Steve Muhlberger is between major history projects right now, so he takes a bit of time to find out why so many of his friends are fans of the original Star Trek TV series.
So what about the original series? My memory of the original series is that it was not really very good. I was only about 15 when it came on, but I’d already read a lot of high-quality science fiction in print, and I thought that the TV show was not really giving the best selection of science-fiction ideas available. The series was better than most of what was on TV, but most of what was on TV was pretty lame.
Part of me wondered why the series had such a tremendous impact. I knew plenty of people who really loved it.
I’m a bit younger than Steve, so I didn’t watch the original broadcasts on NBC from 1966-69. For me, it was an after-school show in the early 70s that so far as I can remember was not shown in any kind of order. It left me with no sense of how the show changed over time (improving, in some respects). Steve points out one thing that didn’t improve:
A good half of that season focused on exactly one idea, which is not really much of a science fictional idea as much as a horror genre idea. That idea is that universe is filled with things that look like human beings that are actually monsters; or alternatively things that started out as human beings have turned into monsters, sometimes only moral monsters. There’s a lot of betrayal and menace in those early episodes, and they’re not really very good episodes otherwise.
But about halfway through that first season, what people have loved about this series begins to emerge. By that I mean the characters and the interactions between the characters on the ship and particularly on the bridge of the ship start making you really care about what goes on with them.
What really surprised me was that I liked the first season James T Kirk. I have always been someone who put James T Kirk down as a borderline maniac whose prominence in Starfleet reveals a weakness in their whole system, especially the recruiting efforts. My image of Kirk is a rather smug character who relies on his physical charisma (which did not really speak to me) to get his way. But the first season Kirk is not really like that. He’s trimmer, fitter, handsomer and — can’t believe I’m saying this — more intelligent and more philosophical than he was later on in the series or in the movies. He says a lot of things are actually smart. He looks smarter than Spock!