Sunday, April 8, 2018

The 10,000-word Star Trek dissertation I somehow got away with writing for my 'English Literature' degree

Other people's opinions cobbled together to fit a prescribed word count and passed off as original. Of no intrinsic value, but useful experience for my subsequent career. And I got to watch loads of Star Trek under the guise of research rather than having to read hard books.

Tomorrow is Yesterday:
The Historicity of Gene Roddenberry’s Humanist Utopia

in Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation


Star Trek is my statement to the world. Understand that Star Trek is more than just my political philosophy. It is my social philosophy, my racial philosophy, my overview on life and the human condition. I have been able to comment on so many different facets of humanity because both Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation have been so wide-ranging in the subjects they’ve covered.

Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek creator, interviewed in 1991[1]

Examining the history of science fiction, Brian Aldiss highlights the 1960s as the point at which the genre ‘discovered the present.’[2] The allegorical façade that permitted prophetic science fiction pioneer H. G. Wells to avoid censorship of The Time Machine’s socialist ideal evolves into a form more akin to political analogy, or ‘parable’ as Darko Suvin prefers, in which futuristic and alien civilisations are merely defamiliarised metaphors for our own.[3]

This new, politicised mode of science fiction encourages the decryption process by reducing the barrier between sign and signifier to the greatest degree possible, and is thus more openly tied to each text’s specific moment of production. This is the judgement of the new historicist approach, which aims, according to Louis Montrose, ‘to analyze the interplay of culture-specific discursive practices’ in the study of historically significant texts. Montrose stresses that ‘[r]epresentations of the world in written discourse are engaged in constructing the world, in shaping the modalities of social reality.’ This is most clearly demonstrated in utopian writing, which seeks to craft a hopeful and didactic vision of futuristic society, based on contemporary ideas of progress.

This was the intention of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who considers his 1966 series, ‘probably the only show on American television that said there is a tomorrow, that all the excitement and adventures and discoveries were not behind us.’[4] Roddenberry’s optimism for the human race is inspired by the scientific leaps of the 1960s under Kennedy’s idealistic ‘new frontier politics,’ resulting in the Apollo lunar missions that introduced space as a bold new frontier for the American pioneering spirit, and caused the speculations of science fiction to become more conceivable. Presenting an optimistic future extrapolated from these developments, Star Trek aims to provide answers to Kennedy’s ‘unfulfilled hopes and dreams … unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, [and] unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.’ At the same time, it has to contend with what historian David Steigerwald identifies as a subsequent collapse of liberalism by the end of the decade, attributed to the failure of Kennedy and his immediate predecessors to live up to this ideal.

This analysis of the Star Trek franchise under Gene Roddenberry is principally historicist, in that it examines significant episodes from both Star Trek and its sequel series Star Trek: The Next Generation, with specific regard to their status as products of a clearly defined, personal ideology both formed and impeded by contemporary social and political attitudes. Despite its fictional setting in the twenty-third and, subsequently, twenty-fourth centuries, Star Trek is always firmly rooted in the present socio-political climate of the United States of America, whether that connotes the ‘new frontier’ politics of the 1960s or the neoconservative 1980s concurrent to The Next Generation. In both series, the U.S.S. Enterprise explores ‘strange new worlds,’ encountering alien civilisations whose plights, bigotries and primitive superstitions reflect back on those of twentieth century Earth, no matter how far out the Enterprise travels.

Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets, expanding ever outwards from Earth across the galaxy, is conceived as Roddenberry’s egalitarian interpretation of the constitutional beliefs of the United States, revised toward a utopian socialist model incorporating his views on issues of war, race and gender, and his contempt for organised religion. Through involving itself in such contemporary debates, postmodern utopian fiction epitomised by Star Trek acts as a critical theory in of itself, its focus shifting from feminist to postcolonial to Marxist depending on each individual script and the critical position most prominent at a particular time. Roddenberry delights that his ‘statements about race, religion, Vietnam, unions, politics and international missiles’ avoid the strict censorship of the television network through their extraterrestrial camouflage, although as later chapters will demonstrate, Roddenberry’s own ‘growth’ between series is equally responsible for the change in attitudes, particularly towards issues of sex and gender.

The revisionist aspect of The Next Generation encourages comparison by ‘writing back’ to older episodes judged to suffer from 1960s limitations, providing several direct points of contrast which this analysis takes full advantage of. The intention is to achieve a coherent and balanced perspective on both series, aided by close analysis of selected episodes and films of the franchise produced under Roddenberry’s panoptic scrutiny prior to his death in 1991. By returning to episodes previously discussed wherever possible, the daunting scope of the Star Trek universe is rendered easier to absorb.


[1] Gene Roddenberry interviewed by David Alexander, ‘Interview of Gene Roddenberry: Writer, Producer, Philosopher, Humanist’, The Humanist, March/April 1991. Retrieved from Philosophy Sphere. 1998. (21 April 2007). Further references will be given as Roddenberry/Alexander.

[2] Brian Aldiss, The Detached Retina: Aspects of SF and Fantasy (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995), p.24.

[3] Darko Suvin, ‘On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre’, in Science Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by M. Rose (Eaglewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1976), pp.67-9.

[4] Roger Fulton, The Encyclopaedia of TV Science Fiction, 2nd edn (London: Boxtree, 2000), p.543.

Chapter one:
Cowboy Diplomacy

A useful starting point in examining the fundamental differences between the 1960s Star Trek, hereafter referred to as the original series, and The Next Generation is to contrast the command styles embodied by the figureheads of each series, Captains James Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard, and liken them to the presidential leaders of their respective moments of production. Kirk is reminiscent of the youthful, charismatic leader epitomised by Kennedy, the President’s staunch Catholicism replaced with the secularised philosophy of the Federation. His televisual presence provides the ‘ersatz resurrection’ craved by the American public in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination, as the former President’s legacy continued to dominate the American political climate even after the inauguration of Lyndon Johnson, the US leader truly contemporary to Star Trek during its three-year run.[5] Kirk’s zealous attitude is explained by his admission, ‘I’m a soldier, not a diplomat’ in the episode ‘Errand of Mercy,’ which introduced the Klingons as the Federation’s Cold War opponents, symptomatic of the bleaker terrestrial affairs of the period. By contrast, Picard is representative of an older, more self-admittedly ‘mature’ Gene Roddenberry as much as he is of the neoconservative policies of the Reagan-Bush years, although less explicitly evocative of contemporary President Reagan himself, fitting to the later series’ spirit of complicating the original series’ more easily definable allegories.[6]

There is never any doubt that Picard is anything other than diplomatic, involving his senior officers in decision making and inviting their judgements to influence his own. This is demonstrated fully in the episode ‘The Neutral Zone’ from The Next Generation’s first season, an episode that will provide much insight into the utopian vision throughout this analysis, which places Picard in a similarly tense position, this time with the Romulans. The Enterprise is dispatched to the border of the Romulan Neutral Zone to investigate the apparent destruction of Federation colonies, and to seek a diplomatic solution with the presumed enemy; as Picard stresses, ‘if force is necessary, we will use it. But then we will have failed.’ During the conference, each member of the senior staff offers their own advice for the ensuing encounter based on their respective areas of specialty, from Lieutenant Worf’s tactical overview to Counsellor Troi’s psychological profile on the Romulans, compiled as per the captain’s admission that he ‘would rather out-think them than out-fight them.’ When the inevitable confrontation takes place, it is Picard’s prudent decision to ignore a tactical window of opportunity, during which the Romulans’ ship is vulnerable to attack, that earns the provisional trust of their commander.

The intimation that The Next Generation represents Roddenberry’s original vision more wholly than the original series was ever permitted is best examined in light of the original 1964 pilot episode ‘The Cage,’ which introduces many concepts of the twenty-third century that would prove unpopular with test audiences and network executives, leading to a revision of the format that made it more acceptable. This single episode introduces Captain Christopher Pike, whose pensive, inclusive command style is reminiscent of Picard’s. It was the cerebral nature of ‘The Cage,’ as well as its lack of ‘action,’ that deterred the NBC network from commissioning a series, necessitating a revision of the concept for the successful second pilot.[7] Subsequently, ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ introduced Kirk as an independent adventurer more akin to the frontiersmen of westerns, one of the most prominent genres of early 1960s television in which, Roddenberry disdainfully observes, ‘battle is the true test of a man.’[8] Examining the period retrospectively, Jan Johnson-Smith notes a rapid decline in the popularity of the western, purported to its presentation of ‘an anachronistic ideal of American history’ in an era of rapid change.[9] Star Trek’s innovative format offered a bold evolution of the barren western frontier to inspire ‘the collective American psyche,’ as they progress together towards the inevitable technological utopia indebted to the scientific progress of America.

Blame for the belligerence of the original series cannot be laid entirely on outside interference, particularly as the network had been anticipating a western in space, according to Roddenberry’s 1964 proposal for the series, in which it was dubbed ‘Wagon Train to the stars.’[10] He is justly critical of the scenario posed when writers ‘are more or less expected … to perpetuate all the modern myths,’ but also regrets having ‘rushed over’ elements of the series, in which ‘Kirk would pick up the challenge of another race a little too fast.’ He cites ‘a change in attitude and direction’ for The Next Generation, in which ‘the new captain is not apt to do those things.’[11] This distinction was ultimately explored in a canonical manner in the two-part episode ‘Unification,’ one of the final episodes produced prior to Roddenberry’s death. This episode brings the original series character Spock into the world of The Next Generation, and the opportunity is taken for a critical analysis of the differing command styles. The episode’s title, while clearly a wry nod towards the bridging of the generation gap, concerns Spock’s goal to ‘reunify’ the pacifistic Vulcan race with their militant off-shoot, the Romulan Empire. In spite of Picard’s criticism of the ‘cowboy diplomacy’ exhibited by Spock, who deserted his Federation post to conduct this ‘personal mission of peace’ in enemy territory, the solution to their crisis is ultimately an original series style mêlée with the Romulans in their base of operations, in which even the hesitant Picard throws his fair share of punches.

As the gauge of humanity’s progress since the sixties, including Roddenberry’s personal ‘growth,’ The Next Generation looks back to its predecessor with a mixture of embarrassment and respect. In the first episode ‘Encounter at Farpoint,’ the omnipotent ‘god-like’ being known as Q denounces Earth’s history as one saturated with conflict, placing humanity on trial and transforming his appearance through various guises from recognisable history and speculative future alike to demonstrate his conviction, including an American soldier from Vietnam. As a mouthpiece for this enlightened era, Picard maintains, ‘that sort of nonsense is centuries behind us,’ exaggerating decades into centuries for the audience, but avoids dismissing the sixties altogether for the ‘rapid progress’ made not only by visionaries like Roddenberry, but the political and technological advancements taking place on the Earth, documented fully by the earlier series.

Star Trek’s most recognised contribution to new frontier politics is its explicit message that the NASA space initiatives were not only successful in achieving Kennedy’s dream of ‘a man on the moon,’ but also directly responsible for the existence of the United Federation of Planets, as is stated explicitly in two episodes from the original series, both of which demonstrate a firm belief in their success.[12] The Enterprise is hurled back in time in the episode ‘Tomorrow is Yesterday’ and receives a radio broadcast reporting on ‘the first manned moon shot’ launching from Cape Kennedy the following Wednesday. By coincidence or prophecy, the successful launch of Apollo 11 in 1969 would indeed occur on a Wednesday, situating this episode in 1969 for viewers thereafter. Viewed in its original context as a television episode transmitted in January 1967, Kirk’s deduction from the radio broadcast that they have arrived in ‘the late 1960s’ demonstrates a striking optimism in the Apollo program’s success, as failure would otherwise render the episode historically inaccurate within three years. This is even more surprising in light of reported conservative estimates by NASA at the time of the episode’s production, which expected a delay for Apollo’s success until 1970.[13]

A second display of optimism comes a year later with the episode ‘Return to Tomorrow,’ broadcast in February 1968, still a year short of Apollo 11, which sees Kirk rhetorically ask a disillusioned McCoy whether he wishes, ‘the first Apollo mission hadn’t reached the moon, or that we hadn’t gone on to Mars or the nearest star?’ Even more than ‘Tomorrow is Yesterday,’ which primarily used the moon landing as an optimistic historical reference point, ‘Return to Tomorrow’ cites NASA’s successful initiative as an integral benchmark to the utopia presented on screen.

Even as it celebrates American progress, Star Trek is still entrenched in the darker side of the sixties, its Cold War overtones more often than not subdued in allegory but occasionally, pivotally foregrounded. Revisiting the twentieth century in a literal manner through time travel is a common occurrence in both series, and is almost always imbued with a social or ecological message, but to deal with issues of greater magnitude, the original series frequently employs the ‘the Parallel Worlds concept,’ devised by Roddenberry in his original proposal for Star Trek as a means to explore familiarly human cultures through the conceit of a parallel evolutionary process, while also serving ‘to save budget costs on elaborate make-up and sets.’[14] American history provides the bulk of historical stereotypes exploited through this concept in Star Trek’s second season, the most significant episode being Roddenberry’s patriotic opus, ‘The Omega Glory.’ According to Memory Alpha, Roddenberry was inspired by cultural artefacts during a visit to Washington to write an episode ‘to reflect American pride, yet at the same time look at how things could have turned out if the Cold War … had gone badly for the world.’[15] The two warring civilisations who occupy Omega IV, the Caucasoid Yangs and Oriental Kohms, are revealed to be descendants of the planet’s own ‘Yankees’ and Communists, the former possessing the dilapidated star-spangled banner and constitution to prove it. However, this America is a post-apocalyptic dystopia, its civilisation all but destroyed by the victorious Kohms who now occupy their rightful land and contest the most sacred principle of the constitution: ‘freedom.’

Spock points to ancient biological warfare as responsible for the planet’s current condition, in the vein of Earth’s own Third World War, prophesied by many episodes of both series to occur in the mid-twenty-first century. This episode aired in March 1968, at the height of the United States’ war in Vietnam, which saw Americans involved as the aggressive occupiers rather than the suppressed natives depicted in this episode.[16] This complicates the issue of whether the episode is intended as pro-American propaganda, evidenced by the blatant incorporation of the American ideal into that of the Federation, and its presentation of the Yangs as a heroic, downtrodden race that never surrenders its right to freedom. They have been fighting to reclaim their land for over a thousand years from the Kohms, presented as savage due to the legacy of bigotry and hatred that motivates their continued occupation of the thinly metaphorical American soil.

If the intention is, instead, to read the Yangs as the Vietnamese, fearful of losing their freedom to the occupying forces and facing a future emphatically described by David Steigerwald as ‘an anticommunist bastion formed in the United States’ image,’ then the explicit American parallel is at the very least confusing, but potentially naïve and offensive, not only to a multicultural audience, but to the principles of the Federation itself.[17] Kirk offers the Yangs an alternative interpretation of their constitution more suited to inclusive Federation values, telling them, ‘they must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing.’ As later Star Trek productions reveal, it was the arrival of the Vulcans on human soil, during the interregnum between the end of the nuclear war and the beginnings of United Earth, that made the latter possible. This begs the question of how the human race would have prospered alone, the answer to which is provided by this episode; extraterrestrial interference, this time humans passing on liberal principles, will finally allow Omega IV to move towards its own unification.

This fate of nuclear holocaust represents the only contradiction in Roddenberry’s otherwise optimistic vision of the future, and is evidently viewed as a necessary evil to bring about a new, egalitarian world order. The specific contrast this episode provides between capitalism and communism is interesting, in light of Kirk’s appeal for the universality of freedom, particularly in constructing the Federation is a utopian socialist government in which poverty and wealth are obsolete, as proposed by nineteenth century socialist Robert Owen in his ‘Address … to the Governments and Peoples of All Nations.’ Owen predicts that scientific advancements will create boundless ‘wealth everywhere … beyond the wants or wishes of the human race,’ banishing the debilitating ‘evils’ of poverty and crime to the past.[18]

The utopian socialism of the Federation is explored in detail in The Next Generation, boldly concurring with the Marxist belief in capitalist society’s inevitably self destruction.[19] This is most prominent in the secondary plot of ‘The Neutral Zone,’ which concerns the discovery of a group of cryogenically preserved humans from the late twentieth century and their crisis of adjusting to life almost four hundred years later, juxtaposing the futuristic society with a figure from the present day to align this episode toward a more traditionally utopian mode.[20] The material concerns of the anachronistic guests do not endear them to Commander Riker, who ponders ‘how our species survived the twenty-first century’; the turbulent century of nuclear self-destruction that these ‘relics’ have now been spared.

The entrepreneur Ralph Offenhouse is the most offensive representative of this twentieth century primitivism, uncertain of how to adapt to this socialist perversion of the competitive heirarchy he has thus far used to define his life. While his companions are awed by the replicator, the manifestation of Picard’s statement that scientific advancement has ‘eliminated hunger, want and the need for possessions,’ Offenhouse interprets it as evidence of the Federation’s obvious wealth, evidently failing to see the contradiction posed by a device that can perfectly synthesise material things on demand, in limitless quantity. Picard presents himself to Offenhouse as the paragon of the Federation ideology, describing future Earth as a paradise in which ‘people are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things,’ concluding provocatively that ‘we’ve grown out of our infancy.’ It is interesting to compare Picard’s attitude to Troi’s assessment of the Romulans’ ‘belief in their own superiority … beyond arrogance,’ elsewhere in the episode’s concurrent plot, as he condescendingly elevates his own culture over that of the past.

Offenhouse refutes the captain’s denouncement of the ‘power’ of wealth as an ‘illusion’ by citing his own presence as evidence to the contrary; his former wealth has permitted him to remain alive and healthy in the future just as he paid to be. Although his resurrected group initially feels ‘out of time,’ the climax of the episode demonstrates that their skills are still valuable and highly relevant, demonstrated by Offenhouse’s correct deduction of the Romulans’ intent from skills learned in the apparently ‘infantile’ career of competitive finance. Owen’s ‘new character for the human race’ corresponds to the challenge presented by Star Trek’s utopia, described by Picard as the drive to ‘improve’ and ‘enrich’ oneself. However inoffensive this personal quest, many episodes of both series demonstrate the neoconservative prerogative of Starfleet captains to impose democratic values on the universe for its own benefit,[21] attacking that which is reminiscent of Owen’s ‘irrational period of human existence’ despite the non-interference policy of Starfleet’s most Prime Directive.[22]


[5] Jon Margolis, The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 – The Beginning of the ‘Sixties’ (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), p.viii.

[6] Roddenberry/Alexander.

[7] ‘The Cage (TOS episode)’. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[8] Roddenberry/Alexander.

[9] Jan Johnson-Smith, American Science Fiction TV: Star Trek, Stargate and Beyond (London: I.B. Tauris & Co, 2005), pp.40, 48.

[10] ‘Star Trek is…’. Memory Alpha: The Star Trek Wiki. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[11] Roddenberry/Alexander.

[12] President John F. Kennedy. ‘Special Message to Congress on Urgent National Needs’. 1961. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. (21 April 2007).

[13] ‘Tomorrow is Yesterday’. Memory Alpha. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[14] ‘Star Trek is…’. Memory Alpha.

[15] ‘The Omega Glory’. Memory Alpha. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[16] ‘The United States and the Vietnam War’. Wikipedia. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[17] David Steigerwald, The Sixties and the End of Modern America (New York: St. Martins, 1995), p.71.

[18] Robert Owen, ‘An Address from the Association of All Classes of All Nations to the Governments and People of All Nations’, in Communism, Fascism and Democracy: The Theoretical Foundations, ed. by Carl Cohen (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 12-13.

[19] John E. Elliott, ‘Marx and Schumpeter on Capitalism’s Creative Destruction: A Comparative Restatement’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 95, No. 1 (August 1980), 45.

[20] Gregory Paschalidis, ‘Modernity as a Project and as Self-Criticism: The Historical Dialogue between Science Fiction and Utopia’, in Science Fiction: Critical Frontiers, ed. by Karen Sayer and John Moore (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000), p.39.

[21] ‘Neoconservatism’. Wikipedia. (21 April 2007).

[22] Owen in Communism, Fascism and Democracy, ed. by Cohen, p.13.

Chapter two:
Toward a Hidden God

Picard’s summary of twenty-fourth century human values corresponds equally to the secular humanist ‘responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfilment that aspire to the greater good of humanity,’ as outlined by the American Humanist Association of which Roddenberry was a member.[23] Under his vigilance, Star Trek represents ‘a crusade,’ in the view of David Pringle, against all forms of primitive religion that serve to impede such progress, necessitating that the Federation forms its own doctrine based on humanist values.[24]

As the flagship of the humanist philosophy, the Enterprise repeatedly flouts and breaks the Prime Directive in situations antithetical to the Federation principles it personifies, and Federation Starfleet appears willing to turn a blind eye as the irrational galaxy is moulded, to borrow from Steigerwald, into a secular humanist bastion formed in its own image. The debunking of impostor gods is a common theme in the original series particularly, owing to its production in a culture experiencing ‘the death of God,’ defined by the feature article of the April 1966 edition of TIME magazine, which broached the bold theological question, ‘Is God Dead?’ This atheistic consciousness prompted theologian Paul Ramsey’s observation that, ‘ours is the first attempt in recorded history to build a culture upon the premise that God is dead.’[25]

Examining changes in Christianity over the course of the twentieth century, historian Steve Bruce suggests that the idea of the ‘supernatural’ has been internalised and ‘subjectivised.’[26] Elucidating Bruce’s argument, notions of a distinct God-being have largely been replaced by those of an insubstantial God-idea residing within the human consciousness, a position adopted by Star Trek in envisioning God as human potential. As Bryan Wilson is insistent to stress, ‘secularisation’ of society can occur without the elimination of religious faith: ‘[i]t maintains no more than that religion ceases to be significant in the working of the social system.’[27] This secularist-Christianity hybrid infiltrates even the usually ardently humanist Star Trek franchise in the fifth feature film, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which concerns a madman’s quest to find God in the centre of the galaxy. At the conclusion, ‘God’ is exposed as an impostor; another in a long line of malevolent aliens with advanced ‘godlike’ abilities. Disappointed and disillusioned, Dr. McCoy wonders if a God being is really ‘out there,’ and Kirk speculates that God, the idea, is ‘right here, [in] the human heart.’

Roddenberry’s agnosticism toward ideas of a supernatural God-being provides the foundation for the religious ideology of Star Trek, with numerous episodes sharing the narrative of the Enterprise captains exposing and triumphing over an alien being or machine posing as a god to a culture of gullible worshippers. In the original series episodes, the Enterprise departs, smugly victorious in deicide, and leaves the liberated civilisation to begin providing for itself. In every episode produced in Roddenberry’s lifetime that addresses religious faith, it is always presented as antithetical to progress and wholly incompatible with a society based on science and logic.

The death of God is most recognisably allegorised in the episode ‘Who Mourns for Adonais?’, first broadcast in September 1967, which sees the Enterprise detained by a being who claims to be the Ancient Greek god Apollo. Writer Gilbert Ralston borrows from contemporaneous theories of ‘ancient astronaut’ influence popularised by Erich von Däniken a year later in proposing that the Olympian deities were extraterrestrials who exploited ‘the simple shepherds and tribesmen of early Greece’; as Kirk concludes, ‘they couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.’[28] Apollo’s ‘god-like’ abilities are ultimately revealed to be entirely dependant on a conventional power source, and his powers to ‘give life or death’ are just as easily mimicked by Starfleet technology. His regressive desire that the Enterprise crew remain on Pollux IV to worship him, experiencing ‘life in paradise, as simple and as pleasureful as it was those thousands of years ago,’ is antithetical to the ship’s forward-looking mission, and never entertained by Kirk. He tells Apollo in no uncertain terms, ‘we’ve outgrown you,’ and regrets that deicide is the only option in the face of this relic’s retarding effect on human progress.

The primitive, supernatural misconception of ‘the power of life and death’ is furthered by The Next Generation episode ‘Who Watches the Watchers?’, which presents a reversal of the previous scenario by placing Picard in the position of God impostor, albeit this time reluctantly and through accidental means, when a Federation anthropology team’s cloaking device fails and reveals advanced technology to the startled bronze-age civilisation of Mintaka III. The resuscitation of a dead Mintakan, whose wounds are treatable with Federation equipment, is proof enough to Liko that Picard is the leader of his own group of Olympians. As Liko concludes, ‘nothing else can explain what’s happened,’ echoing Kirk’s hypothesis of the Ancient Greek perspective. Picard allows himself to be injured by Liko’s arrow to provide conclusive proof of his own mortality, thereby halting the ontological contamination and permitting the Mintakans to continue with their premature technopolis, independently achieved at a much earlier stage than that of Earth due to their Vulcan-like esteem of logic and rationality. Picard views their evolution as an extraordinary ‘achievement’ for secular humanism, and chooses to disclose the whole truth rather than permit a regression ‘back into the Dark Ages of superstition and ignorance and fear,’ now that the Prime Directive has irreversibly faltered.

The ontological belief in a supernatural higher power is all but extinct in human culture, demonstrated with regard to Harvey Cox’s three-stage model of the development of secularism. According to Cox’s findings, twentieth century Western culture is on the verge of the technopolitan age, the final stage of secularisation that is fully realised in Star Trek’s twenty-fourth century technopolis, by which time humanity has liberated itself from the constraints of a fully comprehensible Earth and has thereby, ‘open[ed] the door of the playpen and turn[ed] man loose in an open universe.’ Cox’s ‘playpen’ represents the ‘religious and metaphysical supports’ that hinder secular progress.[29] The crisis of the death of God represents the final obstacle in overcoming these supports, placing the contemporary Star Trek audience in an intermediate position between ontological ‘tribesmen’ and technopolitan pragmatists, in a continuing evolutionary process. Picard’s comment to the Mintakan leader that ‘we were once as you are now’ serves to remind a twentieth century audience that, in Federation terms, Earth is still classed as primitive and subject to the rules of non-interference until its progress towards an advanced technopolis is complete. Humanity may not be startled by electricity as the Mintakans are, nor as Apollo would prefer, ‘bow to every creature who happens to have a bag of tricks,’ but neither does it yet possess the powers of technology exhibited by the Enterprise. In Roddenberry’s judgement, humankind is ‘about a quarter formed,’ and The Next Generation strives to address the future of this development by formulating its own doctrine based on a prophetic mode of Darwinism.[30]

Gregory Petersen highlights The Next Generation’s focus on an evolutionary eschatology for humanity as a ‘naturalised’ replacement for supernatural religion, elaborated from several encounters with non-corporeal ‘god-like’ entities who predict humanity’s ultimate transformation into a similar form at the zenith of our evolution.[31] However naturalised this progression may be, presented through encounters with advanced entities in science fiction’s prophetic mode, the safe knowledge it provides that humanity will continue to thrive, reaching the peak of the Federation’s ‘evolved sensibility,’ invites comparison to the comfort taken by religious people in ideas of the afterlife, exacerbating the view of Star Trek’s secularism as nothing more than a replacement for conventional religion. Picard admits the fear and doubt instilled by his secular philosophy, and therefore that of the Federation, when discussing death in the episode ‘Where Silence Has Lease,’ by first presenting the two extremes of prelapsarian salvation and the atheist’s fear of ‘blinking into nothingness’ and offering a third, intermediate choice. Rather than side wholly with the latter, as would perhaps be expected from the captain of Roddenberry’s flagship, Picard considers that ‘our existence must mean more than a meaningless illusion.’ His encounters with Q and similar beings have instilled faith in ‘the marvellous complexity of our universe’ that is not inherently religious, and is indeed entirely characteristic of a humanist thirst for greater knowledge.

Roddenberry’s humanism developed from an early age, his childhood response to religious ceremonies typifying that of the disinterested churchgoing youth described by TIME.[32] He reveals in the Humanist interview to have found sermons attended in his teenage years ‘largely nonsense,’ and flagrantly compares belief in Jesus Christ to a five-year-old’s unsubstantiated faith in Santa Claus.[33] From early conflicts regarding the absence of a chaplain on board the Enterprise, conservative religious ideology has repeatedly raised its head on Star Trek, only to be struck down by Roddenberry’s secularist agenda. Even in the second feature film, The Wrath of Khan, a film already dominated by overt Biblical imagery of sacrifice and resurrection, Roddenberry successfully objected to the idea of a ‘Christian-like’ funeral for Captain Spock.[34] To represent a single, unifying religion in a futuristic society encompassing a multitude of races and species was unacceptably atheistic to Roddenberry’s humanist philosophy, although the vacuum created by this abolition of didactic values requires a replacement more suited to the technopolitan world. This follows Bryan Wilson’s argument that, ‘religion is not eliminated by the process of secularization, and only the crudest of secularist interpretations could ever have reached the conclusion that it would be.’[35]

Indeed, loyal faith in religion is still prevalent in the world of The Next Generation, both in the secular philosophy of Starfleet regulations, and in the traditions of non-Federation alien cultures, whose beliefs, Peterson argues, appear to be tolerated only for their exotic dissimilarity to Earth religions and corresponding value under the Enterprise’s mission to explore strange, new worlds.[36] This double standard held by Picard in ‘Rightful Heir’ leads to an episode that is uncharacteristically tolerant in its treatment of religious significance, even if this openness is shrouded behind the series’ customary defrauding activities. As Worf’s loyalties become divided between his Klingon ancestry and secular Federation background, Picard justly chastises the officer for permitting this spiritual crisis to interfere with his duties, and grants the officer a seemingly unprecedented leave of absence to ‘immerse [him]self in Klingon beliefs in order to discover if they can hold any truths.’ The inexplicable return of Kahless, the Klingon Messiah whose second coming arrives as prophesied, is immediately treated with scepticism by Worf, who lists the rational explanations of ‘a shape-shifter, [or] a holographic projection’ based on his experience, and that of the audience, with impostor gods. When introduced to the even greater skeptical environment of the Enterprise, additional explanations are offered from Dr. Crusher in desperate attempt to debunk the figure whose potential validity threatens the secure atheism upon which the series is founded.

The philosophy of Star Trek may not appear overtly concerned with religious matters, but concurs with Steve Bruce that the positive moral messages of Christianity can be salvaged even in a society that rejects faith in the supernatural.[37] This process of editing religion down to the underlying intelligible philosophy is another trend of twentieth-century analytical science identified by TIME, ‘which tends to limit “meaningful” ideas and statements to those that can be verified.’[38] This pure form of pragmatism is represented by Data, who is unable to comprehend Worf’s belief in Kahless due to a lack of empirical evidence. The episode returns to form when Kahless is exposed as a mere clone obtained from ancient DNA; a possibility conveniently overlooked by Worf.

Despite falling back on the typical ‘technobabble’ explanation for the seemingly supernatural, ‘Rightful Heir’ nevertheless admits the continuing relevance of religious teachings even in society without gods, as Klingon Chancellor Gowron makes it clear that it is the ‘idea’ of Kahless that intimidates him, rather than the man. Ultimately, it does not matter that ‘Kahless’ is a physically inferior replica; like the replicated drink of warnog that proves equally effective to the genuine article despite Worf’s hesitations, the presence of Kahless will serve to remind the Klingon Empire of its honourable traditions in a turbulent post-civil war period, the intention of the clerics who engineered his return. The clone accepts the symbolic, but politically powerless title of Emperor to fulfil this aim, and comes to terms with his true identity as he departs for the Klingon homeworld, realising: ‘[w]hat is important is that we follow [Kahless’] teachings. Perhaps the words are more important than the man.’

If the Bible is still useful for developing a philosophy, not as the word of an anachronistic God, but as ‘a historical book with some useful ethical and moral guidelines for living,’ it is doubly useful as a source of moral fables that can be reinterpreted in a manner more relevant to modern audiences.[39] Enveloped by a society debating the death of God, the original series belies a Biblical consciousness expressed in character names and comparable narratives, complete with pensive episode titles that serve to elucidate these recognisable themes. Such a drastic revision of the biblical message supports Cox’s belief that twentieth century urban-secular man, on the threshold of the functional age, is ‘now … in a position to hear certain notes in the biblical message that he missed before.’[40]


[23] ‘Humanism’. American Humanist Association. 2006. (21 April 2007).

[24] David Pringle, The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (North Dighton: J.G. Press, 1996), p.139.

[25] ‘Toward a Hidden God’, TIME, Vol. 87, No. 14 (April 8, 1966), 1.,9171,835309,00.html (21 April 2007).

[26] Steve Bruce, God is Dead: Secularization in the West (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), p.208.

[27] B.R. Wilson, Religion in Sociological Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University, 1982), pp.149-50.

[28] ‘Ancient astronaut theories’. Wikipedia. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[29] Harvey Cox, The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective (Guildford: Billing & Sons, 1967), p.119.

[30] Roddenberry/Alexander.

[31] Gregory Peterson, ‘Religion and Science in Star Trek: The Next Generation: God, Q, and Evolutionary Eschatology on the Final Frontier’, in Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion, and American Culture, ed. by Jennifer E. Porter and Darcee L. McLaren (New York: State University, 1991), p.62.

[32] ‘Toward a Hidden God’. TIME. 2.

[33] Roddenberry/Alexander.

[34] Ibid.

[35] B.R. Wilson, ‘Secularization and the Survival of the Sociology of Religion’, Journal of Oriental Studies, 26 (1987), 8.

[36] Peterson, ‘Religion and Science in Star Trek: The Next Generation’, Star Trek and Sacred Ground, p.61.

[37] Bruce, God is Dead, p.208.

[38] ‘Toward a Hidden God,’ TIME, 6.

[39] Bruce, God is Dead, p. 208.

[40] Cox, The Secular City, p.69.

Chapter three:
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

The notion of a specifically human evolution in a multicultural galaxy underscores the noticeably human-centric nature of the series, an issue that is finally addressed by Klingon Chancellor Azetbur’s denigration of the Federation as a ‘homo sapiens only club’ in the sixth feature film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. This claim is demonstrated in the prominence of Starfleet officers and personnel, disproportionate when considering the apparent vastness and diversity of the Federation, which is itself based on Earth, denoted with the highest importance on the galactic map as ‘Sector 001.’

Whether this is due to humanity’s greater penchant for exploration compared to their interstellar allies is unclear, although the predominant explanation behind-the-scenes is again the aim ‘to save budget costs on make-up.’[41] Even so, this hypothesis of humanity’s pioneering spirit would seem to be largely true, and is certainly prominent enough to merit the attention of Q, whose afore-mentioned trial in ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ is specifically for the human race, rather than Starfleet or the Federation it serves. During the trial, the Federation is consistently equated with humanity, to the extent that Data’s android status and Troi’s half-Betazoid ancestry are disregarded. Elsewhere in the episode, Troi explains that she is ‘only half Betazoid,’ because her father ‘was a Starfleet officer,’ which is to be read as human, presenting a situation in which Starfleet officers are human by default, unless proved otherwise.

More alarming from a more terrestrial, postcolonial point of view is the extent to which these human officers are of North American descent. The Next Generation finally comments on this abnormality from the outside perspective of Offenhouse, the cryogenically thawed businessman of ‘The Neutral Zone,’ who once again provides an accurate observation from his unique vantage point in presuming the Enterprise to be an ‘American’ starship. The evidence before him would lead to such a conclusion, as all of the actors and characters in the scene are of American descent. Data is again the exception, an android built on Omicron Theta, though the actor Brent Spiner speaks with an American dialect. The crude parallel made in ‘The Omega Glory’ between the United Federation of Planets and the United States indicates that for all the achievements of a United Earth, it is American democracy that best serves the future, exemplified by the disproportionate number of North Americans seen serving on Starfleet ships. Closer examination of Starfleet Headquarters places them in San Francisco, along with Starfleet Academy, while inspection of the emblem of United Earth reveals a globe centred on the American continents.[42] Despite being predominantly another instance of the aim ‘to save budget costs’ by employing actors local to the Hollywood studio, the series’ evident failure to address the contemporary success of the Russian space program was a factor in the introduction of Ensign Pavel Chekov, played by Russian-born Walter Koenig, for the series’ second year onwards.[43] Chekov’s screen presence is optimistically controversial in its specific portrayal of an Earth without racial borders, the key facet of Roddenberry’s twenty-third century utopia.

Exacerbating this divide, the often crude allegories of the original series cast the enemies of the all-American Federation as the distinctly Soviet Russian Romulan and Klingon Empires, the latter parallel reaching its explosive zenith in The Undiscovered Country. The film opens with the blinding explosion of Praxis, a Klingon moon that Captain Sulu explains is ‘their key energy production facility.’ Reeling from the devastating ecological and economical disaster, the Klingons reach out to Starfleet for help, the beginnings of a new era of peace that viewers have already seen at its fruition in The Next Generation, set seventy years later. The allegorical similarity to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was intended by writers Harve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy as a response to the collapse of Communism in Russia, although the film’s theatrical release pre-empted the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.[44] The cooperative resolution of the plot strives to imply that similar action should be undertaken by the United States in 1991, making The Undiscovered Country a peculiarly time-bound swan song for the original crew.

Roddenberry had very little involvement with this film, and even stated that he considered some of its elements to be ‘apocryphal at best.’[45] The most likely reason for this objection is the racial prejudice exhibited in several scenes by Starfleet officers, seemingly verifying Azetbur’s earlier criticism and undermining efforts to express what Judith Roof calls Star Trek’s ‘difference blindness’: ‘a liberal humanist vision of a society in which race, gender, class, ethnicity, and national origin are only insignificant variations of an essentially human common identity.’[46] Unlike his attitudes in areas of sexuality, explained later, Roddenberry’s stance on race relations remained consistent across both series, explaining the benefits of multicultural society in a 1968 interview:
If man survives [to the 23rd century], he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear…. This is infinite variation and delight, this is part of the optimism we built into Star Trek.[47]
This inclusive philosophy was incorporated into the series as the concept of IDIC, the acronym for ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,’ most fully realised in the second season episode ‘Metamorphosis’ by Gene L. Coon, the writer responsible for the majority of episodes discussed in this chapter. This episode presents the series’ most ambitiously exotic inter-species relationship, between a human male named Cochrane and a female cloud-like creature comprised primarily of electricity, that routinely merges with the human to share energy. When Cochrane discovers this apparently sexual angle to their relationship he is appalled at its ‘alien’ nature, a response the more liberally minded Spock considers to be ‘a totally parochial attitude.’ McCoy similarly fails to find anything ‘disgusting’ in the idea of this union, telling Cochrane, ‘it’s just another life form – you get used to those things,’ a comment suited to this episode’s acceptance of exotic life, but contradictory to the bigoted attitude McCoy exhibits throughout the series in regard to Spock’s Vulcan heritage.

As the only alien crew member ever seen aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Spock’s unique biology and appearance, particularly his green blood and pointed ears, are often the subject of fundamentally prejudiced comedic observations. Nevertheless, the series avoids overt racism due to actor Leonard Nimoy’s white skin; it is safe to avoid any such disparaging remarks about the ethnically diverse human crew. McCoy’s relentless reminders of Spock’s alien otherness indicate that twenty-third century Starfleet is unwilling and unable to develop such ‘blindness’ to non-humans. A satanic resemblance is suggested by McCoy in ‘Bread and Circuses’ when the Doctor jokingly considers breaking the Prime Directive and announcing himself to new civilisations as ‘the Archangel Gabriel,’ suggesting that Spock attempt a similar ruse wielding ‘a pitchfork.’ The resemblance is articulated again in ‘The Omega Glory,’ when the traitorous Captain Tracey attempts to incite the Yangs’ aggression against Spock, asking them, ‘don’t you recognise the evil one?’ The potentially offensive satanic resemblance led to NBC airbrushing the relevant facial features in early promotional photographs for the series.[48]

The first season episode ‘Balance of Terror’ demonstrates the serious implications of such bigotry, as the Romulans are revealed to be externally similar to Vulcans due to their common ancestry. The Enterprise navigator in this episode, Lieutenant Stiles, holds contempt for the Romulans for personal reasons, having lost several family members in the war a century earlier. Once the viewscreen is activated and the Romulans are seen for the first time, Stiles takes immediate hostility towards Spock based on the resemblance alone, and makes insinuations of his treachery, leading Kirk to chastise Stiles for his ‘bigotry,’ informing him, ‘there’s no place for it on the bridge.’ The episode ultimately condemns racial violence, as the dying Romulan commander tells Kirk they are ‘of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend,’ yet Stiles’ responses are atypical of the enlightened society Roddenberry describes.

These early episodes that construct the Romulans, and later the Klingons as the Federation’s Cold War opponents offer a militaristic view of Starfleet contradictory to its apparent concern for exploration and discovery. Comparisons to the twentieth century United States Navy are invited by the deliberately submarine-like styling of the Enterprise in the aforementioned episode,[49] a likeness furthered by Starfleet’s verbatim adoption of naval ranks for its line and flag officers, extending to the discontinuation of ‘commodore’ status between the two series to reflect the U.S. Navy’s own abandonment of the rank.[50] Thomas Richards deconstructs the series’ very title as revealing a colonial sub-text that would contradict the Federation’s apparently exploratory nature, highlighting the origin of the term trek as, ‘the Afrikaans word meaning a slow and arduous journey toward a new colony.’[51]

Despite these apparent failings in terms of its own philosophy, original Star Trek’s inclusion of cast members from other ethnicities remains one of its greatest achievements in hindsight, in an era of television broadcasting that strived to assist ‘the state’s role in promoting and achieving [racial] “equality.”’[52] David Gerrold explains the significance in The World of Star Trek, noting, ‘the ship had to be interracial because it represented all of mankind. How can the human race ever hope to achieve friendship with alien races if it can’t even make friends with itself?’[53], The significance of Lieutenant Uhura as a prominent black woman in an American series, portrayed by the African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, is widely regarded and contested, although as I will explore in the next chapter, the series’ less sophisticated stance on gender politics consigns Uhura the same underlying flaws present in all of the original Star Trek’s female characters. Despite the restrictive secretarial role, Nicholls’ presence on the Enterprise bridge was seen as notable by many, including the late leader of the civil rights movement Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who personally persuaded Nicholls of its importance when she considered leaving the series, as recorded in her autobiography.[54] Equally notable is the character of Sulu played by Japanese-American actor George Takei, representing Asian minorities in an era in which, in the findings of Trek critic Daniel Bernardi, ‘civil rights ideals tended to be interpreted by the networks in black and white terms.’[55]

This principally black and white definition of ‘interracial’ extends to the controversy surrounding the forced kiss between Uhura and Kirk in the episode ‘Plato’s Stepchildren,’ widely acknowledged as the first interracial kiss on American television despite earlier scenes between actors of differing ethnicities even within Star Trek itself.[56] Notably, the scene does not concern race relations at all within the context of the plot, merely in its reception by a 1968 audience, something that was anticipated by the network.[57] Roddenberry’s innocence was such that he claims in the Humanist interview to have never given the scene a second thought, as by this point in the series the spectacle of Kirk embracing beautiful women of all colours was far from exceptional.[58] Nonetheless, the forced nature of the kiss, through the telekinesis of a malevolent entity, incited disapproval even by those who applaud the series’ progressive stance on civil rights; David Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek describes the common response that, ‘if Captain Kirk had a beautiful woman in his arms, he would not be reluctant to kiss her.’[59]

The most telling satire of racial bigotry offered by the original series is another Gene L. Coon episode, ‘Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,’ which sees the literally black-and-white coloured humanoid Lokai request asylum aboard the Enterprise from his pursuer. Bele has been relentlessly hunting Lokai across the galaxy for a staggering fifty thousand years after the latter led a revolt on their home world of Cheron, where Lokai’s people are persecuted and oppressed for their colour. The racially colourblind Spock has difficulty seeing this alleged difference, and all but the most attentive viewer requires Bele’s explanation that while he is black on the right side, Lokai is black on the left, which he believes makes it ‘obvious to the most simpleminded that Lokai is of an inferior breed.’ The historical relevance of this ridiculous prejudice is evidently not lost on the Enterprise crew, as the minority crew members Sulu and Chekov are reminded of the persecution that occurred on Earth ‘back in the twentieth century,’ implying a hopeful twenty-first century after Star Trek that will be free of such ‘primitive thinking,’ at least within the unified human race.

By The Next Generation, according to its neoconservative policy of avoidance, the civil rights movement was an ancient success that was now a part of everyday life, and thus no longer needed to be addressed in any explicit way. Subsequently, alien races in The Next Generation became less definable in purely allegorical terms and more poststructuralist, embodying a wide variety of intertextual influences to become ‘a mosaic of quotations,’ to follow the model of Julia Kristeva.[60] This is best demonstrated by the amicable evolution of the Klingons from crude adversary to respected ally, embodied by the character of Worf in the latter series as Starfleet’s first Klingon officer.


[41] ‘Star Trek is…’. Memory Alpha: The Star Trek Wiki. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[42] ‘Starfleet uniform (Mid 23rd century-2265)’. Memory Alpha. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[43] ‘Pavel Chekov’. Memory Alpha. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[44] ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’. Wikipedia. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[45] Ibid.

[46] Judith Roof, ‘Fiction Nation, or Fantasies of Future Normativity’, Ms. (1995), 4.

[47] Roddenberry (1968) quoted in Daniel Leonard Bernardi, Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future (New Brunswick: Rutgers University, 1998), p.34.

[48] ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’. Wikipedia. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[49] ‘Balance of Terror’. Memory Alpha. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[50] ‘Commodore (USN)’. Wikipedia. 2007. (21April 2007).

[51] Thomas Richards, The Meaning of Star Trek (New York: Doubleday, 1997), p.36.

[52] Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formations in the United States: From the 1960’s to the 1990’s, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 1994), p.95.

[53] David Gerrold, The World of Star Trek (New York: Bluejay, 1984), p.152.

[54] Nichelle Nichols, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories (New York: Putnam, 1994), pp.164-5.

[55] Bernardi, Star Trek and History, p.33.

[56] Note: The first is between Khan Noonien Singh and Marla McGivers in the 1967 episode ‘Space Seed.’

[57] ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’. Memory Alpha. 2007.’s_Stepchildren#Background_Information (21 April 2007).

[58] Roddenberry/Alexander.

[59] Gerrold, The World of Star Trek, p.80.

[60] Julia Kristeva, ‘Word, Language and Novel’, in Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. by Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University, 1980), p.66.

Chapter four:
Where No One Has Gone Before

The concluding shot of The Undiscovered Country is overdubbed with Kirk’s final Captain’s Log before his crew make way for another generation, in which the captain, perhaps ashamed by his own prejudices exposed in the film, ushers in a new era of equality by race- and gender-neutralising the Enterprise’s famous motto, ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before.’ The Next Generation contests with feminism in the way the original series struggles with race, yet feminist readings by critics such as Karen Blair and Robin Roberts, of Star Trek and The Next Generation respectively, highlight the male dominance of each Enterprise’s chain of command as the primary argument against its portrayal of utopian sexual equilibrium.[61]

With the notable exception of Uhura in regard to her ethnicity, the original series devotes little attention to sexual politics, a failing that becomes even more pronounced in light of its attention in other such areas. Second-wave feminism was only beginning to gain a foothold through documents such as the Civil Rights Act, in which women’s rights are merely granted passing mention, and it would take radical feminism of the 1970s to affect more significant changes.[62] Without this pressure to be radical in the same way required for its treatment of race, the original series appears unwilling to participate in the feminist struggle in the way The Next Generation does later, preferring to relegate feminine issues and characters into the background of ‘the male endeavo[u]r.’[63] The division of gender is acted out visibly in the evolution of the Starfleet uniform as designed by William Ware Theiss in both series, from the unisex trousers of ‘The Cage’ to the revealing miniskirts of the commissioned series. Theiss continued to design costumes into The Next Generation, developing some admirably non-discriminatory designs including the briefly seen ‘skant’ miniskirt uniform to be worn by both men and women. In practice, this would prove more common with women only, before this variation vanished completely by the costume re-design of the third season, which nevertheless retained the sex appeal of Counsellor Deanna Troi’s low-cut ‘catsuits.’

As the only permanent female bridge officer, Troi acts as the series’ primary means to address feminist issues of rape and abortion, her empathic abilities and profession causing her, in the view of Lynne Joyrich, to ‘personif[y] the professionalisation of femininity itself.’[64] Exempting the short-lived Lieutenant Yar, who would die before the end of the first season, the other female lead is Dr. Beverley Crusher, the Enterprise’s Chief Medical Officer and mother of young Wesley Crusher, whose femininity is almost entirely relegated to that latter commitment as single parent mother figure. It comes as no surprise that Data seeks her advice in ‘The Offspring’ when his daughter, Lal, experiences trouble fitting in at school, while Lal feels more comfortable discussing her femininity with Troi.

Data explains his motive to create a daughter, in his quest to emulate humanity, as a natural desire to achieve immortality through perpetuation of his species, despite the android’s seeming everlasting synthetic status. Across both series, synthetic android bodies are coveted for the opportunity they present for cheating death, and also for their subservience. It is this, as well as the series’ repeated focus on synthetic women in the forms of machines and holograms, that leads Roberts to equate androids with women, due to their ‘separation from, and subordination to, mankind.’[65] Comments in ‘The Offspring’ concerning Data’s struggle as a single parent to Lal imply his new status as mother, particularly his consultation with Dr. Crusher on parenting and Picard’s reluctant use of the ‘umbilical cord’ metaphor, though Data is naturally insistent on the term ‘father’ throughout. Despite his voiced intention to offer Lal freedom of choice in both appearance and lifestyle, he assigns his child a name and asserts his dominance as father by programming Lal to refer to him as such.

Although this episode is a commendable continuation of the civil rights debate regarding androids from the previous year’s ‘The Measure of a Man,’ Data’s overt mastery and the debate over Lal’s future are disconcertingly reminiscent of the patriarchal attitudes of ownership criticised by French feminist Luce Irigaray in her seminal essay ‘Women on the Market,’ as Starfleet’s representative is evidently interested only in her ‘status as a product of man’s labour.’[66] Although Picard had advocated Data’s right to equality in the afore-mentioned episode, it is only in the penultimate Act of ‘The Offspring’ that he allows Lal to voice her own opinion on the subject of her future, so entrenched he has become in the male debate that he is temporarily blinded by her gender differentiation. In light of this, her earlier concern about being ‘different’ is justified, signifying the unfortunate consequence of her innocent choice of a female template in a world firmly rooted in the gender discrimination of the early 1990s. Lal’s eventual demise from cascade failure due to the unprecedented emergence of emotional awareness is a typical failing of female androids left over from the original series, a fate that never befalls the more rational male versions.[67]

Data’s synthetic nuclear family is completed with the discovery of his ‘mother’ in the later episode ‘Inheritance,’ which finally provides a fully realised female android, complete with flawless emotions, against which Data can evaluate his own sexuality. Unbeknownst to Juliana and her current husband, she is an android like Data; her consciousness was transferred to an advanced android body by her ex-husband, Data’s creator Dr. Soong, after the real Juliana suffered a fatal injury. Juliana lives as a normal human woman and possesses evident freedom of choice in trafficking between men, ending her marriage to Soong many years prior to the episode, yet her man-made status unavoidably links her to her ex-husband’s legacy. This android Eve is indistinguishable from a human woman until she falls and breaks her leg, revealing the circuitry inside; although this frailty is integral to her camouflage, it serves to mark her as physically weaker than Soong’s male androids, as well as falling into the unfortunate tradition of female subjects defined by their bodily weakness. As Raffaella Baccolini explains in reading C. L. Moore’s early cyborg story No Woman Born, ‘women’s delicate, frail bodies are revealing of an equally frail identity.’[68] Juliana’s deceptively human frailty is necessary in keeping her identity secret to all but her creator and those who witness the failsafe holographic message he installed in the event of such an accident, asking for the witness’ compassion in allowing Juliana to live out her life in comfortable ignorance. She is closer to humanity than Data due solely to enforced ignorance, and her freedom is eternally in the hands of men.

The technological female whose subservience is most frequently seen in Star Trek is arguably that of the U.S.S. Enterprise ‘herself,’ defined as female through the gendering of the Computer Voice in both series, which denotes her as servile to the predominantly male chain of command. The Computer is voiced by Roddenberry’s wife and widow Majel Barrett, whose prominent roles in both series embody the full spectrum of Star Trek’s femininity, providing a convenient means of comparison. Her performance as Number One in ‘The Cage’ offers a woman in a high position of authority that contrasts starkly with the subsequent series’ weaker female role models. Analysis of this 1964 pilot once again reveals how Roddenberry’s original pathfinder for Star Trek had the potential to be far more progressive in terms of gender politics than the original series would ever manage, as NBC responded even less favourably to the inclusion of Number One than they did to Spock; as Roddenberry recalls in The Making of Star Trek, audience questionnaires from the time ‘ranged from resentment to disbelief’ at the idea of a woman in such a high ranking position, although ‘they liked the actress.’[69] Thus, Barrett’s role in the series proper was relegated to that of Christine Chapel, McCoy’s recurring assistant whose only substantial scenes concern her relationships with men.[70] As the flamboyant diplomat Lwaxana Troi in The Next Generation, the mother of Deanna Troi, Barrett’s character acts almost as a parody of her fictional daughter’s status as the series’ sex symbol, pursuing Picard, amongst other powerful men, with the confidence of an experienced and fully realised sexual being, as opposed to the more traditionally submissive Chapel.

Although the Enterprise computer is presented as lacking the sentience of androids in either incarnation, its characteristic femininity provided by Barrett’s role is a telling metaphor for the series’ evaluation of the female sex, and exposes a fundamental hypocrisy in the crew’s attitudes towards alien sexual politics. This hypocrisy comes to the fore in the previous episode to be broadcast, ‘Angel One,’ which is perhaps the series’ most overt take on gender politics. Viewers are informed through the expository device of Picard’s ‘Captain’s log’ that planet Angel One is governed by a matriarchy in which women are powerful and men are submissive, with heavy implication of its abnormality from the rest of the known universe, as defined by the male dominance offered by the Enterprise’s command structure.

The ironic title and expectations of male characters, particularly the virulently masculine Riker, consistently used as the series’ symbol of male sexuality as this chapter will demonstrate, are subverted when Beata and her female Council are revealed to be biologically stronger and thus more traditionally ‘masculine’ than the subservient males who attend them. By defamiliarising traditional gender roles and stereotypes through reversal, ‘Angel One’ draws the viewer’s attention to them before they are exploded. The women are tall, but even the ruler Beata is surpassed by Riker’s physique, and this mutual attraction to power leads to a brief liaison, in which Beata ultimately concedes to fill the subservient role. Riker proudly tells her that ‘men are not objects to be possessed,’ yet the women who form illicit relationships with the Federation survivors settle into the role of obedient, subservient wife with ease, without demanding the same of their husbands.

Once the Federation survivors are discovered, the episode becomes reminiscent of an early episode from the original series, titled ‘Mudd’s Women.’ Both feature a group of isolated human males whose Federation citizenship is nevertheless impeded by their status as non-Starfleet personnel, resembling more of the unenlightened twentieth century male than a member of utopian society. The colonists awaiting wives in the 1966 episode are participants in the literal trafficking of women, Harry Mudd’s scantily clad ‘cargo … of lovelies,’ an exchange for which the Enterprise reluctantly becomes the method of transportation. From the onset, this episode reaffirms outmoded attitudes in the face of feminism, and represents Star Trek at its least progressive, from the default use of the male pronoun to refer to Mudd’s unidentified vessel, to the disorderly reactions of the male crew members to the women’s soft-focus beauty. The men of ‘Angel One’ recall much the same response upon their arrival in the matriarchal dystopia, believing they had ‘died and gone to heaven’ until confronted with its harsh reminder of early twentieth century America, as the subjected males receive ‘no vote, no opinions, no respect.’[71] Viewers will have already seen this acted out over the course of the episode, and although the situation of the finale is similar to ‘Mudd’s Women,’ men ‘doomed’ to live in blissful exile with their beautiful wives, the didactic moral for equality is enriched by the symbolic role reversal, rather than hidden. This represents just one of many instances in which The Next Generation, in Roberts’ view, ‘complicates the simple sexism of the original series.’[72]

Although Roddenberry criticises the network television of the sixties for ‘perpetuat[ing] … stereotypes about men and women,’ he also admits a turnaround of his own opinion between generations in the Humanist interview, confidently stating that he is ‘entirely without prejudice now’ and regretting his earlier ‘macho-type’ attitude of the early 1960s. His eyes opened by the radical feminism of the seventies, Roddenberry reveals himself to be ‘not the same man who was in charge of the old show.’ He delights in the greater freedom he experienced with the syndicated nature of The Next Generation, but still encounters the same barriers of censorship that prevent writers from being ‘completely honest … because there are many things that are not yet permitted to be discussed,’ particularly ‘sexual attitudes.’[73] For all its achievements in addressing sexual issues, The Next Generation stumbles awkwardly over that of homosexuality. Despite the Enterprise’s crew’s blatant openness to sexual relationships, none of those depicted are between crew members of the same sex, suggesting to Joyrich, ‘that even in the twenty-fourth century, “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” does not include sexual diversity.’[74]

The only episode to touch on gay issues in any allegorical manner is ‘The Outcast’ from the fifth season, concerning a love affair that develops between Riker and Soren, a scientist of an androgynous race with which the Enterprise is conducting a joint rescue mission in a pocket of chaotic ‘nullspace,’ highly symbolic of the plot’s more primary concerns. Soren secretly models herself as a female, a controversial lifestyle choice that invites the dangers of ridicule and, ultimately, a process comparable to brainwashing to remove the ‘sickness.’ Riker is again offered as the epitome of human male sexuality, defining the differences between men and woman in purely physical terms, despite the lessons learned at Angel One. His liberal attitude toward entering an alternative sexual relationship with an androgynous alien places Riker in a more liberal light than Worf, whose openly condemns the relationship as ‘wrong,’ reminiscent of the ‘macho-type’ attitude left behind by Roddenberry after the original series. Worf correspondingly revokes his homophobia by the end of the episode, offering his assistance in Riker’s failed rescue attempt.

Regarding the prejudice exhibited by Soren’s race towards nonconformist sexuality, Jeri Taylor defines her script for ‘The Outcast’ as unquestionably ‘a gay rights story,’ which ‘absolutely, specifically and outspokenly dealt with gay issues,’ yet Soren’s situation is so unrecognisably alien that only those closely attuned to the franchise’s penchant for defamiliarisation could be expected to identify it.[75] This camouflage is increased by the lack of reference to the earthly issue in question, which arguably made the racial hatred of the original series’ ‘Let That Be Your Last Battlefield’ more resonant. Riker performer Jonathan Frakes looks back respectfully to the earlier series in the disappointment expressed over his character’s kiss with Soren, feeling that the character ‘should have been more obviously male,’ something that could have been achieved through the casting of a male actor and would have mimicked the boldness of that earlier kiss in ‘Plato’s Stepchildren.’[76] The issue of homosexuality represents perhaps Star Trek’s most disappointing oversight in its continuing mission to explore new worlds, representing perpetually ‘unfulfilled hopes and dreams.’


[61] Karen Blair, ‘Sex and Star Trek’, in Science Fiction Studies, 10 (1983), 292.

[62] Robin Roberts, Sexual Generations: Star Trek: The Next Generation and Gender (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1999), p.7.

[63] Harvey R. Greenberg, ‘In Search of Spock: A Psychoanalytic Inquiry’, in Journal of Popular Film and Television, 12 (1984), 63.

[64] Lynne Joyrich, Re-viewing Reception: Television, Gender, and Postmodern Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1996), p.4.

[65] Roberts, Sexual Generations, pp.91-93.

[66] Luce Irigaray, ‘Women on the Market,’ This Sex Which Is Not One (Ithaca: Cornell University, 1985), p.175.

[67] Note: Particularly the episode ‘What Are Little Girls Made Of?’

[68] Raffaella Baccolini, ‘In-Between Subjects: C.L. Moore’s “No Woman Born”’, in Science Fiction: Critical Frontiers, ed. Sayer, p.144.

[69] Stephen Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, The Making of Star Trek (New York: Ballantine, 1968), p.128.

[70] Note: Particularly the episodes ‘The Naked Time’, ‘What Are Little Girls Made Of?’ and ‘Amok Time.’

[71] ‘Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution’. Wikipedia. (21 April 2007).

[72] Roberts, Sexual Generations, p.80.

[73] Roddenberry/Alexander.

[74] Lynne Joyrich, ‘Feminist Enterprise? Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Occupation of Femininity’, in Cinema Journal, 35 (1996), 68.

[75] John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins, Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Dr. Who and Star Trek (New York: Routledge, 1995), p.255.

[76] Jonathan Frakes quoted in Tulloch and Jenkins, Science Fiction Audiences, p.285.


As outlined in the introduction, the intention of this analysis has been to examine the socio-political attitude of Star Trek through reference to the most relevant episodes produced prior to Gene Roddenberry’s death, with emphasis on returning to previously discussed episodes for ease of familiarity. ‘The Neutral Zone’ presents Star Trek at its most traditionally utopian, providing a means for the franchise to definitively inform twentieth century humanity of its ‘infancy’ face-to-face. Furthermore, it has been established that comparison of Roddenberry’s changing ideology in his own quest for enlightenment is most successfully realised through analysis of ‘The Cage’ as a pure expression of his optimistic vision for the future of humanity, extrapolated from the early sixties under new frontier politics, unrestrained by the external pressures that would affect the original series. Even so, in its perpetuation of 1960s gender stereotypes it remains the product of a man burdened by an anxiety of cultural influences from which he would never escape entirely.

These analyses of Roddenberry’s humanist utopia have revealed an inescapable and specifically twentieth century consciousness at its foundation. Despite the attempts to characterise Starfleet officers as idealised technopolitan men and women, the remnants of primitivism in the form of prejudice and hypocrisy continually depict plights of humans and aliens recognisable as those of the audience itself. This exposes the inherent impossibility of successfully envisioning futuristic progress while still burdened by a twentieth century perspective, and corresponds to David Gerrold’s belief that ‘[Star Trek’s] stories are about twentieth century man’s attitudes in a future universe.’[77] To explore the political implications of Star Trek’s egalitarian legacy would require a separate analysis entirely, conducted from a more cultural materialist perspective to examine the franchise in light of the present day that the text is partly responsible for shaping.[78]

The series is modest enough to define its own limitations as a television show with a limited duration, as the twentieth century survivors of ‘The Neutral Zone’ are told of television’s demise by the 2040s, necessitating that the inherently hi-tech Star Trek franchise adapt itself with the times and continue to push the boundaries of whichever futuristic medium will take its place, continuing to exploit ‘the power of sound and image that is often as real to people as their own lives.’[79] Star Trek: Voyager’s Captain Kathryn Janeway offers the franchise’s first prominent female starship captain, finally surpassing the early impasse of Number One, while the undiscovered country of alternative sexuality would be conquered finally by the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode ‘Rejoined.’

The crusade continues in imaginative and strictly non-canonical fan fiction produced within Star Trek’s extensive fan community, uninhibited by the constraints of mass media in addressing more radical themes. This is most prevalent in the subculture of ‘slash-fiction’ which explores the homosexual potential of the relationship between Kirk and Spock, officially considered by Roddenberry to be nothing more than a platonic relationship ‘with deep love overtones,’ but one nevertheless open to possibilities, ‘if that were the particular style of the twenty-third century.’[80] Perhaps most controversially of all, with regard to contravening Roddenberry’s specific doctrine, is the increased tolerance for religion in the later series, a process that the writers seemed unable to address within the remaining years of The Next Generation due to the burden of Roddenberry’s influence from its gestation.

Roddenberry’s absolute rule may have proved too restrictive for a progressively political franchise, but recent developments suggest that Star Trek requires, for the first time since the volatile sixties, the visionary guidance he represented. Contrary to Picard’s concluding statement in ‘The Neutral Zone’ that his crew must look ever forwards, the trend of twenty-first century Star Trek has been to look increasingly in what Picard would consider to be ‘the wrong direction,’ with episodes from Voyager’s final seasons focusing on the discovery of twenty-second century relics far out in space, paving the way for the prequel series Enterprise and the proposed 2008 feature film ‘reboot’ of the original series, tailoring Kirk’s original five-year mission for a present-day audience.[81]

The political climate of the United States in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks is vastly different from that responsible for The Next Generation, which sees the United Federation of Planets finally experiencing a period of tranquillity in which war and terrorism are incomprehensible and obsolete concepts of the ‘irrational period of human existence.’[82] By travelling backwards, twenty-first century Trek strives, definitively, to fill the holes in the road to utopia, now looming ever closer, and will inevitably encounter the same historical obstacles as its predecessors. As the Prime Directive demands, Earth will have to get there on its own.


[77] Gerrold, The World of Star Trek, p.155.

[78] Peter Barry, Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory (Manchester: Manchester University, 1995), pp.182, 186.

[79] Roddenberry/Alexander.

[80] William Shatner, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, Where No Man…: The Authorized Biography of William Shatner (New York: Ace Books, 1979), pp.147-8.

[81] ‘Star Trek XI’. Memory Alpha. 2007. (21 April 2007).

[82] Owen in Communism, Fascism and Democracy, ed. by Cohen, p.13.

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