The starship Enterprise
as it appeared on Star Trek
Star Trek is a culturally significant science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry in the 1960s. It spawned a strong fandom (TV Guide rated it #1 in its list of the "25 Top Cult Shows Ever"), and was followed by five additional television series and ten theatrical movies (the Guinness Book of Records lists it as having the largest number of spinoffs).
To distinguish this first series from the sequels which followed, it has become known as Star Trek: The Original Series, abbreviated as ST:TOS or TOS. See Star Trek for a more general overview.
Set in a utopian vision of the 23rd century, Star Trek follows the adventures of the Starship Enterprise and her crew. A voiceover at the beginning of each episode states their goal (ungrammatically according to some, since "to boldly go" is a split infinitive):
- 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 before.
Star Trek debuted on NBC on September 8, 1966. Initially, it was not successful; ratings were low and advertising revenue was lackluster. However, when threats of cancellation loomed in the show's second season, the show's devoted fanbase conducted an unprecedented campaign, petitioning NBC to keep the show on the air. They succeeded in gaining a third season, but the show was moved to a Friday night "death slot," and was cancelled at the end of its third season. The last episode aired on June 3, 1969.
But then the fans got a very lucky break. The show was sold into syndication, and stations were able to air it when they thought fans and potential fans would be able to watch it. Many fans soon joined those who held the campaign which made the series popular, and they created a broad market for the franchise. The first six Star Trek movies were based on the original series (and the seventh included characters from it).
Fans of the original Star Trek series became known as Trekkies. To true aficionados of Trek fandom Trekker would be more correct.
In 1964, Roddenberry's concept for "Star Trek" secured him a three-year development deal with leading independent TV production company Desilu (founded by comedy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz). Roddenberry pitched the series to the major TV networks as a sort of "Wagon Train to the Stars", depicting it as a futuristic version of the westerns (such as Wagon Train and Gunsmoke) which were popular on television at the time. In Roddenberry's original pitch, the protagonist was Capt. Robert April of the "USS Yorktown". Eventually, this character became Capt. Christopher Pike. The first pilot episode, "The Cage", was made in 1964.
Many of Roddenberry's concepts were ahead of their time. He envisaged a multi-racial, multi-species crew, based on the assumption that racial prejudice would not exist in the 23rd century -- a decidedly challenging approach at a time when racial segregation was still firmly entrenched in many areas of the United States. He also included recurring characters from other alien races, including Spock, who was half human and half alien.
Other innovative "Star Trek" features were clever solutions to basic production problems. The idea of the faster-than-light warp drive was not a new concept in science fiction, but it provided the writers with an effective narrative device that allowed the Enterprise to quickly traverse the vast distances of deep space. The matter transporter -- which enabled crew members to be instantly 'beamed' from place to place -- neatly solved the problem of how to move the characters quickly from location to location, since the production team soon realised that filming a spacecraft landing sequence for each episode would be prohibitively expensive.
The "Star Trek" pilot was first offered to the US television network CBS, but they turned it down, opting instead for the more mainstream Irwin Allen production, "Lost In Space". "Star Trek" was then offered to NBC, who initally rejected it as being too cerebral and lacking in action. However, NBC executives were favourably impressed with the concept and they made the highly unusual decision to commission a second pilot -- "Where No Man Has Gone Before". Only the character of Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy) remained from the original pilot, and only two of its cast members (Majel Barrett and Nimoy) carried on to the series. It is also notable that the character of the ship's female First Officer was changed to a male for the second pilot. Although the first pilot was never broadcast in its original form until many years later, much of the footage was cleverly recycled in a later episode.
It was in the second pilot that almost all of the main characters (and the actors who played them) came into the series -- Captain Kirk (William Shatner), chief engineer Lt Cmdr Scott (James Doohan), communications officer Lt Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and ship's pilot Ensign Sulu (George Takei). Still missing at this point was chief medical officer Leonard McCoy: a Dr. Piper was present on the ship instead. Roddenberry's inclusion of the Uhura and Sulu characters was a bold move, given the conservative nature of American TV at that time (and the deep-rooted racism in much of American society), and it is to his lasting credit that he fought vigorously to retain them in the face of considerable resistance from the network and its affiliate stations.
There is no doubt that Takei and Nicolls were the first actors from their respective ethnic backgrounds (Nichols is African-American, Takei is Japanese-American) to have regular featured roles that did not depict their characters as inferior racial stereotypes. Nichols' character is also notable also one of the very first roles in American TV in which a woman held a senior position and worked as an equal with male collegeaues. Indeed, Nichols' presence in the series was considered such an important advance for the profile of African-Americans that when she told Dr Martin Luther King, Jr that she was considering leaving the series, he personally pleaded with her to remain in the cast.
Many aspects of starship life in the series were modeled after the British Royal Navy of the age of sail. Roddenberry had intended to make Christopher Pike (the captain in the original pilot episode) similar to the fictional captain Horatio Hornblower. There is a certain formality among the characters; the series writer's guide points out that sudden emergencies are not to be met with a beautiful crewman rushing into the captain's arms and awaiting certain doom. The Enterprise is one vessel of thousands in Starfleet, which is governed by the United Federation of Planets, consisting of more than a hundred fifty member planets.
Spock and Dr. McCoy are both confidants of the captain, reflecting practice in the 1800s, when a captain often considered the advice of a near-equal outside the chain of command. The connection to traditional naval practice is also reflected in such small details as the three-note "boatswain's whistle" that is heard when the captain arrives on the bridge, as well as the relatively static nature of battles, in which ships fire at each other from a distance. In contrast to the world of Star Wars, no inspiration was drawn from the aircraft carrier of modern naval warfare; no fighter craft are shown in the Original Series. There is one featured briefly in the film Star Trek: Insurrection.
Two key members of Roddenberry's production staff were designer Matt Jeffries and costume designer William Ware Theiss; Jeffries' contributions were so significant that his name was eventually immortalised in the so-called "Jeffries Tube", which became a standard part of the (fictional) design of Federation starships. Noted artist and sculptor Wah Chang was also hired to create props and he designed the original phaser pistols, tricorders and communicators seen in the pilot episode.
In creating the look of "Star Trek", Roddenberry and his team went to considerable lengths to create a fully-rounded and believable future world of space travel and high technology that was both visually exciting and meaningfully consistent. The series introduced viewers to many ideas which broke new ground for depictions of science fiction on the screen -- warp drive, matter transportation, wireless hand-held communicators and scanners, directed energy weapons, desktop computer terminals and computer speech synthesis. Although these concepts had numerous antecedents in sci-fi literature and film, they had never before been so convincingly integrated into a complete package. Even the ship's automatic doors were an entirely novel feature in 1966, and "Star Trek" is credited as the inspiration for the subsequent real-life development of the now commonplace auto-opening door.
Roddenberry was especially keen to avoid the cliched designs and primitive effects of earlier sci-fi film and TV productions, and "Star Trek" was notable for using the very best visual effects available at the time. His brief to Jeffries for the design of the starship, now renamed "USS Enterprise", was simply to avoid all the old space-travel cliches -- no rockets, no fins, no jet exhausts or smoke trails -- although Jeffries had to fight Roddenberry to keep the ship's exterior as simple as possible.
Jeffries' starship concept went through hundreds of changes and a long consultation process before he finally arrived at the final design which became the template for all subsequent Star Trek space vehicles. Jeffries also developed the main set for the Enterprise bridge (based on an original design by Pato Guzman) and used his practical experience as a WWII airman and his knowledge of aircraft design to come up with the sleek, functional, ergometric bridge layout.
The characters in the original series, and (to a lesser extent) later series, are a diverse multinational group. It was Roddenberry's intent to show that the future of humankind is a more enlightened time in which national borders do not divide people from working together.
Like' Star Wars, "Star Trek" was notable for the fact that it made stars of its cast of largely unknown actors. Kelley had appeared in many films and TV shows, but mostly in smaller roles. Shatner and Nimoy also had previous TV and film experience but neither was very well-known (although Shatner had starred memorably as the terrified air traveller in the classic Twilight Zone episode "Terror at 20,000 Feet"). But Star Trek's casting certainly contrasted with that of its rival "Lost In Space" which featured several famous actors including Zorro star Guy Williams and Bill Mumy, who was at the time one of America's leading juvenile actors.
The three main characters in the original series were Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy, and science officer Spock. These three were a strong group who played well off each other and who were popular with viewers: Kirk was passionate and resourceful, Spock was calm and logical, and McCoy was sardonic and spoke his mind.
The half-human and half-Vulcan Spock, who possessed superhuman intellect and strength, was clearly based on Sherlock Holmes. As the only non-human character starring in the original cast, he was meant to be a dispassionate observer against whom the strengths and flaws of humanity could be seen more clearly. The Spock character was at first rejected by network officials who feared that his vaguely 'satanic' appearance (with pointed ears and eyebrows) might prove upsetting to some viewers. Indeed, Roddenberry discovered that the network had airbrushed out Spock's pointed ears and eyebrows from press photos of the character in publicity material sent to network affiliates in the more conservative southern states. But Spock went on to become one of the most popular characters on the show, arguably due to his role as the peaceful and impassive foil to Dr. McCoy's impassioned country-doctor personality.
The series was created during a time of cold war politics with Socialist nations, and the plots of its episodes occasionally reflect this. The original series infrequently shows encounters with other advanced spacefaring civilizations, including the Klingons (presumed to represent the Soviet Union) and the Romulans (presumed to represent the Chinese), both of which were involved in separate "cold wars" with the Federation. However, the historical cold war is clearly portrayed as a thing of the past in the series: several human characters bear Russian names.
Many episodes of the original series involve encounters with powers much greater than that of the ship and its crew. These powers take many forms: advanced alien races with psychic powers; rogue alien machines; and even, in one case, a god. Sometimes a member of the ship's crew would acquire godlike powers in some freak accident, almost invariably bringing doom upon themselves or the crew. A cautious attitude towards automation prevails; in many episodes, Captain Kirk frees alien cultures from repression by dictatorial computers.
Most situations of this type are resolved when the power in question comes close to enslaving or destroying the ship and crew, only to be saved by Kirk. His usual strategy is to outwit the antagonist and make impassioned appeals to humanistic values. Episodes usually end with a moral being summarized and a bit of humor to finish on a lighter note.
In terms of its writing, Star Trek is also notable as the first science fiction TV series to utilise the services of leading contemporary science fiction writers, such as Harlan Ellison, as well as established TV writers. Series script editor Dorothy C. Fontana (originally Roddenberry's secretary) was also a vital part of the success of Star Trek -- she edited most of the series and wrote around a dozen episodes, although her contributions were greatly underrated at the time. She went on to write several episodes of the first series of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but she left the show before the second series and was later critical of the direction of the new series, and Roddenberry's domination of the show and his reputed tendency to take credit for the its success.
Outstanding episodes of the original series include "The Menagerie" (the original's only two-part episode, written by Gene Roddenberry and using footage derived from the unused first pilot "The Cage"), "The Trouble with Tribbles" (written by David Gerrold), "The City on the Edge of Forever" (Harlan Ellison), "The Devil in the Dark" (Gene L. Coon), and "Balance of Terror" (Paul Schneider). While most episodes of TOS were self-contained, there were several notable themes throughout the entire series. Arguably, the most important was the exploration of major issues of 1960s America, like sexism, racism, nationalism, and global war. Roddenberry believed that with new perspectives, the public would view those issues differently in their own lives - but some critics accused him of peddling left-wing propaganda.
For example, certain Original Series episodes, such as "The Apple" and "The Return of the Archons", display subtle yet clearly present anti-religious themes. Episodes such as "Bread and Circuses" and "The Omega Glory" have themes that are more overtly pro-religion and patrotic, but some have suggested that episodes such as these, which also tended to be among the more poorly written and unbelievable of the series, were merely attempts by Roddenberry to pander to traditional, mainstream American sensiblities in fear of being censored. However, it is important to remember that network interference, up to and including wholesale censorship of scripts and film footage, was a regular occurrence in the 1960s and Star Trek suffered from its fair share of tampering. Many scripts had to be revised after vetting by the NBC censor and according to one book about the series, the gaping mouth of the "salt vampire" monster in the episode "The Man Trap" was actually an in-joke which referred to the network censor's persistent habit of cutting love scenes which featured open-mouthed kisses.
The original series is also noted for its sense of humor. Bickering between Spock and McCoy is friendly yet pointed. Episodes like "The Trouble with Tribbles", "I, Mudd" and "A Piece of the Action" are written and staged as comedies. This humor is much more subdued in following series and movies, with the exception of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
A few episodes have gained proverbiality in American culture for totally unforseen and unintended reasons. Perhaps the best example is "Plato's Stepchildren", in which Mr. Spock's mind is controlled (through a process resembling telekinesis) by denizens of a planet who have somehow chosen Ancient Greece as a role model; while under their influence, Spock plays a harp and sings a song which includes the words "bitter dregs." As a result, some fans of American sports teams which are having an exceptionally poor season have taken to suggesting (such as by writing a letter to the editor of the sports section of their local newspaper or by getting on the air of a sports talk radio station) that the team should entitle its highlight film for that year "Plato's Stepchildren", because the team has become the "bitter dregs" of the league.
See also: List of Star Trek TOS episodes
The wordless theme song appearing in the show is sung by soprano Loulie Jean Norman.
The lyrics to the theme music were published in the book The Making of Star Trek:
- Beyond the rim of the starlight
- My love is wandering in starflight
- I know he'll find in star clustered reaches
- Love strange, love a star woman teaches
- I know his journey ends never
- His star trek will go on forever
- But tell him while he wanders his starry sea
- Remember, remember me.
As reported by Herb Solow and Robert Justman in their book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, Gene Roddenberry wrote them without composer Alexander Courage's knowledge, and without intending for them ever to be sung, so that he would nevertheless get a 50% share of the music's performance royalties. (This practice is old and common in the music publishing business, although some consider it ethically dubious.) Although some recordings of the theme with lyrics exists, many have pointed out that the lyrics do not match the melody and are very difficult to sing.
Sulu and Uhura were not given first names in this series. It has become fanon that Uhura's first name is Nyota, but it is not canon. Sulu's first name, Hikaru, would be finally confirmed in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Chekov was added in the second season, possibly as Roddenberry's decision to represent a Russian on the crew, and possibly as an attempt to attract more teenage viewers (especially girls) to the show.
Notable guest roles