With Star Trek: Discovery premiering in the fall and a fourth movie in development, it’s a good time to be a Star Trek fan. But with so many good offerings in our immediate future, it’s easy to forget the discarded projects that could have been part of the franchise. With that in mind, let’s look at some abandoned ideas that deserve a second look.
In 1968, the original series was in its second season, and ratings were low. Fearing cancellation, series creator Gene Roddenberry designed the season finale as a backdoor pilot for a potential spinoff show. The result was “Assignment: Earth”, which saw the crew of the Enterprise travelling back to 1968 and encountering mysterious intergalactic secret agent Gary Seven, played by Robert Lansing.
Seven is a human who has been conscripted by an advanced alien race. His mission is to ensure that 20th century Earth doesn’t annihilate itself through war. He is assisted in this mission by his advanced Beta 5 computer, his shapeshifting cat, Isis, and his flower child secretary, Roberta Lincoln, played by a young Teri Garr.
When the network renewed the show for a third season (its last), Roddenberry shelved the concept. Gary Seven, unfortunately, never reappeared in the franchise’s canon. He remains a perennial favourite in non-canon books and comics, which have depicted him participating in the Eugenics Wars, dealing with the aftermath of the crew’s antics in 1980s San Francisco in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and time-travelling to the future. He even appeared, alongside the rest of his team, in an acclaimed comics miniseries by industry legend John Byrne.
Clearly there is an appetite for more “Assignment: Earth”, and Gary Seven and his eclectic supporting cast could easily headline a new TV show or spinoff movie.
Bryan Singer is known for his comic book adaptations, but he is also a Star Trek fan. After the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005, Singer and frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie began developing a pitch for a new show. The new series, titled Star Trek: Federation, was set in the year 3000. Humanity has become complacent and isolationist. The Federation has begun to break apart, leaving the Ferengi as the local superpower. Against this backdrop, a new USS Enterprise is commissioned and given to “Alexander Kirk”, whose mission is to lead Starfleet and the Federation back to being a force for good.
Unfortunately, Singer and McQuarrie never delivered the pitch to the studio after Paramount announced that the 2009 reboot was in development. While the new movie did rejuvenate the franchise, the storytelling potential of Federation‘s concept is tantalising. With a story about the decline and fall of a benevolent, diverse political union, the rise of corrupt oligarchs, and the complacency of a species that was once seen as a great unifier, the series essentially predicted today’s geopolitics. A return to these ideas would allow Star Trek to deliver more of its trademark thoughtful political and social commentary.
This one was never in development, but it makes the list because many people supported it all the same. With Voyager – a show that had once devoted an episode to showcasing Tuvok’s service under Sulu on the Excelsior – beginning to wind down, producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga began developing a new spinoff to take its place. Fans petitioned for a show about Hikaru Sulu’s time as captain of the Excelsior, with George Takei reprising his iconic role. Takei, for his part, seemed enthusiastic about the prospect. When fans learned that the new show would be set prior to the previous spinoffs, some believed their wish had been granted.
Of course, the new show turned out to be the prequel series Enterprise instead. Regardless of your opinion of that series, it’s a bit disappointing that we never got to see a show featuring Captain Sulu in all his glory. At 80 years old, Takei is unlikely to commit to a regular TV schedule or a series of films. It’s a good thing, then, that we have another Sulu to fill his shoes. Seeing John Cho’s Kelvin timeline version of the character take command of the Excelsior, either on TV or in later films, could give us the Captain Sulu experience we sadly never got enough of with Takei.
This pitch is quite similar to Federation but more developed. After Enterprise was cancelled, series producer David Rossi and colleagues Doug Mirabello and Jose Munoz decided that an animated series would be a good replacement. The show is set in the 26th century where the Federation has become dark and militaristic after a war with the Romulans. The newest Enterprise, under the command of Alexander Chase, patrols the edge of friendly territory. However, Chase resolves to live up to Starfleet’s old legacy and return to the days of exploration and peace.
Rossi and his colleagues developed a detailed series bible, character descriptions, gorgeous concept art, and even multiple scripts, all of which are available on a website that still receives occasional updates. The dedication that its creators continue to show makes Star Trek: Final Frontier the unrealised project whose loss hurts the most.
Some fans, however, have embraced the defunct concept with enthusiasm. Author Christopher L. Bennett even included a reference to it in one of his Star Trek novels, thereby incorporating the idea into the franchise’s non-canon expanded universe. If, one day, the concept receives new life, the resulting show could be a breath of fresh air for the franchise.
As Star Trek continues to move forward, it’s important to remember what might have been. Each of these ideas has merit and could have been successful in its own right. Perhaps a time will come when the minds behind the franchise choose to revisit good concepts that have fallen by the wayside. Until then, we can look forward to the next chapter in the Star Trek saga when Discovery premieres this fall.
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