Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ship's Log, Supplemental: Star Trek: The Next Generation Series Bible

The beloved crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D were not always the people we know and love and have become so intimately familiar with over the years.

Though Star Trek: The Next Generation did not undergo as radical a transformation as some shows do between preproduction and filming, there are still a handful of drastic differences between the show as conceived and the show as aired, in particular in terms of the characters. There are a number of surprises in store for the Next Generation fan who decides to look back into the show's early brainstorming sessions and first-draft series bibles, and before we boldly go off into the show that was, I think it's important for us to take a moment and reflect upon the show that almost was. A show that is many respects the same as the one we all know, but in many others significantly different, and, perhaps in some respects, more intriguing.

This essay then is not a straightforward transcription of the original Star Trek: The Next Generation Writer's Guide by Gene Roddenberry, but is rather an amalgamation and distillation of a number of early drafts and ideas that Roddenberry and the team were working on before the cameras finally started rolling. I make no pretenses that I'm organising all this according to any particular structure or logic apart from the one that emphasizes the things I think are most important to focus on and keep in mind about this period of the show's history. Honestly, I'm not even sure the actual preproduction of the show was as ruthlessly concise and methodical as I'm making it out to seem, but I maintain my goal here was to create a sort of unofficial, pseudo-bible for a version of Star Trek: The Next Generation that had a very respectable chance of actually happening. With that in mind, let's have a look at

The New Crew

Captain Jean-Luc Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart, takes his name from Swiss inventor and explorer Auguste Piccard. Auguste is famous, along with his brother Jean-Felix, for their scientific expeditions in hot-air balloons to record data on the upper atmosphere, their studies of cosmic microwave background radiation and their invention of the bathyscaphe Trieste, which his son Jacques piloted to Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, the deepest point in Earth's oceans.

Captain Picard is described as an aesthete; someone who enjoys the “privileges” and “eccentricities” his rank affords him. A veteran officer, Picard got command of the Enterprise due to already being a “24th century Stafleet legend”. I seem to recall someone commenting once in a Star Trek magazine that Roddenberry had described his conception of Captain Picard as a dashing, suave and debonair “hairy Frenchman” who enjoyed things like fine wine. Apparently, women in Star Trek: The Next Generation's universe consider men like Picard (who is described as being in his fifties) to have “just entered [their] best years”. Curiously, the real Piccard was quite lanky, homely and unassuming (he was also the model for, believe it or not, Professor Calculus in The Adventures of Tintin), not to mention Swiss, so I'm not entirely sure where Roddenberry got that from.

Roddenberry put D.C. Fontana and Dave Gerrold in charge of casting, and gave them pretty much carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. They were immediately taken in by Patrick Stewart's commanding audition and knew right away he was the perfect fit for Captain Picard, French or not, but were understandably concerned as he was pretty much the exact opposite of the person Roddenberry wanted. So, they had Sir Patrick give Roddenberry a private audition wearing a hairpiece. Roddenberry hired him on the spot, but told him to lose the wig. When asked about his approach to the role, Patrick Stewart said that he modeled Captain Picard on his father, an officer in the British Army. He hated his father because was a tyrant who beat women, but he tried to take some of his better qualities and filter them through Stewart's own sense of progressive idealism to make Picard as honourable and respectable a person as he could. Most notably his feminism, which manifested in Stewart making a concerted effort to push back against and stamp out any sexism that might trickle down into the show from the writers' room.

As conceived, Captain Picard bears more than a passing resemblance to Admiral James T. Kirk from Star Trek Phase II. 

Commander William Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes, is Picard's Executive Officer and has all the duties and responsibilities that go along with that role. In charge of the crew and day-to-day operations aboard the ship, this means the Enterprise is technically his, as he's supposed to know it better than anyone else. But his real job is to be the romantic and charismatic male lead of the show; the one who heroically leads the away team missions by shooting things and getting the girls-of-the-week. An Alaskan native, Riker is as physically adept as he is intelligent and empathic: He's described as “a natural psychologist”. However, he is also described as being “still young” and not understanding “the female need to be needed”. He had a prior relationship with ship's counselor Deanna Troi, but their careers eventually pulled them apart and they hadn't seen each other since until they both signed on to the Enterprise. Nevertheless, in keeping with the utopianism of the 24th Century, there's no animosity between them and while they're no longer lovers, they remain close friends and trusted allies. Commander Riker supposedly sees Captain Picard as a father figure, who in turn treats him like his son. Picard and Riker are also described as “The Dual Lead Characters”.

Apart from his rank, last name and being Alaskan (and perhaps the detail about his relationship with Picard), Commander Riker is the exact same character as Captain William Decker from Star Trek Phase II. 

Lieutenant Commander Data, played by Brent Spiner, is an android built by “unknown aliens” who left him with the combined memories of their people before they vanished. Data was found by a Federation research team who reactivated him, and promptly asked for a position in Starfleet, seeing humanity as an ideal form to strive for. He got one once it was determined he was both alive and sentient, which was a moment of great pride for Data. Although he is superior to humans in every respect (memory capacity, physical strength and endurance, etc.) he steadfastly holds onto an “impossible dream” of becoming human. Primarily a comic actor and performer (one of his most notable pre-Star Trek roles was a reoccurring role on Night Court), Brent Spiner was under the impression Data was Star Trek: The Next Generation's comic relief, and made a point to play him that way every chance he got.

An extraterrestrial intelligence who comes to Earth wishing to learn more about humanity is a trope Gene Roddenberry falls back on so frequently it's become trite and hackneyed. Data's desire to be more human is most reminiscent of Xon's personal journey to become more emotional in Star Trek Phase II, but his being an android with an interest in humanity is most similar to Roddenberry's abandoned show pitch The Questor Tapes, which he co-conceived with Gene Coon in the early 1970s. 

Lieutenant Deanna Troi, played by Denise Crosby, is constantly described with words like “attractive”, “exotic”, “slender” and “beautiful”. Also “witty”. She's the official ship's counselor, a job which covers really quite worryingly a lot under one umbrella: Troi is an expert in “Human and Alien Psychology”, which Roddenberry seems to think makes her equally qualified to perform tasks that sound like they come from such disparate fields as psychiatry, anthropology and foreign relations. Her Betazoid heritage gives her a form of telepathy that allows her to sense the emotions of others. As mentioned under the entry on Commander Riker, she and him had a prior romantic relationship that they eventually moved beyond and, just like Riker, Troi harbours no reservations or regrets about it.

Gene Roddenberry's original casting call specified someone “foreign” and, again, “exotic”, namely “Italian, Greek Hungarian, Russian [or] Icelandic...”, but D.C. Fontana was adamant in her pick of blonde-and-blue-eyed Californian Denise Crosby, whom she felt was “the only possibility” to fill Troi's role. Roddenberry also wanted Troi to have three breasts, but Fontana told him that was a terrible idea.

Apart from her role as “counselor” (likely a revision to emphasize her intended role in the series) and not being hairless, Deanna Troi and Lieutenant Ilia from Star Trek Phase II are essentially identical. 

Lieutenant Macha Hernandez, played by Marina Sirtis, serves as the Enterprise's tactical officer and is “of unspecified Latin descent”. Roddenberry also takes care to point out she is “muscularly well developed” and a “conditioned-body beauty”. She was born and raised on a failed Federation colony plagued by gang warfare, but she was able to make her own life for herself by joining Starfleet, which she saw as the antithesis of the violence she grew up in. She's a passionate advocate of Starfleet to this day, and “worships” Captain Picard and Commander Riker in particular. Depending on the specific revision you're reading, Macha may or may not have some kind of relationship with Doctor Crusher and her child.

Although her backstory is far more fleshed out, Macha Hernandez is in all important characterization respects an expy of Private Vasquez from the movie Aliens. As such, Gene Roddenberry initially wanted Jenette Goldstein, who played Vasquez, to play the part of Hernandez. But D.C. Fontana pointed out that Goldstein was not actually Latina, and it might be better to look for someone who was. Fontana's pick, Marina Sirtis, isn't Latina either (she's of joint Greek and English descent), but she was a bold and commanding veteran theatre actor already known for playing roles like Ophelia in Hamlet, and Fontana probably suspected she'd bring the power and fire the role really needed. 

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Geordi La Forge, played by LeVar Burton, is the ship's helmsman and navigator and also blind from birth. However, he can see in full-spectrum using an artificial pair of eyes he wears. Roddenberry decided to make Geordi the helmsman because he thought it would be important to show how, in the 24th Century, blind people could do anything sighted people could by having, in the words of LeVar Burton “the blind man fly the ship”. In keeping with Star Trek's history of diverse casting, Geordi is also of African heritage. He is described as being a “blithe spirit” and “an away team regular”, though his primary duties actually involve interacting with the rest of the crew, in particular the Enterprise's school (an intentional nod to LeVar's role as host of Reading Rainbow). Interestingly, it was originally supposed to be Geordi's job to inform Captain Picard how the crew was faring, before those duties were given to Deanna Troi.

Geordi's name, as well as his being disabled, was a tribute to a paralyzed Star Trek fan named George La Forge. Gene Roddenberry had become friends with him and was touched by his story of finding hope in Star Trek's utopia. Everything else about Geordi comes rather transparently from D.C. Fontana and Dave Gerrold getting LeVar Burton for the role in a slam-dunk bit of celebrity casting. 

Doctor Beverly Crusher, played by Gates McFadden, is chief medical officer of the Enterprise. Apparently, she “has the natural walk of a striptease queen” and is “extremely attractive”. Roddenberry also makes it a point to emphasize her “very female form”. But, she's also quite professional and is known for being one of the best medical doctors in Starfleet, as well as Captain Picard's “romantic foil”. Gates McFadden is a truly versatile creator, being an exceptionally talented choreographer, dancer and puppeteer (she did a lot of work for Jim Henson's studio, in particular on Labyrinth, and even had a small part in The Muppets Take Manhattan). Like many of her castmates, she is a seasoned veteran theatre actor and has been in too many productions to name (both she and Marina Sirtis are experts in stage swordfighting, the only members of the regular cast so trained). Gates McFadden tends to gravitate towards more comic roles, and she approaches Doctor Crusher from that perspective: In fact, after being pressured by her friends to audition, she only read for Crusher after she asked Fontana and Gerrold who “the funniest lady” was. Not really having thought about that, they gave her Crusher's flirting scene from “The Naked Now” to read, and than the part.

Doctor Crusher also has a teenage daughter named Leslie, who is exceptionally talented and has a “photogenic memory”. Apart from getting a seat on the bridge of the Enterprise as a acting ensign, she's a normal teenage girl. Her role in the series, in the words of her creator Bob Justman, is to “explore the problems that female adolescents go through”. She was originally going to be a boy, but Bob Justman pressured Gene Roddenberry to make her a girl instead, because he (rightly) felt teenage girls were badly underrepresented on television. Leslie is a notable character because not only does she speak for a heretofore ignored perspective, but she exists against the backdrop of the utopian world of Star Trek: The Next Generation as well. Which is to say nothing of how important it is for Star Trek to clear the path here, considering how integral a part of the Original Series the voices of teenage female fans were. Leslie's part wasn't cast in the drafts I read, but Gene Roddenberry describes her as “appealing” and his call for auditions specifies an 18-year old Caucasian woman.

1 comment:

  1. *facepalms*