The second instalment of the J. J. Abrams reboot STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS is upon us, trailing in its wake a plethora of theories about its villain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Is it Khan? Gary Mitchell? Or maybe Charlie Evans? In fact, the theories are so numerous, they’ve been harder to contain than a warp core breach. And it’s no surprise – with four live-action TV shows (as well as an animated series) – Gene Roddenbery’s STAR TREK universe offers such rich pickings for small-to-big screen adaptations. From STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE’S tweaking of THE ORIGINAL SERIES (TOS) episode ‘The Changeling’, featuring an alien probe called Nomad, to the seminal STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, which took bionic superman, Khan Noonien Singh, from ‘Space Seed’, and explored his fate some years after being dumped on Ceti Alpha V. So what other episodes might offer new life to future big screen ventures? What common tropes might excite both a seasoned Trekker and the new audience J. J. Abrams has brought to Gene Roddenbery’s dream? Strap yourself in; it’s time to boldly go where no film director has (yet) gone before and plunder the depths of the STAR TREK back catalogue.
STAR TREK is never scared to tackle the big questions in the universe. What does it mean to be human? Can we really achieve cosmic peace? And of course, what is the true nature of evil? In the STAR TREK world, evil is signalled by a very simple concept: the beard. Now this concept may have been slightly complicated by Captain Ben Sisko’s (Avery Brooks) adoption of a rather attractive and neatly shaped goatee in S4 of DEEP SPACE NINE, or Riker’s (Jonathan Frakes) magnificent display from S2 onwards in THE NEXT GENERATION, but on the whole, you’ll find it holds true. There are many opportunities for splitting of psyches and bodies and personalities in STAR TREK. Often transporter malfunctions are to blame. In ‘The Enemy Within’, Kirk’s split into two distinct Kirks; one’s all lusty and angry and the other’s more dithering than an episode of Dad’s Army. ‘Mirror Mirror’ follows a similar set-up, when another transporter malfunction leads to our Captain beaming onto an Enterprise in an alternate universe. It is a plot device that proved so popular, it popped up in DS9 and ENTERPRISE too. And yep, you guessed it, evil Spock has an evil beard. The horror…the horror…
Okay, so we’re talking about the Gorn. I mean, it was inevitable; more so now, as William Shatner recently had a photoshoot with him to help promote the new STAR TREK video game. The Gorn captain is in that episode ‘Arena’ – you know the one – with the arid desert landscape and cliffs recognisable from BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY (1991). And if you don’t remember that bit, you’ll definitely remember the Gorn. He’s the one in the big man-sized lizard suit (for some reason, it’s the only episode non-Trekkers ever see) battling to the death with Kirk. Perhaps we could increase the Gorn’s size so he strides among the stars? Perhaps Kirk could get zapped in another transporter malfunction that beams him to immense proportions, so he can take on the Gorn in single-handed combat?
J. J. Abrams could even consider that well-worn and bloodied trope: the crazy stalker/monster. STAR TREK has had its fair share of
psychos, from dysfunctional 17 year-old Charlie in ‘Charlie X’ (who pops up in the unofficial mini-series, ‘Of Gods and Men’), to Gary Mitchell (from ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’), with his scary silver eyes. There’s also the episode, ‘Wolf in the Fold,’ where our lovable Scotty gets framed for a series of Jack the Ripper-style murders. But it’s the episode ‘Obsession’ that offers a slightly different twist; Kirk comes face to face with his nemesis (well, one of them. The man’s made a lot of enemies over the years), a blood-sucking vampiric cloud. And this is one adaptable vampire; it can survive for years without feeding, it can fit through tiny vents in the Enterprise and it can travel at warp speed across a space vacuum. Perfect for a feature length offering. Plus its demise is wonderful, bringing about an “aha” moment that surely owes a nod to HG Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ (just think, why is Spock’s blood green?).
Supreme god-like beings who manipulate and twist the crew into mere chess pieces (cue evil laughter) are more common than you might think in the Star Trek universe. Of course, half the time, in true deus ex machina fashion, once the curtains are drawn back we realise it’s just the supreme god-like being’s kid playing a game. Soon enough father or mother god-like being turns up and chastises its errant charge for nearly killing all the poor tiny humans, like in ‘The Squire of Gothos’. Or perhaps J. J. Abrams should find a way to bring Q into his reboot. Omnipotent Q, of the Q Continuum, is the ultimate trickster figure in post-TOS Trek. Not only did he introduce us to the Borg, but he’s a continual thorn in Captain Picard’s side with his constant needling. Time travel is a daily occurrence for Q, so there’d be no problems shunting him into the new alternate time-line, where he’d be free to roam and be a general menace to space society.
And what about Harry Mud? TOS’ recurring mischievous anti-hero trader could provide a bit of light relief after all the plagues, stalking and evil beards. Think Han Solo but with less charm, a rugged beauty, more misogynistic tendencies and you’ve got Mudd. He always has some kind of plan involving robots, women and “love-crystals” (whatever they are…). He shows up and leads Kirk and crew on a merry chase with his pesky money-making schemes, a bit like Quark often does in DS9. Mudd could round up all the Enterprise women with his love-crystals and kidnap them, or even better, Kirk and Spock could end up in a body swap (like in the episode, ‘Turnabout Intruder’ when the captain’s mind gets put into a woman’s body) and they have to avoid the advances of an amorous Mudd. And how could this happen? Well, a transporter malfunction is the obvious answer…
When script ideas are running short, there’s nothing like a good plague to get things going again. These can come in many forms, such as the infection that robs the crew of their inhibitions in ‘The Naked Time’, although the most popular virus seems to be connected to age; with victims either staying young or excessively ageing. (TNG has dabbled with the crew being suddenly changed into children in ‘Rascals’ caused by – you guessed it – a transporter malfunction). Although on second thoughts, ‘Miri’ might not be the greatest idea for the big screen treatment. This is because when Kirk finds a colony of slowly ageing children who die once they (eventually) reach puberty, he finds himself the subject of an intense infatuation from one of the young girls… possibly best to steer clear of this one post-Saville. And if none of that takes Abrams fancy, what about a plague of small furry balls of fluff: Tribbles? They may look like a goat’s knackers, but these little guys are surely the great untapped potential of the STAR TREK world; and think of all the money Abrams could save on actors’ fees?
STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS is released in UK cinemas today and on Friday 17th May in the US.