Trek

I was 11 years old in 1966 when the original Star Trek series debuted. I followed the show devotedly, though in those days the family had only one TV (so I was sometimes overruled on what to watch) and it was a black and white TV (so I didn’t see the show in color until years later). After the series ended in 1969 and it went into syndicated reruns (typically 5 days a week), I became obsessed by it and watched it as often as possible (eventually in color) through my high school and college years. During this period I finally saw the dozen or so episodes I had missed on first run. But since syndicated reruns were always cut by a few minutes, sometimes crudely, to allow for extra commercials, I didn’t necessarily ever see *all* of those episodes.

Eventually I moved on to broader interests and tastes, and while I watched some of the later Trek TV series and movies, one time each at best, I retain a fondness only for the original series.

After some decades, in 2017 I began a systematic re-watch of the series on Blu-Ray, armed with a collection of related books including the trio of recent books by Marc Cushman, the recently released the complete soundtrack collection, and the exhaustive website Memory Alpha. Here are links to these primary references:

The individual episode posts below are walkthroughs with comments, along several general themes:

  • Considering the episodes at face value, to what extent do they make sense, or not?
  • Considering my slightly dicey history of seeing the original series, mostly in syndication when I was a teenager, would there be scenes in the complete episodes that I would not recognize, because they had always been cut from the syndicated reruns that were the only versions I ever saw?
  • Considering Cushman’s books, what insights into the production process, especially how early drafts of the stories changed, or how the results were affected by post-production, would shed light on how the final episodes came about?
  • Considering what I call ‘intuitive physics’ (or ‘Trek physics’ and ‘Trek astronomy’), how did Trek’s portrayal of the physical and astronomical universe reveal the protocols of storytelling, or simply sloppiness by the producers and writers, in ways that betrayed actual scientific understanding? (The prime if almost trivial example being why the Enterprise makes a swooshing noise as it flies by, in the opening credits.)
  • Considering the era in which Trek was made, how did cultural values of the time, especially the roles of the sexes, and also the presence of physical violence, justify what we see in those episodes that would not be considered appropriate today?
  • Considering the remastered episodes – in which the special effects of the 1960s were updated to the special effects of 2009 or so – would they truly be improvements, in the sense of correcting the astronomical and physics errors of the original productions?
  • Considering James Blish’s ‘novelizations’ (or ‘episode short story adaptations’ to be more accurate), how do they reveal changes in stories from earlier scripts, or did Blish in some cases make improvements on the original scripts?
  • Considering Trek’s music, with so many themes that became familiar without always identifying themselves to any particular episodes, how would study of the ultimate CD soundtrack set, and Jeff Bond’s book, inform understanding of how those themes were created and developed?

These last two points require some general prefaces, though each episode summary includes discussion of its story adaptation and its music as appropriate.

The episodes are listed here in production order, not the order of original broadcast. Each page follows key points in the episode’s plot with a running commentary on the themes above.

Conclusions, summarizing along the same general themes listed above:

  • Face value: do the episodes make sense, or not?
    • Most of the time. There are conveniences of storytelling at times, but there are in all TV shows, especially of that era, when episodes were expected to be seen once or twice and then vanish forever. (Unlike modern shows, especially sf/fantasy, where producers anticipate that obsessive fans might well pore over and over them forever.)
    • But there is the recurrent theme of the unique monster, or the last of its kind, which was implausible and became a cliché.
  • Would I recognize scenes I’d never ever seen?
    • I don’t think I did, with the possible exception of a scene in “A Taste of Armageddon” in the nicely furnished confinement quarters where Kirk and the others are held, which didn’t seem familiar.
  • How would insights into the production process affect reactions to episodes?
    • Most striking is how quickly production happens – remember they were cranking out some 28 episodes in barely more than 28 weeks, even though pre- and post- production went on almost throughout the year with only a few weeks off in the spring before the next season began.
    • Scripts often went through considerable revision, sometimes in startling ways, sometimes in completely understandable ways, e.g. the producer’s job is to enforce a consistency among scripts written independently by many different writers (even Harlan Ellison)
  • Do Blish’s ‘novelizations’ give insights into early script drafts? Or did he actually improve the scripts?
    • Impossible to be sure, but whereas for years I’d thought he really improved the scripts, Cushman’s book revealed, sometimes explicitly, that Blish had been sent early drafts only, e.g. for “Operation-Annihilate.” In a few cases there are obvious Blish touches, e.g. a reference to a Nernst drive from his own stories of the 1950s.
    • Only recently did I discover that the later books weren’t written by Blish, but by his wife and mother-in-law.
  • Intuitive physics – did Trek’s portrayals of physics and astronomy reflect storytelling protocols, or simple ignorance?
    • Some of both, but mostly simple ignorance, e.g. why everyone thought the ship would tumble out of orbit unless the engines were kept on.
  • Cultural values – what do the episodes reveals about cultural values of the time that strike us as odd?
    • A couple specifically: how often fistfights resolved things; how loosey-goosey sexual roles were, an extreme example being the near rape of Yeoman Rand by the ‘evil’ Kirk in “The Enemy Within.”
  • Trek’s music
    • Definitely learned a lot by listening the soundtrack collection and reading Cushman’s and Bond’s books.
    • In particular, can now identify which recurring themes were composed for which episodes, and which episodes simply reused previously composed those theme. And why it worked that way.
  • Remastered special effects – would they simply be prettier, or would they actually correct some of the astronomical and physical errors?
    • Mostly pretty and worth the effort, but many egregious physical errors were not corrected.

Background posts — these were early drafts of material later incorporated into the posts above: