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HomeArts & EntertainmentHow ‘Star Trek’ Nearly Killed off William T. Riker

How ‘Star Trek’ Nearly Killed off William T. Riker


Will Riker, Deanna Troi, and Tom Riker

There have been multiple episodes of “Star Trek” where a main character faces a twin version of him or herself. According to the website TV Tropes, these situations are called “Mirror Match” or “Doppelgänger” stories. These episodes are exciting and can sometimes serve as a money saver for the show, as they don’t require a guest star for that episode. In fact, we assembled a list of the best of the “Mirror Match” episodes not too long ago.  

It turns out that, behind the scenes, the writers on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” were planning to use their ‘double Riker’ episode to drastically change their series. The episode, “Second Chances,” aired in the sixth year of TNG’s run and was written by René Echevarria, based on a story by Michael Medlock. The episode itself was directed by Geordi La Forge — LeVar Burton. 

‘Second Chances’

TNG 6×24 ‘Second Chances’ TrailerStar Trek The Next Generation Season 6 Episode 24 ‘Second Chances’ Trailer2010-11-23T10:04:24Z

The story centered around a transporter accident that caused a duplication of William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) eight years before the story’s start. This error, caused by planetary interference and radiation, created a second Riker, who survived on the planet by himself this whole time. 

William Riker, meanwhile, was promoted to commander and joined the crew of Picard’s Enterprise. The other Riker, who all eventually called ‘Thomas,’ stayed at his rank of lieutenant, as he was not with a Starfleet ship or detail.

Similarities to ‘The Prestige’

THE PRESTIGE Trailer (2006)Official Trailer for “The Prestige” with Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson | Available now on Digital and DVD | For more clips & trailers check KinoCheck.com/film/s1w/the-prestige-2006 A mysterious story of two magicians whose intense rivalry leads them on a life-long battle for supremacy — full of obsession, deceit and jealousy with dangerous and…2020-07-22T16:01:03Z

Interestingly, the plot of this episode is quite similar to the novel, “The Prestige,” which was written in 1995 by author Christopher Priest. “Second Chances” aired in 1993. In “The Prestige,” magicians use a transporter-like technology to create spellbinding tricks which audiences can not understand. Director Christopher Nolan, famous for his “Dark Knight” trilogy, made a movie based on the book, debuting in 2006.

The film detailed that for every magician who disappeared, a second or copy was created, much like Thomas Riker. He was created by the transporter malfunction. However, the magicians decided that these copies could not live and were immediately drowned. 

A Dead Riker?

Tensions rose between the two Rikers, as Lt. Riker did not like being told what to do by Cmdr. Riker, and Cmdr. Riker did not like Lt. Riker’s attempts at romance with Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis). 

This, according to Jeri Taylor, gave the writers something different to consider. Taylor was a writer/producer for TNG, “Deep Space Nine,” and later co-created “Star Trek: Voyager.” She spoke with Mark A. Altman and Ed Gross for their book, “The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years.”

“Another even more audacious idea was the discussion of killing Commander Riker in ‘Second Chances,’ an episode in which the Enterprise discovers a doppelgänger of Riker, Thomas Riker, that was created in a transporter malfunction on an Away Team mission nearly a decade earlier,” Taylor told Gross and Altman

A move like this would undoubtedly have been shocking to the Trek audiences. The plan, according to René Echevarria, would have been to replace Cmdr. Riker with Lt. Riker. This change would have rippled through the Enterprise crew and would likely have meant that Mr. Data (Brent Spiner) would have been the new “Number One” for Picard (Patrick Stewart), as Thomas Riker was just a lieutenant.  

A death in the middle of the season had happened before, thanks to the giant oily blob that ended Tasha Yar’s life (Denise Crosby) in the Season 1 episode “Skin of Evil.” 

“We wanted to kill Riker and replace him with Tom Riker,” Echevarria told Gross and Altman. “We thought it was a great idea, and no one could tell us different, but Michael [Piller] knew it was wrong. As I’ve gone on to run other shows and sat in that chair, I could see he was right, and sometimes you just have to say no.”

The boss of all “Star Trek” after the passing of Gene Roddenberry was Rick Berman. He was not as excited about this idea and ultimately decided against it. 

“Once I started leaning toward yes, we started looking at what that would do and how it would fit into the movies and how it would fit into a lot of the different relationships,” Berman told Gross and Altman

“Basically, you’re putting a character on the ship who has not experienced anything of the last six years and doesn’t know any of the characters. How would it affect the movie and other variables? I ended up feeling rather strongly. I didn’t want to kill off Riker, and I didn’t get any major arguments about it from Michael or Jeri.”

Lost Love and The Future

Deep Space 9-Riker Steals The DefiantTom Riker steals the Defiant.2020-02-12T03:47:27Z

Both Rikers would live on, and Thomas would eventually become a member of the Maquis and appear in an episode of “Deep Space Nine” as a villain. 

Marina Sirtis expressed some disappointment at the end of Thomas’ involvement on the Enterprise. 

“I preferred Thomas Riker,” said Sirtis to “Star Trek: Communicator” magazine. “I thought he was cuter than Will.”

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