Interview – Dorothy Fontana On New Comics, New Novel + Canon, DS9, ENT & New Movie

Dorothy Fontana (also known as D.C. Fontana) began writing Trek stories in 1966 and hasn’t stopped since (writing for TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, a novel, games and even a fan series). The writer sat down with TrekMovie.com at last weekend’s Las Vegas Star Trek Convention and talked about her thoughts on her favorite series, canon, the new film, if Gene would have liked DS9 as well as her plans for writing more Trek stories. Full interview below. 

TrekMovie.com: After working on four Trek series, which one was the most fun to work on?

Dorothy Fontana: I would have to say The Original Series, only because we just laying down the foundations and paving new ground and making it up as we go along. So there wasn’t the big canon behind us…and I mean that in both senses of the word. We were doing it. We were making canon as we went. Of course we didn’t know that.

TrekMovie.com: Back in the 60s you guys didn’t have the Okuda books [Star Trek Chronology, & Star Trek Encyclopedia]. How did you maintain the canon as you were building it?

Dorothy Fontana: We had a wonderful research company called DeForest Research and a person who worked directly with us, Joan Pearce. Her husband was a science fiction writer and she was a fan for a long time so she knew science fiction. If we strayed into someone else’s territory she was sure to let us know. And also she kept us straight on ‘well on episode 5 you did this, but you are saying this over here and that is a conflict so resolve it.’ We always did, but the only one we didn’t resolve was the tombstone in “Where No Man Has  Gone Before” with ‘James R. Kirk’ for what became James T. Kirk. We always explain that by saying ‘Gary Lockwood wasn’t perfect.’

TrekMovie.com: There are actually a number of anachronisms between “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and the rest of the series. The ship is different, Dr. Piper was replaced, No Uhura, Sulu and Spock are different. Why were all those changes made?

Dorothy Fontana: There were some things that Gene Roddenberry was dissatisfied with where he was not all that happy. Paul Fix who played the doctor [Piper] was an excellent character actor, but he wasn’t exactly what Gene wanted in terms of relationship with the captain. He had worked with DeForest Kelley a number of years before on 333 Montgomery Street and on a pilot that was shot at the same time called Police Story where he played a forensic scientist. He came across the way Gene wanted the doctor to come across so he invited De to become the new doctor.

TrekMovie.com: The new JJ Abrams movie may also have to deal with “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” How would you feel if the film ended up more like the rest of the series with its characters and look, but is set before “Where No Man Has Gone Before?”

Dorothy Fontana: I probably wouldn’t go see it.

TrekMovie.com: Because of making any changes?

Dorothy Fontana: No; I haven’t seen the last four Trek movies anyhow and I didn’t even watch Star Trek Enteprise. I know that is terrible of me, but I just wasn’t interested by the concepts. God know that I love Scott Bakula as an actor, but I couldn’t get interested in Enterprise. I did got back and watch it somewhat when we did the game [Star Trek Legacy] which went back to Enterprise and through to DS9 and Voyager.

TrekMovie.com: In the last couple of years you have been active in the Trek universe, writing and episode for Star Trek New Voyages and the stories for two games from Bethesda. What is it like to come back to the Trek universe?

Dorothy Fontana: Well I have never really been away. Before I wrote those two games I wrote another game – Bridge Commander with my partner Derek Chester. I have been active with Star Trek all along.

TrekMovie.com: Do you expect to get involved with any new games or Trek projects soon?

Dorothy Fontana: A new game has not happened yet, but I have been approached to write a new comic book series. It would be an Original Series comic and my partner and I are working up a 5 book arc that we are going to propose.

[NOTE: TrekMovie.com has checked with IDW and it looks like this Fontana series is going to go forward]  

TrekMovie.com: Is this part of their Part of their ‘Star Trek Year 4’ series continuing on the 5 year mission?

Dorothy Fontana: Yes

TrekMovie.com: In the 80s you wrote the novel "Vulcan’s Glory" about Spock’s early career. Have you thought about going back and doing another Trek novel?

Dorothy Fontana: Yes that is also on the fire, but we haven’t worked out the story. I would again be co-writing with Derek Chester. We have become very good partners in that universe. Again that would be within the 5 year mission.

TrekMovie.com: Are these ideas based on unused story ideas you had when making the series in the 60s?

Dorothy Fontana: These are new ideas. I haven’t looked back at the old files, they are in storage right now.

TrekMovie.com: IDW have also done TNG comics, are you considering doing that?

Dorothy Fontana: Not at the moment. Both Derek and I have been concentrating on furthering the five year mission. I love that arena.

TrekMovie.com: Have you had a chance to look at the current ‘Star Trek Year Four’ comics from IDW? How do you feel about where they are going? For example will you include The Animated Series characters as they have?

Dorothy Fontana: Arex certainly, not sure about M’Ress. I love M’Ress and I love cats and have cats so the feline-oid was great for me. But it is a matter of ‘does it fit with the story we want to tell?’

TrekMovie.com: Speaking of The Animated series and the earlier mentioned canon – do you consider the entire Animated Series part of the Original Series canon, even though Gene Roddenberry did not.

Dorothy Fontana: I would – I honestly would. Because I thought most of the stories were quite good given the limited amount of time we had to tell the stories. There was only about 22 minutes of story telling and that is pretty tight so you could only get in one plot and maybe a tiny subplot. But within those limitations I thought there was some very good stories to tell.

TrekMovie.com: Changing subjects – yesterday Bob Justman was asked if he thought Gene Roddenberry would have liked Deep Space Nine. He only said ‘things change.’ I know you liked the show and wrote one episode [Dax], so do you think Gene would have liked the show in the end?

Dorothy Fontana: I suspect he might have. It was an extension of The Next Generation and the Star Trek universe and he was always interested in that. He loved that universe.

TrekMovie.com: So you don’t think he would have been bothered by some of the darker themes and less optimistic view of the future that [show runner] Ira [Steven Behr] was going with?

Dorothy Fontana: I know Ira Steven Behr. He is a good writer and solid story editor and producer. He is doing quite well on another series, The 4400, right now. He is really good with character and story. I think Gene would have liked it ultimately even with the darker themes. Let’s face it, Gene lived and fought through World War II and that is pretty dark days so he has to know they occur. He was around when we were in the middle of the muck of Vietnam. He would like to think that humanity would be better than that, but we made the same mistakes over and over again and until we learned from history I suspect we are going to keep on doing it.

TrekMovie.com: Outside of the world of Star Trek what else has been keeping you busy these days?

Dorothy Fontana: Well I am writing a young adult novel set in the world of rodeo, a sport that I love. I come here to Vegas to the national finals every year and have been a rodeo fan for many many years. This is in the world of barrel racing and my heroine is a 16 year old girl. And I do teach at the American Film Institute. I teach ‘Writing One Hour Television Drama’ to 2nd year writing students. And I also teach a script development program to the producers and the directors of the 2nd year course. So I keep pretty busy. But the novel is my big push right now.

 

UPDATE: Secrets of Vulcan Fury Novel?

After the interview Dorothy Fontana appeared on stage to talk abouther time on the Original Series. During the Q&A she was asked whatever happened to the defunct game ‘Secrets of Vulcan Fury.’ ..

Dorothy Fontana: It was a very complicated story. It was big.There was mystery. There was a chase. There was threat and danger. It was five parts that were really very full and complicated. The ‘Vulcan Fury’ was actually one of the moons of Vulcan that was actually a weapons platform that had long bead dead and some happens tore-activate it. Which would then threaten the Enterprise which was in orbit and other Federation ships. The problem was that it became very expensive and the head of [game publisher] Interplay pulled it because it was too expensive and he didn’t see getting his money back on it. I have asked [CBS Products Exec] Paula Block if I can take it, clear it,and make it into a novel. I haven’t got an answer back yet, but I think it would be a heck of a great story as a novel.

 

it is not clear if this is the same novel Fontana referred to in the interview

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As always, D.C. is the Godmother of Trek. She is a jewel for sure.

C’mon DC give the new film a chanch….Leonard Nimoy loves the script and is gonna be Spock again so it cant be bad.

DC writing a STAR TREK comic mini-series for IDW? Yes!

Snake, I suspect she’ll be seeing the film. ;)

Great interview, thanks Anthony!

Also glad to hear that she supports TAS as canon – I agree. There were some great stories in there.

Same here, she was asked a hypothetical question. She’ll go. She hasn’t read the script, because if she had, SHE’D GO!!!!

Great interview Anthony, in fact I could say that about a lot of previous interviews. You keep this up, and I’ll be asking if you’re hiring.

Are there any up and coming cons?

497 dtst

She is the greatest living Trek writer.

KevinA - Melbourne Australia

Excellent interview Anthony. Wouldn’t it be great if the “Great Ladybird of the Galaxy” got a chance to write in a sequel to the New Movie. She’s the closest thing we have to Roddenberry and she’s still writing!

Gees … I’m so optimistic about the future that I’m thinking Star Trek XIII already!

KevinA - Melbourne Australia

Getting ahead of myself ..Try Star Trek XII

Interesting inteview but the most interesting question was just skipped over. How could someone be involved with Star Trek’s tangental and almost irrelevant elements like games and comic books and “not be interested” in seeing the new movie? Not have watched the last four? Not having watched Enterprise? I don’t buy it. Spends time traveling to and being at conventions and writing comic books on the subject but won’t spend two hours watching the new film? C’mon. Bullshit.

I love D.C. Fontana’s work on Trek but there’s more to it than she’s saying and that is more interesting than some dumb comic book from a purely dramatic standpoint. How does someone cling to parts of something from 40 years ago that she had involvment in, and have no interest in what others are doing with it now? Is she upset that it’s moved on without her? I’m not saying she is, I just find it to be a compelling question and I’m interested in someone’s creative and emotional relationship with something they helped create and is now in the hands of others. Is it like seee and old lover in the arms of someone new?

Anyways, the most interesting question was just passed right over.

great interview. not to be an ass but one thing I never see her asked about is the lost and still great looking “The Secret of Vulcan Fury”, I’d love to hear her thoughts on it as it was her story.

#10–The last few movies and series’ were just not that good. They strayed from the Star Trek she helped create. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why she wasn’t interested.

Anthony–you should have denied her food until she answered. Either that, or just beaten the answers out of her. That would have went over well.

#12–great point. Very frustrating about that game. It looked amazing. To not do anything with that story is a waste–especially since it’s an untapped source of Doohan’s voice.

Maybe they should give DC a shot with the sequel (2011) – creative input..story etc..

Dorothy Fontana: “These are new ideas. I haven’t looked back at the old files, they are in storage right now.”

Old files? THIS could be a goldmine. I would love to see these published, as is, preferably before D.C.F. goes to the final frontier.

To paraphrase Robert Frost, it could be called “The TREK Not Taken.”

At first I too was taken aback that she stated she would not see the film, but then two things came to mind:

1. Technically she said she wouldn’t see it if the film was in the style of the post-TOS series, but dealt with the characters of TOS. In other words, she is not into a reboot. That’s understandable, considering that she contributed significantly to that which they would be rebooting; if she’s protective of her work, can anyone blame her?

2. Some writers are really focused on literature, and don’t watch a lot of films that they aren’t directly involved in. It’s kind of a division of labor in the art world. Not every writer is like that, but some are; in general there are certain artists who are very one-track minded about their discipline. Actually, I was a little surprised that she spoke about The 4400 in a manner almost suggesting that she had seen it.

D. C. is the Queen Bee, but I have to disagree with her on TAS and no seeing the movie. Wonder if she’ll turn SOVF into a comic? That would be SWEET!

This lady worked on TOS, I can see why she might not want to see the new version. However good the movies turns out to be, it will not be the same family affair the TOS series and movies have been. It will be portrayed by actors whose very look and persona are partial copies of TOS. It will likely focus more on action and Star Trek as a theme, though Nimoy and Shatner(?) will ground it. But it can’t be the same thing. That doesn’t make it bad, it’ll just be different. I think the movie could be an enjoyable experience and fine movie, but it can’t be the original.

she knows her stuff.

But she just seems like a bitter old woman. She seems to refuse to acknowledge anything other than the original series.

mentalities like that make me sad. such apathy.

re: 12 & 13 – Depending on who you talk to, “Secret of Vulcan Fury” was only about 20-30% completed when the project was shut down. I doubt that any potential game publisher would want to tackle completing the game – they would be better off starting from scratch.

However… what I think Paramount/CBS should do is take the existing voice work and script, and turn it into a straight-to-DVD animated movie. They would probably have to do some minimal script editing and maybe a little additional voice work, but not enough to make it uneconomical. If they hurry, they could have it ready for a Christmas 2008 release, perhaps (promotional tie-in for some big movie that’s coming out around the same time).

It’s a shame that the recordings/script are setting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust. As mentioned, it is Doohan’s final performance as Scotty And possibly DeForest Kelley’s as McCoy – I remember there was some debate as to how much (if any) voice work Kelley contributed as he was in poor health at the time.

From what I’ve heard, the most important part of Secret of Vulcan Fury was completed–the voice overs.

I’m sure you’re right in that there’s no chance, but WHAT a waste.

I like the idea of an animated movie based on the story.

From what I know, Kelley was alive, but too ill to do the voice work. It was done by the actor who did the voice of Stimpy.

#19- why is apathy so bad if she doesn’t like the material?
I don’t like Big Brother, why should I bother keeping up with it? If she doesn’t dig the spin-offs or the movies (which, to her credit, ARE vastly different from TOS), why on earth would she even bother to watch it all?

She likes what she likes, so be it..

#19

Where do you get apathy from? I don’t think she’d continue being involved even on a superficial level with the games & comics if she didn’t care. All she stated was TOS was the one that meant the most to her, which makes sense. Likely anyone involved with the original would state something similar. In terms of not seeing the last few TNG movies or Enterprise, well she’s not exactly alone there, is she? I hardly think that’s apathy. More a matter of taste.

re: 22. star trackie

Exactly. She wasn’t putting anything down, she just wasn’t interested.
Just because something has the two words “Star Trek” on it is not enough reason to be interested in it.

Anthony- I love your site and I go to it several times a day. I’m buidling an orohanage in Haiti and this is one of my only connections to the outside world via satalite Internet (when the weather permits)

Anyways, in terms of her not answering the question when you pressed it, I totally get that. I did a book proposal called “Guest Stars’ Treks: Conversations from the Future” that was a colection of interviews with some of Trek’s more interesting guest stars and cameos. Their take on Trek. I interviewed many people including Ashley Judd, Stephen Hawking, Mick Fleetwood, and Kind Abdullah of Jordan as well as the likes of Jane Wyatt, Clint Howard on down to Marc Shepherd, the dude who played Morn. I often felt that their was a bit of holding back on just the stuff that was the most personal or juicy and it’s hard to drag out. (One of the interviews was with Persis Khambatta just a few weeks before she died and was printed in Star Trek: Communicator)

Again, I love your site and like seeing all the interviews you are adding. Great job man.

If anyone wants to check out my orphanage project for kids with HIV/AIDS in Haiti, go to http://wecanbuildanorphanage.com. We’re looking to help kids “live long and prosper.”

Dude – I remember reading Vulcan’s Glory when it first came out.

That was in the 80’s??? Holy s__t.

Good book, though. Thank you, DC.

billy don't be a hiro

“But she just seems like a bitter old woman. She seems to refuse to acknowledge anything other than the original series.”

“a bitter old woman”?? That, sir, is bullshit and a terrible thing to say about someone because she doesn’t like or have an interest in a few movies and a television series that *many* people don’t think were all that great either. Just because she isn’t interest in something you’re probably a big fan of doesn’t give you license to label her “a bitter old woman”. Shame on you.

D.C. Fontana didn’t have to give Anthony a second of her time. She was gracious enough to talk to him and nothing she said merits some jerky Star Trek fan calling her “a bitter old woman”. Show some respect, sir!

Another excellent interview Anthony – Thanks! Always great to hear from one of the original crew. I didn’t get a bitter vibe at all from her either.

hey, just because DC probably won’t see the new movie doesn’t matter. She worked on the orignal, and may have feelings about a reboot of what she already loves. She doesn’t speak out against it which is what matters to me. She’s not all long winded about how it’s a bad idea or anything. That shows respect for what is coming.

Class act. Class woman. Class writer.

Four words:

This Side of Paradise.

One of my all time faves. If you’re reading this DC, thanks!

Great interview, with these here and the Vegas Reports at startrek.com, it’s almost like being there! Thanks for doing these.

Always a class act the old gal is, always.

– W –
* So she won’t see the new film, no big deal *

Nothing apathetic about anything she said to Anthony!

And as far as her not seeing the last few so called “Star Trek” movie’s, she is far from alone there! Berman nearly destroyed Star Trek after First Contact”, and w/”Enterprise”…IMO too!

Hope she gives Abrams vision a chance though…we all should!

Peace and long life …D.C. Fontana!

#19-

Who says she has to acknowledge anything beyond Classic Trek? Why would she? Come on. Really. People don’t trade in Roll Royces for Edsels, do they?

Quaint.

DC, if you watching, nice to see you still in action. IDW just landed on my “Must Read” List all of a sudden.;)

“Journey to Babel” was always the most emotional TOS episode, IMO. The confrontation scene between Spock and his mother, to this day, is killer. And goes to perfectly illustrate that Star Trek is often at its strongest when it focuses on CHARACTER.

“The Enterprise Incident” is another D.C. Fontana favorite. Awesome episode. I’ve wondered if the younger Ms. Fontana was among the many females who had a thing for Spock? She certainly saved her best writing for him, and did so much to make him more 3-dimensional in the process.

So many important interviews lately… You do a great job with all these, Anthony. Great job!

First off, I have great respect for DC, as she is one of the remaining sources we have for TOS production memories, and a fantastic author. Definitely not bitter. It is very difficult when you spend years or decades of your life creatively on a project, and then other people take over and don’t do things you find appealing. Most screen writers and producers are like that. My favorite show is Sliders and its original creator and writer Tracy Torme (also TNG writer) left the show and always says he never watched an episode after he left, and I believe him.

As for Secrets of Vulcan Fury, yes, a truly great waste. Interplay bites. As for completed status, the last incarnation was not completed at all. But it was the third or fourth major revision. I know for a fact that the audio was all recorded. De Kelley’s was done, but his was for an earlier incarnation, and was too sick to redo all his lines, so another guy did them. Paramount is sitting on a goldmine to Trek fans. Forget about a game, just turn it into a novel and use the audio for the read-along. Or perhaps animate it. Odds are that legally Paramount can’t do anything with it.

D.C. Fontana….one TOS fan who appreciates the other series. Kudos to you, miss Fontana!

In an old Starlog interview she sounded very excited about being involved with TNG but I guess that changed later on.

DC Fontana is one of the major pillars of the entire Trek franchise, as far as I’m concerned.

It would be fantastic is something finally came from Secret of the Vulcan Fury. I was very disapointed when the game was cancelled. The trailer looked fantastic.

40 – my take on Cage and WNMHGB is like TMP…you had something that needed fine tuning and they did and then you got TOS/TWOK..

The new film shoulnt really go out of its way to adhere to the pilots continuity/look..as as AP says it can be explanined away…(e.g Bones on leave so the WNMHGB doc covers for him – like Dr Crusher/Pulanski….Sulu taking a break from helm to stun everyone with his Maths…uniforms/phasers/equipment etc – all can be altered without any problem)

I have no problem if they set it before “Where No Man…,” and that they put Uhura and Sulu and Checkov and Bones in there. I’d rather see adventures before the 5 year mission of course. However, I think the two characters too large in “Where No Man…” to not account for are Gary Mitchell and Dr. Mark Piper. Kirk said Mitchell was always with him on the Enterprise. Bones could easily have been an assistant doctor, while Piper was the main doctor, and was promoted a year later to “ship surgeon.” Piper could be a referenced only briefly, but I find it difficult for them to respect “continuity” and leave out Mitchell completely.

As for SOVF, it’s amazing, because if that audio was of the Beatles, they would have released 10 CD’s of it by now. Did Interplay get bought out by somebody?

#40 Anthony- I see your point about WNMHGB, but—

If the writing is up to snuff, ANYTHING can be explained.
Just ignoring history smacks of writer’s block/laziness.

Take the new Dr. Who, for example.
They patch up assumed plot holes and explain story points with a sentance or two- and, no matter how outlandish, they MAKE it work!

The writers respect the intelligence of the viewers- a factor sadly missing in all of recent Trek. Let’s hope this new script changes this.

(Hey, TONS of great ideas regularly appear on this site- they wouldn’t have to look far!)

“By the way I do find Fontana’s comments on WNMHGB interesting. She has backed up my view that the episode is essentially a test run with many concepts dropped because they werent working. It could be argued that TOS would not have succeeded if many elements of WNMHGB weren’t abandoned. Which makes it ironic that people demand that the new film be more like WNMHGB than the rest of the series which everyone is more familiar with. Sometimes the altar of continuity is just not worth it and of course differences can all be explained away. If Roddenberry felt it wasnt working…why bring it back?” I think you have really spun her comments in the direction you want, far beyond what she actually said. YOU feel that way (and you’ve made that clear here and in the past that WNMHGB is expendable) but I don’t think what she actually said in the published interview supports that in anything but the broadest context. WNMHGB may be trivial or irrelevent to you, but it isn’t to me. There’s enormous backstory potential there to be exploited and utilized, an opportunity to make a Star Trek that is at once familiar but also has some characters that can have some chances taken with them. There’s no reason to treat like WNMHGB is an embarrassment to be ignored and swept under the rug. Its been part of the series backstory for 40 years and its a damn fine show. If what you really want is… Read more »

Vivat Dorothy Fontana!

Hurray for DC! She speaks for the TOS trekkies that WANT to see what happened to Vulcan’s Fury! I guess if we are never going to get the game, a novel would be great! Woo-Hoo! I am also thrilled that she defends TAS as very much a part of Star Trek, and wants to include it in her comic work (can’t wait to see the re-appearance of Lt. Arex after all of these years). THANK YOU Dorothy, and continue your great work.

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