50 years of Star Trek

William Shatner in 2005
William Shatner in 2005

On September 8, 1966 the TV show “Star Trek” made its debut in the USA. Today it’s also referred to as the original series to distinguish it from the shows produced in the following decades.

Gene Roddenberry created the first draft for a science fiction TV show taking ideas from various sources, not only within this genre but also in the western genre, in which he had experience as a writer. The frontier of the Old West was transformed into the frontier of space in a starship to explore it.

In 1964, Gene Roddenberry presented his idea to the production company “Desilu Productions”, which saw its potential. The original concepts were revised for the first time in the production of the pilot episode “The Cage”. The first attempt to sell the series to CBS failed because the episode was deemed too cerebral but the channel’s executives were impressed by the concept and decided to commission a new pilot episode, an unusual fact.

In the new pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, the crew of the starship Enterprise was almost completely changed. In “The Cage” the character of Number One is logical while in “No Man Has Gone” that trait became specific of Spock.

Due to financial problems, “Desilu Productions” was on the verge of canceling the project before it was born but eventually it was developed and bought by NBC so the production of the first season could begin. Majel Barrett, who played Number One in “The Cage”, played Nurse Chapel in the series and gave the Enterprise computer its voice. The crew was completed after a few episodes by the starship’s medical officer, Dr. McCoy.

“Star Trek” cast consists of:

  • William Shatner (photo ©Jerry Avenaim) as James T. Kirk
  • Leonard Nimoy (photo ©Kelly Walker) as Spock
  • DeForest Kelley as Leonard “Bones” McCoy
  • James Doohan as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott
  • Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura
  • George Takei as Hikaru Sulu
  • Majel Barrett as Christine Chapel / computer voice
  • Walter Koenig as Pavel Chekov (seasons 2-3)

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.

With these words begins the theme of “Star Trek”, set between 2266 and 2269 in a future where humans have overcome their destructive instincts and have started pursueing the ideals of peace and understanding. Reached maturity as a species, humans are in contact with alien species and together with them they formed the “United Federation of Planets”.

Despite this utopian concept, the crew of the starship USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) can be in danger during its mission because in space there are various threats. The production of “Star Trek” was made possible by reducing cerebral moments so the episodes contained action and adventure with fistfights and, consistently with the budget, space battles. However, behind these elements there are others that eventually created the saga’s myth.

In years when there were issues too hot to be openly mentioned on television, in “Star Trek” the trick of setting stories on other planets allowed to circumvent these prohibitions. That’s how for example in the series they talked about war and racism and with moments that made TV history such as the famous kiss between Kirk and Uhura.

In the Enterprise bridge there was an unprecedented diversity with an alien first officer, a woman who was also afro-american, a Japanese, and in the second season a Russian was also included, another brave choice during the Cold War. The great protagonists, however, were Kirk, Spock and McCoy, who formed a unique trio thanks to the perfect combination of their personalities.

Gene Roddenberry had trouble to convince the NBC executives to accept Spock, whose appearance for someone even reminded the devil. However, his popularity became huge for the development of his conflict between his Vulcan and human side that progressively added nuances to the character.

The first season of “Star Trek” didn’t have a great audience, nonetheless was renewed. The audience kept on declining in the second season and only a campaign of letters sent to NBC by the fans led to the production of the third season. However, the show was moved to Friday evening and Gene Roddenberry left the production in frustration.

“Star Trek” was canceled at the end of the third season but the show started being broadcast in syndication on various US channels gaining new fans. This success, although late, led to the set up of an organized fandom and conventions. In addition to repeats of the episodes and fandom activities, initially there were only comic books to help make the movement grow but after a few years things started changing.

In the early ’70s they action figures started getting produced and in 1973 an animated series was produced. With the growing interest in the saga, Gene Roddenberry planned a new TV show but in the end the return of “Star Trek” took place in 1979 with the first of a number of movies. The return on television was only a matter of time and in 1987 the saga returned with the TV show “Star Trek: The Next Generation“, which brought a renewal in that fictional universe.

Leonard Nimoy in 2010
Leonard Nimoy in 2010

50 years later, that quest for utopia seems more relevant than ever. The original “Star Trek” series reminds us that if we hope to get there we must boldly go where no one has gone before.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *