Last night marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek. It premiered on September 8, 1966. I watched a few minutes of that opening episode, but already had evening obligations to tour a cemetery with Dwight Moffit (more on that in another post.) So, tonight, even though I’m on the road for a paddling trip, I’m going to hit the hotel’s wifi and stream that first episode, “The Man Trap,” and reflect on fifty years of Trekhood.
Star Trek premiered when I was just a lad of five years old. Even so, I have memories, not of the first airing, but at least of its original run. The show came on at 8:00, which apparently was my bed time. Occasionally I was allowed to stay up and watch it. I have distinct memories of certain episodes.
Even that brief exposure made an impression. We pretend-played Star Trek on the school playground at Gray Court-Owings School. I was Captain Kirk, Michael Starnes was Spock, and Scott Wallace was either Dr. McCoy or Scotty, as the situation demanded. Sadly, both Michael and Scott met with tragic ends. Michael drowned in a pond the following year, and Scott died in a car wreck as a young man. I was the lone survivor of our landing party.
In 1972 the animated series came out, and my interest was kicked up a notch. However, it wasn’t until 1974 that I became a true Trekkie. I was spending the summer at my brother’s house in North Augusta. Trek had reached syndication, and was being shown in the afternoons. My brother didn’t have a good enough UHF antenna, so I went over to the neighbor’s house to watch. I caught up on all of the episodes. I bought a copy of Stephen Whitfield’s “The Making of Star Trek.” I got a copy of the blueprints of the Enterprise, and original edition that might be worth a ton of money if I hadn’t “enhanced” it with black light paint. I got a copy of the Star Fleet Manual for Christmas, and a model phaser, tricorder, and communicator. When I couldn’t watch the show, I devoured the James Blish novelizations.
During this time I was devouring anything SciFi – 2001: A Space Oddysey, Silent Running, etc. etc. Then came 1977 and the blockbuster Star Wars. That, and Battlestar Galactica diverted my attention for a bit. Then, in 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, followed by more movies, then a new series. I never attended a convention, but I did meet James Doohan when he came to Greenville for an event. I was hooked once again, until…
One of the things I loved about the original series was that every episode was a stand-alone story. You could jump in just about anywhere and understand what was going on. In the The Next Generation you began to have more two-part episodes, but it continued with its episodic nature. Later series fell prey to long multi-episode story arcs. In my opinion, this is the bane of current television programming in shows like Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you miss a few episodes, you’re lost. So I stopped watching. There are many, many episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager that I’ve never seen. Oddly enough, this last “new” Trek movie has gone back to that stand-alone feel. Kirk even complains that his life seems “episodic.”
But that’s not a bad thing. One of the things Dwight and Sue commented on while we watch a bit of The Man Trap last night was that you immediately got a feel for the characters from the start. I listened to a podcast today in which they marveled that even at this early juncture the Trekverse was almost fully realized. There were a few details yet to be worked out (the nature of Star Fleet and the United Federation of Planets, and the existence of shuttle crafts, for example), but for the most part everything is there – characterizations, technology such as phasers and transporters, and the general mission of the Enterprise and its very diverse crew.
In truth, though, The Man Trap wasn’t the first episode produced. They had a bit of time to develop these finer points before the show aired. There were the first two pilots, then Charlie X, followed by a couple others. The Man Trap was selected as the first episode because it had a bit more action than some of the others already produced.
There is good Trek and bad Trek. I finally got around to watching some of the Dominion War episodes of Deep Space Nine, and the over-the-top number of ships on the tiny screen made it look more like a fan flick than a studio production. I just couldn’t watch it. I didn’t even try to revive Voyager.
So, that’s where I am fifty years later. I take the original series as a product of its time, and enjoy it in that light. I even like the new enhanced version. Parts have not aged well, but it’s still highly entertaining. Personally, I’m looking forward to the new series, with some reservations. I still think Star Trek has a lot of entertainment to give.