It began with: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Star Trek: The Original Series only made it through three of those five years, but the story lived on in four additional series and thirteen films to date. The original crew’s mission was picked up by the crew of the Enterprise-D in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it is this series which will be the focus of my project.

The original series premiered four years after John Glenn orbited the Earth in Friendship Seven, and concluded just one month before Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, but the historical influences that shaped the show’s creation ranged far beyond advances in space exploration. Star Trek came on the air three years after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, at the height of the Vietnam War, and in a time when the Western genre, with its idea of new frontiers to be explored, still held sway over American imaginations. These factors influenced the creation of a show that Gene Roddenberry described to network programmers as “A wagon train to the stars,” in which a protagonist who shared much more than just JFK’s first and last initials struggled against enemies whose ideologies conflicted with everything that American stood for (Worland, 20).

The second attempt at a Star Trek story wasn’t realized for nearly twenty years after the original series had gone off the air, although Roddenberry had been toying with the idea for over a decade (Vary, 5). When Star Wars came out and sparked renewed interest in outer space narratives, Paramount’s first reaction was to produce four Star Trek movies with the original cast, before moving on to launch Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) in 1987. This time, instead of thinking about the Western, Roddenberry took his supervising producer to see Aliens. The producer was impressed, and recommended Blade Runner (5). Roddenberry continued to brainstorm improvements on the original story, and what emerged was the narrative of “a more thoughtful, diplomatic captain, who remains on the bridge rather than joining the away team, and a much larger ‘Enterprise’ that housed over 1,000 people, including families” (7). The cast included a greater number of different species, as well as more women in command positions. These changes reflected Roddenberry’s ideal of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” (Hardy, 177), and it is this ideal that makes me particularly excited to use TNG for my final project.

“Infinite diversity in infinite combinations” strikes me as a description not only of the shows ideals, but also of its narrative structure. Set in a realm “where no one has gone before,” (note the shift from “man” to “one”) the show tells a story where anything imaginable can happen, and over the course of seven seasons, it seems like just about everything imaginable does happen. Through its use of time travel, alternate realities, alien technology, and a plethora of other plot devices not applicable on Earth, TNG is able to tell any story it wants, as well as free any story from the necessity of producing consequences that extend beyond a single episode. This narrative freedom makes Star Trek especially well-suited to adaptation in an alternate, interactive mode of storytelling. The wealth of material and rich mythology that is fleshed out over the course of the franchise allows viewers to gain a sense of authority over the narrative. “Viewers of the 1980s and 1990s can become experts and respond to an episode or a character’s behavior using background knowledge of the rest of the fictional world” (Hardy, 178-80). The larger wealth of material to draw from is one reason why I chose TNG over the original series, but engagement with the show’s critical literature has also helped me distinguish why I felt that TNG, more than any of the other series, lends itself to an interactive, alternative storytelling mode that is as relevant today as it was for viewers twenty-five years ago.

On the practical side, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager were the three longest-running series, and therefore have the most material from which to draw. However, Voyager has an overarching plot line: the quest to reach home. Even if only implicitly, this mission is present in every episode, connecting all of Voyager’s stories and confining the series to an overall more linear progression than TNG. Deep Space Nine, although free from an overarching plot line, I would argue is more narratively restricted due to its location on a stationary space station rather than a moving ship. As a setting which is always in motion, the Enterprise provides TNG with the perpetual possibility of encountering some “strange new world” that will present the viewer with new narrative potentialities. The viewer is also highly aware that the futuristic ship seen flying through space and the interior of the bridge, sick bay, etc. are not a single, unified whole- there is no complete Enterprise. “Star Trek viewing must necessarily be an active construction of the ship- which the audience experiences only through fragmented and separate visual images over time” (180). An understanding of the ship as a manufactured space could be seen as a hindrance to the viewer’s immersion in the story, but in her article “How to Watch Star Trek,” Cassandra Amesley argues that rather than distancing the audience from the narrative, “recognizing Star Trek as constructed makes it possible to intervene in the construction; to take an active role in appropriating new texts or commenting on old ones” (Amesley, 333). The self-conscious construction visible in TNG invites the viewer to make the story her own in a way that is not as encouraged in productions that strive toward realism.

The TNG Enterprise in particular also lends itself to interactivity for another reason. An article from the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism entitled, “A paramount narrative: Exploring space on the Starship Enterprise,” argues that TNG’s Enterprise is a crucial component of its interactive storytelling because, “it is always being developed as a multiple, political, and even cosmopolitan space, therefore, each new presentation of the physical Enterprise can potentially shift the act of interpretation to new ground” (Hardy, 180). This observation speaks back to the improvements that Roddenberry implemented with this second series; in increasing the crew’s size and diversity and granting them a larger, more social space in which to interact, TNG’s characters are able to take on a greater multiplicity of roles than was possible for the crew of the original series. They are not just captains and engineers, but also musicians, actors and writers whose relationships extend beyond the professional to include friendships, rivalries, and romance. This multiplicity of roles expands the possibilities of interactivity and active interpretation of TNG, while still containing its characters within the bounds of a hierarchical structure with specific functions assigned to each of their roles. This combination of multiplicity-within-structure provides the opportunity to interact with the narrative within a set of limits that keep alternate possibilities from spinning out of control.

The values that TNG’s diverse characters both embody and enact allow for an alternate adaptation which remains relevant today. In the movie Star Trek: First Contact, Captain Picard says of his crew that, “we work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity” (Cover, 205), an idea that I hope will never become irrelevant, and which directly reflects Roddenberry’s vision for the franchise: “that the adventure of space travel and seeking out new life and new ways of thinking was about the transformation and betterment of human civilisation and the human spirit” (205). Star Trek shows us a future in which humanity has overcome prejudice, discrimination, greed, and all the other negative forces that continue to drive our conflicts today. It offers us hope for a truly utopic future, without the strings that so many utopic stories attach. I don’t believe that Star Trek will cease to be relevant unless that future becomes a reality; until then, the world it created stands as a model of our humanity’s ultimate potential, if we can manage to follow the examples it sets.

In order to provide today’s audience with a way to follow that example and engage with TNG’s story, I will create an interactive narrative that places them in the position of students at StarFleet academy. They will experience an alternate version of TNG presented as a series of training scenarios required to earn their badge and achieve the level of self-improvement integral to the Star Trek world ideal. One aspect of TNG’s narrative that I would like to explore through this project is the diversity in the types of stories that various episodes tell. Through the lens of science fiction, TNG encompasses many other genres over the course of the series, including mystery, action/war stories, morality tales, and romance, to name a few of the broader categories. I will use these distinctions to critically explore and evaluate TNG’s stories, as well as to separate and categorize the various scenarios presented to the student/audience.

To do this, I will examine a selection of TNG episodes to determine which sub-genres appear most frequently. To select the episodes, I will use my own background knowledge of the series, critical reviews of specific episodes, and episode synopses. To help determine the genre categories, I will engage with critical literature about the genres I believe to be represented to determine their defining characteristics and use this to select a final set of three or four sub-genres that I feel are most widely used within the series. I will break down the episodes that fall under each category into a series of choices made by the characters. Using these choices, I will craft scenarios in which the student is presented with a situation and asked to choose between several possible courses of action in order to progress through the story. The choices will be a mixture of real choices made under various circumstances by the Enterprise crew, and invented “wrong” choices which will cause the student to fail and force them to start over. The multiple pathways within each scenario will allow the student to explore different narrative possibilities that have occurred throughout the series in each sub-genre. I will organize the genre scenarios in a hierarchy of lesser to greater stakes, possibly starting with, for example, romance and ending with action to increase the difficulty level at each successive scenario. Once all levels have been successfully completed, the student will earn the rank of cadet, the honor of inclusion in the Star Trek narrative, and a greater understanding of its portrayal of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations.”

 

 

Works Cited

Amesley, Cassandra. 1989. “How to watch Star Trek.” Journal of Cultural Studies no. 3: 324-335. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 12, 2016).

 

Cover, Rob. 2011. “Generating the self: The biopolitics of security and selfhood in Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Science Fiction Film & Television 4, no. 2: 205-224. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 12, 2016).

 

Hardy, Sarah, and Rebecca Kukla. 1999. “A paramount narrative: Exploring space on the Starship Enterprise.” Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism 57, no. 2: 177. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 12, 2016).

 

Vary, Adam B. 2007. “The Greatest Generation.” Entertainment Weekly no. 956: 4-15. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 12, 2016).

 

Worland, Rick. 1994. “From the New Frontier to the Final Frontier: Star Trek From Kennedy to           Gorbachev.” Film and History (03603695) 24, no. 1/2: 19-25. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 12, 2016).