Why Star Trek: Discovery must deal with the legacy of Janice Rand

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Janice Rand is probably the most obvious victim of the strain of sexism and misogyny that ran through Star Trek’s early years – initially the programme’s female lead, Janice Rand was gradually phased out of the show across the first half of the season. She was on the receiving end of attempted rape, objectification, and frequently belittled and undercut by both other characters and the narrative itself.

Star Trek’s treatment of Janice Rand is fundamentally at odds with the utopian idealism that is so often sold as the franchise’s main virtue. For Star Trek: Discovery to now make attempts at returning to that 60s utopianism, it must by the same virtue address the legacy of Janice Rand within the narrative.

It’s become increasingly clear that Star Trek: Discovery is going to be very deeply entrenched in 60s nostalgia, returning to the aesthetic and many of the characters of The Original Series.

If Discovery is to do that, it’s going to have to address the failings of the original Star Trek – it’s going to have to put right what once went wrong.

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Rape culture, transporter accidents, and evil twins: Star Trek’s Worst Ever Episode

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The Enemy Within was first broadcast on October 6th 1966, the fifth episode of Star Trek ever to air. You’d probably know it, if at all, as the one where Kirk gets split in two, with William Shatner giving fairly memorable performances as “evil Kirk” and “good Kirk”. It is, if not iconic, certainly well remembered in its own right; it’s widely regarded as being a decent episode, which is a good representation of the sort of camp fun and high aspirations of The Original Series, given that it offers a sci-fi twist on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde story, a few references to Jungian philosophical ideas as well, and an alien that is quite clearly a dog with some straws taped to the back of its head.

So far, so ordinary. It’s not exactly the sort of episode you’d term “the worst ever”, nor – as I put it in a recent review on my website – “an episode that deserves to struck off the record – not just quietly forgotten, but actively disowned”. But, you see, this isn’t just an episode with a silly run-around after a transporter accident; it affirms and normalizes rape and rape culture in a way unlike any other episode of Star Trek.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing the early episodes of Star Trek. While I am enjoying them, I’m also finding them very, very frustrating – there are aspects of them that are just straight up awful and offensive and wrong. This is a pretty obvious example, and so I’ve been quite heavily critical of it.

For all that early Star Trek is very good, and it often is very good, I think we’re all a little too quick to make a hagiography of it – to say, you know, ooh, first black woman on TV ever, Martin Luther King loved it more than life, it was so utopian, how wonderful, and then that’s the end of the conversation. Much of that is true, but it’s not the whole picture, and it very much shouldn’t be the end of the conversation.

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