For some people, humour in Star Trek is no laughing matter.
In fact, the same thing seems to be true for fans of so many different TV and movie franchises. Those dyed-in-the-wool sorts for whom the object of their affections should be taken completely seriously at all times without question, and who lack the capacity to laugh not only at themselves, but also at the thing which they hold most dear. For that particular clique of any fandom, the subject matter is sacrosanct and should not be treated as anything but totally and utterly serious.
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Which is just a terrible shame for them, as some of the most entertaining episodes are those which inject in a little bit of comedy. Look at Doctor Who’s ‘The Gunfighters’, which for so many years was held by the elder statesmen of fandom as being reviled and the worst thing that was ever to happen to the series, if not television as a medium. Flash forward to the story being made available on VHS, DVD and streaming, and the bulk of fans could now see for themselves how much fun it truly is, an engaging little romp which comes as a welcome diversion from the usual fare.
See also The X-Files, where episodes like ‘Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”’ and ‘Hollywood A.D.’ give the regulars a chance to play fast and loose with the norms of the series, enjoying themselves tremendously into the bargain. And as for Trek, you must have a heart of stone not to even so much as crack a smile at the original show’s tale ‘The Trouble With Tribbles’, Deep Space Nine’s glorious James Bond pastiche ‘Our Man Bashir’, or The Next Generation’s ‘A Fistful Of Datas’. For all the franchise’s perceived gravitas, sometimes you just need to set your Phasers to ‘fun’.
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If you dislike comedy episodes of usually straitlaced dramas, then you will probably hate Star Trek: Lower Decks. Which is a dreadful pity if so, as there is a lot to love in the first fully-fledged Star Trek sitcom. Fans sure do love their continuity references, and Lower Decks most certainly has these by the Bussard Ramscoop-ful. From sheer blatant namechecking of people and events, to little ‘kisses with history’ in the form of Easter eggs throughout each episode, there really is so much to unpack in every instalment that it warrants going back to it, to try and pick up what you missed first time around.
The same goes for IDW’s Star Trek: Lower Decks comic, with each issue being so loaded with references, it really is such a treasure trove for aficionados. Writer Ryan North and artist Chris Fenoglio have absolutely done themselves and the TV version of the show proud, capturing its look and essence, in addition to finding new stories to tell without treading upon the toes of the source material. The joy there is that Lower Decks has such a broad canvas on which to paint, by freely and flagrantly drawing on nearly six decades of history from the franchise.
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Reading this opening story has been an unadulterated joy from start to finish, while upending all expectations in the process. Trek has done so many tales where Holodeck characters have taken on a life of their own, and become a formidable foe in the process. Here, North has managed to give this a new twist with his use of Dracula, taking things in a truly unexpected direction. The same goes for the neat and rather novel resolution of the ‘B story’ with Captain Freeman managing to use a bit of ‘cowboy diplomacy’ here, in such a way which promises to leave you agape at its ingenuity.
In all, then, North and Fenoglio’s maiden voyage at the helm of the comic book version of the USS Cerritos really has been an unqualified success, and it has even managed to outstrip some of the weaker material from the most recent season of the show. This winning pairing definitely deserves to sign up for a lengthy tour of duty.
Star Trek: Lower Decks #3 is out now from IDW Publishing.