The Star Trek franchise in its long 49 year history has taken many opportunities to experiment with different ideas such as racism and nationalism to unconventional means of television storytelling that had various levels of success. Though out all this there have been many moments that have come to defined the franchise, from the emotional roller-coaster that is Wrath of Khan to the hilarious Voyage Home and the edge of your seat thrilling suspense of Best of Both Worlds. These parts of the franchise not only define it but have become a part of wider pop-cultural. Many of these moments are also ones which will never be, as they where opportunities that where missed. Here are 6 of those moments that could have dramatically changed the franchise for better or worst that almost had a chance but didn't manage to pull through.
6. Star Trek: Phase Two
Not to be confused with the online fan-made series of the same name, Phase Two was an attempt to bring back Star Trek to the small screen by Gene Roddenberry that would bring back the crew and the ship on a new 5 year mission X number of years after the original series (the date being pushed back as time went on). The series nearly took off the ground, but after repeated problems with production it was instead cancelled and production changed from a television series into the movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Unfortunately for us the movie, which kept the plot of the two part pilot, was not using a particularly strong story and was filled with more production problems then the series itself had. Going over budget and repeated problems with shooting, not the least of which was the uniforms which, on top of having a horrible aesthetic, where a nightmare to work with due to constant wrinkling causing reshoots to be needed, and a return on investment that was much lower then hoped for by Paramount, the movie ended up nearly killing the franchise, and likely would have had it not been for Wrath of Khan being made on a much lower budget with extensive use of recycled props and footage.
5. Star Trek: The Search for Spock, the greatness that wasn't
With the saving of the franchise with the critical and financial success of Wrath of Khan, it was inevitable that a third Trek movie would be made. That movie turned out to be pretty bad overall, and with the success of Voyage Home would cement the "even are good, odd are not" rule that has stuck and (if you count "Galaxy Quest") still holds. The movie had much going for it: the story of finding a resurrected Spock, the destruction of the Enterprise, the death of Kirk's son. All of these could have been the core of a great movie in their own right.
Unfortunately for us all where used in the same movie, the same poorly written movie that had a legion of logical problems that resulted in the search for Spock being more tracking down some teenager that was already found and more a hostage then lost, the destruction of one of science fiction's most iconic ships in a means which was inglorious and in context pretty pointless, and the death of a character who was a glorified red shirt with a name who had most of the emotional impact of his death come 3 movies later. The three elements came and went far too quickly as a result of the movie trying to be and do too much in what was too little time to accomplish what could have been a story to surpass Wrath of Khan if executed well.
4. Star Trek: First Contact, a tale of two captains
Star Trek: First Contact is a somewhat controversial entry in the Trek movie line. Though recently overshadowed by the 2009 Star Trek and Into Darkness, for a long time First Contact was criticized for taking Trek in the direction of general action movies. Part of this was in response to Star Trek: Generations, which was a fairly weak start to the Next Generation era movies. The movie starts with an action scene of ships fighting whose effects still hold up today and is probably the best instance of combat in the Trek canon even with the new movies being taken into consideration. Unfortunately the story is not particularly consistent in quality as the opening and ending are quality moments which are flanked by a story with uneven pacing that involves two almost entirely separate stories that only has one that really feels like Trek.
The story easily could have been dramatically different, and some elements beg the question why it turned out the way it did. The presence of Worf amongst the cast was justified with the U.S.S. Defiant being present in the battle over Earth. This makes sense as fighting the Borg was the entire purpose of the ship, the first dedicated Federation warship. Though used to justify Worf's presence, what is never explained is why the rest of the main DS9 crew was not present. This is made stranger as money was not likely an issue due to the number of extras with spoken lines coupled with the fact one of the mains from Voyager was brought in for a scene. Having the two casts would have made for an interesting dynamic between the two crews who, despite having two members who migrated from one to the other, think and act quite differently.
The heart of what was missed in this opportunity however was the tension and conflict between Captain Picard and Captain Sisko, both of whom have the Borg as their mortal enemy due to being assimilated and the loss of their ship and wife respectively. This is on top of the fact that Sisko was shown to hold a personal grudge against Picard in the pilot of Deep Space Nine, an understandable hatred towards the man who was the face of the mechanical monsters who took his wife and crew (Sisko and DS9 in general where the less perfect, more realistic crew and show after all). I almost suspect this may have been the case in early drafts of the script, as the "The line must be drawn here" scene almost seems like it was written with Sisko being the one delivering it to Picard. Whether this is the case will likely forever be fan speculation online however.
3. Star Trek: Insurrection, the family argument that never happened
Star Trek Insurrection is odd in a way. It had a mixed opening where, despite having Marina Sirtis (Troy) fall asleep during the premier, was declared by some to have broken the "odd/even" rule. This did not end up happening in retrospect, and in the eyes of many it was Nemesis which broke it for the worst. The movie's plot about relocating a group of people from a cartoonishly perfect planet and society of a few hundred that would benefit tens of billions (actually hundreds of billions given the Federation's population).
The problem (apart from bad writing) this story had was two fold: the actions of the characters was the complete opposite of a TNG episode which had a larger society of Native Americans living on a planet which found itself on the Cardassian side of the demilitarized zone being relocated by Picard (and, in horrifying retrospect, likely executed during the Dominion War) where the entire crew save Wesley tried to relocate the inhabitants before being convinced not to due to renouncement of citizenship. The Baku (locals of the planet) who have not only similarly lived there for only a few generations, but due to their slow ageing most remember moving to the planet and where not born there. The story has the crew rebel and destroy a big collector... thing, a massive ship that had effects worst then the television series airing at the same time that was destroyed because of course it had to be destroyed. The tale was another attempt at mixing action with a Trek story that failed on both accounts.
What the story could have been was first brought to my attention while watching SF Debris (who, if you're a fan of Star Trek, I highly recommend for his reviews, and lately Stargate as well). His idea is one I fully endorse and is simple, the crew of TNG was effectively a family, and the movie should have been a conflict within that family. The justification for Worf's presence (which was not even given token attention in this one) could have included him and Riker coming back to the ship from a planet devastated by the then-ongoing Dominion War. The planet and situation would mostly remain the same, but the crew would be devised on how to handle it. Worf and Riker, seeing first hand the horror of war, would try to save the people of the planet because they couldn't take all that was going wrong in the Federation at the time, while Picard and Data would try to relocate the populous for the greater good (a few hundred people being better off vs medicines for tens or hundreds of billions is no argument for a logical machine and a man who looks at the big picture), with the rest of the crew taking sides. It would have been harder to handle then the story we got, but it's hard to imagine an outcome where it would have been worst.
2. Star Trek: Voyager, the whole damn premise
Here is where I just know I'm going to get some flak, but Voyager was flawed from the very concept. Its own production troubles are something many Trek fans are no stranger to (such as recasting Janeway during the filming of the pilot, and expensive retakes due to glare and other problems leading to the two part pilot being more expensive then Wrath of Khan even with the budget being adjusted for inflation). One of the many issues was the fact the writing staff had no idea what to do with the show, going so far as to have the fist season have its production numbers be 800s, continuing the production progression of TNG with stories that where effectively TNG season 8 that happened to be on UPN instead of CBS. What we got was an adventure of the week that took until season 3 and 4 to get fairly decent in overall quality (something the show shared with TNG and Enterprise) before it got a decent formula for its random encounters on the journey home, and thankfully the staff realized how chances to get home in one shot where a bad idea as we always knew how they would end before the five minute mark at best due to their inherent nature.
What the show could have been was something we got a glimpse of not once, not twice, but three times. First was in the episode "Alliances", where we nearly had the crew of Voyager form the titular alliance with the antagonistic Kazon and the one-shot villains the Trabe which could have formed a new Federation that tried to conform to the ideals but had to deal with the reality of democracy and cooperation being a fairly new concept in the Delta Quadrant. Instead the Trabe betrayed everyone and Voyager sailed off into the Status Quo, some reviewers going so far as to call it the moment Trek died intellectually. I find this fairly dramatic though.
The second glimpse we got was Equinox, a two parter about the U.S.S. Equinox coming into contact with Voyager, a battered science vessel that had most of the crew dead and was struggling to hold itself together and had so little power the showers couldn't be operated due to how little there was for non-essential use. A morally compromised captain and crew willing to kill sentient creatures to get home from the hell that is the Delta Quadrant, in conditions that would make their inevitable prison sentences be a massive improvement could have been a more compelling story then most of what Voyager turned out to be. The two parter ended with the ship destroyed, the Captain killed and the surviving crew demoted to crewmen. It almost feels as though the writers where telling us they could write such a show, but elected not to. Unrelated: Ron Moore would join the Voyager writing staff after DS9 came to an end. He walked away after working on a single episode, and would go on to create the rebooted Battlestar Galactica.
The first instance was the closest we actually had come true. The two parter "Year in Hell" was not intended as a two party, but as a year long arc spanning an entire season where the ship was, as the title said, put through hell in a conflict which would take a full arc in the season afterwards for the ship to recover. In this case we could have had an arc lasting over a year which instead gave us a very well received two parter that was erased from canon due to its ending. Whether this was for better or worst is debatable, though my bias leans towards being in favour of it due to my preference for serialize storytelling.
Before the last missed opportunity,
Honourable Mention. Star Trek: Nemesis, revenge of Wesley
Let's be honest, if Nemesis had been about Wesley returning to confront the crew as the antagonist it would have been a more interesting conflict then a clone of Picard.
1. (Star Trek) Enterprise, the whole premise
Like Voyager, Enterprise had the problem of its writing staff having no idea what to do with the show. Enterprise was a show that had only two things going for it that the staff seemed to agree on: it would be a Trek series, and it would be a prequel taking place a century before the Original Series. From there, no one seemed to agree on what to do with the show. Statements aren't particularly well sourced even in the books about the making of Trek and the online forums that existed both during production and now, but it seems clear there where many irreconcilable disagreements on what to do with the show. Some staff members seemed to have wanted the show to deal with the problems of getting the first Warp 5 ship out into space, with the first half of season 1 not even having the ship leave drydock. Others wanted it to be about the first Federation ship, a ship built from different alien technologies and the first mixed crew having to deal with all the problems which go along with that. Some claims where even made that the story was hoped to be about the terrible first contact between the Federation and the Klingon Empire that lead to war and decades of hostility according to the Original Series and would lead to the Prime Directive being created.
What we ended up with was a show that despite its fresh concept was the least inspired of the 5 shows that wasted a perfectly good cast with bad writing and a nonsensical overarching time travel plot which only started to get good in season 3 and wasn't truly what we could have hoped for until season 4. We can only imagine how good or bad season 5, 6 and 7 would have been had the show survived. Especially given the plans for season 5 to include a crossover episode with Doctor Who as a means of introducing American audiences to the new, returned Doctor Who. But alas in 2005 Enterprise was cancelled and in early 2006 UPN shut down, the show unable to be saved through channel hopping to Sci Fi as Stargate SG1 had.