Let’s face it, Star Trek’s pesky godlike prankster will not “go away.” Is it time to give our oft-used character the “heave ho” to make room for new stories and characters?
In the beginning…there was Q, and he was without form and void. But, Q was also an afterthought, a construct. D.C. Fontana wrote the Next Generation pilot, a one-hour adventure “Encounter at Farpoint” to kick off the new series, but Paramount wanted more. Simply put, they wanted a “two-hour movie event”. It would be something to wow new audiences with the much anticipated “Star Trek” return to the small screen. It would be a full evening of Star Trek, a ratings coup.
To make that happen, Gene Roddenberry rewrote Fontana’s pilot mainly by inserting a new character into the story, someone we’ve come to know as “Q”. John DeLancie took on the role and sufficiently impressed all involved. Even Roddenberry wanted to bring him back several times a year. Future episodes injected a bit of humor and a counterpoint to the stuffy Starfleet Captain Picard. Q even performed magic, something Roddenberry wouldn’t allow in the original series. Even Trelane (whom Q was rumored to be patterned after) used mechanical devices to achieve his god-like (but limited) powers. This departure allowed the show to violate its “hard science fiction” mantra. If it weren’t Roddenberry who originally did this we’d all be yelling “Heresy!” Nevertheless, Q returned to multiple episodes of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Lower Decks, and Picard. As a fan favorite, you could count on viewers tuning in to see “The Q Show”.
Q is a fun character, but he also offers a real problem to Star Trek storytelling. When in doubt, it’s pretty easy to dump our heroes into a Q-inspired story and allow them to climb out of any improbable hole he’s dug for them. In the process, he can slap them around with sarcastic moralizing, crack a few jokes, and then fly off into the intergalactic void. Surprise, you’ve filled an easy hour of episodic TV, no need for a hard-edged, thoughtful (and stuffy) science fiction plot.
After Star Trek: Picard season 2 we were given a sad “good-bye” to the long-lived character, complete with a Picardian big bear hug. The only thing missing was a Viking funeral. I was even thinking I’d be missing our Trek Trickster. It was a big send-off, and in seconds our beloved Q was DEAD at the end of season 2 [via startrek.com]. Fade to black. But then, just when we thought it was safe for the Federation to fly into the dark void once more, Q magically reappeared to Picard Jr., ready to take on the Next Next Generation at the end of season 3. I threw my box of half-used tissues at the screen in anger.
I felt cheated, violated, and a little mad at Star Trek. I’d been tricked, rolled, complete with my emotional wallet picked and my intellectual sensibilities left for dead.
With Q resurrected for another run, can or should we take on yet another adventure with our chaotic clown? If we do, we are shortchanging what Star Trek is great at: good storytelling. With TV seasons running only 10 episodes – we have to ask ourselves, “Is it a good idea to burn an episode or two (or three) – or in the case of Picard, an entire season 2 with Q?
If you’ve enjoyed Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, you know they packed a lot into two seasons with Q nowhere in sight (I know, I know – imagine if he DID show up in that timeline). Good storytelling will always win out over “fan service.”
After seeing just how Picard season 2 worked out, Q didn’t add a lot to the storyline anyhow. Heck, Star Trek: The Next Generation finally got a “Mirror Universe” story without actually traveling there, but we’ve done that before in other shows. So, did we gain anything from the inclusion of Q, except maybe a fan service TV promotional tease, and fans were cheated of “The Big Goodbye” Q style when he wouldn’t stay dead?
Next time you watch (or re-watch) a Q episode, think about how the character is used. Is he pivotal in a substantive tale with an impactful conclusion, or is he simply there for “comic relief”? If it’s the latter, his presence is wasted, and we were denied a potentially much better story. Star Trek should always challenge the viewer with thoughtful and inventive ideas, and while humor is an important element, it is NOT a situation comedy or “The Q Show”. Maybe it’s time to retire Q and let the Next Next Generation figure all this out on their own.