'Star Trek' Writer Morgan Gendel Goes Behind the Scenes of 'The Inner Light'

Saturday, 02 September 2017 - 6:48PM
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Saturday, 02 September 2017 - 6:48PM
'Star Trek' Writer Morgan Gendel Goes Behind the Scenes of 'The Inner Light'
CBS
Season five of Star Trek: The Next Generation is mostly known for a couple things - the introduction of Bajoran officer Ro Laren, and the award-winning episode "The Inner Light," which saw an ancient probe beam into Captain Picard's mind and force him to live 40 years in the life of a long dead man named Kamin, while about "20-25 minutes" passed on the Enterprise, by Riker's estimates.

As many Next Generation fans can tell you, "The Inner Light" is one of the most popular episodes of the show, and one of only two to win a Hugo Award (the other Hugo winner is the series finale) It's also the episode where Picard learns to play the flute, a rare skill he retains from his Kamin life that he occasionally shows off in later episodes. It's one of Sir Patrick Stewart's favorites, as he once told the episode's writer Morgan Gendel in a letter - a letter which Gendel says he's since lost, sadly.



Speaking at Escape Velocity 2017 in Washington DC, Gendel went more in depth into the creation of that episode, and some of the other episodes he wrote while freelancing. Because Gendel was never a permanent member of the writing staff - he had to pitch every one of his episodes to the actual writing staff, who often declined his ideas until he'd tweaked them some more.

"The Inner Light" was pitched a total of five times over several months, with the original plot trapping Riker and Ro in the probe's beam as well. This was shot down by head writer Michael Piller, and once the decision was made to have the plot focus around Kamin's people finding a good man to carry on their memories, Picard became the only victim, which did a lot to add more emotional weight into the story. 

Other small changes were made as well. Originally, Picard should have been taken immediately to sickbay after collapsing from the probe's beam, but Gendel was told that by not turning on the lights for their medical bay set, they could allocate that part of the budget toward other things. So, as Gendel put it: "He's a tough guy, he can take it, put Sir Patrick on the floor." He also planned for six hours to pass on the Enterprise during Picard's 40 year trip, since his original 30 minutes seemed unbelievable. The other writers disagreed, and we're finally told "20-25 minutes" by Riker.

As for where Gendel got his inspiration for the episode, it actually came from a blimp: Gendel saw a Fuji blimp in the sky one evening, trying to "beam a message into our brains" by broadcasting an ad to anybody who looked into the sky. Since his sci-fi writing philosophy is all about focusing on modern science and technology, Gendel had an idea for what a futuristic version of a flying thing beaming messages into people's brains would look like. The probe concept followed soon after that.

And the episode notably lacked the crazier Star Trek staples like phasers and starship battles. It kept the pseudoscience to a minimum beyond simply the probe, which was how Gendel liked it. It did turn up the Beatles references though, as George Harrison's song of the same name inspired the episode title.



Gendel admitted that his "dirty little secret" for all his TNG episodes involved making Picard more like Captain Kirk from the original series. "The Inner Light" showed Picard having a lover, something the straight-laced captain didn't do nearly as often as the Orion-loving Kirk before him. And the next episode he pitched, "Starship Mine" in season six, turned Picard into an action hero much like Kirk, and Gendel pitched that one as simply "Die Hard on the Enterprise."

Unlike his "Inner Light" pitch, that five-word pitch was accepted immediately.

Later on, Gendel would write a few episodes for Deep Space Nine, a difficult task as these episodes were written before the show started production - in particular, his episode "Armageddon," which jumpstarted the bromance between O'Brien and Dr. Bashir, was difficult as Alexander Siddig hadn't yet been cast in the Bashir role.

But "The Inner Light" was always his favorite, something he again shared with Patrick Stewart and a great many fans. His pitch for a sequel episode, "Outer Light," was never approved, although he did turn it into a graphic novel (jury's out on whether it's canon). It followed the Enterprise finding another probe from the same destroyed alien race, this time containing some cryogenic scientists, including one who looked just like Picard's/Kamin's wife inside the probe's simulation.
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