Recently, it was announced that a new Star Trek series will be coming to television in a little more than a year. I want to be excited, but I'm wary of the involvement of so many people responsible for the 2009 franchise reboot. I've written extensively about how J.J. Abrams' vision of the final frontier eschews so much of what makes Star Trek Star Trek, so I'm not sure what my worst-case scenario is here: an awful new series in the Prime timeline that makes me angry for all the same reasons the reboot does, or an awesome new series in the Abramsverse that's better than any other Trek. So, with basically no details available other than "there will be a new Star Trek series," my imagination is running wild with best-case scenarios instead.
As much as I enjoy space battles and fight sequences, I feel like Star Trek was already starting to put action ahead of introspection by the time J.J. Abrams took over. Archer defended Earth from annihilation. Picard did the same in two of the movies. Sisko went to war against the Dominion. Janeway made enemies with practically everyone in the Delta quadrant. The Star Trek universe has been on red alert for most of the last 20 years. Let's scale back on the armed conflicts for a while. Mortal peril on a huge scale is fine from time to time, but drama can come from so many more places.
I'd like to see the next Trek return to the franchise's exploratory roots. I'm not necessarily talking about seeking out new life and new civilizations; the universe is already plenty full of strange new worlds we've barely explored. In fact, I'd rather see more of the one-off aliens from previous series and flesh them out the way DS9 fleshed out the Cardassians and Bajorans. What are the Bynars up to? Is the Federation still getting a piece of the action from Sigma Iota II? What about the more established races that only appeared in one series, such as the Breen, the Talaxians, and the Denobulans? Star Trek doesn't need to visit the uncharted reaches of space to find new territory to explore.
How about this: We set the next Trek in the Prime timeline sometime after the events of Nemesis, and (spoiler) after Romulus has been destroyed for the 2009 reboot. No continuity headaches like you'd have with a prequel or interquel, and we could acknowledge NuTrek without trying to build a new Trek empire upon its slapdash foundation. The show would follow the exploits of the crew of a midsize courier ship—a change of pace from the warships and deep-space exploration vessels we're used to. There'd definitely be room for space combat and encounters with the unknown, but the ship's primary mission would be to ferry cargo and people from place to place within known space. That might sound dull on paper, but so does spending 75 years getting home from the Delta Quadrant or hanging out on the same space station for seven years. Limitations give a story more focus, and it's the story you tell within the framework you have that counts.
There are numerous possibilities for a courier ship. Strange cargo. Intriguing guests. Rendezvous with other ships. Time spent on a planet's surface at the beginning or end of a trip. Bizarre anomalies along the way. And let's not forget the places we can go with the holodeck. Really, it'd be like any other Trek, just with a different how or why driving the story.
I'd also like to see an exceptionally diverse cast. The original Star Trek pushed cultural and racial boundaries with the inclusion of such characters as Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu, allowing them to be positive role models for groups of people who had too often been villainized or stereotyped on American television. Each subsequent Star Trek, with the arguable exception of ENT, has found new ways to be inclusive with its uniquely diverse cast. It's not only a tradition to shake things up; it's almost an obligation. The makeup of your main cast says as much about your show as the individual episodes do, and any show that calls itself Star Trek needs characters that challenge viewers to look at the world in a different way.
If it were up to me, the captain would be a woman. And, equally importantly, she would be an alien. Bolian or Andorian, maybe; somebody blue. The Federation consists of more than humans and dudes, but it's not often enough that you see that reinforced on screen. TOS notwithstanding, the average ratio is 1 woman for every 3 men in the main cast of any given Star Trek, and I'd like to change it to a 50/50 split. That's not feminism; that's equality.
From a narrative perspective, aliens are a great way to explore controversial issues without outright offending viewers who feel strongly about those issues in a real-world context. One of the biggest social conflicts in this country today is about how sexual preference ties in with politics and morality. It's been established that Bolians are polyamorous, with co-husbands and co-wives, and that Andorians are passionate about a great many things; I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that the captain could be bisexual. Star Trek doesn't need to take sides to make an impact on society; posing a question or presenting a situation that solicits a reaction from the viewer is all it takes to start a conversation, and there's a divide in this country that won't end until we stop yelling at each other and start talking about it.
In my mind, this next Star Trek needs to stay culturally relevant to survive, and it needs to ruffle a few feathers. People who never used to care about Star Trek flocked to see the 2009 reboot as well as Into Darkness, and now the franchise is poised to reach a broader audience than ever before. Listen to people's water-cooler conversations and make episodes that relate to what people are already talking about, but get people thinking critically about those things. Don't play it safe; challenge the norm and get people to think critically about things they aren't talking about, too.
Consider the incredible buzz generated by Bruce Jenner, now Caitlyn Jenner. Gender identity is in the news, but it's often sensationalized and still widely misunderstood. What kind of impact would a well-written transgender character have on the viewer? Especially if the character were to transition a few seasons into the show, after the viewer has gotten to know them. All too often we pass judgment on a whole person because of a single label, before knowing anything else about that person. You can love a person and hate one of their labels, or you could love the label and hate the person. People are complex, and I want this new Trek to make people think about whether they're reacting to the person or the label.
Of course, racial diversity would be important. We've never had a fully Hispanic main character on Star Trek. We've also never had an overtly Middle-Eastern main character (Julian Bashir's heritage is merely implied) or a Korean character—and given that Star Trek started out as a bright vision of what the future might look like, I would love to see someone from North Korea or Iran on the bridge as an equal, their country's political conflicts far behind them. We've also been short on Canadians and Australians, and I would be totally fine if the next Star Trek launched without a single American on the bridge. That's not anti-American sentiment; that's the kind of diversity I expect from an intergalactic organization that recruits people from all over the planet, let alone from the 150+ other planets in the Federation. Maybe the one American could be Hawaiian.
There should be plenty of aliens as well. A Tellarite engineer, perhaps, or a Caitan science officer. A Xindi-Humanoid doctor or a Ba'ku first officer. A quartermaster from one of the countless unnamed races we've seen walking around in the background. There's a range of possibilities. I'd like to see a mix of ugly and beautiful aliens, aggressive and passive species—aliens whose cultures and traditions compliment and clash with the rest of the crew in interesting ways.
Other characters I'd like to see:
- Someone with a physical or developmental disability who is every bit as valuable a crew member as anyone else. If Starfleet can have a blind engineer, there's certainly room for a deaf navigator or a transporter chief with high-functioning autism. The 2010 US census reported that 19% of the population had a disability of some kind; that's almost 1 in 5. How many television characters can you name who have a disability?
- Someone age 60 or older (in Earth years, anyhow) who, again, is every bit as valuable a crew member as anyone else. I've noticed a trend in movies especially that the actors keep getting younger (compare the original Star Wars trilogy with the prequels, for example), and that anything featuring older actors puts a big focus on their characters being old (Last Vegas, Rocky Balboa, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and so forth). Humans on Star Trek have been shown to live well into their second century, and some alien races have mind-boggling longevity. Let's see a ship's counselor whose wisdom and experience matter more than the number of arthritis jokes he can make.
- A traditional conservative, preferably one of the younger crew members. I remember a time when social, political, and religious issues were a matter of debate, where you could disagree with someone but still be friends. That's changed over the last few years, at least as far as I can tell. Conservatism has become synonymous with ignorance and bigotry; either you keep your opinions to yourself, or you open your mouth and be labeled an idiot or a monster. No middle ground. Just as people with disabilities and transgender people need good role models and positive representation on television, so too do people who believe in returning to ways that worked well before or maintaining the stability of what we have. And on a personal note, I'm tired of seeing every. character. on. television. jump right into the sack with their romantic interest du jour after the first date; it would be incredibly refreshing to see someone cultivate a close personal relationship without immediate physical intimacy—and because they choose to, not because it builds romantic tension.
The next Trek stands to be as pivotal a series as The Original Series if it can tap into the zeitgeist, do things that no other show on television is doing, and transform the way we look at our world. Do an episode that speaks to the current refugee crisis, but with Romulans escaping the destruction of Romulus. Explore the climate change debate with an episode about a planet being terraformed. Encounter a species whose government has adopted educational policies not unlike Common Core, and have the crew work through a crisis situation with aliens who, for better or for worse, all have identical training.
At the same time, make meaningful connections with the rest of the Star Trek universe, and take every opportunity to fix mistakes and develop ideas and plot threads left dangling in other series. I want a resolution to the TNG episode "Conspiracy" that brings back the parasites we suspiciously never heard anything about again. I want a holodeck episode where we get to see some of the Romulan War that was teased in the last season of Enterprise. I also want a line from one of the characters about how a lot of the holoprograms of that era are notorious for getting the details wrong, placing events farther in the future than they really were, and having historical figures die or break up with their loved ones who actually lived long, prosperous lives and settled down to raise a family—subtly correcting some of the biggest problems with the final episode of Enterprise. I want to meet a very old Joanna McCoy, daughter of Dr. Leonard McCoy, and have her spin some yarns that shed some light on her father's backstory. I want an episode that makes it abundantly clear that NuTrek is actually an alternate universe, and not an altered timeline that's inconsistent with so much of established Star Trek history. Heck, if you really want to fix continuity problems, establish that Enterprise and NuTrek are in one universe, and all the rest of Star Trek is in another.
No matter what this next Trek looks like, I'll give it a shot. I only hope the people making it have the kind of passion for the franchise and thoughtful approach that will do justice to Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future.