The Birthdays of Star Trek

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I was born on 3 January 1994, exactly one year on from the series premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. As a way of marking my 30th birthday, I want to look back at the moments of Star Trek in which characters celebrate birthdays of their own. In almost 60 years of TV and movie adventures, these moments may be few but, when they do happen, they offer up welcome glimpses into the off-duty lives of the characters, with some of them having a bigger impact than others.

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed’s birthday in Enterprise’s first season episode, ‘Silent Enemy’, is a rather low-key affair which suits his character perfectly. As both Captain Jonathan Archer and Ensign Hoshi Sato realise through their conversations with his family and friends, Malcolm is an exceptionally private person. This makes it rather difficult for Hoshi to find out what his favourite food is, in order to plan a surprise meal for his birthday. Hoshi’s ‘top priority’ mission eventually takes her to Doctor Phlox’s sickbay, where the Doctor reveals Malcolm’s bromelain intolerance, for which he takes regular injections. From this, Hoshi correctly deduces that Malcolm likes eating pineapple and surprises him with pineapple cake at the episode’s conclusion. In the aftermath of a tense series of encounters with an unknown vessel, this proves to be a welcome surprise for Malcolm, as well as being one of the first times in which he allows himself to relax with his crewmates.

Captain Christopher Pike’s birthday might have gone unnoticed, if it had not been for the presence of Ensigns Brad Boimler and Beckett Mariner in the Strange New Worlds / Lower Decks crossover episode, ‘Those Old Scientists’. Having accidentally travelled back in time from the 24th century, Boimler makes numerous slip-ups aboard the Enterprise, like making Nurse Christine Chapel and Lieutenant Erica Ortegas aware that Captain Pike’s birthday is fast approaching (and that it is a national holiday in the future). When Pike becomes aware of the subsequent plan to throw a party for him, he opens up to Boimler and Mariner about his intention to take a solitary trip to a fishing cabin, think back on his fractured relationship with his late father (who he is now older than) and have the final conversation with him that he wished he could have. However, Boimler asks the captain to consider that there are members of his crew who would probably have similar wishes to spend more time with him when he is no longer around. By the end of the episode, Pike has clearly taken Boimler’s advice to heart as he celebrates with his friends in his quarters.

Undoubtedly, the most bittersweet of birthday Trek adventures is that of Admiral James T Kirk in the second film for The Original Series cast, ‘The Wrath of Khan’. One of the earliest scenes sees Kirk thanking Captain Spock for giving him a copy of the classic novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ whilst, at the same time, questioning whether there is a hidden meaning in his choice of gift. Later that night, Doctor Leonard McCoy visits Kirk’s home with a bottle of Romulan ale and gives him a pair of reading glasses, before raising concerns over whether Kirk is suited to the slower pace of life as an admiral. Kirk’s mortality weighs heavily on him throughout the rest of the film, as he is reunited with his former lover, Doctor Carol Marcus, and the son he never really knew, David. More importantly, he comes face to face (or viewscreen to viewscreen) with an old enemy of his, Khan Noonien-Singh, who seeks revenge on Kirk after 15 years of exile on the barren planet of Ceti Alpha V. Although Khan’s subsequent efforts to destroy Kirk result in his own demise, the cost of saving the Enterprise is Spock’s life, which leaves Kirk broken-hearted. After his funeral, Kirk finally understands what the purpose of Spock’s birthday gift was – a reminder to treasure the adventures that are still to come, no matter his age. As he and the crew of the Enterprise watch the formation of a planet, he tells McCoy how he feels young again.

Commander Will Riker’s birthday celebrations may only play a brief part of The Next Generation’s ‘Future Imperfect’ but they still provide a beautiful insight into how the crew of the Enterprise act when they are enjoying downtime. Through Riker’s continuing struggle with playing his beloved trombone, Commander Geordi LaForge and Counselor Deanna Troi’s playful mockery of him and Riker’s candle-blowing wish for music lessons, this scene does a great job of reinforcing the bond that exists between the best of Starfleet crews. Although an unplanned mission cuts the party short, Captain Jean-Luc Picard makes sure to not let Riker leave for the surface without wishing him a happy birthday.

In a similar way to how ‘Future Imperfect’ seemingly propels Riker 15 years into the future, Lieutenant Worf has a rather time-bending birthday experience of his own in TNG’s final season. The beginning of ‘Parallels’ sees a triumphant Worf returning from a bat’leth tournament, only to be stunned by a surprise party in his quarters which Riker has organised. Worf becomes more unsettled by subtle changes during the party, such as the cake changing and Picard appearing at the party, despite Worf being told by the others that he could not attend. These changes become more frequent and dramatic as it eventually becomes clear that Worf is shifting between alternate realities. In what is perhaps the biggest surprise to the Klingon, Worf finds that he is married to Troi in a few of these realities, building on the close friendship that they have developed throughout the series. Following Worf’s eventual return to his prime reality, he wakes up on the shuttle back to the Enterprise after the bat’leth tournament and he discovers that Riker’s plans to throw a surprise party were halted by Troi because she knew that Worf hates surprises. Nevertheless, Worf invites Troi to remain in his quarters and share dinner with him, taking a step to see whether their friendship can evolve into romance like in the other realities.

For anyone on the cusp of their 30th birthday, Doctor Julian Bashir’s birthday experience in Deep Space Nine’s ‘Distant Voices’ might be the most relatable in all of Trek. During one of his lunches with Garak, he voices his fears over turning 30, believing it to be the end of his youth and an uncomfortable step closer to middle age. Garak is quick to reply that Cardassians celebrate growing older as a sign of power and dignity in a person but it does little to pull Bashir out of his funk. In typical Trek fashion, it takes being rendered comatose by a Lethean in the infirmary for the Doctor to change his perspective. As Bashir navigates the broken-down DS9 that his failing mind has conjured up, he encounters his crewmates as physical manifestations of the different parts of his psyche, which are slowly picked off by the Lethean. Bashir’s mission to heal his mind by repairing the station is made harder by the fact that he is gradually growing older. With help from Garak, a 100+ year-old Bashir makes it to Ops, only to find it filled with party decorations and a Dabo girl who joins Garak in a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. Eventually, Bashir realises that Garak has actually been the Lethean in disguise. After the Lethean tries to break his spirit, Bashir heads to the Infirmary (the center of his world) where he successfully reboots the ‘computer systems’ and ‘destroys’ the Lethean in a quarantine field. Following his recovery, he tells Garak over lunch that, as a result of his experience as an old man, he is no longer worried as much about turning 30.

Although an on-screen birthday is something of a rarity for Star Trek, each one serves as a reminder of how a life in Starfleet still has its moments of normality which can be just as beautiful as the exploration of new worlds and new civilisations. If you are reading this and it happens to be your birthday, I would like to wish you a very happy and healthy one, whether you are as young as Kes in ‘Twisted’ or as old as Commander Tuvok in ‘Fury’. Whichever way you decide to mark the day, I hope you find time to watch some Star Trek and have a piece of cake. After all, cake is eternal.

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