Of course, I've seen all 79 episodes over the years, and I have all three seasons on DVD. But I've never watched the whole thing in order, from the first episode to the last, so that would be a new element. But more importantly, I decided to watch it all with my eight-year-old daughter Maddie, who didn't know much about Star Trek and who would therefore add a totally fresh and objective perspective.
If she didn't like it after a few episodes, I'd bail on the endeavor. But I loved the idea that she would be exposed to this universe and its characters at roughly the same age I was when I first encountered Star Trek, that she would go into this not knowing how each story would end, not knowing the ultimate fates of the regular characters, and how the series would evolve and grow over time, leading of course into the six movies featuring the original cast. (I was hoping to do the same thing with Star Wars, but that got ruined—long story, maybe for another time.)
Well, all I can say is, after a few episodes, we reached a point where Maddie would come to me on the weekends and ask, "Daddy, can we watch a Star Trek?" Winning!
I'll be devoting a blog entry to each season, and I'll kick things off here with Season One. This won't be a review of each and every episode—I'll just be touching upon the ones that Maddie and I thought were the above-and-beyond highlights. My favorites will be noted with a "GG," Maddie's with an "MG," and ones that we both cited as our favorites will be noted with a "GG/MG." Simple enough, right?
So here are the real standouts of Season One, listed in the order in which they were produced:
"Where No Man Has Gone Before" (GG/MG)
The second pilot, the one that got the show sold to NBC. It still holds up extremely well. A gripping story with a heart-wrenching moral dilemma, personal drama, and a powerful performance by guest star Gary Lockwood as Captain Kirk's best friend, Gary Mitchell. This was Maddie's first real exposure to the series.
MADDIE: "This has a lot of action. The man with the silver eyes (Lockwood) had special powers, so he was a real challenge for Captain Kirk!"
"The Enemy Within" (GG/MG)
A daring look at the darkness that lurks inside Captain Kirk, the negative aspects of himself that he keeps bottled up, under control—and yet give him the strength he needs to command a starship. You can't accuse William Shatner of not giving a totally committed performance.
MADDIE: "You didn't know which Captain Kirk was the real one. But even the bad Captain Kirk had a little good in him. And I thought it was very sweet when the good Captain Kirk was nice to the bad one and told him, 'We're both going to live!'"
"The Naked Time" (GG/MG)
The crew of the Enterprise is exposed to an alien virus that drives them to release all of their inhibitions. Incidentally, this is George Takei's favorite episode. (It was sequelized—very badly—in "The Naked Now," one of the earliest episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)
MADDIE: "I really like this one! You learn what's really beneath all the characters, which you don't get to see in every episode."
"Balance of Terror" (GG)
The episode that introduced the Romulans. A gripping battle of wits inspired by the 1957 film The Enemy Below, about an American destroyer locked in conflict with a German submarine during World War II. Mark Lenard made such an impression as the unnamed Romulan Commander that he would return to the series a year later in an even more important role: Spock's father, Sarek. In 1986, noted comic-book writer/artist John Byrne used some key dialogue from this episode in a story depicting Superman's first encounter with the Batman.
Lot of great moments in this one. "No blah blah blah!" "Captain... look at my legs." "Bonk bonk on the head!" I liked it so much I wrote a sequel to it, which appeared in issue #3 of my Star Trek: Untold Voyages limited series for Marvel Comics.
"The Menagerie, Parts I and II" (GG/MG)
An example of Star Trek at its very best—which is truly remarkable, considering that this two-parter was essentially slapped together at the last minute as a way to get the show back on schedule and on budget. Framing sequences featuring Shatner and the rest of the regular cast were filmed and incorporated into the first Star Trek pilot, which starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike and was rejected by NBC. The footage from the pilot was presented as flashbacks during a court martial of Spock, who faces the death penalty for taking his former captain, the now-crippled Pike, to a forbidden world. I discovered only recently that John D.F. Black wrote the new scenes featuring Kirk and Spock's court martial, while Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry, who wrote the first pilot, got sole credit for the entire two-parter. You learn something new every day!
MADDIE: "This is one of my very favorite ones! You see what the Enterprise was like before Captain Kirk took over, and you learn what happened to Captain Pike, and you find out about some of the big secrets of the Starfleet."
"Tomorrow Is Yesterday" (GG/MG)
The Enterprise is thrust back in time to Earth of the 1960s, where Kirk and crew encounter a U.S. Air Force pilot who accidentally learns too much about the future and therefore can't be allowed to go home—but the history of the future dictates otherwise. An exciting, often funny episode with a strong guest-star in Roger Perry as U.S.A.F. Captain John Christopher.
MADDIE: "This was a great story. Captain Kirk and the crew took so many chances. They had to sneak into the air force base to steal film that showed the Enterprise in the sky over Earth, and they had to find a way to send the pilot back home. There was a lot of suspense!"
"Space Seed" (GG/MG)
You watch this one and you see exactly why it was chosen for sequelization 15 years later for the second Star Trek movie. As 20th-centuty genetic superman/international dictator Khan Noonien Singh, newly freed from centuries of suspended animation, Ricardo Montalban simply dominates this episode with undeniable power and menacing charm. Khan is one of the all-time great Star Trek villains, if the not the greatest—the failed attempts to create a "Khan-level" villain in every single one of the Next Generation movies only attests to this fact.
MADDIE: "I liked that the woman who loved Khan decided to stay with him. I really liked Khan, even though he could be dangerous. He had special strength. I really liked the story. Captain Kirk took a big chance by sending Khan and his people to that planet instead of putting them in jail."
(No, Maddie has NO IDEA what happens with regard to Khan years later. Needless to say, I can't wait to watch Star Trek II with her for the first time.)
"The Devil in the Dark" (MG)
A mysterious monster is killing miners at a Federation outpost. It's up to Kirk and Spock to figure out why—and when they do, they realize that the creature must be protected.
MADDIE: "I really like this one. It's a great mystery. It has a great set-up. The story is great, and the title is perfect. I like the way the whole thing played out, and what the monster was really all about."
"Errand of Mercy" (GG)
The episode that introduced the Klingons. And what an introduction! John Colicos totally rules as Commander Kor. I wish they could have brought him back in a later episode or one of the movies to face off against Kirk again. (Yeah, I know he eventually showed up on Deep Space Nine. I saw it. Feh.)
"The City on the Edge of Forever" (GG/MG)
Hands-down, the best episode of the original series, and it still ranks as one of the greatest hours of all of the Star Trek series ever produced. Harlan Ellison wrote the original version of the script, which went through a series of extensive revisions by several writers (including Ellison himself, Gene Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon, and Dorothy Fontana). Ellison's original version, which has been published in a book of the same name, is undeniably powerful and very well-written—but in reading it, it becomes very clear why Roddenberry felt the script had to be reworked to fit within the context of the Star Trek series. (Sorry, Harlan!)
MADDIE: "This was a desperate love story, like Romeo and Juliet. I liked seeing Captain Kirk fall in love, but this was very sad."
"Operation: Annihilate!" (GG/MG)
Deadly alien parasites invade a planet where Captain Kirk's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew are living, causing mass insanity and ultimately death. The situation becomes even more desperate when Spock is affected. It was always great to learn more details about Kirk's background, and here, we get a glimpse of his family. (We were supposed to get even more in this episode, including the fact that Kirk's mother was alive and living back on Earth, but the final scene, which also featured a touching farewell between Kirk and his young nephew, was edited out.) This episode also shows that even Dr. McCoy isn't perfect, and Spock may have to pay the price for that fact.
MADDIE: "I was very upset about what happened t0 Spock. But I loved when it turned out that it was only temporary."
Confession time. We didn't watch every single episode of the first season. I skipped over one. It is, without a doubt, the very worst episode of Season One, and one of the worst episodes of all time. It's called "The Alternative Factor."
This is a textbook example of everything that can go wrong in the making of a television episode. For a variety of reasons, mostly production problems, the episode turned out to be a thoroughly incoherent, annoying mess. I had no desire to watch it again, nor to try to explain to an eight-year-old that which is unexplainable.
You definitely notice as the first season goes along that Roddenberry and his team were totally making things up as they went along, and it led to some interesting inconsistencies along the way. James R. Kirk? Spock is a Vulcanian? The series is set 700 years in the future? No, 200 years? The planet Vulcan was once conquered? Spock smiles occasionally and can make mischievous, inappropriate, sexually oriented remarks to Yeoman Janice Rand?
But who could really expect everything to be nailed down right from the start? It's fascinating (what an appropriate word!) to see how things started out and how they developed and changed over time, eventually settling in to what has become more or less the "default" version of the show.
You also get to see the increasing importance of Dr. McCoy to the series, due in no small part to DeForest Kelley's wonderful performance and the natural chemistry that he had with Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. No wonder they added his name to the opening credits starting with Season Two.
Many classic TV shows didn't get their act together until after the first season. Star Trek: The Next Generation was infamously disastrous that first year, and things didn't really improve in the second. I'd say that show didn't really start turning itself around until midway through its third season.
It's therefore worth noting that many of the original Star Trek's very best episodes were done in its first season, and that by the second half of that initial year, many of the things that we know and love so much about the series were already in place.
Coming Up: Season Two!