Heresy of the Week – Spock should have been captain of the Enterprise

kirk and spock

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

“One of the biggest criticisms of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films has been how desperate it has seemed to get back to the “normal” of The Original Series, rather than taking the opportunity to innovate. And on that note: Spock should have been the Enterprise’s new captain.

First thing’s first: I don’t think that Abrams did a bad job with his Star Trek non-reboot. It’s not the Star Trek that I remember and that I fell in love with, but it’s not supposed to be. And that’s okay. Abrams has taken the concept, and created something new.

So why, then, has he been so desperate to move his “new timeline” back so closely to the one it started from.

Looking at the plot arc of the first film (which will be always Star Trek XI to me; it’s a continuation, not a reboot) it becomes clear that this rush to the status quo is barmy. Chris Pine’s Kirk is the rebel without a cause, someone who just can’t get on with the rules. Pike likes him, which is fair enough, but literally the first thing he does right sees him rewarded with the keys to the Enterprise.

Why, precisely? Even after making a hash of it in Star Trek Into Darkness (Star Trek XII), he still gets the command. Which seems like a waste, to be honest. When Pike comments in Into Darkness that Kirk has “greatness, but not an ounce of humility”, he’s right. And in large part its his own doing.

This Kirk is, frankly, dull. He has all of Shatner’s Kirk’s arrogance, but none of his competence. Quinto’s Spock, on the other hand, is a work of genius. There is enough of Nimoy’s Spock in him, but the mark of events have changed him. He is a more tenderly emotional character, more obviously caught between the two worlds of human and Vulcan. Spock and Kirk are, in one sense, illustrations respectively of where Abrams has succeeded and failed.

He is also, by the time we meet him as an adult, a qualified and experienced officer, and gets to play second fiddle to a brash, impulsive, inexperienced kid. This has never sat right with me. Would it have been so bad to make Spock the captain and Kirk the first officer? It would have offered a radical departure, an exciting twist on the original concept which could truly have been said to justify starting the franchise over; reversing the age old tension between logic and feeling.

Actually, had I been writing the films (a dangerous suggestion, I know), I would have kept Pike on as captain of the Enterprise at the end of Star Trek XI, with Kirk and Spock both jostling for favour under him. And then, come the end of the second film, maybe one of them assumes command. Probably Spock. Not just because his character is the more interesting, but because the idea of Captain Spock and Mr Kirk is just boundlessly more fascinating and exciting than a rehash of what we’ve already seen.

The reason that we haven’t seen that, though, and the reason that we are so frantically heading back to the same old five year mission, is that these aren’t films for the established Star Trek fans. They are meant to draw in new fans, who know little enough about the franchise, but Captain Kirk and Mr Spock are the lynchpin of what they do know. So we’re stuck with the status quo as shorthand, and I can only dream of a different Star Trek fulfilling its potential.

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