The little show that could. Star Trek started without great expectations but became a pop culture phenomenon that inspired an almost religious-like cult devotion from fans that has lasted for over fifty years and spanned generations.
With the arrival of Star Trek Discovery this weekend it seems like a good time to review the Star Trek television franchise as a whole, its impact on our lives and science fiction on television, and to ask, as a fan what’s your favorite Trek?
Once upon a time, back on September 8th, 1966 a little science fiction series appeared on TV that was met with a lukewarm reception (the Nielson ratings were low) and canceled after three seasons. It was an adventure series about humanity’s interstellar exploration of “the final frontier” The crew featured a diverse group of humans and one pointy-eared alien. That show was, of course, Star Trek. The series was produced from September 1966 to December 1967 by Norway Productions, and Desilu Productions, and by Paramount Television from January 1968 to June 1969. Science fiction author Gene Roddenberry created the series based on a more optimistic and hopeful vision of humanity’s future among the stars.
Years after its relatively short run on network television the show attracted a loyal following in syndication and became a pop culture sensation and phenomenon that blossomed into an entertainment industry juggernaut and developed into a franchise unlike any other, and bigger than just about anything previously created for television or even movies. It has had an immense impact on modern culture in many ways. Phrases like “The final frontier,” and “beam me up” have become accepted as part of the lexicon of our modern language, no matter what language one speaks. They are part of something greater than the sum of its components that crosses borders without restriction and is a universal part of modern life that unifies people everywhere.
Star Trek went on to inspire many imitators both on television and in movies. It also served as the basis for books, comics, animated TV series, games, merchandise, fan conventions and more. The original series gave birth to four spinoffs, Star Trek The Next Generation, which revitalized the franchise nearly 20 years later in 1987, Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and prequel series Star Trek Enterprise. Now, at long last, with the arrival of Star Trek Discovery, fans finally have reason to hope that after a long slumber and two less than stellar movies the Trek franchise is ready to rise again back in its original home, television.
The various editions of Star Trek all have their strengths, and weaknesses while each appeals to us in different ways for many reasons. Some of us love them all and some not so much. We have our reasons for which we like more and which we like less. As a fan of Star Trek, with so many to choose from, which is your favorite Trek?
Star Trek TOS (The original series 1966 -1969): The series that started it all became the foundation for that followed, and in the role did a considerable amount of heavy lifting in being the genesis of a mythology that eventually took on a life of its own. The stories help establish a universe as much as the iconic characters they introduced; James T Kirk the all too human natural born leader who preferred to be on the front line with the crew he commanded. His outside-the-box and unorthodox way of seeing things were as much intuitive as it was the result of a keen intellect. A man of action, able to think on his feet and improvise solutions at a moment’s notice.His qualities set the standard for all the Captains that followed. Kirk was as much of a swashbuckler as he was a diplomat. Spock, who served as a constant reminder of the emotional part of our nature and irrationally intuitive part of our makeup as well as eventually evolving into an enduring symbol of friendship, loyalty and what they truly mean. Doctor McCoy, part brilliant scientist, and part cowboy movie cranky doctor trope; and Scotty who had a way with machines and technology that was simply in his blood.
Star Trek TOS also introduced a lot of firsts like the Federation, an uneasy alliance of planets and their people. Future technology included the transporter, the food replicator, the phaser, communicator and other futuristic gadgets as well as the show’s most enduring symbol, the Enterprise (NCC-1701). The show’s early primitive, pre-CGI practical effects were a part of its charm as well as the hair and fashion choices for the series. Star Trek TOS was one of a kind.
Star Trek TNG (The Next Generation 1987-1994): Nearly twenty years after the original series, The Next Generation picked up the torch and carried it forward into the future. Using many of the same tropes and parameters established in TOS, and taking place one hundred years after, the show was a sleeker and more stylish version of the series it replaced as a sequel. In place of Kirk was Jean Luc Picard, more of a thinking man’s Captain. The ship’s crew seemed organized in a more formally militaristic fashion in sharp contrast to the more casual approach depicted in TOS.
The series introduced some updates not only in style but other ways as well; it introduced the holodecks for example, and the still-developing technology of using CGI was on full display. The series was revolutionary in other respects. Also, it introduced Worf the first Federation Klingon officer and Data a sophisticated android with artificial intelligence who was also a fleet officer.The series also introduced the Borg and the Q continuum both great science fiction creations. The ship while organized in a more formal military style included families and children as part of its complement. While still incorporating the same elements of drama and adventure, TNG was at its core, a mystery series, and the show’s stories often revolved around finding a solution to a puzzle or solving a mystery of some kind.
Star Trek Voyager (1995 -2001): Based on the classic Greek Odyssey mythology, Voyager was a series that told the story of the long voyage home for the young, inexperienced crew of a Federation training ship. Voyager was transported thousands of light years away from the human occupied regions of the Milky Way by advanced alien technology. The show was unique in that it was the first to feature a female Captain, a big deal then but not so much now. Like the Odyssey, it featured adventures along the way that included meeting strange new alien races and cultures, as well as mysteries and a myriad of setbacks to completing its journey. The series introduced the first borg to be deprogrammed and returned to a more human existence in Seven-of-Nine, a female human who the Voyager crew rescued from her Borg captivity. The series chronicled the ship’s journey and adventures along the way until settling into a good old-fashioned catfight between a Borg queen and Janeway, the ship’s Captain, near the series end.
Star Trek Deep Space Nine (aka DS9 1993-1999): Another show that included all of the qualities of the other Trek series, Deep Space Nine was a complex and engaging story rich in science fiction concepts including its chief protagonist being the subject of alien intervention in his life since before he was born. Benjamin Sisko faces the complicated situation of becoming a highly regarded Bajoran religious figure known as the Emissary while also carrying out his duties as commander of a space station located in the strategic eye of the storm in a coming war. The aliens dwell outside of time and in another dimension that is connected somehow to a rare astronomical phenomenon, a stable wormhole. The aliens are also the basis for the religious beliefs of a planet and its people Bajor the planet in question is also the subject of a story about a recent war that took place in which their world was conquered and occupied by the Cardassians, a militaristic warlike race of humanoid aliens. The mix of elements in the series made for rich, engaging storytelling, and as if that was not enough, the series developed into a story about an interplanetary war involving the Federation that also included several species such as the Romulans, The Klingons and another shapeshifting species known as the Dominion. DS9 also introduced the first Federation ship built for war, The Defiant.
Star Trek Enterprise (2001-2005): This prequel series did not seem to connect with a lot of fans as much as the other Trek series, but I thought there was a lot to like about the series. For example, it turned the entire Vulcans as the “superior-always logical” race story on its head as well as our relationship with them. It did some other interesting things as well including Commander Schran an Andorian played by JeffreyCombs who establishes an unusual relationship with the show’s chief protagonist Captain Jonathan Archer who commands the very first edition of the starship Enterprise (NX-01). The show got lost in a time travel subplot to some degree (never a good idea) but also introduced one of the best story arcs of any Trek series in its story about the Xindi and the resulting war. The series also included a female Vulcan, T’Pol who interestingly sided with her human crew on several occasions when faced with ethical decisions involving blind loyalty to her Vulcan superiors or doing the right thing. The show was also interesting in how it showed the development of technology with early examples of gadgets that would become commonplace in Trek series later.
So there you have it, which series is your favorite? They were all great shows in their way, and There’s no denying how much impact Star Trek had by contributing so much of its high-quality vision of the future to genre movies and TV. It seems some things never change, and word has it that Star Trek Discovery will continue a Trek tradition by doing its version of an alternate dark universe story sooner rather than later. Like a lot of fans, I have a lot of hope pinned on Discovery and have my fingers crossed it will be great. I a have heard it involves the war between the humans and Klingons, I am very curious if the series will include a portrayal of such legendary stuff as the Battle of Kitimer and other outer space battles as part of the show. Live long and prosper.