Essays, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Making it So: the Return of Jean-Luc Picard & Star Trek’s Nostalgic Future

A couple of months ago, I pontificated on whether the pursuit of nostalgia was a good thing for my second favourite entertainment franchise, Star Trek, in the wake of rumours that Sir Patrick Stewart may well be reprising his iconic role as The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This weekend, at the Star Trek Las Vegas fan event, those rumours became reality. The second captain of the USS Enterprise is, officially, on his way back.

What does this mean, now, for the future of Star Trek?

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Essays, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: Voyager

Nostalgia & Star Trek: Picard, Discovery and the Future

Nostalgia seems to be a double edged sword right now in Hollywood. What on the surface appears to be a comforting guaranteed winner in terms of audience satisfaction and cinematic box office is becoming something of a poisoned creative chalice. The lacklustre critical (if not box-office) responses to pictures such as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom or Ocean’s Eight, sequels to long-standing, well-regarded franchises; or Lucasfilm’s decision to put a hold on more A Star Wars Story anthology movies after the tepid box office (by Star Wars terms) of Solo, seemingly putting immediately paid to rumoured Boba Fett & Obi-Wan Kenobi-centric films. There is a nostalgia blowback in progress, the ripple effect of which we are only beginning to understand.

Is this a ripple effect that, like the Nexus in Generations, threatens to engulf the future of the Star Trek franchise?

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Books, Star Trek: The Original Series

Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘First Frontier’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 64 million years ago.

Sometimes you just click with a novel and sometimes, as in the case of First Frontier, you just don’t. For an indefinable reason, Diane Carey’s novel co-written with scientist Dr. James Kirkland was easily my most arduous reading experience of the Star Trek tie-in universe yet. This could well be a level of personal preference and, as always with my pieces on Cultural Conversation, I’ll be looking conceptually at First Frontier and what it does as a novel. I would, however, be lying if I said it was an enjoyable read.

First Frontier is an interesting tie-in novel, the seventy-fifth in the line of The Original Series books, for several reasons. For a start, there is the inclusion of Kirkland in the writing process. Carey is someone who will be well known to many who read Star Trek tie-in fiction, given how she was one of the most prolific novelists in the franchise, particularly throughout the 1990’s. Kirkland, however, is a scientist first and writer second, at least in terms of fiction, and came to co-write First Frontier, as a self-confessed major Star Trek fan since the 1960’s, after Carey read an article in Discover magazine about Kirkland’s discovery of the ‘Utahraptor’, one of the biggest dinosaurs ever found.

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Alias

Alias (Series Overview + Reviews)

Alias arrived at a fascinating point when it came to television. The year was 2001 and a lot was changing in the ether around it. JJ Abrams, at this point best known as the writer of Harrison Ford weepie Regarding Henry, Michael Bay blockbuster Armageddon and show-runner of late 90’s teen hit drama Felicity, was nowhere near the producing and directing Hollywood totem he would become. His production house, Bad Robot, had not yet become the nascent Amblin of its generation. And, just nineteen days before the pilot, ‘Truth Be Told’, aired… 9/11 happened.

Abrams’ spy series already had some interesting cache behind it. Alias was a show that emerged on ABC with the intention of riding into the 21st century with a fresh storytelling model. The most successful and important TV shows of the 1990’s had almost all built their success on an episodic, network model of storytelling; 22-26 episode seasons with plenty of stand-alone stories which would serve the show well in syndication. In everything from Quantum Leap through to The X-Files, show-runners moving from the 1980’s into more of a Golden Age of television, in which some of the most key writers in both TV and cinema of the next few decades would emerge, had cleaved to the way it had been done for years.

Not Alias.

It would immediately strive for an aesthetic which would tap into a deep reservoir of retro-futurism, both aesthetically and in terms of production. Abrams and his staff came out of the gate leaning heavily into the kind of serialisation most shows in the 1990’s just didn’t do, bar a few trend-setting exception we’ll return to. The concept was both high and complex – female super-spy Sydney Bristow would find herself learning the covert CIA branch she had been working for, SD-6, was in truth the arm of a worldwide crime syndicate, and would work as a double-agent to bring down the enemy from within. Episodes would end on a cliffhanger every week and fold into each other. A surfeit of character and narrative mysteries would propel Syd’s journey along, not to mention a curious central, underlying occult and arcane mythology which tipped the show away from action-thriller and more toward science-fiction.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Strike’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 600,000 years ago.

The conclusion of Greg Cox’s three-part exploration of the Q Continuum brings proceedings to a natural and understandable close, as Q manages to win the day over the evil entity 0 (aka Nil) and save reality as we know it. ‘Q-Strike’, thankfully, despite being the longest of the three books, also comes off as the breeziest read of the trilogy.

‘Q-Zone’ spent a significant amount of the page count establishing the central relationship between Q and Nil, which very much reflected an abusive friendship or destructive father/son dynamic; Nil presented himself as a cool, dangerous and exciting role model, but in short order proved thanks to his devastating destruction of the Tkon Empire, when they dared to challenge his omnipotence, that he was little more than a self-aggrandising bully who simply wanted to treat mortals in the universe as his play things. The Q we have seen across The Next Generation and later in Voyager has always been considered to be the ultimate omnipotent trickster, but he never overstepped the boundaries into outright genocide. What ‘Q-Strike’ does is play the line between making Q much more *human* in terms of his character and give him certain shades of grey on his moral compass.

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Star Trek: Voyager

Star Trek: Voyager – ‘The Escape’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 446 million years ago.

‘The Escape’ is proof that Star Trek: Voyager was prepared to boldly go in no small measure right away when it came to the tie-in novelisations which regularly accompanied the television shows on screen across the 1980’s, 90’s and 00’s. Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch, existing stalwarts of the Star Trek novel scene, throw the crew in the first Voyager tie-in novel right into an ambitious storyline which would make the Department of Temporal Investigations’ heads explode.

Voyager may have been a proxy for The Next Generation in many instances across its seven year shelf life but the approach the series took to time travel was right out of The Original Series playbook. In the 1960’s, it felt as though Captain Kirk and crew were zipping back through time every five minutes for some kind of adventure, and many of the show’s most memorable episodes involve the Enterprise travelling through time as well as space, such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’.

Despite being made three decades later, with the more advanced narrative sensibilities that came with the 90’s, Voyager often seems defined by the show’s use of time-travel. Captain Janeway’s crew found themselves in different time zones far more than Captain’s Picard, Sisko or Archer in their respective shows, while Discovery to date has only dealt with it via a Groundhog Day-style time-loop episode.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Space’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.

Star Trek in many ways was forever changed by the character of Q, who first appeared in The Next Generation’s pilot episode ‘Encounter at Farpoint’, played with delightfully sadistic joie de vivre by John de Lancie, and who grew to be, aside from the Borg, probably Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s greatest antagonist across the run of the series.

Q, of course, is an omnipotent being, who we later discover is part of the Q Continuum, which exists on a different plane of existence, containing a race of beings all known as Q who appear to have complete dominance over time, space and matter. They are the ultimate personification of a God, with all the powers of a God in-between. Q wasn’t by any means the first time Star Trek had toyed with the idea of a God-like being, of course; The Original Series has Captain Kirk’s USS Enterprise bump into a God-like entity ever other week – indeed many speculated after ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ that the mischievous Trelane from ‘The Squire of Gothos’ could have been a Q. The only difference is that few of them had the scope, reach and power of the Continuum. Q, literally, can do anything, be anyone and go anywhere, any*when*. That, as a concept, was always going to be a game-changer.

‘Q-Space’, therefore, attempts to dig deeper into the Q Continuum than certainly many of the TV series which featured Q were ever able to do. The first of a trilogy badged under ‘The Q Continuum’ prefix from writer Greg Cox, ‘Q-Space’ takes a cue (pun probably intended) from half a dozen concepts from both The Next Generation, The Original Series and indeed Voyager, and begins working to craft them into a broader, intertextual narrative which shines a light on Q’s history, his home, and give Picard and his crew one of their most cosmic adventures to date. Cox has an ambitious reach for this trilogy and while ‘Q-Space’ perhaps takes too long getting to the core point of what it’s trying to achieve, some exciting building blocks are placed across the novel.

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