HAPPY 45TH TO THE STAR TREK EPISODE THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
Today is the 45th anniversary of a very special Star Trek episode for me. In fact, it literally changed my life. It was on this date, 45 years ago, that the third season episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” aired. Written by Meyer Dolinksy, and directed by David Alexander, the episode is cited as the first example of a scripted inter-racial kiss between a white man and black woman on American television. In the episode, the crew of the Enterprise encounters an ageless and sadistic race of humanoids with the power of telekinesis and who claim to have organized their society around Ancient Greek ideals. The kiss between Kirk and Uhura was an amazing television moment but it was not that aspect that changed my life forever.
One of the lead characters on this episode was a dwarf named Alexander played by the late actor Michael Dunn, who really paved the way for other small actors. As a “little person” myself, standing 4’ 2,” tall I immediately was drawn to this particular episode as there, right on my TV, was someone who looked like me! As I have written previously here on Startrek.com, this just happened to be the very first episode of Star Trek that I had ever seen…and I was smitten with it instantly. I watched every episode of the original series, stood in line for all the movies, was thrilled when The Next Generation was created and every subsequent spin-off after that. I started a fan club which eventually became the Official Star Trek Fan Club with the blessing of Gene Roddenberry and Paramount and published the Star Trek Communicator magazine. It literally started me on my career path and allowed me to build a little mini fan empire for a variety of sci-fi projects that continues to this day.
I related to Alexander. Watching him on the episode reminded me of how I felt growing up. Being small in a world of large people could sometimes be intimidating. I struggled to be accepted and to find a way that I could be equal to others. Star Trek gave me that chance. Because of Alexander’s dwarfism, he lacked the ability to acquire the powers that the other regular height Platonians had. The Enterprise crew devises a way that, through an injection, they can also have the same telekinetic powers to combat the Platonians determination to keep Dr. McCoy there. Given the chance to have the injection and be like them Alexander declines. He became a hero for me. But the most important moment in the show was when Alexander asks Kirk what it is like where he is from and the good captain says, “Alexander, where I come from size, shape or color makes no difference.” THAT was the future I wanted to live in!
Years later, after successfully launching Star Trek: The Official Fan Club and the Communicator magazine, William Shatner asked if he could interview ME for his new book, “Get a Life” – an insightful, honest look at Star Trek fandom and the power of the show. He dedicated an entire chapter to my story and it was a thrill to tell the man himself, Captain Kirk, how those lines he spoke in “Plato’s Stepchildren” changed my life. He responded by saying, “God, how exciting, Dan. I just got goose pimples on that story. Clearly, that moment was an inspiration with far-reaching impact for you."
He later wrote in the book, “I went home once again feeling exponentially better about the franchise that had been kind enough to employ me over the past thirty years. Not only had Dan provided me with an airtight verification of Bob Justman’s insights, but he’s simultaneously put a face, and a voice, on those ideas. More and more I was finding evidence that practically screamed to be noticed. Star Trek, for all its otherworldly smoke and mirrors, has a heart and a mind, and a soul that are organic, and simple, and very human.”
For me, that first viewing of “Plato’s Stepchildren” and the inspiration it created in my life, came full circle that day.
Dan Madsen is the former founder, president and publisher of the Official Star Trek Fan Club and Official Star Trek Communicator Magazine. He now works with actress Ashley Eckstein on Her Universe (www.Heruniverse.com), which produces fashionable, female-focused apparel for Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who and other Sci-Fi properties. He is also working on his first independent feature film, Short Story, based on his original story (https://www.facebook.com/shortstorythemovie).