I had an uncle that worked at what is now the Thames television studios in Teddington. Magpie, ITV’s rival to Blue Peter, made the studios famous in those days and, as a young lad, it was exciting to hear stories of Uncle Reg chatting to Benny Hill and Tommy Cooper. Probably by dint of his job, Uncle Reg was the first person I knew who had a colour television. BBC2 began to broadcast in colour in 1967, which wasn’t long after my family had rented our first black and white television. I remember going to Uncle Reg’s house and gawping at his television, although there were still very few programmes that were made in colour. The one that most sticks in my mind is The High Chaparral, a horse opera, set in 1880s Arizona. One piece of trivia about The High Chaparral is that the part of the Apache warrior Cochise was played by that gentleman’s grandson, Nino Cochise, who was himself 92 years old and had only one leg. This meant that he had to be hoisted in and out of his horse’s saddle. However, it puts a new perspective on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s sketch, One leg too few, about a unidexter auditioning for the role of Tarzan.
The other piece of TV exotica that I associate with this time is Star Trek. 40 years after it was first broadcast in this country, it seems laughable to describe the original series of Star Trek as exotic. The polystyrene boulders and cardboard sets seem poor fare in comparison with 21st century television, but at the time, and in comparison with our own Doctor Who, Star Trek seemed hi-tech. That’s not to say that the black and white Doctor Who was less dramatic and it was certainly far more scary, but Star Trek seemed more, well, other-worldly. Perhaps it was the suits in their different colours, or maybe the wonderful beaming up and down to planets – a technique that was apparently used to save money on showing space ships landing and taking off. And now it’s back again on the big screen and it is said that no one – old fans nor newcomers – will be disappointed.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek was a member of the American Humanist Association and the underlying premise behind his creation was that humankind should live in harmony. God was not really part of his equation and whenever alien religions were found they were demonstrated to be a means of enslaving the planet’s creatures. In the final reel, the ‘god’ was shown at best to have feet of clay and at worst to be a malevolent force. Star Trek may well turn out to be this summer’s hit blockbuster, but it will be given a run for its money by Terminator Salvation. This is a very different film from Star Trek. Where Star Trek takes a generally optimistic – one might say utopian – view of the future, with technology having made the world a better place, the Terminator series of films offers a dystopian view of a universe in which human beings have allowed machines to take over.
On the surface, Star Trek might appear to be the most ‘Christian’, but its lack of a sense of ‘the other’, together with its belief that humankind can work things out for itself, rather precludes against this. In contrast, the Terminator series, while dark and violent, presents a world that has been marred by the actions of human beings. It even presents a Saviour figure in John Connor and, in Terminator 2, a cyborg, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. This god-man offers his hand to a human being in danger and says, “Come with me if you want to live”.*
Until Terminator Salvation comes out, I don’t know how the series will end, if indeed this is the end, but if it continues to present humanity as in need of salvation from above, it will have scored theologically over Star Trek, because none of us is capable of beaming ourselves up.
* For a more detailed examination of Terminator 2, see my chapter in Flickering Images