Thursday, September 8, 2016

The 50th Anniversary Of STAR TREK

On this day in 1966, the television show STAR TREK premiered on the NBC Network. The show only lasted three seasons, but its overall impact continues to this day. Even those who have never seen an episode of it know what the phrase "Beam me up, Scotty" means, or are aware of the attributes of the character of Mr. Spock. I realize that this is a movie blog, but STAR TREK is such a major part of geek culture I felt I just had to comment on this anniversary.

I'm not going to go into detail about the show's history--there are literally hundreds of books and articles that have already done that. I'm just going to touch upon what the series has meant to me. I first started regularly watching it in the 1980s on good old Channel 32 out of Chicago. It remains one of my favorite TV series of all time, and I have all three seasons on DVD. (The discs I own contain the original versions of the shows, not the ones shown now which contain "updated" special effects. I'm not a fan of those versions--it merely reinforces the silly idea that anything created before the 21st Century needs to be "improved" or changed somehow.) A few of the episodes--especially the ones from the third season--do contain a helping of cheese factor, but for the most part the series holds up rather well today.

STAR TREK creator Gene Roddenberry realized, as Rod Serling did before him, that the best science-fiction isn't about the future, or alien worlds--it is about the world we live in today. That is the true reason the Star Trek Universe has lasted all these years. The format of a military spaceship exploring new worlds throughout the galaxy is really nothing more than a reworking of WAGON TRAIN, or the Horatio Hornblower stories from classic literature. Where Roddenberry lucked out the most was coming upon the combination of actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley to play Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy. These three men truly define, in my opinion, what STAR TREK is all about (and they are also the reason why it's hard for me to get into other versions of TREK that do not feature them.)

Of course I watched all the big screen versions of the original STAR TREK (the blogs that I wrote about those films have just been re-posted on The Hitless Wonder Facebook Page). I watched STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION when it first ran, and I enjoyed it--although I must say that I barely remember most of the episodes of that series. I watched the first couple seasons of STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE until I lost interest in it. I never watched STAR TREK: VOYAGER or STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE. I saw the first two STAR TREK films under the Kevlin or Kevlar or whatever you call it timeline, and I wasn't too impressed with them. Simply put, the original STAR TREK television series is "my" STAR TREK.

Gene Roddenberry certainly deserves a lot of credit, but let's not forget that there were several other talented individuals who worked on STAR TREK--individuals such as writer/producer Gene L. Coon, producer Robert Justman, writers such as D. C. Fontana, and directors such as Marc Daniels.

The following is a list of my five favorite episodes of the original STAR TREK TV series.

1. "Amok Time" (written by Theodore Sturgeon, directed by Joseph Pevney)
Better known as the "one where Spock gets married". Due to his Vulcan physiology, Mr. Spock must travel to Vulcan to mate with his betrothed, or he will die. Kirk goes against Starfleet orders (as usual) to help out his friend, but winds up fighting him to the death in an ancient Vulcan ritual. The series' intricate backstory was never better displayed than here--the customs and mores of Vulcan are brilliantly realized. No other American science-fiction TV series of the period had this much thorough detail (I'm looking at you, LOST IN SPACE)--another reason why the show has lasted so long. This is also a great Kirk-Spock-McCoy story--all three men get a chance to shine, and the relationship between them is endearing and enduring. And let's not forget Gerald Fried's magnificent music score--parts of it would be used over and over again during the series' run.

2. "Journey to Babel" (written by D.C. Fontana, directed by Joseph Pevney)
Better known as the "one where we meet Spock's parents". Mark Lenard and Jane Wyatt are wonderful as Spock's father and mother--the scene where Wyatt tearfully relates to Spock how she remembers his being bullied as a child on Vulcan is a touching moment. D.C. Fontana makes sure that this isn't just a gimmick show--there's an exciting subplot about the Enterprise hosting a whole group of Federation ambassadors on board, and the dangers that come out of that situation.

3. "The Doomsday Machine" (written by Norman Spinrad, directed by Marc Daniels)
A giant mysterious weapon is wantonly destroying planetary systems and Federation starships--and it's up to Kirk and the Enterprise to find a way to stop it. This episode is made even more thrilling by the character of Commodore Decker, a Starfleet officer who has lost his ship to the device and craves revenge against it. Decker is magnificently played by William Windom, who gives just about the best performance by a guest star in the entire series. This episode also has a memorable music score by Sol Kaplan.

4. "The City on the Edge of Forever" (written by Harlan Ellison, directed by Joseph Pevney)
Kirk and Spock wind up back in time, in 1930s America, searching for a crazed Dr. McCoy, who has somehow changed the future. The key to everything is the kindly Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) who Kirk falls in love with, even though Edith must die for history to be put right. This is a marvelous spin on the American TV trope of "the main character's true love always dies at the end of the episode". The final scenes still pack a punch to this day.

5. "Mirror, Mirror" (written by Jerome Bixby, directed by Marc Daniels)
This is a spin on another overused American TV trope--the "evil twin" story. Due to a transporter malfunction Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura are beamed to an alternate universe where the Federation is an evil empire. The alternate Federation depicted in this episode was so fascinating that it spawned several fan-written stories--and the bearded alternate-universe Spock is still one of the show's most popular characters.

Honorable Mention: "The Trouble With Tribbles", "The Deadly Years", "Where No Man Has Gone Before", "The Naked Time", "Balance of Terror"

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