Sunday, February 8, 2015

Lost Trek Lore

If you can find it, try to get Bill Planer’s “Lost Voyages of Star Trek.” It includes synopses of Star Trek scripts that were never filmed.

In the mid-70s, Paramount was going to start a “fourth television network” and its flagship show was to be “Star Trek: Phase II.” The adventures of the Enterprise’s second five-year journey.
Scripts were commissioned, the actors were going to reprise their roles, except for Leonard Nimoy.
New characters were drawn up: Decker, a headstrong, young first officer; Ilya, a psychic, and onetime lover of Decker’s, and Xon, a vulcan who, unlike Spock, actually enjoyed working on a ship with humans and wanted to be more like them. (These three characters might sound familiar.)

Then something big happened: Star Wars. 

Paramount executives who had spent every morning climbing over a new pile of mail from Star Trek fans begging for a Star Trek movie started asking themselves: Do we own any properties that have spaceships in them?
Plans for the fourth network and Phase II were scrapped. (Barry Diller, the Paramount executive spearheading this concept, would take it to Fox. You might have heard of this.)

Roddenberry was ordered: Make us a movie.

Then came an astonishing series of bad decisions, one understandable, the rest bewildering.

Bad decision one: Choosing the director. This is the understandable bad decision. We’re talking Robert Wise. “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music,” Blockbusters both. But most important to Roddenberry: “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Possibly the most cerebral science fiction drama up to that time, and probably to this day. (Call me what you must, 2001 a Space Odyssey was a pretentious overlong boring indulge-o-fest)

Rodddenberry didn’t want spaceships blowing each other up, he wanted a movie just like “The Day the Earth Stood Still”: men in military uniforms sitting around discussing what to do about the alien threat ... if it is a threat.

The problem is, after Star Wars, no one else wanted that. We wanted fast ships and explosions. Instead we got long long talky meetings, and interminable inspections of the outer hull of the Enterprise
Now the baffling decisions: Roddenberry went to the stack of scripts written for Phase II and found “In Thy Image,” a story about an Earth space probe that becomes self-aware and returns to meet its makers. 

Two problems with this script. A) it had been done before as an episode of Star Trek, B) the concept really doesn’t lend itself to a big budget motion picture experience. There are no villains! Now after “Wrath of Khan” I can’t argue that going back to the source material is a bad idea, but Khan was a sequel, building on the original. And if you’re going to spend $20 million (then a lot of money for a movie) to remake an episode of Star Trek, do “The Doomsday Machine” That episode just begs for the big-screen treatment. (Check out the CGI-improved version, you’ll see I’m right).

Baffling decision 2: “Let’s shave Persis Khambatta’s head!” 

Baffling decision 3: Upon finding out the revived Star Trek would be a movie, Leonard Nimoy was suddenly interested. At this point, Roddenberry thought, wow, I can keep Decker and Ilia, but I’ll have to kill off Xon. 
Kill off Xon? 

Roddenberry somehow was thinking that not only were the Star Trek Phase II episodes filmed, they were aired, and the fans would want an explanation on why Xon wasn’t in the movie.

How else to explain his role in the film as the quickly introduced, quickly dispatched Vulcan, making a movie that was a half hour too long even longer?

The film was released, became a hit, but was quickly nicknamed Star Trek: The Motionless Picture. 
So, Roddenbery went into exile and Paramount would never release another Star Trek film without phasers being fired and things blowing up.

When Roddenberry returned from exile, they let him produce an ambitious little TV program called Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Once again, he raided the box o’ scripts from Phase II. Only wherever it said Kirk, he crossed it out and wrote Picard. Decker became Riker; Ilia became Troi, and Xon became Data.

This man was the master of recycling.

As  pointed out in a Cracked article, Roddenberry’s talents were somewhat overrated in favor of people who worked for him. Cracked cites Gene Coon, but I would add DC Fontana and David Gerrold to the mix. When they left Next Generation things quickly went to crap. Interesting thought-provoking scripts were replaced with tropes that were moldy in the ‘60s. Evil twins, unambiguously-good good guys. A captain who surrendered seemingly every episode, the psychic who provided no insight that wasn’t always obvious, the boy genius for whom every episode had to stop in its tracks so someone could explain the plot to him, and a Klingon who got knocked on his ass in every fight.

Star Trek: Phase II could have been the best Star Trek series of them all. Roddenberry was always somehow Star Trek’s greatest champion and worst enemy.

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