To celebrate today's 46th anniversary of Star Trek, I've reviewed the first seven episodes of this 1960s science-fiction classic, from its excellent remastered Blu-ray...
This is where all those famous voyages began. Star Trek isn't the longest-running science-fiction property in the world (that distinction belongs to Doctor Who, which debuted three years earlier in 1963), but it's easily the most diverse and successful; with five cartoons/sequels/spin-offs, eleven feature films (currently), and all manner of tie-in books, toys and merchandise to its name. Gene Roddenberry first developed the idea of a "Wagon Train to the stars" back in 1964, inspired by the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials from his childhood, but wanted to create something less trifling and more optimistic about mankind's future. Gulliver's Travels was another muse of his, as Star Trek would likewise tell extraordinary stories with a moral backbone propping everything up.
For cultural hermits, Star Trek is set in a 23rd-century depicting a time where humans are part of a peaceful United Federation of Planets. In this era where class, race, religion and currency no longer matter, the admired Federation and its faster-than-light starships instead explore the galaxy. The flagship vessel being the U.S.S Enterprise NCC-1701, commanded by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), which is on a five-year mission "to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."
Kirk's loyal crew consisted of science officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), a member of the elf-like Vulcan race who've learned to inhibit their emotions to embrace pure logic; longtime friend Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelly), the Enterprise's grouchy chief medical officer; chief engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (James Doohan); comms officer Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols); helmsman Hikaru Sulu (George Takei); Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney); and nurse Christina Chapel (Majel Barrett). Chekov (Walter Koenig) wouldn't arrive until the second season...
The idea behind this story is very solid, like a family-friendly The Thing From Outer Space, and obviously the notion of an alien creature that can alter its physical appearance to survive was and continues to be fertile sci-fi territory. Maybe this episode even planted the seed of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's use of Changelings over 40 years later? And while the episode is a little sluggish in places, that's mainly due to the differences between TV made in the '60s and now. What matters is there's an charming eeriness to the alien's presence after Nancy boards the Enterprise and hides in plain sight, and a handful of nice peripheral moments unrelated to the A-story; like Uhura's informal chat with Spock about romance, and Sulu in the botanical lab. It was also unintentionally amusing to note an instance of '60s sexism impinging Roddenberry's idyllic future, with two male crewman practically ogling Yeoman Rand as she sashayed down a corridor carrying a food tray. written by George Clayton Johnson / directed by Marc Daniels
It's a strong concept and D.C Fontana's script treats everything intelligently, helped by a nice performance from Walker and Whitney. There are a few very dated or silly moments (most memorably Kirk in bright red leggings, teaching Charlie judo throws in the ship's gymnasium; or Uhura singing in the mess hall with Spock playing harp), but most of this episode still holds up very well because it's essentially about an awkward teenager trying to deal with his hormones and awareness of his own power. written by D.C Fontana / directed by Lawrence Dobkin
Here, the USS Enterprise encounters a bizarre "magnetic space storm" which claimed the SS Valiant two centuries ago, which has an astonishing effect on Kirk's old pal Lt Cmdr Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood). As the Enterprise limps home on impulse power, a mercury-eyed Mitchell starts to exhibit signs of extra-sensory perception (ESP) and gradually becomes a danger to the crew when he develops a God Complex over his newfound powers of telekinesis and mind-reading. So much so that Kirk's forced to hatch a plot to abandon Mitchell on a nearby planet rich in minerals that may re-power the ship.
Like "Charlie X", this is another story where the crew have to defend themselves from a superhuman aboard their ship, although in many ways this is more of a crowd-pleasing version of that same idea. It's just unfortunate that Mitchell's a sketchier character than Charlie was, and the story makes no attempt to establish him before his transformation takes place. Why does "absolute power corrupt absolutely" in Mitchell's case? He goes from anonymous helmsman to demi-God in the blink of an eye. Still, if you were disappointed with the range of powers shown in "Charlie X", this episode offers more action and thrills; with a rather nice strangulation, floating cup of water, and a fist-fight showdown between Mitchell and Kirk on a foam-rock planet. (Earlier this year, there were rumours this episode's the basis for JJ Abrams' Star Trek 2, and it's easy to see why people think it deserves a second pass.) written by Samuel A. Peeples / directed by James Goldstone
But what worked here was the greater sense of threat to the entire crew, as the Enterprise was dragged towards the planet's surface as it mysteriously condenses. This ticking clock" really elevated what was otherwise an amusing episode where nobody's life was at stake. This also marks the first time where Shatner really felt alive in Kirk's shoes, McCoy's enmity towards Spock was noted ("your blood pressure is practically non-existent; assuming you call that green stuff in your veins blood"), and it was nice to see Majel Barrett (the future Mrs Roddenberry) make her debut as Nurse Chapel. There are only two issues I have with "The Naked Time": the weak ending, where writer John D.H Black throws in time-travel as a symptom of the nosediving Enterprise's escape plan, which felt unnecessary and silly (they accidentally invented time-travel by imploding their engines?!); and how the infection wasn't widespread enough to make the situation feel truly intense and insurmountable. But other than that, "The Naked Time" was a very entertaining and fun hour. written by John D.H Black / directed by Marc Daniels
I especially liked how Good Kirk starts to lose his ability to command a ship when robbed of his worse traits, and Shatner does a decent job creating two different characters. A few things confused or concerned me, however: with the transporter broken and crew stranded on a rapidly-cooling planet's surface, why didn't the Enterprise send down a shuttlecraft as rescue? Also, it was uncomfortable to note that Rand essentially admitted she'd have kept quiet about Kirk's sexual-harassment because, well, he is still the captain. '60s attitudes creeping into Roddenberry's progressive future vision again, undoubtedly. Special mention to this episode's brilliant music, composed specifically for this episode, as it's more typical to recycle score from existing tracks. written by Richard Matheson / directed by Leo Penn
To be fair, the story got steadily less creepy as it developed, with the reveal that Mudd's harem are taking an illegal drug that only makes them appear beautiful to men. But I'm still uncomfortable about an episode where an Irish traveller/thief has women dosed on drugs and wants to sell them to lonely men. Sorry. written by Stephen Kandel (story by Gene Roddenberry) / directed by Harvey Hart