To boldly go to Gallifrey

In which I discourse, after seeing the new ST movie, on the differences and similarities between the Trek universe(s) and the DW one(s). No DW spoilers follow, but some movie ones do.

I loved Star Trek TOS as a kid (I think the first TV show I ever saw in colour, roundabout 1967, was "The Doomsday Machine"). Kind of drifted away in the ’70s, and TOG never really gelled for me, though bits of it were good. I’ve a feeling this new movie might bring me back into it, though.

Going back to the roots was an inspired move. As was relocating to an AU. It allows them to refine and slightly update the characters we love without changing the things that worked. And they all worked brilliantly, particularly Zachary Quinto as Spock. I absolutely loved Uhurua too, though like some others I’m having trouble seeing that romance. I’ve me doots aboot Simon Pegg as Scottie, though. Tone was spot on. Accent wasn’t, and I kept seeing SP rather than the character. But they’re all quibbles really. It was still a brilliant movie.

Right at the heart of it, for me, was the interaction between Spock and Spock Prime. That really was beautifully done. I tend to see everything SF (arguably everything, period) through the lens of DW and where it might be going. When Vulcan imploded, I immediately thought, "He had to do that on his own." And I love the way they used the AU concept to give Spock, as it were, a second chance at getting it right. I don’t mean the Romulan nebula incident, I mean the way he was allowed to go back and warn his younger self against the dangers of fearing emotional openness and commitment. He could see the whole picture – how wonderful that, after his own long life and losing his dearest friend, he was able to start over in a new place rebuilding his civilization, and ensuring that Young Spock didn’t throw away the most significant relationship in his life.

And now, Rusty, please note. If an American show can do that for a Vulcan, the member of a species that pathologically represses their emotions, you can surely come up with something similar for the Doctor. I loved the way that Trek, as always, was positive about humanity. In Trek, bad stuff happens but the characters aren’t eaten from within by angst and regrets. They move forward, ready to go boldly where none have gone before. I truly think that is what people want to see. We need hope, and we need each other.

It’s always seemed to me (admittedly an over simplification) that Trek shows the best of the American character and DW the best of the English one. Idealist American thinking tends to unify separate nations (or species) into a homogeneous group, which at its best gives all of them the space to become part of something better and greater than they could be alone. English culture nominally accepts authority but subverts its structure through eccentricity and irreverence. But there is actually quite a lot of common ground. Really great characters always know when to look and act beyond the rulebook. Many iconic American shows are sadly short on  humour and the delightful British quality of never taking yourself too seriously. Original Trek, at least, never fell into that trap. An asshole like Kirk was made bearable, even endearing, by being surrounded by people who knew him well enough to call him in on his shit, particularly Bones as his moral compass and Spock to temper his impulsiveness.

The danger with British shows (and again I oversimplify) is not so much that they’re humourless as that the humour deteriorates into snark and covers up emotional emptiness with a show of cynicism. I’d hate that to happen to New Who and if it carries on in the vein of POTD, enjoyable thought that was, it will fall into the trap. If we can have two Spocks and an AU to make sure a Vulcan learns to love, then why not the same for a Time Lord?

And now I need a few ST icons, I think.

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9 thoughts on “To boldly go to Gallifrey

  1. You aren’t alone in seeing the parallels. I could’ve written this myself, except it wouldn’t have been as well written or thought out. LOL

  2. I whispered to my friend S. about the implosion of Vulcan, “If this isn’t undone by the end of the movie, they definitely stole it from Doctor Who.”
    I’ve thought a lot about how Star Trek and Doctor Who are representatives of their respective cultures. Star Trek definitely shows the American respect for education and self-discipline as a way of rising above your origins and circumstances. (The Academy clearly did McCoy, in particular, a lot of good. Kirk mostly just needed a direction.) It also, with its Academies and Institutions and Science Missions, has a lot of faith in experts and expert-derived protocols and training. This is *not* a particularly American trait, on the whole — an English friend once commented that the British tend to assume that experts talking about things the listener does not understand know what they are talking about, while Americans assume the opposite — but it is true for certain layers of American society.
    The Doctor has traditionally been an eccentric gentleman sorceror, often the only free agent on the scene. (You need both status and resources to be that magnificently indifferent to persons and institutions: the aristocratic implications of “Time Lord” have never struck me as accidental.) I would be interested in reading someone’s analysis of how that has changed (or not) over the last few seasons.
    The Doctor, as an imaginitive creation, definitely seems the creation of a much older culture than the American one. I’ll have to think some more on why that is.

  3. I see the Doctor as late Victorian/Edwardian in his origins, going right back to the dawn of SF. A gentleman traveller with a private income (when did he last have to buckle down and earn his living?).
    I welcomed the outright meritocricy of the ST movie. I get a bit weary of the Doctor anadoyne, “There’s no such thing as an ordinary human being.” It’s part of this “all must have prizes” culture that doesn’t allow you to really fail at anything in case it upsets you. It’s destroyed our educational system to the point where Cambridge is given a hard time for setting its own entrance examination, in case working-class people are penalised.
    It’s not about class. It’s about whether you’ve the determination to succeed. Class guilt has made the English reluctant to admit that. The Scots are rather better at it – a healthy respect for hard graft and learning has never left them.

  4. I welcomed the outright meritocricy of the ST movie. I get a bit weary of the Doctor anadoyne, “There’s no such thing as an ordinary human being.” It’s part of this “all must have prizes” culture that doesn’t allow you to really fail at anything in case it upsets you. It’s destroyed our educational system to the point where Cambridge is given a hard time for setting its own entrance examination, in case working-class people are penalised.
    Could it be that the Star Trek (and arguably American) system believes in transformation by personal effort, and the current British system argues that no transformation is necessary? McCoy and Kirk are both different people after three years in the Academy. (Kirk changes less visibly than McCoy, but we have Captain Pike’s implication that he already has a criminal record on Earth by the time he is recruited, so you have to assume he shed some bad habits.)
    I’ve sometimes thought that Americans have both a class system and a meritocratic system, but that nobody really understands either. Conservative commentors argue that the American system is purely meritocratic, that no adjustment for past injustice is necessary, and that helping the poor requires only teaching them self-discipline. Then they call the liberal meritocrats “elitist”, by which they usually mean “too smart”.

  5. when did he last have to buckle down and earn his living?
    He’s like the Queen, he doesn’t carry money 😉 I was struck by just that thought the other day at the end of a rewatch of Girl in the Fireplace (I’d got that far on my S2 rerun) when he admits as much, suddenly looking somewhat nonplussed, to Mme de Pompadour. Not that I imagine Mme de P having spare cash stashed inside that fabulous dress either…
    Absolutely agree with ‘s comment above in the same vein – the “magnificent indifference to persons and institutions” has run right through the British aristocracy for generations. I’m in the middle of reading the letters of the gloriously bonkers Mitford sisters, and one trait that shines throughout is their joint and automatic assumption that whenever the rest of the world clashed with them it was obviously the rest of the world that was a)wrong and b)mad. And coming back to the Doctor and GiTF you don’t get much more magnificently indifferent than pulling rank on Louis Quatorze!

  6. I think it’s not so much “no transformation is necessary” on a personal level as middle-class guilt putting all the blame on the social system and thinking if we changed that then, magically, people would excel. In many British schools the most consistent underperformers are the white underclass. The immigrants they like to blame for “taking our jobs” – jobs a lot of them wouldn’t do anyway because of generations of learned dependency – often put indigenous Brits to shame by their hard work and ambition.
    I agree with the comments about the Doctor’s condescending, aristocratic attitude as well. It’s so ingrained he doesn’t even know it’s there – he talks like an egalitarian and thinks that’s who he is. Whereas – when we see him hanging out in the Tyler’s council flat and think he’s class-blind, what we’re missing is that to him just being on our planet = slumming it.
    A lot of British fantasy is still rooted in colonial attiudes – it’s as much a fantasy about how we’d still like other nations to perceive us as it is about anything else (You could argue the same about Star Trek and America, of course). LOTR, for example, is very much about the process of waning colonial influence and withdrawal – that’s where the whole Elves going into the West thing comes from.

  7. And isn’t that a lovely moment? It’s what we Brits fantasise about, being able to dismiss a toff like that. Stephen Moffatt really gets that – I adored the line in TEC about the Doctor blowing things up – “It’s practically his way of communicating.” That taps into two fantasies – the indifferent aristocrat and the batshit crazy inventor. Incidentally, Lee Evans as Malcolm in POTD was a glorious riff on the latter.

  8. I agree with the comments about the Doctor’s condescending, aristocratic attitude as well. It’s so ingrained he doesn’t even know it’s there – he talks like an egalitarian and thinks that’s who he is. Whereas – when we see him hanging out in the Tyler’s council flat and think he’s class-blind, what we’re missing is that to him just being on our planet = slumming it.
    I laughed so hard at that, because it’s so true . . .! 😄
    You can add my name to the list of folks who have had thinky-thoughts about Trek and DW reflecting American and British culture/attitudes respectively. It also ties into something from a discussion over on the Skiffy DW forum, namely that American SF almost always has a military element, while British SF is less constrained. Compare Starfleet’s regimented teamwork with DW’s gentleman adventurer-anarchist or TW’s little band of Robin Hood-type loose cannons, and yeah, it’s interesting . . .

  9. And isn’t that a lovely moment?
    It is a glorious moment. Coming hot on the heels of the horse-through-the-pier-glass and then that outrageous wink he gives Mme de P as he lands… [melts into puddle on floor]

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