The Day of the Doctor (and it ain’t McCoy!)

Picking up where I left off in my last post, tonight is the “One Night Only” theatrical screening of the BBC’s “Day of the Doctor” and my son and I will be attending at our local AMC Theater. He couldn’t contain his excitement and decided to watch the television broadcast this past Saturday. While I opted to skip it, I did ask him for a spoiler-free opinion when it was over. His reply – “Perfect!” That’s a good thing. It would be disappointing, to say the least, if it had been a stinker and he were now forced to sit through it again in a movie theater. But, instead, he can’t wait to see it again.

As for me, I’ve now seen “The Aztecs” (with the first Doctor from waaaay back in ’64) and the more contemporary episodes “Dalek” (9th Doctor), “Silence in the Library”, “Forest of the Dead” (10th Doctor), “The Impossible Astronaut”, and “Day of the Moon” (11th Doctor). I’ve also checked out the “Night of the Doctor” mini episode which features the return of Paul McGann. I have a basic grasp of the concept of the Time War, the planet Gallifrey, the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Silence, and, of course, of the Doctor’s continual regeneration. Last night, I even took the time to watch the docu-drama “An Adventure in Space and Time”.

So tell me, Whovians, am I ready for tonight?

Remembering “Scotty”

It was 1990 or ’91 when I found myself and a friend at a very lightly attended Star Trek convention in Newark, New Jersey.  I’d been going to these things pretty regularly since reaching adulthood and had even had a chance to go to some of the really early ones as a young child. However, I was especially hyped up for this one.  The reason I was so excited to be at this particular con was the scheduled appearance of James Doohan, better known as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, who would be addressing the convention crowd and then signing autographs.

By this point in my life I had already seen, and in many cases met, the entire cast of the original Star Trek TV series but I hadn’t seen Doohan since 1973, when he was a guest at my first convention at the Hotel Commodore in New York City.  I was six years old then.  Needless to say, the opportunity to see him again and appreciate the experience from an adult perspective was well worth the nominal price of admission.  Looking back on the day now, I realize what a phenomenal understatement that is!

I should point out, for those who may not be aware, that a typical Star Trek convention is a frenetic experience, highlighted by large crowds, long lines, and lots of hubbub.  In that regard, this Newark, NJ convention was the antithesis of Trek conventions I had been to previously. On the day I attended there was no line to enter, the dealers’ room was rarely crowded, and, most interestingly, there were only about 50 people in the ballroom to hear Mr. Doohan give his talk.

At other conventions I’ve been to, both before and since, the stars will get up on a stage in a large ballroom and speak to the assembled crowd (usually numbering in the thousands) for about 30 or 40 minutes.  Sometimes they take questions, but not always.  At this little hotel in Newark, the ballroom had no stage. That fact, coupled with the extremely small gathering of fans, allowed Mr. Doohan to comfortably stand directly in front of the chairs where we were all seated. He didn’t even need a microphone to be heard by every member of the tiny crowd.

He told stories, he told jokes, he sang songs, he did accents, and he answered numerous questions. When 45 minutes had elapsed, he was still going strong.  An hour; an hour and a half; he just kept on going.  For some strange reason, fans began to leave as the talk approached two hours.  I think they wanted to grab good spots in the autograph line.  That was fine with me. Being seated in the first row, I already had a bird’s eye view but, when the seat next to me was vacated, Doohan sat down and spent the next several minutes talking directly to me.  By the time it was all over, my friend and I were the only ones left in the room with him and we got the benefit of spending a few minutes interacting with him on an even more personal level.  What a terrific opportunity to spend time with such a warm, fun, outgoing, and, of course, gifted individual!  He seemed genuinely thrilled at the chance to be talking with us and would have continued longer but, excused himself because he was overdue to go sign autographs.

James DoohanAt conventions nowadays, the actors who give autographs at all always collect a fee for doing so.  James Doohan did not charge for signing autographs.  He explained that he did it out of enjoyment – he liked mingling with the fans and making them happy.  He took even more time to speak with me while he signed not one, not two, but three different items for me, all the while assuring the other fans in line that he would accommodate them in just the same way.

While I had always been fond of the “Scotty” character he portrayed, I came away from that day with an even greater fondness for the wonderful gentleman who gave the character life.  The world would be a much better place if there were more people as good-natured and kind as Mr Doohan.  There are some celebrities out there who could surely take a lesson from him.

Doohan at NASAToday, July 20, 2012, is the seventh anniversary of his passing.  It is a poignant anniversary to me for a number of reasons not the least of which is its historical significance.  Men from Earth first set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.  Through his role in Star Trek and his experience as a military pilot, Doohan had a genuine interest in space exploration and the technology used to accomplish it.  In fact, he was a frequent visitor to NASA.

On a more personal level, however, the anniversary of Mr. Doohan’s death touches me because he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s, afflictions which have ravaged members of my own family. Recalling him as a vibrant, energetic, and outgoing man brings to mind similar images of my mother, uncle, and grandfather, all of whom withered away much as Doohan did in the last years of his life.  Thankfully, he, like they, got to live a relatively long and very fruitful life – even seeing a star in his honor on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Whenever anyone asks me about my experiences with the various stars of the Trek universe, I always smile when I recount the story of meeting Jimmy Doohan and I will always remember him fondly.

Where Do We Go From Here? Part 1

After complaining in some of my recent posts about the lack of anything new to look forward to in the world of Star Trek, I have come to find out that the Science Channel will be airing a new documentary entitled Trek Nation on November 30th.  In addition, filming on the second J.J. Abrams Star Trek motion picture begins on January 15th.  Admittedly I am looking forward to the former much more than the latter but it’s all good.  Meanwhile, as I wait patiently for the 30th to arrive,  I have been thinking back on my own particular journey through the realm of sci-fi fandom and realized that it started with Trek but didn’t end there. The 60’s classic Star Trek TV series was merely a jumping off point from which I delved into a number of other fascinating movies, television shows, and books.

As anyone with similar interests knows, the relationships among all these various works within the genre can be somewhat circuitous, leading a fan right back to where he started in the most glorious and unexpected of ways.  So it was with me, with Star Trek and the collection of other enjoyable stories that I am going to touch on here.  Seeing them or, in some cases, reading them, was interesting in and of itself, but also in the respect that they allowed me to  gain new perspectives.  I found that getting away from my favorite Trek episodes for a while and checking out a new sci-fi movie or story allowed me to return to the Star Trek universe with a greater appreciation – picking up on nuances I’d perhaps missed earlier.  In other words, everything reinforces everything else in some way.

So, to any readers of this blog who may be interested in sci-fi vehicles other than Star Trek, today’s entry begins a multi-part overview of some of the earliest additions to my list of favorite sci-fi stories.  If my memory is intact enough, I will endeavor to organize them in the order in which I discovered them.  As far as I know, they are all readily available now to anyone wishing to check them out.  Gotta’ love 21st Century, instantly gratifying, streaming, downloadable, on-demand media availability!  Anyway, here we go with Part 1:

Silent Running – Theatrical Motion Picture – 1972

Like the best Star Trek episodes, this film is a morality tale.  Set in “the first year of a new century”  (the 21st I suppose), the film establishes that all trees and plant life on Earth are gone, except for a small collection forests being cultivated under giant domes aboard ships in deep space. The crews of these enormous vessels have apparently worked onSilent Running the forestation project for a very long time with a view toward reintroducing the greenery to our abused planet.  They have their doubts that the project will come to fruition, though, and, one way or the other, they are anxious to get home. Bruce Dern plays Freeman Lowell, a botanist charged with caring for the forests on one of the ships – The Valley Forge.  When the project is abandoned, the crews of all the ships are ordered to jettison and detonate the forest domes and return to Earth.  Lowell is devastated and cannot accept that the forests must be destroyed. Driven by his (laudable) desire to save at least one forest, he takes drastic actions that ultimately determine the outcome of the story.

The film was directed by Douglas Trumbull who had previously worked on the visual effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey (which didn’t make today’s entry in the list primarily because I didn’t see it until 10 years after it came out).  Although the emphasis on saving our ecology that was prevalent in the 70’s is very thinly veiled in this movie, it nonetheless manages to entertain – with a convincing performance by Dern, believable effects, and a moving (if somewhat dated) soundtrack featuring songs performed by Joan Baez.  Notable also are the “drones”, small utility robots played by amputee actors in very believable costumes, forerunners of George Lucas’s “droid” concept from Star Wars.

Westworld – Theatrical Motion Picture – 1973

This film afforded me my first exposure to the work of Michael Crichton, who both wrote the story and directed the movie.  It’s basic theme is one that Crichton had dealt with Westworldbefore and would return to again in some of his later tales – namely, the dangerous consequences that can occur when we assume we can control technologies or elements of nature that we don’t entirely understand.

Sometime in the not too distant future, vacationers can visit a  resort where, for $1000 a day, they are able to interact with completely realistic android robots in three specific historical settings: Roman World, Medieval World, and Western World.    In these adult amusement parks, nothing is off limits.  There are deadly sword battles, gunfights, good old fashioned brothels, and more.   Visitors to these resort-worlds can live out their every fantasy, no matter how violent or perverse. The story centers around a pair of businessmen, played by Richard Benjamin and James Brolin. They’ve chosen to unwind in Western World, where they engage in barroom brawls with outlaws, shootouts with a gunslinger (expertly portrayed by Yul Brynner), and romps with 1880’s style prostitutes – all of whom are lifelike robots.  The movie also depicts a number of secondary characters who have similar adventures in the other two themed resort-worlds.

When the robots and the systems that control them begin experiencing inexplicable malfunctions, the engineers in charge have to decide how best to proceed.  Although they initially consider closing the resort to address their concerns, it is ultimately decided to wait and allow the current guests to stay out their planned visits.  That’s when all hell breaks loose!  This is a compelling movie for sure.  I especially like how the line “Nothing can go wrong” prefaces all the action.  If you enjoyed the Trek TOS episodes, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, “I Mudd”, or “Requiem for Methuselah”, you’ll probably like this film.

Next time around, I’ll touch on a collection of short stories and a novel, both of which were adapted for the big screen.

The End of an Era

Anyone who checks out my posts regularly may have noticed a drop in the frequency with which I have been writing new ones.  This is due in part to the typical things life throws at us but, in larger part, is a result of my feeling that there is less and less to write about regarding my beloved Star Trek.

Perhaps it’s just a phase I’m going through.  However, with the exception of the forthcoming followup to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 re-imagining (which I despised), there isn’t very much new going on for an aging Trek fan like myself to get excited about.  In fact, in a perfectly appropriate imitation of life itself, Star Trek, at 45 years old, is at the point where it is experiencing more endings than beginnings.  To quote Jean Luc Picard, “Lately, I’ve become very much aware that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind”.

Nowhere in the world of Star Trek was this more evident than in Leonard Nimoy’s final appearance at a trek convention, which took place in Chicago this past weekend.  Mr Nimoy, who is 80 years old now, has stated publicly that he wants to focus his energies on other things – including his family, his work in photography, and just generally slowing things down a bit so he can enjoy himself.  He’s certainly earned the opportunity.  Nevertheless, among the fans, he will be sorely missed.

I first saw Leonard Nimoy at a Trek convention at the Hotel Commodore in New York CityLeonard Nimoy at Star Trek Las Vegas - 2011 in 1973 when he was a surprise guest alongside George Takei and James Doohan.  I have seen him 4 times since and was more and more impressed each time with his warmth, joviality, genuineness, and appreciation for his fans. The simple fact that he is now an octogenarian is startling enough in and of itself – to say nothing about the realization that comes with that fact, namely that Star Trek is a thing of the past.

The biggest impact of all this, I suppose, is the addition of Star Trek to a growing list of things that constantly remind me how old I am.  It’s an unsettling feeling as I used to think of Trek as something that made me feel young.  This is why I wish I had some new beginnings to write about!  However, it’s an unrealistic hope.  It seems to make more sense for me to accept the aging of Star Trek and its subsequent exit from the limelight much as I try to accept my own aging.  So, I will count myself lucky if I can get through all the changes later-life hands me by exhibiting the same dignity and class with which Leonard Nimoy said goodbye to the convention circuit.

Thanks for the memories, Mr. Nimoy!

I’ve Just Won My Fourth Game

There is something extraordinarily satisfying about playing a good game of chess.  I think this is due, at least in part, to the necessity of using so many different areas of the brain in so many different ways simultaneously.  A competent player needs not only a thorough understanding of the rules and strategies, but the ability to visualize geometrically in multiple dimensions, to recognize patterns, to think ahead several moves, to consider numerous possible outcomes, and to intuit from his opponent the likelihood of playing a given piece.  It is an intellectually demanding, yet stimulating, experience to be sure and the game is one that we might expect master strategists to play in their spare time.

Kirk and Spock playing chessI think the producers and writers of Star Trek realized this as well.  There are at least thirty separate references to, or depictions of, the game of chess throughout the various Star Trek TV series.  In fact, in several episodes of the original series (TOS as we Trekkies refer to it), chess is pivotal to the plot.  Not surprisingly,  Kirk and Spock are seen playing chess in the opening sequence of the pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.  This makes perfect sense in terms of the development of the two characters, both of whom are exceptionally intelligent but who are so very different in their approach to the galactic difficulties they encountered each week, as well as their approaches to the game.

Of course, like so many other things depicted in Trek, the game of chess is given a futuristic update in the form of a three-dimensional board on which pieces can be moved up or down as well as laterally.  As it turns out, this isn’t really futuristic at all as many three-dimensional variants on the game of chess have existed since the 19th century. Nevertheless, the version in Star Trek is the one with which most people now seem to be familiar.  One more instance of the enormous pop-culture impact of the iconic TV series.

Although many people are aware of the existence of three-dimensional chess thanks to Star Trek, they may not be aware just how “real” the game has become because of the influence exerted by Trek fans.  Several sets of rules have been developed to allow for fully realized games using the board designed for TOS.  The Franklin Mint manufactured and sold two different Star Trek 3D chess sets for avid collectors.  Star Trek: The Next Generation and its sister series depicted 3D chess in a goodly number of episodes.

As a fanatical lover of Star Trek, I was always a bit disappointed that our heroes weren’t depicted playing the game in any of the theatrical motion pictures.  It always seemed to me that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were better prepared to deal with whatever the galaxy might throw at them after a good chess match.  Of course, they are only fictional characters.  I suspect, however, the decision makers who control many aspects of our lives in the real world could benefit greatly from the occasional game of chess, too.

Interestingly, I find that I have greater clarity of mind after playing chess for a while than at almost any other time.  By the same token, however, the focus required to succeed at chess, forces one to suspend (temporarily, at least) concentration on any other topic not related to the game at hand. Perhaps this is why such mental cobweb clearing is often the result.  I have to wonder what the world would be like if more people approached the serious business of life as Kirk and Spock do, with the much-needed distraction of a challenging game of three-dimensional chess.

The Long Hot Summer

One of my early posts in this blog touched on the “Star Trek Lives” phenomenon of the 1970’s.  For those who may not have experienced it, Star Trek fandom at that time was building momentum to such a degree that it seemed inevitable Paramount Pictures (who owned the rights to the Trek property) would have to give in and bring back Star Trek in some form. The rest, as they say, is history.  We got the animated Saturday morning show featuring the voices of (most of) the original cast.  We got Star Trek: The Motion Picture and numerous big screen sequels.

However, one thing fans had been clamoring for never came to pass – namely: new live action TV adventures for Captain Kirk and his beloved starship Enterprise.  This is completely understandable in light of the success of Star Trek as a theatrical movie series in the early and mid 1980’s.  Yet, there was always that secret hope that, by some miracle, a new weekly series would spring up.  Sadly, by the time Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was released, the actors were getting a little long in the tooth and the films were raking in big bucks while leaving Shatner, Nimoy, et al free from the rigors of weekly TV production. The dream we started dreaming in the early ’70’s would have to stay a dream.  Star Trek lived … just not in our living rooms.

Then something both wonderful and detestable happened.  Gene Roddenberry and the bulk of his original production team created Star Trek: The Next Generation.  This new series, set approximately 80 years after events in the original, would depict new characters played by new actors aboard a new U.S.S. Enterprise.  It would be sold directly into syndication, bypassing networks like the dreaded NBC, which had cancelled the original series all those years before, and give the producers that much more control.  I can recall both excited anticipation and righteous outrage.  I’m sure other fans felt a similar mix of conflicting emotions.  After 18 years, we would finally have a new Star Trek TV show!  Yet it somehow felt wrong – like it wasn’t going to be Star Trek; like it couldn’t possibly live up to the original.  The world had just experienced the debacle that was “New Coke” – why would we want to go through that again with our precious Star Trek? Nevertheless, some 27 million viewers tuned in when the show premiered in September, 1987 – myself among them.  I was not impressed…initially.

ST:TNG Season 1 Cast

I read an interview with Gene Roddenberry shortly after the launch of his new show.  In it he pointed out that fans were calling the new series a rip-off of Star Trek.  In his defense, he mused, “Star Trek was our show…how can you rip-off your own show?”  Perhaps that’s a good point. All the same, Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed doomed, right out of the gate, to suffer from weak scripts, stilted performances, overreaching characterizations, and far too much techno-babble.  By the middle of the first season, I also began wondering how many times a teenage boy could save the ship before I would stop tuning in altogether.  But I din’t stop tuning in.  Neither did millions of others.  That was due as much to curiosity about how bad the next episode would be than to any real interest in this universe or the characters it contained.  Or so I thought.

Having never acted on TV or in any other medium, I can’t say how difficult it is for members of an ensemble cast to get comfortable in their roles and with the relationships of their characters.  Nor can I say what elements must be brought to the writing to produce high-quality, entertaining stories.  I imagine these things must be tough under any circumstances.  They must be even tougher though under the constant shadow of a juggernaut like the original Star Trek.  Yet Roddenberry and his crew persisted.  His cast got more comfortable.  His writers delivered better scripts.  Slowly but surely the newest incarnation of Star Trek began to stand on its own, finally out from under the shadow of its famous predecessor.

This was most evident during the second and third seasons of Next Gen (or TNG as we fans tend to refer to it).  In my opinion, some of the best stories of the entire seven year run were broadcast during seasons two and three; the 3rd season finale being about the finest of them all.  It was an episode entitled “The Best of Both Worlds” and it was a cliffhanger. This was new ground for Trek fans.

In it, the captain we’d come to know and love was abducted by a super powerful alien race and genetically altered so as to assist them in their quest to conquer humanity.  In addition, there were other shake-ups aboard our newly beloved ship: the well respected first officer being offered a promotion which would require leaving the Enterprise; the introduction of an arrogant new Starfleet officer, and the crew’s inability to rescue their revered captain which left little choice but to try to destroy him.  There are so many meaningful story arcs in this episode and each of them does to us what Star Trek has always done best – forces us to reflect on our own feelings and see our own struggles and conflicts played out by the daring Enterprise crew.

Picard a.k.a. Locutus of Borg

Story elements notwithstanding, several titillating (and frankly, disturbing) things surrounded this episode.  No one in the fan community was entirely sure that Patrick Stewart would return as Captain Picard in season four.  None of us had ever had the joy/sorrow of a Star Trek cliffhanger on TV before.  In fact, the cliffhanger virtually guaranteed that the show would return for a fourth season – something else which we’d never before experienced.  The entire broadcast history of Star Trek: The Next Generation had been a roller coaster and June, 1990 was the pinnacle of the highest ramp on the ride.  Would the descent be full of heart stopping excitement or a plunge into the wasteland of television ridiculousness? (As in the entire season of Dallas that was later revealed to have been a bad dream – uggggh!!!!)

I was involved in the tedious and stressful process of purchasing my first house that summer.  The cliffhanger aired about two weeks before we closed – right around the time when a weekly distraction from life’s difficulties was most welcome.   I was also blown away by what I perceived as a “theatrical motion picture quality” about that whole episode. How could I possibly get through an entire summer waiting to see how it would all turn out?

I remodeled the first floor of that house that summer and spent a good portion of the time discussing the TNG cliffhanger with my neighbor while I took breaks from the intense heat. I cannot a recall a summer in my entire adult life that seemed to take longer to pass than that one did.  When the fourth season premiere finally aired in September, we got together with our neighbors to watch it.  I can recall thinking, as the flashbacks from Part 1 of the episode came onto the screen, that the long hot summer waiting for Star Trek: The Next Generation was as bad as, if not worse than, the 18 years we had to wait for new live-action Star Trek on TV in the first place.  And that, I believe, is the best statement I can make about TNG.  That summer proved to me that, where television drama is concerned, you can go home again.

To Boldly [Le]Go Where No Fan Has Gone Before

“You must be either an obsessive crackpot who’s escaped from his keeper, or Samuel T. Cogley, Attorney at Law!” .  That line, spoken by the character of James Kirk in the original Star Trek TV series episode Court Martial, has always given me a laugh.  I think it would be just as accurate to replace the “Samuel T Cogley” part with, “Chris Collins, adult fan of Lego and Star Trek fanatic”.

Sometimes I do think others perceive me as an obsessive crackpot but it’s OK.  I’m perfectly happy to have that reputation.  In fact, there are times I go out of my way to live up to it.  One such time occurred recently when my family had to give up their dining room table for the entire winter while I constructed a scale model of the ST:TOS Enterprise bridge out of …

Wait for it …

LEGO!

TOS Enterprise bridge made from Lego

Looking back on the project, I realize there are a hundred things I could have done to make it better. That’s the obsessive crackpot in me really coming out though.  Ultimately, it was a very satisfying undertaking and one that I would like to tackle again someday, albeit with a little more advance planning.  This one I threw together hodge-podge just to see if I could improve on a similar Lego project I had attempted as a kid.  There was a marked improvement; so much so that I created a profile at MOCPages.com where I have uploaded the only existing photos of my Lego bridge from childhood as well as a whole series of shots taken while I built the new one.

To me, this is one of the great appeals of Star Trek.  I know that I am only one of many millions of people who feel bolstered by Star Trek, its characters, and its stories.  Granted, others have made major changes in their lives because of inspiration derived from Trek, while anything I have achieved as a result of my fandom is much less profound.  All the same, I like to think that the “you can do anything you set your mind to” approach is something that was brought out in me, at least partially, by Star Trek.  I am not particularly athletic.  While I am intelligent, I am no rocket scientist.  I am at least somewhat creative though, and my love for all things Star Trek has given me numerous outlets for that creativity – to say nothing about the fomentation of that part of my personality, which sprang up quite unexpectedly while I was a youngster obsessed with Star Trek

“It’s Just a TV Show!” or: Was Star Trek Revolutionary?

Merriam Webster lists the following among its definitions of the word revolutionary:  “constituting or bringing about a major or fundamental change”. Other similar reference sources use the word innovative as a synonym.   I have found myself thinking about this a great deal recently and, given these definitions, I think it is fair to say that the original Star Trek TV series of the 1960’s was revolutionary.

This begs the question, “What major or fundamental change did Star Trek bring about?”. In other words, what made it innovative?  I have several answers, some of which are common knowledge even among non-fans, while others are more personal to me.  Herein I will tackle them one at a time and attempt to explain each in some detail.

Star Trek depicted a future of racial and gender equality:
While it may be true that Trek was not the first TV show to place “non-whites” in prominent roles (see: I Spy with Bill Cosby opposite Robert Culp – 1965-68), it was the only one bold enough to consistently portray a human future in which skin color, national origin, gender, etc. in no way determined a character’s level of importance or ability.  In Star Trek we see a multi-national crew comprised of officers both male and female who function as a completely cohesive unit; one in which individuals’ standing is rarely questioned because of race or sex.

I have heard complaints from young Star Trek fans that characters like Uhura and Sulu weren’t featured prominently enough.  Certainly, I too would love to have seen more from those members of the ensemble who were co-stars.  Nevertheless, anyone who has watched the bulk of episodes from the original Star Trek series can’t argue that Uhura, Sulu, and even Chekov later on weren’t given important parts to play.  It was, after all, the 1960’s – a time when African and Asian Americans still had to suffer indescribable indignities in many parts of the United States and Russians were looked upon as little more than cold-war enemies.

Consider that Uhura was portrayed not only as a full Lieutenant but a competent electronics technician, a capable navigator, and an insightful, talented, and gutsy woman on top of her position as Communications Officer.  Sulu too was a commissioned officer who served as a department head, deft Helmsman/Weapons Operator, accomplished botanist, and a confident commander in the absence of Kirk, Spock, and Scotty.  The character of Chekov may have been the most under utilized as he was there primarily to appeal to the same young people who were fans of The Monkees.  All the same, he was given plenty of time in the limelight in his role as Navigator, often being assigned to landing parties, taking the science station in Spock’s absence, and even “getting the girl” in an episode or two – to say nothing of his “national pride”.

I had a great many friends at that time who were of diverse national origin.  All of them counted themselves as Star Trek fans and simply loved the characters I have described. In addition, many celebrities and public figures have cited the characters and philosophy of Star Trek as inspirational, actress/comedienne Whoopi Goldberg and astronaut Mae Jemison among them.

Star Trek was aimed at adults but appreciated equally by children:
With the possible exception of The Twilight Zone (which wasn’t necessarily science fiction anyway), there was very little believable adult sci-fi on TV or in movie serials prior to Star Trek.  Much of what was being shown was intentionally written for children or quickly changed its focus to appeal to the young after otherwise promising starts (see: Lost in Space – 1965-68).

Star Trek, on the other hand, never lost sight of its adult audience.  Even in its third and final season when the writing was sometimes less than stellar, the stories were often thought provoking morality tales that might not have been shown at all had they been conceived for any television series format other than sci-fi.  Moreover, the series always managed to maintain a level of quality that adults could appreciate while sprinkling in more than enough action and adventure to keep kids like me (I was a little tyke when the show first aired) glued to the TV.

Star Trek engendered strong feelings of loyalty among its fans:
The above is an understatement of galactic proportion!  I can think of no other television series, in any genre, that garnered the respect, devotion, and love of its fans the way Star Trek did.  When rumors of cancellation began circulating during the 1967-68 TV season, fans organized a massive letter writing campaign quite possibly contributing to the renewal of the show for another year.  After its network demise, Trek achieved such cult status during its run in syndication that, at one point in the mid 1970’s, fifty two percent of Americans considered themselves Star Trek fans.

Fan conventions brought out thousands when only hundreds were expected to attend. The stars of the show were highly in demand for personal appearances and were asked by organizations as prominent as NASA to be goodwill ambassadors.  The show become such a cultural phenomenon that four years after its cancellation it spawned a Saturday morning cartoon and after five more years of increasing popularity was re-imagined as a major theatrical motion picture.  The country’s first space shuttle was renamed Enterprise in deference to the show’s popularity.  It is highly likely that the market for films like Star Wars might not have existed had it not been for Star Trek.

I could go on but I think the point has been made.   If even one life is fundamentally changed by something, there is no measure of the importance of the thing.  Millions of people have been affected positively by Star Trek – some in the most trivial fashion and some in life altering ways.  I think Merriam Webster would agree – that is revolutionary!

Consulting the Library Computer

In an effort to get “all geared up” for my forthcoming visit to Creation Star Trek 2011 in Las Vegas, I’ve recently taken my obsession with Star Trek to another level.  I’ve always been a pretty fanatical lover of Trek.  Although, like anything else in life, my over-the-top fandom has had peaks and valleys.  There were times when I was much younger that I ate, drank, slept, and breathed Star Trek.  There have also been just as many periods more recently during which I’d watch 20 minutes of a Trek rerun on SyFy and that was the extent of my involvement for weeks on end.

Thankfully, the Internet provides the perfect means by which I (and countless others to be sure) can dive headlong back into all things Trek.  It’s almost as though I have my own LCARS terminal connected back to every database in Starfleet!  In all seriousness though, as well versed as I am in technology (I’ve been using the Internet in one form or another since 1990) it still never ceases to amaze me the depth and breadth of information that is available on most any topic – especially Star Trek!

I imagine that just about anyone reading this blog is already well acquainted with the sites I’m going to cover in this post.  All the same, there may be one or two folks like me who, only a short time ago, would have been unaware of the existence of so many terrific Star Trek resources online.  For that reason, I decided to compile a list of the Star Trek related websites I’ve been visiting lately.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  In fact, I would welcome comments with suggestions for others that I may be unaware of.

So, here goes:

http://www.startrek.com – The official website of the Star Trek franchise.

http://www.cbs.com/classics – Watch episodes of TOS and TAS online (this can also be done at startrek.com above)

http://www.trekweb.com – News and articles about everything to do with Star Trek

http://www.trekbbs.com – An excellent forum for chatting with like-minded fans

http://startrekofgodsandmen.com – Home of the terrific fan film made for the 40th Anniversary of the series

http://www.startreknewvoyages.com – The site of James Cawley’s excellent fan film series set during the TOS five year mission

http://www.starshipfarragut.com – More terrific fan films

http://creationent.com/cal/stlv.htm – Big, big, big Star Trek convention in Las Vegas next month

http://starfleet1701st.yuku.com – Forum operated by the fantastic 1701st Star Trek Uniform Club

http://www.therpf.com – Custom props and costumes used in role playing

http://www.startrekhistory.com – Absolutely incredible site with insider information about the production of the original TV Series

http://www.trekcore.com – All encompassing site with everything from rare photos to audio clips and more (from all series and movies)

http://www.startrekonline.com – Great Internet game set in the Trek universe

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Star-Trek-Fans/161013817304738 – Cool new Facebook group for we fans

As I had indicated above, there are undoubtedly hundreds (if not thousands) of other sites containing all kindsa’ Star Trek stuff and I’ll bet some of them are just great.  If anyone feels like to directing me to any of them, I’d be more than receptive.

LLAP

Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – The Final Phase

To complete my series on mishaps and difficulties with Trek uniform costuming attempts, I am going to start out with what would appear to be a horror story.  The great part is that, although the uniform itself and the circumstances surrounding its aborted creation may have been horrific, the ending is a very happy one IMHO.

Stardate: 1986.6 – By the age of 19 I had already done several things that a geek like me wouldn’t have been expected to, at least according to Bill Shatner’s “evil Captain Kirk” from Saturday Night Live.  I had most definitely kissed a girl and I had already moved out of my parents’ basement and gotten my own apartment (with the lovely girl I had kissed, I might add).

I really was incredibly lucky to have fallen in love with someone so intelligent and beautiful but, to my added good fortune, she was also almost as much the Star trek fan that I was. We had purchased our first VCR (a BetaMax – LOL, I’m old!!) and the first pre-recorded movie we acquired was, of course, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  The TOS episodes weren’t readily available on Beta yet so we got a bunch of blank tapes and started recording them from TV.  This way we’d have a monster collection of Trek shows to watch whenever we wanted.  We also worked diligently on collecting every paperback in the PocketBooks Star Trek series and read them all many times over.  We had just made tentative plans to attend a Star Trek convention – it would have been our first together – when this particular horror story began to unfold.

We thought it would be pretty cool to participate in the costume parade at the con and we each had a favorite uniform from the TV series that we planned to wear.  Mine was to be Kirk’s alternate command tunic – the green wraparound.  My lovely girl would have donned Uhura’s revealing mirror universe uniform.  Unfortunately, neither of us knew the first thing about constructing a homemade Trek uniform costume.  Although, at least my girlfriend knew how to sew and had made some garments in the past.  If memory serves, we didn’t have any patterns either and there certainly was no World Wide Web as we now know it through which to order them or do any research.   We did have some reference books to work from (The Making of Star Trek, The Starfleet Technical Manual, and Bjo Trimble’s excellent Star Trek Concordance) but otherwise we were on our own. By far our biggest impediment though was that we were almost always broke, so we didn’t have a lot of money to put into these costumes to begin with.

We picked up some cheap (and dreadfully wrong) material and tried to get underway.  My girl’s fabric was a bright red double-knit … definitely on the right track but too bright and too thin, almost like a crepe.  Mine was very dark green, way too dark really, and was similar to the material from which bedsheets are made…so it had no flex/stretch capability whatsoever.  Undaunted we began our project anyway.  I think my girlfriend drew out something akin to a pattern for my shirt and she then cut the individual sections accordingly.  I don’t remember if she had cut out all the pieces and was assembling the final garment or if she had just done a few basic pieces to put together a mock-up.  Either way, before long I had a front and back connected to a right sleeve.  The fit was awkward and the material didn’t lay well on my torso.  Nevertheless, it was coming together.  But given everything I’ve just described, it was questionable whether this costume would be usable at all – and therein lies the first horror story.   The second, and much bigger, horror story is that we left that green shirt half finished – that was as far as we ever got on it.  The sexy red mirror universe uniform never even got started.

For a multitude of reasons that probably have no place being published in a Star Trek blog, we broke up at the beginning of that summer, having never attended the convention or even finished the costumes.  Although I initially thought there was hope of getting back together, I blinked my eyes and months had gone by.  Suddenly it was a year – then two. We each ended up marrying and starting our own families, neither seeing nor speaking to each other as two years became five and so on.

What makes this such a terrific story is the happy ending I alluded to earlier.  We two geeks each knew that we were meant to be together.  In a way it was almost like one of those great Star Trek stories in which destiny is fulfilled even if there is sadness along the way.  More than ten years after we had originally begun dating and nearly eight years since we had last spoken, we met at our tenth high school reunion and picked up where we left off.  Now we are rapidly approaching our fifteenth wedding anniversary and our Trek fandom hasn’t waned.  In fact, our thirteen year old son and I will soon be attending Creation Star Trek 2011 in Las Vegas – and we will be doing so in full uniforms created by none other than my lovely girl.

I will be blogging from the con and undoubtedly posting photos of my new and improved green Kirk wraparound tunic.  But no photos or blog posts can accurately convey the most important facet of this tale – even though the blog topic is “Horror Stories”, my time with the incredible woman described herein has been the antithesis of a horror story!  She completes me and I her.  And our shared love of all things Star Trek is one example among many of how our fate was “in the stars”!