Monday, 2 June 2014

@45 @30 @15

When I started out on this post there was but one thing on my mind; The Search for Spock; 1984 - 2014.

Thing is that sometimes a post doesn't end up where you expected and I'm kind of glad it didn't on this occasion. You see, this week is something special in Star Trek history - an alignment of the heavens if you will, with three important anniversaries all falling in the space of just THREE days.

First up and probably getting the most coverage is the 30th anniversary of everybody's favourite mid-trilogy Star Trek movie on June 1st. 

Coming off the back of The Wrath of Khan was never going to be easy and the third motion picture still does take some hack for being overly dark in light of the events which closed the previous movie. Indeed, the main plot is pretty obvious - hint - it's in the title.

I really like Star Trek III as there's a lot going for it and a lot does happen here. Christoper Lloyd isn't ground-breaking as Kruge and the Vulcan stuff at the end might drag just a little but overall it's a solid entry into the movie library. Stealing the Enterprise is a brilliant scene especially with their pursuit being captained by the pompous and over-confident Styles on the Excelsior. Returning home in battered glory, breaking McCoy out of prison, saving Spock are all excellent snippets from this sometimes shunned sequel. It's only real fault being that it lies in the middle of two Star Trek movie heavyweights in II and IV.

The Search for Spock is heaped with firsts believe it or not; both the Excelsior and Oberth Classes debuted here and would become a staple of the Star Trek universe most notably in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.  For those who want more of USS Grissom, have a look at this audio series which focuses on their mission in the two weeks before the events of Star Trek III.

The Bird of Prey decloaked for the first time over the Merchantman and has also been a staple of the franchise to this day. That freighter too was reused many times in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine  but made its debut here. Leonard Nimoy became the first Star Trek actor to helm a production; Saavik was the first character to be recast mid-series as Robin Curtis replaced Kirstie Alley; we got to see the officer's suede bomber jacket (ok, little stretched here but indulge me) and the Head of Starfleet too. It's jam-packed with stuff to keep going back to and finding. 

And at 45...

But while we've gone all hysterical over facts from The Search for Spock let's look back at what we said right at the start; three anniversaries over three days. June 2nd marks 15 years since the premiere of the final episode of Deep Space Nine while the 3rd is 45 years since the first airing of the last episode of The Original Series. While each of them merits a nod at least, it's more interesting to look at their positions within the franchise history. Standing at 1969, 1984 and 1999, these are anniversaries that also mark distinct snapshots of the different place Star Trek has had throughout it's near-50 year lifespan.

Turnabout Intruder marked the end of the original, curtailed, five year mission and 45 years later look where we are. Think about it - at that point it was all over, two fan campaigns had brought the show back but this time the network had cut the budget and buried the show in the Friday night Slot of Death to ensure that there would be no season four. For all intents and purposes Star Trek should have died that night - another short-lived show that would end up as a great pub quiz answer. You can imagine it; "Ok...question five; What space-based series starring William Shatner (what happened to him?) aired between 1966 and 1969 and had two pilot episodes?"

Lots of head scratching, murmours and some guy in the corner is the only one to get it right. Everyone else puts either Blakes 7, Lost in Space or The Outer Limits.

At this time all we had were those 79 episodes and the unaired pilot. That was it; your lot. This was Star Trek at its most pure and undiluted, untouched by anyone else but Roddenberry (and latterly Fred Freiberger). Turnabout Intruder also belays that splendid male-centric attitude of the 1960's - only men can command starships, something that would only be seen to have changed onscreen in the opening minutes of The Voyage Home and the USS Saratoga. Notably that would also be a female, black captain - and a black captain would also be helming a space station in later years.

Now, flash forward (again) to 1984 with the help of your Bajoran Orb. Off the back of $139,000,000 from The Motion Picture and $96,800,000 from The Wrath of Khan, the franchise is heading high. (Just a quick side-point too that this week (June 4th) is also the anniversary of the premiere of the second motion picture.) It's been revitalised thanks to Star Wars and also thanks to syndication which meant that many thousands were able to enjoy the 79 original episodes, leading to huge convention numbers, the naming of the space shuttle after the USS Enterprise and the possibility of a new series entitled Phase II.

The last bit didn't happen and we got The Motion Picture instead but with The Search for Spock it's a calm before a storm. While resolving a small matter of resurrecting Spock and tying up a few loose ends from it's illustrious predecessor, this was the time that Star Trek was on the way to some of its greatest successes. We were still two years away from  The Voyage Home and three away from the premiere of The Next Generation and yet there was genuine excitement about the show. This wasn't a cheap sequel, clocking in at $18,000,000 (six more than Star Trek II) and blowing up the Enterprise was a statement that things would be getting shaken up - and even the ending declared The Adventure Continues. There was no doubt there would be more to come.

If you look at this, the Harve Bennett era, you'll see the opulence of the sets, the grandiose entrance of the Enterprise to Spacedock, the "WTF" attitude to blowing up a screen icon and the ability to woo Christopher Lloyd to the film. It showed that Star Trek was accepted in the big time. People wanted to be linked to it and it was an important part of American culture and had been embraced by countries across the world too. By this point, 15 years after Turnabout Intruder, there had only been The Animated Series and two multi-million dollar motion pictures added to the library. This was Star Trek in the midst of its big screen era without a TV series to support it but that situation would be rectified very, very soon after.

Closer to...

Slingshot yourself around the sun again and take a trip to 1999. How different a moment in Star Trek history is this? 

Here we are at the final episode of the third series. What You Leave Behind isn't as good as All Good Things... (and I'm a HUGE Deep Space Nine fan) but it's probably the most final finale of the lot. Sisko is gone, Odo is gone, the war is over. Voyager still had two years to go and at the end of that series all the crew were still alive if not together (as Neelix was still in the Delta Quadrant).  Like The Next Generation it could have easily continued in some form and rumour has it that there had been considerations to bring her home earlier and have some episodes set in the Alpha Quadrant.

This story rounded out the story excellently although I'm still not sure how long Dukat and Winn are in the Fire Caves considering they're pottering around in them while Sisko goes all the way to Cardassia, fights a war and comes back.  I was sorry to see this show go because I felt that the quality and differences it brought to the franchise were not as strong in Voyager which was much more in the vain of The Next Generation.

I digress...back to Deep Space Nine. By this point in time we'd had 176 episodes of Picard and crew, 174 episodes of Sisko and his team, 79 episodes and an unaired pilot of The Original Series, 22 animated tales 120 episodes of Voyager and nine movies. That's a lot of material and most of it from after The Search for Spock. But What You Leave Behind also comes at a rather crucial point in the story - the start of the slope in popularity and ultimately the axing of Enterprise in 2005. For me this was the "golden age" coming to a close - we'd had a great run from 1987 on both small and big screen but the engine was starting to wind down and two years later with the finale of Voyager and the start of Enterprise it was even more evident.

The three anniversaries stake out three different takes and management eras too; Roddenberry, Bennett and Berman. Three very different styles and temperaments in control. Roddenberry's vision guided the two that followed but Bennett moulded his Star Trek into the classic "space opera", much more militaristic than his predecessor might have liked. Berman on the other hand, with input from Roddenberry in the earlier years of The Next Generation returned to the origins laid down by the Great Bird but once he passed, the doors opened to countless new possibilities and the finale of Deep Space Nine in 1999 for me is the culmination of all that. It was a closure, the most ceetain ending of any Star Trek series intended or not. The final frontier was safe once again and Berman's work was done - at least it maybe should have been.

What You Leave Behind mirrors the times just as the big bangs and OTT of The Search for Spock mark out the cash-rich '80's, Deep Space Nine's closer was dark, ominous and less than happy. Darker times were ahead and the future was uncertain but even then there was time for celebration. Not many were convinced this was going to work but it had and even managed to go out in true style with its head held proud.

It has been a few years since I last watched both Turnabout Intruder and What You Leave Behind but that doesn't mean I don't remember them as good quality segments of both series. I'll get to the latter in due course as I'm re-running Deep Space Nine currently (up to The Way of the Warrior at the moment). As reflections of their times we've seen here just how much a window into each era of the franchise they can be, spread evenly over 30 years from '69 to '99 - and what changes we saw in management, style and execution. 

If you're counting, don't worry, we've not forgotten and we'll be marking 25 years of The Final Frontier in due course!

Do you think that these three anniversaries mark out the differences in Star Trek over the years? Do you have a particular memory of Star Trek III? Turnabout Intruder? What You Leave Behind? Talk about them below!

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