The Diversity of Star Trek


A fundamental philosophy of Vulcan society is something known as Kol-Ut-Shan or, for those without universal translators, ‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations’.

From a real-world aspect, it was believed that the IDIC emblem (three circles connected by an angled triangle) first featured in TOS was created as a way to sell cheap merchandise to fans, a notion that Leonard Nimoy apparently clashed with Gene Roddenberry over (according to Nimoy’s autobiographical work I Am Spock).

However, irrespective of any material reasoning, the philosophy itself, both in the fiction of the series and maybe even in reality, is a somewhat interesting concept.

The Federation’s mantra includes the seeking out of new life forms and new civilizations, a perfect companion to the Vulcan ideal that there should be an acknowledgement (and acceptance?) of the intrinsic differences that this universe of ours creates and nurtures. In fact, they go hand in hand.

From a story-telling point of view, however, such an outlook has the danger of reducing tension to a tepid soup. The very nature of long-form drama is that it needs to have, ahem, drama. Imagine if you will Pike and his crew refusing to defend themselves from the Kalar warriors on Rigel VII, or if Picard had instead taken the Borg Queen out to dinner (that said, Kirk did something like that with Chancellor Gorkon and look how that turned out). So in our bright and shiny future, we have conflict, we have social commentary, we have genocidal warrior races, we have double-crossing Starfleet officers, we have political satire. We have Wesley Crusher.

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The beauty of Star Trek is how it reflects the variations of life in and amongst all those facets listed above (of which there are much, much more). I seem to recall reading somewhere that Roddenberry explained the bipedal humanoid form as being the best form evolution has provided, which is why the Trekverse has them in abundance (but of course, it’s easier and cheaper on a weekly, syndicated show, to have human actors with just bumps on their foreheads or points to their ears than successfully creating other forms of life on the budgets available – Mr. Gorn, Mrs. Horta, I’m looking at you).

So is the diversity that our heroes are presented with perhaps only within the parameters of what their own experiences will more easily formulate? Does that then actually limit their ability to be accepting? Are they, for all their IDIC ideals and seeking out new lifeforms, still right to be hesitant when they come across Medusans [‘Is There In Truth No Beauty?’], who can turn one mad simply by gazing upon them, or terrified when the Sackers turn up [‘The Three Minute Universe’ (prose)], a race we are told that is so visually abhorrent that they make the average Starfleet officer vomit? If a species is quite different to humanoids, are they still seen as belligerent by the Federation? The Medusans certainly weren’t (well, not the one we met on-screen) and the Sackers’ rationale was ambiguous. Species 8472 were highly xenophobic, but as they were the sole inhabitants of fluidic space, should they be excused? In any case, they wanted to wipe out life in the galaxy so I doubt Janeway would have been willing to negotiate a peace treaty with such an angry group of alien creatures.

At the time of writing, Star Trek has been around for 52 years (54 if we count ‘The Cage’, which we definitely, absolutely, certainly should) and has millions of fans around the world. Some fans love it, live it and breath it (by buying up Blu-Rays, DVDs, audio readings, books, models, comics, action figures, CDs, you name it) and some fans are happy to simply watch the episodes and movies as they appear. But we, those fans, whoever we are, whatever we do, all share two things in common: the first is, obviously, Star Trek itself. The second? Well, we all love some of it, all like some of it, and can all take or leave some of it. Some fans are out and out critical of anything that falls without their notion of what makes Star Trek great and some accept everything they are presented with. And you know? That’s okay. That’s our diversity as fans. That’s what makes us a community – and wouldn’t it be dull if we all agreed on the same things all the time?

I don’t mind if a fellow fan has issues with Discovery, I don’t mind if Voyager is considered by others as the best interpretation of Star Trek there is. (Heck, I adore Star Trek V – The Final Frontier and I don’t believe Nemesis is half as bad as it is supposed to be, so what do I know?!) There are things about Discovery I wasn’t too keen on when it premiered but I got used to the uniforms, accepted that it was a(nother) prequel and happily got swept away with Burnham, Tilly and Stamets. I was 16 when TNG was launched and became an adult while it was running, so I know that iteration intimately and feel giddy at the prospect that Picard is back on our screens soon. We can almost guarantee that there will be fans who aren’t happy that it’s just Picard, but again, that’s okay. After all, CBS/Paramount can’t please everyone (I’m still smarting from the uninspired and vapid John Harrison ‘reveal’. As much as Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, he shouldn’t have been Khan – he didn’t need to be Khan – he should simply have been a wrathful new character seeking revenge for all the reasons Into Darkness established).

DS9 has to be arguably the most interesting take on Star Trek. Occasionally dark and going against the Roddenberry ideal of a perfect humanist future, we have gods and monsters, cults and religions, money and terrorisim. If we were previously treated to a wagon train to the stars , then DS9 was the ultimate frontier town where that wagon train occasionally stopped off at. But at it’s core, DS9 is still Star Trek: it deals with the same conflicts, the same fears and still projects it in a way that any commentary of the time is hidden in plain sight.

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So I’m looking forward to a smiling Spock in Discovery (and didn’t he smile in ‘The Cage’ and ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’? And let us not forget his highly emotional and really rather wonderful reaction when he realised he hadn’t killed his captain in ‘Amok Time’!); I’m intrigued as to what Quentin Tarantino might do (if that movie ever happens); I’m impatiently waiting for more news on the Picard series; and I’m bemused at the upcoming animated comedy episodes. Just four versions of our beloved Star Trek: and any one of them has the ability to be infinitely diverse in infinite combinations.

And surely that’s what Star Trek is all about?