My good friend John Gorenfeld has agreed to co-write, with Patrick Runkle, a series of posts about Star Trek for the site. Enjoy!–Dorian
Part I in a Series
So there sits semi-retired sad sack James T. Kirk on his 52nd birthday, at the beginning of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the best-loved of the Star Trek movies.
Shatner had not long before been been seen on TV as an alcoholic ex-priest getting sucked out of an airliner by a ghoul. Now he delivers a convincing scene–perhaps drawing on personal emotions–that evokes everything Kirk has given up in his life to become a Starfleet admiral. Reliably on hand to tell Kirk to get back into the game is Dr. McCoy, his straight-talking friend. “This isn’t about age, and you know it,” Bones says. No, it’s that Kirk has let himself get trapped in Starfleet academia–and, although the doctor doesn’t need to say it, regret–”when you want to be out there, hopping galaxies.”
But after a five-year mission to all those planets, there must have been all sorts of regrets going through his mind. Why didn’t writers Nicholas Meyer and Jack Sowards have Kirk turn to the dusky skyline of the 23rd century Fillmore District and say: “Bones…Remember that time we met Abraham Lincoln in space?”
You would think it was a meaningful enough life event. Imagine: First you see the guy who debated Stephen Douglas floating in fucking outer space. Then you invite him on board and he makes an insensitive remark about the ship’s black communications officer, but you’re so impressed with him anyway that you record in your Captain’s Log that “his kindness, his gentle wisdom, his humor…everything about him is so right.” Then you watch him die from a spear through the chest on the planet Excalbia, where a rock monster made you fight history’s greatest villains.
That’s what happened in the 1969 episode “The Savage Curtain,” during the third season of cheap sets and worse scripts. It used to be that a story like that was laughed off, but according to a prevailing school of thought that has developed in the Star Trek world over the last 15 years, “The Savage Curtain” is part of a “canon,” a tapestry of consistent events officially sanctioned by the late series creator Gene Roddenberry, either by his own blessing or through his chosen successors.
This series of pieces will examine the history and development of Trek canon, and argue for the position that canon–a concept which has never before received this much media attention–has been an unnecessary, deleterious, and un-Trek addition to the Trek world. And as many of the ridiculous fan flame wars about J.J. Abrams’s $150 million Trek prequel illustrate, canon’s place in the hearts and minds of fans needs to be seriously re-examined.