Sunday, June 12, 2011

An Intro To Star Trek

I decided there could be people reading this blog who are unsure of what level nerdiness I have.  The answer to this problem will be this post giving basic info and the various Star Trek series possibly followed one day by one on races.  I've listed the five television series in chronological order by original airing.

Star Trek: The Original Series

Aired: 1966-1969
Time Period: 2265-2269
79 episodes / 3 seasons
Significant Races: Federation, Klingons, Romulans

Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) is the classic series from the 60s that started Star Trek.  It has a rather different feel than any of the modern Star Treks (which start in the late 80s).  There is a lot more romance than the newer series and the action is cheesy at times.  Having grown up with the modern Star Treks I prefer them.  However, I will admit that the movies from the TOS era are better than the newer movies.

In TOS the starship Enterprise travels around exploring worlds and solving problems that invariably arise at these alien worlds.  A typical episode will involve the Enterprise discovering some unusual phenomenon and then investigating.  This leads to some dramatic problem, either a technical problem that threatens the ship, or a philosophical problem with the culture.  The characters use their resourcefulness to solve these problems and at the end of the show everything is as it began.  The episodes are very much self contained and there isn't much lost by watching them in random order.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Aired: 1987-1994
Time Period: 2364-2370
176 episodes / 7 seasons
Races: Federation, Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, Borg

Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) is set roughly 100 years after TOS.  There are stylistic differences due to the change in time (both in universe and real world), but is otherwise a similar show to TOS.  The Enterprise-D explores, finds something strange, which leads to drama, which is resolved.  I don't want my short write up to be interpreted as a sign this isn't a good series.  Indeed, TNG is considered the best series by many.  There just isn't much more to say other than it is an updated version of the original.  If one wishes to get a general sense for Star Trek it is probably a good intro show.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Aired: 1993-1999
Time Period: 2369-2375
176 episodes / 7 seasons
Races: Federation, Klingons, Romulans, Bajorans, Cardassians, Ferengi, Dominion

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) is an interesting series.  When TOS was created one of the guiding rules is that there are no internal problems in society (at least in the Federation, the analog of the USA that the human race is a part of).  No racism, sexism, money, poverty, sickness, etc.  All the problems come externally.  DS9 changes this and explores a darker side.  I don't want to give the impression that it is completely different than the rest of the Star Trek universe, but there is a clear darker spin on it.  Since DS9 ran concurrently with TNG for a couple years it couldn't use the same formula that TNG and TOS use.  Instead of a ship that travels around the galaxy, DS9 has a space station that the galaxy travels to.

It's necessary here to explain the layout of the Star Trek universe.  In Star Trek the galaxy is divided into four quadrants, with Earth centered along the dividing line between the bottom two quadrants (6 o'clock).  Starting with the bottom left and working counter clock wise they are named Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma.  The normal star trek universe takes place in a rather small portion of the alpha and beta quadrants, however for whatever reason, they really only ever mention the alpha quadrant.  It would take a ship about 100 years to cross the galaxy (about 100,000 light years).  All this means that at the start of DS9 the delta and gamma quadrants are unexplored.

DS9 sets out to explore the gamma quadrant via a newly discovered wormhole.  This wormhole allows instantaneous travel from the alpha quadrant to a point deep within the gamma quadrant.  It is discovered that the gamma quadrant is largely controlled by the Dominion.  An entity created by the "Founders" who either genetically engineered or conquered all the other member races.  The Dominion attempts to conquer the alpha quadrant, which leads to a large scale war.

Because DS9 is stationary the show flows from one episode to the next much more so than other Star Treks.  Besides the regular cast there is a large group of reoccurring characters that show up regularly.  Combined with the long build up to the war, followed by the war itself, this means this show is much better to watch in order.  There is a six and then a ten episode arc later on in the series.  This doesn't mean there aren't a lot of self contained episodes still.  But even those episodes build on past episodes more so than in other Star Treks.

Because of the changes in the style and semi-serialized nature of DS9 it tends to be very polarizing.  There seems to be about equal amounts of people that are sure it is either the worst or best Star Trek series.  I am on the best side of that debate.  In particular, I like the social commentary on terrorism and what is acceptable to give up to win a war.  This is made particularly profound by the fact that the series ended in 1999, before our current wars.

Star Trek: Voyager

Aired: 1995-2001
Time Period: 2371-2378
168 episodes / 7 seasons
Races: Federation, Borg, Kazons, Hirogens

Star Trek: Voyager (VOY) began right as TNG ended, and thus continued the traditional theme of a ship exploring the galaxy from week to week.  However, it dealt with the other unexplored quadrant mentioned above, the delta quadrant.  It does this by having the ship be pulled into this unexplored space in the first episode by a powerful alien.  The ship is then about 70 years away from home and spends the rest of the series attempting to get home.

Since the show is set entirely in this new quadrant there is much less of the traditional races.  In addition, since the ship is moving through the quadrant there are phases when they are near one particular race's territory.  Still the format is fairly similar to TNG/TOS.

The general consensus seems to be that Star Trek series have gotten worst with time.  As such, there are many people that feel VOY is the worst.  Its main flaws are a large amount of technobabble and deus ex machina endings.  Personally, I've never been bothered by those things, and find VOY to be pretty good.

Star Trek: Enterprise

Aired: 2001-2005
Time Period: 2151-2155
97 episodes / 4 seasons
Races: Federation, Vulcans, Klingons, Andorian, Xindi

Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT) serves as a prequel to TOS.  It is set about 100 years prior to TOS.  In this time Earth is just beginning to explore the galaxy, and many things that are common in later years are either missing or discovered during this show.

The format is similar to TNG/TOS, explore a new world every week.  However, it does seem to try to follow DS9 with serialization.  There are a few very long arcs lasting entire seasons.  As I said above, many people feel Star Trek series have only gotten worse with time, and this show is no exception.  When it originally aired I stopped watching half way through its run.

That being said, years later I rewatched it and liked it better.  The first two seasons aren't strong, and have a big time travel arc, which is never that good, but all the Star Treks have had weak beginnings.  The last two seasons get to be pretty good.  it is a shame it was cancelled there, as the show was getting good.  In addition, the show barely touched on two major events that occur around that time (Romulan War, and foundation of Federation).  Had it not been cancelled those would have made great arcs for the following seasons.

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