So it has been announced that a new Star Trek television series will air in 2017. This marks the end of over a decade without new Trek on TV- the longest period of time since the gap between the Animated Series and the Next generation (14 years). Obviously the news has sent fans spinning with excitement- but also a sense of concern. Most comments coming out are worried it will be set in the same timeline as the Abrams movies. This is admittedly a concern- I am not a big fan of those movies. They do not really feel like Star Trek, just general sci-fi movies with the Trek name. Plus we have a wealth of history to draw on – or hey, even ignore if they chose – in the original time line. The other concern is that the later televised Star Treks weren’t that great.
There was a certain amount of fatigue thanks to nearly 20 years of continuously churning out episodes. There are well over 700 episodes of Star Trek and very few storylines and plots that haven’t been done. The first two seasons of Enterprise didn’t do very well, I believe, in part due to simply trying to do the same as ToS, TNG and Voyager- basically “ship explores” and really, the exploring had been done. We do have a new audience thanks to the Abrams films, but I still don’t think that would be enough to justify more of the same. Plus, late TNG and DS9, as well as the final season of Enterprise still hold up very well and new fans to the series would be advised to check them out.
But in order to flourish, Star Trek needs to try something new. So, here are some suggestions:
There have been several suggestions for shows set in the TNG era, and although they don’t all stand up well, I think Renegades does as a concept. Now there has been a lot of talk about a Captain Worf series because OH MY GOD MICHAEL! LET IT GO! I can think of no worse idea than a Captain Worf show. Admittedly my bias is because I dislike Klingon centric stories and although Michael Dorn is great as Worf, I do not think the character is either strong enough to carry a series nor would such a series offer anything markedly different to what has come before. But Renegades is something different.
For those not in the know, Renegades was a fan film that took several years to come to fruition. It features many existing characters from the television cannon such as Tuvok, Lewis Zimmerman and even an elderly Pavel Chekov. But they are not the focus, they are just supporting characters in a story that follows a team of criminals used to go on dangerous undercover missions- think DCs The Suicide Squad in space.
This is a great idea, it allows for existing cannon to remain and characters to occasionally crop up but tells us a story Star Trek has never told before save for a smattering of episodes where the renegades are usually shown in a negative light. Following this story would allow for a completely different take on an existing franchise, a story Star Trek has never fully embraced because despite his passing in the early 90s Gene Roddenberry’s influence could still be felt right up until the end of Enterprises second season. And Roddenbury reminds me of George Lucas- great initial ideas but really needed someone around to reign him in- after all, he may have given us Star Trek but he also gave us Counsellor Troi and Wesley Crusher.
Renegades would offer a completely new viewing experience, playing up the idea of anti-heroes that are so popular on TV right now- Walter White, Jaime Lannister, Dexter, Hannibal etc – whilst still remaining close to the world of Star Trek. You also wouldn’t need to rely heavily on the existing continuity, even though it would be there in the background. Renegades would also allow for some ambiguity over whether this was the Prime universe or the altered timeline as it wouldn’t heavily rely on either timelines to tell its story. This could be the best possible decision- a show that could easily fit in either timeline and therefore please fans on both sides.
I have always loved Time Travel, sadly Enterprise pretty much screwed this up with it’s Temporal Cold War arc which never really worked. There were numerous problems with it, not least the fact that whoever wrote it had never watched any previous time travel related episodes of Trek as it pretty much ignores everything already set up in regards to what and when time travel is possible. We know time travel is possible within the Federation from the era of TNG yet Enterprise suggests that even 500 years after time travel is not possible for them. This also ignores the fact that by the 29th century Starfleet has branched out in to Time Ships. It is that storyline I think is worthy of picking up.
There are few good time travel shows on TV at the moment. Sure, Fringe had a time travel element but that was not the main thrust of the show. There are a couple of shows where characters from the future have to live in the past but again time travel was only the device to get them to that starting point. 12 Monkeys is probably the most recent and decent time travel show to hit the airwaves but that only travelled between two times. Then of course there is Doctor Who, but it really stands as the big exception.
Another show could easily ride its coat tails and by combining it with Trek create a beautiful hybrid. I would set the show in the 29th century and follow a Federation time ship as it attempts to fix changes in the time line. Think Quantum Leap with a bit more control of the jumps. Again, this premise would enable us to play around with time lines in such a way as to make both the Prime and Altered timelines exist easily side by side in television form. Ever since the Voyager episode “Relativity” where Seven of Nine travels back to various points in Voyagers journey, I have been eager to see more of this time travelling Star Fleet. It is also set far enough in the future that AGAIN it would allow for a blurring of different movie and television universes and the best thing is, it would also be giving us something new.
Sure, there have been a few time travel episodes, but in sci fi terms they barely scratched the surface. And here’s one last bit of beauty for you- the starship Relativity in the future was responsible for protecting the past from changes, well the Star Trek alternate timeline is the biggest change in the shows 50 years history, so a series focused on clearing up the damage caused by that change to the time line would be a wonderful premise- it has built in continuity with both timelines.
There is another option of course- and that’s more of the same. Set the show another couple of generations in the future, maybe 60 years after the end of Voyager and follow a new crew and new ship as they… well, explore strange new worlds. Except I think this is the weakest idea of all. Sure we can see a new future with new ships, new tech, new relationships- maybe Romulans are part of the Federation now they have lost their home planet? An uneasy alliance between Romulan and Klingon would actually be fun to watch and maybe get rid of my Klingon hate. This would probably be something aimed more at new fans brought in thanks to the reboot movies rather than old fans which lets be honest isn’t a bad thing. The youngest generation today will have been very young when Enterprise ended and as it didn’t have the acclaim or popularity of what went before I can’t imagine many people growing up thinking of Enterprise as “their” Trek. As such many people will have been introduced to Star Trek via the new movies.
Although I would like to see continuity from the TV series, I must accept there is a growing fan base out there that has no interest in the cheesy and at times racist portrayals in early TNG, or the badly handled adventures of Voyager. So making a show set after the later TV shows, still in the same universe, but with little connection might work out the best for brining in newer fans. Trek fans are of all ages, but ultimately those who recall the original series aren’t going to be around forever, neither am I. For Star Trek to continue it rally needs to appeal to newer fans and not just the old guard. Enterprise tried too hard to appeal to the old fans by tying it in as tightly as possible to existing series and styles and it was only when it started trying something new with the serialised Xindi storyline that it began to flourish. And that’s one final comment- the new show HAS to be serialised. Episodic format turned Voyager from potentially the best Star Trek ever into a poor mans TNG.
There may be some concern about setting it pre-TOS after the failure of Enterprise. But then Enterprise was just beginning to come in to it’s own. No Star Trek series save the original has been great during it’s first season. Neither TNG nor DS9 became great shows until well into their third years, but the nature of television has changed. A show needs to hit the ground running, there is no space for falling at the first hurdle, you can’t take 22 episodes to find your feet anymore, the show has to be fully formed by the closing credits of the pilot. This is one more reason Enterprise didn’t last, it followed the pattern of what had come before by having a mediocre first two seasons before picking up in the third, but the nature of television and viewing audiences had changed by this point meaning these changes were too little too late.
I cannot imagine today seeing TNG get past its first season, but definitely not its second. So considering Enterprise didn’t get a great shot, maybe another series set before the Original would work? This again would lift it out of the dangerous continuity pit- the bizarre thing about the new movies is that the only series that remains cannon and intact is Enterprise, the worst received series.
There were so many stories not told- we didn’t really see the birth of the Federation, nor did we get a chance to see the Romulan Wars. Although it would risk being too similar to DS9 , having a show focused on the Romulan Wars could be quite wonderful. Or maybe somewhere between TOS and TNG? There are still huge chunks missing from the Star Trek timeline- what happened during these missing decades? So little is alluded to in the shows that a story set 50 years after TOS but 50 before TNG is untested waters and a potential well full of stories yet to be tapped.
Finally we have an idea that could really be the antithesis of Star Trek. Section 31 is a dark undercover MI6 style X-Files like creepy organisation that exists in the Star Trek world. Originally created for DS9 it is also glimpsed in both Enterprise and many of the spin off novels. It would give an entirely new look to Star Trek, and could maybe be tied in to the Renegades storyline.
Several years ago a spoof article did the rounds suggesting a new Star Trek show would follow the Starfleet Security personnel and although it was a red shirt themed joke, actually, that idea has not been touched upon. Because of Roddenberry we like to see Starfleet not as a military organisation but as an explorative one. Yet some of the best storylines have involved throwing these moral characters into murky grey areas. Look at DS9s In the Pale Moonlight to see a truly remarkable tale of heroics and deceit, for the first time giving us a truly complete and realistic human being, not the perfect prude of Picard, but a raw and real human being with the various shades of light and dark in Sisko.
A show following Section 31 could also tap into the revived interest in both the X Files and Twin Peaks with its investigation of surreal mystery. This could be the biggest departure from established Trek as it would show us a murky underside of the pristine cover. And if we can find a way to bring back the deceased Sloan, I am all for it!