Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana, RIP.

The Star Trek world has suffered another heartbreak with the loss of Dorothy Fontana, who passed away on December 2nd after a brief illness.

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Already an accomplished television writer by the time she met Gene Roddenberry in 1963 while he was producing a new series called The Lieutenant, Fontana stayed with him when he began pitching Star Trek to different studios the following year. Hired by Roddenberry as his production secretary when he landed at Desilu Studios in 1964, Fontana was there from the very beginning with the first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage.”

WrittenByFontanaWhen the series was finally greenlit after the production of a second, better received pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” Fontana served as the show’s story editor. Roddenberry asked her to write an episode from one of the story ideas included in his series “writer’s bible.” The idea she chose would become “Charlie X,” the first of eight teleplays she would contribute to the original series. One of those, “Journey to Babel,” along with her own “This Side of Paradise” and Theodore Sturgeon’s “Amok Time” provided us with vital backstory key to understanding not just the character of Mr. Spock but also the Vulcan people and their civilization.

And this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Following her tenure on the original show, she wrote scripts for numerous television series throughout the ensuing thirty years, including genre shows like Logan’s Run, Land of the Lost, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Babylon 5. In 1973, she returned to Star Trek as script editor for the animated series, where she also contributed a script for one of that show’s most popular episodes, “Yesteryear,” which offered even more insight into Spock, his family, and the planet Vulcan.

Along with fellow Star Trek alumni David Gerrold, Robert H. Justman, and Edward K. (“Eddie”) Milkis, Fontana joined Gene Roddenberry in the fall of 1986 to develop Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fontana co-wrote with Roddenberry that series’ first episode, “Encounter At Farpoint,” for which she received a Hugo award nomination. She wrote or co-wrote three additional scripts and provided another story while serving as associate producer for the new show’s first thirteen episodes. Her final contribution to televised Star Trek was a collaboration with writer Peter Allan Fields for “Dax,” a first season episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Beyond television, Fontana wrote a well-received and fan-favorite Star Trek novel, 1989’s Vulcan’s Glory. She also collaborated with writer Derek Chester on the storylines for several Star Trek video games as well as the 2008 comic book miniseries Star Trek: Year Four. The comic would be her final contribution to Star Trek. After largely retiring from screenwriting in 2006, she most recently served as a senior lecturer at the American Film Institute.

From my earliest days as a fan watching the original series, I knew the name “D.C. Fontana.” As I grew older and my appreciation for the show expanded in various ways, I became more interested in its production and behind-the-scenes stories, so I learned more about the woman behind the initials. Yes, Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry with the able assistance of producers Herb Solow and Bob Justman. However, along with writer-producer Gene Coon I consider Dorothy Fontana to be absolutely instrumental to the shaping and caretaking of the series during its formative years, laying the foundation upon which stands everything that followed. The width and breadth of her impact on Star Trek cannot be understated.

As someone who’s enjoyed the privilege of contributing in some small way to the universe she helped create, I’ve taken much inspiration from her (and other writers of the original series in particular). From her and her colleagues, I learned a great deal about what makes “a Star Trek story,” and I try to keep in mind the lessons they imparted every time I sit down to write my own such tales. So far as I see it, Star Trek as we know it would not exist if not for her efforts. Her influence and indeed her legacy continues to inform and guide even the newest iterations of the franchise to this day.

Rest in peace, Ms. Fontana, and thank you.

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Dorothy Catherine (“D.C.”) Fontana
March 25, 1939 – December 2, 2019

Happy 25th anniversary, Star Trek Generations!

Captain of the Enterprise, huh?

That’s right.

Close to retirement?

I’m not planning on it.

Let me tell you something: Don’t. Don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you. Don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship, because while you’re there, you can make a difference.

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Released on November 18th, 1994, just six months after Star Trek: The Next Generation completed its seven-year television run and proved to naysayers lightning could be captured twice–albeit in a slicker and shinier bottle–Star Trek Generations launched Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of his starship Enterprise to the silver screen. With the cast of the original series having taken their final bow three years earlier in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the time had come to pass the baton so another crew might boldly go on to successful cinematic adventures.

However, and perhaps due to concerns Picard and company might not entice enough viewers to follow them from their televisions to theaters and while also hoping to attract that larger mainstream audience films need to thrive, the decision was made to stack the deck, so to speak. Therefore, this “next generation” of Star Trek films (see what I did there?) would be given a sendoff by none other than the legendary James T. Kirk himself.

It actually wasn’t a bad idea, in and of itself. Besides, the idea of a character from a previous series helping to launch a new one had already been done twice before (McCoy appears in the TNG pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint,” and Picard himself appears in the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Emissary”) and had become something of a Star Trek tradition that would later be observed in the first episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise, to say nothing of “original Spock” being on hand for the 2009 reboot film.

Generations opens in the 23rd century, nearly 80 years prior to the events of TNG, with Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov on hand to celebrate the launch of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-B, the successor to the starship said to be retired after the events of Star Trek VI. When “Stuff Happens” as it always does, the trusty trio is on hand to help save the day and the lives of a number of refugees from a disabled spaceship that’s been caught in a mysterious “energy ribbon.” However, that comes at a steep price: the death of Captain Kirk…or so we’re led to believe.

Flash forward 78 years to Picard’s Enterprise (NCC-1701-D on your scorecards), where they encounter Dr. Tolian Soran, a dude who’s hellbent on finding his way back to that aforementioned energy ribbon. Oh, and did we mention he was one of those refugees Kirk and the gang saved all those years ago? Oh, and did we also mention Guinan, the Enterprise‘s enigmatic bartender, is also a refugee? Remember this…it’ll be on the test later.

Hijinks ensue, eventually leading to a confrontation between Picard and Soran on the surface of an uninhabited planet, where Soran has developed a means of changing the ribbon’s course through space. This is done by blowing up key stars and sending gravimetric shockwaves that alter its trajectory, and he’s been hop-scotching through the quadrant in order to move the ribbon close enough for him to get into it. Why? Because when he and Guinan and the others were transported from their doomed ship decades earlier, they were in the ribbon’s grip; phasing in and out of our space-time continuum, and part of each of them is still in there, somewhere, so they feel a constant yearning to return to “that place.” It’s sort of like longing for Taco Bell even though you get there too late for FourthMeal.

Of course, this whole “blowing up stars” bit also has the effect of destroying any nearby planets, including inhabited ones. As that’s pretty much a huge buzzkill for anyone living on said worlds, Picard has to stop Soran before he can blow up this planet’s sun and wipe out the civilization living on an adjacent world. That doesn’t work out so well for Picard, who’s helpless to watch as Soran launches a rocket into the star, destroying it and bringing the ribbon to him. As the Enterprise, in orbit above the planet and getting its ass kicked by a Klingon ship, crashes on the surface, the planet is destroyed by the shock wave from the exploding star just as Soran and Picard are swept up in the ribbon’s effects.

And that’s when shit gets weird. Why? Well, let’s just say once he’s in the ribbon, Picard should probably have a sit down with astronauts Bowman and Cooper and discuss bizarre trips through spatial phenomena, amirite? And that’s before he runs into the aforementioned James T. Kirk chopping wood outside a remote mountain cabin.


1994 was a fantastic time for Star Trek. Two successful television series were in first-run syndication and the original series cast had bid their fond farewells. Star Trek: The Next Generation had wrapped, but Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had just started its third season and Star Trek: Voyager was waiting in the wings, and the TNG crew of course was now transitioning to the big screen. Merchandising was cooking with gas, and Star Trek was even embracing the still-minty fresh World Wide Web. Did you know that Star Trek Generations was the first film to get its own promotional website?

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Though not a perfect film and not my favorite of the bunch, I still have a soft spot for Generations. In many ways, it really was the “passing of the torch” so far as Star Trek in the mainstream went. After saying goodbye (so we thought) to Kirk and his crew in the previous film, the events in Generations serve to cement the transition, figuratively and literally, and tell old-school Trekkies our Star Trek, the one we’d grown up with, was over. All good things, and all that, right?

Meanwhile, the TNG cast does get a bit of a short-shrift here, with so much time given over to Picard’s “Brave and the Bold”-esque team-up with Kirk. It wouldn’t be until their next outing, Star Trek: First Contact in 1996, that they’d get the screen all to themselves…sorta.

The story takes a bit of heat for a few logic problems, and the more vocal critics maintain that screenwriters Ronald Moore and Brannon Braga actually did a better job with their script for the TNG series finale episode, written in two weeks, than the film, which was the result of months of work. I tend to forgive Moore and Braga on this point, as the story they were asked to write was saddled with various studio requests and directives in order for the film to be the “baton pass” from Kirk’s era to Picard’s.

The scene where Kirk tells Picard not to retire is perhaps my favorite of the film. Until that point, Picard had largely been portrayed as the leader who manages situations while sending others to the front, which of course was a completely different (and arguably more proper) approach than what we’d seen Captain Kirk do every week on the original show, when he beams down and gets into trouble episode after episode. For me, this scene is a turning point for the character not just for actor Patrick Stewart, who would see Picard’s action quotient increase in the subsequent films, but also those of us who ended up writing the character in different media. I always look to this moment between Kirk and Picard to explain or justify why Picard continues to eschew retirement or promotion in the novels set after the TNG movies.

That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

Generations also has special meaning for me because I used the film’s climax as a point of departure for “Reflections,” the story I submitted to the very first Star Trek: Strange New Worlds writing contest back in 1997. You know how things went down after that.

So, Happy 25th Anniversary, Star Trek Generations. That predator time seems to have been pretty good to you.

Veterans Day.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, 1915

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(Artwork: Erin Ward)

Happy 244th Birthday, Marines!

On November 1st, 1921, John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that a reminder of the honorable service of the Corps be published by every command, to all Marines throughout the globe, on the birthday of the Corps. Since that day, Marines have continued to distinguish themselves on many battlefields and foreign shores, in war and peace. On this birthday of the Corps, therefore, in compliance with the will of the 13th Commandant, Article 38, United States Marine Corps Manual, Edition of 1921, is republished as follows:

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long era of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish, Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ since the founding of the Corps.

— from The Marine Officer’s Guide

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Happy Birthday, Marines! 244 years old today. Semper Fi!

October 23, 1983. Semper Fi.

In early 1983, the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit was deployed from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to Beirut, Lebanon. They were sent as part of the peacekeeping force originally inserted the previous year into the conflict raging there between Christian and Muslim factions.

On the morning of October 23, 1983, 36 years ago today, an explosives-laden truck driven by a suicide bomber destroyed the headquarters building of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, killing 241 Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers and wounding more than 100 others. Minutes later, a second truck drove into a barracks building housing French peacekeeping forces and detonated, killing 58 French paratroopers and wounding 15 others.

The bombing resulted in the highest single-day death toll for the Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II, and the costliest day for U.S. military forces since the first day of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. The harsh lessons imparted on that fateful Sunday morning in 1983 resonate today. They remain relevant even as American military personnel continue to stand in harm’s way around the world.

The following poem is cast in bronze at the official national Beirut Memorial near Camp Lejeune:

THE OTHER WALL

It does not stand in Washington
By others of its kind
In prominence and dignity
With mission clearly defined.

It does not list the men who died
That tyranny should cease
But speaks in silent eloquence
Of those who came in peace.

This Other Wall is solemn white
And cut in simple lines
And it nestles in the splendor
Of the Carolina pines.

And on this wall there are the names
Of men who once had gone
In friendship’s name offer aid
To Beirut, Lebanon

They did not go as conquerors
To bring a nation down
Or for honor or for glory
Or for praises or renown.

When they landed on that foreign shore
Their only thought in mind
Was the safety of its people
And the good of all mankind

Though they offered only friendship
And freedom’s holy breath
They were met with scorn and mockery
And violence and death.

So the story of their glory
Is not the battles fought
But of their love for freedom
Which was so dearly bought.

And their Wall shall stand forever
So long as freedom shines
On the splendor and the glory
Of the Carolina pines.

— Robert A. Gannon

It’s Jupiter 2 Launch Day!

October 16th, 1997:

“This is the beginning. This is the day. You are watching the unfolding of one of history’s greatest adventures–man’s colonization of space beyond the stars. The first of what may be as many as ten million families per year is setting out on its epic voyage into man’s newest frontier, deep space. Reaching out into other worlds from our desperately overcrowded planet, a series of deep thrust telescopic probes have conclusively established a planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri as the only one within range of our technology able to furnish ideal conditions for human existence.

Even now the family chosen for this incredible journey into space is preparing to take their final pre lift off physical tests. The Robinson family was selected from more than two million volunteers for its unique balance of scientific achievement, emotional stability, and pioneer resourcefulness. They will spend the next five and a half years of their voyage frozen in a state of suspended animation which will terminate automatically as the spacecraft enters the atmosphere of the new planet.”

Lost In Space, “The Reluctant Stowaway”

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Happy Birthday, Star Trek: The Next Generation!

Tonight…the 24th Century begins…..”

That’s what greeted those of us lounging in front of our televisions 32 years ago tonight, when legendary radio and TV personality and ABC broadcaster Ernie Anderson introduced us to “Staaaaaaaaaar Trek: The Next Generation” with a 90-second teaser just before the premiere of the series first episode, “Encounter at Farpoint.”

Seems like…well, it sure as hell doesn’t seem like 32 years ago that’s for sure.

I’ve told this story before, but on September 28th, 1987, I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s premiere in the TV room of my barracks at Camp Pendleton. The room was stuffed with Marines, and maybe it was because of the beer, but we all stayed to watch the whole thing.

While we didn’t hate it, it was obvious that this show would go through a growth period as the folks behind and in front of the camera tweaked and pulled at this or that. Still, it was new Star Trek, by golly,  and little did we know at the time what that would come to mean.

Now here we are, 32 years after the series premiere and 17 years since the last time he did so, and Patrick Stewart is preparing to return to the role of Jean-Luc Picard. It’s a helluva fun time to be a Star Trek fan.

And while we’re waiting to see what comes of that? Maybe I’ll run “Farpoint” later tonight. Happy 32nd Birthday, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Go. Go see what’s out there.

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Happy 30th Anniversary, Alien Nation the TV series!

That was the scene in California’s Mojave Desert five years ago: our historic first view of the Newcomers’ ship. Theirs was a slave ship, carrying a quarter million beings bred to adapt and labor in any environment. But they’ve washed ashore on Earth, with no way to get back to where they came from, and in the last five years the Newcomers have become the latest addition to the population of Los Angeles.”

Cue funky opening music and credits.

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Los Angeles, 1995: Aliens are everywhere.

After their very massive starship crashes on Earth, 250,000 genetically engineered aliens who call themselves “Tenctonese” find themselves forced to assimilate into a world very different from the one to which they’d been heading. The people already living here also find themselves dealing with the very harsh reality that not only is there life “out there,” but there’s actually quite a lot of it. If one ship full of alien slaves can find their way to Earth, what about the people who enslaved them? What about any other enemies they might have? What would such people think of humans, and what if they decide we’re a threat?

Meanwhile, the Tenctonese just want to live, pay their bills, watch crappy TV, and basically take advantage of the unexpected gift of freedom they’ve received, but are they truly free? While many humans have welcomed these “Newcomers,” there are many others who’d be happy to see them climb back into their ship and fly away. Since that’s not really an option, such people are okay with taking more extreme steps to keep “Earth for earthlings.”

Then there’s Matt Sikes, cynical and halfway burnout police detective, who’s kinda sorta okay with the Newcomers, even though his last name when translated into Tenctonese is two words that mean “excrement” and “cranium” or “shit head.”

Then they make a Newcomer his partner. Whoops.

Continue reading “Happy 30th Anniversary, Alien Nation the TV series!”

Happy 45th anniversary to Planet of the Apes…the TV series!

Yeah, I can see some of you younger folks out there, giving me that Kevin Hart blinking side-eye GIF. You’ll just have to bear with me as we dive headlong into a nice inviting pool of nostalgia.

I know. Again.

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The success of 1968’s Planet of the Apes film spawned four (Count ’em! Four!) sequels over the ensuing five years. However, as budgets dwindled with each successive installment and returns on investment following suit, the fifth film, 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes, was viewed by many as the franchise finally running out of steam. That said, each of the five films made money, so the idea continuing to do something with the property was still very much a real thing.

Continue reading “Happy 45th anniversary to Planet of the Apes…the TV series!”