Frak vs. Trek

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Sam Miller has written a spot-on examination of the difference between Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica over at mental_floss that any fan of either show MUST read. It may be an idea you’ve heard expressed before, but Miller expresses it so well in this essay that it’s worth revisiting …

Battlestar Galactica vs. Star Trek

“Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica have wildly different aesthetics and ideologies, and both aspire to very different goals. Fundamentally, it boils down to this: Star Trek is about who we want to be, and Battlestar Galactica is about who we are.”

I have some less profound thoughts about the Star Trek franchise, if you care to read them …

I’ll admit, I’m an unabashed fan of both universes. But I know exactly where Star Trek started to weaken for me, and it’s exactly where Miller tells us that BSG‘s Ronald Moore parted ways with the Trek franchise. Voyager. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Voyager, and watched it religiously every week. But as Moore says, “Voyager is not true.” And he’s right. I always had a problem with the fact that the Federation and Maquis crews got along so well and integrated so seamlessly in such a short period of time. And that the ship itself continued to look and function like a standard Starfleet ship for so long, despite being stuck in the middle of nowhere. The initial premise created a great opportunity to challenge the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and core morality of these characters. Instead, each week we mostly got technobabble and tidy plot conclusions. Sure, the Prime Directive got a little bent along the way, but most weeks, you’d never guess they’d even left the Alpha Quadrant.

Deep Space Nine had really opened the door up for darker possibilities, but most of the time, Voyager never quite realized them. One notable exception is an episode from Season 5 entitled “Course: Oblivion,” which almost seems to be a perverse nod to the show’s penchant for neat and tidy endings. In fact, it starts off with a happy ending — the marriage of Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres. Then we find out the ship has a new improved warp drive that will get them home in just a couple of years. Everything is coming up roses! Except … this isn’t the real Voyager … or the real Voyager crew. Everything is a plant-based duplicate created on the “Demon Planet” in Season 4. And the new warp drive is killing them. They finally realize what they are, and try to return to their home planet, but it’s too little too late. By the time the real Voyager responds to their anonymous distress call, the faux Voyager has dissolved into unrecognizable debris. Everything the faux crew experienced, every scientific advancement they made is gone, unrecorded and unremembered. The episode breaks my heart every time I watch it, and I love it for that.

But too few episodes of Voyager were darkly satisfying like this, and it’s a shame. Ditto for ST: Enterprise. I thought for sure that once we were dealing with a pre-Federation Trek, with largely untested technologies and inexperienced crews, we’d finally see the scary side of space exploration. And sometimes we did. But not nearly enough. Too often, the writers fell back on stories involving future time travelers … which kind of seemed like it was missing the point to me. Talk about an obvious Deus Ex Machina in the middle of the room! And as with the other series, the endings of most episodes were tied up neatly. Once again, don’t get me wrong — I loved the show, and looked forward to it every week. But it never quite lived up to its own premise.

If only Paramount had recognized that Rick Berman was diluting the franchise with outdated formulaic writing, and replaced him with Ronald Moore, who knows what those shows could have been like. But then if they had, we might never have gotten Battlestar Galactica … so perhaps it’s for the best.