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Alternate History in Star Trek part 7: The Final TOS Films, More Novels and Comics

By Tom Anderson

In my last article, I discussed the early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) up to its third season finale (1987-1990). During this period, many Star Trek fans viewed the new-fangled whipper-snapper series with scepticism (particularly given the low quality of many early episodes) and it was natural for them to immerse themselves in nostalgia for ‘real’ Star Trek with the original crew, The Original Series (TOS). TOS and the animated series (TAS) continued to be repeated on TV throughout this period, and two new films were made, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier in 1989, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in 1991. In this article, I will briefly discuss those films and then the continuing TOS spinoff material (such as novels and comics) produced during the same 1987-1991 period. Next time, we will look at the TNG spinoff material produced in the same period, before returning to the later TV seasons of TNG itself.

Star Trek V was directed by William Shatner, and is generally regarded as one of the weakest Star Trek films. The plot begins with Kirk, Spock and McCoy holidaying in Yosemite National Park, with a memorable scene in which Spock doesn’t understand “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and another where he rescues Kirk when he falls off a mountain. (Shatner’s interview about this scene led to the internet meme song ‘Shatner of the Mount, a.k.a. ‘Captain Kirk is climbing a mountain – why is he climbing a mountain?’) Anyway, our heroes are quickly rushed back into service because the recently-debuted Enterprise-A is the only ship around (somehow) and they have to deal with a crisis at a colony called Paradise. This was founded as a joint Federation-Klingon-Romulan peace venture thirty years ago (please kindly forget the fact that we said the Romulans had been out of contact for 100 years in TOS – do you see why I complain about this so much now). Long since neglected, the colony has fallen into decay and disrepair, but now a charismatic, messianic figure has arrived – who turns out to be Spock’s half-brother Sybok, played by Laurence Luckinbill as Sean Connery wasn’t available. As fellow SLP Star Trek aficionado Erik ‘Ciclavex’ has observed, the later Star Trek: Discovery was at least building on precedent with “remember Spock’s sibling who’s never been mentioned before”.

Sybok is searching for a mythical heavenly land called Sha Ka Ree (a nice reference to Sean Connery there) and uses his charisma to dominate others minds, hijacking the Enterprise and going to the centre of the galaxy to find it, because you can totally just do that. (This plot led to many objections from the cast, as Shatner casually had Kirk’s long-time friends and comrades betray him). Anyway, they get there, and Sybok finds ‘God’, only to find it’s actually an evil being manipulating him – as Kirk memorably objects, if this was all about getting the Enterprise there, ‘What does God need with a starship?’ The whole plot is basically an excuse to have ‘Kirk fight God’ and it’s all rather stupid – even Roddenberry didn’t like it, which surely has to be the first case of Roddenberry disapproving of someone doing a Star Trek plot that’s stupid about religion. Apparently Shatner was going for a plot inspired by dodgy televangelists with dark secrets, but it doesn’t really work. At least the Klingons get to appear again, and our heroes have a big party with them at the end, wait, aren’t these the guys who killed Kirk’s son not long ago-

After the failure of Star Trek V, the original cast were reunited – this time with Leonard Nimoy directing – for one last adventure in 1991, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. This film really illustrates the fact that you can have an incredibly unsubtle allegory and still make it work, as it’s routinely considered one of the best Star Trek films. It opens with Sulu, finally promoted to Captain of the Excelsior (as George Takei had wanted for some time) witnessing a great explosion as the Klingon moon of Praxis blows up. The Klingons naturally deny everything and tell them to stay out the Neutral Zone, but it soon becomes apparent that the power-plant disaster is devastating their home world. The Federation, long rivals with the Klingons, now faces a quandary of whether to help their old foes, who now have a Chancellor, Gorkon, who wishes to be a peacemaker. Yes, it doesn’t take a lot of historical knowledge to be aware that this is all a metaphor for the Chernobyl catastrophe and Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika. The Klingons had long since served as a stand-in metaphor for the Eastern Bloc, and here art was continuing to imitate life. Just in case we missed it, when Kirk asks why he and the Enterprise are being sent to meet Gorkon when he hates Klingons after they killed his son, Spock tells him there’s an old Vulcan proverb – “Only Nixon could go to China”.

When they meet the Klingon ship, Kirk mutters that he’s never been so close before (what about all those times in TOS, Captain?) and they have a very awkward diplomatic dinner, everyone apparently having memory-holed that one in the last film. Then the Klingon flagship is seemingly attacked from the Enterprise and two people board it in Federation spacesuits, fatally shooting Chancellor Gorkon with Federation phasers. Gorkon, dying, begs Kirk to not let it end this way – and Kirk and McCoy, who had beamed over to help Gorkon, submit to Klingon justice to avoid an international incident. They are summarily sentenced to exile in Rura Penthe, a Space Gulag, despite Worf from TNG’s identical grandfather (also played by Michael Dorn) serving as their defence lawyer.

Unlike Star Trek V being Shatner’s ego trip, Star Trek VI has something for everyone in the bridge crew to do; while Kirk and McCoy plot to escape with help from a shapeshifter, the others are tracking down what really happened. One slight flaw with the film is that they wanted to bring back the character of Saavik, but couldn’t, instead replacing her with another female Vulcan protegée of Spock’s called Valeris, which loses some impact. Valeris, it turns out, was part of a conspiracy to engineer the attack on Gorkon, using a special new Bird-of-Prey that can fire while it is cloaked and two bribed Starfleet gunmen whom she disposed of afterwards. The plot is, ironically, led by opponents of peace on both sides, who fear the end of the cold war that is all they have ever known – the Shakespeare-quoting General Chang on the Klingon side, and Colonel West (a less than subtle reference to Oliver North) on the Federation side, along with the trouble-making Romulan Ambassador. This kind of plot appears a number of times in earthly fiction set around this period as well, and it is hard to explain how terrifying the ‘undiscovered country’ of the post-war world was to many people at the time.

Anyway, Kirk (with eventual help from Sulu) beats the cloaked Bird-of-Prey in orbit of the planet Khitomer where the peace treaty is being signed between the Federation President and the new Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon’s daughter Azetbur. Kirk saves the President from assassination by West. However, the Enterprise was so beat up in the battle that she is ordered to be decommissioned afterwards. As she literally flies off into the sunset after her crew’s last adventure, Kirk reflects that the name will go on, ‘where no man, where no one, has gone before’, in a nice bridge to TNG. While the Klingon-Federation peace shown here is slightly contradicted by how TNG said it happened in “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, we don’t care as they’re both great stories. Star Trek also deserves some credit for incorporating concerns that maybe conflict with Russia/the Klingons was not entirely over after all, relatively early on, which we’ll get to when we cover DS9.

So much for the final two films reuniting the TOS cast. Incidentally, to skip way ahead for a moment, in 2002 Pocket Books somehow allowed Christie Golden to write a novel called ‘The Last Roundup’, which reunited all the TOS crew one last-last time, after The Undiscovered Country, for some forgettable story. There was an even worse case with a comic that followed straight on from the pleasing ending of TNG. When I am dictator of the universe, anyone who allows this sort of thing will be sentenced to being publicly tickled to death by a specially-trained rhinoceros with a feather duster strapped to its horn. But I digress.

Throughout this time, new TOS comics and novels continued to be published. Some were influenced by TNG as it came out at the same time, but many others effectively ignored it, perhaps reflecting a desire by some fans to immerse themselves in the original setting. More books also became explicitly set during the glory days of the TV series, rather than trying to fit into the film setting – after all, the way the films had been written, there was almost no perceptible time in between many of them (not that it had stopped the DC comics trying to cram adventures in between, of course).

Speaking of the DC Comics: when we last left off, it was with the Mirror Universe Saga in 1985. Following this epic adventure, there were a number of comics more focused on exploring individual characters and their backstories, such as Scotty and Sulu; Walter Koenig even wrote one of them about his character, “Chekov’s Choice”. I forgot to mention that, at the end of the Mirror Universe Saga, in one of the classic 1980s DC Star Trek “how on earth do you see this being resolved when the next film comes out” moments, Spock gets given his own command, the USS Surak, and his own crew, such as a female African-American first officer named Brinks and an Irish navigator named Kevin McCarthy (no, not that one). Some of the comics in this period follow Spock and his crew instead of, or as well as, the others on the Excelsior (which Kirk had been given command of – remember this was written before Star Trek IV, so there’s no Enterprise-A yet).

In yet another ‘follow-up to TOS episode’ type story, the comics “Wolf on the Prowl” and “Wolf at the Door” follow on from “Wolf in the Fold”, featuring the return of Redjac (the noncorporeal entity behind Jack the Ripper) – despite the fact that he had been destroyed in the original episode, but never mind. In an interesting crossover between the comics and novels, the comics then featured a storyline called “Double Blind”, featuring insectoid invaders, written by Diane Duane of Romulan fame. More stories continued to give individual characters days in the limelight, whether members of the canon crew such as Uhura, or characters original to the comics, such as Nancy Bryce or the Apache officer William Bearclaw. (He, along with Ensign Walking Bear from TAS, were therefore Native American Indian representation in Star Trek long before Chakotay arrived in Voyager). A significant plot returns with storylines involving someone trying to trigger war between the Federation and the Klingons with a mining accident (therefore prefiguring some of the plot of Star Trek VI!)

For the 20th anniversary of Star Trek in 1986, a special comic storyline named “Vicious Circle” saw a crossover that edges into AH territory: Kirk and company on the Excelsior run into their own younger selves, as the Enterprise from the TOS episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday” accidentally returns to the wrong time period. I’ve not read this one myself, but now I want to.

After this celebration, the DC writers once more embarked on their incredibly audacious approach by creating “The Doomsday Bug”, a saga of several comics involving the crew chasing a deadly disease into Romulan space – which somehow ended up with Kirk losing command of the Excelsior, everyone on Vulcan with the Klingon Bird-of-Prey from the end of Star Trek III, and Spock needing re-education, again, so the readers could then go and see Star Trek IV and be none the wiser. I normally hate this sort of thing, but at this point you just have to admire their chutzpah.

The comics then blissfully follow on straight from the end of Star Trek IV, with Kirk and company now on the Enterprise-A, and featuring plots like the return of Harry Mudd and a return to the planet Gamma Trianguli VI seen in TOS. One story, “Idol Threats”, prefigures ideas like the DS9 episode “Valiant” (and Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series) by having a cadet who idolises Kirk seize command and try to emulate his hero, lacking understanding or nuance. Incidentally, the comics had by now brought back the popular M’Ress and Arex from TAS, and they appear alongside the comics-original characters – M’Ress at one point even having a one-night stand with Sulu. In this timeline, evidently Sulu isn’t gay, but he is a furry…

More plotlines involving clashes with the Klingons come up, including the first half-Klingon, half-human character in Star Trek (beating K’Ehleyr to the punch by a couple of years). Undeterred by Klingon hatred of this hybrid, Konom and Nancy Bryce end up married. The 50th DC comic fell during this plot, but is more reflected by the following, aptly-titled “You’re Dead, Jim”, in which Kirk is seemingly stabbed to death by Ensign Bearclaw. The comic features Kirk having an out-of-body experience in which he meets his deceased brother and son, and Captain Pike. When he awakens from surgery, he mutters ‘Pike’, then clarifies ‘I want Bearclaw’s head on a pike!’ At the following court-martial, Kirk’s old Academy rival, Sean Finnegan (who had been seen, as an illusion, in “Shore Leave”) turns out to be the lead investigator.

The original run of DC comics ends anticlimactically with “A Small Matter of Faith” in 1988, which flashes back to the TOS years. The cancellation appears to have been influenced by Paramount’s licensing being concerned by (a) the use of original characters and TAS characters, and (b) this storyline treading close to Star Trek V, then in production. I like how they seemingly had no trouble with the ridiculous ‘cram in months of storyline in between films and then pretend like everything’s been reset’ gimmick, though.

There had been other DC comics published during this period, including those specially written for annuals – for example, “All Those Years Ago” from 1985 features Mike W. Barr’s interpretation of the Enterprise’s first mission under Captain Kirk, involving transporting ex-Captain Pike to his next assignment, and including characters such as Number One and Gary Mitchell. In a neat set of bookends, the second annual in 1986 uses “The Final Voyage”, which is meant to be the last adventure of the original five-year mission before Star Trek: The Motion Picture; it links the two by featuring Will Decker, as well as calling back to the beginnings of Star Trek by using Talos IV. The third and last annual story, from 1988, featured Scotty’s great offscreen romance and marriage; this type of plot in spinoff media always feels a bit strange to me, and you can see why Pocket Books explicitly forbade this kind of thing. To round up the early DC Comics, they also published direct adaptations of Star Trek III and IV.

After a hiatus, the DC Comics returned with a relaunched second series in 1989, the first issue being, originally, titled “The Return!” The writer was Peter David, a comics writer by background, who was also branching out into Star Trek novels at this time – we will come back to his name many times. Cheerfully ignoring Paramount’s worries about OCs, the new series invented a whole host of other ones, memorably a diplomat sent by Starfleet to reign in Kirk named R. J. Blaise – embarrassingly, her initials turned out to stand for ‘Raspberry Jam’, and Kirk accidentally revealing this to the crew scuppered their brief romantic fling. The storylines drew on the then-recent Star Trek V, including the idea of the Klingons having a bounty on Kirk’s head. A race called the Nasgul (no relation to the Black Riders from The Lord of the Rings, I’m sure) were also featured.

Peter David’s final storylines, taking us up to 1991 and our end date for this article, were the three-part adventures “The Trial of James T. Kirk” and “The Return of the Worthy”, the latter about the return of a legendary group of alien explorers who had tangled with Apollo from “Who Mourns for Adonis?” Far more important, of course, was the fact that the plot also involved a love triangle with two different women competing over Sulu, only for both of them to transfer away without telling him, simultaneously, to make way for the other. The last part, at least, feels more like something that should happen to Geordi LaForge.

So much for the comics; now let’s look again at the Pocket Books novels, which we ended off last time with John M. Ford’s “How Much For Just The Planet?” Amazingly, this was followed by two unrelated back-to-back stories both about plagues, which were pretty common as TOS storylines (how topical), J. M. Dillard’s “Bloodthirst” (1987) and Jean Lorrah’s “The IDIC Epidemic” (1988), involving the Vulcans. A. C. Crispin’s “Time for Yesterday” (1988) delves more into time travel and AH, following on from her previous book “Yesterday’s Son”, about Spock having fathered a child with Zarabetha from “All Our Yesterdays”. The Guardian of Forever is malfunctioning, and the only way to fix it is to get Spock’s son Zar to mind-meld with it – necessitating not only retrieving him from history, but averting his scheduled death in battle in the past of Sarpeidon. This one is noteworthy because it actually features the Guardian’s mysterious creators, which feels a bit man-behind-the-curtain for such a mysterious artefact.

The next book is Timetrap (1988) by former NASA worker turned author David Dvorkin, and now we get into some meaty AH-relevant material. Kirk and the Enterprise encounter a Klingon ship called the Mauler, trapped in some sort of temporal anomaly. Kirk beams aboard with a security team, only for the whole ship to vanish. He wakes up to find a beautiful Klingon woman named Kalrind telling him it is 100 years in the future, where Klingons and the Federation are at peace. (I don’t know if this was consciously influenced by TNG having recently debuted showing this was, indeed, the case). The plot twist is it’s the old ‘Faked Rip Van Winkle’, as TVTropes calls it, and it’s all a plot by the Klingons to try to convince Kirk to let his guard down and unknowingly help them launch a conquest scheme. Some of the details now feel a bit iffy, such as the idea that the Klingons are inherently violent and in the future ‘New Klingons’ have risen above that – which turns out to be the result of taking certain drugs to suppress their violent influences. While Kirk is in captivity, Spock is tracking down a Klingon infiltrator on the Enterprise who had gone into deep cover as a human scientist, stealing the identity of someone killed in an accident in Devon (Elliot Tindall – no relation to SLP’s cover illustrator). It turns out that he was only able to so because he was taking those drugs, and when his human wife deliberately substitutes them due to missing his more passionate violent tendencies of their courtship years (I did mention it was a bit iffy) he reverts to the Klingon norm. Even though the book feels influenced by TNG, it notably ignores the Klingon forehead ridge design, with the surgical alterations described for Tindall never mentioning them. Anyway, it’s an interesting time capsule both in and out of universe due to how it foreshadows a human-Klingon peace influenced by the ideas of the day; it ends with Kirk poignantly wondering if Kalrind (who’s reverted to her ‘normal’ self when deprived of the drugs) will be waiting for him when peace finally does come with the Klingons. Spock, meanwhile, lets Tindall resume his deep cover due to compassion for his family, not that he would ever admit that, of course.

This is followed by the very strange “The Three-Minute Universe” by Barbara Paul (1988) and “Memory Prime” (1988) by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, the first Star Trek foray of this husband and wife writing couple who would go on to contribute many more books, including “Federation” which I devoted an entire previous article to. “Memory Prime” is noteworthy because it suggests that artificial intelligences are banned or heavily regulated in the Federation, something not really seen elsewhere, but which would make a certain amount of sense given how technology works otherwise (and an idea which I use in my own science fiction works).

Then comes “The Final Nexus” (1988) by Gene DeWeese, which follows on from his earlier books “Chain of Attack” and, to a lesser extent, “The Abode of Life”. As it features the idea of an ancient super-race leaving gateways behind which are now decaying, it may have inspired the Iconians, who arrived not long afterwards in TNG. D. C. Fontana returned to a fanfare with “Vulcan’s Glory” (1989), telling Spock’s backstory and youth, as well as his first voyage under Captain Pike. We go from a long-established author to the first appearance of a later prominent one with the next book, “Double, Double” (1989), penned by Michael Jan Friedman. A peculiar choice of sequel story to a TOS episode, this brings back the android Kirk duplicate from “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and uses it to get Kirk accused of murder with mistaken identity. Also, the Romulans are in it so their ship can appear on the cover.

A similar sequel idea features in the next book, “The Cry of the Onlies” (1989) by Judy Klass, which picks up the story of the TOS episode “Miri”. I do think one could argue that all these TOS sequel stories reflect nostalgia from a certain group of fans who wanted to turn away from TNG and immerse themselves in their old memories. However, we’re back to referencing the films with “The Kobayashi Maru” (1989) by Julia Ecklar. While stuck in a shuttlecraft awaiting rescue, Kirk and some of his bridge crew reminisce about their experiences with the Kobayashi Maru no-win scenario seen in Star Trek II. I really like this idea of anthology short stories (though all written by one author in this case) but, obviously, authors have tended to rather stretch the uniqueness of Kirk beating the scenario due to wanting other characters to look good. For example, in this one Scotty essentially beats it as well, or at least drives it to a stalemate – by using his knowledge of how the simulator works to overstress it into an eternal feedback loop where his ship is never destroyed. Of course, it turns out that his real goal was to get thrown off the command track for cadets and into engineering…

“Rules of Engagement” by Peter Morwood (1990), involving a Klingon attack on a revolution-beset planet, is typical of the confused timeline status of many of these books at the time; whereas others published around the same time show the old ships and uniforms, this one has Kirk in a movie-era uniform and a Klingon with brow ridges. “The Pandora Principle” by Carolyn Clowes (1990) involves a deadly plague (what, again?) and the Romulans (what, again? – the Romulans are hospitalised more often than Jair Bolsonaro). Interestingly, however, its main focus is the dark backstory of Saavik, who gets a day in the limelight here. The cover design also features the compromise of ‘TOS-style Romulan ship but it’s green like TNG’ years before Enterprise did it. Diane Duane, having just missed the boat on the Romulans again, instead penned “Doctor’s Orders” (1990), a funny but far-fetched first contact story (drawing upon material she’d previously made for a Star Trek text adventure game!) in which Kirk whimsically leaves McCoy in command in a crisis. “Enemy Unseen” (1990) by V[icki] E[stelle] Mitchell, apparently the only Star Trek author who doesn’t love Spock, concerns diplomatic intrigue, romance and murder mystery in his absence while he’s off attending a conference.

I will leave this rundown of the main-series TOS novels with “Home is the Hunter” (1990) by Dana Kramer-Rolls. Kirk and company are fighting the Klingons (obviously) only to be confronted by a Q- or Trelane-like superbeing named Weyland, who punishes them by exiling three crewmembers to the dark pasts of their homelands. Sulu is sent to warring feudal Japan, Scotty to the ’45 Jacobite Rebellion, and Chekov to Stalingrad in 1942. While they all struggle to survive, Kirk manages to forge an alliance with the Klingons to face Weyland together; the actions of this and the three time-lost crewmen impressed the being enough to let them go. This is exactly the kind of story that I suspect they’d have made for TV if they had the budget, but the lack of constraints of literary description make it a good fit. It was also a nice excuse to feature ancestors of the crew in the time-travel segments, such as Kirk’s WW2 pilot ancestor John Kirk and Scotty running into the ancestors of the Scotsmen who created the Jefferies Tube, while Sulu finds a memorial to his own supposed heroic death in battle back in present-day Japan.

So much for the numbered Pocket Books novels; however, this period also saw a number of novels that were released separately from the numbers, some of which are called ‘Giant’ novels, so we will close out this article by considering these.

The first of these is “Enterprise: The First Adventure” (1986) by Vonda N. McIntyre, which is absolutely awful and I will probably do a Prequel Problems article about at some point. It does fulfil the requirement that, no matter how bad any later attempt to depict Captain Kirk’s first voyage is (see the 2009 Star Trek film) it will never be as bad as this. It also features the idea of a multi-ethnic Klingon Empire with other races in it (in this case the vaguely Arabian Nights-evocative Rumaiy) who are also mentioned in Diane Carey’s “Battlestations!” Oh, and it does have one somewhat clever idea involving Janice Rand and the speed of light, but that’s a story for another day.

“Strangers from the Sky” (1987) by Margaret Wander Bonanno is far better-regarded. Its plot involves a book that claims humanity’s first contact with the Vulcans came long before humanity’s actual first contact with another species – the Alpha Centaurians in 2048, as everyone knows. Note how strange this seems in modern Star Trek, when First Contact is now iconic, was with the Vulcans, and came in 2063 – amusingly, this book actually says the official Vulcan first contact was 2065, so not far off! It’s interesting to reflect that a setting like Star Trek could leave this backstory so vague for so long… Anyway, this book is deliberately epic in scale, involving the movie-era time period, the five-year mission, and several past eras of Earth, as Kirk and Spock both get drawn into the events described in the in-universe book. A Vulcan scout ship crashed long ago, and they have to ensure the timeline is not changed and help the Vulcans get off Earth. The plot was an obvious and clear influence on the much later Enterprise episode “Carbon Creek”, and the novel is well-regarded enough that it is still obliquely referenced in much later Star Trek novels, despite its whole premise long being contradicted.

“Final Frontier” (1988) by Diane Carey is another one which will get a Prequel Problems article from me, as it involves the adventures of Kirk’s father George Kirk as he fights the Romulans (you’ll notice that the 2009 film may have been influenced by this). And yes, obviously all of this had to be covered up afterwards because, as we know, we’ve not had contact with the Romulans for 100 years STOP IT WITH THE 100 YEARS STUFF! Agh, anyway, I really like this book but I’ll cover it in a separate article at some point.

“Spock’s World” (1988) by Diane Duane somehow manages to clearly be unsubtly about Brexit despite being written about thirty years before it happened: as Vulcan votes to leave the Federation, Spock’s loyalties are tested.

I will leave it there, although we’re not up to 1991 yet with these extra novels, as the next one starts the ‘Lost Years’ series, which confusingly then continued in the numbered novels. As a reminder, pretty much all the spinoff material we’ve looked at in this gargantuan article covers a period of only about four or five years total. It is an illustration of just how much spinoff material Star Trek was producing at its height, and how much fan appetite there was for it, that this article series is going to run and run.

See you next time, when we look at the earliest TNG spinoff media, before returning to TNG itself.



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