Yesterday, some astonishing news began to drift out across the Internet - that Star Trek was coming back to television in 2017. It had been long enough that there seemed to be a general suspicion that it was never coming back again, and yet, the gap between Enterprise and the New Series is narrower than that between the Original Series and the Next Generation. There are a lot of guesses flying around about what form the series will take, but given that there is almost nothing to work with...any attempt to work out exactly what is planned is meaningless. Largely because at this stage, everything will still be in the very early stages of pre-production. Rather than make any wild guesses, I’d like instead to offer some suggestions, in the vanishing unlikely event that anyone from CBS ever reads this…
Fire the Canon!
Star Trek has a hell of a lot of baggage, and most of it - in all honesty - doesn’t help much in the creation of an entertaining television show. It’s been more than a decade since it was on the air, and the ratings then were poor. This series is going to have to stand on its own - which means no reliance on what has gone before. (One thing I can guess is that this series will be set in the timeline of the films, and I’d recommend that in any case.) This does not mean never using anything from the franchise, but it does mean that creating new material is preferable. Let’s not see Ferengi, Vulcans, Bajorans just because we need to use them ‘for the fans’. New alien races, new civilizations.
Don’t Bring Back Kirk!
Don’t make this the voyages of the Enterprise. We’ve seen them. We know those characters. It’s a big galaxy - create a new ship, set it in a new time, and build new dynamics, new characters, new stories. (My personal choice would be Endurance, but that’s just me.) Make sure you have room for character conflict. Yes, make it a Starfleet crew - that’s what people will be expecting, and it makes a lot of sense - but new characters, please.
Getting onto the ‘advice’ section, don’t just automatically think ‘bridge crew’. Stories are a lot easier to tell when you have different points-of-view to play with, and some occupations are inherently more suited to adventure than others. The Captain is an obvious, unavoidable, the one who makes the call. For the others, well, the Security Chief should be the one leading landing parties as a rule, and someone defined by his character, not his role. Maybe the Medical Officer is working as an undercover Intelligence Agent, or something like that. Three main leads, and six secondary to make sure they have people to play off, and to allow for the ‘breakout cast’.
Human Solutions for Human Problems
There is nothing more boring than for the climax to a story to be drowned in technobabble. No-one cares. The beauty of science fiction is that it allows the portrayal of ourselves through a lens, and Star Trek always worked best when it dealt with the issues of today. Maybe the Federation is under attack by Bajoran Fundamentalists, or they are having to deal with Orion Pirates raiding their shipping lanes. In the real world, solutions to problems are rarely cut and dried, decisions are usually hard, and not everyone wins. Sometimes not even all the good guys win. Have these decisions have consequences - to the characters, to themselves, to the Federation, and show how those play out.
Going with season-long arcs is the best way to work here. Have the characters, in the first season, ordered to bring peace to a war-torn sector of space, between two factions - and neither of them is the bad guy. Have the Federation involved, with another major opponent - someone new, who we don’t know much about - fighting an intelligence war while trying to stop the real war. Thirteen episodes of that would work well - and stand-alone stories aren’t going to work as well in the ‘boxed-set’ world of today.
Want another one? Right, the ‘Silk Road’, a valuable trade route between the Federation and another interstellar power, currently under siege by pirates. They have to be cleared, but of course, they have reasons for their piracy, their worlds stolen by the power they are co-operating with. Though it shouldn’t be as simple as that. There, that’s two seasons written for them! (If you don’t use them, I probably will at some point.)
Don’t do exploration. Not ‘brave new worlds’. Either it becomes ‘Captain beams down to world that is strangely like Earth’ or it is ‘Well, that empty sector is mapped. Now onto the next one.’ (And there were Next Generation episodes that pretty much had that in mind. Have a reason, a goal. Be seeking the Astonishing Maguffin, with two other enemy ships after it as well. (Yes, you can do Star Trek meets Raiders of the Lost Ark, and damn it, you should.) Need a plot for an episode? Read a newspaper.
What is far more important than worrying about the trappings of Star Trek is what Star Trek can be at its best - an exploration of the future, and of ourselves. That’s what science-fiction is truly all about, at the core. And this can be a chance to grow a whole new audience. The Star Trek fans will watch this, and as long as it has good stories and characters, they’ll stay watching it. Far more important is to bring in new people, ones who might not have watched a show like this before. Just like the Original Series did, fifty years ago. Go Boldly.