Desilu Productions (1966–1967) / Norway Corporation / Paramount Television (1968–1969)
September 8, 1966 – June 3, 1969
- Captain James T. Kirk-William Shatner
- First Officer and Science Officer Commander Spock-Leonard Nimoy
- Chief Medical Officer Lt. Commander Leonard “Bones” McCoy-DeForest Kelley
- Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott–James Doohan
- Communications Officer Lt. Nyota Uhura-Nichelle Nichols
- Helmsman Lt. Hikaru Sulu-George Takei
- Navigator Ensign Pavel Chekov-Walter Koenig
- Head Nurse Christine Chapel-Majel Barrett
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” With those iconic words each episode of the classic series began. I continue my review here in Part Two of the original Star Trek.
As opposed to the later spinoffs this show rarely referenced previous episodes. That was just not a thing back in the day on American television. Bits of character info was used later but nobody ever talked about Gary Mitchell and what happened after he showed up, but the Galactic Barrier and the Organian Peace Treaty were mentioned.
Star Trek did a lot with what little it had. They tried to make their props have an actual purpose for one thing. Everything had a purpose even if it was a painted saltshaker. That helped with a sense of realism in the show. They had to get creative and I think that creativity helped them because they were forced to make decisions on what was important. Effects were much more expensive back then as the process was more difficult and time consuming. The cost per episode though when adjusted for inflation was about the same as the cost of DS9.
One act of creativity involved set decoration. For example, you will see random circular objects adhered to the wall in scenes aboard the Enterprise or on various ships or whatever. If you look closely you will notice that some of those circular objects look very much like lids. Coffee cup and other disposable lids were often glued to the walls and painted over and it works. Lights on control panels were often no more sophisticated than somebody drilling a hole underneath and inserting a bulb which someone off camera would turn on and off as needed. That aforementioned saltshaker was part of Dr. McCoy’s medical tricorder. Someone in the prop department saw and thought it looked like it belonged in science-fiction.
The gowns that many of the alien women wore (and occasionally even some cast members) were never actually sown because that cost money. The costume designer William Ware Theiss would simply pin them appropriately. Another thing you do not notice.
Star Trek firmly started the serious handling of science fiction on television. A handful of shows had come before that took it seriously but not very many and only one other has had any staying power from that far back and that is The Twilight Zone but that was as much fantasy as it was science-fiction. There was also The Outer Limits but that was an anthology in a similar vein to The Twilight Zone but could get very fanciful. Star Trek was a weekly series with a recurring cast of characters that took itself seriously. It was trying to discuss topical issues that sensors and network executives felt were too sensitive. But rather than speak about them outright they tossed them into a science-fiction setting allowing them to not only get past nervous individuals in positions of authority but also to go down easier the intellectual throats of the viewer.
During its three-year run Star Trek touched on race relations and the futility of war and even the then topical Vietnam War among numerous other subjects. It was a character driven show that because of limitations of the technology of the time had to focus on the characters and story rather than try to be flashy. And it benefitted from that because it made the show enduring. I do not mind some flash in my television, but I need substance more.
The stories were usually about more than what you could get from a glance at the surface. While “Journey to Babel” was about a conspiracy to undermine the Federation, it was also about the strained relationships children can have with parents and children learning to live with their parents what their parents wanted and their parents learning to live with the decisions of their children.
The “god” in “The Apple” is just a piece of technology posing as a god, but the episode is also about the dangers of bad religion. “Mudd’s Women” is about a conman trying to trick rich minors out of some money, but it is also about being true to yourself. “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” though a little silly in execution is about how destructive racism can be. “A Private Little War” while about Klingon interference in a planet’s development is also an allegory to the Vietnam War and is the rare episode that does not fix everything by the end. And those are off the top of my head.
Not every episode was a masterpiece. I am still not sure what the what is beneath the surface of the episode “Spock’s Brain” where a group of alien women using advanced technology took Spock’s brain in order to regulate their computer and the Enterprise crew hooked a remote control to his body in order to move it around and get it to the planet’s surface. I guess it was about divisions in the sexes since men lived on the planet’s barren surface and women enjoyed the luxurious world below. But the most infamous episode of Star Trek was quite possibly “Turnabout Intruder” which was also the final episode of the series. They were trying to address sexism but instead created a very sexist episode.
One thing that has been criticized about Star Trek from early on is there was no conflict among the crew. Beginning with this show, this was done to show humanity would be better. The idea was to show a better tomorrow and everyone at each other’s throats just does not do that. Profanity was limited to extremely rare circumstances as another way to show humanity had matured. Popular music was never to appear on the show as, yes, a way to show the maturing of humanity. Simple cues to the audience.
The use of the space miniskirt can be justifiably criticized even in the context of the times. Despite all his vaunted ideas it has been said that the Great Bird of the Galaxy could be a bit sexist and he was definitely a downright philanderer.
This show endures because the depicted future is what we hope for us as a species. We want a tomorrow where everything is better for us and we live in a veritable paradise where one’s needs are met, and we do not have to worry about war or crime or anything anymore. Humanity has learned its lessons and has figured out how to be better. We went through fire and evolved for once.
An interesting plot device that was introduced in the show was the very famous Prime Directive. Also called “Starfleet General Order 1”, “General Order 1”, and even the “non-interference directive,” this was the general order that said there could be no interference in less advanced or non-Federation cultures. On occasions this tied Captain Kirk’s hands and forced him to be creative on how to solve a problem. At others the crew had to put right what had been done wrong before the existence of the Prime Directive.
Something I need to bring up about the Prime Directive. As originally presented in this series nothing stopped them from saving a primitive a civilization as shown in “The Paradise Syndrome.” They just had to not get caught doing it. This is evidenced in this episode by Starfleet sending the Enterprise to deflect an asteroid which is heading for a planet inhabited by Native Americans. It is also the episode where they introduce the Preservers to explain away all the humans in the galaxy but that is another discussion.
I bring this up because by the time TNG rolled around Starfleet could not even save a planet that was going to tear itself apart because of uncontrolled crystalline growth or one where yet again an asteroid was going to strike. Supposedly they could not do it because it was the planets destiny. I never liked that change. I am not even sure where it came from, but it was a stupid change. Just avoid getting caught.
The Preservers were an interesting concept. Apparently they went around the galaxy and took alien species that had the potential to destroy themselves and seed them on uninhabited planets throughout the galaxy. This explains why there were so many humans on so many other planets. Before that they explained it with something they called Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development which said earthlike planets could produce humans. Personally I think the Preservers is a very intriguing science fiction concept which never made another appearance in Star Trek again as far as I know. But the point is they thought things through to maintain a sense of believability.
This was all done with character driven and more often than not deep stories with good scripts and fine acting. Even the hams that appeared on the show were high-quality hams. John Colicos, Roger C. Carmel, and William Campbell were among these standouts.
Star Trek set a standard and did things that other shows could learn from. You do not need flashy special effects to create good and enduring science fiction. You just need good stories and good actors. Star Trek: TOS is an amazing show that should be required viewing for science-fiction fans and television fans in general. Watch it!