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Star Trek: The Original Series (Reviews)

It can be difficult to separate the history and mythology of Star Trek.

The two aspects of the franchise are interlocked and intertwined, the facts buried beneath decades of spin careful cultivated by key figures. There are times at which Gene Roddenberry seems less like a television producer and more like a modern day prophet, points at which Star Trek seems less like a television show and more like a religion. Many of the fundamental truths of Star Trek are accepted at face value, unquestioned and uninterrogated. Through repetition, they have been incorporated into the popular memory of the show.


The facts are quite straightforward. Star Trek was a science-fiction television series that ran on NBC between 1966 and 1969. It captured the spirit of the decade, bowing out gracefully only a few weeks before the moon landing and a few months before the seventies. The show ran for seventy-nine episodes, which could be expanded to eighty if the count includes the unaired original pilot. It was created by Gene Roddenberry, and attracted a diverse range of writers from horror veteran Robert Bloch to sci-fi legend Richard Matheson.

The show gave birth to a franchise that has become a defining aspect of American popular consciousness. Characters and moments from the show are iconic, having permeated the culture. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are icons, much like James Kirk and Mister Spock. Words like “Klingon” and “phaser” conjure up images of the show, while the series has inspired everything from voice interface software to mobile telephones. Even people who have never watched an episode (or seen a scene) of Star Trek can appreciate its impact.


That impact is well deserved. While the show is not consistent on episode-to-episode basis, it features any number of iconic episodes that still hold up well fifty years later. Stories like The Devil in the Dark, Errand of Mercy and The City on the Edge of Forever are beautiful pieces of television drama. The climax of Amok Time has wormed its way into the cultural memory, to the point that many casual television viewers will recognise the distinctive music. There are episodes of Star Trek that deserve to be offered up as the very best that the medium can offer.

However, this popularity distorts the narrative. The memory of Star Trek is quite distinct from the reality of Star Trek, as becomes clear to any viewer watching the show. The myth Star Trek is simplified and tidied up, in a way that does the series a disservice. After all, any decent fan can tell you that the line “beam me up, Scotty” never actually appears in the television series. It is far from only example of how the television series stands apart for the popular perception.


In many ways, Star Trek stand quite apart from its own franchise. The tone of these seventy-nine episodes is strikingly different than the six hundred that would follow. For a show about space exploration, Star Trek repeatedly suggests that outer space is hostile to human life. The first season often feels like the Enterprise is wandering through a gigantic graveyard, patrolling the ruins of ancient civilisations in episodes like The Man Trap or What Are Little Girls Made Of?

The universe of the original Star Trek can often seem empty or abandoned. What civilisations do exist seem to have retreated, whether into hiding or to another plane of existence; the Talosians in The Cage, the all-powerful entities in Charlie X, Trelane’s parents in The Squire of Gothos. The same is true towards the end of the second season, with Sargon’s people in Return to Tomorrow or the eponymous disembodied brains in The Gamesters of Triskelion. This is to say nothing of madness like the vampire cloud of Obsession or the space amoeba in The Immunity Syndrome.


It should be noted that three scripts for the series were credited to horror scribe Robert Bloch. It is difficult to imagine any of the later spin-offs attempting anything as weird as Catspaw or Wolf in the Fold. The fact that those episodes are relatively unique in a franchise of more than six hundred episodes only serves to make them more interesting. Many of the later spin-offs and sequels could feel repetitive or overly familiar. There is something fresh about many of these episodes, even five decades later.

(In the third season, this fascination turns morbid. There are dead colonies in And the Children Shall Lead and The Lights of Zetar, dying colonies in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield and The Cloud Minders, and an imaginary dead colony in Day of the Dove. This is to say nothing of the threatening asteroids in The Paradise Syndrome or For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, nor the supernova threatening inhabited planets in The Empath or All Our Yesterdays. Then again, this perhaps reflected the particular fascinations of the third season.)


Whereas later shows in the franchise suggested a universe heavily populated by empire operating at similar levels of technology, the world of Star Trek seemed particularly empty. Even the Klingons and the Romulans were largely in the background of the first and third seasons. Star Trek captured the sense that Kirk and his crew were wandering in the wilderness. There was a sense of terror and possibility running through these seventy-nine episodes that was never quite re-captured in the spin-offs and sequels that followed.

Similarly, many pop culture critics would point to Star Trek as a utopian view of the future. However, that is much less true of Star Trek than it is of any of the spin-offs. Over the course of the show, Kirk repeatedly rejects the idea of paradise when it appears to him. Inevitably, the illusion of paradise is revealed to be a deadly threat, as in This Side of Paradise or The Apple or The Way to Eden. It is hard to imagine Kirk integrating into the more peaceful and utopian futures presented by those later shows.


Indeed, the franchise’s utopian idealism only gradually began to creep into the show during the troubled third season. Episodes like The Empath and The Savage Curtain suggested that mankind was special and that it might have something worthwhile to teach other alien races. Day of the Dove made it clear that the Federation had evolved beyond the point of using war as a tool of statecraft. In Whom Gods Destroy, Kirk insisted that the Federation no longer needed warriors.

Despite its reputation for technobabble, Star Trek is fairly ambivalent towards automation and technology. The show is populated by computers run amok in episodes like What Are Little Girls Made Of?Return of the Archons, The AppleThe Changeling or For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. The show is quite anxious about what an increasingly technological future means for mankind. Then again, sixties science-fiction still existed in the shadow of the atomic bomb, a fear that informs episodes like The Doomsday Machine.


Even on a more mundane level, these concerns about technology were very much rooted in the fears of the time. Kirk worries about being rendered redundent by a computer in The Ultimate Computer, just like many contemporary workers worried about advances in automation. Still, given how radically later shows in the franchise (including Star Trek: Enterprise) would embrace the theory of technological determinism as a cure to all of mankind’s problems, it is intriguing to see how uncertain Star Trek is about advances in science.

For fans familiar with the cultural footprint left by Star Trek, watching (or even rewatching) the show can be an educational and exciting experience. It is a demonstration of how the memory of a thing can differ from the reality of the thing, about how nostalgia and consensus can distort the material essence of something like Star Trek. The popular memory of Star Trek is quite simple and straightforward, but the reality of Star Trek is infinitely more complex and compelling.


Perhaps this is most apparent with Gene Roddenberry himself, the former police officer who created Star Trek. Roddenberry poured a lot of himself into the show. However, he also understood the value of courting a loyal fanbase. Roddenberry could be an incredibly cynical operator, one prone to exploit Star Trek for his own benefit. This is most apparent in his attempt to sell mail order jewellery through the show, with both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy stopping filming in Is There in Truth No Beauty? to protest Roddenberry’s crass product placement.

Roddenberry was not the show’s strongest writer. After all, this was a man who believed that The Omega Glory should possibly have been the pilot to the show and who wrote Turnabout Intruder as its last episode. However, Roddenberry understood the value of a good narrative. Roddenberry was involved behind the scenes in the fan campaign to save Star Trek after the show was cancelled at the end of its second year. Roddenberry remained engaged with the fandom during the long years when Star Trek was taken off the air.


Roddenberry was keen to exploit his connections with the fandom for his own ends. When Roddenberry was shuffled into the background following the disappointed critical and fan reception to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there is strong evidence to suggest that he leaked the script of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. When Roddenberry found himself thrown into conflict with the studio and the network, he was keen to craft a narrative of himself as a heroic artist struggling against cynical businessmen.

There was a strong dissonance between Roddenberry’s narrative and documented reality. Roddenberry claimed that he was responsible for the diversity on Star Trek, when the idea actually came from NBC. Roddenberry insisted that network sexism was responsible for the removal of the character of Number One following The Cage, but the truth is that NBC was perfectly happy to have a major female character so long as Roddenberry did not cast his mistress in the role. Roddenberry claimed to understand Star Trek, but then pitched a movie where Spock would shoot JFK.


Roddenberry’s narratives all played into a strong recurring theme. Roddenberry was the true creative visionary behind Star Trek, and the show was entirely the product of his imagination. Roddenberry portrayed himself as a true visionary who constantly struggled with the constraints imposed on him by others. Harlan Ellison rather famously balked at this characterisation, citing his own experiences with Roddenberry on The City on the Edge of Forever. Roddenberry devoted considerable energy to taking pot shots at NBC in episodes like Bread and Circuses.

Again, the narrative carefully crafted by Gene Roddenberry does not reflect what actually occurred. Star Trek was the work of a wealth of different creative personnel. Sometimes, these were individual writers who contributed essential details to the mythos. Richard Matheson honed in on the potential of the transporter as a storytelling tool, while Theodore Sturgeon invented the concept of pon’farr. Sometimes it went deeper than that, with Roddenberry owing a debt to the staffers who kept the show on the rails.


Two of the show’s more important creative personnel were Gene L. Coon and Dorothy Fontana. In many ways, the first half of the first season flounders around awkwardly until those two creative talents fall into place. There are classic episodes in that early stretch of the first season, like Balance of Terror, but the series lacks a clear season of identity or purpose. Once Gene L. Coon takes over as producer and Dorothy Fontana assumes the role of script editor, Star Trek starts humming along.

It was only when Roddenberry stepped back from the show that Star Trek found its true identity. The early first season is riddled with continuity errors and inconsistencies, from the necessary proximity between Earth and Romulus in Balance of Terror to the suggestion that Vulcan was conquered in Dagger of the Mind to the suggestion that Kirk works for the United Earth Space Probe Agency in Charlie X. Those early episodes have a very different tone from both the rest of the show and the rest of the franchise.


It is during that second half of the first season that Star Trek comes into its own, with Gene L. Coon creating concepts as diverse as the Klingons in Errand of Mercy and the Federation in Arena. Dorothy Fontana fleshes out the character of Spock, beginning with her rewrite on The Naked Time and through to her teleplay on This Side of Paradise. Trelane sets the template for the late omnipotent alien Q in The Squire of Gothos. Khan Noonien Singh makes his appearance in Space Seed.

This identity really solidifies during the second season. Although the quality is more variable than it was in the final stretch of the first season, the second season expands upon and develops many of the first season’s stronger ideas. Amok Time and Journey to Babel allow Dorothy Fontana to expand upon her interpretation of Spock, while Gene L. Coon helps to introduce comedy into Star Trek with I, Mudd, The Trouble with Tribbles and A Piece of the Action. It is during the second season, under the supervision of Coon and Fontana, that Star Trek galvinises.


This is not to downplay the work done by other writers or producers. When Gene L. Coon departed late in the second season, John Meredyth Lucas jumped on board the moving train to save the day. Although he had a different set of interests and was working at a clear disadvantage of joining the show mid-season, Lucas provided an eerie and exciting twist on Star Trek with episodes like The Immunity Syndrome, Patterns of Force and The Ultimate Computer.

Similarly, Fred Freiberger receives a lot of criticism for his work on the third season. However, Freiberger is responsible for some of the show’s most memorable (if not satisfying) stories. The third season of Star Trek is packed with iconic imagery, from the ghost ship in The Tholian Web to the kiss in Plato’s Stepchildren to the aliens featured in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. The third season has a unique tone and sensibility that is hindered by various production concerns, but it does build on the mythos in interesting ways.


All of this is to emphasise that Gene Roddenberry was far from the singular creative vision driving Star Trek. In fact, Roddenberry is responsible for many of the show’s weakest scripts, from The Omega Glory and Assignment: Earth through to The Savage Curtain and Turnabout Intruder. However, Roddenberry understood the need to build a mythology among fans. The myth of Gene Roddenberry would be one of the cornerstones of the cultural memory of Star Trek, a distortion of the truth to create a more readily digestible narrative.

However, it was not the only such distortion. Star Trek is generally regarded as a liberal and progressive television show. There are certainly times when that seems to be the case, however it is not as clear cut as the cultural memory of Star Trek might suggest. In many ways, Star Trek was an embodiment of Kennedy era liberalism extrapolated into the future, but that brought its own challenges. After all, Kennedy might have been associated with civil rights and youthfulness, but he was also responsible for the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam. Reality is complex.


As it was with Star Trek, a show that never quite lived up to is progressive reputation. Much is made of the ship’s diverse ensemble, with includes a black female communications officer, a Scottish engineer, an Asian navigator and a Russian junior officer. There are also supporting players including a female yeomen, a female nurse, and a black specialist in Vulcan physiology. It is not quite as diverse as the ensembles on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, but it is certainly notable in the context of sixties television.

Of course, the show never actually does anything especially interesting with these characters. The narrative focus is always on the three white guys in the cast. Shatner and Nimoy were both Jewish, but Kirk was very much presented as an all-American hero. The show was never interested in the lives of characters like Sulu or Chekov. Truth be told, those roles could easily have been delegated to a constantly rotating pool of extras and there would be no major sense of loss. The crew did not truly become an ensemble until Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.


Uhura is perhaps the most egregious example of this tendency to inflate the franchise’s more progressive leanings. Uhura is widely recognised as a hugely influential character who was in some respects ahead of her time. Certainly, black women like Mae Jemison and Whoopi Goldberg point to Uhura as a character who was hugely influential to them growing up. Nichelle Nichols tells stories about how Martin Luther King cited Uhura as one of the most important characters on sixties television. Uhura is iconic.

To be fair, a lot of that is deserved. Nichelle Nichols is a great performer, who delivers every time that the show offers her some material. In particular, her work on Mirror, Mirror is striking. If Uhura inspired young black women in any way, that is undoubtedly a good thing. It is hard to quantifiably measure something as nebulous as influence or inspiration, but it seems fair to acknowledge that Uhura did speak to an underserved demographic by assuring them that there would be a place for them in the future.


Still, these factors should not obscure the unfortunate decisions that Star Trek made in relation to Uhura. For most of the show, Uhura was relegated to the background serving as a deep space receptionist whose primary purpose was to put Kirk or Spock in contact with the planet of the week. More than that, the show was frequently dismissive or offensive in its portrayal of the communications officer. Her entire memory and personality was wiped in The Changeling, but nobody batted an eye. Her greatest fear in And the Children Shall Lead was becoming old and ugly.

After all, Star Trek could not even be bothered to give Sulu and Uhura first names. Hikaru Sulu’s first name was first acknowledged in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, more than two decades after the show ended. Nyota Uhura had to wait four decades for her first name to be acknowledged on screen, becoming a wry (and pointed) joke in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. While characters like Sulu and Uhura were inspiring to those watching at home simply by their presence, it seems trite to give the show so much credit.


In fact, there was a lot of more progressive entertainment broadcasting at the same time. I, Spy launched the year before Star Trek and featured a black man as a co-lead in an action-adventure genre show, with Bill Cosby’s Scotty better developed than any of the minority characters on Star Trek. Julia launched the year directly following Star Trek, and was a weekly television series with a black female lead portrayed in a non-stereotypical manner. It seems hard to argue that Star Trek was more progressive than either of these two shows.

This myth of progressivism bleeds through into specific examples. Many fans would point to Plato’s Stepchildren as a huge moment for television, with Captain Kirk embracing Lieutenant Uhura. Some would refer to it as the first interracial kiss on television, perhaps the strongest example of the inflated reputation that Star Trek holds in popular consciousness. This ignores the fact that British television had featured interracial couples during the fifties, or that I, Spy had featured Bill Cosby kissing an Asian woman or Nancy Sinatra kissing Sammy Davies Junior.


Even if Plato’s Stepchildren is diluted down to “the first kiss between a white fictional man and a black fictional woman who are established characters on a weekly American television series”, that still discounts the context of the kiss. The kiss is presented as grotesque and horrific, Kirk and Uhura forced to embrace against their will for the entertainment of sadistic aliens. Had Star Trek really wanted to be progressive, it could have portrayed a consensual romance by simply casting a black woman in The Enterprise Incident or Wink of an Eye or The Mark of Gideon.

Similarly, Star Trek gets a lot of credit for its criticism of the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was still raging while Star Trek was on the air, making its engagement with the topic particularly striking. A Private Little War aired only a few days after the Tet Offensive, to give a sense of historical context to the show. There was a sense that the production team had a lot that they wanted to say about sixties America. It was just that the writing staff could never seem to agree on exactly what it was that they wanted to say.


Most fans and critics would point to Star Trek as a utopian television series, one that embraces pacifism and idealism. After all, this was (and remains) a strong strain of criticism against Deep Space Nine, which dared to interrogate the franchise’s idealism. Gene Roddenberry cultivated this myth, through appearances at conventions and television chat shows. To listen to Roddenberry, Star Trek was among the first television series to oppose the Vietnam War.

This is how popular culture chooses to remember Star Trek. Certainly, there is ample evidence to support such an argument. Most of that evidence comes from writers like Gene L. Coon and Jerome Bixby. Coon wrote (and re-wrote) a number of classic episodes that condemned and satirised the politics driving the Vietnam War; A Taste of Armageddon, Errand of Mercy, A Piece of the Action. Jerome Bixby criticised the notion of America as a twentieth century empire in Mirror, Mirror and rendered the Federation a pacifist utopia in Day of the Dove.


However, this is not the whole story. Star Trek was not a singular vision, it was the work of countless writers and producers who all had their own viewpoints. Some of those writers were quite pointedly in favour of United States foreign policy during the sixties, as evidenced by those countless episodes in which Kirk and the Enterprise unilaterially intervened in local affairs to save a planet from various communism-relatable foibles; Friday’s Child, The Apple, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.

In fact, Gene Roddenberry was the biggest proponent of the idea of “necessary war” on Star Trek. The scripts credited to (and rewritten by) Roddenberry tend to portray war as a lamentable but justifiable tool of foreign policy. The amount of military jingoism present varies from episode to episode, but it is clearly there; The City on the Edge of Forever, A Private Little War, The Omega Glory, The Savage Curtain. During the initial run of Star Trek, Roddenberry was more of a reluctant hawk than an ardant dove. However, the mythology glosses over this fact.


Roddenberry was, after all, a former police officer and a veteran of the United States Air Force during the Second World War. Roddenberry’s militarism tended to bleed through into the world of Star Trek, with an emphasise on military procedure and mechanics. Roddenberry was a huge fan of the court martial as a storytelling device in episodes like The Menagerie, Part I or Turnabout Intruder, no matter how boring that was to watch at home. The same is true of his emphasis on formal procedure in the opening acts of The Savage Curtain.

For all that the early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation insist that Starfleet is not a military organisation, nobody worked harder to portray it as such than Gene Roddenberry. It makes sense that Star Trek would inherit some of Roddenberry’s more reactionary tendencies. For all that Star Trek is praised as open-minded and utopian, the show’s first two seasons are quite paranoid about the idea of paradise. Whenever Kirk stumbles upon something that looks like paradise in episodes like This Side of Paradise or The Apple, he immediately destroys it.


Star Trek is quite nervous about the breakdown of social order. Think of the panic of “red hour” in Return of the Archons or the wave of insanity (and violence) spreading across the universe in Operation — Annihilate! The show is quite anxious about the threat that counter-culture presents in episodes like This Side of Paradise, And the Children Shall Lead or The Way to Eden. While the series explores the idea of systemic racism in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, the episode is just as worried about the damage that might be done to society in fighting that racism.

Then again, Star Trek was very much a product (and reflection) of its time. The sixties are subject to the same nostalgic forces that mythologise Star Trek, crafting a romance around President John F. Kennedy. History paints the Kennedy administration as a liberal utopia, as “Camelot.” The truth is rather more complex than all that, and it gets lost in the narrative that has been cultivated in the decades since. Star Trek is very much like the cultural memory of the sixties in that regard, simplified and idealised when filtered through the lens of nostalgia.


Star Trek is very much a product of its time, a snapshot of sixties America captured on film. The sixties were a confusing and chaotic time, it makes sense that Star Trek would be just as confused and chaotic. For all the heartfelt pacifism of Balance of Terror, there is the unreconstructed racism and jingoism of The Omega Glory. For all the bitter condemnation of Vietnam in A Taste of Armageddon, there is the earnest endorsement of it in A Private Little War.

Sometimes that confusion comes within the same episode. Errand of Mercy and The City on the Edge of Forever are both masterful pieces of television, but they also speak to aspects of Star Trek that are glossed over in fan histories and nostalgic reflections. Errand of Mercy is a beautiful indictment of American foreign policy, but the Klingons are very clearly racist caricatures of East Asians. The City on the Edge of Forever is the best romance in the franchise’s history, but it is also very much a justification for the United States’ involvement in Vietnam.


Real life is complicated. As such, fiction becomes complicated in how it relates to (and interacts with) real life. Star Trek is a much more complicated, much more nuanced, pop cultural artifact than most fans would readily acknowledge. Elevating it to the status of a holy relic, never to be questioned or challenged, does it a disservice. Examining and interrogating Star Trek is a rewarding process, one that speaks to the show’s strengths as much as its weaknesses. The beauty of Star Trek‘s longevity means that it is a living thing; it deserves to be treated as such.

However, none of this diminishes Star Trek. The franchise has had a singular impact on American culture. Although it might not compete with Star Wars in terms of box office or merchandise, the franchise has a much greater penetration of popular consciousness. The show is impressive. Although these seventy-nine episodes were subject to incredibly tight schedules and miniscule budgets, those working on the series managed to create something memorable and unique. Fifty years of pop history derive from the work done by this production team.


The writers created an interesting world populated by fascinating characters. Again, writers like Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana deserve a lot more credit than they receive. Fontana helped to create a sense of a lived in universe, particularly with her work on episodes like Amok Time, Journey to Babel and The Enterprise Incident. More than any other writer, Fontana encouraged fans to imagine what was happening beyond the boundaries of the frame and between the lines of the script.

However, the cast also deserve a great deal of credit for bringing these characters to life. Leonard Nimoy offers one of television’s great performances as Mister Spock, the show’s enigmatic science officer and second-in-command. Nimoy’s work is a masterclass in nuance and subtlety, the actor able to convey so much in a single raised eyebrow or carefully considered pause. It is no wonder that Spock became the show’s (and arguably the franchise’s) breakout character, and an ambassador to both the Berman era and the JJ Abrams reboot.


At the same time, William Shatner’s work is frequently overlooked. Shatner’s performance is a lot less subtle than that of Nimoy. At times, it is also a lot more conventional. However, there are several points in the run of the show where Shatner adopts a hyper-stylised self-aware mannerism that combines with the episode around him to form a sort of pop art. Shatner has been heavily (and deservedly) criticised for his behaviour towards his co-stars during the run of the show, but it is clear that he was very invested in the work that he is doing.

Shatner’s style is readily mockable, particularly in The Enemy Within or Turnabout Intruder. However, Shatner never stops trying. No matter how bad the episode in question might be, Shatner never stops trying to carry it on his shoulder. If the episode cannot be redeemed as art, then Shatner pitches it as camp. His performances in The Omega Glory, And the Children Shall Lead and Turnabout Intruder are the best part of those episodes. Nimoy reacts to weak scripts by retreating, but Shatner wrestles them into submission; compare their work on Whom Gods Destroy.


However, the production on Star Trek is absolutely beautiful, with the creative team going above and beyond. The sets and costumes are seldom convincing, but that is hardly the point. The realities of sixties television production put verisimilitude well beyond the means of the cast and crew. Instead, the production design on Star Trek is consciously stylised and minimalist. This leads to a number of striking and memorable designs, from Guardian in The City on the Edge of Forever to Vulcan in Amok Time to Vaal in The Apple.

Matt Jefferies’ work on Star Trek is quite simply astounding, and the strength of design aesthetics is best judged by their continued impact. Jefferies’ design of the Enterprise continues to be a touchstone for the franchise, no matter how many generations and iterations have passed. Klingon ships still look like the cruiser introduced in Elaan of Troyius. While the Berman era moved away from this stylised aesthetic towards verismilitude, it is telling that the JJ Abrams films returned to many of those trappings.


So much of the show is unique and memorable, even outside of the context of the stories. The costume that William Ware Theiss designed for Andrea in What Are Little Girls Made Of? Fred Phillips’ make-up designs for the Andorians and Tellarites in Journey to Babel. Jerry Finnerman did outstand work as director of cinematrophy, emphasising colour and light in a way that made the show pop off the screen. He was later succeeded by Al Francis, who did similarly impressive work.

In fact, this is particularly true in the third season. Despite an exodus of key creative personnel and massive budget cuts, the production on the third season is absolutely beautiful. Many of the show’s most iconic moments come from that third season, from half-black and half-white aliens in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield to Kirk making out with a green space babe in Whom Gods Destroy to the city of Stratos in The Cloud Minders. It is interesting to wonder how much of the memory of Star Trek is rooted in those strong visuals as much as the dialogue and theme.


Given the sheer level of craft involved – and the high volume of iconic images – it makes sense that Star Trek would linger and endure. The series was famously a ratings disappointment across its three-season run, but it endured in syndication. The show never quite went away, kept alive by an active fan community and number of official tie-ins. Star Trek would not die. It is a testament to everybody involved in crafting one of the twentieth century’s defining pieces of popular culture.

tos-thecityontheedgeofforever11Season 1

September 8, 1966 – April 13, 1967

tos-mirrormirrorSeason 2

September 15, 1967 – March 29, 1968

tos-dayofthedove38Season 3

September 20, 1968 – June 3, 1969

startrek-voyagehome29The Films

December 7, 1979 – November 18, 1994

20 Responses

  1. I hope that you will be reviewing the episodes of Season Three in the near future!

    • Provisionally May 2016, depending on release of Star Trek (X)III.

      In the meantime, Enterprise reviews January, April, August, December. And DS9/Voyager reviews in September/October.

  2. Happy 50th anniversary to Star Trek! And thank you for writing so many insightful and thought-provoking reviews of the series’ numerous incarnations!

  3. Via a fan’s recommendation, I just discovered your blog. I was absolutely delighted with the insights you brought to TOS, and hope that you get around to reviewing the troubled but interesting Third Season. Please email me if you post about TOS S3. Thanks for your efforts!

  4. “There was a strong dissonance between Roddenberry’s narrative and documented reality. Roddenberry claimed that he was responsible for the diversity on Star Trek, when the idea actually came from NBC. Roddenberry insisted that network sexism was responsible for the removal of the character of Number One following The Cage, but the truth is that NBC was perfectly happy to have a major female character so long as Roddenberry did not cast his mistress in the role. Roddenberry claimed to understand Star Trek, but then pitched a movie where Spock would shoot JFK.”

    Other than the Spock shoots JFK (that was an early pitch for a sequel to Star Trek TMP right?), I didn’t know any of this, strange given I love reading the development history of Trek, you’d think I’d know this. Thanks for all this, esp the info on Roddenberry.

    • Yep, the Spock shoots JFK pitch was Roddenberry’s original plan for the sequel to TMP.

      The NBC diversity thing comes from multiple sources, but see here:

      The Majel Barrett thing is explored in Marc Cushman’s These Are the Voyages…

      • Why would Spock shoot JFK? :S

      • I believe that the reason was to preserve the timeline. There’s a link to a breakdown of Roddenberry’s story somewhere in these reviews. Maybe the Wrath of Khan review? Or maybe even The Motion Picture.

      • This is actually a popular myth. The project was dubbed “Star Trek III” by Gene Roddenberry (III because he saw the first film as “Star Trek 2”) and didn’t involve Spock or anyone else shooting JFK. It actually involved the Enterprise having to restore the original timeline by convincing an idyllic 20th century to help them, despite having to restore the 20th century to its original brutality. It did however involve a good guy version of Hitler touring the Enteprise, and no I’m not joking.

  5. Same reason her prevented Kirk from saving Edith Keeler. To preserve a timeline where someone in the past has to die, to maintain the present.

    • So he was ripping off another TOS episode, funny that he liked ripping off episodes he didn’t actually write

  6. Me.

  7. I own a stainless “jet collection” coffee set used as a prop on the original series I can send some pics if anyone is interested : peterlapu@yahoo.com

  8. The only episodes which actually shows women as competent and able commanders is The Lorelei Signal which is one of the animated series (which I believe isn’t considered canon) and the men are seduced by hallucinations of beautiful women. So it’s left to Uhura and Nurse Chapel to organise a rescue party. Such a shame they could only do it as an animated episode and didn’t have the courage to film it as a live action one. But as you say, TOS is a product of its time and its creator.

  9. Hey Darren, just a quick note that the section covering Season 3 seems to be missing links to your reviews of The Way to Eden and Requiem for Methuselah. I noticed it a while back and always kept meaning to mention it here, but kept forgetting.
    Should be easy enough to fix, but I figured I’d let you know all the same.
    As always, thanks for the great work, whether here or at the Escapist, and may your work continue to be of such high quality for many moons to come.

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