I had just finished the last few blog entries of 2009 for my Hudson Valley cycling adventures blog. The 2009 cycling season, for myself, had ended in December 2009 with the first bit of snow here. I am in between IT projects such as setting up a suround sound system (yes today’s modern surround sound system qualifies as an IT project – I will cover this in a future blog) and setting up a home wireless network that invloved a Wii game system.
I now have the time to work on this blog. When the new Star Trek movie (#11) premiered last year, there was an article in the local paper with some staff members giving their thoughts and recolections of Star Trek. Those recolections were of the orriginal series (ST:TOS in “trekie speak”) I had realized several things once I started to put down in writing my recolections of Star Trek. As the focus of this blog will be of life in the early 21st century for a “geezer geek”, what better first entry than my recolections of Star Trek, and with Star Trek there is a lot to recall over the past 40 years.
There have been 5 live action TV series, and now 11 movies. In regards to the movies, I have only covered the most memorable seven of the 11 movies (so far). Ah… if only Star Trek were like Star Wars.Only 6 live action movies, 1 animated movie and 1 animated TV show. And so with this first entry we will… well you know.Star Trek … thoughts and recolections
PART 1 the trek begins … September 8, 1966
Alpha Quadrant – planet Earth
North American continent
early 21st century
eastern United States
city of Poughkeepsie
I am a “techie” (what most would refer to as a “geek”) who is a “trekie”. As a teenager my family, as a lot of families of the time, had only one TV and so everyone had to watch the more or less agreed upon show.(however we as a family did watch a sci fi show that preceded Star Trek by one year – “Lost In Space”)
I should diverge here a bit and explain this to those younger readers under the age of 30. This was during the pre-internet “dark ages” in the mid 20th century when most families had only one TV (there were no other display screens to watch TV shows on either!) That TV had something called a “picture tube” (a cathode ray tube to be precise), often times monochrome (B&W) as color was still kind of a novelty and/or luxury, was square (4:3 aspect ratio),was low definition (525 lines of interlaced scan) and often times kind of fuzzy, and the signal was broadcast over the air and captured by something called an antenna. (the roof tops of the houses in suburbia of the day sported large high gain log periodic antennas – not the small parabolic dish antennas to capture the microwave “downlink” from a satelite in earth orbit as some houses do today) There was no cable either! (75 ohm copper coax or fiber optic)
In order for me to watch Star Trek:The Original Series, (ST:TOS) I had to boldly go to my friend’s house who had an old B&W TV of his own. I remember how there was a representive from everywhere on planet Earth on the bridge of the starship Enterprise (NCC 1701) Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) representing Africa, Sulu (George Takae) representing Asia and, in the second season, that Russian guy Pavel Chekof (Walter Koeing) The Soviet Union, the evil Empire in Star Wars parlance, was very much in existence at the time. This would be a prophetic look into the future of Earth space exploration. Russians and Americans are now working together in space. A part of the International Space Station is a Russian built module. When the current American shuttle is retired soon, the station crews will be ferried to and fro in a Russian Soyuz capsule.
It would be some years later I would understand the “big deal” over Uhura – Nichelle Nichols – and most especialy when Uhura and Cpt. Kirk kissed. At the time I did not see the “big deal”. This was SciFi after all and thus I was prepared to expect, and get used to seeing “weird stuff”,like aliens. There was that guy with the pointy ears and the 3 Stooges Moe haircut with the same name as that famous baby doctor, Spock – a half human half Vulcan. He was the science officer. Uhura was the communications officer and had this large ear piece sticking out of one ear. In the pre-iPod, pre-cell phone 1960’s this was kind of odd and was very (far) futuristic looking. What a chuckle Nichele Nichols must get when she sees today’s modern, technology hip, 20 something person with a Blue Tooth headset stuck in one ear!
There was also the chief engineer, Montgomery Scot “scottie” (James Doohan), this character, as a budding “techie”, I could relate to, and the ship’s doctor Leonard McCoy “bones” (DeForest Kelly). In command was that guy from Iowa, who just works in space, Captain James T. Kirk. (William Shatner – this was in his pre-bowling ball head pre-priceline commercial, days) The verbal sparing, and reparte, between the doctor and Spock was great. I remember being partial to the action episodes where Kirk and the Enterprise crew would battle it out with the “badies” – usualy the Klingons. And there was all that cool, seemingly far off future, technology. The small flip open communicators, the medical scaning systems, the TriCorder, the warp drive propulsion system, the weapons, (pahasers and photon torpedoes) and the transporter. The dialogue was peppered with lots of “techno speak”. Star Trek had establised it self as a “geek” show early on. (actualy the first)
While the above notable technology was on display in almost every episode giving those of us, at the time, a glimpse into the future, there were here and there ocasional displays of things used by the Enterprise crew that would also be prophetic displays of near future technology, like those little square things inserted into a recepticle in the ship’s computer console presumably with programs for it …. 18 years later the Apple Macintosh would be introduced to the world, and with it the introduction of the 3 1/2 inch floppy disc. These were in the form of… you guessed it! … litle plastic squares you inserted into a coresponding recepticle in the computer for copying data or containing programs or”clip art”
Some, such as myself, were inspired enough by Star Trek to pursue a technology career path, while others went on to be not the ones who kept the technology running, (like “Scotie” did on Star Trek) as I, but the ones who would create some of today’s common place technology, such as medical imaging and communicators, or the 3 1/2 inch floppy disc. (to those even younger readers under the age of 20, I should explain what a “floppy disc” was – this was a type of removeable magnetic storage medium – the earlier ones pre-dating the above mentioned 3.5 inch “floppy” realy were floppy as they had a flexible plastic “skin” to protect the thin magnetic disc inside – the first ones were quite a bit larger – they were 8″ and could “olnly” hold 1.2 mega bytes of data – a lot back then – then there was the 5″ floppy – they could only hold 360 kilobytes of data at first – these were used on the Apple computers preceding the Macintosh – yes there were Apple computers before the “Mac” – and the IBM PC, this was a long time ago IBM actualy made PC’s back then!)
In one episode, there were thin, like maybe 1 inch thick, flat panel displays shown sitting on a a table and a desk. Of course back then, in this low budget 1960’s TV show, they were props with a simulated display. And here we are 40 years later and what do I see in the circular for one of the local big name chain stores? One of those new flat panel LED backlit LCD HDTV’s that is… only 1.2″ thick! One of those early “trekies” would would go on to work for Motorola as a design engineer and his design goal was to create the Star Trek communicator,or cell phone as we know it today. He did, and then some. The earliest cell phones were quite primative comapred with today’s super cell phones / hand-held computer / music player / cameras.
In the late 1980’s, during the second or third season of ST:TNG, the cell phones were quite a bit larger,were analog, and you could only talk on it. (no texting either!) In those days due to a lack of suficient cell towers, some of those early cell phones were the size of an Army field radio with large antennaes and a land-line like handset. The cell phone technology progressed, until Motorola finaly came out with the first “flip phone”, and thus we had an actual Star Trek communicator. (also born was the wireless service contract)
Medical imaging technology also had been created and the technology progressed in this field as well until today we have portable imaging systems that can be taken into the field where they are needed. Also at this time satelite GPS technology came into being, then primarily military / government, and progressed to the point those above mentioned “super” cell phones of today also have GPS tracking capability. And so today we have the Star Trek communicator, the TriCorder, and the ship’s computer in one hand-held unit! The body imager / scanner would be in the back pack the field doctor or paramedic is carying.
(update:I had just read about a hand held ultrasound body imager mfg. by GE K.E.N. 01/16/10)
This has led me, dare I say, to some critisism of Gene Rodenbery for not being visionary enough. To today’s younger generation ST:TOS must seem quaintly “old fashioned”, much as the original 1930’s Buck Rogers did when I was a teenager. After all in those days I had real rockets and spaceships, with real “techno speak” provided by a very real Earth space agency – NASA.
I am not sure how the “hard core” treker fans (you know – the ones who go to ST conventions dressed up as Klingons or Vulcans etc.) got together as a fan club back then to send all those letters to NBC to get the network to keep the show on after the first season, but they did. The network kept the show on, but for only 2 more seasons, and after only 3 seasons the original series would be canceled. The end of this first Star Trek series came at the dawn of of the Internet and at the high point of human space exploration, the first men on Earth’s moon. It would be 10 years latter before that first forgetable Star Trek movie premiered, and the first (relatively) big budget SciFi TV show – want to take a guess as to which frakin Glen Larson produced show that was?
While watching ST:TOS I was insulated from the 20th century world outside. A world of race riots, the threat of nuclear anihilation from the “evil commie” Soviet Union. And a war in a far off land called Viet Nam. Unknown to me at the time, a few years later I would be in the military taking part in that war. (if you can call fixing the intercom system and telephones on board an aircraft carrier “taking part”)
In 1987, 8 years after the premiere of ST:”The Motion Picture” (ST movie number 1) and 18 years after the third, and final, season of ST:TOS (21 years after the first episode), we would finaly get a new big budget Star Trek series – “The Next Generation” (ST:TNG)
Everything in this new Star Trek was “next generation” including a new Enterprise, the Enterprise “D” (NCC 1701-D) This new Enterprise had several new features, a saucer section that could seperate from the main drive section, the ultimate in 24th century VR, the “holo-deck”, and my favorite feature – a lounge/bar, “10 foward” .Tending the bar, (begining in the second season) wearing a big hat is.. Whoopi Goldberg? Yes, Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan. This new big budget series would feature SFX by ILM and a fully orchestrated main theme by Jerry Goldsmith, who would do the music for some of the ST movies as well. This series would usher in a nearly 20 year era of Star Trek on TV.
On the bridge is a fellow with odd complextion and eyes.He talked in computer-like fashion,much as Spock did. In this case he was a computer, an Android to be precise, named apropiately enough, Data – a Lt. Commander by rank. (Brent Spiner). There is a visualy impaired African-American fellow wearing an air filter for eye glases (remember that whole thing about getting used to seeing “weird stuff” on a SciFi show?) named Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) This character,at first, was not the ship’s chief engineering officer and seemed to be the helmsperson. Apparently in the 24th century, as in the 20thand early 21st centuries, the military made no sense.The guy that knows everything technical about the ship and can fix the ship is … steering the ship? In all likelihood in the engine room was a person trained as a … cook.
And also on the bridge is .. oh my God! a KLINGON! INTRUDER ALERT! SHIELDS UP! no wait .. he is wearing a Starfleet uniform? As this is the “next generation” and is set a number of years after TOS, I could only asume the long war with the Klingons was over. (the movie ST:VI “Undiscovered Country had yet to be made) This Klingon is Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) We had already seen a few years earlier the “new look” for the Klingons in ST:III “Search For Spock”.
Another interesting new concept is that there are crew members with their families on board this Enterprise. The ship’s doctor,Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) had her son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) with her. This show would last long enough, 8 seasons, that we would get to see both the character Wesley Crusher and the actor Wil Wheaton grow up.The character Wesley would eventualy become an Ensign and take his place on the bridge. There was a new position, the ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi. (Marina Sirtis) She did not appear to be a Starfleet officer and was a civilian (a “civie” in 21st century military/Navy parlance)
In command of all, is the “folicaly chalenged” Captain with a British acent named … Jean-Luc Picard? – a decidedly French name. (Patrick Stewart) and second-in-command the first officer, (the XO in Navy parlence) Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes). He is a trombone playing, handsome ladies man American. In an homage to that original pilot episode of ST:TOS -“the Cage”, the captain refered to him as “number one”.
The original “number one” Majel Barett, now Mrs. Rodenbery, was the voice for the ship’s computer. She also played Deanna Troi’s mom,Laxanna, in a couple of episodes. (interestingly Majel Barett Rodenbery is given credit for the computer voice in the new movie – number 11) There was also a character who did not seem to be a Starfleet commisioned officer, (a “noncom” in 21st century Earth military parlance) Chief Miles O’Brien.(Colm Meaney) He was the senior transporter tech.
This series would introduce us, in the premiere 2 part episode actualy, to a new Star Trek villian known by a single letter – Q, played wonderfuly by John DeLancie.Q was not the evil, destructive villian like Khan of TOS, but an omnipotent God-like, mischeivious character who, using his powers, would ocasionaly “teach a lesson” or play a prank on Captain Picard and the Enterprise “D” crew. Often times with terirfying, and potentialy deadly, results. In the second season this character would hurtle the Enerprise “D” and her crew thousands of light years across the galaxy for a “meet and greet” with the new Star Trek “badies” – THE BORG. A race of cybernetic creatures, or cyborgs. Think Sarah Connor had it bad? She only had to deal with a single cyborg armed with a hand gun.(FYI:”The Terminator” #1 premiered a few years before the premiere of TNG)
The Borg had technology more advanced than the 24th century Federation (United Federation of Planets) They operated with a colective single concetionous. They possesed advanced nano technology that allowed them to turn anyone they touched into one of them. “WE ARE THE BORG… RESISTANCE IS FUTILE…. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED” became the catch phrase of the 1980’s. Interestingly, after the second season, Ronald D. Moore would be a co-producer. He would, years later, co-produce a remake / re-imagining of that frakin 1979 SciFi TV show, with David Eick.
Among some of my other memorable TNG episodes were the ones involving a cat that Data had gotten.He called the cat “Spot”,a decidedly dog name.