I am 31 years old and at the time of writing, Star Trek, has as many seasons to its name. From the original series to the iconic Next Generation and on to my favourite, Deep Space Nine, seven separate incarnations of Star Trek exist. This count does not include any associated animated series or those that have not yet been released.
Despite being created on the original ideal that everything can be solved through peaceful negotiation, it swiftly moved into conflict in the grandest manner. Deep Space Nine was the third incarnation and also my favourite. It offered an alternative view of Starfleet, that they were not all-knowing, and it was one that made the characters more human. The only problem was that the conflict never ended.
The passing of Gene Roddenberry
Gene Roddenberry passed away on the 24th of October 1991. He was the architect of the future, launching the initial series of Star Trek on the 8th September 1966. His death came around during the filming of the Next Generation, two years before Deep Space Nine was released and just before the sixth film arrived.
His passing marked a shift in the direction of the franchise. From conferences to discuss difficult situations to enemies firing first and being brought to the table to talk. It was a very different time for Star Trek, one that shattered the illusion of space being a peaceful place to live. The move from discussion to action reflected the struggles that were prominent within society such as the Gulf War at the start of the decade.
During this decade people moved beyond looking for idealism in television. Shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X Files and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air were making waves. They were building new types of heroes and heroines, as well as making statements about society. In this world, there was no room for the PG variety of Trek, which was seen with the original series and Next Generation.
The war with the Dominion
This was foreshadowed at the end of the second season, with the arrival of the aforementioned, Dominion. They were introduced in passing continually to whet the appetite, which was another technique that began in the ’90s. People suddenly needed hooks to stay connected to shows, which at 26 episodes per season, Deep Space Nine needed.
It sounds crazy now to say that in the ’90s, most TV shows filled more than 20 episodes when the Netflix generation is used to ten and under. This reduction in episode size is something that has walked hand in hand with the attention of audiences. The first stage here was the introduction of a level of conflict into beloved shows and the continuation of this today is the reduction of the average size of a season.
The war with the Dominion added a more adult dimension to Star Trek. It moved them from the geek category and into the trendy. They were cutting edge and in touch with the audience but this change did turn off the core audience, resulting in the early cancellation of Enterprise, the fifth incarnation of Star Trek.
We can always speak later
The move to fighting over talking was a little too much for fans and by the early years of the millennium, those at the helm of Trek moved into the past. The fifth incarnation of Star Trek, entitled, Enterprise, took place in the past. That is to say that the show still took place in the future but the ‘past-future’ of the Trek universe.
It removed the Star Trek name and tried to instil a level of exploration to proceedings. This was enabled by the setting. The show followed humanity’s first starship and its journey into the cosmos. This was the epitome of exploration but the audience soon grew tired and by the third season a conflict was created. This resulted in large scale space battles but these could not save the show and following on from a reduced final season, it finished with less than 100 episodes under its belt.
In 2005 the Star Trek brand was off television for the first time in nearly 20 years. It looked dead and buried but that was before J.J.Abrams brought the franchise back as a film. It sent a jolt into proceedings, appealing to a wide audience. It made Star Trek cool and relevant, which was followed by the return of Star Trek to television audiences in 2017. After 12 years off of our screens, Star Trek Discovery arrived.
Bringing back the discovery at the end of a phaser
Discovery did not promote exploration as its name would have suggested. The majority of the first season is set in a universe that promotes war with the Klingons. It is a costly war, which includes graphic violence and ups the anti-that was first introduced with the Dominion.
The first episodes of Star Trek Discovery introduce a violent conflict with the oldest of enemies, the Klingons. It sets a fire under the franchise and appeals to an audience that is used to the extreme violence that is found across popular franchises today. From the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, Star Trek needs to reach a new audience and one that is used to seeing extreme destruction on television. The bar is higher than it has ever been before and to stay relevant, you need to adapt.
Star Trek Discovery does not focus on exploration, it pays lip service to it.
Star Trek: Picard
Surprising many, Amazon went into produce a series of Star Trek, entitled, Picard. It was a series that promised a real return to exploration, as Picard was the lead of the second generation of Trek. It had real promise.
The end result of all my hopes was something that was disappointing. It is something that tries to suggest that it is about exploration but fails miserably. It neither works on the level of being a show that pays homage to Trek’s exploratory days and misses the levels of conflict established within Discovery.
Star Trek Picard was a wasted opportunity to appeal to those lapsed Star Trek fans that are fed up with the current focus on violence.
I hope that the second season will rectify this misstep but I have my doubts. Modern Trek needs to focus on conflict and we have yet to meet a producer that can create a version of Trek for the modern audience that can appeal and be focused around exploration.
Conflict is in our nature as humans. Just take any ten years from history and I would bet that there is at least one conflict per year. Murders also happen at an appalling rate across the world and so is it really that surprising that violence gets viewers? The news is full of news that is either sensational or tragic. There is no room for Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a utopia in humanity’s future.
Just take the current Covid-19 pandemic. Rather than working together to help those who are vulnerable across the world, we are content to look after ourselves. For this reason, we can easily see why the producers of Star Trek focus on conflict rather than peace. Violence sells but peace is easily ignored when it should be celebrated. In a violent world, the good news is what should be shared and heralded.
Star Trek is a reflection of society, a true reflection, one that is closer to humanity painted in the mirror universe. This is a reference for all the Trekkies out there and I will simply say to everyone else that the alternative vision of humanity is darker. This version of humanity has conquered its enemies and refused to make peace. This is more accurate to what society truly is.