Tag Archives: Gene Roddenberry

Trendy Star Trek Documentaries

Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary has brought a lot of attention to the franchise in the past couple of years, along with the release of Star Trek Beyond (which deserved better buzz than it got) and the sad death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015. One effect of all this is the appearance of several new, readily-available documentaries that may interest my fellow Trekkies. I’ve put them in order from best to worst.

For the Love of Spock (2016)

For the Love of Spock promo

The best of the four documentaries, and for me the saddest, is For the Love of Spock. Leonard Nimoy was working on it with his son Adam before he died, so what was intended to be a 50th-anniversary retrospective also became a kind of memorial. It’s the best quality of the four, with archival images and clips worth seeing, along with new interviews. It’s about Spock, it’s about both Nimoys, it’s about the fans. Again the tone can be odd, almost frenzied sometimes, but the emotion is real. You’ll probably have to pay a few dollars to stream this one, but honestly out of all four, this is the one that’s worth the effort.

To Be Takei (2014)

To Be Takei promo

George Takei has become one of the most visible Trek alumni thanks to his social media following and activism, plus his work on the musical Allegiance about the US’s Japanese internment camps during World War II. To Be Takei is basically an overview of his life and the issues he cares about, and it’s definitely worth watching if you’re a fan. It’s got a kind of quirky tone, but be warned, it tends to charge back and forth between his general goofiness and the very serious activism stuff. It’s sometimes available on Netflix, but even when it’s not you can usually find a place to stream it via educational services and things like that.

Chaos on the Bridge (2014)

Chaos on the Bridge promo

I discovered this 1-hour documentary through sheer happenstance on Netflix while looking up The Truth is in the Stars below. It’s a William Shatner-hosted tale of Next Generation’s harried beginnings. It’s not very good either. I mean, the interviews are interesting and I appreciate how they let people tell conflicting versions of the story, but I question whether a video documentary is the best venue for it when there are more cartoon recreations of historical events than actual interviews and pictures.

The Truth Is In The Stars (2017)

The Truth is in the Stars promo

This most-recent effort was essentially recommended to me as “Have you seen this? It’s painful to watch.” Accurate. The idea is that William Shatner interviews scientists about Star Trek‘s impact. But mostly he talks about horses. The first ten minutes is him talking about horses for no apparent reason at all. The next hour or so was interesting if only to see who he’d interview next. He starts with actors, people like Ben Stiller and Jason Alexander (who shows up in like every Star Trek thing ever), then transitions through Seth MacFarlane and Neil deGrasse Tyson (both associated with Cosmos) to additional famous scientists and astronauts (like Michio Kaku and Chris Hadfield) to the great Stephen Hawking. And somewhere in there at the end it becomes genuinely touching? Mostly because we’re seeing Shatner try to deal with his own mortality. So I don’t know whether or not to recommend this one, because it’s reeeeally awkward to see Shatner just ramble at random people like this, but it’s cool to see who’s interviewed and is sort of meaningful at the end. It’s on Netflix, so if I’ve piqued your interest it won’t put you out to find it.


What’s your favorite way to get behind-the-scenes Trek info? Did I miss any documentaries? Let us know in the comments!

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Star Trek Production Crew You Should Know: Original Series Edition

I know how it is when you’re new to the Star Trek fandom… I mean, I grew up watching it, but even then there’s always that point when you come into the fandom for the first time. Like most sci-fi nerds, Trekkies are known for their vast bodies of knowledge, but they seem particularly known for their behind-the-scenes knowledge and personal identification with behind-the-scenes crew. The traditional Trekkie is just as invested in the production side as they are the finished episodes, and that can be super confusing for someone who comes in fresh from watching the show. With that in mind, here are five names you should know from the original series production crew (not counting Gene Roddenberry!):

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Gene Coon

Gene Coon – Coon was a writer and showrunner who worked with Gene Roddenberry several times. He died in 1974, so it’s not always clear exactly he did or why he left before the show ended, but he was in charge of editing scripts (among other things including some full scriptwriting) and was responsible for much of the humor and humanity that started to develop for the characters after the early episodes. Basically if there’s a joke, it’s probably Gene Coon’s. You can still get in a fight with a Trekkie over which Gene gets credit for what, though.

Matt Jefferies – Everyone knows the Jefferies tubes — those things Scotty’s always crawling into — are named after Trek’s art designer Matt Jefferies, so you should know it too. But he also designed basically everything else, in collaboration with the producers, including the Enterprise‘s distinctive shape. While you’re at it, you should know the term “Feinberger,” any wacky futuristic prop seen on Trek, named for the prop master Irving Feinberg. (He mostly made them out of repurposed everyday objects).

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Vulcan’s Glory by D.C. Fontana

Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana – D.C. Fontana started as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary, but she’d already had writing experience, and she was involved with Trek’s scripts from the beginning. The first episode she wrote was “Charlie X,” the eighth episode filmed. She’s kept writing Trek episodes and related stuff basically up to the present, although she was most heavily involved in the original series (especially in building up Vulcans, Spock as a character, and writing some major female roles like the Romulan commander). You can still get in a LOT of fights about her, because as the most prominent female writer, everyone wants to debate whether her contributions were valuable.

William Ware Theiss – I’m sneaking in Bill, not necessarily because everyone knows him but because everyone should. He was TOS’s costume designer, and his name is now immortalized in the Theiss Titillation Theory: “the degree to which a costume is considered sexy is directly proportional to how accident-prone it appears to be.” I’ve written about women’s TOS costumes and how feminist they are at length on the old CompGeeks site, so I won’t repeat it here, but he’s super important to the whole aesthetic of Trek. He was also gay, which you won’t find in most of the behind-the-scenes books.

Sherry Jackson in What Are Little Girls Made Of

Sherry Jackson demonstrating the Theiss Titillation Theory in “What Are Little Girls Made Of.”

Robert “Bob” Justman – Justman was a producer and production manager, the nuts-and-bolts guy to Roddenberry’s “get it done” creativity. He was involved from pretty close to the beginning, so he really helped shape the show, as well as being the guy who literally made it possible to turn the episodes in by crunching the budget and whatnot. He’s pretty interesting, but you probably won’t get in a fight about him. He comes up as a complement to the Genes a lot though, and he also said one of my favorite quotes in the world:

“We’re all in outer space, Jerry, and we’re in color. NBC claims to be the first full-color network, so let’s prove it for them. When you light the sets, throw wild colors in—magenta, red, green, any color you can find—especially behind the actors when they’re in a close shot. Be dramatic. In fact, go overboard. Backlight the women and make them more beautiful. Take some chances. No one can tell you that’s not the way the future will look.” –Robert Justman

He’s talking about lighting, of course, but I think that’s one of the things that keeps us coming back to Star Trek’s optimistic future. Take some chances. No one can tell you that’s not the way the future will look. I like trivia and accuracy as much as the next fan, but I especially care about behind-the-scenes because of quotes like that. Once you start recognizing names, you’ll start getting attached. If you’re a new Trekkie, don’t be afraid to take the plunge!

A Year of Watching Star Trek

This time last year, I was deciding to watch all the Star Trek that exists, most of it for the first time. Watching an episode a day, it would’ve taken about two years. Well, I haven’t watched anything like an episode a day, but I don’t mind. I exchanged speed for depth, and spent a fantastic year with the original series, The Animated Series, the original-cast movies, and now starting The Next Generation. I’ve written almost a dozen posts on various Trek-related topics for Comparative Geeks, but as it’s December, here are some reflections on my Trekkie year and the show so far.

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“Errand of Mercy”

Mainly, I’m impressed by Star Trek’s ideas. There are episodes of the original series that I didn’t like much as a child, so I didn’t watch them very often, but they surprised me as an adult. “Errand of Mercy” used to seem like dithering, and now I love this image of pacifist aliens who intervene when they must. “Metamorphosis” was painfully boring, and still is, but there’s a beautiful gay-rights message hidden inside it. “Is There in Truth No Beauty” seemed irritating, but now Miranda Jones is my role model. Those episodes, and many more, have philosophical conversations as their climaxes and defining moments, and that’s just cool.

Of course, I think as fans we sometimes spend too much time defending Trek as intellectual. It is. But it’s also a good time. It’s funny, it’s ridiculous, sometimes it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense, and that’s one reason it can be so inspiring. Star Trek is a dream that we want to make a reality, but we don’t have to always be deadpan about it, and that’s awesome too.

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Me with my dear personal friend, William Shatner

This project has spread beyond just watching the episodes, and even beyond writing these blog posts, although I like to bring in as much as I can. I wrote a graduate-level paper on Star Trek props, later adapted into a post on miniskirts and one on computers. I went to conventions and met William Shatner for a couple of glorious seconds. (He wasn’t even the highlight of my first Trek convention… The best part was putting on a uniform t-shirt and then walking into a room where everyone else was in uniform too. I’ve never felt so at home). I read novels, comics, and memoirs. I watched documentaries and followed actors to some very obscure roles. I had friends fill up my newsfeeds with Trek memes, articles, and merch advertisements, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Star Trek is a wonderful place to live.

Looking ahead, well, I can’t wait to finish TNG season one… and then there’s Star Trek: Discovery next summer… Hopefully it’ll be a good place to jump in if you don’t have time to watch absolutely everything!

Hey, Did You Know “Star Trek: The Animated Series” Was a Thing?

Even as an involved internet Trekkie for two decades, I was only vaguely aware that Star Trek: The Animated Series existed. It was a low-budget cartoon produced the early 1970s, intended to be a kind of fourth season for the live-action show. When I did hear about TAS, I assumed it was awful and just never cared… Until a few years ago, when I found out it was all original actors doing their characters’ voices! I saw a few episodes, but as part of this project to watch all the Star Trek ever, I definitely wanted to see it as a whole. There are 22 episodes, each about 24 minutes long, all currently available on Netflix.

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Star Trek Computers Aren’t All That Retro

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Spock at his computer station.

Last month we talked about Star Trek: The Original Series miniskirts, how they came to be and what they signified. While researching the paper that eventually turned into that post, I found out some interesting things about technology too. Most sci-fi isn’t actually futurist, meaning it doesn’t actually attempt to predict the future in an accurate way. Most sci-fi is designed to make a social statement by taking a situation to an extreme, or to explore possibilities by asking scientific what-if questions, or both. It’s not meant to be a “history of the future.”

Star Trek did those social things, and fantastically well. It’s famous for them. However, it also turns out that Gene Roddenberry, creator and showrunner of Star Trek, was an enthusiastic futurist who wrote papers on the future of technology and was invited to lecture at NASA as well as several universities and colleges. While Star Trek was first and foremost a fantasy of space travel, Roddenberry was interested in presenting concepts he actually found workable and likely to exist in the future. One of his most important ideas was the Enterprise’s central computer, described in this pre-production memo:

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