Shatner, Takei, Wheaton headlining Europe's biggest Star Trek convention
In the show's 50th anniversary year, big names are confirmed; we look at its appeal
Destination Star Trek Europe is coming to the Birmingham NEC next month, and it's going to be officially … fascinating (**eyebrow raise**.)
The headlining guests represent three of the heaviest-hitters in the Trek universe. There's the great George Takei, the original series's helmsman Sulu and now a much-loved LGBTQ icon. There's Wil Wheaton, the most drolly self-deprecating of former Trek stars, known to the wider world as Ensign Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but whose amiable geekiness (and a recurring guest role on The Big Bang Theory as an evil version of himself) have made him far more popular with the fans than he ever was when he was on the show. Finally there's William Shatner, who transcends ordinary language and who's performing his one-man Broadway show, the splendidly-titled Shatner's World: You Just Live In It.
But that's not all. Other confirmed guests include the great character actor Christopher Lloyd, who played big baddie Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock; Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris from Voyager); Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax from Deep Space Nine); TNG stars Jonathan Frakes and the always-worthwhile Marina Sirtis, and others. There are three talk stages, a Bridge photo shoot (get your pic taken on the original series Enterprise bridge set, the TNG bridge, or a Klingon bridge), an autograph area, a gaming area and a Friday night party at which if you don't show up in uniform you can expect not to graduate from the academy, cadet.
The world's longest-enduring and most doggedly idealistic sci-fi franchise premiered on American TV screens 50 years ago yesterday. Most critics were less than impressed: the Boston Globe thought it 'clumsily conceived and poorly developed', Variety predicted that the show wouldn't last, and the New York Post set a definite tone in Trek commentary with the remark 'one may need something of a pointed head to get involved'. Sure enough, on its original broadcast it suffered from declining ratings, and parent network NBC responded by shoving it to ever-less-desirable time slots and slashing its production budgets before finally cancelling it after what's universally regarded as a pretty rubbish third season.
Star Trek was saved, in part, by syndication: the process by which a show originally broadcast by one network ends up being sold, or rather rented out, to any station or market that wants to pay for it. As a show that stations could slap onto the air any time they needed a bit of consistent sci-fi entertainment, it earned many more fans than it acquired the first time around. The result was a series of movies, of which the even-numbered ones have been statistically proven to be better than the odd-numbered ones. In the late 80s, there came the majestic Star Trek: The Next Generation, which lasted for seven seasons and which was consistently better – braver, more intelligent, less corny – than the original series. Three more shows followed: Deep Space Nine (recycled in a space station!), Voyager (recycled but they're totally lost!) and Enterprise (recycled but nobody knows what the hell's going on!) Finally, the franchise got a lusty reboot with JJ Abrams's 2009 movie.
Why do people love Star Trek so much? Could it have something to do with the show's fundamental idealism? At the height of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry envisioned a future in which men and women of all ethnicities explored space together, having collectively solved all of mankind's pesky intra-cultural difficulties. Nichelle Nicholls's Lt Uhura was one of the first African-American characters on US TV who wasn't some sort of servant. While it's true that in later seasons she seldom got to do more than basically answer the phone, she was the galaxy's most ludicrously over-qualified phone-answerer, and early on she showed that she could man the helm, act as navigator or do anything else required of her. As played by Zoe Saldana in the rebooted franchise, she adds a healthy dose of badass. The Next Generation set a new standard for intelligent sci-fi drama: episodes such as 'Darmok', 'The Inner Light' and 'Tapestry' are great moments in television.
A new series, Star Trek: Discovery, premieres on in January: set ten years before the original series, it aims to find a new way of telling Trek stories. It's being hosted by CBS All Access, ironically named in view of the fact that it's a subscription service, so how and when we'll get to see it on this side of the Atlantic is not yet known. In the meantime, the celebration of Trek comes to Birmingham in October. Live long. Prosper. Engage. Thataway.
Destination Star Trek Europe is at the Birmingham NEC from Fri 7–Sat 9 Oct 2016.