Archive for November, 2015

If I were in charge of the new Star Trek series

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

So: I’m kind of a huge Star Trek geek. When Disney announced a bunch of new Star Wars movies I was ecstatic, but when CBS announced a new Star trek series I went BONKERS. I pulled out all my old board and card games, read through some of my old RPG books, and reinstalled some of my favorite Star Trek video games. And, of course, speculated endlessly about how the new series might work, and what it would focus on, and who would be on the crew. This speculation has absorbed an unconscionable quantity of my time this week, so as a defensive measure I’m going to publish it here, and get it out of my head, and then it will be your problem instead of mine, and I can get some actual work done.

I warn you that this post might get long.

The first and biggest question, obviously, is “Will the new series be part of the old continuity from the TV shows, or the new continuity from the recent movies?” We could talk about the various merits of each for hours, but I think it comes down to two basic facts:
1) The show is coming from CBS, not Paramount, so the rights they own are exclusive to the old shows.
2) Cinematic universes are the law of the land in Hollywood these days, and it would be foolish of any media producer NOT to take advantage of Star Trek in that way. Star Trek was doing Cinematic Universe storytelling decades before anyone else, so why stop now?

How do we reconcile those two facts? With a new show that builds on the existing shows, but can cross over to the movies if and when they want to. So there’s our first creative guide post. It’s honestly not really much of a constraint: at minimum, we can do a show that ignores the movies completely and then just link them together with time/dimensional travel when we decide a link is necessary. On the other end of the scale, we can make time/dimensional travel a major theme of the show, crossing into the Abramsverse and the Mirrorverse and so on all the time. My solution is somewhere between the two extremes.

Next we look at diversity: the original series was shockingly diverse for its time, not accidentally but purposefully and aggressively. Star Trek had the first televised biracial kiss, and indeed Uhura became a major Civil Rights icon. In the second season they added Chekhov, a Russian character, as a specific rebuke to cold war paranoia and the American hatred of the Soviet Union. “The future is a place where we can all get along” was one of, if not the, primary theme of the show, embedded deep in its DNA. Following that kind of model in modern America means pushing the envelope just as much in 2015 as Roddenberry did in 1967. I interpret that to mean not just a racially diverse cast, but finding diversity in other areas: who are our modern Soviet Unions, and how can we showcase them? So there’s our second creative guide post.

Lastly, before we dive into the actual concept, is our final creative guide post: hope. The original Star Trek leaked hope from every pore. Many of the episodes were bittersweet, and some outright tragic, but at its core it was a show about discovery, teamwork, and problem-solving. Modern media is much more grim and gritty than it used to be, but I think the pendulum is slowly starting to swing back toward hope again, and I want the new Star Trek series to reflect that. The success of The Martian shows this shift in our attitudes, and in fact that entire story is a direct homage to Star Trek’s vision of the future: people are fundamentally good, and when the chips are down the entire planet can come together to accomplish something great, using science and innovation to explore outer space. You can see this spirit of hope all over the place in modern media. Our superhero movies are about standing up for what’s right and making the world a better place; our dystopian books and movies, for all their darkness, are about fixing the problems we see in society. Even our post-apocalyptic nightmare movies have happy endings these days, and if Mad Max can finally get a happy ending I think we all can. American culture is finally starting to crawl out of our post-9/11 depression, and our storytelling is no longer about surviving but rebuilding. Our world isn’t perfect, and we still have a lot of problems to solve, but we’re actively trying to solve them. I want our new Star Trek series to reflect that.

So, taking all of that into account, here’s my pitch for a new Star Trek series.

STAR TREK: MERIDIAN

In 2387, as shown in the recent movies, a supernova destroyed the seat of the Romulan Empire. This forced them into a choice: to integrate with the rest of the galaxy, like the Klingons did in a similar situation so many years ago, or to start a war in a desperate bid for resources and supremacy. They chose war (partly inspired, no doubt, by the fact that new-movie Spock apparently caused the supernova with his wacky Red Matter), and for 24 years the galaxy has been wracked with conflict and torn to shreds. Old alliances crumbled, new alliances formed and fell, and all that was great and glorious about our vast space-faring civilizations was tainted or outright destroyed. Now, at the turn of the 25th century, the war is over by mutual accord: no side won, and everybody lost. The survivors use the uneasy peace to try to pick up the pieces and move forward.

nova classOur show follows the USS Meridian, a science vessel that was repurposed during the war for courier duties, supply, and search and rescue. I’m basing this on the general idea of the Nova Class, though of course we would want a new ship design to mark the new series. With the conflict over, the Meridian has been tasked with surveying the damage, reporting back, and helping out where possible. The crew consists of two distinct groups–the ones who served on the ship during the war, and the new wave who was assigned there when it received its new orders. Much of the character drama comes from their attempts to reconcile their differences and come together as a team. I don’t have names for the characters yet, but I do have dream casting suggestions for all of them.

Old Crew:
angela bassetCaptain: a human science officer played by Angela Basset. She hated the war, and the things it required her to do, but she did them anyway because they were her duty. Like the ship itself, her specialty is science; before she went into command she was a researcher, specializing in geology, ecology, and planetary survey, and she is thrilled to now be back in a scientific role, cataloging the vast reaches of space that have become, post-war, as unfamiliar as they were when the first Federation ships explored them centuries ago. She is a devout Muslim, and uses this focus on peace and discovery to keep herself focused. Her best friend aboard the ship is her first officer, who has served with her for years. She also feels a strong connection to the new helm/pilot officer, as they are both still haunted by the horrors of war. My plan is to make her a direct descendant of Uhura, and set up a potential movie cross-over that way. This might mean she has a little Vulcan blood, depending on how the movie decides to play out the Uhura/Spock relationship. Angela Bassett is absolutely my first choice here–she has a fantastic sense of presence and authority on screen, and could bring both gravitas and heart to the captain’s chair.

hiroyuki sanadaFirst Officer: a Cardassian tactical officer played by Hiroyuki Sanada. With the Klingon Empire fighting only for themselves, the Federation turned to the biggest ally they had left: Cardassia. Over the years they formed strong ties together, and shortly before the end of the war Cardassia joined the Federation officially. Now that the war is over, certain factions within Cardassia want the “alliance of necessity” undone, but others are happy to stay together. This character is a contradiction: duplicitous and underhanded with his enemies, but fiercely loyal to his friends. He and the captain have worked together for a while, and respect each other greatly. He has sharp conflicts with the new communications officer, a Bajoran who holds on to the old animosity between their people. He doesn’t trust the new Security officer, probably because she’s just as sneaky as he is. I love Cardassians dearly, especially the way that they looked like outright villains in the beginning and were eventually revealed to be just as noble, and with just as much potential for both greatness and evil, as any other species in the galaxy. With characters like Garak, Dukat, and the glorious arc of Damar, Cardassians are one of the most well-developed species in Star Trek, arguably the most well-developed, and I want to play with that potential here. A Starfleet Cardassian who embraces both Damar’s heroism and Garak’s cunning is a character I’ll follow to the bitter end.

paula pattonDoctor: a half Klingon, half Vulcan xenobiologist played by Paula Patton. Someone suggested a klingon/vulcan doctor on Facebook, and while I changed the casting I love the idea: someone calm and soft-spoken, but ready to explode when pushed to the edge. I think Paula Patton could kill this role, contrasting stately elegance with righteous fury. I want to break away a bit from the standard Star Trek trope of mixed race, which always shows them as struggling with an inherent conflict of identity: am I vulcan, or am I klingon? This character is comfortable with both, following the less common Vulcan decision to ignore the banishment of emotion (a ritual called Kolinahr) in favor of a more balanced acceptance of emotion and logic as equal forces. In many ways her klingon side helps to keep her vulcan turbidity in check. She has found new friends among the incoming crew of scientists, particularly the gregarious exocultural officer, and they serve as nice foils to each other: one warm and calm, the other effusive and bubbly. Her greatest personal conflict comes from their Romulan liaison.

ajay naiduEngineering: a Trill engineer played by Ajay Naidu. He’s been with the Meridian for several years now, in two different host bodies, and held her together through thick and thin. He’s not about to abandon the ship now that she finally gets to do what she was built to do, so he specifically requested to stay, and to bring his spouse aboard now that wartime restrictions have been loosened. This body is the Trill symbiont’s fifth host, and its first male, and while he’s determined to make things work with the previous host’s husband, the changes in circumstance–both physical and situational–create big problems the couple has to deal with. He takes to the new communications officer and the new security officer quickly, the former because they get along as buddies, and the latter because her empathic abilities help him to understand his own emotions better. In the future, the new host may even become attracted to one or both of them. I toyed with the idea of using a new kind of alien, instead of a Trill, partly just to be new and also because I think that Trill hosts are kind of an easy button for stories about gender identity, and well-trammeled territory for Star Trek already. I wanted to try a little harder. The more I thought about it, though, the more I loved the opportunities a Trill presents us for telling stories specifically about gender transition, which is an area that Star Trek has only hit in passing. The very first Trill story was about gender transition, but that was one episode, and then Jadzia (and Ezri) were both devoutly female, with most of their “previous host” stories focusing around the humor of a young, attractive female being friends with old grizzly warriors. This character gives us the chance to dig into something deeper, including fully fluid gender spectrum, and the various ways that he, his husband, and the entire crew can react to the changes. So I’m keeping him a Trill :)

New Crew:
ki hong leeAstrometrics: a young alien genius played by Ki Hong Lee. Every show needs a new alien–something we haven’t seen before, who can show us a reflection of ourselves in a new way. This character comes from a species that is, for lack of a better term, emotionally cold-blooded: they can’t regulate their own emotions, and instead take on the general emotional state of whatever situation they’re in. Kind of like an empath that only works one way, but I don’t want to get too Counselor Troi-ish with this, and instead want to play it as something that is primarily negative, like a crazy space version of bipolar disorder. He’ll surround himself with happy people, which will make him happy, but when something goes wrong and the people around him get sad or scared or depressed, he follows along, without any control over his own emotions. When he’s alone he becomes emotionally inert. This can be treated with medication, which is the only way he made it through the Academy–surrounding himself with a bunch of stressed-out science students made him an absolute basketcase, but the medication and proper social therapy helped, and his natural genius allowed him to graduate at an exceptionally young age with a massive array of mathematics degrees. He’s eager to be out on the Meridian, his first assignment, and see in person the kinds of things he’s thus far only studied in theory. Because of his emotional issues he finds numbers and theories to be simple and comforting, and spends long hours studying. He avoids the more emotionally volatile members of the crew, like the exocultural officer and the helm/pilot, and he doesn’t like who he becomes when he hangs around the darker, more intense characters such as the security, communications, and the XO. That leaves him with precious few friends aboard the ship, though he does like the doctor and the engineer. The net result is that he is drawn to the Romulan liaison, who seems to genuinely like him; the fact that he likes the Romulan back is, for the captain, the first and best sign that the Romulan might actually be trustworthy.

jewel staiteInterspecies Relations: a Bolian exocultural specialist and counselor played by Jewel Staite. She loves people: helping them, talking to them, getting to know them, being needed by them. She’s an extrovert in every sense of the word. Her field of study is primarily cultural, lying in the realm of “soft” science, but she has a passing familiarity with physiology and anatomy as well, particularly in how they relate to interspecies social interaction. She has become friends with the doctor, but tends to clash with the captain over disagreements in how alien contact situations should be handled–she will almost always side with her own feelings over Starfleet regulations, trying to help people no matter what the rules and the complicated web of political treaties says they can and can’t do. She’s kind of like a really bubbly female Captain Kirk in that sense, with just enough of that Kirk-like ego to be very angry when she suggests a course of action and the captain decides to do something else. Jewel Staite would be fantastic in this role, even covered in blue makeup and a bald cap, showing all the cheerful optimism of Kaylee from Firefly, mixed with all the self-confident ego we’ve seen from her in roles since.

diane guerreroHelm: a Human navigator and pilot played by Diane Guerrero. This is her second assignment: she graduated the Academy with top marks, looking forward to a glorious career as a pilot, but it was the height of the war, and in her first few years of service she went through absolute hell. She comes to the Meridian with a chip on her shoulder and a bad case of PTSD, which she does her best to hide from the others because she doesn’t want to admit her own weakness. Her previous commander will be an ongoing villain in the story, always trying to lure her back in to some of the more war-crimey stuff he got her tied up in before. She likes the communications officer, responding to his similar vibe of bitter anger, which doesn’t help her relationship to the XO. She also finds a kindred spirit in the security officer, whose “the end justifies the means” attitude seems to validate her own past actions and assuage her conscience. The captain is kind of trying to take her under her wing, which will be a huge boon if she ever decides to accept any help.

mitch pileggiCommunications: a Bajoran operations officer played by Mitch Pileggi. Loud and lovable and intense and determined and bitter and kind of a misogynist. He’s the Robert Baratheon of communications and sensors officers, grizzled by war and full of larger-than life stories, the first to buy a round for everyone in the bar, and the first to mouth off and mutter insobordinate things in the back halls of the ship. He doesn’t like the XO, and is in fact pretty racist against Cardassians; he doesn’t like the captain, and thinks he should have his own command by now. He gets along great with the engineer and the exocultural officer, and is a kind of father figure for the helm/pilot officer.

sela wardTactical: a Betazoid security and weapons officer played by Sela Ward. Most of the Betazoids we’ve seen have used their psychic powers to help people, but this character is all about manipulation: it’s her job to keep the ship safe, and she’ll do it any way she can, no matter how underhanded. Her empathic abilities make her an amazing negotiator and interrogator, finding all of her opponents’ mental pressure points and pushing on them with expert skill. Her tactical philosophy is simple: win before the fight starts, and she uses mind games and long-term plans to make this happen. That said, when it’s time to fight, she can fight with the best of them. She clashes with the XO, because they’re too alike to trust each other, but they do often see the wisdom of each others’ plans, and make a great team when they have to be. She works hard to earn the captain’s trust, but she does it so manipulatively that it’s hard to believe her motives are pure. The truth is that after so long, and after stepping over so many lines in the war, she doesn’t know how to come back to normal–she is in many ways just as damaged as the pilot, but she hides it so much better, even from herself.

Unofficial Crew:
matt bomerLiaison: a rogue Romulan gone AWOL from the Empire, played by Matt Bomer. They pick him up in the first episode, and distrust him instantly, but eventually realize that he can be valuable as a guide when dealing with areas the Romulan Empire occupied during the war. He is sneaky, manipulative, and full of secrets, but he’s also incredibly useful and has never actively betrayed them. They keep him around, but restrict his access aboard the ship, allow him no weapons, and work behind his back to figure out more about his past. Much like the doctor, he is a contradiction: a fun-loving scoundrel and a deceitful game-player; a loyal friend and a traitor. Everyone will instantly suspect him of divided loyalties, and the obvious move is to make him a member of the Tal Shiar, the Romulan intelligence agency, sent to monitor this Federation ship as it moves uncontested through former Romulan space. I want to avoid this precisely because it’s so obvious, but on the other hand it’s a great story, and I think we can use the audience expectations against them. We’ll make him a former Tal Shiar officer who was part of something terrible–a massive plot by certain factions of the Empire to break the peace treaty and win the war once and for all–and who went AWOL in a specific effort to stop that plan before it could go through. He doesn’t dare to tell the Federation, for fear that news of the treachery will re-ignite the war, so he has to solve it himself. This makes him act secretly and suspiciously, constantly trying to nudge the ship toward a location or situation that will allow him to do what he needs to do. He’s playing a constant mind game with everyone on the ship, but on the other hand he is a good person, genuinely trying to save the galaxy in the only way he knows how, and so the astrometics officer feels good around him, and the security officer knows something’s going on but can’t find any hard evidence of evil or betrayal.

So there you have it.

This is my proposal for a new Star Trek series. A group of people damaged by the past, but trying to work together to make a better future. They’ll explore, they’ll build, they’ll rebuild, and they’ll leave the galaxy better than they found it. They’ll use science to solve physical problems, and diplomacy to solve personal ones, and friendship and trust to solve their own problems aboard the ship.

Now I just need CBS to make it :)