The Star Trek Role That Was Actually Written For Robin Williams

"Star Trek," starting in the late '80s and early '90s, became very accommodating to famous fans who wanted to be on the show. When Denise Crosby exited "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in the show's first season, actress Whoopi Goldberg felt that the show could use a new character, namely one played by her. Goldberg had always been a "Trek" fan, and she has told a story, relayed by Nichelle Nichols, about how when Goldberg was a young girl watching "Star Trek" for the first time, how impressed she was to see a Black woman on the bridge of the Enterprise. The story goes that she exclaimed "Come here, mom, everybody, come quick, come quick, there's a Black lady on television and she ain't no maid!" Goldberg would tune in to see Uhura every week, and has been a "Trek" fan ever since.

Goldberg would reach out to LeVar Burton (Georgi La Forge on "Next Generation"), a friend of hers, to express interest in playing a regular role on the show. The show's producers reportedly didn't believe Burton at first, that a star as big as her would want to be on the show. But they eventually connected, and after some negotiation, the producers created a role just for her: Guinan, the ship's long-lived, compassionate bartender who would serve as the confidant and freelance advice-giver to the crew. 

Goldberg is also, it turns out, old friends with comedian Robin Williams, as she, Williams, and Billy Crystal were the three headliners of the comedy charity event Comic Relief. And this is where we talk about how Williams wanted to follow Goldberg and make an appearance on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

A Matter of Time

In 1991, when "Next Generation" was in its fifth season, the show's writers wanted to include Robin Williams. Williams was always an outspoken Trekkie — he even made a reference to killing off Spock in an episode of "Mork & Mindy" — and the "Trek" writers were, in turn, big Robin Williams fans. Williams' fast-talking, manic comedy wasn't necessarily a good match for the normally staid, composed, mature tone of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," so the writers would have to create a new role — likely not a Starfleet officer — for Williams. 

The character they invented was named Berlinghoff Rasmussen for an episode called "A Matter of Time." In it, a time machine would appear near the Enterprise containing a time traveling historian from the distant future. He had traveled to the past in order to study the Enterprise performing an historical task – which seemed odd to the crew as the dangerous rescue mission they were about to embark upon seemed pretty standard practice for them. Rasmussen refused to give any advice on the matter, as to not taint his own timeline and risk his own erasure from existence. Picard and Co. were very suspicious of Rasmussen, as he was a grinning, fast-talking car salesman type whose story had no way of being corroborated. 

The twist in the plot revealed that Rasmussen was not a time traveler form the future, but from Earth's past — close to our time, in New Jersey — and he had actually traveled to the future in order to steal technology (phasers, tricorders, communicators, and even the android Data), take it to the past, and claim to have invented it. Rasmussen was a con man who ends up stranded in a 24th-century Starfleet prison.

Yes, that sounds perfect for Robin Williams.

A Matter of Timing

Robin Williams did want to be on "Star Trek," especially in a role that was designed for him. Sadly, because of the gruelingly concentrated nature of TV production, there wasn't a lot of room to accommodate for timing. When the show was in production in late later months of 1991, Williams was busy on the set of Steven Spielberg's "Hook," playing an adult version of Peter Pan. Production on "Hook" was still wrapping when "Star Trek" needed Williams and he just couldn't make it. If you needed another reason to be angry with "Hook," then you have found one. 

Stepping into the role of Berlinghoff Rasmussen was actor Matt Frewer, perhaps best known at the time for playing the title character in the cult phenomenon "Max Headroom" and acting on the CBS sitcom "Doctor Doctor." I will not get into Frewer's filmography here, but it is vast and impressive, and he played Rasmussen very well. He stood apart from the usual formality of the show as Williams likely would have, and was very funny. 

So while it would have been a hoot to see Williams on the bridge of the Enterprise, Frewer still made the character his own, and "A Matter of Time" is still a great episode of "Next Generation" from the era when the show was really firing on all cylinders.