Happy 50th Anniversary Star Trek!

Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) debuted in the United States on NBC on September 8th, 1966, when I was five years old. It ran for three seasons, and was eventually cancelled due to “low ratings”, much of which was caused by network interference during its second season, moving the show away from its prime time viewing setting to the late Friday night “graveyard slot”, which guaranteed low viewing figures and thus cancellation.

The show was actually cancelled at the end of the second season, but was brought back for a final season due to a remarkable and then-unique massive fan-run campaign, led by Bjo Trimble and her husband John (and, some say, orchestrated by Gene Roddenberry himself) during which fans bombarded NBC with letters demanding the return of the show. The NBC execs caved in and brought it back for a third season. But they were still determined to get rid of Star Trek, and keeping it stuck in the Friday night “graveyard slot” guaranteed that the third season would be its last.

It’s ironic that Star Trek was a originally regarded a failure first time around. It could’ve easily remained nothing but a vaguely-remembered 60s Cult TV show. But history had other plans for Star Trek. Once the show went into reruns, the number of fans increased stratospherically, and the demand for it to return led to the expansion into the enormous franchise and universe that we know and love today. It’s funny how a relatively unimportant Sixties sci-fi series could have grown so much over the years and taken over the world. 🙂

My own perspective, living here in the UK, was different. When Star Trek first aired in the US, I was blissfully unaware of it. I was obsessed with Doctor Who, my first sci-fi “love”, which had been broadcast in the UK since 1963. Of course I was unaware of that, as I was too young at the time, and I only started to really notice the show about 1966 or so. Star Trek came a bit later, and was my second sci-fi “love”, and the two shows have been vying for my affections ever since.

We didn’t get Star Trek here in the UK until 1969. I was five months shy of my 9th birthday when it first aired here in the UK, when “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was broadcast on BBC1 at 5.15pm on the evening of Saturday, July 12th, 1969. I was smitten from the word “Go”, and I’ve been a hardcore Star Trek fan all my life, since the opening minutes of that very first episode, all those long years ago. My life would never be the same again. And I’ll be a fan until the day I die.

Star Trek, along with Doctor Who, have been with me since my early childhood, and have always retained a special place in my heart. They have been the pillars of my sci-fi “self” my entire life. Other sci-fi series such as Babylon 5 and UFO have challenged strongly, but none have ever surpassed these two in my affections.

Once a Trekkie, always a Trekkie: Happy 50th Birthday Star Trek!

Happy 49th Birthday, Star Trek!

 

Tonight marks the 49th Anniversary of the first screening of the classic Star Trek: TOS on US television, with the airing of “The Man Trap” on Thursday, September 8, 1966. Due to some strange network mental gymnastics, they managed to air this one, which should have actually been the FIFTH episode, first, and they aired the pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, third. Go figure.

We poor, neglected souls over here in Ireland and the UK had to wait until July 12, 1969 before we first got to watch Star Trek on UK television, when it started in the traditional Saturday evening 5:15pm timeslot usually occupied by Doctor Who. Unlike in the US, we actually started with the pilot episode, although from that point on, there seemed to be no rhythm or rhyme to the sequence that the BBC showed the episodes in, and the series was not shown in airdate or production order.

The series was actually also shown over four seasons, rather than three, and some episodes were edited for violent content, with three of the episodes, “The Empath”, “Whom Gods Destroy” and “Plato’s Stepchildren”, not shown at all during the first run due to concerns over “sadistic elements” in the stories making them unsuitable for the series’ early “children’s” time slot. We had to wait until 1992 to finally see those episodes during a repeat re-run. To add to the insult, the episode “Miri”, which WAS shown in the initial run, was not shown again until 1993, due to “audience complaints” after the first screening. What a complete bunch of WUSSIES!!!

Just by coincidence, I’m sitting here right now with one of my friends, watching some classic TOS episodes on DVD. We started off with “Devil in the Dark”, then onto “Errand of Mercy”, which has just ended, and now we’re starting into “The Alternative Factor”. We’ll be finishing off with “The City on the Edge of Forever”, one of my favourite all-time Trek episodes, from ANY of the five series, and “Operation: Annihilate!”, another classic.

Extremely enjoyable night ahead for myself and friend, and oh yeah… Happy 49th Birthday Star Trek!

Leonard Nimoy, RIP.

 

I rarely keep up with the celebrity news, so I got a real shock when I read this on Dayton Ward’s excellent blog a wee while ago. I’m sitting here stunned, in tears. I’m gutted. Totally gutted.

Even though Leonard Nimoy was old and in pretty bad health, and this sad news should come as no great surprise to anybody, I’m still gutted. He was always my favourite Star Trek character, and more than any other actor/character in TOS, he epitomized the whole ethos of Trek for me. Star Trek has always been a major part of my life, ever since I watched its first run on UK television as a starry-eyed eight year-old back in 1969-1970, and Spock was always the main man for me.

Leonard Nimoy may once have written a book titled “I am NOT Spock”, but, as far as I’m concerned, he IS and always WILL be Spock. No disrespect intended to Zachary Quinto or any other talented newcomers who try to fill Nimoy’s huge shoes, but the man is irreplaceable.

Live Long and Prosper my friend, wherever you may be.

The Fog of Ward.

The New York Times and numerous other media outlets are reporting that Leonard Nimoy died earlier this morning at the age of 83. Our thoughts today are with his family and friends.

NYTimes.com: Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83

StarTrek.com also has a very nice tribute to Mr. Nimoy, chronicling his extensive career on the stage, television, and the silver screen as well as his writing, poetry, and other pursuits:

StarTrek.com: Remembering Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Last year, after he had become a regular, active presence on Twitter, he announced that he was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and he attributed this to his years of smoking. Mr. Nimoy gave up the habit decades ago and even allowed his image to be used by the American Cancer Society to promote smoking cessation programs. I still have one of the posters from back in…

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Early Star Trek – How The Original Series Might Have Been

History is totally in the blood for me. I’m a hardcore history buff, and I’m fascinated by history of any kind. I majored in history at university, and I’m a history teacher by trade, although I packed it in very early on (almost thirty years ago) to become a DJ (more fun than teaching, and more money too). I loved the history, but not so much the dealing with classrooms full of rowdy teenagers who didn’t appreciate the subject the way I did.

It isn’t just “real” history that fascinates me, but also imagined or potential history, either past or future. As both a science fiction fan and an historian, the “what might have beens”, “what-ifs” and “what might bes” also really fascinate me. Like many a good SF geek, I’ve even made up a few “future” and “alternate” histories of my own over the years. So it’s hardly surprising that I often mix my love of history with my obsession with SF/sci-fi, both from a fictional and a philosophical perspective.

But it also fascinates me on a more academic level. And when I’m talking about history here, I’m not referring to the above-mentioned made-up future/alternate histories (which I absolutely love), but the real thing, the factual, background history and details of how SF literature or my favourite sci-fi series were conceived and how they evolved to become what we’re familiar with in our books and on our TV screens. Imagine the fun that any student of SF/sci-fi would have researching the history of SF, Star Trek, Doctor Who or some of their other favourite sci-fi shows? It would be a surefire A++ on any university course, wouldn’t it? You couldn’t stop me from studying obsessively for that one!

As a huge fan of Star Trek: The Original Series (from now on referred to as TOS), it was a given that I’d be totally fascinated by the history of Trek, in particular the very early history of TOS. How Gene Roddenberry came up with the idea, what all of his earliest concepts and ideas were, and how they evolved into the TOS that we all know and love. In my youth (this was 30-plus years ago, in the antediluvian pre-internet era), I used to dig up a lot of information from older TOS books with lots of behind-the-scenes info, and a particular favourite topic of mine was the initial (pre-James T. Kirk) creation and evolution of TOS history.

I recall one excellent early book – The Making of Star Trek, by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry – that one had such a great influence on me. Up until that point I’d only ever read TOS fiction and a few behind-the-scenes magazine articles. Reading this book was like a shot in the head. This was the first time I’d ever come across anything documenting early TOS history in so much detail, and The Making of Star Trek certainly did give an abundance of info on Roddenberry’s earliest TOS concepts and scripts.

One of the earlier chapters in the book dealt with the radically different earliest concepts of the series, back in the days when Robert April was the first captain of the Enterprise (fans will remember him appearing later in the Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) episode The Counter-Clock Incident). This one chapter was full of so much incredible background information (none of which I’d known before), complete with copious script excerpts, all of which was absolutely amazing, fascinating stuff to feed my obsessive, eager young geek mind!

Some of the differences with later, televised TOS were startling. I remember being totally shocked that Spock was originally a half-Martian, not half-Vulcan, with crazy, shaggy pointed eyebrows and red-tinged skin (instead of green), and he had LOTS of emotions. There were also no transporters in these initial concepts, and other ships had to routinely dock with the Enterprise. But this was quickly deemed to be far too costly as it would be happening in pretty much every episode, so the concept of the transporter was introduced (basically a beam of light and throw in some tinsel – can’t get much cheaper than that). The transporter is now such an integral part of the Star Trek universe that it’s incredible to think back and realize that it was only thought up to save money on the SFX budget.

As revisions and changes were made to the early Trek concepts, Robert April evolved into Christopher Pike, so we also get a lot of great background info on this part of TOS conceptual history. And, since the first pilot, The Cage, was based on these concepts, and was already a particular favourite story of mine, I was hooked. One of my favourite “What-If?” scenarios has always been “What if The Cage had been accepted by the networks?” What if Jeffrey Hunter had decided to stay on in the role of Captain Pike, (and also assuming he didn’t die in May 1969, and was able to carry on in the role) and there never was a James T. Kirk (I can hear the legions of female Kirk fans wailing in anguish)? What if Majel Roddenberry had remained as Number One, and Spock a less important character? And what if there had never been a McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu or Chekov? How different would the show have been, and how long would it have lasted?

It’s enough to make the mind boggle and get tied up in knots! As a hardcore hybrid historian and sci-fi/SF fanatic, I’ve always thought in terms of “what-ifs” and alternate histories, and this alternate version of Trek, splitting off from those initial pre-TOS concepts and developments, has always been one of my favourite “what-ifs”. This line of thinking opened up for me a whole new universe of a Totally Alternate TOS. As far as I’m aware, nothing like this concept exists anywhere in Trek fiction, either commercial or fan fiction, I’ve always thought that a TOS series and entire future TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY/ENT chronology built upon this alternate concept would be a great experiment for a new series of Trek fan fiction, with maybe even a few stories in collections like The New Voyages and Strange New Worlds.

I’d certainly love to see something like this, particularly in fan fiction or book form. I’m just amazed that nobody seems to have done it yet! 🙂