In Episodic or Serialized, let’s take a look at two later Star Trek series, Deep Space 9 and Voyager, who made their jumps away from the Enterprise and went on to attempt different things.
Voyager represent somewhat of a midpoint in the franchise. It was a time where Star Trek was ready to branch out and do new things. These were the series that asked: could Star Trek happen without a ship called Enterprise?
Opinions vary on how successful the ventures were, but they both enjoyed just as long a run time as The Next Generation, so they did something right. On the other hand, they never made the jump to the big screen. Regardless, it is because of their differences from their predecessors that made people love them.
Deep Space 9
Deep Space 9 is well-known as Star Trek’s first attempt at the slow burn that is the essence modern television. While not completely serialized, like Discovery, it’s the show most people associate with diving into that kind of storytelling. But let’s imagine, for a moment, that it took the safe route.
Imagine week after week of exploring a new planet in the Gamma Quadrant, or Quark trying to engage in yet another illegal scheme right under Odo’s nose, or maybe a couple of Cardassian related two-parters. Another episode, another rubber band snapping back into place, another status quo maintained.
It’s true this series had some of that, but is that what really sold you?
Deep Space 9 defined itself with its complex and morally gray characters, multi-episode arcs, and an unfolding narrative. The concept of a space station next to a wormhole isn’t what sold you, that was just the beginning. It was everything that emerged from that concept. It was the story.
This could be a risk, though. What if you can’t grip enough of an audience to keep the show going? What if the setting isn’t compelling enough? What if people don’t want these things in a Star Trek series?
More from Star Trek
- Has Star Trek Technology gotten out of control?
- Playmate Toys ends Star Trek action figure development
- Majel Barrett Roddenberry thought Nurse Chapel was a “loser”
- Should Star Trek producers consider a Mirror Universe TV series?
- Patrick Stewart continues the trend of learning from his Star Trek character
Deep Space 9 took a big risk doing as much as it did to push the envelope, but it also showed just how flexible a concept Star Trek can be. Sure, it might not match Gene Roddenberry’s original concept, but it worked. Didn’t it?
"“One of them had been telling me about this concept they were working on…this ‘Year of Hell’ that would strip the ship down to its bare bones. I was all for it. I was expecting it to last an entire season, which was one of the early discussions.” — Kirsten Beyer, Author"
As noted by Star Trek writer, Kirsten Beyer, the episode “Year of Hell” was a concept that could have lasted an entire season, or at least more than two episodes it actually got. From entire decks being destroyed to rising body counts and crippling injuries, this episode held back nothing when it came to the Voyager and its crew suffering truly hellish conditions.
And it begs the question: why didn’t this happen to the Voyager more often, or at least to similar extremes on occasion? It would make sense for a ship stranded in an unknown part of the galaxy to be well beyond its means when it comes to taking care of itself. And, while its true that the series often had episodes built on premises of acquiring new weapons and scrounging for resources, it never felt like the problems truly mounted to oppressive degrees.
This is where it seems that Star Trek: Voyager made a course correction or two in relation to Deep Space 9. Instead of the same degree of lengthy plot lines, we have more self-contained stories, strung together by the premise of returning home. There is continuity, yes, and the characters evolve over time, a certain Doctor quite literally so, but it’s not so much the plot developments that drive the series’ momentum. It’s the characters we really watch in Voyager as they make their long journey.
And that’s where I think Star Trek, intentionally or otherwise, sets its course with a new series. What is a show’s fundamental premise, and from that premise what kind of storytelling will the writers tend to use? The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Voyager all have underlying premises that are relatively free form. During their five-year mission, or continuing mission, or voyage home, there is a chance to explore so many options.
Enough room for both?
I think that as many concepts that can be devised and executed well, we could have as many Star Trek series as possible. Some could be more focused on specific story lines, or could be a broad canvas to return to more of a classic episodic style. What we will get, though, depends on current television trends and what will get an audience. Are people looking for a dramatic new story line to binge watch on the weekends, or is a television network looking for something that will keep audiences coming back week after week for an episode at a time.
As long as a show is well executed but also consistent with its premise, I’ll be happy to watch. The fact that Voyager, which is more broadly focused on concept, and Deep Space 9, which pushed limits on how much plot could drive Star Trek, had overlapping runs on television indicates that there’s enough room for both for those who like both, or something to appease those who are more discerning in their tastes.