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Nerdette

Star Trek With Brooke Gladstone And Captain Janeway

There’s a new Star Trek!

To celebrate Star Trek: Discovery, we decided to talk to the biggest Trekkie we know: On The Media co-host Brooke Gladstone. 

She told us about her all-time favorite characters, why science fiction is so good at capturing a moment in time, and where Star Trek-beginners might want to get started. 

“There are certain episodes of the original Star Trek that are cultural markers for our time,” she said.

Oh yeah, and what better way to keep the party going then by calling up Star Trek legend Kate Mulgrew? Captain Janeway herself helped us talk through some of Brooke’s favorite episodes, including “Infinite Regress” and “Tuvix.” She also lamented that Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou in the new Star Trek: Discovery has unseated her as the franchise’s first female captain.

“If we’re going to apply logic to this, I am not the first female captain,” Mulgrew said. “She, in fact, was because (Star Trek: Discovery is) a prequel. It’s devastating on some level.”

Below are highlights from our warp-drive dork out. Set phasers to nerdy. 

On her favorite Star Trek TV series 

Brooke Gladstone: The original was — is — so iconic. It created the stereotypes: the skeptical one, the intellectual one, the crusty says-what-he-thinks one, and every single character in the original Star Trek has a cliche. “Jim, I’m a doctor, not a fill-in-the-blank.” Or “logical,” “fascinating,” as Spock would say. Or Scotty saying, “Well that’s just a chance we’ll have to take.” You’ve seen various modulations of those characters in all the series. 

But I think there was such a lightness to a lot of what went on in The Next Generation. It just had a great, welcoming quality to it. And you could just sort of drop into it at any point. So I think I’d go with that.

On the best Star Trek characters

Gladstone: I know that I’m not alone in this: All the semi-human or non-human main characters are always so fascinating, because of their explicit efforts to define themselves and to build identities for themselves. 

Obviously you have the half-human Vulcan in the original. And you have Data, the android, one of my favorite characters of all time in The Next Generation. And then you have Seven of Nine, who was a human and then becomes a Borg and starts trying to reclaim her humanity. She’s just an amazingly fascinating character. Also in Voyager, you have the digital Doctor, who has some of the greatest episodes finding his name and wandering out of the sick bay. It’s those characters that are so fascinating.

On Star Trek: Discovery

Gladstone: One thing I noticed when I went back and looked at the earlier episodes of The Next Generation. Watching reruns, sometimes the early ones will come up, and they were awful. When you look at Jean-Luc Picard, he’s just some crusty guy who hates kids. Both of those things were abandoned later when his character deepened. 

I think that, if anything, new series on TV now need to have the kind of depth and subtlety that we wouldn’t have demanded of Star Treks past. They got there. But I think that this is not your father’s TV. They have to write this better. It looks great and the main character is appealing. I’m rooting for her, but I’m not getting her. I’m not quite understanding her yet. 

I am withholding judgment because I know these things develop and I wish it well, but so far I think that they’re focusing too much on the special effects — which are gorgeous — and maybe too little on the writing and making the characters really speak in consistent ways and not in cliches. And maybe once they get the heavy lifting of the exposition over with, that will improve. So I’ll wait, but I can’t say it was a slam dunk for me. 

Kate Mulgrew: I don’t know that I’ll watch it, because I’ll say this to you — and I’ll bet that Patrick Stewart and William Shatner would back me on this. When you’ve done your own, seven years of Star Trek, and you’ve had your own starship, and you’ve had your own very long and exciting and life-changing journey, it’s so dramatic and so impactful on your life that you’re not eager to examine other iterations of what you have just accomplished. 

It’s a kind of privacy, it’s a kind of possessiveness, and it’s certainly a terrible pride. And I think all the captains who’ve done — certainly seven years, Shatner aside — probably feel that sense of ownership, and they don’t want it infringed upon. 

I’m glad it’s out there. I’m delighted it’s there. It speaks well to Star Trek, to the world of science fiction, and to the continuance of this conversation. But I think we, as captains, are almost unduly private about our single experiences.

Homework: Watch a classic episode of Star Trek

Gladstone: There are certain episodes of the original Star Trek that are cultural markers for our time. Frank Gorshin as the man from a planet where one side of their face is black and the other side is white, and depending on whether you have the black or the white on the right or the left, you either live in dignity and relative affluence or you’re treated like dirt. So, an obvious metaphor.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click the “play” button above to listen to the entire podcast, which was produced and adapted for the web by Justin Bull.

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