During this Centennial celebration, we’ve decided to explore the additional creative worlds of Gene Roddenberry. There are multitudes of similarities found among the different stories, as well as some striking parallels to the Star Trek universe. There are also some staggering differences, both great and terrible, and we hope that you’ll engage along with us.
Live long and prosper,
Do you remember Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda? Airing alongside Star Trek: Enterprise from October ‘00 until May ‘05, Andromeda had all of the ingredients for a hit…potentially. There was a fancy new ship, a new method of starship propulsion, and a handful of new species to explore. While its production quality was indicative of the times, there were several other reasons why the show should have worked. But before we focus on the shouldas and the couldas, let’s review the general premise.
The Systems Commonwealth and the March of the High Guard
Right from the door there are obvious parallels between the Commonwealth and the High Guard armada and the Federation and Starfleet. The Commonwealth was an interstellar network of allied planets spanning across the Milky Way, Triangulum, and, coincidentally enough, Andromeda galaxies. Founded by a centaur-like species called the Vedrans, the Old Commonwealth originally consisted of more than a million worlds, existing initially as a constitutional monarchy before reforming into a peaceful, more democratic commonwealth. This peace lasted for nearly 10,000 years before a devastating uprising from a vast group of genetically engineered demi-humans called Nietzcheans and their various allies. The revolt plunged the Commonwealth into disarray, and its fall occurred shortly thereafter.
The Commonwealth had its own highly-trained, technologically advanced armada in the High Guard, the major difference between it and Starfleet being the High Guard existed in a strictly military capacity with few (if any) directives centering around scientific exploration. High Guard starships like the Andromeda Ascendant were warships first and foremost, staffed by a crew of thousands, featuring a wide assortment of high-grade weaponry. They were also sentient, equipped with their own personalized AI to monitor and control shipwide operations. These AIs appeared on the ship’s screen, as well as in the form of holographic projections when necessary. While the Andromeda’s AI was responsible for the ship’s main computer and navigation systems, the AI was unable to pilot the ship on her own. Requiring humanoid pilots at the helm, the massive, extremely complex, and way-faster-than-the-speed-of-light slipstream system was a quantum network of intergalactic pathways too complex for an AI to maneuver on their own. One could argue that the slipstream bears strong similarities to the mycelial network featured in Star Trek: Discovery. However, the strongest similarity lies in the overall premise of the show itself.
The first season illustrates the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Andromeda Ascendant and her captain, Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo; yes, yes – we know). During the peak of the Old Commonwealth, Hunt, his crew, and ship’s AI, Andromeda (Lexa Doig), were caught in the event horizon of a black hole during a Nietzchean uprising, freezing them in time for more than 300 years. The Commonwealth abruptly collapsed during that time, marking the beginning of the period known as “The Long Night”. Sound familiar?
Enter the Eureka Maru, a scrappy little cargo ship captained by Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder), a semi-retired con artist and ace pilot. She and her crew – a human engineering genius (and kind of a creep) Seamus Harper (Gordon Michael Woolvett), a mysteriously innocent life support officer Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram), and a reformed and devoutly religious Magog monk, the Reverend Behemial Far Traveler aka Rev Bem (Brent Strait) – are commissioned to retrieve the long-dormant Andromeda to sell to the highest bidder. In freeing the ship, they inadvertently liberate Captain Hunt and the Andromeda from their paralysis in time, thrusting them unceremoniously into the present. To complicate things further, the aforementioned highest bidder hired a backup “insurance” squad full of mercenaries, led by elegantly pragmatic Nietzschean badass, Tyr Anasazi (Keith Hamilton Cobb).
Ultimately, Capt. Hunt convinces Tyr, Beka, and the crew of the Maru to join his quest to reunite the worlds of the Systems Commonwealth. Initially they agree for their own personal gain, but eventually they begin to align themselves with the idea of order. Harper even built a custom android avatar for the ship’s AI, and affectionately nicknamed her Rommie. Over the course of the show’s 5 season run, they managed to convince 50 worlds to join the New Commonwealth, marking a new era of intergalactic order that had not existed in centuries.
So What Went Wrong?
Not only is this series basically the bones of Discovery’s third season, but there were plenty of new perspectives within it that didn’t exist in Star Trek itself at the time. The anarchist vibes of The Long Night possessed the grit of shows like Babylon 5, and focused more on intergalactic politics than scientific progress. There was more action than the average Trek series at the time, cool new weapons like the High Guard-issue force lance, and the dazzling concept of sentient starships. So why didn’t it last?
Some could argue that the aesthetic of the early 2000’s permeated the supposedly-futuristic time frame of the show. After all, Hunt and the Andromeda awoke in Commonwealth Year 10087 (approximately 5167 AD), so why were the women styled like a Claire’s ad? Some could argue that the graphics weren’t the greatest, even though they improved as seasons went on. But the most obvious hindrance of the show’s progress was in its leading role, glaring issues with Sorbo notwithstanding, believe it or not. Sure, the actor’s controversial political stance certainly doesn’t help, but a call to “rekindle the light of civilization” made by a cis het white male didn’t translate well from a place of military influence, rather than the scientific perspective Trek fans had grown to expect from a Roddenberry property. Hunt’s mission to restore the Commonwealth reeks of imperialism in the worst possible ways, and Sorbo never managed to portray a likeable enough character for audiences to rally behind.
Separately, Cobb’s performance as Tyr Anasazi sprinted laps around Sorbo’s yawn-inducing depiction of Hunt, despite being tragically underused as a character. Eventually the actor grew frustrated by the direction of the character, and Cobb left the show at the end of its fourth season. Immediately after his departure, it became glaringly obvious that Sorbo may have had top-billing, but it was Cobb’s gently confident and eloquently vicious portrayal that led the tone of the show. The writers did their best (?) to wrap the show neatly, but it’s flat finish alongside the equally (if not moreso) flat end to Enterprise in 2005 marked the end of this new surge of Roddenberry-flavored content until J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek in 2009.
The Trouble With Innovation
Perhaps Andromeda was a bit ahead of its time – the early 2000s were chock-full of rough-hewn, hacker, dystopian sci-fi films and television, and maybe a post-futuristic, intergalactic, sometimes-utopian, unified society was not what audiences wanted to see at the time. The concept of a quantum slipstream network connecting planets, star systems, and galaxies like the neural pathways of the human brain might have also been a bit of a reach to fans who were accustomed to warp drive. The makeup caliber could have been better, sure. So could have the graphics. And while High Guard uniforms were kind of cool-looking, Hunt was really the only character regularly in one, and Sorbo strutted around with such an obviously high opinion of himself that did not translate well on-screen. At all. Ever.
So it looks as though Discovery showrunners dug in the Roddenberry crates for inspiration. That’s a huge flex for Roddenberry’s body of work, especially considering that DISCO took some heavy themes from Andromeda and vastly improved upon them by translating them to the Star Trek universe. While there may not be one definitive answer as to why Andromeda wasn’t a hit, we can’t deny that its best elements remain timeless. Finding commonalities amongst ourselves and each other, uniting despite political duress and unfavorable social conditions across the vastness of space are achievements humanity is still struggling to reach. But if Andromeda, like Star Trek, teaches us nothing else, it’s that there’s always a light at the end of the darkness should you choose to work towards it.