Star Trek has had a lot of rules over the years, most notably that whole Prime Directive “no interference with lesser-developed civilizations” thing. However, any fan of Trek knows that Starfleet officers spend roughly half their time figuring out loopholes to weasel around, or just outright defy, the Prime Directive. Now the upcoming prequel series, Star Trek: Discovery, is on course to violate another long-standing Trek rule…but for a good reason.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Discovery showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg revealed that this new Trek will be skirting around a decades-old dictate instituted by creator Gene Roddenberry himself. Dubbed “Roddenberry’s box” by Next Generation/Voyager writer Michael Piller, the rule in question stipulated that, while there’s plenty of conflict in the Star Trek universe, generally it doesn’t happen between Starfleet officers. It was part of Roddenberry’s idyllic vision of the future, with a humanity that has not just conquered the stars, but largely eliminated poverty, homelessness, inequality…and even petty bickering among ourselves. That was the idea, anyway, a guideline that even the Original Series bent on occasion. Still, the ideal was there, and the general rule was that conflict within Star Trek would come from exterior forces.
Harberts told EW:
We’re trying to do stories that are complicated, with characters with strong points of view and strong passions. People have to make mistakes — mistakes are still going to be made in the future. We’re still going to argue in the future. … The thing we’re taking from Roddenberry is how we solve those conflicts.So we do have our characters in conflict, we do have them struggling with each other, but it’s about how they find a solution and work through their problems.
It makes sense. After all, Trek writers have been trying to find ways out of “Roddenberry’s box” pretty much from the beginning. There’s a strong argument to be made that perfect characters are often boring characters — call it “the Superman problem” — so it’s only natural that the Discovery writers would like to have “human fallibility” available in their toolbox. For another thing, perfect characters who don’t have problems aren’t particularly relatable. Flawed characters who continually strive to be better, however…that’s absolutely in keeping with the spirit of both Starfleet and Roddenberry’s franchise, even if Roddenberry himself might not have agreed.
In reality, Discovery isn’t doing anything here that the previous Trek series haven’t done, it’s just being more upfront about it. Whether fans will embrace Discovery — new rules and all — will be determined when the show premieres on CBS and CBS All Access on Sunday, September 24.