June 18, 2013

Looking at the Ships of Star Trek

And all I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by.
Herman Melville John Masefield  

Gene Roddenberry pitched Star Trek to NBC as ‘Wagon Train to the stars.’  After Star Trek the Motion Picture, Paramount took direct control of the franchise’s film outings away from Roddenberry and gave creative control to Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer--and given the success of Wrath of Khan as both in the box office and as a triumph of storytelling, it was a change that very likely saved Trek.

Meyer, who had never really watched Star Trek, familiarized himself with The Original Series, enjoying the show’s use of what he described as gunboat diplomacy.  Inspired by this, he shifted away from the tone of the first movie; re-imagining Trek not as Wagon Train in space, but as space-borne Horatio Hornblower.  .

Enterprise didn’t physically change in any apparent way between Star Trek The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, but with Bennett and Meyer now imposing naval customs and parlance, along with Starfleet uniforms that had a distinctly military look to them, the USS Enterprise felt more like a warship than it ever had before.  Wether or not this was a good thing is a matter of debate; Gene Roddenberry hated the new tone, but many fans, myself included, feel that the changes brought a much-needed implication of purpose and cohesion to the ship and crew that that Motion Picture was lacking.  I bring this up to demonstrate that the USS Enterprise has gone through something that sometimes eludes actual, living people in Trek: character development.

The USS Enterprise is as much a character in Star Trek as any living crew member of in the franchise, and just like every other character, their personality was subject to change.  Perhaps this is part of fans become as attached the the ship as any of the characters who call their ship home, and we love them just as much as the crew does.  If you disagree, ask yourself what affected you more in The Search for Spock: David Marcus’ murder, or Enterprise self-destructing and burning up as it crashed through the Genesis Planet’s atmosphere.  

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, being a show that was meant to show the hard work that goes into rebuilding the Planet of the Week after starships like Enterprise leave.  It was a bold experiment in storytelling for Trek.  Making the primary setting for a show a Cardassin-built space station, rankled many fans.  The premise seemed to fly in the face of Star Trek’s spirit of adventure through peaceful exploration.  In the early seasons of Deep Space Nine, the only ‘Trekking‘ that was done was aboard the tiny, fungible, often anonymous ‘runabouts.’  

The disposable nature of runabouts could never hope to earn the love of fans like a starship could, so the writers did everything they could to give Deep Space Nine more personality than the starships that came before it.  The starships Enterprise were homes to the crews worked aboard them.  They were places of comfort and warmth for the show’s heros.  Deep Space Nine, however, was dirty, dangerous, dilapidated, and often seemed to be consciously working against its staff.  But by the third season, Sisko admits that he has begun “Thinking of [the] Cardassian monstrosity as home.”   Even after the Defiant was introduced, the once imposing station had earned its place in the hearts of the its staff, its civilian inhabitants, and the fans.  DS9’s character arc was cemented in A Time to Stand, when the Federation personnel were forced to bug out.  Sisko is so moved, he gives his best MacArthur impersonation and vows that he will return.  

Its not unusual for vehicles to hold special significance.  They tend to be the tools that make a sci-fi story’s premise possible.  Often, they not only the characters’ means of conveyance, but also their homes.  Sometimes, they are sentient, living entities like the TARDIS, or they might be machines so machines so advanced that they may as well be alive. The Doctor loves the TARDIS--sometimes to an uncomfortable degree--but he can function without it, and he has done in several multi-story arcs.  

Trek, however, doesn’t do as well without its starships.  Star Trek I, II, III, VI, and Generations, all highlight how useless Captain Kirk feels when he isn’t on the bridge of the Enterprise; and episodes of each of the television series have dealt with regulars who feel the very same feelings of restless, aimless malaise whenever they’re separated from the ship they call home.  While this certainly isn’t unique to Star Trek, the franchise, for better or for worse, likes to crank that separation anxiety way higher than other works do.  Why that is, we’ll discuss in the conclusion of Farpoint, and again when we cover The Battle

In the meantime, if you haven’t seen already, check out Ships of the Line by Margret Clark and Doug Drexler is the source of the gorgeous image above.  It’s an amazing book full of breathtaking scenes of the ships of Star Trek from the creators of equally impressive Star Trek: Ships of the Line calendars.  Honestly, I couldn’t recommend it more. 

©2013 AHoden or The Special Needs Group. Screen captures and TNG publicity photos property of their owners.

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