Star Trek: Picard: No Man's Land Writers Talk Raffi and Seven's Romance, Fenris Rangers, Canon, and More

Star Trek is getting into the audio drama game. A few weeks ago, Simon and Schuster announced Star Trek: Picard: No Man's Land, a new story set after Star Trek: Picard Season One. Star Trek: Picard co-creator Kirsten Beyer co-wrote the story with Mike Johnson, a veteran writer of Star Trek comics and video games. The production features a full voice cast, including Star Trek: Picard stars Michelle Hurd and Jeri Ryan reprises their respective roles as Raffi Musiker and Seven of Nine to further examine the romantic relationship between the characters implied by Star Trek: Picard's first season finale. had to opportunity to talk to Beyer and Johnson about crafting Star Trek: Picard: No Man's Land. Here's what they had to say about Trek's foray into audio drama.

(Photo: Simon & Schuster)

Where did the idea to make a Star Trek audio drama get started?

Kirsten Beyer: It originated with Simon & Schuster. They reached out to me a couple of years ago, maybe almost three years ago now, to start talking about the possibility of doing it, and it took a while. They wanted to do definitely Star Trek: Picard because they were very excited about the series, and it took us a while to find the right story, the right timing for it, and all of that. But it was Simon and Schuster.

Why this particular story about Raffi and Seven? What makes it the right story at the right time to tell in this format?

KB: I think it felt like one of the areas that was left from season one and was going to be picked up on in season two that just felt like it had the most potential for further developing and deepening that relationship because it really began right at the end of season one. Both of those characters had so much as of yet unexplored potential, but they also were such clearly-drawn characters in season one. Seven is a surprise. We're picking up 20 years after Voyager, and she's a very, very different person. So a lot has gone on there. And you're looking for stories that are going to allow you to dig into some of that but also carry the character forward.

And Raffi, even though she was a new character to Picard season one, also had a very deep and rich backstory and life experience that made her a really great partner. In some ways, they have, I think, similar problems. They're both kind of broken but in different ways. And yet they both have these really big hearts and the desire to do good. So something about the dynamic of those two characters really piqued our interest.

It's interesting that Simon and Schuster wanted the audio for Picard, specifically. It has its unique flavor, like every Star Trek show and movie and whatever else does. I know you've both written for under various Star Trek banners, in some cases written some of the characters in Picard in different show contexts. When your writing for projects with the Star Trek: Picard, what are the unique elements, in terms of tone or atmosphere or anything else, that you apply here that you might not apply while writing these characters, or these ideas for something attached to Voyager, or a Discovery thing, or a classic show, or whatever else?

Mike Johnson: I think we really take our cue from the tone, the performances of each series, depending on what we're writing. So Picard has its own particular tone distinct from even later TNG or the TNG movies that delve into Picard's psychology in a particular way.

And then when it comes to Raffi, who's a new character, obviously we're following what Michelle Hurd has established in the show. And same for Seven, because as Kirsten was saying, Seven is in such a different place now that it's not writing the Seven that we knew from Voyager. It's the Seven we know from Picard.

So you're right. Every show has its own flavor. And we want to make sure we are true to that when we're writing an audio drama specifically based on the Picard series. And that's really the key, is taking it from what the characters are showing us, even more so than the particular plot of, say, season one of Picard. We take cues from it to launch our story. But after that, it's really about trying to capture and embody the voices of the characters that have been established.

KB: Yeah, and I think that Picard is a show that, while there is plenty of action and adventure in it, makes a lot of room for deeper exploration and conversations about who people are and what's important to them, and what they're trying to work through at any given time. And the pacing of it is a little bit slower and, for me, very rich in that regard. So when you're talking about a story that you're only going to be able to give to an audience through their ears, you're looking for subjects that will allow for that kind of thing. If things have to be blowing up every five or 10 minutes in an audio drama, you're in trouble because it's just very hard to convey that. We certainly built-in certain kinds of action set pieces, but they had to come very organically from the struggles of the characters. And we knew that most of the time and energy we were going to be spending here is going to be spent with these two women trying to work on their issues.

That's one of the things I found very interesting about No Man's Land. Star Trek has had its share of relationships and romance and whatnot, but I don't think I've seen a Star Trek thing that delves this intimately into a relationship between two of its characters. Was that a unique challenge in writing this? Was there any other kind of Star Trek thing you looked at as a model of how to blend that style of writing with Star Trek?

KB: I think that knowing that that was the point, to be able to have these kinds of deeper conversations, it was actually freeing from a lot of what had come before. We're not limited to you got to put this back in the box by the end of the episode; you've only got an hour to bring two people together and see what happens. Knowing that this was going to be an ongoing relationship meant that we had a definite beginning and endpoint in mind, but we were free within that to go anywhere. And that was pretty exciting.

I know that, between the two of you, you've written Star Trek novels, comics, and video games. What were some of the unique challenges in writing specifically for the audio format? Or even unique opportunities, things you included that you might not have done if this was a prose novel, for example?

MJ: I think the biggest difference is the most obvious one, which is that you can't describe what people are seeing. Obviously, in comics, it's the exact opposite. There is no sound, which is why we invented words like "pow" and "bam," and "thwack." But in this one, I'm so used to describing what people are seeing and what an artist can draw, but this was so fun to strip all of that away. And I feel like getting even closer to the characters emotionally because you could only use the words they were saying, and we could sort of direct how they might say them, but even then, it's not like we're directing the actors. It's more based upon the context of the scene, how they might be read.

So it was a great fun challenge. You can't just drive something visually. You have to figure out, okay, how can we tell this in sound? And what are the sounds we can use? Music is a big deal. Obviously, I wish there was music every time you opened a comic, but there's not, sadly. But in this, that was a real tool that we could use. And I know Kirsten had great ideas about the music and how it could tell the story.

KB: Yeah, we were looking for, specifically, music that was certainly going to fit into the Star Trek universe, but we also felt like in this, we could explore different styles of music that you're necessarily used to hearing in Trek that would still match this story and work for this story. It was a really fun day when we remembered that we had a record player on the Lea Sirena and could use that if we wanted to, to bring in pretty much any kind of music we wanted to. So we thought a lot about every tool that we could possibly use to convey the story in ways that were new and fresh.

The use of music to contrast different character personalities struck me. It goes from intimate guitars at the beginning, and then you get to some almost heavy metal stuff towards the middle. And another thing that struck me was that you included a character with a unique view on universal translators, not to spoil anything. Was that the kind of thing that came from knowing that this would be an audio adventure, where it might not have worked as well in prose?

KB: Yeah, 100%. The screen and the page give you certain opportunities, but when you take all of that away, and all you have are your ears, you have to find ways to make the dialogue really give you an incredibly clear picture of each person. And so, we probably swung for the fences a little bit more in terms of those kinds of choices so that we could make sure everybody was very unique and very much their own person and could stand toe to toe with these characters of Seven and Raffi, who are already so clear in people's minds.

Fans seemed pretty eager to see more of Raffi and Seven's relationship after the end of Picard's first season. How would you describe what their relationship is like as this story begins? What kind of challenges are they facing throughout this story?

KB: I think a lot of times when we talk about relationship stories, we're at the very beginning of something, and we see people come together and face obstacles and then work everything out by the end of it. That's the standard structure. And what's fun about this particular relationship is these are both women with a lot of history and a lot of baggage, who are very, I think, reluctant in some ways to even consider the possibility of a relationship. And they're also very busy. They're in the middle of a very big epic struggle to do the kind of work that Star Trek does, helping people, doing good. And in the midst of that, they're having to sort out who the other person is and what to do with all these feelings that they have for each other. So it lets you go to places that these kinds of stories don't normally go in a very, very interesting way, just because they're such rich characters themselves.

No Man's Land also features the Fenris Rangers, which was one of those concepts in season one that gets dropped in there, but the show speeds past it a bit, like, "Hey, this is a thing. We'll tell you about it later." Naturally, fans have been curious to learn more since then. We get to see more of them in the audio drama, but I wonder if you could tell us what this organization is in the Star Trek universe. It seems like all we've gotten so far is that they're not Starfleet.

MJ: That was one of the most fun things about this was taking something -- first off, the coolest name ever -- but expounding on it. Because when you first hear it, you think, "We're the Fenris Rangers. We're coming to save the day." They have cool uniforms and badges. They're like the cops or something, space cops. But this is an opportunity to show that they're really not, that they're kind of a ragtag group of individuals who all have the same guiding light of wanting to protect those who need protection in a dangerous galaxy. But individually, they all have different ways of going about it. They all have different personalities. So this was a really fun opportunity to run with that idea and build it out in a way that there isn't time on the show to do.

KB: I also think it speaks to the reality of the Star Trek universe, that there's no way the Federation and Starfleet can be everywhere at any given time. And when you take an event as massive as the breakup of the Romulan Empire because of a supernova, that's a lot of territory to cover where people are going to have needs, and there may not be any infrastructure in place to actually help them. So the existence of an organization like this makes a lot of sense, and then you just start imagining, well, how would that work?

To put it in the nerdiest terms possible, they sound like the chaotic good alternative to Starfleet's lawful good, if that makes sense.

MJ: That's a great way to put it. They are chaotic good. Yeah. That's perfect.

I know that Star Trek has long held that if it's not on television or in a movie, it is not 100% certified canon, for whatever that is worth. However, as far as I know, there's never been an example of a show's co-creator writing a thing involving talent from that show, which raised some questions among fans. Should fans think of this audio drama differently, in terms of canon, than any other Star Trek novel?

KB: Well, I think Mike and I are going to have different answers for you here.


KB: Yeah. I am just less concerned about the canon question. For me, I'm absolutely fine with canon being everything that's on film because that is more than enough to keep track of when you're trying to craft stories. If you want to start adding things to that that you have to somehow find a way to reconcile, you're going to lose your mind in a big hurry. So the point of stories like this for me is always to support and remain consistent with what has been established, but to then just tell a really, really great story. And as long as it's a really great story, I don't care what format it's in or whether or not it's considered canon because what I'm looking for is the experience of enjoying a story. Mike?

MJ: Poppycock. Ridiculous. No, I fundamentally agree. I do say that yes, what is on film or television is canon, but when it comes to everything else, in my mind, it's canon until it's contradicted by film or TV. I mean, even the film and TV contradicts the film and TV sometimes. And then you have to decide, well, is it whatever the most recent thing is that's canon? So that's my philosophy, is it's canon until it isn't. Everything I do in my mind is just as meaningful and legit as anything you'd see on film TV. I think you owe that to the fans. But I guess I have to say Kirsten's right again, that the most important thing is telling a good story.

KB: We don't work less hard because these aren't considered canon. That doesn't enter the equation. You're always trying to tell an incredibly good story for people. You just don't go in with the expectation that other people aren't going to come along later and make changes that are going to affect what you did. There's always going to be more Trek being made. And so, you'll make yourself crazy if you try to find a way to create something that's canon forever. You can't.

MJ: And that's the same if you're making film or TV too because there are things that will come along. People argue about what's canon, even amongst stuff that's on film. So you can't really win. You can just tell the best story that you can.

I don't want to give away the ending is, but No Man's Land feels like it leads very smoothly into Second Self, Una McCormack's Picard novel that's coming out. Is this indicative of increased coordination or more involvement among the group of writers working on these projects, or did it just happen by good timing in this case?

KB: I think it's just about the timing. I coordinate all of the stories for the tie-ins that are connected to the new shows. Mike does a ton of stuff with the games that are connected to the new shows. So there's always a guiding hand behind everything. You're trying to, again, make space for different artists to take stories in directions that they are excited by, and you just want to make sure that it can all still hang together.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to any fans who are considering checking out No Man's Land that hasn't come up over our conversation?

MJ: I would just say we're really excited for people to hear it. And this is an exciting new thing that Simon and Schuster are doing, that the franchise is doing. And if people like this one, I'm sure they'll make more.

KB: In a universe that has so many different things to offer, it is a unique experience. And if you're a fan of the show, if you're a fan of these characters, if you're a fan of Star Trek in general, I think it's a really cool and different way to experience the universe.

Should fans expect more of these audio dramas? Is this one being looked at almost like a pilot episode to gauge interest?

KB: I can say that we have nothing else like it in the pipeline from the Simon and Schuster side right now. But given that there is a lot of new material in this form being generated, I'd be amazed if there wasn't. But there's nothing specific to talk about at this point in time.

Star Trek: Picard: No Man's Land goes on sale on February 22nd. It's available to pre-order now on Amazon.