Space, the final fron—nope, not doing that! After 50 years, we all get it: Star Trek is a space show, with fast ships and quirky aliens and exotic new worlds, and the kind of visionary technology that would later inspire things like cellphones and the Internet. You don’t even need to see a single episode to know characters like Captain Kirk and Spock. And if you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, this show should make that show even funnier. (Particularly Sheldon.)
James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and they’re on a five-year mission to explore the galaxy. With him is his Science Officer, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), a half-human/half-Vulcan who feels no emotions (most of the time). There’s also the doctor, Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), the Communications Officer, Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Engineer Montgomery Scott, a.k.a. “Scotty” (James Doohan), Lieutenant Sulu (George Takei), and Weapons Officer, Chekov (Walter Koenig). And together they explore the galaxy with one epic space adventure after another.
Star Trek is so commonplace in today’s society that it’s interesting to go back and see how things got started. Like how the “phasers” were originally called “lasers”. Or that the Klingons look almost entirely human on this show without their familiar ridged foreheads. Or that Captain Kirk is not in the pilot episode at all, with Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) as the original intended lead. And of course, seeing a skinny, handsome Scotty may be a surprise to those used to his older, heavyset, moustachioed look in the movies. Also, make sure to keep an eye on Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett, wife to Gene Roddenberry); she stealthily covers more Star Trek territory than anyone else in its entire history. For many “Trekkies” (or “Trekkers”), this show marks the golden age, as the quintessential Enterprise crew discovers new worlds, alternate dimensions, bizarre creatures, and has numerous space battles with the Klingons, and also the Romulans, who share a common ancestry with Vulcans. Captain Kirk is probably the most physical captain the Enterprise ever had, preferring to run, jump, and drop-kick his way to victory. He’s a proud member of the United Federation of Planets, a big believer in real justice, and doesn’t take crap from anyone. Ever. The kind of leader people want to follow. Spock is the logical voice of reason most of the time, but it’s the moments when his emotions slip through that will really help you to understand him. Bones, a.k.a. Dr. McCoy, is the hard-nosed and often sarcastic doctor, but watching him emotionally butt heads with the emotionless Spock time and again is the stuff of comedy legend. Not to mention “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” is a brilliantly Star Treky way to get around the censors.
Unfortunately, this show can be unintentionally hilarious at times. I regret to admit it has not stood the test of time in areas like special effects, themes, and even gender equality. One episode, for example, features a woman switching bodies with Kirk because women aren’t allowed to become starship captains. How’s that for progressive? Some of the alien masks look like…well…masks, prompting the viewer to either laugh out loud or cringe until tears shoot out. And far too many of the worlds they discover are modeled after old-Earth societies, such as the 1930’s Mafia planet, the Native American tribe planet, the Nazi planet, the Greek mythology planet, and so on. And whenever they have to travel back in time, it’s almost always to the late 1960’s. Isn’t that interesting? And who can forget those “Red Shirts”, a.k.a. “the guys who always get killed”? If an episode starts and you see Kirk, Spock, Bones, and a “Red Shirt”, that “Red Shirt” will be dead by the first commercial break. I’ll bet it makes a great drinking game. I was however disappointed to see that the Khan episode, “Space Seed”, i.e. the prelude to The Wrath of Khan, while an interesting episode, is significantly less intense than its cinematic sequel. But it’s still a good episode in a show with many great ones to choose from.
Superficial gripes aside, this show is a classic for many reasons. It’s not timeless by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s well-written, the characters are well-drawn and well-acted, and when it’s over after only three seasons, it feels much too soon. Who wouldn’t want to set foot aboard that bridge? Or have something, anything, that “beamed” you from one place to another? Sci-Fi wouldn’t be what it is without Star Trek. It may have been limited by its era and budget, but its ideas are epic, which is probably what has kept it alive. And 50 years on, it’s safe to say they’ve truly gone “where no man has gone before”.
4 out of 5