The Sunday Salon: An Introduction to Star Trek: The Original Series

As you may have noticed, I like Star Trek. After Star Trek Into Darkness proved to me that J. J. Abrams is not interested in furthering Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a utopian future, I hurled myself into the original films. While I’d enjoyed the original series, I adored the movies, probably because I have a proven weakness when it comes to chosen families, people who should probably be retired, and bickering that is in fact love. This has led to me embarking on a project to watch the entire franchise (sans the Abrams-verse). This will, undoubtedly, take years. I’m at the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation at the moment. However, as I complete the various series, I will be posting introductions to each highlighting gateway episodes for the curious, those who want to brush up on their pop cultural literacy, and any other takers.

The Original Series particularly lends itself to a “best of” collection of episodes. (Don’t think for a second Paramount doesn’t already have such a collection available.) I started watching it at the age of eighteen, which, you might recall, is only three years after I learned how television works. Armed only, really, with Heroes and House as examples, both the pacing and structure of sixties television threw me for a huge loop. Eventually, I realized that you really have to think of Star Trek: The Original Series as a science fiction anthology instead of a television show with narrative arcs. Each episode, save for the two-parter “The Menagerie”, is completely self-contained, so you can skip around without fear of missing something important. But where to start?

“The Trouble with Tribbles”
(aired 12/29/67)

As far as an introduction to the series goes, I don’t think you can do much better. It’s an episode most people vaguely know about, due to the enduring popularity of both tribbles and Klingons. More importantly, it’s funny, and timelessly so. You don’t even notice the pacing because you’re giggling like a moron. Plus, the whole classic crew (save Sulu, who doesn’t appear in this episode) gets some screen time while they’re at their best, providing an handy introduction. If there’s anything more hilariously sublime than Spock and Dr. McCoy snarking at each other over a pile of tribbles, I don’t want to know about.

“Space Seed”
(aired 2/16/67)

If you’d like to start on the more dramatic end, you might want to start with “Space Seed”, especially given its enormous cultural cache. Khan Noonien Singh is one of the most memorable villains in the series due to his charisma, intelligence, and sheer physical prowess, and Ricardo Montalbán is electrifying in the role. (The politics of having a Mexican actor playing an Indian superman are troubling, but, for the sixties, that was practically progress.) It’s obviously required reading if you want to watch Wrath of Khan, the perfect rebuttal to the series and widely considered the best of the Star Trek films.

“Amok Time”
(aired 4/28/68)

Oh, tumblrinas! Come bear witness to what inspired, nay, forced our Trekkie foremothers to start writing all that Kirk/Spock fic. Watching loyal, logical Spock turn into a mindless brute as Kirk does everything he can to help him is a glory of character development, and, for the only time during the original series, we see Vulcan, both physically and socially. For all their logic, Vulcans sure do love ceremony, and “Amok Time” features it in all its tilted camera angles. 

“Mirror, Mirror”
(aired 10/6/67)

The evil Mirror universe is a major part of the Star Trek franchise, to the point that most people know that the difference between good Spock and evil Spock is a classic Van Dyke. (Or going sleeveless. I have major plans to make Kirk’s imperial green top when I have a chance.) While “The Trouble with Tribbles” and “Amok Time” get their mileage from the crew’s characters and “Space Speed” from Khan’s, “Mirror, Mirror” shows Star Trek: The Original Series off as a vehicle for speculative ideas, examining morality by reversing it.

“The City on the Edge of Forever”
(aired 4/6/67)

This episode is not only considered one of the original series’ high points, but it is also the winner of the 1968 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation. The original series occasionally throws in a time travel device in order to take advantage of the studio’s backlot and wardrobe, but it’s not just flavor here—Kirk has to choose between a woman he loves (as played by a luminously sharp Joan Collins) and the “right” outcome for World War II. A lot of episodes have the crew out and out ignoring the Prime Directive, but this one presents, in a prototypical form, the same question that’s explored in the films, especially the trilogy composed of The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home—do the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many?

My first week as a bookseller went well, right after I figured out this whole “bus” situation. I’m really enjoying it so far; it will only improve with the addition of my homemade calzones, once I get my hands on some pizza dough or yeast. (I realize yeast would be a better investment, as I could make all kinds of bread with it, but I don’t go through it quickly enough to warrant a whole jar…) This week, I’ve managed to read Star Trek Lives! and Fangirl. I imagine I’ll be supplementing with some Project Gutenberg material until I manage to get my new library card…

This week’s links:

This week’s acquisitions:

Purchased: None
Added: Billy Moon by Douglas Lain (via io9)

For people who have watched it—where would you recommend someone start with Star Trek: The Original Series? For those who haven’t—any questions about the series?

2 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: An Introduction to Star Trek: The Original Series

  1. I think you covered the high points of Star Trek lore, although I also really like “Court Martial” (where Kirk is accused of sending a crewman to his death unnecessarily), “A Wolf in the Fold” (where Scotty is accused of murder (wait, I see a pattern here)), and “Miri” (the planet with no adults).

    But the comment I really wanted to make when I saw your comment about “chosen families, people who should probably be retired, and bickering that is in fact love,” my first thought was that you really, really need to read the Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery series by Colin Cotterill. I’m not usually much on mysteries, but these have a slight supernatural twist, and they take place in communist Laos in the ’70s. They are so, so sweet and fun, and they fit that description very neatly.

Your Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s