Essays: Carry on Trekkies! |
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Carry on Trekkies!

‘WHAT in the name of ...?’ cries Bones in Star Trek (BBC1 recurring). The Starship ‘Enterprise’ has been seized by some mysterious force. Even with all engines at Full Impulse Power the ship is stymied, leaving the Trekkies with nothing to fall back on except their lavish supplies of dot-dot-dot dialogue.

The last episode of ‘Star Trek’ was made years ago, but the series obeys Einstein’s laws of space and time, forever circumnavigating the universe on its way back to your living room. By the time each episode returns there has been a red-shift in the dialogue. Astronomers assure us that white light stretches as its source moves away from us, showing up red. ‘Star Trek’ dialogue stretches in direct proportion, yielding the dot-dot-dot effect.

‘Am I ... seeing things?’ cries the strangely named Chekov. The scanners have revealed that the force squeezing the ship is emanating from a giant, disembodied, green hand. Our attention is thereby momentarily distracted from Chekov’s weirdo haircut, which otherwise would take a lot of explaining. In the Wimpy Bar which serves as the starship’s bridge, all are alert in the face of imminent destruction. Even Captain Kirk looks tense. ‘Is it ... a hand?’ he asks. ‘Negative, Captain,’ murmurs the imperturbable Mr Spock. But even Spock’s dialogue is coming out dotted. ‘Not a human appendage ... a field of energy.’

Lt Uhura, the starship’s sexy black female communications officer, has figured the whole thing out in a flash, but her dialogue is slow to catch up. ‘It’s almost as if it means ... to grab us!’ At this point a shimmering before the viewers eyes indicates that one of the two things is happening. Either the viewer’s brain is packing up completely, or else the previous week’s episode has caught up with the episode he thought he was watching.

The latter proves to be the case. Spock, Kirk, Scottie and Mr Sulu have suddenly appeared on the surface of a planet that looks exactly like a set. Appropriately enough, the planet seems to be populated exclusively by bad actors.

One of the bad actors is a lovely witch called Sylvia. Taking the form of a giant cat, she drugs Scottie and Sulu. ‘They appear to be ... drugged, Jim,’ murmurs Spock. But Kirk has noticed something mysterious about that cat. Perhaps he has noticed that it is as big as a horse.

‘That cat ... Hmm.’ The moggie retransmogrifies itself back into Sylvia, who drapes herself warmly on the broad starboard shoulder of the scrumptious Kirk. ‘You ... Why do I find you ... different?’ Kirk fights for control as his nostrils fill with the local equivalent of Joy by Patou. Overhead, the Enterprise is once again in the grip of ‘a force field of some kind.’

Bloop, Bleep, Bawoing. The episode before the episode before has started to arrive. At Star Base 11, the Enterprise is in dry dock being treated for atomic piles. Kirk is on trial for cowardice. One of his old girlfriends, who are apparently scattered through the galaxy like cosmic dust, is the prosecuting attorney. Counsel for the defence is Elisha Cook Jr, transferred by time warp from an old Humphrey Bogart movie. Things look bad for Kirk. But Spock is playing three-dimensional chess against the ship’s computer, whose console resembles a collection of dashboards from pre-war Detroit cars. It turns out that the computer is the coward. Spirk has saved Kock! I mean, Spock has saved Kirk! All ahead Warp Factor One!

Something Else (BBC2) continues to make every other youth-slanted show on the air look like something Billy Cotton Jr dreamed up in a luke-warm bath. The latest instalment came from Birmingham. Future programmes will be made in other places, such as Plymouth. Whether Plymouth will prove as rich a source of gritty urban interest as Birmingham remains to be seen, but for the moment it can confidently be said that ‘Something Else’ is actually doing, in its naïve way, what so many sophisticated programmes have tried to do but failed. It gives you the feel of city life.

Sometimes the feel is of something unspeakable, as of a dead toad. The punks, especially, are not always easy to love. ‘Oi dress this way because oi’m into poonk.’ Yes, but why have you got a bolt through your head? A girl who has applied her pink eye-shadow with boxing gloves informs the semi-articulate interviewer that minority groups are always picked on. She has a nose like a pin cushion. ‘Obviously if you dress different there’s going to be a lot of aggression against you,’ says a boy with a green plaid suit, a chalk white face and hair like a carrot going nova.

The Rastafarians were shown at work and play. It was clear that they work hard. The programme is race-relations conscious without being pious about it. Indeed aggro flies freely around the studio at all times. The music and dancing are about fifty times better than anything that happens on the dire Roadshow Disco (BBC1). Punk music loosens my fillings, but those who like it presumably want to hear the best bands available and ‘Something Else’ apparently knows which rocks to lift up in order to find them.

What the show needs most is a link-man as original as its content. In the latest episode they have found him. His name is Paul Kenna. He looks about eighteen years old, keeps falling out of cupboards in his pyjamas and talks a stream of surrealist gibberish funny enough to make you hope they’ll bring him back.

The first episode of the new arts programme Mainstream (BBC2) was a thin-shelled egg laid from high altitude. Originally a brain-child of Tony Palmer’s, the programme was apparently intended to function as a nationwide creativity round-up, but somewhere along the road to the studio it had been transformed into a low-budget revue. A link-man introducing Claudio Abbado pronounced his first name Clordio instead of Clowdio, perhaps in order to put provincial listeners at their ease.

The said Clordio was then interviewed by someone billed as Lady Jane Wellesley, whose main line of questioning concerned the maestro’s interest in football. In a future programme Lady Jane might care to interview Kevin Keegan about his interest in Scarlatti. Or perhaps Scarlatti could interview Lady Jane about Kevin Keegan. While the details are being worked out, the show could perhaps be brought in for repairs, or, failing that, towed further out to sea and sunk by gunfire.

Panorama (BBC1) featured Jane Fonda in her latest role of responsible political candidate. Other women, Jane assures us, envy her because of her sense of purpose. That is why they are overawed by her when she talks. ‘I see this glaze that I am very familiar with.’ The same glaze is over my eyes right now, just from thinking about her. ‘I’m a consciousness raiser.’ She certainly raises my consciousness. If ever I find myself sharing a belief with her, I re-examine it immediately.

Tosca in Tokyo (BBC2) featured Montserrat Caballé. The Japanese were impressed. It was clear that they hadn’t seen anything that size since the battleship Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay in 1945.

The Observer, 14th October 1979
[ This piece also appears in The Crystal Bucket ]