Now aged 92, the chances of William Shatner returning to Star Trek in any meaningful sense (beyond, perhaps, some form of voice cameo in Strange New Worlds) are getting slimmer by the day. Aside from Enterprise’s use of archival audio from his time as Captain James T Kirk, the legendary actor’s final adventure in the franchise came with the first TNG movie Generations, three decades ago.
That all nearly changed when the creative team behind Star Trek‘s first prequel series, Enterprise, developed plans for a grand return for Shatner that would have been mind-bendingly brilliant. The first question you’ll undoubtedly have is a simple: ‘How?’, given that Enterprise is set over 100 years prior to TOS in the Star Trek timeline.
In Peter Holmstrom’s book The Center Seat: 55 Years of Trek (via Screen Rant), Manny Coto (executive producer and showrunner on the final season of Enterprise) revealed all. “The idea was it was a Mirror Universe-themed episode,” explained the writer. He continued to share that it would have focused on the evil, older version of the Star Trek captain, here named just Tiberius Kirk.
“The idea was what if Archer and the Enterprise stumbled into this pocket universe and evil Tiberius Kirk was now an older man, but still formidable, and wanted to take control of the Enterprise and escape,” Coto continued. “It was a prison escape. So it would have been evil Kirk, William Shatner, Tiberius, trying to take over the Enterprise with other minions who had been trapped there.”
A prison break? In the Mirror Universe? With William Shatner returning as an Evil Kirk? Sign. Us. Up.
While Shatner’s acting is often unfairly criticized (with disdain aimed at his penchant for the dramatic, and his unique delivery) there’s absolutely no denying that he would have eaten this up. Throughout TOS and his Star Trek movies, Shatner often had to play his Star Trek character through a different lens: as a mob boss in ‘A Piece of the Action’, or just as plain evil in ‘Mirror, Mirror’. He smashed it every single time, delivering something exceptionally fun and memorable.
As for any concerns relating to Kirk and Shatner’s age, all you need to do is look at his performances at the same time as Enterprise for proof that he still had it. In 2004, a year before Enterprise season 4 aired, Shatner won his first Emmy. In the same year as the Star Trek series‘ final season, he won his second. This was only a decade after Generations, he was still at the peak of his powers.
Despite all the vast potential in a showdown between evil Kirk and Captain Archer, the idea was ultimately rejected by Paramount due to Shatner’s financial demands. But, Coto thought there were other (more nefarious) reasons behind the episode never getting off the ground. He believed,”Paramount] wanted [Enterprise] to die” and that Shatner’s epic return was dismissed “because they might’ve saved the series.”
The return of Shatner as Kirk would have undeniably been a huge boost to ratings, and would have reignited interest in the series which had generally dwindled. After the franchise’s return to the small screen with TNG in 1987, the spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager found their own success, but this diminished with Enterprise. The lack of enthusiasm for Enterprise ultimately killed Star Trek’s golden era, and the franchise only returned to TV in 2017 with Discovery.
Coto, who passed away earlier in 2023, might have been right that Shatner could have brought audiences back on board. Either way, Shatner as an evil Kirk now only exists in fans’ imagination, standing as a huge missed opportunity.
For more on Shatner, find out the one question he was asked by Stephen Hawking. Or, see our picks for the best Star Trek starships, and our guide on the greatest way to watch the Star Trek movies in order. If you want something other than Star Trek see what else is new on Paramount Plus, or learn about what’s going on with Avatar 3.