Tag Archives: Star Trek: The Next Generation

Trendy Star Trek Documentaries

Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary has brought a lot of attention to the franchise in the past couple of years, along with the release of Star Trek Beyond (which deserved better buzz than it got) and the sad death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015. One effect of all this is the appearance of several new, readily-available documentaries that may interest my fellow Trekkies. I’ve put them in order from best to worst.

For the Love of Spock (2016)

For the Love of Spock promo

The best of the four documentaries, and for me the saddest, is For the Love of Spock. Leonard Nimoy was working on it with his son Adam before he died, so what was intended to be a 50th-anniversary retrospective also became a kind of memorial. It’s the best quality of the four, with archival images and clips worth seeing, along with new interviews. It’s about Spock, it’s about both Nimoys, it’s about the fans. Again the tone can be odd, almost frenzied sometimes, but the emotion is real. You’ll probably have to pay a few dollars to stream this one, but honestly out of all four, this is the one that’s worth the effort.

To Be Takei (2014)

To Be Takei promo

George Takei has become one of the most visible Trek alumni thanks to his social media following and activism, plus his work on the musical Allegiance about the US’s Japanese internment camps during World War II. To Be Takei is basically an overview of his life and the issues he cares about, and it’s definitely worth watching if you’re a fan. It’s got a kind of quirky tone, but be warned, it tends to charge back and forth between his general goofiness and the very serious activism stuff. It’s sometimes available on Netflix, but even when it’s not you can usually find a place to stream it via educational services and things like that.

Chaos on the Bridge (2014)

Chaos on the Bridge promo

I discovered this 1-hour documentary through sheer happenstance on Netflix while looking up The Truth is in the Stars below. It’s a William Shatner-hosted tale of Next Generation’s harried beginnings. It’s not very good either. I mean, the interviews are interesting and I appreciate how they let people tell conflicting versions of the story, but I question whether a video documentary is the best venue for it when there are more cartoon recreations of historical events than actual interviews and pictures.

The Truth Is In The Stars (2017)

The Truth is in the Stars promo

This most-recent effort was essentially recommended to me as “Have you seen this? It’s painful to watch.” Accurate. The idea is that William Shatner interviews scientists about Star Trek‘s impact. But mostly he talks about horses. The first ten minutes is him talking about horses for no apparent reason at all. The next hour or so was interesting if only to see who he’d interview next. He starts with actors, people like Ben Stiller and Jason Alexander (who shows up in like every Star Trek thing ever), then transitions through Seth MacFarlane and Neil deGrasse Tyson (both associated with Cosmos) to additional famous scientists and astronauts (like Michio Kaku and Chris Hadfield) to the great Stephen Hawking. And somewhere in there at the end it becomes genuinely touching? Mostly because we’re seeing Shatner try to deal with his own mortality. So I don’t know whether or not to recommend this one, because it’s reeeeally awkward to see Shatner just ramble at random people like this, but it’s cool to see who’s interviewed and is sort of meaningful at the end. It’s on Netflix, so if I’ve piqued your interest it won’t put you out to find it.

What’s your favorite way to get behind-the-scenes Trek info? Did I miss any documentaries? Let us know in the comments!

Let’s Talk About First Officers

This month’s Star Trek post is a collaboration with fellow contributor Rose B. Fischer. We’ve seen a lot of misinformation floating around about Starfleet’s first officers, so we’re here to spread some knowledge!

Space operas like Star Trek are drawn from westerns, swashbucklers, and naval/maritime epics. So the captain is a combination of tropes from those genres. Usually, it’s one part maverick, one part wandering hero, and one part charismatic leader. Star Trek adds a heavy dose of diplomat, since Starfleet is committed to peaceful exploration rather than conquest, intractable optimism and strong humanistic values. Those are Star Trek‘s defining characteristics and the captain is the show’s mouthpiece, so it makes sense that the character would also be the embodiment of the Federation’s mores. The captain’s first love is the ship, and every relationship is either built around or overshadowed by the siren song of space.

Headshots of Kirk and Picard.

The first officer shares the captain’s love of space, and is a composite of the same tropes as the captain. The first officer is supposed to be qualified to command to ship in the event that the captain is unfit for duty, and has the potential to be captain in their own right, so the two characters will have a lot of similarities in terms of skills sets, moral composition, and affinity for space. They’re meant to be complementary opposites, so their personalities and skills will usually mesh well and benefit the crew as a whole.

The captain’s personality informs the shipwide culture while the first officer’s function is usually to provide balance by meeting the needs of the ship and crew where the captain is less proficient. In TOS, Spock’s knowledge of science and ability to process information are assets to Kirk when the Enterprise encounters new life forms. His adherence to Vulcan logic makes him more apt to advise drastic action when the lives of the crew are at stake, while Kirk’s reluctance to engage in violence usually means the ship gets drawn further and further into trouble. In the end, it’s almost always a scientific edge that helps the crew out of hot water, and a lot of the solutions are facilitated by a combination of Spock’s knowledge and Kirk’s stubborn ingenuity.

"Insufficient facts always invite danger." -Spock

“Insufficient facts always invite danger.” -Spock

I see a lot of TNG critics (and fans) saying that Picard and Riker amount to nothing but a role reversed version of Kirk and Spock. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Riker was meant to be the more physically active of the pair, leading away teams and generally being in the position of the young, handsome hero, but his role is pretty different from both Kirk and Spock. Aside from leading away teams and a tendency to romance alien women, Riker is about as similar to Captain Kirk as I am to a sponge. He’s often shown managing crew assignments, is more approachable, and has a more casual way of interacting with subordinates than Kirk does. His job is as much to relate to the Enterprise crew and manage day to day operations as it is to lead away missions. Captain Picard has the crew’s respect as a leader, but it’s often clear that Picard himself isn’t comfortable with personal interactions where Riker excels. The TOS crew may not have always understood or related to Spock, but unlike Picard, Spock was not shown to be reluctant or uncomfortable with the crew. He related to them on his own terms, as a Vulcan.

"Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody." -Riker

“Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody.” -Riker

The contrast between Spock and Riker especially stood out to me (Hannah) in my grand rewatch, because it’s such a distinct change. They’re very different characters — like Spock and Data are very different, despite constant comparisons — but they also show the transition between TOS and TNG. TOS was more conceptual, and there was less interest in showing a spaceship’s daily operations. Spock’s job as first officer was essentially to advise Kirk. He was technically second in command, but most of the time they were off on the same missions anyway. His role as science officer was much more important, and correlated to his role as the intellectual part of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy soul-mind-heart trio.

When TNG came along, narrative styles were changing, and the show was more interested in daily life. I love the more stylized TOS characters, but this step toward more-realistic ones is a huge factor in why Star Trek has had such longevity. Riker balances Picard’s skills, but he also seems to have a distinct function on the ship as first officer. He doesn’t have an additional role like science officer or anything else. The most obvious thing is that he leads away missions instead of the captain and first officer both endangering themselves, and he advises Picard as needed, but especially in the first season, the captain and first officer almost function like two departments of the ship. They’re advisory to each other, with the captain in charge of decisions, but the first officer in charge of personnel and planning. It makes the ship seem bigger, and gives them both something to do in these stories that include logistics as well as moral dilemmas.

Still of Ferengi and Captain Picard from "The Battle."

“The Battle” is a great episode for captains and first officers.

Most episodes understandably focus on ideas and characters over explaining the finer details of how Starfleet works, but it’s really super impressive how well they balance those story roles with ship functions as the show progresses. Plus the role of first officer is about to get even more interesting, since the main protagonist of Star Trek: Discovery is going to be the first officer. But no matter which show, keep an eye out next time you watch, and let us know what you think!

Data, Spock, and Star Trek Emotions

“Unlike Data, for example, [Spock] at least has feelings.” -Richard Raben, Boldly Live as You’ve Never Lived Before: Unauthorized and Unexpected Life Lessons from Star Trek

I posted this quote (from a book I read for another post) on my Facebook a while back, with the simple caption “#NERDRAGE.” It generated an excellent conversation about Data, Spock, emotions, neurodivergence, and Star Trek’s unstated values. I wanted to share some of those thoughts here because they’re really, really important. Instead of just spouting off about it myself, I’m pleased to present it in conversation form with two brilliant Facebook participants, fellow Comparative Geeks contributor Rose B. Fischer and super duper college buddy Lani. Edited slightly for readability.

Hannah: So, my irritation with the above quote is twofold: The statement that Data doesn’t have emotions, and the implication that having/expressing emotions is intrinsically better. They sound contradictory but they’re not, given the two characters being portrayed and especially the connection with autism.

Firstly, the definition of emotion. I have this conversation every time I watch the movie Equilibrium, where “emotions are suppressed/removed” but things like loyalty, ambition, and disgust (ironically, disgust for emotions!) all remain. Data’s kind of the same, he “doesn’t have emotions” but actually he has desire (for knowledge/curiosity, desire to please), happiness and sadness when good or bad things happen, affection (for Spot), loyalty to Picard/his friends/Starfleet, etc. Where does emotion end and an intellectual position begin?

Lani: If we are are argue that Data has no emotion, we have to argue that the desire to experience emotion is, in and of itself, not an emotional experience. Beyond that, his friendship with Geordi, his affection of Spot, and his desire for a family unit all suggest emotional response.



Rose: The issue that’s consistently played up with Data is lack of emotional awareness, compounded by incomplete cultural/social understanding. He can analyze human culture norms but isn’t invested in them and doesn’t have a bunch of conditioned responses based on observed behavior since infancy. There are several instances of other characters recognizing emotion in Data and commenting on it. Data usually “corrects” them, but context makes it pretty clear that the audience is meant to infer that Data has more emotional capacity than he realizes.

Hannah: Yeah, a lot of people tease about this, as in “Oh, they’re trying to write an emotionless character but they keep accidentally giving him emotions anyway, haha,” but I think it’s a more foundational concept that there IS no distinct line between emotions and thoughts/opinions/beliefs. The issue here is with comprehension and expression, not existence. Data doesn’t understand other people’s emotions or the way humans act because of them, and because others tell him he doesn’t have emotions, he believes them and continually uses that as a defense, reminding others that he’s responding in his own way and isn’t capable of doing what they’re doing.

The Enterprise crew tends to be more understanding than the rest of the universe in all things and all situations, and they generally provide a supportive environment in which for him to experiment and learn, but it still would’ve helped him out enormously if there was ANYONE there who could go “Oh, me too, I also find this difficult and this is what my emotions are like,” etc. Data’s emotion chip basically gives him overwhelming emotional reactions, and cues the matching physical action (laughter, etc.) but he gets little or no help learning how to deal with them the way a (neurotypical) child usually learns.


“The Outrageous Okona”

Lani: Data’s ability to process emotions coincides closely with the disorder alexithymia, which is the inability to understand, identify, and process one’s own emotions and, no surprise, research shows that 85% of autistic adults have it. So yes, Data’s experiences are highly analogous with autistic experiences.

Also, speaking as an autistic adult, one thing I have learned over the years is that if someone tells you that you have no feeling, your instinct is to believe them. Especially if you are alexithymic and can’t identify those emotions, it is very easy to take the words of someone else regarding your own emotional experiences as gospel.

The flip side of that is Spock’s experience with emotions, which is also analogous with an autism spectrum experience: your emotions are Big. They are Big and they are Violent and they don’t fit right inside you and you don’t know what they are or what to do with them. You’ve been told that your emotions–not other people’s, but yours–are odd or unnatural or too Big, too Violent, and you learn to push them aside because no one has time to understand your emotions, which are big and violent and angry and confused. And so you learn to dislike them and to feel ashamed of them because they are difficult to deal with and People Like You shouldn’t have or need emotions, anyways.

So yes, Spock has emotions. And Data has emotions. And they process them differently from each other, and differently from the humans around them. But to classify emotions that do not fit the typical mold as nonexistent is a dangerous place to start.

Hannah: Yes. Plus the fact that they exist doesn’t mean they need to be pushed into typical channels. Spock’s situation is almost the opposite of Data’s, he knows he has emotions but he’s always dealt with them by getting rid of them. Some fans complain that he gets “turned into Kirk” by the end of the movies, and I agree with that in part — I would’ve loved to see him remain more alien and more incomprehensible in some ways — but that also shows his journey toward accepting his emotions and factoring them into the equation, but still never allowing them to overwhelm him. (eg he has an emotional attachment to Jim, so he breaks rules and lies to save him, but he doesn’t need to indulge in an emotionalistic display about it.) He was suppressing them and suffered a lot of internal distress about his emotions, but learning to “express” or “release” them was not part of the solution at all.


“The Devil in the Dark”

Rose: Spock can be an analogue for trauma survivors, too, though I guess not as close as the one with autism.

Spock expresses emotion by acting in supposedly “illogical” and non-Vulcan ways. His entire relationship and way of interacting with McCoy is emotional, even though neither one will admit it. What logical purpose is served by the way they banter? He didn’t need to learn to “express” emotions in the sense of becoming a passionate romantic or having big Vulcan rages, or laughing at jokes, but he was always expressing them whether he wanted to admit it or not.

I think what a lot of the fan commentary is saying is that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to express feelings. It’s codified as closer to what a stereotypical neurotypical person would do, so obviously problematic from that perspective.

Equally so for anyone dealing with trauma. Primary symptoms of trauma-related disorders involve inability to express, identify, or cope with emotions, having emotional reactions and responses that are frowned upon by society (either too much or too little) or in simply needing alternative means to express and cope with emotions because the ones society likes don’t work anymore. Star Trek has a poor track record for mental illness in general, but Spock and Data both demonstrate degrees of my experience in trauma recovery (moreso Spock, because I’m prone to rages that nobody sees and recognize emotions but don’t react or express them in commonly accepted ways. Data comes in with the aspect of needing feedback and rarely having an opportunity to get it because then I have to explain the problem…)

Plato's Stepchildren

“Plato’s Stepchildren”

Hannah: Absolutely. It’s also relevant that both characters essentially come from non-human cultures, although Data doesn’t really have a “culture” in the same way. That would be enough to say “this character is different, stop slapping them down for not expressing the same way humans do,” but the fact that actual humans are actually like this makes the whole thing that much more important. Data and Spock are VITAL crewmembers and friends, and neither of them would be improved by making them more “normal,” either more “useful” for others or more comfortable with themselves.

Both of them learned and grew as people, becoming more confident and happy and satisfied with themselves, but neither of them were “fixed” by becoming neurotypical, it’s the opposite. And for the most part, the shows/movies didn’t indicated that they should be, it’s the fan reactions/commentary that have grown up in response to them. The whole response to Data and Spock devalues intellectualism and all the things Data and Spock actually care about the most. Ties into the “right and wrong expressions” issue, plus the idea that they need to learn from humans because emotionalism is some kind of glorious thing that makes humanity special in the cosmos when it’s not.

Lani: Neurodivergence is woefully underrepresented in Star Trek. I actually can’t really think of any canonically neurodivergent characters? Worf has a very brief (one episode) bout of suicidal ideation, but that’s about it. Which is really disappointing to me because in a universe that says that differences are the things that make us great, in a rare sci-fi universe where disability isn’t treated as an evolutionary failure, it would nice to see some hint of canon neurodivergence.

Let us know what you think in the comments below! And if you’re interested in this topic, don’t miss the post on my book blog tomorrow, a review of The Myth of Irrationality: The Science of the Mind from Plato to Star Trek by John McCrone!

My Little Pony Friendship is Magic Adult References

One of the shows that we have started watching with the Geek Baby is My Little Pony Friendship is Magic. Now first of all this is a very different My Little Pony than I grew up with. At the same time the show is definitely entertaining and something that I can kind of understand why adults would be willing to watch it as well.

One of the best parts about the show are the mostly subtle adult references that the kids don’t get, but definitely reveal some of the geek fandoms of the creators and artists. It is so great when a show can be good for kids and adults at the same time.

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Trexels – Star Trek Casual Gaming

I don’t mind saying I’m a casual gamer. In fact, I just did a few weeks ago when I reviewed High School Story. When I browse through Star Trek games, a description listing “explore new worlds, fight battles, assign officers, build your own ship,” and all that can actually put me off. I still want to play those games, but they sound like work when I want relaxation, or a huge time commitment that I can’t make on a daily basis. So, when I found Trexels, I knew I wanted to give it a try — It’s basically a Star Trek version of simple sim/building games like High School Story or Farmville, made by YesGnome LLC.

Trexels ship building

The game is very clear and guided at the beginning, and you mostly choose from options rather than completely designing from scratch, but there’s some flexibility in your assignment of officers and order of missions. (Plus it’s a mobile game, so of course it’s designed to be relatively simple, easy to pick up and put down). Your time is split between constructing rooms in your ship, which give you resources and abilities, and going on exploratory missions. There’s a pretty interesting game mechanic where battles, negotiations, and scientific studies all involve quickly tapping on glowing cubes randomly strewn across the screen in order to power up your weapon/diplomacy/research. It gets more complicated as the game goes on and you accumulate more abilities, although the mechanic stays the same.(And I should mention there’s an option to battle other gamers’ starships, but I don’t play that much because I’m not good at it.)

Those quests/missions are my favorite part, because they most closely resemble Star Trek episodes, and I love the way they incorporate original series sound effects and incidental music (plus occasionally the voice of George Takei). The interface has a colorful Next Generation feel to it, though. The whole game is an odd but fun conglomeration of all the shows, beginning with TOS-style characters and slowly incorporating those from later eras, including your own choices and VIP characters from the shows. The characters show a variety of Star Trek races and human skin tones, and “dating” isn’t a concern, so I’m satisfied with the diversity available.

Trexels TNG characters

As the game progresses it takes a lot of grinding for resources between missions, so that’s my least favorite part, but it’s certainly doable without spending real money. There are also too many screens for each activity, specifically reward screens showing how many resources you just got that seem to take forever. And despite the general guided quality early in the game, I would have liked a little more instruction on how to use officers. You need a bridge crew, but then you also have a list of unassigned officers you can send on away missions, and each officer has their own advantages and disadvantages plus skill points.

I definitely wish I could get resources more quickly and do more missions, but on the whole, I’ve very much enjoyed Trexels and the style of directed gameplay it offers. It’d be a great choice for anyone wanting a casual Star Trek game. I think it’s whetted my appetite for the more advanced Trek games though, so leave any title recommendations in the comments!