With exclusive commentary from those who helped bring it to life
He carefully presented to D. C. Fontana and other literary colleagues his writer’s bible guide, which included imperative plot devices like “The Prime Directive” and “I.D.I.C,” otherwise known as “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.”
“I.D.I.C. is the backbone of Star Trek,” says his son Rod today. With it, his father “gave to the show the idea of a better future… what humans could be and what humanity could become. And to not be afraid of things that are different.”
Gene once described the Prime Directive by saying “it was wrong to interfere with the evolvement of other peoples,” which Rod sees today as “a slippery slope,” because Kirk often utilized the ruling to decide what he thought was right.
“I personally believe in the Prime Directive. But you can place yourself in pretty unique situations, and be twisted apart from the inside. Do you interfere with a species that is going to be annihilated, or do you prevent that from happening [based on relative Federation laws]? That’s a tough one.”
Such debates of Star Trek’s mythology have been documented for decades in numerous books like The Making of Star Trek which Gene co-authored with Steven Whitfield, and which was the first nonfiction tome to fully chronicle the show’s germane story ingredients, character traits, sets, and even props that were infused into Star Trek’s mythology, beginning circa 1965.
Rod explains, “The Making of Star Trek is one of the best books out there for anyone who wants to know about the original series. It displays letters that were written by my father to Caltech [California Institute of Technology] about how, for example, he wanted to use nonlethal weapons on the show.”
Roddenberry also was advised by Harvey Lynn of the Rand Corporation, who was the science advisor on the pilot, not to use lasers.
“What would you recommend?” the elder Roddenberry inquired to Caltech reps. As Rod goes on to reveal, the school informed his dad of their then-current laser technology involving a certain apparatus called, “a phasing laser,” which ultimately became the “phasers” utilized on Trek. “And the dialogue went back and forth from there.
“It was really exciting how my father wanted to extrapolate from existing science so that [the fictional components] were believable on the show.”
For Rod, one of the main directives that his father presented in the ST writer’s guide was “to make things believable.”
Case in Point: Gene chose not to inject magical aspects into Trek’s dimension, and insisted that storylines remain within the boundaries of sci-fi.
Only rarely was this rule disobeyed, as with the episode “Catspaw” (10/27/67; written by Robert Bloch), in which alien captors interplay with the dream worlds of Kirk and company, or with the animated segment, “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” (10/27/73, by Larry Brody), which involved the crew’s connecting with an alien race who traveled to Earth centuries before and were accused of sorcery in seventeenth-century Salem — a premise which was merely enhanced by the animated format.
Rod says his dad would be “very proud” of the positive Star Trek legacy that resonates with countless and diverse fans.
“But I don’t think he’d take credit for any of those things. He hired writers to come up with ideas. He gave them the mandate to make it credible, they did their research and contacted the organizations and institutions that were on the cutting edge of that technology.
“He would have had a very methodical response to that, something along the lines of ‘It was bound to happen. I didn’t create the technology presented on the show… the young people of [the day] created it.’”
Certainly, Gene would have appreciated the aesthetic and technical genius of Trek married writers, consultants, and historians Michael and Denise Okuda.
Michael calls Gene the “first talented storyteller, one with a strong opinion about humanity’s future. When he first started, his goal was simply to make a popular, successful television show.
“Over the years, as Star Trek became part of popular culture, he began to realize that he had a responsibility to use the show to inspire his audience to live the show’s ideals. When that happened, Gene embraced even more of the show’s core message that we should live together in peace, celebrating our differences and that if we are smart, compassionate, and hard working, we can literally reach for the stars.”
Denise adds: “Gene Roddenberry was not only ahead of his time, but he was [also] color blind. Not only did he make it a point to show a future that was inclusive of people of different ethnicities, he even showed people of different species living together in peace.”
As Shatner says, “The really popular episodes of the show are popular for a reason. The best of Star Trek were those stories that overlaid a core theme that had some humanity or which were pertinent to the culture of the time. So, those stories alluded to something that was happening in those years, but covered it by having a science fiction gleam to it.”
The actor’s personal favorites include the Hugo-Award-winning “City on the Edge of Forever” (4/6/67), written by Harlan Ellison and Gene Roddenberry, and David Gerrold’s “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and considered by many to be the show’s most memorable episode.
A comedy at its core, “Tribbles” centers on a space station with a critical grain shipment that Kirk and company is assigned to protect. In the process, the Enterprise crew is forced to confront Federation bureaucracy, and fiery alien Klingons, neither of which (along with the feisty Romulans) are particularly popular with Kirk.
But the real culprits are tiny, furry creatures who purr like cats and multiply like rabbits as they mysteriously charm everyone in their grip.
“City on the Edge of Forever” is a time-travel story in which the crew encounters the Guardian of Forever, a living time doorway that Kirk and Spock ultimately utilize to rescue McCoy who has accidentally tripped through it into the past of Earth’s Great Depression.
Here, all three men meet Edith Keeler, a gentle, generous soul played by guest-star Joan Collins. Kirk ends up falling in love with Edith who, unfortunately, is struck dead by a car. Kirk seeks to prevent the accident until Spock informs him that Edith must die; past events must not be changed. If they are, the future of the Federation — and Earth as they know it, will be no more.
For Shatner, the “Forever” premise of “trying to change time” has always been appealing in storytelling, whereas “Tribbles” remains effective due to the episode’s humor, driven by “those creatures who were multiplying out of hand.”
One of his other favorite episodes is “The Devil in the Dark” (3/9/67), a poignant tale of a creature called the “Horta,” and deemed to be a “monster,” who, as the actor says, “turns out to be not a monster at all.”
In fact, the Horta is a docile alien forced to kill humans on a mining colony who have unknowingly been murdering her children, in the form of a silicon-based egg which, during various digs, were mistaken for regular alloy.
“Dark” was written by Star Trek producer Gene L. Coon, who also penned segments like “Metamorphosis” (11/10/67), which featured guest star Elinor Donahue as a lonely scientist who falls in love with an alien cloud who takes on human form (in the guise of fellow guest-star Glenn Corbett).
Whereas Michael Okuda names Ellison’s “Forever” as Star Trek’s “most powerful, most tragic love story,” his wife Denise calls Coon’s “Metamorphosis” “a beautiful love story, “one that embodies so much of Star Trek’s message of tolerance and understanding.”
According to animated Trek TV writer Larry Brody (who also wrote for shows like Police Story, Ironside), Coon has been “a hugely overlooked component of the writing” on the original live series.
“[He] worked with Gene Roddenberry for the first couple of seasons and did something no one has ever been able to do before or since; he kept the stories and characters grounded. He had the ability to pound out plots that made [Trek episodes] concrete and,” as a result, “created action-filled stories” that ideally demonstrated Roddenberry’s philosophies.
“He was an amazing writer and producer who never received enough credit for his contributions to the show,” Brody decides. “Sadly, he died young [at age 49 in 1974]. Had he lived longer, TV history might be much different.”
Of Coon’s Trek history, in particular, Fontana adds, he “joined ST after the first 13 episodes were done under Roddenberry, who took on the Executive Producer position, but remained actively involved in the show, especially the writing and rewriting [from episodes like “Miri” (10/27/66) to “Bread and Circuses” (3/15/68)].
“Coon was a man with a good sense of humor and was the first/chief contributor of the humorous give and take between Spock and McCoy. He was a fast writer, and he could often do a script of his own in two or three days. He understood the show, so his rewrites very much contributed to the characters and the stories we shot.”
In her opinion, “Coon’s work was outstanding, in particular on ‘Arena,’ ‘Space Seed,’ and ‘Devil in the Dark’ — his own creations. The last four credits [written as Lee Cronin] were reworked by the staff of the third season, and Coon had little to do with the final product on these.
“He brought a sense of humor to the show, in addition to a deep understanding of a story, the relationships and building of the characters beyond their initial introduction, and excellent dialogue. He ‘got’ Star Trek and helped make it what it was at the end of two seasons.”
As Fontana goes on to clarify, “John Meredyth Lucas had written scripts for us and was an experienced writer/director/producer. He was hired by Gene Roddenberry to complete the second season, and he is credited as producer on 10 episodes.”
Like Coon, “He also understood the show deeply and was a valuable contributor to it, especially in the second half of the second season. He had a different personality, had been connected to show business all his life [his mother was actress Bess Meredyth; his stepfather was director Michael Curtiz, Casablanca , and was a real asset to the show.”
Meanwhile, Gene Roddenberry had certain choice ST segments of his own, namely, “Tomorrow is Yesterday” (1/26/67), directed by Michael O’Herlihy, and with guest-star Roger Perry. Like “Forever,” and a future segment, “Assignment: Earth” (3/29/68), “Tomorrow” is a time-travel story in which the Enterprise crew interacts with Earth characters from the past.
Perry’s part, Captain John Christopher, was that of an Air Force pilot (like Roddenberry had been in real life). Through a glitch in time, Kirk and team find themselves in 1967 (the year in which the first Star Trek viewers watched the show), and are forced to pull Christopher aboard from his cockpit. Finding himself aboard the Enterprise proves troubling, as Christopher must be returned to his place in time or the future will be altered.
One “Yesterday” scene displays the Enterprise soaring in Earth’s atmosphere. This image of the ship, which was usually only seen in space, along with the flashback storyline to 1967, grants the Trek audience first-time opportunities to identify with the series in a way unavailable before. Because of such elements, Perry designates this adventure as “one of Gene Roddenberry’s favorite episodes, because he thought it represented what Star Trek was all about.”
Perry also says “Yesterday’s” moral ties in with Trek’s general message, and overlaps a measure with the Prime Directive, at least in relation to time. As he explains, “Be careful when you go where no one has gone before. And don’t mess with time, because my character would have a son who would also be an Air Force pilot [who would play a pivotal role in the first mission to Saturn].”
It should be no surprise that such a moving story and teleplay was written by Fontana, who also penned that season’s “Charlie X,” with guest star Robert Walker, Jr. “Charlie” aired September 15, 1966, before “Yesterday,” which Roddenberry commissioned her to write because he was impressed by “Charlie X.”
“Charlie X” was a story in the original series bible that Roddenberry had generated. When the series went into production, he was by then aware that Fontana had nine TV credits under her belt, and asked her which story appealed to her.
“I went for ‘Charlie X,’” she says. “I did the teleplay only about this young boy found on a previously unexplored planet who had been raised by aliens. As they couldn’t interact with Charlie physically, they gave him certain powers so he could survive — but no guidance in how to be a human being or to control his powers when in interaction with humans.”
Other solid Trek segments from Fontana include “This Side of Paradise” (3/2/67) which, as she reveals “was a major rewrite of a script by Theodore Sturgeon. There were major problems with it — the spores that affected people were only in a cavern on the planet and the love story was Sulu in a relationship with one of the young women on the planet, Leila Kalomi [Jill Ireland].
“My answer to the spores problem was to put them in plants all over the planet so no one could avoid contamination by the spores. And I went into Gene’s office and said, “This is a Spock love story. For the first time in the series, we can see him feeling emotion [due to the spores’ influence], and he experiences love. Gene said, “Go write it.” So I did — and won the story editor’s job in the process.”
Fontana’s famed script for “Journey to Babel” was a second season story/teleplay that she pitched to Roddenberry by referring to “Paradise,” in which Spock mentions his parents: Amanda, a human mother and school teacher (played by Jane Wyatt), and his father, Sarek, a Vulcan ambassador (Mark Leonard).
With “Babel,” Fontana thought, “Why not bring them aboard the Enterprise on a diplomatic mission and introduce them to the world, as well as to Kirk et al.?” Roddenberry replied once more with, “Go write it.”
As Fontana says, “I wanted to show the relationships between Spock and his mother, Spock, and his father, and between Amanda and Sarek — plus throwing in intrigue and a murder mystery taking place in an interstellar gathering on the Enterprise.”
In the show’s third season, Fontana penned “The Enterprise Incident” (9/27/68), which she says “was based loosely on the then in-the-news Pueblo Incident.”
“That was the last full teleplay I did on the show,” she adds, “as I felt the producers then-in-charge did not fully understand the show. [For example], they thought Dr. McCoy was Kirk’s contemporary in an age when we and the actors had always portrayed them as being their actual ages — McCoy being 10 years older than Kirk.”
In either case, Fontana’s Trek contributions, along with those from Coon, Ellison, Brody, and others like Margaret Armen (“The Gamesters of Triskelion,” 1/5/68; “The Paradise Syndrome,” 10/4/68; “The Cloud Minders,” 2/28/69), cultivated and bestowed an elegantly literate glow to the Star Trek scripts that ended their first run with “Turnabout Intruder,” by Arthur H. Singer, which aired June 3, 1969.
Three years later, in 1972, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) named the first American space shuttle after the U.S.S. Enterprise.
On September 17, 1976, Roddenberry and members of the original Star Trek cast, including Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, Nichols, Takei, and Koenig attended the dedication ceremony for the shuttle.
On December 7, 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture premiered in movie theaters around the world, and was covered by every major news media outlet.
ST’s influence was never so wide-spread and apparent, but its return was initially intended as a new television series to be called Star Trek: Phase II.
However, due to the big-screen success of another sci-fi space adventure, Star Wars, created by George Lucas (a Trekker), Phase II, in which the entire original cast had agreed to appear — sans Nimoy, was phased out by The Motion Picture, in which the actor finally agreed to reprise his most famous role of Spock.
Although it ultimately proved profitable, with the Oscar-winning Robert Wise as director, The Motion Picture was considered too cerebral by for the mainstream American movie-goer. The film’s global success, however, convinced Paramount to commission a more action-oriented sequel which translated into the massive box-office receipts of 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, astutely directed by Nicholas Meyer.
It all seemed a bit of déjà vu.
Just as Trek’s second TV pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (which sold the show) was more action-oriented than “The Cage,” the successful Wrath was more action-oriented than The Motion Picture.
As a result, Kahn, with the help of executive producer Harve Bennett’s creative and business savvy, went on to save the Trek feature franchise. His strategy began with viewing episodes of the original series, including “Space Seed” (2/16/67), in which the conflicted chemistry between Kirk and a villainous character named Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban, caught his eye.
Bennett then hired Montalban to reprise his part, Wrath soared, and subsequently inspired Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (in which Kirk decides to sacrifice a crew-less Enterprise to save lives), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (which once more brought the crew to contemporary Earth), and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
III and IV were directed by Nimoy (as part of his deal to once more return as Spock, who had allegedly “died” at the climax of II), while V was guided by Shatner. Both granted each of their fellow Trek mates ample screen time pertinent to their coordinating Trek characters, while Shatner handled well the near-insurmountable task of guiding the Frontier’s high-ended premise.
As he explains: “The struggle in making what turned out to be Star Trek V, the struggle that I had was in trying to arrive at when it was politic to adjust my thinking to management and when it was incumbent on me to stand on principle.
“Human beings face that [kind of dilemma] every day on every action [from] how to brush your teeth to whether you should change your life or not. And that struggle to live in the world and yet, and to keep your head, to keep your ideals somewhat untarnished, is a daily struggle.
“And directing a film you have that struggle every moment, whether it’s the acceptance of an actor’s performance, a writer’s line, the producer’s demand of time, and in my case, the absolute alteration of the original idea of the film which was Star Trek goes in search of God.”
The new TV series, now in production with CBS Television Studios, clocks in as ST’s seventh show. This fresh take on Trek will have a special premiere in the U.S. on CBS in early 2017, after which that segment and all subsequent first-run episodes will be available exclusively on CBS All-Access, where it will become the first original series for the network’s digital subscription video-on-demand and live streaming service.
As one of the new show’s co-executive producers, Rod Roddenberry says, “Star Trek is about humanity and character growth and learning and looking at [an issue] from two points of view, and really dissecting a situation… and getting to know the characters.”
Rod Roddenberry clearly shares the same love and enthusiasm for the new Star Trek as did his father for the original series. That first show was Gene Roddenberry’s “baby.” He stood by it from the beginning stages of “The Cage” to the selling-points of “Where No Man Has Gone Before” through the surpassing obstacles of its original NBC network run and cancellation, and on into the eventual multiple births of countless sequels, most posthumously.
Through it all, the “Great Bird’s” vision for the original show was retained, which set a precedent for how ST’s core message should be perceived.
As he once said, “It is important to the typical Star Trek fan that there is a tomorrow.”
His imagination, real-life experience, and inquisitive mind combined within the confines of a science fiction television series that allowed for the exploration of “strange new worlds, new life, new civilizations,” with storytelling and characters that were sprinkled with awe, mystery, action, and comedy — each the essential elements of living.
Majel Barrett-Roddenberry once quoted Gene as saying, “Why are we now going into space? Well, why did we take the trouble to look past the next mountain? Our prime obligation to ourselves is to make the unknown, known. We are on a journey to keep an appointment with whatever we are.”
Concluded Barrett, “That was his whole philosophy of Star Trek, of life, of everything else.”
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Originally published at www.emmys.com.