The story of how “Star Trek” became a cultural force in the United States certainly includes its share of twists and turns. From the start, the show was under immense pressure to produce results. It’s remarkable that the show, which was canceled after just three seasons, has been reborn many, many times and is today more popular than ever.
It is true that after the second season of the show, NBC decided to cancel “Star Trek.” But thanks to a robust letter-writing campaign, which forced NBC to reconsider, Trek lived on for one more season. As the folks at the fan site Trekdom confirm, the campaign was an “inside job,” initiated and coordinated by Gene Roddenberry himself.
This was a gutsy move, which likely saved Trek. As Trekdom rightly points out, the show needed those extra 28 episodes from Season 3 to be syndicated. That was where Trek took off, and as writer Brian Cronin says, Trek “proved a lot more popular than expected once it hit syndication.”
NBC brought “Star Trek” back on Saturday mornings for 1973 and 1974, but once “The Animated Series” ended, there were no new shows — animated or otherwise — being produced. For some, it seemed that “Star Trek” would only exist in reruns.
But the creator never gave up. Roddenberry had a plan to bring Trek back to televisions, and it was to be called “Star Trek: Phase II.” Please note, this is not to be confused with the series of fan-created episodes of the same name from James Cawley. Those episodes were filmed in the “Star Trek Original Series Set Tour,” which Cawley built and is open for fans to visit.
What was ‘Phase II?’
Much like “Star Trek: Voyager,” this new series was supposed to be the crown jewel on a new Paramount television network. Though this network did not happen for 25 years (UPN), the brass at Paramount thought it could work in the late 70s. Roddenberry assembled a team to create the new show, including Harold Livingston, Matt Jefferies, William Ware Theiss, and Mike Minor.
According to writer Nick Ottens, who runs the popular Trek fan site “Forgotten Trek,” the ‘creator’ was quite happy.
“Gene Roddenberry was ecstatic,” Ottens wrote of the “Phase II” process. “After five years of false starts, all the pieces were at last falling into place. Now it was time to be Star Trek’s lightning rod again.”
What Changed Since Season 3?
According to Ottens, the most significant change to TOS and “Phase II” would have been the absence of Leonard Nimoy, who “refused to return.” This was during the era when the book “I Am Not Spock” was released, and Nimoy was essentially trying not to be typecast as the Vulcan science officer.
So Roddenberry replaced Spock with Xon, a younger Vulcan science officer, who would be played by David Gautreaux. Many of the other new additions to the crew can be seen in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” including Ilia (Persis Khambatta) and Decker (Stephen Collins).
“My take on the character, which pretty much remained true through all of my exploration of Xon… what I did get was that he was a full Vulcan,” said Gautreaux for “Phase II: The Lost Enterprise” documentary. “[He] had no human connection … emotional.”
The Look of “Phase II”
As they moved forward, Roddenberry and his team assembled sets and created new costumes for the show. Some of those clips can be seen here, including the strange shirtless pantsuit that one male crew member wears.
“Phase II” became “The Motion Picture”
As many fans are aware, the project morphed into “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” — thanks to the massive success of “Star Wars.” Much of what was prepared for the series were incorporated into the film, with the notable exception of Xon. Leonard Nimoy did return to reprise the role of Spock. Some of the scripts and treatments which were written for the series were reworked into stories for “The Next Generation,” including “Devil’s Due” and “The Child.”
Jefferies’ updated Enterprise also survived into a movie poster for “The Motion Picture,” and the characters of Xon, Decker, and Ilia would be revised and presented as Data, Riker, and Troi on TNG.
Would “Phase II” Have Worked?
Though fans will never know, some speculate that it “would have bombed,” as fans state on Reddit. Others disagree, including noted Trek expert and author Ben Robinson. If you have any of the models from “Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection,” then you have Robinson to thank. Robinson also recently collaborated with Trek journalist Ian Spelling on “Star Trek: The Original Series – A Celebration,” which attempts to tell the story of TOS with lost images, sketches, and new interviews from those incredible days.
Robinson says the “Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series” book, written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, concluded that the series would not have been a success. But he disagrees.
“There were a lot of positive things about [Phase II],” said Robinson in a recent interview with Heavy. “You’d have to get past a lot of the superficial stuff — and you have to remember that it’s test footage, which is not necessarily what we would have ended up with.”
“For me, what makes ‘Star Trek’ work is these little fables,” said Robinson. “These intellectual puzzles [or] the stories of cool ideas. Sometimes like in ‘Doomsday Machine,’ it’s a real action-adventure piece or something like ‘Darmok’ which is a philosophical story about the nature of language.”
“I think as long as [Phase II] had that in its DNA, then doubtless there would have been good episodes and bad ones,” said Robinson. “I’ve seen enough of it to say that it would have been pretty good.”
“I kind of like the idea of a parallel universe where ‘Phase II’ was made,” said Robinson.
CORRECTION: We mistakenly linked to a YouTube video featuring William Shatner in a 1974 film, which was unrelated to ”Star Trek: Phase II.” We have removed this link and the reference.
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