On your wavelength

Don’t make it so

Christine Horejs reviews the latest series in the Star Trek franchise, the recently broadcasted Star Trek: Picard.

We live in almost surreal times: it feels as if Q was playing another one of his evil games, expecting humanity to fail again it its attempt to prevent a catastrophe (remember the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation?).  Precisely because of this, the new Star Trek: Picard promises to be the show to watch. Wait, is this the biased view of a Trekkie, who cited Jean-Luc Picard at the beginning of her PhD thesis? Maybe. But Star Trek has always been at the forefront of scientific advance, has solved unsolvable moral and medical problems, has gone where no women or men had gone before. Right now, this is exactly what we would like to see. We need the flagship of the Federation with its wise Captain and crew, who can solve pretty much every problem in the Galaxy using science and diplomacy.

Jean-Luc Picard 2

Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard. Credit: Patrick Caughey[1]derivative work: Loupeznik / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Star Trek: Picard is a ten-episodes series, the follow-up of the legendary Star Trek: The Next Generation, centred around captain Jean-Luc Picard – Captain, Sir or Jean-Luc, but certainly not JL.  The story is set at the end of the 24th century, that is, 20 years after we last saw Jean-Luc commanding the USS Enterprise. He has now retired from Starfleet, following his great disappointment with the Federation, who refused to help the Romulans after the destruction of their home planet by a supernova. What follows is a complicated conspiracy theory story, involving the Romulans, Starfleet, the Borg (or rather Ex-Borgs and their cube) and the ‘Synthetics’, who are essentially Data’s children, designed based on his positronic memory.

The plot remains rather unexciting and to prevent any potential spoilers, I will jump right into the scientific vision – if only I could. Thinking of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there are numerous scientific and technological inventions and visions that made every scientist’s heart jump a beat.  Voice activation (long before Siri or Alexa), virtual reality (especially now, I would give everything for a holo deck), replicators (could they make toilet paper?), touch screens (long before iPads), video calls (what would we be without them), diagnostic beds (Beverly Crusher could diagnose everything using those beds and her medical scanning device), to name only a few (see also Boldly going for 50 years). And then there was the really big science: matter-antimatter generators, cloaking devices, the warp drive. In fact, every time a species was close to developing the warp drive, the Enterprise would pay a visit to ensure diplomatic first contact. So, what are the major scientific stories in the new Star Trek: Picard series? Ethical questions related to AI or synthetic life? Well, this has all been discussed at length throughout all The Next Generation episodes with Data, his brother and his father Noonien Soong.  De-assimilation of the Borg? That is indeed interesting; however, the science behind this is not given any room in the series. Making Picard an android? Yes, that is new, albeit without any (valid or not-valid) scientific explanation.  Indeed, the creators managed to take the science out of science fiction.

Then there is the crew. At the heart of every Star Trek series are the smart, adventurous, highly trained crew members, comprising multiple species from all over the Galaxy. Spock, the legendary Vulcan science officer of the original series, Worf, the grumpy Klingon, growing up with humans, always in between two worlds, Geordi, the best engineer in Starfleet, Beverly, the clinician with a passion for fundamental science, Neelix, the Talaxian, who has numerous jobs on board the Voyager, Major Kira, the Bajoran, who certainly is one of the strongest female characters of Star Trek on Deep Space Nine. We meet some of the beloved characters of Next Generation again. Seeing William Riker and Deanna Troi finally happy together is certainly a highlight of the show. And the appearance of Data and Spot 2 are intriguing. However, Seven of Nine as action figure killing Romulans and taking over the place of the Borg queen is rather disturbing. Picard’s new crew members cannot even remotely reach the depth of the old Star Trek characters, and the fact that the majority are human goes against the very principle of Star Trek and the United Federation of Planets.

One of the most hilarious scenes of the new Star Trek: Picard series, in which he calls his dog ‘Number One’, is in the very first episode. And unfortunately, it goes downhill from there. The only thing that will always remain the same is the amazing acting of Sir Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who still spreads the same optimism and belief in the peaceful solution of conflicts as he always has. Make it so!

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