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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Star Trek The Original Series Turns 50 Today

"Space the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It's five year mission, to explore strange new worlds. To see out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before."

On Thursday, September 8, 1966, (also known among serious Trekkies and Trekkers alike as stardate 1513.1) the sci-fi television series Star Trek (better know today as Star Trek: The Original Series) premiered on NBC-TV at 8:30 PM - 9:30 PM EST with the episode: The Man Trap to mixed reviews by critics and science fiction fans alike. 

At the time few people knew that Star Trek would become one of the most celebrated stories in sci-fi history, as well as kick off a major American cultural phenomenon that would inspire millions of writers and dreamers - including this blogger. In fact, when the series first aired - the culmination of more than two years of constant work by the legendary Gene Roddenberry and his team - the reception it got was colder than....well, than the depths of space. 

The original crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701.
From left to right background: James Doohan RIP as Lt. Commander Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, Walter Koeing as Ensign Pavel Chekov, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry RIP as Nurse Christine Chapel, Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, George Takei as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu.
From left to right foreground: DeForest Kelley RIP as Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy, William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy RIP as Commander Spock.

Never a huge ratings draw - in fact the show barely got a second and third season save for major letter writing campaigns by hardcore science fiction fans (much of this largely orchestrated by Roddenberry himself) - Star Trek lasted 79 original episodes that aired on NBC-TV between 1966 to 1969, the same year that Armstrong and Aldrin would take mankind's first steps on the moon. Not exactly a huge run in its first window, but the show did run just long enough to gather a small but growing fandom and a library of reruns that would catch fire five years later in syndication giving it cult-classic status. 

Despite being only a moderate success when it first aired, Star Trek The Original Series was the show that would never die. It would go on to spawn 13 movies (including three reboots), four (soon to be five) live-action spinoff series, an animated TV series, comic books, postage stamps, documentaries, hundreds of novels, hundred of thousands of fanfiction stories, lots and lots of conventions, cosplayers, and millions of fans worldwide. 

The impact of the series is still being felt today in American popular culture. This is a fine credit to the actors who portrayed the original cast and their later counterparts in the other Star Trek spin-offs. It is also a testament to the creative vision of Gene Roddenberry as well as the fine work of the production staff, writers and technical crews that worked on Star Trek The Original Series.

Prop designers Richard C. Datin, Jr., Mel Keys and Vernon Sion shown posing with the 11 foot long model of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 used for Star Trek's original television series between 1966 - 1969.
The model is currently on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., USA.
Stamps honoring Star Trek's 50th Anniversary from the US Postal Service.

I cannot remember a time before Star Trek. Mostly because I was born and grew up when the show's reruns were syndicated. Usually they came on late at night on weekends and I would try - and sometimes fail - to stay awake on my parent's couch as I watched them. I was also fortunate enough to grow up through my formative teenage years with the really excellent films and the TV spin-offs - particularly Star Trek The Next Generation - and I try to get my hands on every Star Trek novel written.

Today as a adult - at least in theory if you ask my friends and family - I continue to enjoy watching the original 79 episodes of the original series. Of all the series (which I absolutely love!) the Original Series and the films set from those characters are my favorites....well except for J.J. Abrams reboot. No offense, but for this Trekkie, when I think of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, there will never be any others than Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley. I will always be thankful to the Great Bird of the Galaxy for introducing the world to them.

Let me close out this tribute to the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek and the men and women who worked on the series with a list of this blogger's top twelve favorite episodes of The Original Series and top five feature Star Trek films. 

Blogger's Top 12 Favorite Star Trek The Original Series Episodes

(1) City On The Edge Of Forever
Season 1, Episode 28 - Original Air Date: April 6, 1967 - Written By: Harlan Ellison 

Kirk and Spock travel through the Guardian of Forever, a time portal, to undo damage to Earth's history done unwittingly by a drug-induced Dr. McCoy. Kirk finds the love of his life and is forced to watch her die in order to preserve the future. This episode is considered by me and many others to be one of the single best episodes of the original series.
(2) The Doomsday Machine
Season 2, Episode 6 - Original Air Date: October 20, 1967 - Written By: Norman Spinrad

The crew of the USS Enterprise battles a deadly planet-destroying machine before it can reach the most populated parts of the Milky Way galaxy. Highly suspenseful and dramatic episode of life and death - not to mention a really close call with the matter transporter beam.

(3) The Trouble With Tribbles 
Season 2, Episode 15 - Original Air Date: December 29, 1967 - Written By: David Gerrold 

The cast of Star Trek enjoyed this episode because they each of their characters had their own separate and important scene. This episode had it all: Klingon spies, a bar fight over the honor of the Enterprise, verbal sparring between Spock and Dr. McCoy, and of course "one million seven hundred seventy-one thousand one hundred and seventy-one" fuzzy, purring Tribbles in a cramped storage compartment.  
(4) Amok Time
Season 2, Episode 1 - Original Air Date: September 15, 1967 - Written By: Theodore Sturgeon

Perhaps the best story about Mr. Spock and Vulcan traditions. Includes a trip to the hot and arid Planet Vulcan and Kirk in a duel to the death with his first officer and one of his best friends. The ending with Spock showing emotion over Kirk's survival - as well as Dr. McCoy's response to his justification for showing it - always makes me grin. 

(5) Obsession 
Season 2, Episode 13 - Original Air Date: December 15, 1967 - Written By: Art Wallace 

Kirk must deal with a demon from his past - both literal and mental - when a chance encounter with a creature that he faced years before and froze against shows up on a planet. The episode includes Spock and McCoy facing off with Kirk using by-the-book Starfleet regulations, nearly half-a-dozen Redshirt deaths, and yet another close call escape using the matter transporter.

(6) The Balance Of Terror 
Season 1, Episode 14 - Original Air Date: December 15, 1966 - Written By: Paul Schneider 

The USS Enterprise in a deadly battle with an invading cloaked Romulan Bird of Prey near the Neutral Zone. Considered by many Trek fans to be probably one of the best episodes of Season One.

(7) The Enterprise Incident
Season 3, Episode 2 - Original Air Date: September 27, 1968 - Written By: D.C. Fontana 

The Enterprise under Kirk's orders infiltrates the Romulan Neutral Zone under secret orders by Starfleet intelligence to capture a cloaking devise. While Kirk plays the part of an out-of-control rogue captain who goes mad, Spock gains the trust and affections of a female Romulan commander.

(8) Whom Gods Destroy 
Season 3, Episode 14 - Original Air Date: January 3, 1969 - Written By: Lee Erwin & Jerry Sohl 

Kirk and Spock transport down to Elba II, a planet with a poisonous atmosphere that houses a facility for the criminally insane to deliver a new drug for treatment. They discover that one of the more infamous inmates Captain Garth - a former hero of Kirk's before his downfall - has taken over the facility. The two Starfleet officers facing torture at the hands of the inmates must keep the inmates from escaping by not revealing the passwords (in the form of a chess move) to allow the Enterprise to beam anyone up.

(9) I, Mudd 
Season 2, Episode 8 - Original Air Date: November 3, 1967 - Written By: Stephen Kandel

The crew of the Enterprise must face off against a society of androids bent on conquering the galaxy with the unwitting help of the man responsible for putting them in this situation in the first place - Harry Mudd. Using illogic against the logical minded androids, the crew manages to defeat them.

(10) Arena 
Season 1, Episode 18 - Original Air Date: January 19, 1967 - Written By: Frederic Brown & Gene L. Coon 

Also considered one of the best episodes of the series - and probably one of the more famous (or infamous depending on who you ask).
Kirk must battle to the death against a Gorn captain in an arena set for them by a highly advance race that is prepared to destroy both the Enterprise and the Gorn ship. The ending is a good one that shows the value of mercy and compassion.

(11) Mirror, Mirror
Season 2, Episode 4 - Original Air Date: October 6, 1967 - Written By: Jerome Bixby

Kirk, Uhura, McCoy, and Scotty are all transported by accident to a parallel universe with mirror versions of their crewmates who are brutal and where the United Federation of Planets is instead ruled by a Terran Empire.
This episode was so popular among Star Trek writers it went on to inspire several novels and four similar episodes of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and a two-part fourth season episode of Enterprise.

(12) All Our Yesterdays
Season 3, Episode 23 - Original Air Date: March 14, 1969 - Written By: Jean Lisette Aroeste  

Kirk, Spock and McCoy are accidentally transported to the past of a planet orbiting a star on the verge of a supernova. Racing against time - in more ways that one - they must find a way to return to the place where they transported in and escape the planet before it is too late.
The ending is somewhat bittersweet for Spock who finds a lonely woman he has come to feel for in the frozen Ice Age past of the planet who cannot leave with them. Always a tear-jerker this one.

Three honorable mentions go to the episodes: The Squire of Gothos, Space Seed, and Errand of Mercy. 
Blogger's Top 5 Star Trek Feature Films

(1) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Directed By: Leonard Nimoy 

My favorite of the Star Trek films. Shot mostly on location in downtown San Fransisco, California. I have always loved the time travel episodes of Star Trek. This movie showed the comedy gold that comes from travelers out of time with the customs of the era. Always a delightful movie to watch and the ending was perfectly done.
Also of note: even in their future clothes, the crew didn't look too out of place in 1986 San Fransisco.
The film was also dedicated to the seven astronauts lost in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

(2) Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
Directed By Nicholas Meyer

Just one of the more memorable lines in this film, which included the (at the time) controversial death of Mr. Spock and a battle to the death between Kirk and the USS Enterprise and the pirated USS Reliant NCC-1864 under the control of the genetically enhanced Khan Noonian Singh from the classic Star Trek The Original Series Episode: Space Seed, who is back for revenge.
The movie was a blend of action and emotion, particularly the death and funeral of Mr. Spock - which still has the ability to make this blogger tear up after all these years.

(3) Star Trek Generations (1994)
Directed By: David Carson 

My favorite meeting of two favorite captains of the Enterprise - and thankfully one not done on a holodeck. James T. Kirk and Jean Luc Picard must join forces to stop a genocidal madman from destroying an entire solar system and a populated planet, not to mention the crew of the Enterprise NCC-1701-D....what is left of it.
The death of Kirk near the end, doing what he did to save people and make a difference was the best possible ending for him. I could not see Kirk fade away in some retirement. It just wasn't who his character was. Well done.

(4) Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)
Directed By: Leonard Nimoy 

The crew of the Enterprise risk everything to retrieve their lost friend and crewmate, Mr. Spock. Between stealing the retired and previously damaged Enterprise from spacedock to taking on a Klingon Bird of Prey, the crew manage to save Spock and return his soul to his body.
Kirk must make the ultimate sacrifices. He loses his son, David, to renegade Klingons, and is forced to scuttle the original Enterprise - a scene that creator Gene Roddenberry was dead set against.
The destruction of the Enterprise, as well as the follow up scene where Kirk and the crew watch the remains fall through the Genesis Planet's atmosphere remains one of the most powerful in the history of the Star Trek universe.

(5) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered County (1991) 
Directed By: Nicholas Meyer 

"Second star to the right, then straight on till morning."
With those words, the last great adventure of the crew of the original Enterprise comes to a close.
A wonderful ending to a (at the time) 25 year voyage for the crew of Star Trek The Original Series.

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