Out of character?

If you’re a fan of science fiction – and unless you’ve been living on another planet (without galactic wifi) – you’ve probably heard about the story / non-story about Mr Sulu in the rebooted Star Trek film series.
But just in case, it goes like this:
– Star Trek Beyond, the new film, will portray Mr Sulu as a gay parent who’s in a relationship.
– George Takei, who played Mr Sulu in the original TV series and films, and who is gay and married, has called the character development unfortunate.
– Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the script, as well as playing Scotty in the reboot films, is said to have written this development of Mr Sulu’s characterisation as a tribute to George Takei*, who is a prominent LGBT activist.

The question being asked is whether this change is right for this character?
When a character is well-written readers and viewers make an emotional and psychological investment. Rightly or wrongly, they have set ideas about what is and is not acceptable, based upon the parameters the writer has set in place and the audience’s own expectations of the genre and plot, and their own projections. In a sense, as a writer it’s exactly what you hope for – that like Pinocchio your characters come to life.
One of my early reviews for Standpoint said that the protagonist, Thomas Bladen, was way too sissified and that the hero had the potential of being a strong character, but sissy traits just didn’t fit the story line. I’d love to know what she thought about Thomas in the subsequent books but I think that ship has sailed. 
Any feedback about characters is useful for a writer – even in the development stage – because it shows that people are paying attention. A good friend of mine suggested Ajit might be more interesting as a Muslim character, rather than a Hindu. However, I chose Ajit’s name deliberately because it means ‘unconquered’ in Sanskrit, as a nod to his essentially moral nature and in contrast to Thomas’s ambiguous view of life. In Thomas I wanted a protagonist with his own moral compass that might not always chime with the rest of the world. (And let’s face it, who needs a chiming compass?)

As a complete aside, there’s a story behind most of the names in the series, but I’ll save that for another blog post!
When a character crosses a boundary, whether it’s cultural or ethical, or some other line in the sand, it changes them. Sometimes there are valid reasons for it – character progression, a response to a threat or opportunity, or even as an illustration of how much they have lost their way. Sometimes we’ve simply come to know them better.
One of the criticisms (or delights, depending upon your preference) of the James Bond films was the lack of continuity. Each film seemed to end with an invisible reset button. The Daniel Craig era has changed that now, perhaps influenced by the Jason Bourne series.

When I set out to write Thomas Bladen I knew from the beginning that he had more in common with Harry Palmer than James Bond or Jason Bourne (I enjoy all three by the way). As writers we have to know our characters intimately so that we can write confidently about them. In a sense, the character that the readers encounter is partly their own creation too.


For Thomas Bladen surveillance has always been a way of life.

Find out more about the Spy Chaser series here:

Coming soon (once I get through the edit!)….


He lifted the envelope from his pocket and felt along the wax seal. It yielded, revealing a plain business card with one word, handwritten in capitals: CHARLEMAGNE.


Thomas Bladen always knew that his surveillance partner, Karl McNeill, kept secrets. What he didn’t know was where they would lead. 


* I seem to recall that George Takei made an appearance at Redruth Library, which I unfortunately missed. 


  1. Sulu as a gay parent? Why not? I understand that the sexuality of the original was straight–BECAUSE IT ALWAYS WAS PRESUMED SO IN THE SIXTIES.

    When someone reboots an IP, I expect that it will be different and in keeping with the times. Otherwise, why bother with the remake? Just watch the old version if you want everything the same.

    I didn't always think this way. I bristled at every nuanced change of expression of my sacrosanct favorite characters. But times change. Different writers and directors see things differently–and well they should.

    When Starbuck was changed to a female role in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, you'd think someone had killed a puppy. But it turned out to be one of the best character reimaginings ever. I think we all need to get over ourselves and allow tributes to take their course.

    Unless it's Beatles music, of course.

  2. I think you've made a reasoned argument for progress and I applaud that. Assumption is tricky though, as well as ownership. I suppose I should have mentioned the new Ghostbusters film (different characters, same concept!), which I'm looking forward to. But the music of the Beatles – that's a line that was rarely crossed successfully (I.e. Made a better version) in my opinion. I can;t think of one offhand, but I'm open to persuasion. Marmalade did their best though…

  3. I love character names with internal meaning. Although I tend to think of names as abstract concepts, I nurture hidden glee when they form an image or feeling as I write.

  4. Indeed. Some come fully formed and some names have to be wrestled with, or refined from ore. Thomas and Miranda arrived on their own and those name meanings – doubter and 'the admired' speak for themselves.

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