Wednesday, 9 July 2014
Star Trek - Series One
Where No Man
Has Gorn Before
Star Trek Series One
Produced by Gene Roddenberry
Paramount BluRay Region A/B
The Final Frontier.
It was back in 1973, I think, when I first started watching the voyages of the Starship Enterprise on BBC1 via my parents old TV set. I was five years old. The year is pretty easy to place for me, actually, because I must have liked the show so much that, at the end of that year, my folks got me the Star Trek Annual 1973, one of many hardcover annual editions put out in the UK with full colour reprints culled from the US Star Trek comic put out by Gold Key. I remember, I used to read that and subsequent annuals a lot until well into my teens.
I loved the show but I was never, at the time, able to appreciate it in colour and it was not until the mid 1980s that I was finally able to see the full spectrum of the show in some much later re-runs. By then, I was a fully fledged Star Trek fan. Merchandise and toy manufacture was not quite as gung ho in those days when it came to tie-ins with film and TV as it became post Star Wars (around about 1978) but there were a few Star Trek items I had in the early to mid 1970s, in addition to the annuals, that I was proud to be the owner of.
My first item was the old Mego action figure of Captain Kirk which I took home with me after my parents spotted it at an early 1970s Ideal Home Exhibition. Mr. Spock was added to my horde within a year. I also grabbed a very handy, paperback reference book from either Dark They Were And Golden Eyed or Forbidden Planet (my two favourite shops at the time) called The Star Trek Catalogue, which probably would seem quite primitive in style to fans today but, back in the 70s, it was the essential guide to the show and included a handy episode guide to the series. I also had another episode guide to the show in a book called Fantastic Television, another essential 1970s book purchase for the discerning sci-fi fan. As were The Star Trek Blueprints and the Dinky die-cast Starship Enterprise (mine broke in a way far more devastating than any found in the original series... but I'm not going to disclose on how that happened).
Then came the 12 famous Star Trek fotonovels which were released by Bantam (and a couple by Corgi too), which were a great way to catch up with the show in an age when re-runs were still fairly scarce and the concept of easy to purchase and watch video tapes were something the majority of the nation couldn’t even begin to comprehend back then. They just hadn’t quite been invented yet. I guess people from later generations must find it difficult to imagine that the planet was stuck in a time when you couldn’t just decide to sit down and watch something you wanted to watch. If there was a film you wanted to revisit, you’d scour the TV listings for years, since there was usually a good two to four year gap between the same film being shown again. It really was a different world we were living in back then and home entertainment systems were pretty much a needle dropped onto a vinyl surface or a bunch of printed pages bound together. That was it, unless you got something like the Scalextric or a train set out. Or played with your Action Man.
I’ve been meaning to revisit this show for some time now but I had been steadily avoiding the recent DVD issues because of either re-tracked in music in the odd episode where license fees were not paid or, in the current re-issues, a lack of being able to see the episodes in their original state at all. A few years ago, Paramount got all “George Lucas” on the show and reshot all the special effects sequences of these things and inserted them into the episodes, along with creating a new title sequence and, even worse, rerecording the opening theme on those titles. However, when I read that on the new Blu-Ray issues, unlike the DVDs, you had the choice to watch them with their original and, sometimes dodgy looking, effects sequences etc. back in place, I knew that these would be the versions to watch.
So here I am.
And I have to say, it was absolutely great watching this first season again.
When you think of classic and groundbreaking television of the era, shows which really dared to go where no man had gone before, Star Trek was very much ahead of its time. While I was watching these it very much put me in mind of an earlier show from the late 1950s and early 1960s which explored similar territory... that is, the territory of ideas... The Twilight Zone (which I am also currently rewatching on Blu Ray, my first series review is here). Science fiction has always been a style of prose where, because of the fantastic realms you can get away with in that genre, you could explore the ideas related to the human condition in such a way that you could push further and take it to extremes you couldn’t get away with in other formats like, say, a hospital soap opera. You can’t examine the idea of the good part of the psyche and the bad part of your psyche and how they would react independent of each other in regular fiction, for example. However, if you have the concept of a transporter beam malfunction which then splits a person into the two separate beings, as it does with Kirk in the season one episode The Enemy Within, you can explore not just the possibility that your id is stronger and more confident than the other part, but also the fact that on their own, those two parts couldn’t exist without certain aspects of the other. Even Robert Louis Stevenson had to use a science fiction base for his own celebrated study of a not dissimilar concept.
This is where shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek really win out, of course, and it’s a stroke of genius that Roddenberry conceived of a format for his show, basically a clipper exploring the stars, that would allow you to be able to bring a whole load of different ideas to the table, just like you could in The Twilight Zone, but with a single, regular cast and a setting that gave enough of an anchor for viewers to see a familiar face each week but be flexible enough to allow for the diverse nature of the stories on offer. And, just like The Twilight Zone, many of those stories were written by gifted science fiction writers who would be very well remembered in years to come.
It was also quite gutsy. When I was watching it again, I was struck how different this series would be if it was made now. There are rarely any punches pulled in the way these stories are told, ideas conveyed. Even when the sequel series, Star Trek The Next Generation, was airing decades later, it was a softer, somewhat watered down and more politically correct version, in some ways, than the good ol’ knock ‘em down, “to the death” days of Kirk and his crew back in the sixties. Blood is spilled, people’s minds are played with and moral stances challenged in the least wishy washy ways you could imagine.
There are many key episodes in this first season which deal with interesting themes. Mudd’s Women, for example, deals with drug addiction fuelled by women who are concerned with their fading beauty as age hits them. Not an idea that would be tackled too easily in our sensitive times today, perhaps, but it even manages to do it with a sense of humour which doesn’t once undercut the pathos of the three ladies in question. Or The Galileo Seven, which is all about the prejudice against Spock and the will to survive and protect the people around you in extreme circumstances when they are almost against you as much as your collective odds of survival. Racial intolerance is also highlighted in this season quite overtly.
Another good one is Miri, which treats adolescence in a similar fashion to William F. Nolan’s novel Logan’s Run, and which guest stars Kim Darby and Michael J. Pollard. And there’s the original story of Khan, as played by Ricardo Montalban in the episode Space Seed, a role he would reprise in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and which Benedict Cumberbatch would help reboot in the recent feature film Star Trek: Into Darkness. Then there’s Arena, where instead of waging a long and bloody war, Kirk has to fight the alien Gorn on a planet, re-invents gunpowder projectiles and shows mercy, thus saving the day.
And, of course, no one can forget the brilliant, award winning time travel story City On The Edge Of Forever by Harlan Ellison, where Leonard Nimoy’s Spock has to convince William Shatner’s Kirk that his new sweetheart from the 1930s, played by young Joan Collins, has to die in order for history to be restored.
This season also includes my two absolute favourite Star Trek episodes ever...
Shore Leave, in which the crew are endangered (and some of them seemingly killed) by events and situations pulled directly from their imagination. The look on De Forrest Kelley’s face as his character, Dr. McCoy, is confronted with the man-size white rabbit from Alice In Wonderland, asking him the time, is absolutely priceless and the whole episode in general shows off the comic capabilities of the ensemble of actors very well. Devil In The Dark, a chase and shoot creature feature, is another one which becomes high concept when it transforms into being about something completely different by the end of the episode... a mother guarding her eggs. The concept was so good, in fact, that the story was pretty much rewritten and reused for the final episode of the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV show in the early 1970s.
This show has brilliant colour and camerawork throughout, throwing bright greens against a wall, for example, even when there is no way that kind of lighting could be naturally occurring in that particular environment. In this way, actually, the show is very Bavaesque in its mise-en-scene.
Another big plus is the level of detail. For a mid-1960s TV show, everything is well thought out and concepts like beacons, sub-space recorders, disc storage and a whole host of things which wouldn’t necessarily be thought of today, are included in the chemical make up of the show. Admittedly, things like uniform colours to show rank or department are a little inconsistent at first, but it all gets worked out by the end of season one. Lieutenant Uhura, for example, looks even more gorgeous wearing the gold variation of her uniform, but eventually the red variant became her regular garb.
The music in the show is phenomenal. There’s lots of original stuff, as the limited edition 15 disc CD boxed set from La La Land showed a couple of years ago, and this is often used in a needle drop capacity throughout many episodes and gives a lot of familiar tunes and textures you can identify with on an episode to episode basis. This is all good stuff (and that CD set is well recommended, by the way).
All in all, Star Trek - Series One is a great start to a show which was cancelled way too early but which came back with a vengeance in the wake of the first feature film. It’s a show which is all about ideas and not necessarily action... although with Kirk and crew in the mix, you can be sure there’s plenty of fist fights and explosions thrown in for good measure. After seeing this series again, I can’t recommend it enough. It has everything a science fiction fan could want... and I can’t wait to start on the next box with series two in it.
Star Trek @ NUTS4R2
Star Trek Series 1
Star Trek - The Motion Picture
Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan
Star Trek III - The Search For Spock
Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home
Star Trek V - The Final Frontier
Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek - Generations (aka Star Trek VII)
Star Trek - First Contact
Star Trek - Insurrection
Star Trek Nemesis
Star Trek Beyond