The writers of Star Trek have often joked you could make an entire new sci-fi series out of all the discarded plot ideas they’ve come up with. True, a few of them are true clunkers and may have ended up being horrible episodes. However, given the number of very bad episodes that actually aired, it’s possible some of those ideas could have worked better. Bigger is that several plots and storylines were shifted from concept to the final production. Writing is a trial and error process as various factors can alter a storyline, often for the better. From writing off some characters to some bold changes to others, some of these character shifts could have truly transformed the Star Trek franchise.
That’s not to mention the casting ideas. Every single character on the franchise could have been played by someone else, which would have altered them majorly. The reason Garak went from a minor part to a key character of DS9 was Andrew Robinson’s celebrated performance elevating the character for viewers. Some casting could have been made for much different characters as well as changing the entire series. That includes some characters who could have been majorly different from what the final version. There are scores of examples but a few stand out from the pack. Here are 20 casting or character changes that would have altered the Star Trek franchise big time and make us wonder what could have been.
20 THE FIRST SPIN-OFF
One has to wonder how the Trek universe might have worked out if the first spin-off had been picked up. “Assignment Earth” was the second season TOS finale and is what’s referred to as a “backdoor pilot.” Having traveled to the late 1960s, the Enterprise crew is surprised to find a man calling himself Gary Seven who not only has advanced technology but knows of alien life. Gary is a human raised on another planet who’s been sent as an agent to observe growing alien interference on Earth. He soon meets up with Roberta Lincoln (Terri Garr), a quirky secretary who realizes her boss is something else. There’s also Gary’s cat, Isis, who can turn into a beautiful woman.
Basically, the show would have been an American version of Doctor Who. Gary would be observing Earth to show alien activity and the odd time travel adventure with Roberta providing some human insight and dealing with this nuttiness. It’s interesting to think of how the franchise could have changed if the spin-off had happened. Perhaps it could have put off TOS’ cancellation while Gary could have been a major character in his own right. If nothing else, it would have sent Star Trek branching in a different direction.
19 A DIFFERENT DATA
It’s amazing to see how the beloved android had a much different origin. The original concept was that Data was built by a race of aliens who admired humans and thus made to resemble one. He was sent to be their agent and ambassador, studying human behavior for his alien masters to understand them better. Some versions had them being machines trying to be independent life while another had them from another dimension of light creatures. This would include a recurring bit of Data entering items into a log summing up episodes for his creators.
There was also the idea of Data being a mechanical brain inside a cloned human body. That would open the door for him actually having some romances with humans. Even when Data was the creation of a scientist, there were still twists. For example, instead of “evil twin brother” Lore, Data would meet a female android which would lead to an intriguing love-hate dynamic between them. It makes sense the android went through a lot of early programming to get his character right.
18 KLINGONS JOINING THE FEDERATION
If you find early cast photos for TNG, you might notice Worf isn’t in them. The character was added quite late into pre-production on the series with the idea of how the Klingons and the Federation had made peace in the time since the original show. But an early idea would have been bolder by making the Klingons full-fledged members of the Federation. Thus, instead of just Worf, numerous Klingons would be in Starfleet and even their own “Marines” unit. Obviously, this would have altered numerous storylines across the show such as the Klingon Civil War and how they later fight the Federation in DS9.
The writers realized the Klingon culture was just too much for the Federation to take. The Klingons had their wild traditions, often brutal lifestyles and just couldn’t conform to Federation laws. Keeping them their own separate empire while still allies with the Federation made far more sense. While they stay allies today, the Klingons as Federation members was too wild to work.
17 WESLEY AS A WOMAN
Few Star Trek characters have inspired as much pure hate as Wesley Crusher. Seeing this teenage genius save the day constantly is a key reason the first season of TNG is seen by many as so terrible. Wil Wheaton himself has stated even he wanted to give Wesley a good punch in the face. The character was thankfully toned down and even improved over time yet that first season stigma followed him for years. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if Wesley had been…Lesley.
Yes, the original idea was that rather than a son, Crusher had a daughter. She still would have been a genius and the show would play with her having a crush on Riker. However, Roddenberry caught Wil Wheaton in a movie and thought he’d be a good addition so changed the role to a male. Maybe Wheaton could have been spared years of grief from fans if the gender change hadn’t happened.
16 BIONIC PARIS
Tom Paris’ arc on Voyager was always interesting. Originally, he was going to be Nicolas Locarno, the character played by Robert Duncan Macneil in the TNG episode “The First Duty.” A Starfleet cadet, Locarno was kicked out of the academy for causing the fatality of a classmate in a flying stunt. The writers felt that Locarno was irredeemable and thus created Paris who had much the same backstory. The character was an ace pilot although some of his story arcs struck viewers as being a bit bland. One would have been a major difference.
An episode was conceived where Paris would be on a solo flight which crashes on a junkyard planet. Paris would be badly wounded to the point of being forced to amputate his own arm. Going around the yard, Paris would find the remains of a Borg ship and “borrow” the arm of a fallen Borg as a replacement. It would end up “bonding” to him and thus he’d use it afterward. Making Paris a “bionic man” would have been a departure with the idea of the arm’s tech being useful on some missions. It never came to be yet this could have sparked Paris up a lot more.
15 ADAMA AS PICARD
Back in 1986, creating a new Star Trek series was a huge deal with many unsure if it would even work. Patrick Stewart loves to tell the story that he accepted the role of Jean-Luc Picard because he was convinced the show wouldn’t last one season. His agent told him it would be a fast job and Stewart could use the money for bigger roles. Little did either know Stewart would be playing the role for so long. Yet Stewart wasn’t the only familiar face as also up for the role was veteran Roy Thinnes and Yaphet Koto.
A big name mentioned was Edward James Olmos. His casting would have obviously changed Picard from a Frenchman to a different nationality. Olmos also would have brought more seriousness and gravitas to the part. It worked out with Stewart as Olmos ended up becoming a sci-fi icon himself as Adama on Battlestar Galactica. But of all the “could have been” castings for TNG, this is one of the biggest.
14 ROM THE ASSISTANT
The first time we see Quark on DS9, he’s getting Odo and Sisko to let his nephew Rom go. We just a mention of his dad as the original idea was going to be different. The early concept was that Nog’s father was Quark’s highly successful older brother. This would lead to a running bit of Quark being in his brother’s shadow so much which drives his own deal-making. Rom was just Quark’s assistant who’s openly described as being a complete idiot. It was a few episodes in that a throwaway line reveals Rom is actually Quark’s younger brother and Nog’s dad.
It was meant as a minor bit and Rom still presented as a fool. Even the writers didn’t expect it to lay the groundwork for some great character development. When Quark tries to stop Nog from joining Starfleet, Rom stands up to his brother to let Nog go. It turned out that while a bad businessman, Rom is a genius engineer who joins the station’s crew. He even ends up landing the gorgeous Leeta while adding a good brotherly dynamic to his relationship with Quark. By making Rom family, the writers made this throwaway character one of the best on the show.
13 PICARDO AS NEELIX
A veteran actor, Robert Picardo had long been sought by the Star Trek producers for some sort of role. He eagerly accepted an offer to audition for Voyager. However, Picardo desperately wanted the role of Neelix, the alien who aids the team in their adventures. Picardo was convinced Neelix was going to be the breakout character of the show and thought it would ensure he’d be a major cast member. He was disappointed when the producer said he just wasn’t right for the role. He accepted what seemed to be the minor part of the holographic Doctor.
It’s downright hysterical to see how it unfolded. Neelix turned out to be a divisive figure with as many fans hating him as enjoying him. Meanwhile, the Doctor became a major breakout with his dry humor and getting into his own adventures. It’s rare that an actor “settles” on what becomes his most famous role yet Picardo landed that pretty well.
12 T’RUL ON DS9
The third season premiere of Deep Space Nine has the debut of the Defiant. A top-edge Starfleet fighter, the big push is it’s the first Federation ship with a cloaking device. The lore has long been that a treaty with the Romulans prevented the Federation from developing cloaking. The Romulans, recognizing the Dominion threat, allow one ship to have it. Along with the crew is T’Rul, whose job is to oversee the cloak. She only appears in those two episodes but the plan was for her to be a recurring face on the station.
This might have been interesting with her more militant stance clashing with the Federation. It also could have played with how she breaks with the Romulans to aid the crew against the Dominion. The writers soon realized aside from the Defiant, they just couldn’t find enough for the character to do. The producers did love actress Martha Hackett and thus gave her the part of Voyager’s popular villainess Seska. Yet a Romulan on DS9 could have sparked the show's plot even further.
11 SISKO VS JAKE
“In the Pale Moonlight” Is one of the darker Trek episodes ever. In it, Sisko goes against all his principles in a plot to trick the Romulans into joining the war with the Dominion. It’s a troubling episode but it could have been even darker. The original plotline was that Jake wants to interview Garak for a story. Garak is more stand-offish than usual and Jake suspects something is up. His investigation would stumble onto how Garak and his father were working this plot. Jake would write a story about it and Sisko would declare he couldn’t allow it to be published.
The writers wanted to show how far Sisko was willing to go for his plan, to sacrifice his own son’s beliefs and a free press. The title, “Patriot,” would be double-edged with Jake fighting for the right of people to know the truth and Sisko sacrificing all for the greater good. But the writers realized it just wasn’t working. The bond of father and son was so strong that they couldn’t find a realistic way for them to be at odds so much. The episode was reworked to drop Jake and Sisko pulling this dark plot off. It resulted in an acclaimed episode which could have had a much different turn of events.
10 CRUSHER A TEACHER
When The Next Generation began, Gene Rodenberry wanted to show a lighter Enterprise. This included the idea of children now on starships, complete with classrooms. As originally conceived, Beverly Crusher would have been the main teacher on the ship. There would still be the past of how her late husband had been Picard’s best friend but she would play more the counselor role Troi would fill out. It would have meant a lesser presence for Gates McFadden and even her appearance in fewer episodes.
It was during an early writer’s room lunch that David Gerrold suggested making Crusher the ship’s doctor. Instantly, the other writers saw the potential as it meant not having to create a new doctor character, in addition to providing the show another strong female. They also used it as the push for the romantic tension of her and Picard. It was a great idea that made Crusher a stand-out on the show and a smart change for the character.
9 DUKAT AND KIRA?
When DS9 begins, Gul Dukat is the former Cardassian commander who becomes their main antagonist. The character was always meant to be a villain but Marc Alaimo’s wonderful performance won viewers over. Dukat became a complex character who was still conniving and ruthless but also charming. He and Kira clashed a lot yet also a period where they worked together. The chemistry of Alaimo and Nana Visitor was major to the point where the writers seemed to lay the seeds for a romance between the duo. The reason it never happened is the actress involved.
As soon as she recognized what was happening, Visitor marched to the writers and said it wasn’t going to happen. As she states, there was simply no way Kira would hook up with the man who had brutally occupied her planet and personally responsible for the deaths of scores of her friends. The writers got the message and in future appearances, they made it clear that, no matter how charming he was, Dukat was still a monster. It was summed up when Dukat joins the Dominion and tells Kira “you and I on the same side? It never felt right.” Fans can agree as having these two as a couple would have been terrible.
8 HARRY WAS REALLY AN ALIEN
The Voyager writers loved to play around with the characters with some wild ideas. One of them was in “Favorite Son” when Harry Kim has odd memories of a region of space. A race of aliens claims Harry is one of them and a DNA check seems to back it up. Naturally, there’s a catch as the aliens are using Harry as part of a crazy plot to find mates for their mostly female population. Yet in the writer’s room, they played with the idea that it would turn out Harry really was an alien. He would be thrown but decide that Voyager were his family and continue to go with them.
The writers loved the irony that Harry, the one most determined to get home, would realize he wasn’t human at all. It could have led to new changes for him down the road. They decided it might just too wild a turn and it was dropped. It wasn’t Harry’s only close call as they considered writing him off at the end of the third season. However, Garrett Wang was quite popular with female viewers and thus the producers had him stay on. It’s funny to think of the twists that the character could have run into.
7 RO ON DS9
It was in season four that Star Trek introduced the Cardassians, a dark alien race of conquerors. They then explained how Cardassia had long occupied the world of Bajor. One Bajoran was Ro Laren who joined the crew for some adventures. Michelle Forbes was well cast in the part, showing some attitude but also good strength. The producers intended from the start to use her to help launch Deep Space Nine. With Bajor freed of the Cardassians, Ro would go to the station and work to help her planet out. This would have bits like Ro accused of having “abandoned” her world to join Starfleet and reconnecting to her people.
Amazingly, Forbes turned down a starring role in a new show as she just didn’t want to commit to a full series (she also confessed she “hated the nose makeup”). Thus, DS9 created Kira who went on to become one of the most beloved characters of the show. Ro did pop up in a later TNG episode where she would join the Maquis. Ironically, the post-series DS9 books reveal Ro has indeed joined the DS9 crew to bring the original concept to life after all.
6 MIRROR KIRK
If there was one guest star every one of the newer Trek series wanted but couldn’t get, it was William Shatner. Having the face of the franchise pop up in any way would have been great. Enterprise had one idea of Shatner making a cameo as a chef who gets involved in a time travel plotline right under the nose of the main crew. Much bigger was that the crew runs into the Mirror Universe Kirk. It seemed this Kirk had been exiled and fell through a portal into the past. The Enterprise crew wouldn’t know who Kirk was in any case and unaware they were dealing with an evil version of him.
This would lead to Mirror Kirk basically turning into Khan by taking over the ship and putting them through a huge ordeal. Shatner appeared quite open to the offer as he loved the idea of playing an elder and evil Kirk. Sadly, they could never find time to fit it into his schedule. However, it did inspire “In a Mirror Darkly” which most fans agree is the best Enterprise episode. Still, seeing Shatner as Kirk one more time would have been better.
5 ENTERPRISE WOULD BE GROUNDED
Originally, producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga didn’t want to do Enterprise. They were worried that a fourth consecutive TV show could result in “franchise fatigue” but UPN was insistent. They thus wanted to have Enterprise work in a totally different way. Their daring idea was that the first season revolves completely around Earth. It would focus on the politics of a newly formed Starfleet dealing with alien races, the question of exploration and the fight to get the ship going. There also would have been the plotline of a “Earth first” group leading extremist attacks against aliens.
It wouldn’t be until the first season finale that Enterprise itself would actually launch. The producers liked the idea as it would let them flesh out the characters and show how the early days of the Federation weren’t that utopian. But UPN hated avoiding space for so long and thus pushed what Berman complained was just “a weak TNG” clone. Maybe Enterprise would have been better with this different opening arc.
4 SARAH SILVERMAN ON VOYAGER
Originally, a young face on Voyager was psychic Kes. However, by the third season, actress Jennifer Lien was making it clear she wanted to leave the show. At the same time, the series was doing the two-part “Future’s End” where the ship takes a detour to 1996 Earth. The adventure leads them to a young astronomer named Rain who soon gets involved with Harry and Tom and banters with Tom a lot. She realizes they’re from the future and helps them in the adventure.
Cast in the role was a young stand-up comic by the name of Sarah Silverman. Her performance was quite winning with great chemistry with the cast. So much so that writer Bryan Fuller pressed the idea of Rain deciding to stow away on Voyager when they returned to the future. Other writers loved the idea of a “modern” woman amid Voyager with her sharp humor and the chemistry with Paris. It was dropped but the idea of a new female face would be used for Seven of Nine. Today, Silverman is well known as a sharp comic and author but it’s fun to think how she almost became a Star Trek legend as well.
3 THE SECOND RIKER
Coming into the tail end of the sixth season of TNG, the producers had a unique way to spark up the show. In “Second Chances,” the Enterprise check out a station where Riker had barely escaped from years before. They’re shocked to discover a second Riker there. It turns out a transporter accident created an exact double of Riker. The two are unsure of themselves but work together with this Riker taking on the name Thomas. While making the episode, the writers were seriously playing with the idea of having Will Riker written off the series as he meets a lethal end. A secondary idea was seeing this other self would inspire Riker to finally accept a captaincy to his own ship.
Either way, this would have made Data the new first officer and altered the crew. Thomas would stick around in a lower position, trying to escape his “brother’s” shadow and romancing Troi. Jonathan Frakes seemed to like the idea of putting a new spin on his performance. In the end, they stuck to having Will still around and Thomas ended up joining the Maquis. Yet it’s fun to imagine how the last season of TNG would have featured a different Riker.
2 THE ORIGINAL JANEWAY
This is an infamous recasting move and one that totally altered Voyager. From the start, the producers wanted to make a huge deal with the first major female captain leading the show. A few names were mentioned but eventually veteran French-Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold was cast. It was a major event with various stories in sci-fi magazines and details on the actress’ life. Just weeks into production of the pilot, Bujold left the show with arguments raging over whether she’d quit or been fired.
On the DVD for the show’s first season, the completed footage of Bujold as Janeway was finally released. It quickly became clear the actress just wasn’t right in the role. She lacked charisma, was flat in her line delivery and projected no aura of command. Thankfully, Kate Mulgrew was available to make the character an icon. If ever a recasting saved a series, this was it as Bujold as Janeway would have ended this voyage fast.
1 MACGYVER AS SISKO?
The casting choices for Picard were one thing. But the idea of who could have played Ben Sisko were something else. Originally, the character was imagined as white although his race actually wouldn’t play too much into the show. A major contender was Richard Dean Anderson, still best known at the time for MacGyver. It could have been an intriguing choice with Anderson doing well in command. Obviously, Stargate SG-1 fans should be happy this didn’t happen as it would have meant Anderson couldn’t play Jack O’Neill.
Also in the running were Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy) and future Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi. When the character was imagined as a black man, James Earl Jones was a major name mentioned. This would have made Sisko an admiral and Jake his grandson. Avery Brooks ended up being the right choice but it’s interesting who else could have played the role much differently.