On Thursday TrekMovie revealed that there was indeed a Star Trek: Federation series proposal written at the behest of Bryan Singer as a possible pitch for his Bad Hat Harry production company. However, while Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie were at the inception of the project at a Sushi dinner in late 2005, the actual 25-page long document was written by Robert Meyer Burnett (also at that dinner) along with Geoffrey Thorne. And after JJ Abrams signed on to produce a new Star Trek movie in early 2006, the Federation project was shelved along with the first (and only) draft of the series proposal.
While it never was actually pitched to CBS or Paramount, the Star Trek: Federation series proposal still makes an interesting read. Today TrekMovie reveals another Trek not taken.
Logo for “Star Trek: Federation” designed by Mike Okuda
The approach — Something old and something new
The series proposal starts with a forward, outlining how the creative team of Bryan Singer, Ralph McQuarrie, and Robert Meyer Burnett planned to make Star Trek on TV competitive again. Their solution was two pronged: Firstly acknowledge that “television storytelling had evolved” away from the five-act story structure of Star Trek with shows like The West Wing, Lost, The X-Files, Desperate Housewives and Battlestar Galactica taking on “more complex serialized stories.” Secondly they planned to return Star Trek to its roots of telling “compelling stories about our world today” instead of just telling stories more about the Trek universe itself. The “Federation” solution was laid out thusly:
Let STAR TREK breathe. Let it return to the marketplace in the hands of people willing to write the sort of stories that confront and entertain today’s audiences. Let’s grapple again with the issues of the day- issues of diversity, government power, gender frictions, a controversial war on foreign soil, and a host of other things. Embrace modern television storytelling techniques. Most importantly, as with the original STAR TREK and THE NEXT GENERATION audiences must recognize the world they live in today in the far-flung future, then take the show’s concepts and lessons with them back into their everyday lives.
However, unlike the 2004 “re-boot the Star Trek universe” pitch from Bryce Zabel (Dark Skies) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), The Star Trek: Federation team proposes to “not start from scratch,” as noted in the forward:
The great strength of STAR TREK is the very Universe in which it’s set. The Characters. The Starships. The Aliens. The stories.
Gene Roddenberry himself provided the perfect example how to create a wildly successfully new STAR TREK series…
Acknowledge what’s come before, but then set your stage far enough in the STAR TREK future when everything old is new again.
Turn the STAR TREK Universe upside down. Shake vigorously.
The Universe — A Federation in trouble
The way the team proposed shaking up that universe was to move the action to the year 3000 with a different United Federation of Planets. In Federation the UFP is still espoused to be a civilization of alien races united in respect living in a “Golden Age of Peace”, but not all is well:
Utopia as a goal is like the fire in a nuclear engine. Utopia in practice is stagnation; it’s dry rot; eventually it’s death. Which is precisely where we find the United Federation of Planets a few centuries after the last Age of Discovery.
Here are some key changes in the Star Trek universe six centuries after Picard:
- Earth’s Humans have become “fat and happy” but this has led to complacency where humans are “giving up exploration for incremental colonization and focusing more on the rightness of their own cultural view over all others”
- Many younger members of the UFP have left, eschewing this “human-centric” Federation
- Vulcans have been disengaging from the Federation and have reunified with the Romulans, spending most of the last 3 centuries focused on creating a new “joined society” overseen by two “quasi-religious clerics who rule according to logic and what is best for their unified peoples, combining Romulan Machiavellian politics with Vulcan logic.
- Bajorans have withdrawn from the Federation to become insular in order to focus on their religion and communing with the Prophets. Bajor is now “like a planet sized Tibet”, handing over all temporal concerns to the Ferengi
- The Klingons have undergone a “massive reformation” moving away from their Viking-like brawling to become a “civilization of warrior mystics” akin to the Tang Dynasty), now flying “sleek” and “serene” ships and while they maintain diplomacy with the Federation they have returned to expanding the Empire via conquest
- The Cardassians have transformed into a “society of artists and philosophers” who now “walk the path” and are now dedicated to a philosophy with “the view of the galaxy as a place created solely to test the faithful.”
- The Ferengi are no longer a “joke” but have become “quite powerful”. Equality for females (including a female Nagus) is “the only concession they have made to progress” and with “the Greater Federation’s cashless society as a restriction, the Ferengi Alliance is now able to shine in its full capitalist glory.” The Ferengi are also making big bucks marketing the Bajoran religion around the galaxy, including pilgrimages to the Bajoran Wormhole.
- Starfleet has been reduced to a “mere peace-keeping force” protecting fringe worlds from aliens and from fighting each other, with starships are old and spread out too thin
Entering into this troubled Federation is a new “powerful” and “ruthless” enemy called “The Scourge” who confronted the Federation ship USS Sojourner at what became a key pivot point. The ship along with two colonies are lost and the sole survivor will become a key player in the future of the Federation. From the document:
Lieutenant Commander Alexander Kirk is the only survivor of the “Sojourner Incident,” as it’s come to be known in the press. And he has no clear memory of the events themselves. Attempts to “help” him remember cause him to become irrational and violent. All he has is images of carnage and death and a hidden malevolent presence lurking behind it all. When called before his superiors, he paints a picture of the enemy that is scarcely believed and which, if true, might tip the already fracturing Federation Alliance into true collapse.
This incident leads Vulcan, Bajor, Betazed and other members to pull out of the Federation leaving it with just twenty systems and surrounded by the Klingons, Ferengi, Cardassians, etc. Kirk is also drummed out of the service.
The Mission — A New Enterprise & Crew
All of this turmoil is just the backdrop to the series itself. A motivated admiral commissions a new USS Enterprise to be built, the first “Enterprise” in over 300 years. Publicly the mission is a traditional return to the era of exploration and discovery, but the true mission is to find the truth behind “The Scourge” and to save the Federation (hence the title of the proposed series).
The document includes a partial list of the crew (of around 400) of the new Enterprise, giving the show its main characters:
- Captain Alden Montgomery: Human and the “perfect Starfleet officer” who is “The Captain America of the Federation” but who unfortunately gets killed off early on, leaving room for…
- Commander Alexander Kirk: (X-O and 3rd in command) Reinstated for the new mission Kirk is described as having a “checkered past” with an “aggressive manner” who is thrust into leading the mission after Montgomery and first officer get killed and is able to deal with it well, but is “total crap at PR aspects of job.” He alone (even though he doesn’t understand it) “possesses information vital to Enterprise’s true mission.”
- Lt. Cmdr. Chel Forlaan (Security Chief): A female Ektosi (a feline species) who has “cat-like” grace, temper and insight with natural hand-to-hand combat capabilities akin to Jem Hadar or Klingon. Joined Starfleet for the “fun”, posesses a “mercurial nature” which initially makes her ill-suited to security chief. Biggest flaw is “intense curiosity which sometimes overpowers her.” (get it? she’s a cat!)
- Lt. Cmdr. Sergei Kenyatta (Com & Political Officer): A genetically enhanced human “Alpha” from Proxima Centauri, with a perfect physique along with mental enhancements. Described as gifted in math, linguistics, technology, and diplomacy, yet struggles with personal relationships.
- The 76th Distillation of Blue (aka Diz) (Chief Engineer) a member of a gaseous species from the gas giant Penumbra who use “motion suits” to interact with the rest of the “solid” universe. For the show Diz would look like “a slender male humanoid” in the suit, but he can also appear in his gasous state or even change to a solid or a liquid, but he is “not a shape shifter.” Described as a fantastic engineer who is more at home with machines than with other people.
- Dr. Felicity Chen: A cybernetically enhanced physician based on (now safely evolved) Borg technology. Many medical instruments are built into her, so no need for tricorder. She can use her “nanospines” to heal injuries, but there is a personal cost to her. She still has to wrestle with her own humanity
- M.A.J.E.L.: The sentient Enterprise computer (Multitronic Architecture Junction/Interactive Energetic Library) that runs the ship and his a personality of her own, including emotions.
- Admiral Nelscott: Female Starfleet admiral who saw the threat of The Scourge and bucked the system to get the Enterprise project launched. Not on board the ship, but issuing orders from Starfleet HQ.
The character descriptions also describe various tensions, loyalties and connections between the main characters, so this series does not need to always look externally to see conflict and drama.
The document also has an Appendix dedicated to the technology of the new USS Enterprise. The ship is described as not being too big “something bigger than Voyager, but nowhere near the size of The Battlestar Galactica”. The ship would include some new features, such as:
- The Central Core: an open shaft at the center of the saucer where all corridors intersect in an open area, which would act like a “town square” for the ship
- Mobile Mission Modules: standard habitats which can be customized for various missions about the size of a bus
- Landing Envelope: Force-field projector that can shoot down to a planet giving landing parties an atmosphere even on hostile planets (apparently originally conceived for TNG).
- Singularity Engine: Enterprise powered by microscopic black hole (like TNG Romulan ships)
- Cloaking Device: Document suggests this might be a possibility and could help with covert mission stories, but makes telling combat stories difficult
The document also suggests that the production could use “virtual sets” or CGI to create some of the larger environments such as the Hanger Deck, Shuttle Launch Control, Central Core, Botanical Gardens, etc.
The Pilot(s) — Four episode arc to start Federation
The “Star Trek: Federation” series proposal concludes with 1-2 page descriptions of the first four action-packed episodes, which constitute a sort of pilot for the series.
1. The Widening Gyre: Alden Montgomery encounters another planet where the inhabitants have destroyed themselves in an ‘orgy of violence’. Admiral Nelscott orders him to put together his crew for the fast-tracked Enterprise project, leading Montgomery on an origin story recruiting mission picking up various staff, including Kirk who is no longer in Starfleet and doesn’t want to join, but is the only person who has dealt with The Scourge (forcing Montgomery to “Shanghai” Kirk).
2. The Blood-Dimmed Tide: Kirk and Dr. Chen explore a found small alien obelisk and deal with the crew of the Enterprise who have become victims of the violent “Scourge”, including the Captain.
3. Mere Anarchy: The Enterprise chases a larger alien obelisk through space, eventually leading them into hostile Klingon space.
4. The Ceremony of Innocence: Kirk, now trapped in the obelisk with some Klingons, gets to the bottom of the mystery only to find out the Obelisks are tied to the Preservers (from TNG) who had seeded the galaxy with the building blocks of humanoid DNA.
The document concludes with this:
So, the riddle of the Sojourner Incident is solved and the threat of the obelisks is removed (apparently) but at great cost. Frictions between the Federation and the Klingons have never been worse. The internal fissures are growing wider based largely on Enterprise’s secret mission and Admiral Nelscott’s lies to cover up that mission with the council. And, of course, lots and lots of people died.
What’s next for the survivors of these events? Tune in next week, folks.
The Star Trek: Federation proposal is very interesting and has some promising ideas, especially for a first draft. The notion that a new Star Trek TV series needs to break out of the traditional storytelling structure that worked for TNG in the early 90s but was becoming increasingly passé by the time of Enterprise was spot on. It is also true that a return to the origins of Star Trek with telling allegorical stories in a science fiction setting is welcome. Both of these are important in bringing in new viewers.
I am also impressed with how the proposal shows nods to hard science fiction. Burnett says that they were heavily influenced by literary sci-fi including Dan Simmon’s “Hyperion Cantos,” Stephen Baxter’s “Manifold” trilogy and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series.
The approach of moving to a declining Federation in the year 3000 seems to be another attempt to rightfully move away from the perfect (and conflict-less) world of the Federation’s 24th century. Brannon Braga and Rick Berman tried this with Enterprise, but in the end their 22nd century universe and storytelling techniques were not different enough. This troubled future Federation approach was also the one taken by Dave Rossi in 2006 with his unmade animated series “Star Trek: Final Frontier“.
Creators of any new Trek show post-Voyager & Enterprise were faced with the choice, if you want to change things you need to move the action to a distant century or move into an entirely new (alternate timeline or rebooted) universe. I worry that with the universe described Federation, the show could become unrecognizable. While holding on to the canon of the Star Trek universe, this radical jump could run the risk of losing the essence of Star Trek.
The characters outlined for the show seem to each have a few interesting things to work with for creating drama, both in their strengths and in their flaws. And I agree with the approach for tension and conflict within the crew, something Star Trek avoided after the original series. I am sure subsequent drafts would have polished some of the edges as well. But again I wonder, if you want a different Star Trek show starring a Kirk, why not just reboot it (re-timeline it) instead of creating a 30th century Kirk. Is staying in the same universe worth it?
I do believe that Star Trek is at its best on TV, a medium that allows for more complex storytelling and character development. I also believe that eventually CBS will start considering a new Star Trek TV series, likely after Paramount has made three JJ Abrams Star Trek movies. The best thing about the Star Trek: Federation approach is that it embraces Star Trek with a love for what has worked, but also sees that in the 21st century you need to do something different to make Star Trek work again on TV. I may not agree with every choice made, but I also don’t think there is a single “right answer” to how to make a new Star Trek TV show. And with a strong creative team, I think Star Trek: Federation could have been an interesting ride.