As anyone with any interest in Star Trek knows by now, a new series, Star Trek: Discovery, is in the works. The premiere date has slipped, but it is supposed to debut sometime this year. The premise is supposed to revolve around “an incident and an event in Star Trek history that’s been talked about but never been explored”.
Hmm. Personally, I’m all mixed-up about this. I basically think television is a barren wasteland without a Star Trek series being broadcast somewhere (I pretty much think the same thing about TV with regard to Firefly, which should give you a clue about what I think of TV in general). My first instinct is to welcome the new series with open arms.
The scars of my past viewing history hold me back, though. Full disclosure: I am one of those Trek heretics who thinks that, the original series aside, the televised Star Trek universe reached its peak toward the end of Next Generation and through Deep Space Nine. Next Gen actually got more dramatically effective in the later seasons, and Deep Space Nine was narratively vigorous straight through, although not all episodes were equal. However, the last two Trek series, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise, were mere shadows of the series that had gone before, sometimes feeling as if they were just going through the motions, other times as if they were recycling ideas and themes from previous series that were already well-worn, and often not very well written. For my money, Enterprise, especially, suffered from dwindling narrative power. Voyager, for its part, was often just plain silly, on a Lost in Space level.
In the end, Star Trek became a safe, predictable series of morality tales with pat outcomes. Critics said that the franchise was out of gas. Personally I agreed with them.
However, the universe has now lain fallow on television for eleven years. In that time, TV has evolved. We are in the era of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones. It is also the age of pretty damn good CGI that can do pretty much anything you need it to do. Watching episodes of the previous Trek series nowadays, however good they may be in general, is an exercise in realizing what could have been.
So I have a few hopes for the new series. I will be very interested in seeing if the show-runners have the guts to bring the franchise into the modern world. In no particular order, here are my wishes, both the small and the great–
- Lose the stupid facial makeup that’s supposed denote different alien species. It got positively silly toward the end of Voyager and Enterprise. It’s a relic of the days when guys in rubber suits stomped around smashing model cities. With CGI, we can have whatever alien species we want, without being tied to a humanoid form. Spend a little money and show some creativity.
- For God’s sake, please don’t afflict us with another buxom female crew-member in a skin-tight uniform. Aside from obvious titillation for fan-boys, there just no reason.
- Please, please, please, refrain from holodeck adventures. These seemed to be a particular plague on Next Gen. I tended to turn the TV off when they aired.
- I beg of you, hold off the sort of episode that I personally call a ‘mind-fuck’, where the story turns out to be a dream from an alien probe, or some rogue nanite, or some ancient artifact, blah, blah, blah. Like number 3 above, I think that this kind of episode represents creative failure and/or laziness on the part of the writers.
- Ditto the sort of episode where the characters go through some radical event, usually ending up in an unpleasant future where things are grim and getting worse, but then find a way, by some sort of time-manipulation-bugaloo, to reset things back to normal in the past. A prime example of this kind of thing is “Twilight”, episode 8 of Enterprise’s third season. For me there’s an adjective that describes that sort of episode, basically employing the metaphor of the effluvium of a barnyard fowl.
- Please, somebody give some thought to how space battles would actually be fought with the weapons of the Trek universe. Deep Space Nine, in particular, had totally unbelievable battles, with massed starships meleeing at what in real-life would be point-blank range. With weapons that can reach across tens of thousands of kilometers, having ships going mano-a-mano is ridiculous and devastating to the suspension of disbelief.
- A little actual science-fiction would be nice. Too often Trek episodes have been more about clever techno-puzzles or quasi-profound ruminations on the Prime Directive or just straight-up adventuring. In my opinion, we could use a few more episodes, like “Captive Pursuit” from the first season of Deep Space Nine, or, for that matter, “The Devil in the Dark” from the original series.
- Above all, invest the new series with some real dramatic meat. I don’t necessarily need Star Trek: Discovery to be Game of Thrones in space (The Expanse may have that covered), but playing it safe with characters and story-lines is what helped bury the franchise eleven years ago. I want to see a series with fully developed characters and complex relationships, set in stories that are not mere morality tales. A return to the narrative style of the later series will personally leave me in a very, very grumpy mood. Here’s hoping for better stories.