How Star Trek: The Next Generation changed my life
"The Next Generation, whether I realised it at the time or not, actually instilled in me the beliefs and values I hold dear to this day"
One of my earliest TV memories involves lying on a slightly scratchy carpet with a plate of toast and remaining utterly silent while my child-minder’s son sat glued to an episode of his favourite show.
I can’t have been more than five years old when I made my first voyage with the crew of the Enterprise NCC-1701-D, exploring strange new worlds seeking out new life, new civilisations and boldly going where I had never gone before.
Star Trek was my gateway into a universe that many of the other children in my class at school didn’t seem to have any knowledge of. And after I had my first taste of life with Jean-Luc and his crew I quickly became hooked.
The next time I heard the opening bars of the theme blaring from the living room I found myself poking my head around the door, eager to find out more about the bald man with the very posh voice in the big chair, his baby-faced friend ‘Number One’ and the bloke with the massive head covered in weird dark lumps and bumps.
It was all very intriguing for a small child who’d never even heard about science fiction.
Throughout the course of several months spent watching snippets of episodes from the corner of the sofa I grew to love Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew. I discovered my first female heroes in the brilliant Tasha Yar, Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher, became fascinated by every new race from the Klingons to the Cardassians, and cowered behind the sofa the first time The Borg set foot on screen.
And I did all that without realising I was actually watching decade-old reruns in an entirely non-linear fashion. That knowledge probably would have been useful when it came to figuring out why Wesley Crusher kept ageing and regressing at a Benjamin Button style rate.
The Next Generation was my introduction not only to science fiction, but also to the joys of television. Wesley was to become my first TV crush. Jean-Luc and Doctor Crusher were the first fictional couple I ever willed to get together – and stay together. And Commander Riker was the first TV character I became totally obsessed with – to the point where I almost forgot how to sit on a chair properly.
But it was so much more than just a TV series to obsess over. The Next Generation, whether I realised it at the time or not, actually instilled in me the beliefs and values I hold dear to this day.
Compassion, respect and tolerance were at the heart of everything the crew did – everyone on board the Enterprise worked together to explore the galaxy, regardless of gender, race or creed. And they greeted every new friend or foe they encountered with an open mind.
Picard and his crew taught me many important life lessons on our voyage together. I learned – along with Lieutenant Commander Data – about the little things that make us human and the power of knowledge. Deanna Troi inspired me to take note of what those around me might be feeling, and think about how things I said might affect them.
As for my beloved Commander Riker, well, he probably taught me just a little too much about the birds and bees. But without a knock-out like him hanging around a computer-generated gin joint or two, the show quite simply wouldn’t have been the same.
Most importantly, The Next Generation showed me that women and men of all races and backgrounds could and should play important roles in society. Gene Roddenberry and the team didn't allow gender or colour to define what a character could do or achieve, blazing a trail long before the rest of the world 'got woke'.
Why shouldn't a woman be able to take control of the ship? Why couldn't a blind man be one of the most brilliantly capable members of the crew? Star Trek made me believe that as long as you were willing to work hard to achieve your goals, anything was possible.
I went on to discover Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and other science fiction delights, but my first bite of the apple was difficult to forget. When my parents were kind enough to gift me a Hewlett-Packard laptop for university I jumped at the chance to christen it Jean-Luc.
Twenty years later, when I hear the phrase Star Trek it’s still him who comes to mind. Well, him and that incredible Riker beard, obviously.
The next generation of Star Trek fans look set to make an exciting Discovery on Netflix, but if they haven’t yet binged on Picard’s voyages I hope they’ll soon engage and make it so.