Star Trek, which began in 1966, is experiencing an extraordinary renaissance in the year 2020. Is this a golden age for the show, asks Emily Wilson
2 September 2020
Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Sarek (James Frain) in Star Trek: Discovery
THE very first episode of Star Trek, entitled The Man Trap, aired on 8 September 1966. Right from the start, all the key ingredients of Star Trek were there: an alien planet with air that was perfectly OK to breathe and strange lumps of rock on its surface that are good to hide behind in a firefight; very closely fitted colour-blocked uniforms; a key gang of ship’s officers, including the captain, the Vulcan and the ship’s doctor; and, of course, a really big spaceship, with that lift leading down from the bridge to the other decks.
There are a few things in that first show that have since disappeared, such as female crew members wearing skirts so short they barely covered their bottoms. But all the elements of Star Trek‘s success were present in that story about an alien that killed people because it was badly short of salt.
What no one working on the show back then could possibly have imagined is that 54 years later, and in a very different world, Star Trek would not only still be in production, but that it would be thriving and, indeed, multiplying. Whether or not this is a new golden age of Star Trek is for each fan to decide for themselves, but it is certainly an exciting period of renaissance.
“Star Trek: Lower Decks, I’m informed by a US colleague, is ‘being watched by all the cool people’”
My personal favourite of the crop of new series is Star Trek: Discovery, which kicked off in 2017. Discovery was the first new Star Trek TV series since Star Trek: Enterprise ended in 2005. It centres around science specialist Michael Burnham, played brilliantly by Sonequa Martin-Green. Burnham is largely sombre and angst-ridden, and yet you end up not only rooting for her but caring about her.
The rest of the show is rammed full of great ideas as well as other strong characters, including the fabulous Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou in a role that warps in very interesting ways as the show goes on. The second season came out late last year, and the third is due to be released this October, and if that happens, hurray!
Elsewhere in this renaissance is Star Trek: Picard, which was released in January, with Patrick Stewart reprising the role he played in Star Trek: The Next Generation (a hugely popular iteration of the franchise that ended in 1994). Picard is a slower show than Discovery and, in my view, is less successful as a piece of storytelling, but it isn’t without its pleasures. A second and third season are on their way.
Then there is Star Trek: Lower Decks, an adult animated series that is only available to watch in North America right now. I am informed by a US colleague that it is “being watched by all the cool people”.
These three are only one part of the new wave of Star Trek, though. So much more is coming, including, apparently, a live-action show based around Yeoh’s rumbustious character in Discovery that is tentatively titled Section 31.
All these new shows harness the very best modern effects and all the narrative tricks learned from the masters of binge-watchable TV, and the Star Trek franchise has definitely come a long way since The Man Trap.
But the latest shows remain, indubitably, Star Trek. At their heart, there is still a bunch of people in tight uniforms, on a big spaceship, visiting alien worlds and taking with them Star Trek‘s particular brand of tolerance and hope. What’s not to like about that?
Emily also recommends…
Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner
The Stargate franchise has a central simplicity to it that is quite Star Trek: humans going forth to strange new worlds to find and help others. It was kicked off by the 1994 film Stargate and now has a number of massive spin-off shows. For me, the 10 seasons of SG-1 are the main event. Aliens, jokes, great characters, pyramid ships, intergalactic narrative arcs – the show has everything.
Article amended on
8 September 2020
We have corrected the picture caption.
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