From Captain Kirk to Captain Picard and back to Captain Kirk, the Star Trek franchise has thrilled its fans with several awe-inspiring chapters on both television and the big screen, but it’s also worth remembering that there have been numerous unrealized additions to the Star Trek canon. So, as we all celebrate Star Trek and its illustrious half century of existence and inspiration, lets look back at (and rank) those projects that ultimately failed to boldy go.
Science-fiction author Darlene Hartman briefly developed a hospital ship-based Star Trek spin-off with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in the ’60s that never came to be. Later, she’d publish the Star Trek-influenced Einai novel series under the name Simon Lang. Its fifth book, published in 1994, was titled Hopeship. And that might have ultimately been the best place for such a concept. As a complimentary piece, the portrayal of advanced medical procedures, tools, and medications is fascinating and at times riveting, but it’s not immediately clear where the conflict would have come from on a high-tech space hospital show in the ’60s.
5) Untitled Spock/Vulcan Series
After the cancellation of TOS, Paramount wanted Roddenberry to produce a spin-off that centered around Spock and the planet Vulcan. As detailed in the book, The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Roddenberry passed on this idea due to his belief that the human element that surrounded Spock on the Enterprise and in Star Trek allowed Spock’s unique alien behavior to stand out, and that without that “contrast,” it wouldn’t work. He probably wasn’t wrong.
4) Star Trek: Phase II
In 1975, after years of pushing for a continuation of the franchise, Roddenberry started work on Star Trek: The God Thing — a project which was to be the first Star Trek film. This eventually gave way to the Chris Bryant/Allan Scott-penned Star Trek: Planet of the Titans before the idea of a film was scrapped and the idea of Phase II — the apple in the eye of the planned Paramount TV network — was given life. (Star Trek: Voyager was charged with the same responsibility when UPN launched in 1995 and the brand new Star Trek series would also be used to attract subscribers to CBS’ streaming service, CBS All Access, so some things never change.)
Phase II, which was supposed to take the crew of the Enterprise (absent Leonard Nimoy, who wasn’t interested in coming back at the time) on another five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, chugged toward realization with casting, set construction, and scripting underway before the Paramount network failed to launch, ultimately causing Star Trek: The Motion Picture to rise from its ashes.
In that this was supposed to be a continuation of the original show, it’s hard to judge the concept harshly. But the idea of losing a weekly Star Trek series without Nimoy is tough to mourn, especially when you consider that the death of Phase II led to the birth of a mostly successful film franchise that might not have existed had the show come to be.
3) Assignment Earth
More than a mere concept, Assignment Earth came to life in a season two episode of TOS that served as a backdoor pilot featuring Robert Lansing as Gary Seven and Teri Garr as his assistant, Roberta Lincoln.
In the episode, Seven, a human born off-world, takes over a mission from two dead colleagues to ensure that mankind doesn’t launch into a nuclear war. Unfortunately, Kirk and Spock are not initially aware of this, but everything works out in the end, and Seven is told that, according to Federation records, he and Lincoln have more adventures on the horizon. Unfortunately, the Federation didn’t check with NBC because the Assignment Earth series never made it to air, but the characters lived on in The Eugenics Wars novels (where Seven’s story ties to Khan Noonien Singh’s at one point) and in a 2010 John Byrne comic book mini-series.
An Assignment Earth TV series would have been interesting in that it would have — for better or worse — allowed Roddenberry and his team the chance to churn out topical and politically relevant sci-fi stories without the barrier that Star Trek‘s aliens and deep space travel provided. But it also would have felt a bit like Doctor Who. (Seven had a companion and a sonic screwdriver-like device called a Servo, after all.) So, maybe it’s for the best that the show never came to be.
2) The Hard Reboot
J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) and Bryce Zabel didn’t want to create another Star Trek series back in 2004: They wanted to go back to the start to retell the story of the original five-year mission with Kirk, Spock, and the rest in an effort to unburden the franchise from the weight of its own history and the limitations created by the canon. The team also wanted to implant a central mystery within the show, with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy leading the Enterprise into the unknown to find an advanced race and seek out the “common origin of all lifeforms everywhere, the truth that will unite a galaxy.” It was a big idea, to be sure, and one that made sense on its face when you consider the state of the franchise at that time with poorly recieved Next Generation films and Enterprise as the most recent entries. But while the J.J. Abrams’ reboot shows that the studio was interested in doing something extreme, this wasn’t it — most likely because it would have iced the idea of a film franchise for years.
1) The Adventures of Harry Mudd
There have been plenty of lovable space rogues — Han Solo, Mal Reynolds, Jack Harkness — but Harry Mudd was among the first, and he’s a part of the archetype’s DNA. Unfortunately, the idea of developing a spin-off following the mustachioed smuggler’s two live-action appearances on TOS fell by the wayside. Why? Because there just wasn’t enough time to develop it, according to Gene Roddenberry, who revealed the existence of the once-possible spin-off to Mudd actor Roger C. Carmel at a party after the moment had passed. Of all the spin-off ideas, this seems like the one that is furthest from the central ethos of Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe, but it also sounds like it would have been the most fun.
This article originally ran on November 3, 2015