“Assignment: Earth,” the so-so Star Trek episode that keeps on giving.

WARNING: Nerdy rambling lay ahead.

garyseven01The other day on Facebook, noted science fiction author and all-around good guy Robert J. Sawyer mentioned that he’d stumbled across a fan website devoted to “Assignment: Earth,” the Star Trek original series episode that closed out the show’s second season in 1968. As the conversation evolved, mentions where made about how various novels and comics have revisited the idea of super human agent Gary Seven, his assistant, Roberta Lincoln, and an enigmatic cat/possible shapeshifter named Isis working behind the scenes of Earth history to make sure humanity is able to survive the challenges and obstacles it will face in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, until such time as it evolves into a “mature civilization.”

assignmentearth02Assignment: Earth” as it appeared in Star Trek was intended as a backdoor pilot, introducing the idea of Seven and Lincoln and setting them up to have their own adventures in their own television series, aptly named Assignment: Earth. What many casual fans and other, normal human beings don’t know is that Gene Roddenberry, working with fellow writer Art Wallace, originally conceived the premise as its own entity, unconnected to the Star Trek setting. When efforts to gain that idea some traction fell short, Wallace inserted the characters and their setup plot into Star Trek. It’s here that we’re introduced to Gary Seven, a descendant of humans taken from Earth thousands of years ago by unknown aliens, and trained to the upper limits of human physical and mental ability in preparation for a special mission to help guide his native civilization through tumultuous periods of our history.

The result – if we’re being honest – is not a particularly great Star Trek episode. It’s clunky in that special way only pilot episodes can achieve, while committing the additional sin of regulating the show’s actual stars, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, to supporting status as they struggle to help Gary Seven and Roberta establish a foothold for many more “adventures to come.”

gary-roberta01

Still, Spock’s line at the end, where he hints at the show that was not to be as he tells Kirk, “Captain, we could say that Mister Seven and Miss Lincoln have some interesting experiences in store for them,” is just one of the things about this episode that I’ve always found intriguing. It’s easy to understand why the premise was never revisited in filmed Star Trek, but I’ve often wondered why it was never explored via other onscreen means. Other ideas developed by Gene Roddenberry in those years between the original Star Trek series and its feature film rebirth were later dusted off, updated, and re-imagined for television, namely Andromeda and Earth: Final Conflict. However, no one apparently thought to reincarnate the Assignment: Earth premise, either as its own series or once again connected to the Star Trek universe. Who knows? Maybe it’s just a matter of “When” rather than “If.”

Meanwhile, I’ve frequently imagined what Seven and Roberta might’ve been up to, working behind the scenes here on Earth. What historical milestones did they influence? What disasters did they prevent, or which ones were they forced to observe, even though they may have possessed the power to alter the course of events, because history itself demanded that things play out in a certain way? The possibilities of this premise were, to borrow one of Mr. Spock’s pet responses, “Fascinating.”

And I’m obviously not the only one who felt that way.

Writer Howard Weinstein was the first to revisit Mister Seven and Miss Lincoln, in “The Peacekeeper,” a two-part story for DC Comics in 1993. Here, Howie expands Seven’s backstory a bit, including giving a name to his mysterious alien benefactors: “the Aegis.” Howie would later join forces with fellow writer Michael Jan Friedman to bring back Seven for a Star Trek/Star Trek: The Next Generation comics two-parter from 1996, “Convergence.”

Seven and Roberta made their debut in novel form in 1998 thanks to Greg Cox. In Assignment: Eternity, the Earth agents travel to the 23rd century, enlisting the aid of Kirk and the Enterprise to rescue a captured Aegis agent and safeguard his advanced technology from falling into Romulan hands.

ew1-coverCox would revisit Seven’s adventures on 20th century Earth in a big way with The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, a two-novel epic published in 2001 and 2002 that pits Seven against the genetically-engineered superman and his followers throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. The story sets the stage for Khan’s exile from Earth aboard a “sleeper ship” and his eventual discovery by Captain Kirk and the Enterprise in the first season Star Trek episode “Space Seed.”

Speaking as a fan, Greg’s three Gary Seven novels are among my favorite Star Trek tales, and they would end up factoring heavily in some of my own storytelling choices. My 2013 novel From History’s Shadow features Roberta Lincoln coming to Kirk and Spock to help her with a problem involving aliens on Earth in the late 1960s. Using Greg’s books as a guide, I added more backstory to the Aegis operations behind the scenes, placing agents on Earth beginning in the late 1940s with a few predecessors to Gary Seven.

20130421-081940.jpgMy follow-up novel, Elusive Salvation, gives Roberta a new mission with Kirk and Spock, this time in the 1980s. While Mister Seven has appearances in both books, I opted to focus on Roberta in these stories, to show her evolution from Seven’s “assistant” to a full-fledged agent in her own right. Also, I discovered that this approach made it easier to maintain continuity with The Eugenics Wars novels, which had always been one of my self-imposed mandates. There will also be connections to Seven and Roberta, The Eugenics Wars, From History’s Shadow, and Elusive Salvation in my Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Hearts and Minds, coming in June 2017.

Seven and/or Roberta also found their way into several stories from the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthologies. First, there was my own “The Aliens Are Coming!” from the third volume in 2000. I’d written this story before getting a chance to read the first volume of The Eugenics Wars, learning only later that Greg would make a sly reference to the story in the second book. For those wondering, the events of my original story were later tweaked and incorporated into From History’s Shadow.

Other Strange New Worlds stories featuring Seven and/or Roberta are “Seven and Seven” in SNW6, “Assignment: One” in SNW8 (which I also reference in the aforementioned Hearts and Minds), “Rocket Man” in SNW9, and “Time Line” in SNW10.

Finally, Seven and Roberta make return forays to the world of comics, this time in stories from IDW Publishing in 2008. First, there’s the five-issue miniseries Assignment: Earth, written and illustrated by comics legend John Byrne, which showcases our favorite covert operatives working on Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Byrne would bring Kirk back to 1970s Earth to help Seven yet again in “1971/4860.2,” the July 2015 issue of his ongoing series of Star Trek “photo comics,” New Visions.

That’s a pretty good bit of material spinning out of a so-so failed “pilot” episode.

Will there be more Gary Seven, either on screen or on the page? I guess we’ll see what we see, but I’m not betting against it……………… 😀

 

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About Dayton Ward

Freelance word pusher. Husband. Dad. Trekkie. Rush fan (the band). Tampa Bay Bucs fan. Observer/derider of human behavior. I know where my towel is.
This entry was posted in books, comics, ramblings, trek. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “Assignment: Earth,” the so-so Star Trek episode that keeps on giving.

  1. Doug Daniel says:

    I think one reason Assignment:Earth was never produced may have been the fact that “spy” shows had been a glut on the market in the early and middle Sixties, and were kind of past their pull-date by 1968; and while Assignment:Earth had a different premise it would probably played as a spy show for TV execs– you know, that species of life with, generally-speaking, smaller brains than most dinosaurs.

    I always loved the episode. Maybe, someday….

    Like

    • Dayton Ward says:

      Hard to say. James Bond was going strong on movie screens, as were shows like Mission: Impossible and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

      I think (nothing to back it up, of course) it simply stemmed from pilot being not all that well received, and it had come from the producer of a show that was already struggling in the ratings.

      Like

  2. Daryl Bush says:

    Thank you so much for this synopsis… I often struggle with picking up a Star Trek book because I know I’ve lost the history of the story (i.e references in other books, etc). This gives me great insight into where to start.

    I have wanted to read Elusive Salvation for a while but knew there was earlier works it referred too.

    I wish all the books had a bit of history like this…

    Like

  3. Scott Dutton says:

    Hi Dayton –

    Here’s a site devoted to all things Æ:

    http://www.assignmentearth.ca

    Hope your novel does well.

    – Scott

    Like

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