That “What number am I thinking of?” bit goes back to when Afshar and Delos Reyes first met one year ago (in both real time and the comic’s timeline).
I know digital de-aging has been a thing for awhile, and Marvel has done a pretty bang up job at it since Brat Pack Robert Downey Jr. fought with mustached Roger Sterling in Captain America: Civil War. But this shot of Data from the new Picard show? Oy vey ist mir! He’s so bloated and puffy, like he’s holding in a comical amount of water in his cheeks. And his eyes… why are they so small? I get that a streaming TV show doesn’t have the budget of a billion dollar film, but that’s no excuse. If you can’t do it right then don’t. Use old Brent as is. Recast. Use a sock puppet. Anything other that whatever that is. Oh, god! It’s burned into my brain!
I’ve drawn a ton of different uniforms over the life of the comic – many in this current storyline alone. I’ve gotten to know their ins and outs and the details that make them all unique. Here’s my take on which worked best and which should be burned, ranked from favorite to most hated.
Toss-up: The Motion Picture Flag officer Uniform and Captain’s Class B
This one is a shocker to even me because I generally favor William Ware Theiss’s work far above Robert Fletcher’s. The flag uniform is a streamlined, powerful, high contrast statement that makes Kirk stand out as a rank above everyone else around him. It’s dressy, but it’s not bulky. It says “brass” without saying “dangling swords and medals”. And, yes, I even like the biorhythm detector that divides the midsection . The class B expertly walks a fine line between exploitively sexy and professional. The short, arm-squeezing sleeves, tight torso, and dipping v-neck (which evokes Kirk’s first season TOS wrap-around) are feminine, yet the same features along with the ribbed details contour and expose just how manly 1970’s Shatner was.
The Next Generation First Season Duty Uniform
Based heavily on the outfits Theiss created for Roddenberry’s failed pilot Planet Earth, the first season TNG uniforms are pure sex. The skin tight spandex unitard, stretched tight and wrinkle-free over (likely prosthetic) pecs, looks and acts like a comic book superhero outfit. The black shoulders even mimic a cape. Ever notice a lot of “Encounter at Farpoint” is shot from a worm’s eye view? It’s a classic superhero angle. The divide between the division colors and the black legs follows the shape of the Starfleet arrowhead. It’s a look that would define every uniform that would follow for the next twenty years (and more, judging from the upcoming Picard series). The shoulder and pant cuff piping is a nice detail lost in later iterations. While still militaristic, it tones those features down with boots mostly hidden under flared pant cuffs and pips replacing sleeve braids. It’s Star Trek’s most design-centric outfit. This goes for the skant as well. I love it, especially for its unisex quality. Dudes look as good in it as women. The sleeves are cute and the skirt is much more modest than its Original Series counterpart. A lot of fans like to repeat the nonsense that this uniform was impractical since the spandex demanded physical perfection from the actors. This concern seems to only apply to the men, since the women continued to wear spandex onesies throughout the series – even after pregnancies – while the men got loose two-piece outfits.
The Original Series Production Duty Uniform
This is the one that started it all (as far as viewers were concerned). It’s colorful, yet professional. Everything we expect from a naval uniform is present, including insignias, easily deciphered divisions, and rank. Their somewhat casual look is grounded in militarism by the sleeve braids and high-heeled boots. The short, untucked shirts over high-waisted pants should look goofy, but somehow don’t. Yes, the women’s skant is sexist. The skirt is so short one can often see flashes of underwear that would make any anime director applaud. This is hardly a look suited for an office or military environment, and the fact that its mandatory only makes it worse. But, from a pure fashion standpoint, with its long sleeves, asymmetrical collar, and thigh-high boots, it’s fabulous.
The Original Series Captain’s Wrap-Around
This is a sexed up, chest bearing version of the standard male uniform because, let’s face it, Star Trek presented Shanter as a sex object. I prefer the version with the collar braids. It gives more shape to the v-neck and broadens the shoulders without ugly padding.
Deep Space Nine/Voyager Duty Uniform
I’m not a fan of either of these shows, but I have a grudging affection for this uniform. It’s the best variation on Theiss’s original TNG design. It gave a two-piece outfit to women and men alike. The all-black body looks great, and while it tones down the colorfulness, the lavender turtle-neck somehow makes up for it. It also looks good with the sleeves rolled up. Though, that begs the question as to why there wouldn’t just be a short sleeve variant.
The Original Series Pilot Duty Uniform
Historically, this one actually started it all. It definitely looks like a primordial version of the production duty uniform. The colors are muted, the rank braids are less functional, and the insignias are small and hard to read. But it has its charms. It’s mostly unisex, and I like the ribbed collar that doesn’t try to be a mock turtle-neck.
Toss up: Discovery Enterprise and Beyond Duty Uniforms
These are both a decent variation on the Original Series duty uniform. My only quibble would be the collars and shoulders, which on both are just too stuffy and stiff. They get rid of some of the comfort and laxness of the original design.Props to Discovery’s black skirt variant which isn’t too short to be ridiculous, but isn’t too long to be puritanical.
The Motion Picture Everything Else
There is something to be said about a uniform that is comfortable on a ship with perfect environmental control. That doesn’t mean they should look like pajamas. Most of the confusing myriad of TMP uniforms just don’t work. They’re often unflattering and their colors, especially the brown, are bland and uninspiring. The unitards have nothing to break them up but the biorhythm device that adds a mere dot to the midsection. The two-piece honestly looks like sleepwear. Spock’s odd collar looks too complex for something that has so little detail everywhere else. The one variation I do like is the kimono top. It reminds me of the work jumpsuits in TOS.
2009/Into Darkness Duty Uniform
Supreme Kudos for returning to the show’s roots as far as flashy color and comfort. But this variation on Theiss’s TOS design just doesn’t work for me. The material is too thin. It looks like silk, and silk is tacky. It just doesn’t conform to the body the way the old velour did leaving a lot of unsightly wrinkles. The collar is too wide and loose and the hem is too long. Plus those pants are really chunky and haphazardly stuffed into the boots, like a SWAT team’s. I’m also not a fan of the arrow head texture that covers the entirety of it. It looks like the netting on a football uniform top. The skirt variant is cut well, but with no sleeves comes no rank. How did they miss that for two films?
The Next Generation Third Season Duty Uniform
The folks slowly taking over TNG from Gene were sexist prudes, and the first thing that showed this was the change in the uniform. While Crusher and Troi had to keep on keeping on in skin tight spandex, the boys got these extremely paunchy looking two-piece muffin tops. What was supposed to be a more flattering option made everything on an aging man look worse. I mean, who wants love handles built into their shirts? And the mandarin collars just add to the stiff, no-fun-allowed theme. Were naked necks too sexy for Rick Berman? And please don’t tell me about how Patrick Stewart’s chiropractor warned him against the first season onsies. Chiropractors believe disease is caused by interruptions in life line energies.
The Next Generation Captain’s Jacket
I’ve got an idea. Let’s take a frumpy, ill-fitting mock turtle neck with ribbed shoulders and tuck it into frumpy, ill-fitting pants with no belt. Now, let’s put a frumpy, over large jacket made of velvet with a completely different style of ribbed shoulders on top of that. In the TNG style of covering the men as much as possible, this takes the cake. Kirk was all about ditching fabric when he put on a uniform variant. Picard just keeps adding pointless layers. At the very least the jacket doesn’t have shoulder pads.
Toss-Up: Discovery and Enterprise Duty Uniforms
Nothing is more boring and over used in modern science fiction than blue uniforms. Everyone looks alike. Nobody looks good. Enterprise’s coveralls make the crew look like janitors. Discovery’s blues are more form fitting, but still look like something a mechanic would wear. The boring blue clashes badly with the boring division-based metallics that line the sides. Rank is hard to see on both, with Enterprise’s as close set squares that blend together and Discovery’s as completely invisible pips hidden in the insignia.
First Contact Duty Uniform
The TNG movie uniforms enflame and exacerbate every problem with the previous incarnations from the third season on. They’re ill-fitting and poorly tailored. Even more color is drained out of them by making the shoulders a bleak grey. The ribbed shoulders are bulky and uncomfortable looking, and their padding is so thick it rides up when the actors lift their arms. Are they planning to play football in them? For something made for a big budget film they look cheap and uninspired.
The Wrath of Khan Duty Uniform
WT-ever-loving-F were they thinking? These outfits would look ridiculous as dress uniforms, but as duty uniforms? The jackets are so absurdly ornate their difficult to parse rank insignias are on them twice – shoulder and arm. There’s a thick braid on the sleeve to show how long you’ve been in the service as if that’s important at-a-glance information. The collar colors that denote division clash with the bright maroon more times than not, especially the international orange Saavik wears around her neck. The jacket’s front fly opens to reveal… more jacket. It’s just as preposterous that anyone would run around a ship doing work in these as it is for Batman to do acrobatics in any outfit he’s worn since the 80’s. That’s why when people are prepping for the battle sequences in TWOK they’re all in the slightly less ugly and way more practical cadet outfits. Plus they look like bell hop…ehem… imperial navy uniforms. If the Federation is supposed to be anything, it’s definitely not an empire. And they somehow survived five movies and supposedly were in service for 75 years!
Hate to leave you on yet another cliff hanger, but I’m taking a little summer break. See you in two weeks! Don’t let the gamma rays of Proxima Centauri give you too bad of a sunburn.
Spring is sprung. The cherry trees are blooming. The kids are out of school. It’s Purim/Holi/that goyishe holiday with the rabbit. The comic is at a nice cliffhanger, so it’s a perfect time to take off for a week. We’ll be back on April 5th, 2019. Enjoy the warming weather!
“Great Mother of the Egg!”, the excited exclamation yelped by Acting Lieutenant Young in last Friday’s strip, was an expletive uttered by Romulan Ambassador Bendes in the Peter Pan Star Trek record, “In Vino Veritas”. I’m guessing it’s a reference to the fact that Romulans like birds. It was written by Alan Dean Foster who later wrote the final storyline for “The Motion Picture”.
The Mary Sue recently put up an article chastising William Shatner for so-called un-Kirk-like views regarding the #MeToo movement. I’ve chided Shatner myself on the subject and have been banned from his Twitter feed for doing so. The part of The Mary Sue’s article that annoyed me, though, was the Kirk/Shatner comparison. Ever since Erin Horáková’s essay “Kirk Drift” there’s been a new movement to beatify James T. Kirk as some kind of über-woke bae who slaps down misogyny at every turn. But what kind of feminist was Kirk really?
Horáková’s main piece of evidence is the excellent job Kirk does mentoring young Charles Evans of the Original Series episode “Charlie X” on sexual consent. Written by Dorothy Fontana, it features Kirk telling the kid not to force his affection on women and never put his hands on them without permission. He is not owed their attention. Considering the “boys will be boys” attitude many still have today, the speech seems downright radical for the late 1960’s. But did Kirk practice what he preached?
The fact is Kirk was, in many cases, a pig. I’m not here to bash Kirk’s general libido. We at the comic approve of and encourage physical love often and in all combinations. And, as Horáková points out, Kirk’s serious exes are all brilliant, professional women who still respect him with only a few exceptions. But what we see in action is a different Kirk, one that crosses a lot of professional lines and has a general disdain for female opponents.
Let’s start with the work place stuff. The first glimpse we get of the Kirk/Rand relationship is in “Corbomite Maneuver” Kirk is extremely rude to Rand and complains to McCoy about having a “female yeoman” forced on him. The implication on the part of both men is that Kirk is not trustable alone with a woman, even a subordinate.
Not long after, in “Enemy Within” we get the ugly side of Kirk’s lust where we’re shown that at least part of him is, in fact, capable of assaulting his assistant. After Rand is attacked by Evil Kirk, Good Kirk confronts her directly in front of Spock and McCoy who all gaslight her into believing it didn’t happen at all. Only the corroboration of a male witness makes Spock and McCoy take the accusation seriously. And even then they come up with the flummoxing idea that it’s an intruder, an assumption not yet borne out by the evidence they have so far.
Topping off the Rand weirdness, Kirk actually pulls her into an embrace on the bridge during a tense moment in “Balance of Terror”. From an erotic/dramatic stand point this is pure red meat for the audience, but from a real world, professional one it’s pretty unacceptable. Oddly enough prospective script writers were told this exact behavior was a no-no in the 1968 book “The Making of Star Trek”.
Rand isn’t the only female crew member who is the object of Kirk’s misplaced horn-dogging and general disrespect. In “Who Mourns for Adonais” Kirk and McCoy ruminate about what a waste Lt. Palamas is because female officers are bound to leave the service to start a family. To this day that’s an argument used in offices and academia to enforce the glass ceiling. In both this episode and “The Lights of Zetar” Kirk allows Scotty to harass an underling even thought they’re clearly not interested. He seems to even find it cute. In “The Immunity Syndrome” Kirk talks about how great it will be to take shore leave “on some lovely planet” while leering at a female crew member with McCoy and Scotty. After dealing with the Mirror version of Marlena Moreau, Kirk implies to Spock that he’s going to hit on the one in our universe. He then walks over to her and possibly does just that as the credits roll. “Wolf in the Fold” starts with Kirk and his male senior staff at a belly dancing parlor and ends with him inviting them to go to a club “where the women are sooooo…!” This is after witnessing several women, including a member of his own crew, get brutally murdered.
It actually gets worse when Kirk leaves the ship. Sometimes he’s just plain inappropriate with the natives like when he falls in lust with the ward of the one guy who can save his crew from a virulent disease in “Requiem for Methuselah” or when he sleeps with a sex slave that’s offered to him in “Bread and Circuses”. Then there’s that time he says the Federation will just have to “find another woman somewhere” to replace Ambassador Nancy Hedford when they’re forced to leave her behind in “Metamorphosis”. More often than not the captain uses his sexuality as a weapon against female opponents. How about that time Kirk forces the robot Andrea to kiss him so hard he leaves marks on her arms in “What are Little Girls Made of”? Or when he tries to win the affections of Sylvia, Shahna, Kelinda, and Deela in order to defeat them? Kirk never tried to seduce Kor or Rojan or Anan 7, so he’s either too much of a homophobe to take that kind of one for the team or he simply thinks there’s something specifically naive about women that will make them give up everything for his D.
And then let’s never, ever forget the unforgivably grotesque time Kirk asked Dr. Miranda Jones, point-blank, what a pretty thing like her is doing spending her life with an uggo like Kollos in “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”. It’s interesting yet unsurprising to note that this episode, with its deconstruction of Kirk as an insecure lothario and its example of murderous male entitlement as seen in Lawrence Marvick, was, in fact, written by a woman.
There’s no doubt that if Kirk was real he would be rightfully #MeTooed out of his command. But Kirk isn’t real. He’s a character. And we don’t have to approve of everything a character does to be entertained by them. We don’t have to be politically aligned with everything a TV show is putting across in order to watch it week after week. But we also can’t be blind to its faults and unsound messages. “Is There in Truth No Beauty” proves that even at the time Star Trek was airing women were seeing Kirk as problematic. He was a liberal guy who constantly strove for a better tomorrow, but when it came to women’s issues he fell way short. Trying to make him into a feminist icon is not helping anyone.
Hope you all are making spirits bright in whatever manner you love best. The comic will resume on January 8th, 2019. Oddly enough, it’s a completely hilarious coincidence that Delos Reyes is incapacitated in a cliffhangery way every time we go on break. Enjoy the rest of the holidays!
There’s no doubt Gene Roddenberry was a kook with bizarre ideas about the future of humanity. One only has to read his novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and you really should) to get a glimpse of concepts like evolved humans forming empathic communes, Starfleet being made up of barbarous, primitive throwbacks, and teenage “love instructors”. And that’s just the prologue.
But the most talked about aspect of Gene’s crazy future people is the “no conflict” rule he imposed on the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This rule has been reported multiple times by various people who worked on the show, like David Gerrold, Rick Berman, Maurice Hurley, and Ira Steven Behr. The latter even proposed Deep Space Nine specifically as a way to get around the rule. The oft repeated story goes that Gene thought 24th century humans were so evolved they didn’t fight amongst themselves. This meant no disagreements or incompatible personalities. All conflict had to come from outside the ship.
The “no conflict” rule gets lots of play in the media and was talked about quite a bit when Star Trek: Discovery came out. Some journalists accused the rule of stifling the older shows. Some used it as a way to prove Discovery was not real Star Trek. How could they have interpersonal disagreements on that show? Gene was against that! The problem with all this editorial hand wringing was that any one who actually watched early Next Generation at the height of Gene’s control over the series could easily see there was no such rule. At least not in the form that is constantly reported. The 24th century was brimming with human-on-human conflict.
Many of you know I spent a year chronicling Gene’s non-Star Trek work in 1970’s and how they influenced and, at times, directly fed into The Next Generation. One thing that became undeniable was Gene’s expert ability to create conflict through contrasting personalities whether it’s the wily Dylan Hunt butting heads with the pragmatic PAX in Genesis II, the robotic Questor grating on the all too human Jerry Robinson in The Questor Tapes, or the X-Files prototype of superstitious William Sebastian and his skeptic partner Amos Hamilton in Spectre. The stories may be of varying quality, but the drama between characters was always a joy. This was something Gene loved to do. He knew good television depended on it. There was no way his new Star Trek show would lack it.
If we go by The Next Generation’s first two seasons and, especially, the pilot we can find a lot of interpersonal conflict baked right in:
This is the biggest one and caused such an uproar in the fan community at the time due to its break with The Original Series’s captain-at-the-center dynamic that it’s a wonder we all forgot about it. The Enterprise D is less the Original Enterprise and more a traditional imperial naval ship. The old man stays up in the command center while the XO goes out in the field and gets into trouble. Riker was constantly described in promotional materials and interviews as believing the Enterprise was his ship. He just let Picard steer it from time to time. This was a constant source of annoyance for Picard who was, until recently, the swashbuckler of his own tin can of a ship. He often had to force himself into the center of things, much to Riker’s dismay. Riker was also very personable, while Picard was mostly an aloof jerk who literally muttered “shit” to himself when things didn’t go his way.
The concept of bringing families on a space voyage didn’t make sense to a lot of fans and writers because the show totally went off the rails concerning it’s original “generation ship” concept right after the pilot. Families on a ship doing routine patrol not far outside known space is stupid, but a city ship bound for a twenty year mission in the “great unexplored mass of the galaxy” is another thing. Picard was the ultimate confirmed bachelor. He didn’t understand families and resented their presence on his ship. This put him at odds with Dr. Crusher and her kid, whom he referred to as “the boy” and even told to “shut up” once. Riker was asked to be a mediator between him and the civilian crew so he could avoid them altogether.
Besides the fact that Beverly was a breeder, these two had quite a bit to enrage each other over. First there was their immediate sexual chemistry which butted against the fact that Picard practically left her possibly hysterical husband, Jack, to die on a mission. Weasley Crusher took two seasons to fully get over his resentment of the captain. Picard’s callous utilitarianism was also the cause of quite a few heated ethical disputes with the fiery redheaded doctor who was always keen to deliver aid and comfort in even the most hostile environments and sticky situations.
Before Worf wanted to shoot everything, Tasha Yar wanted to shoot everything. Quick on the trigger, Yar’s violent tendencies were constantly being shot down and soothed over by Picard and even Riker.
Data annoyed everyone in the first two seasons, rambling off facts and minutia until he received many a disgruntled outburst. Telling Data to shut up in one way or another was a more frequent event than it was with “the boy”. Riker’s initial mistrust of Data’s artificiality in the pilot is so strong Data actually calls him a bigot. “Prejudice is very human,” he tells the commander, flying in the face of everything we’ve been told Roddenberry felt about his crew.
It’s clear the moment these two meet that they have a troubled history. Troi speaks to Riker telepathically in a way we’re all sure he can hear, but he refuses to respond. She’s down for being friends with crazy benefits. He wants the loving intimacy a ship’s captain can never know. This is made even more obvious in D.C. Fontana’s “Encounter at Farpoint” plot outline, but the bones of it still linger through episodes like “Haven”.
Troi’s original concept and the way the character was mostly written in the first season was to be the new Spock. Even though she could read and parse other people’s feelings she didn’t care much about them nor did she have many of her own. Troi was blunt with her advice and would often call out fellow crew members on how their words contradicted their hidden emotions right to their faces. And she often did it in front of an audience. At one point she tells everyone Yar wants to bone a world leader leaving the tactical officer stammering to qualify her unprofessional horn dogging.
Picard never gets along with his medical officers. He either wants to pound them or pound their faces. Pulaski was exclusively the latter. While she sneakingly admired Picard and requested the Enterprise as an assignment, she goes out of her way to test his authority.
Pulaski doesn’t trust technology, so, obviously, she hates Data on first contact. While her respect for him grows a bit over the course of the second season, she’s his biggest foil most likely taking on the role Riker would have played if he had stayed true to character. Pulaski is interesting in that she was created specifically by Roddenberry for a specific actress he’d worked with twice before making the ruckus she causes a direct result of Gene. It’s also interesting that the character who brought the most amount of oh-so-coveted conflict to the show is the most polarizing among fans. (I love her, so nyah!)
“Arsenal of Freedom” introduces a trope The Next Generation used a couple of times: that of the higher ranking but less talented officer trying to wrest control from the spunky greenhorn who was placed in command in a crisis. If you want an example of full blown hostility among the Enterprise crew Geordi telling Engineer Gumby #10 to step off is one of the most blatant.
Tasha Yar may love the Federation so much she’ll kick you in the face over it, but she’s a constant reminder of it’s failures. At some point the modern, perfect humans of Turkana IV descended into a mass of roving gang rapists that this poor kid and her cat had to escape from. And, to top it off, the enlightened Federation didn’t do a thing about it even though the Prime Directive probably doesn’t apply to its own colonies.
Proving even Starfleet types outside of the Enterprise were not above squabbling, Remmick was a JAG officer brought in to interrogate the Enterprise crew about all the weirdness they experienced over the course of the first season. Never in the history of the show have so many wanted to punch one single nose. Well, maybe Barclay.
So, there was conflict on The Next Generation. Lots of it. And all of it was put there directly by Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana. Looking at the 1987 writer’s guide Gene stated not only that his crew was made up of flawed humans, but that stories should be writen with a personal aspect that could be based on the nature of the characters. Somehow we’ve been told that it wasn’t the case and it was Gene’s fault so often we started ignoring our own eyes. There’s a moment on the documentary Chaos on the Bridge where Maurice Hurley blusters that Gene had handcuffed him with this very “no conflict” rule and then wasn’t as committed to it as Hurley himself was. This comment baffles me. Hurley complains he wanted to write conflict. He says Gene wanted conflict. Why were they not happily creating conflict?
If we go back to the ’87 writer’s guide there is a section on “no melodrama”. This means “no petty conflict”: no fighting over money or personal gain, no soap opera type love triangles, and no bickering over how someone cut in front of you in line to the replicator. Arguments between the crew needed to be believable, because to Gene believability was everything. How in the world this got conflated into an all powerful “no one disagrees ever” dictum is beyond me.
It’s also interesting to note that as Gene’s control waned on the franchise the no conflict rule just got stronger and stronger. Many of the above dynamics disappeared, making the crew more and more bland with each passing season. Picard lost his irritable edge. Riker lost all his ambition. Troi became a sad chocolate monster. Both of them stopped wanting to screw each other. Data became lovable. Only traces of Picard and Crusher’s professional antagonism remained.
One of the things people complain about most with Voyager is the missed opportunity for conflict. Combining Starfleet officers with a bunch of rag-tag freedom fighters, an ex-con, and two alien stowaways on a ship in the middle of nowhere was supposed to breed lots of conflict without breaking the sacred rule. And, yet, by the end of the pilot they were all in uniform and most of them were getting along fine. What conflict did get into later day Trek was exactly the kind of of stuff Gene’s edict sought to avoid. Whether it was Troi/Worf/Riker, Bashir/Dax/Worf, Odo/Kira/Bareil, or Neelix/Paris/Kes, soapy, melodramatic love triangles were embedded into the franchise. Gene had nothing to do with that mess.
The “no conflict” rule is a myth. If it ever existed it wasn’t what it became after Gene lost control of the show. It couldn’t have been. There’s no reason Gene Roddenberry would abandon his greatest writing strength no matter how cockamamy his vision of perfected humanity became. It’s time to put this myth to bed.