The other day, I was watching Star Trek (the original series, naturally) and I thought of two interesting questions. The first was “what would Star Trek be like if it got commissioned now as a new television series?” The second was “what would be different about today’s culture if Trek had never existed?”
The effects of the new series would be much better for one thing. Gone are the days where you can redress your regular set and put up some curtains to depict an alien ship (“The Corbomite Manevuer”) and the truly bad effects (and bad episodes such as “Spock’s Brain”) would be mocked within minutes of the airing on the internet forums.
The seasons would work on a more arc-based layout, with ongoing narratives driving the plot, much like 24 and Heroes did and several other shows still do. There would be more than one two-parter throughout the entire series and the show would most likely be unnecessarily dark and gritty (following the trend of films since 9/11).
And I would hope that blatantly sexist lines such as “Believe me, it’s better to be dead than to live alone in the body of a woman,” as well as acting like a Nazi to a German officer because of his name (one of the plot holes of “The Squire Of Gothos”) are just some of the things that would never get past the censors today, but with the existence of Quagmire from Family Guy and Barney from How I Met Your Mother it’s hard to say whether they would or not.
If the look of the reboot movie is anything to go by, the ship would look a lot more hi-tech than it does and the look of a tricorder would owe a whole lot to the iPad. The uniforms would be a lot different, as the original costume designer died a while back (this means velour would no longer be the order of the day). While the amount you can show on television has changed since then, the women wearing those costumes still manage to look appealing today, which is quite an achievement. In the episode “Requiem For Methuselah”, the character of Flint would not have worn some kind of laughable cape and tights combination.
Of course, that episode would probably not be made in the new series, as the writer Jerome Bixby died in 1998 (just after completing his screenplay of the excellent movie The Man From Earth). Without him, the mirror universe storyline would probably not be anywhere near as famous and used as it is today, as he wrote Mirror, “Mirror”.
Indeed, the series as a whole would be drastically different anyway due to the death of “The Great Bird of the Galaxy” in 1991. Gene Roddenberry was responsible for the idea and the implementation, so anything else would most likely be not as good as the original, without the influence of what came before. If it even gets created in this mirror universe at all, which is quite unlikely. Because the show was inspired by Westerns (“Wagon Train to the stars” as his famous pitch to the network ran), which haven’t been popular as a genre for a while, it was very much of its time. Thus the idea would be less likely to recur in anyone’s mind today, except perhaps as a George Lucas-style throwback to Lost In Space (although that would’ve existed without Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry also had a hand in its production as they stole his ideas about making a cost-effective science fiction show) and other science fiction shows.
If Star Trek had never existed at all, our world would look very different today. Something you might not be aware of is that the inventor of the mobile phone was inspired by the communicator from Star Trek (and of course, I do slide my phone open in the same way that Kirk uses his communicator) and that sliding doors came from the show as well. At least the real ones are automated, rather than pulled apart by stagehands whenever somebody walked towards them.
Fanfic would be different today as well, as the famous term ‘Mary Sue’ to mean an original character who everybody falls in love with and saves the day, did in fact come from a Star Trek fanfic. The convention of labelling homosexual pairings as ‘slash’ fiction comes from Trek as well, as people described Kirk and Spock pairings as Kirk/Spock.
Much is made of the progressiveness of Star Trek, featuring an Japanese-American who wasn’t forced to speak with an Asian accent, an African manning the interstellar phones and what is typically mis-labelled as the first mixed-race kiss on American television (according to William Shatner’s book Star Trek Memories, they used the take where they didn’t actually kiss). Without these people on the bridge of the Enterprise, two notable people wouldn’t have been inspired to go into their careers: Mae Jemison, the first African-American in space (and she later had a guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation – the first real astronaut to star in Trek at all), and Whoopi Goldberg, inspired to go into acting because of Nichelle Nichols’ performance as Uhura. Frankly, it’s your choice whether that’s a bad thing or not.
William Shatner and his co-stars wouldn’t have had anywhere near the heights of the career that they have now. Shatner has four successful television series under his belt, including Rescue 911 and T.J. Hooker. And of course, who could forget his infamous rendition of “Rocket Man”? It’s likely that none of that would’ve happened if it wasn’t for Star Trek. Okay, “Rocket Man” we could’ve done without.
Lastly, if Star Trek had never existed as it does now, I would have to have a new show that I watch rather too much. Yes, like any other series it had its problems (as Philip J. Fry once said, there were “79 episodes, about 30 good ones”), but it showed the way for a brighter future. It has inspired many people to lead lives beyond basements and I’m hoping that this is one vision of the future that comes true sooner rather than later.