Star Trek: The Original Series
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted July 27, 2000, with later edits
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Since I don't watch much broadcast TV, I'm not sure if or where Star Trek might be airing currently. It has such a long history of repeat broadcasts on several different channels at the same time over the years, and up until a short time ago the TV Land cable network had been running it, and the newly remastered episodes had also been airing in syndication. I suppose we can thank the DVD/Blu-Ray releases for that, along with the digital revolution that allows you to watch most of the episodes streaming on (I believe) Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. All three seasons are out on Blu-Ray, and while the original DVD sets have been discontinued, they have been re-released in the remastered version, although in some cases might be in limited supply.
I definitely consider Star Trek to be a significant portion of the genre's contributions to the TV and film media. While I do not consider myself to be a fanatic by any means, either a Trekker or Trekkie or whatever you care to name it, I do feel that Roddenberry's creation is one of just a very few offerings in these media which come anywhere close to capturing the true essence of what literary SF is all about. My favorite of the series is the original. I also enjoyed The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, although I have never gotten into Voyager (other than liking to look at Jeri Ryan). I lost interest in Enterprise very early in the second season. Unfortunately, I have little recollection of The Animated Series, so I need to check it out again now that it is available on DVD.
My pick of the original series is basically sentimental since it began it all, and also I consider Spock to be the best Trek character. I had yet to get into SF books at that time (that would come the following year) but I specifically remember telling my father what I enjoyed so much about the show. SF is all about the future and our place in it. What Roddenberry was telling us was that in spite of all our problems the basic intelligence and tenacity of the human race would enable us to survive and actually thrive in a future of our own making. Another significant milestone of the series is the multi-ethnicity of the crew, highlighting the importance of cooperation and tolerance, an absolute necessity if we are ever to accomplish the space exploration depicted.
One of the most important factors in the success of the series was the utilization of proven SF authors as scriptwriters for many of the episodes, even though much of their work was rewritten by producers Roddenberry and Gene Coon, and story consultant D. C. Fontana. Notable names contributing scripts include Robert Bloch ("Wolf in the Fold"), Richard Matheson ("The Enemy Within"), Norman Spinrad ("The Doomsday Machine"), Theodore Sturgeon ("Amok Time" and "Shore Leave"), and Jerome Bixby, who gave us four episodes ("Mirror, Mirror," "By Any Other Name," "Day of the Dove" and "Requiem for Methuselah"). David Gerrold was responsible for perhaps the most beloved episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles," while Harlan Ellison provided the core story of the episode considered by many - myself included - to be the best ever, the Hugo and Writers Guild winner "The City on the Edge of Forever." Another of my favorites is the original pilot, "The Cage," which starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike. This episode was never aired during the original run of the series, and was rarely seen even in syndication, however portions of it were incorporated into "The Menagerie," the only two-part episode of the series (and also a Hugo winner).
Seasons One and Two are definitely a cut above Season Three. While there are several highly regarded episodes from that year too, it began and ended with what are considered the series two weakest efforts. For the most part, the shrinking ratings and budget cuts from Paramount had taken their toll on the quality of both the writing and the set design. Even though TOS rarely approached the sophistication of the best of literary SF, it certainly started out as a serious attempt to portray a possible future. Unfortunately, toward the end it degenerated into weak and derivative story-lines which in some cases were downright embarassing to watch.
Star Trek is a unique media phenomenon. Cancelled and then revived after the second season, it did not generate a wide appeal until several years later when it was rerun almost perpetually in syndication in most parts of the country, and later around the world. Following the success of Star Wars, Paramount took advantage of Trek's viewer base to launch a highly successful movie franchise, which continues to this day. It has also spawned four sequel series (so far).
Regardless of what the future of the franchise will bring, the legacy of the original Star Trek series will live forever in the annals of science fiction.
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