So, on Monday, I posted my thoughts on the passing of Neil Armstrong. When I found out he had died, that got me thinking.
A lot and I mean a LOT of the greats of science fiction have died recently. This summer, for example, Ray Bradbury, a writer so wonderful and brilliant that, as Neil Gaiman put it, he was “The man who took an idea of the American Midwest and made it magical and tangible, who took his own childhood and all the people and things in it and used it to shape the world,” died at 91. Harry Harrison, writer of many beloved sci-fi satires and dystopian novels (including Make Room! Make Room!, which inspired Soylent Green), also died this summer at 87.
There are loads of others I know I’m forgetting, but those are the two biggest. The point is, the writers whose work–be it books, TV or whatever–not only changed science fiction but shaped culture, whether we’ve realized it or not, are rapidly losing members. After realizing that, I started thinking about Gene Roddenberry.
Roddenberry created many TV shows and movies in his time, but is, without question, known for Star Trek. You may be a hardcore Trekkie, you may have never seen or read or played anything Trek-related in your life, not even the J.J. Abrams film, but without a doubt, you know what Star Trek is.
How is it that a one-hour sci-fi show, which ran for 3 seasons on NBC from 1966-69 and was so poorly rated it only received its 3rd season after a now-legendary letter-writing campaign by fans, became so beloved and cherished after its demise it’s since blossomed into a full-blown cultural institution? I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.
And so that is why I now present the first installment of…Star Trek Saturdays!!!
In this new hopefully weekly series, I’ll be chronicling, episode by episode, Star Trek: The Original Series. I should note in all fairness that I’m technically not watching the original series; rather, I’m watching the remastered editions in HD. I did this because, basically, it was free on Amazon Instant Video; the original versions aren’t. What do you want me to do?
I should also mention that I’m not going in blind here. I am a Trekkie. A friend introduced me to Star Trek: The Next Generation a couple of years ago and I love that show. But I’ve never seen the original, the very cause of the cultural phenomenon that is Trek. So that’s also why I wanted to do this.
To start off, let’s look at the premiere episode of the series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was actually the 2nd pilot for the series. An earlier one, “The Cage,” featured Spock but instead of Captain Kirk, there was Captain Pike and the cast was basically completely different. Rejected by NBC on the grounds that it was too cerebral, “The Cage,” which is set 11 years before the five-year mission of Captain Kirk, is still in continuity, but I’ll cover it at a later date. We’re starting here because this is closer to the series as it eventually became.
In this episode, the USS Enterprise picks up the ancient recorder-marker for the SS Valiant, which was destroyed under mysterious circumstances two centuries ago. Spock deciphers the ruins of the tapes, which tell of some disaster that led the captain to call for his own ship to self-destruct. After going through that strange galactic barrier up there, the Enterprise’s bridge is struck by a strange force that blows out the engines and affects Lt. Cmdr. Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood), Kirk’s best friend, and Starfleet psychiatrist Elizabeth Denner (Sally Kellerman), knocking them both unconscious.
Denner recovers fully, but Mitchell is left with a strange light in his eyelids. Seemingly normal at first, he begins displaying strange and intense supernatural powers, such as levitating objects, the ability to shoot lightning from his hands, mind reading, making objects out of thin air, manipulation of his own vitals, and various kinds of ESP.
As the episode goes on, Mitchell becomes more and more threatening, eventually revealing his plans to take over the ship. Kirk makes the hard decision to maroon Mitchell on the deserted mining planet of Delta Vega while the crew recharges the engines from the lithium there. But Mitchell won’t go down easy…
There are 2 big differences in this pilot from what everyone knows, the casts and the uniform. Here, instead of Dr. McCoy, there’s Dr. Piper; Lt. Kelso is in place of Chekov and so on. The uniforms are noticeably different. Yellow is used for both Command and Science Officers, with the two ranks being distinguished by one gold ring on the Officer’s sleeves and 2 on the Captain’s. Blue is used for medical as well as engineering and beige is used for operation positions in place of red.
“No Man” is a little slow-placed at times, but such is the case with pilots. The show is still finding its rhythm and when it clicks, it clicks. Watching it, I feel that the show is a logical extension of, a tribute to and a product by kids who grew up reading science fiction pulps and movie serials of the ’30s and ’40s. Whereas The Next Generation would sometimes make me feel like I was watching a typical drama set in space, this feels like a completely different show, a piece of Technicolor splendor that was unlike anything that had ever come before.
The cast here is pretty strong, with Kirk and Spock having their typical rhythm already established. For all the…jokes we make…about…William Shatner’s….acting, it must be said that he knew how to convey angst and gravitas. When he means business, you can see it. Mitchell and Kellerman are fine too, with Mitchell in particular showing what it’s like to slowly be corrupted by omnipotent power in a wonderful fashion.
Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.