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!

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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! 🙂