Returning to the Sci-Fi Episodic Roots of ‘Star Trek’

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tng_01In Vox, Todd VanDerWerff has argued that Star Trek should return to the small screen–well, now medium screen–and should do so in the style of series such as True Detective and Fargo. Now I have to admit that (1) a TV series of Star Trek again would be awesome and (2) that I really loved Fargo and it was the first series since, I guess, Star Trek that I have actually re-watched. However, both of those things do not mean that they should be spliced together.

Here I am going to argue that this is not the way Star Trek should return to TV. Instead, I am going to go “old school” and argue for a traditional TV series. But before I do, I’ll give VanDerWerff his due: it would be really interesting to see what writers would do with a mini-series style of Star Trek these days. Following on from the magnificent Babylon 5 whose long, what was supposed to be, 5-year story arc opened up the longer series form, Star Trek itself had two attempts at this: there was the “Dominion War” arc in DS9 and then the “Xindi” arc in Enterprise. Many remember these fondly, but, if you look at the list of the best Star Trek episodes of all time (here in the special sealed SFW section), none of these feature. These were good viewing, but they were not impactful in terms of our own thought, inspiration, or in terms of culture.

So what are the elements of our favorite episodes? First, they used the character development that had occurred in the past–for instance, Picard’s difficulty in being a family person in “The Inner Light.” Second, unlike the movies, they rarely relied on action to keep the plot moving. There are exceptions, but most were explorations of the inner human or society in general. Finally, they used science fiction to its core. Science fiction at its best puts humans in new situations to explore the issues of the day. These three elements together became inspirational as the characters grappled with moral dilemmas but also did so with a sense of having to move forward.

It is far from clear that chunks of 10 episodes in a series with new characters but the same universe could achieve this. Instead, Star Trek needs to put a crew back in a ship and fly them around the galaxy and see what happens. They should visit a planet every episode and occasionally can have tie-ins to previous ones. This is a genre that has served us, and particularly children, well. (The temptation with addictive TV as it is today would be to create situations with violence, etc., that may deter family viewing.) So we should think of this as more like Space 1999 (where the moon flew around), the Time Tunnel or Quantum Leap (which was flying around randomly in time) or Doctor Who (which did both).

It can be done in this day and age; Star Trek‘s return to television can boldly go where it has gone before.

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