Saturday, 3 September 2016

Rerunning Trek

New Crews, New Villains, New Heroes, New Worlds we were promised.

But with further announcements this week in regards to Star Trek: Discovery, should we actually be led to believe that the franchise, one with a rich 50 year history, has actually run out of new ideas?

Look back to the news to date and there's seemingly always some form of link back into another part of Star Trek. You could say homage but at what point does that just become a euphemism for lazy creativity?

Take the ship for example (and starters). While in-universe it's a brand new design and one that is certainly unique but fans were quick to note the startling resemblance to the Ralph McQuarrie design that was never used for the never produced The Planet of the Titans movie in the 1970's. A design that harked back to the original Enterprise in some respects but still not a 100% new creation - and one that Fuller and Kazdan were quick to note had been knocked together in a three weeks ahead of San Diego Comic Con.

Then there's the time period. For months we had some wonderful conjectures around the as-was-then unnamed series being set in the "Lost Era" beginning after Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country or, perhaps even more optimistically, after Voyager and Nemesis.

Thing is that was also dashed with the news that the show would be set 10 years before The Original Series, three years after The Cage and, effectively, another prequel. The option to take the show further into the future and truly explore strange new worlds and seek out new civilisations seems to have gone a bit stale since setting Discovery in this time period will inevitably enforce restraints on the storytelling.

Perhaps the best news in that case was that the lead character could be a black female who would be a lieutenant commander "with caveats" rather than being the captain of the ship. Hurrah! we shouted, something new, original and exciting - until it seems that she could well be referred to as "Number One". While a different character it seems Fuller is keen to see this as another homage to the Majel Barrett character from the original pilot and recently revisited in the literary anniversary special Legacies: Captain to Captain and also called Number One. Shame on blastr among other sites for "calling it" and making out that they knew - I'd personally just look at what you're writing because you do mention it's a homage to The Original Series but then assume the character is the same one when clearly they won't be. Tut tut.

With all this in mind are the concerns of some fans more than valid? Is Star Trek a tired franchise -something perhaps also echoed by the rather lacklustre financial success that Beyond received since its July 22nd release? Has a series that once prided itself on telling stories that no other series could tell be finding that the only way to be interesting is to mine its own past and even material that was cast aside as not good enough 40 years ago?

I'm reading Mark Altman and Ed Gross' second volume of The Fifty Year Mission at the moment and this originality is hammered home in almost every paragraph relating to the writing of the 178 episodes of The Next Generation. It had to be different; Michael Piller appreciated what Roddenberry was attempting to do and realised that each story had to be given the unique Star Trek spin whether the writing staff agreed with him or not (as was more likely the case...).

Even the single makeup shot we've seen to date is a pair of blue antennae which immediately points every self-respecting fan towards the belief that we will be seeing a third interpretation of the Andorians after The Original Series' Babel and Shran et al from Enterprise. More aliens than before and our first gay character are promised but even the latter is a concept oft discussed, oft cast aside and now a seemingly token gesture that seems to lack substance because it has been ignored or handled badly by the franchise for so long (step forward Rejoined or The Outcast).

For all their faults, both Voyager and prequel series Enterprise attempted something new; to explore a totally new frontier far from the confines and heavily story-mined Alpha Quadrant or to step back in time to a more basic era, even taking the bold move to take Star Trek from the titles (for the first two seasons at least).

The news that we are borrowing character names; even nicknames/informal addresses - remember even Picard referred to Riker as Number One - is a big worry for me but I'm still trying to remain ever-positive for the show.

So too did we get the news from the mouth of Fuller that the uniforms would not be along the lines of the super-bland look we are familiar with from The Cage. I'm not sure anyone will be too disheartened to find that he will be putting a new twist on the uniforms but I can already hear some fans bemoaning the fact that this will take it away from the core of The Original Series and into what may well be referred to as the Fuller-verse. Apparently we will recognise the uniforms from the word go so I suspect there will be hints of Kirk era but as its set 10 years before Where No Man Has Gone Before and therefore 13 years after The Cage how are they going to explain the total lack of red shirts in both pilots?

So OK the uniforms can't be original but now it seems to some degree they might be the most original thing going for the show at the moment. Looking to the first season and the arc, it's clear that we will get a big but as yet unconfirmed event that was mentioned in the classic episodes - and again there's the borrowing element in full force. Encapsulating the show within a bubble between Enterprise and The Original Series may well stifle that creativity and force certain stories fans expect and hope to be told, it will undoubtedly lead to seeing familiar characters from the three 1960's seasons. Has Star Trek simply become its own victim because of this choice to limit the time period to one that has already been bookended when there could be new times and new frontiers to explore?  

While we have been promised all this newness to the franchise the only things we have heard so far have all related to other aspects of the Star Trek universe in some shape or form. Fuller has yet to provide a solid, clear indication of the unique identity of the show perhaps the only exception being the main character is not the captain.

I'm not saying that Discovery should be devoid of references/nods to its forebears especially as we celebrate 50 years of the franchise but the temptation to over-mine the past has to be stopped. With The Next Generation there was a very conscious decision for a good three seasons not to backtrack to The Original Series that was only seriously broken by the arrival of Sarek in Sarek and the mention of Spock. While McCoy has appeared - unnamed - in Encounter at Farpoint and The Naked Now was a rewrite of a classic episode, everything else was culled to allow the show to build its own unique identity. I would wish that what we are hearing now is just information to show existing fans that Fuller will honour the show and keep his chapter true to the beliefs of the past five decades. Surely in the next few months we will be hearing and seeing a lot of new, exciting and inspiring details on Discovery. It has to forge it's own identity and at present it just seems that Fuller is fighting fan fires and appeasing fans who are locked into the last 50 years and not seeing the potential of the next 50.

While Fuller is looking to keep those fans happy he has to step forward, be bold and adventurous and I'm sure that this will all become apparent in due course. Please say it's so...

Will Discovery provide all the "new's" we've been promised or are we in for 13 episodes of homage?

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