“Captain Kirk was always encountering worlds where computers had gone mad and gained control and needed to be re-set to liberate a superstitious population. (Top tip: This can be reliably done by getting Mr Spock to ask the Master computer to calculate to the last possible digit the value of Pi.)
But look what happened to Star Trek. Fed, I think, by a post-colonial guilt for the treatment of Native Americans, in the 90s it fell increasingly in thrall to superstition. A Native American first officer in Star Trek Voyager has visions which get taken seriously. And let’s not mention the Bajorans of Deep Space Nine – a tribe ruled by “prophets” who live in a wormhole. For Copson it’s a strange development: “30 years ago we had science fiction that was rational and progressive. But more recently it’s irrational, mystical aliens with ancient wisdom.”
I’m not sure that post-colonial guilt was that big of an influence on TNG writers but I could be wrong. Journey’s End was a clumsy episode about Native American post-colonial guilt and it was written by Ron Moore.
It also set up the whole DMZ and Maquis thing and created Chakotay’s backstory.
Journey’s End was written by Ron Moore and it wasn’t responsible for Deep Space Nine, but Ron Moore was responsible for a lot of what happened on DS9 and you can spot the underlying attitude in Ron Moore’s hostility to Starfleet and the Federation.
Ron Moore’s quote about Journey’s End is revealing
I felt that there was a built-in contradiction in a character that we’d said was like Mozart in his appreciation of higher mathematics and physics, yet was just on the same career path as any Starfleet cadet. I didn’t get it – if Wes is truly special and gifted, what the hell is he doing at the Helm? It seemed like he was only going to the Academy to live up to the memory of his father and the expectations of Picard, not because it was his best destiny. “Journey’s End” also seemed like an opportunity to see someone walk away from Starfleet with their head held high and just say “It’s cool, but not for me.” I was tired of everyone in the 24th century saying, “All I want to do is wear the uniform and serve on a starship.” Hey, it’s cool, but it’s not for everyone.
Deep Space Nine became that “Starfleet isn’t for everyone” series. Some people want to encounter aliens. Others want to worship them as Prophets.
Some people want rational and progressive Science Fiction that explores the universe. Others want a story about a Chosen One who is picked by aliens to fight evil.
Deep Space Nine didn’t happen in a vacuum. Babylon 5 came first and it won over a lot of Science Fiction fans. Star Wars with its mysticism did better than Star Trek.
Star Trek was an older product. Its ideas were clean and uncluttered. It looked forward to a future where we could all meet on common ground. Deep Space Nine rejected that future, but TNG was already rejecting it in places. DS9 allowed TNG writers to toss aside the Roddenberry structure and make their argument against everything that Star Trek stood for.
Even when Voyager and Enterprise tried to put the pieces back together again, the writers and producers didn’t understand how to speak that language. There are online fan series that do a good job of connecting to those TOS assumptions and Manny Cotto had his moments on Enterprise, but most producers and writers didn’t get it anymore. And younger audiences also wanted something else.
The most popular space SF television show of recent years was Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica which was like DS9 without any of the restraint or last shreds of plot logic. It was all foretold and predestined and inconsistent and dark and never had to make any sense because making sense was one of those old rational and progressive things that Star Trek used to do.
Chosen ones, dark sides and mysteries that can never be solved told across story arcs dominate genre series on television today. If Star Trek comes back to television right now, I don’t think that will change.