From long-distance transporters to easy peasy time travel, some Star Trek tech is now a major problem for future storytelling.
New technologies on Star Trek drive great episodic stories; from the superintelligent, but neurotic “M5” in “The Ultimate Computer” to a “volcano stopping electronic cork” from “Star Trek: Into Darkness” – once some new technology is unleashed it’s hard to put it back into the bottle it came from.
Here are a few technologies/situations that have gotten us into storytelling trouble.
We’ve spent years grappling with this technology since the original series when Kirk plucked it out of the Romulans’ hands. For whatever reason, Starfleet banned the technology – or something like that – and it didn’t reappear for decades, well at least until “Picard” where we borrowed it for a secret mission. In the end, the new plot device potentially allows us to effortlessly traverse the universe unnoticed. This potentially leaves future stories without dramatic appeal as antagonists hunting for your ship and crew will float on by unaware of your cloak. Writers ignore this technology because it would reduce dramatic tension to near zero. But this factoid is out there, like the big elephant in the room. Either we explain why we can’t use it or drop a cloaking device into every starship in the fleet. “Clear alert” anyone?
Once a mysterious and accidental foray into the past, “Tomorrow is Yesterday” comes to mind. Time travel is so common now, it’s hard for us to take any invasion or grave circumstance seriously knowing we can slingshot the Enterprise around a local star and relive the days we managed to screw up in act one of our story. If that’s not convenient, we can go visit Carl and the “Guardian of Forever” gift shop for an all expenses paid trip to any past we desire. Heck, the whole time travel thing is so out-of-control Starfleet has its own time travel investigative group responsible for regulating the whole timeline issue. To be sure, the whole time travel paradox of “forever redoes” could be applied to EVERY episode as a plot device to fix “screw-ups” and past wrongs.
Long Distance Transportation
Yes, it’s in the JJ-Verse, but knowing a transporter the size of a mini-fridge can send someone hundreds of lightyears in any direction instantly renders our hero “starship” obsolete. And while we fans tend to ignore the JJ-timeline, we have the Prime timeline to contend with, too. The pesky “Discovery” mycelium transport device, which sends our starship anywhere in an instant – including the Mirror Universe. In either case, the whole point of interstellar travel is to provide a place for our crew to dramatically interact, visit to the uber-cool bridge, experience big explosions, dog fights and, of course, for occasional concerts or poetry reading in the rec room.
Yup, we’ve been there so many times even our heroes are bored with it. Barbarism – check. Yelling – of course. Costumes you can’t even wear at a Halloween party? – Most definitely.
We’ve spent so much time in the Mirror Universe we really might as well shove ourselves into the agony booth as punishment for watching another “check the boxes” episode complete with over-acting, physical violence, and clever disintegration devices disguised as Ikea furniture.
The situation has gotten so bad, Mirror Universe doppelgangers now drop into OUR universe and take up positions of power without Starfleet or anyone else knowing about it. If we think about this long enough, it would make perfect sense for the Mirror Universe people to invade our turf and simply “take over” – since we aren’t doing anything about this growing menace. It’s a discovery we should have ignored after one episode, but since we keep revisiting, we keep digging a deeper storytelling hole.
The unhelpful Enterprise computer
Color me old fashioned here, but shouldn’t the computer let us know when someone has left the ship? Seems the computer would let us know if Captain Picard hasn’t been seen in days as we may need him to handle some urgent diplomatic affair.
And while AI is all the rage these days, our future heroes have yet to reprogram the computer to let us know when unauthorized people arrive on ship or essential crew are whisked away by some nefarious force. Yet the Enterprise computer never squeaks out a warning this important.
All I can say is, “Bad computer!”
Star Trek computers: maybe Starfleet should upgrade to Siri or something.
And there are my five examples on where our Treknology is overused, under-appreciated or so “magically delicious” writers can’t help “cutting and pasting” these plot points into a script “one more time”, just to fill out a 44 minute episode. The Star Trek audience now can’t watch these reused plots without remembering how it affected us “the last time” and probably “the time before that,” too.
With a whole universe to explore, maybe it’s time for Star Trek to really consider some new technologies which might actually benefit our explorers’ sensibilities and give writers a story challenge. For us the viewers, we’d get something more practical and plausible, without unveiling magical technology which destroys future storytelling, not to mention also reusing plot-worn story ideas which never really worked all that well in the first place.
“Beam me up, please – and try to prevent yet another doppelganger duplicate please.”