Canon can be a funny old thing. Just look at those cinematic franchises which have casually tossed aside earlier films and the previously established continuity in a rather haphazard, casual fashion, like The Terminator for example, where Rise Of The Machines, Salvation, Genisys and Dark Fate happen to all be totally incompatible with each other. Highlander is another, where the first sequel – The Quickening – has been thoroughly disavowed.
Even when you think a series has finished, and you are doing what constitutes an official and authorised continuation of the story, it can sometimes be all for naught: the Star Wars Expanded Universe – which saw Han and Leia having twins, named Jacen and Jaina – was totally struck from the record after George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney in October 2012, meaning that future projects were not constrained by what had already occurred in books and comics set after Return Of The Jedi, rebranding that material as ‘Legends’.
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It gets far more complicated when you are creating licenced spin-off material for something which is still being made. In the case of Doctor Who, the production team in Cardiff have final say over comics, novels and audios, to ensure that there is no conflict with any storylines being planned for episodes coming up on TV; on occasion, changes have been requested, in order to avoid any clash, so as to give the television series priority. Such a level of detailed co-ordination and control in offshoot material is becoming more commonplace.
Even when you have actual production team members of a show directly involved, it does not mean things you do with that property in other media are immutably or irrevocably carved in stone. Take Alex Kurtzman, who oversees the Star Trek franchise on TV, as a case in point: he jointly plotted Star Trek: Countdown – the prequel comic to 2009’s Star Trek reboot – which was set after Star Trek: Nemesis. The tale saw the USS Enterprise-E now under the command of Captain Data, seeing the character resurrected, following a thread set up at the end of Nemesis.
However, when it came to his co-creating Star Trek: Picard a decade later, Kurtzman actually ignored his own continuity, and contradicted what he had set up in his own official tie-in comic. So, ultimately, the notion of having a definitive canon for pretty much anything is a non-starter, as everything can be changed or overwritten as story needs dictate, so the best thing is just to try and go with it and ignore all of the various inconsistencies or contradictions that will arise periodically, otherwise that way madness lies.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Gift provides us with one of the prime examples of where different media end up clashing head-on. This was a one-shot originally published by DC Comics as an annual for 1990, and it was set after the Season Three episode ‘Deja Q’, as the comic sees the return of the Godlike being portrayed by John de Lancie. However, this story delves into Jean-Luc Picard’s personal backstory, which had yet to be fully explored on screen; it would not be until the Season Four story ‘Family’ we would meet some of the Captain’s relatives.
It was in that episode where we were first introduced to his brother, Robert, and his nephew, René, along with it being established that the Picard family had a vineyard and winery in La Barre, France; in fact, Picard’s retirement to make wine was referenced by Q in an episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. In this comic, however, we are told that Picard’s parents live in Paris, and his brother is named Claude. As such, it means that Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Gift is relegated to a bit of charming apocrypha, and it undermines the core of the story, which is a dreadful shame.
With it being a Q-centric storyline, then who better to pen it than John de Lancie himself? After all, you have the allure of there being a ‘celebrity’ writer, which makes this more of an event, plus the bonus of it being the actor who had already brought Q to life on screen several times. You could perhaps argue that there is a certain kind of arrogance involved with an actor thinking that they know the character they play as well as – if not better than – the writers responsible for the scripts containing them in the first place.
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However, a reasonable counter-argument is that a certain amount of arrogance fits in with Q perfectly, and you get a real sense – especially from de Lancie’s subsequent turns in different Star Trek series – that he not only knows but also deeply loves and respects Q. In fact, you could go so far as to say that if de Lancie had not been so good in the part, then Q would never have been quite such a memorable villain, and fans would not clamour for his return to the franchise quite as much as they do.
Well, de Lancie certainly knows his Q, pitching him initially as far more the cruel and sadistic omnipotent being we first met, rather than the lighter comic relief he veered towards later on. While there are a few overblown and rather overly melodramatic moments contained in the story, it does give us an opportunity to explore Picard’s past, and the theme of having a second chance or a do-over preempts the Season Six tale ‘Tapestry’, with the impact that choices and actions can have on the shape of your future.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Gift does prove to be an entertaining diversion, going beyond the obvious novelty factor, and it seems an awful shame that much of it has been rendered moot by the TV show’s own continuity; however, it still manages to be worthy of your time and effort.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Gift is out now from IDW Publishing.