RIP D.C. Fontana, The Legendary Writer Who Helped Star Trek Soar

Amanda and Spock have a tense discussion in what is arguably Fontana’s finest work on Trek, “Journey to Babel.” (Image: CBS)

We credit much of the success of Star Trek to the vision of Gene Roddenberry, crafting a hopeful future for the heroes of his TV series to boldly go about in. But so much of what we love about the original Trek, its heart and its cleverness, is down to the work of writer and script editor D.C. Fontana, who has passed away at the age of 80.

Dorothy Catharine Fontana—always credited as D.C., masking her gender from influencing judgment of her writing pitches—was a friend of Roddenberry’s before Star Trek, having worked as his secretary on the NBC series The Lieutenant. When it was cancelled and Roddenberry started brainstorming ideas for a new sci-fi series, Fontana—who Roddenberry had encouraged to follow her passions as a writer—became involved from the earliest stages of development.

Fontana would begin writing screenplays for the first season based off Roddenberry’s premises, including what would eventually become the second episode of the series, “Charlie X.” By the middle of Star Trek’s first season, Fontana stepped up to no longer be Roddenberry’s secretary and a writer, but Star Trek’s Story Editor, guiding the tone and feel of the series as it grew. But while Fontana’s writing helped shape some of Trek’s most iconic stories (she wrote one of the several drafts of what would eventually become the landmark episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” when Harlan Ellison refused to re-draft based on notes given by the production team), she is best remembered by fans for having crafted some of the original Star Trek’s most fondly remembered episodes.

From “Friday’s Child” to “This Way to Eden” (written under the psuedonym Michael Richards), Fontana is credited across 10 episodes in Star Trek’s three-season run. She’s perhaps often best remembered for the insight her stories provided into the mysterious culture of the Vulcans, one of Star Trek’s most fascinating and enduring alien species—most notably in the beloved “Journey to Babel,” which introduced Spock’s parents Sarek and Amanda, and laid the touching groundwork for Spock’s struggles to balance the warring emotions of his dual heritage.

Although she officially left Star Trek after its second season, writing scripts for season three in a freelance capacity, Fontana’s legacy with the series did not end with the cancellation of Star Trek. In the 1970s, she was the executive producer and story editor on Star Trek: The Animated Series, on top of penning the episode “Yesteryear,” and Fontana would return to the franchise again with the arrival of The Next Generation, with five credits under her usual name and the alias J. Michael Bingham on the show’s first season—including a co-writer credit with Roddenberry on the iconic first episode of the show, “Encounter at Farpoint.” Fontana would return to writing Trek on TV just one last time, working with the recently-passed Peter Allan Fields on the Deep Space Nine season one episode “Dax”—a fitting coda to her work on “Journey to Babel,” given the episode’s deep dive into the culture of another fascinating Trek race, in this case the symbiont/host partnership that is the Trill.

In the years between, Fontana contributed to TV shows like The Waltons, Bonanza, Babylon 5, and The Six Million Dollar Man, wrote the storylines for Star Trek video games like Secret of Vulcan Fury, Star Trek: Legacy, and Star Trek: Tactical Assault, and even wrote the Pocket Books novel Vulcan Glory, which charted Spock’s early experiences aboard the Enterprise serving under Captain Pike. Her final Star Trek credits include the fan-made webseries Star Trek: New Voyages penning the episode “To Serve All My Days,” which featured Walter Koenig reprising his role as Pavel Chekov, and an issue of the IDW comic Star Trek – Year Four, “The Enterprise Experiment,” a sequel to her season three script “The Enterprise Incident” in 2008.

Her contribution to Star Trek in all forms is immeasurable, as is her status as pioneer for female writers in sci-fi TV. StarTrek.com reports that Fontana passed peacefully away last night, December 2nd, following a short illness. She is survived by her husband, Dennis Skotak. Our thoughts are with him and Fontana’s friends and colleagues in this sad time.


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