Today marks the anniversary of the day when the first regular episode of Star Trek aired on TV. Some of you might have had this brought to your attention by Google’s wonderful interactive doodle of the day. Personally, I found out about it a few weeks ago. My family and I were talking about Star Wars day, which is May 4th (May the 4th be with you!), when we started wondering about whether there was a Star Trek day. We’re all Trekkies, so the idea of there being a day devoted to the series we all love was pretty exciting. Of course we found out there was one, but it was on Saturday, which is a weekday where we live. So we resolved to celebrate it on Friday, which is the weekend, instead. And then we forgot. Instead of going around speaking in Klingon and Vulcan death gripping random people, we spent the day playing badminton and watching Midnight in Paris. It was only today when we opened Google, saw the doodle of the day, and went “Oops”. Jemima, Tilly, and I made up for our forgetfulness by setting our ring tone as Star Trekkin’, putting a picture of the Enterprise as our desktop wallpaper, and writing a blog post about it, respectively. As you can tell, we all really like Star Trek – even if we’re not devoted enough to remember its anniversary.
So most of you reading this will know what Star Trek is. For those of you who don’t (or for those of you who are curious to see how it is described) I will try to explain. Basically it is about “the voyages of the starship Enterprise” through the “final frontier” of space, some few hundred years in the future from the present day. Captaining the ship is James T. Kirk, a human, played in a heroic but frequently over-the-top manner by William Shatner. His right-hand man is Mister Spock, whose job seems to be both first and science officer on the ship. Spock’s also half-human, half-Vulcan, the latter being an alien race who are famous for their prizing of logic above all else, and who come from a planet with the same name. Adding in another dynamic to the crew is Leonard McCoy, commonly known as Bones, who is the ship’s doctor and an emotional foil to the stoic Spock. Also working aboard the Enterprise are: Nyota Uhura, an African female communications officer; Hikaru Sulu, the Asian helmsman; Pavel Chekov, a Russian ensign; and Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, the conveniently-named Scottish engineer.
One of the best parts of Star Trek has to be these characters. They all have very distinct personalities and interact with one another in varied and frequently entertaining ways. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy make up a famous version of the Freudian Trio (they’re the poster group on the article) and even have tropes named after them on TV Tropes – they’re such good examples of character archetypes. I wouldn’t normally mention the nationalities/ethnicities of characters so prominently, either, but part of Gene Roddenberry’s aim when creating the series was to show a group of people from different countries working together under the common banner of “humans”. He succeeded in many respects, with Uhura and Sulu being famous, early examples of oft-stereotyped ethnicities being shown in a positive light. Even Chekov was, as a Russian, an example of how countries like his and the United States, who were not always the best of friends, could work together in harmony in the future. Together, these characters journeyed throughout the universe, exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, and boldly going where no man had gone before.
Star Trek is undeniably an iconic series. Even though it never gained much popularity when it first aired, it went on to become a cult classic and one of the most widely-known contributors to pop culture ever. Although you would think, to look solely at its plot, that most of Star Trek’s appeal comes from the sci-fi aspect of it, this really isn’t what I think made it so memorable. If you look at the special effects, general graphics, and sets of Star Trek now, they seem positively outdated.
Sure, they were ahead of their time in some ways – the video calls shown on the big screen on the bridge are basically Skype with aliens – but for the most part the special sci-fi effects just seem there to support the show’s plot. That said, one of the most fun bits of watching Star Trek in today’s world of massive explosions and way-too-graphic violence is seeing the characters react (often, if it’s Shatner at least, in a very exaggerated manner) to the alien creatures and environments the episode’s plot exposes them to. The pure theatre of the programme is part of what makes it such an enjoyable experience. From Shatner’s gratuitous acting and frequent hamminess, to the very 1960s sets, to the freedom taken with principles of science in order to better suit the plot – they’re all essential parts of Star Trek.
Star Trek is really, at the end of the day, a bit of fun. There are times when you laugh watching it, whether the producers meant for you to or not. There are times when you’re on the edge of your seat even though that “planet killer” looks like a chopped-up worm and Kirk couldn’t die if he wanted to. The programme isn’t something you just watch and then walk away from, though. The mention of red-shirts, the Vulcan nerve pinch, and the “Live long and prosper” quote and salute and other Star Trek inventions abound in modern media, and you’ll find it’s hard not to reference the programme yourself once you’ve watched a few episodes. My family still say “I shall quicken my pace” in honour of Spock’s line in The Devil in the Dark, even though it’s not a well-known one, and my sisters and I went into a fit of hysterics when we saw “horta” as an option on a menu in Greece. There are a huge number of Trekkies (or Trekkers, as some apparently prefer to be called) around the world, and for good reason. It’s an immensely memorable, easily enjoyable, and just plain great programme. If you’ve seen Star Trek, you probably don’t need me to tell you how great it is. If you haven’t, then you know now. Star Trek might have technically ended years ago, but the fact that people like my family are going to celebrate today – in our case, by doing things like baking Starfleet cookies and watching episodes of the original series – shows that it will really continue its legacy for years. We don’t need proof that Star Trek is capable of surviving well beyond its broadcast years, because it’s already done it. So happy birthday, Star Trek. May you live long and prosper.