Captain's Blog pt. 43: Ten Treks That Never Happened

FROM THE BULLPEN: I started transcribing this post over five months ago, when my baby daughter was still en-wombed. As it simply consists of info transcribed from various source materials and not much in the ways of analysis, I just added a little bit to it at a time. Can't believe it's been five months and all these Trek-blogs later.

My work on this phase of the Captain's Log is more or less finished. There'll be a guest post (or posts) covering Deep Space Nine by my brother and his wife, and a back-and-forth on the Power Records with Into the Dark Dimension blogger Jeff B and maybe a wrap-up best-of/ Fiesta Bowl sort of post, but besides that, there remains only TOS posts, which I think I will group together under a different moniker. (Don't have one yet, so feel free to leave suggestions for such in the comments.)

Which is not to say any of the above (or the below) is incidental! Far from it. Thanks for coming all this way with me and hope you enjoy what remains. And without further ado, let's turn things over to:

I am the Guardian of Forever. I am my own beginning, my own ending. Behold! A gateway into ten Star Treks that never came to pass...

1. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (by Gene Roddenberry)

Around-about 1975, Paramount told Roddenberry to come up with a story for a big-screen Trek. His first attempt has become known as The God Thing, although no bona fide completed version ever materialized.

"Somewhere out there, there's this massive entity, this abstract, unknown life force that seems mechanical in nature, although it actually possesses its own highly advanced consciousness. It's a force thousands of times greater than anything intergalactic civilization has ever witnessed. It could be God, it could be Satan, and it's heading towards Earth. It demands worship and assistance, and it's also in a highly volatile state of disrepair.

"The original crew of the Enterprise have been embraced as heroes all over the galaxy. Spock has gone back to Vulcan to head their Science Academy. McCoy's married and living on a farm. Everyone else has been given hefty promotions and continues to serve on active duty. Starfleet has offered Kirk a prestigious but deskbound Admiralty, but he's passed, preferring to retain his rank as captain while acting as a sort of consultant / troubleshooter aboard Federation spacecraft. As we find him, he's visiting the recently overhauled Enterprise, supervising her new captain, Pavel Chekhov.

"Kirk rounds up the old crew while studying and battling this "God thing." We finally approach the craft, and the alien presence manifests itself on the Enterprise in the form of a humanoid probe, which quickly begins shape-shifting while preaching about having traveled to Earth many times, always in a noble effort to law down the law of the cosmos. Its final image is that of Jesus Christ.

"'You must help me!' the probe repeats, now bleeding from hands, feet, and forehead. Kirk refuses, at which point the probe begins exhausting the last of its energy in a last-ditch violent rampage. It summons up the last of its remaining strength to blast Sulu, severing his legs in the process. When Spock attempts to comfort him, he, too, is blasted and left for dead. With that expenditure of energy, the vessel is weakened to the point of vulnerability, and the Enterprise unleashes a barrage of firepower that destroys the craft.

"With that, we begin pondering the notion that perhaps humanity has finally evolved to the point where it's outgrown its need for gods, competent to account for its own behavior, without the religiously imposed concepts of fear, guilt, and divine intervention."

Can't just one of these God-returns stories be about Kali?
I'm not sure if the story Roddenberry describes justifies these conclusions at the end, but it is of course only a treatment. Many of its rough edges were smoothed into what became The Motion Picture, a picture I very much enjoy, so, really, this does exactly what a treatment should do: point the way towards a worthwhile destination and establish some method of getting there.

Paramount passed, somewhat understandably, but the idea for a movie remained hot, so Roddenberry approached Jon Povill to take a crack at it.

2. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (by Jon Povill)

"Our tale begins by finding the Enterprise and her entire crew dead, the victims of an imploding black hole. Suddenly, however, they're mysteriously reanimated, repaired by some sort of glowing intergalactic goo. What follows is a wildly complicated tale involving repeated time travel, heated arguments with Einstein, Hitler, Churchill, and Mao, clandestine meetings with JFK, and culminating with the Enterprise ultimately being responsible for the start of World War Two."

This idea was met with even less enthusiasm than Roddenberry's original one, but Paramount still wanted to do a bigscreen Trek, so they tried again.

3. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (by Chris Bryant and Alan Scott)

Note: Not this Alan Scott
"Planet of the Titans opens with the Enterprise hurtling through space to answer the distress call of a fellow Federation ship.

"Upon arrival, however, there is nothing to be found. The Enterprise has been duped. Strange energy waves blast across the bridge, searing Kirk's brain in the process. Althoguh the captain initially appears to have escaped injury, he slowly goes mad, eventually hijacking a shuttlecraft and blasting towards what seems to be an invisible planet. When rescue efforts fail, Spock - logically presuming the Captain to be dead although intuition tells him his friend has indeed survived - moves on.

"Three years later, Spock journeys back to the invisible planet and discovers it was once home to the Titans, an ancient, once-believed-mythical race of supremely intelligent and advanced humanoid creatures. Beaming down to the surface, Spock becomes convinced he's also closing in on Kirk. At the same time, his preliminary studies of the planet are horrifying, revealing that it will soon become engulfed by an enormous black hole.

"Meanwhile, a Klingon Bird of Prey has intercepted communications that detail the findings and is now speeding towards the Planet of the Titans, intent upon pillaging the vast intelligence and resources of the super-race. Spock ultimately finds his captain alive and well upon the surface of the planet. Kirk explains that the planet is not inhabited by the Titans at all but by the vicious and brutish Cygnians. They mindlessly destroyed the Titans long ago but were far too primitive to reap the rewards of their teachings. Very soon, the Cygnians decide the crew of the Enterprise must meet the same fate.

"What follows is a three-way battle against time, with the crew of the Enterprise trying to salvage the surviving riches of the Titans while simultaneously surviving attacks from the Cygnians and the Klingons. In the end, with no way out, Kirk orders the Enterprise through the Black Hole. Everyone else is destroyed, and the Planet of the Titans implodes."

At this point, Paramount, aggravated with the rising cost of development in absence of a script they liked, downgraded the project from big screen outing to small screen ongoing series, one they hoped would be the flagship of its own to-be-launched television network. That story with its many twists and turns and starts and stops is the subject of this book.

Eventually, in the wake of the mega-success of Star Wars, the show/ network idea was scrapped, and Paramount resurrected the idea of a motion picture. Back to the drawing board. Enter Harlan Ellison.

4. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (by Harlan Ellison)

No written treatment exists for Ellison's idea - he pitched it in monologue to an assembly of Paramount execs - but as pieced together from various sources:

"The story starts on Earth where strange phenomena is inexplicably occurring. In India, a building where a family is having dinner vanishes into dust. In the U.S., one of the Great Lakes suddenly vanishes, wreaking havoc. In a public square, a woman suddenly screams and falls to the pavement where she turns into some kind of reptilian creature. The truth is suppressed, but the Federation realizes that someone or something is tampering with time and changing things on Earth in the far distant past. What is actually happening involves an alien race on the other end of the galaxy. Eons ago, Earth and this planet both developed races of intelligent humanoid reptiles as well as humans. On Earth, the humans destroyed the reptile men and flourished. In the time of the Enterprise, when this race learns what happened on Earth in the remote past, they decide to change things so that they will have a kindred planet.

"For whatever reason, the Federation decides only the Enterprise and her crew are qualified for this mission, so a mysterious figure goes around kidnapping the old central crew. This figure is finally revealed to be Kirk. After they are reunited, they prepare for the mission into the past to save Earth.

"The Enterprise goes back to set time right, finds the snake-alien, and the human crew is confronted with the moral dilemma of whether it had the right to wipe out an entire life form just to insure its own territorial imperative in our present and future. (The story) spans all of time, all of space, with a potent moral and ethical problem."

Legend has it that after Harlan's pitch, some suit suggested putting the Mayans in there somewhere, an idea Harlan found offensive. Harsh words ensued, and Harlan stormed out. No lizard-men Star Trek.

Much to David Icke's disappointment, one imagines.
As with Roddenberry's original pitch, it's unfair to evaluate the merits of the story based on this alone, but the idea has a lot of problems. I'm not sure if there's actually a compelling ethical dilemma at the heart of it, for one. When an alien species invades your past (for very unconvincing reasons - it wants a kindred planet? That's it? From across the galaxy?) to wipe out your race, you're not really at a moral crossroads. I suppose discovering that your distant ancestors once committed genocide against intelligent reptilians is somewhat disturbing, but... what are you supposed to do? Sit back and allow it to happen? Condemn the future to oblivion to play missionary/ politically-correct with the distant past? 

But: it probably would've been tightened up in revision.

Speaking of Ellison, his original script for "City on the Edge of Forever" is quite a bit different than the TV episode it became. It's available as a book (and probably for free out there on the internet - I haven't looked) with an introductory essay from Ellison that blasts everyone from Roddenberry to Shatner to Joan Collins, and ending essays from David Gerrold, Walter Koenig, Peter David and others.  

Without getting a list of all the differences, the TV version is immeasurably better. It is to the TV version what Roddenberry's original pitch for TMP is to the finished version of The Motion Picture. Characters and concepts from Ellison's original are compartmentalized to much greater effect in the finished version. Count me on the side of the Genes and D.C. Fontana on this one.

5. Star Trek II (by Harve Bennett, Mike Minor, Sam Peeples, and Jack Sowards)

Harve Bennett started off his tenure as Trek's cinematic overseer with an idea to bring Khan back and to provide Nimoy with a great death scene for Spock. But things went through quite a few revolutions before Nicholas Meyer corralled all ideas into one workable script that met with approval from all quarters. The first attempts centered around the following:

"Khan rallies the youth of the entire galaxy (!!!) into a full-blown revolution against the Federation. In a no-holds barred quest for revenge, Khan frames Kirk as the intergalactic equivalent of Public Enemy Number One. Kirk gains a full-grown son named David (who is involved in Khan's rebellion against him/ the old guard) and romances a beautiful redheaded fellow officer named O'Rourke. (Later, O'Rourke is changed to a young female Vulcan named Saavik, and the steamy romance transferred to David.) Khan seeks control of the Genesis Device, a powerful technology capable of terraforming a planet in mere minutes. At the end, Khan and Kirk fight on a lava-planet with sword/ whips that can take the shape of a variety of stupid things."

Sensing that something was not coming together correctly, Bennett had sci-fi vet Sam Peeples take a crack at it. Peeples jettisoned all but the Genesis Device and kept that only as a minor subplot "amid a rather strange storyline focusing on a formless and unfathomable pair of villains from another dimension."

At that point, Meyer took the best points of the above and hammered out what he titled The Undiscovered Country. This was changed to The Vengeance of Khan and then to The Wrath of Khan, under which moniker it entered the world and cinematic history.

Cool Mondo poster for Khan.
6. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (by Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Leonard Nimoy, Harve Bennett, and Nicholas Meyer)

Although much of what was originally devised for The Voyage Home made it onto the screen, a significant portion of the story had to be reworked when Eddie Murphy passed on the project:

"Eddie Murphy was to play a rather eccentric college professor, one who firmly believed in the existence of extra-terrestrials, ghosts, ESP and the like. After a series of embarrassing and very public false alarms, Murphy's job would have been hanging by a thread. And at that point, he and some of his students (not nearly so open-minded on these topics) would have gone to the Super Bowl.

"Occupying the worst seats in the house on a typically foggy San Francisco afternoon, Murphy's professor character would've been enduring the game's stereotypically overblown halftime show when he would've become one of sixty thousand witnesses to the first appearance of a Klingon Bird of Prey in the twentieth century. He would be the only one to believe it was real.

"Later, when Murphy was alone in his classroom, listening to a series of recorded whale songs, the Klingon ship's computers would lock on to the sound, and shortly thereafter, Murphy would have found Kirk, Spock and company beaming into his classroom, asking questions, bidding him good day, and ultimately high-tailing it away from their wide-eyed observer. Many plot-twisting scenes and about three centuries later, Murphy would have been in full Starfleet regalia, having joined the force, and saluting his new friends."

Alas, the Eddie Murphy Trek was not meant to be. He went to do The Golden Child and his part was reworked for Gillian Anderson. (*EDIT: Not really Gillian Anderson.)

Additionally, George Takei was meant to have a scene where he meets his great-great-grandfather on the street, but the child actor hired to play the role was unable to perform. (I remember reading the novelization of this movie and coming across this scene and wondering, in those pre-internet/ deleted-scenes/ commentary-track days, whose bright idea it was to cut such a cool little scene.)

7. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (by William Shatner)

Is it possible that this movie started off as kind of a cool idea? Let's find out:

"Zar, a holy man driven by a genuine belief that God was speaking to him demanding he accumulate as many followers as possible and provide a suitable vehicle with which he might better spread his ideas through the universe.

"Spock surprises his shipmates by stating he knew the renegade holy man back in Vulcan seminary. (???) Surprise turns to shock when Spock makes it clear this man is so brilliant, so advanced, that he could genuinely be the Messiah.

"The crew of the Enterprise travels to Paradise City, battles with the forces of the holy man, and is ultimately overwhelmed by the sheer numbers within his command. In a last-ditch effort to regain control, Kirk sets a fatal trap for Zar but is thwarted by Spock, who warns the holy man of the danger. Kirk is furious, and he is not mollified when Spock explains his actions by stating that he now truly believes Zar to be the Messiah. Bones, too, becomes convinced, and they both tell Kirk that they cannot in good conscience allow any harm to come to the man. 

"Upon arrival at God's homeworld, they meet The Man. God is surrounded by a host of angels with flaming swords. They argue. The image begins to transform, ultimately becoming unmistakably satanic. The angels change into hordes of gargoyles, the Furies of Hell.

"Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, still suffering the effects of their first adversarial relationship, each run in a different direction. McCoy falls and breaks his leg and is surrounded by the Furies, as is Spock. Kirk is able to escape but risks his life to return and help his friends. Descending into the river Styx, they fight off the hideous attacks and eventually make their escape."

Well... I think adding the Furies/ angels business might have been kind of cool, and at least there's a point to the character tension between our trinity of heroes. But it still runs into the same problem the final product / Roddenberry's "God Thing" does: these ideas of God/ Satan are terribly limited to only one specific culture on Earth and therefore hardly compelling material for a universal-theology sort of story. The Motion Picture succeeds by positioning "the God Thing" the way it does via V'ger; here we get... I don't know, some lamer version of Q/ the Squire of Gothos. 

But as the failings of The Final Frontier are well-known, let's move on.

8. Starfleet Academy / The Academy Years (by Harve Bennett)

After the 2009 Star Trek came out, Harve Bennett made some waves by telling convention audiences they ripped off his idea for Starfleet Academy/ The Academy Years, the film he wanted to do after The Final Frontier:

"The last thing I did at Paramount before I left was a prequel. It was the best script of all and it never got produced. Ned Tanen, who was Paramount’s head of production, had green lighted it before he left. We even had location scouts and sent feelers out for the cast. It was Kirk and Spock aged seventeen entering Starfleet Academy. Montgomery Scott would have been their Engineering instructor. Kirk falls in love for the only time in his life. The cadets save the world. The premise of the film was racial tension. Spock becomes the first green-blood to enter the Academy, which is a red-blooded organization, and he is discriminated against. And there was a planetary cabal against green-bloods and the cadets at the Academy are the ones that save the day. Kirk’s love is killed heroically saving the planet from the ship.  I had an eye on John Cusack for Spock, which would have been great. Ethan Hawke could have been Kirk. There were so many possibilities. But basically it was a love story and it was a story of cadets, teenagers. And, in order to get Shatner and Nimoy in, we had a wraparound in which Kirk comes back to address the academy and the story spins off of his memory. At the end, Kirk and Spock are reunited and they beam back up to Enterprise, which would have left a new series potential, the academy, and a potential other story with the original Trek cast. All the possibilities were open, the script was beautiful, and the love story was haunting, but it didn’t happen.

"And the first sequence of that movie was Jim Kirk in a crop duster bi-plane, stunting about while his brother and his mother are "Jim, you wild ass – set down!" And he finally ends up crashing into a haystack."

Harve goes on to say it's this last bit that convinced him that Abrams et al. ripped off his script, changing the bi-plane to a "futuristic motorcycle thing." 

Which of course belongs to the policeman chasing Kirk, not Kirk himself, but don't tell Harve.
It actually came very close to being made, but Paramount's upper management - as it often did - changed hands, and the new studio heads did not want to celebrate the franchise's 25th anniversary without Shatner, Nimoy, and the gang reprising their roles.

Would it have worked? In 1991? Tough to tell. My instincts say no, but I have no doubt it would have been interesting. The racial tension story seems out of place to my eyes and ears, but it was developed well enough in Into Darkness. Which makes me wonder if Harve thinks that one, too, was drawn from his never-used script.

9. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (by Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy, Denny Martin Flinn, Lawrence Konner, and Mark Rosenthal)
Star Trek VI also went through many revisions before it congealed into the train wreck we know and love:

"As originally scripted, the film would've opened upon the USS Excelsior, under the command of Captain Sulu. From there, we would've found Kirk in bed, making love to yet another conquest. Not all that unusual, except for the fact that this woman is Carol Marcus, and as this  thing moves forward, you'd have gotten the distinct impression that these two had not only reconciled but were now well on their way to spending their autumnal years together while making love like newlyweds at every opportunity.

"However, when a knock on the door brings the news that the old crew of the Enterprise has been ordered to reassemble once more, Kirk risks his relationship and leaves Carol's embrace, finding even greater seduction in the opportunity for one last adventure. With that in mind, he sets out to round up the rest of his crew. Though Starfleet describes Spock's whereabouts as "highly confidential," Kirk would nonetheless locate the rest of the crew rather easily.

"He'd have found Scotty bored out of his mind to the point where he's now spending his days taking apart the Klingon Bird of Prey seen in Star Trek IV in a futile attempt to at last beat this damn horse to death uncover the secrets of her cloaking device. Uhura is next, equally bored, working for a Federation radio station as the host of a call-in advice program.

"Chekhov, too, is uneasy, yawning his days away at a chess club while repeatedly trying in vain to defeat higher life forms with special Russian strategies. Finally, Kirk finds McCoy most unhappy of all. Hailed as a conquering hero, Bones is nonetheless drunk and disorderly at a high-scoety medical dinner in his honor. Disgusted by the money-hungry (???) healers he's forced to endure in the civilian world, even the dependably cantankerous Bones jumps at the change to once again become useful aboard the Enterprise."

It really is remarkable how many of the Trek features' original scripts go through this "got to round up the crew, Magnificent Seven-style" business, only to cut it from the final draft. Moreover, it is suggested so repeatedly that the only excitement or fulfillment the crew ever has comes aboard the Enterprise and everything else is a pitiful substitute. Kind of a depressing idea!

10. Star Trek: Insurrection (by Michael Piller)

One paragraph from the introduction to Piller's memoir detailing the making of this movie covers many of the ideas developed and ultimately discarded:

"Would your movie be about the girl who broke our heo's heart and the best friend he's sent to kill, the rag-tag army of space mariners, the mysterious society of alien children, the trecherous Romulans, the Douglas-Fairbanks-esque Joss, who duels with Worf and lusts after Troi, the mutes who project illusions, the holographic stand-up comedian, the lecherous three hundred year old munchkin, the masked race of Generation X aliens, or Quark's trying to open a fountain of youth franchise amidst the Ba'ku? The Alamo stand-off? Heart of Darkness?"

When reading Piller's book, one is struck by his frequent callbacks to Hollywood's Golden Age: Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels, Jane Wyatt in Lost Horizon, or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., etc. I, too, love old movies, but his lack of contemporary reference points is interesting... I can see why Spiner and Burton felt he was so out of touch.

Time has resumed its shape. All is as it was before. 

(All what-might-have-been plot summaries from William Shatner's Movie Memories, except for Harlan Ellison's from his book The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay that Became the Classic Star Trek Episode, and Fade-In: From Idea to Final Draft: The Making of Star Trek Insurrection by Michael Piller)


  1. This commenter regrets to inform that it is Catherine Hicks in "The Voyage Home," not Gillian Anderson.

    I might catch hell for this, but I kind of regret that the Eddie Murphy version of that movie didn't get made. I think it could have been just as good as the one we actually ended up with, and I really like the idea of the character joining Starfleet. I'd love for Trek at some point to do a man-(or-woman-)out-of-time character, one from our present. That's more "Doctor Who" than Trek, I guess, but I'd be up for it.

    Many of these concepts sound intriguing, especially the "Starfleet Academy" one. I remember that one being discussed for years; that wasn't a low-profile idea, it was one that popped up in the media semi-regularly. And obviously the idea had merit, based on how successful the '09 version was.

    The other thoughts I have here are mainly that (A) Carol Marcus really SHOULD have come back for #6 and (B) that Uhura hosting an advice-based radio talk show is the worst idea I have ever heard. It would have only given Nichelle Nichols an excuse to say "sugah," and whoever thought of that better have received a stern talking-to.

    1. The Gillian Anderson in STIV thing is a personal joke, but I totally neglected to call attention to it. It's been a running gag with a friend of mine (who reads and never comments, the bastard) for years. Thank you for calling it out, though, as I should have definitely clarified.

      I think the Uhura call-in show is an awful idea, as well, tho I am intrigued, once again, by the overlap with the Cheers-verse. The plot thickens...

    2. Ah, I see. It all makes sense now!