Building upon three previous posts surveying the archaeological themes and representations in the original series 1 and 2 of Star Trek, I here review the same themes in series 3. First up, here are links to the earlier posts.
I started with 5 overlapping themes but added a sixth regarding specific aspects of funerary material culture and monuments from series 2. They are:
- archaeological investigators being key characters in the show;
- ancient civilizations and their legacies in the galaxy in terms of ruins, artefacts and technology;
- alien cultures inspired by past Earth’s past human societies;
- artefacts and relics of the human past in outer space: space junk but also curated heirlooms;
- specific alien material cultures, memorials and monuments inspired by the human past including created versions of Earth’s history.
- funerary archaeology in outer space.
Note: there are episodes with only passing references to the human past or inspirations from it that hardly qualify for our consideration. For example, the episode ‘Is There In Truth No Beauty?’ is inspired by Greek mythology, the Medusans cannot be seen without inducing madness among humans. Dr Jones is revealed to be blind and can thus interact with the Medusans. Beyond the classical allusion held by the name, the rest of this episode cannot be linked to a specific archaeological evocation.
Also of note, there are fewer ‘archaeological’ episodes in season 3 deserving of our attention in broad terms, even if the evocation of various human pasts is still commonplace, reflected in at least half of the episodes!
A bizarre civilization exists in which, thousands of years before, they survived a catastrophe by separating their society along gender lines: the women who live deep below ground and retain their civilization, but the men wear leathers and carrying clubs and sport beards – clear symbols of primitive (uncivilized) past. The men attempt to survive upon the planet’s surface in this rudimentary fashion. This perverse dichotomous society is controlled by a super computer who needs a new ‘teacher’ provided by Spock’s brain. All this fits in Theme 2 mixed with Theme 3.
Having saved Spock and returned his brain, what is really ‘fascinating’ is an outro analogue made by Spock that is left unfinished as the episode closes. Spock starts to outline the history of the planet and the ‘male/female schism’. McCoy says of Spock: ‘I should never have connected his mouth’. Spock then begins to explain an Earth parallel which is left unfinished: “the last such occurrence took place on Old Earth when the Romans were…’ I wonder what he was going to say?
The crew of the Enterprise encounter a planet about to be destroyed by an asteroid that is an exact parallel for pre-colonial North America, with lakeside-dwelling First Nations. ‘What are the odds of such duplication?’ in terms of not only biology but nature. McCoy sums it up: ‘the place is an enigma, biologically and culturally’.
By the end of the episode, we’ve learned that the parallel results in the actions of ancient aliens who promulgated humanoid ‘colonies’ across the galaxy. So here we have Theme 2: an ancient civilization leaving behind a legacy because we learn that these native Americans were ‘planted here’. Indeed, the specific material dimension of the legacy is an obelisk created by these ‘ancient human-aliens’ which we learn was created as a deflective mechanism to protect the planet, built by an ancient humanoid species. This is explicitly evoking ancient Egyptian monumentality: Theme 5.
Meanwhile, the First Nations are an evident example of Theme 3, with a host of material cultures, costumes, dwellings: all mimicking native American themes in late 20th-century popular culture. It goes without saying that most of the actors are white and that the native Americans are portrayed as living in a primordial paradise in which the colonial interlopers secure their salvation. In modern frameworks, it might just be seen as a tad racist on multiple registers.
Truly the stuff of nightmares when an alien spirit convinces the adults on an expedition to commit suicide and guides the children in the form of an ‘angel’ to take control of the Enterprise.
The funerary material culture – the headstones with surnames only, a taller central memorial to the dead, and a UFP flag stuck into the loose sand, together replicate the human past and the Western tradition of memorialising those lost during expeditions. This is indeed the first example of Star Fleet and United Federation of Planets funerary culture represented in the show. The only exception is perhaps the first series episode where a grave and headstone are created for Kirk as a mechanism for his own demise in ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’.
The low gravestones and central memorial also operate as key to the storyline: they serve as a powerful mnemonic which saves the Enterprise. When shown their lives with their living parents and then their graves on video, the children are freed from the alien ‘angel’s’ spell who seeks to control them. They are reminded of what it means to be human and to mourn. I determine this a striking instance of Theme 6 in which natural reactions to grief are addressed as well as funerary material cultures and monuments.
Theme 5 once more, like Catspaw in series 2 the human past is extracted from the imaginations of the Enterprise crew. It was only a matter of time until an alien species would use mind-control to transport the away party to the Wild West. Having ignored a warning buoy and transported to the planet’s surface to make peaceful contact with the Melkotians, an alien tells them they will be punished for ignoring the warning. They are transported to Tombstone, Arizona, in 26 October 1881, a location selected from Kirk’s mind (which reveals a disturbing amount about Kirk’s brain). It is clear a ‘stage’ (Blazing Saddles style), with frontages only. Ahead of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, as Spock explains: ‘The violence of your own heritage is to be the pattern of our own execution’; they must face the Earps but circumvent their punishment at the last moment. Perhaps simply a cheap way to utilise an existing set, this again reveals the concept of evolution through and beyond interpersonal violence as an aspiration and register of civilization.
An alien species instigates conflict between a Klingon battle cruiser under Kang and the Enterprise crew, replacing phasers with antique swords, daggers and pole arms. Scotty is particularly taken by the presence of a claymore. The aliens are inciting the Vulcans and humans and then healing them remarkably quickly, perhaps to ‘test’ them. The history of violence in the past epochs of Earth is brought to the 23rd-century present. While conjured, these are clearly intended to be relics of the human past, so Theme 5 is my determination regarding its categorisation.
An episode so bad it is traumatic. Responding to a distress signal from an unknown planet inhabited by ‘Platonians’, native to Novaed around the star Sahndara that went supernova millennia ago. Their leader liked the works of Plato, contemporaneous with this occurrence and so the people are deemed followers of Plato. How they knew of Earth’s philosopher is left utterly unclear. The current Philosopher-King Parmen calls the people ‘Plato’s Children’ living in a self-declared ‘Republic’. This is an attempted utopia and the show simply cannot explain the rationale for this backstory. These near-immortals have telekinetic powers. Theme 5 rears its incomprehensible head.
That’s it, that’s all there is to say. The setting is a lavish stylised representation of the classical Greek past, with lyres and weapons and columns and marble. It’s all horrid and painful to see this representation of the ancient Greek world.
Theme 3, but the inspiration is overt and explicitly that the Platonians had somehow been to Earth and gained direct inspiration from Plato’s teachings, so maybe Theme 2 is pertinent.
The Enterprise has a mission to transport Elaan ‘the Dohlman’ who is in an arranged marriage with the ruler of Troyius. She is a spoilt, seductive space-Cleopatra. Enough said. She alone is inspired by stereotypes of Ptolemaic Egypt and that’s all there is: a Theme 3/5 crossover in singular terms of the inspiration of the ultimate female historic personage from ancient Egypt.
Lieutenant D’Amato, Senior Geologist, is part of an away team to a very young planet. He dies in suspicious circumstances, ‘every cell in his body’ disrupted. Kirk tries to dig a grave by firing his phaser at the ground obliquely. Just below the topsoil he finds solid impenetrable red rock: ‘it looks like igneous rock but infinitely denser’. Surmising the entire planet must be made of this material, McCoy reflects: ‘I guess a tomb of rocks is the best we can provide to D’Amato’.
When placing a final stone on his cairn marked in pen ‘Lt D’Amato’ Sulu remarks: ‘it looks so lonely there’. McCoy retorts: ‘it would be worse if he had company’. This is a second example of Theme 6 in series 3 and the first Star Fleet grave we see constructed on an alien world.
Seeking ingredients for a cure for Regelian fever in deposits of the mineral ryetalyn on a small planet, the away team encounter a man who left Earth to escape others. When they explain their plight, the lone occupant, Mr Flint, recalls the Bubonic Plague affecting Constantinople in the summer of 1334. Asked whether he was a student of history, he agrees. The reality becomes clearer: he has lived for century after century without dying. The hint should have been clear in his dress and his extensive collection of antiques and antique furniture: the ‘most splendid collection of art’ Spock has ever seen. Moreover, they are all authentic but all undocumented! Later, Spock finds a further clue: the waltz by Brahms is written in his own hand, and yet again it is unknown to Earth.
Flint recognises that Kirk’s starship is part of a colonial process and bristling with weapons. He is ageless and talented: Brahms, Da Vinci, Solomon, Alexander, Lazarus, Methusulah, Merlin, Obbrumson. He was born in 3834 BC, originally Ocarin – a soldier – who did not die when he was killed in battle.
Anyway, might he be seen as a piece of human ‘space junk’ with his relics of Earth’s past even though many of his own construction? Certainly, Theme 4 might be the best categorisation for his surroundings: heirlooms from his near-immortal life.
Duped and transported to a planet, Kirk and Spock fight Genghis Khan alongside Abraham Lincoln with ‘primitive’ technology. Utterly dire and we (surprise, surprise) learn they are not real, but creations to ‘test’ the moral fibre of the United Federation of Planets. Theme 5. Lincoln in Space! Just let that sink in: Lincoln in Outer Space!
The Atavachron allows time travel back from a time ahead of a pre-warp civilization’s sun going nova to earlier times in the history of the planet. This is controlled by a librarian called Mr Atoz (A-Z, get it?) and his android minions. Spock and Bones are transported back to the planet’s Ice Age and encounter a woman abandoned there who had been sent back in time as punishment. Meanwhile, Kirk gets transported back to a parallel 17th-century world fearful of witches and demons. So again we have a parallel evolution vision of the human past across the galaxy: Theme 3.
And what a finish! Dr Janice Lester, leader of a scientific expedition to Camus II to exploring the ruins of a dead civilization, takes over the body of James Kirk. Janice is clearly an archaeologist, although that is never explicitly stated! And we have yet again the idea that archaeologists, especially female archaeologists, are somehow corrupted by their exposure to either the ancient past or simply to the challenges of space exploration. She is only an archaeologist because she couldn’t be be Kirk’s wife it seems, stating that the only time she felt alive was at Starfleet with Kirk but the world of Starfleet captains does not admit women. Theme 1 is paramount and what a dire end indeed to this survey of the original series of Star Trek, and the enduring legacy! Yet the power Dr Lester uses to swap bodies with Kirk is clearly obtained from the ancient civilization, so Theme 2 is equally integral to the story. Both archaeologists and archaeology are a source of peril to Kirk and the Enterprise.
So ends this four-post three-series tour of ‘Star Trek Archaeology’. Did you enjoy it? Did I miss or misunderstand anything? Does my categorisation work? (I keep changing my mind about which themes are represented in some episodes, so I anticipate readers will find things to say about this too).
As you might appreciate, I’m most interested in Themes 4 and 6 but Themes 1, 2, 3 and 5 are widespread and fascinating too. Theme 3 is the most commonplace – parallel evolutionary or hyper-diffusionist visions of humanoid societies across the galaxy that somehow resemble stages of ‘development’ from Earth’s past, embodying a range of problematic tropes about violence, race and gender. In other words, what comes across is the sheer abundance and varied characterisation of primitive, barbaric and early civilizations as well as 20th-century-style cultures exhibited in the galaxy and extending into the mirror universe, reflecting on the civilising process, looking back and forwards from a late 20th-century US worldview.
So is this all because they wanted cheap sets? Is it because they needed to root sci-fi in this-wordliness to retain TV audience attentions? Or is it because they had grasped the power of sci-fi to explore our human past in flexible and engaging ways not possible with historical dramas?
In future posts, I will review further Star Trek Archaeology across its expanded universe, but please note that I’ve already initiated this task with posts on DS9 and Enterprise. Thus, I will boldly go where no archaeologist has gone before! But for now we can identify just how saturated the show is with archaeological dimensions, and how material culture is so pivotal in perceptions of the primitive, the barbarian and sought-out civilizations…