Orson Scott Card on Star Trek and the End of Enterprise May 14, 2005
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The series finale of Enterprise was broadcast last night. It may not only be the end of the show, but it might be the end of the Star Trek universe on tv. Fittingly, for the only show not to have “Star Trek” in it’s name, the episode was wholly contained in flashback, a holodeck program run in the middle of episode 164 of The Next Generation called The Pegasus (thanks laurel). I don’t recall the episode, and I never figured out why Riker is troubled and what he finds after viewing the events of The Enterprise. I guess you have to be a real Trekkie to put it all together, and I guess I’m not. I mean hey, it would have been real cool to have Jonathan Archer wake up next to Suzanne Pleshette, but I suppose that wouldn’t have been a good coda to the series.
Just before the series finally aired, Orson Scott Card weighed in with a commentary, printed in the Star Tribune and other places, saying “good riddance”. While the end of a 30 year run of tv and movies isn’t particularly traumatic, I think he’s wrong on all of his main points.
For example, he states,
Which was a shame, because science fiction writing was incredibly fertile at the time, with writers like Harlan Ellison and Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg and Larry Niven, Brian W. Aldiss and Michael Moorcock, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke creating so many different kinds of excellent science fiction that no one reader could keep track of it all.
He seems to have forgotten that Harlan Ellison wrote a Star Trek episode, Theodore Sturgeon wrote two, and Larry Niven wrote some of the animated series. DC Fontana and the Star Trek writers did a pretty good job with making the series actual science fiction and not just Wagon Train To The Stars. He also forgets the difference between television and books. Harlan Ellison’s original script for “City on the Edge of Forever” was better sf than the show, but the show was better television. Harlan, next year’s Minicon Pro Guest of Honor, was pissed that they didn’t use more of his script, but Roddenberry was right to change it.
As Card says,
This was in the days before series characters were allowed to grow and change, before episodic television was allowed to have a through line. So it didn't matter which episode you might be watching, from which year — the characters were exactly the same.
This is exactly right. And this is exactly what Roddenberry had to deal with. Roddenberry wasn’t a particularly good visionary. But he was an excellent producer. He knew what he could do on a limited budget with network executives looking over his shoulder. Remember, CBS had first crack at Star Trek, and they turned it down for Lost In Space. Orson Scott Card would make a lousy tv producer. Indeed, arch our eyebrows to honor Desilu Studios, founded by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, who produced Star Trek in the first place. It takes guts to do something different on television, and the most trail blazing shows only bend the rules, not break them.
Card disses the fans:
The later spinoffs were much better performed, but the content continued to be stuck in Roddenberry's rut. So why did the Trekkies throw themselves into this poorly imagined, weakly written, badly acted television series with such commitment and dedication? Why did it last so long?
First of all, I disagree that the later spinoffs were better. Star Trek was head and shoulders better directed than any of the following series. Jonathan Frakes can’t hold a candle to Marc Daniels. While not every episode is sensawonda-inspiring science fiction, Card is wrong about the writing. As to acting, I also disagree. It’s grossly unfair to take the worst examples of Shatner’s broad acting and compare them to the best examples of Patrick Stewart’s brooding. There was good and bad acting throughout the many series, as happens throughout most television. Personally, I still admire William Shatner’s acting in the series. Sure, he trod the boards a bit too broadly at times, but when he was good he was very good. I felt he was doing John F. Kennedy: A man of action who became a diplomat when responsibility was thrust upon him. You can see Kirk struggling for the words of peace when his body cried out for action. Leonard Nimoy had to invent an entirely new race. He did a superlative job. Spock was the template for all Vulcans who came after him, and none did it better.
And so on. Card is playing the spoiled brat. Anthology shows like Twilight Zone were great sf, but anthology shows have fallen into tv limbo like the 90 minute series. Science fiction on television is better now because Star Trek showed you could have good science fiction on television. The franchise lasted 30 years because the universe remained fertile ground. Have the producers of Star Trek gone to the well once too often? Time will tell. I think should quit while they’re ahead. Aside from a movie every now and then, I’m not expecting another series.
The Top 11 things in the future rarely or never mentioned so far on any Star Trek program
11. Politics. They occasionally talk of an election or diplomatic meetings, but their party affiliation or position on issues just doesn't come up very often.
10. Property taxes
9. Transporter failures. In the first movie, the second in command dies in one, McCoy hates them, and Riker was cloned because of an unusual situation. Even the early model in Enterprise is supposed to be dangerous but they use it anyway? Where is Ralph Nader when you need him? Oh yeah, nevermind.
8. Religion. Aliens get to be spiritual, but where are the human mosques & synagogs?
7. Television, or any sort of entertainment media. Does everyone have a holodeck?
6. Sexual mores. Doesn’t anyone use a condom? Does anyone need a condom?
5. Pollution. Not counting Warp Drive pollution.
4. Taking a shower or doing a laundry. Is water only around for whales to swim in? T’Pol occasionally takes a shower, but she’s so sexy you wonder where the slasher is.
3. Both Data and Quark are one-of-a-kind beings. Why aren't people more curious?
2. The information superhighway
1. The Olympics. Assuming they still have them, is there a planetary team or are there still teams from individual countries on any planet?