It’s been ten years since Star Trek graced our TV screens. In what was probably a better final scene than it gets credit for, Rick Berman Brannon Braga and Michael Piller, who had all guided the franchise in some form since The Next Generation began in 1987, saw their baby go out in a scene that brought tears to any true Trekkie’s eye.
But the bell had been tolling for Trek on TV for some time. Enterprise, the fourth spin off from the Original Series, hadn’t gone down as well as Paramount had hoped. Executives were eyeing it up for the axe, and even after a letter writing campaign from fans at the end of season three gave it a brief stay of execution for another year, on 13th May 2005, Star Trek as a TV entity engaged it’s warp engines for the last time.
Yes, 2009’s Star Trek and, to a lesser extent, the follow up Into Darkness, in 2013 have reinvigourated Kirk and Spock for a new audience. That said, rumours continue to abound that a new crew could be boldly going back to the small screen for the first time in a decade. With that in mind, here are 10 things we think a new Star Trek TV series would need to have to be a success.
At least one A-list star
If nothing else it has to be a statement of intent. Patrick Stewart was not a household name when he was cast as Jean-Luc Picard, but matured into one of the finest actors of this generation. Bryan Cranston wasn’t the in-demand theatrical heavyweight he is now when he landed the role of Walter White in Breaking Bad. A new Star Trek series needs someone of that ilk, but they can’t afford them to grow into the role. There needs to be a noticeable figurehead who can hold episodes together on their own if needs be. A man currently hovering on that line is Idris Elba, who could convey the authority needed to be captain of a Federation starship in spades.
A credible and threatening villain
Too often Trek on TV has found itself in “Monster of the Week” territory – at least in the early days. The Original Series existed at a time when this was doable on a weekly basis – but did introduce Khan Noonien Singh, who would be revisited years later in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The Next Generation followed to a certain extent, but introduced characters like the omnipotent Q, and The Borg, who would both pose real dangers to the crew. Voyager turned the Borg into an ineffective threat, while Enterprise only ever picked up with the introduction of the Xindi and their plot to destroy the Earth. The best villains in all of Star Trek for their outright disregard for human life were The Founders from Deep Space Nine. A new series now would need a consistent threat, present in every episode. Think Deathstroke in the second season of Arrow. Transplant that kind of driven, motivated and brutal villain into a weekly game of cat and mouse with the crew and their A-list captain. That of course leads us nicely onto…
A season long plot arc
Trek has tried this before on TV, and on one occasion it was a resounding success. Deep Space Nine’s slow build to the Dominion War was carried out over the course of several years, never mind one season. Each series dripped little pieces of information into the continuity, slowly establishing the threat from the Gamma Quadrant, The Jem’Hadar, The Founders, eventually building into an all out war, where alliances were forged, traitors emerged and established characters died. With the likes of Arrow, The Flash, Gotham and Breaking Bad turning the slow burn plot device into a real asset, it’s time for Trek to do the same.
Whether you think it’s right or not, there’s no arguing with the fact that attractive people make people watch a TV show. Yes, it can be shallow, yes, it can lead to accusations of objectification, but the fact it, it brings in viewers. Did anyone really, really care if Harry Kim or Chakotay would have bitten the dust in Voyager? The series’ ratings were flatlining until the introduction of Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine. Cue one 6ft blonde in a silver catsuit and ratings went up, leading to a fifth, sixth and seventh season for a show that was in danger of dying out. This shouldn’t just apply to female characters though. Look at the likes of Jensen Ackles in Supernatural, and Kit Harrington in Game of Thrones to see how they can build up a significant fan base all by themselves.
Star Trek has always tackled important issues, and in its early days had a fairly clear definition of what was right and what was wrong. The likes of Kirk and Spock often sacrificed their own happiness, and lives, for the greater good. Not until Deep Space Nine were their true moral dilemmas that often resulted in characters compromising their morals, and not doing the right thing, in order to avoid tragedy or protect someone. Witness Captain Benjamin Sisko’s complicit actions in the murder of a Romulan official, to bring that race into the Dominion War on the Federation’s side in perhaps Deep Space Nine’s best ever episode: In the Pale Moonlight. Imagine a Star Trek series now where the line between right and wrong was blurred so much that what looked like the right choices in season one, end up looking like huge mistakes by the end of, say, season four?
A changing cast
Loss is a defining factor in life – so why should TV be any different? Some of Trek’s most memorable moments have revolved around the deaths of major characters. Spock’s sacrifice in Star Trek III is an intensely moving moment, but so is Jadzia Dax’s death in Deep Space Nine. Tasha Yar’s demise in The Next Generation is ultimately futile, but that was meant to show that now every death has meaning. In the latter two instances, it allowed other characters to grow. Doctor Bashir managed to create a romantic relationship that enhanced his role with Jadzia’s successor, Ezri. Worf went on to become an integral part of The Next Generation crew and his stories figured amongst some of the best of that series. Allowing some characters to die (and the actors to move on if they wish to), would make a new Trek show evolve, for the better.
Trek at it’s worst contained lines like: “The temporal surge we detected was caused by an explosion of a microscopic singularity passing through this solar system. Somehow, the energy emitted by the singularity shifted the chroniton particles in our hull into a high state of temporal polarisation.” Not really “I am the one who knocks” is it? The movies, have, in fairness toned this down. It’s essential to pick up a mainstream audience. People tuning in to TV shows now want something they can relate to. In Trek’s case, it should me more about the characters, not the beeping of a tricorder and if the gravimetric distortion of the week is disrupting the deflector array.
Strong female characters
Captain Kathryn Janeway wasn’t Trek’s most successful female character. Yes, she was the franchise’s first female captain, but she rubbed a lot of fans up the wrong way, and her holier-than-thou attitude wasn’t always the right answer to the show’s problems. She also didn’t have a particularly interesting backstory. Far more of a success was Deep Space Nine’s Major Kira Nerys, who was an obvious parallel to a World War II holocaust survivor. While that was thinly veiled allegory, it did give her much needed depth. It also created tension with other races like the Cardassians, who she could never forgive, and gave her military experience which was invaluable when the series moved into The Dominion War in later episodes. Trek could also learn from one of the finest female science fiction characters, Commander Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5. She had wit, authority, and no small degree of the previously discussed sex appeal. Credit to Claudia Christian and her portrayal, and any new Star Trek series would be wise to take a leaf out of Ivanova’s book when it comes to creating a powerful on screen female presence.
Links to the movie universe
This one is a little difficult to do if the new series isn’t set in the same continuity as the movies, but let’s be honest, shared universes are all the rage these days. Love them or hate them, they provide fans with knowing easter eggs and production companies with a way to ensnare moviegoers into their TV show, and vice versa. Agents of SHIELD, which isn’t a benchmark for Star Trek by any stretch of the means, does do an effective job of incorporating elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That gets movies fans watching the show, and sends the show’s viewers to the cinema to see how plot threads get resolved. It’s an effective tactic, that has kept AoS on many people’s must watch list, in case they miss something that crops up in a Marvel movie. If a new Star Trek show could encapsulate this and join the dots with it’s bigger screen counterpart, either in the same continuity or via the “old” alternate universe, it could reap the benefits.
Nostalgia done correctly
Witness the buzz around the latest Star Wars trailer – and the one thing that everyone seemingly loved more than anything else: Han and Chewbacca. It’s that nostalgia that gives a show the “wow” factor. Star Trek has tried this before with cameos by Original Series characters in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, while one of Enterprise’s finest moments was exploring the lineage of Data’s creator, Dr Noonian Soong, and revealing that Data was only ever created because Soong’s ancestors had witnessed how badly augmented humans, like Khan, could be. If you’re not connecting it with the movie universe, this gives a potential show a huge amount of continuity to check in with. Nods to the likes of Picard, Data, Worf, Sisko, Janeway and the Borg would bring in the hardcore Trekkies, and would also allow a cameo that would bring in viewers regardless of their preference, that of the original James T. Kirk: William Shatner.
So there you go, bear in mind this is only our opinion, and if you’re a die hard fan, you might have some different views. Let us know in the comments!