Music in Star Trek
From Alexander Courage’s “bright galactic beguine” in The Original Series to Jeff Russo’s churning, Game of Thrones-style theme for Discovery, the music of Star Trek has always embodied the spirit of its time, as much as it looks to the future. Rick Berman famously sacked composer Ron Jones from The Next Generation because he felt his scores drew too much attention to themselves. In his mind, the underscore should be a kind of wallpaper, as unobtrusive as the soft pastel...
Half a Decade of Primitive Culture
Star Trek’s original five-year mission was brought to a premature end in 1969. But over the ensuing half-century and more, the franchise has continued boldly going to new frontiers. By the 1980s, when a second generation of fans came to seek out fresh adventures, the voyage had become a continuing mission … with no end in sight.
In this episode of Primitive Culture, recorded earlier this year on our own five-year anniversary, host Duncan Barrett is joined...
Cardassian war crimes and The Man in the Glass Booth
For many fans of Deep Space Nine, the penultimate installment of Season 1, “Duet,” is also the show’s first classic episode. A bleak exploration of guilt, responsibility, and forgiveness in the aftermath of war, it’s a story that could scarcely have been told on any other Star Trek series. One of Trek’s most popular bottle episodes, “Duet” is built on intense two-hander scenes between Nana Visitor and guest star Harris Yuelin, giving it...
Autistic representation in Star Trek
“Perhaps you’re just different,” Tam Elbrun tells Data in the Next Generation episode “Tin Man.” “Not a sin, you know, though you may have heard otherwise.” Both characters—the emotionally sensitive Betazoid and the supposedly emotionless android—have been seen by fans as allegories of a particular kind of difference, standing in for those on the broad spectrum of neurodiversity.
In this episode of Primitive Culture, host Duncan Barrett is joined by...
Star Trek’s Double Troubles
Don’t they say you die if you meet yourself? Our intrepid Starfleet officers had better hope the answer is no, since encounters with doubles, doppelgängers, and duplicates appear to be just part of the job. From the two Kirks in “The Enemy Within” to Lower Decks’s twinned Boimlers, Star Trek has offered up a host of alt versions of our regular characters over the years.
In this episode of Primitive Culture, host Duncan Barrett is joined by Clara Cook for a look...
Trans representation in Star Trek.
In 2022, trans characters in Star Trek have become part of the fabric of humanity’s shared future in space. In addition to Adira and Gray Tal in Discovery, we’ve been treated to the villainess Captain Angel in Strange New Worlds and even an explicitly non-binary character, the Medusan Zero, in Prodigy. But a few decades ago, Star Trek’s most direct engagement with trans culture was the truly toe-curling Deep Space Nine episode “Profit and Lace.” That said,...
The Alien franchise and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
In space, no one can hear you scream. But for unlucky Starfleet landing parties, meeting a nightmarish alien menace can prove as traumatic as deadly. For La'an Noonien-Singh, who carries the burden of having survived captivity in a Gorn breeding colony during childhood, another encounter with the monstrous lizards proves both physically and mentally challenging. And to make sure the audience is equally freaked out by the terrifying...
How Star Trek’s leaders reflect our own.
Young, charismatic, and a bit of a ladies’ man, Captain James T. Kirk was cast in the mould of President John F. Kennedy, the beloved US leader who had been killed just three years before Star Trek debuted. But over the course of more than half a century, Star Trek’s captains have often echoed the great politicians of the day; and sometimes they may even have paved the way for political careers in the real world.
In this episode of Primitive Culture,...
Star Trek’s backdoor pilots.
The year is 1968. As Star Trek goes off the air for good, a new show—Assignment: Earth—debuts from some of the same creative team. For dedicated Trekkies, the premise is already familiar and the two leads, Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln, have a head start garnering fans of their own. That, at least, is what might have been had Star Trek not been renewed for a third season. As things turned out, the episode featuring Seven and Lincoln was simply the finale of Star...
… it wasn’t the Vulcans who made first contact?
April 5, 2063. In Star Trek’s imagined history, it was on this date that humanity made first contact with an alien race. The event led to societal transformation on a global scale and ushered in a bright future. But what if it wasn’t the Vulcans who happened to be passing by that day? What if first contact had been made with the Klingons or Romulans instead?
In this episode of Primitive Culture, originally recorded for The Sanctuary, but never...
Captain Picard and Indiana Jones.
Wise, measured, and distinctly unromantic, Captain Jean-Luc Picard was conceived from the start as very different from his predecessor, James T. Kirk. But for Patrick Stewart, the lack of physical drama felt creatively unsatisfying. In October 1988, he wrote a letter to Gene Roddenberry outlining his desire for Picard to get some “action”—in more ways than one.
It would be over a year before Stewart’s request was granted, in the third-season episode...
Lisa Klink on Writing for Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
Starting with a short-term position as a writing intern on Deep Space Nine, Lisa Klink rose rapidly through the Star Trek ranks, penning more than a dozen episodes over the course of just three years. In episodes such as “Resistance” and “Sacred Ground,” she proved her skill at handling character-based drama, while “Blood Fever,” “Message in a Bottle” and “The Omega Directive” cemented her credentials as one of the series’ finest...
How Star Trek tackled the Vietnam War.
Every Star Trek series has engaged with the issues of the time, and perhaps none more so than *The Original Series*. Episodes touching on the hippy counterculture and NASA's bold Apollo program grounded the show as much in the 1960s as the 2260s. But perhaps no contemporary subject loomed over TOS more so than the Vietnam War. Sometimes quite bluntly and at other times more obliquely, over the course of three seasons the show charted a constantly...
Jack Bauer and Jonathan Archer.
Premiering just after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Enterprise took another two seasons to fully engage with the radically changed real world in its storytelling. When the show did reveal its own 9/11 story in the third season, it followed in the wake of another intensely serialized, monster-hit TV show: 24. Jack Bauer might seem an unlikely model for a Starfleet captain, but throughout the course of the Xindi arch...
Naren Shankar on a life in science fiction.
While Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga took the Star Trek: Next Generation cast to the big screen—not to mention reinventing classic space shows Battlestar Galactica and Cosmos—it was another young writer from the TNG stable, Naren Shankar, who would contribute to the most science-fiction TV in his post-Trek career. Over three decades as a screenwriter and showrunner, Shankar has worked on genre classics such as SeaQuest, Farscape, The Outer...
Live from Destination Star Trek London 2021.
After the cancellation of last year’s Destination Star Trek (DST) in London, anticipation for 2021 event, billed as Europe’s largest Trek convention, was greater than ever. A slew of last-minute guest dropouts—combined with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—didn’t stop thousands of Trekkies from descending on ExCel London exhibition and convention center for the three-day celebration.
In this episode of Primitive Culture, host Duncan Barrett...
James Bond and Julian Bashir.
Not many film franchises can boast 25 installments over the course of more than half a century, so for sheer longevity the James Bond cinematic franchise certainly gives Star Trek a run for its money. In some ways, the old-fashioned brutal masculine ethos of Bond feels very much out of place in the utopian Trek future, and yet both are properties forged in the cultural crucible of the 1960s that have been forced to reinvent themselves with every passing...
Tony Black’s new book: *Star Trek, History and Us*
From 1960s hippies in “The Way to Eden” to the War on Terror in Enterprise Season 3, Star Trek has always reflected the cultural moment from which it springs. In his new book, Star Trek, History and Us, Tony Black brings the Primitive Culture approach to print, taking a long view of the past half-century through the prism of Star Trek's 800 episodes and films.
In this episode of Primitive Culture, host Duncan Barrett is joined by Tony...
Robert Duncan McNeill on Star Trek's Directors' School.
To Star Trek fans, he is Tom Paris, the cocksure pilot of the USS Voyager. But in Hollywood, Robert Duncan McNeill is better known as a different kind of helmsman. From his first day of filming on the Voyager pilot "Caretaker," McNeill declared his intention to take a shot at the director's chair, following in the footsteps of fellow Trek such as stars Jonathan Frakes, Levar Burton, and Leonard Nimoy. Two years later, when Frakes was...
Twenty Thousand Leagues across the Delta Quadrant.
Throughout Star Trek: Voyager’s seven seasons, Tom Paris repeatedly proved his credentials as a mid-20th-century history buff, with his replicated TV set, black-and-white B-movie holonovels, and even his own 3D cinema. But in the fifth-season episode “Thirty Days,” he reveals a boyhood fascination with a much earlier period of history and literature: the age of great nautical exploration. In particular, young Tom was obsessed with Jules...
How Nicholas Meyer’s other time-travel caper inspired The Voyage Home
When Nicholas Meyer was called in to write a new script for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, just weeks before pre-production was due to begin, he must have been struck with a bad case of déjà vu. Leonard Nimoy explained that the story outline he would be working from involved the crew of the Enterprise traveling back to present-day San Francisco for a nice fish-out-of-water comedy. Just a few years earlier, Meyer had made...
The Scopes Monkey Trial, Inherit the Wind, and DS9’s “In the Hands of the Prophets.”
The trial of US high school teacher John Scopes in 1925 was perhaps the definitive 20th-century showdown between religion and science. Indicted for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in defiance of creationist state law, Scopes turned the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, into the center of a political carnival. Household names headed up the legal teams on both sides, vast crowds packed into the...
Suspiria and “Cold Fire”
Despite being teased in the series premiere, it took Star Trek: Voyager well over a year to actually introduce its female caretaker, a being with the power to send the ship home on a whim. And when the entity did appear, in the second-season episode “Cold Fire,” she turned out to have a surprising and distinctly sinister name: Suspiria. An apparent reference to Dario Aregnto’s 1977 film of the same name, in which a young ballet student stumbles into a coven of...
Episode titles since 2009.
Concluding our look at Star Trek’s 800-plus episode titles to date, in this episode of Primitive Culture host Duncan Barrett is joined by Tony Black to consider naming strategies for the Kelvin films, Short Treks, Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks. What exactly lies “beyond” the final frontier? Can magic really make the sanest man go mad? And how moist can a vessel get before it becomes little more than broken pieces?