"Star Trek!" we both chanted!
Well, that was that. We rushed down the stairs and were in front of that television set for the duration.
That's my first memory of Star Trek.
How old were we? Pfft. Single figures.
I mean we weren't even that into the series, but everyone at school in the UK, heck everyone in the whole wide world, knew who Dr. Spock was. And his Space Ship Enterprize. Not to mention Captain Slog's famous catchphrase that he said every single week: "Beam me up Scottie!" "Ye cannae change the laws o'physics!" Oh no, that's right, that came later with that song. Och, everything was so straightforward back then. We were like mini Trekkies.
(which sounds like a chocolate bar)
However it wasn't until roughly 18:40 on Tuesday 26th June 1984 - when I was 13 - that I would really get into the series properly, albeit in black and white.
This screening also looked to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In London in 1984, we had just the four TV channels. Star Trek was a 20-year-old import, which was not available to ever be watched again by any means other than BBC1 deigning to repeat it. It was not available on VHS, apart from anything else because every sell-through VHS tape cost in the region of £30.00 each, so releasing all 80 episodes was plainly impractical. Frankly, if the BBC were about to rerun all three series again, and in the 'right' (NBC) order, then this would probably be my last chance to follow the entire run for the rest of my life.
Because we had no video recorder (in fact only a black and white telly at that point), the coming years would see me saving my pocket money to buy quite a few blank audio tapes to record almost all the show's soundtracks on. Bizarrely, two WH Smith 60-minute tapes worked out much cheaper then one TDK 120. However to avoid missing the middle of each show while turning the cassette over, right from the start I would record the programme onto one side of the C120, and then during the week dub it via a DIN lead onto both sides of its own C60, making sure that the end of side one and the start of side two overlapped each other. (upon later getting a VCR, because videotapes were several times more expensive, I sometimes used the E180 instead of the C120) It took me ages to realise that I could save time by having two tape recorders running for the first half hour. Today I still have a big tin containing all those audio cassettes, and on occasion, BBC continuity announcements, including a few over the final scene!
Copying out the castlists from Radio Times onto the inlay cards, I quickly found that new words were entering my lexicon, as I had to figure out who people like "Uhura", "Shatner", and "De Forrest Kelley" (sic) were.
Attempting to begin watching Star Trek through the lens of my Doctor Who experience, the series struck me as inherently weaker, for several reasons:
1. Until I could get up to the movies, there could be no continuity to Star Trek. The 78 self-contained episodes were even aired in a different order to how they had been made, which exacerbated this. Try as I might to get involved, I knew that no event could affect the universe, or even the characters' memories, for any longer than 45 minutes.
2. Unlike in Doctor Who where the characters' feelings were usually implied, here they sometimes got verbalised. This was always done badly. Sometimes they would even kiss, reducing the show from a science fiction, to just a very ordinary one. I would just have to sit these scenes out until when the imagination came back on again.
3. The music was only orchestral, and therefore sounded historical, rather than electronic and futuristic.
4. The characters couldn't travel outside of their own time, much.
Nonetheless, I quickly came up to speed, as like so many viewers before me, the exciting world of Star Trek took a firm hold of my imagination.
I had dreams about living on the USS Enterprise. That transporter was a thing of fascination for me. On the show the characters would freeze as they dematerialised, so did that mean that they were temporarily paralysed, or no longer conscious? Were their bodies reformed using the same molecules, or were they locally-sourced copies, and what implications did this have for their souls? What the heck did that warning notice on the transporter's wall in the movies say, let alone mean that they were in danger of?
In fact, the disparity in technology between the TV episodes and the concurrent movies had my muse working overtime.
A few months later the BBC1 channel controller would cancel Doctor Who and a while after that the promised third series of the SF book-trilogy The Tripods. Thanks Michael Grade, who years later in 2002 would admit "I actually hate sci-fi." (he was appearing on Room 101, to argue again for the banishment of Doctor Who, three years after the end of its final episode)
It was the worst time to be a young science fiction fan in Britain, but at least these reruns of Star Trek continued to offer a refuge when they were on, despite their slightly haphazard presentation.
1. Upon the final fade-out of the opening credits, the sense that I was now on the brink of three quarters-of-an-hour of pure unadulterated Star Trek. The Americans never got that feeling, and it's missing from all British reruns today, including the DVD versions. To experience that moment, you had to be there each week.
2. The story's interruption by a second series of credits several minutes adrift from first lot.
For some reason this was standard practice in the UK for all US programmes.
However with repeated transmissions over the years, the film prints had also suffered damage. Bits and pieces would have to get cut out, sometimes resulting in a significantly depleted running-time. When this particular airing got up to the episode The Return Of The Archons, the splice holding the end of the prologue to the start of the first act memorably broke live on air:
(these days the digital picture just freezes and pixelates as standard)
By now the series had been restored back to a later 6:55pm slot again (barring the above episode at 7pm), which held for five whole episodes until Who Mourns For Adonais?, when it was taken off the air completely for several months. Responding to complaints from cheated viewers, Radio Times slimily clarified that "… although the re-run of Star Trek was announced as being 'complete', it was never planned to be continuous…"
But you know what? Star Trek did indeed periodically return.
This time the BBC had also acquired brand new copies of the whole series on videotape. On the one hand, these were full-length versions with the opening credits in the right place after the prologue etc. On the other hand, they were 625-line UK videotape transfers from inferior 525-line US videotapes. Garish colours, awkward movements, muffled sound, but what are you gonna do? Well, if you're like me, now with a job and an income, you carefully record them all over again on VHS in production order, and hang onto those old audio cassettes just in case the BBC have again tinkered with them anyway…
But no, I didn't watch them all a second time, even despite the opportunity to resee the early ones in colour. I did however watch the very first episode.
As I say, further down the line all four banned episodes did get shown this time, maybe due to changed attitudes, but it seemed to me more likely because no-one at the BBC now knew that they had been banned. They were, after all, no longer in the same film cans, being on tape.
When each of the last three of those 'new' shows went out though, somehow I was doing other things. I caught bits of each of them, but was secretly pleased that within my VHS archives I now had what to me were three fresh instalments of such a great show to look forward to one day watching fresh.
This year - 2013 - I finally dug out those old tapes of the three episodes that I had never seen, and we watched them, in production order, and with the few intervening episodes between each of them, at a rate of one a week (mostly).
Enthralling, and so worth the wait.
In this article, I haven't spoken much about Star Trek's merits as a series, because it seems to me that enough commentators before me have already got that more than covered. However returning to view these later episodes in my forties, I am honestly bowled over by just how good the old show was (usually). It really is very serious indeed, there's a lot of subtlety to the writing and performances, fantastic ideas (Wink Of An Eye!) and enough time and exploration to really get your teeth into a story. I've also found it to be surprisingly musical. Somehow, no other incarnation of Star Trek has ever quite managed to reproduce these things. Well, maybe apart from Deep Space Nine, but in a different way.
So, this lunchtime, aged 42, I watched my final 'new' episode of Star Trek entitled Whom Gods Destroy, which turned out to be reminiscent of Plato's Stepchildren.
After four seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, it's sparkling to see other alien races like the Andorians through such a deeper, broader context. It's refreshing how Kirk and Spock manage to take a back seat to events and become passive enough to let the Rigellian Marta perform her whole dance, secure in the knowledge that their viewers are as much interested in the place where they've landed as they are. Today lead actor William Shatner would be expected by all to sing a song himself, or at least narrate it.
Well, after almost thirty years, I guess that's what we now refer to as Star Trek: The Original Series complete for me. I always thought it was a mistake to stop making movies with this cast - get as much new Trek out of them while we could I reckoned - but it's encouraging to look back at my 13-year-old self and see that I made a good decision there that Tuesday night in 1984.
A five-year mission? Well, I admit I might not have started if Radio Times had told me that it would be a 29-year one!