Space: The next final frontier …

Two weeks ago I wrote about turning famous Star Trek episodes into the next Star Trek movie. (Which could have included more underrated episodes.)

I also wrote some time ago about a Star Trek series that bridges what’s known as The Original Series and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

I am not the first person to think of doing my own “Star Trek,” though the concept belongs to Paramount Pictures. Facebook has “Star Trek: New Voyages,” which formerly was known as “Phase II,” which was sort of the original version of what became the first Star Trek movie; “Official Star Trek Continues“; and “Star Trek: Renegades,” the latter of which apparently has cast members from two of the TV series.

Independent of the various Star Trek novels — and there may not be, to quote Carl Sagan, “billions and billions” of them, but they’re probably more than you can count — the Star Trek Fan Fiction site has stories from all five TV series, plus crossovers therein. The Fan Fiction website has 5,300 fan-written stories of the original Star Trek, 3,400 stories for “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” 1,500 stories for “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” 8,100 stories for “Star Trek: Voyager,” 4,200 stories for “Star Trek: Enterprise,” and 1,600 stories for what’s labeled as “Star Trek: Other,” a series I don’t recall.

Actually, what you’re about to read would fit into “Star Trek: Other,” though that would be a terrible title. (“Space … the other final frontier …”) There are supposed to be 80 or so years between the first and second Star Treks, and it would be interesting to explore (get it?) what happened in between.

That would require creating a captain who stands out from the other five, of course, in keeping with the traditions of the series. They’ve had an Iowan, they’ve had a Frenchman with a British accent, they’ve had a black man, they’ve had a woman, and they’ve had whatever the first captain of the first Enterprise was supposed to be. They’ve never had (at least on TV) a captain who maybe is a doesn’t-play-well-with-others type, someone who is obviously talented and capable of leading people, but has a cynical and not-entirely-respectful attitude toward his superiors and so is sent away in a starship so they can be rid of him. Maybe he (or she) is the Starfleet Academy graduate voted Most Likely to Lead a Rebellion, or Most Likely to Command a Pirate Ship.

None of the Star Treks have had a Scandinavian captain. (Nor have any of them had a non-human captain, and that seems unlikely to happen given that readers and viewers naturally gravitate toward the lead character). The Vikings did a fair amount of exploring (though arguably more in the Klingon style of exploring), so Star Trek is overdue for a Scandinavian captain. As well as a tall captain, someone tall enough to look Klingons in the eye — the tallest actor to play a captain appears to be Avery Brooks, of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” who is 6-foot-1. (For comparison, William Shatner is allegedly 5–10, as is Patrick Stewart, while Kate Mulgrew is 5–5 and Scott Bakula is 6 feet tall. The only way Shatner is 5–10 is if he’s hung upside down from his feet overnight, or if you’re measuring from the top of his, uh, hair.)

I’ve written before that as far as I’m concerned my template for who a Star Trek captain should be is James T. Kirk. As portrayed by Shatner, Kirk is the captain whose crew would follow him down a black hole without hesitation.

One thing that prompts “Star Trek: Other” is what I believe is a major flaw in most of Star Trek, something that stood out most in “The Next Generation.” Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry fell into the utopian trap of believing that not only would things change in the future, but human nature would change. The characters of Star Trek are idealized people (not surprising given that they are staffing the flagship of their fleet), when the reality is that we flawed humans make mistakes, have always made mistakes, and will always make mistakes, some even with disastrous consequences. We have to consciously choose to do the right thing, every time we have a choice. That ability to make choices not only makes us human; it gives us reasons to get up in the morning.

That is demonstrated by the role of commerce and money in the series, particularly from “The Next Generation” onward. The first series presents such business people as Harcourt Fenton Mudd and Cyrano Jones as shady at best; the second invents a race fed by avarice, the Ferengi. An episode at the end of TNG’s first season includes the grand news that by then we have eliminated need. I won’t be around to see the 24th century, but I think that prediction won’t come true.

Dr. McCoy was portrayed in the first series as a cynic, except that he wasn’t; he was a skeptic, someone who wouldn’t accept the first opinion as settled. That would be a wonderful thing to imagine in a starship captain, particularly when directed not at his own crew, for whom he is responsible, but for those above him. The first book in the Star Trek: New Frontier series has its captain make a speech to his crew in which he emphasizes that their first loyalty should be to each other, not to Starfleet or the Federation. That makes sense because starships are supposed to be so far out in space that a call for help isn’t going to get answered until it’s too late. Perhaps our captain could so dislike Starfleet that he considers resigning, but is kept where he is out of his loyalty to and sense of responsibility for his crew.

An appropriate ship for this series might be, say, the U.S.S. Independence …

… which this is not. Real Trek geeks read a book called the Star Fleet Technical Manual (available in PDF in original and revised versions, in addition to blueprints)which included this depiction of a “dreadnaught,” which obviously has one more engine than the Enterprise and, one assumes, higher maximum speed, as does …

… an improved version from another website, and …

… the Starcruiser, from a later book for Trekkies. (The part that sticks up from the primary hull — on the left for non-Trekkers — is the weapons bridge, from where the photon torpedoes and megaphasers are fired.

Why would Starfleet give its biggest, baddest starship to a rebellious inexperienced captain? The answer is a story line.

As long as I am creating this series, this description sounds right for the captain, which you have, yes, read before:

People like you are generally quick decision makers, organized and efficient. Your personality is charismatic, friendly and energetic, but you take life seriously and can be a little opinionated on your own turf. You’re extremely outspoken when you feel you’re in the right. You have great trouble dealing with people who are dishonest and/or disorderly.

You’re highly productive, realistic and sensible. Somewhat of a traditionalist, you’re distrustful of new and untested ideas, and you’re more than a little blunt telling others how you feel about them, or about whatever other faults you see. When you give a compliment, however, you mean it.

Your primary goal in life is doing the right thing, and being in charge. Your reward is to be appreciated by others and have your opinion respected. You also enjoy having others willingly follow your orders.

If you clicked on the previous link, you’d find out that Myers-Briggs ESTJs are supposedly most like TNG’s Commander Riker. And as it happens, Jonathan Frakes is 6-4.

Riker brings up something missing from the Star Treks: family. You could count on one hand the number of married couples in all five Star Trek series, with fingers left over for the number of children: two. (Those would be Commander Sisko’s son in DS9, and TNG’s Dr. Crusher’s son, Wesley, who to some fans is the Star Trek equivalent of Jar Jar Binks.) Given the fact that people in the early 21st century live to their 80s, it seems unlikely that, for instance, Captain Kirk, who was the youngest captain in Starfleet when he took command of the Enterprise, wouldn’t have living parents, unless they were killed in a deep space accident. (Kirk did have a brother, who looked suspiciously like William Shatner with a mustache, but he died in the last episode of the first season.) Spock’s parents appeared a few times, as did, in an excellent episode of TNG, Riker’s father. So did TNG’s Deanna Troi’s mother, played by Majel Barrett Roddenberry. (Yes, wife of the only Roddenberry you’ve ever heard of.) Picard, the Frenchman with a British accent, had a brother, played by German actor Jeremy Kemp, in one episode.

Obviously when you’re on a five-year mission you won’t be home for Christmas, other than in your dreams. But you’d think there would be some contact, whether by the 24th century equivalent of email or running into a relative going a different direction at a starbase.

Another missing element is a character of advanced (compared with the rest of the cast) age. The original series’ Dr. McCoy was supposed to be 45, about the same age as Mr.  Scott, both of whom 10 years older than Captain Kirk. Imagine, instead, a very young crew led by a young captain who picks the brain of his oldest officer — say, his chief engineer, who of course is required to be Scottish — on how to deal with his youthful crew.

(Two other things you don’t see are clutter or even dirt on a Star Trek ship. That’s how you know it’s fiction, though clutter would quickly rearrange itself after a Klingon disruptor hit upon your ship.)

One potential aspect of a new Star Trek captain came to mind when I wrote about the similarities of one of my two original-series favorite episodes, “Balance of Terror,” and its inspiration, the World War II movie “The Enemy Below.”

The captains of the former’s Starfleet and Romulan ships and the latter’s destroyer and German U-boat have a lot in common because they’re both captains. So it might be an interesting twist for our captain to have a regular rival  on the other side, and that they have a history that predates the series. (The original Star Trek tried to do that with the Klingon captain in “The Trouble with Tribbles,” but actor William Campbell wasn’t available for the next Klingon episode.)

That is about as far as I’ve gotten. You can’t have Star Trek based only on its captain, of course. My lack of imagination made me consider one-appearance characters of early episodes, such as the first pilot’s navigator, Lt. Tyler …

… and Kirk’s friend Gary Mitchell …

… who inconveniently died in the second pilot, then was killed again in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Of course, with CGI you’re not necessarily limited to characters that look like humans with prosthetics. Viewers of the animated Star Trek might remember three-legged Arex and M’Ress …

… and, in an alternative universe, Kirk’s science officer and friend, Thelin the Andorian:

Successful TV series regardless of genre require two ingredients — compelling characters and compelling stories. Some of the aforementioned Star Trek remakes featured stories that didn’t get filmed for some reason. David Gerrold, who wrote the original series’ funniest episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles,” submitted five ideas to Star Trek’s producers. One involved a time-travel experiment that went wrong to where a person was stretched across portions of a second of time; Gerrold’s idea was to duplicate the red-yellow-bloe effect from Natalie Wood’s dance scene in “West Side Story.” (Today’s special effects could do much more, of course.) The other was an episode where the Enterprise came upon a huge ship inside which a multigenerational battle was being fought between halves of the ship, neither side of which was able to defeat the other.

I’m not sure if a better Star Trek is out there, but if it isn’t, it’s not from lack of trying by would-be Gene Roddenberrys.

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