Since the show was announced, there has been precious little information about Star Trek: Discovery, much to the chagrin of fans who have been waiting over a decade for the franchise to return to TV. After Discovery's airdate was pushed back to the Fall — and some pretty atypical Klingon designs were leaked — co-chief writer Nicholas Meyer has stepped in to give us some concrete details about the show, and what he has to say is very heartening.
Meyer is something of a titan among the many writers who have contributed to the #StarTrek universe over the years. Although #StarTrekDiscovery marks Meyer's first foray into the world of Trek TV, he co-wrote and directed both The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, and also co-wrote The Voyage Home. All three are considered to be some of the best Star Trek films.
Needless to say, Meyer's presence on the Discovery team is an exciting prospect, especially now that he's shared some of his ideas for the show.
Reframing Social Issues
Star Trek has always been know for its social commentary — even when it was first conceived, Gene Roddenberry intended The Original Series to be a beacon of what humanity could become if we set aside our prejudices. It's fitting then, that when interviewed at the Star Trek Mission: New York convention, Meyer focused on this tradition when talking about his hopes for Discovery.
"I hope it perpetuates the Star Trek condition of helping people see themselves, making us able to contemplate dilemmas that otherwise we might be too close to judge without prejudice. I thought that was the series’ strength – by taking hot button issues, renaming them and setting them someplace else, that we could think about ourselves and how we want to be. I hope the new series contributes to that tradition, that would be a good thing."
Star Trek has been hugely influential in many ways, setting storytelling structures for television and even inspiring real life scientific inventions. But perhaps most important is how Trek challenges us to realign our perceptions, shining a light on social inequalities by reframing these issues in a different context.
However, like any franchise Star Trek does have its weaknesses, and sometimes the human element gets lost in dry thought experiments. This is really where Meyer has rejuvenated the franchise in the past: His Trek movies endure because they are very character driven, with dialogue that is both realistic and amusing.
The Human Condition
As he has explained in the past, Meyer's focus on the people that populate the USS Enterprise is due to the fact that he was never really a fan of the show — or of scifi in general.
"That’s the only way I can really relate to Star Trek anyway. I’m not a science fiction fan, I didn’t watch the show as a kid – I didn’t get it. It’s only to the degree to which I understand the Earthbound human aspects of the stories that I can create or relate to them."
This mindset is a great boon to Discovery — now more than ever, television is delving deep into the human condition. Serialized shows demand strong character writing to keep audiences engaged, so with any luck this approach will help to ease Star Trek into the current era.
And as times change, so do attitudes. Meyer reflected on how The Undiscovered Country has aged poorly as a film, because it was so much a product of the time. Meyer wrote this movie as an allegory of the end of the Cold War, but now he has reconsidered some of the scenes. Specifically, Meyer commented on one scene that is rather morally iffy.
"When I look at Spock doing the Vulcan mind meld with Valeris, it kind of reminds me of waterboarding. I’m thinking, would I really do it that way now? So looking back, this has really aged strangely."
The show Star Trek: Enterprise later used forced mind melds as a rape metaphor, so it's true that this scene from The Undiscovered Country doesn't really hold up — especially considering Spock's strict moral code.
It's heartening to know that Meyer has turned a critical eye on his work, and that as a result his writing has not stagnated. Again, this is good news for Discovery, which Meyer previously described as leading on from The Undiscovered Country.
There's no doubt that in Discovery we'll be seeing some of Star Trek's most fraught social conflicts yet, as the Klingons are yet again brought to the forefront of the story. And if Meyer's comments are anything to go by, the new show will continue Star Trek's traditions in the best way — while forging forward into a bright future for the franchise.
Which of Meyer's 'Star Trek' movies is your favorite?
[Header image by GeekFilter. Poll image credit: Paramount]