Loving Star Trek from Outside America
My very first encounter with Star Trek was finding a VHS tape of the episode “The Defector” which had been left in a video machine my family had bought, for Christmas 1991. The excellent writing and strong sense of drama in that episode struck me like lightening; I was a Star Trek fan immediately. Like a drug addict hooked on the show, I needed more!
As the 90s went on, I used to love attending Star Trek conventions in my home city of Aberdeen, Scotland, the same city (the only one!) Scotty references himself having been to while home in Scotland. In the episode “Wolf in the Fold”, he describes himself as an “old Aberdeen pub crawler” (since there’s an area called “Old Aberdeen”, I always wondered if Scotty meant that area or was describing himself as old; the episode’s script proves the latter).
Despite this reference, it was officially decided years later that, for some reason or other, Scotty was actually born in the town of Linlithgow. I hear this is based on one of the Star Trek novels, Vulcan’s Glory by D.C. Fontana, placing his mother‘s house there, and that actor James Doohan‘s family supported this decision, even though Doohan’s source of inspiration for the character was an Aberdonian fellow soldier he met in England during World War II.
At the conventions in Aberdeen, there used to be some Star Trek-related guests. I recall actor Robert O’Reilly and the late Richard Arnold being there. It used to be great because conventions like those took place up and down the UK, and the feeling of community at the ones in Aberdeen was memorable, loads of fun, and so welcoming.
Suddenly, all this stopped. That lovely spirit of community, especially valued by someone on the autistic spectrum (I really looked up to Data, growing up!), had been completely ripped out of my life.
As time went on, I’d loan VHS tapes of TOS and TNG from the local library and started becoming more understanding of how the show I loved was aired. It turned out there was a hugely long lag time between Star Trek airing in the US and the UK, especially if you weren’t rich enough (like my family) to be able to afford to subscribe to Sky. We’d instead have to wait years until the episodes were aired by the BBC. This seemed very unfair to me, as the system clearly favoured families who had more money, even though this seemed contrary to what the show itself was promoting: equality and opportunity for all mankind, not select groups.
The premiere of Enterprise was an exception. A friend came round to see me, along with a VHS tape that contained the show’s second episode, “Strange New World”. Not having seen the series premiere “Broken Bow”, trying to catch up with the premise of the series and understanding who the characters were wasn’t entirely straightforward. It was my first real encounter with video piracy, and it felt very uncomfortable to me.
Following the cancellation of Enterprise, I became interested in a Star Trek exhibition in Blackpool. By now, I’d built up a large collection of Star Trek scripts for adding behind-the-scenes tidbits to the website Memory Alpha. I wondered if there might be a way to contribute documentation to the exhibition, so I traveled there, only to find that there was no way; the entire exhibition was restricted to what Paramount contributed. It was clear to me, at that point, that these people cared more about red tape and bureaucracy than providing a fuller experience for the fans.
At one point thanks to my work on Memory Alpha (I was an admin there for 6 years), I had the pleasure of meeting writer Erika Lippoldt and asked if the writing staff of Star Trek: Discovery (which was in its first season) could privately provide me with the show’s scripts, so as to benefit Memory Alpha. No such luck; this was yet another prohibited suggestion, even though the writers of modern Star Trek often talk glowingly about Memory Alpha and purportedly use it extensively while writing the show.
Since Star Trek: Discovery has started up, the production studio’s stance on geographical boundaries has become increasingly evident. Many short promotional videos are released to advertise modern Star Trek, very often geoblocked so that only viewers in the US can watch them.
Similar issues are some of the most current ones affecting Star Trek fans. All across Europe, we’ve been forced to wait months (i.e., until 2022) to even start being able to see the newest Star Trek show, Star Trek: Prodigy, and (internationally, apart from the US and Canada) to begin watching the fourth season of Discovery. Obviously, expecting fans to avoid spoilers for months on end is severely unrealistic. Not only that, but CBS have only released news of Discovery‘s fourth season postponement mere days before the show was to air, and the fourth season was heavily promoted in the UK beforehand, including at the convention Destination Star Trek, with trailers released and not even the show’s cast being informed that the show wouldn’t actually be shown in the UK until months later.
The fault of all this can be blamed squarely on the businessmen, the guys in suits who arrange the distribution deals. The creative teams who work on the shows themselves are absolutely amazing, and I love their output.
Sadly, the countless restrictions often push viewers in parts of the world other than the US and Canada towards piracy. One can only imagine this has unfortunate consequences for the production studio itself.
The good news is that their own streaming service is scheduled to become available internationally. Hopefully, this will mean that viewers throughout the world will, eventually, receive all the episodes at the same time as each other, and that all the official Star Trek productions will be available on the Paramount+ service. If so, this loyal Trekkie can hardly wait.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinated the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.