117 thoughts on “Life imitates art: a Twitter exchange

    1. Ditto. Fans of the original series (I was 11 years old when it appeared and loved it) will remember that Captain Kirk was always telling helmsman Soo Loo (sp.?) to move into, maintain, or leave standard orbit. And Spock’s sensors (he always had to bend over to look at them) was always trying to pick up life forms on the planet below. So – Great exchange! The original series (the only one I’ve seen) was so mind-blowing to a person with a nascent interest in science, and Gene Roddenberry (an agnostic) built the series to tackle philosophical issues in indirect ways.

      1. It was Sulu.

        And there was at least one episode that was basically full-on Christian evangelism, complete with reading Bible Babble from some alien version of the text exactly like the Earthly one…apparently, Jesus made an appearance there. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was some sort of Christmas special.


        1. Are you thinking of the “What if the Roman Empire never fell?” episode? These kind of “parallel society” episodes were a popular theme (they also did 30’s gangsters and Nazis, as I recall). The slaves in the Roman episode were “sun worshippers”. At the very end they were revealed to be “Son [of God] worshippers”. The overall theme of Star Trek was defiantly humanistic– if men (or aliens) of good will cooperate, there is no problem that can’t be solved, no obstacle that can’t be overcome by reason and hard work. One of the movies was even about how the religious are deluded and there is no need for a personal God. (The Star Trek universe allowed for deism.) This contrasts strikingly with Star Wars, in which effort is unavailing, and belief in and submission to the “force” is the only way forward.

          1. I think you’ve identified the episode I’m thinking of.

            But, yes, there were also episodes less favorable towards religion. I seem to recall one in which a petty-but-powerful alien impersonated one or more of the Greek gods. Though decidedly unflattering specifically towards Paganism and never mentioning Christianity, if I remember right, the picture it painted was broad enough to be unking towards all religions. The Next Generation picked up on that same theme and ran with it with the “Q” character. And then there were the “wormhole aliens” of Deep Space Nine, again the same basic idea.

            Still, on the whole, Star Trek seemed to me to be decidedly less adventurous with respect to religion than it was, for example with respect to race relations. But maybe I’m not remembering it right, and somebody else can help set me straight.


            1. I preferred the cynicism of Blakes 7.
              Blake: Does it support any intelligent life?
              Avon: Does the Liberator?
              (their ship)

              1. I was introduced to Blake’s 7 by a colleague when I lived in the UK in the 90s. The plots were mildly interesting, but the production values were awful. It also taught me that every alien planet will look like an abandoned quarry in Essex.

              2. @Ben

                I think you might find it (Blakes 7) rather dated, and the production values (i.e. the sets and the ‘special effects’) were awful, due to limited budget. So don’t expect too much.

              3. Yes, I remember reading in the Radio Times once that they basically spent the special effects budget for the whole of the first season of Blake’s 7 on the model of the Liberator. And for the second (or was it third?) season, they couldn’t even afford Blake!

                Let’s face it, you don’t watch British TV for production values. I saw a couple of episodes of the original Upstairs Downstairs recently. Talk about rickety sets! (Though I guess Downton Abbey is a bit swankier – now with added Shirley Maclaine!)

              4. @Pete Cockerell

                It was the third season that was without Blake, mainly because the actor didn’t want to continue, he was afraid of getting typecast and some of his professional friends looked down on TV Sci-fi. He came back in the last ep on the understanding he was going to be killed. (Source – several interviews on Youtube I’ve just watched).

                Which led to the intriguing point that for most of the episodes there weren’t actually ‘seven’, and for the 3rd and 4th seasons there was no Blake.

              5. @Ant

                Also, IMO, the real star of the show (Avon that is). Blake was always too one-dimensional a character to appeal much to me. He was definitely a ‘goody’. I prefer interesting characters of less certain moral attributes – even when they’re taking the side of good, you’re not quite sure when they’re going to stop.

                By the way, you’re wrong about Avon – he wasn’t in the very first episode. Which means nobody was in all episodes (unless possibly Vila?)

              6. @ant

                Avon most certainly did get the best lines (and Paul Darrow delivered them with style).

                The dialogue (almost) made up for the un-special effects and the cardboard sets.

            1. Yes — that’s it.

              It also played on the whole “Feed ’em to the Lions” anti-Pagan propaganda that the Christian persecution complex later invented.

              All in all, not an episode for Roddenberry to be proud of.


              1. The ending of that episode garnered a collective (and derisive) groan from the daily Star Trek crowd in the common room in my rez, c.1977. I was an evangelical at the time, and even I found it excruciatingly hokey.

    1. Agreed! Shocking!!!

      Meanwhile, the most romantic after-school times I ever had were snuggled next to my boyfriend, watching the original Star Trek at his house… Science and snuggles, togther! Hard to beat that…

      Did I mention that it was romantic?

      1. I never watched Trek, but I did absorb enough to appreciate the BBS taglines…

        To boldly split infinitives no man has split before.
        Very funny Scotty, now beam down my clothes too.
        First Directive be *&^%ed – set phasers to ‘incinerate’
        Beam me up Scotty – this isn’t the mens room

        ..and millions more

    2. I’m surprised at the surprise that someone could have not watched Star Trek. I am Coyne’s age and I can also say that I never watched Star Trek. Between the ages of 17 and 25 I was pursuing education, girls, and other things that were much more important to me than watching television. Name anything that was on television during that (almost) decade of my life and I probably never saw it.

    1. Apparently, DeForest Kelley (who played McCoy) used to joke that he feared that his gravestone would bear the phrase, “He’s dead, Jim.” Someone should tally how many times he said essentially this phrase in the original three-year run. Must be a huge number.

    2. Variations thereof=20X
      And DeForest Kelley refused to say the line in “The Wrath of Khan”.

      BTW, I’m picturing Prof. Coyne saying,”I’m a Dr., not a Star Trek fan”.

  1. Star Trek is fun but it’s hard to watch if people set expectations for it because it is rarely a great show, it’s more of a great… well, piece of culture I guess.

    Deep Space Nine however is a significant precursor to modern serialized TV drama and easily my favorite Trek. It has real characters, not just the utopian ones that populated the Enterprise.

    At any rate, I’d recommend DS9 as a brilliant series (though it sometimes falls short of the xpectations it set) independent of it being Trek. If you just want to see what Trek is all about though, go with ToS and TNG first.

    1. I have never thought of OST characters as utopian, quite the contrary. The characters and acting style were definitely Shakespearean though. Or, more generally, exaggeratedly dramatic.

      1. Roddenberry’s Trek was a vision of an enlightened society that had gotten over a lot of the social problems of the 20th Century. I admit though that calling the characters utopian is an exaggeration, but they were certainly less flawed than good dramatic characters and represented this idealistic society that was past these problems and usually only encountered conflict from the outside.

        In contrast DS9 has flawed humans and moral ambiguity – drama from within essentially. While that makes it a better series to me and many others, it also makes it a betrayal of Rodenberry’s vision to some (especially with events such as those from In the Pale Moonlight which to many DS9 fans is the single best episode of Trek ever).

          1. That was weird. Kirk could bounce around the universe boinking aliens at will (implied), but it was a big deal that he kissed a human woman with darker skin.

            1. & funny how those alien females were always humanoid and caucasian (and female, for that matter; why should the plumbing always be the same?).

              I don’t think he ever kissed an Andorian (blue humanoid with horns/antennae) or a Klingon. Do we know if the Gorn in the “Arena” episode was male or female? Not that Kirk kissed his opponent anyway… The Horta (“The Devil In the Dark”) was presumably female but kissing her would’ve been problematic for Kirk.


              1. 1. That was Pike, not Kirk.
                2. Vina really was a caucasian human; the Orion slave girl was just a Talosian illusion. (As was the “beautiful” Vina.)


              1. Haha. Given the amount of ST slash fiction out there, I’m sure that’s one of the common couplings.

                “Amok Time” is one of my “I can remember where I was at the time” moments. I was round my friend David’s house (we were both about 7 or 8) and his dad told us that Captain Kirk dies in tonight’s episode. When I got home I could barely bring myself to watch it, so devastated was I. Of course I did, and was rewarded with Spock’s short-lived emotional outburst when he discovered he hadn’t killed Kirk.

        1. I never watched DS9 but I’ve been hearing for years about how good it is. I see it’s avaialable on Netflix streaming, so I’ll definitely be checking it out.

          On the subject of sexual issues, I remember reading that Roddenberry got a lot of pressure to add gay characters to TNG, but I don’t think he ever did. There were a couple of episodes dealing with alien sexuality that seemed to be thinly-disguised commentaries on homosexuality and gay rights.

          1. If you are going to watch DS9 based on this (and perhaps other) recommendation I’ll add this: The first season is basically like any other Trek in that it has stand alone episodes, however some are very good (it’s much better than TNG’s first season overall).

            At the end of the second season the series begins to take off and mid-third season is when the serialization and risk-taking episodes begin (Improbable Cause/The Die is Cast). There are still occasional weak episodes that don’t tie in to the overall story and some of the worst stand-alones arguably come late in the series, but overall it’s worth the… well… Trek.

            1. Good to know. I wasn’t impressed with the first season of TNG and almost gave up on the show. But I’m glad I didn’t because the later seasons were much better.

  2. Ok, so that exchange warmed my heart enough to stop hating twitter for a nanosecond.

    Apropos of this subject: any self-respecting Trek fan would have recognized the source of my screen name:


    The episode was about as explicitly anti-religion as Star Trek got – a false God, Kirk and his crew freeing a people of mindless worship amd craven fear of a deity – the false
    God “Vaal.”

    I’ve been going through the original series again on Blu-Ray and while I’m no rabid Trekkie, I believe Nimoy’s Spock to be one of the most original and perfectly realized characters ever pulled off by an actor on TV.
    Unfortunately no one else has really been able to pull of being a Vulcan except Nimoy.


      1. Yes, Mark Leonard. Also, Arlene Martel, who, as T’Pring, described to Spock her plan to insure that she would have her preferred mate, Stonn, rather than Spock, her betrothed. Spock called her plan “Logical, flawlessly logical”, to which she replied, “I am honored.”

    1. I always thought Spock was a rather cartoonish character. His “logic” usually seemed more like an explanation devised by the writers to serve the needs of the plot than a genuinely logical analysis. I loved the show (the original series, in reruns) as a kid, but watching a few episodes recently it now seems very dated and amateurish. TV has come a long way since the 60s.

      1. All the characters were cartoonish at times. In retrospect, I find the whole “Logic vs. Emotion” theme superficial and fallacious (especially as played out with Spock and McCoy as cardboard cutouts representing their respective ends of the polarity). Emotion is what drives life, is what makes it worth living — there is no syllogism that ends with “Therefore I should be alive”, that doesn’t appeal to someone’s emotional state somewhere along the way. Logic (ie: rationality) is what we must use to choose optimally among possible goods we might pursue, and determine how best to pursue them.

  3. Just a note here. Real (serious?) Star Trek fans think of themselves as “Trekkers.” “Trekkies’ are teen-age girls who think they’re in love with Capt. Kirk. Calling a serious Star Trek fan a Trekkie is a sign of ignorance (could also be a put down).

    1. Oh brilliant – laughing till the tears run down my face! Many thanks, I hadn’t seen that before.

      Please don’t ask me for translations, too much gets lost. “Set phasers to malky” – wonderful!

      1. To clarify, the red shirts/dresses were the uniform of the engineering department (blue was science/medical and yellow was command/flight), which included security, and they were most often the bit characters who would accompany the more senior officers on the landings.

        Naturally, whens someone died it was pretty much always a person in red. However, not everyone who wore red shirts died.

        1. “yellow” – According to the Star Fleet Technical Manual (1st ed., Stardate 7501.11… um, 1975), this was officially “tenne” (tenné), but is more often referred to now as “gold”. In fact, the costumes were green, appearing as yellow due to the vagaries of studio lighting and cameras. Except for Kirk’s “ballet top” and dress uniform, both of a different material from the normal tunics, which faithfully appeared as green.


          PS. But did everyone who died wear a red shirt?

          PPS. I’m not really a Star Trek geek. I just happen to have that one piece of fandom lying around in my study… 

    1. For those interested, John Scalzi wrote a book called Redshirts that revolved around the red shirted crew members *figuring out* that they were expendable – and doing something about it.

      It wasn’t bad; a fun concept, anyway.

      1. In the Star Trek (plus much other sci fi) parody Galaxy Quest, Sam Rockwell’s character was a “red shirt” on TV, and has a panic attack when he fears that he is to become the expendable “red shirt” in real life, too. He is consoled when one of the other characters suggests that rather than being the crewman who dies 5 minutes into the show, he’s the “plucky comic relief”.

          1. It had some excellent bits in it, though I suspect I missed a lot of refs, being a atrekkie.
            (Background: the technically advanced but very naive aliens (they could not comprehend lies or fiction) had built a cruiser based on Trek-like TV show signals from earth, which functioned exactly like the fictional TV one).

            So one incident was a race to stop the self-destruct before it blew up the ship, they failed to reach it in time but it stopped anyway, on 001. It took me a while to realise why – TV-show self-destructs always stop on 001. So the alien one did too! Neat!

            1. Since you mention that, it occurs to me that people in their early 20’s or younger now probably wouldn’t understand much of that movie. I think a lot of it, as you noted, revolves around recognizing the tropes that many of us “older” folks grew up watching in various shows.

              Now that there are fewer sci fi shows using those specific tropes, I imagine a lot of the jokes would be meaningless. “What? That’s just stupid. And why do they hate cons so much?”

  4. I am rather surprised that you have never seen Star Trek. It is, in all it’s incarnations, but mostly the initial series, probably the most influential ‘event’ (I suppose that is a good enough word as any to encompass the whole phenomenon as an entity), of the 20th century. At least according to NASA, most medical and other scientific and/or engineering societies. (please see “How William Shatner Changed the World”) You might be astounded by how much of your everyday life is affected by it.

      1. The characters and/or scripts were not an inspiration. It was the ‘scientific’ gadgets that inspired the 11 year old fans to become scientists and engineers and build the devices used in the show.

        1. I think that old Hitchens quote, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” applies rather well to this case. Especially if you claim a TV show is the “most influential” event of a century which saw the beginnings of, among other things, such innovations as antibiotics, semi-conductors, universal computers and nuclear energy: most of which predated the show in question.

        2. Any evidence for that? Any evidence that ST was influential in the career choice of any kid who became a scientist/engineer and invented something significant? As opposed to being a byproduct of said kid’s technically-inclined leanings? Or as opposed to any of the other scifi books/TV series around that also used teleports and energy weapons and computers of various sorts?

          Correlation does not imply causation. One might as well credit Ford** cars with making them mechanically inclined.

          **GM enthusiasts feel free to substitute ‘Chev’ – it’ll be just as valid.

          Sorry, but I’m a atrekkie – I have no faith in Trek. 😉

          1. Further to that, I’d think Arthur C Clarke probably has a better claim to inspiring technological developments than ST, though I’m sceptical of the claims of some of his more enthusiastic proponents. I think Asimov and Heinlein probably rate a mention here, too.

            1. I remember reading a Heinlein novel that opened with a boy on horseback in the middle of nowhere answering his telephone, and thinking how neat a fictional device that was but also that it was utterly unrealistic, that anything like that in the real world would be a massive party line.

              And Clarke, of course, gets the credit for the geosynchronous telecommunications satellites….



            1. I’m suspicious of anecdotal evidence. Since any mention of the best-known TV sci-fi series will probably elicit a response “oh yeah, I watched that”. (I suspect “Dallas” or (in past decades) “Gunsmoke” would elicit a similar response, similarly “Dr Who” in the UK – ever heard of Daleks? ;). Even I ‘know’ enough about Trek, never having watched an entire episode, to comprehend most references.

              In similar vein to mention of the Ford Mustang – even people who never owned one (or any Ford) ‘know’ about the Mustang.

              1. IIRC, quickly after the Curiosity landing, there were YouTube videos on a NASA channel with interviews of various people involved, and one said he was inspired by Star Trek. This is why I mentioned it. I just spent ten minutes trying to find those initial interviews, can’t, but enjoyed some newer ones, anyway.

    1. I saw an interview with Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) where she mentioned that she had been planning to leave the show because she didn’t think they were doing enough with her character. Then she met Martin Luther King, who turned out to be a fan and told her how important the show was for presenting a beautiful vision of a future of racial equality and integration. So she stayed. It was a very moving interview.

      1. She also became a recruiter for NASA speaking out to support women, especially black women to enter fields that had traditionally male domains.

  5. I do love the irony of an entire thread dedicated to esoteric discussions of a subject which our esteemed host avowedly knows nothing about 😉

    1. 😀

      I would have loved to get a degree in Star Trek-ology. It’d be a lot more relevant than Theology 😉

  6. I was a fairly rabid SF fan until sometime around 1980. At that time the importance of biology came to the fore, and more and more SF stories were based on really bad biology. I found that I could no longer suspend disbelief.

    I just gave my 12 year old grandson the first two Tarzan books. I think that reading them at about that age was very important to my mental development.

    It seems to me that a minority of scientists really like SF, while a majority do not care for it. Just personal observation.

    1. There is a hidden treasure of a book I would recommend, and though I think I was 6 when it was given to me, it was so amazingly accurate and understandable 50 years ago, I went online to replace it, three years ago. It won at least one educational award and is still as good as I remembered it.

      It’s called, “Red Man, White Man, African Chief.” It tells the story of skin color, starting with plant colors and microscopic views, establishing science as its base, and then continues on to animals in general, then humans in particular. It is remarkable.

Leave a Reply