Recurring Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols
Star Trek is arguably one of the most famous TV shows to ever air on television, if not the most influential, with several strong spin-offs, a movie series, and most importantly, a cult fan-base that is still going strong to this day. It is a remarkable small screen feat and even looking back at the original dated episodes (this specific season aired in 1969), there is ingenuity to be found. The Enterprise is one of the most iconic sets in TV history, a living, breathing set that was as much a part of the show as the characters that resided in it. The writers make creative use of their limited resources. It speaks millions about the power of some of the Sci-Fi trademarks that certain sound-effects and visuals (the ‘beaming down’, the phasers, the most iconic doors to ever grace the big or. small screen), are still timeless to this day and age.
Surprisingly, as soon as the first episode creeps up, we are thrown head-first into the adventure, without so much of an origin story. This is a narrative style of the times, a method to make a viewer tuning into a randomised episode just as able to appreciate the story, without having to recall the context of the particular ongoing series arc. While this creative decision appears logical (ah, the Trekkie terminology is creeping in already), it does mean that certain beats of the first season fall disappointingly flat. It would be fun to occasionally feel the weight of this being the first/last episode, for example. As it stands, we have to hit the ground running and take in our surroundings as soon as we are introduced to them. Star Trek takes place aboard the quintessentially Star Trek U.S.S Enterprise, a Federation star-ship captained by James. T. Kirk. William Shatner’s Kirk is a determined figurehead for the ship, a man devoted to keeping his vessel and crew alive, even if it means sacrificing multiple love interests along the way (one per episode if certain writers got their way). William Shatner’s performance is a private joke amongst acting fraternities and moments in this series prove where the mockery originates from. Yes, Shatner is the King of over-acting and melodrama, but his performance perfectly captures what is needed from the character. Shatner plays Kirk with both stern responsibility, but also undeniable fun. The knowing Kirk smile is always a pleasure to behold and the character’s wit is never lost on the audience. At Kirk’s side we have the Vulcan First Officer Spock, who is, with little doubt, the most memorable character of the entire Star Trek franchise to date. For one, in this early era of the Star Trek show, Spock’s Vulcan race appears to be the only species to be thoroughly explored. While other races are touched on briefly, the show is endlessly interested in the Vulcan way, it being one of the more intriguing sides of the first season. Vulcans are a humanoid race that feel no emotion and calculate every decision with cold logic. Spock, who is half human on his mother’s side, acts as the second opinion for every one of Kirk’s decisions, but one that has all but removed the humanity for the equation. One interesting episode sees Spock assume command for a brief period of time, resourceful yet unable to both bond with the crew and predict irrational responses from his enemies. It proves both the failings of the Vulcan race and Kirk’s holistic approach to command. On top of the interesting debates to be had over Spock, he is also ever so cool. Calm, composed and able to render anyone unconscious with a Vulcan Death Grip (a mere pinch of a pressure point in their shoulder), whenever he gets some screen time, Nimoy makes the most of it. While Spock and Kirk take most of the glory, we cannot forget Dr. Bones McCoy. McCoy is the warm heart of the show, providing most of the humour, as well as acting as the softer side of Kirk, countering Spock’s bluntness. McCoy has his fair share of tough guy moments, and while he takes a backseat in the action department, his character finds other ways of impressing. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the other three main cast members. While Kirk, Spock and Bones make the leading trio of the show, Scotty, Sulu and Uhura are dressing at the best of times. Occasionally they will get something fun to do, but usually they are reduced to Sci-Fi speak “Warp Engines to Factor Five” and bit parts. Nichelle Nichols in particular is all but lost in the male-dominated cast.
However, this first season’s real problem is the inconsistency in episodes. There is no telling if you are about to watch a good episode, or a mere filler piece. It is part of the ‘any episode can be enjoyed randomly’ problem. Without an ongoing arc, each episode has to build from scratch. Sometimes, a particular episode will simply not engage you. The first few episodes are particularly flat, often revolving around an infection getting on board of the ship or a guest star hiding a secret from Kirk. They proceed as expected and sometimes you are plainly aware that the show is working around a budget. It is far easy to have your villain Kirk’s doppelgänger or make an episode about a fatal rash than don an actor in alien prosthetics. On the other hand, when you do land on a good episode, sometimes it can be fantastic. One early episode sees the Enterprise snatched up by an unknown craft with superior power. In order to get out of their pending doom, Kirk bluffs his way to freedom. It is a remarkably tense, thrilling episode. Other episodes, if you are able to look past poor monster effects (a man under a rug; a terribly choreographed punch-up with a lizard-like Gorn), boast clever stories that hit surprisingly deep moral messages. Then there are the few times an iconic baddie appears. It happens less often than you would like, long periods of the show without any of the recognisable aliens. However, when we finally encounter the Romulans, it is a remarkably strong episode. Nearer the end, the Klingons also show up, even if the prosthetics are nowhere near as advanced as the Next Generation’s interpretation. Also, we get the origin of Khan, who makes for a formidable opponent. These three episodes work as the highlight of the series and give the show enough standing to promise a very decorated future.
Final Verdict: Dated and inconsistent, but the charm is present throughout, especially in the central three characters.