Thoughts on a Starfleet Academy series

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 3, Picard Season 1, 2009’s Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.

We’ve known for a while that there are more Star Trek projects in development in addition to the shows and films currently in production. As early as the announcement of Star Trek: Picard in 2018 rumours were flying around, and not long after the official announcement of the Section 31 series – a show whose fate I fear hangs in the balance right now – came confirmation that further Star Trek television shows were actively being worked on. One of those shows we now know to be Strange New Worlds – but there are other projects both for film and television that remain officially unannounced.

September’s Star Trek Day broadcast featured an interview with Alex Kurtzman, the man in charge of the Star Trek franchise for ViacomCBS. In the interview, Kurtzman hinted – though stopped short of confirming outright – that one of the shows in early development will be focused on Starfleet Academy. Today I thought it could be fun to consider what a Starfleet Academy series could look like, and answer the crucial question: “is it a good idea?!”

Alex Kurtzman teased a Starfleet Academy series at Star Trek Day.

As the Section 31 series has unfortunately demonstrated now that it appears to be on the verge of outright cancellation, developing an entirely new television series is not a straightforward process. However, the fact that Alex Kurtzman was willing to discuss the prospect of a Starfleet Academy series at all – and in a pre-recorded interview that ViacomCBS allowed to be broadcast, no less – means that we have to take the idea seriously. It’s still possible that the proposed series won’t make it to our screens in its presently-envisioned form, but ViacomCBS is clearly laying the groundwork for a future announcement.

Sometimes companies like to tease or even leak information like this to gauge the reaction and see what fans think. Any new Star Trek television series has to have appeal beyond the existing fanbase, of course, but if Trekkies aren’t at least interested if not enthused at the prospect of a new show, that could mean the corporation chooses not to press ahead. If I were to speculate – and as always, I’ll tell you up front that I have no “insider information” – I would say that might well be the fate that befell the Section 31 series.

We’re still waiting to hear news about the poor Section 31 show…

We’ve recently talked about some of the poor business decisions that ViacomCBS has made in regards to the Star Trek franchise, so it wouldn’t shock me to learn that none of it is planned and the corporation is just winging it! But I like to think that there is some direction and control to the way the Starfleet Academy series has been teased, and that there are folks over at the company analysing the response from the fanbase to see how Trekkies feel about the idea.

So… how do Trekkies feel about the idea? I’m not the most active person on social media, but even so I would’ve expected to see some chatter. Prior to the announcement of Strange New Worlds, for example, I quickly lost count of the number of posts and messages I saw from fans who were clamouring for a “Captain Pike show.” So far, from my limited perspective at least, I’m not seeing any of that for a Starfleet Academy series. Maybe people who study social media in more depth than I do, or who are members of fan clubs and the like, have heard more from the fan community about this – but I think it’s worth noting that the prospect of the show has, thus far at least, failed to get large numbers of folks excited.

I haven’t seen much talk in the fan community on social media about a potential Starfleet Academy series just yet.

To be fair, though, the only mention of a Starfleet Academy series from anyone close to the production of Star Trek came in that one Star Trek Day interview. The Alex Kurtzman interview lasted only a few minutes and was by no means the main event in a broadcast that lasted for three hours and also debuted trailers and teases for shows that have already been announced. So perhaps the reason for the muted response is that a lot of folks are still unaware of the concept – or if they are aware they’re still waiting for something more official.

For my part, I think the series has a lot of potential. I’d place it far higher on my list than any of the other rumoured or quasi-official pitches and concepts that have been floating around out there! Whether it’s Captain Worf, Captain Proton, or the Ceti Alpha V miniseries that we talked about a while ago, a Starfleet Academy show has – in my subjective opinion at least – far more potential to be interesting and exciting.

I’d definitely prefer a Starfleet Academy show to a Captain Proton show!

Starfleet Academy is not a new concept for a series. As early as the 1960s, while The Original Series was still on the air, Gene Roddenberry was actively considering a prequel which would have focused on Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy meeting for the first time at Starfleet Academy. The concept was revisited by Gene Roddenberry at least twice: in the early 1970s, prior to work commencing on the project that ultimately became The Motion Picture, and again in the mid-1980s before work began on The Next Generation. Seeing Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy at Starfleet Academy would eventually be realised in 2009’s Star Trek film.

Gene Roddenberry would have approved, then! Which is great news for all longstanding Trekkies! I don’t think we need to worry too much that previous attempts to get a Starfleet Academy project off the ground didn’t succeed. The truth is that there were other competing ideas at the time, and even though Gene Roddenberry and others did seriously consider the idea, there were always other competing projects. I think we can all agree that the feature films of the 1980s and The Next Generation were great ideas too!

Gene Roddenberry worked on several Starfleet Academy series and film concepts during his life.

Had Enterprise not been cancelled, I think it’s possible that the Starfleet Academy concept could’ve been revived 15 years ago as well, as part of a renewed expansion of Star Trek that never happened. There were plans afoot in the Enterprise era to expand the franchise yet further, but the show’s declining ratings and the poor critical reception to Nemesis in 2002 ultimately led to the Star Trek franchise taking a short break.

A Starfleet Academy series has three big things going for it, in my view. Firstly, the series could be created to tie in with any current or past Star Trek series. Connecting it to an ongoing show such as Discovery or Picard would make the most sense, and the show could be set in the same time period as either, and connect with characters, factions, and themes. There could even be crossover episodes.

A Starfleet Academy series could potentially run alongside – and cross over with – any of the current crop of Star Trek shows.

This kind of closer connection between ongoing series is something that the Star Trek franchise needs. The closest we’ve got so far has been the appearance of the Qowat Milat in Season 3 of Discovery, connecting the show in a loose way with Picard. But the franchise as a whole needs to do a lot more to tie together the shows currently in production, so having a Starfleet Academy series share a time period and setting with another show would be a boost to the Star Trek franchise overall.

Secondly, if the show were set at Starfleet Academy itself, that would make it the first Star Trek series to take place on Earth. That concept is itself interesting, and there’s potential to learn more about Earth and what life is like for its inhabitants in the future. That’s in addition to taking a deep dive into life at the Academy itself. Such a series could – perhaps – be a little cheaper to produce; filming could take place in and around San Fransisco, and there would be arguably less of a need for expensive new sets to be built from scratch to represent spacecraft and alien worlds.

A tree in the grounds of Starfleet Academy as seen in Discovery Season 3.

Every Star Trek series so far has visited Earth in some capacity, but there’s still an awful lot we don’t know about the Federation’s capital planet. I like the idea of some of the cadets or teachers taking time away from the Academy to get out and explore – showing us as the audience more than a glimpse of life on Earth in Star Trek’s future.

Finally, a Starfleet Academy series has the potential to appeal to a younger audience – just like Prodigy is intended to. In fact, a Starfleet Academy show could easily become the next port of call for Prodigy fans as they immerse themselves further in Star Trek; there’s huge potential to appeal to a tween or teen audience, particularly if younger cadets were the show’s primary focus.

Fans of Prodigy could easily make the jump to a Starfleet Academy show if it had a similar youthful focus.

At the very least, setting a series at the Academy would naturally include a number of younger characters – and its characters like these that have the potential to appeal to a younger audience. Star Trek can’t just be the preserve of an ageing fanbase who remember shows from the ’60s and ’90s with rose-tinted nostalgia! It has to expand and appeal to new fans too – and bringing younger people into the Star Trek fan community is the best way of ensuring the franchise will survive and remain in production in the longer term.

In my view, that’s one of the most important things that a Starfleet Academy series could do – and should be its primary objective as a series. As Lower Decks and Prodigy are demonstrating, branching out and trying to appeal to different audiences doesn’t mean that Star Trek has to ignore its existing fanbase. There’s plenty in Prodigy and Lower Decks to appeal to existing fans, and I would expect no less from a Starfleet Academy show as well.

Lower Decks was intended to bring in new fans as well as appeal to Trekkies – and a Starfleet Academy show could walk that same line.

When a Starfleet Academy concept has been debated in the past, some fans have raised the objection that it would be “too static” – that being stuck on Earth would make the show feel stale in comparison to other Star Trek shows set aboard starships. I understand where such a concern is coming from, but as Deep Space Nine definitively proved, a stationary setting doesn’t have to be boring. And as Deep Space Nine also showed right from its very first episode, it’s possible to have shuttles, runabouts, or even a whole starship seconded to a base.

Starfleet Academy has its own ships – this is something we’ve seen in several past episodes. Deep Space Nine’s sixth season episode Valiant even showed a crew of cadets aboard a very advanced ship, and Prodigy is also showing a younger crew aboard their own vessel. In short, a Starfleet Academy series could easily have episodes set aboard a ship or visiting other worlds – as well as stories that make use of technologies like the holodeck to give the cadets experience.

Kirk as a cadet in 2009’s Star Trek.

I’d say that a Starfleet Academy series is absolutely worth pursuing. It might not be my first choice – I have a few ideas of my own, which you can find by clicking or tapping here! – but it absolutely has merit, and sounds far better than any of the other pitches or proposals I’ve heard in recent years. Its biggest selling point to me is its potential to bring in new audiences, as well as to give young fans of Prodigy a series to graduate to that would keep them in the fandom.

So watch this space! I don’t believe an announcement is imminent, despite the recent talk of the show at Star Trek Day. Picard still has at least two seasons left to run, Lower Decks and Prodigy have at least one more apiece, and while there have been no official announcements I’m expecting to hear that Discovery will get a fifth season and Strange New Worlds will get a second at some point in the near future. Between those shows and the various feature film projects, Star Trek is quite busy going into 2022, 2023, and even 2024! So we might not hear anything official just yet… but keep your eyes and ears open!

The Star Trek franchise – including all series and films mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Thoughts on the potential Ceti Alpha V/Khan miniseries

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek: Discovery, and for other iterations of the franchise.

If you don’t follow the ins and outs of the Star Trek rumour mill, maybe you missed talk of a potential Khan-focused project. I know I had until relatively recently! But apparently the proposed miniseries – codenamed Star Trek: Ceti Alpha V – has been written, and is floating somewhere in that nebulous “maybe” zone – better known as “development hell.”

This story, penned by The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country director Nicholas Meyer, would fill in a gap in the story of iconic villain Khan, focusing on his life in between his exile by Kirk in Space Seed and his re-discovery by the crew of the Reliant in The Wrath of Khan. Along with being the director of both of those films, which are generally considered among the best of cinematic Star Trek, Meyer also co-wrote their stories, so I don’t want to dismiss out of hand his work or ideas on this project.

That said… I’m not entirely sure this is something worth doing.

Khaaaaaan!

The fact that Ceti Alpha V is said to be a miniseries, perhaps consisting of a mere three episodes, would condense its story and avoid dragging it out too much – and that’s certainly a good thing. However, the reason why that might be necessary and the one saving grace this project has is because Ceti Alpha V would be looking at what is arguably the least-interesting part of Khan’s life and story.

Space Seed saw Khan awaken in a new century, still feeling superior to unaltered humans and intent on recapturing his long-lost empire. The Wrath of Khan saw him seek revenge on Kirk, the man who he feels wronged him by marooning him and his crew on the doomed world. Aside from the destruction of Ceti Alpha VI, which could be an interesting thing to see, I suppose, seeing Khan’s descent into madness and a revenge obsession just doesn’t feel necessary or interesting.

Khan in command of the USS Reliant in The Wrath of Khan.

The concept reminds me in some ways of the Star Wars prequels. Though that trilogy of films was beset by all kinds of issues, the fundamental problem was that it was telling the less-interesting part of an already-complete story – and that’s the trap Ceti Alpha V feels like it’s on the precipice of falling into. We didn’t need a three-film saga showing the awkward childhood and the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker to understand that he was an evil villain who could be redeemed by the residual love he had for his son. All the elements of Darth Vader’s redemption story were already present in the first three Star Wars films, and the prequels ended up not just being unnecessary fluff, but they actively detracted from Vader as an imposing, intimidating villain.

What would Khan do in a potential Ceti Alpha V miniseries that we don’t already understand from both Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan? At best what we’ll see is a padded out version of what we already know happened: the explosion of Ceti Alpha VI, the ecological ruin of Ceti Alpha V, the deaths of his wife and members of his crew. And at worst we’ll see Khan engage in some awfully tacked-on story akin to the worst parts of the Star Wars Clone Wars cartoon.

Khan in Space Seed.

Sorry to keep hitting you with Star Wars comparisons, but the way I feel about this Ceti Alpha V project is similar in many ways to how I feel about the upcoming show Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi. That series will follow Kenobi in between the prequels and the first Star Wars film… but the problem is that we already know what he did in those years: sat in exile in his desert hut.

Ceti Alpha V would also almost certainly recast the character of Khan for what will be the second time. Benedict Cumberbatch did a decent job in Star Trek Into Darkness a few years ago, but I seriously doubt he’d reprise the role here. While Star Trek has seen success with the recasting of classic characters – Captain Pike and Spock, most notably – doing so again here would just seem to add a further complication to the franchise.

Benedict Cumberbatch took over the role of Khan for Star Trek Into Darkness.

Unlike Star Wars, Star Trek has managed to successfully move beyond its original incarnation. The Original Series remains an important part of the franchise and its legacy, but as we look ahead to the 2020s – and hopefully beyond – we see projects like Prodigy, Lower Decks, the Section 31 series, and shows set in both the 25th Century with Picard and the 32nd Century with Discovery. I’m not sure that we need to revisit Khan right now – he’s a character whose story is arguably complete, and Star Trek as a whole is not in a place where this kind of backwards look is needed to bring in audiences.

As a Trekkie I would of course be interested to see a Khan miniseries. And also I’d be very interested to see any project with strong involvement from Nicholas Meyer. I just don’t see it being a necessary addition to the franchise based on where we are right now, and that’s before we get into the fact that, as mentioned, this would seem to be offering to tell the least-interesting part of a story that has already concluded.

The script for this project was written by Nicholas Meyer.
Photo Credit: Mike Muegel, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is plenty of scope for Star Trek to see the return of classic characters from The Original Series era – and we have seen a number of such characters in Discovery already. With Picard Season 2 in the offing and the return of Captain Janeway in Prodigy, we’re also welcoming back some characters from the 24th Century too. Maybe we just don’t need Khan right now?

Despite my feelings overall, I don’t think we should entirely dismiss the idea of Ceti Alpha V. I truly dislike the expression “nobody asked for this,” and I would point to Enterprise as a series that I likewise felt would have little to offer that ended up being a great Star Trek show that really embodied the spirit of exploration. So I don’t want to just say that Ceti Alpha V wouldn’t have merit; it may even succeed at bringing in fans of The Wrath of Khan – which is arguably the biggest point in its favour.

We already know how Khan’s story ends.

Will it get made? I don’t know. Meyer has suggested that the script itself is either almost complete or fully ready, so perhaps it’s only one step away from being greenlit. If I were in charge I think I’d look at other projects first before deciding whether or not to go ahead with something like this, though.

That’s just my opinion – and as I always say, the Star Trek franchise is a big tent, able to welcome all kinds of different stories. Just because this wouldn’t be top of my list doesn’t mean it lacks merit or would be unenjoyable – and I daresay if it does enter production I will tune in! One thing I definitely like the sound of are short-format stories like made-for-streaming films or miniseries. Just like Short Treks, miniseries like this proposal could be used to tell all kinds of stories in the Star Trek galaxy – and more Star Trek on our screens is always a good thing.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and all other Star Trek titles mentioned above are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.