Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Suggestion for the Next Star Trek Series

Obviously, the current regime over at Paramount has decided that the foreseeable future for the Star Trek franchise is in the form of new movies. And frankly, as long as the movies look as good as 'Star Trek Into Darkness', I will be interested no matter how silly the names get. (Future films will no doubt have names like 'Star Trek Up the Khyber', 'Star Trek Screaming', and 'Star Trek At Your Convenience'.) (Trust me, there are people laughing right now, even if you're not one of them.)

But eventually, I'm sure that the Star Trek of my teen/young adult years will develop its own nostalgia, and we'll see a return to the small screen, and a return to the Federation of the 24th century. When that happens, there's something I'd like to see addressed, and it comes out of the problem of Wesley Crusher.

Because there is a problem with Wesley Crusher, and it's got nothing to do with him being a science nerd or him being uncomfortably similar to the show's target audience (oh, come on, you knew most of the Wesley-hate was thinly-disguised self-loathing, even then.) The problem is that Wesley is a civilian, and even as the son of the Chief Medical Officer, there's really no good way for him to interact with the bridge crew without it seeming like authorial fiat. This, in turn, exacerbates the Mary Sue feeling the character has, as he's an ordinary civilian who's somehow always able to wander onto the bridge and take a seat at Comms whenever he wants to. Wesley really needs to be interacting with other civilians, and be given something to do as a normal teenager on board a starship.

Which, on thinking about it, opens up all sorts of possibilities. Because while it was mentioned from time to time in passing that the Enterprise had a civilian population, nothing was ever really done with that. What were they there for? After all, it's not generally like we slap a civilian population onto a battleship. The Enterprise was a vessel that saw combat; why did it have civilians? What purpose did they serve? Then there's the next big question: Who did they answer to? After all, if they answered to Picard, then they weren't really civilians. If the only authority on the ship was a military authority, then they're under military jurisdiction. The specific mention of them as "civilians", the careful distinction of their roles, implies a civilian authority. We're told that the Enterprise is the size of a city; is there a Mayor of the Enterprise?  Or, for that matter, a Burgomeister, a Prefect, a Sindaco, or a ChoCho? Does Picard meet personally with the Mayor, or is there a Civilian Liason Officer? Are there conflicts? (If nothing else, there's bound to be a conflict over the fact that there's a cityful of people on board and only one bar.)

To me, this feels like a whole area that never got explored, one which could prove potentially interesting indeed. If nothing else, it would give Wesley something to do until he became an Ensign.

10 comments:

Loadtime said...

So what are you thinking? Like a Teen Drama set on the Next Gen Enterprise? I think a clever writer could do something interesting with that. Using technology they could probably integrate the old show into the background.

Jon Gad said...

I get the feeling that "civilians on the Enterprise" was one of those ideas that Gene threw in to make the Federation and Starfleet seem more Utopian but his departure from the show and death kept him from pushing that aspect to the fore. And the writing crew pretty much seems to have been willing to let it slide without dropping it entirely with the exception of the occasional Keiko and O'Brien subplot here and there.

Of course, given the rate at which those Galaxy class ships, eventually including the Enterprise -D herself, crashed or blew up you have to conclude that the civvies on board idea is a really bad one. Hell, Sisko's wife and son were still on board when they sent the Saratoga in against the Borg at Wolf 359!

Bad plan.

At least they mentioned that they'd offloaded the Odyssey's civvies at DS9 before sending that ship to her doom against the Jem'Hadar, so somebody learned something!

Ultimately, the idea is such a stupid one when those ships are so dangerous that even having them on board damages suspension of disbelief too much o make it worth whatever stories you could tell with them.

Rob Sharp said...

That's part of the reason I loved the new BSG, they dealt with the practicalities of civilians in the fleet. While the settings are vastly different, it would be nice to see something similar if Trek did go back to the small screen.

Unknown said...

Considering the military/civilian themes that Ron Moore (who got his start writing for ST) explored the hell out of with BSG, I'd say the writers were thinking a lot about thse sort of things, but were held back by Gene (not utopian enough) and Paramount (not a safe enough business move). But I'm a big cynic.

magidin said...

My understanding is not so much that they have a "civilian population" as that they have the families of the usual personnel, which includes both military, scientific, and what might be termed "colonial" officers (administration people being shuffled around colonies and member planets). I always understood it to have been a way to make sure that the ship had sufficient expertise for its long deployment, "sweetening the deal" by letting specialists ship out with their families, something they might be reluctant to do without them for extended periods of time. More along the lines of family housing in overseas bases than a colony in space. That is supposed to be the reason that the ship can separate into "saucer" and "battleship", after all: if you are faced with a real emergency, put the civilians in the saucer, separate, leave them behind, and go fight in the battle bridge; but the crew is too lazy to do it as often as they should be doing it (and it was an expensive effect that slowed down the action, so I'm sure writers didn't like it).
You are right, though, that Wesley should not be able to wander in and out of the *military* areas of the ship (as the Bridge and Engineering most certainly are).

Sean B said...

I concur that the civilians were Star Fleet spouses and children. Star Fleet has specialists for everything (Keiko, after all, was a Star Fleet officer) so why would they clutter-up the command structure with civilians?

That doesn't mean Wesley 2.0 wouldn't need peers if future generations weren't going to hate the character all over again.

Honestly, I'd rather see Paramount continue the Next Gen/ DS9/Voyager timeline with a series starring all the kids of the old crews. And then Wil Wheaton could play a Q-like Traveler Wesley.

magidin said...

Well, yes, Keiko was an officer... but how much of that was that in the early years you *had* to be in Starfleet if you wanted to travel in space? An exobiologist would likely have two options: either join Starfleet, or switch fields. Allowing civilian specialists would open up a new pool of expertise to Starfleet, especially if they are not traveling through particularly dangerous territory or are not engaged in wars/tensions with others. Surely the treaty with the Klingons must have made it more attractive for non-military personnel to travel.

As I recall, though, there is a throwaway line in "Encounter at Farpoint" about how new the notion of civilians on a Starfleet vessel is; it is supposed to be something completely new (which might also explain why Starfleet does not have established protocols about what civilians can and cannot do on board the ship!)

Jon Gad said...

Well, if the idea was a new one, given that we haven't seen so much as a hint of civilians on the Enterprise -E, and there probably should have been at least a mention of them in First Contact where the ship's getting overrun by Borg, I suspect that the idea died with the Dominion War.

After all, it's a lot harder to sell the whole "Starfleet isn't a military organization" concept after fighting a war across half the galaxy.

Tony Laplume said...

Starfleet isn't a military organization. That doesn't mean it doesn't engage in military operations. Enterprise marked the transition of Starfleet believing there was a necessary division between these two concepts when it employed the services of MACO officers.

Anyway, Deep Space Nine demonstrated what Star Trek could be liken when dealing with both Starfleet and civilian figures at the same time. It strikes me that so many fans still don't seem to understand that.

If you really want to know what a Wesley Crusher story in a new version of Next Generation would look like, I would assume that you'd study Firefly, because Wesley is a lot like River Tam. That's what the underutilized Traveler arc was all about.

Oddstar said...

BSG explored the idea of having civilians with the fleet, and did it very badly. By far the worst episodes of that highly overrated series were the ones that dealt with the civilians. The original BSG actually did a much better job of dealing with the civilians.

As for civilians on the Enterprise, I don't think it's a good idea at all. But regardless, they would still be under the authority of the captain, civilians or not. When a ship is under way, the captain is always the final authority. If you are on a cruise ship on the high seas, you may be a tourist on vacation, but you are still under the authority of the captain.

Which is part of why it's not a good idea. Any time one of the civilians got involved with one of the adventures that are the whole reason people watch Star Trek, he would be basically indistinguishable from the crew. So what's the point?