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'Star Trek' - The Original Series

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Star Trek: The Original Series | Star Trek: The Animated Series
Star Trek: The Next Generation | Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Voyager | Star Trek: Enterprise

Space - the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before1.
-The most famous split infinitive on earth.

Star Trek is the mother of the Star Trek franchise and is the brainchild of Gene Roddenberry. While its official name is Star Trek, due to its spin-off series (Star Trek holds a world record for having the most spin-offs of any TV show) it is commonly known as Star Trek: The Original Series, or TOS for short. It has spawned five other Star Trek shows, ten films, thousands of novels, comics, calendars, mugs, dolls (collectables, of course) and even languages. Not bad for a low-budget 1960s TV show.

Why has this show become so huge? Was it the underlying morality of the episodes? Was it the tense action sequences? Was it the mini-skirts? Maybe it was all three. It has been proclaimed as being the most influential TV show of all time, and, love it or loathe it, you can't deny just how big the Star Trek franchise has become.

The Premise

The year is 22662 and Earth is a founding member of The United Federation of Planets, an organisation of planets devoted to freedom and liberty; it was rather like the United Nations but slightly more successful. Protecting the Federation is Starfleet, a military of sorts, whose primary goals, however, are peaceful exploration of the galaxy and scientific research.

Part of this fleet is the starship Enterprise, under the command of Captain Kirk. Week after week the Enterprise travels to different worlds, gets involved in a dangerous situation, loses an un-known crew member3, solves the planet's problem, learns a moral from the adventure, one of the cast makes a bad joke, and then cue the end credits.

The Federation is essentially a utopia, with Earth being described as a paradise. Humans have apparently gone beyond their selfish desires and wish nothing more than to spread peace and love to the galaxy. This invariably brings them into conflict with 'evil' races, such as the Klingons, who are portrayed as barbarians that only want to fight.

In the 23rd Century there is no more poverty (on Earth), disease (on Earth) or racism (on Earth). The fact that women and people of ethnic minorities have high-ranking positions may seem normal to us now, but in the 1960s it was radically forward thinking4. The show had the first inter-racial kiss between a black woman and a white man on primetime US television, and some stations refused to air it.

An important aspect of the show is the looming presence of the all-powerful Prime Directive. The Prime Directive is The Rule that must not be broken for fear of the consequences. It states that the Federation must not interfere in the internal politics, or the natural development of other species. Naturally Kirk breaks this rule on numerous occasions.

The Cast

A show isn't going to get anywhere unless it has an interesting and believable cast to draw in the audience. Somehow Star Trek managed to defy the believability part of this rule. An important feature of the cast was their cultural diversity, with white people, black people, Asians, aliens, and even Russians5, all working side-by-side and in perfect harmony.

Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner)

Captain Kirk is an all-American hero from Iowa. When he's not sitting in the captain's chair he can usually be found in a fistfight with a giant lizard, or chatting-up beautiful green women. As captain, Kirk has to make life or death decisions on a regular basis. He has to weigh up the options given to him by the logical Spock and the emotional Dr McCoy, and try and find a middle ground to sort out the problem of the week. Kirk is a brilliant tactician and has been known to use such tactics as pretending that the Enterprise is stronger than it actually is, talking a computer into killing itself (which he does four times in the series) and good old-fashioned cheating.

Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy)

Spock is the one with pointed ears; this isn't a genetic problem, it's because he's half-Human and half-Vulcan6. He's the Chief Science Officer and Second in Command of the Enterprise. Though he is half-Human, Spock has chosen to live his life by Vulcan practices; and as a result he lives by the rules of logic, suppressing his emotions. Spock is the outsider and his role in the show is to cast an acerbic eye on human behaviour. His outspoken views lead the other characters to explore what it means to be human.

Doctor Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley)

Dr McCoy, or 'Bones', is the Chief Medical Officer on the Enterprise. Though little is known of his history, he comes from one of the southern states of what was the USA. His compassion for the life of others puts him into conflict with the cold and logical Spock. The two argue about issues regularly and he has been known to make species-ist comments about Vulcans. His role in the show is to put the emotional point of view that counters Spock's logic, and to say 'He's dead Jim' whenever one of the red-shirts dies. He's also a bit of a technophobe and has an inherent distrust of the transporter.

Lt Commander Montgomery Scott (James Doohan)

Scotty is the chief engineer of the Enterprise. He's Scottish, although it has never been established where exactly he comes from7. His role in the show is to repair the ship in a third of the time that his estimates say he should be able to, and because of this he is known as a miracle worker.

Lt Hikaru Sulu (George Takei)

Sulu is the ship's helmsman, and he represents the Asian community, even though he actually comes from San Francisco. His role in the show is to make sure that the ship doesn't crash. He has an interest in botany, but, like all the minor characters in Star Trek, very little can be said about Sulu as most of his lines are something like 'Aye sir, warp factor 1'.

Lt Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols)

Uhura is the ship's communications officer whose job is to report messages to the captain. She has the important role of being both black and female, hence combining two 'minorities' into one. Her first name of Nyota is never mentioned in the show and hence isn't considered to be canonical8.

Ensign Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig)

Chekov was added to the cast in the second season for two reasons: they wanted a Russian character, since the Russians were leading in space-travel at the time; and they wanted a younger character to appeal to the youth audience. Chekov is, officially, the ship's navigator, but all he really does is fire the ship's weapons and talk-up Russia, which apparently invented everything.

Recurring Characters

Nurse Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett): Christine Chapel is a nurse. She is in love with Spock but he never returned the feelings.

Lieutenant Winston Kyle (John Winston): Kyle is the Enterprise's transporter chief and occasionally steps in as the relief helmsman.

Lieutenant Galloway (David L Ross): Galloway is a security officer who dies towards the end of the second season, then inexplicably comes back to life for the final episode (a wizard makes this possible, of course!).

Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney): Yeoman Rand is assigned to assist Captain Kirk during the first season, and she has strong feelings towards him.

The Ship

The ship is perhaps the most famous thing about Star Trek. The USS Enterprise9 is a Constitution-class starship with the registry number NCC-1701 (the NCC doesn't actually stand for anything). The ship takes part in five-year deep space exploratory missions and during the run of Star Trek she is on her third such voyage. The ship's captains for the two previous five-year missions were Captain Robert April10 and Captain Christopher Pike.

The ship has a fairly basic design. There's a saucer section, at the top of which, against all tactical logic, is the bridge. Connected to the saucer section is the star-drive which contains all the technical bits, such as the deflector dish and the engineering section. Connected to the star-drive are the two warp nacelles, which are essentially two long cylinders with light-bulbs at the front.

Of course, no description of the Enterprise would be complete without a discussion of warp-drive.

Warp-drive is a method of transportation used on ships by every empire advanced enough to have developed it. Humans first developed it in 2163 when a man called Zefram Cochrane converted a post-World War III nuclear missile into the first Human-built object to travel at faster than light velocity. The warp scale used11 is based on a cubic system whereby warp one is the speed of light, warp two is eight times the speed of light, warp three is 27 times the speed of light... warp 20 is 8,000 times the speed of light, and warp 21 is a theoretically infinite speed that puts you at every point in the universe simultaneously. You thought that you couldn't go faster than light? Correct, but the ship never does. A sub-space bubble surrounds the ship and outside this bubble, space is expanded and contracted. This causes the region of space in the bubble to travel at speeds faster than light while the ship in the bubble stays still. This requires a lot of energy, and that comes from the ship's warp-core, a place where matter and anti-matter collide inside magical dilithium crystals. Sound implausible? Yes, but it's all technically possible.

The saucer section was originally intended to detach from the star-drive in emergency situations, but this never happened in the series, partly due to the cost. The idea was later recycled and used in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Though her primary mission is exploration, the Enterprise comes equipped with powerful weapons, just in case they bump into the 'evil' Klingons, or some annoying space-hippies. The ship is equipped with phaser banks and photon torpedoes. Bad special effects meant that week after week the weapons would emanate from different locations on the ship. The ship also has defensive shields. Battles in the show were slow and more like naval battles than the fast-paced battles of Star Wars or later Star Trek series.

The inside sets are predominantly grey with some bright primary colours, presumably added so that the crew doesn't get depressed by all the grey. The main set in the show is the Bridge which is where most of the main cast work. Other major sets include Engineering, Sickbay and the Transporter room.

Recurring Aliens

The show has a number of recurring aliens which return infrequently throughout the show's run. Here's a description of a few of them.

The Vulcans

The Vulcans are an ancient and passionate species from the planet Vulcan, which is a desert world. Their most obvious external features are pointed ears and arched eyebrows, but internally they are very different from humans and have green blood. On average, Vulcans have three times the physical strength of Humans. They are touch-telepaths, which means that they can read your mind, but only if they put their hand on your face. Once every seven years, Vulcan males go through the pon farr, which is an uncontrollable urge to mate, although a ritualistic fight to the death will also suffice for some reason12. Vulcan's emotions are much more powerful than Human ones, and this led to many wars in their past. This all ended when a Vulcan called Surak spread teachings of logic and peace, and because of this most Vulcans repress their emotions. The Vulcans are a founding member of the Federation.

The Klingons

Klingons are a brutal warrior race from the planet Qo'noS (which is sometimes spelled Kronos; Klingon spelling can be a little inconsistent). Low budgets meant that Klingons during the TOS era look just like Humans with dark skin and beards (something that would never be allowed on TV today), but by the time of the time of the first film they have bizarre head-ridges13. This was explained away by implausible techno-babble in Star Trek: Enterprise as having to do with a genetically engineered super-virus. Klingons are a proud and honourable species, and they're also portrayed as being rather dumb for some reason. They follow the teachings of the legendary warrior Kahless the Unforgettable. This means that Klingon children are brought up with moral stories of 'The Great Kahless', and 'Kahless!' is used as an oath in the same way that humans may say 'Oh God!'. The Klingon Empire consists of Klingons and a few slave species, yet it is a powerful force on the interstellar stage. An exorbitant amount of their budget is spent on their military.

The Romulans

The Romulans are a devious and cunning species. They are descended from Vulcans, but they left Vulcan in protest during the time of Surak's reforms, and they settled on the worlds of Romulus and Remus. From there they founded the Romulan Star Empire, a powerful empire constituting Romulans and their slaves. Romulans look very similar to Vulcans, but they have a pronounced head-ridge14. The Romulans are very secretive and developed cloak technology to hide their ships from others15. The Romulans and Klingons have a mutual hatred for one another, although they did have a brief alliance at one point where they exchanged technology, including ships. They also seem to share some form of common ancestry, but this was never really explained. The Romulans are isolationists, and prefer not to communicate with outsiders unless their interests are at stake. Humans had never seen Romulans before the episode 'Balance of Terror' because they always communicated with audio only, and after the final TOS feature film, the Romulans disappear from the galactic stage for over half a century.

The History of the Future's Production

The show was originally intended to be a way to get Gene Roddenberry's idealistic world view on television, which he could never do due to the strict guidelines imposed on US TV in the 1960s. He realised that he could if it was in the guise of science fiction, and thus Star Trek was born. He originally described it as being 'Wagon Train To The Stars', and he tried to sell it as a western set in space.

A one and a half hour pilot called 'The Cage' was filmed in 1964. The pilot differed in many ways to the main series; most notable is the fact that Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), not Captain Kirk, commands the ship. In fact, the only character in the pilot who's also in the main series is Spock16, and his character changed quite a bit too. This pilot was not aired on TV until 1988, but much of the episode's footage was used in the main series in the two-part episode 'The Menagerie'.

The pilot was seen as being too intellectual, but rather than reject it, a second pilot was commissioned. Jeffrey Hunter didn't want to return to the role, so the character of Captain Kirk was created for the new pilot entitled 'Where No Man Has Gone Before'17. This pilot was accepted by NBC, partially because it had a fistfight at the end, and Star Trek finally made its way onto TV screens in 1966.

The show consisted of basically stand-alone episodes; that way the audience could watch any episode at random and not need to know any of the history. This allowed the writers to vary the style of episode from week to week. Two of the best examples are 'Balance of Terror'; a tense action episode, described by some as a submarine battle in space, and 'The City on the Edge of Forever'; a time-travel story where Kirk must let a woman he loves die in order to protect the future. This episode is viewed by some as the best of all the Star Trek series. There were also comedy episodes, such as 'The Trouble with Tribbles'.

Star Trek ran for two seasons with only limited success in the ratings, and at the end of the second season the decision was made to cancel the show. Though they were low in numbers, Star Trek's fans (the term 'trekker' having yet to be invented) were very vocal and organised a letter-writing campaign to get Star Trek back on the air. They succeeded and a third season was produced. Unfortunately the first episode of this season shown was 'Spock's Brain' in which aliens steal Spock's brain. It is considered to be the worst episode of Star Trek ever produced18. Due to budget cuts, the rest of the third season was also low in quality and the show was cancelled for good in 1969 after only 79 episodes (not including 'The Cage').

The show was sold into syndication and somehow it became massively popular, especially among children. Confused by this, Paramount did some research on the show's viewers and found that not only were there more of them than they had first thought, but they were a desirable market for advertisers. A short-lived animated Star Trek series was produced, primarily for children, in the early 1970s. In 1978 Paramount commissioned a new Star Trek live-action TV series called Star Trek: Phase II which would have all of the original show's characters, excluding Spock, and three new characters. Twelve scripts were written for the show, but two weeks before filming was set to begin Paramount cancelled it in favour of doing a Star Trek film and so the two-hour pilot for this new series was rewritten into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Thus began the Star Trek film franchise.

The Legacy

Who would have thought that a TV show with hammy acting19, bad special effects and awful continuity would change the world the way Star Trek has? A generation of scientists were spurred on by Scotty's technological wizardry, inventing things that may not have existed without them. Klingon is the fastest growing language on the planet. If you don't know who Captain Kirk is, then you've probably just come through a time portal from 1965 and this is your first visit to the internet.

One reason for the show's success was that it didn't show a dark, apocalyptic future, but it showed that with a little work, the world could be a utopia. This may be wishful thinking, but at a time when the world was on the brink of nuclear oblivion, Star Trek inspired hope for many people. Also, this was the first real science fiction on TV at that time that was geared towards an adult audience and not for children, like Lost in Space was. The scantily-clad women were also a plus.

A model of the Enterprise is on display in the Smithsonian Institute's Air and Space Museum, making it the only fictional model on display there. It just shows what one man with a vision . . . along with several dozen writers, directors, actors, and a multi-billion dollar corporation...can do.


Here are some mildly interesting statistics to leave you to ponder over. Over the course of 79 episodes:

  • 56 crew members are lost, and of these, only Lieutenant Galloway was a recurring character, and he seemingly came back to life.

  • The Klingons make seven appearances, the Romulans only three.

  • The Enterprise comes across seven planets whose inhabitants are controlled by a computer.

  • Eight superior beings hold the ship hostage for fun.

  • Kirk has 25 fistfights, that's nearly one in every three episodes.

1This line is very similar to one from HP Lovecraft's novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. The line goes 'Carter resolved to go with bold entreaty whither no man has gone before'.2Although bad continuity in the show caused some mistakes, and it was sometimes referred to as taking place in the 22nd Century.3These people are known as Red-shirts because nearly all of them wear red uniforms.4Although its final episode is a story about a woman who goes insane because Starfleet wouldn't allow female captains, even in the 23rd Century.5Obviously considered the worst of them all, at the time of filming.6Vulcan is the first alien planet to contact Earth.7Several towns in Scotland claim to be his future birth-place. One of these towns, Linlithgow, is even planning a monument to celebrate his future birth.8Canonicity is the belief that certain works are part of a recognisable 'canon' or body of work. In Star Trek terms, as in other long-running TV shows with a sizeable fan community (or 'fandom'), the term refers to facts established on TV episodes, which take precedence over details added to the story in subsequent novels or fan fiction.9'USS' was put on the model even before the writers created the Federation. It was later decided that USS stands for United Federation of Planets Star Ship, and not United States Ship.10This isn't canonical, but it is taken as such anyway.11This scale was changed in The Next Generation for an unspecified reason.12According to Star Trek: Enterprise, female Vulcans experience the pon farr too, although this was actually just an excuse for T'Pol to run through the ship in her underwear.13Each one of which is different and modelled on different dinosaur heads14This head-ridge didn't appear on the TOS Romulans, but for some reason this discrepancy wasn't explained in Enterprise.15This is generally felt to be rude and sneaky16Majel Barrett, who later played Christine Chapel, along with various other parts in the franchise, played the first officer in the pilot. When the show was produced however, the network decided to get rid of her character, as they didn't want a female in such a high rank.17This pilot was for some reason shown as the third episode in the series and as a result it doesn't fit in properly.18It was actually intended as a joke, but it went too far.19Yes, this does refer to Will Shatner. Although many fans feel that his over-the-top acting was exactly what was needed for the show to work.

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