Star Trek! Observations About Things That Don’t Matter

I just finished watching the first generation Star Trek movies (1-8), after I watched the original TV series, and I have a few observations. First, to reiterate my last post, almost all red shirts killed were security officers. It makes sense for them to die. Shut up about it. Instead of saying, “Uh-oh, he’s wearing a red shirt!” say, “Uh-oh, he’s a security officer on a dangerous mission!”

Second, Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock has some serious plot holes. Spock’s dead, but he left his spirit in McCoy for some reason. OK. So now they need to put his spirit back in his body. So Spock’s dad gets all pissy because Kirk jettisoned his body onto a planet, as part of a funeral. Go get his body and bring it back, says dad. So they go to the planet and find that he’s been magically reborn as a baby which grew into a full grown adult, because the planet was magic due to the Genesis Project or whatever. They bring the full grown Spock body back, put his spirit back in it, all is back to normal.

EXCEPT that NO ONE expected him to be reborn from the Genesis Project. So Spock’s dad is upset because Kirk hasn’t brought back his rotting body, which would obviously be of no help to resurrecting Spock. He’s “vulcan mad” at Kirk because Kirk did the only thing that could possibly have revived Spock, although no one could have known it. So… the plot is a deadlocked contradiction. There was no reason to get his body, except to find it was miraculously restored to life. What was Spock’s dad going to do if Kirk returned with Spock’s corpse? Bring it back to life? With what technology? This whole ritual of putting souls back in the dead’s body is only found in this movie, I believe, although there are instances of transferring Katras around to different people. Am I missing something?

Also, the Klingons (lead by Christopher Lloyd) were incredibly impressed with the Genesis Project’s destructive capacity, since it can destroy and recreate an entire planet’s biosphere. But why? It’s expensive and really hard to do. It was well established in the original show that the Enterprise’s phasers (and presumably the Klingon Bird of Prey’s) could annihilate a planet’s population in minutes. Whatever.

Before I get to more weird observations, I want to note how incredibly progressive the original show was. It was the mid 60’s, and Star Trek featured several black characters, most of them doctors or scientists. Uhura was a black woman, on the bridge of the Enterprise, and she did more than handle communications. Frequently, when the computers on the bridge went awry, it would be her and Spock rewiring them under the consoles.

Chekov was another remarkable character. During the Cold War, Roddenberry made the Enterprise’s primary tactical officer a Russian. Not only was he Russian, but most of his lines were about how awesome Russia was. Yet he was a trusted member of the crew.

And of course, Spock represented geeks, and their sometimes difficulty with emotions.

Star Trek also: promoted birth control; fought superstition; spoke against dogmatic religion and nationalism; presented an Utopic future without money or capitalism; spoke critically of the use of nuclear weapons; spoke for peace; and advocated reaching out to even the most vicious enemies.

That said, most of the women in Star Trek are 60’s stereotypes- weak minded and dependent.

Here’s the primary technical issue I have with the show- The speed of the Enterprise and the scope of the distances involved were not serious concerns to the people making the show. Obviously, no one expected that this cheap B-grade sci-fi show would become what it did. So it’s not really that shocking when in early episodes the Enterprise zooming off to visit other galaxies, and sometimes fleeing an entire galaxy because of aliens in one solar system! Later, the show was confined to a small section of the Milky Way galaxy.

The speed of the warp drive’s various levels is also erratic. And the show and movies play fast and loose with the difference between warp speed and sublight speeds.

In season 3, episode 3, “The Paradise Syndrome,” Spock and McCoy have to leave a planet to stop a giant meteor from hitting the planet. Spock says that the meteor is going to hit the planet in 2 months, unless they alter its path within a few hours. So they travel at Warp 9 for “several hours” to reach it. Warp 9 is established as 1500 times the speed of light. Assuming that they traveled for only 2 hours, that would be 3000 light hours, or more than 20,000 AU. Each Astronomical Unit is equal to the average distance between the Earth and the Sun. That would take 115 days to traverse at the speed of light, and meteors travel at a tiny fraction of that speed.

This sort of thing happens a lot in the show, and in some of the movies. In the first Star Trek movie, a giant cloud surrounding a space ship is first seen in Klingon space and then is approaching Earth within days, without ever apparently going into warp.

Another weird thing about the show is Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development, summarized as follows:

“The theory was that similar planets with similar environments and similar populations tended to gravitate toward similar biological developments over time. Although initially applicable only to biology it was later expanded to include a tendency to move toward similar sociological developments as well with sentient beings.”
From here:

Most “aliens” in Star Trek looked completely human. Most spoke English. Many planets had independently “evolved” English. Some looked exactly like time periods from Earth. “They’re going through the 1920’s right now”. In other words, it was an excuse to use the studio’s sets to recreate different time periods in Earth’s history. It was cheap and convenient, and allowed for lessons about how humans would evolve beyond contemporary 60’s barbarities.

From episode 43, “Bread and Circuses,” Spock remarks on the discovery that the aliens on a planet they are visiting speak English, “Complete Earth parallel. The language here is English.” They needed some way to talk to aliens. This was before the Next Generation’s universal translator, remember. In one case, even the continents looked exactly like Earth’s.

They played pretty loose even with Hodgkin’s law. If there was parallel development, shouldn’t there be more people speaking Chinese? Or Hindi? And why are cave dwellers speaking English? Blame it on American cultural bias and convenience.

The thing I took away was that audience’s today are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be. I have fun nitpicking with TOS, but it took shortcuts out of necessity, to tell stories about how society is and how it could change for the better. Technical details are secondary to that. If you can say about any TV show that it changed human culture for the better, surely Star Trek is in that category.


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