Section 0: INTRODUCTION

Please note the datestamp above!
This is an HTML revision of something that was designed decades ago to be viewed and printed out as a single huge 70‐characters‐a‐line ASCII text file – still accessible in its full nonproportional glory as an archive.  It was already on the Internet by February 1993, and there were at least two other HTML editions before I got round to producing my own “official” version in 1997!
Humourless illiterates are warned not to attempt to read on;
sufficiently witty (or witless) rebuttals may be quoted in future editions.

July 1998: a spin‐off page entitled Babylon 5: Mark Two is now up.

January 2002: …and following Paramount's backward‐looking example, here's one of the rant's early precursors – the ST:TOS Plot Generator.

0.0 CONTENTS

Section 0:   Introduction
Section 1:   Technology
Section 2:   Astrogation
Section 3:   Plots
Section 4:   Universe
Section 5:   Xenobiology
Section 6:   Stardrives
Section 7:   Transporters
Section 8:   Holodecks
Section 9:   Ideology

0.1 QUALIFICATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS [see footnotes, postscripts]

Before I begin, I should make a number of things (relatively) clear:

  1. Above all; I am not serious.  I might criticise, but I wouldn't stop watching it.  Well, what other Science Fiction is there with such a huge budget?
  2. My basic theme is the cracks in Star Trek's foundations.  StarFleet Battles, the Role‐Playing Game, and other tie‐ins may have devised ways of ignoring the problems, but most of these excuses are more like extra flaws.
  3. Yes, television is a low‐IQ medium; it's easier to rely on action and special effects than on clever plots.  But that needn't stop them making the background plausible.  Or paying me to do it, if they're too busy.
  4. “Space Opera” (which Star Trek isn't exactly; see 0.3) is entitled to simplifying conventions like the prevalence of stardrives, Babel fish, and humanoids with added latex features; but it's nice if these all have rationales lurking somewhere or other in the background.
  5. It would never occur to me to object in this detail to, say, Doctor Who.  This is partly testimony to Star Trek's success; but mainly to all those claims of profundity, worthiness, and scientific accuracy.
  6. I'm an SF fan, not a Trekkie; if it's not been on TV, I reserve the right not to have seen it.  If it has and I misquote it, my apologies.

0.2 SYNOPSIS [see postscripts]

As I have been saying since long before the appearance on UK screens of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (henceforth ST:TNG), the whole idea is a step in the wrong direction.  The three major advantages that “Star Trek: The Original Series” (henceforth ST:TOS) enjoyed over its competitors were:

  1. The central Kirk–Spock–Bones triple act worked well; in particular, Spock is a character likely to long outlive the original castlist.
  2. The surveying/troubleshooting Enterprise (and its transporters) was a useful plot mechanism, providing a new Strange Planet every week.
  3. The “United Federation of Planets” backdrop was less witless than was the norm on 1960s US TV.  No, honestly.  Compare “Lost in Space”.

ST:TNG, unfortunately, throws out advantage (A) in favour of a new jumble of awful characters; “Deep Space Nine” replaces (B) with a space base.  Only (C) remains; and by now the Star Trek Universe is a liability – decades past its sell‐by date, and full of ludicrous inconsistent plot devices, each of which should have had rapid social effects.  ST:TNG has to boldly stagger onwards under such a burden of implausibilities that it constitutes a monstrous insult to its viewers' intelligence.

This rant is my attempt to demonstrate the problems, and (to give some semblance of constructive criticism) to offer solutions which could in theory be adopted either in a full‐scale “Star Trek: Mark Two” remake of the original series (!) or as surreptitious revisions to ongoing Star Trek continuity – compare the unexplained upgrading of Klingons from vaguely foreign‐looking guys in ST:TOS to kipper‐browed aliens in the movies.

0.3 SPACE OPERA [see footnotes, postscripts]

Like most genre labels, it's often used loosely (to mean just “sci‐fi set in space”).  But Space Opera in its classic sense (cf. Doc Smith/Van Vogt) is defined partly by manner (morally polarised epic melodramas and wild power fantasies), partly by distinctive scenery and props (cutlass‐wielding space pirates in pseudo‐archaic Galactic Empires).  It is more concerned with conveying a mood than exploring new concepts, and is thus easier than most SF to put on a screen.  In general the filming process pushes it towards Fantasy: Star Wars is hardly science fiction at all.  Dune and Flash Gordon may be better examples of traditional Space Opera.

Clearly, Star Trek doesn't quite fit.  The NCC1701 rarely has to face grandiose action‐adventure crises where the fate of humanity hangs in the balance (although the NCC1701D's constant galactic diplomacy comes closer).  Starfleet is slightly archaistic, with its naval traditions, technophobia (see 1.5), and bagpipes, but the plots are mostly generic SF adventure; less “operatic” than such rivals as Battlestar Galactica or Blake's 7.  However, the Star Trek Universe setting, which is what I'm discussing here, leans heavily on the supporting conventions of true Space Opera.

0.4 ABBREVIATIONS

Individual episodes when mentioned on these pages are usually given season‐codes as follows:


1993 Footnotes

This is a collection of explanations and addenda that were originally left out back in 1993 just to save some space.
0.1 Babel fish are the “Hitchhiker's Guide” spoof version of Universal Translators.  “Trekkies” is the commoner name for the people who prefer to be known as “Trekkers”… just as “Whovians” no doubt hate it when I call them “Whoers”.
0.3 Do I have to explain that E E “Doc” Smith and A E Van Vogt were “Golden Age” SF authors?

1997+ Postscripts

Well, now it's four[‐plus] years later, and I'm a bit happier; a certain new SF series has done almost everything I was hoping for.  I can't claim to have inspired J Michael Straczynski to create Babylon 5, but at least he's made me look like a rather good prophet.  Publishing this before season four may prove unwise, but see my Y2k rant for an excuse.
0.1 Okay, now I've stopped.  In fact, I stopped as soon as I saw the Babylon 5 pilot (on video).  Not that it was perfect, but JMS had clearly devised his background and themes first, and then started setting plots in that universe.  When B5 uses Space Opera shortcuts, it may not give excuses right away, but it at least hints that it acknowledges the questions raised.
0.2 The preemptively plagiarised format of Star Trek: Deep Space Franchise serves to demonstrate how much more you'd have to do to make Star Trek® worth bothering with.  Star Trek: Voyager discards advantage (C), too, which would almost have been a good idea if they'd thrown the bathwater away with the baby – but they've lost the Romulan warbirds while keeping transporter technology.
0.3 B5 is true Space Opera, and knows how the genre works; it's televised SF for New York SF‐readers, as opposed to sci‐fi‐flavoured TV for Kansas housewives (sorry, Ximena, but I don't think you count as a Kansas housewife).