5 Basic Star Trek Plots
Originally published 02/09/2018
Back when I was still a kid writing Star Trek fan fiction, there were only four Star Trek TV series and ten movies. No Discovery, no Kelvin universe or any of that other snazzier, slightly darker stuff we’ve been getting served recently. And now I hear that they’re expanding the franchise even further, with more shows and films, including a new Captain Picard show.
Now… I don’t want to knock the new stuff. Most of it is quite good in its own way. But if I have one criticism for them all, its that they lack that cheese, that optimism, that je ne sais quoi that made Star Trek, Star Trek. They’re just a bit to grim. Too serious. Dare I say, too cool. And for that reason, I’ve got my doubts about this new Picard show. I’m fearful that it’s going to take one of the franchises’ most beloved characters and ruin him. And so, for the benefit of any would-be Star Trek writers, I have compiled this list of five basic Star Trek plots to help you on your way to writing a traditional, cheesy Star Trek story.
A Disasterous Transporter Malfunction
In Star Trek, the transporter is a ‘completely safe’ device which breaks an object or person down at the molecular level and re-materialises them on another ship or planet.
What could possibly go wrong?
Lots, apparently. It turns out that a dicky transporter can leave you with stones embedded in your body (ENT: “Strange New World”); separate your ‘good side’ from your ‘evil side’ so that you become two separate people (TOS: “The Enemy Within”); beam you up naked (VOY: “In The Flesh”) and re-materialise you as a child (TNG: “Rascals”). Remember, would-be Trek-writer, the transporter is a treasure trove of light-hearted nonsense with which you can easily fill up an hour with.
Going Faster Than Fast And Ending Up Somewhere Crazy
Sometimes, perhaps due to an alien seizing control of the ship, because we entered a wormhole or because somebody accidentally broke the ship’s engines, we’re now moving even faster than we ever thought possible.
The burst of speed only lasts for a moment, and naturally the first thing to do is figure out where we are.
But wait… this must be a sensor malfunction. But it’s not! You’re three or four galaxies away from where you started (TNG: “Where No One Has Gone Before”)! You’ve ended up in front of a terrifying new antagonist (TNG: “Q Who?”)! You’ve mutated into an amphibian and had amphibian babies with your amphibian captain (VOY: “Threshold”)!
How will we ever resist the mind-altering properties of this weird place?!
How will we escape the terrifying aliens?!
How will we ever look Captain Janeway in the eye again!?
There you go. There’s your story.
We’ve Been Unwittingly Killing/Enslaving Intelligent Lifeforms!
It’s life Jim, but not as we know it. And that’s our lame excuse for hunting it like vermin (TOS: “The Devil in the Dark”), destroying its natural habitat (TNG: “Home Soil”) and forcing it to carry out dangerous or degrading tasks for us (TNG: “The Quality of Life”).
However, nobody but the regular cast seems to realise that this poor creature is clearly an intelligent life-form and any suggestion that it might be will be met with great hostility. This kind of story usually goes one of two ways:
- The creatures declare war on humanity and almost destroys the ship. The climax consists of a stand-off between humanity and the new lifeform in which only a last ditch attempt at diplomacy can save the day.
- A few frightened/unbelieving humans (usually guest stars) propose a course of action which will destroy the new lifeforms, resulting in a conflict between themselves and the regular cast, who are more enlightened and realise that killing is wrong.
The Inevitable Time-Travel Episode
No Star Trek series is complete without at least one time-travel episode. The crew’s odyssey through time is often (though not always) involuntary and, more often than not, it will involve correcting a significant change in established historical events. Sometimes this change will have been brought about by a malevolent force who is deliberately interfering in history (e.g.: DS9: “Trials and Tribble-ations”; VOY: “Relativity”) while other times it will be the regular cast themselves who have accidentally changed by history simply by being there (e.g.: TOS: “The City on the Edge of Forever”; DS9: “Past Tense”).
There are exceptions, of course. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home paid precious little attention to the continuity of the time-line (the crew invented transparent aluminium early, took a native back to the 23rd century and regrew a woman’s kidney without a second thought). So by all means, have fun with time-travel.
The Inevitable Court-Room Episode
Budget drying up? Try writing a court-room episode. These feature hardly any flashy effects and are mostly dialogue-driven. It’s nearly always a member of the regular cast who has either been wrongly accused of some offence (TOS: “The Wolf in the Fold”, TNG: “A Matter of Perspective”, DS9: “Inquisition”) or else is fighting for their basic rights (TNG: “The Measure of a Man”, VOY: “Author, Author”). However, there are exceptions. Sometimes its a guest character who’s on trial with the emphasis being placed on the character’s main advocate, who is usually a member of the regular cast (TNG: “The Drumhead”, VOY: “Distant Origin”).
- Someone Is Violating the Prime Directive!
- A God-like Alien Is Bullying Us
- A Regular Character Falls in Love and Gets Dumped in One Episode
- The Whole Crew is Going Mad!
- The Whole Crew has Caught a Plague!
- There’s Klingons/Romulans/Jem’Hadar/Borg on the Starboard Bow!
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