Celebrating its 50th anniversary today, the show that launched an entire enterprise remains popular to this day
With today marking the 50th anniversary of the very first broadcast of the original series of Star Trek, it’s worth bearing in mind that the first foray into exploring the final frontier got a colder reception from the viewing public that the icy temperatures on the Klingon penal colony Rura Penthe.
In the Hollywood trade paper Variety, the September 8th, 1966 review of the first episode was not very positive. “And away we go to another planet for the sci-fi buffs to lick the plate clean. But there had better be a hefty cargo of them or the Nielsen samplers may come up short.” Forecasting a very short lifespan, Gene Roddenberry’s iconic and defining series surprised everyone. On the cusp of cancellation so many times that the cast had no clue whether or not it would make it, the show would go on for 79 episodes, spawn 13 feature films, an animated series, comic books, postage stamps, documentaries, tell-all books, four live-action spin-off TV shows (with a fifth coming soon) and one animated one, and essentially establishing the concept of fandom before it even existed. Not bad for a schlocky piece of sci-fi nonsense.
That schlockiness, though, is central to the show’s charm. For better or worse, no matter which of its episodes you binge, they are nothing if not entertaining. At its most complex, the show asked heavy questions about humanity, race, and gender. Some of the episodes are extremely well written, offering intelligent science-fiction premises and creating now established TV tropes. Add to that some wonderfully camp futurist design, which, on its golden anniversary, is so retro that it’s never looked cooler. At its lowest points, however, the sterling performances by a very game cast carries the Enterprise through space and it boldly goes right into your heart.
How long will it take to binge?
The three seasons clock in at a total viewing time of two days, 17 hours and 49 minutes, so the keen binger could probably make it through the whole thing in just over than a month.
Where can you binge it?
Sky subscribers can find repeats of the show on CBS Action (channel 148 on the UK & Ireland service), on every evening at 6pm. Netflix recently purchased the rights to the show, so all three seasons of Star Trek – not to mention every episode of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise – can be streamed there, with the quality and visual effects cleaned up for high-definition viewing. A new boxset of the entire series will set you back €47 (or €60 for the Blu-ray), but second-hand copies on eBay don’t come in much cheaper than that.
Any hurdles to overcome?
The biggest problem with all of the TV iterations of Star Trek, maybe with the slight exception of Enterprise, is just how episodic it is. Casual viewers can pretty much drop in and out of the episodes at any point in the run, with most of the programmes being stand-alone teleplays rather than building towards some sort of all-encompassing TV arc. Episodic storytelling isn’t wrong-footed, per say, but it can make a binge of the show less rewarding, feeling like it isn’t really ever going anywhere that cannot be resolved in the space of 40 minutes. It’s reflective of how TV shows have changed over time, with the current golden age of prestige drama preferring to tell one grand story over the arc of a season. When Star Trek Discovery comes early next year, showrunner Bryan Fuller has admitted that the main character won’t be the ship’s captain, rather a female Starfleet officer. And her story will not be episodic, spreading across the entire season.
Who steals the show?
While DeForrest Kelly’s chief medical officer Dr ‘Bones’ McCoy and James Doohan’s chief engineer Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott do bring a galaxy-weary levity to every scene they’re in, it’s probably fair to say that it’s William Shatner’s iconic line readings as the irascible Captain James Tiberius Kirk that steals the limelight. Leonard Nemo’s Mr Spock carries a lot of the episodes in the straight man role, and Nichelle Nichols place in the pantheon is guaranteed considering the barriers she broke down in taking on the role, but Shatner brings a swagger and energy to the show that Star Trek would be lost without.
A scene to sample:
From the penultimate episode of the first season, the fan-favourite ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’, this scene captures some of the fun and silliness of the show. With Captain Kirk and Mr Spock travelling back to Depression-era New York to stop Bones from messing up the timeline, the pair will eventually encounter Joan Collins’ Edith Keeler, but first have to try and blend in...
What to binge on afterwards?
If you find yourself more stunned by this show than a phaser blast, the good news is the four other live action shows add up to a whopping 624 episodes, which clocks in at an off-putting 19 days and ten hours spent on the couch – and you can throw in another nine hours if you want to watch the cartoon spin-off. Chances are you’ll be boldly going nowhere but your couch for a while to come.