Director: William Shatner
Cast: Maurice Hurley, John Pike
Watch Chaos on the Bridge online in the UK: Netflix UK / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / iTunes / Google Play
Williams Shatner’s other Star Trek documentary, The Captains, is also available on Netflix UK.
Star Trek. A TV show that held up the ideals of the human race. Peace. Equality. A lack of greed. You’d expect the making of such a noble sci-fi to be equally trouble-free. You’d be wrong. Chaos on the Bridge reveals the drama, scandal and conflicts that were rife on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as the controversial reboot of the show post-Captain Kirk almost didn’t happen. Set your phases to stunned.
This kind of behind-the-scenes documentary lives and dies by its access – and Chaos on the Bridge thrives on it, lining up everyone from cast members to studio heads to dish the dirt on the production. In the firing line? Gene Roddenberry. The Star Trek creator is less celebrated and more hung out to dry by his colleagues, who dismiss his ideas as “wacky doodle” and his involvement as infuriating. It’s an hour-long epic burn; a comedy roast, but without Gene around to squirm on camera.
The number of witnesses and accounts corroborate the amusingly messy picture. Roddenberry, it turns out, didn’t even want to do The Next Generation, but ended up on board after Paramount informed him they were making it anyway. His insistence on the utopian principles of Star Trek, though, left the writing team with nothing to do: with no greed, conflict or other vices, how was there supposed to be any dramatic tension? If only they looked behind the camera for inspiration. Other writers coming on board, such as Maurice Hurley (the head scribe for Season 2), only unbalanced the ship further – “He doesn’t know the difference between shields and deflectors!” Gene is quoted as saying – while many single out Leonard Maizlish, Gene’s lawyer, as the most destabilising force of all. Notes on script re-writes were apparently handed out by Leonard, claiming they were from Roddenberry, despite always being in the lawyer’s handwriting.
Amid it all, William Shatner acts the shocked audience off-camera with visible glee. The former Captain of the Enterprise, who directed this for TV, interviews each subject with all the charisma of Kirk, pushing for more details and stirring the pot without getting involved himself. Every now and then, though, he gets so excited that he adds his own inadvertent commentary. “Poker is being played right here,” he half-narrates, as former Paramount boss John Pike explains the stand-off with Gene over making a two-hour pilot for the show. “You were bluffing? Holy cats!”
The power struggles extended to the actors too, with Patrick Stewart (who usually avoids Star Trek with Harrison Ford-like determination) surprisingly game to talk everything from working conditions to his baldness. (“Hair doesn’t mean anything in the 25th century!” Gene reportedly declared.) At only one hour, there are unanswered questions about the show, including the dismissal of Gates McFadden, but the swift parade of talking heads never ceases to entertain: the editing smartly cross-cuts the interviews, allowing the participants to agree (or disagree) with each other, while witty animations prevent the visuals from becoming static. For hardcore fans, many of the anecdotes – stealing food from the set of Cheers – will be familiar, but the sheer range of contributors makes Chaos on the Bridge worth the watch. For non-fans, meanwhile, the gossip offers an irresistible insight into one of the most famous TV shows of all time. It’s “not just about the creative struggle, but the struggle… for power,” explains our narrator. The fact that he’s William Shatner is a bonus.
Chaos on the Bridge is available to watch on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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