One thing that still causes me considerable pain is that prior to JJ Abrams‘ reboot, Star Trek had become a joke, and anyone who dared proclaim their admiration of the show was treated like a pariah and forced to sit miserably at home in their mock uniform-PJ’s boldly going nowhere in particular, horribly alone. Oh, it’s cool now, because the new movie was so bad-ass, and Abrams’ name above the door made the grand old franchise accessible to a much larger general audience, at the same time as almost wiping out everything that came before it in the franchise by establishing a new history, but not so long ago it was all very different.
What has compelled me to write this article is the firm belief that there is still the potential for a Star
Wars Trek TV show to work, and heal the considerable damage done by Enterprise and its notorious and idiotic finale. It’s not just that I really want it (though I do), it’s a simple logical assumption. Look at the success of the newish V, the sparkling Stargate: Universe and highly-anticipated upcomers like Falling Skies: sci-fi is where it is at right now, and Paramount or CBS would be fools to not add a fifth spin-off to the franchise, taking some lessons from the past, and the current crop of successful shows.
There is a certain section of people who will tell you that every film journalist/critic is no more than a failed actor/writer/film-maker, which is why we are always so invested in our own beliefs as to how a film should be made (which is the invisible bench-mark we then compare the actual film against). To be honest, that’s probably exactly how I would describe how I evaluate films, and so to stay true to form rather than try and go out and get my ideas turned into actual movies or shows I’m now going to offer exactly how a Star Trek TV show could succeed in the current TV environment.
1. Don’t make it a reboot
I’m sick to death of the solution to all problems with a franchise being proclaimed as a whole new beginning. Even the most successful of franchises or phases of franchises (I’m talking Nolan’s Batman here obviously) suffer that rather ignominious fate – and don’t doubt that it is a shameful fate, no matter how many people suggest that a reboot is often chosen in order to not infringe on the legacy of former great films. Because at the end of the day to reboot is to replace, and that inevitably damages the preceding films, or in this case TV shows.
So, make it original, but don’t abandon the legacy of former Star Trek series. That way you aren’t faced with the proposition of a show that can’t feature compelling villains like The Borg or technological advances that appeared in the later series. After all, part of the joy of sci-fi is catching a glimpse of what the future might look like- consider this: one of the enduring questions that remains attached to the Back to the Future series is why we aren’t all now scooting about on hover boards. To me, that says something strong about the relationship between sci-fi technological fantasies and our engagement with the genre as a mode of future-gazing.
2. Stop with the “humanity is invincible” philosophy
It’s a well known fact that nobody dies in the Star Trek TV shows. No-one of real note anyway: which of course bred the running joke of the Red Shirts. And this is despite the fact that across five different series we have met countless “main” characters. If you compare that mortality record with other sci-fi or even just general ensemble shows from the past few years the difference is telling. Take Lost for instance, a show in which no character was indispensable, no matter what the star billing, and which crucially valued the impact that death can have as a narrative device.
Star Trek rarely followed such a trend – in some ways the shows always viewed death the same way that prime time soap operas did (i.e. as a way to write characters out when necessary). And when the various casts did feel the Grim Reaper’s icy touch those instances were few and far between. I can count on one hand the character who have died in the TV shows: Tasha Yar in TNG, Jadzia Dax in DSN, Trip in Enterprise – none of them really felt fitting or appropriate.
The way ahead must be to accept the Lost pattern, make every character dispensable and write compelling story arcs that include major deaths. Those moments are what gripping TV shows are made of.
3. Bring back Q
Few characters from the Star Trek universe can claim quite the enduring level of popularity among fans that Q did. Perhaps it was the performance by John de Lancie, a snooty mix of charisma and bile, or the fact that the character is just plain exceptional on paper- but either way episodes involving the sardonic immortal tend to feature heavily in my all-time favourite. He’s also the easiest character to write into any future Star Trek series, given his diety-like-ness, and though Picard was definitely his greatest adversary, there is unbelievable scope (and I’d hope a fair amount of shared clamour) to get Q back on-screen opposite a new captain, given his cruel and somewhat baffling exclusion from the TNG big-screen outings. I mean come on – if Insurrection was somehow deemed a good idea, how the hell did a movie featuring a wrath-wrought and murderous Q not make it to the table?
4. Humanoid is not the only option
Although there was something wonderfully camp and cheerful about the way the original Star Trek simply painted sexy ladies with (hopefully water-based) poster paint and passed them off as alien life-forms, a lot of time has passed since then and sci-fi innovations have dispensed with the need to be so “creative”. So why are 95% of aliens glimpsed in the Star Trek universe bi-ped humanoids (albeit with various colourful “adjustments”)? Surely, human imagination is occasionally able to transcend the limitations imposed upon it by human arrogance? I want bio-tech crawlers; vicious, genuinely threatening beasts, not always fully sentient but still utterly threatening, and I think modern sci-fi audiences are ready for a little proper horror in their Star Trek.
5. Ignore Abrams’ versions
While JJ Abram’s new Star Trek universe has its place and indeed its merits, the idea that it has started an entirely different time-line is not exactly the most beneficial development for a new TV series. Star Trek properties need to accept and pay homage (in some way) to their lineage (which is precisely why Enterprise didn’t work), as I said above at number one.
6. Choose an authentic, appropriate theme song
The very worst thing about Enterprise, and the initial thing that made me lose interest in it was the horrendous theme tune, which was a million miles away from every Star Trek theme that had preceded it- sounding more like a particularly cheesy Christian rock song than something announcing a sci-fi show. I loved how Deep Space Nine and Voyager sounded very in-keeping with the Original Series and particularly Next Generation, even for original compositions: their similarities and the fact that I find it nigh-on impossible to hum all three later themes back-to-back without confusing sequences and creating my own Star Trek Mega-Mix are indicative of their appropriate nature. So, this time around (assuming my advice will be taken on-board – and why wouldn’t it be?!) stick with a similar theme- orchestral and for God’s sake no lyrics. Unless it’s William Shatner’s version of “Rocket Man” of course.
7. Cast clever (and not from another sci-fi)
Chiefly by choosing an actor for the new captain with a certain regal poise: after all, it worked incredibly well with Patrick Stewart. Another of the problems with Enterprise was the casting of Scott Bakula as the captain who had so infamously been the lead in Quantum Leap, which just plain threw my attention. If I had to make a fantasy pick for my new captain I would love to see Terry Quinn pull on a scarlet tunic and kick some alien tail – but then that sort of goes against the not casting from another sci-fi rule. But I did say fantasy…
8. Realise that ‘Gritty’ and ‘Dark’ don’t necessarily mean ‘Good’
Following the good initial reception of Stargate: Universe, V and BSG, it would be easy to assume that the model for modern sci-fi success would be to inject a liberal dose of darkness and grit, and even I am suggesting that a new show would require some blood-thirst above. I’m all for impactful uses of darker sub-plots, but obligatory darkness is not the way to go in all cases. We have to remember that Star Trek is set in a futuristic advanced society in which grimness isn’t really all that fitting – and to take that approach entirely would necessarily also require a Voyager-esque narrative conceit removing the crew and ship away from established society. And I wouldn’t be exactly thrilled about that…
9. Don’t Make It a Tale of Isolation
While I loved Voyager, and admired the bravery of the concept at the time, Stargate: Universe has made such a storyline redundant (since it would be now dismissed as a copy-cat), and Star Trek has already gone that route. And to be honest, at a few points throughout the series, I felt that the marooning of the USS Voyager would have worked better as an extended story-line – a season long at most. If I’m going to get a new Star Trek I want it to be a grand ensemble work, incorporating not just a main cast but a wider one too, including familiar aliens (foes and friends) as well as some new breeds.
10. Stick with the USS Enterprise
When I was a teenager, I had a very dirty habit. I used to lock myself away in my room for hours on end, and get my starship on. More specifically, I used to design variant Enterprises from a time period way beyond the Voyager time-line, incorporating technological advances seen in Voyager and also some presumptive developments of my own imagining. While that is a little disturbing to admit, the crucial fact is that I went back to the Enterprise as the base for my designs, despite the fact that DSN and Voyager had long-since replaced the iconic flag-ship as the shows’ main points of focus. And that’s because the Enterprise is Star Trek – hence the decision (albeit slightly misguided as it was in execution) to commission Enterprise – and what better place to focus the thrust of the narrative than on the fleet’s flag-ship? Flag-ship means best captain, and best crew. Simple as that.
The Enterprise should not be the only ship involved though- Deep Space Nine showed the value of that approach by including my favourite ship of all time, The Defiant (the reason: Worf commanding it in First Contact – “ramming speed”- and the inclusion of a cloaking device). Part of the joy of Star Trek comes in marvelling at the designs of ships and space-stations, and a broader cast of ships allows for even more marvelling, so it’s a winner all round.
Bonus Suggestion: Add Tribbles. Lots of Tribbles.
Does this really need an explanation? No, of course it doesn’t.
And if all else fails, just revert to Singer’s exceptional TV pitch!