Tony Black on the possibilities for Bryan Fuller’s new Star Trek TV series…
Quietly stealing the thunder of Justin Lin’s upcoming Star Trek Beyond, it’s the freshly announced rebirth of Star Trek on the small screen which has triggered a wave of excitement inside and outside of Star Trek fandom since the news dropped in November last year. The announcement that Bryan Fuller would be at the helm not only helped quell the sadness of the cancellation of his inspired take on Hannibal Lecter, but has given long-term fans hope that the new series will be true to Trek on television. Fuller was a staff writer on both Deep Space Nine and Voyager back in the show’s television prime, he knows the franchise inside out, and has grown into one of US TV’s most accomplished show runners. When he hired Nicholas Meyer, considered by many the greatest writer/director of Star Trek ever given his involvement in The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home and The Undiscovered Country, many fans went into paroxysms of glee like a horde of excitable Tribbles. Now, if rumours are to be believed, Fuller and Meyer together may be going a step further and doing what many Trek fans considered unthinkable: setting their new show in the original series’ timeline.
Let’s slingshot around the Sun for a minute and play catch up, shall we? The last time Star Trek was on TV was the divisive prequel series Enterprise (later Star Trek: Enterprise), which had a troubled production to say the least. On its cancellation in 2005, the dominance of Trek on TV (where, lest we forget, it all began in the 1960’s) was over after eighteen years and twenty-five seasons of consistent, uninterrupted television. The ‘Trek Dark Ages’ followed, much darker than its absence for much of the 1970’s. Gene Roddenberry spent years trying to get a new series on the air before The Motion Picture but the fandom was strong, and keen, and there was at least The Animated Series to tide people over until 1979. Post-2005, the fandom had dwindled and grown more interested in numerous other properties, thanks to undercooked seasons of TV and underwhelming The Next Generation movies. Paramount remained committed to continuing the franchise nonetheless (which did remain robustly healthy in print, admittedly), toying with making prequel series about Starfleet Academy and a young James T. Kirk & Spock. At which point J.J. Abrams & his Bad Robot production company tied all of these threads together and in 2009, Star Trek exploded onto the big screen – flashy, stylish, exciting and expensive, it did two key things in terms of the franchise.
Firstly, it divided fandom enormously. It seemed for every fan who enjoyed Abrams modern take on the original series crew, there were two standing guard like loyalist protectors over the older iteration of Trek, steadfastly shaking their fists at this upstart changing what they loved in the first place. The box office and critical response suggested people had largely taken Abrams new ‘verse’ to their hearts as the injection of life the franchise needed, and his marginally less successful sequel Star Trek Into Darkness followed in 2013. Secondly, it literally changed the Trek universe forever, from a narrative perspective. One of the key plot points to the first Star Trek ‘reboot’ made even calling it a reboot at all difficult, given it saw the established timeline we’d been following for almost fifty years intersect with a brand new timeline created by Eric Bana’s villainous Nero, allowing the ‘reimagining’ (a slightly better description) to continue apace and bring back Kirk & Spock & crew for a new age. Abrams rightly understood those characters had evolved into pop culture status beyond their show, Spock especially, though in delivering them to a new audience he alienated much of the old. Like all the obsessive cultural fan bases, Trek fans hold strongly to a sense of continuity across the myriad shows and movies. It’s a problem the comic book cinematic universes may encounter down the road – fan blowback when that investment in continuity is seemingly ridden roughshod over.
These rumours, then, of a new show set in the original, pre-Abrams timeline — and it must be stressed they are rumours only at this stage, and could be debunked at any time — have given those wounded fans hope they may get “their Trek” back. I’m not going to argue the validity of that, because truthfully as a Trekkie since a very young age, I’d be just as happy to see Fuller deliver a show in any timeline as long as I have Star Trek back on my TV. The more interesting associated rumour is that Fuller’s template for the new series is an ‘anthology’ approach which allows his writing team to set each season in a new time and place. This first run is rumoured to be set after The Undiscovered Country, roughly the mid-2290’s, in the wake of Kirk, his crew & the Enterprise-A being mothballed, and feature a new crew but not on a ship called Enterprise. Aside from the opening act of Generations, the ensuing seventy years before The Next Generation are well known in Trek fandom as the ‘lost era’, covered only in a run of non-canonical extended universe novelisations (rather good ones as well). On screen, we’ve witnessed almost nothing of a period which would have seen hostilities quell with the Klingon Empire, the early years of TNG, DS9 and Voyager characters, and some interesting geopolitical changes within the Federation. It’s an era, frankly, ripe for the picking and an inspired possible choice by Fuller if it’s true–and with Meyer on staff, who wrote & directed The Undiscovered Country, it would make a world of sense. The only downside? Expect those ‘Captain Sulu’ series rumours to run rampant once again!
Let’s imagine for a moment though the anthology rumour (which is the hardest part of this to believe, admittedly) is true – where in Trek lore could Fuller mine each season for rich dramatic pickings? The possibilities are almost endless. For a start, there is no reason Fuller has to remain slavish to the original timeline at all. Almost no Trek fan truly imagined we might even possibly see the next series set in any other continuity than the Abrams-verse, in order to connect with the movies, but there are interesting reasons why that might not necessarily be an ambition going forward. It’s exciting to think Fuller could even play about with timelines. Why not set a season in the Mirror Universe, the dark reflection of the Federation? Manny Coto had designs on doing a lot more with it in Enterprise, given how successful its Mirror episodes were, but a whole season? It could be Star Trek with an incredibly fresh texture. Alternatively, many Trek fans would love to see a TV show pick up where Star Trek the Abrams movie left off, in the wake of the Hobus supernova which destroyed Romulus, and the geopolitical repercussions; it’s the equivalent of someone nuclear bombing China into oblivion now – think how that would tip the balance of our world. In the post-Hobus landscape, would the Klingons move in and start exerting dominance once more? Or would the Federation, increasingly drunk on influence, extend its boundaries too far and create ISIS-esque insurgencies they can’t control? Trek was always at its best when it shone a light on the world of today and reflected it, so such ideas are tantalising.
Perhaps however, the most exciting concept for a new Star Trek series is the most obvious one, staring us in the face – a crew, exploring space, going where no one has gone before. Let’s be honest, how long has it been since we had that show? Arguably Voyager. Enterprise explored the unknown from the prism of the characters, not the audience, and the fun was in them discovering things we already knew. Abrams’ films so far have been more about adventure, action set pieces, and exploring the characters of Kirk & Spock than actual space exploration and while Beyond is making noises about getting the Enterprise crew on their five-year-mission, if the trailer we’ve seen so far is anything to go by that may well be largely lip-service to engage an action-based, crew stranded on a planet plot. A week by week show exploring the true unknown of the Star Trek universe? We haven’t seen that for a long time and that’s what fans arguably are hungry for the most. Fuller’s show is believed to be heavily serialised, so this likely won’t be your father’s or even grandfather’s Trek; think more late DS9 than weekly TNG. Whatever he gives us, whatever the rumours, the biggest victory is that we have Star Trek back on TV again. That’s where it belongs.
What kind of Star Trek series do you hope Bryan Fuller will produce? Continuous or anthology? Original or alternate timeline? Let us know! Until then, Black to Enterprise. Beam me up…