IDW’s Star Trek Planet of the Apes Offers Reflections on Ideology

Science fiction is often referred to as a genre that puts ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. There can be no better example than the Planet of the Apes, where human astronauts swing ahead in time to a future in which humankind’s intelligence has atrophied in the subservience of the now dominate apes. Several books, movies, and television shows later, numerous writers and directors have explored that universe and its placement of humankind into the extraordinary circumstance of de-evolution, which sometimes results in being hunted, or being the subject of a laboratory experiment.

With all that fictional history, IDW and BOOM! Studios under the direction of Scott and David Tipton’s script decide to embark on a mash-up that initially made no sense to me whatsoever: Star Trek meets Planet of the Apes. It sounded like one of the worst SyFy channel movies ever—one produced as well, so far into the future that neither franchise would seem to care anymore about its fate.

But, in the hands of Scott and David, there books actually become an intriguing contemplation on ideology, from the Prime Direction, that foundational philosophy of non-interference so often tested in all incarnations of the Trek universe, to the fundamental principal of apes, that unlike man, “Ape shall never kill ape.” The series subtitle, “The Primate Directive” broadcasts that exploring the prime directive would certainly be a central theme. This romp through an alternative future, which harkens back to all of the iconic images of the 1968 film, is much more cerebral than expected. ST PoA is to some degree a continuation of the plot lines in the TOS “Errand of Mercy” episode that imposed the Organian Peace Treaty, and the TAS episode “The Time Trap,” which dealt with Klingon incursions as well as inter-dimensional travel. Both of the episodes focused on the Klingon Kor as antagonist, as does this five book series.

It is the inter-dimensional travel that makes the canonical Prime Directive so interesting, because ST PoA not only deals with an alternative universe, but an alternative universe in which the Enterprise crew is placed in an alternative future. “Does,” as Doctor McCoy asks in issue #2, “the Prime Directive even apply to parallel universes? Is there precedent for how we should proceed?” Rather than deferring to Starfleet Legal, which they can’t even communicate with, Kirk makes a command decision that the Prime Directive does apply.

But then there are the Klingons who may have already altered the course of the planet’s evolution, finding a loophole in the heavily enforced non-hostility of the Organian Peace Treaty. It seems the omniscient Organians can’t assert themselves across alternative universes.

Once Kirk and crew encounter Colonel Taylor, he immediately asks them to “hand their orders” and get the humans back on track. Living up to ideals is never easy. What Taylor doesn’t realize is that this universe may not be the one he came from originally either. Regardless of who is from which universe, Kirk rather nonchalantly uses the transporter to bring the away team, Taylor and his native girl friend, Nova, to meet Cornelius and Zira. That should count as a violation of the Prime Directive, along with disclosing that there is a ship and more people. They then reveal themselves to Cornelius and Zira, followed by an over-acting tirade about resetting the course of history worthy of Charlton Heston himself.

The blatant disregard for the behaviors that should be associated with the Prime Directive aren’t sloppy writing, they are intentional—they reflect the very human failure to live up to good intentions when combined with the arrogance of superiority and the stress of the moment. We see this today when police or military forces with superior hardware believe that their technical superiority will make up for a disregard of training or discipline. They know better, but because they have the enemy so vastly outgunned, they shirk on proven strategies and tactics. Overrun positions result, by groups with inferior weapons, and worse, positions and weapons seized by the enemy as we see in the Middle East with ISIS running around in U.S. made hardware. Back in ST PoA, the end of issue #2 concludes with Taylor running off with a communicator, which if the prime directive was being observed correctly, shouldn’t even have been known to him.

Interestingly, Kirk appeals to Taylor’s reason, with the Prime Director at the core of his argument. The rather suspicious and paranoid Taylor retorts that “There hasn’t been a moment of sanity since I work up in this madhouse.”

Rules require a framework, agreements and a shared sense of reality. What this series demonstrates is how quickly a sense of reality can deteriorate when people are placed in different circumstances. Be it Taylor first on the Ape run Earth, or him later on the Enterprise—or an American soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq. Even with regular communications and the transportation of huge swaths of culture into the field (an encampment, a starship), being a stranger in a strange land still creates a disconnect between assumptions and convictions that are difficult to reconcile against a real world situation, that is, without becoming an extremist ideologue and crafting your own version of the world far from the reality in which you find yourself.

The books end up at the beginning of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, with Apes in a space ship contemplating how to use the sling-shot effect to travel through time. If they end up where they did the first time, they will, of course, discover a friend in Armando, who was played by Ricardo Montalban in the 1971 movie. That will certainly make potential future versions of this future even more twisty turny.

As noted, the Prime Directive eventually meets the ultimate law of the Apes, that “Ape shall never kill ape.” This time it is the the apes who are left to contemplate the existential implications of potentially violating a sacred principal. The stress of famine leads to the question of laws so precious they leave no survivors behind to follow them. All of these ruminations take place against the backdrop of a Klingon version of “manifest destiny.”

As far-fetched as the combination of Star Trek and Planet of the Apes may appear, its actual incarnation proves to be a good reminder of how our actions so often stray from our ideals, especially when faced with questions of survival, or conflicting priorities. A worthy concept to explore in this or any other universe.

A note on scenario planning: As a scenario planner, regularly exploring uncertainty and the future of our little planet, I have to take my hat off to the riff on “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development,” which sets up a miscalculation moment for Spock. He did not realize that a nuclear holocaust would unleash so many variables, and in a classic of extrapolation error, he assumed that all the bipedal primates still populating the planet were human. It is always refreshing when fundamental truths about fundamental foibles find their way into unexpected places.

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Daniel W. Rasmus is the founder and principal analyst at Serious Insights. He is the author of Listening to the Future, Management by Design and Sketches of Spain and Other Poems. He teaches strategy at Pinchot University and writes columns for GeekWire.

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