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Alternate History in Star Trek Part 26: TOS Spinoffs of the Late Nineties

By Tom Anderson

In the second half of the 1990s, the Star Trek franchise was now represented on-screen by the TV series “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (DS9) and “Star Trek: Voyager” (VGR), while The Next Generation (TNG) had been relegated to occasional big-screen appearances only, and The Original Series (TOS) had definitively concluded even there with “Star Trek: Generations”. Despite this, the appetite for spinoff writers for the good old original Enterprise (no bloody A, B, C or D) and her crew remained strong, almost thirty years after the last new TOS episode had aired.

There was undoubtedly an element of backward-looking nostalgia to this, just as there had been when TNG had debuted a decade earlier, as fans who disliked the newer directions of Trek turning to their old favourites. However, as cyclic as these things are, TNG was now also becoming a target of nostalgia in contrast to DS9 and VGR. TOS output was still generally eclipsed by TNG in this era, but could be comparable to that spun off the new shows. In this article we’ll run down the TOS comics and novels that were produced in this era.

The last time we looked at TOS spinoffs, in part 11, DC had concluded their long-running series which was mostly set in the TOS movie era, with some flashbacks to the original series. The licence then returned to Marvel, which had previously only been able to put out comics based on “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, but now launched several roughly concurrent comics series (both TOS and other series, which we’ll look at elsewhere). Strangely, one of these was the 1998 miniseries “Star Trek: Untold Voyages” , which is set between “The Motion Picture” and Star Trek II, and (initially) features the TMP uniforms and everything again! This was one of two unfortunately almost concurrent attempts to put something in this gap in continuity, the other being 2000’s “New Earth” novel series which we’ll get to later. Both of them feature the uniform switchover and both rather cavalierly have Kirk just acting like a captain again, despite everything Star Trek II made about him regretting being promoted away from the chair – which doesn’t sit well with me and cheapens that film. I don’t feel like you can just make up a second five-year mission like this does, it almost feels more like an Elseworlds story (or What If? I suppose as this is Marvel) where TMP leads into Phase II.

Anyway, the miniseries was written by Glenn Greenberg, with issue 3’s story inspired by a concept by D. C. Fontana. The first issue “Renewal” is more of what I like to complain about, as it basically portrays the hopeful ending of TMP going straight into an attack by the Klingons. Anything else about the early movies you want to ruin? (Interestingly they still feel the need to note the Organian Peace Treaty and something must have changed because the Klingons are able to attack them – the TOS spinoff writers always grappled with this problem, which the onscreen show and movies just cheerfully ignored). The second issue “Worlds Collide” features yet another Prime Directive can-we-avert-disaster plot, while Spock goes to Earth to help raise Saavik (the comic is loosely fitted to the novel continuity that Saavik was his ward who grew up in savage conditions on a Romulan planet). “Past Imperfect”, the D. C. Fontana one, has McCoy meet his daughter Joanna and reconcile with her (which I think has been done at least three times in different spinoff media) as well as return to the planet from “Miri” and they have to save them again. Like the TAS episode “More Tribbles, More Troubles”, it’s a reminder that overly-cautious and uninteresting sequels to classic TOS episodes are nothing new in Star Trek, unfortunately.

The miniseries continues in “Silent Cries”, where they are now four years into this hypothetical second five-year mission(!!) and have the new uniforms from Star Trek II. Oh, and they have a scene where Chekov helpfully talks about when he met Khan during “Space Seed” in engineering, to close that plot hole (which had already been closed by some other spinoff work, I think). Finally, there’s “Odyssey’s End”, where the Enterprise returns to Earth and rescues the training ship Yorktown (thus presumably setting up some complicated fanon about how the Enterprise became a training ship in Star Trek II and the Enterprise-A was allegedly a renamed Yorktown). That’s it, five issues covering a second five-year mission. Feels like a waste, even the New Earth books were better than this.

More interestingly, from 1997 to 1998 Marvel released seventeen issues of “Star Trek: Early Voyages”, which is set on the Enterprise during Christopher Pike’s tenure as Captain. While there have been a couple of novels that depict this, this is (I think) the most ambitious attempt to depict this era before the excellent “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (SNW)” came along recently. It’s thus all the more fascinating viewed in hindsight, though it unfortunately ends in the middle of a cliffhanger as Marvel kept arbitrarily cancelling the Trek comic lines at this time. Like SNW, “Early Voyages” adds a number of characters to flesh out Pike’s crew. Pike, Number One (named here as “Eure… (cut off) Robbins”) and Spock are common to both interpretations. “Early Voyages” keeps the navigator as José Tyler and the chief medical officer as Phillip Boyce, whereas SNW introduces Jenna Mitchell as navigator and Erica Ortegas (loosely based on an early character sketch from the planning for “The Cage”) at the helm, and uses Dr M’Benga from TOS but gives him some of Boyce’s connections with Pike. “Early Voyages” was also keen to add more diversity to the cast, but in different places to SNW, adding a chief engineer named “Moves-With-Burning-Grace” from a Masai colonial world, an Indian at the helm named Sita Mohindas, and an alien Lirin comms officer named Nano. The yeoman who died in the backstory to “The Cage” is also identified as a man in this version, whereas TOS tended to imply all the yeomen were female. In more parallels to SNW, Robert April also appears a few times, and the Tholians are used in a similar role to how the more recent series has used the Gorn.

“Early Voyages” was written by Dan Abnett (him of Warhammer 40K fame, who also contributed to DS9 comics) and Ian Edington. The first issue “Flesh of My Flesh” features a convenient plot device, as Pike is mind-probed by powerful telepathic aliens (what, again?) which leads him to flash back to key moments in the formation of his crew. In this version of events, Pike persuaded Number One to serve under him despite her wanting a command of his own, and encountered Spock as a young cadet to enrol him into the crew. The second issue “The Fires of Pharos” introduces a Klingon named Kaaj as Pike’s recurring arch-nemesis, with Pike destroying a planet of dilithium rather than have it fall into Klingon hands. “Our Dearest Blood” dramatizes the events on Rigel VII seen in flashback in “The Cage”, an obvious but interesting idea. Similarly, “Nor Iron Bars A Cage” retells the events of that episode from the viewpoint of Yeoman Mia Colt.

The two-parter “Cloak & Dagger” has the crew encounter a lost colony of emotional, savage Vulcans with forbidden weapons from before Surak’s enlightenment. It’s a decent idea but doesn’t really fit with e.g. how the Romulans are depicted in “Balance of Terror” as something new and shocking (the old ‘Romulan Straitjacket’ of continuity again). “The Flat, Gold Forever” continues the arc with Kaaj. “Immortal Wounds” has Dr Boyce accused of murder while a deadly epidemic rages, a very authentically TOS-feeling plot. Nano the Lirian returns to his homeworld in “One of a Kind”, in which we learn his telepathic race usually exist as a hive mind, but that comes at the cost of an inward-looking tendency that can turn into xenophobia. The two-parter “The Fallen” features a battle with the Chakuun, who are said to be a servant race and shock troops of the Tholians. This interestingly prefigures the Romulan/Reman distinction that would be created a few years later by “Star Trek: Nemesis”, as well as using a similar plot to La’an Noonien-Singh from 2022’s “Strange New Worlds” (SNW) with the Gorn, as Nurse Gabrielle Carlotti’s family was slain by the Chakuun and she has nightmares about them before being forced to face them again.

Another, even more striking, parallel to SNW comes with the four-part, inconsistently-titled storyline “Futures”. Colt and Tyler discover an artefact that shows the holder visions of the future, and Colt is transported into an alternate version of 2293, during the end of the TOS movie era. In that future, an aged but hale Pike is still in command of the Enterprise (now the Enterprise-A) with a bridge crew that included Spock, Uhura, Tyler and Saavik. The time-displaced Colt finds herself on the run, but is rescued by James T. Kirk, who is a merchant captain in this timeline. Also, the USS Farragut is mentioned. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers of the SNW episode “A Quality of Mercy” had read this one, but we’ll discuss that story when we come to it. At one point Kirk questions Pike’s tactical approach as in that episode, but at least it didn’t result in this comic featuring Pike in a movie era uniform punching Kirk in the face on the cover. This timeline’s Pike gets a glimpse of his other timeline’s grievous injuries through the device, too. In the end, Colt is able to restore the timeline and return to 2254. An interesting exploration of AH as well as showing how tertiary canon materials can influence later on-screen Trek. Unfortunately, the “Early Voyages” line then came to an end after two further issues, “Thanatos” and “Nemesis”.

There were also a few one-shot comics in this era. “Fragile Glass” (1997) by Dom DeFalco eagerly promotes itself on the cover as “SEQUEL to the Legendary Television Episode [Mirror, Mirror]” because, you know, we hadn’t had enough of those already. It means it more literally here though, being the direct continuation of the original story and showing Spock (ruthlessly) overthrowing Kirk and beginning reshaping the Empire as he discussed with our Kirk. So not actively offensive, but rather pointless. Another one-shot was the absurdly-titled “Star TreX” (1996) which was a Star Trek / X-Men crossover. I’ll discuss this concept in more detail when I get to TNG, as I’m more familiar with the TNG crossover, but suffice to say I originally thought this was a bizarre crossover idea – only knowing the X-Men from popcultural osmosis, and not realising they had a whole side thing going with various space adventures and alien civilisations. In fact, those civilisations in the 80s and 90s comics were – ahem – ‘heavily influenced’ by Star Trek (they use warp drive, there’s a civilisation called the Phalanx which are a copy of the Borg, at one point someone uses an illusion of the Enterprise-A…) Indeed, the Shi’ar spacefaring race actually appear in the crossover alongside the more predictable X-Men. I don’t like the idea that the plot involves a visit to Delta Vega and Gary Mitchell being reborn, albeit only as a host for the similarly powerful X-Men villain Proteus. However, at least it has a memorable moment where both Bones and Beast react to someone calling “Dr McCoy!” and then stare at each other.

This era also featured the “Star Trek: Unlimited” Marvel comics line, also by Abnett and Edgington, which was an anthology comic which featured both TOS and TNG stories. I’ll save this one for the next article when we come to TNG. The TOS licence then passed to WildStorm for 1999-2001, though only a few comics were produced in this time. One of these, “All of Me” by Tony Isabella and Bob Ingersoll, is especially AH-relevant, however. A mad scientist named Armand St. John has a machine which can allegedly draw people from other realities, some of which make sense (like a goatee’d mirror Spock) and some don’t (Romulan and Klingon versions of St. John himself, how’s that work?) This is a great opportunity to have fanfiction-y fun with the concept of other worlds, there’s even the obligatory gender-flipped Captain Jane T. Kirk. In the end St. John is packed off to the mental institute on Elba II and there’s a very confusing resolution.

“Enter the Wolves”, by veteran writers A. C. Crispin and Howard Weinstein, exploits the fact that Star Trek has always been very vague and ‘remember the new guy?’ on exactly when the Federation first encountered the Cardassians. They decide to set first contact in the 2320s, with the Cardassians playing a deception game and claiming to want to join the Federation, with Spock and Sarek at odds over it. The Legarans from the TNG episode “Sarek” also appear to provide some backstory of why Sarek has a connection with them later on, and A. C. Crispin had previously written a TOS novel named – confusingly – “Sarek”. A nice enough concept for a story with some good links.

The other WildStorm comics came out under the tagline “Star Trek Special” and drew upon all eras of Star Trek, only three of which were TOS, so we’ll discuss them another time. For now, let’s turn to the world of novels. Last time we looked at TOS novels back in part 11, we had got up to 1994 with number 75, “First Frontier” (which got a whole article partly dedicated to it) and the ‘giant’ novel “Federation” (which also got a whole article dedicated to it before I even started this article series!) Let’s continue with the numbered novels first, with number 76, “The Captain’s Daughter” (1995) by Peter David. This one is centred around Demora Sulu, the titular daughter of Hikaru Sulu seen in “Star Trek: Generations” – specifically, it’s about her apparent death, as the blurb on the back makes clear. At the age I was when this came out, I was still a tad naïve about book advertising and didn’t buy it specifically because I thought that was mean-spirited, little realising that – obviously – she isn’t actually dead and It’s a mystery plot. Maybe I wasn’t alone, though, as the book sold notoriously poorly despite Peter David being one of the most successful Star Trek authors. Later books featuring the Enterprise-B and Demora have referenced it a fair bit, though.

“Twilight’s End” (1996) by Jerry Oltion is a nice return to traditional TOS storytelling, being about a plan to use huge engines to begin to spin a tidally-locked planet. “The Rings of Tautee” (1996) by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rush, similarly, is about Kirk racing to save a star system that’s being destroyed, possibly by a new Klingon superweapon. Interestingly, it features the USS Farragut and her captain Kelly Bogle, who had also appeared in the “Day of Honour” TOS novel “Treaty’s Law”, which was by the same authors and came out a year later. Speaking of big crossovers, the TOS “Invasion!” novel “First Strike” is next which we’ve discussed elsewhere, then “The Joy Machine” (1996). If this sounds like a very authentic TOS title, that’s because it is. The book is authored by James Gunn (not the Marvel films one, but a classic science fiction author best known for “The Immortals”) and based on an original never-produced TOS script conceived by Theodore Sturgeon and then written up by Meyer Dolinsky. Sturgeon had also written two iconic episodes which were broadcast, “Amok Time” and “Shore Leave”. “The Joy Machine” began as an intended sequel to the latter (which eventually got a TAS sequel instead) and evolved into a classic sci-fi warning story in which a planet’s civilisation has been consumed by technology that gives everyone total pleasure, and which could spread to the Federation. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the darker novel version of “Better than Life” from Red Dwarf. It’s good to see a ‘lost’ bit of TOS finally make it to viewers, or at least readers.

Jerry Oltion returns with “Mudd in Your Eye” (1997), in which Star Trek novels finally catch up with the comics in being unduly obsessed with Harry Mudd, who in this story seems to be the only man who can stop an interstellar war. “Mind Meld” (1997) features Spock and his niece Teska being captured by Rigelians while trying to work towards Vulcan-Romulan reunification and – wait, what? As Erik ‘Ciclavex’ has observed on the SLP forums, the one thing “Star Trek: Discovery” gets unquestionably right is Spock having all sorts of close relations he fails to mention the existence of until they appear. “Heart of the Sun” (1997) by George Zebrowski and Pamela Sargent is another classic-feeling TOS story, in which Kirk and Spock have to make a moral choice of how to save a treasure trove of alien knowledge before it collides with an inhabited planet.

“Assignment: Eternity” (1998) is Greg Cox’s unlikely follow-up to TOS’ poorly-disguised pilot spinoff “Assignment: Earth” in which Gary Seven, a human raised by powerful aliens to watch over the 1960s in a very, very 1960s way, discovers that the timeline has changed and now Spock will be assassinated at the end of Star Trek VI, averting Vulcan-Romulan reunification. Despite this very obviously not being within his remit, he travels to the TOS era to try to find the original point of divergence and avert it. It’s basically an excuse for Cox to fit in references and homages to every 1960s TV series you can think of, from “The Avengers” to “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” to “The Prisoner”. He would go on to use Gary Seven again in a set of books about Khan Noonien Singh and the Eugenics Wars.

1999 saw the release of “My Brother’s Keeper” by Michael Jan Friedman, a trilogy about Captain Kirk’s backstory with Gary Mitchell before “Where No One Has Gone Before”. I haven’t read these but I’ve always been curious about them, so I think I’ll save these for a future article (perhaps examining the Prequel Problems aspects). 1999 also saw the release of the rather disappointing “Across the Universe” by Pamela Sargent and George Zebrowski, in which the Enterprise finds an old colony ship and has to help its crew finally settle a world in an era they no longer recognise. It sounds good on paper but fails to deliver. That’s it before the separate “New Earth” series which also fits in the numbered novels (somehow) and which I’ll probably devote a whole article to.

What about the Giant novels in this period? Josepha Sherman and Susan Shwartz followed in the footsteps of Diane Duane to pen “Vulcan’s Forge” (1997) and “Vulcan’s Heart” (1999). The first is set in the aftermath of the apparent loss of Kirk on the Enterprise-B in “Star Trek: Generations”, with Spock struggling to cope with help from his old human best friend whom we’ve never heard of before (but, again, given it’s Spock, this isn’t actually as much of a plot hole as it might be with anyone else). The second features a much-speculated event; Captain Picard originally told Sarek that he had met his son at his wedding, so was it Spock (or does he have yet more sons we’ve never heard of) and who did he marry? Sherman and Shwartz decide Spock planned to wed Saavik, Picard was there, and obviously the Romulans are involved too. In between these two Spock-centric novels, the venerable “Mission to Horatius”, the very first original Star Trek novel from 1968, was re-released with all the racist bits taken out.

That takes us up to the year 2000. As you may notice, the TOS media released in this period was an interesting mix of some genuinely impressive attempts to recapture the feel of the original series (rather than trying to ‘update’ to the movies as we sometimes saw before), some less successful phoned-in efforts, and increasing interest in neglected ‘eras’ in Star Trek – such as Captain Pike’s tenure on the Enterprise and the ‘Lost Era’ between “Generations” and TNG. The latter would go on to see even more interest in the twenty-first century.

For now, in the next article we’ll look at what was being written for TNG spinoffs in this period, which were even more prolific than the TOS ones.



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