Star Trek is like Cthulhu: too massive to die, its tentacles twined through our cultural psyche even when asleep. A television reboot is inevitable, and already underway in zippy cinematic form.
That being said, a Star Trek television reboot still feels premature. Enterprise is only five years gone and Simon Pegg has only begun to develop a proper Montgomery Scott whiskey belly.
So I found it surprising that this recent article by Andrew Belonsky at Death + Taxes, “The Case for a New Star Trek Series,” struck such a chord.
In his article, Belonsky blueskys the most likely seeming Star Trek reboot, a show that starts near the end of Voyager:
...this new fantasy Trek can take place around the time of last chronological installment, Star Trek: Voyager, which ended in 2378, only 8 television years after Next Generation. According to my data, Captain, some kind of Cold War has been brewing, a perfect way to slip in the intergalactic political angle. Patrick Stewart could even make a return as Picard to add some street cred and gravitas...
Belonsky makes the case that Star Trek doesn’t need to ditch the often heartless and tech-focused latter years of the Star Trek canon, it just needs to be SMARTER. Especially in a post-Battlestar Galactica, post-Firefly TV landscape. The rose-colored glasses need to come off, he argues:
A new series would need to address timely, relevant questions. How does the Utopia-esque Federation of Planets incorporate its globes and colonies? How do you balance innate cultures with the Federation’s lofty ideals? “Star Trek is all about finding new cultures and, when possible, adding them to the Federation,” wondered my friend Teelin. “In the stories it always is a good thing, but in reality whenever that happens we force religion and bring smallpox.” The Federation would become the European Union of a fictionalized future.
In this, I wholeheartedly agree. With a universe as rich as Star Trek’s there’s no excuse to not explore the realistic machinations, or consequences, of a body of government like the Federation. Deep Space 9 took a valiant stab at this throughout its run, often resulting in some of its most compelling episodes.
However, the Star Trek franchise is a heavy, heavy beast. There are decades worth of material behind it and a stodginess in atmosphere and character development that has always proven difficult to shake. Voyager’s attempts to shake it resulted in increasingly action-oriented stories that sacrificed meaningful character development. (Janeway basically committed genocide in the final episode so she could tweak an already favorable outcome. Yay?) Enterprise started promisingly but couldn’t get our from under the weight of its own silliness. (“It’s been a loooong road...”)
In my opinion, the Star Trek series needs to hush its backstory and ditch the stodginess in order to appear re-energized. The 2009 Star Trek film did this quite handily, but sacrificed a gravitas that was one of the shows greatest features. Namely, the opportunity to tackle The Big Questions.
Is a reboot impossible, then? Surely we can’t have this cake and eat it, too? If only there were some other classic science fiction television show that had recently managed to successfully reboot itself, shelving its massive continuity without nullifying it, introducing youth, humor, and vibrancy to its main character, and providing dramatic emotional arcs all with one simple, stunning concept.
Geez, it’s right on the tip of my brain. WHO could I possibly be thinking of?
Star Trek needs to steal a page from the Doctor Who book. (For those unaware, Doctor Who returned in 2005 after a 20 year absence. With only a couple sentences, we learn that there has been some sort of Time War and that the Doctor's people, the all-powerful TimeLords, were gone. This gave the Doctor an overall emotional arc which he had never had to play before, and allowed the slow re-introduction of elements from the classic episodes, revamped wherever necessary. This allowed the show to strike out on its own, while still taking advantage of the riches from four previous decades of storytelling.
With that in mind, here’s my pitch:
Start a series with the Federation gone (or far, far offscreen). We don’t know the year. We don’t know what happened. We just know that things kind of suck now. A Firefly in-the-outer-rim level of suck. People are coarse, deadly, dirty, occasionally hilarious, but very very real. They have few ideals beyond the next meal.
Our story begins with a freight salvager watching a handheld holo-recording of Captain Picard giving a stirring speech about the struggle humanity underwent to conquer its own dark nature and embody its ultimate nobility, and the centuries-old galactic society that stands as a result. What is this “Federation”? It sounds too good to be true. Surely this is fiction, and everyone our salvager shows the recording to agrees. This is pie in the sky nonsense. Get back to work.
So he/she does and then, during a routine salvage, a certain starship is discovered...
The ideal is real. Humanity is capable of being better. They just need to discover how.
As they voyage out, we piece together the mystery of what happened to the Federation. We get to see all of our old favorites, Klingons, Romulans, Vulcans, Cardassians, Ferengi, through new eyes. Do we find Earth? Is it still there? What’s happened to it specifically? Was there a war? A galaxy-wide famine? Did subspace break down? Did it the Federation just fragment over time? What could possibly take this great society down? Through these rough and tumble characters, we play with huge, society-level concepts. We can re-introduce religious drama, or economic hardships, or anything that mirrors the struggles that we, the viewers, go through on a daily basis.
I realize this idea combines some of the best elements from Doctor Who, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Andromeda, and then some. But really, shouldn’t Star Trek be the gold standard of televised science fiction?
LOLDoctor image from LiveJournal user orange_crushed
Chris Greenland would like to see Riker use his trademark oogie smirk on Boba Fett.