Star Trek: Phase II – The Story of the Lost Series
With live-action Star Trek having been canceled in 1969 but the popularity of Star Trek soaring in the 1970s (The Animated Series running between 1973 and 1974), Paramount were thinking, by 1977, of setting up their own TV channel. Having faced problems with making a Star Trek movie (recent abortive attempts were called The God Thing and Planet of the Titans), they decided to instead do Star Trek as a TV series again, to air on the channel. Paramount intended to launch the new show in 1978, with a two-hour special and then twelve other episodes, with hopefully more to follow. A sequel to NBC’s original 1960s Star Trek show, it was hastily and provisionally called “Star Trek: Phase II“.
Gene Roddenberry – having created Star Trek and fruitlessly tried to create, for different TV studios, other sci-fi shows (such as Genesis II, Planet Earth, and The Questor Tapes) – was given the green light to proceed with Star Trek: Phase II. He ploughed on, getting writers for all the episodes, keeping an eye on their efforts and getting sets designed; as always, Gene micro-managed everything himself.
Although Ralph McQuarrie had been hired to help redesign the Enterprise for the earlier Planet of the Titans movie, Gene wanted the original Enterprise simply updated, not redesigned. The McQuarrie design was therefore abandoned (four decades later, it inspired the design of the USS Discovery from Star Trek: Discovery) and Gene temporarily brought in Matt Jefferies, designer of the TOS Enterprise, to redesign the vessel for Phase II. After Jefferies’ departure, Mike Minor and Joe Jennings continued to refine the refit look. Unlike with the Planet of the Titans redesign of the Enterprise, one actually real model was created for filming the Phase II version, measuring six feet long. Sets for the redesigned vessel – including the bridge, sickbay, captain’s quarters, transporter room, engineering, and recreation deck – were designed by Mike Minor.
Star Trek: Phase II was intended to reunite the old crew, but Leonard Nimoy (asked back for two of every eleven episodes) was adamant he wouldn’t return, so Spock was replaced by a new science officer called Xon and several new crew members were introduced. Commander Decker would be Kirk’s second-in-command, and there would be a new navigation officer – Ilia, a bald-headed female alien, of the newly invented “Deltan” species.
The Opening Plot
The story for the two-hour pilot, “In Thy Image”, was loosely inspired by an unproduced story outline (called “Robot’s Return”) which Roddenberry had devised for Genesis II. More directly, it was also based on his story for the scrapped Star Trek film The God Thing.
In the case of “In Thy Image”, the script featured a huge alien craft heading for Earth, extremely destructive to anything that gets in its way. The USS Enterprise, which has been on a refit, is hastily prepped to stop the craft, as Kirk tries to reassemble his old crew. Eventually, the crew intercepts the vast alien ship; what they find at the heart of the vessel is one of Earth’s old space probes (briefly considered to be Pioneer 10, scripted to be Voyager IV in one draft, Voyager 18 in another). After losing contact with Earth, the probe has been heavily modified by a race of sentient machine aliens…
Like, does that ring any bells? Well, it is very similar to The Original Series story “The Changeling”, in which an Earth probe had gained seemingly malevolent sentience due to an alien probe. Hey, if an idea works, use it again and again; Terry Nation used to do it with Dalek plots on Doctor Who all the time!
Transition to Filmmaking
At Paramount Studios, the idea of launching their own TV channel was floundering. And if they didn’t need a TV channel, did they really need an expensive TV sci-fi series? Fate intervened at this time… In 1977, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the first Star Wars movie were released, both becoming huge hits. Paramount decided this sci-fi craze was worth hanging onto, and with the sets already planned or half built, actors cast and scripts in development, they would only need to tweak the planned TV premier to get their own hit sci-fi feature movie.
So, Star Trek: Phase II the series was cancelled and Star Trek: The Motion Picture was announced, news made official at a Paramount press conference on 28 March 1978, with Robert Wise now contracted (arranged earlier that month) to direct the film. The script for “In Thy Image” was revised almost incessantly, the Earth space probe eventually becoming Voyager 6. Oh, and the Starfleet uniforms were made much less colorful!
Strongly encouraged by his daughter and son-in-law to get Spock back at all costs, Robert Wise sent Jeffery Katzenberg to meet with Leonard Nimoy in New York. Katzenberg readily agreed to pay him money that Leonard reckoned he’d been promised earlier, for Star Trek royalties, and agreed he’d have a say on the final script and on Spock’s role.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture became a hit. The movie cost $44 million but took $139 million, its box office success ensuring that Star Trek carried on.
So, what of Star Trek: Phase II, what was its legacy? Well, it set a precedent.
Whereas the show’s opening double episode became the movie, two of the twelve other episodes were rewritten as episodes of The Next Generation. One of these was “Devil’s Due”, where Kirk takes on a devilish energy creature to save a planet; in The Next Generation, it was Picard taking on a humanoid con-woman pretending to be a devil-like entity. The other was “The Child”, in which Deanna Troi (originally Ilia) gives birth to a child who, in a few days, grows into a teenager; it’s actually an alien lifeform of pure energy that wanted to experience being human.
Not only do Will Decker and Ilia, formerly lovers, appear in Star Trek: The Motion Picture but they also became forerunners of Will Riker and Deanna Troi in The Next Generation. Whereas both Decker and Riker were second-in-command, disastrous incidents have ensued when Troi has assumed Ilia’s role as navigation officer; she’s often cited as crashing the ship (most notably in Star Trek Generations but also in Star Trek Nemesis).
In the script for “In Thy Image”, a probe that takes the form of Ilia is named “Tasha”, preempting the character name “Tasha Yar” in The Next Generation. In the script, this initially mechanical probe has a large “eye” component which looks much like a pearl or brooch, and Chekov likens it to one his Aunt Tasha used to wear.
The Phase II sets for engineering aboard the Enterprise became the basis for the future look for engineering sets in all the subsequent movies and in The Next Generation through to Voyager. They even used the same soundstages as had been used for Phase II test footage.
If you want to learn more about this unmade show, then read Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series, by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, an interesting book which has parts of scripts, facts, and plenty of pics. You can still find copies of it on the Internet.
Without this unproduced but nonetheless pivotal series, there would have been no Next Generation, no DS9, no Voyager, no Enterprise, no Discovery, no Picard, no movies, and no Strange New Worlds… So, thank you, Star Trek: Phase II.