When I first saw Star Trek, it was from behind a sofa. In the late 1980s, my Dad used to watch re-runs of The Original Series and then, when it first aired in 1987, The Next Generation. It used to terrify me, especially TOS: people would get shot, glow an eerie red, and then either die or vanish. Members of the crew were sent insane by incorporeal blobs of light, or have all the salt sucked out of them by a hose-mouthed creature posing as human. The planets were neon, the colours bright, and the stars were exciting places to explore*: so, despite my fear, I was fascinated.
One day, I looked out from behind the sofa during the title credits, and saw the surface of one of the planets billowing up and down. In that moment, I realised that the monsters were people in makeup, that the planets were models and sets, and that there was more to this show than the visceral horror I had hitherto experienced. I began to enjoy the comedy, the camaraderie and, as I grew up, the political, ethical and philosophical issues that the programme raised. The Voyage Home rapidly became my favourite of the films – and you can laugh at me all you want, because it is cheesy, and I know it. I watched it time and again as a rather sickly child, and even though I take it far less seriously now, and purse my lips at its cornier moments and creaky acting, I still love it. I love it because it doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is: as the end of a trilogy which is essentially about the fact that the crew of the Enterprise will do anything for each other, it’s kind of perfect.
I used to hide my Trekkie status, despite the fact that I adored Deep Space Nine well into my teens, and was thrilled when Enterprise came out in my final year of secondary school (even though I’d sort of stopped regular viewing part way through Voyager). These days, however, I make no bones about it, and have been re-watching The Original Series with W and his family – who, mostly, sit on the Star Wars side of The Great Divide. Watching it again nearly 50 years after it first aired, and almost half that since I first watched it, I can appreciate the series in a whole new way.
Now I appreciate the fact that the first season of TOS had no idea what it as, or the phenomenon which it would turn into, and how, because of this, it was able to do and say the most unexpected and daring things. I can appreciate the calibre of writers who took part, such as Theodore Sturgeon, and how they were able to play with genres and forms – comedy (The Trouble with Tribbles), horror (The Enemy Within; Day of the Dove), drama (Amok Time), tragedy (City on the Edge of Forever; The Empath; The Conscience of the King), and even submarine thriller (Balance of Terror). I appreciate how a gawky, uncertain, ‘cerebral’ show grew into itself, and how the characters, lines, and quirks of the show became so recognisable that even people who are in no way into SF can identify them. I appreciate the emotional impact it had upon people, how they identified with, gained strength from and deeply cared about the characters and the actors who portrayed them. I appreciate how the cast, despite personal traumas and internal show conflict, managed to portray and make believable a sense of unity for nigh on forty years.
Yes, in some ways, “Wagon Train to the Stars” came imbued with a sense of cultural imperialism in the form of the Federation. Yes, at its worst, the relationship between humans and non-humans is dubious. However, these things notwithstanding, all the Star Trek crews – and in particular that of the NCC-1701 – show a world in which the differences in people’s backgrounds, politics, personalities and behaviours are recognised and accepted. A world where mistakes are forgiven, and where vulnerabilities and obsessions do not make you weaker, but allow bonds to grow. Some of that utopianism and endeavour exists in the personal lives of the actors: Nichols recruited female and minority personal for NASA, and has served on the Board of Governors for the National Space Society; Takei is an LGBT campaigner and patron of the Japanese American National Museum; Koenig is associated with humanitarian work in Burma. And of course, many of the actors have helped – and even saved – some fans on an individual level, inspiring them to go onto careers in science and engineering.
From Star Trek, I learned that the universe contained a vast array of possibilities: Kol-Ut-Shan, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Dedicated the The Original Crew, living and dead, and in particular to Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015.
* I used to pretend that I was sitting somewhere on the Bridge, whilst watching the Starfield Simulation Screensaver.