Be warned: turn back now if you’re not a Star Trek fan.
The Problem with Star Trek
I love Star Trek. I love it all (in varying degrees). Always have, probably always will. My go-to incarnation is The Next Generation, but I can appreciate it all for different reasons. The adventure of the classic series, the thoughtfulness of The Next Generation, the complexity of Deep Space 9, the fun of Voyager, the mixed bag of the movies, the colour of the animated show, the earnestness of Enterprise, the lot!
It used to be easy to enjoy Star Trek. There was The Original Series (TOS), then TNG, then DS9 and Voyager. All nice and linear, from A to B to C to 1701D. But things aren’t so simple any more.
Prequels and Reboots
It started to get complicated with Star Trek Enterprise, a prequel series set a century before the original series. Warp flight was still a novelty, transporters were a dangerous piece of kit, and we’d never met a Klingon. Enterprise isn’t my favourite show, but there’s still much to like here. But there’s also a lot that doesn’t quite fit with what we know lies ahead with TOS. The design, the look and feel of the ship, the costumes all suggest a slightly more sophisticated and advanced culture than the one we know and love from TOS, and there’s a very good reason for this: Star Trek isn’t real! It’s a TV show designed and filmed in the 1960s onwards. Enterprise was made for a millennial audience, it had to evolve, it had to be modern. It couldn’t have had retro sixties futurism, could it? Maybe, but that’s an argument for another day. The reason Enterprise doesn’t look like a real-life precursor to TOS is because it’s not real life. (By the way I love the NX-01 ship, it’s a great design with fantastic attention to detail, but it never felt like a predecessor to the original Enterprise to me.)
Now we have a new series about to hit our screens: Star Trek Discovery, set just ten years before TOS.
Another prequel that doesn’t seem to fit with the design of TOS – because Star Trek isn’t real.
But what if Star Trek was real? Is it possible to reconcile these differences inside the bubble of the show’s reality? Well, yes, I think it is, and we only have to look at the reboot movies to show us how.
The Kelvin Universe
When JJ Abrams re-booted Star Trek for the big screen he used time travel as a way to protect the original established chronology while also being able to start again. He didn’t want to rub out everything that had gone before and paint over it with his own version. So we got two universes: the Prime Universe and the Kelvin Universe. Everything before the 2009 reboot was in the Prime universe, including Enterprise and the new show, Discovery. The three movies existed in the alternate Kelvin Universe. JJ established that messing about with time travel and tampering with established events creates a new alternate universe where things can play out in their own way… Well, that’s not the first time that’s happened.
A Third Way?
Remember Star Trek: First Contact? The Borg travel back in time to assimilate the Earth. The Enterprise E travels back as well, averts disaster, defeats the Borg, but tampers with established events and leaves behind crucial advanced technology in the past. What if this temporal incursion created the same split that we see happening with the creation of the Kelvin Universe. There’s evidence to back this up: in the Prime Universe we knew nothing of the Borg until Q introduced us to them in the 24th Century. Now, after defeating the Borg in the past we have dead drones left in the debris of a destroyed Borg sphere in the Arctic ice.
Fragments of 24th century technology have been discovered in the 22nd century. Could this change the flow of events? Could this spawn a new universe with distinctive differences to the Prime Universe? I believe so, and I’d call it…
The Phoenix Universe
Here’s my theory: the Phoenix Universe came into existence when the Borg travelled back in time to try to assimilate the Earth, as seen in Star Trek: First Contact. This temporal incursion and subsequent tampering with the course of established events created a divergent timeline – named after the Phoenix ship seen in the movie. This is a universe where Borg debris litters parts of the Earth, where we have access to Borg corpses and their implants, where the details of the first warp flight and first contact with the Vulcans played out differently to those established in the Prime Universe. This is a universe where aesthetics and technology differ to those we’ve seen in the classic series. This means that ALL of Enterprise takes place in the Phoenix Universe. This explains why it doesn’t quite match up with the Prime Universe we saw in TOS. All of Discovery will presumably take place in the Phoenix Universe as well, but it’s hard to be sure until we see it. I created this graphic to help explain my theory.
Do we need a Third Universe?
A third universe? Isn’t two enough? Doesn’t this make things even more complicated? Yes, but it also means I can love Enterprise and Discovery a little bit more because they don’t inflict a new ideology onto the classic Prime Universe shows of TOS, TNG, DS9 and Voyager – they remain intact. And it gives potential scope for exploring other parts of the Phoenix Universe. We get a whole new universe to explore.
Of course this is just my theory, and it’s not like we haven’t seen time travel and alternate universes before in Star Trek. There could be dozen or even hundreds of universes if we apply this logic to every single time travel adventure. But I think there’s a strong argument for the Phoenix Universe over other potential candidates; it ticks a lot of boxes, it irons out some inconsistencies and (I believe) it can increase our enjoyment of the prequel shows, letting them stretch their legs without fear of stepping on other beloved shows.
What do you think? Does the Phoenix Universe exist? Or should I turn off the TV and get out more?