Daytime TV: It's life, Captain

Gary Day asks what we can learn from Star Trek, enjoys a look at Wordsworth and laughs with women

May 14, 2009

The Virgin channel celebrated the release of the new Star Trek film with a weekend of programmes featuring the adventures of the Enterprise and its crew. The film tells the story of how young James T. Kirk met up with Spock, saved the galaxy and spawned a long-running TV series that goes on and on. Boldly.

When Kirk could no longer get out of the captain's chair without help, it was time for a younger man to take the helm. Enter Patrick Stewart, or Captain Picard as he is better known. With him, the series continues baldly. There is a new enemy. They are the Borg, a race of cybernetic organisms whose conversational powers, despite their highly developed state, are somewhat restricted. "We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile." They sound like the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

A Borg probe has crashed on a planet (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Virgin 1, Friday 8 May 8pm). One of the crew lies injured. Should they beam him aboard or should they leave him to die? The ship's medical officer is called Dr Crusher. Not a name to inspire confidence in a piece of sentient metal hovering between life and death. But it is Picard who wants to leave the creature in a corner of the studio swathed in dry ice.

He was once seized by the Borg and this is his chance for revenge. Whether it's because they kidnapped him or decided he wasn't good enough to be assimilated is never explained. But a human fit for a Beckett play - Stewart is playing Vladimir in the current production of Waiting for Godot - may not quite do it for the salivary glands of the Collective.

The Borg could learn a thing or two about assimilation from the Federation. It doesn't require different species to adopt the appearance of a half-repaired washing machine nor to communicate in a voice that makes the speaking clock sound like Donald Sinden. To fit in, aliens simply have to abandon their culture and help Starfleet spread the values of liberal capitalism, chief of which is freedom of choice, across the Cosmos.

Even the rescued Borg, whose name had been changed from 3 of 5 to Hugh by the Good Samaritans of the vessel in which he is imprisoned, is tempted by the prospect of being an individual rather than a number. One who just happens to think the same as everyone else on board the Enterprise, a name that says it all really.

The hours pass. Episode succeeds episode. None of them answers the question that really matters. What is the evolutionary purpose of the ridges on a Klingon's forehead? By Sunday, even the most ardent fan was longing to return to Earth. The Universe: what a bore.

The planet has splendour aplenty. One such, according to Wordsworth, was the view from Westminster Bridge on the early morning of 31 July 1802 (A Poet's Guide to Britain, Thursday 7 May, BBC Four 10pm). "Dull would he be of soul", declared the poet, "who could pass by a sight so touching in its majesty." Of course, Wordsworth didn't have the Houses of Parliament to spoil the scene. It's not the buildings, it's the stink of corruption.

Presenter Owen Sheers asked why Wordsworth was in London on that day. Cherchez la femme. Wordsworth had fallen in love with Mary Hutchinson but, before they could marry, he had to break with Annette Vallon, mother of Caroline, his nine-year-old daughter. The calm the poem describes was probably not going to be part of Annette's reaction when she heard the news. Was that why he took Dorothy, his beloved sister?

There has been much speculation about their possibly incestuous relationship. Dorothy accompanied William and Mary on their honeymoon and lived with them when they were married. But that was not an unusual arrangement in those days. We might, though, wonder at her collapsing after the wedding ceremony into a kind of coma. Owen wisely stays clear of such stories and concentrates on the poem. Any student watching would have got a valuable lesson in practical criticism.

Like a young version of the Ancient Mariner, Owen stops one of three. Would they mind speaking a line to the camera? A soulful young man recited "The beauty of the morning, silent, bare" as traffic roared around him. The poet Simon Armitage, who is rapidly replacing Geoffrey Boycott as the most famous living Yorkshireman, said the sonnet wasn't about mountains, it was about London. There's nothing like a bit of plain northern speaking.

Beehive (E4, Thursday 7 May, 10.35pm) a female sketch show, caused quite a buzz first time round. British comedy used to be rooted in the realities of class. It's much broader now. If you like jokes about willies, you'll be laughing. If not, there's a hilarious skit on Alien.

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