Monday, July 24, 2017

My Discovery Dilemma

From the moment Star Trek: Discovery was announced, a small (but very loud) group of fundamentalist Star Trek fans have making angry noises about it, mainly because they fear it'll disrupt their cherished Star Trek "canon". For these people, it doesn't matter if a Star Trek production tells a fun and interesting story with compelling characters unless it strictly adheres to all the picky details of the Star Trek universe that have been established over 50 years of TV episodes and movies. Typically, I've been somewhat dismissive of these people.

But I have to say I agree with one point that some of them are making: that Star Trek is supposed to be about optimistic space exploration, but the only show on the fall schedule that seems to be doing that is Seth McFarlane's The Orville. Judging from the new trailer and cast interviews from ComicCon, Discovery seems mainly to be about war with the Klingons. So why can't Star Trek be about space exploration again? There's actually a good reason.

The Star Trek universe is too crowded.

Maybe you're saying: "Wait a minute, Dave. The Milky Way galaxy is astonishingly big! There's no way it could ever be 'too crowded'!" And you're right. The real Milky Way is almost incomprehensibly huge, with billions upon billions of stars separated by staggeringly vast distances. But Star Trek isn't set in the real Milky Way galaxy. Star Trek's version of our galaxy is surrounded by an "energy barrier" the color of Pepto-Bismol, and in the center there's not a supermassive black hole, but a planet housing the giant disembodied head of George Murdock cosplaying as the Cowardly Lion:

Star Trek's galaxy is also about as densely-populated as Mumbai. At some point during The Next Generation era they decided that the Federation and most of the familiar Star Trek alien races and empires were in the "Alpha Quadrant" of the galaxy .(Yes, I know that technically the Klingon and Romulan empires are supposed to be in the Beta Quadrant, but judging by nothing but the dialogue we hear on the shows, they're in the Alpha Quadrant with everyone else) Deep Space Nine's wormhole went to the "Gamma Quadrant", which is mostly taken up by the two-millennia-old Dominion, and when Voyager was thrown into the "Delta Quadrant" they met up with Kazon and Vidiians and Hirogen but mostly the Borg, who have been around for untold centuries and are sure to have conquered/wiped out most of that quadrant. It's hard to do any real exploring in Star Trek prequel series like Enterprise or Discovery, because they're just going places we've already seen in other shows. And if you try to do a sequel series about the adventures of the Enterprise-H in the 25th century, then fans will just complain if you don't spend a whole bunch of time checking up on the current goings-on of the Klingons and the Borg and the Cardassians, and you can't go into "unexplored" space without brushing up against the outer fringes of the Borg or Dominion empires.

And anyway, what would be the point? In one episode of Voyager, we meet up with a 29th century version of Starfleet that's flying around in timeships. Timeships! So what's the point of any of this when we know that half a millennium after Captain Picard, Starfleet and the Federation still exist and can apparently move back and forth through time as easily as you and I can walk to the fridge to get a Coke? Is it any wonder that fans of a TV show about a group of space explorers in the future are more excited about The Orville? It's set in a wide-open, unexplored galaxy that isn't bogged down by five decades of continuity and questionable writing.

If you want a really good sense of what Star Trek used to be once upon a time, check out the first 8 or 10 episodes of The Original Series. The "rules" of the Star Trek universe hadn't been set in stone yet. There's no mention of Starfleet or the Federation, no Klingons, and not even a glimpse of Earth. Our people are way out on the edge of a very lonely frontier. The planets we visit are mostly desolate, windswept places, home only to small groups of miners, scientists, or archaeologists sifting through the ruins of a long-dead civilization. There's no zipping back and forth to Earth like future productions would do; we're too far out in space for that. The Star Trek universe is new and pregnant with possibility.

So, how do we return to that? I can only think of one way: give Star Trek the Battlestar Galactica treatment--a hard reboot. Make a clean break with the past, and reimagine Trek from top to bottom. Yes, the hardcore fundamentalist fans will throw a gigantic baby tantrum, but there honestly aren't enough of them to matter.

I'm not saying Discovery is a total loss here, or that it's going to be bad. I haven't seen it yet. But at some pont, it'll end. The J.J. Abrams film series will end, too, (or maybe it already has), and eventually Star Trek will lay fallow for a few years. When it comes back, I hope the people in charge have the guts to start clean.


  1. Fine with new as long as it's optimistic and moving forward. The mediocrity we've seen, largely with Abrams and it now appears with the new series, sits squarely with Paramount and CBS. If that opinion makes me a Nazi... Seig Heil! I'll add it makes the saps who bend over for anything... as long as Paramount and CBS slap "Star Trek" on it... well, saps.

  2. BTW - love your website. Nice layout, covers interesting topics, one of the best; gloomy and sunny days.


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