Trekland, Supplemental: Just for the ‘Newbies'
If you remember Star Trek before it grew lens flares, this might not be the read for you this week. But you’re welcome to tag along.
Now, in line with our last Trekland: Supplemental about all the new fans from J.J. Abrams' blockbuster Star Trek (2009) film, it's been suggested to me that perhaps it's time to stop pointing it out and start DOING something to welcome them. So here's my prescription for Trek happiness: if it was good enough for me, it's good enough for you.
But don’t worry—I’ll keep this Rx in capsule form.
Because anyone can go out and rent or buy DVDs or download episodes. The one ingredient you miss, though—even with the “bonus features on Disk 7”—is context. When the Star Trek monster first got big overseas, I always felt sorry for the fans in Europe and elsewhere who could only see Star Trek as just a wall o’ DVD boxes. They missed out on the headlines of media or the world at large, reflected in episodes … the dynamic of sequels, or even sister series on-air together … the latest cast or writer hiccup…
Most of all, they miss that simple week by week feeling of the eternal wait and wonder for next week’s episode. And don’t even talk to me about the summer eternity until the fall conclusion of a cliffhanger conclusion!
Of course, only a few can ever experience first-hand viewing. Unless you have a Bajoran orb arc in your back pocket, the (linear) time for that is long gone. Even now, only a few can claim memories of seeing TOS in first-run on NBC (is that a fandom equivalent to being a Mayflower descendant?), but at the same time anyone can remember fondly The First Time They Saw Star Trek. And for most of us, your favorite series is The One You Grew Up On.
The truth is, every fan came aboard at different points along the voyage. So, for all you “newbies”—and that can be far more than J.J.’s new recruits—here’s my advice. I already praised Paula and Terry’s Star Trek: 365 book in my last Trekland: Supplemental—it’s almost a cheat, it’s so gorgeous (but I really read it for the articles, too.). It’s a great read, but here’s what you really should do:
1) Start off like everyone else did in the 1960s… or 1970s… or 1980s: get a copy of the original classic: The Making of Star Trek. Stephen Whitfield (Poe) wrote it during the first two seasons of TOS, and I guarantee it will unlock more insight and inside jokes alike for the next 45 years of Trek than anything else you can grab in one sitting. If you don’t know the “McCoy saltshaker” story… or the one about the Orion green-skin make-up test with Majel Barrett-soon-to-be-Roddenberry… or how creator Gene Roddenberry first got the nickname “The Great Bird of the Galaxy” (DID you know he was The Great Bird?) … then you must devour this 403-page paperback (Del Rey).
Along the way, you get a full primer on all the wacky and wonderful ways that television gets made, planned and filmed. Of course, the “film” may now be “digital cards,” but TV production and the mindset of its “suits” hasn’t changed a lot in almost 50 years. We are so media-saturated today, but believe it or not this was about the first mass-market book that explained in simple language how all those names on the end credits actually fit together —complete with memos, call sheets, set plans, sketches. This is ALL we had for years, and it kept Trek fandom alive and growing.
Best of all, The Making of Star Trek has never gone out of print since 1968! That means it’s probably around the corner at your local used bookstore right this second— if your local used bookstore still exists. Or, there’s that online thing, too; you can get it new or used, to boot.
The only downside is that TMOST only covers Star Trek’s first two seasons, after the two pilots—and thus cannot include the legendary letter-writing campaign that saved the show for a third season, made TV history and birthed modern media fandom of all kinds.
2) TOS starter episodes? I may depart from others’ lists, but I have two recommendations: The episode I always recommend as a “textbook” with the biggest all-in-one dose of Star Trek is Season 2’s “Journey to Babel.” It has everything: colorful and important aliens, intrigue, Spock’s parents and own Vulcan/Human conflict, the workings of the Federation, the sense of the Enterprise serving its government, heroic combat Kirk, heroic medical McCoy, and great Spock-McCoy scenes. About all it doesn’t have is Scotty, a Chekov “Russian joke” or a dead redshirt.
After that, go for either the fun of “The Trouble With Tribbles” (much of the above, plus Scotty and Chekov, now) or go back to characters with the intensity and humor of “The Naked Time.” Then, maybe “Amok Time,” or enter the “morality play” shows with “A Taste of Armageddon” or “The Devil In the Dark.” Save all the other obvious Top Ten Classics for later, when you can appreciate their off-putting situations a little more.
Sidebar: My TOS episode to show a non-sci-fi’er: Season 1’s “Tomorrow is Yesterday.” That’s the episode I first showed my mom, because of its modern-day Air Force grounding.
Oh, and if people have a hard time watching an “old Sixties” show, tell ‘em to get a Remastered version. Sheesh.
3) If you insist on more reading, you can look for Inside Star Trek (Pocket Books, hardcover or paperback), written by two true TOS insiders: hands-on studio exec Herb Solow and The Bird’s right-hand man, Bob Justman—written just in 1996 and with some tales finally told. It may be tougher to find, except as an audio book, but you’ll turn one up. You want the photos!
4) Or do it the way we did it: Get one of the books written by the guy who indeed wrote “Tribbles.” David’s Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek does cover that third season and the revival phenomenon, and—being written during the Great Rerun-Only Era of the 1970s, when a Star Trek revival was only a dream—offers a host of critiques to “fix” should the dream ever come true. Which takes us to…
5) …Indeed, the fixes of The Next Generation era, if you want to jump ahead. I hear there’s a great all-in-one companion to that series, but we can save the “future” for next time.
Larry Nemecek, author of The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, Star Trek Magazine columnist and longtime editor of Star Trek Communicator, most recently appeared in Biography Channel’s The Captains of the Final Frontier two-hour special. Larry shares his years as Star Trek author, historian, consultant and insider online at conventions and on larrynemecek.com. Check out his commentary and original video chats with all your favorite Treklanders at his own Treklandblog.com.