WARNING: If you don’t know anything about Star Trek, you’re about to get really lost. And I’m about to reveal quite a lot of my geek cred. I beg forgiveness, and I’ll try to return to more inclusive topics later.
So yeah, Star Trek.
I started watching Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) at the age of 4 or 5, thanks to my mother. I was raised watching both shows, and loved every second of it. I was 8 yrs old when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) started, and I watched that incarnation of the show even more devotedly than my mother did. By the time Star Trek: Voyager had started my mother and I had finally gotten my younger brother to watch the show, so Voyager-watching became a family event.
I’ll admit up front that I’ve only see about 1/3 of Star Trek: Enterprise some episodes were decent, and Archer was a good character, but overall, I just couldn’t get into it. However, while I was leery of the new movie, I was pleasantly surprised by how absolutely fantastic it is.
I guess what I’m getting at, is I’ve got plenty of opinions of Star Trek. I’m not as bad as some full-blown Trekkies. I’ve never tried to learn Klingon, and I’ve never even been a convention (mostly because there’s never been one anywhere near me and I’m broke, but still…). But I still know the show very well and could talk about it for hours. I knew that if I was going to talk about tv shows at all, I HAD to talk about Star Trek. Question is: which series, what aspect, what topic? Etc.
So I’ve decided to enter into an age-old argument in Star Trek: TOS vs. TNG vs. DS9.
Let me begin by saying: while I love TOS for nostalgic reasons, when it comes right down to it, it really wasn’t all that well-made. Even for the 60’s it’s cheesy and clumsy, relying on many Shakespearian stage actors for side-characters who did not translate well to television, and using some really ridiculous plot devices. TNG had the benefit of more experience, a larger group of good actors, and more time to develop the writing style and universe (though even the first couple seasons of TNG were pretty clumsy and cheesy at times).
The writing as a whole was far better in TNG than it was in TOS. But TNG really came into its own with season 3 finale: “Best of Both Worlds.” While the big-bad of the series, The Borg, had been introduced in a season 1 episode, it wasn’t into “Best of Both Worlds” that they really become the major problem they are for the rest of the series (and all the way through 1 of the movies and quite a bit of Voyager). They are a fleshed-out, powerful enemy with grand schemes and unblinking determination. While most the show retained its stand-alone, new-adventure-every-week episodes, the Borg became an overarching plot-line through the series. And it was one of the best things the show ever did.
However, the biggest difference between TOS and TNG is the character development. For instance, Capt. Jean-luc Picard is, quite frankly, a much better-written character than Kirk (my mother would smack me if she was reading this). Kirk was a womanizer and a hot-head and a loyal friend; obviously, I’m simplifying here, but the writing never develops the character as much as it should. Jean-luc Picard is serious, controlled, logical, loyal, diplomatic… but he also had a wild youth, he’s uncomfortable around children but secretly wants them, he likes mystery novels and he knows how to samba, he’s not the Don Juan type, but often gets the woman despite himself. I could go on…
And Picard is not the only character so finely developed. They all are. All of the main cast characters (and even a few who started out as small side characters) are thoroughly developed, with detailed histories, nuanced personalities, and complex interactions with other characters.
My biggest complaint with TNG is that the writers had a tendency to start plot arcs that they would then forget about. The biggest example of this is a plot that was begun in the first season: alien parasites had taken control of several high-ranking members of Starfleet, Picard and Riker managed to kill them, but not before one had time to send a signal into space, presumably as a beacon to lead someone/thing to Earth. This plot was never resolves, and was apparently forgotten. I absolutely hate it when writers introduce some plot element in a series (tv show or book series) and then never resolve it. Drives me NUTS.
That being said, the episodes “The Inner Light” and “Chain of Command” Pts 1 and 2 are honest-to-God masterpieces, which EVERYONE should see at least once.
So, how about Star Trek: DS9? Many Trek fans didn’t like DS9 because it took place on a space station rather than a ship and was quite a bit darker and therefore very different from TOS and TNG. I understand that “different” causes problems (it’s part of why I had trouble watching Enterprise, though I think the writing was sub-par on that show as well). However, once you get past the jolt of something so different, you quickly realize that DS9 had all the same things that made TNG so amazing. Plus, possibly, a tiny bit more.
DS9, like TNG, had a host of amazing, complex, nuanced characters who really made the show what it was. With a different cast of characters (and a less talented group of actors to portray them) it would have been a much different show. Cmdr. Benjamin Sisko, was the first black commanding officer to be portrayed in the Star Trek shows, and he was a fantastic character cool and controlled in ways similar to Picard, but more light-hearted, joking, and with a son, making him very much his own person. Security Chief Odo was, obviously, DS9’s answer to the very popular TNG character Data, but as the show developed Odo became a more complex and interesting character than the original writing would have suggested. You also had the very angry ex-rebel Bajoran Kira Nerys and one of my personal favorites: the secretly genetically-engineered genius Doctor Julian Bashir, as just a few of the complicated, often conflicted characters that inhabited the space station. And Garak! An ex-spy turned tailor with conflicted loyalties and outwardly cheerful personality. One of the best characters in Star Trek: period.
This focus on character and some very well-written individual episodes put DS9 right on par with TNG. However, DS9 quickly moved away from completely episodic stand-alone episodes and moved toward large over-arching plots that developed from episode to episode as the war with the shape-shifting Dominion and their brutal warriors the Jem’Hadar begins in season 3. Like any tv show, there are still stand-alone episodes mixed in with the episodes that move the main plot along, but unlike TNG whose over-arching plots lasted only a few episodes here or there, The Dominion War plot line lasted from the beginning of Season 3 up through the ending of the series in season 7. This took serious attention to detail, continuity, character development, tension and tone. This focus on one large plot (with many complex sub-plots intertwined) and its darker themes about war, revenge, racism, imperialism, etc, made this series intense and brilliant.
This is not to say that DS9 didn’t have some bad episodes, because it did. The worst one EVER is “Trials and Tribble-ations” in which Sisko and a few others go back in time to Kirk’s Enterprise to help find a bomb that is disguised as a tribble. (And if you don’t know what a tribble is: tribble wikipedia page). Yeah…
For just a couple of really fantastic episodes: “In the Pale Moonlight” and “Hard Time,” which are both pretty dark but extremely human and intense. Also, the series finale “What You Leave Behind” Pt 1 and 2 ‘cause seriously, one thing the Star Trek writers do extremely well are finales.
I’m going to put my life on the line here, and say I do think DS9 was a slightly better-written show. But at the same time, there is a fun light-hearted optimism to TNG that many believe more accurately reflects creator Gene Roddenberry’s philosophy in life, and which DS9 often lacks. So, really it just depends on what mood you’re in: fun and optimistic or dark and intense. I honestly love them all. (And you’ll notice, I didn’t even get into Voyager. It’s brilliant, and that would have just made this too messy.)
Okay, I could go on about this for a very long time, as you might be able to tell by now. But I’ve gone long enough as it is, so I’ll call it quits here. If you’re not a Star Trek fan, I hope some of the other shows I talk about later will be more to your liking.
If you are a Star Trek fan, what do you think of my assessment? Which incarnation is your favorite (if you can choose)? What are your favorite episodes? Favorite characters? Let’s get some Trekkie talk up in here, people! Come on!