Friday, September 22, 2006

Other Things I Do Sometimes: Star Trek

I admit it: I'm a Trekker. I immensely enjoyed The Next Generation, I liked Deep Space Nine, Voyager had its moments, and there were even some episodes of Enterprise that I liked. When I started looking back on the episodes of the original series, I found that some of those were excellent, as well.

One thing that Star Trek fans have in common, is that we come up with our own stories. Usually all that means is, when we find ourselves with fellow fans, we tell each other, "It would be a really cool episode if …"

I've done that too, but in this post I think more grandly: I'm creating my own Star Trek series. My caveat is that I wouldn't put the current crop of folks in charge of the series; I agree with what seems to be general Net sentiment that the current folks are the ones that have driven Star Trek to the point where even its fans have said, "Maybe it's time to take a break."

I have two series ideas, which I've had for some time. When someone encouraged me to "send it in" to Paramount, I scoffed: As if Paramount is really going to listen to some yo-yo from Michigan as to what their next series should be. Nonetheless, I think both of these, particularly the first, are actually good ideas, and so I decided to write them up for three reasons. First, if I ever do "send them in" to Paramount, writing them up would be a first step. Second, it puts my ideas "out there" so that maybe I don't have to even send them in; maybe someone will bring them to Paramount's attention for me. And third, it gives me priority (in the sense they mean in science and, presumably, copyright law) in case these ideas are ever used: This article is dated.

I've turned comments on for this entry so you can tell me how brilliant I am, ermm, I mean, so that fellow Trekkers can critique my ideas.

The Worlds of Star Trek

The concept here is very simple, and so this will probably be the shorter of the two write-ups.

The idea is this: An anthology series, with no continuing cast, set all over the Star Trek universe, and mostly fan-written.

The setting (or lack of a setting) would let the series tell stories that could never be told in the context of a "standard" series. You could put a Federation ship in a hopeless situation and actually see them lose. You could do an episode on a Klingon ship, showing how the Klingons would handle the sort of "subspace anomaly" that the Enterprise is always running into. Handled correctly, you could do an episode where the Federation are the bad guys.

You could also fill in some of the blanks in the history of the Star Trek universe. Actual history from the 1960s to the 2000s has progressed quite differently from how it was presented in the original Star Trek. You could explain why. Why did Worf's son age from infancy to nearly twenty, in less than ten years? Whatever happened to the clone of Kahless, who was to become the figurehead emperor of the Klingons? How does the Federation come to patrol Time as well as Space, as several episodes allude happens sometime in Star Trek's future? Whatever happened to the mobster planet that Kirk went to, or any of the other zillion planets where the coming of the Enterprise (or Voyager, or Defiant, or whatever) was world-changing? There are enough of these minor mysteries in Star Trek's history to keep a series going for years, even without any episodes along the lines of my above paragraph.

The lack of a continuing cast would also make it very difficult to tell the type of stories that the fans have always hated. I refer to it as "a very special X episode," where X is one of the characters who has a difficult decision to make, or learns to cope with something, or finds out she's stronger than she thinks. That's the sort of crap that makes me uninterested in literary fiction, and I don't want to see it in my science fiction, either. If I wanted that crap, I'd watch the Lifetime channel.

However, there is a type of story in this vein which the fans will want to see, and will probably be sending in a bunch of them: Young-Kirk and young-Picard stories. In fact, the series might even put actors on retainer for those two roles, because they'll probably be playing young Kirk, Picard, Spock, and others, at least once a year. And, to the extent that the cast is available, we might see episodes about existing characters in their proper timeframe. (I was disappointed with the concept of Wesley-Crusher-as-demigod, but now that it's been a few years, I'd like to know how he's getting on.)

Although the cast would be pretty cheap, special effects might actually be more expensive than a "typical" Trek series, because there would be so few "very special episodes" with low FX budgets. And, there's no way around it, the series would spend a lot on sets. Ways to cheat this have been suggested to me, but, for example, every class of Federation ship seems to have a wildly different bridge configuration, and even different ships in the same class are usually slightly different. And even an episode that didn't take place on a ship would need planetary sets, and it'd be harder to redress what you used for the last episode, with those.

It's considered settled that whatever airs is canonical, meaning it "really" happened within the Star Trek universe. Stories that appear in books, or magazines, or on audiotape, and even the 1970s Star Trek cartoon series, are not considered canonical: They "didn't happen." (If I could, I would pick and choose among those stories and add them to the canon, because some of those are (a) great stories and (b) don't conflict with existing canon. But that's neither here nor there.) A series which ranges widely in time and space within the Star Trek universe, will need to pay a lot of attention to canon. First, it will have to ensure that its episodes don't conflict with existing canon. Second, its own canon will have to be wedged into the appropriate spaces within the existing canon. Because of this, I recommend that Michael Okuda (who wrote this book and others along the same lines) be retained as "continuity producer" for the show, as "Defender of the Canon."

A side benefit of "The Worlds of Star Trek" is that a story might show so much promise that some time after it airs, Paramount decides to base a new series around it. You might thus look at the series as twenty-six pilot episodes a year for potential new series.

Along the same lines, there should be nothing preventing characters or settings from recurring; if Captain MacGillicuddy turns out to be an interesting character, and another script comes in that has him doing something else that's interesting, then by all means, make another episode with Captain MacGillicuddy. But I'd recommend against going to the same well too often; more than two or three Captain MacGillicuddy episodes a year would be too much.

If this actually were to happen, I'd like to be the "created by" in the credits, and I'd like to be on the writing staff with a made-up producer's title: Something like "contributing producer." I actually figure most of the writing staff's job is to read through submitted scripts and polish the good ones, but there's nothing that says they won't have good ideas, too.

Star Trek: Enterprise

Yes, I know the title is taken. But this is the name I gave my series when I first came up with the idea, before anyone had heard of Captain Archer. I'm sticking with the title, although if this were ever to air, obviously it'd need a new title.

Another fifty years have passed, beyond the "Next Generation" era that includes Deep Space Nine and Voyager. The chief new invention that we see in that time is what I call "Warp 13" technology, because in several "future" episodes of TNG and DS9, the future ships could move at Warp 13. (Warp 10 is set forth in TNG as the theoretical and unreachable maximum, being essentially infinite speed. So, obviously there's been an upgrade in technology that puts Warp 13 on the new scale.)

We recast all of the races we know as existing within one spiral arm of the galaxy, which is why the stars are so reachable even at "only" several times the speed of light. However, for the first time, Warp 13 technology makes the neighboring spiral arms reachable in a reasonable amount of time. We find that they're occupied by, respectively, the Snerg and the Blerg, which are two names I made up that can be improved on vastly. One of the races is technologically ahead of the races we're familiar with, and the other is tactically ahead. (By the latter, I mainly mean that their combat tactics are difficult for the Alpha Quadrant races to, well, combat; I imagine a whole bunch of little ships fighting the Alpha Quadrant's big ships, and being like a swarm of stinging insects, metaphorically.)

Against these threats, the races we're familiar with form a new Alliance, into which the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardassians, and so on, subsume themselves. In the pilot, Spock, now ancient, is on hand for the symbolic re-unification of Vulcan and Romulus, although on terms other than those he would have chosen. Of course, he dies in the pilot episode.

Part of the Federation's contribution to the new Alliance is its flagship, the new U.S.S. Enterprise. The new Enterprise, NCC-1701-H, looks very different from earlier Enterprises, in that it has two saucer sections, one above and one below the warp section. These detach for battle, in an attempt to increase the tactical usefulness of the ship(s). The saucer sections (NCC-1701-Hα and NCC-1701-Hβ) are capable of impulse power, but need the warp section for interstellar travel. (Sometime during the series, one of the saucers is destroyed in combat, and replaced by the NCC-1701-Hγ.) The main bridge is in the warp section, under the Captain's command, while the saucers are commanded by the first and second officers (both of Commander rank). The Captain maintains command of the overall "fleet."

Although the roles of characters on the new Enterprise are familiar to us, their racial makeup would look odd to us from the perspective of someone who has watched previous shows, being a mix of former enemies of the Federation. The Captain, for the first time on a Star Trek show, is nonhuman. (He might be Romulan or Cardassian, but I tend to favor an Andorian; it should be a Federation race.)

Although this is a "traditional" Trek show, its tone should be darker. During the first season the Alliance should be moving closer and closer to a war it is convinced it will lose. When hostilities begin in the first season's finale, it should be clear that the Alliance is seriously up against the wall. The Alliance should be on the defensive for much of the second and third seasons, although by the end of the third season they're able to at least fight to a draw. Only in the fifth season does the tide begin to turn in the Alliance's favor, and then in the seventh season we can explore the Alliance's role as conquerors.

Throughout, we have arc shows that fill in the above, and one-shot shows that are more like the Trek shows we've seen—"subspace anomalies" and the usual. In my mind they break about 50/50 most of the time. However, it is important that the one-shot shows not be seen as frivolous; we should never wonder, "Why are they wasting their time with this, with a war on?"

One part of the darker tone of my Star Trek: Enterprise is that the various races aboard the new Enterprise don't always work together well, and probably some don't even like each other. Thus, we are free to explore conflict between the characters on our Enterprise as we were never able to before now. From a production standpoint, these episodes might save on our FX budget, but from a fan's standpoint, these might also be the episodes that they like the least.

If this series were really to happen, I'd want "created by" credit, but I'd be less interested in being part of the writing staff—although I would still like to hang out in Star Trek-land, and maybe I'd want to join the writing staff after all.


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