how to be a Trekkie

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The Independent Culture
One doesn't have to be a Trekkie to confidently finish off Mark Sullivan's opening gambit. "The Science Museum's mission is..." Yes, we all know: to boldly go where no museum has gone before. "No. To promote public understanding of science."

Sullivan's failure to split the infinitive, in time-honoured fashion, comes as a shock. Surely the man in charge of "the most comprehensive and colourful celebration to date of the Star Trek phenomenon" is aware of the punning possibilities of the venture? "To be honest, I wasn't a fan at the start," he confesses, which might explain his inability to beam up the most famous cliche in television history. "But," he adds quickly, "I'm becoming one."

The museum's homage to Trekdom is certainly a fabulously futuristic experience, but doesn't it, by definition, promote sci-fi rather than sci-fact?

Mr Sullivan gives me one of those "I'm-afraid-that's-not-logical-Captain" looks. "Gene Rodenberry insisted on sound scientific principles," he deadpans. Although a Trekkie-come-lately, the project director has obviously been boning up on the founding father's doctrine; he appreciates how, in the same way Christians cite Jesus, Rodenberryites regularly invoke the intergalactic guru's name in order to settle an argument.

To most of us, Star Trek is a world of wobbly sets, pointy ears and dodgy nylon costumes. But to devotees it is a religion. I do not wish to alarm Sullivan, but tricorder readings indicate an alien presence; a 38-year- old martial arts expert with a mountain-range forehead and a bizarre taste in armour. The Elephant Man meets Sir Lancelot, is approaching.

"Gene Rodenberry looked on me as a grandson," says the alien. "He was a great philosopher. He inspired me to become..." A Klingon? "No, an actor. I've got a part in the new Brittas Empire series. By the way, I'm John."

John is a devout member of the Church of Latter-Day Trekkies. He might look like a Klingon, but he talks like a Mormon. One of 18 costumed guides, he will spend the next few months promoting public understanding of science, all the while religiously quoting from the Book of Rodenberry Revelations.This is most unusual. Klingons did not visit Earth until many years after the 20th century. And how come a representative of the Federation's sworn enemies is swanning about the Enterprise?

Star Trek, it transpires, is a broad church. The show's creator appears to have been the Martin Luther King of time travel, a prophetic idealist who introduced shocked Americans to the first ever inter-racial screen kiss.

Hardly an original message, but one taken up excitedly by Joanna, sporting a blue hat, blue tunic, blue dress and a short, velvet, bolero jacket with chiffon-flared sleeves. "Gene basically said: 'We come in peace' - wicked!"

If trainspotters can be renamed railway enthusiasts, surely Trek buffs are allowed to ditch the derogatory suffix? Joanna prefers to concentrate her fire on the derogatory prefix.

"We're not 'sad'. When people laugh at me for going to conventions, I say: 'What were you doing last Friday night that was so interesting?' "

As fate would have it, we are suddenly interrupted by Gabriel, a spotty, dishevelled youth, wearing sellotaped spectacles, and carrying a plastic bag full of galaxy goodies. Tricorder readings indicate an anorak presence. "You're Guinan, aren't you?'' he shouts. "Yes," Joanna politely replies.

Ten minutes later, having debated the burning question of whether Data, a character from The Next Generation, is a life-form or a lifeless mechanical android, we leave our friend in a wormhole, pondering the meaning of life. "There is a lunatic fringe, but you've got to be diplomatic,'' whispers John.

To Gabriel, Gene is a visionary. He explains: "His message, for me, is non-interference and have a nice day." Sorry? Joanna explains: "Bosnia's going mad, Iran and Iraq are at each others' throats and they've started testing nuclear weapons again. As Gene put it, 'We've all got to pull together'."


'Star Trek, The Exhibition', Science Museum, London SW7 (0171-938 8008)