Do you know that in the 1000+ posts that have so far appeared on the S&BC(C) Blog there's not a single one that's dedicated to Star Trek. I doubled checked because I couldn't really believe it was true but if you plug "Star Trek" into the Blog search engine all you'll get is this, this and this. Three references in passing, the most recent of which are getting on for two years old, and that's your lot.
I've no idea how that has that been allowed to happen but it's about time we righted that wrong. Today, in an attempt to re-establish my GeekBoy credentials, I'd like to offer you the story of chess in Star Trek. A tale, it turns out, of our yesterdays as well as our tomorrows.
Spock's alarmingly arched eyebrows can be explained away as the result of the least convincing chuckle ever captured on film but what's with the uniforms? I'm no hardcore Trekkie but I believe the tunics worn by Kirk and Spock here were only used in a pilot episode recorded before the first series was commissioned. If so perhaps there's something significant about use of 3D chess so early on.
What's the subtext here? It seems to me that the scene is a device employed not just to help develop Spock's backstory but also to reinforce the notion that the future enjoyed by the occupants of the Starship Enterprise is one of technical and cultural advancements that are all but beyond the imaginations of the dull two-dimensional earth bound mid-twentieth century American television viewers.
Once Star Trek was actually picked up it seems the script writers were not above employing chess as metaphor ...
... but it's the 3D set that comes to mind when we think about chess in Star Trek isn't it? Here it is again in a snippet showing a more familiarly attired Spock giving some uppity munchkin a spank ...
... and when the programme ("show" for our American friends and any British readers under the age of twenty five) got a makeover to be brought back as The Next Generation the 3D chess set got a new look too.
Data's board and pieces are probably the one aspect of new Star Trek that I find preferable to the original although we could do without the shite he spouts whilst playing with them don't you think?
The association between 3D chess and Star Trek is so strong in my mind I was really quite surprised to find an example of "proper chess" (as my niece Freya calls it) in the canon. True it comes from a minor franchise, the bastard cousin the family would rather forget if you will, but still it's there.
One feels Mr. Smug might do well to learn a better line against the Caro-Kann before he dismisses our favourite game so casually. While he's at it he might want to have another crack at assessing this position:-
Lost in five moves? I think not.
The more I watch this clip the more I feel the character would have worked better in the role of one of Martin's kibitzers ("... odious bottom-feeder, the lowest form of chess life ... he who hangs around disposing unsolicited advice and self-aggrandising comment....") but perhaps we shouldn't criticise too much. At least they got the board the right way around which puts the scene head and shoulders above most representations of the noble game in film and television.
It's funny but while chess in Star Trek started off pointing to a barely imaginable future it ended up being about the past. Data's set had some of the functions of its predecessor but much more than that it was a hat tip to the Original Series, a reminder to viewers that they were watching a programme with a history.
Similarly with Enterprise. Proper chess seems out of place until the programme's jumble of time-lines are unravelled; the series appeared on our screens after the others but was set long before them. A prequel then, and by playing our form of chess the characters both hint at future events - dull old 2D chess becoming played out and replaced by the 3D variety - in the fictional universe and remind us of Star Treks watched on evenings long ago in the real one.
... to do with chess Index