Star Trek – Rebooted for the 1990s

The new Star Trek

By Gwydion M. Williams

Unless you are one of those people who can’t stand any Science Fiction, you should take a look at Star Trek – The Next Generation. For reasons best known to itself, the BBC has chosen to put it in the ‘DEF’ slot, at 6 o’clock on Wednesday on BBC 2 – despite the series’ considerable success in the United States. It’s actually done much better than the original series, in terms of immediate success. The original Star Trek was killed off after three seasons, and only later became big business. This one starts with an existing core of fans.

There are some big improvements. Frankly, I never thought Jim Kirk fit to run a Starship. Captain Picard is much more convincing. And the program’s designers have wisely avoided the temptation to simply recreate successful characters – a weakness that was present in the film series. Elements of Spock have gone into three characters – an android who has some of Spock’s excessive logic, a half-human alien with special mind powers, and a Klingon who is a Starfleet officer yet still an outsider. Counting both Spock and the android as half-human, there has been a 300% increase in the number of non-humans in what is supposed to be a Starship from a multi-species culture.

The change is very welcome, as is the 300% increase in the number of women among the leading characters. Where it still falls down is in representing Earth human races or cultures other than the white American majority. Only the captain, a British actor playing a French character, is definitely non-American. In the first Star Trek, one character doubled for two ‘minorities’ by being black and female. In this one, the only visibly black character is also disabled, a blind man with special artificial sight As it happens, the Klingon is also played by a black actor. It wasn’t planned that way, but during auditions he showed the best understanding of the character. Quite possibly, this was because Klingons are a fictional projection of white American racial fears, of which he’d have had a lot of experience.

It’s a good entertainment, and it illustrates the progress that women have made in American society since the first series – a 300% increase in numbers represented, as I mentioned. But as far as accepting as equals the other cultures with which America shares the planet, there has been no progress at all.

[Star Trek – The Next Generation was a huge success, running to seven seasons and spawning more series and films.  But the ethnic mix remains much like the current USA.  The habit of having black people mostly as violent characters for a good cause has continued.

[Currently there are two complete seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, which caused rage among racists by having a non-white woman as the main character.  Star Trek: Picard, featuring the same actor as the same character in retirement, is soon out.  But sadly, neither will be on regular TV channels.  Both will be lures on ‘Streaming’ services, or eventually DVDs.]

This article was an item in Newsnotes for November 1990, in Issue 20 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at