Friday, 24 August 2012

Star Trek Phase II episode guide

Always being interested in things that almost made it to the screen, I recently acquired a book on Star Trek Phase II. Big pictures, some in colour of the designs by the likes of Ken Adam, Ralph McQuarrie and Matt Jeffries, the full script for the pilot which turned into The Motion Picture, a copy of the series bible containing such time capsules as:

“How much science fiction terminology do you want?”
“The less you use, the better. We limit complex terminology as much as possible, use it only where necessary to maintain the flavour and encourage believability.”

Of most interest to GMs is probably the thorough breakdowns of each of the unmade episodes.

In Thy Image became TMP (with a different ending, obviously, and more synthetic probes in the form of Earth animals) and The Child and Devil’s Due were adapted to The Next Generation, The Child removing much of the panic and freaking out (and being remade, with panic and freaking out, by the Phase II fan series) and Devil’s Due making the female Devil figure make a move on the Captain (shockingly not included in the Kirk version) but other than that...


Tomorrow And The Stars is nearly a remake of City On The Edge Of Forever. Well, if you’re going to remake one episode... Still, it’s Kirk sent back to the mid 20th century, falling for a woman of the time and having to stop himself saving her and thereby changing the course of the Second World War. “A time traveller must not alter history” is a classic dilemma, and worth an episode, even though the setting of this one feels too close to a classic reading of the idea from the original series. It has other nice ideas - Kirk starts out intangible due to his transporter pattern being scrambled - but I’d definitely want to move the story away from WWII.

Cassandra by Theodore Sturgeon is a comedy episode about an alien animal who parrots things people haven’t said yet, and the crew trying to figure out what’s about to happen, especially when its outbursts start to sound rather ominous. Could be tricky to set up, but doable. NPCs can say anything, of course, but you could prep a player in advance to say a key phrase after the precog does.

Kitumba is a two-parter about the hereditary leader of the Klingon Empire, a child, being manipulated by political forces inside the court. A different take on the Proud Warrior Race, more Imperial China than the Viking/medieval style they moved into. A politically divided ruling court is a classic setting for an intrigue-based adventure with plenty of backstabbing and chances to annoy the wrong people. There have been plenty of freeform LARPs about this, as well as adventures like WFRP classic Power Behind The Throne dropping PCs in at the deep end. Like The Child, it’s been adapted for the Phase II fan show.

Practice In Waking by Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull(!), has 21st century astronauts in cryosleep using VR dream programs - which have of course Gone Horribly Wrong. The ancestor of The Holodeck Episode, with the virtual world recreating the sleeping astronaut’s worst fear (James VI and I’s witch trials, due to her family history there). To further complicate matters, the PCs sent in to rescue the sleeper are themselves put in a dream state, thinking they belong in that time. And best of all, it doesn’t put the Holodeck on the Enterprise.

Deadlock sees Starfleet acting like the CIA in the 60s and 70s, messing with the minds of enlisted men. A military organisation having a psychological warfare group makes sense for some, although Starfleet doesn’t fit - so it’s explained here that aliens did it. The “godlike alien challenges the primitive humanoids” trope gets its first of two outings in thirteen episodes...

The Savage Syndrome is a classic Everybody Acts Out Of Character episode. In this case a long-forgotten alien booby trap locks out the crew’s higher cognitive functions, so primitive instincts to take over and we get lots of shouting and chest-beating. A couple of the cast are out of range, so someone knows how to fix the warp engine containment failure that’s also happening. A good example of two connected problems, and a chance to answer the ultimate question of Caveman Vs Astronaut.

Are Unheard Memories Sweet? gets a ten-page description because it’s all rather complicated, but basically involves telepathic alien sirens convincing the crew that they are their lost loves in order to extract hormones. Um. Sounds like The Man Trap when I put it like that. And I recall Red Dwarf did this one.

Lord Bobby's Obsession accuses the Klingons of all people of being responsible for alien abductions in human history, when a Napoleonic gentleman is found alone in a trashed Klingon ship. Largely a character piece - is he who and what he appears to be, and if so what do we do about that? - it could be expanded to complicate all kinds of things. (Like so!)

To Attain The All by Norman Spinrad twists the “godlike alien challenges the primitive humanoids” trope, where his ultimate prize is something they wouldn’t normally want - all the knowledge of an ancient race, but they have to join a hive mind to get it. And some of them are already heading that way when the others realise what the catch is...

The War to End All Wars drops the crew into a land war between robotic forces - who turn out to be remote controlled by people living underground, in a bloodless war that has long since become a wasteful form of entertainment.

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These were all early drafts, most by different writers working in isolation, and it’s quite natural to want to do variations of some of the classic Star Trek story hooks in the first half-season, but this collection does go a bit far at times.

Waking, Deadlock, Syndrome, Memories and Attain all have at least one, if not most, of the crew under mental influence or otherwise Acting Out Of Character. This seems a few too many to me, though each of them has its moments. Attain is probably the most unusual, so were I in charge of this show that’s the one I’d definitely commission. Likewise, were I to pick one of the two “godlike alien challenges the primitive humanoids” episodes, I’d go for Attain there as well.

Cassandra, Kitumba and Obsession all push the boat out a bit more, and with some groundwork would all make good adventures for a ship full of space explorers.

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