Welcome to the first of what will be a lengthy ongoing series of reviews on ObsessiveViewer.com.
Throughout my life, one of the largest gaps in my love of television (and frequent flirtation with science fiction) has been Star Trek. Now, by the grace of Netflix, I’m rectifying that injustice. My plan is to watch as much Star Trek related content as I can by the 50th anniversary on September 8th, 2016.
Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 1
- Episode Count: 29
- Air date: Sept. 8th, 1966 – April 13th, 1967
- Network: NBC
Captain James T. Kirk commands the U.S.S. Enterprise as it traverses the final frontier of space to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations and, of course, boldly go where no man has gone before.
Review of Season 1
Star Trek’s 29-episode first season pits the crew of the Enterprise into a variety of dangerous situations. The season is episodic in nature and, while my personal TV preferences have always leaned toward serialized storytelling, the self-contained nature of the episodes made watching Star Trek a very laid back and entertaining experience.
The first season casts a wide net when it comes to science fiction. Episodes range from interplanetary peace struggles, to time travel paradoxes, to man vs man (or alien) power struggles and more. There’s so much variety in the science fiction that the episodes rarely ever seem bland.
The first season of Star Trek actually defied a lot of my negative expectations. I was worried that it would be too cheesy and cheap and that I wasn’t going to connect to it. That wasn’t the case and when the show deviates from the normal space exploration plots in favor of less expensive “1960s” storylines (Tomorrow is Yesterday) or mostly ship-centric bottle episodes (The Naked Time), it’s fresh and entertaining.
Almost halfway through the season, there’s a two-part episode (The Menagerie) that recycles footage from the show’s original pilot episode, The Cage. In the two-parter, Spock commits mutiny and commandeers the Enterprise to do something he’s not willing to disclose for the previous Enterprise captain, who’s badly injured from his adventures in The Cage.
The episode is tense and comes with some surprises. Though the recycled footage can be a little dry and even boring if you have just recently watched The Cage, it’s still engaging and thrilling just to see Spock act so out of character. Despite using a lot of recycled footage,The Menagerie is an overall satisfying pair of episodes that lead to a strong conclusion.
You can read my thoughts on he show’s original pilot in the supplemental section below.
While the show isn’t as cheesy as I expected, there’s still a wonderful amount of camp in these episodes. In This Side of Paradise, the crew falls victim to a toxin that creates a euphoric complacency in them. It makes Bones talk in a thick country accent and makes Spock fall in love with a woman. In Arena, Kirk battles a reptilian creature that’s played by a man in a rubber suit.
However, my favorite campy moments came from The Enemy Within, which features a transporter malfunction that creates an evil double of Kirk that lurks around the Enterprise, causing mayhem and threatening to take over. It’s delightfully over the top as Shatner hams up twice as much screen time. A few choice frames feature Kirk in the foreground with the malevolent double lurking behind him, however the stand-in they got for the shot barely looks like Shatner. The episode also featured a creature that is clearly just a dog in an orange costume with a white horn on its head.
Another way Star Trek defied my expectations was in Shatner’s portrayal of Kirk. I went in expecting the most cringe worthy over acting and scenery chewing from the man based on how pop culture has parodied his performance. Shatner does ham it up quite consistently throughout the season. That much is true. But his hit or miss performance in season 1 comes through a layer of charm and affability that makes Kirk a very likable character.
However, the standout performance in this season easily belongs to Leonard Nimoy’s work as Spock. The character, by design, is dry and emotionless. He’s a Vulcan who sees the universe in the most logical way. Nimoy’s careful, calm and smooth delivery in scenes of turmoil made me a fan of the show almost instantly. The scenes between Shatner and Nimoy depicting the bond between Kirk and Spock is what makes me eager to watch the next season.
The interplay between Spock and Bones is highly enjoyable. DeForest Kelley makes the easily grumpy, no nonsense Bones easy to latch onto. In many ways, Bones is the character we project ourselves onto. He responds to Spock’s logic and lack of compassion with confusion and frustration. His lack of patience with Spock gives the audience an outlet so that Spock’s Vulcan perspective is more grounded and believable. And, generally speaking, Bones is just all around a cool character.
James Doohan’s Scotty and George Takei’s Sulu both lived up to the expectations that years of references and memes had thrust upon them. In this season Scotty isn’t quite as central as I’d like him to be but his appearances were always welcomed. Episodes featuring Sulu always made for a more enjoyable experience. His performance as Sulu radiated charm.
Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura (no first name given this season) was huge when you consider the civil rights movement that was still happening at the time. Nichols was actually going to quit the show after the first season but was convinced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to stay on. Her role as Uhura gives the crew more than just diversity in gender and race. There are a few moments where she sings that works wonders for crew bonding and atmosphere building.
The first season of Star Trek is a lot better and more enjoyable than I expected. There’s plenty of diversity in the science fiction in the show as well as the introduction of several iconic Star Trek moments and characters. Throughout the season we’re introduced to Klingons, Romulans, Ricardo Montalban’s villainous Khan and more. This season also has plenty of Vulcan nerve pinches and a couple highly recommended time travel episodes. It’s a great start to this vast franchise.
Season Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Needs more Sulu
Some Noteworthy Episodes You Should Watch
- The Corbomite Maneuver – When an alien vessel threatens to destroy the Enterprise, Kirk must outwit the opposing commander.
This episode is intense and clever. More importantly, however, it gives us an intimate look at Kirk’s leadership style and shows us that not all crew members are worthy of the bridge. It also features a 7 year old Clint Howard in a guest role.
- The City on the Edge of Forever – A crazed Bones time travels to 1930s America and destroys the future. Kirk and Spock follow him into the past in an attempt to stop him.
Kirk’s romantic connection with a woman in the ’30s is heartfelt and drives the emotion of the plot. Though it’s obvious they’ll be successful in fixing the timeline, the emotional stakes are very high.
- Tomorrow is Yesterday – The Enterprise accidentally time travels back to the 1960s and gets picked up on radar as a UFO. Now Kirk and the crew must work to erase their presence so they don’t ruin the future.
It’s one of my favorite time travel story types played out with ever-increasing complications. The ending is a bit on the deus ex machina side of things for my liking, but it’s still a fantastic episode. It also has some interesting social commentary as a character from the ’60s is surprised by female crew members.
- Space Seed – Captain Kirk and his crew find and inadvertently revive a genetically augmented world conqueror and his compatriots from Earth’s 20th century.
The obvious reason for listing this episode is because it features Ricardo Montalban as Khan, a role he would reprise to great fame in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But aside from Montalban’s delightfully wicked performance, this episode expands the lore of the Trek universe by referencing the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. I don’t yet know if this is ever expanded upon, but it made me hungry for more bits of the Star Trek mythology.
- Errand of Mercy – With a war with Klingons raging, Kirk and Spock attempt to resist an occupation of a planet with incomprehensibly placid natives.
Errand of Mercy is the first episode to feature Klingons and it’s a damn good introduction. What I found most intriguing about this episode wasn’t the conflict between the Klingons and the Federation. What drew my attention was how the monk-like Organian people reacted to the conflict on their planet.
Obsessive Viewer – Supplemental Review – Star Trek’s Original Pilot: The Cage
In the episode count above I listed 29 episodes. While it’s technically true that season one of Star Trek aired 29 episodes, I would be remiss if I didn’t take time to talk about “The Cage.”
The Cage was Star Trek’s original pilot episode. It starred Jeffrey Hunter as Christopher Pike, the captain of the Enterprise who’s been dealing with the weight of his decisions. In the episode, Pike beams down to a planet populated by aliens that read his memories, capture him and project illusions into his mind.
I really enjoyed the episode as a standalone entry point to the Trek universe. In fact, watching it before the rest of the season probably made me like it more than I would have if I had been comparing Hunter’s Pike to Shatner’s Kirk. Both men are serious but Hunter’s portrayal of Pike carries a slightly dark tone while Shatner’s occasional hammy performance makes Kirk and the show seem more light hearted.
NBC didn’t like The Cage because it was “too cerebral” and didn’t have enough action. Instead of abandoning Star Trek entirely, the network commissioned a second pilot (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and thus Star Trek: The Original Series was born.
The Cage was eventually broadcast in full in 1988 as a filler episode for The Next Generation during a writers’ strike.
I’ll be slowly reviewing every iteration of Star Trek. There’s no schedule for the reviews currently, but you can find my archive of all things Star Trek on this website at https://obsessiveviewer.com/startrek