what i'm watching: to boldly go: in which captain james t. kirk returns to my tv

I am so enjoying re-watching the original Star Trek series, in order, from the beginning, on my US Netflix/Roku.

I half-dread writing about "Star Trek TOS", because of... well, you know. The whole Star Trek thing. The whole sci-fi thing. If you read the "what i'm watching" and "what i'm reading" posts on wmtc, you know I am not a science fiction aficionado. Obviously I am not a Trekkie or a Trekker. I don't know or care about Star Trek trivia. Shatner* memes can be mildly amusing, but really, whatever. I just really like this show.

(This is a problem when you casually enjoy something that has a cult following. I've never written about Xena, either, for the same reason. I'm not a fantasy fan. I just love that show!)

I watched Star Trek as a kid, back when there was no need to append "the original series" to the name,** but before stumbling on it on Netflix, I hadn't seen it in more than a decade. I thought I had seen the entire series, but now have discovered that I've seen only about half the episodes. I think the metro New York channel that showed Star Trek re-runs in those days only owned certain episodes. So while I saw about 30 episodes multiple times, there are a good 40-odd episodes that I've never seen at all.

Watching the show from the beginning, in order, is terrific. Early character development, references to back story, various early combinations of crew, the glam close-ups of Kirk as Ladies' Man - it's interesting to watch it all develop. And new stuff, right away! I had seen the famous two-part episode "The Menagerie," where Spock appears to face court-martial for kidnapping his former captain and hijacking the Enterprise, but I had never seen "The Cage," the pilot episode The Menagerie refers to. I'm waiting for my favourite episode: silicon-based life.

One thing that makes Star Trek TOS so interesting is the show's signature mix of the progressive and the conservative. There's the Enterprise's multinational crew, people of all backgrounds working together in harmony... but the captain is a WASP with two monosyllabic names. Women have been promoted to space travel and many are distinguished scientists... but their uniforms barely cover their butts.*** (I've read that Gene Roddenberry would have clothed the women in even skimpier costumes if television standards had allowed.) Thematically, the entire show is a vision of what exploration could have been. Imagine if the Europeans had followed The Prime Directive! Yet the Enterprise travels through a galaxy colonized by Earth. Starship command, as far as I can tell, are all Earth people. Something tells me United Earth is another name for the American Empire.

So far, all the episodes are based on a few templates. There are the being-with-superior-powers-toying-with-Enterprise-crew, who turns out to be a childlike figure controlled by superior beings. There is time travel in which the crew must not disturb the past in order to preserve the future. There is - a bit strangely, I think - fear of humans becoming slaves to technology. There are moralistic stories of tolerance, avoiding war, and what happens to beings with absolute power.

In the 1960s, as I understand it, the technology imagined on Star Trek was groundbreaking, almost prescient. Nowadays, it's amusing to spot the bits where they guessed wrong. Most of these come down to not anticipating the digital revolution, imagining advanced space travel in an analog world. So you get a chronometer that looks like an old car odometer, and a voice-activated computer producing microfilm-like pictures of typewritten index cards. When I re-watched the first season of Red Dwarf, I noted Lister waiting for his film to be developed in the ship's darkroom. It was not meant to be a joke. Funny how people imagined long-distance space travel but not instant photography.

* Obligatory Canadian sightings: William Shatner and James Doohan (who played Scotty) are/were both Canadian.

** No, I have never seen Star Trek "TNG". But yes, I have heard it's very good and I would probably like it. If I ever find out, I'll let you know.

*** I originally wrote "cover their boobs and thighs", but upon review, I see that there was rarely any cleavage seen on female characters. The uniforms were the miniest of mini dresses, with hemlines just south of unmentionable. The only chest exposed was male, usually sweaty, and almost always Shatner.

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