More than a decade since the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise ended 18 years of continuous Star Trek production, CBS has announced that the show is returning for a new series in in 2017, showrun by Alex Kurtzman and unconnected to the big-screen reboot once helmed by J.J. Abrams.
It’s fair to say that for many Star Trek fans, this news is both extremely exciting and extremely worrying – because the only thing that’s worse than having no Star Trek show is having one we don’t warm to.
At this point, there’s almost no way of knowing what the new Star Trek show might be like. But that doesn’t stop us having a wish list of what we’d like to see. In my capacity as a Star Trek fan, I’d like to submit the following set of hopes about what CBS will do with this new series.
Don’t remake Star Trek: The Next Generation
Ask any five people what they might do next with Star Trek on TV, and you can guarantee at least one person will say “they should remake The Next Generation in the rebooted timeline.” And those people, for me, are very wrong.
As a suggestion, it makes a certain sort of sense. Picard, Data and company are nearly as iconic as Kirk and Spock, and those characters have a huge built-in audience of fans. Why shouldn’t we see them return to the screen, played by new actors and new stories with some continuity-based tweaks to account for the events of the rebooted movies?
In short: because insularity was Star Trek’s problem the last time it died. Both Voyager and Enterprise were written as Star Trek for Star Trek Fans, and if they proved anything it’s that even Trekkers get bored of seeing the same material recycled and regurgitated on a weekly basis.
Admittedly, there’s a part of all of us all that would enjoy seeing Captain Picard on screen again, and we might even get past the fact that it isn’t Patrick Stewart playing him. But remixing existing elements and expecting them to entertain on their own is an inherently inward-looking approach to a franchise that needs to do what The Next Generation did way back in 1987: update and renew itself to the maximum possible extent.
Let’s have a new ship and a new crew and start building new mythologies instead of trying to remind people of the old ones.
Set it in the Prime timeline
All that said, the one thing The Next Generation did do right when it brought itself back was establish itself as a continuation of the Star Trek that came before. To say that it wasn’t replacing the thing people loved, it was following it up.
If the new show wants to get people on side, it’ll reassure fans of Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise that this is the next iteration of that lineage. Even if there’s nothing else recognizable about the show. Even if it’s set in a universe where the Federation has been dismantled and the Klingons and Romulans have died out and been replaced by a completely different set of races.
Acknowledging continuity proves to the fans that those making the show care as much as we do, and with a big enough jump into the future there’s virtually nothing you can do with the series that can’t be done on a completely clean slate.
Have better representation
No matter where, when and in what universe the new Star Trek is set, there’s one thing that should be top of the list for any show, particular one that’s broken down so many barriers in the past: at least one LGBT main character.
Star Trek has happily accepted praise for its progressive treatment and race and gender for decades. But it’s no longer the 1960s, or even the 1980s. Having some women around and characters with various heritages isn’t enough to accurately represent society, or Star Trek’s audience, which is considerably more diverse than that.
Chiefly, there have been 726 episodes of Star Trek in its various forms, as well as 12 movies, and the number of episodes which feature non-heterosexual sexual pairings fits comfortably on one hand. Its stars want it. Its showrunners claim to want it. Gene Roddenberry promised gay characters would appear in Star Trek in 1987. The fact that it hasn’t happened in the 30 years since is not the series’ finest hour.
We’re not so naïve as to think CBS might risk enraging the wrath of middle-America and Daily Mail readers by letting the new captain be gay, or asexual, or transgender, but maybe there’s room for at least one of the new characters to be. Representation of diverse sexualities is bad across the spectrum of entertainment media. If Star Trek can’t lead the way in rebalancing the scales, what can?
Do proper story arcs
Star Trek has always done its best to give the impression of progress, but broadly speaking the character relationships established in episode one of any show stand by the time the final episode rolls around.
Riker never got past being the devil-may-care ladies man. Harry Kim was always the tentative newbie. Sometimes they changed hairstyles and uniforms, but as series designed to be watched in syndication, they all hit the magic reset button. Only the final season of Enterprise truly broke step with its format of multi-episode mini arcs – and even that wasn’t especially ambitious.
But times have changed. The way people watch television has changed. The fact that Star Trek is debuting on a streaming service is proof enough of that. However long this new run of Star Trek ends up being, let’s hope that it’s smart enough to go for the novelistic long-form approach currently favoured by TV. We’re not saying there can’t be a satisfying mission within a single episode, but if we want a story told within a single 45 minute(ish) chunk, there are 700 of those to choose from.
Don’t go back to the series’ roots
The worst thing anyone can say about a new version of an old favorite is that it’s being “taken back to its roots.” Because at best, that’s a meaningless phrase designed to trick people who quit into coming back, and at worst it’s actively taking steps backwards.
The roots of Star Trek are a western in space, and it’s fair to say the series hasn’t looked remotely like that since about episode two. Whatever the new Star Trek looks like, I want it to look like nothing else on TV. That’s what made it great before, and that’s what’ll make it great again…