There’s no doubt Gene Roddenberry was a kook with bizarre ideas about the future of humanity. One only has to read his novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and you really should) to get a glimpse of concepts like evolved humans forming empathic communes, Starfleet being made up of barbarous, primitive throwbacks, and teenage “love instructors”. And that’s just the prologue.
But the most talked about aspect of Gene’s crazy future people is the “no conflict” rule he imposed on the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This rule has been reported multiple times by various people who worked on the show, like David Gerrold, Rick Berman, Maurice Hurley, and Ira Steven Behr. The latter even proposed Deep Space Nine specifically as a way to get around the rule. The oft repeated story goes that Gene thought 24th century humans were so evolved they didn’t fight amongst themselves. This meant no disagreements or incompatible personalities. All conflict had to come from outside the ship.
The “no conflict” rule gets lots of play in the media and was talked about quite a bit when Star Trek: Discovery came out. Some journalists accused the rule of stifling the older shows. Some used it as a way to prove Discovery was not real Star Trek. How could they have interpersonal disagreements on that show? Gene was against that! The problem with all this editorial hand wringing was that any one who actually watched early Next Generation at the height of Gene’s control over the series could easily see there was no such rule. At least not in the form that is constantly reported. The 24th century was brimming with human-on-human conflict.
Many of you know I spent a year chronicling Gene’s non-Star Trek work in 1970’s and how they influenced and, at times, directly fed into The Next Generation. One thing that became undeniable was Gene’s expert ability to create conflict through contrasting personalities whether it’s the wily Dylan Hunt butting heads with the pragmatic PAX in Genesis II, the robotic Questor grating on the all too human Jerry Robinson in The Questor Tapes, or the X-Files prototype of superstitious William Sebastian and his skeptic partner Amos Hamilton in Spectre. The stories may be of varying quality, but the drama between characters was always a joy. This was something Gene loved to do. He knew good television depended on it. There was no way his new Star Trek show would lack it.
If we go by The Next Generation’s first two seasons and, especially, the pilot we can find a lot of interpersonal conflict baked right in:
This is the biggest one and caused such an uproar in the fan community at the time due to its break with The Original Series’s captain-at-the-center dynamic that it’s a wonder we all forgot about it. The Enterprise D is less the Original Enterprise and more a traditional imperial naval ship. The old man stays up in the command center while the XO goes out in the field and gets into trouble. Riker was constantly described in promotional materials and interviews as believing the Enterprise was his ship. He just let Picard steer it from time to time. This was a constant source of annoyance for Picard who was, until recently, the swashbuckler of his own tin can of a ship. He often had to force himself into the center of things, much to Riker’s dismay. Riker was also very personable, while Picard was mostly an aloof jerk who literally muttered “shit” to himself when things didn’t go his way.
The concept of bringing families on a space voyage didn’t make sense to a lot of fans and writers because the show totally went off the rails concerning it’s original “generation ship” concept right after the pilot. Families on a ship doing routine patrol not far outside known space is stupid, but a city ship bound for a twenty year mission in the “great unexplored mass of the galaxy” is another thing. Picard was the ultimate confirmed bachelor. He didn’t understand families and resented their presence on his ship. This put him at odds with Dr. Crusher and her kid, whom he referred to as “the boy” and even told to “shut up” once. Riker was asked to be a mediator between him and the civilian crew so he could avoid them altogether.
Besides the fact that Beverly was a breeder, these two had quite a bit to enrage each other over. First there was their immediate sexual chemistry which butted against the fact that Picard practically left her possibly hysterical husband, Jack, to die on a mission. Weasley Crusher took two seasons to fully get over his resentment of the captain. Picard’s callous utilitarianism was also the cause of quite a few heated ethical disputes with the fiery redheaded doctor who was always keen to deliver aid and comfort in even the most hostile environments and sticky situations.
Before Worf wanted to shoot everything, Tasha Yar wanted to shoot everything. Quick on the trigger, Yar’s violent tendencies were constantly being shot down and soothed over by Picard and even Riker.
Data annoyed everyone in the first two seasons, rambling off facts and minutia until he received many a disgruntled outburst. Telling Data to shut up in one way or another was a more frequent event than it was with “the boy”. Riker’s initial mistrust of Data’s artificiality in the pilot is so strong Data actually calls him a bigot. “Prejudice is very human,” he tells the commander, flying in the face of everything we’ve been told Roddenberry felt about his crew.
It’s clear the moment these two meet that they have a troubled history. Troi speaks to Riker telepathically in a way we’re all sure he can hear, but he refuses to respond. She’s down for being friends with crazy benefits. He wants the loving intimacy a ship’s captain can never know. This is made even more obvious in D.C. Fontana’s “Encounter at Farpoint” plot outline, but the bones of it still linger through episodes like “Haven”.
Troi’s original concept and the way the character was mostly written in the first season was to be the new Spock. Even though she could read and parse other people’s feelings she didn’t care much about them nor did she have many of her own. Troi was blunt with her advice and would often call out fellow crew members on how their words contradicted their hidden emotions right to their faces. And she often did it in front of an audience. At one point she tells everyone Yar wants to bone a world leader leaving the tactical officer stammering to qualify her unprofessional horn dogging.
Picard never gets along with his medical officers. He either wants to pound them or pound their faces. Pulaski was exclusively the latter. While she sneakingly admired Picard and requested the Enterprise as an assignment, she goes out of her way to test his authority.
Pulaski doesn’t trust technology, so, obviously, she hates Data on first contact. While her respect for him grows a bit over the course of the second season, she’s his biggest foil most likely taking on the role Riker would have played if he had stayed true to character. Pulaski is interesting in that she was created specifically by Roddenberry for a specific actress he’d worked with twice before making the ruckus she causes a direct result of Gene. It’s also interesting that the character who brought the most amount of oh-so-coveted conflict to the show is the most polarizing among fans. (I love her, so nyah!)
“Arsenal of Freedom” introduces a trope The Next Generation used a couple of times: that of the higher ranking but less talented officer trying to wrest control from the spunky greenhorn who was placed in command in a crisis. If you want an example of full blown hostility among the Enterprise crew Geordi telling Engineer Gumby #10 to step off is one of the most blatant.
Tasha Yar may love the Federation so much she’ll kick you in the face over it, but she’s a constant reminder of it’s failures. At some point the modern, perfect humans of Turkana IV descended into a mass of roving gang rapists that this poor kid and her cat had to escape from. And, to top it off, the enlightened Federation didn’t do a thing about it even though the Prime Directive probably doesn’t apply to its own colonies.
Proving even Starfleet types outside of the Enterprise were not above squabbling, Remmick was a JAG officer brought in to interrogate the Enterprise crew about all the weirdness they experienced over the course of the first season. Never in the history of the show have so many wanted to punch one single nose. Well, maybe Barclay.
So, there was conflict on The Next Generation. Lots of it. And all of it was put there directly by Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana. Looking at the 1987 writer’s guide Gene stated not only that his crew was made up of flawed humans, but that stories should be writen with a personal aspect that could be based on the nature of the characters. Somehow we’ve been told that it wasn’t the case and it was Gene’s fault so often we started ignoring our own eyes. There’s a moment on the documentary Chaos on the Bridge where Maurice Hurley blusters that Gene had handcuffed him with this very “no conflict” rule and then wasn’t as committed to it as Hurley himself was. This comment baffles me. Hurley complains he wanted to write conflict. He says Gene wanted conflict. Why were they not happily creating conflict?
If we go back to the ’87 writer’s guide there is a section on “no melodrama”. This means “no petty conflict”: no fighting over money or personal gain, no soap opera type love triangles, and no bickering over how someone cut in front of you in line to the replicator. Arguments between the crew needed to be believable, because to Gene believability was everything. How in the world this got conflated into an all powerful “no one disagrees ever” dictum is beyond me.
It’s also interesting to note that as Gene’s control waned on the franchise the no conflict rule just got stronger and stronger. Many of the above dynamics disappeared, making the crew more and more bland with each passing season. Picard lost his irritable edge. Riker lost all his ambition. Troi became a sad chocolate monster. Both of them stopped wanting to screw each other. Data became lovable. Only traces of Picard and Crusher’s professional antagonism remained.
One of the things people complain about most with Voyager is the missed opportunity for conflict. Combining Starfleet officers with a bunch of rag-tag freedom fighters, an ex-con, and two alien stowaways on a ship in the middle of nowhere was supposed to breed lots of conflict without breaking the sacred rule. And, yet, by the end of the pilot they were all in uniform and most of them were getting along fine. What conflict did get into later day Trek was exactly the kind of of stuff Gene’s edict sought to avoid. Whether it was Troi/Worf/Riker, Bashir/Dax/Worf, Odo/Kira/Bareil, or Neelix/Paris/Kes, soapy, melodramatic love triangles were embedded into the franchise. Gene had nothing to do with that mess.
The “no conflict” rule is a myth. If it ever existed it wasn’t what it became after Gene lost control of the show. It couldn’t have been. There’s no reason Gene Roddenberry would abandon his greatest writing strength no matter how cockamamy his vision of perfected humanity became. It’s time to put this myth to bed.
The Next Generation and it’s progeny had a number of annoying narrative crutches they relied on, such as the incessant “Captain’s Log” that started nearly every single episode. The other major one was the conference room. Both of these were used rarely in The Original Series, which usually started in media res, often not even on board the ship. The original Enterprise did have a briefing room, but it was used sparingly and certainly not in the midst of a crisis. Those discussions were left on the bridge.
The Next Generation, on the other hand, made it a point to take every important person off the bridge at any moment to sit around a table and leisurely confab. One of the most egregious examples is in “Q Who” where, after the ship has had a chunk of it removed by a still looming Borg vessel, the Enterprise just sits there while Picard calls a meeting. Could you imagine Kirk taking everyone down to the briefing room in “Corbomite Maneuver” with three minutes left on the counter to come up with his Big Balok Bluff?
This is not an appeal to tradition, though. The Enterprise D doesn’t have the same psuedo-military hierarchy as it’s parent show, and I respect TNG as its own kinder, gentler ensemble animal. Picard is a listener, not a dictator. People talk more and react less. The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen once described The Next Generation bridge as a space for Picard to walk about and explore his options, as opposed to a place where he can just swing his chair one way or another and bark. There’s even more than one center seat so that everyone can sit down next to the captain and have their say.
That’s why, when looking at the many old Probert concept bridge samples Ryan sent me for the Vikrant I immediately seized on the ones that had replaced the captain chair completely with a conference table and also increased the size of the resources available to explore. I wanted to double down on the Next Generationness of The Next Generation while also keeping the action where it belongs – in the command center with the problem on screen in front of all involved. And, yeah, it looks even more like the lobby of a Hilton. So much the better.
The question I get asked most about each of the comic’s storylines is “when does this take place?” Most of the time this can be gleaned from dialogue in the comic that references other incidents from The Original Series. Often people wonder whether a uniform is appropriate to the era depicted or whether someone should be here when they thought they were there. Sometimes I get lazy and just add a chyron, even though I hate them. But when a story takes a year to tell, a few sentences at a time, details can get fuzzy even for the most attentive reader. So here is the official timeline of the comic with notable and relevant incidents from TOS and TNG included as reference points and background. The timeline will be a permanent page that will be updated as the comic lore continues to grow.
Check out the timeline here, or at the “Timeline” button up top.
Introducing the crew of the Ambassador Class USS Vikrant. As promised, the next comic will be set right before The Next Generation. The story is a kind of reimagining of TNG – a sort of “what could have been” – with similar characters and dynamics. Yet, it fits fine within established canon. The script is about 80% complete with some polishing most likely needed before it can start being published. What is complete and ready to go is the quick prologue, which sets up some of the characters and takes place a year before the story starts. That may show up as soon as Friday and should keep you all satisfied while the main script is finished up.
As most of you have probably noticed the comic hasn’t been published for a while. I’ve decided to take my first break from it in nearly five years. Have no fear, though. It should be returning in late July. I have a really cool outline for a story from writer extraordinaire, Ryan Riddle, whom some of you may know from TrekBBS. It’s going to be a early Next Generation era story, riffing on a lot of what we thought Gene’s vision for the show got right and adding back in great concepts he let slip away. There’s going to be skants, spandex, and lots of Eighties hairdos. It’s a can’t miss.
In the meantime I’ll be posting some designs and teasers for the next story. Many of those will show up on my Patreon page first. Donations to the comic have hit nearly $50 a month and I do think that’s enough to keep it going for a bit longer. However, if you’re realizing now how much you miss the comic during this hiatus then please consider tossing a few shekels my way. at $2 a month – $24 a year – you’re paying the price of a single graphic novel. Isn’t this comic worth that?
In other news, I’ve sold my model of the Enterprise and am now working on a replacement. I’ll let everyone know when I’ve started it.
That’s all for now. Keep us on your RSS feed to make sure you get the most up to the minute news.
A really unfortunate snippet of footage was put out a few weeks ago that purports to be a deleted scene from Star Trek: Discovery. In it the disgraced Emperor Phillipa is followed into her newly acquired strip club by an agent of Section 31 who proceeds to induct her into the secret society. Section 31, for those fortunate enough not to know, is a paradox of bad conspiracy theories in which a powerful, malevolent agency is simultaneously run by the government and yet above it. It does everything in total secrecy and exists in the shadows for several hundred years between Enterprise and Deep Space Nine almost completely unnoticed.
Section 31 is one of the worst concepts to come out of Rick Berman’s Star Trek. Worse than warp 10 salamanders and transporter matter stream worms. Section 31, which is an obvious ripoff of Babylon 5‘s Bureau 13, brings the X-Files style paranoia that gained popularity in the 90’s into a franchise that has absolutely no room for it. For all our faults as a society we have no analogy to Section 31 in our government. The CIA is evil, but it’s hardly secret and it does the direct bidding of whoever is in office. It’s actions may be secretive, but they rarely stay that way for long, let alone centuries. Our secret military technology is handled by the Department of Defense which works with private industry and who’s projects are often outed eventually if not immediately. Even in authoritarian societies secret police answer to the guy at the top, making Section 31 less of a government agency and more like an Illuminati.
Government conspiracies and secret organizations are not compatible with free societies. Whether it’s anarchists and “chemtrails” or authoritarians like Alex Jones and “Pizzagate”, claiming that forces out of our control are coming to get us only helps to erode our democracy. The utopian world of Star Trek has no room for that kind of crap. This isn’t gritty realism. It’s just unhinged fears made real. It’s the stuff of dystopias, not Roddenberry idealism.
Ira Behr once said of his creation, “Why is Earth a paradise in the twenty-fourth century? Well, maybe it’s because there’s someone watching over it and doing the nasty stuff that no one wants to think about.” That may seem like a truism, but it’s really just the neoconservative mentality of someone who can’t see the good in humanity. It assumes that nasty stuff needs to be done to make things good and nice for the rest of us, and it’s simply not historically true. One only has to spend five minutes researching the nasty stuff done in the name of Western security to see it backfire over and over again. Star Trek is the place where we’re too smart to keep doing the nasty stuff hoping for a positive outcome. We’ve become smarter than that. Introducing an evil backend that makes the Federation possible is like Zach Snyder making Superman an objectivist. Superman can’t exist unless you believe in unbridled, selfless altruism. Star Trek can’t exist without it either.
It’s not like the Federation never gets things wrong. They can stumble into war (“Errand of Mercy”), breed rogue elements (The Undiscovered Country), play silly spy-vs-spy games (“The Enterprise Incident”), and trip over their own bureaucracy (every commissioner or diplomat that ever breathed down Kirk’s neck). But, under it all, it is a free and fair society that plays by its own rules. If you can’t believe that then the entire concept of Star Trek falls apart. What do Kirk and Picard’s famous monologues on humanity and peace mean if Section 31 is out there undermining everything they do? What have they been working for if, in the end, their world is a false one? Section 31 literally destroys the the idea of a better tomorrow, which is the very backbone of Star Trek. Because, if Section 31 is real then tomorrow is way worse than today. I refuse to believe that.
Hey folks, the modeling bug has hit me again and I only have room for one giant spaceship in my life. So the Enterprise I built in 2014 is going on sale. In her place I’ll be building another one with brighter internal lighting for filming. The current lighting is great for display, but just doesn’t hold up at f/8 at 30fps. I’ll be doing a few other modifications and experiments as well. My lose, though, is your gain. The model’s features include:
• Quiet running motors for the nacelle fans. Motors speed is controlled with an attached knob in the base. Stop them altogether or run them at warp 10.
• Fully detailed interiors of the bridge and hangar including a scaled shuttle Galileo.
• Hangar door can be closed or left open.
• Super detailed paint job shows off various panels based on the Greg Jein model created for “Troubles and Tribblations”.
• Metal parts painted using Alclad II.
• Hand painted weathering.
• Several sets of photoetch parts were used for the most accurate details.
• All signage and pennants were hand painted with masks. No decals.
• On/off switch on base.
• Sturdy, hand made base with mirror for enjoying the ship from all angles.
• Laser-engraved aluminum dedication plaque.
Thanks to a number of amazing readers we are 25% of the way to the donation goal needed to keep this comic going for another story line and beyond. And we did it in less than two weeks. $100 a month is all it’s going to take. That pays for my web hosting and the hours I spend away from work and family drawing eight strips a month. At this rate I’m pretty sure it can be done before Mudd Slide wraps up. But it can’t happen without you. Spread out over the year, the cost of funding this comic per person would equal that of a fancy graphic novel, which is exactly what you get here week after week.
Visit my Patreon site add to the growing support. And thanks again!
Hello, dear readers. This comic has been serving you for five years now. I’ve amassed a pretty loyal following of nearly one thousand readers over that time. I love making the comic and I love the community of commenters I get to read every week. But, it’s getting harder to keep up with each week. I’ve never wanted to make a living from this as Star Trek is not mine, but some support for materials and work are allowed by Paramount/CBS’s fan production rules. So, I’m asking for donations to keep this – and a lot of my other side work – going. If I reach at least $100 a month the continuation of the comic beyond Mudd Slide will be assured. Donations get you access to each strip a day early as well as it’s underlying as well as perks like scripts and model sheets.
What other side projects am I up to? Some of you know I’m an avid modeler. What most of you don’t know is I’ve been working for the last year on a computerized motion control system that allows shooting of models with multiple, identical exposure passes. It doesn’t just make for great looking videos, but could be a boon to amateur film makers. Check out the results I’ve had so far:
I’d like to keep refining this project, but it too needs funding to keep going. I’m looking to get proper lights, make more models, and continue to tweak the controller software. In the process I’ll be posting my results as well as tutorials. Interested? Start your monthly donation today!