Gene Roddenberry’s space odyssey first sailed onto the small screen on September 8, 1966. I can remember being allowed to stay up late (I was only 8 at the time!) to watch it with my dad, who was a big science-fiction buff. As a career Navy man, I think he related to the idea of a ship’s travels (he was also a fan of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA). Being a young’un at the time, I was more into the weird creatures the Starship Enterprise crew encountered on their “five-year mission”.
Unless you’ve been living in another galaxy the past half century, you know all the characters. There’s William Shatner as the headstrong Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, emoting as only Shatner can. Leonard Nimoy became something of a teen idol as the logical Vulcan Mr. Spock (something about those pointed ears, maybe?). DeForrest Kelly played the ornery Dr. “Bones” McCoy, forever at odds with Spock’s emotionless thinking. His tagline “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a…(fill in your own word)” became a pop culture punchline, though he only repeated it in eleven episodes. James Doohan (Engineer Scotty), Nichelle Nichols (Communications Lt. Uhura, who shared a then-controversial interracial kiss with Kirk in a 1968 episode), George Takei (Helmsman Sulu), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Chekov, who joined in Season Two) round out the Enterprise’s crew.
What set STAR TREK apart from other sci-fi shows was the writing. Television viewers were used to juvenile space operas like CAPTAIN VIDEO AND HIS VIDEO RANGERS and TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET, but Roddenberry was determined to mix social commentary in with the futuristic proceedings, and hired some of the best science fiction/fantasy writers around. Top names like Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, George Clayton Johnson, Jerry Sohl, and Theodore Sturgeon crafted intelligent, thought-provoking scripts light years apart from the old comic strip stylings of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
Everyone has their own personal favorite episodes, and I’m no different, so here are my Top Ten STAR TREK episodes:
- “City on the Edge of Forever” (Season 1, Episode 28; D: Joseph Pevney W: Harlan Ellison)- McCoy travels through a time portal and changes the course of history, so Kirk and Spock must correct it by following him to Depression Era New York. Joan Collins guest stars as Edith Keeler, who must die to prevent the Nazis from winning World War II. I think this is the best of the entire series, and many Trekkies agree with me. Powerful in every department.
2.”The Trouble With Tribbles” (Season 2, Episode 15; D: Joseph Pevney W: David Gerrold)- Without a doubt the funniest episode, and a very close second for me.An important grain shipment on Deep Space Station K7 is threatened by Tribbles, furry little creatures that multiply prolifically when fed. One of the series’ strongest supporting casts, with the late William Schallert, William Campbell, Stanley Adams, Whit Bissell, and Michael Pataki.
3.”Space Seed” (Season 1, Episode 23; D: Marc Daniels W: Gene L. Coon and Carey Wilbur)- The episode that introduced Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonein Singh, a genetically altered megalomaniac from Earth’s past who shanghais the Enterprise and its crew. Montalban returned to do battle with his nemesis Capt. Kirk in the best of the STAR TREK films, 1982’s STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN.
4.”Assigment: Earth” (Season 2, Episode 26; D: Marc Daniels W: Art Wallace)- The Enterprise travels back in time to 1968, where they encounter Gary Seven (Robert Lansing), an alien sent to avert the nuclear destruction of Earth. This was the pilot for a new sci-fi series to star Lansing and Teri Garr, but it wasn’t given the green light. Too bad, because this is one of STAR TREK’S top entries, and the idea held much promise.
5.”A Piece of the Action” (Season 2, Episode 17; D: James Komack W: David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon)- Another humorous episode with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beaming down to a planet molded after Roaring Twenties gangster days. Anthony Caruso and Vic Tayback play the bosses of rival gangs out to control Sigma Iotia II. Kirk and Spock dressing and acting like old Warner Brothers hoods is a riot!
6.”The Naked Time” (Season 1, Episode 4; D:Marc Daniels W: John DF Black)- A space virus infects the Enterprise crew, causing them to lose all inhibitions. George Takei has called this his favorite episode, and who can blame him- he gets to jump around like a swashbuckling Errol Flynn!
7.”Patterns of Force” (Season 2, Episode 21; D: Vincent McEveety W: John Meredyth Lucas)- Kirk and Spock visit planet Ekos to search for missing Federation observer John Gill, and discover he’s become the leader of a culture patterned after Nazi Germany. Another fine “message” episode featuring David Brian (FLAMINGO ROAD) in the role of Gill.
8.”The Devil in the Dark” (Season 1, Episode 25; D: Joseph Pevney W: Gene L. Coon)- Mining planet Janos VI is being threatened by a mysterious space creature called the Horta. A plea for tolerance of “the other” disguised as science-fiction, William Shatner has said this is his favorite episode.
9.”Amok Time” (Season 2, Episode 1; D: Joseph Pevney W: Theodore Sturgeon)- Spock is suffering from the Vulcan condition known as “pon farr”, and must return to his planet to mate or he will die. Kirk joins him, and the two friends must battle to the death when T’Pring requests a challenge. (Celia Lovsky , who plays Vulcan leader T’Pau, was once married to actor Peter Lorre.)
10.”Mirror, Mirror” (Season 2, Episode 4; D: Marc Daniels W: Jerome Bixby)- The Enterprise meets and battles its evil doppelgänger from a parallel universe. Though this plot has been used over and over in the sci-fi genre, this episode does a great job, with dual roles for everybody.
STAR TREK has spawned four TV sequels, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, STAR TREK: VOYAGER, and STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE, with a fifth scheduled to premiere in 2017 on the streaming channel CBS All Access, titled STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. There was even a Saturday morning cartoon series in 1973 featuring the original cast lending their voices to the characters. Thirteen feature films based on the Star Trek Universe have been made, including the most recent, STAR TREK BEYOND. Now one of the most popular science-fiction franchises of all time, it’s hard to believe STAR TREK almost got cancelled in its second season, saved only by a letter-writing campaign by its fervent fans. After the third and final season, the 79 episodes went into syndication, where it found its audience. Trekkie conventions sprung up, and the series became a pop culture phenomenon. These days, its referred to by fans as STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, but to me it’ll always be just STAR TREK. Happy Golden Anniversary, Enterprise crew… here’s to fifty more years of going “where no man has gone before”!
(Do you have a favorite episode or any STAR TREK memories to share? Feel free to comment below!)