Two things happened in the past week or so: Star Trek: The Next Generation's first season came out in eye-popping high definition. And Roberto Orci said that talks about a new Star Trek TV show are "almost real."
As legions of Trek fans, old and new, pore over the first year of TNG and revisit how exciting it was the last time Star Trek came back to television, it's worth contemplating just what it could look like, if Starfleet managed to warp back to our screens on a weekly basis. Here's what we'd like to see from a brand new Star Trek.
Top image: Darth Mojo.
Rewatching the first season of TNG, including the featurettes that discuss the creative process that went into it, it's striking just how high-minded the genesis of this show actually was. And that clearly comes straight from Gene Roddenberry, who exerted absolute control over the show's first year — partly as a compensation for the fact that he had zero control over the Trek movies at that point. You see the same kind of slightly ponderous philosophizing in Roddenberry's failed pilot The Questor Tapes, in a number of TOS episodes, and of course in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Star Trek always had two opposing sides: the "philosophical" side, and the swashbuckling, dramatic-but-optimistic "adventure" side. When Trek succeeded in reconciling and combining these two aspects, it's generally had a huge success. But when it's veered too far to one side or the other, it's fallen flat. So the real bottom line is that we'd love to see a show that pulls off the same miracle as the middle seasons of TNG, with great adventure stories that ask deep questions.
Obviously, a lot depends on what type of Trek series we get — a half-hour animated show may not be quite as complex as a one-hour live-action show can be. (Although both Clone Wars and the 1970s animated Trek prove you can do a lot with animation.)
In either case, though, here are 10 things we'd really like to see:
10) Some new aliens.
With interesting biology and distinctive cultures. In other words, not just the "rubber forehead of the week" thing. It would be cool to see some more aliens that look completely different from humans, "The Chase" be damned. But also, honoring the old Vulcan motto of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations requires having some more fully realized alien cultures to explore — and sympathize with, even when they clash with our own. (Especially then.)
9) Some ethical dilemmas
It's no accident that almost every Star Trek show has featured the most powerful starship in the galaxy, with the most advanced technology — partly, it's pure wish fulfillment. But also, a big part of the Trek ethos involves having great power and not using it. That's what the Prime Directive is about, and it's also at the root of many of the most interesting Trek episodes. At the height of America's superpower status, Star Trek explored the idea that not using your full power is often the bravest response to a situation. In the era of killer drones, ubiquitous surveillance and other new types of power, it would be great to see a Trek that explored these ideas seriously.
8) A new take on the "outsider among humans" trope.
A lot of the best science fiction asks what it means to be human, and Star Trek has usually done this best by including someone who's got human characteristics but isn't actually one of us. There hasn't really been a Star Trek series since the rise of the posthuman and transhuman movements, so the time is ripe for a new character who's not quite human.
7) Cat and mouse games in space.
Not just space battles, but tricky, strategy-based space battles. Star Wars has dogfights, Star Trek has submarine combat — and a whole generation of nerds grew up playing games like Star Fleet Battles after seeing the intricate strategy in "Balance of Terror" and Wrath of Khan. Not to mention the Picard Maneuver. Space is very big and full of weird phenomena, so it actually makes sense that space combat would be full of tricks.
6) Scripts by real science fiction authors.
The old tradition of having people like Theodore Sturgeon and Larry Niven write for Star Trek deserves to be revived. And luckily, this generation has provided plenty of likely suspects — just page through recent anthologies like Federations or War and Space. Seriously, hire John Scalzi to write an episode or twenty. (Especially after reading his latest book Redshirts, we're kind of hyped to see a Scalzi-written Trek.)
5) Some cool gadgets.
Apple needs some new inspiration, right? They already made the PADDs from Engineering, and we already have communicators, and something approximating tricorders and hyposprays. We need Star Trek to inspire the next batch of consumer products.
4) Failed utopias.
Morality plays were a big part of classic Star Trek, as well as TNG and DS9. And often, the best kind of morality play comes from the false utopia — a world where people think they've figured out the perfect society, but we can see from the outside that they really haven't. This provides a fascinating contrast with Star Trek's own flawed-but-workable utopia, the Federation. (And yet, at the same time, it would be nice to see more of the civilian side of the Federation, so we can finally get a sense of what it's actually like to live there and hold down a job, in a world without money.)
This sort of relates back to the "ethical dilemmas" thing, but it's also different. The ethical dilemmas usually are more about dealing with less powerful cultures, but Star Trek has a long tradition of showing diplomacy with other advanced space-faring races. The earlier Trek shows portrayed a world with two opposing space powers (during the Cold War) and a complicated set of alliances and uneasy truces (during the post-Cold War era.) But now we need a Star Trek for today's even more complicated, tension-filled era.
2) The Future
And now, we get to the more wishful part of the wishlist. It's sounding as though Orci, at least, wants to make a show set in the rebooted TOS era of the J.J. Abrams films. But it would just be more interesting to see Star Trek move forward, into the future, instead. We want to see what happens after Voyager and DS9, either in the original timeline or the Vulcan-less version. (Image by Darth Mojo.)
Plus that way, any fears of stealing the thunder of the Abrams films could be allayed — in the same way that you had movies about Kirk and Spock, while TNG was on television. If there's one thing that's defined Star Trek at its best, it's moving forward and exploring the next thing. We're happy to see J.J. Abrams reimagine Kirk and his crew for a new era, especially if it's as fun as Abrams' first movie. But a Star Trek TV show should take us beyond what we already know — to, you know, boldly go where no-one has gone before. And that would allow us to see...
1) More Artificial Intelligence
In many ways, this is the next frontier for Star Trek. The Original Series takes place in a future with no A.I. at all — although the ship's computer does become a bit amorous in "Tomorrow is Yesterday." And Kirk is constantly talking autocratic computers into self-destructing, and we meet the occasional android. And then, in TNG, there's an android in Starfleet — but only one android, in the entire Federation, and nobody's been able to duplicate Data's positronic brain. There are hints that holographic life forms could become aware (like Moriarty, and the planet of holograms in DS9.) By Voyager, there's a self-aware holographic medical officer who just runs on the ship's computer systems, and we learn there are others out there. Voyager also returns to Earth laden with stolen Borg technology. So the Federation is poised on the brink of a revolution in A.I. — and we've never gotten to see it.