Tuesday 3 December 2019

RIP D.C. Fontana

Sadly, news has broken today that science fiction screenwriting legend Dorothy "D.C." Fontana has passed away at the age of 80.

Fontana was born in 1939 in New Jersey. In 1960, at the age of just 21, she sold her first script for television, for the Western The Tall Man. This led to other opportunities to work on other shows, such as The Lieutenant, which had been created by Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry encouraged Fontana's career, as she was one of very few women scriptwriters in the television industry. Her early scripts had been published as Dorothy C. Fontana, but she adopted the gender-neutral name "D.C. Fontana" after suspecting some scripts had been returned unread because of her name.

After The Lieutenant was cancelled, Roddenberry began developing his space opera series, Star Trek, and invited Fontana to work on the project. Fontana wrote the teleplay for Charlie X (based on Roddenberry's outline) and Tomorrow is Yesterday, as performing script editor tasks on This Side of Paradise. Her work on the latter impressed Roddenberry enough that he promoted her to full-time script editor on the series.

Fontana wrote or co-wrote episodes including Journey to Babel, Friday's Child and, most contentiously, The City on the Edge of Forever. She rewrote Ellison's initial draft (to Ellison's displeasure) but Roddenberry then made further changes. The final screen version became arguably Star Trek's most critically acclaimed episode.

Fontana left as script editor at the end of Season 2, but returned in Season 3 with several freelance scripts, including The Enterprise Incident and That Which Survives. Fontana's writing won praise from Leonard Nimoy, who felt that she understood Vulcan characters much better than most writers and also credited her with including female characters who weren't just love interests.

Fontana continued to work in television on shows such as Then Came Bronson, The Fantastic Journey, Logan's Run, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Streets of San Francisco and The Waltons. In 1987 she re-teamed with Roddenberry to work on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where she became a producer and co-wrote the pilot episode, Encounter at Farpoint. Partway through the first season, she quit in a dispute over credits and the work she was putting into the show in other areas which she wasn't being paid for.

Fontana did return to Star Trek with Deep Space Nine, where she co-wrote the episode Dax which explored and set up some of the ideas for the Trill species that recurred through the show's lifespan. She also created the storyline for the Star Trek video games Secret of Vulcan Fury, Star Trek: Legacy and Star Trek: Tactical Assault. She also worked on the fan series Star Trek: New Voyages.

In 1994 Fontana began working on Babylon 5, alongside fellow Star Trek alum David Gerrold. Fontana worked closely with creator J. Michael Straczynski and developed the early script The War Prayer. After getting more of a feel for the characters, she asked to pitch a story idea rather than developing one of Straczynski's loglines in the series bible. Straczynski was sceptical but allowed her to do so, but loved her idea so much he commissioned it on the spot. This led to Legacies, not only one of the best-regarded episodes of the first season but one that catalysed a number of major plot movements in later episodes, despite not being in Straczynski's original plan for the series. Fontana also wrote the episode A Distant Star for Season 2.

Following her Babylon 5 experience, she worked on ReBoot, Earth: Final Conflict and Beast Wars: Transformers.

Fontana passed away on 2 December 2019. A formidable writing talent, she helped blaze a trail for women scriptwriters in Hollywood television and established many key parts of the Star Trek mythos. Highly respected and regarded in her field, she will be missed.

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