Doomed revival: Star Trek, Captain Kirk and the resurrection that never was

<span>Photograph: Ronald Grant</span>
Photograph: Ronald Grant

The transportation of matter has always been a curate’s egg for the sci-fi writer. Kurt Neumann’s 1958 film The Fly conjured up terrible images of horror when its protagonist found his sub-atomic particles sliced and diced with those of an insect after meddling with the untried technology. But it also featured an awful plot hole: why did the machine split our scientist into a tiny man-fly and a huge fly-man, with both parts of the hybrid suitably scaled to match, if it was just swapping over a few atoms?

David Cronenberg partially solved that conundrum with his excruciatingly icky 1986 remake, in which Jeff Goldblum’s eccentric scientist finds himself fused at a genetic level with a passing housefly and slowly begins to morph into a giant insect. Yet this version also had its issues: given the huge number of tiny non-human organisms living on every person’s body, the poor bloke would have probably ended up as something far more complex than just a hybrid of a man and a fly.

Star Trek has always trodden carefully around the details of its transporter technology. We assume that each time the machine moves a human being from one place to another, it saves a copy of that person before downloading them in a new location. Occasionally, as in the Original Series episode The Enemy Within (and Second Chances from Star Trek: The Next Generation), the quirks of matter transportation have been used to suggest that it is possible for multiple versions of the same human to be pumped out by the same machine. But if this is the case, why didn’t Kirk simply download a healthy new version of Spock after the latter succumbed to radiation exposure in 1982’s The Wrath of Khan? Instead they had to go through all that resurrection nonsense on the Genesis planet in sequel The Search for Spock to bring back the esteemed Vulcan, and none of us will ever get those two hours of our lives back.

On the turn … Jeff Goldblum in David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly.
On the turn … Jeff Goldblum in David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly. Photograph: Moviestore Collection/REX

It seems the deeper into this Star Trek treads, the more thorny the matter becomes. So it’s possibly a good thing that the creators of Rings of Power, JD Payne and Patrick McKay, never got their script through for the now-abandoned Star Trek movie in which Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth were due to star as James T Kirk and his resurrected dad George. For the writing duo have finally revealed how they proposed to bring the latter back from the dead (after he was killed in JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot while trying to fend off rogue Romulans). And yes, you’ve guessed it ... the plan was to resurrect the Starship pilot by the magic of the transporter.

“There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called Relics where they find Scotty, who’s been trapped in a transporter for a couple of decades, and they’re able to have a cool adventure with him,” Payne told Esquire. “Our conceit was, ‘What if right before the Kelvin impacted with that huge mining ship, George Kirk had tried to beam himself over to his wife’s shuttle where his son, Jim Kirk, had just been born? And what if the ship hadn’t completely exploded – what if it left some space junk?’ Think about when you send a text message and you’ve typed it out, but you haven’t quite hit send. On the other side, they see those three little dots that someone has typed. It’s like the transporter had absorbed his pattern up into the pattern buffer, but hadn’t spat him out on the other side. It was actually a saved copy of him that was in the computer.”

Added McKay: “So the adventure is that Chris Pine and the crew of the Enterprise have to seek out the wreckage of the ship that his father died on because of a mystery and a new villain. On the ship, they stumble across his father’s pattern. They beam him out and he has no idea that no time has passed at all, and that he’s looking at his son. Then the adventure goes from there.”

Given how badly hardcore Star Trek fans reacted to the mahoosive plot holes in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, you have to wonder how well this barmy conceit would have gone down, even if it’s no more out there than some of those loopy Original Series episodes. Wouldn’t it have led to fans asking even more awkward questions about transporter tech? If every machine saves a copy of every human that passes through it, wouldn’t enemies who capture Federation ships be able to spurt out entire crews, complete in some cases with dangerous military secrets? How would Kirk deal with a clone of himself being tortured by Klingons on one of those giant space screens, or even worse a living, breathing, doppelgänger of one of his beloved crew members?

All of a sudden transporters become not just a convenient way to get down to the planet below without expending vast sums on special effects (it was for this reason that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry originally created them) but terrifying vehicles for the very destruction of human civilisation! Scarier even than awakening to discover you are a tiny fly-man about to be devoured by a hideous giant spider. Even the prospect of a quirky cosmic buddy movie starring the two Chrises as father and son Kirks wouldn’t be worth that.