Saturday, 2 February 2013

Trekollections II: What Does God Need With A Starship?

The excitement of The Voyage Home had to be bettered, surely?  Well - I hoped it would be when 1989 brought news that we would be embarking on a voyage to The Final Frontier.

Derby's UCI Cinema was the setting for my first viewing of the Shatner-directed Star Trek V. My knowledge of the film was limited to clips I had caught when we recorded America's Top Ten overnight on Channel 4 - actually they were from the final five minutes of the US Box Office review show that preceeded it and seeing the shuttlecraft crash into the Enterprise landing bay was all I needed to be convinced that I had to see it. 

A few weeks went by and Star Trek V landed in the UK. For some reason the cinema was also promoting The Next Generation with a board of photos from the series that was, at that time, entering its third season in the US.  There are only two images I can remember and they are of the Enterprise-D and Geordi in command red lying on a biobed from "The Naked Now". By this point I was itching to see this new series but pictures were all I was getting to see.  They would have to do until terrestrial TV started to run them. 

Twenty-three and a bit years on, I still think Shatner's lone effort is OK.  For once Kirk and crew aren't the only ship in the quadrant and Starfleet specifically want them to go and sort out the bad guys which all stands up to reason rather than convenience of plot. I still love the fresh, clean-finish sets although why the bridge set for The Undiscovered Country took a backward step and reintroduced buttons and sliders is beyond me.  It made no sense after the feel that they created for The Final Frontier. We know that the reason for the look of STV was down to the opportunity to utilise the TNG sets on the adjoining stage and I can only assume the feel of the bridge would not have been in keeping with the darker tone of Star Trek IV in 1991.

One of my favourite scenes which was great to experience in the cinema was Kirk fronting off against a Klingon Bird of Prey at the conclusion and who could forget the whole shuttlecraft scenario? It's unique to this film and I think without these little bits (and there are more) it would have been terrible.  Even more interesting is the fact that at one point it was considered that the remains of the full scale shuttle mock-up could have been used in TNG or even Insurrection! Perhaps The Final Frontier is a good example where the integral parts are better than the whole.

Sadly Spock having a half-brother and the crew all joining him on a quest for Eden gels no more for me now than it did then; nor was the comedy element as good as The Voyage Home. That film had balanced the comedy/action formula to a tee but by attempting to replicate it and step up the action quota, its successor missed the mark and also managed to confirm the fact that the odd numbered films were the weaker segments. The ending was poor and nothing like the explosive finale that I wanted to see. Polystyrene rocks and a fake God were not keeping me on the edge of my seat.

Actually, it's time for a bit of an admission as well. There was one thing from Star Trek V that I was in awe of - the suede-style bomber jacket that Kirk wears in this film looked cool and cemented a belief that still exists today - that the movie uniforms were the best even if the rank/colour/service bar markings were confusing (until the arrival of Mr Scott's Guide to the Enterprise and later, the Star Trek Encyclopedia). It clearly showed that at this point Starfleet was a military organisation rather than the exploratory body it would resemble by the time of TNG and I suspect that was quite a big draw for an impressionable 10 year old.

Around this time I started to collect little bits of Trek memorabilia which is still scattered around to this day in various boxes, drawers or filed on shelves.  Most of the clipped articles I found are now stuck into one of two scrapbooks I recently unearthed from the loft at the same time I resurrected the Enterprise from The Original Series (see LoT: The Formative Years). One of the first I stuck in was a piece from the cinema magazine  accompanied by a couple of stills and a very basic summary (pictured here - note the flipped Kirk image!).

Next was a Christmas present from a family friend that provided me with two figures from Star Trek: The Next Generation, specifically Lt. (JG) Geordi La Forge and Captain Jean-Luc Picard.  These were released in conjunction with the first season and inexplicably you could only ever seem to find these two in vast quantities.  Both came with tricorders on straps and dustbuster Type 2 phasers that couldn't be taken out of their hands.  Pretty useless when you want to fly the ship in Geordi's case. The packaging perished a long time ago but I managed to salvage a few logos and oddments that ended up stuck in the growing scrapbook a few years later.

Sadly the same can't be said for my Star Trek V calendar which I received that same Christmas . Tragically it seems to have vanished/been binned at some point in the last few years. It featured 12 stills from the film as well as a central foldout promotional poster which adorned my bedroom wall a few years later when super-fan syndrome kicked in.

That same Christmas was quite the Star Trek event as my grandparents bought me the AMT model of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek V. It was a big hulk of model with the added bonus that you could also make the shuttlecraft as either Galileo 5 or Copernicus 3. I stumped for the former and soon Dad had painted both the ship and shuttle to be proudly displayed in my room.  It would survive for eight years until one fateful night involving a school leaving party and a considerable amount of red wine left me a little worse for wear.  While being put to bed I managed to knock my beloved model from its shelf and bring it crashing to the ground.  In all honesty it was never as sturdy as the original TV Enterprise as the warp engines were attached to the secondary hull by a fairly insubstantial curved piece of bodywork that took a pounding thanks to the heaving weight of the saucer section over the years. Sadly this Enterprise's life was over much too soon due to a brush with alcohol. It ended up in about five chunks so apologies to anyone who was hoping to see the model as it's long gone by now!

Moving swiftly along, one thing I would like to slip/shoehorn in here is my continued inability to get to watch Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  It just never seemed to be on in the UK.  The Wrath of Khan felt like it was on ITV every weekend at one point but it's successor was MIA.  That was until 1990.  The BBC had bought it and advertised that it would be aired one Saturday night at around 7pm.  I could almost taste my excitement at finally seeing it. There was no question I had waited a long time to see this and the trailer (featuring the Bird of Prey escaping from the self-destructing Genesis planet) only helped to increase my anticipation. Then it snowed.

When I say snowed I mean SNOWED.  Not too big a problem until you realise that it caused a powercut.  A powercut that hit on a certain Saturday - from about 8am in the morning through to that night. The kind of powercut that lasted until after the airing of Star Trek III.  From excitement and anticipation I had crumbled to withdrawal and disappointment. Although there had been the obligatory snowman constructed that afternoon I had missed the aptly named The Search for Spock once more; just like the Enterprise, my moment had been stolen.  Was I EVER going to get to see this film?!  It certainly felt like I wouldn't.

As I've mentioned in The Formative Decade, I had no Trek allies while we lived in Derbyshire besides Dad. This was a barren two years at school and not enjoyable in the least.  What did make it worth while was getting home...especially when 26th of November 1990 came around.  The wait had been very long but now, over three years since its arrival on US TV we finally got to experience "Encounter at Farpoint". It even garnered a few pages in the kids BBC magazine Fast Forward (who remembers that?). Dad only managed to get to see the last fifteen minutes but I was more than happy to fill him in on the new crew and the 90 minute pilot episode.  The captain was a bit stern and snappy; the android was very peculiar; Wesley was cheesy and I just didn't like Q at all.  I found "Encounter at Farpoint" a bit stilted and wooden in places and I hoped it would improve. The plot hadn't been all that amazing but there had been some really memorable bits in there. The ship separated, there was the holodeck and some familiar looking Starfleet admiral turned up.  Over the coming weeks I decided to take this new series to heart as it did indeed move forward at a fairly slow pace to begin with.  It would be my Trek as Kirk, Spock and McCoy had been for Dad back in the late 60's and early 70's. At school it was still very uncool to have watched this new Star Trek but it seemed that a couple of my peers had caught it but would never openly admit they had watched the whole thing - such was the level of peer pressure in that environment.

One weekend my parents were having an evening out somewhere and as part of my treat for the evening I was lucky enough to have the first issue of the Marvel Star Trek: The Next Generation comic bought for me.  There were two halves to it - one was the hand-drawn story section and the other was a synopsis of "Datalore".  It must've been very early during the first season when I was given this because I remember looking forward to seeing the episode on TV.  The comic had a free Starfleet insignia patch on a red background with it (seen here; right). Where this comic ended up is unknown now but it was a prized Trek possession for some time. The date on the issue is the 17th November 1990 but I'm certain I had it after "Encounter at Farpoint" had aired in the UK.

So it was that Wednesday nights at 6pm on BBC Two brought me into weekly contact with The Next Generation as they had years earlier with The Original Series. This ritual would continue through my last few years of primary school and into the first year of my life at secondary school but more on that in due course! 

I grew to admire this cast and their adventures.  There was a lot of action, a lot more budget and the ship didn't look as weird as I had first thought a few years earlier. What I remember is how the series evolved, how the characters developed (a prime example being Troi) and how the stories just got better and better with each week.  The introduction of the Borg was amazing and unforgettable in "Q Who". The set was stunning and they were genuinely chilling as an enemy.  For once it really did look like the crew were beaten until Q reappeared.  It's probably one of the episodes I've watched the most and when I caught sight of the VHS release of "The Best of Both Worlds" in our local Woolworth's I knew that there was more from this new threat to come and it couldn't arrive soon enough.  In fact, as I watched the episodes on the TV at home I started to take an interest in what installments were being released on tape to get a taster of what I could expect.  In a way we were lucky as the first three years ran back to back but that would all come to an abrupt end in 1992 with the climax of "The Best of Both Worlds".

So what was so memorable and enduring about this series to a ten/eleven year old? A lot is the answer. It was cutting edge in effects and there was nothing on TV that came close to the level of storytelling that I saw each week. As it matured the cast grew more comfortable in their roles and before we get stuck into the brilliance of Season Three, it's worth saying that the first two years weren't without their moments. I wasn't into remembering episode titles at that time so it was more incidents from the crew's adventures that stuck in my head. Oddly it's not necessarily the best bits that stuck. 

Take for example "The Neutral Zone"; it wasn't the first TNG appearance of the Romulans that stayed with me but the discovery of the three humans in stasis and their attempts to rediscover who they are in the twenty-fourth century. I can still recall the first time I saw Riker, Data and Worf find the body of the astronaut in the Royale hotel bedroom even though it's nowhere near one of the best episodes of the season let alone the series. Troi's fast-growing child also remains a prominent memory from my first meeting with TNG. Picard as Dixon Hill and Data as Sherlock Holmes made the early seasons essential viewing and lest we forget the uncomfortable appearances of Lwaxana Troi or the unexpected death of one Lt. Tasha Yar.

Then again how could I forget seeing the Stargazer loom into view; the duplicate Picard of "Time Squared" attempting to make his escape (again!) and strangely the budget-saving worst-TNG-episode-ever, "Shades of Grey" made a substantial impression. Heck, that was just the first 48 episodes and the next 26 stories would blow these clean out of the water. I couldn't get enough and had me completely hooked by 1991; the show's 25th Anniversary year. What I would also say at this point my love of all things Trek  was confined to a colour TV and any books I could find in the local library. While we lived in Derbyshire I was lucky enough to read the novel edition of Star Trek II which put the film into a whole new perspective - especially the minor character of Peter Preston, Scotty's nephew. It was excellent from start to finish and led me to devour episode adaptations and a couple of classic series novels that were available. Shamefully that's as far as it could go purely because of the availability of material on Star Trek. Besides, the internet and DVD were still a long way off.

While the series played on, we moved again to Lincolnshire. The bullying I had experienced for two years stopped and things seemed to be looking up. I attended a new school which was much more friendly and while there weren't any massive Trek fans in my class at least I didn't feel "wrong" for liking it. I felt I could be myself and wouldn't be chastised for what I  was interested in.

Between leaving there and starting at secondary school I spent the summer being watched over by a mum who had three boys while my parents were at work. I introduced them to Star Trek  as the six weeks flashed by to the point where we watched a videoed copy of Star Trek IV on more than one occasion. It wasn't unknown for us and some of the other kids in the street to recreate the bridge of the Enterprise in the garage and stage our own adventures for whole afternoons. We would be adorned with Lego phasers and handmade rank pips and badges a la TNG. For the first time in a long while I was able to talk about my favourite programme and not be ridiculed for being different.  It came as something of a relief you can appreciate and this move was to help bring about a big turning point in my relationship with Star Trek but there's plenty of time for us to talk about that.

So we'll pause there for now before I get too carried away in nostalgia! Next time, the saga of Trek III concludes (honestly it does!), TNG's third season on BBC 2 begins, The Undiscovered Country is discovered and another side to my collection begins...

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