Sunday, January 15, 2006

Star Trek: The Accidental Arcs

by William S. Kowinski

Star Trek as a saga is largely improvised. The original series concentrated on making the elements of the Star Trek universe consistent, to produce plausibility. Eventually stories began to build on characters and events of past stories. One Klingon encounter led to another.

Then came the accidental arc of “the trilogy”—the second, third and fourth Star Trek feature films. They weren’t planned as a continuous story, occurring sequentially in time. If Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had not been such a creative and commercial success, it may well have been the last of Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Next Generation began on television with certain commitments and hopes, and before it began Gene Roddenberry, other producers and writers had well over a decade of musing on what the original series had established and what was left within that to explore---which, as it turned out, was a lot.

In the formal sense of “story arc” in episodic TV—a continuous story over several or many episodes—TNG didn’t go much past the two-parter (although it could be argued that the return to earth of the Enterprise-D in “Family” was the third episode in the “Best of Both Worlds” confrontation with the Borg arc.) It wasn’t until TNG has solidified Star Trek’s prominence at Paramount that longer arcs were explored in “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager.” “Enterprise” had something akin to a season-long arc and then in the first half of its last season produced several “mini-arcs” of three episodes, reminiscent of how the British “Doctor Who” series was long organized.

But there are other ways of looking at Star Trek in terms of arcs, at least metaphorically. Such as the accidental arcs of major characters, and the improvised arc of the entire saga.

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