A month or so after Nicholas Meyer hinted that he was developing another Star Trek project, a new report slates the writer-director to be working on yet another TV show for CBS, this one focusing on the iconic Khan Noonien Singh. Playing the villain for Wrath of Khan — arguably Star Trek's most successful movie — Khan is a figure of legend in Trek lore, a genetically enhanced super-soldier who took on Kirk not once, but twice. According to fansite Geek Exchange's sources, the new show will explore Khan's time on Ceti Alpha V in between The Original Series episode "Space Seed" and the movie.
Granted, this is not a premise entirely lacking in promise. Along with Khan and his crew could come an interesting commentary on genetic experimentation, flashbacks to the 1990s Eugenics Wars (but didn't Enterprise already cover that?), and how the soldiers survived Ceti Alpha V's harsh conditions. However, after Into Darkness gave us a weak re-run of Khan's story, and with #StarTrekDiscovery taking us back to TOS-era again, we're left wondering — why are Star Trek's new creators so obsessed with the franchise's past?
The First Final Frontier: Our Obsession With TOS
When we think of Star Trek, what comes to mind: goofy episodes about giant green hands, or diplomatic missions through space at the pinnacle of humanity's cultural and technological evolution? Arguably, The Next Generation's era is the one that springs to mind first, which is no surprise as Trek really had its heyday in the 1990s: This decade saw three Star Trek shows come and go, while two movie series ruled the silver screen.
Yet, every new Star Trek project since Voyager has had its eye determinedly staring backward, rather than forward — and this hasn't been a resounding success. Enterprise wasted its interesting concept on poor writing, J.J. Abrams's movies (despite introducing new fans to the franchise) had a decidedly mixed reception, and Star Trek: Discovery has faced multiple criticisms for its setting despite the fact that it hasn't even aired yet. (For the record though, I think it's going to be great.)
So why would CBS order yet another prequel-ish show in the form of the Khan series? Well, it's easy to see the appeal of TOS-era over that of TNG. Picard's even-tempered mission evoked a utopian, safe feeling. Though The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine featured plenty of conflicts and exciting plot threads, this is an era less of bold exploration and more of diplomatic housekeeping. Various super-powers had already drawn their borders in the well-known Alpha and Beta Quadrants, and the final frontier was pushed from the Gamma Quadrant to the Delta.
The Original Series, on the other hand, had a much more Wild West feel, as Kirk and his crew crossed frontiers almost every episode, out in the uncharted regions of space. With no replicators, gun-shaped phasers, and handheld communicators, this was an era on the edge of evolution, pushing humanity's development forward every day. That's a very seductive idea, and there's something exciting about going back before the Federation had quite so many alliances and treaties.
Although the quintessential idea of what Trek is may be based on TNG era — just look at spoofs like The Orville for how it still impacts pop culture — TOS is at the forefront of our minds thanks to the reboot movies. For many people, jumping into the story at this point is more accessible than trying to remember the years of complex politics between the Federation and its shifting allies and enemies that was typical of TNG-era.
From Section 31 To Post-VOY, There Are More Stories To Tell
And yet, this obsession with Star Trek's past still feels somewhat stale. We've boldly gone there before, and no matter what new tales you try to wring from that era, we already know the end of this story. Yet there's still so much we don't know about Star Trek's future post-Voyager. Did the Borg recover from Janeway's attack? What was the state of the Alpha Quadrant after the dust from the Dominion War settled? Looking to the far future, what is the Federation's ultimate fate?
There are also dozens of characters equally as interesting but given less screen time than Khan, who may be more deserving of spinoff shows. Ro Laren, Guinan, Q, Tasha Yar's Romulan daughter, and many others spring to mind. Not to mention, there are Starfleet organizations that we've only just started to plumb the depths of. A Starfleet Academy show was considered after Enterprise, that would be interesting to see. Or how about a spy-thriller focusing on Section 31?
The point is, there are many more stories left to tell that look beyond TOS era. With all that narrative potential, we're left wondering if CBS have underestimated the nostalgia and enduring affection for The Next Generation's era. This is the Federation time period that many fans grew up with, and the shows set in this time are the ones people watch again and again. (Look, I love The Original Series, but all that 1960s authoritarianism, not to mention the slapstick, can get a bit wearing.)
So what's the solution? Unfortunately, the best way to handle this is something that CBS already vetoed. Bryan Fuller's original pitch for Discovery was to make it an anthology show a la American Horror Story or Fargo, with each season set in a different era. This would have been the perfect approach, allowing showrunners to spring backwards and forwards in time, planting plot threads in one season and allowing the consequences of characters' actions to ripple out into unforeseen consequences seasons, and decades later. Weaving together people from different parts of the galaxy living in different times in a glorious and complex web, Bryan Fuller's original pitch is exactly what the fandom would have wanted — too bad CBS wanted to keep it simple.
But I digress. When considering future Star Trek shows, we can only hope that the CBS Eye turns its vigilant gaze away from Trek's past and into its future — and away from Khan because really, haven't we heard enough about him by now?
When would you like a spin-off 'Star Trek' show to be set?