As 2016 closes to end with its many tumultuous and tragic toll over this year, I wanted to also highlights some of the good things that happened on a personal level this year. One of them is discovering “Star Trek” through watching “Star Trek The Original Series” as 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the original series on NBC.
For a long time now since my initial exposure to Star Trek universe when I was a kid, the airing of the original (remastered) episodes on BBC America provided a plato how I learned to stop worrying and love being a new member of the Trekkie family. As I am finished up binging on the original series (I am in the almost done with the first-half of Season 3, watched the original movie and the two JJ Abrams movies), I thought it would be great to put that into a blog and why I think Star Trek surpasses Star Wars in many aspects, at least based on my binge level and current knowledge of the lore.
My first experience of Star Trek was maybe when I was 3-4 years old, when the series was aired on some French public TV channel. I was intrigued but quickly stopped by my Dad skepticism about the seriousness of the series, impersonated by Spock Vulcan trait (in other words his pointed ears). So this eagerness was stopped and stayed latent until now, as I moved into Star Wars and fueled by the misconception that Star Trek was boring. This I feel define the rivalry between team Star Wars and team Star Trek.
Indeed both are different and addressing two distinct philosophies: the former is highly impregnated by religion and beliefs (indeed Buddhism, Zen and other religions have highly influenced Georges Lucas) whereas the later is driven by logic, skepticism and critical thinking (that I guess why Star Trek is highly popular amongst scientists and also a trademark of Gene Roddenberry humanism). It is also driven by their very distinct plot development: the former constitutes a clever blending of sword & buckler (lightsabers) and Western (the famous Han solo cantina duel) whereas the later prone the diplomacy approach before the use of violence (even there, the crew use their phasers on stun mode) to solve a hard-time situation. This lack of action in the latter is probably why folks often chastise Star Trek as a boring series due to its lack of action (the first Star Trek Original Motion Picture was indeed exemplifying this stereotype).
However, “Star Trek – TOS” provide a much richer environment than Star Wars although being 10 years older than then Star Wars. In Star Trek, we are not dealing with the Star Wars skeleton crew. We are dealing with a whole navigating team, each with their own expertise, pros and cons. We have Captain James “Jim” P. Kirk (played by William Shatner), a charismatic and womanizing ship captain, seconded by Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy), a Vulcan science officer and champion of logic. Contrasting with Spock personality, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley) provides the mercurial and hard-boiled doctor, using any of the situations to verbally joust with Spock.
In addition, we have key elements that made the series very innovative by its cultural inclusiveness and progressive views:
- Lt. Nyota Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols), a Afro-American woman in place of the key communication officer.
- Lt. Hikari Sulu (played by Georges Takkei) as a Japanese helm officer. Sulu is the man behind the “USS Enterprise” maneuver into warp drive, putting the defenses on and firing phasers and torpedoes against hostile encounters.
- Ensign Pavel Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) a Russian second-in pilot
- Lt. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (played by James Doohan), easily recognized by its strong Scottish accent, key engineer that have the spaceship “USS Enterprise” run in good hands. He is the man behind the transporter that made Star Trek as it is.\
- Nurse Christine Chapel (Majet Barett, Roddenberry love affair and second wife), assistant to McCoy and Spock secret lover.Aside from taking (limited) control of the ship during absence of Kirk, none of them are dispensable (unlike Star Wars in which almost everyone knows how to fight and fly the Falcon Millennium). Almost each episodes of Star Trek is centered about the discovery of a novel planet and its inhabitants or around a spaceship encounters. This is what I love about Star Trek: they don’t go blindly into a planet. They scan it, study it, define its composition and identify any presence of living beings. Even after living beings, the crew stands on a strong ethos driven the Prime Directive: do not interfere with the population technology or beliefs. Observe and limit interactions. Sounds sciencey no? It is. Many things that are appearing in Star Trek have crossed the science-fiction into the science: the use of miniature storage device that almost look like flash drives, the health monitoring system in sick bay that is now a common device in every hospitals….There are things that still into the science-fiction realms like the Tricorder, the propulsion system called warp drive…..The Original Series spans on 79 episodes split in three seasons. Overall most of them are interesting but there are also inequalities: some are excellent, some are just kind of a reheated episode, some are completely weird or infamously bad.
These are some of the greatest episodes that i recommend to watch. Season 1 is certainly one of the best season as there are many episodes that made my favorite list:
Season 1 (1966-1967):
– S01E04: “The Naked Time”. In this episode, the crew is investigating the death of a federation outpost, only to be contained by a transmissible parasite that makes the crew hallucinating and schizophrenic.
– S01E05: “The Enemy Within”. A damn good episode! One of the few written by Richard Matheson (you may heard his name as a screenwriter for many “The Twillight Zone” episodes and “I Legend”). In this episode, a malfunction in the transporter results in having Kirk personality split into two Kirks: the good-hearted Kirk and the evil-minded Kirk. This is the episode in which Kirk appears completely insane!
– S01E07 “What Are Little Made Of”. In this episode, the crew investigates a distress call from Dr. Roger Korby, an exobiologist that is also Nurse Chapel long lost finance. He has been working on creating humanoids replicas and try to use the Enterprise as a vehicle for dominating the world.
– S01E10 “The Corbomite Maneuver”. In this episode, the crew face an encounter with ah alien spaceship, putting the crew into a nerving mouse-and-cat game.
– S01E11-E12 “The Menagerie”. Based on an unaired pilot repurposed in this 2-part episode. It sees Spock mutiny decision to follow Captain Pike’s order, former USS enterprise commander.
– S01E14 “Birds Of Prey”. This is the first episode that introduce us to the Romanian faction, one of the faction at war with the Federation. It is also has this classical feeling of chivalry that was noted in WW1 air and sea battles.
– S01E16 “The Galileo Seven”. This episode is one of the most stressful as Spock and the team are stranded on a transport shuttle crashed into an hostile environment, fighting form their survival and trying to get back into the Enterprise.
– S01E18 “Arena”. This is probably one of the classical episode that looks weird and outdated but yet fascinating. In this episode, Kirk and the captain of a hostile spacecraft (a paper-mache reptile) are put on a planet with only their intelligence and natural resources to develop lethal weapons, as only one will leave this place alive.
– S01E22 “Space Seed”. This is an important episode as it introduces us to “Khan”, one of most fearsome foe of the Star Trek Universe.
– S01E23 “A Taste Of Armageddon”. Thats another great episode by the political meanings. The Enterprise crew arrive in a planetary system that appears thriving and peaceful, only to see that a 500-year war has been running between two factions. A virtual war but with deadly civilian tolls, as each faction have to disintegrate its own civilians as “collateral damage”.
– S01E25 “Devil in the Dark”. This is the episode that was used in one video made from someone of my home region, using a vernacular regional German dialect (Alsatian), with a creature (referred in the parody as “la merde de l’espace”) that terrorise a mining company. One of these weirdest episode highlighted by Spock mind-melding with the creature.
– S01E26 “Errand Of Mercy”. Not a great episode but worth in the list as it is the first episode to introduce the Klingons (their appearance and language will greatly differ in the subsequent iterations).
– S01E28 “The City on the Edge of Forever”. Certainly one of the best episode due to its dramatic tense. Following an accidental injection, a delusional McCoy beams himself into a planet hosting a time-travel portal transporting him, Kirk and Spock into the 1930s depression-era. Kirk and Spock faces not only the dilemma hold by the Prime directive but also the consequence of saving someones death on the historical timeline.
Season 2 (1967-1968):
Season 2 was also very good but some episodes have this feeling of “deja-vu” by using a plot already explored. These are my favorite Season 2 episodes in my list:
– S02E04 “Mirror, Mirror”: Another great epidote in which a disturbance in the transporter beam leads to a mix-up between two parallel universes, sending Kirk and its teammates in which the Federation is more like a pirate and terrorizing organization.
– S02E06 “The Doomsday Machine”. Another favorite episode. In this episode, the Enterprise faces a huge doomsday machine that is fueling on planets and galaxies that he swallows. He sees the demise of an another spacecraft and captain that will make the ultimate sacrifice as a ship’s captain.
– S02E10 ” Journey To Babel”. A unique episode as it brings various races of the Federation into the Enterprise, in particular Spock’s parents. All on a “whodunit” intrigue as well as a unique father-son relationship makes this episode unique and original.
– S02E15 “The Trouble with Tribbles”. THE episode with the fur balls!
– S02E16 “The Gamesters of Triskelion”. One of the action-packed episode seeing Spock, McCoy and Kirk becoming gladiators.
– S02E17 “A Piece of The Action”. What would Star Trek would like if it took place in the 1920’s Chicago prohibition-era? Well this episode!
– S02E21 “Patterns of Force”one of these episodes using a planet as a mirror to human history, in particular to something looking like the Nazi Germany. Worth the seeing.
– S02E24 “The Ultimate Computer”. Before computers were even outside, this episode had this visionary feels as it predicts the danger of considering any computer devices as fool-proof, devoid of any “bugs”. Wargames’ WOPR or Terminator’s Skynet anyone?
– S02E26 “Assignment: Earth”. An odd but fun episode, playing with Star Trek colliding with modern-day (1967-69) Earth, straight in the line of “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (S01E19) episode.
Season 3 (1968-1969):
Season 3 in my opinion started to go into weird direction, brining some of the worst episodes and maybe explaining why the series was plugged off. This seasons feels like a roller-coaster as it feels an a succession of “yeah” and “meh” episodes. Here are some of the best and worst episodes that I was given to see:
– S03E01 “Spock’s Brain”. The worst episode in my opinion, just look at the plot: A lost civilization sent a woman into the Enterprise, put everyone to sleep to steal Spock’s brain. Not only Spock remains alive without a brain, even better McCoy find a way to make a remote-controlled Spock!
– S03E02 “The Enterprise Incident”. Maybe of the best of that season, in which Kirk and Spock decide to stealthy steal a Romanian technology. One of the few times Spock kicks away his logic and use his seduction to the female Romulian ship captain to plot the theft. When James Bond collides with Star Trek, it makes one interesting episode.
– S03E03 “The Paradise Syndrome”. Another terrible episode in which Kirk becomes amnesic and fall in love with a Native-American like indigenous inhabitant and becomes a God-like symbol.
– S03E05 “Is There in Truth No Beauty”. Another terrible episode in which Kollos, a Medusean ambassador is locked into a box due to transportation, any human seeing Kollos (in other words the inside content of that box) become insane before dying. I never knew that psychedelic visuals would make someone to die, unless you are on LSD. I guess that was maybe the message behind that episode “Don’t do drugs”.
– S03E07 “Day Of The Dove”. Thats another great episode in which Kirk and a rival Klingon ship have to work together to fight a common enemy, an energy-made creature feeding on anger and violence.
-S03E08 “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”. Not a great episode but worth mentioning as it has the only episode in which McCoy have a love affair with a priestess from a drifting spaceship turned into an asteroid.
– S03E09 “The Tholian Web”. One of the darkest episode. As Kirk investigates the wreckage of USS Valiant, the crew faces multiple challenges that put them into the most challenging situation: a disease that makes crew members bezerk, Captain Kirk declared dead by Spock only to be found lost into another dimension running low on oxygen, the attack of a Tholian fleet resulting in major casualties and mechanical damage, putting Spock and McCoy into the most tense decisional fight in decision making.
– S03E10 “Wink of an Eye”. A very boring episode in which Captain Kirk moves at the speed of light following the incursion of some aliens inside his ship. The only noteworthy moment in my opinion is when Captain Kirk went the extra mile, above the call of duty with the female alien :p.
– S03E11 “Eylaan of Troyius”. An interesting but also weird episode, with Kirk having to discipline a tin-foil clad but spoiled princess and a sabotage by some Klingons. We knew Kirk was a womanizer but making up with a princess-bride was priceless.
– S03E12 “Whom God Destroys”. An overall okay episode taking place in a space asylum taken by Garth of Izard, a former Starlet captain turned psychopath (and capable to take others apparence). What make this episode very interesting? Two things: seeing the false Captain Kirk getting loco as Scott refuses to beam him inside the Enterprise, the cruauty of Garth that does not hesitate to let suffocate Marta (her love affair from Orion) by exposing her to deadly poisonous gases but also to explode her alive remotely all on the prime-time screen.
– S03E14 “The Mark of Gideon”. A bizarre episode in which the Enterprise try to establish diplomatic contact with the habitants of the Gideon Planet. The only problem is that such planet is overpopulated by mute folks in spandex moving using Brownian movement. Choosing Kirk for helping to control the population is certainly sarcastic.
– S03E19 “Requiem For Methuselah”. I liked this episode as it has some Twillight Zone twist to it. The Enterprise is beamed down a planet to harvest and extract some ryetalyn to treat some a Rigelian fever outbreak (I wonder if there is any association with the Ritalin drug used for ADHD patients). At the surprise of the captain, they found two humanoids on the planet that not what they appear to be.
– S03E20 “Way to Eden”. Oh my, this is an awful episode. Imagine hippies into space looking for their ashram and raising a mutiny inside the Enterprise. Ugh!
– S03E21 “The Cloud Minders”. An interesting episode by its inspiration for Lando Carlissian’s cloud city of the Bespin planet. It has also a strong inspiration with Fritz Lang “Metropolis” by the social class divide (the intellectually poor are relegated to terranean surface, whereas the rich ones are living in the clouds).
– S03E22 “The Savage Curtain”. Another interesting one, as the crew of the USS Enterprise are encountered by a replica of Abraham Lincoln, only to be forced to participate in a gladiators game similar to “Arena”. Kirk, Spock and Lincoln team with Saruk (a legend amongst Vulcan history) into a deathmatch against some of the greatest villain of Earth History including Gengis Khan and Captain Green. The second time that a rock-based alien is the center of attention.
– S03E23 “All Our Yesterday”. This is a must-watch, one of the best episode by its darkness and probably the first time Spock showed his human emotion. The USS Enterprise is visiting a planet that has 4 hours to live before its destruction by its star that became a nova. Spock, Kirk and McCoy are beamed down into a library and greeted by the last librarian. At their surprise, the librarian tell them everybody else have left into safety (despite their lack of knowledge in rocket science and space exploration). The trio discovers the fate of its population as they are trapped in some holographic portals.
– S03E24 “Turnabout Intruder”. The last episode before NBC cancelled the production. Also one of the worst episode of TOS franchise. Captain Kirk is visiting Camus II following a distress signal from Dr. Lester, a scientist and former Kirk love affair during its time at the Starfleet Academy. Using an ancient device, Dr. Lester traps Kirk and use it to switch minds. This episode is awfully bad essentially for the mostly misogynistic allure of it. The whole plot is centered on Dr. Lester venality, as women are barred from becoming Starfleet Captain. Dr. Lester also use many mysogynistic techniques such as “slut-shaming”, physical and verbal violence (she tries to kill Kirk imprisoned in Dr. Lester’s body several times) and “gaslightning”.