Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Examiner Bio Space Travel and Television Part One

The dream of traveling in space has had a resonance with popular culture since that dream first sprang into being. This has manifested itself, in one way or another, in television. The result has been somewhat varied in quality. However there have been a few gems.

Men into Space

Men into Space is all but forgotten series that aired in 1959 and 1960 that depicted the near future exploration of space, conducted in its version of reality by the US Air Force. Men into Space largely adhered to known scientific facts, somewhat unique for the time. The main character, Col. Edward McCauley, was depicted as being on just about every mission in space, which included early orbital missions, the first landing on the Moon, the construction of a Moon base and an orbiting space station, and two attempts to reach Mars. In the never produced second season, missions to Mars and beyond would have been depicted.

Star Trek

The most popular and most prolific, of course, has been Star Trek, a series that first aired in the 1960s. Star Trek has spun off a myriad of films and four other TV series. The first Star Trek, or Star Trek classic, was a phenomenon in its time. Star Trek depicted the adventures of a star ship, USS Enterprise, commanded by the brash Captain James T. Kirk, along with a crew of both humans and aliens, including his second in command, Mr. Spock, a half human, half alien, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Uhura, Commander Scott, Lt. Sulu, and Ensign Chekov. Every week, the Enterprise and her crew would meet some alien threat or dangerous natural phenomenon and overcome it with a combination of guile and a fully charged phaser bank. Star Trek was cancelled after three seasons, but then took off in popularity that persists over forty years later.

One of the reasons often cited for Star Trek’s enduring popularity is that it actually depicted a future in which humanity did survive the various problems of the 20th Century, including the threat of nuclear war, and went on to expand among the stars. While the quality of the episodes varied from wonderful to—well—not so wonderful, Star Trek has become as much an iconic part of popular culture as Sherlock Holmes, Superman, and the Knights of the Round Table.

The spin off series included Star Trek: The Next Generation, which took place almost a century beyond the events of the original Star Trek, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which took place on a space station in an alien star system, Star Trek: Voyager, which took place on a star ship lost in “the Delta Quadrant”, and “Enterprise” which took place about a century before the original Star Trek.

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica was actually two TV series, one airing in the late 1970s, the other a kind of remake airing in the early 21st Century. Both had the same premise. A human civilization living on twelve planets, each named after the zodiac constellations, is all but wiped out by a race of machines called the Cylons. The last remaining humans take whatever star ships they can and, led by the last Battlestar Galactica, go in search of “the shining planet known as Earth” where it is presumed that refuge and fellow humans await. They are harried constantly by the Cylons, determined to finish the genocide of the humans.

Whereas the 1970s version of the series had a lot of the camp and humor of its era, the later version was a grim, somewhat realistic story that touched on issues of religion, society, politics, and human relations with great depth. The later series was somewhat strange in its depiction of the humans as wearing contemporary western clothing, worshiping the Ancient Greek pantheon of gods, and not having a lot of advanced, futuristic technology beyond faster than light star ships. The Cylons, some of the human-like, were depicted as fanatical monotheists. In the 21st Century version, they found Earth, bringing the story arc to a conclusion।