Why it works, Deep Space 9

Welcome to week four of our Why It Works, Star Trek series. This week, as promised, we’re talking about Deep Space 9.

This was another that I watched with my grandmother as a child, and then revisited as an adult. 

Running from January 1993 to June of 1999, it’s the third Star Trek show to come out and the first to take place on a stationary location instead of on a ship. It’s unique in a lot of ways. I’d say the biggest difference between this and other series is that we see a lot of civilians. I appreciated getting a better understanding of what life’s like in this world if you’re not part of Starfleet. Commander Sisko is part of Starfleet, but most of the station is full of civilians. It’s a different dynamic.

Which is our first tip. While this one doesn’t apply unless you’ve been writing a while, it checks out. Dont be afraid to do new things. 

Not to plug my stuff here, but that’s what I did with Falling From Grace. A good world, Fantasy or Science Fiction, should have different societies, different walks of life. If you’ve created a good world, explore it.

In the first post of this series, I talked about an episode called Trouble with Tribbles. It’s a much-loved episode of the original series, with a hilarious mess up. During a scene where tribbles fall from a vent onto Captain Kirk, a stagehand’s hand can be seen tossing the little critters out. Well, Deep Space 9 had a chance to fix it, and they did. I mean, if you’re going to have a time travel episode, might as well fix some old mess-ups.

They intentionally wrote in a scene with Sisko and Dax in that same vent. And being covered in tribbles, they decide to toss them out of the vent. And Dax worries that her hand was seen. Well done, guys. 

Who is here that doesn’t belong? Leave your response in the comments.

Another thing that Deep Space 9 did well was to remind us that it is set in the same world as the other series. Particularly the world of Next Generation. Worf, of Next Generation, is a character for much of the series. Deep Space 9 was great at utilizing past success, but not as a crutch

You see that sometimes, with spin-offs or follow-up series. The original show was great, everyone loved it. And so the new show leans too much on the popularity of that show, having old cast members pop in and rehashing old running jokes. That’s not what’s happening on DS9. A good test of this is that it can stand alone. You could pull Worf out of the show and it would still be good.

Is it cool to have those old nods? Yeah, of course. But if that’s all your new story has, then you don’t have a new story. You have a continuation of an old story. One that, if you finished, was probably done.

So that’s it for Deep Space 9. There’s a lot to learn from it, of course. If you’ve never seen it, give it a shot. And join us again next week for Enterprise.

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Why Star Trek Voyager works

It’s time for another episode in our Why Star Trek Works series. This week we’re looking at Voyager. 

Technically Deep Space 9 came out before Voyager. But we’ll be talking about that next week. Both shows aired at roughly the same time, so it didn’t matter which one you watched first.

Voyager was, of course, far different than the original series or Next Generation. For starters, it’s not set on the Enterprise. 

Duh, I know. But think about what that means. Enterprise is the flagship of the Federation. The people who work on the Enterprise are the best of the best. Everybody from Captain Picard to the dude cleaning the toilets is the best there is at what they do.

That’s not to say that the Voyager crew is bad. But they’re not the flagship. They’re not the best of the best. They’re not getting the best of the best, either. There’s no posh bar run by an eternal psychic here. There’s a crew doing the best they can to survive a hell of a situation.

If you don’t know the premise of the show, let me break it down for you. Captain Janeway and her crew are tasked with tracking down a group of rebels called the Maquis. While trying to catch up with them, both ships are transported somewhere in space they’ve never seen. Over seventy years’ worth of travel stand between them and their families. While Captain Janeway is still dedicated to the mission of seeking out new life, her main mission is clear. To get her people home.

Now, let’s talk about why the show does and doesn’t work. Because while it’s great overall, sometimes we learn lessons from other people’s screw-ups.

Make your own rules, and stick to them. 

There’s a rather infamous episode of Voyager that messes up the math for warp speed for every other show in this cinematic universe. That was pretty extreme, but it’s by far not the only example of this show just not sticking to its own damned rules.

Take the Captain, for instance. Sometimes she’s a badass no-nonsense queen. Sometimes she wants to be everyone’s mom. And no one bats an eye at this. Look, I get that people change and grow. But if you’re going through a switch like that, someone’s going to notice.

Let your characters grow.

Alright, all that being said. There is a great amount of character growth in Voyager. And I love that. The premise of the show, that they’re lightyears away from home and might never get back, is going to force growth. No one’s the same person they are by the end of this. Which, if I’m being honest, is something that was lacking in the other Star Trek shows. Picard is Picard, from the start of Next Generation to the end. The same can be said for almost everyone. And that’s just not realistic. I’m not the same person I was seven years ago. Why should any of these characters be?

Have a clear goal that not everyone shares

Here, though, is the biggest reason Voyager works. Right from the start, there’s a clear goal, get home. But, and this is the important part, not everyone necessarily shares this goal.

There are a couple of characters who might be way better off on the other side of the universe. People who were in prison or maybe heading to prison. People who might be just as happy to make their way home, or their way in a new universe.

This sets up the immediate conflict for the whole series. There’s no writer’s block here because you always have something for your characters to be working towards and against. It also sets a finish line.

Over the last few years, never-ending shows have gone out of fashion. There’s an end to most stories, after all. A moment to pause. While life may go on for the characters, one tale doesn’t go on with them. Think of your own life. Has it all been one battle? Or has it been a thousand different battles? Giving a story an ending doesn’t just prevent you from jumping the shark. It’s also infinitely more satisfying.

So that’s it for Voyager. I’ll see you next week when we’ll talk about Deep Space 9. 

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Why Star Trek Next Generation works

Welcome to week two of our why Star Trek works series. This week, we’re talking about Next Generation. 

Full disclosure, I have a soft spot for this series. It’s the one I watched with my grandmother when I was a little nerdling. So I might be biased when I say that this is the best Star Trek ever. But I also think I’m critical enough to judge the show honestly. After all, we’re harder on the things we love than anything else. 

Taking place 78 years after the original series, the show included a fancier more advanced Enterprise with an entirely new cast. The mission remained the same. To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!

The show aired from September 28th, 1987 to May 23rd, 1994. Since then, there hasn’t been a time when reruns haven’t been available on tv somewhere. 

I’d like to say the popularity of the show was just because the characters were great. They were great, after all. But it goes so much deeper than that. 

To start, the show was intelligent. Not so much in the science, most of that was bullshit. It was the creative writing that had to be smart. The show was working within a world that had already been established by the original series. They could make some changes, blame them on advancements. But some things they were just stuck with. 

It would have been easier to just make it an extension of the original series. But they went past that and did it well. Picard is a different kind of captain than Kirk. Dr. Crusher is a world away from Bones. While the positions remained the same, the people who inhabited them were wildly different.

Another thing that stayed the same, aside from the mission, was the lesson of inclusion and equality. It’s one of the first times we see an enemy race become allies in the Klingons. While sometimes the relationship is strained, they aren’t volatile. Over and over we’ll see this trend. Even into Picard, where we see the Borg become friends. But we’ll talk about that later. 

One thing I appreciated about Next Generation is the willingness to pivot. When something wasn’t working, they tried to fix it. One great example is Wesley Crusher. His character was an irritating pain in the ass. Mouthy, smarmy. He thinks he’s smarter than everyone around him. Spoiler, he’s not.

Wesley got taken down a peg when he goes off to school and messes up, hard. He becomes a better person after that and a better character. This decision was made after a huge wave of fan hate directed at the kid.

Brag in the comments if you know what he’s drinking.

(Will Wheaton, by the way, is the actor who played Wesley. He’s an adorable cat dad who makes me smile on Twitter all the time.) 

Finally, let’s talk about the comedy of the show. It wasn’t overall a laugh riot. It has some of the darker episodes of anything I’ve ever seen.

There are four lights. If you don’t get that, look it up. Then watch the episode and cry.

Somehow they manage to blend this with some really funny things. Like Data’s cat, Spot. Spot the cat hates everyone. No one can take care of this little monster. She put Riker in the medical ward. Even Worf is scared of this fluffy orange cat. Oh, and in case you don’t know, she doesn’t have a single spot on her. 

The whole crew would shred you if you hurt this cat.


There are so many lessons a writer can learn from Next Generation. I’m just going to give you a bullet list below.

-Don’t be afraid to be funny, even in a serious series.

-Let your characters be wrong sometimes.

-Think out your storylines in advance.

-At the same time, don’t be afraid to pivot. 

I hope you’re having as much fun with this series as I am. Next week we’ll be talking about Star Trek, Voyager. 

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Why it works, Star Trek the original series

I grew up watching Star Trek, Next Generation with my grandma. It’s pretty mainstream now, but back then Star Trek was a niche show. A nerd show. 

But being a nerd is cool now, so screw that. And now Star Trek’s got so much love it can’t handle it. I could be a bitter hipster about that. I mean, I liked Star Trek before it was cool. Or, I could just appreciate that everyone loves Star Trek. 

Third option. I could revisit Star Trek as a writer and see why it works. I like option three. 

Of course, I couldn’t possibly talk about all things Star Trek in one post. So over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at all of the different Star Trek shows, starting with the original series and ending with Picard.

Today, we’re starting with the original series. Why does it work?

Let’s start with the fact that it probably shouldn’t work. I mean, it was kind of a mess. The budget was garbage, the special effects were terrible, the costumes looked tragic.

But it does work. The series ran from September of 1966 to June of 1969. This means that the whole series started and finished seventeen years before I was born. And yet I can tell you Kirk’s last words.

Oh my. 

No, not the way Sulu says it. 

We’re going to break this down, but I can sum up in three words why Star Trek worked so well. Why it has survived well into the 21st century and will hopefully be around for a lot longer.

It was fearless.

Okay, it could get away with being fearless. No one expected the show to succeed. So it was working with little to no budget and a bunch of actors no one had ever heard of before. So, it could get away with anything. 

There’s a great quote by Lorne Michaels that I live my life by. The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready. It goes on because it’s 11:30. 

Well, someone must have told Roddenberry that quote. Because let me tell you, Star Trek went on because it was 11:30. This lead to some hilarious moments. Like the tribble incident. 

On the off chance you don’t know this story, man are you in for a treat.

In the iconic episode, Trouble with Tribbles, there’s a scene where Kirk opens a hatch and is just showered with the fuzzy little things. If you look closely, or hell not that closely, you can see the shadow of a stagehand shoveling the tribbles through the hatch. 

Okay, so what is there to learn from this? Who wants to go into the world with their shirt untucked, so to speak? Why would you want to put work out there when it’s not ready?

Well, is it not ready? Or do you just feel not ready? 

Let me tell you something, from my heart to yours. You are never, ever going to feel ready. Your book, tv show, podcast, movie script, is never going to feel ready. It’s never going to match up with the flawless project in your head because how could anything ever be that perfect?

So, because we have to assume that nothing will ever be ready, we have to go on because it’s time. Because it’s 11:30, or we’ve revised the damn thing so much we’re sick of looking at it, or we’ve had it sitting on our desk for years. Does that mean sometimes we’re going to see hands throwing tribbles out of the hatch? Yeah, of course. But the alternative is never sending anything out. Pick one.

Here’s the other way Star Trek was fearless. And it’s arguably a bigger deal. Star Trek wasn’t afraid of doing things that were taboo at the time. Like having a Russian man and an Asian man as officers. Like having a black woman as an officer. 

Like having the first interracial kiss in American history on television. 

In an episode called Plato’s Stepchildren, Kirk and Uhura share a passionate kiss. Funny story about this kiss, aside from it being the first one of its kind in America. The producers were worried about it, so they wanted to film the scene a few ways. Shatner agreed but then proceeded to intentionally fuck up every single take that didn’t include the kiss until they’d run out of time and had to use the scene as it was written.

That’s right. Shatner decided to be a dick to force social change. Good use of bad behavior. 

Not all the episodes worked, that’s for sure. The ones that missed, missed hard. But the episodes that work, work amazingly well. They work so well that they’re still working to this day. 

See you next week when we’ll be talking about Next Generation.

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