A few more thoughts occurred to me, now that I’ve finished the complete Star Trek original series. First, surely Paramount and Desilu have realized they made a monumental error when they canceled the show after its third season.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but now it’s abundantly clear that the show was really coming into its own as the third season drew to a close. The writers were becoming more imaginative and expanding their story lines beyond the bounds of provincialism that dogged the first two seasons. In fact, the final two episodes, “All Our Yesterdays” and “Turnabout Intruder” were two of the best episodes of the whole series, both in terms of the science fiction concepts they explored and the quality of the acting. Shatner did an impressive job acting as a slightly mad, power-hungry, jilted woman in “Intruder,” and Nimoy was amazing in “Yesterdays” as Spock slowly reverted to a more primitive Vulcan. One can only imagine what amazing episodes would have been produced if the short-sighted studio execs had let the Enterprise complete her five-year mission.
Also included in the DVD set was the original pilot, “The Cage,” starring Jeffry Hunter as Captain Chris Pike. Hunter was a very credible captain for the Enterprise, and I think the series would have done fine had he remained in that role (though it is hard to imagine anyone other than Kirk as captain of the Enterprise!). It was also clear from that pilot that Gene Roddenberry was well ahead of his time. He made an effort (within what the studio would allow) to point out the foolishness of racism and to create a world in which all races were equal. (He fought the studio very hard to keep Michele Nichols on, even though the “suits” pressed to have her removed from the show.)
He took similar pains to confront the rampant sexism of the time. Even though Pike made a comment about “still not being used to having women on the bridge” (a sign of the times), the second in command of his Enterprise was nonetheless a woman (Majel Barret, who would become Roddenberry’s wife and would later serve as Nurse Chapel; she was also the voice of the computer in Star Trek: The Next Generation). All the Enterprise women on that pilot wore pants, just like the men, something that makes a whole lot more sense than miniskirts when dealing with space exploration (or just about anything else, for that matter). One can almost hear the studio suits demanding that if Roddenberry wanted the go-ahead for the show, the female command officer had to go and all the women had to wear miniskirts. They got their way on that one.
However, Roddenberry got the last laugh. Even though the two top command officers in Next Generation were male, several episodes of that series featured female captains (as did Star Trek: Voyager), and the captain of Deep Space Nine was black. And the women wore pants.
In Next Generation, Roddenberry resurrected terminology that was used in the original pilot but never again used in that series. Pike called Barret “Number One,” which Captain Picard used in Next Generation to refer to Riker. Pike also used the term “engage” for engaging the warp drive, another term that never made it past the pilot but appeared years later in the Next Generation lexicon.
Finally, it was interesting to see in the pilot that neither Roddenberry nor Leonard Nimoy had pinned down Spock’s unique character. In that episode, Spock seemed to show emotion, shouting at times and even once smiling as he observed a strange “singing” plant. By the time the series was given the go-ahead and filming began with Shatner, Spock had become characterized as an emotionless, logical Vulcan, a characterization that the writers ultimately hammered on ad nauseum.
For those Trekkies out there, I’ll no doubt have more to say once I’ve watched every episode of Next Generation (which I now have on DVD!). For the non-Trekkies, I’m done posting about Star Trek for now!