Captain's Blog pt. 1

I've had a blog about the Trek gestalt banging around in my head for awhile. Why now?

You only need do a quick Google search to see that the world is not exactly bereft of Trek-related sites. (Is Trek fascist? Women of Star Trek! ST: TOS re-watch! ST: TNG re-watch! etc, etc.) Not to mention fan-fiction, official tie-ins, tumblr mayhem, etc. Few topics are explored with more enthusiasm and comprehension and by such a variety of commentators. What can be gained from another hat in such a crowded ring?

Well, possibly (probably) nothing. But, sometimes it's not about gaining anything. Hell, we don't even use money in the twenty-third century and beyond. (Well, sometimes we do, but we'll save that for later.) We're explorers of both time and space. 

Future posts will be overviews and rankings, but this first one is a Billy-Pilgrim-esque jaunt through my own perzonalized McMolodeck program. (The McMolodeck was a close second for a title for this series, followed by Stepping into Eden with Bryan "Yaaaay" McBrother. In the end, I decided for something a little more straightforward.) Temporal anomalies abound. 

"Space... the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

Familiar words. But where did they come from? This guy: 

Captain James "Tiberius" Cook, FRS, RN
Specifically, from the journal of his second expedition: "I had the ambition to not only go farther than man had gone before, but to go as far as it was possible to go."

Who better to model the captain of future-Earth's flagship star-exploring vessel than present/past-Earth's greatest explorer? (No offense, Zheng He.)
Beyond the mission statements, both were brought up on farms (Cook in Yorkshire, Kirk in Iowa,) both ascended to the captaincy of ships with similar names as young-ish men (Endeavour and Enterprise,) both set out to describe rather than conquer or convert the lands they discovered (and both were slightly disingenuous in this regard, one claiming lands for the Empire and one breaking the Prime Directive whenever he wanted,) and perhaps most importantly, both had similar off-ship adventures: Cook in jolly boats with his naturalist, a surgeon and musket-toting red-jacketed marines, and Kirk beaming or shuttlecrafting it around with his science officer, his medical officer, and various expendable characters in red jerseys.

Cook's marines had a higher survival rate, while Kirk's men undoubtedly had less syphilis.
Their differences are worth considering, as well. James Cook was a diplomatic and chaste man, faithful to his wife, and he disapproved of the away-mission orgies his men enjoyed at every opportunity in an antebellum Polynesia and elsewhere. Kirk's diplomacy is disputed, with good arguments on both sides, but a romantic relationship ashore and/or toppling a government was simply part of the day's itinerary. And of course, Captain Kirk never had to deal with the constant migraine of his crew literally taking the ship apart everywhere he took it. (Iron nails were suitable exchange for sex in most Polynesian ports, so the crew would steal the nails from the ship and bring them ashore.)

Likewise, Captain Cook never had to confront a negative externalization of himself as a result of a transporter accident.

Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon, the creators of Star Trek, maintained its genesis was one part Wagon Train and one part the radio show Horatio Hornblower, things familiar to any producer or audience of the time. This mind-meld of the American experience (Wagon Train) with the Royal Navy (Hornblower) is part of what makes TOS so compelling, both as a media artifact of the Cold War and as a missive from the Silver Age of Sci-Fi.

In this episode of TOS, "City on the Edge of Forever," Spock says, "There could be some logic to the belief that time is fluid, like a river, with currents, eddies, backwash."
As will likely be self-evident from all the following, I happen to agree with Spock on this one.
And with no further ado...

The author and sister, away mission, unknown Stardate.
I first discovered Trek in 1979 or 1980. The show had been off the air ten years at that point and lived only in UHF reruns. It was either
a) My mother and brother coming home from The Motion Picture during its initial theatrical run. (They were both bored. I'm still the odd-man-out in my family for loving that one. But, we'll get to the movies.)
b) On a sleepover at my godmother's house. Channel 56, they of the Creature Double Feature much beloved to Southern New Englanders of my generation, used to replay this at 10 or 11 pm in the 70s. These vein-brained guys.
or c) My Dad at the dinner table impersonating Frank Gorshin in this episode. It still cracks me up to remember this! I remember thinking, "Yeah, that IS how that guy looked."
I was born in '74, so I was five or six during all of the above. To a kid born in 2004, this would be the same elapse of syndication as Dawson's Creek, The X-Files or Frasier have been off the air in 2013. (Old-school syndication, that is, not the Skynet/ Cerebro-syndication nowadays)

Thinking about all of this brings to mind some of the other images that made their first appearance in my burgeoning psyche.
I think "Miri" freaked me out the most. I first saw this at my grandmother's house and stayed up for hours after bedtime, wide-eyed and afraid to look out the window. It wasn't just the mutated forever-child...
but the fact that the Captain (i.e. "Dad") kept belting him in the face because he wouldn't calm down. Spock, you're standing right there; no nerve pinch?
Not that Kirk didn't feel bad about it almost immediately.
The angry bickering of the adults in this episode scared me almost as much as the physical deterioration. Parents of the world, take note; unless you want your kid blogging about it when he's pushing forty, "Miri" is PG-13.
It's always fascinating what comes to mind when you go down Memory Lane like this. Such as this sequence from Buck Rogers. By the time I was six, I was pretty familiar with the imagery of the post-apocalyptic landscape...
and the slow-mutants who inhabited them.
And from less turbulent memory shores, there's this.
But, let's get back to Trek.
My family moved to then-West-Germany in 1981, first to Sprendlingen, one of the villages (I guess you'd call them) that make up the town of Dreieich. "On the economy," i.e. off-base. We had no neighbors who spoke English, and television was a strange mix of German TV (impenetrable to me) and Armed Forces Network, or AFN.

AFN got a handful of stateside programming, but six or seven months after the fact. And in-between each program was something like the above. Not the one I set out to find, but it'll do.

Because of this, things like my parents' VHS collection, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Marvel comics, and Atari games weren't just supplemental material to my childhood; they were my lifeline to American culture and the mythology of the English language.

Occasionally, my grandmother would send us a tape with as much stateside programming or MTV as she could fit on it. Once, one arrived with Al-TV, i.e. when they'd give Weird Al Yankovic the controls for a day or night, and a full block of Iron Maiden videos; that was one of my happiest days in the 80s, I think.
Among those VHS tapes were a couple that had six or seven Star Trek episodes. Recorded in Long-Play or Extended-Play. Whatever it was. (Fitting five or six episodes on one VHS tape was  specialized know-how in the VCR age) Flash Forward (2013:) every second of TOS, TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and all the movies can be stored and played back on something you carry in your pocket.

If I think hard, I could probably tell you the order the episodes appeared on those tapes.

But the only one I'll mention is "The Corbomite Maneuver," through which I'd often fast-forward to get to "Arena." I finally watched "Corbomite" in its entirety one Saturday morning in April 1983. Is it weird to remember that? Probably.
Flash forward to 1998: I am holding a laser-disc that miraculously contains the two episodes of TOS I had somehow never seen: "The Lights of Zetar" and "Requiem for Methuselah." This guy at the laser disc/ records store (flashback!) only agreed to sell my roommate and I the individual TOS LDs if we agreed to buy the whole set eventually. We gave it the good college try, but we never made good on our promise. Sorry, laser-disc-shop guy.
1985: We'd moved to Weiterstadt, and the bus ride was a bit longer back and forth to Rhein Main Air Force Base than it had been in Sprendlingen. I made a new friend on the bus. She didn't dress up as Spock or anything, but she was the first bona fide Trekkie I ever met. It was through her that I became aware of the other side of Trek, i.e. the conventions, its passionate fandom, and the tie-in novels.

None of which I still have, alas, but I had ten or eleven of them, at least. A full collection of this Pocket series of books goes for a ridiculous price of eBay. Which I'm happy about, actually - makes it easy to resist temptation. Otherwise, I'd be looking up at three shelves worth of them.
She was the first person I ever met to point out the discrepancy of Spock's tight lip re: Pon Farr in "Amok Time" vs. how casually he chatters on about it in "The Cloud Minders."

What the hell happened to "It's a thing no off-worlder may know?" Later, when I saw this same observation made in Phil Farrand's Nitpicker's Guide for Classic Trekkers, a text I will undoubtedly circle back to many times over the course of this blog series, I LMFAO. "Time is fluid, indeed..."
This sort of riffing is familiar to many a Trek enthusiast. (You might be a Trekneck if...) Ever listen to guys debate what a coach should or shouldn't have done in a bowl game? For nine damn days? Small potatoes. Even a blind Denevian bat could see that.

One last image from this period before moving on...
 I still worry about this when I go to sleep.
We moved back to Rhode Island a few months ahead of the movie that really broke Trek wide: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Due partially to its success, Paramount fast-tracked Star Trek: The Next Generation, a preview for which I remember seeing before ST:IV in the theater. A little out of the ordinary in those days - hard to believe, now, when you have to sit through a dozen commercials before you even get to the previews.

TNG debuted in 1987, and I stuck with it for its first couple of seasons - what the hell else was I going to do? Do thirteen and fourteen year olds of the nowadays generations have any idea what it was like to be bored / unable to drive on a Saturday night in an internet/streaming-less age? - but it wasn't my thing. To put it mildly.

As a result of this period, I will forever be far-too-amused by this exchange from Free Enterprise (1999), between Robert, pictured above, and his girlfriend Claire: "Why don't you spend a little more time in the real world rather than in the twenty-fourth century?" "I would never live in the twenty-fourth century; I FUCKING HATE THE NEXT GENERATION."
Actually, I will probably forever be far-too-amused by Free Enterprise in general.
I took a break from hating on TNG in 1990 when my brother recommended I catch the replay of "Yesterday's Enterprise," s3 e15. The show aired its new episodes on Saturday night, and they were rerun on Sunday evenings. More timespace confusion! No need to wait for Sunday night in the 21st century, Doctor Jones; in addition to streaming them via your service of choice, BBC America plays a block of TNG every other day. (Usually the same four or five episodes, too - what's up with that?) Anyway, I watched it, and I had to agree, TNG was finding its stride; "Yesterday's Enterprise" is a helluva entertaining story.

I'll get to the individual episodes and series, but what really happened in s3 was that production design (from camera angles, to sound cues to a more consistent writing staff) was streamlined.  Seasons 1 and 2 definitely have some nice moments, but they could almost be an entirely different show. Seasons 3 through 7 have a consistency of all the above. (And, not coincidentally, all the best episodes.)
I watched off and on til the end of its run, but it took me until 2002 or 2003 to see every TNG episode. What started me down that path more than "Yesterday's..." though was (1994) its last episode, "All Good Things..." a ludicrously underrated piece of television history. It remains my standard of comparison for all series finales.

I came home from my three-to-midnight shift at Cumberland Farms (a 7-11/ Circle-K type chain of the Northeast) to find a VCR-tape waiting for me with a post-it note from my mom, God bless her, "Bryan... think you'll like this!" Cute, eh?

Flash forward (2012:) my wife and I watch "All Good Things..." (her first, my fiftieth or sixtieth) on Christmas Eve, and I finally grok that it is a gospel story, as much as Groundhog Day or It's a Wonderful Life. 

Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
in that loving Breast of thine
That thou canst never once reflect
On Auld Lang Syne?
I don't mean to suggest the writers were getting biblical on us, just they managed to encapsulate the message of the Gospel (or whatever equivalent is palatable for you) in such an unexpected way. Ronald D. Moore, the co-writer of "All Good Things..." also wrote the last episode of Battlestar Galactica, "Daybreak." Coincidence? That guy gives good series finale.) And that gets to something very important about this whole business: there is no "final word" on any episode/ concept. Trek, in any of its incarnations, is the proverbial movable feast.

Okay, let's speed this along a bit...


1998: I am a student in Wright State University's film department. Deep Space Nine and Voyager are in heavy rotation on cable/ over the air. I am taking a lot of "extra-sensory stimulants" and watching a lot of TOS. My buddy and fellow Trek-traveler Klum and I have set up two chairs in the living room with a paper bag between us for emptied cans of Strohs.  

The tv is positioned a la the viewscreen on the Enterprise, and every so often we turn back to look at the empty couch...
...a la Mister Sulu.
On a furlough to Rhode Island that Christmas, my old band Boat Chips records this album...
(A crappy scan of the inner gatefold - sorry, we were pre-digital, best I can do.) In addition to the title track, this includes the classic track "Spock's on the Crapper."
1999: I am driving back to Dayton, OH after returning to RI for my maternal grandmother's funeral. I'm in low spirits, to say the least. I catch the series finale of Deep Space Nine while several beers deep in a hotel room outside of Niagara Falls, NY, and never quite get over it.

Despite this, Deep Space Nine is still not my preferred delivery mechanism of Trek, and so, while I will always view this episode as a sunray amidst the storm clouds that gathered above me that night, when I get to the top-20 blog for that series, I'll hand the reins over to my brother and his wife, whose DS9 mojo is second-to-none.
Also in 1999: I see my first episode of Voyager. 

As Buzzfeed recently pointed out, the cast of The West Wing ran into some hard luck in the times ahead...
2001: My first, second, third and fourth online purchases are Shatner-related. Finally! A way to sidestep the guy who ran the videostore down the street, who never heard nor was interested in ordering for me anything like Incubus, The Devil's Rain, Kingdom of the Spiders, or The Intruder. 

Later-in-2001: I show The Intruder to everyone I know.
2003: I track down cassette copies of Phil Farrand's The Nitpicker's Guide for Star Trek: The Generation Trekkers... 

I still listen to these damn things far too much. When the cassette player I have in my kitchen finally breaks, it will truly be the end of a long and at-present-ongoing era. They're read by Dwight "Murdock from The A-Team/ Lieutenant Barclay" Schultz, Robert O'Reilly aka the guy who played Gowron, and Denise "Rachel Creed" Crosby, aka Tasha Yar. I won't be getting into this (much of) this sort of analysis in the blogs to come, but Phil's blend of "Wait a minute, you tap your badge to communicate to the Bridge in Who Watches the Watchers? but not in Rascals..." et al. is a lot of fun.
2005: I tune in to the last episode of Enterprise, "These Are the Voyages..." never having watched a full episode of the show before. I like it. 

My comment at the time is "It was basically the finale of Dawson's Creek." I still agree,
Flash forward (2010) I watched the rest of the series and discovered the online disdain for this episode. But we'll get to Enterprise.
2008: I rent The Animated Series from Netflix and am astounded. TAS came out in-between TOS and The Motion Picture and features all but Walter Koenig of the original cast.

Though Koenig does write one episode. But: next time.
2009: I am managing a bar only a few thousand feet from where I first saw TNG and watched "Return of the Archons" a gazillion times.

I took only fifteen or sixteen pictures of this period of my life; I was amused to discover this one among them. Dig!
I will someday write about my experiences running this bar, but until then, all we need to know is that I sometimes had a few beers after my shift and woke up in the middle of the night as a result of that. During these times, from 2008 to 2010, I watched Voyager, a lot.

2011-2012: I take a year off, entirely, from Trek. For the first time since the 70s!



  1. I've got so much to say about all of this that I would literally need to start my own blog to say it all. I'll try (for now) to restrain myself, and stick to a few random comments:

    (1) GREAT screencaps

    (2) Had no idea Kirk was based on a real-life explorer, but it makes sense. (By the way, the sentence "Likewise, Captain Cook never had to confront a negative externalization of himself as a result of a transporter accident" is the best I've seen so far this month. Awesome.)

    (3) Lookit them MTV VJs. Man oh man, what a different world THAT was...

    (4) The point you make about Trekkies in 2013 being theoretically able to store every single second of "Star Trek" on a device in his or her pocket is a fascinating one. If you had walked up to me and offered me such a device in, say, 1993, I would have thought that device was the best thing that had ever been invented. And I wouldn't be too terribly far off the mark. However, devices of that nature have, seemingly, forever changed the way people will relate to things they are a fan of. WAY fewer people will now know the insipid pleasures of being given a grab-bag VHS tape of stuff recorded off the television; or stumbling across some long-sought treasure on late-night tv, or in a thrift store, or on the shelf in a video store in some town you're visiting. That type of thing is more or less a thing of the past, and I suspect the cultural ramifications of the change are huge and apt to get huger.

    (5) I had a few of those Trek laserdiscs! I think I got mine through Columbia House, and I was never able to afford more than a dozen or so. Christ, those things were expensive!

    (6) That thing going into Chekov's ear, man...how many people of our age group did that scene turn into quivering messes? More than a few, I bet.

    (7) Unlike you, I took a shine to "The Next Generation" immediately. The show undeniably improved when the third season began, but I've still got a lot of love for the first two seasons.

    (8) "Spock's on the Crapper" ... wow ...

    (9) Regarding the animated series, I had never seen a single episode until the series came out on DVD. It had always been a tantalizing curiosity, made especially so since there was a series of novelizations, some of which I'd read and loved. But when I was a kid and most desirous of seeing the episodes, they were literally unobtainable. Used to drive me a little crazy.

    Looking forward to the rest of this series of posts!

    1. Thank you! Very happy you enjoyed. I know what you mean, too, so much comes to mind once you start down the Trek-reminiscing path. I have a feeling when I get to the end of this series, I'll still feel like I left out so much.

      Man, I'm glad you wrote this part: " However, devices of that nature have, seemingly, forever changed the way people will relate to things they are a fan of. ...That type of thing is more or less a thing of the past, and I suspect the cultural ramifications of the change are huge and apt to get huger." The whole thing, of course, not just that part, but that's exactly the sort of thing I was trying to get across.

      I think we were getting those Trek LDs for $10 a pop - not a bad deal, all things considered.

      I enjoy the first couple of seasons of TNG, though like I say, I think s3-s7 are almost an entirely different series. Still, there are more than a few cool episodes in there. (I've always been partial to "The Royale.") I'm looking forward to getting to those TNG posts (not to mention the TOS ones). I'm kind of doing these backwards. I made those lists/ notes first and the TAS/ Voyager ones last, yet I probably won't get to the TNG/ TOS ones for awhile yet.

    2. I'm sad to say that I remember the animated series when in premiered in 1973. I was already a Trekker at that tender age of 7, having caught the show on reruns.

      Do you plan and episode by episode dissection of the series?

    3. Since there are only 22 of them, I'll cover each of TAS. I'd love to give the same treatment to the others, but it's a bit more of a project than I can take on at present... my plan is top 20s (or possibly 30s) for Voyager and Enterprise, and top 40s for TNG and TOS.

      And all the movies, of course. Should keep me busy! Hope you enjoy the forthcoming deluge...

  2. Hey, Brad here - Vandi and I are already pulling out the DS9 DVDs so we have something interesting to add at a later point. Thanks for thinking of us, Bryan!

    BTW, I will quibble just a bit on you saying that mom and I said that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was boring. I remember being utterly captivated by the special effects, and I know mom was thrilled to see the original characters re-united again on the big screen. But yeah, I do recall saying it was a bit slow (and probably saying it was boring here and there). So I won't argue that it's completely inaccurate. :-)

    1. Lies!!

      Just kidding. Thanks for the clarification. I look forward to what you and Vandi come up with for DS9!

    2. Heh. Yeah, felt compelled to say SOMETHING because you really did a nice job in this blog capturing how Star Trek resonated with you - heck, how it resonated with a lot of us. I can honestly say that ST: TMP (like Star Wars) opened my mind to the amazing world of sci-fi. For that, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for that flick (even as I'm muttering under my breath when the crew is staring FOR...LIKE...EVER at the viewscreen as they're drawn ever so sloooooooowly into that damn cloud!).