I recently started re-watching the original Star Trek series on Netflix. You know, the one with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock and Bones the doctor, not to mention Scottie, Uhura, Sulu, and the rest of the crew.
It’s been decades since I’ve seen some of the episodes. In fact, as I watch I realize that I have never seen many of the episodes in color before. That’s right: when I first discovered the series in 1966 when I was thirteen years old, our family had only a black and white TV, and even in the years to follow, as the series ended and reappeared in syndication, I always watched it in black and white. My parents didn’t buy a color TV until after I was grown and gone. It didn’t matter. The series enthralled me as no other television series ever had. I was hooked on the adventures of the crew of the Enterprise long before I even understood what science fiction was or had read much of it. I’d read some Heinlein, sure, but that was about it.
Something about Star Trek ignited my imagination. Nowadays, in retrospect, some of the plots seem contrived or cliché, but back then the show was all original, breaking new ground. Gene Roddenberry sought out acclaimed science fiction writers to script some of the episodes. I still remember, for instance, the first time I watched the episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” by Harlan Ellison. The ending devastated me. Many fans consider that episode the high point of the series, but for me there were many high points.
By the time I attended Clarion West with the aspiration of becoming a science fiction writer, Star Trek had already been long cancelled. I would have loved to have written for it. Some of my fellow attendees ended up writing for the animated Star Trek based on the original series.
Watching the original Star Trek today, you have to place it in context. You can’t compare it with these high-budget CGI-ridden modern TV series and films. Roddenberry was starting from scratch with no precedent, small budgets, no CGI, and unknown actors. He was confined by studio taboos and regulations, and also by the conservative sensibilities of the TV audiences of the era. It’s astounding that Star Trek even got off the ground and survived as long as it did. That it went on to spawn so many other series and films – an entire mega-universe – is all but unbelievable.
For me, Star Trek was the beginning of a life-long interest in speculative fiction in all its forms. It created a foundation of the fantastic. When I later discovered the literature of science fiction, Star Trek had already introduced me to many of the concepts with which even the best authors dealt. Watching Star Trek now is a journey through nostalgia, true – but many of the best episodes still hold up, as long as I don’t study them too closely or compare them with modern more sophisticated parallels. I’m content to take Star Trek on its own terms and wholeheartedly enjoy it for what it is – and was.