Thu
Sep 8 2011 12:56pm

For Trek’s 45th Birthday: 10 Underappreciated Aspects of Classic Star Trek

Star Trek: The Original Series 45th anniversaryOn September 8th, 1966 audiences were given their first glimpse of the now-famous starship Enterprise. Not actually the pilot episode, the first aired installment of Star Trek was “The Man Trap” an episode penned by George Clayton Johnson (co-author of the novel Logan’s Run.) The story featured a shape-shifting vampire that craved salt and a long-lost love of Dr. McCoy’s. Why was this chosen as the first Star Trek episode ever? Maybe it was because it depicted the crew killing an “evil” alien. Maybe it was because Dr. McCoy was in the spotlight; an everyman mainstream audiences might relate to better. Maybe it was random. In any case, it worked, because even though Star Trek was canceled in 1969, we’re still yammering on about it to this day. And it’s not just because of all the films, spin-off shows, or remakes. The classic show itself was fantastic and original. And in honor of its birthday, here are 10 things we think don’t get mentioned enough about the most famous little TV show that could.

Everyone who has more than a passing interest in Star Trek is aware of its triumphs in terms of social and political importance. First bi-racial kiss, racially diverse crew, commentary on current events, attacks on racism, ignorance, and oppression, and the presentation of a positive and hopeful future for humankind. All of this is awesome, but we’ve also heard it before. And if you’re a Star Trek fan, you’ve already seen the Top 10 lists with the greatest episodes listed over and over again. We know “City on the Edge of Forever” is amazing, and “The Doomsday Machine” is iconic. What else is there? Here’s what gets lost in the shuffle.

 

10.) The pacing and editing is fantastic and ahead of its time.

If you watch an episode of 1960s Star Trek back-to-back with almost any other science fiction show of the same era (Lost in Space and Twilight Zone included!) you’ll be shocked at how much Trek kicks their ass in terms of pacing and editing. Even the worst classic episodes are extremely exciting; something active is happening in every single scene. The quick cuts and close-ups on the characters are also extremely effective and while a little over-the-top now, this camera work is a lot more interesting than any of the subsequent Trek-shows to follow. No time is ever wasted in Star Trek. Even if you don’t like science fiction, and even if you don’t like Star Trek, you will never, ever be bored watching the 60s show.

 

9.) The music.

We’re not really talking about the iconic Alexander Courage theme song, but rather the incidental music composed by Fred Steiner, Sol Kaplan, Jerry Fielding, Gerald Fried and others. Though there were a number of composers who worked on Trek, Steiner provided most of it, while Fried (though sometimes this is attributed to Kaplan) was responsible for some of the best-remembered themes, such as the fight music from “Amok Time” or the bass guitar-driven “Mr. Spock” theme from the same episode. Bombastic, melodramatic and completely perfect, the music of the classic Star Trek didn’t sound like anything else. Was it ridiculous? You bet. But have you seen their outfits? If those outfits were put to music, they would sound like this.

 

8.) Bones slaps a pregnant (cat)woman in “Friday’s Child

Did you know that Julie Newmar (aka Catwoman) was in a Star Trek episode? She played the wife of a tribal leader, sentenced to death when her husband was killed in battle because she was carrying his child. So, understandably, she wasn’t so into being a mom. When the trio rescued her, Dr. McCoy did his doctor bit and tried to take care of her, but she wasn’t having it. When he tried to touch her to check on the unborn infant, she slapped him. When he tried again, she slapped him again. And McCoy, in the interest of fairness, slapped her back. We know, this is grossly un-PC, but Bones is really the only character who can do things like that and not come off as a complete bastard: because in that gruff, irascible way of his, he was trying to teach someone to appreciate help from others. Classic McCoy, that.

 

7.) Kirk’s “I won’t kill…today” speech from “A Taste of Armageddon” (Runner up: “No blah blah blah!” from “Miri”)

Though the “risk is our business” speech from “Return to Tomorrow” is arguably more famous, we think when Kirk exposes the virtues of being a barbarian, he’s really at his best. For him, the idea that human beings are civilized comes down to a daily choice: will I kill today or won’t I? Kirk feels like it’s basically our divine right to have that choice. Star Trek is so much smarter than many other pop sci-fi narratives insofar as that it never truly defines “good” and “bad” and, in fact, goes out of it’s way to confuse the viewer about those definitions all the time. We couldn’t find a decent clip of Kirk giving this speech (you’ll have to just watch “A Taste of Armageddon” in its entirety) but we do really like this outburst from “Miri” too, which is shockingly underrated.

 

6.) William Campbell

Though “The Trouble with Tribbles” is for some bizarre reason often voted as the most popular Trek episode ever, few point out how great actor William Campbell is in this episode as the Klingon Koloth. There was a time when the Klingons weren’t the snarling, grunting forehead-people of latter-day Trek. At one point, they were just a bunch of space assholes who were experts at the nasty retort. Campbell is fantastic opposite Shatner in this one, but luckily that’s not the only classic Trek episode he’s in.

“The Squire of Gothos” gave us the character Trelane, an omnipotent being who uses Kirk and company as his playthings. Shatner and Campbell are practically slapping each other in the faces with gloves throughout the entire episode. The other significant contribution Campbell’s Trenale provided was the genesis for the TNG character of Q. There is no way Q would exist without this classic Trek episode. Though DS9 brought back Campbell as Koloth, he never returned as Trelane. Why he didn’t appear on TNG as a member of the Q Continuum who formerly called himself the Squire of Gothos, we’ll never know. Tragically, we lost William Campbell this year. We already miss him.

 

5.) Improv comedy in “I, Mudd

“The Trouble With Tribbles” and “A Piece of the Action” get all the credit in Star Trek for humor, and with good reason. But this episode is an absolute gem that is frequently forgotten, and also contains the only guest character return on the entire show (unless you’re counting Captain Pike, which gets complicated). In “I, Mudd” the crew gets captured by Harry Mudd, a con man who caused problems in Season 1. He happens to be trapped on a planet full of androids who want to “assist” humanity (meaning “rule-in-a-nice-unobtrusive-way”), and they won’t let the crew leave. Kirk and co. discover that the only way to get free is to behave so illogically that the androids short circuit.

This leads to perhaps the greatest team effort on behalf of the Enterprise crew in the show’s history (with Harry Mudd in tow), and it unfolds in the form of an improv comedy routine. From invisible musical intruments and explosives to Scotty’s death and revival to Uhura backhanding Chekov “because she likes him” to killer one-liners like “logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad” and “let’s hear it for our poor dead friend,” this stands out in classic Trek as one of the best times they ever went for the funny bone and struck hard.

 

4.) Diana Muldaur

For Trek’s 45th Birthday: 10 Underappreciated Aspects of Classic Star Trek

Though she was a semi-regular in the 2nd season of The Next Generation, Diana Muldaur was a guest star in two episodes of the classic Trek and steals the show both times. Other than Campbell, she’s one of the few actors to have this distinction (Mark Lenard!), but we sort of feel like this makes her the Maude Adams of Trek. In “Return to Tomorrow” she plays Ann Muhall, an Enterprise crewmember who has her body possessed by a being of pure thought energy named Thallassa. These beings then start to construct robot bodies for themselves using Kirk, Spock and Ann as temporary hosts until they can transfer in there. Muldaur gets to play opposite Shatner as both Thallassa and Ann, and she’s great in both situations. In the episode “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” she plays Miranda Jones, a blind telepathic psychologist who uses a nifty sensor-dress to “see” the world around her. This comes in handy because she hangs out with an alien who will make you crazy if you look at it. She’s also a gorgeous lady!

 

3.) Everything about “Space Seed

We’ve mentioned before that The Wrath of Khan is a little bit of a bully and looms maybe too large in the minds of Trek mythology as being THE GREATEST THING OF ALL TIME. It may very well be that greatest thing, and we certainly love us some Nicholas Meyer. However, it all wouldn’t have been possible without the original episode, “Space Seed.” As an introductory story to what old school Star Trek was all about, “Space Seed” is perfect. It presents an original science fiction concept, grapples with notions of human technology and ingenuity creating a monster, and features Captain Kirk beating the crap out of someone with a piece of Styrofoam. What more could you want?

Oh? Ricardo Montalban looking handsome and dangerous? Done.

 

2.) McCoy’s Guilt in “Operation: Annihilate!

The bickering between Bones and Spock in the original series is probably just as iconic as Scotty complaining about his engines or Kirk doing a flying kick at some random jerk. And the reason why the Bones/Spock arguments are so great is because we know these guys really love and respect each other, even though they might not admit this to themselves. When Bones thinks he’s accidentally blinded Spock in this one, it’s frankly heartbreaking. DeForest Kelly was perhaps one of the best actors of all time in the science fiction world, owing mostly to the fact that he had to play it straight as Bones. No awesome alien powers or captainly charm, McCoy was ever, as he like to put it, “Just an old country doctor.” Here is one of his quietest, best moments.

This episode also gets a special mention because Kirk plays his own dead brother in this one. How do we know it’s Kirk’s brother? Because it’s Shatner with a mustache.

 

1.) It was fun

For Trek’s 45th Birthday: 10 Underappreciated Aspects of Classic Star Trek

This might sound a bit glib or falsely nostalgic, but the fun adventure show tone of the original series was almost totally lost in every subsequent version of Star Trek. How many episodes of 60’s Trek end with the crew laughing on the bridge? Nearly all of them. Star Trek was an upbeat show to a near-psychotic extent, which means when it went dark, you really felt it. And though a lot of those final moments of crew-wide laughter come across a little corny, we don’t love Star Trek in spite of it. We love it because of it. If you’re going to embrace the music, the outfits, and some of the over-acting, then you can’t hate on a show in which the main characters can always laugh it off in the end.

 

How are you celebrating Star Trek’s 45th birthday? We recommend you just watch it. Or even better yet, make someone watch it who has never seen it! Also, chime in with your classic Trek love below.

(P.S. Don’t you just love these 1960s ads for the show?)

 

For even more Star Trek check out the following:


Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com.

Emily-Asher Perrin is the editorial assistant at Tor.com.

17 comments
Rich Bennett
1. Neuralnet
Great post! I think you are did a good job identifying some of the best elements of classic trek that make it stand the test of time.
Ellen Fremedon
2. Ellen Fremedon
(Minor correction: The "Amok Time" score was Gerald Fried, not Sol Kaplan.)
Marcus W
3. toryx
The only problem with celebrating Trek's 45th anniversary is recalling so well how I celebrated Trek's 20th anniversary. How did another 20 years pass so fast?

Nevertheless, I will celebrate by watching an original series episode on my smartphone, so that I can also appreciation living in a world with some Trek-like technology.
Ryan Britt
4. ryancbritt
@2 Ellen
Maybe this was my confusion. The research I did yesterday (looking at the liner notes for the Star Trek soundtracks, Memory Alpha, etc) seemd to credit Sol Kaplan with Amok Time. Though it looks like some mp3 sites seems to credit them both.

Thanks!
R O T
5. rogerothornhill
I love that you call Muldaur the Maud Adams of Trek without explaining the Bond reference. Haute geek, that is.
Ellen Fremedon
6. Ellen Fremedon
@4 Ryan:

The CD liner notes are confusing-- the disc includes the scores for "The Doomsday Machine" (by Kaplan) and for "Amok Time" (by Fried), but the cover of the CD says "by Sol Kaplan and Gerald Fried," and so Kaplan, who appears, erroneously, to be the first-named co-composer, gets credited with the whole thing in metadata that's just based on the CD notes, without reference to the episode credits.
Shane Stringer
7. ShaneStringer
Thank you so much for this!

I was a rabid fan of TOS in the 70s (in syndication, of course), but I haven't watched an episode in a long, long time. I remember thinking how awesome it was, but reading the rewatches here at tor.com have kinda depresses me. It's like, was I that starved for science fiction on the TV?

It's nice to be reminded that it was pretty damned good in a lot of ways, and if the quality looks a little uneven now, well, that's because the science fiction supply has improved.
James Whitehead
8. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Great sum up of a great series. The upbeat nature of the show still comes through and is even more noticable when compared to today's darker and more cynical scifi shows.

I think "A Piece of the Action" has to be one of my all time favourites of Star Trek if for no other reason than Spock saying, while pointing a Tommy Gun, "I would advise ya's to keep dialin'."

Kato
Ellen Fremedon
10. Pendard
This is a pretty complete list and I found myself agreeing with item after item. It's great to see "A Taste of Armageddon," "I, Mudd" and "Friday's Child" get some love -- those are two of my favorite episodes and they're seldom on a top 10 list.

The big thing I would add to this list is "A Private Little War." "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" and "Plato's Stepchildren" always get the social consciousness merit badges despite the fact they're not very good. The depiction of Vietnam in "A Private Little War" (which aired on the fourth day of the Tet Offensive!) was at least as socially aware, and the episode is a whole lot better. The conclusion of the episode, when Tyree beats the villager's head in with a rock and then demands weapons to hunt down the others, feels like a punch in the gut. Hugely underrated Star Trek moment!
Ellen Fremedon
11. tcharlesb
Well done dude!
john mullen
12. johntheirishmongol
The best thing about TOS was the interplay with the characters, particularly Spock and Kirk and Bones. All 3 of them were amazing together.

I was one of those kids who wrote letters trying to save TOS, and of course, what happened was they did save it but cut the budget, which makes it more likely for a series to fail. There was nothing even close to it before but it was one of the driving forces to make scifi a major genre. Funny thing is that I am pretty sure a scifi author wrote that scifi would dominate movies someday, when the special effects matched the story. He was right. (dont ask me who, I think it's been 40 years since I read the book)
Ellen Fremedon
13. Evan H.
You left out the sound design. The visual effects in classic Trek were pretty awful by modern standards, but the sound design sold it. The doors opening and closing, the blip-and-tweedle sounds of buttons being pressed, the always-present/rarely-noticed incidental background ship noises, the bosun's-whistle signals on the ship's communicators, the transporter sounds, the phasers and communicators--every sound effect perfect and believable. The sound design is why you're willing to believe they're on a ship in space; the show wouldn't have worked without it. And yet I've never heard anyone get any credit for it.
Ellen Fremedon
14. Your Mom
Because Star Trek was a part of my life in my teen years, 15 years before you were born, it became part of your life. Who would of thunk that 30 years after your birth, you would be writing about 45 yeas of Star Trek. Sorry for the numbers thing. My favorite episode was one of yours too, The City on the Edge of Forever. My favorite line was, he got his head stuck in a rice picker. I'm sure you know the correct quote. Great Job:)
Ellen Fremedon
15. Mukhya
Best thing of all

0) It's humanitarian forward thinking philosophy was based in part on the Baha'i religion.


I read a list of 10 'things' (I don't remember what they were called) for being a Baha'i and it even included the concept of creating a Federation of Nations. That is when I realized that all the Star Trek concepts were there.
Ellen Fremedon
16. Tara O'Shea
I shall celebrate with the ceremonial rewatch of "The Cage", because Pike and Number One are still my favourites.
Ellen Fremedon
17. maria rose
i was hooked as a "Trekkie" from the start it was one of those shows you had to watch especially if you are into SiFi. And this was done without all the computer effects they have now.

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