O DEATH WHERE IS THY STNG? STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION AND ME

This is the saddest story I know. It is the story of how I became addicted to an uncontrolled substance. My social life has suffered; while under the influence, I am incapable of coherent conversation. At critical hours of the evening, I will let the phone ring rather than risk disrupting my daily dose.

Only my closest friends are aware of the extent of my dependency. They regard me with a mixture of pity and contempt. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were something hip, like heroin or cocaine, but the monkey on my back is so infra-dig we’re embarrassed about mentioning it in public. Star Trek: The Next Generation is not a subject one likes to bring up in polite society. I am only now emerging from the closet in the hope that my confession will give heart to others who might be similarly afflicted.

One of the symptoms of this dependency is the way you fly into a howling rage whenever people make jokes about pointy Vulcan ears or being beamed up by Scotty, but please note the words Next and Generation, because we’re not talking about classic Star Trek here — that’s strictly for socially-challenged dweebs in anoraks. The Next Generation, however, is The Twilight Zone, Inspector Morse and LA Law all rolled into one. In fact, I would like to propose it as a contender for Best TV Series ever.

How did this happen? Like all addicts, I started off thinking I could control it: a snort of “warp factor” here, a shot of “subspace” there, and all of it strictly for recreational use. But I had reckoned without the persistence of the pushers: every weekday The Next Generation is screened on cable not once but twice nightly. I would slump on the couch after a hard day’s toil, switch on the telly, and there it would be, boldly going. And, before I knew where I was, I would be boldly going, too.

It is considered socially acceptable to be hooked on classy sitcoms or prestigious detective dramas, or the latest instant-cult import from the Twin Peaks school of dirty surrealism. It is even permissable to dip one’s toes into the world of soap. But a series in which the actors wear badly-fitting Baby-Gro and recite lines like “Set phasers on stun”?

Yet this is a show that has everything. Like soap opera, it draws on a comforting line-up of familiar characters. It’s just that one (Worf the Klingon) has what looks like a giant melted Mars Bar implanted in his forehead. Another (Geordi the blind engineer) wears 24th-century novelty Ray-Bans, and another (Data the android) has queasy white skin and a flapful of flashing lights in the side of his skull.

Like the best drama, this one poses a full complement of ethical dilemmas; it’s just that some of these involve the ins and outs of Klingon succession, or Romulan intrigue, or whether the rights of the individual should be extended to computer viruses. It offers carte blanche. Anything goes in outer space. One episode might be about Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s disastrous love-life (his strike-out rate is almost as bad as Don Johnson’s in Miami Vice). The next might have Dr Beverly Crusher kidnapped by terrorists, or the Enterprise repeatedly blown to bits in a time-warp.

I realised things were getting out of hand when I caught myself plotting to steal the life-size cardboard cut-out of Picard from a display in my local SF bookshop. My addiction is so advanced that I get a lump in my throat each time I hear the opening credits, with Patrick Stewart intoning the immortal words: “Space – the final frontier…”I am so far gone, there’s now no character on whom I have not had a sexual crush, and that includes Worf (very big, Worf) and Counsellor Deanna Troi, the busty Betazoid with empathic powers (“I am sensing immense anger”). I find myself wistfully wishing that I, too, were on board, earning Captain Picard’s trust.

But am I ashamed? Hell, no. On the contrary, I am proud to hail from a planet that shows itself capable of producing such a work of popular art. Its very tackiness – that innate sense of human superiority coupled with a conscientious effort to see things from the alien point of view, not to mention those uniforms – is what makes it great. If this is the sort of TV that is educating the masses, we can rest easy in our beds, for seldom has there been pop culture so life-affirming and morally sound. But what I like best is that it’s not that life-affirming or morally sound. Four centuries hence, war and hunger may have been abolished back on earth, but the United Federation of Planets still gets to beat the crap out of the Romulans, the Cardassians, the Borg, and anyone else whose ideology isn’t up to snuff. So suck on that, you twentieth-century earthlings, and — in the word(s) of Captain Picard ordering warp speed – “engage”.

This article was first published in GQ (UK) circa 1992, just after my very first cable TV connection.

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9 thoughts on “O DEATH WHERE IS THY STNG? STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION AND ME

  1. Anne

    Longtime fan, firstime poster as they say.

    Oh so long ago I remember turning to the film review pages in TimeOut and looking for your reviews because they were tight and observant and had some attitude.

    I now work in 1 Canada Square – the building where in your Vampire novel the lifts don't move in daytime because the inhabitants are all vampires. How true that metaphor has become, eh?

    And you're a trekkie, or were. How sweet!

    I too salute your geek girl courage in admitting The Love That Dare Not &etc.

    You helped make my life the better by fanning my desire for dark pits of foreboding and nameless oddly-angled horrors. Thank you.

  2. Best episode: 'Yesterday's Enterprise'. Tasha resurrected. Still at war with the Klingon Empire. Only Whoopi Goldberg knows that the time is out of joint. And all sorted out in about forty-five minutes. Brilliant.

    And a special thank you to Patrick Stuart/ Jean Luc Picard for making baldness cool.

  3. Gloria! Thank you for the link – genius! and I do hope you've recovered from that nasty prang with your Sunbeam (or, if we're talking about John O'Hara's book, that close encounter with the paddle-steamer wheel)

    Anonymous – I am so thrilled I helped fan your desire for the dark pits of foreboding. And Canada Square, eh? You are LIVING Suckers!

    Geoff – I like the episode Parallels, in which Worf gets stuck in a wrinkle of the space-time continuum and finds himself married to Deanna Troi, which does in 45 minutes what it took Alain Resnais hours and hours to do in the bum-numbingly boring Alan Ayckbourn adaptation Smoking/No Smoking. Also Cause and Effect, in which the Enterprise gets stuck in a wrinkle of the space-time continuum and keeps exploding, and only Data can stop the rot. Also, anything to do with Data and his cat Spot.

    • I am so forgetful (and consistent) that I came here to post only to discover that I had already written what I was going to write (it’s Geoff Llewellyn again). Seriously, I feel like I have just been in a time loop myself.

      Your episode choices are great, by the way. But almost any episode you mention would have been a good one. I was also very fond of the relationship between Picard and Q. That was hilarious. They nicely framed everything too with ‘All Good Things’.

  4. I went through my school years in thrall to sci-fi, but after I hit university spent 20 years in public denial. I studied, then taught English Literature and Film and that put me off written science fiction for a long time. ST:TNG was a guilty pleasure. Eventually I ended up teaching screen writing to the “next generation” of filmmakers and it was the unashamedly geeky animators who persuaded me it was time to return to my science fiction roots. This article impresses because I was still pretending to be cool and sophisticated and beyond science fiction in 1992.

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