Whoops! Mixed my franchise metaphors. (Star Wars fans will recognize the latter reference.)
Back on topic: Star Trek: Discovery, which debuted a year ago and recently kicked off its second season, is a look at the decade before Kirk, Spock and the starship Enterprise as seen in the original 1966-69 television show. As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of The Original Series (or TOS); in fact, I had the honor of writing episodes for a fan-produced series that continued the TOS storyline.
Where the villainy enters in is the grousing around Trek canon. “Canon” refers to the history built by a franchise’s narrative through previously told official tales. Many fans consider canon to be inviolable, and woe to those who don’t agree.
Not every film series or TV show creates such devotion to canon. (Remember the 1970s series Happy Days? Do you recall that Richie Cunningham had an older brother during the first season? That character was dropped without explanation. Few viewers complained.) But genre shows such as Star Trek, Star Wars and Doctor Who face an almost tyrannical commitment to canon among fans.
Case in point:
I wrote an episode of Star Trek New Voyages, “The Holiest Thing,” in which Captain Kirk first meets Dr. Carol Marcus during the TOS era. Marcus would become the mother of his child, David, whom we met in the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In that film, set many years after TOS, David was in his 20s. That presented a challenge to accepted canon. In Khan, the bad guy, Khan Noonien Singh, makes a statement suggesting the TOS era happened 15 years earlier. That would make David far younger than portrayed in the film.
How did I get around this? I used a line from a different film, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, in which a character says the Enterprise is 20 years old. But canon indicates the Enterprise is far older, probably closer to 40. Most fans chalk this up to an error in the film’s script. I, however, decided to take it at face value. What if he meant 20 years had passed since the Enterprise’s major refit as shown in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture? That would easily allow David to be born during TOS. Thus the timing of “The Holiest Thing” fits perfectly.
But my logic didn’t dissuade fans from brandishing torches and pitchforks when that episode was released. Never mind that “15 years” in Khan could just as easily have been a script error as “20 years” is assumed to be in the Spock film. I was ripped online for that decision.
Since then, I’ve been both fascinated and troubled by the ownership that fans have assumed over franchises. The storyline for the last two Star Wars films have been savaged in some quarters—so much so that some fans demanded a director’s cut to change the outcome of The Last Jedi (it didn’t happen) while a few others are calling for a boycott of the next movie.
For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Jedi and loved how it shook up the storyline. I’m less enthused about the new Star Trek: Discovery TV series—less due to canon, mostly because I didn't like the first-season narrative at all, and the second season is still struggling for my interest. But I recognize the difficulty its producers face: Star Trek has 50 years and hundreds of episodes’ worth of stories under its belt. How do you keep all that canon in place without hamstringing your storytellers?
While I do think canon ought to be respected when possible, I don’t understand the rabid, almost nonsensical devotion to it. And fans comparing new stories to “raping” a their historical view of a franchise is beyond the pale.
And yet a lot of them do this. They believe they own the narrative, and any story must tack to the course they assert. They forget that the franchise is actually owned by a corporation, and that corporation is within its rights to do whatever it wishes with it. Obviously, they want to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, not just the fanbase.
So while I'm a bit blase' about Discovery, and I find the most recent season of Doctor Who disappointing, my right to complain must cease somewhere before I reach rabid anger and threats. Sadly, social media and the current Era of Outrage have made it all the easier for people to wallow in that dark place.