What Could Have Been: Star Trek: Phase II
We’re going to try something new this month. Instead of a season for a show that was canceled, it’s going to be a look at the plans for a series that never actually materialized at all. Hopefully it’s just as popular, as I’ve got a few more of these we can examine in the future, and let’s face it–there are a lot of canceled shows, but not all of them had enough planning and forethought put into them that they could fill out a full article. And what better place to start out than in the franchise that featured in the first “What Could Have Been?” That’s right, we’re looking at a Star Trek series that never got produced: a continuation of the original series, with new characters and an upgraded ship called Star Trek: Phase II.
The original Star Trek was canceled back in 1969, but it gained the popularity that ultimately led to its revival through frequent reruns throughout the 70’s. And this timeframe also led to a pseudo-continuation of the show in animated form, the dubiously canon Star Trek: The Animated Series. With fan groups and the first ever conventions starting to form, it was becoming clear that Star Trek wasn’t going to just fade away into the annals of history. And while Gene Roddenberry worked on other projects throughout the 70’s, some of which I’ve touched on before, getting back to Star Trek was something he clearly wanted. So around 1975, various plans for a revival began brewing (including the aborted movie Planet of the Titans, which is what the above Enterprise design was originally for). They were just ideas, until Paramount attempted to launch a television network of its own, and decided that Star Trek would make an excellent flagship program. (Incidentally, this actually happened later on: UPN was formed in the late 90’s, and Star Trek Voyager became its flagship series.) The then-newly released Star Wars probably had a hand in inspiring this, too. They were getting ready to start filming the pilot and everything when the network idea collapsed and production ground to a halt on a show that no longer had a home. Many of the ideas were eventually folded in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as you’ll see.
Phase II would pick up with a second five-year mission, with Kirk once again at the helm (although, much like in the movies, he’d have to slide back into the role from circumstances). How much time would’ve passed isn’t clear, but likely a similar time frame to that of The Motion Picture; the 2270s, just a few years after the first series. As a result, there’s been a shakeup to the crew of the Enterprise: Chekov has been promoted to Lieutenant and chief of security, and Sulu and Uhura are now Lieutenant Commanders. Nurse Chapel would’ve returned in a larger capacity as a doctor, but we’d also still have Bones and Scotty. You might notice the big name is missing there: Spock would not have been a part of the main cast. The reasons why aren’t exactly clear; this is right after Nimoy (RIP) had his “I Am Not Spock” phase, so that might be part of it. It’s also been said that Spock’s role was greatly diminished in the early scripts for the series, to the point where Nimoy found it offensive to the character.
Instead, there would’ve been a new crew member to take his place: the full-blooded Vulcan Xon. Xon would be younger, and a prodigy even among Vulcans. His full-blooded nature would give him even greater strength and capacity for physical feats, but he’d be even more perplexed by human nature, and he’d be keenly aware of the advantage Spock had had dealing with humans from his half-Vulcan status. Xon’s kind of a proto-Data; he’s almost completely unfamiliar with human emotion and deeply curious about it, while at the same time possessing the kind of vague disgust and discomfort that later full Vulcans like T’Pol and Tuvok would show towards certain behaviors. Apparently messing with Xon by completely exaggerating these behaviors would be a favorite pastime aboard the Enterprise on this mission. You might remember Spock’s temporary replacement Sonak from The Motion Picture, which seems to have at least been a reference to this.
Xon wasn’t the only new character, however; the other two are ones we’d eventually see in some form during TMP. Will Decker and Ilia both were originally set for the Star Trek: Phase II series, where they would’ve been regulars. Much has been made of these two and their relationship to the characters of Riker and Troi on TNG, and indeed when some scripts from Phase II were recycled during the writer’s strike of 1988, Decker and Ilia’s roles were rewritten for them. It’s hard to compare them beyond this, however; Decker is rather stodgy in the film, and it’s unclear if he would have remained so, or softened up to be more jovial the way Riker eventually did. If you ask me, it’s unlikely he would have. Riker needed to soften, because Picard was already a very stolid and serious captain much of the time. With Kirk, who’s already equipped with a softer side that’s familiar to audiences, that may not have been necessary, and so Decker would’ve remained stodgy to act as a foil. Ilia is a Deltan, same as in the film, and possessing of the same kind of psychic powers that Troi displays. Her character description is pretty heavily influenced by Gene’s pervy nature, though, as it mentions how sex-obsessed the Deltans are and how “repressed” she feels hanging around with humans on the Enterprise (and remember, this is the “Free-love Federation” we’re talking about here, not modern Earth). Those traits vanished from the movie, but Gene snuck them back in with Troi’s people and their nude weddings and late-life libido increases. Still, Ilia was supposed to be smart and capable, second only to our genius Vulcan up there.
Star Trek: Phase II was very, very far along in production when the whole network was canned. 13 scripts were written already–and as mentioned earlier, 2 of them were repurposed for TNG. “The Devil’s Due” and “The Child” were those two, and it’s pretty easy to imagine them with the TOS cast. “The Devil’s Due” with Kirk in the role of Picard would have been a particularly interesting change, and it’s a tough choice as to which, ultimately, might have been more entertaining. Other episodes include “In Thy Image,” which was the Phase II pilot script and eventually became The Motion Picture after many more rounds of editing, and “Tomorrow and the Stars,” sort of a redux on “City on the Edge of Forever” but with an actual historical event instead (Pearl Harbor). There was also “Kitumba,” the first dive into the complexities of Klingon culture, and most controversially, “Are Unheard Memories Sweet?”, which apparently involved a lot of nudity and risque behavior that would never have worked on network television. What they were even thinking when they wrote this script is a mystery in that regard.
So let’s get to the interesting part: what would this have meant for the future of Star Trek? Well, no Motion Picture had the series taken off, obviously. The series would’ve debuted a few months after Star Wars, instead of the 2 years it took to get TMP into theaters. It’s possible that Trek could’ve ridden the wave of popularity to great success, boosting the Paramount Network’s chances of survival along with it. If we assume it gets the entire five year mission completed this time around, it’s 1983 before Phase II ends. The other TOS films would likely not have been made either, which robs us of classics like The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country. TNG premiered in 1987, which would’ve meant Star Trek was off the air for 4 years… but would Paramount have allowed that? Assuming Phase II was successful enough to get 5 seasons, and still acting as the flagship program of the network, they’d probably have wanted to pick back up as soon as possible, in much the same way UPN did by following Voyager up with Enterprise. So a year off, maybe two–but betting on the Paramount Network’s success is a risky one. Fox managed to break through to become the fourth network, but UPN failed. The consequences of the network lasting would ripple out and change the entire entertainment landscape all the way up to the present, so predicting that is impossible. Star Trek‘s future, then, would’ve been inextricably linked to that of the network. I can see a parallel universe where Phase II lasted 3 or 4 years in the in seventies, and then the network crashed, leading to another dormant period until a syndicated series about some “next generation” Enterprise in the late eighties…
So that’s all for this month. You can see fan interpretations of some of the original Phase II scripts online at the Star Trek: New Voyages site, if you’re so inclined; I can’t comment on the quality, as I’m not really one to indulge in fan works, but I figured others might be. And thanks to Memory Alpha for the images. If you have suggestions for future “What Could Have Been” articles, let me know in the comments. PLEASE! It’s hard to come up with all these and not every series is doable, so suggestions are great. Plus, you know, even I haven’t watched every series ever created (…yet) so it’s entirely possible there’s noteworthy series that I would never consider. So, leave a message in the comments, or send a tweet to @RetroPhaseShift. If you enjoy these and want to know when the next one’s out, you can also subscribe to the “What Could Have Been” RSS Feed here.