My big, fat Star Trek piece is published in today’s Times. I haven’t seen the paper version yet but it’s online here. Always nice to have something substantial published in a national newspaper. Reading it back, it seems to have been exceptionally well edited (you’d expect nothing less of the Times of London, of course), with one exception, which isn’t a subbing error, merely a casualty of reordering the copy and losing the source of a callback: in the last but one paragraph, it says, “It is, improbably, a good advert for us. Except for that theme song.” This refers back to a large section that was cut about the Enterprise TV series, whose theme tune was a bone of contention with fans. Because that reference is gone, it sounds like I’m knocking the theme tune: the Alexander Courage classic from the 60s. I’m not. Other than that, I’m very pleased.
I don’t expect anyone but Trek completists to read this, but the main chunks that got lost in the edit were:
Doctor Who, our only meaningful TV equivalent in terms of longevity and adaptability, survived into a new century by hibernating for 16 years. During Star Trek‘s ten years off, syndicated reruns of the extant 79 episodes kept the flame burning, its absence merely adding to the mythology. Star Trek seems to have been on our screens, large and small, for a lifetime, part of the fabric of popular culture, an archetype, and a template for so much subsequent fantasy fiction, from Star Wars, Alien, Sunshine and Firefly, to Blake’s 7, Babylon 5, Hyperdrive and the recently revived Red Dwarf.
The simplicity of the set-up – colour-coded crew drop in on alien planet with miraculously breathable air and solve social ills before beaming back to ship and zooming off again – allows for endless permutations. Thanks to the post-Star Wars marketability of sci-fi, Star Trek enjoyed a spectacular renaissance in the 80s and 90s. With The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, a fully functioning universe across three centuries was created.
However, the fifth and most recent television incarnation, Star Trek: Enterprise, which ran from 2001 to 2006, was by fairly common consensus below par. After much promise – the first series to be filmed on digital video, the first to be shown in widescreen and HD – it was the first to be cancelled since the dark days of 1969. Why? It lacked charm; the Vulcans were borderline racist (science officer T’Pol uses a “nasal numbing agent” to repel the unpleasant smell of humans), and, after a black captain, Sisko, in Deep Space Nine, and a woman, Janeway, in Voyager, it seemed a retrograde step to return to a white North American male, Archer (played by Quantum Leap‘s Scott Bakula). According to Ina Rae Hark, Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of South Carolina, “Archer’s mixture of resentment, arrogance and cluelessness could be read as mimicking George W Bush’s desire to go it alone and reject the cautious multilateralism recommended by the Vulcan High Command (read: ‘Old Europe’).” Enterprise also lacked viewers, dropping to a trough of 2.5 million.
Plus, there was the theme song, the thudding, overwrought, Diane Warren-penned power ballad Faith Of The Heart. Light years away from Alexander Courage’s unforgettable, wordless aria for flute and organ (“ah-ahhhh-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!”), this new tune was originally commissioned for the soppy Robin Williams film Patch Adams, and sung by Russell Watson (“I can reach any star/I’ve got faith/Faith of the heart”). An online petition signed by 2,000 fans read, “We wish to express our unmitigated disgust with the theme song that has been selected for the new Enterprise series … It is not fit to be scraped off the bottom of a Klingon’s boot.” This echoed the mass letter-writing campaign to NBC in 1968 that helped earn the original series a third season. The power ballad remained immune to such people power.
Enterprise seemed finally to deal the Vulcan neck pinch to the Star Trek project, cancelled by US network CBS after four seasons and 98 episodes. But the notoriously devout worldwide community of fans that has grown up around Trek over the decades – the “Trekkies” or “Trekkers” depending on your preference – have lived through enough exaggerated reports of the franchise’s death to keep the faith. Any lapse in new product is instantly filled with back catalogue.
At least these cuts were logical.