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Sep 8 2012 10:00am

To Boldly Go…In a Different Direction! 5 Turning Points in Star Trek History

To Boldly Go…In a Different Direction! 5 Turning Points in Star Trek History

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the first airing of a little television show called Star Trek. On this day in 1966, viewers first glimpsed Kirk, Spock, Bones, the Enterprise and an array of bright, color-coded costumes. And though it’s hard to imagine the landscape of science fiction storytelling without Star Trek, the series easily could have turned into something very different from the phenomenon we all recognize today. Here are five big turning points that could have resulted in five alternate realities of Star Trek history.

 

To Boldly Go…In a Different Direction! 5 Turning Points in Star Trek History

5.) “The Cage” is approved; Captain Pike leads a mostly white Enterprise

When we think of classic Star Trek today, we’re quick to praise its groundbreaking racial diversity. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a fan of the show and famously urged Nichelle Nichols to remain on the program. But the first pilot episode Trek-creator Gene Rodenberry sent to NBC was not the rainbow coalition the Starship Enterprise eventually housed. Instead, “The Cage” featured a mostly white crew, with a much grumpier captain than Jim Kirk: Jeffrey Hunter’s Captain Christopher Pike. Sure, Majel Barrett played the ship’s female first officer, but beyond that the cast looked a lot like the crew in Forbidden Planet: white-bread boys with crew cuts.

Supposedly, the network execs passed on “The Cage” because it was “too cerebral,” and a more fun (and diverse) Star Trek was born. But what if it hadn’t been that way? In terms of story and conceptual science fiction, “The Cage” is awesome, but the aesthetic of this version of the Enterprise just isn’t as welcoming as what it would become. Even “Where No Man Has Gone Before” has similar problems, and it’s not until Uhura and Sulu show up and the crew are in their proper outfits that Star Trek feels right. So, there’s a chance that NBC was right for the wrong reasons. Star Trek may not have caught on with 60’s culture and beyond if it had looked like Jeffery Hunter. But when Star Trek looked like William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols, things got sexy.

 

To Boldly Go…In a Different Direction! 5 Turning Points in Star Trek History

4.) The Next Generation never hires Ronald D. Moore

There are a lot of influential writers and producers from the “contemporary” era of Star Trek, but Ronald D. Moore might be the most important. Famously, The Next Generation actually had a unusual open submission policy for scripts. (Seriously, can you imagine if Doctor Who had that now?) In 1989, Moore sold a script called “The Bonding” and within a year was hired as a staff writer. From this point on his influence on Star Trek would be considerable: not only was he a huge presence in the TNG writers room, he co-wrote 27 episodes, including the finale, “All Good Things.” He also wrote Star Trek: Generations AND Star Trek: First Contact, was in charge of the Deep Space Nine writers room from its 3rd season to its 5th season, and briefly wrote for Voyager. What was Moore’s impact on Star Trek? Well, despite being a huge Trek fan, Moore disagreed with the Roddenberry directive involving Starfleet people NOT being allowed to bicker with each other. In short, Moore is a big believer in character conflict driving a story.

To get around the constraints of Starfleet characters not being allowed to have a lot of arguements with each other, Ron Moore found ways of having alien (non-Starfleet) characters in conflict with human ones. A lot of this can been seen on Deep Space Nine, and in terms of preserving Star Trek as a serious drama, this sensibility was absolutely essential. From the TNG episode “Family” to the DS9 episode “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges,” Moore’s scripts tackled some serious, almost kitchen sink-style theatrical realism.

These days, Ron Moore is probably even better known for being the mastermind behind the Battlestar Galatica relaunch. But if Star Trek had never hired him, it might have lost some of its soul, and the entire landscape of TV science fiction would be vastly different. In short, not only would you have a less cool DS9, you might have never had Battlestar Galactica at all!

 
To Boldly Go…In a Different Direction! 5 Turning Points in Star Trek History

3.) Star Trek: Phase II TV show happens, Star Trek movies don’t

Though it was canceled in 1969, the syndication of Star Trek in the 70’s truly created the enduring widespread popularity of the show. As such, Paramount was totally excited about creating a new Star Trek TV show called Star Trek: Phase II. Now, this is where things just get insane: Leonard Nimoy was not going to appear in this version of Star Trek, and instead a full-blooded Vulcan named Xon (David Gautreaux, who later played an unnamed Starfleet officer in The Motion Picture) was to be the Spock replacement. The bald Deltan Ilia (Persis Khambatta) was also to be a regular character, along with the rest of the original series cast. Much of Star Trek: Phase II sounds a lot like The Next Generation: the first officer (Will Decker) would command more landing parties, there's be children on the ship, etc. And in many ways, much of this version of Star Trek sounds awesome: there was a Pearl Harbor time-travel episode, Theodore Sturgeon was writing an episode, Janice Rand was back, etc.

Seemingly at the last minute, Paramount decided Star Wars and Close Encounters were making too much money and that the future of popular science fiction was in the cinema and not the small screen. Star Trek: Phase II became Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the rest is history. But if Star Trek: Phase II had happened, would it have been a hit? Would Star Trek have survived into the 21st century? Conventional wisdom says no. Until The Next Generation, part of what made up Star Trek’s identity was the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and Bones, something all of the classic-era movies inherently rely on. If Spock is absent and some guy named Xon is hanging out instead, it probably wouldn’t have worked. More Ilia might have been fun, but by the Seventies, Star Trek was ready to grow up, and the leap into the movies was probably the push it needed.

 

To Boldly Go…In a Different Direction! 5 Turning Points in Star Trek History

2.A weird and wacky TNG features a hairy french captain, Patrick Stewart as Data, Marina Sirtis as Yar, and no Worf!

When you read about the early days of the development of Star Trek: The Next Generation, you quickly start to picture a very different TV show. Roddenberry wanted Picard to be French, complete with French phrasings and a delusional belief that the French invented everything. It’s almost impossible to imagine this version of Captain Picard. During intial casting, everyone on the TNG staff was in favor of Patrick Stewart...except Gene Roddenberry. To make things even weirder, longtime Star Trek producer Robert Justman originally wanted Patrick Stewart to audition for the role of Data.

Stranger still, Denise Crosby originally was supposed to be Deanna Troi, while Marina Sirtis initially read for Tasha Yar! Tim Russ (later of Star Trek: Voyager) auditioned for Geordi La Forge, as did Wesley Snipes! Worf was a last-minute character addition, which is strange since Worf ended up being in various iterations of Star Trek for eleven years! The Next Generation completely revitalized and re-contextualized Star Trek for the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Despite its flaws, it seems like a miracle that it ended up as well-cast as it did. A TNG without Picard played by Patrick Stewart, and featuring a Wesley Snipes Geordi just seems wrong. Without the exact mix TNG had, Star Trek would have never made it out of the Eighties. 

 

To Boldly Go…In a Different Direction! 5 Turning Points in Star Trek History

1.) Spock stays dead! So does Star Trek.

Prior to The Wrath of Khan being a bona fide hit, Leonard Nimoy’s relationship with Star Trek was pretty tenuous. He was barely convinced to be in The Motion Picture and only agreed to be in The Wrath provided he had story control AND on the condition that Spock would die. It’s really hard to conceive of a Star Trek movie after Spock dies where he doesn't come back. Sure, Saavik is poised to sort of replace him, and David Marcus could have stayed on the ship to do science stuff, but it really doesn’t seem likely. The DC comic books of the 1980’s attempted to sort of come to grips with the concept of a Spock-less Enterprise, but the results read more like fanfic than real Star Trek! (And yet, super-entertaining)

The really interesting thing that happened post-Wrath of Khan is that Nimoy went from complaining about Star Trek to BECOMING Star Trek. After the second movie was a huge hit, Nimoy suddenly became Trek’s biggest advocate and went on to direct and co-write the next two films. And prior to the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek, the Nimoy-directed Star Trek IV was the highest grossing Trek movie ever! When you think about Nimoy’s involvement, enthusiasm and vision for Star Trek in the Eighties, it’s almost easier to imagine Star Trek without Spock than Star Trek without Leonard Nimoy.

Happy Star Trek Day, readers! Tell me below which of these alternate Trek dimensions is the most interesting, or chime in with your own below...


Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com. He's not sure why September 8th isn't a national holiday.

27 comments
Paul Weimer
1. PrinceJvstin
Roddenberry wanted Picard to be French, complete with French phrasings and a delusional belief that the French invented everything.

You can still see echoes of this in first season episodes, though. Picard is much more triumphal in his national pride than in subsequent seasons.
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
Famously, The Next Generation actually had a unusual open submission policy for scripts.
Actually, open submission policies weren't that unusual. They had been the norm in television for a long time. The policy was definitely on its way out, largely driven by prime time soaps that large story arcs over the course of a season, but more it was still there for more episodic television. These days even sit-coms have closed writing staffs, but it wasn't always that way.
Michael Grosberg
3. Michael_GR
Instead of the fully-french captain we got this confusing Frenchman who speaks in a pronounced British accent and loves his Earl Grey Tea. I always found that odd. Why didn't they just change the character's name, or at least his biography, to something British?
Alain Ducharme
4. Alain Ducharme
The Star Trek movies cimented the view that Star Trek was focused on seven main characters. TOS doesn't really do that: yoeman Rand was very important in the first season, nurse Chapel is a continuing presence, and Chekhov does appear until the second season. During the animated series, Chapel appeared but Chekhov didn't.

This focus on a core set of characters limited the possibilities of adding new ones. Decker and Ilia were written out before the end of the first movie, David Marcus was killed in STIII, and more importantly the change in actress meant Saavik was sidelined after STII.

Building new characters (without losing the important Kirk-Spock-McCoy relation) would have helped the Star Trek movies go forward, instead of becoming about the aging crew of a starship. Granted, STVI worked because it was about the crew becoming "too old" for such adventures, and the more light and humourous STIV was well suited to the age of the cast. But STV showed clearly they weren't all that well suited for acti0n sequences anymore...
Heidi Breton
5. AnemoneFlynn
@3: I actually thought Picard as a character made a lot of sense for a world with combined cultures such as the earth Star Trek portrayed - I personally grab things I like from various cultures and cuisines to some extent right now - imagine a future with a cultural fusion and transportation and communication beyond what we have now!
Kristen Templet
6. SF_Fangirl
I know I am in the minority, but I would be perfectly happy if there had been no Worf. I'm not a fan of Klingons in general or him. (I find them almost as unrealistic as a space-faring species as the Ferengie.) Worf moving back and forth between Klingon and Starfleet postings/loaners and a Starfleet officer being so involved in highest-level Klingon politics didn't seen likely. Unfortunately for me so many people inexplicably love the Klingons they kept getting more and more air time.

OTOH Patrick Stewart is Picard and I am glad he didn't do the silly Chekov thing of claiming the French invented everything because that really wasn't that funny in TOS and would be less funny with the Captain doing it.

I can't even wrap my head around Troi and Deanna having swapped actresses. That's impossible for me to imagine because I've typecast them both in my head and the characters are polar opposites.
Alain Ducharme
7. Sean D. Francis
I agree with the idea Picard represented a blended multicultural Earth.
Alain Ducharme
8. Jeff R.
Then there's the world where Enterprise found its footing and an audience early on and we're now getting ready to enjoy the final season of Star Trek:Federation (set more or less immediately after E) and wondering if series VI will jump back to the TNG timeframe, be another attempt at making the Starfleet Academy concept work in any timeframe, or, most sacreligiously and improbable, reboot the Kirk era...
Alain Ducharme
9. Alain Ducharme
Picard is one of my favorite Star Trek character, and Patrick Stewart perhaps the greatest actor in the show's history. However he doesn't represent "multicultural Earth". However the character concept clearly shows american lack of interest in foreign cultures. French, British, bah, must be the same thing. He didn't even pronounce his name right! (the "d" in Picard is supposed to be silent)

When multicuturalisme means everybody speaks and acts as an anglophone, it becomes the exact opposite of plurality.
Alain Ducharme
10. sabbx
Interesting tibits all. But to be honest, the roads not take could have worked just as well. The Mulitcultural aspect of OST was accentental acceptance by NBC. They wanted more sex appeal than the presented pilots before '67. Not sure if mini-skirts on the female crew really represented a leap foward. To their credit, the blending crew over the course of the original series did make a difference in making prime-time TV more diverse.

TNG's original casting could have worked fine... Stewart certainly is a good enough actor to have pulled off Data. And as some other posters have noted, Picard's cultural traits were always a little muddy. I always felt that they intended to show he had some English ancestry to make sense of the obvious Anglicisms of the charcater.

And one of the big flaws of the OST movies is the total loss of Saavik as a character after developing a compelling backstory and setting her up to be a main character. The whole, untold second five year mission could have been the stuff of a great TV series.
john mullen
11. johntheirishmongol
I know I am in the minority, because I never really liked Picard. I preferred Denise Crosby to Marina Sirtis, so if it would have kept her around, I would have swapped the roles. I also liked the idea of Deltans, but after TMP, we really didn't see them again. Remember, the original idea of Star Trek was Wagon Train in space, so a couple of main characters and lots of guest stars would have been the norm with the Jeffrey Hunter version.
Alan Courchene
12. Majicou
Tasha Yar was originally conceived as "Macha Hernandez," a Latina officer supposedly inspired by Vasquez from Aliens (played by... Jenette Goldstein. Hnh.) Wesley Crusher was at one point to be Leslie Crusher, a 14-year-old girl. I wonder what the fan reaction would have been.

Gautreaux's TMP character, by the way, was named Commander Branch (listed in the credits but never spoken.)

The DC Comics line during the Genesis trilogy is kind of a hoot--they just kept going their own way after each movie, and then the next film would come along and say "Yeah, it wasn't anything like that." They had the Enterprise get mixed up with the mirror universe after TWoK, but then STIII really made it seem they just went straight back to Earth (after recovering the Reliant crew.) Then they sent Kirk and co. out on the Excelsior after Search for Spock, then found out they'd really been on Vulcan continuously for three months.

You might also consider the abandoned movies of the early 70s: "Planet of the Titans" and Gene Roddenberry's "The God Thing," small elements of which made it into "In Thy Image" and thence into TMP.
Mahesh Banavar
13. maheshkb
Is it true that at some point Edward James Olmos was considered for Captain Picard?
Alain Ducharme
14. Unsuitably Crushed
@10. sabbx
They wanted more sex appeal than the presented pilots before '67. Not sure if mini-skirts on the female crew really represented a leap foward.
Wesley Crusher should have worn the miniskirts. All of them. All at once.
And of course, if you can't get photo-ops for marketing campaigns of the NBC Board of Directors wearing Wesley Crusher's miniskirts, you're not doing your job, you're not much of a salesperdescendant, are you?
Alain Ducharme
15. JasonD
Growing up I read a lot of characters that were English but had French-sounding last names. The one that jumps out in my memory now is Inspector LeStrade in Sherlock Holmes. Considering how very fluid European borders were for a good many centuries in the Medieval and Renaissance eras, it's probably very common for families to have their last 5 generations born in England but have the French family name persist. We do know that JLP was born in France, but were his parents? That would have explained the accent. As for the Earl Grey, hell, I enjoy plenty of different teas from around the globe. Just because he has a French name and background doesn't mean he has to drink wine and sound like the peasants in the latter segment of History Of The World.

Also, I think the only reason Wesley was changed to a male character was because they didn't want a literal Mary Sue on the ship. Of course, that didn't stop the comparisons anyway...
Alain Ducharme
16. Your Mom
Everbody is a critic. I am old enough to have watched the beginnings of Star Trek live in 1966. Way back then, people either loved it or just didn't watch it. For me watching the evolution of Star Trek was super fun. It had all the elements of a soap-opera on speed. The fact that the aliens were outrageous made it all the better. You can't change the past, so just sit back and enjoy what Star Trek gave us.
Lauren Smith
17. whatsername
"Tasha Yar was originally conceived as "Macha Hernandez," a Latina officer supposedly inspired by Vasquez from Aliens (played by... Jenette Goldstein. Hnh.) Wesley Crusher was at one point to be Leslie Crusher, a 14-year-old girl. I wonder what the fan reaction would have been."

This is the alternate I would have loved to see, personally. The total lack of Latinos in the Star Trek series' would be laughable if it wasn't so annoying. Kind of like their lack of gay/bi characters. But ANYway, Leslie Crusher would have been amazing.

Of those options presented in the original post my favorite is swapping Denise Crosby and Marina Sirtis. I think Counselor Troi would have benefited from Crosby's more butch characterization, and that it would have seemed more absurd to write all those mind-rapey/so much pain storylines for her. Similarly, Sirtis would have brought a little more femininity to Lt. Yar that would have made her far less of a stereotype of mainstreamed 1980s second wave feminism that could have been really interesting. With those more complicated characters maybe Crosby wouldn't have been so frustrated with the writing as to abandon ship and let Yar become one more Woman in the Refrigerator.

Oh and also when they did decide to cast Patrick Stewart they should have just made Picard English FFS. Or at least like, French father/English mother! That is an easy explanation.
Joseph Newton
18. crzydroid
About Picard's nationality: Given all the other things I accept about the show (force fields, warp drive, some of the plots, etc.) I guess I just accepted it as a tv show and that this was a French person even though he was played by a British actor. I mean, Khan was supposed to be Indian, but was played by a Mexican.
Alain Ducharme
19. Nate G
An addition to point 3. Not only did a couple of Phase II scripts morph into the Motion Picture, but adaptations of them were used through the first and second season of TNG. If not for the execs having the vision of jumping to movies, TNG would likely never have happened, at least not in the way we remember it.
Alain Ducharme
20. NickM
@19 I had already known of the "In Thy Image"->ST:TMP path , but had forgotten how much more was repurposed from the cancelled "Phase II" project.

Pulled down my copy of "Star Trek Phase II" from the bookshelf and started skimming through it. Several influences, a couple episodes that were pretty much done as originally written, but for TNG.
Alain Ducharme
21. SueQ
re: comment #15--Sherlock Holmes himself mentioned his family ties to France in several stories. The English mother & French father idea is a possibility. My mother's mother was from England and we have all inherited some rather odd sayings from her.
In any language; however, Patrick Stewart is HOT!!
Chin Bawambi
22. bawambi
Actually, I would have preferred the Sirtis/Crosby switch as well in theory. However, its bad enough we get Sirtis lame acting for the whole series Crosby on top of it would have been torture to the level of THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!
Alain Ducharme
23. Zeno
If Jeffery Hunter had stayed Star Trek might have become a darker series. Hunter's captain would actually have been more interesting than Kirk because he was more brooding and less sure of himself. I actually believe this was closer to the Horiato Hornblower idea that Roddenberry originally had in mind.   However Spock might have evolved differently with Hunter. If that would have been good or bad is hard to know. Would the Vulcan's have developed the same with a different characterization of Spock? Quite possibly. We could have gained a more interesting captain at the expense of a less interesting Science officer. Or maybe not. Does anyone else have thoughts on this?
Alain Ducharme
24. Trekgeezer
Leonard Nimoy did try to get Edward James Olmos the part of Kruge in STIII
Alain Ducharme
25. Trekgeezer
Robert Justman badgered Gene into hiring Stewart

Gene's choice was Stephen Macht A guy with a lot of hair.
Jay Hash
26. JYHASH
"Gene's choice was Stephen Macht A guy with a lot of hair."

If anyone wants to know who Picard could have been, just watch the DS9 episode arc starting with "The Circle": Stephen Macht plays General Krim. And seeing as how he was relatively forgettable there, I don't think he'd have been able to carry TNG like Stewart did. If there's one thing I've found out about Gene is that he suffered from the same problems that George Lucas has recently suffered from, which is needing people around him to slap his hand and say "NO." Unfortunately, Lucas had far more money than Roddenberry ever did so Lucas got to write his own ticket for EPs 1-3.

These changes would have been interesting, and franchise ending in some cases, but I'm with #8: If only Enterprise had received the same treatment that Voyager did, by allowing it to go 7 seasons (where in reality, I think the number of seasons for VOY and ENT should have been reversed), we probably would have had a couple more series (or at least one more) on TV and not been stuck with the STINO crap that Abrams is pumping out to the popcorn generation. We might actually still have a Star Trek that, y'know, cares about substance over style, and respects the fact that Star Trek should be about great storytelling and handling issues and not a mindless action flick that smacks of zombie-like homage.

To wrap, I find the multi-culturalism argument to be interesting concerning Picard, and if you look at how his family and hometown was depicted, it at least is consistent: His mother was obviously French (from "Where No One Has Gone Before"), His father was English (from "Tapestry"), and his brother was also English sounding (from "Family"). Also in the same episode as his brother, Picard's childhood friend, his sister-in-law Marie, and his nephew Rene (the same actor who also went on to play "young Picard" in "Rascals") all had british accents. Not a french accent except his mother to be found. So I guess this could mean one of three things:

-The French accent became a rarity in the 24th century, or was phased out (who knows what World War III did to boundaries, maybe France is 90% British afterwards?)
- The universal translator is rendering it to those who hear it with a British accent for some unknown reason. I mean, why do most Ferengi sound like they're from New York or Pennsylvania? Everybody's all speaking in their original language, and the computer does all the rest of the work.
- Or it is avestigal holdover from an original version of the series bible that never was excised and when they got to the point of having to show Picard's extended family, it'd be stupid for a whole bunch of people related to him and living in the village of LaBarre to have accents like the Chef from "The Little Mermaid" (incidentally, also a Trek Alum, Rene Auberjonois).

Take your pick. I find the first posit most plausible, but in the end we all know it's just a TV show.
Alain Ducharme
27. Garp
Following on from a comment someone posted further up, I don't like klingons either. However, I do like Worf.

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