Fifty years ago today, Star Trek debuted on NBC. While it was revolutionary at the time for being the first serious (rather than kid-vid) American science fiction television series with continuing characters, no one could have imagined it’d become a pop culture phenomenon that’d spawn several additional TV and movie series; a plethora of books, games, puzzles, models, blueprints and toys and high-quality fan-made original productions.
Last Saturday, the fan-produced series Star Trek Continues, which films on sets uncannily like those of the original series (and which are arranged in the same configuration as the original sound stages), released its seventh full episode, “Embracing the Winds.”
Captain Kirk (Vic Mignogna) and Mr. Spock (Todd Haberkorn) are summoned to the starbase at Corinth IV by Commodore Laura Gray (Erin Gray), where they learn that crew of the U.S.S. Hood was lost in a life support systems failure. With only seven Constitution-class starships still in service, Gray needs an experienced officer to take command of the Hood. She selects Spock.
A complication arises when Commander Diana Garrett (Clare Kramer) from Earth spacedock files an appeal with Starfleet Command, arguing that she is being passed over for that command because of her gender. Kirk’s initial reaction, on hearing this news, is to argue that Garrett should become the new captain of the Hood. He genuinely believes it’s time a woman commanded a starship (and if Garrett were to take command of the Hood, he wouldn’t lose Spock).
However, after reviewing Garrett’s record and interviewing her, Kirk becomes convinced that while a woman should captain a Constitution-class starship, Garrett is not the right woman for that job.
The misogynistic Tellarites, a key founding member of the Federation a century earlier (and in a much stronger position than Earth at that time), have played a large part in why a woman has never captained a starship before. Commodore Gray (who points out to Kirk that her command of a starbase is viewed differently than command of a starship) believes it would be unwise to further antagonize the Tellarites, who have threatened to pull their seat on the Federation Council in light of the recent controversy over the admission of Coridan to the Federation (as seen in the original series episode “Journey to Babel”).
Spock, who initially also supported Garrett’s promotion to captain if she were the better choice, second-guesses that decision as well, arguing that now might not be the best time to challenge the Tellarites’ cultural beliefs.
He seeks input from Dr. Elise McKennah (Michele Specht), the ship’s counselor. She points out that when bias is present, it’s often deep and subconscious.
Spock concurs, acknowledging the biases he’s faced over the years, but argues that Commander Garrett’s record has numerous issues which necessitate further scrutiny.
When McKennah asks if Garrett’s record would be under the same degree of scrutiny if she were a man, Spock says he believes it would, but adds that one can never be certain of another’s motives.
“No, we can’t,” McKennah says. “But we can certainly strive to be clear about our own.”
At a formal hearing, it’s up to Kirk to cast the deciding vote regarding the Hood’s new captain.
Meanwhile, with Scotty (Chris Doohan) in command, the Enterprise sets out to tow the Hood back to the starbase. Lt. Uhura (Kim Stinger) reports there had been no unusual transmissions and that the Hood had been investigating a subspace anomaly when life support failed. Something seems wrong to Scotty and he doesn’t want to try towing the other ship without knowing more.
Chekov (Wyatt Lenhart) is able to remotely restore life support to the Hood’s engineering section and Scotty leads a landing party to the stricken ship.
A containment failure develops, putting the Hood in danger and preventing the landing party from being beamed back. But Chekov contrives a risky solution from the Enterprise.
At the hearing, Garrett argues the underlying issue is that Starfleet has overlooked (intentionally or not) capable officers for certain positions because they’re women.
While the episode, with teleplay by James Kerwin and Mignogna and story by Kerwin (who also directed), is good, the ending is a copout. There’s no satisfactory resolution to either what killed the crew of the Hood (a fact that worries Scotty) or to the issue of women as starship captains. There was also no indication that this was a two-part story, with answers to either or both plot threads coming in the next episode.
It’s also somewhat odd that Star Trek Continues would establish that women haven’t been starship captains.
Yes, in the final original series episode, “Turnabout Intruder”, there’s a scene where Dr. Janice Lester, a former lover of Kirk’s, complains, “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women. It’s not fair.” Kirk agrees, but Lester is mentally unbalanced. It’s reasonable to assume that she had been rejected for command for that reason, not her gender and Kirk had given up arguing with her. In fact, that view was put forth decades ago in the Best of Trek books of articles and essays. Star Trek Continues could have taken a page from those books.
But since that series established that women hadn’t yet captained starships, why leave the issue unresolved in this episode? At one point, Garrett argues that this may not be her time, but that’s not true for other women in Starfleet. The story might have been better served if one of those other women Garrett referenced had also been a contender for the job.
Imagine this scenario: Spock isn’t under consideration. Instead, two women (call them “Smith” and “Jones.”) are. Both are well qualified for the job, but both also have shortcomings. As in the produced episode, it’s up to Kirk to cast the deciding vote. However, he’s had a past adversarial relationship with Jones and selects Smith. He tells himself Smith was the right candidate, but later wonders if his animosity toward Jones, who might have actually had the better qualifications, played a role in that decision. It would also have provided a nice parallel to Spock’s discussion with McKennah.
The winds of the title are the winds of change. When the Tellarite ambassador admits to Kirk that he’s part of a faction that sees his people’s attitudes as outmoded and acknowledges that change is coming, Kirk advises him to embrace the winds.
As to Garrett, her comment to Kirk that a Garrett may one day command the Enterprise implies that one of her descendants will be Captain Rachel Garrett, commander of the Enterprise C in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”
Regarding the original Star Trek series, according to These are the Voyages: TOS Season One (page 386), NBC informed Desilu, the studio that made Star Trek, on March 6, 1966 that the series was given an initial order of 16 episodes. What if the series hadn’t been picked up for a full season? How would Star Trek have been different?
Well, for one thing, it might have become a little-remembered curiosity, possibly resurrected only with the advent of DVDs.
For another, most of what we now associate with Star Trek, such as the Klingons, the Federation, Starfleet Command and the Prime Directive, would never have come about. Those elements, some of which were introduced by producer Gene Coon, didn’t come into play until the latter part of the first season. In fact the Enterprise’s operating authority is somewhat nebulous in the early episodes, with “United Earth Space Probe Agency” and “Space Central” being among the terms used.
While Star Trek was, on the one hand, “just” a TV series, its impact on both popular culture and technology can’t be denied. The large Enterprise model isn’t in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum “just because.” It’s there because it’s a cultural artifact.
That same cultural impact is why fans continue to produce series like Star Trek Continues.
“Embracing the Winds” (and all Star Trek Continues episodes) can be viewed on YouTube or at startrekcontinues.com
Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.