I'm not sure which Star Trek episode I saw first -- it was either "The Naked Time," possibly already in rerun, or "The Squire of Gothos." I was eleven years old, I do remember that my reaction was, "This is fun!" followed by, "Much better than Lost in Space." That means it likely must have been "The
I’m not sure which Star Trek episode I saw first — it was either “The Naked Time,” possibly already in rerun, or “The Squire of Gothos.” I was eleven years old, I do remember that my reaction was, “This is fun!” followed by, “Much better than Lost in Space.” That means it likely must have been “The Naked Time,” because what could be more fun than young, shirtless George Takei waving a fencing foil while grabbing Nichelle Nichols and announcing, “I’ll protect you fair lady!” and her responding, “Sorry, neither?”
I lived in a house with five people and one TV at a time when even the concept of a VCR was stranger than a universal translator. When I was a kid, The Wizard of Oz was broadcast once a year around Thanksgiving, and that night was always an event. If you had to pee at the wrong time, you missed out on the flying monkeys for twelve months, making it important to restrict fluids that day. So, keeping up with a first-run TV series was a challenge I often failed to meet, due to either my brother’s demands for control of the dial (no remotes yet either) or my mother’s insistence I go to my hated Girl Scouts meetings.
I had no concept of fandom either. My older sister watched with me sometimes, but no one else I knew liked the show. And when it was canceled, I dropped it into my memory box along with The Time Tunnel, another favorite I never expected to see again.
It would be about 45 years before I watched James Darren enter that tunnel again, but Star Trek hit its groove in syndication by the time I reached college. I lucked into the same dorm as a group of fans who homesteaded the single dorm TV each day after dinner, ignoring sneers and pleas from those who wanted to watch the news. It quickly became a ritual I enjoyed more for the company than the show.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the show. But the kibitzing! Here was the companionship I’d failed to find at those Girl Scout meetings. These were people who liked the same stuff I did! It was a dizzying concept. Even my best high school friends thought I was pretty odd and hadn’t shared many of my interests. I’m sure the many excellent professors I had would be insulted to know that some of my warmest memories of those four years was listening to ribald comments about Kirk’s ability to get laid in the most unlikely circumstances.
This group didn’t reject the show because it was cheesy: they reveled in the cheese, something non-fans found impossible to comprehend. They tore apart every aspect of each episode, but didn’t neglect discussion of the more serious ideas the show presented. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was getting as much education in literary analysis from the crowd around the cathode ray tube as in some of the classes I took.
After college, I ran a bookstore for a time, which helped connect me to more fans of science fiction and fantasy, including Trekkers — the preferred term for Trek fans, “Trekkies” being considered derogatory. Not that we took ourselves seriously. Nope. But we fans had justification for our defensiveness. Our beloved science fiction genre ranked somewhere below bodice-ripper romances on the prestige level in those days. I remember trying to convince a mother that an Asimov novel wouldn’t harm her son even though it was “unrealistic.” Her own choice of reading was Harold Robbins’s latest opus.
In 1979 I sat in a theater like so many other fans, desperately wanting to like Star Trek: The Motion Picture – and failing. I feared that would be the end of new voyages for the Enterprise. But the franchise stumbled unevenly through the years, seesawing from an odd-numbered disaster to an even-numbered hit.
By the time The Next Generation began airing, I was married to someone who watched along with me, although his heart would always belong to Doctor Who. I attended cons and had a small circle of friends who discussed science fiction and fantasy regularly. By the time Deep Space Nine came along, science fiction TV series were no longer oddities.
I realized how important Star Trek was in this culture shift one day at the office when a co-worker stared at a new conference phone and asked why it looked like something out of the series. I replied, “Because it was designed by a Trekker.” Those kids who loved “unrealistic” stories had grown up to bring fictional paraphernalia into tangible existence. Many mockers found themselves opening their flip phones with the same panache as Kirk did his communicator. Several years later, we’d finally catch up with Picard when Apple gave us the iPad.
The Star Trek universe is only one of many science fictional spaces I cherish, but it was my first. And it endures, cheese and all, because of heart, vision, memorable characters, and some pretty good storytelling. I’m not blind to its faults, but at its best it took emotionally charged issues into a safe, narrative space where they could be examined — if not with Spock’s unqualified logic — at least with a fresh eye. It stumbled partly because it took so many chances.
Much as I loved the original series, I cheered at the end of the 2009 reboot when I realized the old universe wasn’t going to be magically restored. I’m enjoying the new, alternative landscape with its twists on old plots. Because every character deserves to go where no one has gone before.
Oh, and isn’t it about time they finally manage to produce a reboot of The Time Tunnel?