Friday, 27 May 2016

Star Trek at 50: The Next Generation on Screen

In 1992 Rick Berman summoned scriptwriters Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, along with executive producer Michael Piller and retired TNG writer Maurice Hurley, to a series of meetings. Initially Braga and Moore thought that TNG was about to be cancelled, so were surprised to be offered the chance to write a Star Trek movie. The directive from Paramount was that the film would see the final appearance of the original series crewmembers and see the transition of the TNG crew to the big screen. Hurley and Piller were also invited to write scripts, but Piller turned down the opportunity because he thought it was calling for too much competition between colleagues. In the event, Hurley's script took too long to write and Paramount instead put Braga and Moore's script into pre-production.

The moment fans had been waiting for.

Paramount handing over control of its biggest and longest-running movie franchise to a bunch of TV writers was remarkable, but it was also a display of confidence in the (mostly) young and inexperienced team who had turned The Next Generation into one of the biggest and most successful TV shows in the world. However, it nearly ended up misfiring. Braga and Moore were among the more prolific writers on the series with multiple scripts to write for the final two seasons, including the two-hour TNG finale, All Good Things. Agreeing to write the seventh movie on top of that proved to be a stretch too far, and the writers later admitted they had spread themselves too thin. Leonard Nimoy had also been approached to direct and appear as Spock, but Nimoy voiced concerns over the script and also about the limited nature of his role. In particular, he pointed out his lines could be given to another character with barely any alteration. Ironically, when he passed, that's exactly what happened when his material was instead split between the characters of Scotty and Chekov. British director David Carson was called on to direct, having hugely impressed Paramount with his TNG episode Yesterday's Enterprise and the pilot episode for Deep Space Nine.

The script was a busy one, using Guinan (played by major Star Trek fan Whoopi Goldberg) and a mysterious energy ribbon known as the Nexus to bridge the two time periods, along with the sole live-action depiction of the Enterprise-B, introducing all of the TNG characters to a more casual cinema audience and killing Kirk. The idea of killing Kirk came up in story development meetings where it was felt that the script lacked a big enough climax. Destroying the Enterprise-D was also a surprising move, but one the producers felt was emotionally correct (putting a capstone on the TNG TV show era) as well as having practical value, freeing up studio space until the next film was produced. To help publicise the film, Paramount decided to make use of the nascent Internet and created one of the first-ever websites designed to publicise a specific feature film (the website for the film StarGate went live almost simultaneously, leading to occasional disputes over which film achieved the distinction first).

Star Trek: Generations was released on 18 November 1994 to fairly indifferent reviews. However, some impressive visual effects, a decent couple of trailers, the mass crossover appeal of The Next Generation and rumours of Kirk's death ensured a strong turn-out. Generations was made on a budget of $33 million, the same as Star Trek V, but at just under $120 million made twice as much at the box office. It was a huge success for Paramount, who greenlit an eighth movie in February 1995.

Rick Berman re-hired Moore and Braga to write the script, taking time away from their new day jobs (Moore was working on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine whilst Braga had transferred to the new, second TNG spin-off, Star Trek: Voyager). Brainstorming ideas and aware they would have a larger budget to play with, they decided to combine two notions that had come up early: time travel and the Borg. The Borg had been lightly used on TNG following their defeat in The Best of Both Worlds, with the fear that over-using them would rob them of their unstoppable power. Moore believed that they would make for a fine enemy for a movie. A film would also allow the Borg to be depicted as more powerful and threatening. Their previous appearances had been cut down due to budget issues, with the iconic Battle of Wolf 359 in The Best of Both Worlds happening off-screen. Braga's notion was to have the time travel involving Earth's first contact with the Vulcans, an iconic moment in the history of Star Trek which led to the founding of the Federation. This would also allow the film to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the franchise.

First Contact was deliberately played as a more action-driven story than previous Star Trek movies.

Jonathan Frakes, who had played Commander Riker on The Next Generation, was selected to direct the film. Frakes had directed multiple episodes of TNG, DS9 and Voyager and had won plaudits for his visual style as well as his professional attitude. Frakes won the role after several other directors were rejected for their lack of familiarity with the franchise. Patrick Stewart exercised his considerable influence on the production to give Picard a more action-heavy role in fighting the Borg on the new Enterprise-E.

The movie was originally entitled Star Trek: Resurrection (a title everyone seemed to like), but this was changed to First Contact when 20th Century Fox announced that the fourth Alien movie would have the same title.

Star Trek: First Contact was released on 22 November 1996. The movie grossed $146 million worldwide, an all-time franchise high (not beaten until thirteen years later and the J.J. Abrams movie), against a budget of $45 million (quite modest even by 1996 standards). The critical reception was mostly positive, despite some criticisms of the Earthbound storyline being lacking compared to the space-borne battle between the Borg and the Enterprise crew. One common thread amongst reviews was that First Contact was the first Star Trek movie in a long time that felt like a big event, something more than just a TV episode dragged out to two hours in length.

The ninth Star Trek movie was greenlit a few months later. Paramount were keen to revisit the success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which had been a massive box office success as a more light-hearted, even comedic film built around a central strong SF idea. With Moore and Braga firmly committed to their respective TV series, Rick Berman called upon former TNG executive producer Michael Piller to write the screenplay. Patrick Stewart, who had a managed to get a production credit on the new film, also suggested ideas. He was particularly keen to build on the idea of Picard as an unconventional, older action hero established in First Contact. For the new movie Picard was cast as a moral rebel, who rejects an alliance of convenience between the Federation and the brutal Son'a to protect an exploited, less powerful race. In later drafts Piller ran into some problems finding the through-line of the story, but Ira Steven Behr, the showrunner of DS9, reviewed the script and helped Piller resolve several issues with it. Paramount showered the script with praise, to Piller's unexpected pleasure, and Patrick Stewart also approved of it.

Star Trek: Insurrection was criticised for a lack of ambition.

Jonathan Frakes agreed to return to direct, with Paramount impressed by his work on First Contact. The production team floundered for some time to find a title before settling on Insurrection.

The film was released on 11 December 1998, somewhat bafflingly marketed as the first "Star Trek date movie" for its focus on humour and romance. The film received mixed reviews, which surprised the studio after what they believed was a very strong script. Most of the reviews felt that the producers had made a mistake by moving away from what had worked in First Contact and instead making a glorified TV episode, and not a good one either. Many reviews criticised this lack of ambition (especially after the darker, more action-oriented and even horror-influenced First Contact), although the film certainly was not slated to the same level as The Final Frontier. Much to Paramount's relief, the critical indifference was not reflected in the box office. Against a budget of $58 million, the film took home $112 million worldwide, enough to be judged a reasonable success.

The 1990s were drawing to a close, and with it, Star Trek's golden age. The financial success of the four movies released in the decade was indisputable, but there remained the feeling that Star Trek's true home was on television. When The Next Generation began winding down back at the start of the decade, it was decided that the Trek universe was a big enough place for many different kinds of story...even one where the crew explored the final frontier by standing still.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Live-action trailer for DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED

Square Enix have released a well-made, live-action trailer for the forthcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. This is the sequel to the excellent 2011 CRPG Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Mankind Divided is set in 2029 and develops a plot point from the preceding game, where a terrorist organisation triggered a signal which sent every person in the world with upgraded, augmented technology insane for a few minutes. Millions of people were killed as the hacked augments went on the rampage. In the aftermath of the bloodbath, people are understandably weary of augmented individuals. Their civil rights have been revoked and the great "mechanical apartheid" has begun. Augmented civil rights protests have been ruthlessly quashed, and less restrained groups have sprung up, prepared to fight for equality and freedom.

The player controls Adam Jensen, an augmented law-enforcement agent who now works with Interpol to bring down the most dangerous augmented terrorist groups. However, Jensen is also working to expose the shadowy group who deliberately sent the augmented insane with outlawed technology. Jensen hopes that by doing this had begin repairing the trust between augmented and non-augmented humans.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will be released on PC, PS4 and XB1 on 23 August.

The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney

Oxford, 1929. The Great Depression is looming. Anna Francis is a Greek refugee, one of many forced to flee the fighting between Turkey and Greece in the aftermath of the First World War. She lives with her father, who continues to campaign on behalf of his countrymen. Whilst Anna's father hosts meetings and writes to politicians, Anna explores Oxford and the surrounding countryside. One night she sees something in the fields that she wasn't supposed to, irrevocably changing her and the course of her life.

Paul Kearney is, very easily, the most underread author in modern fantasy. He has written epic fantasy with vast armies clashing, heroic fantasy about the tribulations of a flawed hero and several "slipstream" stories about people who cross from one world to another. He has also written a personal novel about the real world's intersection with the fantastic. He's even written a Warhammer 40,000 novel about Space Marines (although that's currently on hold due to legal issues). Kearney has an ability to switch gears and voices to tell many different kinds of story that is highly enviable.

The Wolf in the Attic represents another such gear shift. This is a story about a young woman coming of age in a country that treats her like a foreigner, despite her fluency in the language and her father's attempts to integrate. The notion of being a refugee and trying to find a home after your own is destroyed is a powerful one, and Kearney tells this part of the story extremely well. There is also an impressive mastery of POV and characterisation: Anna idolises her father whilst also being honest about his flaws, but even so the reader may pick up on things about him that Anna herself does not (or is in denial about).

These musings on identity, home and growth sit alongside a couple of scene-stealing cameos from C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis and Tolkien had met and become friends in the mid-1920s and would remain in contact for the rest of their life. They appear very briefly, but Kearney has clearly done his research about the two men, their characters and the times they lived in.

So richly and vividly drawn is 1929 Oxford that the reader may even forget they're reading a fantasy novel until the supernatural enters the fray. First slowly and then with a growing presence, Kearney presents a sort of magical shadow world intersecting with our own, with people and factions represented as one thing in our world but having another role in the other. A mid-novel twist brings the supernatural element much more to the fore and this transition is successful as the book becomes more of a quest or road trip that takes Anna from her comfortable life into something more mystical and primeval.

Kearney has always had an excellent grasp of character and no-nonsense writing, but his writing skills in this book reach new heights with easily the most accomplished prose of his career to date. He handles the transition from the earlier, more grounded chapters to the later, more fantastical ones very well and he makes Anna a compelling protagonist, young but not foolish, inexperienced but not naive. If there is a weakness it might be that some secondary characters are not developed as strongly (Luca most notably) but in a first-person narrative that may be expected.

Overall, The Wolf in the Attic is an unusual book. It has YA hallmarks but isn't really YA. It has elements of fantasy and mythology and history but is more than the some of those parts. The movement between realistic childhood issues and fantasy reminded me somewhat of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but The Wolf in the Attic is an effortlessly superior novel which has more to say.

The year may only be half over, but The Wolf in the Attic (*****) makes a bold claim to be the best SFF novel released this year (contested, at least so far, only by Guy Gavriel Kay's Children of Earth and Sky). It is a rich and unputdownable read and increases its already-talented author's range and capabilities even further. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

The Lost Reviews: Part 12 - Season 3, Episodes 1-8

Welcome to the Lost rewatch project. I am currently rewatching all 121 episodes of the TV series which aired for six seasons from 2004 to 2010. This is very much a rewatch thread, with the show watched with knowledge of what is to come in later seasons. If you've never watched Lost before, you definitely do not want to read this blog series.

This entry covers the first eight episodes of Season 3. When Lost first aired on ABC, they mandated very long seasons (22-25 episodes). As used to be traditional with American network television, they would air batches of new episodes interspersed with several weeks of repeats. Although this model had been standard for decades, it became increasingly unsustainable with Lost due to the intricate and heavily serialised nature of the storytelling. For Season 3 the producers tried a new tack, airing the first six episodes of the season as a self-contained mini-series (of sorts), taking a three-month break, and then returning with the rest of the season. Although successful in this instance, the producers still experienced significant production issues with making so many episodes in so short a timeframe. During the airing of this season, they struck a deal with ABC to make three further seasons with a reduced episode count.

Without further ado, let us continue after the jump.

 The crash of Flight 815 is revisited from another perspective.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Star Trek at 50: Crossing the Generations

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home had been a major box office success upon its release in 1986, but the original crew's thunder had been stolen a little by the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation a year later. With that series established as a success, Paramount were keen to continue developing the movie series.

In order to retain William Shatner as Captain Kirk, Paramount had made an informal agreement for him to direct the fifth movie in the series. This followed Leonard Nimoy's directing of the third and fourth movies, both of which had been judged highly successful. Shatner's screen directing career was more limited than Nimoy's, limited to ten episodes of his TV series TJ Hooker, but he was certainly familiar with the process as well as knowing his fellow actors well and having the support of the filming crew, which would be a mixture of experienced personnel from the previous movies and staff from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Harve Bennett, who had produced every movie since The Wrath of Khan, also stayed on as producer for this film and helped break the story.

The premise was that the Enterprise crew were going to meet God, something Gene Roddenberry had been pushing for for a long time. However, the twist envisaged by both Shatner and Bennett was that it would be an alien posing as a deity who would manipulate people into following him through faith. Although the premise was judged strong, further rewrites were believed to be necessary to make the story stronger. This turned out to be impossible as the 1988 Writer's Strike took hold, forcing the movie to shoot with a script that had been less revised than was ideal.

Unexpectedly, the shoot turned out to be quite enjoyable. Even those actors who had experienced personal acrimony or issues with Shatner - most famously George Takei - found that Shatner as a director worked quite well. In particular, Shatner enjoyed getting his fellow actors involved in physical activities despite their age (they were then all well into their fifties and James Doohan was approaching his seventies), which they respected. They also appreciated the fact that Shatner kept backstage drama - such as budget cuts and constant interference from the studio - away from the rest of the cast.

As it turned out, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier nearly killed the franchise. The movie opened in the summer of 1989, in a crowded sequel season, playing against Ghostbusters II and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as well as Tim Burton's Batman. The film took home $63 million, a franchise low, against a franchise high budget of $33 million. The reviews were also terrible. Shatner accepted the blame, although also pointing out issues such as the script development being cut short by the strike and constant budget cuts meaning they had to use a less experienced special effects company.

Over the next year or so Paramount began to question the future fate of Star Trek on the big screen. The massive burst of popularity that Star Trek: The Next Generation underwent through its third season caused them to change their mind, as this resulted in renewed goodwill to the franchise on the eve of its 25th anniversary. Harve Bennett was asked to develop a new script which would act as a prequel to the series, featuring new, younger actors playing Kirk, Spock and McCoy at Starfleet Academy. This script went through several versions, but as momentum gathered pace the original series actors began to see the benefits of returning in a new film. There was a feeling that they did not want Star Trek V to be their goodbye to the franchise. Bennett was asked to jettison his previous work for a new story involving the old crew but he was not interested in this idea and decided to leave the series after spending ten years working on it.

Paramount began considering new writers and reached out to Leonard Nimoy for ideas. Nimoy went to see Nicholas Meyer, the director of Star Trek II and co-writer of Star Trek IV, and they started throwing concepts around. Meyer was thinking about contemporary issues and suddenly had the thought of the "the wall coming down in space", a reference to the then-recent fall of the Berlin Wall and the resulting end of Communism in Europe. He came up with the story that the Klingon Empire experienced a massive ecological disaster (comparable to Chernobyl) and this sparked the idea of glasnost with the Federation, but forces on both sides working to undermine it, including - unintentionally - Kirk. Nimoy took the idea to Paramount, who immediately saw potential in it, and Nimoy asked Meyer to direct. Nimoy himself was a preferred choice, but Nimoy foresaw possible difficulties with Shatner if Nimoy directed his third Trek movie to Shatner's one. Meyer agreed. Gene Roddenberry was brought on board as a consultant, but fervently disliked the movie's militaristic and naval tone. Meyer described one argument as being extremely passionate and angry, and he later felt ashamed of himself. Meyer particularly took issue with Roddenberry arguing that Saavik (a returning character from Star Trek II and III) would never betray Kirk, as Meyer himself had created the character. Ultimately, actor scheduling issues meant that Saavik had to be removed from the script and replaced with a similar Vulcan character, Valeris.

As with Star Trek V, there were significant struggles over the budget. Eventually, the sixth movie would come in at $27 million, $6 million less than the previous movie. Money was saved by redressing Star Trek: The Next Generation sets wherever possible, as well as reusing the already-built Enterprise, Excelsior and Klingon Bird-of-Prey models, as well as overhauling the Klingon battlecruiser model built for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was released on 6 December 1991 and was an unexpected hit, grossing just under $100 million. The critical reception was much stronger for the film and some of the marketing for the movie - most notably a guest appearance by Leonard Nimoy as Spock on a Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode called Unification - was highly praised. Amusingly, the only real scorn was reserved for the movie's opening special effect in which a massive explosion in space only propagates in two dimensions rather than three. Enough of a fuss was made about this by fans that a similar stellar explosion in the following movie was explicitly shown to be a sphere.

Gene Roddenberry passed away barely six weeks before the film opened. The movie was dedicated to him. In addition, the castmembers' signatures appeared at the end of the film as they expressly said goodbye to the characters they had been portraying for a quarter of a century. The movie marked the final appearances by Nichelle Nichols (to date) and DeForest Kelley in a Star Trek production.

Behind the scenes, Paramount were very happy with the movie's rate of return versus its budget and began planning a seventh film. Star Trek: The Next Generation was planned to end with its sixth season and it was decided to bring the new cast and crew to the big screen. When it was decided to expand this to seven seasons, Paramount declined to change the release date for the movie, forcing the crew to begin development of the film whilst work on the final season of the TV show was underway (everyone involved later admitted that this was a mistake). The seventh movie would feature Walter Koenig and James Doohan in brief cameos, with William Shatner taking a larger role in a story which would teamed him up with Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard to defeat a mutual enemy.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Lost Reviews: Part 11 - The Lost Experience

Welcome to the Lost rewatch project. I am currently rewatching all 121 episodes of the TV series which aired for six seasons from 2004 to 2010. This is very much a rewatch thread, with the show watched with knowledge of what is to come in later seasons. If you've never watched Lost before, you definitely do not want to read this blog series.

This entry is a little different in that it recaps The Lost Experience. This was an alternate reality game (ARG) that unfolded between Seasons 2 and 3 of Lost in the United States, and also played out via the show's British and Australian broadcasters. The ARG took the form of multiple websites, fake TV ads and live-action Comic-Con appearances which led to the unveiling of a series of videos with contained further information on the Hanso Foundation, the mysterious financial backers of the DHARMA Initiative. Part of The Lost Experience's modern-day storyline is considered semi-apocryphal (since some of it plays out in the "real world" where Lost is a TV show) but the revelations it contains about the backstory of DHARMA, Hanso, the Numbers and the Island were considered canon by the TV show producers.

Without further ado, let us continue after the jump.

The Lost Experience was extremely meta, featuring adverts and flyers actually posted up in major American cities, as well as websites for the fictional band Geronimo Jackson and the release of the Apollo Candy Bars from the Swan Station in UK comic book stores.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Who should the next STAR TREK captain be?

CBS's new Star Trek show is currently in development, with scripts being written and shooting due to start in August or September. The question that is now starting to arise is about casting.

The current rumours are that the new show will take place between the events of the original movies and The Next Generation, that is the seventy-one year gap between Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (which took place in 2293) and the events of Encounter at Farpoint (which took place in 2364). According to rumour, the show will adopt an anthology format and will swap ships, crews, characters and premises every season whilst still taking place in a shared universe, similar to Fargo and True Detective.

So the question to ask, is who will play the first captain on the new show? Let's throw some names out there.

Nathan Fillion

For: After the recent and rather abrupt cancellation of Castle, he's free. He's the right age (45) and has some starship-captaining experience (from Firefly). He would, of course, attract tons of viewers and fans just on name value alone. The geek audience would be very happy.

Against: I'm not sure if it's a strike as such, but it's a very obvious and safe choice. CBS and the creative team might be wanting something a bit less obvious. Fillion himself might be looking for a longer-term gig to fill in after Castle.

Rosario Dawson

For: She's a good actress (most importantly) and she's also a firm favourite of showrunner Bryan Fuller, who named her and Angela Bassett (see below) as his favourite candidates for the role long before he got the showrunner gig.

Against: Nothing too bad, but she is signed up to star in The Defenders for Netflix (although that isn't due to start shooting until early 2017) and guest-star in Iron Fist and the second season of Jessica Jones before then.

Stephen Dillane

For: He's got that middle-aged, slightly grumpy but heartfelt British thing going on that Patrick Stewart had. He'd bring in some Game of Thrones fans. He's a bloody good actor.

Against: He doesn't seem to be the biggest fan of genre work, and was downbeat on his Game of Thrones role, although that might have more been the show rather than the genre.

Angela Bassett

For: She's a great actress with tremendous and impressive range. She was Bryan Fuller's #1 pick for the job back in 2013.

Against: She's already a regular on American Horror Story, although that would still leave her some spare time. However, she recently specifically ruled herself out of the running (although noting it'd be cool) because she didn't want to take more time away from her family life.

Michelle Forbes

For: She's a supremely talented actress with fantastic form on multiple genre series, including True Blood, Orphan Black and Battlestar Galactica...not to mention a little show called Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Against: She had recurring role across three seasons as Ro Laren on Star Trek: The Next Generation. That was long enough ago not to necessarily rule her out of a new role on a new series, but it may be more interesting to hold back until a later season and maybe explore what happened to Ro twenty-five years after we last saw her. Forbes herself was lukewarm about the idea of becoming a regular on The Next Generation, remaining only a recurring guest star, and later turned down a regular, starring role on Deep Space Nine, so might be reluctant to return to the franchise, even if it was just for a short-term gig.

Gina Torres

For: She's got SF form from Angel and Firefly, and she's a favourite of Fuller's from both Pushing Daisies and Hannibal. Her current gigs are mostly in animation and voiceover work, so she might be free for this.

Against: Not really seeing anything major against her, apart from her ongoing role in Suits.

Tony Todd

For: Well, he's the only actor we know who's auditioned for a role on the series, although not which role. He's an established Star Trek performer, having played both Worf's brother Kurn on The Next Generation and the older version of Jake Sisko in Deep Space Nine. He's a very accomplished actor with a much larger range than he may be known for from his signature horror character, Candyman.

Against: At 61 he may be considered a little too old for the role, but he's in great shape for his age. CBS may prefer to go for a bigger or at least more "current" name.

David Tennant

For: It's fricking David Tennant. Imagine the craziness of a former Doctor Who becoming Captain of the USS Whatever It's Called (NCC-TARDIS).

Against: The filming dates sound like they might clash with the filming of the third and final season of Broadchurch, but wouldn't rule him out for appearing in subsequent seasons.

George Takei

For: The crowd would go wild. Sulu is one of the more popular and under-explored Original Series characters. Depending on where in the timeline exactly the series is situation, Takei would be the right age to play a much older Sulu, possibly promoted to Admiral and after he's moved on from captaining the Excelsior.

Against: At 79, we'd assume that Sulu would have been promoted out of the captain's chair, so he probably wouldn't be the lead character. But having him, Walter Koenig or Nichelle Nichols show up in a role would be a very nice gesture in the show's 50th anniversary year.

The Lost Reviews: Part 10 - Season 2, Episodes 21-23

Welcome to the Lost rewatch project. I am currently rewatching all 121 episodes of the TV series which aired for six seasons from 2004 to 2010. This is very much a rewatch thread, with the show watched with knowledge of what is to come in later seasons. If you've never watched Lost before, you definitely do not want to read this blog series.

Without further ado, let us continue after the jump.

A concise summary of the entire season.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Star Trek at 50: The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D)

The Galaxy-class USS Enterprise (registry number NCC-1701-D), built by the United Federation of Planets circa 2359-63. The ship was commissioned and launched in 2363 under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, its only permanent commanding officer. The Enterprise-D was lost at the Battle of Veridian III in 2371, having served for eight years. It was destroyed in battle with a renegade Klingon Bird-of-Prey, although the Klingon vessel was also destroyed.

Class History

By the early 2340s Starfleet had found itself in need of a new type of starship to propel its exploration and science programmes further forward. The Excelsior class was still performing excellently after fifty years in service, but was starting to show its age. The Ambassador, although a solid design, had not been the jump forward in capability first envisaged. The Federation's borders had expanded significantly and the limits of explored space even further outwards, covering a significant swathe of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants of the galaxy. Faster and more powerful ships, able to operate autonomously for longer periods of time, were required. But there were some recruitment issues with crewmembers potentially spending many years away from home and their loved ones. This led to the inception of the Galaxy Project.

The Galaxy-class starship was envisaged as a major, paradigm-shifting design. These huge starships would carry over a thousand people, including civilians and families, to the furthest reaches of space. They would be equipped with weapons and sensors capable of handling any possible threat and they would be equipped for tasks ranging from deep space exploration to diplomatic missions to planetary evacuations. The design hurdles were formidable, with the warp core alone requiring colossal amounts of research and development. The Galaxy-class's computer system was also tremendously advanced: upon completion, it became the most sophisticated mobile computer in the entire Federation.

R&D of the Galaxy-class began in the mid-2340s. Around this time, in 2344, the Ambassador-class USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-C) was destroyed whilst defending the Klingon outpost on Narendra III from Romulan attack. This act of bravery and honour helped lead to the signing of the formal Klingon-Federation Alliance at Khitomer (a world itself symbolic for an earlier peace deal in 2293 and suffering another Romulan attack in 2346) several years later. Out of respect for the estimated 700 crewmen who lost their lives, Starfleet did not immediately commission a replacement Enterprise. When the Galaxy Project was formally approved, it was agreed that one of the first ships in the class would be named Enterprise instead.

The final design of the Galaxy-class took some time to pin down, with Starfleet being distracted by the outbreak of a long (if mostly low-intensity) war against the Cardassian Union. The Federation also had a brief conflict with the Tzenkethi circa the late 2350s. Finally, somewhere around 2358-60, construction began of the initial Galaxy-class spaceframes at Utopia Planitia Shipyards, on and above Mars. Twelve ships were first envisaged, but only six were built to completion, with the remaining six being held back for new technologies to create a second wave of vessels, due to enter service in the late 2360s. The first three ships to be commissioned were the USS Galaxy, USS Yamato and USS Enterprise (all in service by the start of 2364). Among the ships that followed were the USS Odyssey, USS Venture, USS Challenger and USS Magellan.

The Galaxy-class was immensely successful, furthering exploration at the edges of Federation space, responding rapidly to threats and flying the flag in every corner of space. However, the decision to allow families and civilians on board the ships proved controversial. In early 2365, an alien computer virus overwhelmed the systems of the USS Yamato and shut down the antimatter containment field, completely obliterating the ship and killing over a thousand people, including children (ST:TNG: Contagion). The USS Odyssey was destroyed in battle with three Jem'Hadar warships in 2370, sparking the long Federation-Dominion cold war. Fortunately, the Odyssey had offloaded her civilian crew at Deep Space Nine prior to the battle, but still hundreds of lives were lost (ST:DS9: The Jem'Hadar). The USS Enterprise suffered a series of calamities during its storied seven-year lifespan, including the deaths of dozens of crewmembers, before the ship was finally destroyed at Veridian III in 2371 (Star Trek: Generations), although civilian casualties were minimised thanks to a successful saucer separation manoeuvre. The fate of the Galaxy class may have briefly hung in the balance after the loss of half the ships in service less than eight years into the class lifespan, but the growing threat of the Dominion convinced the Federation to complete the remaining spaceframes and also commission many more. This proved tactically sound: although several more Galaxy-class starships were lost in the Dominion War of 2373-75, the class soon became the mainstay of Starfleet, finally replacing the ageing Excelsior-class.

Starfleet ceased placing families on its front-line starships following this time with the succeeding Sovereign-class of starships only holding enlisted Starfleet officers and civilian researchers in related fields.

The Enterprise-D encounters the Borg for the first time.

Operational History

The USS Enterprise was launched in late 2363 from Utopia Planitia Shipyards above Mars, under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. After a shakedown cruiser, the vessel was ordered to Farpoint Station to pick up the rest of her crew. During this mission the Enterprise made first contact with the mysterious species known as Q (ST:TNG: Encounter at Farpoint). The Enterprise-D soon found itself enjoying a career even more epic and storied than its predecessors. In seven years, the Enterprise initiated first contact with dozens of species, carried out numerous scientific and diplomatic missions and found itself tested against the best ships from other races. The Enterprise crew helped open (often-fractious) relations with the Ferengi Alliance (The Last Outpost) and also became the first Federation crew in twenty years to make contact with a Romulan starship (The Neutral Zone). During several subsequent confrontations (The Enemy, The Defector, Tin Man), the Enterprise acquitted itself well against the formidable Romulan D'deridex-class warbird, helping the Romulans choose the path of renewed diplomacy rather than military conflict.

The Enterprise also proved instrumental in helping resolve the Klingon Civil War of 2367-68 in favour of Chancellor Gowron, who favoured continuing the alliance with the Federation (Reunion, Redemption, Unification). Gowron's enemies, the House of Duras, were engaged in a secret pact with the Romulans. Their defeat ensured the continued Federation-Klingon Alliance and that the two sides would remain allied (a brief breakdown in 2372 excepted) when the Dominion War erupted.

However, the Enterprise's biggest test came in 2365 when it made first contact with the Borg Collective. Thanks to the machinations of the Q, the Enterprise-D was propelled over 7,000 light-years from Federation space in the direction of the Delta Quadrant. It made contact with a single Borg cube near system J25, which had been laid waste by the Borg. The Enterprise initially held its own against the Borg vessel, rendering over 20% of it inoperable, but in the process the Borg learned how to adapt to Federation weapon systems. The ship then became invulnerable. Eighteen Enterprise crewmen were killed and heavy damage inflicted on the the ship before the Q pulled the Enterprise back to Federation space (Q Who?). Starfleet immediately began researching new weapons and defences to use against the Borg, assuming it would be several years before the Borg became a serious threat, but less than fifteen months later a Borg cube (possibly the same one) arrived in Federation space. The single vessel cut a swathe through the Federation, destroying the colony on Jouret IV and obliterating thirty-nine starships at the Battle of Wolf 359. It also took Jean-Luc Picard prisoner and (temporarily) converted him into a Borg. The Enterprise crew recovered Picard and, using the neural link between him and the Borg ship, destroyed the vessel just before it could attack Earth (The Best of Both Worlds).

The Enterprise would continue to serve with honour and distinction until 2371. Whilst attempt to defeat a murderous El-Aurian scientist named Soran, the Enterprise-D was attacked by a Klingon Bird-of-Prey commanded by the vengeance-hungry Duras sisters. The sisters managed to identify the shield frequency used by the Enterprise and direct their weapons fire straight through the shields. The Enterprise retaliated and destroyed the Bird-of-Prey but the ship had suffered catastrophic damage to the warp core, leading to a cascade systems failure of the antimatter containment system. The crew evacuated to the saucer section, which was jettisoned from the rest of the vessel before it exploded. The saucer section successfully executed a crash-landing on the surface of Veridian III. The crew were subsequently rescued, but the saucer was unrecoverable (Star Trek: Generations). Many of the crew transferred to the new USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-E), which entered service within two years (Star Trek: First Contact).

The Enterprise-D's saucer section crash-lands on Veridian III in 2371.

Ship Overview

The Enterprise-D was a Galaxy-class starship. It was launched in 2363 and destroyed almost eight years later, in 2371. The ship had an extremely busy and storied career, although of all the ships named Enterprise it had the second-shortest career (beaten only by the Enterprise-A and its seven-year mission before being decommissioned). However, from construction to destruction it had the shortest lifespan of any vessel named Enterprise.

The Enterprise-D was 642 metres (2106.3 feet) long, 473 metres (1,552 feet) wide and 190 metres (623.4 feet) high. It had 42 decks. It had a rated crew and passenger complement of 1,012, although depending on mission variables and guests this could fluctuate significantly. The ship was rated to carry 15,000 people in cramped conditions during a planetary evacuation. Thanks to its extremely wide saucer section compared to previous models, the Enterprise's internal volume was approximately twelve times greater than the Constitution-class Enterprise.

The Galaxy-class was the fastest ship in Starfleet, until it was overtaken by the Intrepid-class in the early 2370s. The ship had a safe cruising speed of Warp 8.2 and could sustain Warp 9.6 for several hours. In an emergency situation the vessel could briefly attain Warp 9.8. It also had one of the most formidable defensive arrays of any Federation starship, mustering ten phaser banks with wide arcs of fire and three forward-facing phaser cannons mounted in the nacelle struts and above the main torpedo launcher. The ship possessed three torpedo launchers. Like many other Federation starships it had the ability to split into two vessels during emergency situations, with the civilian crew expected to take shelter on the saucer section whilst the stardrive section engaged the threat. The relative long time it too to separate the sections and the fact that the saucer was deprived of warp power (making escaping a threat more difficult) meant that this ability was employed only four times during the lifespan of the vessel. It did, however, ultimately save the crew from the vessel's final destruction.

The Enterprise-D had three shuttle bays and a large number of auxiliary craft, including standard shuttles, runabouts and a Captain's Yacht.

Behind the Scenes

When Paramount decided to resurrect Star Trek as a TV series, it was decided that the show would take place on a new incarnation of the Enterprise (Gene Roddenberry briefly pondered simply directly beaming people from star system to star system, but decided that would make for poor drama). Originally dubbed the Enterprise-7, this was changed to the Enterprise-J when Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home introduced the practice of adding a letter to the registry number. After further refinement this was changed to the Enterprise-D.

The task of designing the ship fell to Andrew Probert, who had worked on the Star Trek feature films and co-designed the refit version of the ship. Probert found the task rather more straightforward than it could have been: whilst working on The Motion Picture he'd drawn an idea for a radically more advanced and futuristic Enterprise. When he went to work on TNG he hung the picture in his office. Writer David Gerrold spotted it and suggested that Gene Roddenberry take a look. Roddenberry liked it and approved it pretty quickly.  The biggest modifications from the original design were rethinking the engines to look better and to permit the ship to be capable of splitting in two.

Two shooting models were built, a small two-footer for long-shots and a six-foot large model for close-ups. However, the six-foot model was quite large and unwieldy to shoot. In Season 3 a four-foot interime model was introduced which became the shooting mainstay. However, the four-footer could not separate and, for reasons of cost, writers were encouraged to have shots featuring this model. This explains why saucer separations no longer took place after the third season. At the end of the seventh season the four-foot model was partially rebuilt with an extra nacelle and weapons to become the futuristic Galaxy-class variant seen in the ST:TNG series finale. These changes were reversed for the model's re-labelling and appearance as the USS Odyssey and USS Venture in Deep Space Nine's second and fourth seasons.

A CG Enterprise-D was built for some shots in Star Trek: Generations and then upgraded for use on Deep Space Nine, particularly during the numerous battle sequences during that show's sixth and seventh seasons. Controversially, the Enterprise-D made a cameo appearance in the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2004, making it actually the most recent prime timeline Enterprise to appear in Star Trek.

Appearing in all 178 episodes of ST:TNG, one episode of DS9 and one of Enterprise, along with one feature film and dozens of video games, the Enterprise-D is by far the most frequently-used, filmed, photographed and shot Enterprise to appear in the entire Star Trek franchise. Ironically, according to the franchise's timeline it had the shortest lifespan at less than eight years (the Enterprise-A arguably served for a shorter period of time, but it was retired from service rather than destroyed).

Star Trek at 50: The Best of All Worlds

Star Trek: The Next Generation entered its second season in 1988 as a proven success, with massive ratings and generating significant profit for Paramount. However, it had suffered a critical drubbing for most of its first season and behind the scenes the production of the series was a chaotic mess. The long-term future of the series was in doubt, and then every scriptwriter in Hollywood went on strike for six months.

The results were not great. Episodes for the second season had to go into production with only their first, early draft scripts completed (no rewrites allowed under the terms of the strike). One eleven-year-old script from the abandoned Phase II project had to be quickly recycled to serve as the season opener. Producer-writer Maurice Hurley had prepared an elaborate, multi-episode arc continuing from the end of Season 1 showing the Federation and Romulans collaborating to find the race responsible for the attacks in the Neutral Zone, which would have resulted in the unveiling of a new, terrifying insectoid race with a hive mind and superior technology, but this had to be jettisoned in favour of stand-alones.

Somehow, the second season ended up being okay and a much-needed improvement over the first, with several all-time classic episodes. The Measure of a Man was a brilliant morality tale of the kind Star Trek had traditionally excelled at making. Matters of Honour put Riker on board a Klingon Bird of Prey and gave us our first look at a Star Trek story from the POV of the supposed bad guys. But the season will forever be remembered for Q Who?, the episode that introduced the Borg. The original plan for a race of hive-minded insects proved too expensive to realise on screen, so Hurley replaced them with a race of cybernetically-enhanced humanoids, obsessed with absorbing technology from other races. The script also called for the Borg not to be defeated at the end of the episode, with the Enterprise only barely escaping from the Borg threat after Picard begged Q to save them. Patrick Stewart was not keen on this ending but later admitted he was wrong, with the episode winning immense critical acclaim.

However, Hurley had become frustrated at dealing with Gene Roddenberry, in particular when Roddenberry would break his own rules about "perfect" characters that other writers would get chewed out for. In addition, Patrick Stewart had become increasingly aware of the power he held as the star of the show and was volubly campaigning for Gates McFadden (fired at Hurley's direction) to return. These were power struggles that Hurley was increasingly unwilling to fight, so quit at the end of the second season. He did suggest his replacement, however: a young and talented writer named Michael Piller.

When Piller came on board at the start of the third season, he found a show that was still in chaos. With Hurley gone, Rick Berman had acquiesced to Patrick Stewart's demands and Gates McFadden had come back onto the show. But a large swathe of writers had departed and Piller now had to rebuild his writing team from scratch. He assembled a mixture of more experienced hands like Ira Steven Behr and fresh-faced youngsters like Ronald D. Moore and also laid down a series of rules. One of his most far-reaching and successful was the idea that the show was about the regular characters, not the guest stars. The weekly guest stars were there to flesh out stories about the regular, not vice versa. This idea helped strengthen the scripts. Piller was also able to take advantage of Roddenberry's declining involvement in the show to push through scripts based more around conflict and drama.

Piller proved to be an able showrunner and provided tremendous stability and direction, even in the most chaotic of conditions. The most heavily-rewritten and expensive script of the season, which people were writing off as a confusing mess at the script stage, became Yesterday's Enterprise, which met with blanket critical praise. Ron Moore was allowed bring Star Trek to the Klingon homeworld for the very first time in Sins of the Father and broke a cardinal rule of Trek by leaving the story unresolved at the end. The story of Lt. Worf and his struggles with his Klingon heritage would span not just the rest of The Next Generation but expand into the spin-off series as well. Numerous other classics dot the season, but it was the finale that completely transformed the fortunes of the franchise. The Best of Both Worlds saw the Borg return in full force, cutting a swathe of destruction across Federation space before, in a cliffhanger ending, kidnapping Captain Picard and transforming him into one of them.

The episode electrified audiences, with both fans and casual viewers eagerly debating what was going to happen next. Patrick Stewart was taken aback to be in his car and have people yelling "Locutus!" at him from neighbouring vehicles. The fourth season opened with a strong run of episodes even after the cliffhanger was resolved, and the show never looked back. Shortly after this the Cardassians were introduced, and a compelling, multi-episode storyline unfolded over the entire season which eventually ended with the Klingon Empire being plunged into civil war by the machinations of the Romulans. The show overtook the episode count of the original Star Trek and, at the start of the fifth season (around the time Gene Roddenberry sadly passed away), passed 100 episodes. More great episodes followed, the producers started talking about spin-offs and a movie and, most impressively, other science fiction shows started appearing on TV. These started with "soft" SF series which had minor SF elements wedded to more standard forms of storytelling, such as with Quantum Leap and The X-Files, but by the end of Trek's run other space operas had started appearing, such as the short-lived Space Rangers and the much more successful Babylon 5.

Star Trek: The Next Generation concluded in early 1994 after seven seasons and 178 episodes. The show had surpassed the original series in popularity and critical acclaim and the cast and crew were keen to take the show to the next level: by following the original crew onto the big screen.