Comparing Star Trek to Doctor Who

I have always been a big fan of science fiction. When I was a kid my favorite movies, TV shows and video games all had some sci-fi component to them. In the early years of my childhood both of my parents were united on their love of Star Trek. They both liked the original series as well as most of the films. Growing up I discovered I could tolerate the Next Generation but I wasn’t that into the others.

I didn’t discover Doctor Who until I was in my 20’s. I didn’t even learn my mom was into the show until I was in college. I had moved back in with my parents to save money while I attended university. It didn’t take long before I started making some comparisons to the two. The biggest difference was how easily I got into Doctor Who yet how hard it was for me to get into Star Trek.

Truth be told my interest in ST goes no further than the motion picture series and a handful of episodes from TOS and TNG. My curiosity has me peek into the different iterations from time to time only to be reminded why it’s such a chore to watch those shows.

Aside from being long running science fiction programs with some theatrical movies in the mix, the two franchises have very little in common.

Star Trek is very much an idealized image of what NASA is trying to be today. Even the most visible character in the pop culture with origins in either franchise, Mr. Spock, is really just a science officer. Now my love for what NASA does is why I continue to be deceived into trying to find some entertainment in the various Star Treks, but I digress lets compare the two.

TV shows.

Star Trek is divided into eras. There’s the Original Series, the animated series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, Picard and unofficially The Orville (which I will get to later.)

Doctor Who is broken down into three eras. Classic Series, the Fox movie, and the revival series. It’s a lot simpler on the surface because it actually lasted several DECADES not just multiple seasons. Star Trek failed to get to its originally intended 5 seasons being cancelled right away then saved by a vehement letter writing campaign only to be ended one season later. The short lived 3-season run certainly had a lasting impact on pop culture as well as the world of science fiction fandom.

In terms of organizational structure Star Trek breaks down by subtitle. You know what to expect with each distinct show, even though there is some overlap and cross overs between many of them.

Doctor Who on the other hand is actually in practical reality a lot messier. You see the Doctor, the main character of the show, is a space alien who basically is reborn every time he, or sometimes she, dies. In other words a new period begins not with a new subtitle and crew/setting, but rather when one doctor “regenerates” into another, usually at the hands of a Dalek. Or is it plunger? Anyways you have I believe 14 or so different Doctors, each one having a distinct personality and each ones adventures playing into that personality.

Then there are the movies.

Doctor Who hasn’t had nearly as much luck with films as Star Trek. The first wave were basically Hollywood attempts to Americanize the show. They were  basically retellings of stories that had previously run but changed to fit an American appetite. Star Trek has never had to be altered or revamped to be more palatable to the British audiences, to the best of my knowledge anyways, so that’s a point in favor of the series that gave the world The Wrath of Khan. Pure sci-fi gold.

But, Doctor Who does somewhat redeem itself with some of the modern movies although they too remain convoluted like the show. Mostly they are excuses to have multiple doctors team up for a storyline that tries to tie up loose ends. They tend to be more like extended length episodes than actual full budget films.

Except one, Doctor Who: The Movie, a made for TV film also Americanized but still firmly tied to the U.K. show unlike the previous films. That movie does stand well enough on its own, it’s actually quite entertaining. However, it doesn’t really connect neatly to the rest of the shows and serves more as a bridge  between Classic and Revived Who.

With the regenerations and cross over episodes plus the constant nods to what came before, Doctor Who feels like each season more or less rehashes what came before but with a slight twist each time. You’re always going to run into the Daleks, the cybermen, Santarans and a few other recognizable aliens. There is always going to be an episode where the doctor causes some great historical tragedy and has to cope with him being the one that kills innocent people. And there is always going to be an episode where a creature of mythology is explained as some alien being.

Star Trek tends to be formulaic too but in a different way. It’s more like here is a new world to explore and what specifically is special about this world or alien or space ship. They rarely return to earth and when they do it’s either a time travel episode, or a vacation gone wrong.

Doctor Who does spend an unnecessary amount of time in England when it is set on Earth. Star Trek tends to trot the globe while being largely U.S. centric for logical reasons.

Doctor Who also does a much better job exploring time and space. You are taken from the earliest beginnings of the universe clear to the end of time and everywhere inbetween. The show features a barrage of aliens, technology an worlds to explore. There is even an episode where the Doctor goes to Hell and defeats the Devil himself. Oh sure I could bring up the Star Trek movie where they meet God but we all know that isn’t a beloved film.

Let’s talk budgets. Early seasons of Doctor Who look like they would be done by high school art and theater students today. TOS episodes on the other hand still look like care went into the production values. The sets tend to be more colorful and open on Star Trek where as Doctor Who often takes place in cramped spaces in the early days. Even once the show progresses I feel like the Star Trek special effects were doing things the Doctor Who people still struggle with to this day. You can blame some of that, or much of it, on budgets. CBS has tons more money than the BBC.

It’s not just special effects. While the control room of the TARDIS is, unique in its own way, it’s not as fleshed out and defined as the iconic Enterprise. Also, let’s face it the Enterprise looks like a space ship NASA could make some day, the TARDIS is just a phone booth.

It’s almost too easy to give a point to Doctor Who for being continuously on air multiple decades, even with a 20 year gap between the two eras, but Star Trek isn’t really that far off. Even though the Original Series did get cancelled right away, there was an animated show to fill in the gaps until the films pretty quick. Also, the gaps between one Star Trek series to the next is not as prominent as the huge gap in Doctor Who. I’d have to actually sit down and count total years represented but I would be willing to be if it’s close at all the edge still goes to Star Trek.

What about merchandise such as toys, comic books and video games? This one is easy. There aren’t any Doctor Who videos games to speak of. There’s a few slot machines and British exclusive computer games nobody has ever played. Star Trek doesn’t have the best games but it’s been represented in some shape or form in nearly ever major video game era. Star Trek also has a pretty solid comic book presence while Doctor Who’s is spotty at best. Same can be said for toys and other collectibles, the edge goes to Star Trek.

Storytelling and plots.

Both shows are heavy handed and very preachy. One presents a society aspiring to achieve utopia while the other has a God-like being enforcing his will across the universe. All of the Star Trek captains make judgement calls and impose the will of their respective federation ideology onto whichever alien or society is being encountered while simultaneously preaching some prime directive about not interfering.

The Doctor calls himself a Time Lord. And nearly every episode he is called out for lording over all of time and space. As his name implies he has an arrogance about him that indicates he believes it is right to impose his will on the universe. He see’s himself as the enforcer of righteousness and the distiller of vengeance on those who do wrong.

Star Trek presents a hopeful future where humanity learns to use technology to transcend its problems and spread those ideals to the rest of the galaxy. Doctor Who presents a Time Lord who whisks around all of time and space both as an observer and dictator of sorts. He spouts off about fixed points in time as a reason why he cannot interfere yet he too breaks his own version of the prime directive quite often.

Star Trek has spun off into other branches of itself. Each new series loosely connected while free from the boundaries of what came before. Doctor Who basically reinvents itself literally every few years with a complete reboot of sorts. There is one true spin off to speak of in the Doctor Who universe, a series called Torchwood, but that’s a story for another day.

Despite personally enjoying Doctor Who more because of the simpler story telling, easier to approach episodes and fast paced action compared to Star Trek, as I break it down Star Trek just comes out ahead in every measurable category.

Doctor Who’s strength is also it’s weakness. Each time the alien regenerates the TARDIS also has to be rebuilt into a new interior set design. This helps mark when a new run is going to being but it also reminds the viewer the show is not likely to give the audience any closure in story lines. When you have a time traveler who can hop dimensions and basically make his own rules, consequences don’t tend to have lasting effects. At least in Star Trek sure each episodes follows a predictable template, you still know that by the end there will be meaningful resolution to the story leaving you satisfied yet still knowing there is more out there should you crave it. Stay Cool.

Why the Death Star is actually pretty cool

From a military stand point the Star Wars universe is very much a the guy with the bigger gun makes the rules kind of place. While the expanded universe, including the now deleted legacy stuff, depicted a vast history spanning thousands of years, what we see in the films paints a picture of a militaristic society struggling to shed its industrialist ways and return to a simpler time.

Throw that narrative out the window and prepare to be amazed. I won’t go into the Imperialist sympathizer mentality some would argue. Palpatine was not a benevolent leader protecting the Empire from an evil alien invasion as some fringe corners of the interwebs might have you to believe.

As an industrialist, pro-capitalism, techie science nerd I can say the idea of a giant, indestructible fortress of metal housing a giant death ray sounds pretty cool. The imagery of the super weapon is also appealing. In a way it kind of looks like a giant menacing robot eyeball in space.  As a setting for a space fantasy it’s damn near perfect. It builds tension for the heroes as the looming dread of ultimate annihilation approaches. Even in that final tactical meeting where the Rebel forces basically come to terms with the suicide mission they are embarking upon the reality sinks in. The pilots know they can either stay on the planet and get blown to atoms or face certain death in an attack that literally makes no logical sense all the way around.

The whole idea of a super weapon that has the power to frighten  the imperial subjects into total submission is more than a plot point, it is the very glue that holds the entire Star Wars saga together. From a tactical perspective it doesn’t need to make sense because it works as a story element.

Star Wars has been regarded by a lot of film different people over the years as the  greatest film of all time, or at least one of the greatest by most accounts. It is absolutely a cultural phenomenon at the very least. I would argue that the Death Star itself is as much a character of the film as Darth Vader and even more crucial to its success than the entire Jedi mythology.

The Death Star represents mans ultimate achievement, using science and technology to tame the natural world. Being able to control the elements even on a global scale is impressive enough. Then we see the Galactic Empire showing our imaginations a society that has also tamed the wild vastness of space itself. Even the science-grounded Star Trek shows us an untamed space that cannot be explained. The reason Star Wars continues to capture our imaginations to this day is because the first film had the balls to make the focus of the movie a Cold War era nightmare extrapolated to the extreme. Humans of the era were under constant threat of mutually assured destruction during the time the film was released. Humanity had created a series of weapons that if unleashed had the capability to render the Earth a lifeless rock. Here comes a weapon that can not only take out all life on a planet, but can actually destroy an entire planet in a single instant. Images of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima fresh on everyone’s minds, the scene where Alderaan is blown to molecules resonated with our own fears.

Everyone from the kid in grade school to the college student writing a thesis for their professor down to the nerdy blogger on the internet, has written about Star Wars in some form or another.

While there are ways to analyze the film from a political science perspective, to seeing it as a study in mythology, to a warning of the dangers of industrialization, every angle has been explored. Even as I sit here trying to think of why the Death Star is so damn cool all I can think to say is it’s the best explanation I have for why the film works so well.

There is so much going on in Star Wars yet most of the truly iconic moments and quoteably memorable lines are taken from scenes that happened on the Death Star. The most iconic line from the movie even “May the Force be With you” was said on the battle ship and directed towards it in that briefing room scene.

The sight of a giant metallic ball of death moving into orbit is more than enough to give everyone chills. Even the sense of relief the heroes have at the films conclusions is more than a simple battle field victory over a technologically and militarily superior enemy. The symbolism of destroying the most powerful weapon of the Empire is enough to bolster the Rebels moral. The audience is left with a sense of wonder, awe and relief as the credits roll. We leave the galaxy far, far away knowing the legend of the farm boy, space pirate and princess who stop an evil giant ball of death will live on in the collective conscious of all who experience it.

While film and literary critics will argue the idea of the Death Star is over used or some contrivance of sorts they fail to recognize what it truly represents. On the surface it’s a plot device. Nothing more than the threat our heroes need to overcome. Yet it represents something larger than that. It is the idea of man developing a technology that can undo God’s creation. The idea that man can invent a technology that would elevate an creature no more significant than a flea in the  grand scheme of things to the single most important life form in existence. For that reason alone the idea of the Death Star transcends the films and is single-handedly responsible for propelling the Star Wars saga from the realm of a cult b movie to arguably one of the most successful and influential films to ever exist.

I believe that the Death Star is the most important element to the film, even more significant to its pop culture status than the characters themselves. And I am eternally grateful George Lucas had the artistic genius to design his movie around a concept that sticks with you. None of the films spectacular visual effects, fantastic story telling, lovable characters or rich back story work if you remove the single most important element from the films genetic makeup. The movie works simply because the Death Star works. Without it you just have the Wizard of Oz in space. And who wants to see that?

The Nerd Rising- or Return of the Geek?

A couple of semesters ago I wrote a paper for English called the nerd rising, where I chronicled how the geeks and nerds were taking over the world. It was a lame assignment that naturally I didn’t take too seriously, but still I did get an A so I must have done something right. Anyways I wanted to re-evaluate some of my conclusions not from the paper itself, it was a home work assignment I really didn’t bother to save. But mostly my own observations that I have noticed since the time I wrote the paper, which was a time I happened to do a lot of research. So here are some of my conclusions.

First Geeks are not Nerds.

I sort of addressed this in my paper and I am one who is generally offended by the intermixing of the terms, they both began as insults to different classes of people so there is an understandable amount of apprehension when a term is used incorrectly. I feel it is no different than when you call a Korean a Chinaman or an immigrant from South America a Mexican, it is offensive to mix up the cultures. Now everybody knows nerds, jocks, geeks, rednecks, hillbillies, etc are stereotypes and they all have their own cultures.

So before I get any further let me just end this with saying I distinguish between nerds and geeks as follows, a nerd is more into math and science, they may or may not be into technology as an extension of that and they are probably attracted to video games, maybe even comic books and the like but they are mostly into science and knowledge. Geeks are often considered wannabe nerds, or they are seen as nerds who are not smart. WRONG, geeks are into technology first and foremost, not so much the knowledge behind the technology but more the applications of it.

They are more likely to be into video games as those are technology driven and they tend to be geared towards the tech more than the games themselves. (Gamers are a subset which I will tackle latter) Geeks also are more likely to be into comic books than nerds because geeks are into the superficial sciences and comic books are not very scientifically accurate. They like stories that involve super heroes and giant robots more than anything else but are flexible. There are also comic book fans, they do not have their own word as far as I am concerned but they are not nerds or geeks they are just people who read comic books, a nerd, geek, or gamer may also be into comic books but that again is no different than a redneck who lives for hunting and fishing also being into Football, sports fans are an entirely different breed all their own.

So with that said, the paper I wrote focused on how Nerds are taking over the world, and that the power shift has gone from the strongest of society to the smartest, how politicians are now in control where historically it was Lords and Kings (who usually started out as knights or warriors) who ruled. The world has changed so I wanted to highlight that. But then I realized that to the mass society we are all people who enjoy different freedoms at different levels and some of us have interests that are not as widely appreciated as others.

Anyways I never identified as a nerd I am just not smart enough and I hate being called a geek because although I am into technology it is not what I live for. I always preferred the term techie but even that is stretching it. My interests lie mainly in politics to some extend, Astronomy and Space exploration mostly Mars and NASA but not too much, computers but more so as video games than as tools or whatever, and of course video games. I have on occasion dabbled into comic books but to be honest they tend to lose my interest rather quickly. So I don’t mind being called a gamer because I do at least from a percentage stand point, game more than anything else. But I also watch a lot of television, mostly sitcoms but some science fiction from time to time, and some dramas if they are good, I like the Walking Dead currently, I used to watch Buffy from time to time, and Bones before it turned into a soap.

Recent trends in Hollywood have been to shift their big budget special effects films away from generic save the world blockbusters and more towards the real of comic books and video games, Marvel has especially been successful at turning their comic book characters into a media empire. Still to me this is no different than Star Wars which to many is just a film, or a series of films depending on where you stand on the quality of the series. But it is also a media empire, there are books, comic books, video games, toys, everything else you can think of. At its core Star Wars is still a story, not tied to just a movie. And yes I am a Star WARS fan not so much a Star TREK fan, so there is that.

Why am I bringing any of this up? Because there is a new Robocop movie out that I will be watching either tonight or tomorrow depending on how things go, and I am actually looking forward to it even considering how much I really enjoyed the, clearly outdated original despite what some long time fans might tell you. The original does not hold up well at all, it is supposed to take place in the future but is blatantly stuck in the 80’s, so there is that. Hey I was a kid in the 80s too but guess what, that does not automatically make everything from that decade suddenly good just because.

Robocop was a violent movie about a robot who killed bad guys, I call BS on all the social commentary because first none of what was predicted to occur did occur, second the movies director might have had that in mind but the AVERAGE move goer never picks up on that crap anyways to the average consumer Night of the Living Dead is a Zombie movie it is NOT making fun or American consumerism, To most American viewers, Robocop is an action movie about a dead guy put into a robot body who goes on a shooting spree splattering bad guys all over the wall nothing more.

As long as there is an indestructible robot pretending to be a copy shooting up bad guys then I am okay with this new movie, I do not care if they altered or removed the supposedly social commentary that was NOT blatantly obvious because NOBODY figured it out until years latter on the DVD commentary in the first place. So where do I stand on this issue? For me it is JUST a movie, if you try to make it more than that well you are a nerd, geek, whatever, but if you are just a regular person who just happens to enjoy a mindless action flick with maybe some good special effects to help keep you entertained, they good for you. Like what you like and do not worry about what others think.

I have a part two for this that I will write up latter but I also have other topics I want to get to first so I will also talk more about my thoughts on the movie AFTER I actually watch it. Stay Cool.