Monday, July 9, 2018

Five Times That Star Trek Poked Fun at Itself

Star Trek has always been a mixed bag of action, drama, suspense, and even comedy. With more than a half-century of live-action television, animation, and feature length motion pictures, there are always things that become in-jokes among the fans. Whether it is the doomed fate of unnamed crewman in the away team (usually wearing red shirts), the never-ending supply of shuttles on Voyager’s seven-year Delta Quadrant mission, or the yearly situation where Chief O’Brien found himself being tortured, there were always these trends that we as fans just loved to have fun with. Over the years, the producers and writers on Star Trek have not shied away poking fun at themselves. I thought it would be fun to look at how the writers gave us the proverbial nod and wink to the inside jokes that we have come to love. Oh, and a “Spoilers Warning” will be in effect for at least one of these, so be warned.

1. What Is It With Kirk, Anyways? Captain James T. Kirk never seemed to have much difficulty in wooing the ladies. The number of beautiful women that Kirk kissed is a lengthy one. Fast forward to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which was the final swan song for the original cast and crew. As Kirk and McCoy find themselves in yet another dire situation, this time on the Klingon penal colony Rura Penthe. Martia, a mysterious and attractive female prisoner, proposes that Kirk and McCoy help her escape. She seals the deal with the expected lip-lock with our Captain Kirk. McCoy, witnessing this union, rolled his eyes, the way that many of us were doing. Then, as if he was channeling what many of us had been thinking for twenty-five years, he asks “What is it with you, anyway?”. I was in a theatre for the premier of this in my city, and the place was full of Trekkies. The cheers for that line were awesome.

2. Episodic Feel. Star Trek Beyond opens with a fun scene in which Kirk botches up a treaty negotiation, and then proceeds to give his Captain’s Log. In the log, he describes the how for the past three years, the Enterprise’s mission has become to feel episodic. He also mentioned that the Enterprise was on day 966 of its mission. This log is full of inside jokes/homages to the original series. The day 966 is in reference to the month and year that Star Trek premiered (September 1966). The three-year point in their mission pays tribute to the three seasons that Star Trek ran for. As for the feeling of life becoming episodic, well, that shouldn’t have to be explained to even the most casual of fans.

3. Ship in a Bottle. “Ship in a Bottle” picks up the tale of the self-aware holographic character Professor James Moriarty. In Season 2 he was created as a competent challenger for Data, who was portraying Sherlock Holmes. In this episode, he manages to trick Picard, Data, and Lieutenant Barclay into believing that he was able to leave the holodeck. In actuality, he had created a holodeck program within a holodeck program. As the story plays out, the crew create a similar ruse to trick the holographic criminal mastermind. As they take the device that contains Moriarty living his created reality, Picard begins to wonder if perhaps they themselves are living in a reality where their adventures are running inside a device sitting on someone’s table somewhere. Barclay, in a moment of self-doubt, asks the possible computer to end program. Of course, this is all a subtle wink to the television viewing audience at home.

4. Someone Finally Says It. In “Star Trek: First Contact”, which premiered 30 years after Star Trek first hit the airwaves, Picard and his crew travel back in time and encounter legendary warp drive innovator Zephram Cochrane. Eventually, they make the decision to tell him his future place in history. As they explain their overall mission, Cochrane responds with “…and you are all astronauts, on some sort of star trek”. In three decades of film and television, nobody had ever said “star trek”. The closest we ever came was Q mentioning Picard’s “trek among the stars”. Now the father of warp drive gave us the title of our franchise in dialogue. Finally.

5. It’s a Private Matter. For years, fans had wondered why the Klingons had smooth foreheads in the Original series, and yet once the movies came out they suddenly had forehead ridges. This would lead to a distinct and iconic look for the Klingons, and a lot of fan questions at conventions. The standard answer that writers and producers gave us was that the advancements in makeup technology and increased budgets gave the Klingons a more alien look. While many of us accepted and understood that explanation, we always wondered how it could be addressed in canon. While Enterprise provided a great storyline explanation for the discrepancies, it was first addressed in the classic DS9 episode “Trials and Tribbleations”. As the DS9 characters are spliced into the 1967 episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”, Worf and some of the other characters find themselves in the bar surrounded by Klingons that definitely did not look like the Klingons of their era. When they questioned Worf about it, he replied that they were indeed Klingons, and that it was a long story. As Odo, Bashir, and O’Brien pushed for more information, Worf finally ended the discussion by stating that it was a private matter, and one not discussed with outsiders. For almost a decade, that was as close to an explanation as we fans were going to get. Oh, and we’re still waiting for a legit reason for the further change to Klingons in Discovery. Guess that is also something not spoken about with outsiders.

So, did I miss your favourite? Let me know in the comment section about the best times that Star Trek poked fun at itself.

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