Will it boldly go… or brashly follow?
So there’s a new Star Trek tv series in the pipeline. Fingers crossed it will provide me with a new mission once I’ve completed my own trek through every tv episode and film in the (almost) 50 year old franchise.
Logic dictates that the new series will exist in the Abrams-verse, so I guess there’ll be lens-flare, odd lighting and lots of action. But I think this might be forgetting what makes the best Star Trek great.
In its 725 episodes and 12 films, the quality of Star Trek undoubtedly varies. For every Darmok, there’s a Rivals. The really good Trek comes when the show pushes its boundaries. Deep Space 9 got good when it embraced its setting on the frontier of the Federation, politically and geographically. The Next Generation was (mostly) brilliant when it brought Captain Picard and his crew into moral, philosophical or ethical dilemmas. Even Voyager and Enterprise succeeded when their crews were faced with adversity and no nearby starbase to support them.
A good return to television for Star Trek would be a return in a form that moves the story forward, and lets the series go on exploring the questions that it has spent the last half-century exploring. A simple voyage in less than ideal situations is just a recipe for recycling Enterprise scripts, that were recycled from Voyager, and before Voyager, TNG, and maybe before that TOS or Phase II.
It is rare to find positive, but not utopian, sci-fi, which takes today’s issues and addresses them in the abstract of our future. Dystopia is easy, and while the challenge of portraying a positive future probably lies behind many of the cheesier and weaker elements of the show, a hopeful picture is at the heart of Trek. Of course an optimism about what is to come does not need to stand in the way of interesting and driving conflict; the Maqis, the Dominion War and Species 8472, to name only some, proved that.
Action is as exciting as dystopia is easy. I thought that Into Darkness, while fun to watch, proved, in its non-Trek atmosphere, that both of those elements are peripheral to what the franchise really means. So will a new tv series resist the temptation to put an action show in space, and stay true to the exploration of human nature, relations and thought that marks the best of Star Trek?
There are many potential ways for the new series to develop in a new direction. It probably won’t involve changing the format of the series too radically. I’d love an anthology series structure, as many have suggested, that could explore different characters in real depth, but it is probably unlikely. My appreciation of the Garak character from DS9, and the motivation of the Cardassians, increased greatly after reading ‘A Stitch in Time‘ by the actor, Andrew Robinson, who played the character. Episodes or arcs that expanded particular characters were also some of the highlights from previous series. Following some of the story-lines initiated in Star Trek Online could also produce interesting episodes. Ultimately, short of a temporal distortion, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. No doubt a social media strategy will ensure morsels of information drip out between now and January 2017.