News for the new Star Trek show has been thin on the ground, but we can start to get an idea of what the series will be like, thanks to the announcement of Bryan Fuller as showrunner and Nicholas Meyer as one of the chief writers. Meyer's appointment is especially interesting, as his time on the Star Trek films reinvigorated the franchise, and he ushered in some intriguing changes.
Hints For The New Show
Meyer has already commented on what we can expect from the 2017 series, and what he told DenOfGeek is very intriguing. Meyer hinted that Bryan Fuller sees Meyer's film The Undiscovered Country as a "taking-off point." Although this hint is cryptic, the themes in this film seem perfect for the new show.
The Undiscovered Country develops the relationship between the Federation and the Klingons, pushing the two cultures into a new alliance. The main theme throughout the movie is that of change and forging ahead into a bold new era. Which is pretty much perfect for the new show. Meyer also commented that the 2017 series would be a different kind of Trek...
"I think it’s going to be a different Star Trek. And I think that is probably good, because the thing that mainly troubles me about Star Trek is the fear of it being maybe re-treads of itself. Bryan [Fuller] has ideas, some of which I’ve heard, that are innovative and different. Different is what got me interested."
This fits with what we know of Meyer, as he's always brought a new perspective to Star Trek.
Meyer's Impact On Trek
Meyer is something of a Trek giant; although he never wrote for the TV shows, he co-wrote and directed both Wrath Of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, as well as co-writing The Voyage Home.
Favoring themes of family, grief, and racial politics, Meyer was arguably the first to cast a critical eye on the Federation's somewhat colonial mission. His alterations contributed a lot to the aesthetic of the original films, making them feel markedly different from The Original Series and, to an extent, the franchise as a whole. Speaking to startrek.com in 2014, Meyer explained his narrative choices.
"I just took certain ideas from watching the episodes and was saying, 'Well, you know, this guy [Kirk] has never really had to confront the no-win situation. He always sort of wins. So, let’s put him in a situation where he loses.' And just see what that is. The rest of it was about, 'Okay. I don't like these sets. I don't like these costumes. I want it to look like a submarine. I want them to talk like they’re in the Navy.' Things like that."
Of course, sometimes Meyer's changes were a little incongruous with the rest of the franchise, and sometimes the cast and crew took issue with this.
In The Undiscovered Country, Nichelle Nichols initially disagreed with Meyer over this scene, in which Uhura is trying to translate Klingon using multiple books and dictionaries. Nichols pointed out that Starfleet was unlikely to still use paper books in the 23rd century.
Nichols was not the only one to disagree with Meyer's changes. Gene Roddenberry particularly disliked Meyer's commentary on racial relations between Federation humans and the Klingons. Meyer explained their clash to the LA Times in 2011.
"The crew of the Enterprise has all kinds of racial prejudice, vis-a-vis the Klingons. And some of their remarks, including how they all look alike and what they smell like, and all the xenophobic things which we grappled with - that was all deeply offensive to [Roddenberry] because he thought there isn't going to be that. In fact, in his original Star Trek concept, there wasn't any conflict."
So what does this mean for the new show?
The Shape Of The Bottle
Although he likes to adjust Trek to his own vision, Meyer doesn't ride roughshod over the quintessential Trekkiness of the franchise. While he appreciates new perspectives (and to be honest, that's vital for a franchise that has clocked almost half a century), he also believes in staying true to Trek's roots. And this lead him to criticise JJ Abrams' Star Trek.
Speaking to Crave in 2014, Meyer explained why the reboot films felt incongruous to him.
"I think, and I’ve made this analogy before, that Star Trek is a bottle into which different vintages can be poured. I made a lot of changes because I used to say, 'why are they all wearing pajamas?' But I didn’t think I changed the characters. I thought Kirk and Spock and those people were who they were. And the biggest thing that shocked me about J.J. was Spock beating the shit out of somebody, and thinking, 'No, that’s changing the shape of the bottle'."
The most recent Star Trek films have not had the best reception among fans, with many people criticising Abrams for doing exactly what Meyer is describing: trying to make Star Trek into something it isn't. Of course, when it comes to the new show, Meyer, Fuller and the other writers won't be emulating classic characters. They're striking out into a new story, which means they have the challenge of reinventing the franchise while retaining the shape of that all-important bottle.