Star Trek: Discovery - Our hopes and concerns for the future of Star Trek
The 1990's were a great time to be a Star Trek fan. Star Trek: The Next Generation hit its stride creatively, it was joined by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which blossomed into a darker, deeper and more fascinating series and even Star Trek: Voyager had its moments. On top of that we have several films, from the mediocre Star Trek: The Final Frontier to the brilliant Star Trek: First Contact. It's a period in time that I loved. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine soon became my favourite and I have great memories of eagerly buying the next VHS tape as it was released, watching the Dominion War unfold over numerous episodes. I even admit, I brought the Star Trek fact files for a while (about 100 fortnightly issues in total!).
Now I'm in my 30's, I'm not as passionate as I was in my teens, but I still think upon the Star Trek franchise with fond memories. I've replaced my Star Trek: Deep Space Nine VHS tapes with the complete DVD collection and occasionally dip into an episode or two. I really enjoyed catching up on some episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when it was released in shiny HD on Syfy UK a couple of years back, re-watching some classic episodes that I hadn't seen in two decades. I am less enamoured with recent 'reboot' movies. The 2009 Star Trek was surprisingly fun, but I haven't seen the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness since I caught it in the cinema. It had its moments, but - like many - there is a lot I'm not particularly fond of. And I've still got to catch the new movie Star Trek Beyond. I want to see it, and yet, I don't have that same rush of excitement to see it like the 15-year old me did went I went to see Star Trek: First Contact three times.
Part of that reason is that Star Trek at its core, works best on TV. While it has its fair share of action, part of its beauty as a premise, is the science and exploration, the study of what is out there among the stars. Star Trek movies have to hook big audiences and that usually comes hand in hand with plenty of big action moments; now I love Star Wars too, but there is a key difference between the franchises that I think the film, particularly the reboots, have missed. I understand the reason though; cinema audiences don't want to see the USS Enterprise study the effects of a space nebula for an hour (not unless you love Star Trek I: The Motion Picture). And that's why, far more than the latest movie, I am excited to see Star Trek back on my TV screen again.
This week, we finally got plenty of details about the new series Star Trek: Discovery and the news has been met with some mixed reactions, some of which I share. When I heard that Bryan Fuller was appointed as the showrunner I couldn't have been happier; the first two seasons of Hannibal are near perfection and he has proven himself time and time again. As a fan of Star Trek, and more importantly as someone who not only wanted to be a Star Trek writer but contributed in small parts to the latter seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, he has the passion and experience of what it takes to work on a Star Trek TV series.
Even better was the news that it would be set in the prime universe, giving hope that fans might finally get a continuation of the events after the Dominion War and the return of the USS Voyager to the Alpha Quadrant. I was intrigued when we learned that it would be a thirteen episode series, telling one story over the course of the season; it was a first for Star Trek, but one that might work in this modern, golden age of television. After all, Star Trek: Enterprise proved that the franchise had hit saturation point and failed to learn from the mistakes of its predecessors. It only started to deliver on its prequel premise when it entered its fourth and final series, being content to be largely more of the what had come before in its first two years. The new Star Trek series has to, needs to prove that it can be relevant again - and I think it can - and the serialised nature of the new show could do that.
But then came the first look at the new ship and some fans were troubled. It was an ugly ship for a start, and far cry from the USS Enterprise A, E or USS Voyager. It also suggested that the show was going back to an earlier point in the prime timeline, something Fuller confirmed where he said it would be set 10 years prior to the original series. And that's why I start to have some doubts. Star Trek is about progression, looking forward, so to set the series in the franchise's past seems like another step backwards. After all, the film reboots were also a prequel and the last TV show, Star Trek: Enterprise was a prequel that found itself often marred by the restrictions of Star Trek continuity.
While the franchise is vast and rich with untapped potential, there are already restrictions Fuller has imposed on himself, restrictions that Star Trek: Enterprise suffered from. If he introduces new aliens, you immediately have to ask where were they in the Star Trek: The Next Generation era? (See Sulibans). We have a basic idea of what the next 100 years would bring to the Federation, so Star Trek: Discovery will have to work hard to balance original storytelling without contradicting what comes after. He even has to ensure the look and feel of the original series era needs to be adhered to. Plus - and this is a little grumble of mine - you can't have any cameos from veteran characters that a series post Star Trek: Voyager would allowed. That being said, moving ahead with a fresh take on Star Trek also means that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
But while I have concerns, I also have to remember that we've only had tidbits on information. Fuller has since said that the ship he showed us was a work in progress so it might look 'prettier' come the final air date. He also has a clear plan in mind for the setting of the series, referring mysteriously to an incident that took place in Star Trek lore that has been mentioned but never seen (start your Star Trek wiki investigation and pondering now!). And as a thirteen-episode series with one story running throughout, it is already a marked departure from the standard set up of visiting a new planet each week.
Plus Bryan Fuller is running the show and that gives me hope. What's more, we have veteran Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan writer Nicholas Meyer involved, which has been met with almost universal praise. It's too early to get a true idea of what Star Trek: Discovery is about and what it will look like - it doesn't even have a confirmed cast yet for the seven lead characters, including the female lieutenant commander; again it's noticeable that not focusing on the ship's captain is another intriguing deviation from the standard Star Trek model.
What's more, this could just be the beginning. I don't think anyone is expecting a saturation of Star Trek on TV and film that we saw in the 90s, with 52 episodes and occasionally a film each year. And perhaps those anthology rumours have some merit. You only have to look at the Marvel / Netflix model to consider what the CBS streaming in the US (and Netflix airing here in the UK) might mean for TV Star Trek. It is quite possible that we could see a second series - perhaps with the post Star Trek: Voyager setting fans have really been hoping for. After all, a return to the prime universe gives us all hope. Perhaps even that Captain Riker and the USS Titan or Captain Worf TV show that Jonathan Frakes and Michael Dorn have bandied about. Probably not though...
Simply put, Star Trek: Discovery is a very interesting experiment to see if Star Trek can work again on the small screen (and I have every faith it will). The current movie franchise with big stars Chris Pine and Zoe Salanda, won't stick around forever (could the fourth movie with the rebooted Enterprise cast be the last?) and then the franchise will need to look elsewhere if it is going to survive. The new show can be the first steps towards Star Trek recapturing its glory days, something that is sadly missing in its 50th anniversary year.
So while I, like many fans, question the decision to set the new series in the middle of Star Trek continuity (and so so close to the original series as that), I also have faith. There are some bloody good people involved in the making of this TV series and there will be great pressure to make it work. Failure really isn't an option for the franchise.
But hey, I'm just one fan. What do you think? Are you excited for Star Trek: Discovery and the future of the franchise? Or has it has its heydey? Please let us know in the comments below...