Ships ahoy! But what's the next destination?

Trek logoStar Trek was one of the 20th Century’s Sci-Fi landmarks.

Very soon it’ll be the 21st Century and the current starfleet recruits are rapidly running out of Space.

the final frontier...

Tim Leng takes a look at
potential futures for the franchise

STAR TREK: an institution, a legend. We all know of it, we’ve all seen it. And after 34 years, we’ve all had enough of it, right?

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Cult Times Special #13

Wrong. Although the glory days of The Next Generation are behind us, Star Trek is far from the ailing franchise that many claim it to be. Have no delusions: if Star Trek – and we’re talking Voyager here, the series that now carries the torch single-handedly – were a ratings failure, it would have been axed, no question about it. Studios do not spend money on shows that do not make money for them.

True, its ratings are lower than those that would be deemed less than acceptable for many other shows, but as Voyager is aired on a minority channel, it is doing okay. Even as you read this, the initial groundwork on a fifth Star Trek series is underway. How far advanced this work is and when it will reach the airwaves is unconfirmed at this point in time. What is also unconfirmed is what the next series will be about. The most tantalizing indication from an official source thus far comes from Voyager’s executive producer, Brannon Braga, who stated that he was reluctant to just put another crew on another starship.

This statement surely dashes the hopes of many fans who had planned to join the campaign to demand the production of a Captain Sulu series. To be honest though, such a series would be something of a let-down, an also-ran: Star Trek by numbers. No, what Star Trek should do – some would say needs to do – is to try something different, and a little out of the familiar arena...

Here the prospect of ‘Star Trek: Starfleet Academy’ must be mentioned. While the idea of a group of young hunks and hot babes trotting around the galaxy may appear superficially appealing, the idea is lamentable at best, down-right self destructive at worst. If the prospect of a ‘teen-series’ appeals to anyone, they would be far better advised to get their kicks from Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Star Trek has always been the forum for social metaphor, not teen angst. Besides, none of Trek’s best-loved characters and greatest heroes have been the proverbial spring chicken. Dawson’s Creek with phasers should be filed in the wastebasket, no questions asked.

But recently, some far more intriguing outlines have been posted, reportedly as ideas that Paramount are touting to focus groups in America. The most promising concerns a series entitled ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’. Just the very name of the proposal is emotive to almost every Trek fan – that of the very ship that best defines the adventures, stories and very principles of what has made Star Trek so popular.

‘Enterprise’, it would seem, would depart from the chronological settings of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, and take place in the 22nd Century, at least 100 years before the glory days of Captain Kirk and co. The series would follow an earlier incarnation of the starship Enterprise, unlike any that we have seen before, in a time prior to the formation of the United Federation of Planets.

The closest that Star Trek has come to showing us such a time was in First Contact when Zefram Cochrane’s 21st Century Earth was depicted in all of its post-apocalyptic glory. The possibilities for such a series would be endless – conflict between the less-than-perfect 22nd Century humans, starships that are distinctly different to those that we know, but with details that would remind us of what exists in ‘the future’, and the very birth of what we regard as Star Trek.

The series could also play host to some familiar faces – First Contact establishes that contact with the Vulcans occurs in 2063. The first encounters with the Klingons and the Romulans could also be properly defined.

Star Trek: Enterprise’, or something closely resembling it, appears to this jaded hack to be the series that best deserves the franchise’s attention. It would seem to bring with it a grittiness, a sense of adventure, of humanity, and of familiarity to things past (or future?) that could be just what is needed to lure fans new and old into the Trek fold. And bravo to that.

Tim Leng

Robert Duncan McNeill on
Voyager’s progress as it draws closer to home

Paris is in Ireland: McNeill visits Fair Haven

Call it the Comfort Zone. As a series progresses, both the writers and the actors typically become more comfortable with the characters. But even so, not all actors settle into their on-screen alter egos with the aplomb that Robert Duncan McNeill has shown.

Known simply as ‘Robbie’ amongst his cast-mates, McNeill’s easy-going, laid-back persona on-screen and off is reflected in his sixth season portrayal of Voyager’s Tom Paris.

That’s an observation that McNeill agrees with. Although, he’s quick to note, “I would characterize this year as probably the year that was most relaxed for everyone. I think, getting to our sixth season, everyone realizes the routine. There was a lot of ease this year, which was nice.”

Season Six has been the year Voyager experimented, to varying degrees, with humour. “We’ve been doing more comedies in the last year or so, which I think is great,” McNeill says, himself a fan of comedy. That flexibility to experiment, he adds, “it’s one of the things that is a lot of fun about Star Trek.”

Humour can be found in many situations and places. In the Voyager twist on that fish-out-of-water ploy, Paris has authored a holodeck recreational program set in a fictitious old Irish town dubbed Fair Haven...

McNeill’s Paris has, over the past few years, become the ship’s de facto holodeck story writer. That development stemmed from the producers deciding that Paris had a historical penchant... “They just decided to use the holodeck to explore his 20th Century buff thing,” he explains. “So now we can do all sorts of different things that took place in the 20th Century.”

Fair Haven is focused on in two episodes in Season Six (Fair Haven and Spirit Folk). “The second Fair Haven episode really goes full force with all of the colourful characters.” says McNeill. “It’s about when the holodeck characters realize that they aren’t real. Harry and I are making changes in the middle of the holodeck by talking to the computer; we’d say, ‘Computer, change this wagon into a cow’.”

Even before humour was in vogue on Voyager, though, McNeill had been perfecting his character’s dry, wry, and saracastic line delivery. After all, from the get-go, Paris was intended to be the ‘bad boy’ of Voyager. Being the rebel got to be old hat surprisingly quickly, though, admits McNeill.

“Playing the tough guy, the loner, got kind of boring and unattractive after a while,” he says bluntly. That’s why, he adds, “I think the humour was really important to develop the character...”


Images © Paramount
Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction

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"It's good for a franchise that's been around for so long to have a shot in the arm... with somebody new coming in" says Robert Duncan McNeill in the full version of this cover feature. Get it when you buy Cult Times Special #13