Star Trek Season 1 (1966)
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan
What a joy to travel back in time to 1966 to those campy sci-fi studio sets, pastel sweatshirts and rubbersuited aliens. Much has changed since those days, a franchise born by audience demand (the original fanboys) which includes six TV series, seven feature films and numerous ancillary merchandising spinoffs.
The original Star Trek Season One, now available on Blu-Ray, is full of so many quotable pop cultural landmarks it’s probably only rivaled by "Casablanca" for quotable lines. It’s interesting to see how polished the franchise has become, the JJ Abrams reboot is arguably the most anticipated movie of the summer, and on a technical level far above the 1966 series. But it’s the content which is king in the Star Trek world - a series originally billed as a 'western in space' deeply exploring themes of sociological, class, politics, economics, racism and feminism, within the numerous adventures in space.
And on the level of entertainment, it's as watchable as when I first saw these shows, for me, in the early 80’s on syndicated re-run television.
Of course, the consistent relationship in the series involves the three leads - Kirk, Spock and Bones. William Shatner as Kirk expresses all the chutzpah, leadership, humanism and ego needed to command a vessel. Shatner is an actor much parodied for his unique speech cadence, but also capable of making the most ridiculous of sci-fi chatter riveting. He stands right in the middle of the dichotomized personality spectrum of Spoke and Bones. Leonard Nimoy is continually fascinating as the emotionally distant half Vulcan-half Human science officer. And Bones McCoy (DeForest Kelly) is the antidote to Spock's extremely logical leanings. As doctor, his bedside manner often helps Kirk understand and appreciate the illogical humanistic flaws which govern decision-making.
The first season features some of the franchise’s best episodes:
Episode 1 is “the Man Trap”. Although Trek purists, consider the episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” as the first. But prior to airing, the pilot and six individual episodes were filmed before the series first went to air. CBS chose to air “The Man Trap” first. There’s no origin story or exposition in this episode, the show opens up with the Enterprise routinely stopping and picking up a pair of explorers on a nearby moon. Little do they know one of them is a shapeshifter looking to take over the ship. It's kind of amazing to watch how many crew members die in this first episode. But the series has never shied away from killing off random crew members, famously tipped off to viewer by their red shirts.
The Romulan episode, "Balance of Terror", introduces one of the great villains of the Trek world. In this episode, Kirk battles wits with a Romulan commander as cunning and crafty as he. It's one of the great 'action' episodes, the characters never leave their vessels, instead playing out the tete-a-tete battle like a couple of WWII u-boats captains encircling each other in the Atlantic Ocean.
The two-part episode "The Menagerie" makes for clever storytelling. Gene Roddenberry makes wonderful use of the original unaired TV pilot "The Cage", which couldn't be shown due to the fact that it used a completely different actor and character as the captain - Cpt. Christopher Pike played by Jeffrey Hunter. In "the Menagerie" the Enterprise meets up with the old Cpt Pike and plays out the episode as if the events in "The Cage" actually happened. Spock takes lead in the episode and covertly commits mutiny against Kirk and the Enterprise. Of course, it's all part of a logical altruistic plan intended to save his old Captain Pike, who is now a helpless invalid. The episode tests the relationship of Kirk and Spock, by putting the crew at the brink of disaster. Of course, JJ Abrams has put the character of Pike in his own reboot film, a clever way of linking back to the original series.
The other treasure of Season One is "Space Seed", the precurser to "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn". It's another action-heavy episode which has Kirk discovering a lost penal colony of genetically-engineered criminals from the 20th century led by Ricardo Montalban's iconic character, Kahn. It's a thrilling episode made even better watching it with the great movie sequel in mind.
The Blu-Ray picture doesn't quite 'pop' like it does in other films. The Blu-Ray medium is only has good as it's original cinematography and like most television of its day, it was a largely flat look. But compared to the washed-out re-run episodes I used to watch, it's like watching a whole new show. The episodes contain 'enhanced' special effects, specifically the transition shots and commercial bumpers of the Enterprise flying past the camera. For the purity of the show, I don't really need to see anything other than the picture quality enhanced, but to their credit the new effects have been created with a look and feel in keeping with the original shots - a sign of the appreciation the Trek franchise producers have for their fans, and the reason for it's longevity in cinema and television. Enjoy.
"Star Trek: The Original Series" is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment