Families and Saucer Separation…A Brave Star Trek Experiment.

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From the outset, and the rewording of the famous Star Trek monologue, it was clear that the crew of the next generation were in space for the long haul. The five year mission had been replaced with the vague and almost ominous term, “ongoing”. This implies exploration without end, the serious prospect of an entire career and even life spent in space. The Federation was a victim of its own vastness, coupled with its ideology of pushing into the unknown it required a level of commitment from its members that could potentially be unsustainable.

Intentionally or otherwise, the writers of the Next Generation took the brave decision to address some of the issues of life in deep space. It would have been easy to simply ignore these impulses, however the simple need for family and drive to procreate was included in the makeup of the new show. From the outset the family atmosphere of the Enterprise D was clear, it was even used as an early insight into the character of our new captain, the child-phobic Jean-Luc Picard. This introduction also made clear that family life was not implanted Federation wide, however on a ship of deep space exploration it was necessary. I found this approach refreshing and a real point of difference to the original series and films. 

Clearly this family ethos was ingrained into the shows development, even the design of the magnificent Enterprise D was influenced. I loved the whole idea of the ship separating at times of battle, this was clearly done with the intention of leaving the children and families behind at times of danger. Even if the ship did look awkward when separated, I loved the fact that an enlightened people recognized not only the strength that family could bring, but also the need to protect it.

Unfortunately in my opinion, the direction that the series went in shied away from these brave initial decisions. Families became more of a secondary consideration and at times even a hindrance to progression. For example Riker saw having a committed relationship with Troi as an obstacle to achieving his own command. As of the families that we did see, Wesley was seen by much of the fandom as annoying and smug, other children seemed to be running around the ship unsupervised.

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Early episodes did embrace the diverse age range on the ship, “When the Bough Breaks” for example focused on the family ties of the crew, however such episodes were few and far between. Attempts at bringing family to the main crew members didn’t seem to work. Worfs relationship with Alexander (despite his outstanding introduction) seemed forced and more of an annoying distraction as opposed to a life enriching need, even to the point of the boy Being offloaded onto his grandparents on Earth. Even the discovery of Data’s brother Lore turned out to have disastrous consequences for our intrepid crew. Riker, hated his father, Picard had little connection to his brother and nephew, Troi dreaded her mothers visits, once again Worfs brother Kurn eventually had to change his identity, Geordie’s mother by season 7 was missing presumed dead, Even Beverley’s grandmother was possessed by an evil alien Spirit. Although I am recalling these examples with a lighthearted tone, it does illustrate the lack of positive and productive family connections for the main cast. 

At the same time the ships feature of saucer separation seemed to be either forgotten or ignored. Including the underated film “Generations” I think I can recall only three times the ship actually separated despite the ship going into battle on many occasions. It wouldn’t have been a production problem as the separation sequences existed from the pilot. Weak excuses from the crew became apparent such as “we may need power from the saucer sections impulse engines”, it was as if the writers were sweeping this feature under the rug.

Exposing the crew to more family connections that went beyond the camaraderie of friendship could only have enhanced the character driven episodes. If we’d have had more family units such as the O’Briens I feel we could have seen the characters in a different light and environment more familiar to the viewer.

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It potentially could have brought about more outstanding episodes in the tone of ” Lower Decks” that gave a different angle to life on the flagship. The episode “Family” showed just how right Star Trek could get this.

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Being the third installment of the dark Borg invasion trilogy it demonstrated how our families can bring us strength and heal us at the darkest of times. It was brilliant to see that Picard’s first instinct after the nightmare of being Locutus was to return home, not as much to the place, but more the people who in the end, knew him best.  

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