Growing up, Star Trek was one of my favourite TV programmes. From watching reruns of the original series in my early teens, to the later Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise series I have remained fascinated by the world of Star Trek. And while I never quite reached “Trekkie”/”Trekker” status and donned a uniform and pair of pointy ears, looking back Star Trek has had an influence on my life both in terms of my interest in science, and in my moral values.
Science in Star Trek
One of the things I always enjoyed about Star Trek was the use of science to solve many of the problems the characters would encounter. My favourite character in the original series was always Spock. And while it soon became clear once I embarked on a career in science, that few problems could be solved by”reversing the polarity” and that “three stranded DNA” seemed rather absurd, I have to credit the writers of Star Trek for playing a part in my interest in science through the positive way they portrayed it.
Star Trek as a Morality Play
Science fiction has often been dismissed by the literatii as low brow and frivolous, overlooking the fact that many science fiction writers have used their work to comment on contentious societal issues, using technology and aliens as a smoke screen to raise issues including racism, cultural tolerance and alternative sexualities. An episode of Star Trek in 1968 is cited as containing the first interracial kiss shown on television. The following year, “Let that be your Last Battlefield” points out the folly of racism, by introducing a race whose faces are coloured both black and white, but discriminate against each other depending on which side of their face is black and which is white.
As time has progressed and new social issues have arisen Star Trek story lines have adapted to these. In the late 1980s, Star Trek: The Next Generation featured a number of strong female characters and pushed the idea of gender equality. And while never going so far as to include a gay or lesbian character, in this or later series (despite the express wish of creator Gene Roddenberry) sexuality has been explored in several episodes, again using the smoke screen of aliens to lessen any controversy.
Of all of the science fiction series I am aware of, only Star Trek seems to have created such a wide-spread following (obsession?) amongst fans. With series that have spanned at least five decades, fans cover a wide age range and of varying levels of obsession.
Indeed, I was recently fascinated (and delighted) to find that fans are actually producing their own series of Star Trek inspired episodes. While not quite the same as the television version, with less experienced actors and a limited budget, I have been most impressed as the writers and actors continue to explore the Star Trek universe and “go boldly where no one has gone before.”