The Unreplenished Well
Or The Long Lingering Trek To The Stars
Copyright Ó by Dan Schneider, 6/9/01  

  Recently, on the UPN television network, the television show Star Trek: Voyager ended a 7 season run as the network’s premier show- although pro wrestling fans of the WWF’s Smackdown may quibble. It was the 3rd television spinoff of the original Star Trek show which captivated 1960s audiences to such a degree that it was canceled after 3 seasons in the ratings basement. The show’s 2nd life via syndication, & subsequent reappearance as a Saturday morning cartoon, a film franchise, a series sequel Star Trek: The Next Generation [or NextGen or TNG to the mythos’s fans- called Trekkies- & damn the literarily correct fools who foist the term Trekker upon this band of people with little to live for! They are as obnoxious as the anal-retentive cladists who refuse to call Apatosaurus by the far more apt Brontosaurus- feh to you all!], a series sequel sequel called Star Trek: Deep Space 9 [or DS9], & culminating with Voyager- a series sequel sequel sequel- or so we thought- is by now well-known; all starting with a letter-writing campaign that blossomed into conventions, games, video games, dolls, books, comic books & many other marketable items. Yet, concurrent with announcements of Voyager’s demise was the announcement of a series sequel sequel sequel sequel called Star Trek: Enterprise. Whoops! Let me amend that. In the spirit of entertainment franchises trying to milk things for all they’re worth- this show is a prequel- to be set a century or so before the original show- & will star Scott Bakula as the prequel’s captain- Jonathan Archer. Bakula is a well-known actor who made his sci fi name in the 1990s NBC show Quantum Leap.
  ****Henceforth, readers, I shall refer to the 5 television shows thusly: Star Trek shall be called ST, Star Trek: The Next Generation TNG, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 DS9, Star Trek: Voyager V, & Star Trek: Enterprise E. OK? Or is that a future show in the offing?****

  1st let me state that while I have been a Star Trek fan- but by no means a Trekkie- I laughed aloud at the recent docu-film Trekkies, which gave some insight into the cultic qualities of the band. Each of the 1st 4 shows has had moments of brilliance, some of which is the best, thought-provoking television ever. Yet, I can unambiguously state, without a doubt, the best of the shows was the 1st: ST itself. Despite all the laughable production standards, despite all the silly premises brought on by budget cuts: assorted near-Earths [recall the planet of Al Capone, Nazis, Commies, etc.], children who banged their fists in the air, Kirk’s ceaseless space-babe banging, & Kirk’s portrayer’s (William Shatner’s) hamminess [BTW- perfect for Kirk!], ST is the best of the 4 & by a wide margin. It even had the best theme song of all the series. In just 3 seasons it had more memorable episodes than any of the 3 subsequent series did- & they all ran for 7 full seasons.
  1st of all there was the writing. ST was the only 1 of the shows where you could believe that these characters really ‘liked’ each other. While lacking the ‘technobabble’ so rampant in the later shows, & also suffering from a less knowledgeable 1960s view of the universe, there have never been moments on the other shows to rival the banter tossed between Kirk, Spock, & McCoy. Neither has there been as colorful a character as ST’s engineer Scotty. These were guys that made spacefaring FUN. You could go out & tie one on & perhaps even get laid! In fact, Shatner’s overacting was very in character with both his role & the humanity of the 1st show- men were still egotists; it also contributed to the space operaticity of the 1st show vs. the relative blandeur of the 3 sequels. Shatner’s Kirk is/was very much a great character- in both major senses of the word. & so were the other 3 major characters. Mr. Spock- played by Leonard Nimoy- was 1 of the 1st cerebral action heroes in American pop culture. Spock’s famed neck pinch was easily the most imitated gimmick from the show when kids of the 60s & 70s played Star Trek with each other. DeForest Kelley’s Dr. McCoy was another original- yet despite his curmudgeonly style his was still the most ‘human’ character in that series. His ripostes to Kirk are still among the highlights of the entire franchise: “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a fill in the noun of your choice!” Finally, who could not identify with James Doohan’s engineer Scotty? Aside from Kirk’s famed , “Beam me up, Scotty!”, the character was noted for always stretching his duties out, overplaying the difficulty of situations to curry his Captain’s favor, drinking binges, & Scotch-brogued plaints to Kirk, “Ah need anothuh too minutts, Cop’n!” & “Ah’m givin’er all she’s gott, Cop’n!” Yet, even though the less developed minor characters as Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, & Nurse Chapel had few ‘real’ moments that defined them as ‘human’, 1 always sensed they, too, were part of the ‘family’- despite the 60s sexism & marginally 2nd tier treatment of its women & minorities. They fit in, personality-wise, a lot better than some later shows’ 2nd tier characters. The same cannot be said for any of the sequels. None of the 3 shows ever had a camaraderie that rivaled ST’s. For example, can you imagine TNG’s stuffy Picard & dull Riker ever really enjoying each other’s company- as peers, or even men? One can imagine Kirk & Scotty swapping interstellar boys-will-be-boys poon-talk- but those 2?  & despite Riker’s so-called ‘feelings’ for the busty yet dull Troi, & several on-screen romances, does one really think he was talking smack about that cute intern in astrometrics? You know Sulu & Chekov wanted a piece of Uhura, though. And on DS9- can one imagine the effete & effeminate dandy Dr. Julian Bashir ever spewing epithets at Odo, the shape-shifter? We know McCoy unleashed barbs that might be construed as near-racist toward Spock- yet it made him all the more ‘real’. And whose crew would you want to serve on- the rapscallious Kirk’s or the dull & morose Captain Sisko’s? & more importantly, what captain would you rather have as your leader entering a fight? That the moralizing, soliloquizing Picard ever won a battle amazes. Sisko- angry enough, but not with the swagger nor daring of Kirk. Janeway- please! Wasn’t it her stupidity that got her ship lost in the 1st place? Finally on to V. While Jeri Ryan’s 7 of 9 is by far the hottest babe in Trek lore, how overdone were her attempts to ‘become’ human? It did not compare to Spock’s struggles for his were more dramatic because they were less frequent. I mean- how many of us struggle with our identity? Too often we’re busy with our daily activities. Yet every episode about 7 dealt with this- which was even less intriguing than TNG’s Data’s struggles- which were again echoed by V’s holographic & nameless Dr.
  And here is one of the Star Trek franchise’s big problems- repetition. How many time travel stories can we take? It’s always seemingly verboten, yet every 4th episode seems to feature it in some way. The lack of imagination by the writers is staggering. Almost as bad is the nearly-always humanoid aliens who speak English [The universal translator implant theory doesn’t wash because- what?- does the Federation send advance shipments of such to be implanted in every species they encounter?], & the subtle racism that the shows employ- how all members of each race are alike. Think about it- especially after the 1st series: the humans are mild, dull country club Republicans- they are all sedated & almost trance-like. The Vulcans are the stoic, wise Orientals. Their sister race- the Romulans are the mysterious ‘Yellow Peril’. The Klingons- in ST were dark skinned vaguely Arab-Asiatic conquerors- Mongols? Ottomans? The Moslem horde? In subsequent shows & films the Klingons are bestial, Dungeons-N-Dragons clannish men/beasts-of honor who still fight with spears- are they Africans?- especially given that Blacks have portrayed the majority of non-ST Klingons? & could the Ferengi be anymore blatantly caricatures of merchant Jews- right down to the trollish features of big ears & noses? & could we please not have such aliens as the ridiculously superstitious Bajorans? How the hell did this race of dolts ever get space technology- they still 'worship'  other aliens as gods. & when potential great new villains come along they are either ignored, tamed, or made fools: think of the Q Continuum, the Ferengi, the Borg, Data’s evil brother Lore, Species 8472 (whatever?) from fluidic space, the Dominion, the aliens that tried to infiltrate the Federation in TNG & you could only tell their presence by the scorpion-like tails that stuck out of the back of their host’s necks, the Crystalline Entity, the Cardassians, the Dinosaur race that Voyager encountered, etc. Yet, all these problems stem from one over-riding feature that seems far stricter than the Federation’s oft-ignored Prime Directive; & that is ‘The Roddenberry Vision’- i.e.- humans are pre-ordained to succeed & pacify- or narcotize?- the cosmos (& themselves)- or, at least, the Milky Way galaxy to this point. The problems lie with the very lack of imagination that such a premise entails- & the lack of inherent drama in those stories that are about the ‘interior’ lives of the crews- especially on the latter 3 series. Rarely do we care. Yes, there have been some bravura performances in TNG, DS9, & V- off the top of my head I can recall these from TNG: Picard’s ‘other life’ where he is struck by a beam from an alien probe & in 20 or so minutes lives a whole other ‘lifetime’ as one of the probe’s creators, Data’s ‘birth & death’ of his ‘daughter’- & subsequent lack of emotion as she perishes, & Picard’s torture by a Cardassian interrogator- which was also buoyed by a brilliant guest performance by Ronny Cox as the Captain who correctly nails Riker as a poor officer! But these were too few. Often we’d get the silly exposes of more pointless Klingon rituals when the focus was Worf. Troi’s ‘pregnancy’ was a snooze- as were her assorted alien beaus. Geordi’s luckless love life was even worse- & foreshadowed V’s Kim’s even more hapless love life. Please pull that rotted tooth! Tasha Yar was, thankfully, killed off after Season 1. But why was Diana Muldaur’s Dr. Pulaski dumped for the return of the whiney Dr. Crusher? & to mention Wesley Crusher as annoying is tautology at its most manifest. Potentially deeper characters as Reg Barclay were never ‘promoted’ to full cast status, while Miles O’Brien would have to wait till DS9 to gain such.
  On DS9 there was only- to my recollection- 1 show on a main character’s ‘interior’ that was worth exploring- the episode where Captain Sisko is trapped in a time warp & periodically reappears over the years to his son Jake. Too often we’d get the silly cultic experiences of the Bajorans- the only true rivals in cultural stupidity to the ceaseless Klingon blood rituals. & did anyone ever do anything with Kira’s potentially great character? Perhaps the best potential female character in Trek history & she winds up wimpering over Odo- the shapeshifter whose only interesting scenes came in his comic interactions with Quark. Quark was, despite the Ferengi stereotyping, another ‘lost’ character whose potential was squandered in favor of duller characters. Potential breakout characters as his brother Rom & nephew Nog were- like Barclay & O’Brien in TNG- never expanded upon. But Jadzia Dax- the babeolicious yet dull Trill was in every other scene with Sisko- as if looking at her could make one stop wincing at Avery Brooks’ über-dull stentorianism. O’Brien had potential but his dull family life was the only place where he seemed to get a whole episode’s story to himself, & let us not even touch Dr. Bashir- the simpiest wimpiest creation in Trek lore- despite his being a ‘super-genius’! & was Jake Sisko merely Wesley Crusher with a tan- or what? Yet DS9 did hit gold with the best recurring villain & best antihero in Trek lore- Gul Dukat- [Q doesn’t count because he’s not a ‘true’ villain & his appearances grew more annoying with each appearance on TNG, DS9, & V] & Mr. Elim Garak, the tailor/spy-both Cardassians. But neither character was allowed to displace some of the worse ‘regular’ characters like Bashir or Dax. This another example of Star Trek being too rigid & not allowing writers or actors to dictate the story- it’s an old failing that occurs in narrative where the characters do not grow commensurate with their experiences. It’s sort of an inverse of Eliot’s faux Objective Correlative. & let’s not even mention the forced appearances of Worf- to boost ratings- & the Dax replacement Ezri- after the original actress left for the last season.
  On to V- Janeway, the Doctor, & 7 of 9 are the only characters of any depth. It’s typical for each of the 3 sequels to have only 2-3 of their 7-8 characters worth watching. Neelix was the worst of the Ferengis admixed with the worst of Bashir & Wesley Crusher. His initial paramour Kes- spell that D-U-L-L. Tuvok- why did it take him 6 seasons to rediscover the Vulcan neck pinch? Kim- (see Geordi LaForge’s love life & double the emphasis!). B’elanna Torres- if that character were any more 1-dimensional they could have used a cardboard cut-out for her- whine & bitch! [& why is it that all these petite females- human or not- are able to physically hold their own or better with much larger foes? Recall that V episode where the non-Tuvok Vulcan goes into his Pon far mating cycle? Now, ST established that Klingons were roughly equal in size & strength to humans, yet Vulcans were several times stronger. Yet in this episode a petite female Klingon/human outdoes a hormonally supercharged Vulcan- c’mon!] & her hubby- Tom Paris?- absolutely no charisma. & why was Chakotay wasted- both the sexual tension between he & Janeway & his predilection for his ‘spiritual’ journeys? I mean- in a few 100 years will not Native Americans have moved just a  ‘wee’ beyond animistic mumbo-jumbo?
  Then there is the reliance on time travel scenarios. So little is on the act of exploration. I mean, I’d bet there were more 1st contacts on ST than on the 3 sequel series combined- despite the many more opportunities to do so as humanity moves out beyond the solar system. This is 1 of the inherent risks with doing a prequel- we know that certain things must happen in order to try to get some consistency. As a prequel will E then encounter many more of the near-Earth worlds so rampant in ST? & how will the Klingons look? Like the more human versions in ST (when they were at their scariest?) or the brow-swelled morons of subsequent films & series?  & will we ever have the awe of 1st contact recaptured since we know so much more about then than will E’s crew? The same is true of the Romulans & other species we are familiar with. A prequel CAN succeed if it ties together ends from all the shows. For example, how come Starfleet had ships that could travel to the great galactic barrier between our galaxy & intergalactic space in the show where Kirk’s pal gets the glowing eyes & becomes an ESP whiz, yet in the later series’ time it takes 70 years for Voyager to cross the Milky Way within it? & will they dress more like the Kirk era, & use phaser cannons rather than pocket phasers? Will they have the cell phone-like communicators from the 1st show or the badge communicators from the rest? Or how about the myriad 1-time aliens? The ½ black/½ white aliens who destroy themselves by Kirk’s time? The Gamesters from Triskelion- from ST? The Tkon Empire from TNG? etc. Or how about ST’s Jack the Ripper entity that followed mankind out from Earth (& perhaps appeared in the TNG episode where Riker [a la Scotty]-in 1 of the many TNG episodes that redid ST premises- is similarly up on murder charges.)? And what of the 1st Star Trek film’s robot species which reprogrammed the Voyager probe sent in the 20th Century [really- not the starship from V] & menaced Earth? Was this the beginning of the Borg? Yet, even with a lot of tying together the show can explore more. What of the 1st mission to Vulcan? & what of our own solar system? Is there life on Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, or in the Jovian clouds themselves? What of seeing what Pluto is like? Or Mercury? Or Venus? A whole series could have wonderful stories told with the very infrequent intrusions of aliens.
  Unfortunately the past does not bode well for the future E series. I’m sure we can expect guest appearances by Q (or his son), many time travel episodes (replete with former shows’ casts), some morality plays which lift themes from the other series, etc. But why not truly expand outward: in time, space, & imagination. Set the show several 100 years farther in the future, where transwarp speed exists, time travel is regulated (as hinted on several post-ST series episodes), & our galaxy has come to terms with its inhabitants who live in a détente state- Federation, Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, Dominion, Borg, Species 8472, etc.- & now begin exploring neighboring galaxies! & let these non-Milky Way aliens be TRULY different. Hire some of the best young sci fi writers & let them really broaden Trek’s scope. & damn the dull Roddenberryism- perhaps earth is under a Revolution of its own!? Perhaps humanity will recapture that fire so lost- or at least let the leaders (including E’s Bakula character) be more like the ballsy captains in the Kirk or Ronny Cox character’s mode? Think about it- a sense of Wonder & FUN!
  Even better than a show set a few 100 years more comfortably in the future might be a Star Trek anthology show which has no set cast. The time & place could be virtually any time & anywhere. We might even see captains & 1st mates actually die- not just unnamed ensigns! Actual consequences for captains! We might be able to see many of the threads previously mentioned tied neatly together. We might even- dare I?- see some crossover to include other science fictive  universes. What do I mean? Well, the shows have previously had Mark Twain, Steven Hawking, Sherlock Holmes, & others as ‘characters’ in the Trek universe. Why not be really bold & have some other crossovers? An anthology series can always cover itself by claiming the episode as a ‘What if?’ episode on par with Marvel Comics old series of crossing over The Hulk to battle Spider-Man, etc. Think about it: What if Species 8472 ran into the Aliens from the Alien films? Or that the seeds of the Federation were planted when humanity recovered from the android wars of The Terminator films? Or from the society of Blade Runner? Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character captured by the Borg? Or teaming up with Data’s twin Lore? Or would it not be hilarious to see Q encounter a certain British gentleman & his TARDIS? Or perhaps the Gary 7 character from the same-titled ST episode is involved with The Village from the classic 60s show The Prisoner? Or- in a patented time travel Trek twist- a Federation crew (Voyager or any of the Enterprises) beams up The X Files’ Scully & Mulder? Or the Dominion battles the Predators from the Predator films? Or the Star Wars universe meets the Trek universe? Or those aliens that tried to take over earth in the TNG episode with Mark Twain turn out to be Cylons from Battlestar: Galactica? Or a Federation ship locates the Forbidden Planet? Or The Planet Of The Apes? Or a Babylon 5- DS9 war? Or any of the many options sci fi books present? The Martian Chronicles, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Foundation series, Dune, the Barsoom of Burroughs. etc.? I mean- if Trek can do the Mirror Universe of its own surely these universes exist not too far away? Or even having E’s new captain Jonathan Archer being leapt into by actor Scott Bakula’s Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap? The possibilities for crossovers & new ideas are limitless. However, & unfortunately, I’m sure the same pattern of dim Roddenberryism will hold sway in this show, as well its predecessor sequels. That’s too bad, because with such a lack of imagination it’s hard to believe that a world that would one day produce a James Tiberius Kirk, would be so dull & politically correct.

See the Star Trek Update Essay

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