    Also, I think Marvel could make a really interesting “Black Panther” spinoff series, dealing with Wakandan internal politics. Hell, they could fill one season just with factional/policy disputes within their intelligence community!

  32. hemidactylus says

    Space: 1999 was a fave show in elementary school as was Logan’s Run. The Eagles in Space: 1999 were my favorite spacecraft ever. I built them as models.

    The original hybridization of Chariots of the Gods and Mormon theology known as Battlestar Galactica had scenes lifted for the not so good movie Space Mutiny I actually saw in the theater:

    Battlestar Galactica was Bonanza in space and got sued by Star Wars, which was not a good optic for the latter IMO.

    @16- birgerjohansson
    I managed to avoid Lost for several years but got sucked in and binged several seasons. Parts were ok, but the ending was stupid. One aspect I liked was Naveen Andrews‘ portrayal of Sayid though he was not an Arab. He still did good for the role playing a sympathetic Iraqi character at a time Iraqis were demonized due to the war. The part when he revealed to Hurley that he had been Republican Guard during Desert Storm was priceless. Actors from Lost would go on to either Person of Interest or Hawaii Five-0. Maggie Grace would eventually star in Fear the Walking Dead.

  33. Dunc says

    @30: Farscape was brilliant, doesn’t get nearly enough respect.

    DS9 was the best Star Trek by miles.

  34. hemidactylus says

    @18- nomaduk
    What really tickles me about Star Trek’s beginnings was the whole Lucille Ball angle. When I first heard that background info I was intrigued.

    I have to admit a stretch of time when I despised the Shat. Early Star Trek was cool though and he was a striking guy early on. I avoided Boston Legal for years because of Shat, but when I started watching it I realized, however inappropriate the character, he was born for that role and gelled well with Spader. Now I don’t think of him as Kirk anymore. We won’t discuss TJ Hooker or Rescue 911 or One Hit Wonders. Or going into orbit in that Bezos space penis.

    There was an episode of Boston Legal that featured scenes from this 1957 teleplay featuring a much younger Shatner:

  35. nomaduk says

    hemidactylus@38: I think Shatner’s trip to orbit was brilliant, regardless of what one thinks of Bezos and his project. The effect it had on Bill was clearly profound; I’m glad Captain Kirk had a chance to get up there, even if it wasn’t what he expected.

    And that teleplay, The Defender: Wow. I had never heard of that before. But: William Shatner, Steve McQueen, Ralph Bellamy, Martin Balsam! What a team! I’ll have to find that and watch it sometime.

    Agreed about the rest of his shows; not worth mentioning, really. His guest shots as a young actor were pretty much all brilliant, though. I also recall seeing him playing a Union prosecuting officer in The Andersonville Trial (I think that’s what it was entitled), about a post-US Civil War trial of those in charge of a Confederate POW camp.

    And, of course, there’s always this, which many consider the definitive cover (this particular version has some extra fan work added): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zI3UfxyIdgs

  36. says

    Another Babylon 5 fan here. Not exactly re-using props, but there was an amusing scene in one episode where Dr. Franklin is staring at one of those desk toys (popular in the 90s) where goo dripped from the top chamber to the bottom as if it were a biological sample.

    If anyone is upset about the Expanse series being canceled, I recommend reading the books on which the series was based.

  37. nomaduk says

    Okay, so, The Andersonville Trial: William Shatner, Richard Basehart, Cameron Mitchell, Jack Cassidy, Martin Sheen, Buddy Ebsen, Alan Hale Jr, and many more, and directed by George C Scott! Definitely worth looking up.

  38. Walter Solomon says

    The franchise has nothing new to offer. It used to tackle topical political issues, does it still do so? Does it explore any of humanity’s really big question or is it just another example of mindless entertainment?

  39. birgerjohansson says

    Mordred @ 26
    Yes, The Ark in Space.

    I recall the line when a crewman realised an important colleague had been eaten.
    “How [can we cope] without him?
    His knowledge….”
    The Doctor (interrupts) “…has been thoroughly digested”.

    Tom Baker was occasionally in some pretty bad episodes, but he had a special gravitas that made him The Doctor.

  40. hemidactylus says

    I’ve been curious about Picard and some of the other recent stuff in the Star Trek universe, but I’m also curious about some of the animated backstories in the Star Wars universe. If anything I will try to get further along in Ahsoka which has a bunch of backstory superfans know by heart. I love me some Rosario Dawson though and when I saw that The Mandalorian episode I was intrigued. There was a The Mandalorian episode with Luke that I also thought was extremely badass and I’m not a superfan. YMMV.

    My dad took me to see the original Star Wars in a theater and I loved it. The next two movies were ok, but I wasn’t really into them at the time. I saw the Lucas “enhanced” versions more recently and because I don’t live and breathe it I didn’t find them offensive. Weird seeing Hayden added in that one scene.

    Disney was a mixed blessing. Lucas dragged his feet making content and releasing it. Disney has turbo charged releasing content. There’s quite a bit more to consume now.

    They nailed it with Grogu. Just sayin’. Giancarlo Esposito does supervillain quite well. And there’s that little known Pedro Pascal.

  41. birgerjohansson says

    Speaking of Roger Corman…

    I like to watch Brandon’s Cult Movie Reviews and reviews by Decker Shado at Youtube.
    I think my definition of “bad” and PZ’s definition of bad are somewhat different.
    A film or TV program may be boring, but maybe the sound guy managed to capture the dialogue most of the time.
    “The part where a swarm of free-range chickens was drowning out the talking was not good.
    They should probably have made a second take of the scene where the plants obscured the faces of everyone.
    The character is wearing a shirt with different color a few seconds after the previous scene.
    Hey! They have literally copied a scene from Star Wars. And do Martians speak with a Russian accent?”

  42. goaded says

    Have you seen The Orville? It’s obviously Trek-like, but it’s Seth McFarlane (you have to ignore him sounding like Peter Griffin), and it tackles some serious social issues head-on. Now CGI is so cheap, they don’t even need transporters!

  43. Silentbob says

    Re Star Trek you’re in good company. From memory, I believe Carl Sagan wrote (I think it was Broca’s Brain) about how he just couldn’t get into Star Trek back in the 80s.. I recall him saying something like, “why are all the alien races humans with funny foreheads”.

    A quick Goog also finds him writing this in 1978:

    In Douglas Trumbull’s technically proficient science-fiction film “Silent Running,” the trees are dying in vast, spaceborne, closed ecological systems on the way to Saturn. After weeks of painstaking study and agonizing searches through botany texts, the solution is found: Plants, it turns out, need sunlight. Trumbull’s characters are able to build interplanetary cities but have forgotten the inverse-square law. I was willing to overlook the portrayal of the rings of Saturn as pastel-colored gases, but not this.

    I have the same trouble with “Star Trek,” which I know has a wide following and which some thoughtful friends tell me I should view allegorically and not literally. But when astronauts from earth set down on some far distant planet and find human beings there in the midst of a conflict between two nuclear superpowers – which call themselves the Yangs and Coms, or their phonetic equivalents – the suspension of disbelief crumbles. In a global terrestrial society centuries in the future, the ship’s officers are embarrassingly Anglo-American. In fact, only two of 12 or 19 interstellar vessels are given nonEnglish names, Kongo and Potemkin. And the idea of a successful cross between a Vulcan and an earthling simply ignores what we know of molecular biology and Darwinian evolution. (As I have remarked elsewhere, such a cross is about as likely as the successful mating of a man and a petunia.) I have similar problems with films in which spiders 30 feet tall are menacing the cities of earth: Since insects and arachnids breathe by diffusion, such marauders would asphyxiate before they could savage their first metropolis.

  44. Rob Grigjanis says

    birger @45:

    The part where a swarm of free-range chickens was drowning out the talking was not good.

    Sounds like a Robert Altman film.

  45. says

    I have to agree about Strange New Worlds. I’m not normally a fan of prequels but the series has been mostly great so far (there is one episode I’m not happy about the ending though). I also agree about Lower Decks. It’s an animated comedy but still fits as a Star Trek show.

    There was also an episode of Strange New Worlds that did a crossover with Lower Decks, and you don’t normally see a lot of crossovers between live action shows and cartoons. It worked fantastically.

  46. Walter Solomon says

    No one has mentioned the Foundation TV series AFAIK so I guess it’s not very well-received or unknown here. I haven’t seen it myself so I don’t know if it’s worth watching.

  47. Callinectes says

    I love Lower Decks. Under the jokes there is a very rationalist perspective about what Starfleet does (or should be doing) once the discoveries and solutions made by flagship crews are logged and become part of the Federation’s literature. As well as other odd little details. Last episode we learned that the security team aboard the USS Cerritos, including the extremely boisterous Lieutenant Shaxs, enthusiastically operates a poetry and board games club to provide mental health and social support to crewmembers, and that they consider this part of their job of protecting the crew.

  48. kaleberg says

    Roddenberry’s original pitch for Star Trek was Wagon Train in outer space. An important point in the show proposal was that the journeys were to places “similar” to our own and set only far enough in the future so that it was possible for “continuing characters to be fully identifiable as people like us”. Another element of the pitch was that the “‘Parallel worlds’ concept makes production practical by permitting action-adventure science at a practical budget.” Lucille Ball, the comedienne who had network clout, was a big backer of the show.

    It was a brilliant move. There’s something in fiction called the Graustark problem. If you want to write action-adventure stories, you have to set them somewhere, ideally some place where the protagonist can have adventures. Conrad’s Lord Jim addressed this cynically. Graustark was a fictional “middle European” country where one could set adventures without having actual Czechs or Romanians or people who have been to that part of the world saying WTF? The Kaballah resolves the problem of where God can create the heavens and earth with the concept of tzimtzum, God taking a deep breath to create a place for adventures.

    When Star Trek was proposed, westerns were the big thing. Find an old TV Guide and you’ll see that prime time was full of westerns, but their days were numbered. It wasn’t that TV writers hated native Americans. They just wanted to write adventures where one could do some shooting in a good cause. That’s why we have video games full of zombies. If it turns out that there actually are zombies, I’m hoping future game developers will find new more acceptable targets to be blasted to oblivion. Roddenberry gave writers a place to set stories that wasn’t “Middle Europe” or the late 19th century American west. Star Trek was brilliant.

    I’m pretty burned out on Star Trek and I burned out on Star Wars ages ago. I liked the original Star Trek series and had a fondness for The Next Generation for its combination of mediocre writing and a good heart. Deep Space 9 and Babylon V were both heavily influenced by the collapse of the USSR, but DS9 was better as it was The Lord of the Rings set in outer space. Sometimes a Graustark needs a Graustark. The original Graustark even had a Cook’s travel office. The problem is that the writers of each new series seem to keep going back to the well, so it is hard to replicate the original spark. So much is fan service, and I have nothing against the fans, but I’m not of their number. Granted, the best Star Trek movie was Galaxy Quest where the washed up series stars team up with the fans to save the galaxy.

    P.S. If you want to know why so many props look alike, here’s a link to a great prop rental house: https://nortonsalesinc.com/

  49. Rob Grigjanis says

    kaleberg @53:

    DS9 was better as it was The Lord of the Rings set in outer space.

    Not seeing that at all. Not that that would necessarily make it automatically better anyway, even though I love LotR.

    I saw DS9, like other ST variants, as jumping the shark after a season or so (nice theme music, though!). B5 gripped me for its whole run, leaving me desperate for more. It’s also the only SF show that could, on occasion, make me weepy.

    Again, not that it matters much, but Straczynski did make some obvious reference to LotR. Shadows: home world Z’ha’dum, sounds like Khazad-dûm. Not the home of the main antagonist in LotR, granted, but a place of evil by the time of the Company of the Ring. Other links; Minbari as Elves, Kosh as Gandalf, a part near the climax sorta like Scouring of the Shire…

  50. says

    I recall him saying something like, “why are all the alien races humans with funny foreheads”.

    Two obvious reasons: low budgets and zero CGI capability. Deal with it.

    Roddenberry’s original pitch for Star Trek was Wagon Train in outer space.

    There’s a lot of input from Westerns, but also a lot from WW-II movies, especially in terms of both visual “feel” of the starships’ interiors (a lot like ships and subs as seen in movies) and the founding ideals of the Federation.

  51. Silentbob says

    @ 56 Raging Bee

    Yes I get it, and I loved old school Star Trek with Kirk, Bones, Spock, Uhura, Sulu as much as anyone.

    But it’s not really just low budgets and CGI. It’s empathy. With some obvious weirdo exceptions ;-) humans just can’t feel as much empathy for spiders as mammals. Less human like, less empathy. So there are legitimate reasons to make your aliens weird but cute like ET of “ET go home” fame.

    All I was saying was Sagan had reasons for being unable to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy Star Trek. So while I loved it, it’s not for everybody.

  52. says

    My personal favorite prop is the one with the blinking red tubes. Aside from showing up in several Star Trek episodes, it also appears in many other shows and movies.

    I haven’t watched any of the newer Star Trek, but I still fondly remember DS9. Especially Garak, played by Andrew Robinson. That performance is just gold. I could watch those scenes over and over again.
    And, despite some rocky bits, Babylon 5 was amazing. The Londo-G’Kar relationship is brilliant.

    I never read Foundation, so I can’t speak to how well it’s adapted, but the first season was interesting enough that I’m starting to watch season 2.

  53. StevoR says

    FWIW Love Babylon 5 and would rate that a sthe best TV SF series ever – also did like Star Trek, Star Wars and Dr Who but got hooked sicne my first SF show – the cartoon series Battle of tge Planets followed by animated Flash Gordon Starblazers and so many others on around 5 pm ish when Iwas a young boy.

  54. StevoR says

    ^ NB. That first linked intro is notably scarily silent for the first ten seconds before it actually starts.

    There were othersongs and intro’s for other seasons of StarBlazers too and then there was the awe-inspiring, bone – vibrating music of The Mysterious Cities of Gold plus Ulysses 31 as well as the often strange and underground classic with two dark-skinned heroes – Aarkana and Spartakus in Spartakus & the Sun Beneath the Sea among so many others.

  55. Silentbob says

    I have to say the interactions between Stevo and Morales on this blog are golden. Greater than the sum of their parts. X-D

  56. Kagehi says

    Picard was pretty good first season, started to lose the plot as it went along (including betraying the agreement that it wouldn’t just be TNG all over again), then utterly flubbed on the last one, in which they literally ignored the end of the prior season, which involved a kind of benign reinvention of the Borg, and.. instead made the new, scary, unknown enemy… the Borg again. Sigh…

    But, yeah, there are three that stand out: Strange New Worlds, which is a literal honest prequal to TOS, in the same vein the original, in terms of stories, and feel.

    Lower Decks, which is, as others have said, just hilarious, and the cross over they did, in which a few of the crew of Lower Decks accidentally ended up back in time with the Strange New Worlds crew, was an interesting mix of the chaos of LD and the TOS feel of SNW.

    But, the one not being mentioned here, and I really, really, hope gets grabbed up, and not ruined, by some other streaming service, since it was otherwise abandoned, is Star Trek: Prodigy. I hate that this was cancelled. It was/is damn good sci fi, and didn’t deserve the cancelation, or the lack of interest from “older audiences”, who wrongly went, “Eh, kids show. Not worth watching.”

  57. Gaebolga says

    Re: Foundation:

    I read the original trilogy, but none of the later installments, and the show most definitely does not follow the books in anything but the loosest sense. It’s more like the books form the background and give some basic direction to the show, but it’s very much a reimagining rather than an adaptation.

    That said, I rather like the show, especially since it’s less about the science and more about the sociology and politics. Plus, the genetic dynasty, how it functions, and the inherent issues with it (especially what we’ve learned about it in season two) is fascinating. Not sure it’s everyone’s cup of tea – especially for any Asimov fans expecting the original Foundation stories – but I would recommend giving the first couple of episodes a try to see if it works for you.

    Also, definitely joining in on the Babylon 5 love, and seconding Londo-G’Kar as one of the best evolutions of a relationship in pretty much any media…

  58. says

    All I was saying was Sagan had reasons for being unable to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy Star Trek.

    And I definitely feel his pain. Even hardcore Trekkies admit some episodes are just utter cringelicious crap. Like that “Yangs vs. Coms” wheeze mentioned earlier…and the Shakespeare episode…and “Miri”…

  59. wzrd1 says

    Odd that nobody has mentioned the episode of Strange New Worlds – the musical. Hilarious.

    Kagehi @ 68, yeah, Prodigy being cancelled was a mistake, it was surprisingly good and I usually don’t watch cartoon renditions.

    Raging Bee @ 70, perhaps Sagan’s imagination got burned out with that moon project. One of his early projects was being asked to calculated what a nuclear detonation would appear like on earth, as a show of idiocy on the moon. After due consideration and much calculation, well, the moon’s diameter is around the same size as the width of the continental US, so the flash would be barely visible. Kind of ruined a bunch of generals plans with that one.
    Of course the converse perspective is, from the moon, nobody would notice one’s city being vaporized.

  60. woozy says

    Hmm…. Prodigy (which I haven’t watched all of) seemed too feel way more like Star Wars than Trek to me. Somehow I never got into or liked Star Wars. I’m surprised at the hate here for TNG which I figure really was the best of them all.

  61. says

    This is the kind of thing that makes me think maybe I just have lower standards than everyone else. People say, “The acting is so bad!,” and I think the acting is good. They say, “Oh, the special effects are so terrible!,” and I think, “It looked okay to me.”

    Anyway, I like Star Trek: Prodigy. I also like the Bad Batch. I haven’t seen any of the live-action Star Wars shows, but I love the animated ones. What can I say? I like cartoons.

    I’m not totally burned out on Star Trek or Star Wars or superhero flicks, but I can understand being a little fatigued about the whole thing. I mean, I watched very few episodes of DS9 because two Star Trek series running at the same time felt like too much for me.

  62. Rob Grigjanis says

    woozy @72:

    I’m surprised at the hate here for TNG which I figure really was the best of them all.

    There were always things about TNG that bothered me. Some other time maybe…

    But what turned some annoyance into utter contempt, if not hatred, was the evolution of the Prime Directive. What started out as a kinda-reasonable ‘don’t mess with developing cultures’ transformed into pseudo-earnest ‘debates’ about whether to save lives on a planet undergoing a cataclysm, just because they hadn’t made contact yet. I’ve wondered what the actors thought about that, particularly Stewart, since Picard had to defend the ‘let them all die because Principles’ crap.

    Sadly, this leaked into Enterprise, which I quite liked.

    Two episodes of Enterprise bugged the fuck out of me. One was the finale, which was presented as a fucking TNG holodeck re-enactment. But the worse was an episode in which they lied to a recently contacted culture, telling them they had no cure for the horrible disease afflicting them. The crew (including the doctor) decided that this lot were on the way out anyway, making room for another sentient species on the same planet. So why not speed things along?

    Can’t help but wonder whether there were some sociopaths among the writers.

  63. says

    Joseph Zowghi: I don’t think you had “lower” standards; you (and I) had the standards of the time when we were watching the shows. The acting was pretty much normal for TV shows and movies of that time (basically stereotypes fulfilling necessary roles, not characters with really interesting or unique stories), and so were the special effects. The Enterprise interiors got high marks back then for making the viewers feel they were actually inside a huge spaceship (something I haven’t since felt about the starship interiors of any subsequent Trek spinoff, not sure why).

  64. magistramarla says

    I came to SF as a college student, since my abusive mother totally controlled our black & white TV and scoffed at watching such things. My boyfriend/later husband introduced me to the SF books and shows that he enjoyed, and I learned to enjoy them all.

    That said, when we lived in San Antonio, Tx, we attended 3 SA Comic Cons. The management used military members from the local bases as volunteers. My husband volunteered us 3 years in a row. We had some wonderful experiences.

    At the last one we attended, the volunteers were encouraged to cosplay. I was a passable 13th Doctor and my husband was the Hitchhiker from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Our shtick was that I had given him a ride across the galaxy in my TARDIS.
    The management was wonderfully accommodating to me in my wheelchair, so I became quite adept at moderating panels with some very famous SF actors.
    By far, my favorite was Jonathon Frakes. He is the most friendly, gracious, genuine gentleman I’ve met at Comic Con. I thoroughly enjoyed moderating his discussion. He walked me over to the room in which Bill Shatner had just finished a discussion. Shatner was a bit distant, but cordial, probably because of my escort!

    John Barrowman (Captain Jack from Dr. Who) was a hoot! He basically did a performance for his “panel discussion”.
    Since I was supposed to be his “moderator”, he pulled me up onto the stage and directed his performance to me.
    He kissed my hand and told me that I reminded him of his Mum. What a joyful experience!

    Another favorite experience was the discussion with the gentleman who had portrayed Flash Gordan. He was a very sweet older gentleman. We learned that we both had 5 children. I had recently welcomed my 7th grandchild, and he and his wife were about to welcome their 7th. He graciously autographed posters for each of my grandkids.

    I’ve learned to love many SF shows over the years. Star Trek will always hold a special place in my heart.

  65. Nathaniel Hellerstein says

    I like TOS, TNG, DS9, and Voyager. I hear that Enterprise had its moments, but ended too soon. Lower Decks is fun, I don’t care what the purists say. Forget about Picard. Forget about STD. I hear good things about Strange New Worlds, including them doing a tribute to Ursula K LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.

    SF franchises are subject to the same evolutionary forces as religions. They vary at random, they are naturally selected, and they inherit traits. After enough time, the descendants do not resemble the root species.

  66. says

    Never a big fan of TOS but I did like most of the films with the original cast. TNG was a favorite but I avoid the 1st season episodes because the acting was so stilted. DS9 and Voyager were okay and Enterprise and Discovery were okay but they all seemed to fall back into action adventure type shows. I really liked Picard and the 1st season of Strange New Worlds because they seem to go back to what TOS and TNG did with the stories and characters.

  67. StevoR says

    FWIW Trek~wise I’ve seen most of Enterprise, some of Discovery, none of Prodigy, Strange New Worlds or Picard; started watching Trek as an HS kid with TNG which I loved, then DS9 & Voyager eventually caught replays of TOS after already being familiar with it from popular culture and books and the movies.

    SW~wise, Return of the Jedi was one of the first if not the movie I ever saw – & gave my Mum nightmares. Loved the original trilogy, enjoyed the prequels, sequels up to the last one were okay tho’ reckon the last Rise of Skywalker was an absolute mess and terrible story-wise. But, hey, Star Wars has always been the visual Oh Wow! Wonder! Awe! impact above most else. Saw and enjoyed Solo at cinema, seen first two and a bit seasons of the Mandalorian so far thanks to a friend and likewise all of Obi-Wan & Book of Boba Fett wbich enjoyed for that they are. Not epic but pretty good and had their moments. Entertaining fun eye candy.

  68. xohjoh2n says

    For the B5 fans above, we’ve just had a new animated film Babylon 5: The Road Home released.

    It was… not so good for Zathras.

    The animation is that particular American visual style used by Aeon Flux and others which I absolutely detest. Obviously they’re representing all the original characters from the live show, but they’re all taller, thinner, and far more homogeneous versions of the real actors (with those very specific triangular point-up-and-down bangs). And anyone who isn’t actually represented as old has to have fine young brown hear. No middle age onset grey allowed here. It absolutely destroys the individuality of the original cast.

    And the plot is some cheesy lightweight narrative fluff about love conquers all: seriously? The original show wouldn’t have been so fucking lazy. How many lovers died in the Shadow war, eh? Was their love just not as great and pure and worthy as Sheridan/Delenn’s? At least the original show made some fucking sense there and never shied away from the fact that some things in life are actually just unpleasant and unavoidable. Of course while maybe referencing some original show history, it never seriously interacts with any of the remaining untold stories implied thereby – it’s complete new and unrelated, and therefore pretty irrelevant.

    And if I’d known all that beforehand, being that much of a B5 fan, I would still have bought it. So here I am, victim of mathematics.

  69. maat says

    I think that Star Trek has meant so much for so long because of what it represents rather than what it actually delivers. The expectations are, for that reason, so high that it is bound to disappoint every time.
    I was often disappointed, yet, in the end, I watched almost all of it anyway. My disappointment, I noticed, almost bordered on feeling ‘betrayed’, and I had to remind myself that it was, after all, only a TV series and should not be taken so seriously. That’s probably the reason why ‘The Orville” works so well.
    So, yes, many disappointing episodes, many meaningless ones, and many very silly ones; but also some truly excellent ones I will keep revisiting from time to time.