TO BOLDLY REVIEW #1 – STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (SEASON 1)
Having re-watched the whole of the new Doctor Who seasons a few years back I decided, this year, to boldly go and watch every season of the long-running Star Trek show from the original series onwards. There’s no time limit to this project as the original, Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, Enterprise and Discovery seasons are all available on Netflix. So, save for the occurrence of World War 3, the Zombie Apocalypse or Netflix going bust, I expect this viewing pastime to last the next few years.
The show has given birth to all manner of prequels, sequels, sidequels, and cinema releases. Indeed, it continues to be a multi-billion dollar franchise today with festivals, exhibitions and conventions dedicated to this cultural phenomenon. This demonstrates the genius, long-standing quality and sustainability of Gene Roddenberry’s Wagon Train to The Stars. Episodes are deftly written with high concept sci-fi ideas, imaginative alien races and a zeitgeist approach to the themes of the day. Many of the episodes really shone and while the special effects are obviously dated the imagination and themes still maintain their power today.
Watching the first season of Star Trek space adventures of Kirk, Spock, Uhuru, Bones, Sulu, Scotty etc. brought back interstellar memories from my youth. As entertainment now the show definitely stands the test of time (and space!). This, in no small part, is down to the solid premise, rules of the world, wonderful writing and committed performances by an awesome cast notably the Enterprise’s yin and yang; played perfectly by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. The storylines and characterisation are always intriguing and on reflection the show was pioneering in regard to representations of gender, race and sexuality.
Containing thirty episodes the first season is metronomic in its delivery and structure. Each show would begin with the Starship Enterprise continuing its core mission of travelling around the many galaxies and planets seeking out new life forms as well transporting supplies, equipment and people from planet to planet. Invariably encountering a new star system, colony, planet, race of aliens or an evil scientist would bring rise to a conflict with which Kirk and the crew must overcome. Many episodes are inspired from a genre perspective; while others are driven by powerful themes which reflect the socio-political, gender, race and psychological fears of the late 1960s. Many of these themes are still relevant today which is why the original series remains highly watchable and is not just kitsch sci-fi to be mocked.
Of course, a genre formula was followed closely with the Enterprise and crew always overcoming their various foes by the end of the show. The Enterprise would also more often than not sustain damage which would threaten the lives of the crew and “ticking time-bomb” plot device would up the narrative ante too. Kirk would usually show his bravery and physical prowess often finding his uniform ripped during physical combat. Simultaneously, the ever reliable and logical Spock would provide the mental strength to overcome any negative situation. While the status quo is always maintained by the end of an episode the crew would always learn something about themselves and Aliens such as the Romulans, Archons, Klingons etc. They would also make important scientific discoveries relating to: Artificial Intelligence, time and space travel and alien technologies. To keep the quality the show employed various writers of high renown to boost the narratives including: Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Jerry Sohl and Richard Matheson to name a few. Consequently the first season is full of exciting episodes with many fascinating storylines of excellent quality.
From a genre perspective Star Trek used science fiction, drama, horror, and at times where Kirk was concerned, romantic tropes throughout. Rogue Frankenstein-type scientists featured in episodes such as: Dagger of the Mind and What Little Girls Are Made Of. In The Enemy Within, Kirk splits into two different personalities echoing Jekyll and Hyde; while in The Conscience of the King we witness a Shakespearean influenced drama dealing with the pursuit of an intergalactic war criminal. Balance of Terror is brilliantly shaped around the beats of a submarine war flick and Arena reflects the structure of Roman Gladiatorial films. Court Martial too, does what it says on the tin, with court room dramas used as the model for the episode.
Thematically, as aforementioned, Star Trek was not shy of examining the scientific, political, consumer and sociological events of the time. For example: Mudd’s Women contains a damning critique of quick fix drug therapy and plastic surgery; Operation: Annihilate presents an alien invasion which could be interpreted symbolically as highlighting the threat of religious or political hysteria. Indeed, the dangers of the lust for war or invasion are featured also in Errand of Mercy; nuclear threat is critiqued in Taste of Armageddon; while the deadly potential of technological advancement features in The Return of the Archons. Of course, environmental threats are also prominent as seen in The Devil in the Dark; with plants threatening peril in the episode This Side of Paradise, where the warnings of recreational drug use are implicit within the subtext. Comedy is also used to support the drama as the Bones and Spock often lock metaphorical horns overs the latter’s lack of emotion.
Thus, Star Trek – Season one, original series – contains a wealthy of intriguing themes, ideas, narratives, worlds and characters within the thirty episodes. I personally enjoyed them all but to close this opening piece on my Star Trek voyage I would like to nominate my favourite six episodes of season one.
MIRI (1966) – EPISODE 8
A brilliant episode finds the Enterprise crew discovering an exact duplicate of Earth, where the only survivors of a plague are some of the planet’s children
THE MENAGERIE (1966) – EPISODES 11 & 12
A two-parter which expertly splices events from the original pilot called The Cage and finds Mr Spock going rogue, defying both logic and Starfleet orders.
TOMORROW IS YESTERDAY (1967) – EPISODE 19
A superb temporal paradox narrative finds the USS Enterprise travelling back to 1968 Earth and correcting damage they caused to Earth’s timeline.
SPACE SEED (1967) – EPISODE 22
Kirk and Spock et al meet an incredibly charismatic foe who threatens to take over the Enterprise; with Ricardo Montalban stealing the show as the deadly Khan.
ALTERNATIVE FACTOR (1967) – EPISODE 27
I loved the Sisyphean plot as the crew find “reality-jumper” Lazarus, a man trapped between parallel universes threatening the whole of existence itself.
CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER – EPISODE 28
An incredible episode full of brilliant time-travelling concepts and a heartfelt love story, with Kirk finding he has an almost impossible choice to make.