50 years ago
today yesterday, the first episode of Star Trek (now known as ‘The Original Series’) aired. Sci-fi fandom hasn’t been the same since. Hundreds of episodes of TV across five decades, scores of books and comics, big budget movies, video games, copycats and parodies, Trek holds a special place in our pop culture. Star Wars may have the cool laser swords and planet-exploding superweapons, Star Trek – for all the added fistfights – made you a better person.
The Original Series was the first show I ever watched that dealt with real social issues which despite the show’s 1960’s roots, were still relevant. Star Trek made you think about the consequences of the action, even as they had to shoehorn in a ridiculous fight with papier-mâché rocks to try and stay on the air. Sure, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” may have been heavy handed, but for ten year old me this was the first show that dealt with racism in a way I understood. I came for the Frank Gorshin, but left asking my parents why those two men thought they were so different.
But the best part of Star Trek was how it brought my family together. My dad, I think, was the driving force, he loved TOS due to the “Wagon Train to the stars” aspect. I can still remember us gathering to watch Encounter at Farpoint together. Looking back, it wasn’t the greatest premiere episode, but it still had a sense of wonder about it that captured my attention. It didn’t hurt that it had John de Lancie mugging for the camera as Q. Most likely I hit The Next Generation at exactly the right time – young enough to forgive the inconsistency of the first few seasons, but then maturing with the show as it truly hit its stride a few years in. That led into Deep Space Nine, which remains one of my all-time favorite shows, and the one that best continued the Trek legacy of examining real-world issues through a sci-fi lens.
I am looking forward to the new Star Trek: Discovery show, as it looks like it may be a return to form for Star Trek after the uneven, action-oriented ‘Kelvin-verse’ movies. And if it doesn’t, there’s always “The Squire of Gothos”, “The Trouble with Tribbles”, “Inner Light”, “The Visitor”, “In The Pale Moonlight”…