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Happy 50th birthday, Star Trek!

Star Trek was deeply philosophical once Picard captained the Starship Enterprise. In photo: Patrick Stewart (L), who played Jean-Luc Picard, and Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander William T Riker. Photograph: (AFP)

United States Sep 09, 2016, 08.33 AM (IST) Jeff Halperin
When the original Star Trek's first episode aired I was minus 18 years old, but I respect the parent of Star Trek: Next Generation. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the original Star Trek and all the later ones, was a pioneer several times over. 

A campy show about a diverse composition of earthlings exploring space was very radical in 1966. Whoopie Goldberg, who later played Guinan, cites the original Star Trek as a real inspiration for portraying minorities on air in integral roles. 

The program was deeply philosophical once Jean Luc Picard took over as captain of the Starship Enterprise. Next Generation has beautiful values running through its sinews. The episode "Who watches the watchers?" got me hooked. 

While observing an alien planet (one that more or less resembles Earth), Picard's crew is accidentally responsible for the injury of a local, so they beam him aboard their ship, heal him with advanced medical technology, then return him.

The local is under the impression his life was literally saved by a god named "The Picard"! The crew needs to decide whether to leave him under this false impression or violate the  "Prime Directive" by showing him technology that will appear to him like divine magic. 

Jean-Luc Picard gives an impassioned speech arguing it's morally unacceptable to effectively send these beings to a backward age where belief in god holds sway. It was a proud moment for atheism. Television is, to put it lightly, not famous today for posing existential dilemmas. Star Trek Next Gen did. It had adventure and lots else too, but so do other shows. The philosophy underpinning Next Generation is something to treasure. 

So once again, happy birthday to the show that perhaps went to space because it was too smart for this world.


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