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The Remaking of Star Trek, Part 10: 'In Thy Image'
The script for the abandoned television pilot that morphed into the film.
By Edward Gross
December 29, 1999
By the time Harold Livingston had taken to writing 'In Thy Image,' the working relationship between him and Gene Roddenberry had begun to disintegrate...badly. 'I don't remember when I began to pierce the Roddenberry myth,' Livingston says, 'but he and I suddenly started to have creative differences. I resented his interference and he, apparently, wanted someone to carry his lunch around, and that wasn't me. We became socially friendly for a while, but in any case we started to have various difficulties. Out here they're called 'creative differences.' I just didn't think he was a good writer, and I didn't like the way he was doing some of the material. We developed these stories and somewhere along the line I began to get tired of having to go to him for approval of a story, because this wasn't my understanding of my function there. It's one of those things that no one wants to touch, because it could be a very serious problem. All you can do is ignore it and hope that the problem doesn't arise. Well, it did, and I began to commission stories without his approval.'
Both creative talents weathered this rapidly intensifying storm for the next two months while plans were rapidly being laid out to bring 'In Thy Image' to the television screen, with much attention going to the scripts which would fill up the rest of the first thirteen put into work. Harold Livingston handed in his first draft teleplay of 'In Thy Image' on October 20. Essentially the same plot as STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, 'In Thy Image' begins with Admiral James T. Kirk being asked to assume command of the Enterprise to stop a mysterious object that has wiped out three Klingon vessels and is on a direct heading for Earth. To this end, he reunites with most of his original crew, and is assigned new members Xon, Decker and Ilia. Together, they head out towards deep space, learning enroute of each other's strengths and weaknesses. A teacher-pupil relationship quickly develops between Kirk and Decker, with the captain demonstrating strategic moments of command that come only from experience, and the younger officer forcing Kirk to open up his mind to new ways of thinking. Xon is fairly quickly accepted by the majority of crew, with the exception of the man whose acceptance he most desires: Kirk. It's obvious that the captain is a bit prejudiced, expecting Spock to be at his usual station, and getting a bit testy when Xon doesn't respond exactly as his former comrade would have. This Vulcan, apparently, is going to have to earn Kirk's trust and friendship. Luckily he is well on his way by the time the mission ends. The Enterprise eventually encounters Vejur, which turns out to be a Voyager space probe that left Earth hundreds of years earlier and achieved consciousness. It is now attempting to meet its creator, and doesn't believe that the 'parasitical units' inhabiting the starship and Earth could possibly be the ones that created it. It's up to Kirk and his crew to convince it that mankind is a benefit to the universe, and not a plague to be exterminated.
Despite Spock's absence, 'In Thy Image' works remarkably better than the first film did. Characters are given more depth, and the addition of Xon, Decker and Ilia is truly beneficial. Essentially, it was the old STAR TREK mixed in with a modern sensibility. The only complaint is that Vejur is essentially talked out of destroying Earth, which seems somewhat anti-climactic when compared to the build-up we're given.
As Livingston was wrapping up his first draft, talk began that the character of Decker would somehow be done away with in the next draft, as the general consensus was: 'Who needs two Captain Kirks?' What had started out as a solid addition to the crew was turning out to be something of a headache. 'I think it would be very beneficial for us to determine as soon as possible whether or not the character of Will Decker will continue or be eliminated,' said Livingston just before handing in his script. 'Every story in work and those also in script contain Decker as a very integral character. If we're going to eliminate him, I think we had better move on it now to further save ourselves much unnecessary work re-writing, and writing around the elimination of that particular character.'
Later, Arthur Fellow, head of television production, issued a memo to Gene Roddenberry in which he discussed his and Michael Eisner's feelings regarding the first draft script. 'The return of STAR TREK is an event in itself,' wrote Fellows, 'and we believe that this script really incorporates the elements that will be an extraordinary send off for the next 'five' years. The action and basic story are well conceived. However, at this rough draft stage a problem exists throughout in the arena of character and relationships.' Fellows believed that through the course of the script we never really felt the enormous pressure that had been placed on Xon's shoulders, nor were we given the opportunity to see him win the respect of the crew. This situation, he felt, should be rectified in order for the public to accept this new and different Vulcan. In addition, the feud between McCoy and Xon (ergo, humanitarianism versus logic) should be dealt with more fully, filling the viewer with warm recollections of the McCoy-Spock relationship.
'In many ways we face a similar task with Decker,' he wrote. '[If he's] going to be around for a long time, any intensifying of the emotions surrounding his existence and purpose on the ship will only aid in endearing him to all involved.'
While feelings were strong regarding Ilia, it was generally believed that the character should not be bald. 'Her baldness,' pointed out the executive, 'may really get in the way of the audience buying the intense relationship between Kirk and the woman. We would prefer to have Ilia with hair, keeping the bald girl but giving her some other function on the show.' (In effect, this was a replay of a somewhat similar struggle that Gene Roddenberry had had over twenty years ago, when network executives pleaded with him to get rid of 'the guy with the ears.')
'The storyline presented is quite special and extraordinary,' Fellow enthused, 'but somehow the ending seems to be too 'small' when we consider what led up to it. The slow, steady build-up of excitement and tension as this story unfolds is so effective that the ending deserves to soar. Right now, it is a bit anti-climactic. The final dialogue and moment when Ilia has convinced Vejur to save the servo-units is too convenient.'
'Robert Goodwin's theory about the ending,' muses Livingston, 'is that I just pissed it away because I was so disgusted with the situation. I think the truth is that I couldn't come up with an ending. I just couldn't do it. The problem was that we had an antagonist so omnipotent that to defeat it, or even communicate with it, or have any kind of relationship with it, made the concept of the story false. How the hell do we deal with this? On what level? Everything pretty much worked in the story until we got to the ending. We tried all kinds of approaches, including aesthetic, theological and philosophical. We didn't know what to do with the ending.'
Jon Povill, on the other hand, did. 'We knew we had to have a big special effects ending,' he says. 'The problem of what was going to happen at the end and why it was going to happen, was one that plagued the script from the very start. The original treatment had a showdown between Vejur (although it wasn't called Vejur at the time) and Captain Kirk in which he draws a droopy daisy. Vejur recognizes that there is great power and value in this droopy daisy and flies off. Real deep. Then Gene came up with the idea of the machine dumping its data into Decker, with a lightshow of all the information it had accumulated. We were going to get all this amazing, incomprehensible stuff that Vejur had accumulated in its travels across the universe, and, of course, nobody could come up with these images. So that didn't work.
'It was pretty much my contribution,' Povill continues, 'to say that the reason for what was happening was that this thing needed to go on to the next plane of existence; that it was transcending this dimension and going on to the next. It then became logical that the machine would need that human element to combine with. It was the only thing that could have made sense.'
As Povill noted, Gene Roddenberry's rewrite of 'In Thy Image' featured Vejur unloading its information into Decker, and then using the commander to transcend this dimension to enter another. On October 31, 1977, Bob Goodwin noted that conversations between Bob Collins, Joe Jennings and Bill Koselka, the manager of Mission Support at Jet Propulsion Laboratories, had resulted in some new ideas about the ending of the script. Much of this was inspired by the transformation of Decker, as written in the Roddenberry screenplay, which had touched a chord with Collins.
'It began when Joe Jennings remarked that a key element in our story--the fact that Vejur has no knowledge of organic life--is incompatible with the facts,' Goodwin related. 'According to Joe, Voyager contains a great deal of information on mankind that was sent out specifically with that probe. After researching all the facts with Bill Koselka, I have managed to fit the true nature of the Voyager in with some elements for an ending I have been thinking of, and other elements that Bob Collins had mentioned.'
In that conversation, which took place on October 28, Goodwin queried Bill Koselka as to whether the signal from Voyager was being directed at an intelligent being. 'Right,' replied Koselka. 'Instructions how to play it back and get information off of the record. These are symbolic representations that show how the signal is modulated or coded onto the phonograph record so that supposedly someone with intelligence could take that phonograph record, devise a scheme to get the information back and then learn something about the people on planet Earth.'
He went on to explain that the recording contained greetings in over sixty languages and music from various time periods. 'Then there are sounds of waterfalls, wind blowing through mountains, ocean surfs,' Koselka continued. 'Things such as that on the phonograph record. And then there are two photographs like a TV recorder--like Universal put on their Laser Entertainment Center--that type of modulation. Those I don't know what they finally decided on, but there are a few scenes of typical things on Earth, and I don't know if people are included in it. I would guess so.'
Goodwin asked if the memory banks of Voyager only contained technical information, to which Koselka replied that the only technical information would be gathered by the sensors. 'And information about how to program the spacecraft to save itself,' he elaborated. 'The reason it needs that type of information is because it takes so long to communicate with it because of the roundtrip light time--hours--so something could go wrong with the spacecraft, and by the time the information reached Earth it would instantly send the information back in a day or so. In the meantime, the batteries could short circuit something, burn it out or ruin the spacecraft. So the spacecraft has been programmed with intelligence to detect anything that's not right and put it into a safe condition, and then telecommunicate the information back to Earth, and then we send up new instructions.'
'With all the information within those redundant memory banks,' Goodwin interjected, 'is there nothing in there that relates to human, organic life?'
'That's true,' he responded. 'There's nothing that could tell anybody anything except about machines.'
Robert Goodwin became intrigued. 'How do our people get the information on that gold plate into those redundant memory banks?'
'What they could do somehow is use the computer on the spacecraft, assuming the machine is very intelligent up there, and program the banks to display that information, however they sense it.'
Goodwin could see how all this would fit perfectly into the premise of 'In Thy Image.' 'For instance,' he said, 'we have already established that they have sent a number of probes aboard the Enterprise and one of them 'sees.' It could instruct the computer in the Voyager to have one of these seeing Probes focus on the gold plate.'
'Right. By its eyes, depending on how much intelligence it has been given, read off the informationread it back to the computer and the spacecraft.'
'Yes,' he concurred, 'or at the same time we could program into these memory banks the code for decoding these grooves. One other thought: at the moment when it releases all of this information to the computer about mankind, we're thinking of doing a short two-minute montage with flashes of things such as paintings and scenes and that sort of thing...is that conceivable if that sort of thing is in the photographic record?'
'Yes,' concluded Koselka. 'I'll get a complete list of what's on it, and you might use that type of thing.'
When Bob Collins speaks of his ideas for the conclusion of 'In Thy Image,' he is justifiably proud. 'I thought it was a wonderful and spectacular idea for the end,' he states candidly. 'Decker sacrificed himself at the end of the picture, and unleashed a history of mankind. It would be a ten-minute sequence where we would flash images of mankind since the dawn of the apes up till the present. These flashes of images would be all over the ship. All this would be accompanied by a musical montage of Beethoven and Bach. It was a grand idea and very ambitious, and I think it would have set off the end of it in a very spectacular manner. I remember that I wrote something to that effect, not particularly well I imagine, but that was my thought on how the picture should end. I was trying to deal with what this animal known as man really is, and essentially I was saying that man was pretty good. It was the aesthetic approach, and no one argued with it.'
Co-producer Bob Goodwin in particular was intrigued by the history of that particular scene and his feelings regarding the conclusion of 'In Thy Image.' 'The plaque on Voyager should have been scarred,' he recalls, slowly at first, 'by one small meteorite which obliterated the 'OYA' and a small portion of the coded markings below. In other words, a large portion of the coded markings have remained intact. When Kirk comments on the engraved markings, Ilia tells him that 'It is not known' what the meaning of the markings is...'The true meaning is known only by the Creator.' Kirk reacts to this.
'There are some serious problems here,' he continues. 'If the Vejur is 'satisfied that the servo-units do not accept the Creator', then why bother to send Kirk and Xon back to the Enterprise? Why not just wipe them out right there...and the crew of the Enterprise...then go on to Earth and blast them all? This could have been a good place to give William Shatner one of those scenes--as Bob Collins had pointed out--he does so well. A solid, dramatic argument between Kirk and the Ilia android could be very exciting. The computerized logic of the machine against the passion and wiles of the human. Kirk would do anything to get back to the Enterprise and to Earth. He would counter logic with logic. He would confuse Ilia with appeals for sympathy. In the end, he would lie. He has to get to Archives and prove what he's saying about Vejur.
'The idea is that Kirk would remember that the Voyager plaque includes a vast amount of visual and audio records of human existence. What better proof to Vejur of mankind's role in its creation than evidence which is itself a part of Voyager? Kirk must get to Archives Building to obtain the information that will enable the Enterprise to unravel the code of the Voyager plaque, and, at the same time, be a means of feeding that data directly into the computer of the Voyager.'
According to Goodwin, Kirk would naturally make his way to the Archives, while Decker is attempting to physically transmit the information with his tricorder. Xon would finally transmit to the Voyager computer an order to project a 'seeing' probe that would appear and begin to focus on the plaque, closing in on the microscopic etchings.
'Then you have Decker under assault,' he continues with enthusiasm. 'We see the myriad of images of information with which Voyager is bombarded. Here we would have done Bob Collins' montage of music and sights of mankind. Since it is the information recorded on Voyager in 1977, we wouldn't have had to worry about carrying the message into the 23rd Century or beyond. We could have even included portions of the message from President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim. This would have given us an exciting, inspiring moment--a crescendo of audio and visual impressions.'
Bob Collins himself adds even more to the imagery. 'We see Decker making his way toward Voyager,' he says, 'but as he does, he is consumed by the energy of Vejur caught in an energy field more powerful than a million volts of electricity, and becomes himself an energy field. He becomes fused to the ship, melted into it. His consciousness, his mind, his memories become part of Vejur. In a pyrotechnic display of light and sound, the history of mankind is propelled, projected, onto the walls of the ship. A whirling cascade of pictures--the pyramids, the Parthenon, the Mona Lisa, Versailles, Jesus, Mohammed, Ghandi, the Grand Canyon, the Alps--the wonders of the Earth bombard the inside of the ship as Jim Kirk beams himself aboard. We see Kirk surrounded by the sights, the visuals whirling around him, over him, into him. The sights, the sounds: Beethoven, Schubert, Bach--the music of the world. The sights of all history--huge, giant events all playing upon Kirk as Vejur assimilates and understands. It has become Decker. Decker has become it, and the neutron bombs [threatening Earth] are withdrawn. Kirk is allowed to return to the Enterprise with Ilia. The ship, and Decker, leave Earth to seek the universe as Decker's voice, a thousand times amplified as part of Vejur, tells Kirk, 'There's beauty here...the universe before us. Eternity.'
Certainly an incredible and profound image, and one probably unparalleled in cinematic history up until that time.
Production designer Joseph Jennings concurs with this, stating that, 'The idea was a bit more in the STAR TREK image, which is a good deal more specific than what wound up in the feature picture. That thing was just so abstract. You know, there's always the trouble in science fiction that the creative people in the field turn to those responsible for its realization and say, 'We want something people have never seen before.' Frequently you find yourself in the trap that if you can imagine it, their reaction is 'That's not far enough out. How did you know about it?' It's sort of a strange line of thinking. Maybe they think they'll push you one step further. What it frequently results in is stasis, and you reach a point where you just can't go any further. If that's not acceptable, then of course they have to go somewhere else. It almost feels to you, the person responsible for it, that anything you can imagine is not acceptable, simply because you can imagine it. It's a Catch 22 kind of situation, and I think that's why you lost that ending.'