Star Trek (1966–1969)

The original Star Trek series was far ahead of its time: dealing with issues of race, sexuality, the real or potential abuse of power, humanity as well as tragedy and even comedy. The program was excellent for the first two seasons but was generally sub-par in the third where it released a string of atrocious episodes such as ‘Spock’s Brain’, mostly due to budget cuts. Ironically, if Season 3 had never been produced, the numerous Star Trek spinoffs which we take for granted today would likely never have appeared since there would have been only 55 Trek episodes in existence rather than the final 79 shows–too few to justify its syndication on TV and touch off Star Trek’s subsequent rebirth in fan popularity during the 1970’s.

Most people generally name their Top 10 shows but I’ll list my top 15 here. The best Star Trek episodes include: “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “Space Seed”, “Catspaw”, “Mirror Mirror,” “The Doomsday Machine,” “The Devil in the Dark”, “The Enterprise Incident”, “Journey to Babel”, “Amok Time”, “What are Little Girls Made Of?”, “The Ultimate Computer”, “Dagger of the Mind”, “The Tholian Web”, “Balance of Terror” and “Arena”. The rest was somewhere in between: many were compelling like “A Taste of Armageddon” where Captain Kirk is compelled to violate the Prime Directive in order to save his ship and crew from certain death. “Obsession” where Kirk is determined to destroy a deadly gaseous creature even if it means risking the lives of his crew or delaying the supply of badly needed medicines and “Day of the Dove” which showed how easily hatred between the supposedly more tolerant Federation crew and the Klingons could quickly spiral out of control.

Many poor episodes usually featured highly illogical or contrived plots such as “The Mark Of Gideon,” or ‘The Way to Eden”  where a group of space age hippies somehow manage to hijack the Enterprise and travel to their Eden–a planet within Romulan territory–without triggering a Romulan response. Or the ridiculous metaphors in “The Omega Glory” where the participants of the Vietnam war appear or poorly executed themes on overpopulation such as “The Mark of Gideon.” When outer space hippies appear in “The Way to Eden”, this is a clear sign that the quality of Star Trek was in sharp decline–especially in season 3–and its producers were running out of fresh new ideas. Unlike science-fiction horror shows of its era, the original Star Trek devoted several episodes to comedy such as the two series with Harry Mudd, “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and “A Piece of the Action.” These are cute and fun.

Gene Roddenberry knew how to introduce comedy and farce and win laughs from audiences in a series more attuned to conflict, intrigue and the constant threat of danger or death. Roddenberry made morality a major strength in plotting these original episodes. He tapped some talented science fiction writers as well for ideas. This was really his wagon train to the stars. The first two seasons were definitely the best of the Star Trek years. In the third season, “The Tholian Web” was nominated for an Emmy in best special effects. It’s depiction of how the Enterprise functioned without Kirk around with Spock and McCoy incessantly bickering over command of the ship until they finally reconcile after listening to Kirk’s touching ‘last orders’ is superb. The few other excellent or good episodes from this season include “The Enterprise Incident,” “All Our Yesterdays,” “Requiem for Methuselah,” the eerie “Spectre of the Gun”, “For The World is Hollow and I have touched the sky” and “Turnabout Intruder.”

Given the enormous budget cuts the series suffered in its final year, it was nothing short of miraculous that the producers managed to put out a good episode every once in a while. The final Star Trek episode, “Turnabout Intruder,” is an intriguing and troubling show both because an insanely jealous Janice Lester seizes control of Kirk’s body which gradually sets off an unprecedented revolt among the Enterprise crew as well as Lester’s reference to the blatant double standards inherent at Starfleet where only men could aspire to be ship captains–something which was not the case with the Romulans as we can see in “The Enterprise Incident.” Captain Kirk’s Starfleet was not yet the meritorious progressive institution which we all imagined. While Majel Barrett did serve briefly as “number 1” in the Cage, Star Trek’s pilot, the concept of a serving female first officer was unpopular among the show’s NBC producers in the 1960’s and quickly abandoned…my, how times have changed!

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Comments

  1. That’s great analysis of the three seasons of Classic Star Trek. I especially like your insights on the third season. Star Trek addressed serious issues but also gave us moments where we could laugh and not take the show too seriously. And that is why it endures.

    I wrote a short post on the episode “Balance of Terror” called “The Doctrine of Proportional Response.” If you would like to read it, I am open to any feedback: https://christopherjohnlindsay.wordpress.com/2017/04/29/star-trek-balance-of-terror/

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you, Chris. This past week has been very stressful, due to a personal crisis, and yesterday was the first time I got back on the net. Now its resolved itself I will have time to read “The Doctrine of Proportional Response” tonight when I get home and let you know.

    Liked by 2 people

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