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Star Trek

Entry updated 6 February 2023. Tagged: TV.

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US tv series (1966-1969). A Norway Production for Paramount Television/NBC. Created by Gene Roddenberry, also executive producer. Producers: Roddenberry, Gene L Coon, John Meredyth Lucas and Fred Freiberger (season 3). Story consultants: Steven Carabatsos and D C Fontana. Writers for seasons one and two include Jerome Bixby, Robert Bloch, Coon, Max Ehrlich, Harlan Ellison, Fontana, David Gerrold, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Roddenberry, Jerry Sohl, Norman Spinrad and Theodore Sturgeon; the only well known writer to work for season three was Bixby. Directors include Marc Daniels, Vincent McEveety, Gerd Oswald, Joe Pevney, Joseph Sargent, Ralph Senensky, Jud Taylor. Cast included James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and George Takei. 3 seasons; 79 50-minute episodes. Colour.

A phenomenon among sf television series, Star Trek is set on the worlds visited by a giant Spaceship, the USS Enterprise, and on the ship itself. Its crew is on a mission to explore new worlds and "to boldly go where no man has gone before". Though the crew supposedly number several hundred, only a few of them are ever seen at one time, the principal characters being Captain Kirk (Shatner), Mr Spock the first officer (Nimoy), Doctor McCoy (Kelley), Mr Sulu (Takei), the chief engineer Scotty (Doohan), Ensign Chekov (Koenig) and Communications officer Lieutenant Uhura (Nichols). For fans of written sf, Star Trek can seldom have seemed challenging in any way, as it rarely departed from established Genre SF stereotypes, though in its first two seasons it was certainly adequate and even quite strong relative to much televised sf. Although several well known sf writers (see above) contributed to the first two seasons, their work was invariably rewritten by the show's regular writers; the quality of the scripts had dropped badly by the end of season 3. As a general rule the Space-Opera format was not used with any great imagination. A typical episode would face the crew with Alien superbeings (regularly godlike when first encountered – Roddenberry's favourite theme appears to have been flawed Gods), Monsters, or cases of apparent demonic possession – telepathic aliens being the rule rather than the exception in Star Trek's universe. The formula seldom varied. Many adult viewers came to feel that the series was bland, repetitious, scientifically mediocre and, in its earnest moralizing, trite. The effort to please all and offend none was evident in the inclusion of a token Russian, a token Asiatic and, together in the person of actress Nichelle Nichols, a token Black and token woman. The defect in this liberal internationalism was that all these characters behaved in a traditional White Anglo-Saxon Protestant manner: only Spock was a truly original creation.

The early two-part episode The Menagerie, adapted from the original pilot for the series, won a 1967 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, as did Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever in 1968. The latter is generally thought to be the best of the individual episodes; it posed a moral dilemma which cut more deeply than usual. The original script, which differed slightly from the filmed version, was published in Six Science Fiction Plays (anth 1976) edited by Roger Elwood.

Star Trek was not particularly successful in the ratings. However, it had attracted a hard core of devoted fans, "Trekkies" or "Trekkers", who made up in passionate enthusiasm what they lacked in numbers. These numbers grew over the years, in part because the series was often replayed, attracting new fans each time. There have been many Star Trek Conventions, some drawing very large attendances; a typical gathering is gently spoofed, along with the series itself, in Galaxy Quest (1999). Perhaps Roddenberry's blend of the mildly fantastic with the reassuringly familiar, and his use of an on the whole very likeable cast, attracted viewers precisely because its exoticism was manageable and unthreatening. The Trekkie phenomenon became spectacular.

Despite the reservations expressed above, there is no doubt that Star Trek was one of the better sf television series. Its success, though delayed, was very real and had extraordinary repercussions in the publishing industry. Star Trek Ties began with short-story adaptations of individual episodes; James Blish wrote eleven collections of these 1967-1975 (see his entry for details); he also, significantly, published an original novel set in the Star Trek world and featuring Star Trek characters: Spock Must Die (1970). Another early Star Trek novel was Star Trek: Mission to Horatius (1968) by Mack Reynolds. Soon original Star Trek novels became more important than the novelizations of teleplays. As with Doctor Who novels, Star Trek novels are too numerous to be listed here in full, though almost all, having been written by authors who are the subject of individual entries, are listed elsewhere in this encyclopedia. Few Star Trek authors are hacks and some are distinguished; the latter include Greg Bear, Theodore R Cogswell, Gene DeWeese, Diane Duane, John M Ford, Joe Haldeman, Barbara Hambly, Vonda N McIntyre, Peter Morwood (1956-    ), Melinda M Snodgrass and many others. A series of "fotonovels" – in comic-book style, but using stills from episodes instead of drawings – was inaugurated with Star Trek Fotonovel 1: City on the Edge of Forever (1977; based on the Harlan Ellison script) and continued for at least twelve issues.

There are also games (see Star Trek Games), costumes, models, calendars, puzzles, badges and, of course, Magazines devoted to Star Trek. There are books of blueprints, technical manuals and medical manuals. Star Trek is, in fact, an industry. There is even a thriving trade in Star Trek pornography (see Fan Language) in the underground press. Some of the show's and its fans' Terminology has entered the language: the phaser (a Ray-Gun combining the functions of stunner and Blaster), the Cloaking Device, the Transporter, the warp drive (see Space Warp), and the critical recognition that short-lived characters tend to wear Red Shirts.

The first account of Star Trek published as a book was The Making of Star Trek (1968) by Stephen Edward Poe writing as by Stephen E Whitfield, it is credited on the cover to Whitfield and Roddenberry. Two more early accounts of Star Trek and its production problems were by David Gerrold: The World of Star Trek (1973; rev 1984) and The Trouble with Tribbles (1973). The latter includes Gerrold's Star Trek script of the same title, together with an account of its production. There have been several nonfiction books since, including Star Trek Concordance (1976) by Bjo Trimble, Star Trek Compendium (1981; rev 1987) by Allan Asherman, and The Trek Encyclopedia (1988) by John Peel. I Am Not Spock (1975) by Leonard Nimoy is a cautious account, not very deep, of the actor's relation to the character he played; the titular assertion was retracted twenty years after in the title of his follow-up, I Am Spock (1995).

When it became clear that the fuss over Star Trek was unlikely to die down, NBC commissioned an animated cartoon series, also called Star Trek but usually referred to as Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974), based on the original series but introducing several new characters, including an orange, tripedal, alien navigator, Arex, and a Cat-like alien communications officer, M'Rees. The voices were done by the principal actors from the original series, excepting Koenig. One of the 22 episodes was by Larry Niven, and several by Gerrold. This series in turn spawned yet more book adaptations, in the form of the Star Trek Log series by Alan Dean Foster (whom see for details), of which ten appeared 1974-1978. Decades later a second animated series was broadcast, set on a different and less important Starfleet ship: Star Trek: Lower Decks (2020-current).

Rumours, counter-rumours and press releases about proposed revivals of Star Trek, either on television or as a feature film, abounded through the 1970s. In the event there were both. The six feature-film sequels, starring the original cast, were: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). A seventh movie spin-off, Star Trek: Generations (1994), showcases Kirk's heroic death, and briefly features Chekov and Scotty, but is in essence a spin-off from Star Trek's successor, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). This latter series was the first live-action television spin-off from Star Trek. With an all-new cast it became very successful and popular, beginning in 1987 and running for seven seasons, ending in May 1994. Subsequent television series have been Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001), Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005), Star Trek: Discovery (2017-current); Star Trek: Picard (2020) and Star Trek: Prodigy (2021-current). All these series have generated their own spinoff novelizations, and there are crossovers such as Pocket Books' Star Trek: The Captain's Table, which began in 1998 and featured Club Story tales told in the titular bar by captains and acting captains from the original Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

The Paramount Star Trek films continued with further exploits of Captain Picard and his Next Generation crew in Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002); after which, like other old franchises in the new century, the whole enterprise underwent a reboot with fresh young actors as Star Trek (2009). [PN/JB/DRL]

see also: Antimatter; Elements; Matter Duplication; Matter Transmission; Open Universe; Prime Directive; Race in SF; Rays; SF Music; Scientific Errors; Shared Worlds; Space Flight; Taboos; Universal Translator; Women in SF.

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