Original Star Trek

The original series of Star Trek is something I have a fondness for. As a young child, I used to watch it sometimes in the early evenings with my Dad, and later did the same with the Next Generation. However, I’ve never seen all the original series, and so I recently began watching it all on Netflix.

In some ways, it’s fair to say the show has aged poorly. The Gorn, for example, moves and attacks with such a lack of speed and ferocity that I wouldn’t be upset about fighting it myself. The dialogue is cheesy at times, and the acting bad or overdone (though it does improve somewhat as the episodes go by–which was also the case with the Next Generation, if you’re being even handed about this sort of thing). However, on the whole, most of that is more a criticism of the era than of the series itself, and it does miss the point of the original series.

In some ways, I think, the original series is the best Star Trek of them all. It’s a more raw version, and while it’s optimistic, it’s not quite so disinfectant-squeaky-clean in its views as later series can be. (I can’t imagine Captain Picard ever issuing the order to destroy the entire population of a whole planet, for example, but it’s a hell of a bargaining chip when Kirk uses it.) But more than that, it’s a true reflection of its time — there’s curiosity, wonderment, optimism, and always the simple question of “what’s out there?”. Star Trek is more distinctly, individually episodic than many modern shows, without depending on much direct continuity from show to show — and in that regard, it has more in common with another TV classic than it does with the later Star Trek series.

Star Trek is, in a lot of ways, the Twilight Zone in space. It’s more limited — you won’t find an all-powerful child sending people to the cornfield, or giant aliens with what may well be the universe’s best cookbook. But the series is still approached with that wonderful optimism and curiosity that occurred as we first began to get into space — and it’s all about questions of “What if?” What if we encountered the narcissistic child of beings powerful enough to be compared to gods? Or if we discovered technology that would let us transfer our consciousness into a machine (a question revisited, later, by the Next Generation)? And so on, and so on — there are many such questions here.

And when you take a step back and get used to the oddities of the show’s presentation, a lot of the episodes are intriguing. There are good scripts in there, and good ideas. Some of those ideas do seem dated now, but not least because there is so much that has come later, and because some of these same ideas have been played around with to even better effect. But like the Twilight Zone, there is a lot of good stuff in there. Unlike some of the other Star Trek series, but perhaps like the early seasons (as well as some stand-out episodes) of The Next Generation, the show is really just a great collection of short stories more than a single, grand tale. It’s not about personal progression or the journey of an individual — it’s about humanity in space, and asking the question — utterly unadulterated, and without fear of seeming silly — of what, in all possibility, could we find out there?

But there is one thing I take issue with, and that’s the reworked special effects. I didn’t like it in Star Wars, I didn’t like it in Red Dwarf, and I don’t like it here either. Why put polished CGI next to the old sets? For me, at least, this isn’t enhancement — it robs the series of some of its original charm, and of the simple, pleasant detail of being able to look at an old show, and see how they used to do it. Nobody wants to redo the special effects in the Twilight Zone, or in The Day the Earth Stood Still — I don’t understand the desire to do it here. But hey, I’m just one guy, so what do I know?

I just got to the episode “Operation: Annihiliate!” of the original series. I watched this with my Dad when I was a kid, and it really freaked me out. And because of that, even though the effects are goofy and about as horrifying as the child’s sock my cat likes me to throw around, it still freaks me out, just a little bit…

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