Thursday, January 15, 2009

Where no two men have gone before: forty years after Star Trek began, the franchise now tackles its final frontier

Shortly before Christmas, viewers of online Star Trek spin-off Phase II encountered two lifeforms never before seen in the history of the franchise. Rumours of their existence have been speculated upon, but never before have Captains Kirk, Picard, Janeway, Sisko or Archer come face to face with them onscreen. In the new webisode 'Blood and Fire', audiences can meet Peter Kirk and Alex Freeman, the show's first openly gay couple. Kirk is the nephew of the Enterprise's infamous Captain, who follows his boyfriend when medical technician Freeman is posted to the ship.

Although Phase II is not an official Star Trek spin-off – it is fan-made, although both writers and actors and even sets from the 'real' show have been involved – CBS and Paramount, who own the rights to the series, allow fan-made projects provided the participants do not make money from them. This allows fans not only to continue the adventures of James T Kirk et al, it also give them the opportunity to rewrite some of the show's more problematic areas. There has been no comment from either company regarding the upcoming storyline, nor has there ever been an official explanation for the lack of LGBT characters in any of the spin-offs. However, had writer David Gerrold had his way, things would have been remarkably different. Openly gay, he first pitched the idea for the episode when he was working on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show that launched previously unknown Shakespearian actor Patrick Stewart into the limelight. The original script had the couple portrayed essentially as friends until one character – presumably resident psychic, Counselor Troi – asked how long they'd been together. The online version not only brings the characters' sexuality to the fore, it has also been re-written in the light of contemporary issues, including gay marriage. The original episode was scrapped when Paramount decided that they "didn't want to risk the franchise".

In fact, none of the five Star Trek shows – the original series, The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine or the prequel Enterprise – or ten films have featured an openly gay character. Show creator Gene Roddenberry had planned to introduce a gay crewmember in TNG's fifth season, put passed away before this could ever be put into practice. His successor Rick Berman, whom both fans and, allegedly, co-workers have described as homophobic, later described the idea of including gay characters as "wishful thinking" on behalf of the fans."They should have been the first science fiction series to do this," says James Cawley who doubles as Captain Kirk and Phase II's executive producer, "but they weren't." Instead, shows such as Babylon 5 explored gay relationships whilst Trek's exclusively heterosexual future began to look more and more like an anachronism. Far from risking the franchise, it may be that this is the only way to revive it.
The episode is available to download from the official Phase II website. Former TNG alumnus Denise Crosby, who appeared in cult '80s lesbian classic Desert Hearts, also stars.


At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're including fanmade offerings for the franchise, women have been writing Kirk/Spock slash fiction since the early days of the show - some of which was published.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Kaite said...

Yeah - it's interesting that the big budget male offerings are the ones that get all the serious press coverage whereas fanfiction just gets 'oh, how quaint'.

At 5:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It really is astounding that for all the other heavy territory the franchise has waded into, queer sexuality has only ever gotten the briefest of mentions in any of the series. (There's the TNG episode where Beverly falls in love with a trill, who has to be put in a female host; there's an alternate reality DS9 episode where Kira and Dax are lovers...)

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