Fifty years ago today, people that waited around after the 7:30 p.m. showing of NBC’s “Daniel Boone” were introduced to a brightly colored crew in the midst of a five-year voyage.
“Star Trek” premiered 50 years ago today and, without an ounce of hyperbole, nothing was the same. The Trek concept obviously outlived its founder Gene Roddenberry, but nary a year has gone by since 1966 without some sort of Trek presence. To work your way through the entire extended Trek universe, it would take you roughly 23 days, or 546 hours. However, on this specific stardate, we’re just going to recommend a few episodes of the original series to celebrate the occasion with.
Journey to Babel
Though it’s not necessarily a classic piece of “Trek,” “Journey of Babel” showcases the writers and cast firing on all cylinders. Foreign dignitaries visiting the Enterprise would be enough, but when two of them turn out to be Spock’s parents, the whole situation becomes somewhat unglued. It’s fascinating to watch something of an origin be described for a character like Spock, as his human mother describes his childhood pet and his Vulcan father shows parental disdain in a way that is immediately familiar to anyone with over-achieving parents.
That was one of of the core strengths of “Star Trek,” that even in a show that delighted in showing off the starbound imaginations of its writing staff, the show hit far closer to home than most TV was willing to go at the time. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this episode is that the dangling plotline of Spock’s father disagreeing with his son’s decision to join the Starfleet was closed nearly 20 years later at the end of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” when Sarek admits that, yes, maybe Spock was right to join all along.
Amanda Grayson (Spock’s mother): After all these years among humans, you still haven’t learned to smile.
Spock: Humans smile with so little provocation.
Long after certain tropes appear in entertainment, it’s hard to go back to the beginning and appreciate when they’re first used because they’re so ingrained. This is a convoluted way of saying that although the “evil twin” trope has been retread dozens of times, it’s hard to not enjoy how deeply silly it is in “Mirror, Mirror.”
Featuring Spock’s unforgettable “evil” beard, the episode finds our crew thrown into a parallel universe inhabited by – what else? – evil versions of the crew. “Mirror, Mirror” forces the crew to work together to face their worst enemies – evil versions of themselves.
Mirror Spock: One man cannot summon the future.
James T. Kirk: But one man can change the present.
All Our Yesterdays
The Federation crew regularly faced hi-jinks pertaining to time travel, parallel universes and planet hopping, but rarely did those hi-jinks have an emotional payoff like “All Our Yesterdays.” Here, Kirk and the gang attempt to help a planet’s citizens evacuate before its star supernovas, but discovers that the inhabitants have found a way to escape into the folds of the planet’s own history.
Spock and Dr. McCoy wind up in the planet’s ice age, saved by an a time-escaped woman named Zarabeth. As good as the team was all together, episodes like “All Our Yesterdays” showed that spending time solo and in duos highlighted individual characteristics in a greater sense.
Zarabeth: But your friend, he is ill.
Spock: That is true. If I leave him, there’s a chance he may never regain the ship. He would then be marooned in this time period. But he is no longer in danger of death, so my primary duty to him has been discharged, and if I remain here, no one of our party would be able to aid Captain Kirk.
Zarabeth: You make it sound like an equation.
Spock: It should be an equation. I should be able to resolve this problem logically.
Look, I’d love to tell you this episode is memorable because the Enterprise crew learned a valuable truth about humanity, or because Bones had a great one-liner against Spock or because Kirk proves his worth as a captain.
Admittedly, all of those things happen, but it’s because the fight between Kirk and the Gorn monster at episode’s end is ridiculous enough that it comes back around to being awesome. Take all of those cheesy-looking fake Gojiras from the 50s films and distill it down to a man-sized suit, and you’ve got the Gorn monster. However, this is Trek, so it’s not as simple as “hunky Kirk takes down dumb looking alien monster.”
For what it’s worth, it’s eventually revealed that the Gorn monster has a legitimate reason to be fighting Kirk. The episode is one of many perfect encapsulations have how simultaneously forward-thinking and backwards the original series of “Star Trek” was, and how later series have been able to take advantage of rapidly progressing technology.
Kirk: We’re a most promising species, Mr. Spock, as predators go. Did you know that Spock: I frequently have my doubts.
Kirk: I don’t, not anymore. And maybe in a thousand years or so we’ll be able to prove it. Never mind, Mr. Spock, it doesn’t make much sense to me either.
Spock: A thousand years, Captain?
Kirk: Well that gives us a little time.
What are your favorite episodes of Trek? Are you a Trekkie or a Trekker?