While doing some background research for some of my own writing I often take a look at what the work of those writers which have inspired me, both to examine their process and also to reflect on what it was I liked best about their work. One of those writers is Ronald D. Moore, perhaps most famous today for his work on the historical drama Outlander as well as the rebooted version of Battlestar Galactica, which he co-created with David Eick in 2003. But before he was the man-in-charge for either show, Moore (often referred to as RDM onine) was best known as a scribe on Star Trek during the long Rick Berman and Michael Piller-headed era of the late 1980s through mid 1990s, working on such shows as The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
Alongside Brannon Braga and Ira Steven Behr, RDM was one of the most prolific writers for the franchise and is credited as a writer for 62 episodes and 2 films. After working for years on both TNG and DS9, RDM headed off to what seemed like the next natural fit: Voyager, where his frequent writing partner and friend Braga had already established himself as one of the senior writers. RDM’s career with Voyager lasted only a very brief time however before he left the show only a few weeks later and quit the Trek franchise for good. Over the years I’ve heard various summaries of why he left: the working environment wasn’t good, he felt like his voice wasn’t being heard, etc., but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a detailed explanation as he gave here, in an interview published on Fandom.com in early 2000.
A bit of a disclaimer here: it’s been a long time since I’ve watched Voyager and I really only remember a couple of episodes, like “Threshold,” “Tuvix,” “False Profits,” or “Scorpion.” But I do recall some of the broad strokes of the series’ style and I also remember my parents’ (both big Trek fans) impression of the show... which was not positive. I also remember Enterprise, which featured much of the same staff and has often been criticized for suffering from the same issues. And I’ve also seen (and remember) all of the TNG films, which he also talks about within the same context. So while I can’t say with 100% sincerity that I agree with all of RDM’s criticisms (since I don’t remember Voyager well enough to honestly criticize it) I do feel that I understand them.
I’ve read over the interview several times at this point and it’s really interesting to read not only why he left, but what he felt didn’t work about Voyager in particular and the Star Trek franchise as a whole at the end of the 1990s. A lot of what he says here has been echoed elsewhere: the franchise was being run dry by too many shows and too many movies, Voyager was too much a rehash of The Next Generation, there was too much technobabble, etc. but he also offers a few key insights I hadn’t ever heard before, such as his impression that the working environment on Voyager was very hostile to outside ideas and unfriendly to the junior writers or that the show actively avoided developing its characters or storylines so people could watch the show out of order. It was also news to me that Berman and Braga, who later developed the prequel Enterprise, apparently disliked the original series.
Many of his suggestions as to where Berman and company should have taken Voyager and what he would have done with it had his input been considered sound remarkably similar to where he went just a couple of years later with Battlestar Galactica. He talks about how the ship should have struggled more for resources, seen a breakdown in fleet protocol and divergence from Federation culture as the ship spent more time in isolation, and that the crew should have come to the realization that they were effectively on a generation ship. For as much as BSG obviously owes to Deep Space Nine, a show RDM worked on for five years, it would seem then that Voyager was also an important influence... or at least what RDM wishes Voyager had been.
Besides talking about Voyager, RDM also talks about the TNG films, including the two he co-wrote, and why he thinks they didn’t work as well as (most of) the TOS films that preceded them. To put it in a nutshell he feels (or felt in 2000) that the TNG films, with the exception of Generations (which he thinks didn’t work for other reasons), felt too much like “just another episode.” Even First Contact, which he’s personally proud of for being a “good popcorn movie” was just another episode and something they could have done on the TV series if budget hadn’t been an issue. Conversely, he thinks the TOS films (with the exception of The Final Frontier, which he says was also just another episode) expanded and enriched their source material, adding on to it in a meaningful way. By the time he quit Trek, however, he felt that neither the movies nor the TV shows were doing anything new or interesting with the franchise.
Lastly, it’s also interesting to hear RDM speculate about the future of Trek as he saw it in 2000, before the premiere and future cancellation of Enterprise, before the release and failure of Nemesis, and before the onset of the controversial reboot by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Robert Orci. Some of his thoughts are in a lot of ways oddly prescient... such as his prediction that the next show after Voyager would probably either go far in the future or into the past, before TOS, as well as his thoughts that the wisest move for Paramount would be to just retire the series for about “five, eight years” before returning to it with a fresh approach (the gap between the last season of Enterprise and Star Trek 2009 was four). He was skeptical, however, about the possibility of recasting the original series characters, saying that “I think it would be virtually impossible to get people to accept anyone but Leonard Nimoy as Spock.”
All in all, I’m glad I found this piece of writing. If nothing else it offers a unique, insider’s look on the Star Trek franchise as it stood at the end of the 1990s, shortly before its temporary leave of absence.