Star Trek TOS: ‘The Devil in the Dark’

Twitter informed me that the Star Trek episode ‘The Devil in the Dark’ (1967) was first aired fifty-one years ago on 9th March 1967.  This reminded me that it’s probably my favourite episode from the original series.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to a mining planet where the miners are under attack from a terrifying alien creature that lives in the depths of the tunnels.

I adore ‘The Devil in the Dark’ and think it brings together the elements that make Star Trek great.

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This week’s culture round-up

  • Flavorwire tells us that these are the 20 most iconic books covers ever . It’s interesting that most of the books on the list are books that middle-class adolescents are expected to read.   This is not to say they’re not iconic covers, just that someone with more mental energy than I have right now could probably say something about the politics of canon formation.
  • From the Paris Review, an article about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Hound of the Baskervilles .  I was such a Sherlock Holmes fan when I was a teenager.  I couldn’t start reading The Adventures without going on to read the entire series. The Hound of the Baskervilles is not my favourite, but I do like its gothic atmosphere.

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This week’s culture round-up

I’m still on my SF reading binge and in the last week I have finished Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, which I liked very much, am still working my way through Iain M. Banks’s complex The Algebraist and have just started Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. Andy and I have started rewatching Season 4 of Babylon 5.  I haven’t watched any of the new series of Dr Who because I’m scared that it might upset me.  Anyway, here are some links to things I enjoyed on the internet:

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This week’s culture round-up

Little link round-up

Little link round-up

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates from the Atlantic writes about Edith Wharton, The Age of Awesome
  • Eclectric Eccentric reviews Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist fable Herland
  • Robert Ebert asks if anyone wants to be well read anymore.  I won’t start going on about the politics of canon formation here.  Read whatever you find meaningful, I say.
  • Speaking of which, from the Hathor Legacy, a list of feminist ‘sword, sorcery and sandal‘ books.
  • Female artists on tumblr, mainly a certain kind of NSFW female artist I should add.
  • Happy birthday to George Takei, Star Trek actor and gay rights activist.
  • From, a post about a movie called Zardoz which I haven’t seen, but really, really must one of these days

Little link round-up

Go V’ Ger

The extraordinary Voyager 1 spacecraft is demonstrating its nimbleness more than 30 years after leaving Earth.

I have an attachment to Voyager 1 because it’s awesome, obviously, it was launched the year I was born, and it’s fictional descendent made a good character in the otherwise rather dull first Star Trek movie.

Andy and I are so childish, every time we hear Voyager mentioned, we have to say “V’Ger seeks the creator” in robotic voices … every. time.

“OMG! V’Ger is …. Voyager!”

Little link round-up

A bit of an eclectic mix this week:

Narrative Kinks

A little while ago on lj ruuger wrote about her die hard narrative kinks, causing me to think about the narrative ‘kinks’ that keep me coming back for more.  I don’t have quite as many as ruuger, but there are a some that do it for me every time.

1. Unrequited Love

I am a TOTAL sucker for narratives that feature characters being tortured by unrequited love.  Considering that pretty much all of my love was unrequited until I hit 29 you’d think I’d be rather averse to this sort of story, but not a bit of it.  In Babylon 5 we have Lennier being slowly twisted by his love for Delenn plus Marcus sacrificing himself for Ivanova (no wonder I’m addicted to that show).  In Star Trek Deep: Space 9 poor Odo the shape shifter is obsessed with the oblivious Major Kira.  I’m also inclined to include McCoy and Spock from the original series of Star Trek here – I think it’s the way McCoy persistently attempts to get Spock’s attention only to be rebuffed by “logic”, much to his neverending chagrin.

Favourite unrequited love story

Spike and Buffy of course (yes, I know it’s wrong).

2. Unresolved Sexual Tension between women

Not surprising really! I think this kink is a hold over from my sexually repressed adolesence during which I preferred same-sex tension unresolved because that meant I didn’t have to face up to the implications of resolving it.  I love the relationships between Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine in Voyager, Buffy and Faith,  and Ivanova and Talia in Babylon 5.

Favourite unresolved tension

Xena and Gabrielle, which they managed to string out forever. How much time did these ladies spend in the bath?

3. Love/hate relationships

Can’t get enough of that love/hate dynamic.  The passionate loathing between Ambassadors Londo and G’Kar in Babylon 5 is one of the finest things in the series.  The only time I have any interest in Angel in Buffy is when he interacts with Spike.   I’m also very fond of the love/hate vibe between Odo and Ferengi bartender Quark in DS9.  We could include Buffy/Faith and McCoy/Spock here as well.

Favourite love/hate pairing 

Londo and G’Kar.  They hate each other’s guts but we also know that theirs is a very deep relationship, deeper than they realise until Season 5.

4. The non-human character who shows us what it means to be human 

Star Trek comes into its own here: Spock in the original Star Trek, Data in TNG, Odo in DS9, the holographic doctor, Tuvok and Seven of Nine in Voyager, Q whenever he appears.  Then there’s the intelligent Sharon/Athena in Battlestar Galactica, the wonderful Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Teal’c in Stargate: SG1.  I’m also rather fond of the Terminator robot in Terminator 2.

Favourite non human who shows us how to be human

This was a particularly hard choice, but in the end I felt I had to go with Mr Spock because the guy’s been showing us what it means to be human since 1966, which is an awful lot of standing around looking bemused and saying that things “aren’t logical”.  I think Anya from Buffy and the holographic doctor from Voyager are tied in a close second place though.

5. Redemption

My Christian upbringing is probably showing here, but I am the kind of person who reads A Christmas Carol and watchesIt’s a Wonderful Life every year, so enamoured am I of redemptive storylines.  By ‘redemptive’, I mean stories in which a character opens up to the possibility of change, renewel and growth. The Shawshank Redemption is one of my very favourite films and I think I’m especially taken with stories in which the redemption comes through friendship.  In Season 7Buffy Andrew is redeemed through his desire for friendship with the Scoobies and manages to be affecting and hilarious. Spike is finally redeemed through his friendship with Buffy,  Seven of Nine by Captain Janeway’s faith in her, and Londo and G’Kar through their eventual acceptance of each other’s friendship in Babylon 5.

Favourite redemption 

Another very hard one and I think this time we have a tie!

I want to give it to Anya from Buffy becaue I love her and she gets redeemed twice. I will never ever forgive Joss Whedon for the way he kills her off just as she’s finally coming into her own.

But I have to put a word in for Londo and G’Kar again.  I think I love this storyline so much because it’s very dark and makes the point that sometimes the only way to redemption is through death.

6. Very Scary and Almost Insurmountable Threats! 

I like my threats seriously scary and almost indestructable because I like to see my heroes overcoming massive odds.  There are the Shadows in Babylon 5.  The Borg in Star Trek.  Sauron in the Lord of the Rings.  Caleb is possibly the scariest villain in Buffy.  The Reavers in Firefly are almost too scary for me, but I think they give the show its edge.

Favourite threat 

“We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”

Women of SF: Ishka

No. 55 in Godard’s Letterboxes list of 100 Women in SF.

Ishka is the mother of Quark and Rom, two of the main Ferengi characters resident on Deep Space Nine, the space station setting for Star Trek’s first spin-off series.

Ishka enters the show as a comedy character, but develops over the series to become one of the most outspoken feminists in the history of Star Trek.  Ferengi society is uber-capitalist and its females are oppressed, forbidden from wearing clothes, owning property, or, worst of all, earning profit – the activity that gives meaning to Ferengi life.

Ishka rejects these constraints and sets out earning profit for herself in secret, almost getting her son, Quark, into serious trouble in the process.  Not content to stop there, Ishka forms a romantic relationship with the Grand Nagus – the head of the Ferengi financial empire – becomes the power behind the throne and starts to work on changing Ferengi society from within.

Ishka is a lot of fun. She’s resilient, positive and friendly, but ready to defend herself energetically when necessary.  She loves both her sons, but is honest about their limitations.   Her grandson, Nog, inherits her rebellious qualities, refusing to obey the “rules of acquisition” and choosing to join Star Fleet instead of earning profit.

Quote: “I predict that one day, a female will enter the Tower of Commerce, climb the forty flights of stairs to the Chamber of Opportunity, and take her rightful place as Grand Nagus of the Ferengi Alliance.”

Women of SF: Guinan

Guinan is a mysterious alien who works as a bartender on the star ship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  She is a member of a scattered species known as “listeners” who were decimated by the Borg.  The reason for her presence on Enterprise is never revealed beyond reference to her close friendship with Captain Picard.   Star Trek: TNG generally does badly with female characters and the two regular female characters, Beverly and Deanna, are not well served.   In a series as attached to gender stereotypes as TNG Whoopi Goldberg’s cool and androgynous Guinan is therefore a great relief and every scene in which she appears is something to look forward to.   She and Patrick Stewart have some amazing chemistry.   Although Goldberg is known as a comedian, she plays Guinan as a serious character and brings a certain gravitas to the show.   Deanna is the official ship’s counsellor,  but Guinan does the real counselling, usually stepping in to challenge the officers when they most need to be challenged.   If I have any complaints, it’s that they didn’t use Guinan enough and that we never found out about her abilities, which the alien trickster Q suggests are considerable.   She can fight too – beating the Klingon Officer Worf in a shooting match and fencing with Captain Picard.

No 51 on Godard’s Letterboxes’s list of 100 women in SF.

Women of SF: Lwaxana Troi, Star Trek

No 37 in Godard’s list of 100 women in science fiction

Lwaxana Troy is the daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed, the Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, and Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed.  She is also the mother of Counsellor Deanna Troy who works on board the star ship Enterprise.

The evolution of Lwaxana Troi is a great example of a talented actress breaking the limits originally set by the Star Trek writers.   From a feminist perspective, her character’s first appearances are not at all promising.  She begins as a figure of fun, the sexist humour being based on the idea of an older woman expressing her sexuality.   But, over the course of the series, Lwaxana becomes something far more interesting, a woman who refuses to conform to the emotionally repressed, well-behaved world of Star Trek the Next Generation, a world in which she cannot be anything other than a highly disruptive force.   As a result, Lwaxana becomes a point at which emotional authenticity can enter the show, loudly expressing anger, grief and desire, as well as implicitly and explicitly criticising other characters for their conformity, insipidity and self-repression.  The only episode of The Next Generation that makes me cry is a Lwaxana Troi episode.   Although she plays an alien, Lwaxana is often more ‘human’ than the human characters; she messes up all the time, but her mistakes are always based on genuine feeling.   By the time we reach Deep Space Nine, Lwaxana has become a figure of dignity and emotional courage.

Plus her outfits are awesome.

Classic quote:  “I’ve lived a full life. Sometimes its overflowed a bit, but I enjoy living”.

Women of SF: Jadzia Dax, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Jadzia Dax is the Science Officer on the Federation station Deep Space Nine.  She is also a joined Trill.  Selected members of her species become hosts to symbiotic creatures who share their planet.  The host and symbiont experience a complete merging of personalities and retain the memories and aspects of the personalities of all the previous hosts.   Jadzia is the eighth host for the Dax symbiont.   Her previous host, Curzon Dax, was the best friend and mentor of the Station’s commander, Benjamin Sisko, and the two remain close friends after the Dax symbiont is transferred to Jadzia.

Terry Farrell is great in a difficult role in which she has to convey complexity while maintaining a coherent character.   She combines the exuberance of a young woman with the maturity of an older woman.   She’s very professional; cool under pressure, wise, as well as being a brilliant scientist.  She’s also one of the most playful Star Trek characters.  Dax likes to party.  She revels in relationships that the more buttoned-up characters find a bit incomprehensible, enjoying the company of Klingons and Ferengi among others.  Her pursuit of the Klingon officer, Worf, is a delight as she cracks through his reserve (he’s by the far the more neurotic partner in their relationship).  Dax and Worf marry during Season 6.

Unfortunately, Terry Farrell left the show at the end of Season 6 and was replaced by the inferior Ezri Dax (who the fans dubbed Ally McTrill), a more conventional character and a disappointingly sexist representation in general.  But let’s not allow that to detract from the achievements of Jadzia Dax.

Classic quote: “Sometimes I like it when the bad guy wins.”

SF Links

Posts about gender in Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan.

Also, an interesting post about the new Star Trek movie looking at how it changes the philosophy underpinning the orginal show.  This bothered me too but I couldn’t quite articulate it until I read this post and realised that Star Trek’s humanist philosophy and the ethical issues it produces are absent from the new film.

Women of SF: Major Kira Nerys

Major Kira is number 21 in Godard’s Letterboxes 100 women in SF.

Major Kira Nerys was born during the Cardassian occupation of her planet, Bajor.  She grew up in a labour camp and was recruited into the resistance when she was 13 years old.  After the Bajoran resistance chased the Cardassians off their world, Kira was given the important role of First Officer on the Federation Space Station, Deep Space Nine, from where the Federation hopes to guide Bajor’s entry into the United Federation of Planets.

From a feminist perspective, there are always problems with the representation of women in Star Trek due to the tendency towards a lot of unexamined sexism on the part of the writers.   For example, no matter how tough and self-reliant a female character is, there will always be bizarre episodes in which she acts like a terrified little girl.  Kira is no exception to this rule, but as Star Trek women go, she’s definitely one of the better representations and Nana Visitor is really great in the role.

Kira comes across as a complex, multifaceted character.  She has a hot temper and a violent past which haunts her; she’s a professional soldier but also a deeply spiritual person; she’s extremely loyal to her people and her friends.  She gets her heart broken more than once in the show — one of her lovers dies and another, the shape shifter Odo, decides to return to his people at the end of the series.   But Kira never lets this affect her professional life.  Over the course of the series, Kira develops a lot, dealing with her violent past, addressing her prejudices about the Cardassians and building strong friendships with the station’s federation crew.  She is promoted to Colonel and eventually Commander. Overall, she is an interesting, well-rounded woman of science fiction.

Typical Kira quote:  “I was thirteen when I joined the Resistance. Been hanging around the Shakaar base camp for a couple of weeks, you know, running errands, cleaning weapons, that kind of thing. And one night, they had an ambush planned and they were a man short, so I volunteered. But everyone thought I was too young, too small […] But it was… up to Shakaar and… he stared at me for a long time before he decided I was big enough to carry a phaser rifle after all. So we set the ambush up along the ridgeline, that night, and waited. I was so cold, my hands were shaking. I was so afraid that one of them would look at me and think that I was nervous, that I kept biting my fingers to keep the blood flowing. We must have waited there three or four hours before the skimmer appeared, set down right where Furel said it would. And when that hatch opened and the first Cardassian appeared, I just started firing. And I didn’t stop, until I’d discharged the entire power cell. When it was all over, I… I was so relieved that I hadn’t let anyone down, my head was giddy. Furel told me to stop grinning, that it made me look younger, but I couldn’t help it. I was one of them. I was in the Resistance.”