Few television shows — especially canceled ones — can boast of fan devotion or longevity the way that Star Trek: The Original Series can. Starting in 1966, Star Trek has been part of the zeitgeist for almost 60 years, and thanks to an ever-expanding universe, it can expect to be around for many years to come. The fanbase continues to grow, too. With TOS enjoying new life on Paramount+ and a prequel series with a devoted fan following of its own, more converts are joining old-school fans in their love of Trek. Yet, new fans come with new questions, particularly about The Original Series and its first successor.
In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced a whole new audience to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future. While the series struggled to win over Original Series fans, their children enthusiastically embraced the bold new take on the groundbreaking sci-fi show. Now that shows like Discovery and Strange New Worlds have piqued the interest of an even younger generation, this new Trek audience is curious about the earlier shows. Separated in broadcast by nearly 20 years — and with a narrative that places them nearly a century apart — there are many significant differences between The Original Series and The Next Generation.
10 Warp Limits Changed Drastically Between Series
Star Trek is well into its sixth decade with no signs of slowing down. Future series need to balance the old with the new if they intend to thrive.
When series creator Gene Roddenberry dreamed of Star Trek, his “Wagon Train to the stars” required a form of acceleration by which people could cross the vastness of space in a relatively short time. And so, warp drive technology was conceived. In The Original Series, warp speed was measured in factors. Each factor represented a higher acceleration past the speed of light. The numerous warp factors were largely inconsistent, however, and often seemed to vary in speed based on plot demand. Generally, however, the Enterprise could normally travel at Warp factors 1 through 9 relatively safely. By the time the TOS was adapted to film, the maximum safe warp factor was 12, but a new generation would scale back the numbers while dialing up the velocity.
In Season 1 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, warp speed limits were firmly reestablished. The newer, bigger, and more advanced Enterprise-D could be pushed beyond its safety limits and go several decimals faster than Warp 9, but Warp 10 was well out of reach. Though, much like in The Original Series, warp speeds were still often plot-dependent, the distinctions between them seemed better defined. Also, the word “factor” was dropped from the dialogue of the new series, seemingly in favor of a more streamlined way of speaking for a new era. The idea that The Next Generation had clearer warp speed definitions was also consistent with the idea that the new galaxy-class Enterprise was faster than the old constitution-class starship.
9 The Roddenberry Box Is Handled Differently Between Series
When Gene Roddenberry conceived Star Trek, he envisioned an Earth where violence as a form of conflict resolution had become obsolete. In The Original Series, however, verbal sparring and heated arguments were still prevalent. As part of the drama of TOS, angry quarrels were a regular occurrence, particularly when Dr. McCoy was involved. Bones had a penchant for challenging anyone and everyone, including his commanding officers and best friends, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The unflappable Vulcan first officer was generally unfazed by the doctor’s antagonism, but the captain would often take the bait, leading to some of TOS‘ more dramatic moments.
By the time Star Trek: The Next Generation came around, Roddenberry had decided that humans in the 24th century wouldn’t fight with each other the way they had in the 23rd. This idealistic approach seemed like a lovely vision for humanity’s future, but it created problems for TNG‘s writers. Designated “The Roddenberry Box” by the series’ scribes, the directive to only portray the conflict between humans and other species tied the writers’ hands in scenes where they wanted to amp up the drama. Where The Original Series could appear melodramatic at times, TNG was sometimes downright dull.
8 The Next Generation Introduced The Enterprise’s Counselor
Star Trek may be best known for its far-out sci-fi and punchy action scenes, but it also contains some of the most iconic trial scenes in TV history,
For Star Trek: The Next Generation, the writers came up with a new position aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise-D. Ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi — a half-human, half-Betazoid with empathic powers — advised Captain Picard on matters regarding the crew’s mental and emotional preparedness, and how to deal with lifeforms they encountered during their travels. Counselor Troi also tended to the mental health of the crew as a psychiatric professional. It was a bold move for the series, acknowledging the necessity of empathetic and clinical care for mental well-being.
In Star Trek: The Original Series, the Enterprise had its own psychologists aboard in some episodes, but they were rarely featured. Typically, the responsibility of tending to the crew’s mental health was the job of the chief medical officer. Already responsible for the crew’s physical well-being, giving the burden of the crew’s mental wellness to one medical professional seems like an unreasonable demand for Starfleet to make of their doctors. Recently, Star Trek seems to have retconned that narrative with the prequel series Strange New Worlds, Season 1, Episode 7, “The Serene Squall.”
7 The Team Configuration Changed Drastically
Star Trek‘s mission of exploration is dangerous. Often in The Original Series, to make the audience aware of the stakes, a member of the landing party would usually die early in the mission. Despite the danger — or perhaps because of it — Captain Kirk usually led these missions, leaving either Spock or Chief Engineer Mr. Scott in charge of the ship until he came back. Given the danger, and the captain’s importance, it’s surprising that Starfleet had no protocol to maintain the chain of command.
In the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Cmdr. Riker makes it clear that part of his job as first officer is to lead away missions, firmly establishing his and Capt. Picard’s roles in the series. Riker had the rule of law on his side since Starfleet regulations made it the captain’s duty to command the ship. Though this made Picard look weak in the early seasons, it raises some interesting questions. Had the regulation always been there and Kirk just chose to ignore it, or was it a rule that Starfleet added later?
6 The Saucer Section And The Battle Bridge Are Different
From Klingons to Ferengi to Changelings, Star Trek has introduced a wide variety of alien races, but some aliens are noticeably stranger than others.
In Star Trek, encounters in space could be perilous. Starfleet personnel have always known and understood the risks to their safety. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, however, Starfleet had begun to allow families aboard their starships. This helped the crew avoid the anxiety of long-term separation from spouses and children, but it also put families at risk. The solution was for the Enterprise and other vessels to separate the star drive section from the saucer section, with the ship’s command functions controlled from the battle bridge. It was a fascinating idea, but it was mostly abandoned after Season 1.
In The Original Series, things were very different from TNG. All hands aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise were Starfleet personnel. They knew the risks, and they accepted them. As such, there was never any discussion about separating one part of the Enterprise from the rest to protect civilians. It’s been suggested that Federation starships could always separate, but it was never shown and only mentioned briefly in Season 2, Episode 5, “The Apple.”
5 Gender Roles Vary Between Star Trek Series
All shows are products of their times, and Star Trek was no exception. Though it was set in the 23rd century, TOS reflected the gender politics of the 1960s. As such, women were portrayed as holding positions of responsibility, but never authority. All leadership roles were occupied by men, with women often depicted as subordinates. This appears to be more of a concession to the network, since Roddenberry originally cast a woman as the first officer in the unaired pilot, “The Cage.”
With a two-decade buffer and changing social attitudes, Gene Roddenberry was able to have more women in positions of authority in Star Trek: The Next Generation. With Dr. Beverly Crusher as CMO and Lt. Tasha Yar as the original security chief, women had come a long way in the 24th century, though not to the captain’s chair aboard the Enterprise. Still, TNG did portray women in command roles, most notably Adm. Alynna Nechayev. Though they were progressive for their times, both shows’ gender politics are considered dated today.
4 Relations Shifted Between The Federation And The Klingons
At its heart, Star Trek has always been an allegorical representation of its time, with alien cultures embodying some existing group in the present. The Original Series aired in the 1960s, during the height of the Cold War, and one of the Federation’s chief adversaries epitomized America’s main rival superpower, the Soviet Union. With substantial interstellar territory and a penchant for fighting proxy wars with Starfleet, the Klingon Empire had a wholly antagonistic relationship with the Federation. The animosity was mutual and would remain so until a shifting political climate in the real world allowed for a change.
The appearance of the Klingons changed after TOS, and the relationship between the Klingon Empire and the Federation also changed from hostile to not completely unfriendly in The Next Generation. Though the Klingons never joined the Federation, the Empire, and the U.F.P. enjoyed a tense alliance in the 24th century. The end of hostilities even paved the way for the first Klingon — Lt. Worf — to serve in Starfleet on the flagship of the Federation. Similarly, though it was still ongoing by the time TNG first aired, reforms in Russia provided hope that the end of the Cold War was near.
3 Kirk and Picard’s Command Styles Were Opposites
Star Trek changed the face of science fiction, and opened up previously obscure genre tropes to a wider audience. Here are ten of the most memorable.
Every Star Trek series is defined by who’s sitting in the captain’s chair. The Original Series started the trend, with William Shatner portraying Captain James T. Kirk as a firm-handed, authoritative leader. Military-style discipline was the order of the stardate on Kirk’s Enterprise, though he mellowed a little as the series progressed. With his top-down approach to command, Capt. Kirk was seldom one to seek advice — except from Spock and Bones, on whom he’d come to rely and trust more than anyone else.
Though he could often seem quite formal and reserved, Captain Jean-Luc Picard was a leader for a later time. More collaborative than his predecessor, The Next Generation‘s captain sought advice from his entire senior staff. By listening to all his senior officers, Capt. Picard had the advantage of receiving multiple perspectives on a situation, allowing him to make a highly informed decision. Though he was a highly deliberative leader, at the end of the day, Picard was always able to make a command decision, recognizing that he would always face the consequences of his orders.
2 Each Series Had A Different Number Of Seasons/Movies
Most Star Trek fans know that The Original Series was a ratings disaster when it first aired on NBC. Finding an audience was difficult for the groundbreaking show, and Star Trek: TOS was saved from cancelation after Season 2, through a massive write-in campaign that allowed the show to run for one more season. Yet, Star Trek thrived in syndicated reruns thanks to a devoted and ever-growing fanbase. Demand for more Trek increased thanks to fan-run conventions, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture opened on Dec. 7, 1979. The public’s hunger for more led to five sequels over 12 years and a follow-up TV series in the midst of it all.
With an already established brand, a higher budget, and greater narrative freedom thanks to airing in syndication, Star Trek: The Next Generation enjoyed far greater success than its predecessor. With considerably high ratings for a syndicated program, TNG enjoyed a seven-year run before the producers decided it was time to move on. But the break from Star Trek didn’t last forever, and in 1994, The Next Generation began their big screen adventures. While the first two films were successful, further big-screen TNG outings left audiences cold, and ended with the disappointing fourth film, Star Trek: Nemesis.
1 The Next Generation Broadened Star Trek’s Storytelling Scale
From the first episode of Star Trek: The Original Series to the last, plots would run the gamut from the Captain and crew needing to save the Enterprise to needing to protect the galaxy as a whole. While the direction was epic, budgetary constraints kept most of the excitement on the soundstage, with the action in space limited to single-camera shots and slow-build tension with little sense of immediacy. The show would also take a break from the drama to provide the audience with episodes that were funny and charming, as they did with Season 2, Episode 17, “A Piece of the Action.”
Building on the format of TOS, The Next Generation also went to an epic scale with their storytelling. Thanks to a higher budget and better — for its time — state-of-the-art visual effects, TNG crafted episodes that fit the scale of stories they were trying to tell. The Next Generation also had more narrative freedom and could make bolder choices, like ending Season 3 on a cliffhanger as the Enterprise faced the Borg — their greatest enemy. Along with raising the stakes from week to week and season to season, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s ensemble format broadened the storytelling to include more intimate episodes about the individual characters.
Star Trek is an American science fiction media franchise created by Gene Roddenberry, which began with the eponymous 1960s television series and became a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon.
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- William Shatner , Leonard Nimoy , Deforest Kelley , James Doohan , Nichelle Nichols , Patrick Stewart , Jonathan Frakes , Avery Brooks , Kate Mulgrew , Scott Bakula
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