Thursday, October 4, 2012

SF, Star Trek, and the Status Quo

Today is an auspicious day in the annals of spaceflight. Fifty-five years ago the first artificial satellite, the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1, was launched into orbit. Eight years ago SpaceShipOne made its its second competitive flight, winning the Ansari X Prize. Three hundred and fifty-one years from now, the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) will be commissioned into service, and given that synchronicity I feel like it's a good day to talk about Star Trek.

It's been quiet on that front recently, really. Aside from the upcoming movie Star Trek into Darkness--and here I thought they would have gone with something like Star Trek: To Boldly Go--there's nothing on the horizon. During the course of the last seven years, there's been two hours of new Star Trek produced; twice as much was made in the week from May 26 to June 2, 1999, when Deep Space 9 was airing its final episodes and Voyager was becoming the only active series. From 1987 to 2005, there was always a series in production. Star Trek dominated televised science fiction, and today that whole category seems to be in suspension except for things like Doctor Who... and that's space fantasy, anyway.

A few days ago I encountered an interview with Ronald D. Moore, one of the people responsible for Deep Space 9 unfolding how it did, where he talks about the movies being unable to cover quite the same ground or ask the same questions as the television shows because of their nature as movies. Generally, people don't go to the movies for things like that.

I'll agree that there is a niche for a new Star Trek series out there--and I think it should be approached in a rather different way than all the previous series have. I think that should Star Trek return to the airwaves, it should do so as an anthology series: call it Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

What would it mean, having an anthology series? You wouldn't have a series that followed the same crew, the same ship, week in and week out. You wouldn't have the flagship of the Federation running into all the spatial anomalies and saving the galaxy time and time again. The stories would follow different ships, different crews, different people--not necessarily only once, of course, but the camera would no longer be bolted to a single bridge.

This would be a boon for storytelling, since it vastly opens up the possibilites that can be explored. Rather than searching for situations to affect the characters as they've been established--something that can get pretty damn crazy after a few years of running time--characters can be tailor-made to fit the situation that they're going up against... or, alternatively, to not fit it. There's plenty of dramatic hay to be made out of putting an unprepared character in a difficult situation, and seeing how they react to it.

More importantly, the stakes can be higher--the stakes for the characters, that is. One of the reasons Star Trek relied so heavily on technobabble for its plot resolutions, I feel, was because it was the easy way out. Making a difficult decision or taking the best of the bad roads might be dramatically interesting, but it upsets the status quo. Far better, in that respect, for Geordi to save the ship by reversing the polarity on the phase inducers and generating an anti-tachyon beam to destabilize the anomaly, rather than something that would result in the characters picking up scars. In an anthology series, the entire balance changes; every episode, we're meeting new people. The audience isn't as attached to them as they are to Kirk and Spock and Picard and Worf and so on.

To put it bluntly, they can die and it won't matter as much. There's no applecart to upset; what happens to one crew won't necessarily affect another. It would make things more interesting. Everyone knew that Voyager would get home--that doesn't have to be the case for some other starship that lacks a seven-year commitment.

It would be something that hasn't been done before in Star Trek, an opportunity to breathe new life into the franchise. I think, myself, that it would be worthwhile for the ones in charge to consider.

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