Star Trek Themes From Original Series to Voyager

The interesting thing about watching lots of episodes in a show at once is a particular theme begins to emerge--that is, particular plots or ideas come up over and over again.

Star Trek: The Original Series

The Vietnam War is a far more constant presence than I originally appreciated. The show is inherently conservative in some ways, yet way ahead of its time in many others. The issue of "Should we interfere? When is interference right or wrong?" constantly crops up. It is, to borrow a word, fascinating since the writers are obviously highly conflicted, which washes over into the show. It is a more honest appraisal of how Americans felt at the time than "historical" narratives about the Vietnam War now.

The Prime Directive is more than just this thing that Roddenberry invented so Kirk could violate it every week. It's a loaded question that the writers gladly took on from "A Private Little War" to "City on the Edge of Forever." When is interference okay? Or not okay? When does one actually do nothing?

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Again, the easy answer is "Peace! They talk about peace!" But actually, the theme I noted is a constant reference, again and again, to disappearance.

There are a multitude of extremely creepy episodes where a person's world gets smaller and smaller as the people around them vanish: Crusher watches the Enterprise disappear, Geordi watches friends disappear in one episode and learns that his mother vanished in another. Picard sees his past disappear when Q shows up. Data is left alone again and again--without father or brother. Worf loses his homeworld, then regains it but never entirely. Tasha Yar is lost, then shows up in a way that keeps her still, always, on the outside. The Borg are a negation of humanity.

It's a theme that appears in TOS--"Immunity Syndrome" is a powerful example--but has more  resonance with the individual in The Next Generation. Disappearance is an ongoing threat. The Season 7 finale postulates that we all disappear, all humanity, forever.

But we don't. Picard saves the day!

Star Trek: Voyager

Like Deep Space Nine, Voyager's theme is basically, Life is complicated! However, it has a particular focus: Individuals are complicated! So what constitutes the individual?

Tribute and thematically relevant!
This theme comes into major focus with Seven of Nine, but it is there from the beginning and threads through multiple episodes and story arcs. It is, again, a TOS theme--usually encapsulated in Spock--and one that shows up in The Next Generation--usually encapsulated in Data--but in Voyager it attends more than one or two characters. The Doctor worries about a name. B'Elanna worries about her split identity (much like Spock). Tom worries about his role in the past versus the present. Captain Janeway worries about the identity of her crew: Are they still Starfleet? Brad Dourif as Sutor worries about being a sociopath. A Q wonders what it means to be Q and why one should bother. Neelix and Tuvok get combined but nobody is entirely happy with the "new" perfect being. They want the imperfect individuals back.

What is so interesting here is that these themes possibly reflect--as with the Vietnam War--cultural concerns contemporary to their shows' air dates, but they don't appear to come about because of an overall mandate: We are now concerned about this! Rather, they appear to come about because certain scripts are encouraged, preferred, suggested for the next stage.

Which is, to be honest, the way sci-fi always works. It always reflects us.

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