What does Star Trek mean to me?

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‘What does Star Trek mean to me?’ is a question asked at the end of every War Room interview episode of the Clonestar Podcast. In order to answer it myself, I need to talk about ‘Darmok’.

For me, ‘Darmok’ is one of the most fascinating stories from The Next Generation (and Star Trek as a whole), in which Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D encounter a race known as the Children of Tama (later referred to as the Tamarians) and are confused by their incomprehensible language (with the Children of Tama being equally baffled by Picard’s attempt to communicate). The situation escalates when the Tamarian Captain Dathon transports himself and Picard to the planet they are currently orbiting, following his declaration of ‘Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra’. Whilst Commander Data and Counselor Troi try to decipher the Tamarian language (and Commander Riker leading the perceived rescue effort), Picard has a more hands-on lesson in which he and the Tamarian captain fight an unknown creature that awaits them on the planet’s surface.

One of the reasons why I love this episode is Paul Winfield’s portrayal of Dathon. Right from the start, there is something quite captivating about his facial expressions and the passionate way he delivers his lines. It really is a performance that makes you want to learn more and understand the Tamarians. Against that, Patrick Stewart does a great job of portraying Picard’s frustration and annoyance when he assumes that Dathon wants to fight him, as well as his curiosity about the whole situation.

The interplay between Picard and Dathon is so much fun to watch, even in the quieter moments, like when Dathon smiles as Picard accepts his offering of fire, realising that their connection is slowly but surely beginning to form. This builds to the scene where Picard begins to piece it all together; that the Tamarians communicate through use of metaphor and that Dathon wanted Picard to join with him to fight the creature. Dathon’s exclamation of ‘Sokath, his eyes uncovered’, with Picard smiling back as if he had got the right answer in an exam, has to be one of the most genuinely joyous moments in all of Star Trek.

The final scene between Dathon and Picard by the fire is quite powerful, as Dathon guides Picard through the story of ‘Darmok and Jalad’; how they were brought together to fight the beast of Tanagra and how they bonded as a result of that fight, which helps Picard understand why Dathon brought them together to fight a beast of their own. What follows is a beautiful moment in which Picard honours the request of the dying Dathon and tells him a story from ancient Earth, that of ‘Gilgamesh and Enkidu at Uruk’. Beautifully performed by Patrick Stewart and Paul Winfield, this scene is a wonderful depiction of a centuries-old custom, of two people sharing stories and how those stories have the power to bring people together.

Since 1966, connection has been at the heart of Star Trek, in its mantra of exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilisations. Now numbering over 800 episodes across 11 distinct series and 13 movies, Star Trek has offered up various examples of how we can create a better future if we join together today and put in the hard work to try and make that future happen.

Star Trek has also made an impact on a more personal level, since I began my journey embracing the series, with the launch of Discovery when I was 23. The numerous connection points to the Original Series that were within Discovery’s second season gave me the opportunity to explore Trek in more depth, having seen parts of old episodes from across the franchise when I was a kid. Within a year, I had completed a full watch of The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager and Deep Space Nine. By the time that Discovery launched its third season in October 2020, my love for Trek had been fully established. Over the years, I have continued to embrace the newer Trek series like Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks and Prodigy, alongside first watches for Enterprise and The Animated Series from the 1970s. No matter what version it is, I have always admired Star Trek’s ability to tell any kind of story for any kind of mood, with a whole host of great characters; from veterans like Picard, Riker and Seven to new faces like Burham, Boimler and Mariner.

As part of the daily routine that I have had for a number of years now, I rewatch one or two classic episodes, usually with my breakfast or afternoon coffee. Being on Trek Twitter has given me the chance to use those rewatches to spark connections with people and talk about our favourite moments from those episodes (even moments from episodes that are harder to enjoy). That goes further into discussing our favourite characters and series within the franchise and the many ways we are able to relate to them, as well as reacting to and discussing new episodes and sharing podcasts created by both fans of the shows and the people who have worked and continue to work on them. As a gay man who only realised he was autistic a few years ago, it seems rather fitting that I began to find my way to Star Trek at the same time. I am very grateful that I have been able to connect with other queer, autistic Trekkies who have been able to relate to Trek in similar ways.

Last night, so many of us were celebrating the announcement of Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks getting renewed for their respective third and fifth seasons. Many are still coming to terms with the news that Discovery is coming to an end next year. Generations new and old have come together in celebrating the currently-airing final season of Picard, which has continued the stories of characters like Picard, Riker, Beverly and Seven of Nine alongside new characters like Raffi and Shaw. When a lot of these characters were introduced, I had not been born yet. I feel lucky that I get to share the experience of watching their new adventures with people who have been fans for longer than I have and it means so much to have been made to feel like a welcome part of a wider family. I hope that, as a collective fandom, we get to share many more adventures together and build even more connections, just as Picard and Dathon were able to bond in ‘Darmok’. 

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