• Charlie King

Star Trek: The Original Series Review

Well, where do I start? It's hard to review Star Trek in a bubble given the phenomenon it became and still is to this day. If you have never properly seen Star Trek (like I hadn't), it is likely you would still know about the main characters, tropes as well as famous and infamous scenes. I watched the newest Star Trek movies first but already knew what to expect in terms of characters and how they act.

Of course, I can't put into context seeing it for the first time in the 1960s to appreciate how different it was to everything else on television at the time but as I viewed The Original Series by itself, I wouldn't have been able to see it be a massive hit with a continuing legacy over 50 years later. That's not to criticise it though. I think what pulled Star Trek through to new series, spinoffs, etc is the potential it had to tell so many stories.

People talk about classic Star Trek races like the Vulcans, Klingons and Romulans. The Klingons are probably the most frequently recurring race (other than Spock as a Vulcan) but it doesn't feel like they get that much attention in the show to warrant them being one of the most well-known races in all of science fiction. Once again, it is the potential to explore the different races further through movies and new series. The open-ended style of the Enterprise's mission means Star Trek was and is open to so many stories where every planet has its own rules, inhabitants have their own power etc. There are so many stories that could be told that gives Star Trek a way to continue.

I was worried in the beginning when every episode even seemed to revolve around someone with a superpower or someone on the ship acting differently but the plots varied soon after. It is certainly not the only show to suffer from it but there are two common plot points the show relies on which grow old fast.

Firstly, the fact that in almost every episode, a crew member dies. I understand the idea is to show that the Enterprise is facing a real threat but it is hard to get invested when the person who died has just appeared on-screen for the first time and given a name (if they are lucky) five minutes before. To even have a character appear in a few episodes before being killed off would have a greater impact. The surviving members barely react to the deaths, little more than 'this is bad for us'.

Secondly, to get us invested, a lot of episodes will have a love interest (usually of Captain Kirk's) to raise the stakes. This would be fine in small doses but it happens quite a lot and the plot basically calls for the characters to fall in love after two hours so they will do anything to save them and will be absolutely torn apart if they don't.

In all honesty, I found most of the episodes to be fairly forgettable whether they were outright bad or just average. It is the sort of thing that would be helped by watching repeats of episodes at random times rather than watching them all in one go and then stopping. I'm reminded of a quote by Fry in Futurama saying how there are '79 episodes, about 30 good ones." It is also a case that some of the bad episodes have that sort of charm that makes them more memorable than the forgettable episodes.

The effects and some of the set designs (for the planets) can be forgiven given what they could do at the time but what can't be forgiven is the comically bad fight scenes in the show. I actually enjoyed the episode with the Gorn despite possibly the least dramatic fight in television history. It is fair enough if the Gorn is supposed to be slow but Captain Kirk still only just about dodges the slow swipes coming towards him while his blows, his hands-pressed-together back chop, look incredibly weak but do so much damage. Fights with humans aren't much better; Kirk bouncing off a wall to drop onto a downed enemy comes to mind. Again, the dodgy fight scenes are now considered part of the charm of The Original Series.

The strength of The Original Series is in its characters. While almost all the crew now have icon status, it is hard to see how that was the case as it is only really Kirk, Spock and Bones (as well as Scotty later on) who ever really get enough time to showcase their personality. Captain Kirk is the stoic level-headed captain who leads with a real authority, Spock, the near emotionless officer, with his 'logical' way of thinking while Bones is the brilliant and often grouchy doctor.

The dynamic between Kirk, Spock and Bones is the real highlight of the show for me. It takes a while for Spock's 'logic' to really become a thing in the show but once it does, it stays there and never looks back. Kirk and Spock bounce off each other well while Kirk sits back and smiles as he instigates arguments between Spock and Bones. Kirk has the soft touch, Bones has the hard touch while Spock has the cold, neutral touch. From Series 2, there are a number of episodes which are almost solely focused on these three beaming down to planets particularly as Deforest Kelley (Bones) was added to the title sequence. Of course, another highlight is Spock's facial expressions, particularly his eyebrows, which betray his seemingly emotionless state.

One of the things that comes to mind as (another) charm is William Shatner's perceived overacting. I'm not sure if it is just because I have seen so many references and parodies of it but I didn't really notice it to a great extent. He does, of course, have a very distinctive speech pattern that plays into the suggestion of overacting, the pausing in mid-sentence, emphasis on certain words but I soon just came to accept that as Captain Kirk, rather than critiquing Shatner.

Another impressive part of the show is that though it is fiction, there is a real thought about how the future could really look. If we could travel all over space, we would definitely visit other planets and connect with alien life. The fact that the show considers that one of the rules of space travel is to not interfere with a planet's development is a smart touch which could have easily been ignored by a show like this. It has grey areas on morality rather than simply being humans good, aliens bad because the show acknowledges that humans have been bad; wishful thinking that the world will be at peace in just 150 years+.

From The Original Series, Star Trek has grown and grown into a science fiction mega power so reviewing the series now won't exactly have much impact but it was more curiosity on my part to see how it all started, to see everything that had been referred to or parodied in popular culture. It may not have been obvious at the time it was shown and it wouldn't be obvious to me if I was living under a rock but for all the good and bad, this series started a science fiction juggernaut that has stood the test of time.

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