Once syndication had established there was a massive interest in Star Trek, after blinkered scheduling had driven the original run into a Network Black Hole , Gene Rodenberry was determined to resurrect his cast of future Utopian interplanetary explorers on screen, big or small. Initial scripts morphed into the curious case of the lost series, Star Trek Phase II, before that scrapped enterprise’s pilot script would be reworked (along with many sets and models) into Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Rodenberry retained an office at Paramount and hired several writers to brainstorm feature ideas. His first effort was The God Thing, which Paramount swiftly rejected. Renowned Science fiction author Harlan Ellison (who wrote the original story treatment for classic episode, The City On The Edge Of Forever) came up with an idea of a race of reptilian aliens travelling back to Earth’s prehistoric past and altering history so that mankind fails to evolve from the primordial gloup, leaving the Enterprise crew stuck in time, trying to fix things. This didn’t fly either, although I recall De Forest Kelly seemed to like it. By 1976 however, a Star Trek film was tentatively in development: Star Trek: Planet Of The Titans. To keep costs down, it would shoot in England, budgeted at $7.5 million. Philip Kaufman was signed to direct, and production designer par excellence Ken Adam was busy drafting set and model designs. A pre- Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie came up with a radical redesign of the USS Enterprise.
Planet Of The Titans would show Starfleet and the Klingons competing to secure a mysterious planet, legendary home of “The Titans”. During this conflict, it is discovered the planets real inhabitants The Cygnans destroyed The Titans. As the planet is sucked into a black hole, Kirk and crew follow and re-emerge in Earth orbit, thousands of years in our past. They end up , like Prometheus, giving ancient man the gift of fire, becoming the Titans of legend. Kaufman took a pop at the script also. He stated:
“My version was really built around Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Toshiro Mifune as his Klingon nemesis… My idea was to make it less “cult-ish”, and more of an adult movie, dealing with sexuality and wonders rather than oddness; a big science fiction movie, filled with all kinds of questions, particularly about the nature of Spock’s [duality]-exploring his humanity and what humanness was. To have Spock and Mifune’s character tripping out in outer space. I’m sure the fans would have been upset, but I felt it could really open up a new type of science fiction.”
This, frankly, sounds bollocks, and was also tossed aside. Paramount didn’t really get what Star Trek was. It took Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind to shake them up and get serious. By 1977, Paramount announced plans to create their own television network to rival ABC, NBS and CBS. Star Trek Phase II, as it was now known, would be their cornerstone primetime TV show, ensuring, especially with syndication, a steady revenue stream. Gene Rodenberry was ecstatic. A two hour pilot would be followed by weekly hour long episodes.
He brought original art director Matt Jeffries back, moonlighting after his duties on Little House On The Prairie, to specifically update The Enterprise. “Basically,” Jeffries said, “what I did to it was change the power units (nacelles), and make a slight change in the struts that supported them. I gave the main hull a taper, then I went flat sided and thin with the power units, rather than keeping a cylindrical shape.” He also gave the bridge two turbolift shapes, that protruded slightly on the exterior hull. Modelmaker Brick Price (The Abyss, Apollo 13) and Don Loos built the six foot model out of fibreglass. When the series was scrapped in favour of a feature film, director Robert Wise tasked his own art director Richard Taylor with making a more detailed model based along these lines, more suited to the scrutiny of a bigger screen.
Most of the original cast were back on board, already having received “pay or play” deals on the aborted films. Only Leonard Nimoy was in doubt – he was appearing on stage in Equus, and had quarelled with Rodenberry before. Rodenberry offered him a strange deal to appear in the pilot, then two out of every eleven episodes. Whetther he believed he was giving him more flexibility, who knows. Even Nimoy was baffled: “I couldn’t believe it, “ he said, and passed.
This led to the creation of a new young Vulcan science officer, Xon. William Shatner was confirmed, although his salary was so high contingency plans were in place to kill Kirk off and promote new character Commander Will Riker, I mean Decker (Stephen Collins). The sterotype “flunky” eye candy Yeoman Rand type evolved into the Deltan navigator empath, Ilia (Persis Khambatta).
In a meeting with Paramount chiefs, producer Robert Goodwin pitched the pilot In Thy Image, written by Alan Dean Foster. The premise was similar to the original series episode The Changeling, and was used as the basis for Star Trek: The Motion picture. Executive Michael Eisner said enthusiastically, “We’ve been looking for the feature for five years and this is it.” He meant, unknown to Rodenberry and his team, that Paramount now wanted to make this into a feature film, not a TV pilot. Star Trek Phase II was dead in space, but very few were privy to this. Paramount had been courting advertisers without much luck, and their number crunchers were telling them they simply couldn’t raise enough revenue to support a new network.
However, work on Star Trek Phase II continued, to all intents and purposes, until new deals were ready and watertight; as far as other Networks and studios were concerned, it was business as usual. There were stocks and shares, and prestige to think about. The costs of the series could be written off as pre-production on the film. Additional scripts could be of use, if, after the film, Star Trek did return to television, to be sold to other networks. Five months of subterfuge were to continue.
The series was given an unusually leisurely production schedule – months, instead of weeks, for script turnarounds. Sets were struck, repainted and redesigned. Detailed minutes and story bibles flew back and forth. Uniforms and costumes from the original series were recycled. Some sets made it virtually unchanged to the motion picture, such as the Bridge. An earlier bridge concept slightly resembles JJ Abrams’ “Apple store” nerve centre. David Gautreaux as Xon was one of the few let in on the news.
Producer Harold Livingston took over the writing of In Thy Image from Foster. Here is the script outline.
Deep Space. Three Klingon Heavy Cruisers (Koro class), led by the Amar, commanded by Commander Barak, are suddenly destroyed by a “turbulent whiplash of energy” which strikes from off screen.
The destruction of the Klingon ships is noted by Commander Branch (“a young, very attractive female“) at Starbase 9. Whatever destroyed the Klingon ships is headed directly toward Earth.
San Francisco — a few familiar landmarks still recognizable. A beautiful summer day. Families romp and play in a parkland area. Animals, unafraid, wander about. Tasteful adult nudity here and there.
Admiral James T. Kirk, in civilian attire, strolls through the park, looking for someone. Ahead of him he spots two teenagers and their pet cheetahs. A man, his back to Kirk, gives first-aid to the wounded paw of one of the cheetahs. Kirk smiles, moves forward.
It is Leonard “Bones” McCoy (known to the locals as the “animal doctor”). He and Kirk greet each other warmly, but warily. The Enterprise is nearing the end of her refit, and Kirk wants McCoy to reenlist in Starfleet and serve as the chief medical officer under Wah Chen, her new captain. McCoy is tired of Kirk’s pestering and turns him down again. Kirk is ready to retort, but is interrupted by a communicator call. Admiral Nogura, Starfleet Officer Commanding, has hastily convened an emergency staff meeting. Kirk disappears in the sparkle of the transporter.
In Nogura’s office, Kirk is met by Commander Montgomery “Scotty” (Livingston spells the nickname as “Scottie” throughout) Scott. They discuss the Enterprise refits for a moment, but Nogura interrupts and turns on a holographic display which shows Admiral Carson and Captain Lebutu. Lebutu was in charge of sensor drones near the neutral zone between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. He plays the footage from one of the drones which shows the destruction of the Klingon vessels. Kirk learns that this huge unstoppable object will arrive at Earth in 8.6 days. The U.S.S. Aswan is the only vessel ready to intercept it, Kirk notes. Nogura orders Scotty to have the Enterprise ready to depart in twenty-four hours to rendezvous with the smaller Aswan. Uhura and Sulu are already onboard. Kirk recommends Commander Ronak, a Vulcan, be the new science officer. He decides to reassign Chekov as Weapons Officer on the Enterprise, but since Captain Wah Chen is at Starbase Six, three days away at maximum warp, Captain Bar-Lev, the next senior captain, will have to take command.
Nogura isn’t buying it, looks directly at Kirk, asks him to forget who is next in line. He wants to know who the most qualified person to command this mission is.
Kirk looks Nogura in the eye and says, “I am.”
Scotty takes Kirk aboard the Enterprise in a travel pod. As he heads toward the bridge, Kirk meets Dr. Chapel, apologizes for pulling her from her assignment, but since they could not get McCoy, she is best qualified for the position of Chief Surgeon. He travels to the bridge, informs the crew that he (temporarily assigned the rank of captain) will be taking command of the ship for this mission. Cheers and shouts throughout the vessel at this news. Kirk puts a quick stop to the ruckus.
We meet Lieutenant Ilia, the new Deltan navigator, who is sworn to celibacy for the duration of the mission. Sulu is instantly smitten with her but she keeps him at arm’s length. Since Commander Ronak was not available, Kirk pulls Willard Decker off the U.S.S. Boston to act as both his executive officer and science officer. Decker is a bit angry — he was due promotion to captain and resents having to serve on this mission but Kirk calms him, tells him not to fear, he will still get his promotion.
As they prepare to leave orbit, two final people beam aboard. One is a shabby, long-haired 22-year-old science officer — Lieutenant Xon, only eighty-one days out of the academy. He has been meditating in the desert and his hair hides his Vulcan ears. The other is a very disgruntled Leonard McCoy. “Seldom used reserve activation clause” — he was drafted!
The Enterprise gets underway. Lieutenant Xon erases an hour’s worth of flight preprogramming by Decker because he wishes to insure the program’s accuracy. He takes the computers off-line for a moment. As soon as he does this, an asteroid is suddenly in the ship’s path. Sulu reports that the navigational computer is offline. He cannot steer out of the way. Decker orders manual override. Kirk belays that command, orders the phasers to fire, but there is no response when Chekov presses the firing button. He quickly brings the photon torpedoes on line and destroys the asteroid.
Kirk is furious when Xon explains that he took the computers offline. Xon blandly accepts Kirk’s reprimand. Decker questions why Kirk countermanded his manual override order. Kirk furiously stomps off the bridge, orders Decker and Doctors McCoy and Chapel to join him in his cabin.
Kirk tells Decker that unlike the light cruisers he is used to serving on, a manual override would not have allowed a vessel as big as the Enterprise to avoid the asteroid. Decker accepts this, but asks why Kirk would order phaser fire after learning that the navigation system was offline. Surely Kirk knows that if nav is offline phasers would be offline as well. Kirk admits that this fact escaped him.
Kirk orders Decker to work with him and help him readjust. Decker is told to report any behavior he finds aberrant to Dr. McCoy and to report his own problems to Dr. Chapel, to which Decker agrees.
The Enterprise cruises to rendezvous with the Aswan. Commander Corryell of the Aswan calls the Enterprise. They are moments away from intercepting the object. Without warning, the energy weapon from the object totally obliterates the smaller ship.
A few hours later, the Enterprise is closing on the object. Visual expected any moment. A sensor probe is fired in its direction. The probe is overloaded, and its transmissions back to the Enterprise burn out the computer’s integrators. Helm goes dead, weapons go dead. And suddenly, the 70-mile long object appears on the screen:
From the script:
Kirk turns to the viewer, and his expression is equally incredulous.
WHAT KIRK SEES ON THE VIEWER – THE ALIEN SPACESHIP
but, at first, only a section of the front of it. What we SEE resembles a gigantic chrome and silver object, almost like the gaping mouth of some unbelievable large metallic animal–and just a GLIMPSE of a huge circular window or engine duct on the side of the “head,” this glowing red and blue. It is perfectly symmetrical, the sides of the “mouth” constructed in equally-sized slabs of metal.
Power is regained aboard the ship and they move in closer to view it. It seems to take no notice and sails on. As the Enterprise maneuvers closer it is as if the ship is a “golf ball floating beside a dirigible” in comparison.
Another sensor probe is launched. Suddenly, the giant vessel fires at the Enterprise. Shields barely hold. The object locks onto the Enterprise with a tractor beam. The helm goes dead again. Kirk orders no return fire. He orders Uhura to send out messages of friendship. There is no response.
The shields are about to fail. Kirk finally orders photon torpedoes made ready. But Xon yells for him to wait. He realizes that the vessel has been responding, but not directly to their messages. It has been attempting to contact the computers themselves! It thinks the Enterprise is alive. Xon programs a message as if it came from the vessel itself, asks the alien ship to break off its attack. He sends it. All wait tensely. The turbulent energy weapon subsides, ceases firing.
It will take twelve hours to get the Enterprise engines back on line. Kirk takes a chance to change into a fresh uniform, orders the bridge staff to take some rest time.
When Kirk returns to the bridge, refreshed, he is pleased to see Ensign Janice Rand, back-up communications officer, on duty. Xon is still at his station, but finally leaves and takes the rest Kirk ordered.
In the recreation room, Ilia and Sulu try to rest. Ilia attempts to give him a Deltan facial massage to relax him but Sulu is aroused instead. Ilia jokingly says that sex is all he thinks about. She looks up, suddenly screams.
Several small sensor-probes appear and hover a few feet off the floor. Intruder alert warnings blare. Before the room can be sealed the sensor-probes sail out into the corridors. Chekov and security men approach. There are three of them, two egg-shaped probes, and one which resembles a ring-shaped pearl mounted on three legs. The three-legged probe begins to emit SQUEALS. It is the only probe that seems to notice the Humans. The other two sail about blissfully hovering here and there in the ship.
Soon there are egg-shaped probes everywhere on the ship, sailing along, inspecting everything in their path, ignoring the Humans as if they were not there. The three-legged probe stomps around SQUEALING, stays away from the crew.
The three-legged probe stomps onto the bridge, looks around, emits a SQUEAL. When Uhura plays back and decodes the squeal it says, “Please allow me to speak to the U. S. S. Enterprise.”
When Chekov notes that the ring-shaped pearl atop the three-legged probe reminds him of a cheap ring his aunt Tasha received from her worthless suitor, all begin referring to this probe as “Tasha.”
Tasha begins inserting small probes into Kirk’s ear, down his shirt, down his. . . Kirk stops this pretty fast! When Tasha will not respond to his questions, Kirk orders Uhura to transmit messages to it as if from the Enterprise herself. When asked why the alien ship attacked, Tasha says that other beings similar to Enterprise had attacked it recently. Obviously these other beings were malfunctioning. Tasha fears that Enterprise may be malfunctioning. In fact, Tasha asks if Enterprise is aware that it is infested with 430 parasitical beings.
Xon warns Kirk not to tell Tasha that they, the 430 parasites, control Enterprise. He fears that Tasha will take it to mean they are malignant infestations and destroy the ship. Kirk has the computer tell it that the parasites are welcome to inhabit Enterprise. He then asks why Tasha’s ship is heading for Earth. Because it is the “Holy Home of the Creator,” of course. Nonsense, Kirk says.
Suddenly, the tractor beam from the huge ship grabs Enterprise again. Tasha believes that Kirk is attempting to deceive him. Tasha begins communicating directly with the computer. Kirk worries that Tasha may download all files concerning Starfleet security, may discover all there is to know of Earth defenses. Kirk orders the computer to shut down. It does not comply. Xon, using his great Vulcan strength, smashes the main computer interface, shutting the entire system down.
Tasha moves toward Ilia. Both suddenly dematerialize as if via a sophisticated transporter. Sulu moves too late to do anything about it.
Two days away from Earth. Enterprise is still held fast in the huge ship’s tractor beam. By shutting down their computers they have no way to communicate with the alien vessel. No way to know what has become of Lieutenant Ilia. Xon and crew work on repairing the computers.
Xon reports that the alien did not download any information from the computer concerning Starfleet strength and Earth defenses. All the compromised data concerned three thousand years of ancient Earth history and some personnel files. Still, Xon is worried. With the history files, he fears the ship will decide that Earth is infested by the same parasites as Enterprise and destroy the entire planet. “Now we’re a plague,” McCoy grumbles.
McCoy orders Kirk to his cabin to rest. There he is startled as a perfect duplicate of Ilia appears in his shower. It is the sensor-probe Tasha reconfigured in Ilia’s form. She willingly goes to Sickbay and is examined by McCoy. “Ilia” informs them that the real Ilia was scanned and disassembled. The Ilia-probe has been sent to the Enterprise to find out why the “servo-units” infested it.
Xon advises Kirk to attempt to enter into a “relationship” with the faux Ilia to determine more of her vessel’s origin and purpose.
“Ilia” readily informs them that her vessel is called Ve-jur. Kirk takes her to the bridge where all think the real Ilia has returned. He informs them that this is Tasha imitating Ilia. Meanwhile, computers repaired, Kirk attempts to send a message to Earth informing Starfleet of what has transpired. “Ilia” is suddenly alert and surmises that Kirk is attempting to warn the servo-units which infect Earth of what is happening.
Ve-jur must rush to Earth to rid it of the servo-units. The tractor beam releases the Enterprise and Ve-jur streaks toward Earth.
“Ilia” informs Kirk that he and one other servo-unit may beam over to Ve-jur with her to see proof that the third planet is the Home of the Holy Creator. Kirk, Xon and “Ilia” beam over. They pass through the gigantic vessel, see the real Ilia’s dead body floating inside a gelatinous mass. When Kirk asks if they may take her body back in the hope of repairing it the Ilia-probe asks why they would want it. They have her now.
Soon they discover that at the heart of Ve-jur is the remains of Voyager 18, a probe launched by NASA in 1996. “Glory to NASA,” the Ilia-probe says reverently. “Ilia” rejects their pleas that Humans launched the space probe, and all three beam back to the Enterprise. Ve-jur gives Enterprise a five hour head start to get to Earth to prepare the servo-units for its return. “Ilia” tells Kirk that she knows the God NASA will be awaiting Ve-jur’s return.
“Ilia” tells more of her machine race’s history. Three hundred years ago during “The Time of Trouble” her race was breaking down. When Ve-jur landed, although primitive, it provided a “spark” that caused her race to strive to overcome their obstacles. They rebuilt themselves, rebuilt Ve-jur and now wish to go to Earth to thank the God NASA for giving them its Son Ve-jur and his Holy Message.
Kirk takes the Enterprise into orbit above Earth. Since the damaged transporters are not strong enough to beam them to Earth, he commands the Delphi, a smaller ship, to take a lower orbit. He and the Ilia-probe will beam to that ship, then from there they will be beamed to the Starfleet Archives building in San Francisco.
“Ilia,” meanwhile, has seen other servo-units kissing and decides to try it out on Kirk. Surprised, he tells her she has definitely got the hang of it. “Ilia” admits that she felt emotions when she did this.
As they beam away, Kirk relays orders to Decker and Xon to stand by to self-destruct in case his plan fails. On the Delphi, he and “Ilia” are retransported, materializing outside the archives building. A small boy is awed by Kirk, says he wants to join Starfleet when he grows up. Kirk has to explain to “Ilia” what “growing up” means. “Ilia” shows anger when she sees servo-units riding a hydrofoil.
Soon they enter the archives building, and Kirk begins to show her data tapes of NASA’s history. “Ilia” says that these are recreations. She wants to see the originals. Kirk tries to tell her that old books and old films have deteriorated, but she will not listen.
On the Enterprise, Decker sends history tapes to Ve-jur, attempting to show that Humans are not infestations. He sends tapes showing man’s great achievements. Xon suggests sending tapes showing man’s wars, his destructiveness, to convince Ve-jur that they have risen above such ugliness, that they are worthy of surviving. Decker decides against it.
In the archives building, Kirk finds an old film projector and an old film can which contains a twentieth century documentary entitled, This is NASA. ‘Is this original enough?’ he asks. Will she accept it if they can project it? A young technician helps set up the projector which “Ilia” thinks is a beautiful machine.
In orbit, Ve-jur releases weapons which take up equidistant orbits around Earth. Unless Ve-jur hears from the Ilia-probe soon, Earth will be destroyed to save the God NASA. Decker orders a self-destruct be set in motion.
In the archives building, the film begins to run. . . and breaks almost immediately. It is hopeless. Kirk pleads with “Ilia.” Humans built Voyager 18, there is no God NASA.
Ve-jur is waiting for “Ilia” to signal. When it does not hear from her, it sets a count-down timer on its weapons.
Kirk continues to plead on the behalf of Humanity. “Ilia” finally glances at Kirk, says that she doesn’t want to hear anymore. She walks away.
Ve-jur’s countdown concludes. Nothing happens.
“Ilia” informs Kirk that she told Ve-jur she had seen proof that servo-units built it. When Kirk questions her, she admits that she lied to it. “Why?” Kirk asks. “I don’t know,” she says.
Kirk signals Ve-jur who acknowledges that Humans built it. When Kirk asks if they can communicate further, Ve-jur says it does not communicate with lower lifeforms, turns and sails away.
Kirk and “Ilia” beam to the Enterprise, but there is a flash of light and the Ilia-probe reverts to her three-legged Tasha form and stands inert, dead.
Ve-jur picks up speed and is soon lost to view. An instant before it disappears, the real Ilia is transported to the bridge of the Enterprise, alive, repaired.
The Enterprise is assigned a new mission. Kirk will remain as the captain. He informs the crew that any officer who wishes to return to his former duty assignment may beam off the ship now. No one moves. Kirk smiles, orders the ship into deep space.
As it departs, we hear: “Space the final frontier, these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, its new five-year mission. . .”
Incidentally, although I know this clip isn’t from the series (although the writer, art director and director must be fans – Farragut was Kirk’s first assignment, and the actors wear Trek like tunics), I love the idea of Kirk having an existential post-five year mission crisis, before the Ve-Jur / V’ger mission shakes him out of it!
It was Hollywood gossip columnist Rona Barrett who blew the whistle on the show that wasn’t in December 1977, but Paramount still didn’t crack. They merely stated that the new Network and Star Trek Phase II would be delayed to later the following year. And it would even have a longer run of episodes. The only people on the lot who probably still believed this were the episode scriptwriters, whereas the only script that mattered was the proposed film, In Thy Image (you can see outlines for the first thirteen scripts here). As work continued, Paramount decided director Robert Collinson was too inexperienced to handle a multi-million dollar film, and he was let go, though handsomely recompensed. Oscar winner Robert Wise replaced him. Wise by name, wise by nature, he knew there was no Star Trek without Spock, and secured Leonard Nimoy for a large fee. David Gautreaux was compensated with a different role as Commander Branch, in charge of the Starfleet listening post wiped out by the alien cloud at the beginning of the film.
Against all odds, and despite all the behind the scenes machinations, subterfuge and personality clashes, Star Trek was back, and successful. As Robert Goodwin reflected, “It was a terrible experience, but it was all very understandable and very acceptable, because, that’s the way the business is. That’s what they had to do.” To boldly go…