It is a funny thing, comparing the old canon of sci-fi with the new. I have looked at it enough with Doctor Who, and I have begun recently to do the same with Star Trek. Most of popular sci-fi started on 60s television (from what I’ve seen), and so it is with both of these shows; they are, in fact, the genesis of the genre as we know it today. I have observed that they also represent two approaches: that of the personal adventure (Doctor Who) and that of the formal adventure (Star Trek). The Doctor ran away with a time machine from his civilisation on Gallifrey, yet the crew aboard the starship Enterprise conduct their adventures with the full permission and support of their own civilisations.
However, I have also recently been thinking of another aspect to both these series, that of the series’ representation of relationships. In the Star Trek original series, of course, relationships aren’t exactly top priority, and yet in the reboot (also referred to as the ‘Alternate Original Series’), one of the very creators of the first film described it as a kind of romantic comedy between Kirk and Spock. This is a relationship that’s also very much canon in the original series (especially the original series movies), but the reboot puts relationships on more of a forefront than the TV original series. It’s certain that some kind of obvious physical or romantic contact doesn’t occur in the relationship of new Kirk and Spock, like that apparent between the new Spock and Uhura, however it is undeniable nonetheless, in the ways that creator mentions:
This first movie is just a love story between Spock and Kirk. It has all the beats of a romantic comedy where they meet, they don’t get along, they totally hate each other, and then they get into a situation where they kind of need each other, and by the end Spock walks onto the bridge and he’s like, ‘Let’s fuck!’ – Star Trek producer Damon Lindelof
Although I don’t agree wholly with this statement (the idea of Spock so much as implying ‘let’s fuck’ messes with everything I know and think about who he is under most circumstances), there is definitely subtext the like of which comes to something not far from it. Although I don’t see the two of them acting in quite so sexual a manner, there is a definite connection that might lead to actions such as touching or melding, though I doubt it would happen on screen. Lindelof is certainly entitled to his opinions, though I do suspect that the intended on screen relationship is meant to be that of Spock and Uhura. I don’t see as strong a connection between those two characters as between Kirk and Spock however, but it certainly seems to be the modern trend to imply but not show deep male bonding, with the implication of romance but often not going beyond that. At the same time, showing either one of the men engaging with many meaningless physical relations (as in the case of Kirk), or one of the men engaging in a physical sometimes romantic connection with a woman but to a lesser degree than the man he should be with (as in the case of Spock).
Compare this equation to the one presented in the original series, in which romantic relationships were very much gendered — most of them occurred to the woman of either the Enterprise, or an alien planet, and in the men it wasn’t something that occurred very often as their main priority was always to their work and not their love lives, apart from when that aspect was brought up by the appearance of women. Spock here is also the epitome of this ideal, as the logical Vulcan with no interest in that aspect, but is far more focused on his work than even the ordinary men. The fact is also shown that women represent a fantasy for men, and are used as nothing more than whatever male desire is shown in that episode, with the probable exception to that rule being Uhura and perhaps a few others. However, this was usually also the medium through which female character was revealed, whatever its motivations were, showing equally as many ambitious women as compassionate ones.
However, apart from the representation of women in original series Star Trek, is that of Kirk and Spock’s relationship. That their relationship was beyond friendship and went into romance is still a widely accepted piece of canon, and it was certainly the intention of Gene Roddenbury, which he himself admitted in 1979, around the time the Star Trek movies began. It is shown in the TV series, as well as in novelisations and comics, that this connection existed to such an extent that it was essentially the same as any other relationship represented in popular culture.
Be that as it may, the original series was always cleverly constructed as a sci-fi series first, that just happened to contain snippets of this relationship all throughout its canon. It weaved relationships like it weaved character, as an essential but not primary part of the narrative. This is something Doctor Who did as well. It presented action as the primary, as the character that compelled that action was revealed through it. In the Star Trek reboot, as mentioned before, they described the film as a ‘romantic comedy’ in space, but there was of course action in it as well. I think the difference between now and then is that the priority has switched; the ideal now seems to be that sci-fi without something for the audience to connect to is meaningless, and this is translated into the idea that sci-fi, as well as any other genre, is meaningless without relationships. This can only mean that through the decades, relationships have gained more power in the collective consciousness; that while women are still seen as sexual and romantic objects to an extent, the meaning of relationships has become primary in our culture for all of us.
Lindelof is a prime example of this, certainly by how he ended his quote about the Star Trek reboot, showing that sexuality has become arguably more important than romantic relationships in our society. After all, it is nearly impossible to come across a creator of storytelling media these days who doesn’t think about the sexuality of even the most chaste characters as primary to what makes them up, or inject more of it than strictly necessary into a character or story. Doctor Who, especially the 10th Doctor, is a prime example of the evolution of relationships, although it is in fact the 8th Doctor who first showed true signs of this development. When he first kissed Grace, his companion at the time, in the Doctor Who movie, the fandom strongly rejected the move as a betrayal of the character. However, it came to be accepted more as time passed, and future writers of the series, such as Steven Moffat, decided to develop this into the series that followed. In my opinion, Moffat is very overeager with this aspect, and perhaps has pushed it inappropriately in the series since the time of Rose. Clara, River, and a whole assortment of people the Doctor has kissed or married. Do I think he has betrayed the character? Well, not wholly. I firmly believe that it goes into the Doctor’s development as a character, of course. I love the Doctor, and if he wants to pursue something he hasn’t before since, assumingly, his life on Gallifrey, then of course I will accept him for that. And I also grant you that whenever he has kissed or married any of the female characters, there has always been a legitimate reason for it; to do otherwise, I think, would be the true betrayal. However, I also believe that, even if he has taken several hundred years — or more, judging by the most recent season — in his various bodies to develop his new emotions of attraction, I believe they have been fairly shallow compared to his love for them besides that, apart from the obvious Rose exception. As revealed since the 12th Doctor’s regeneration, his most recent regenerations have shared connections that led him until recently to veil his face in order to hide his age, his turmoil, and his distance from them (“Don’t let him see the damage” works just as well in reverse). As 12 himself has said, hugs are like hiding your face. He is as in love with the universe and exploring it as he’s ever been, but he’s also been so hurt by his history that he’s begun to fear the change that is inevitable in it. He holds the same convictions that he always has, but his hearts are also at odds with it. In the most recent season of Doctor Who, he has given an impassioned speech about the importance of peace, but when trapped inside a Gallifreyan prison of sorts at the end of that season, expressed just the opposite of that conviction. All this shows how his hearts are being torn in two, between the man who wants peace and the man who has learned to fight.
There is another aspect of Doctor Who that is interesting. Watching Classic Who, I find its representation of women much better than Star Trek’s, but conversely Star Trek’s representation of race is also much more diverse than Doctor Who’s. In both series’ representation of women, there is of course a representation of the ideals of its time. But Doctor Who’s representations of Susan, of Barbara, of later companions like Sarah Jane, are both diverse but also shows the women being more engaged in the action than on relationships, something more women of Star Trek can’t claim. I won’t claim that Star Trek women aren’t diverse in their own right, of course, but there are certain attitudes also present in Star Trek, not only towards gender but to an extent even race (as in certain indigenous societies the Enterprise comes across) that can be troubling; women in Star Trek, especially those indigenous of certain planets, are often exoticised, sexualised, romanticised, sometimes against their own agencies, as in Metamorphosis. Sometimes they are used as stereotypes, or to legitimise certain attitudes against them, as in Catspaw. And it isn’t to say that these episodes aren’t well constructed away from that, or that the characters are flat, but the fact that they aren’t flat perhaps lends more legitimacy to them. At the same time, however, in Is There No Truth In Beauty?, an aide to Medusan Ambassador Kollos is shown to have agency throughout, even amongst accusations of not being a woman, or being told by Kirk rather selfishly that she must eventually fall under her urges. Selfish, because it’s a more a reflection on him than her, and because by saying so he denies her own feeling even as he tries to draw it out.
Between Star Trek and Doctor Who, I also find the characters of the Doctor and Mr Spock most intriguing, particularly going by what each aliens physiology has to say about them. For example, Vulcan biology belies heightened mental awareness and sensitivity to their own kind, and the biological event of their blood boiling during Pon Farr indicates and an underlying passion to the race. However, the fact that Vulcan hearts also don’t beat also belies dispassionate suppression, and they are also a very logical race, whether because of social construction or evolution, which has caused the race to reject body over mind, as well as become a collective and exclusive race. They also contain green blood, as they have more copper than iron in it, and pointed ears, a possible inherited trait from their assumed feline ancestors, which indicates a certain inhumanity about them. On the other hand, the Doctor has a physiology closer to humans, with the only true exception in their bodies being an extra heart which, much like the Vulcan’s burning blood of Pon Farr and high tolerance for heat, indicates a high level of passion. However, in addition to this, some Gallifreyans including the Doctor also have something extra, given to them as with all Time Lords when sent to look into the untempored schism. It may be concluded that those Gallifreyans chosen are the ones proven to be sensitive to a mental transformation as a result, that would allow them to become Time Lords and thus in tune to the universe. All citizens with this ability are then trained, it could be argued conscripted, into the Academy. Given this history, that already shows two layers of sensitivity in Time Lords, as opposed to the Vulcans’ one, so there is a clear difference between the Vulcan and Gallifreyan races. And Spock and the Doctor are both clear representations of their races, and yet both are also divided between their home planets and Earth. It seems self-centred of us, then, that even the most famous of our humanoid alien characters in science fiction should be tied to Earth like this. But perhaps it is an important connection to understanding them.
Now let’s take a moment away from the analytics to focus on how I feel about and interpret these characters. First, we’ll start with Spock.
Spock, like the rest of his race, is a touch-telepath who, despite this deep connection, strives largely for a life of disconnect from his emotions. Being a telepath, and even being a Vulcan, this flies in the face of what is natural, as his emotions, mind, and body, are highly attuned and sensitive, more than most on the outside. Being logical, despite these things, makes sense, when you consider how difficult such heightened senses are. Think of a person with Aspberger’s Disorder or something similar. Their senses are overwhelming; too loud, too close, too sharp. Sound, sight, and touch. Aspberger’s Disorder people are also highly logical. It’s the only way to make sense of the world, bring order to it out of the unbearable chaos. Vulcans, and by extension Spock, are the Aspbergers of the universe.
Time Lords, on the other hand, are the Watchers of the universe. Think of the Watcher from 4’s regeneration. The Doctor is somewhat apart from his race, but not entirely. He interacts with the world, in the face of his race, yet he also watches it up close. You have only to look at 10 and his exclamations of “Oh, you’re beautiful!” and “brilliant, you are,” to see that, although it doesn’t stop and start with just him. Alike with Star Trek, the Doctor just loves to explore. Unlike Spock, however, the Doctor swells with love and doesn’t shy away from it. He allows himself to feel so fully that he needs an extra heart to fit it all in. He loves more fully than humans can understand, because he doesn’t just love one but many. He loves all his companions, even occasionally his enemies, and sure he has favourites, but over the years that love only grows, and becomes more complex, to the point where, in the modern series, he kisses, and falls in love, and becomes more heartbroken. It’s true that even in Classic, he began seeing his companions as he died, but this is a tradition only continued in Modern with 11’s death, seeing Amy one last time.
In this way, both Spock and the Doctor love ‘the many’ as opposed to the human ‘few, or the one’. (Spock senses the deaths of an entire Vulcan crew, and tells McCoy, “You speak of the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart, yet how little room there seems to be in yours.”) Further, these characters are explorations on the human capacity for love and connection through progression of their races, although this could also be true of Starfleet itself, and the openness towards the human races, at least, within that organisation. The grandest idea among all being, that we are our best when we love, deeply, that and those which surrounds us.
[P.S. Due to the collectivism of his culture, I think there are also aspects of Eastern-style culture in his race.]