Friday, April 11, 2008

Captain April: Star Trek’s Man of Mystery?

Despite the preexisting assumption that Captain April does not belong to the official canon of the Star Trek lore, fans that occasionally miss him have been clamoring for answers lately. But the question is, will Captain April be finally included in the official Star Trek canon?

By: Vanessa Uy

Majority of the Star Trek fans that I know on a first hand basis, first gained acquaintance of Captain Robert T. April when he first appeared in Star Trek: The Animated Series back in 1974. And every time they reminisce about this elusive Captain, they always start to ponder on what ever happened to him. But before we delve any deeper, lets discuss first about the concepts governing behind the official Star Trek canon.

The history of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek now spans a little over 40 years, and its evolutionary development has no end yet in site despite of the latest “Enterprise” series’ somewhat premature conclusion back in 2005. This evolution is more or less (with the emphasis on more) kept true to the creative vision of the “Original Series”. The continuing evolution of the Star Trek series was not only kept in line because Gene Roddenberry wants it to but because the people who belong to Roddenberry’s “creative circle” really loved his vision. To me, it’s a love reminiscent of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Humanist” description of love. You know the kind that’s beyond the confines of the dichotomy of good and evil. In short only characters who had appeared in a live action television episode or film. The bad news is, if you use this “ironclad” rule as a guide, a lot of other very interesting characters will be excluded from the official Star Trek canon. This includes characters from the 1974 animated series, those comic books and novels published between the end of the original Star Trek series onwards. Even though the animated series, the comics and the various novels featured characters that are always part and parcel of the official Star Trek canon like Captain Kirk, Spock, and Captain Picard to mention just a few.

Another explanation on why the story lines featured in the 1974 animated series, the comics and some of the various novels will never see the “light of the script” never mind being played out in the live action environment of TV and film. This is due to the harsh reality that in the movie and TV world, the final frontier is not space but the budget to be spent on those whiz-bang special effects. The costs might be lower compared to 40 years ago and of much better quality, but these special effects – especially the very good ones – will never ever be cheap. But going back to the “ironclad” rule that I’ve mentioned governing the official Star Trek canon, in practice it’s more of a voluntary code of conduct practiced by writers when contributing to the Star Trek lore. Unfortunately, Captain April’s “shaky” status can also be blamed on one of Gene Roddenberry’s “peculiar habits”.

During the early part of the 1960’s before Roddenberry made Star Trek, he has a peculiar habit of “recycling” his own works – especially when it comes to character’s names. One of these names is April, whose surname made an episodic appearance in Roddenberry’s pre Star Trek TV series “The Lieutenant”. And also on his mid 1960’s TV pilot entitled “The Long Hunt of April Savage”.

Despite being slated as the first to captain the Starship Enterprise, Gene Roddenberry unfortunately chose to drop the Robert T. April name during the shooting of the first Star Trek pilot. Instead, Roddenberry chose the name Christopher R. Pike as the Enterprise’s first captain prior to James T. Kirk becoming captain during the regular run of the original Star Trek series. It seems that the name: Robert T. April - will only be known to Gene Roddenberry and his “creative inner circle” who made the original Star Trek series possible.

Despite of its unfavorable start, the Robert T. April name wasn’t dead yet. Gene Roddenberry’s “choice” for this particular captain’s name was well documented during his formulation of an early outlines of the Star Trek TV series. This well documented fact even made it into Stephen E. Whitfield’s 1968 book “The Making of Star Trek” which has become - by default - as the first reference book defining Gene Roddenberry’s creative vision. This book was also extensively used as a reference during the making of the 1974 Star Trek: The Animated Series - which served as Captain Robert T. April’s debut to the Star Trek fan community. Also, Whitfield’s “The Making of Star Trek” is the oft- quoted book in defending whether or not Captain Robert T. April is part of the official Star Trek canon despite of April’s lack of live-action TV episode or film appearance.

“The Counter- Clock Incident” episode of the 1974 animated Star Trek TV series might be where Captain April made his debut appearance to the “Trekkie Fandom” but it won’t be his last. He appeared in a number of comics and novels during the intervening years. One of Captain April’s finest portrayals – according to a majority of “Trekkies” - is on the novel “Final Frontier” written by Diane Carey, which was published in 1988. And Captain April’s claim as a part of the official Star Trek canon was further reinforced during the publication of Star Trek Chronology: The History of The Future – a “companion” / guidebook of the Star Trek lore written by Michael and Denise Okuda – back in 1993.

A few years ago when a new Star Trek TV series was proposed pertaining to the time in the Trek universe before the time of Captain Kirk. Trekkies around the world were expecting it to be about the adventures of Captain April, yet it was about an even earlier captain, before there was even a “United Federation of Planets” hence Captain Jonathan Archer. But as the current / latest Enterprise series ended in 2005, will we – the Trek community – be finally be able to meet a live action Robert T. April?

Unfortunately, not anytime soon because - to me at least – science fiction is very, very much dependent on the prevailing “social condition”. A few years back, the creators of the movie “Independence Day” were asked if they could have made the movie in post-9/11 America, and their answer is a definite no. I also agree with them because given the austere fiscal environment of the early 1990’s; the move “Independence Day” is more or less paying homage-like “thanks” to the men and women of the US Armed Forces. A thanks for defending our freedom during the first Gulf War despite of the fact that “Uncle Sam” has no money to thoroughly investigate this thing we call Gulf War Syndrome throughout the 1990’s.

To me, the same thing also applies to the Star Trek franchise. Given that the prevailing social condition in Captain April’s time is much, much, much, better and rational than the one we have. And would very much alienate any potential new viewers who can’t very much relate to the series because it’s too far removed from the social conditions that the “new viewer” is accustomed to. It would be a certain financial disaster to network executives if they choose to release a new Star Trek TV series in 2008 that pertains to Captain April’s adventures and times. Star Trek reference books and companion guides are not exactly a part of the US Board of Education’s current curricula. Maybe after Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama have sorted out the mess created by the Bush Administration whose neo-conservatives have very much made White / Aryan Supremacy the official state religion and “Creationism” the official state science of the United States.

Also, delaying the Captain April Star Trek for a few years can benefit the advances that would be made in special effects technology. Maybe a few years from now a realistic looking tail special effects like the ones used in the X-Men trilogy will become cost-effective enough for network TV. Imagine M’Res and the Caitians from the 1974 animated series can finally appear in a live-action Star Trek TV series with organic / realistic looking tails. Realistic looking tails on humanoids can be a pig to reproduce, especially on a network TV special effects budget. I think it’s the primary reason why Trance Gemini – a humanoid alien found in another Gene Roddenberry series titled “Andromeda” – had her tail cut off in a close quarter gunfight in the story line due to special effects budget constraints. Excellent special effects should go hand in hand with the very excellent story line, don’t you think?