A Small History of Captain Smol that is Absolutely Not Made-Up
"SPACE...the place where our ship goes..."
With those immortal words the USS Bitsington burst onto our TV screens at "warp quickness 5", which is a phrase that everyone definitely uses. But while today 'Stellar Trail' is the world's second longest running SciFi TV series, several movies, an animated series, twice as many spin-offs as was strictly necessary, a breakfast cereal, several more movies, numerous reboots, a line of scented wipes, and no fewer than two 'web-based video game entertainments', for some reason not everyone knows some, like, really basic stuff about it.
In 1965, the series creator had an idea he pitched as "Wagon Train, but based in the American West"; the studio liked the idea, but pointed out that Wagon Train was already based in the American West. "Well shit, put it on the goddamn moon then" he said, and Stellar Trail was born.
An ensemble cast was quickly established, focused around the 'core three' characters:
- Captain Bames T. Smol - the casting notes simply read "American
WagonSpaceship Captain" but in the end the role was filled by a young Canadian actor who one TV critic described as "yes, I suppose 'actor' is technically correct". Captain Bames T. Smol (the 'T' is revealed in S2E30 to stand for 'euphraTes') represents the heart of the Bitsington crew. And also the groin and hair.
- Lieutenant T'Mill - in the sixties, having a female core character who was a super-intelligent and capable scientist was unusual, because in those days feminism was not universally accepted. One studio head explained "Yeah, we assumed that was a joke".
Nonetheless T'Mill quickly became a fan-favourite. Her backstory was that she was a 'Mulkan', a logical and rational species, but had been raised in Yorkshire (Earth). One of the writers had visited Yorkshire (well, York) on vacation and had formed an impression of a proud, vain and warlike people. However, he also got quite a lot wrong, and the Season 1 episode "T'Mill explores her heritage, and it's trouble" never aired.
A studio executive at the time explained: "It was just really racist. I mean, so racist. Even by the standards of the day, by which I mean today, the sixties, the decade that we are currently in. If, by some chance, some future person reads this, they probably won't even know what racism is, but now - which, again, is the sixties - it's a big problem".
For an indication of just how bad that episode was, bear in mind that S2E5 "Begorrah! Here come the Space-Irish!" was broadcast in it's entirety.
- Doctor Leopold 'Biscuits' McVitie - originally, Leopold was written as the ship's cook, but the writers soon tired of having to find excuses for the Captain to discuss interstellar diplomacy with the cook, and so in S1E15 "Soup of our Yesterdays" he was promoted to ship's doctor, a promotion that posed many questions about the star-alliance-fleet's organisational structure. These questions went unanswered.
- Unfortunately, due to limited time for rewrites, Doctor McVitie spends the rest of season 1 making food related jokes that no longer made any sense for his character. For example in S1E17, when the Bitsington scares off a Mingon warship, he says "As a doctor, it looks like he had to cutlet and run!"
Stellar Trail episodes frequently considered the social issues and controversies of the day. The network often fought this on the basis that science fiction had never, and would never, address political issues, and could the writers maybe emulate the apolitical stories of classic SF like 1984, Brave New World or Fahrenheit 541 instead?
The show tackled these issues with a broadly progressive perspective, but while its heart was generally in the right place, the execution was often a little hamfisted. (Coincidentally "a little hamfisted" was how Doctor McVitie described being attacked by a Pigdwarfian in S1E21. This line would probably be written differently today.)
A good example of this is S4E11 "The Planet where Everyone is an Homosexualist and Nobody thinks that's Weird, if you can imagine that". Some (straight) commentators are quick to point out that this episode contained the first gay kiss on network TV. LGBTQ commentators, however, note that since the kiss was between a gay man and a lesbian woman, they're really not sure it should count, especially as it was kind of implying that the gay tribe and the lesbian tribe might start having heterosexual relations, although it would be totally fine if they didn't, but they probably would, although -again, per Smol's stirring speech- it was okay if they stayed homosexual as long as they kept quiet about it.
Many of the writers were a little unhappy with this episode, and in S11E03 the USS Bitsington revisited the Planet of Homosexualists in "BI-te Me!". On the plus side, this episode was much less awkward, more nuanced, and genuinely accepting of homosexuality. On the minus side, it did pretty much state that all bisexual people were deadly space-vampires and a threat to the fabric of society. So, again, a mixed bag.
Okay, there we are. If for some reason you were unaware of this massive cultural phenomena that realistically everyone would have heard of; well now you know.
As Lieutenant T'Mill would say "Live adequately, and for a sufficient time-span!"
The two web-based video game entertainments are:
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