Among my friends I am known for how vehemently I object to J.J. Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek, despite my enjoying many of the projects with which Mr. Abrams is associated. From the unnecessary redesign and resizing of the Enterprise to the destruction of Vulcan to a cadet being promoted to starship captain, I hated the idea of Star Trek XI, even though I might applaud individual performances.
So my friends have occasionally flung back at me my enjoyment of the current BBC Sherlock series that reimagines Sherlock Holmes and John Watson as being 21st century contemporaries. Isn’t that rewriting the timeline, the crime of which I accuse Abrams?
This is where I usually sigh and admit that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have, of course, changed the timeline of Holmes. In fact, they have changed not only Holmes’ timeline, but that of the world. It seems inconceivable that the world that they present — which looks very much like modern-day London — could any longer exist!
Imagine, can the modern-day world exist in its present form without the existence of Holmes and Watson? Never mind that no one would be able to say “No sh#t, Sherlock,” or “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Or that someone saying “The game’s afoot” is only quoting Shakespeare. No, an entire line of literature might not exist, and those ripples would extend through time. Would Poirot exist without Holmes? Would Nero Wolfe or Jonathan Creek? Would Bertie Wooster still be as enamored of his suspense tales were it not for Arthur Conan Doyle inventing the Great Detective?
You can argue there might still be detective stories, but I think you have to admit our world would be much different without Holmes. He is a touchstone of logical reasoning, an examplar that careful thought can solve difficult problems and that just because a problems seems insoluble doesn’t mean that a solution cannot be found.
In the same way, can you imagine a world without Star Trek? Would the technology we take for granted exist today were it not for Star Trek inspiring its development? How many people became doctors because of Leonard McCoy? How many people became astronauts because of James T. Kirk? How many believed that a better world might exist because they saw blacks, whites, Asians and aliens working side by side in Starfleet?
But this has nothing to do with why I object to the Star Trek reboot but am not troubled by shows like Sherlock. My objection to the Star Trek reboot is that it removes, at least for the foreseeable future, the Star Trek with which I grew up and enjoyed for 40 years. In Abrams’ reimagined Star Trek, the existence of Jean-Luc Picard and Tom Paris and Kathryn Janeway are very much in doubt. Will those characters still be born after the events of Star Trek XI? Will there be a Dominion War? Will Kirk and Spock save the whales? Will any of this happen after the destruction of Vulcan?
Sure, you can try and say that maybe all those events and people will still happen. But I find that unlikely. The repercussions of that movie make it extremely unlikely the timeline I know will ever exist.
At the heart of my objects is that there is only a single source of Star Trek (apart from fan fiction): CBS/Paramount. They’ve now pitched their tent pole in this new version of the 23rd century and any subsequent movies or television series will probably remain in Abrams’ universe, leaving high and dry my Star Trek, which I left in the 24th century (aside from a little detour to the 22nd century courtesy of Enterprise, and don’t get me started on that).
But nobody owns Sherlock Holmes anymore. He’s public domain and anyone can do with him as they like. They can put him in present day; they can put him in space. They can make him gay or change his sex. But the essential Holmes, the Holmes of Canon, will always return. After a few turns with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman roaming about modern-day London, some ITV, BBC or Sky One or FX or AMC or HBO executive will think it’s about time to resurrect the Holmes of 1895 and we’ll see another production of A Study in Scarlet or The Hound of the Baskervilles. And despite cries of foul from Sherlockians, it will largely be a work based on Canon.
But Abrams and CBS/Paramount have the power to redefine the Canon of Star Trek. And that is to what I object. For the foreseeable future, I will not see a movie or episode that continues in the timeline where Jean-Luc Picard captains the Enterprise E, where Kathryn Janeway has brought Voyager back from the Delta Quadrant or where Benjamin Sisko is sitting cross legged with the Prophets while the Federation struggles to deal with the aftermath of the Dominion War.
My solace is knowing that somewhere Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are awaiting a visitor to 221b Baker Street and where it’s still 1895 and the game is still afoot.