Star Trek Re-Watch: Season 1 Wrap-Up

Before we transition into the second season of Star Trek, we thought this would be an ideal time to pause and look back on the first twenty-nine episodes of the Enterprise’s mission. Hopefully some of you have used the last month to catch up so you can follow along as we continue to re-watch the series. Reading your comments and discussing the episodes each week is as exciting and interesting for us as we hope it is for you!

Here is a breakdown of our respective ratings.

1. The Man Trap 4 4
2. Charlie X 4 5
3. Where No Man Has Gone Before 5 5
4. The Naked Time 6 6
5. The Enemy Within 4 5
6. Mudd’s Women 2 2
7. What Are Little Girls Made Of? 3 3
8. Miri 4 2
9. Dagger of the Mind 3 5
10. The Corbomite Maneuver 6 2
11. The Menagerie – Part I 6 6
12. The Menagerie – Part II 5 5
13. The Conscience of the King 3 5
14. Balance of Terror 6 6
15. Shore Leave 2 2
16. The Galileo Seven 4 4
17. The Squire of Gothos 4 4
18. Arena 5 3
19. Tomorrow is Yesterday 4 5
20. Court Martial 5 5
21. The Return of the Archons 5 5
22. Space Seed 5 6
23. A Taste of Armageddon 4 5
24. This Side of Paradise 5 4
25. The Devil in the Dark 4 4
26. Errand of Mercy 5 5
27. The Alternative Factor 2 1
28. The City on the Edge of Forever 6 6
29. Operation — Annihilate! 4 3

Are there any ratings you would change?

Eugene: I would bump “The Conscience of the King” up to a 4, mostly because of your insights into it, Torie. “Space Seed” also gets upgraded to 6, because the discussion of that episode convinced me that the issues I had with the episode were minor in light of its successes. Also, the more I think about “The Alternative Factor” the more I dislike it, so I’m giving it my first 1.

Torie: I think I would knock “The Galileo Seven” to a 3, mostly because in restrospect I had to really try to actually remember anything that happened in it. I think I would bump “Arena” up to a 4 because Eugene convinced me that it is much smarter than it appears from the outside.

Best episode? Favorite episode?

Eugene: The best, and my favorite, is definitely “The City on the Edge of Forever.” The other highlights of the season for me are “Balance of Terror,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “The Corbomite Maneuver,” and “The Naked Time.”

Torie: The best, I think, was “The City on the Edge of Forever” with “Balance of Terror” running a close second and “Space Seed” a not-too-distant third. My favorite, though, was “The Naked Time.” It feels so…human.

Most disappointing episode?

Eugene: “The Squire of Gothos.” Even though I gave it a 4, it just wasn’t as good as I remembered, especially in light of how often we see powerful aliens testing the crew in quick succession in the first season. “Mudd’s Women” was really hard to watch this time around, and I hope that Mudd’s next appearance is still enjoyable, or I can’t explain why his character is so popular with fans.

Torie: “The Corbomite Maneuver,” hands-down. Whatever values it wrestles with, it’s tedious and boring. “Devil in the Dark” was also not as good as I had expected it to be.

Eugene’s final thoughts on Season 1: I’ve always enjoyed Star Trek, but now that I’m studying each story closely for these reviews, I’m really impressed by the lasting quality of this 43-year old series. It’s still very good science fiction, not just as an entertaining distraction but as a layered, provocative, and progressive commentary on the human condition. The fact that most of the scripts hold up to or even surpass modern writing—even if the effects and acting sometimes compare less favorably—is a testament to Gene Roddenberry’s clear vision for the show and the incredible talent that brought it to television, in front of and behind the camera.

I was surprised at how many of my favorite episodes were produced in the first season, and how strong the majority of them remain. All told, there were only a few clunkers, with the rest ranging from good to excellent. This seems unusual today, when the inaugural season of a show often varies widely in quality as it finds its way. Even the best of the later Star Trek series, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, are generally considered to have weak starts; most fans say TNG doesn’t get really good until season three, and DS9 arguably takes until the fourth season to hit its stride. The original series didn’t get four seasons!

In short, revisiting this series from the beginning has whet my appetite for more and fully brought me back into the Trekkie fold after a long absence. I haven’t been this excited about the show and the franchise since I was in junior high school.  The show is still the same as it was then, but it’s remarkable that it seems so different to me now, colored not only by the Treks that came after it, but by my own experiences and the way the world itself has changed in even that small period of time. Few shows can appeal equally to kids and adults (and kids-turned-adults), or work just as well in the 60s, 90s, or 2000s (without the crutch of nostalgia). When I first watched the show, I think I was drawn to science fiction more for its grand ideas and engaging moral dilemmas, but lately my preference has turned to more character-driven stories; Star Trek delivers on both, far better than I remembered. Now that many of the concepts have been explored so often in other SF and constantly butchered in the franchise itself, I find it’s really Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Scotty, and Uhura who keep me most engaged.

Though there have been attempts to return to the original Star Trek, notably via Enterprise and more recently through the J.J. Abrams remake, the only way to truly recapture its unique essence and honor the show is to simply watch it. I can’t wait to re-watch all the great episodes in season two, even with the disappointments of season three looming just over the horizon…

Torie’s final thoughts on Season 1:

As I mentioned in my introduction, this is more accurately a first watch for me, and I didn’t really know what to expect from the series. When Eugene invited me to play along, I was skeptical. I’m a Next Gen girl—I like diplomacy, struggles with identity, political unrest, social commentary. What has the original series got to offer me? Isn’t classic Trek cheesy and silly? Isn’t it a machismo adventure story with our sly hero constantly bedding women and killing aliens? Isn’t it, well, stupid?

Having seen the first season now, I feel cheated by its reputation.

What most surprised me is how fundamentally grown-up the show is. I find that most entertainment today fits into two categories: the juvenile or the gritty. A striking proportion of movies and television now are populated almost exclusively by twenty-somethings, trapped within puerile plot set-ups and driven by entirely superficial concerns and rivalries. Even when they star adults, the character’s struggles are ordinary; the choices are, in the great scheme of things, meaningless. All the SF franchises have gone this direction: young Superman. Young John Connor. Young, dare I say it, Kirk and Spock. The flip side of the coin is something like Battlestar Galactica or 24, where we throw idealism and optimism under the bus of “hyperrealism.” There’s no hope, because men and women are weak and vindictive and self-interested. Either there’s no goodness left in people, or life keeps grinding men and women down to their basest and most primitive natures. It’s bleak and it’s difficult and hope is something elusive, rare, and dangerous. Hope can get you killed.

But Star Trek was about grown-ups with adult struggles and challenges who believed passionately and without reserve in an idealistic future. Their concerns weren’t trivial: they don’t fear a break-up, or an awkward date, or fitting in with the right crowd to get that promotion; they fear powerlessness, fascism, authoritarianism. In “The City on the Edge of Forever” Kirk gives up his only chance at love and happiness to prevent a pessimistic future from coming to pass. They fear losing their individuality (especially to technology, like the robot clones in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” or the “reformation” machine in “Dagger of the Mind”), or letting down a group that needs help (like the Organians in “Errand of Mercy”). They fear letting themselves down. They do what they can to protect each other, and sometimes that means eliminating a threat that more closely resembles a victim, like the salt vampire in “The Man Trap,” or Charlie Evans, or Kirk’s friend in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Star Trek isn’t afraid to wrestle with conflicting values like that. The stakes are serious and real, and rarely are the ideas in play frivolous or treated superficially. Most shows today are too quick to let their heroes trade their values for security or self-preservation. But even in the most dire of circumstances—even when it seems Kirk is about to be destroyed by the Gorn, or they’re going to share the fate of the children on Miri’s planet—they never lose hope, and they never falter in their ideals.

It was an engaged show. But more than that it was an optimistic one. The characters had the courage to believe in the goodness of themselves and others, and to believe that with just a little ingenuity, they could overcome anything. There is so much passion in Trek, but it’s a bridled and mature passion. Kirk nearly bursts with the earnestness of his convictions, but his sincerity isn’t foolish or idle and his compassion doesn’t make him weak. They’re his strengths, and they make him a great leader (“The Enemy Within”). Why do we scorn these things today? We associate idealism, optimism, and sincerity with immaturity and youth, as if we must lose these things as adults—as if they’re no longer important or relevant. “Great” leaders have to shed their “naive” ideals to be respected as strong and worthy of command—it’s machismo all over again. So many shows scoff at those values as if people don’t continue to grow and learn past their adolescence.

Today, we think of shows like Star Trek as cheesy. They’re corny. Sincerity is a joke, relegated to fools and sidekicks and teenagers who don’t know what the world “is really like” yet. Can you imagine a show today that featured a mature adult so heart-breakingly earnest in his or her desire for goodwill as Kirk? I can’t. It’d be laughed off-screen. Audiences (or producers) aren’t interested in that kind of idealism anymore.

Space, the frontier, whatever you want to call it—Star Trek is about the belief that knowledge, exploration, and learning to bond with people who may not share your values (or your biology!), are the only ways to ensure a future for the human race. It argued that we cannot persist in this universe thinking only of ourselves, scorning alliances and perpetuating petty conflicts. It argued that men with strikingly divergent pasts or cultures could overcome their own barbaric histories, their trivial concerns, their fears and their worries, and together create a common future. It believed that men were more than their lowest common denominator, and that we should trust our ideals to create something positive even in the face of a difficult and sometimes terrifying world.

I don’t know that we’ll ever see another show like it.

Some additional background on Season 1:

As the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry gets most of the credit for Star Trek, but he doesn’t deserve to get all of it. After August of 1966, he actually scaled back his involvement to only executive producer. Gene L. Coon (the writer of “Arena,” “Space Seed,” and “The Devil in the Dark,” among others) produced the rest of the season following “Miri,” until he was replaced early in the third season by John Meredyth Lucas, who also directed and scripted some episodes. Many important pieces of Star Trek continuity, such as the introduction of the Klingons in “Errand of Mercy,” came about while Coon was in charge.

While you probably know that Star Trek was begrudgingly granted its disastrous third season through a letter-writing campaign organized by fan Bjo Trimble, the show was actually in danger of cancellation as early as three months after it premiered.* Critics hated the show from the start, while it quickly found its niche with science fiction fans, who unfortunately did not contribute meaningful numbers to the Neilsen ratings (some things never change)—making Star Trek an instant cult classic.

The very first fan campaign to save a television show was actually launched on December 10, 1966, when a letter was sent to everyone on the mailing list for the 1966 WorldCon in Cleveland, Ohio. It was signed by science fiction luminaries such as Poul Anderson, Robert Bloch, Lester Del Rey, Harlan EllisonTM (who in later years appeared to reverse his high opinion of the show, no doubt due to the conflict over his script for “The City on the Edge of Forever”), Philip José Farmer, Frank Herbert, Richard Matheson, Theodore Sturgeon, and A.E. van Vogt. Some of these well-known authors had incentive to keep the show on the air since they also wrote scripts for Star Trek, but they also recognized it as something special that needed to continue.

Their letter urged fans to write to NBC protesting its cancellation or a worse fate: a format change into a “kiddie” show like Lost in Space. This unusual tactic worked, clearing the way for a second season, albeit in a Friday night death slot at 8:30pm (moved from Thursdays at the same time), which suggests that network support was perhaps half-hearted. Since then, this sort of fan effort has become much more commonplace, and fans sometimes start lobbying support for a show before it even debuts, whether or not it deserves it. *cough* Dollhouse *cough*

Despite NBC’s apparent vote of no-confidence in Star Trek with its scheduling change, they heavily promoted it to advertisers for its second season and seemed proud of both the show and its vocal fans, which they said were rivaled only by fans of another NBC program, The Monkees (which also inspired the hairstyle of a new regular character in season two, Ensign Pavel Chekov). They also acknowledged its growing popularity and success in all but the all-important ratings, citing its five Emmy nominations, which included best dramatic series and best dramatic performance (for Leonard Nimoy, naturally).

Had the show been cancelled after only twenty-nine episodes, it likely would have faded into obscurity as an interesting failure, with too few episodes for it to be strip syndicated for daily broadcast on local stations (where it eventually reached its wide audience at last). The landscape of science fiction and genre television would likely be very different without Star Trek. We’re also fortunate, because many of the show’s best episodes were yet to come in its sophomore year. And they will again, as we re-watch them here at starting in September, forty-three years after the series premiered.

*Information provided by The Star Trek Compendium by Allen Asherman and Memory Alpha.

Previous Episode: Season 1, Episode 29 – “Operation: Annihilate!

Next Episode: Season 2, Episode 1 – “Amok Time.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr. TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.