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New Podcast! Primitive Culture #114 – Star Trek and Vietnam

A little while ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the wonderful Tony Black to talk about Star Trek and Vietnam.

The general reading of classic Star Trek tends to play up the show’s liberal credentials, to read Star Trek as a utopian and pacifist series that was very much on the right side of history. This antiwar reading is supported by episodes like Errand of Mercy, The Trouble with Tribbles and Day of the Dove, among others. However, the show’s politics are decidedly more complicated. Like America itself, Star Trek was divided over the Vietnam War, as reflected in episodes like Friday’s Child or The Omega Glory, and most especially in A Private Little War.

The result was a fun (and involved) discussion, and you can listen to it below or directly via Primitive Culture‘s homepage on trek.fm.

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Star Trek – The Omega Glory (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Gene Roddenberry is a controversial figure who casts a fairly large shadow. It is very hard to talk about Star Trek – particularly the classic Star Trek – without talking about Roddenberry’s influence and vision. Roddenberry was fond of myth-making when he was alive, of playing up his own contributions to Star Trek while marginalising or dismissing the other people who shaped or defined the franchise.

Roddenberry is a polarising figure among fans and critics, insiders and outsiders. To some, Roddenberry was the man who created Star Trek. While this doesn’t immunise him against criticism, it does provide a sense of context – whatever sins he may have committed and whatever faults he may have had must be offset against that. To others, Roddenberry was prone to exaggerate his accomplishments at the expense of people like David Gerrold or Gene L. Coon who shaped the franchise just as much as (if not more than) he did.

Flagging trouble ahead...

Flagging trouble ahead…

While those are two extremes, they are not the only possible views of Roddenberry. There are a broad range of opinions that might be offered, and not all of them are mutually exclusive. Ask a dozen people who know their Star Trek about Roddenberry, and are likely to come up with a dozen nuanced and defensible positions on the man and his legacy. Nobody seems entirely what to make of Roddenberry and his creative contributions to the franchise.

The Omega Glory is an interesting episode, one that invites as much debate as any of Roddenberry’s contributions to the franchise.

A strong constitution to make it through this one...

A strong constitution to make it through this one…

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My 12 for ’13: Star Trek Into Darkness & Fighting for the Future…

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 6…

Star Trek Into Darkness won’t win any awards for scripting or plotting. It’s very hard to succinctly explain the various overlapping evil plans directed by the movie’s two competing villains – who knows what at which point, and how that makes sense in the context of their objectives. Star Trek Into Darkness is a bit of a hot mess when it comes to storytelling – an overly convoluted plot that spends far too much time homaging what come before, when it should be boldly going somewhere new.

And yet, despite that, there is an ambition to Star Trek Into Darkness, a willingness to embrace big ideas and questions about cynicism and optimism, about hope and fear, about the attitude that people adopt towards the future. At the most basic level, that’s what Star Trek is. Into Darkness doesn’t have the same space as a television show to delve into those questions, nor to offer the same degree of nuance.

However, it’s a willingness to ask them that is quite endearing.


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Star Trek – The Devil in the Dark (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

There are any number of ways to “get into” Star Trek, to jump on board the cult phenomenon. Despite decades of continuity, a lot of the franchise is accessible on its own terms, and it’s easy enough to come across a list of recommended classic episodes for a neophyte to sample. There are over seven hundred hours of Star Trek, so there’s something for everybody. And it’s perfectly possible to tailor a recommendation to the new viewer’s preferences.

Want proof that Star Trek can do credible drama? Stick on The City on the Edge of Forever. Fascinated by Spock? Try Amok Time. Want to watch William Shatner take on another leading character with a similar amount of gravitas? Give Space Seed a go. Want some high-concept sci-fi android stuff? Maybe What Are Little Girls Made Of? is right up your street. Want a contemporary commentary on the Vietnam War? Watch A Private Little War.

However, if you asked me to recommend an example of the franchise’s philosophy and its humanist values, executed with a superb level of craftsmanship, The Devil in the Dark is really the only choice. There’s a reason that Arthur C. Clarke considers it to be the most memorable episode of Star Trek ever produced.

Spock would have to have a heart of stone not be affected by this...

Spock would have to have a heart of stone not be affected by this…

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