The Star Trek franchise gave us a fantasy world of the Future in which cell phones, movie cameras, and floppy disks no longer fit in pockets (though there were no pockets). But what remained constant in the 23rd and 24th centuries is the rule that, if a plot device works, it must be used over and over and over.
Recurring themes applying to regular characters
100. Captain Kirk puts the make on a female of an alien species who is, oddly, more attractive to human males than any human female on the set.
99. Captain Kirk mutinies against Starfleet; his senior staff decides by vote that they are all in too, as are former shipmates elsewhere in the universe, as none of them, curiously, has any training in military discipline. They steal starships and divert others off their assignments. But their boldness saves the day and Starfleet does not even issue a scolding but dishes out promotions.
98. Some sort of transporter accident happens and creates a duplicate character of a regular, or merges two characters, and the result is more likeable than the original. But the damned writers keep the original.
97. Wesley Crusher saves the day despite being a teenager with no evident skills beyond playing video games and sucking up to the adults when he isn't whining about something.
96. Worf gets the fuck beaten out of him.
Recurring themes applying to expendable characters
93. A junior officer steps into the limelight. Viewers realize how interesting he is. He is never seen again.
92. A bad guy breaks out of the brig by pulling off the most transparent of tricks, as the ship's "security" officers seem to know the least about security.
91. Several main characters and one never-before seen bridge officer beam down to the planet, and everyone treats the newbie like he's as good as any of them, and in the end it turns out he's an alien spy who secretly wanted them all dead. They defeat him anyway, escape, and no one seems to care that their old 'friend' will never be seen again.
90. The Enterprise ventures into The Maelstrom and suffers severe damage, including the deaths of many crew members, including the guest star who was supposed to be in command until Bones persuaded the Captain to "get his ship back." However, when the android perishes at the end (see Deus ex machina), it is he for whom they hold a wake.
Recurring themes using inexpensive props
81. One or several members of the senior staff travel to Risa 7 to take a break from the crises that happen every week on their ship, even though they know that, every time someone goes to Risa 7, bad things start happening. Only, we never see Risa 7, only puffs of smoke and perhaps the same cheesy planet-scape mural that was used a couple episodes ago. The one with ground-level water towers. The crew know Risa 7 as "the smoke-machine planet."
80. The crew takes much-needed shore leave, to the exact point in history that Paramount was making a movie about on an adjacent set, but still end up having to solve some mystery or another.
79. One of the senior officers with absolutely no experience or aptitude for command has to take control of the ship. At first, it is obvious that he is totally incapable. However, after some clever plot devices and a pinch of good luck, he changes the holomatrix to include command subroutines, reroutes the plasma conduits to the slushy machine, or somehow becomes an all-around qualified commanding officer who won’t stop annoying the Captain until he is given another shot at the job. And another. And another.
77. The lowest ranking officer is put in charge of the night shift, where nothing actually happens apart from the dimming of the lights in order to tell them it’s nighttime. It is then, of course, that the aliens attack.
76. A trusted friend of one of the senior officers is welcomed aboard the ship, but secretly has an ulterior motive and sets about stealing/sleeping with/poisoning something or other. They are found out by their friend, and their friendship is quickly terminated after at least one cliché combination is worked into the dialogue. (Usually: “I thought I could trust you!” followed by “It won’t happen again, I promise.”)
Sex with illegal aliens
70. A naïve member of the crew, usually the lowest-ranking senior officer, meets a seemingly charming alien of the opposite sex, but is utterly distraught when the alien betrays them in some evil way or another. This was not supposed to happen in The Future!
69. A member of the crew is unknowingly impregnated by a strange alien. The pregnancy obviously doesn’t last nine months like a human pregnancy because they’ve only got forty minutes to tie everything up nicely. But the offspring is never cute-and-cuddly.
68. A member of the crew, other than the Captain, ignores Starfleet rules and has sex with an alien, catching a disease in the process. The Chief Medical Officer turns around and says: “I told you so!” The patient looks sheepish.
67. The Captain has a flirtatious moment with the most senior officer of the opposite sex, but they agree to remain “just good friends”. (Oddly, this never leads to the condition noted in the previous item.)
66. The Captain has sex with an alien without any side-effects whatsoever. The alien isn’t who he thought it was, however, and the Captain ends up insisting he is “married to the ship” and never calls on the alien again.
65. Two random members of the senior staff get it on after many episodes full of sexual tension, but everyone on the ship, including aliens, intruders, diplomats, and vegetables, realize that the two officers have the hots for each other long before the lovebirds themselves do. From then on, they deal with one another as though nothing happened.
Show viewers understand that, when you travel back in time, any significant change you make changes the present. The Enterprise and everyone you knew goes out of existence, although you and any other series regulars do not. Insignificant changes, such as starting a gunfight in a crowded downtown, have no effect on the "continuum."
64. A member of the crew is stuck in some kind of time warp where he is forced to experience disconnected events of his life. These are amusing but random to viewers, but are just the thing to lead the crew member to deduce the way out of the warp.
63. The crew come across another Starfleet vessel lost in time and help it get back to where it came from. No one ever mentions it and it never appears in the series again.
61. The crew travel in time back to the exact year of the broadcast, and spend the episode making poignant social commentary that would be important to viewers, and trite and dated to viewers of reruns three decades later, but irrelevant to themselves.
No matter how complicated, all malfunctions and conditions that threaten to harm recurring characters must be resolved within forty minutes, or else you have created the dreaded "story arc" and pissed off all the syndicators (who want the freedom to air any episode after any other).
60. Somebody screws up and the ship becomes helpless and they spend the whole episode trying to fix the problem, which gets catastrophically worse. Finally, someone has a brainstorm about a theoretical fix. Though it is untried, there are available parts for it just lying around. It works, after a pregnant moment where it appears not to.
59. The crew come across an abandoned vessel/space station and try to work out what happened to the missing inhabitants. (Dead, that's what.)
58. The crew come across another Starfleet vessel with a crew of questionable morals. They expose them and that’s that. How could a Starfleet officer be so evil?
57. Senior officers are trapped and face certain death, until the bad guys are pinched on the neck.
56. Q appears, talks to or about Picard, annoys the hell out of everyone, destroys the ship's crucial matter/anti-matter shielding, dooming it to explode, but corrects everything, as his powers are never specified or limited, just before he winks out of existence and the credits roll.
55. The crew encounters some random space anomaly that violates the laws of physics and the space-time continuum. One member of the senior staff saves the day. (Hint: Should the reader find himself in this situation, it usually works to either repolarize the shields, or send a tachyon beam through the main deflector dish, or convert a food leftover that no one has thought about into an electrical shunt.)
54. The Borg assimilates most of the crew, and is set to kill the rest, when it is suddenly defeated by a simple bacterium. (No, that was War of the Worlds. What happened is that Borg accountants suddenly decided it had taken so long it was no longer worth it and abandoned the attack. (No, that was THX 1138. Sorry about the spoiler.)) We never find out why.
53. The ship is sent thousands of light years from Earth by a strange alien entity. If the Captain is male, he pleads with the entity until it learns some kind of lesson and the ship returns home within forty minutes. If the Captain is female, she destroys the entity before it can either ruin anyone else's life or give directions back to Earth, which the crew will then spend the next seventy years trying to find.
52. The crew all fall into a deep sleep caused by some alien or another, all except one senior officer who is mysteriously unaffected (and is a stereotypical character named "Mary-Sue"). She wakes up the others and saves the day.
51. A crew member wakes up in the future where everything has been destroyed and there’s no way back, until the smart-alec who brought him there turns up and magically gets him home. (To Kansas.)
50. A recurring character takes inexplicable actions that threaten his commission in Starfleet. Only, it wasn't him at all. It was a shape-shifter.
49C. A crew member wakes up in the past and thinks the last few months or years have been a lie, until that niggling feeling inside of him becomes too strong and he works out that he's in a holographic simulation run by aliens.
49B. A crew member wakes up in the future and finds everything has changed, until that niggling feeling inside of him becomes too strong and he works out that he's in a holographic simulation run by aliens.
49A. A human crew member finds out he is actually an alien. He is embraced by other members of his new race, only to discover he is not actually an alien and the alien race made it up.
48. A star character dies, but his companions collect and reassemble his body, his memories, his character, and his signature wit, using a combination of outrageous techniques. This may take three movies, but yes, we do have all day.
47. Several star characters meet horrible deaths on an alien planet. However, once the crew completes negotiations with the aliens, it turns out that they have the power not only of resurrection but of un-putrefaction.
46. When a mystery disease ravages the bodies of the entire command staff, the amazing ship's surgeon not only cures the disease but un-ravages them.
45. Someone gets disfigured/altered/sick and then wastes the next forty minutes until they remember they can use the transporter to cure anything, but only on sufficiently important characters.
The Holodeck is a room on a starship that is large enough to accommodate even the most awkward plot devices.
44. The holodeck fucks up again. Oddly, its "safety protocols" are always the first component to malfunction.
43. A junior cadet, who is of course the only one to see that the ship has been invaded by aliens, leads them to the holodeck and intentionally disables the "safety protocols" so he can use it to conjure up sharpshooters who will kill the aliens, showing the advantage of a recreation center that doubles as a lethal weapon.
42. Most of the senior officers are stuck in the holodeck and canot get out until they obey its programme and play-act the entirety of some other show or movie.
The Prime Directive
The Prime Directive supposedly prohibits the interference with alien cultures. In other words, Star Trek being a space-travel series, it prohibits 90% of interesting storylines. If you want propane heat, you're just going to have to stumble upon it yourselves. For this reason, the Prime Directive is always either ignored, explained away with numerous exceptions, or someone pleads guilty to violating it and nothing happens.
40. The crew infiltrates a pre-warp society to complete a mission, or simply to find a gadget a stupid commander left behind that would tip the locals off to the key to the future. They are discovered and try to undo the damage that they’ve done, but they tip off even more. Despite the blatant deviation from the Prime Directive, they receive neither a Court Martial nor even a slap on the wrist.
39. The Captain goes that one step too far, sticks his/her nose into a battle between two alien species, and must justify himself to Starfleet Command. Again, nothing really happens.
38. The Captain tells an entire world's population and/or ruling class that their entire belief system, morality, code of laws and/or sexual practices are wrong. And they all immediately decide he is right and they had been wrong all along.
37. A captain of another ship flagrantly violates the Prime Directive. He is killed (by the person he trusts the most), fulfilling the three real Directives: That bad guys always die, that their deaths are maximally ironic, and that Starfleet never actually punishes anyone who violates the Prime Directive. That's what's so ever-lovin' Prime about it.
30. The resident crew member of a race that is supposed to be totally without individual personality suddenly develops one. The crew spends the rest of the episode "working through their feelings" about it.
29. The resident crew member searching to be more human demonstrates some aspect of humanity.
28. The resident crew member searching to be more human, though he is not human, has the Captain fight for his “human rights.”
27. A Vulcan member of the crew experiences the Pon Farr seven-year mating ritual and won’t talk about it. Not to anyone. Not at all. “Leave me alone! We do not discuss it with off-worlders.” By the end of the show, millions of viewers know the exact, steamy details, which the lovestruck Vulcan seems to have forgotten by the next episode.
26. The Captain and some emotion-free crew member spend the episode debating logic versus emotion. It turns out that some incoherent mixture of the two saves the day, and the two have newfound respect for one another, though they spend the epilog debating whether it is appropriate to show it.
25. The resident android or hologram is given an emotion chip (or a new "subroutine") (or gets a life). He learns what it’s like to be human, before choosing to reject the changes. He will call upon them in a later episode, but between now and then, will seem to have no memory of them.
Other hooks for those with Writer's Block
19. A brand new villain is caught by the collective effort of the senior staff. He escapes due to the foolishness of several non-recurring characters while the senior staff grapples with the moral dilemma of holding him prisoner. He is recaptured by the collective effort of the senior staff, who end the episode with a witty one-liner as the ship jumps to warp speed.
9. A blurry fuzz of light flies through the wall of the ship and controls/infects/impregnates one or more members of the crew (usually including the guest star). Though the Captain attempts to get rid of it, the fuzzball manages to stay a step ahead of him until thirty seconds before its diabolical plot is complete, when the Captain convinces it to leave because of some moral issue it didn't originally care about.
8. The ship gets stuck in some sort of anomaly, the captain orders the engines to be put on full blast, causing the engines to break down. Then the crew spends the rest of the episode trying to get out of the anomaly, which would take only 5 minutes if their engines were still working. For some reason, a regulation stating, "When stuck in an anomaly, do not wreck the engines trying to bull your way out, you stupid douche!" is not added to the Starfleet manual.
7. The Captain meets his or her childhood hero (usually someone from our time period and not the Captain's) and gets all weepy when the hero ends up dead or left behind, even though it was merely an illusion all along.
6. The transporter fucks up (again) and sends somebody to the mirror universe, which is again seen to be more interesting than the real one.
5. A member of the crew develops a terminal illness, but is saved at the last minute by ground-breaking medical advances made by the ship’s physician, who is never recognized for his achievements, as he never even writes a paper describing what he did.
4. An alien member of the crew must decide between his loyalty to the Captain and his heritage.
3. Two senior officers take a shuttle to investigate a seemingly harmless spatial anomaly and crash land on a planet, having to wait three days for the crew to rescue them. They get to know the pre-warp inhabitants during their stay and/or go Bat Fuck Insane.
2. The crew are sent back to the late 20th century (usually Los Angeles or somewhere inside the Registry of Motor Vehicles). Before they can return home, they must find a way to repair a tricorder using only common kitchen utensils.
The most overused plot
1. Captain Kirk, though hardly a master of logic, convinces a computer of its own imperfection and induces it to do the "logical" thing: destroy itself.