Editor’s Note: This article was first published in September of 2013. It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months…
Worf wants back into your living room. Michael Dorn, the veteran actor who portrayed Star Trek’s most beloved klingon in two series and five films, has been telling fans of his desire to bring the character back to television. Hollywood.com shares Dorn’s belief that Worf has more to give to the galaxy.
Once I started thinking about it, it became obvious to me that I wanted to at least put it out there, which I have, and the response has been pretty amazing. We’ve been contacted by different individuals… about wanting to come on board and be part of this.
I was on a movie not too long ago, where one of the producers was basically lobbying to be part of it. He was like, “Michael, I’d love to write it, if you haven’t.” So, at this point, my agents and my manager are looking at all the avenues and trying to figure out which is the best one.
The itch to bring Trek back to the small screen has Rolling Stone clawing as well. A recent article calls for the re-launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, arguably the most popular and successful series in the franchise. Author Andy Greene explains why the time is right:
With Star Trek Into Darkness hitting DVD this month and a third film in the rebooted series roughly slated for 2016, it’s pretty safe to say the Star Trek movie franchise is in the best shape it’s been in years, possibly all the way back to the days of The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home. Prior to these recent J.J. Abrams movies, there were never even two great Star Trek movies released back-to-back, and Paramount is obviously thrilled by the box office results.
Unfortunately, no Abrams-like figure came around to save the Star Trek TV franchise. It’s been off the air ever since Star Trek: Enterprise got yanked in May of 2005 after just four seasons. Audiences never warmed to Scott Bakula’s Captain Archer, and the idea of a show taking place 100 years before the original Star Trek was better in theory than actual practice.
In the last eight years there hasn’t even been any serious attempts to put Star Trek back on the air, and everyone seems entirely focused on the movies. This is a horrible mistake. At its core, Star Trek is a television series…
Indeed, Trek thrives in its native format. However, Green’s call to revive The Next Generation sinks with the same nostalgic weight that Enterprise did. The fourth and final season of that last Trek series was actually quite good, but hit its pace too late to save the show. Viewers tend not to suffer through three seasons of meh waiting for a cast and crew to get their act together. A new show would have to make it so from the start.
Trek should return to television. The time is right. However, it needs to arrive with a new perspective. It needs to progress. The Next Generation did not succeed by its emulation of the original series. It made its own mark, building on the original’s legacy and advancing in creative new directions.
A new series would signal a new era of Trek – a next, next generation. And would need to set a new tone for a new time. To do that, it would have to go where no Trek has gone before. Here are 7 possible directions.
7) The New Galactic Order
Throughout Star Trek’s history, it has remained stranded in a rut. Each show has centered almost entirely on a single crew in a single ship doing a single thing without much in the way of galactic context.
Deep Space Nine came closest to breaking this tradition by placing its ensemble of characters on a fixed space station rather than a traveling starship. Out of necessity, this pushed writers to develop a more robust setting in which conflicts could be fostered. When you can’t just zip off to the planet-of-the-week, adventure has to find you. That’s likely why Deep Space Nine was the only series which thrust the Federation into war, fertile ground for compelling stories.
A new Trek should push the envelope further, focusing less on the voyages of a particular ship and more on the renaissance of an emergent galactic civilization. The original series was described by creator Gene Roddenberry as a wagon train to the stars. Indeed, Captain Kirk embodied the pioneer spirit of an “Ancient Earth” cowboy riding off into the final frontier. In those days, the Federation looked more like the young American nation, asserting itself with a swagger and moral authority earned through virtuous action. In the Next Generation era, the Federation began to look more like the United Nations, more cumbersome and far less assertive. While Captain Picard remained an explorer, his missions were frequently diplomatic and approached with significant caution compared to the stun-first-and-ask-Spock-later approach of his predecessor.
The next logical stage for a new series would be to tackle the theme of globalization on a galactic scale. Decades since the return of Voyager from the distant Delta Quadrant, with the wide-spread integration of technologies looted from the Borg, the galaxy looks a lot smaller than it once did. Journeys to the four corners of the Milky Way no longer last a lifetime, and the rapidly developing mobility and interconnectivity of First World powers like the Federation accelerate toward inevitable galaxy-spanning conflict.
As a galactic power structure emerges, the Federation must determine its role. Will it turn inward and focus on protecting its own? Or will it assert itself upon the galactic stage? Will it live up to the Prime Directive? Or be driven to embrace new philosophies and methods? Trek has always been a laboratory for exploring current events. Taking a modern direction would make the new series relevant.
6) Paradise Earth
We’ve seen a lot of Starfleet over the years. But what is life like for the average Federation citizen? What does life look like on Earth?
Writing for another publication, I once called out Trek for assuming that humans will behave better in the future just because it’s the future. I wrote:
The closest the fiction comes to explaining how this happens can once again be found in Star Trek: First Contact. The premise of that film is that one of the Federation’s mortal enemies travels back in time to prevent the first contact between humans and aliens, thus unraveling future’s history. It is first contact which inspires humanity to come together, to lay down arms, and to realize that – no matter how different they may be from one another – at least they don’t have pointy ears or forehead ridges.
I went on to cite the franchise’s lack of earthbound scenes as evidence of writers’ inability to convincingly portray the utopia which they constantly told us Earth had become. There’s a rule of thumb in screenwriting which dictates you should avoid telling what you can show. A new Trek should have the moral and creative fortitude to finally unveil this Paradise Earth.
It’s one thing to tell us, as Kirk and his successors frequently did, that Earth is this wonderful place where war, poverty, and bigotry exist no more. It’s quite another to boldly speculate how such a society could actually manifest.
Naturally, I have my own ideas regarding what fosters the best in man. But they don’t really comport with the glimpses offered in Trek’s past. In First Contact, Picard tells an earth-dweller from several centuries past that future Earth has no currency, that people no longer pursue material possessions and simply “work to better themselves and the rest of humanity.” That’s cute, but how does it work?
While the First Contact vision of Trek’s utopian Earth was clearly informed by collectivism, it could be twisted into a more realistic vision of global prosperity. Picard’s reference to currency could refer strictly to state-issued money. Certainly, a future without central banking would be a brighter one. Likewise, working to better yourself and humanity would make a fine definition of productivity, a task which the market requires of each individual.
Despite the intrusion of socialist memes, Trek has generally portrayed the Federation as an entity which values the individual above the collective. That should be portrayed as the open secret of its success, and the cause of its paradise of prosperity.
5) Rise of the Soong
One of Trek’s most fascinating characters was the android Data, portrayed in Next Generation by the supremely talented Brent Spiner. Beginning life as a less verbose C-3PO, Data grew over seven seasons and four films into a remarkably nuanced character with layers of substance and “emotional” depth. Data’s quest to become more human offered a mirror image of his predecessor, the half-vulcan Spock. While Data sought desperately to understand emotions he could never feel, Spock sought desperately to control emotions he did not want. Both characters became more human over the course of their lives, Spock learning to reconcile his two halves, and Data discovering choice as the defining aspect of human nature.
Data gave his life to protect his shipmates in Star Trek: Nemesis. Though the fiction offers unlimited ways in which the character could return, actor Brent Spiner can no longer convincingly portray an ageless android. Besides, it would be crucial for a new Trek series to fully differentiate itself from the Next Generation era by launching a whole new cast of characters.
How about a new android? Better yet, how about an entire race of artificial beings descended from Data’s model? Such a race could be known by the name of their human progenitor, the cyberneticist Noonien Soong.
Several decades since the time of Data, the nation of Soong would consist of advanced androids practically indistinguishable from their biological counterparts. Their physical and emotional sophistication would make them suited to any role in Federation society. There could be a Soong political leader, a Soong captain, a Soong author or artist. Perhaps most compelling of all possibilities would be a Soong ship’s counselor.
Can a machine help a man manage his feelings? How persuasive would a machine which understands every nuance of human behavior be? Would it be able to exert subtle control over those around it? Would it be a threat?
The cultural and political satire writes itself. In The Next Generation, Data’s rights as an individual were called into question on more than one occasion. With a nation of his descendants proliferating the stars, wouldn’t some think to question their right to exist? Might a human rejected for Starfleet Academy in favor of a Soong resent the machine for taking “biological jobs”? The possibilities intrigue.
4) Space: Disease and Danger Wrapped in Darkness and Silence
A new series would do well to acknowledge the truth underlying Dr. McCoy’s paranoia. Like the sea, space should prove ever treacherous. New life should tend toward infectious, and new civilizations should trend toward hostile.
One of the best things to come out of The Next Generation was the Borg, a collective of cybernetic zombies with a relentless drive to consume other civilizations. It wasn’t long after their introduction that the Borg started being taken for granted. Their menace in Star Trek: Voyager or First Contact never paid off as effectively as it did in their earliest appearances. They ended up as more or less just another race of villains, which was disappointing since they began as such a provocative challenge to everything the Federation stood for.
Recall that the Borg were introduced to Captain Picard and his crew by the mischievous godlike Q, who sought to demonstrate that some threats were beyond the Federation’s ability to comprehend, let alone neutralize. It remains fascinating to consider that first encounter, to watch Picard casually hail the Borg cube and try to engage in peaceful rational discourse, knowing in retrospect how futile his resistance truly is.
The great villains defy a hero’s best attributes and turn them into liabilities. In the case of the Borg, their lack of compassion, hesitation, deliberation, or consideration made them wholly invulnerable to all the diplomatic flourish Picard could offer. Their technical superiority enabled them to “carve [the Enterprise] up like a turkey.” There was no standing up to them, no outrunning them, no negotiating with them. In the end, Q proved his point, and the Federation was forced to reconsider its dovish approach to galactic exploration.
A new series should conjure villains of appropriate stature to not only absorb phasers and quantum torpedoes, but induce its heroes to question their most cherished principles. A villain should drive a hero to reevaluate right and wrong.
3) A Vulcan Villain
Vulcan bad guys aren’t entirely unprecedented. Enterprise made some bold moves, coloring the pointy-eared race with moral shades transcending black and white. And who can forget Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, where Spock’s half-brother Sybok hijacked the crew and led them on a pilgrimage to the center of the galaxy?
Of course, Sybok doesn’t really count. He was a madman who rejected his people’s way of life. An emotional vulcan is really just a pointy-eared human, and that’s not particularly interesting.
What if a villain emerged who was not only a logical vulcan, but a supremely logical one, a master of the rigorous Kolinahr discipline who had successfully purged all emotion? What if that supremely logical vulcan perceived a threat to galactic civilization which he calculated could only be thwarted by sacrificing something precious to our heroes?
The video game Star Trek: Legacy presented an intriguing vulcan villain in the form of T’Uerell, a female scientist who challenged every Trek captain – Archer, Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and Janeway – over the course of her long life. T’Uerell became obsessed with what she perceived as the “logical perfection” of the Borg, and allied with them in a quest to impose a new order upon the galaxy.
That’s the thing about logic. Absent accurate knowledge or divorced from empathy, naked logic can inform profound evil.
Most pressing of all, the vulcan physical superiority has gone underrepresented – their speed, strength, and feline agility. We must behold a viciously logical brawler.
2) The Weimar Federation
Though it may not be considered canon, the ongoing Star Trek Online computer game takes place in the decades immediately following the Next Generation era when war has broken out between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The conflict polarizes the known galaxy, drawing lesser powers to take sides in a broad and bloody conflagration.
A new series could take place in the aftermath of this war during a time when the Federation has narrowly escaped utter desolation and secured a fragile peace under questionable terms. Like the Weimar Republic emerging from the First World War, the Federation would be vulnerable to corrupting influences.
Into a void of confidence, a charismatic figure like our previously considered villainous vulcan could emerge as a would-be savior guiding the Federation back to former glory. The wake of a military disaster presents a ripe opportunity for those wishing to fundamentally transform a society. Is the Prime Directive still relevant? Can Starfleet be trusted? Who’s to blame for the carnage which has wrecked the galaxy? Did the humans bring this upon us? Are the Soong automatons secretly controlling the Federation Council? Has the time come to lift up a new power to protect us from the horde of traitors in our midst?
1) … Its Desperate Ongoing Mission…
This final suggestion assumes the implementation of each before it. Facing crises on multiple fronts, weakened political stability, humanitarian disasters, and the growing sense that Earth prospers while most of the Federation endures deep wounds, the governing Council conjures a desperate stunt to rally morale on member worlds.
They turn to a war hero, a man whose name commands respect even among the klingons, whose reputation has taken on flavors of myth. In truth, he has distinguished himself through vicious prosecution of the war, utilizing tactics and strategies which defy both moral sensibility and interstellar law. Many among the Council disapprove of his methods. Some would rather he were court martialed than granted a new commission. However, his popularity among the rank and file make him the perfect poster boy for their public relations campaign.
Declaring victory over the Klingon Empire, Starfleet announces a return to its core mission of deep space exploration. Looking to inspire the populace, they refit and recommission the long mothballed starship Enterprise, hoping its name will evoke glories past. Assigning to its posts a motley crew chosen for their appeal to various worlds rather than their talent or capacity to cooperate, Starfleet orders the Enterprise to survey one of the few remaining uncharted regions of the galaxy.
Of course, were it all to go as planned, that would make for a rather boring show. Things don’t go as planned, and the untested crew of an aging ship must become more than the sum of their parts and inspire Federation worlds to do the same.
That’s it. That’s how to bring Star Trek back to the small screen. If you’re reading, Paramount, I’m happy to help you flesh this out.