Thursday, 10 October 2013

Trekollections V: Two Captains, Three Series

"I don't need to be lectured by you. I was out saving the galaxy when your grandfather was still in diapers."

I saw the trailer for Star Trek: Generations on The Big Breakfast, Channel 4 in the UK (Google it) back in mid-1994 just as The Next Generation was winding down on TV. It was the ultimate Star Trek fan moment - Kirk and Picard both on screen in the same movie at the same time; a visual torch-passing from one captain to the next. This was going to be the cinematic Star Trek moment of the decade, nay ever. The trailer had some random clips from The Next Generation episodes but the main clip was all about that now infamous horse-riding scene.

Back before the internet was the rumour mill it has become today, you had to rely on, amazingly, one to one communication, to find out anything about what was happening if it wasn't in the pages of TV Zone, Starburst or Starlog magazine. I was fortunate that Dad had a guy working for him who was a fan and a member of a club. The preview of the expected movie was pretty shocking - Data having sex with the Duras sisters, Kirk skydiving, the Enterprise-B, a mad scientist and oh...Kirk dies!!!!

Personal library photo
Big stuff. Luckily some of that came to pass, some of it got rewritten and some if it never happened. Back in the day some genius released the novel of the film before Star Trek: Generations arrived on the silver screen. Due to the late reshoots the novel had the original opening segment and the original ending (here, left). Now I really enjoyed the way it all played out in the book accompanied by some nice glossy photos from the adventure. Even though I effectively knew the plot inside out from fan-written news via Dad's work or from the magazine racks in the newsagents I still went to the cinema and enjoyed it. We can easily say it's not the best of the movies but I have a soft spot for it even if the Nexus makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Even at the age of 15 I knew it was a total bats-arse idea but hey, Kirk and Picard were in the same film!!!

I'd taken quite a liking to Star Trek literature and visits into Lincoln would inevitably end - or begin - with a trip into Ottakar's (now Waterstone's) bookshop on the High Street. I bought both Star Trek Memories and Star Trek Movie Memories from there at least and I would suspect that some of the books that arrived on birthdays and Christmases might have found their way off the shelves from the same shop. I really had got to saturation point around the time of Generations and if it had the words Star Trek on it, it was fair game.

At school Steven Bond and myself would indulge in conversations at break about what the film was going to be like and he was even lucky enough to get to see it on a preview night while I had to wait another week to see it - I was utterly jealous of course but there wasn't much I could do. As with Star Trek VI I saw it in Lincoln but at the recently built Odeon. It had been a week or so since theatrical release but there were still two audience members who turned up in full The Next Generation uniform. Kirk's reshot death was ok but someone seemed to have taken all the lights off the Enterprise bridge and stellar cartography had received one heck of a facelift. It wasn't the experience that I'd expected however there was still Deep Space Nine to fulfil my weekly desire for new Star Trek

That second season (1993 - 1994) lifted my spirits immensely. The stories seemed sharper; deeper, the characters were settled and being explored well. Necessary Evil showed how different the series could be and how it could use the past to develop its own personality. The Next Generation would never have attempted a three-part story to start the year and even more prominently the show embraced The Original Series more openly than the crew of the Enterprise-D had ever been allowed to. In the space of a handful of episodes we not only got the return of the three Klingons from the 60's series but our first trip back to the mirror universe since approximately the same time. Perhaps this was one of the early things which endeared me to this darker offspring - it wasn't afraid to try something and adjust it as events took hold. There seemed to be a bigger plan which would become more apparent at the end of the year with The Jem'Hadar. Oddly though I would see that finale after The Search

My video buying had of course moved from The Next Generation to Deep Space Nine. Volume 22 was the first one I bought for £12.99 from Boots in Sleaford. It was Crossover and The Collaborator and would be watched fairly regularly. The quality of the Deep Space Nine series was superb. Great individual character art, a quote from one of the episodes on the back and then a character biography inside. It was almost as interesting finding out what was featured on the box as it was seeing some new Star Trek. I bought two more volumes from season two which included The Maquis before The Search came out. Reading Starburst, TV Zone and the superior Dreamwatch, there was a big change for the new series as the station was getting a starship all of its own. For two years they'd had to manage with three piddly runabouts but this was a bad-ass out and out warship. The USS Defiant was nothing like we'd seen before and before we move on, there's an important moment in my personal Star Trek history I need to talk about. 

Picture the scene: It's a Saturday. I've been down to Woolworths and picked up volume 3.1 of Deep Space Nine. Actually, I didn't know it was out until I saw it on the shelf and there wasn't even a question as to whether or not it was going to be bought. CIC Video have made some changes to the cover art as well as the numbering system but that's no biggie. Looks pretty decent and it's been a while since my last video purchase.  I get myself home and settle down in front of the TV with Dad to watch the new two-part season opening episode. There's a catch-up from the end of season two (Last time on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine...) which is useful as we've both missed it (wow - they blew up a Galaxy-class starship?!). Dax has new hair, some Romulan had turned up to look after the Defiant's cloaking device, Odo's uniform is a bit different and there was a new security guy called Eddington hanging around. Ok.... Not too bad so far but nothing that's going to make me think this is more than average. Wouldn't you agree?

While I was enjoying Deep Space Nine to this point it I'd found it never hit the mark like The Next Generation consistently had (barring season five's soap opera period). I kept watching - then things changed. About 15 minutes in the Defiant came under attack from a couple of Jem'Hadar warships. Sisko took the ship to battle stations and ordered the crew to engage. With one word and ten seconds of screen time he changed my entire perception of the show and I was from that second onwards a converted Niner. 


What we all expected was little orangey-red phaser beams to shoot out and the Jem'Hadar ships to be disabled. This was Star Trek and it was about removing threat not blowing stuff up. What we got was a rapid fire Gatling-gun style onslaught like nothing we'd ever seen. This ship was cool. This series was different and I LOVED it. That was it, I was in raptures. This was the BEST Star Trek series ever. It was a great opener and the revelation around the Founders of the Dominion was sorted out a lot quicker than we expected which was a change so we could get on with the nitty gritty of the story a lot sooner without getting wrapped up in a "Who Are They?" story. 

Personal library photo
I also seem to think that it must have been around this time that I won my first Star Trek themed competition which was a copy of The Nitpicker's Guide for Next Generation Trekkers Volume Two. The first one had been a great read and funny at times with some thought-provoking points on the series as well as pointing out some absolute onscreen clangers. Author and fan Phil Farrand later produced a Deep Space Nine volume which covered everything from Emissary through to season four's cliffhanger, Broken Link as well as a book for Classic Series fans however neither of them ever managed to capture the nuances and individuality of the two The Next Generation editions. Phil, if you're reading, you made me watch the show in a very different light! I'd switched to Dreamwatch fairly recently after following the increasingly poor Star Trek magazine called The Final Frontier. It started well but rapidly got thinner and relied on poor quality images to sell copies. Expensive and rubbish by the end of it's short run.

School-wise I was now heading into two years of GCSE courses between 1994 and 1996. The workload was increasing and evenings were being taken over by mounds of paperwork, coursework, revision and the like. It wasn't getting any lighter I can tell you, even to the point where weekends were getting chunks devoured by essays for English or Technology diagrams. Since I had a zero-level social life it didn't really matter and any time that I did have left was devoted to catching up on Stat Trek news or watching a film or episode in a spare hour or two. Whatever hassles I was getting thrown at from school it was always eased by a bit of relaxation with the crew of an Enterprise. Now this might seem to be ultra-geeky but I managed to get myself a lunchtime job helping out in the school library during this time. It meant if I needed somewhere quite to go on lunches when I was "offduty" it was a suitable bolthole but also, importantly, there was a TV.

It wasn't connected to the main aerial so a bit of daytime telly was out of the question (fortunately) but it was hooked up to a video player. Star Trek:Generations made its way onto video sometime in mid to late 1995 and then only onto rental initially. Hard to imagine but there was a massive gap from its appearance in the cinema. Dad's work contact came in useful however as he did a seriously dodgy copy for me within days of it getting into rental shops and it was of excellent quality. This is where the library TV came in very handy.

Since this was the only copy in known existence (of course) Bondy wanted to watch it. Not willing to hand over the copy I brought it into school and over the course of a few lunchtimes we sat and watched the movie. Initially on Day One of the viewing there was myself, Bondy and a couple of our other friends who had "nothing better to do" than watch Star Trek: Generations. At the end of that lunch hour we were joined by a couple of the younger kids from the school Day Two began with our group plus a couple of hangers on...and, well, over the course of three days the viewing circle had expanded up to the point where people were having trouble getting to the shelves. We realised that there might be a secret audience within the school and over the next few weeks we would spend lunchtimes at the library TV showing a variety of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager episodes to the hungry crowd of Star Trek fans amassing from the lower school years. I still recall watching a group of 20 kids jump about a foot in the air at the "Barclay Spider" moment in Genesis. Sadly as we edged into 1996 this was curtailed severely with first up, our mock exams at the start of the year (just after Christmas believe it or not), then the full-blown GCSE exams in May and June. What we didn't realise at this time was what we'd started.

For those of you in the know, you'll have spotted my glaring(ish) omission. Star Trek: Voyager. While it's not the top of my choice list I still believe that it's a valuable asset to the Roddenberry universe. I first heard about the series in a clipping from Starburst magazine as the seventh season of The Next Generation was coming to an end. Judging from the clipping, which now resides in one of my well-thumbed Star Trek scrapbooks I might have been initially distracted by Borg Universe Riker's incredibly fake super-beard before getting to see what the plan was for the third spin-off. The crew as described were actually pretty spot on to what appeared on the screen just a few months later. The Next Generation finished in 1994 and Voyager premiered in 1995. Bondy was immediately a fan and preferred it over Deep Space Nine anyday. This "disagreement" over the better show was good for a lunchtime discussion and the odd bit of Star Trek related banter and didn't stop us from still lapping up any videos the other bought of the series or magazines we found that covered the latest news. I think it was much more fun looking up new information this way than a few taps of the keyboard and allowing the internet to work its magic. Bondy bought (the last I can remember) every volume of Voyager from the pilot through to at least when we left school in June 1998. For a lot of the time I was probably more up to date with this series than I was with my preferred Deep Space Nine.

That third season of Deep Space Nine was immense and it just got better and better. There were a few duffers but I was at the stage where I would be counting down to a VHS release. After The Search I bought Defiant and Fascination (3.5) if only to see Tom Riker in action (should've had a follow up to this episode) and then Past Tense which had both parts on one cassette. Watching the season was sporadic due to the restrictions of a 15/16 year old's cash flow and parental concern that I was spending too much time and money on Star Trek. Of course in my eyes I wasn't and wished they would just let me get on with it. I managed to get hold of just one more video that year, the finale of the season, The Adversary. I sent Mum to Tesco with some cash when she was doing the weekly shop and was probably waiting on the doorstep to get my hands on it. Impatiently I opened the box....and it was The Die is Cast and Explorers on the VHS label. 

The wonderful people of the supermarket world had failed to check what I'd bought (and so had Mum to be fair). Once the shopping was packed away I demanded a return to Tesco for the correct volume in the correct box (they had managed to give us the right case). Presenting the incorrect cassette it took the shop several attempts before they admitted defeat - and about an hour of wasted time. I was not happy especially after counting the days to see the last episode of the year. Mum demanded the store manager who promptly arrived and offered profuse apologies. He disappeared off following a detailed Trekker explanation of what was wrong and returned five minutes later with the correct tape and a refund. I'd secured £12.99 of Deep Space Nine for nothing. Definitely a result in my book.

Now Voyager does come under a lot of fire, most probably from Niners but even from the start it had some great and unique points that made it stand out and differ from its peers. The Doctor was a stoke of genius as a character, the ship's engines folded up, they were somewhere completely new and Caretaker was a great pilot episode (because they started from Deep Space Nine of course). However, Janeway's accent grated on me like nails on a blackboard and don't start me on Neelix, Over seven years I'd soften considerably mind and come to appreciate the show a lot more. When I get round to the full rewatch I'm certain it'll be a very different experience from 20 years ago. The first year of Voyager wasn't without incident however for the most part it was a bland affair with not much happening. It had similarities to Deep Space Nine's inaugural year with an alien of the week and little else to report...apart from the landing of the ship in the season-straddling The 37's (the only other video I bought from that year of Voyager). Now that was a great touch and I heard about it first through Dad. He came home from work one day and dropped that bomb over tea. Definite kudos was due at that time and like the Defiant opening fire in The Search, Part I, this was one of those series defining moments - but it didn't have anywhere near the same effect on my loyalties and got used sparingly over the following six series. At least it became something to look forward to and not relied on.

The year had much more to offer in Trekdom and I'll explain more next time but there were GCSE's always lurking in the background which meant my focus was elsewhere for a good deal of the time. There was also another challenge rearing its head that would align itself with my journey through Trekdom - girls. Surely I could combine the two without any troubles at all? How wrong can one person be....

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