Tag Archives: Star Trek: The Original Series

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!

Let’s Talk About First Officers

This month’s Star Trek post is a collaboration with fellow contributor Rose B. Fischer. We’ve seen a lot of misinformation floating around about Starfleet’s first officers, so we’re here to spread some knowledge!

Space operas like Star Trek are drawn from westerns, swashbucklers, and naval/maritime epics. So the captain is a combination of tropes from those genres. Usually, it’s one part maverick, one part wandering hero, and one part charismatic leader. Star Trek adds a heavy dose of diplomat, since Starfleet is committed to peaceful exploration rather than conquest, intractable optimism and strong humanistic values. Those are Star Trek‘s defining characteristics and the captain is the show’s mouthpiece, so it makes sense that the character would also be the embodiment of the Federation’s mores. The captain’s first love is the ship, and every relationship is either built around or overshadowed by the siren song of space.

Headshots of Kirk and Picard.

The first officer shares the captain’s love of space, and is a composite of the same tropes as the captain. The first officer is supposed to be qualified to command to ship in the event that the captain is unfit for duty, and has the potential to be captain in their own right, so the two characters will have a lot of similarities in terms of skills sets, moral composition, and affinity for space. They’re meant to be complementary opposites, so their personalities and skills will usually mesh well and benefit the crew as a whole.

The captain’s personality informs the shipwide culture while the first officer’s function is usually to provide balance by meeting the needs of the ship and crew where the captain is less proficient. In TOS, Spock’s knowledge of science and ability to process information are assets to Kirk when the Enterprise encounters new life forms. His adherence to Vulcan logic makes him more apt to advise drastic action when the lives of the crew are at stake, while Kirk’s reluctance to engage in violence usually means the ship gets drawn further and further into trouble. In the end, it’s almost always a scientific edge that helps the crew out of hot water, and a lot of the solutions are facilitated by a combination of Spock’s knowledge and Kirk’s stubborn ingenuity.

"Insufficient facts always invite danger." -Spock

“Insufficient facts always invite danger.” -Spock

I see a lot of TNG critics (and fans) saying that Picard and Riker amount to nothing but a role reversed version of Kirk and Spock. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Riker was meant to be the more physically active of the pair, leading away teams and generally being in the position of the young, handsome hero, but his role is pretty different from both Kirk and Spock. Aside from leading away teams and a tendency to romance alien women, Riker is about as similar to Captain Kirk as I am to a sponge. He’s often shown managing crew assignments, is more approachable, and has a more casual way of interacting with subordinates than Kirk does. His job is as much to relate to the Enterprise crew and manage day to day operations as it is to lead away missions. Captain Picard has the crew’s respect as a leader, but it’s often clear that Picard himself isn’t comfortable with personal interactions where Riker excels. The TOS crew may not have always understood or related to Spock, but unlike Picard, Spock was not shown to be reluctant or uncomfortable with the crew. He related to them on his own terms, as a Vulcan.

"Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody." -Riker

“Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody.” -Riker

The contrast between Spock and Riker especially stood out to me (Hannah) in my grand rewatch, because it’s such a distinct change. They’re very different characters — like Spock and Data are very different, despite constant comparisons — but they also show the transition between TOS and TNG. TOS was more conceptual, and there was less interest in showing a spaceship’s daily operations. Spock’s job as first officer was essentially to advise Kirk. He was technically second in command, but most of the time they were off on the same missions anyway. His role as science officer was much more important, and correlated to his role as the intellectual part of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy soul-mind-heart trio.

When TNG came along, narrative styles were changing, and the show was more interested in daily life. I love the more stylized TOS characters, but this step toward more-realistic ones is a huge factor in why Star Trek has had such longevity. Riker balances Picard’s skills, but he also seems to have a distinct function on the ship as first officer. He doesn’t have an additional role like science officer or anything else. The most obvious thing is that he leads away missions instead of the captain and first officer both endangering themselves, and he advises Picard as needed, but especially in the first season, the captain and first officer almost function like two departments of the ship. They’re advisory to each other, with the captain in charge of decisions, but the first officer in charge of personnel and planning. It makes the ship seem bigger, and gives them both something to do in these stories that include logistics as well as moral dilemmas.

Still of Ferengi and Captain Picard from "The Battle."

“The Battle” is a great episode for captains and first officers.

Most episodes understandably focus on ideas and characters over explaining the finer details of how Starfleet works, but it’s really super impressive how well they balance those story roles with ship functions as the show progresses. Plus the role of first officer is about to get even more interesting, since the main protagonist of Star Trek: Discovery is going to be the first officer. But no matter which show, keep an eye out next time you watch, and let us know what you think!

“I Loved Star Trek: The Original Series, Where Can I Get More Episodes?”

I’ve wondered the same thing, hypothetical question-asker! Fortunately you’re in luck, because the original Star Trek is a cultural artifact of huge importance. Anything that big gets revisited over and over again, and I’ll read, watch, or listen to anything that makes an effort. There’s a huge variety to suit any taste, but for this post I have one major recommendation and I challenge you all to guess what it is by the end.

In the realm of “real” stuff, as canon as Trek gets, you can always watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and revisit old plotlines and characters. You’ve got the original cast movies, which are in some ways “the same” but almost different versions of the same characters. You’ve got Star Trek: The Animated Series, which used original actors for voices and was better than it sounds. And there’s the series of reboot movies, particularly Star Trek Beyond which most closely approximates something like the original.

Star Trek Beyond promo

Jaylah, Kirk, and Spock in Star Trek Beyond

Novels are a great option too, and there are roughly a gigglety-jillion. If you’re looking for something really specific, to revisit a guest character or something like that, you may only find one or two but you’ll probably find something. I’ve mentioned some wacky ones here but there are plenty closer to the original series in tone — some off the top of my head are The Eugenics Wars by Greg Cox, Timetrap by David Dvorkin, Invasion: First Strike by Diane Carey, and Tears of the Singers by Melinda Snodgrass. Plus it’s not exactly, er, normal, but you’re missing out if you don’t read William Shatner’s Shatnerverse books.

Shatnerverse covers

A step further and you’ve got fanfic or other fanworks. Quality varies from bizarre paragraph-long vignettes about Spock as a dentist to multi-novel sagas with better characterization than some episodes from season 3, but as with the published novels, there’s something for everyone. Whatever you’ve wondered about, someone’s written it (with of course the glaring exception of the one thing I really want to read, a take-off on “Balance of Terror” where it turns out Spock really is a Romulan spy. Rec me if you know of one). I won’t do much reccing because it very much depends on what events you want to see, but there are episode addenda, episode retellings, episode followups, new episodes, a detailed episode-by-episode analysis of why Kirk/Spock was a real thing, anything you want.

But let’s take a step back toward the novels and talk about comics. Even fans who like fanfic sometimes think they won’t like comics because they’re associated with being confusing or difficult to access, and I get that, but I promise it’s not as confusing as superhero comics. With the resurgence of interest after the reboot movies, it’s easier than ever to get collected editions of comic series, so you don’t have to figure out issue numbering, just think of them the same as novel series. You can get stories about Khan and aliens and whatever, just like the novels. You can also get reprints of the original Gold Key comics from the 60s and 70s, which are hilarious, or the newer Star Trek: Ongoing series that retold original-series plots using reboot-movie characters. But most importantly, you can get Star Trek: New Visions by John Byrne. It’s a comic series that uses collages of original episode stills to create new episodes.

 

It sounds silly — and kinda looks silly at first glance — but hear me out! John Byrne isn’t just some guy, he’s been a major comic author and artist since the 70s, and clearly knows his Star Trek. The New Visions series ran for two years and four volumes, with each (long) issue as a new episode of original Trek. It captures the rhythm of an original Trek episode, the style, the story functions of each character. (And while it’s a bit limited as far as diversity based on original images, he also pastes together a few new characters and does a much better job including women than Star Trek: Ongoing. Much better).

It doesn’t have the same variety of tones — original Trek could be serious, fun, goofy, self-important, intense, but these mostly fall into a “weighty” category, a feeling of pondering the mysteries of the universe. The “Where No Man Has Gone Before” sort of tone. I don’t mind that, it’s as authentic as anything. Most plots revisit original episodes, extending concepts to see how they might play out, but always in character. Some plots are new, but in the same spirit, the same general classifications of episodes and the same concerns. Even the sciencey sci-fi bits don’t make sense in the same way that original episodes didn’t make sense! Once you get used to the slight choppiness of the images, it’s really truly like watching new episodes of Star Trek. I’ve even seen each episode enough times to recognize the pictures, but I still forgot they were reused most of the time.

I honestly never expected New Visions to be good, but it’s great. It may be more like the original series than anything else I’ve seen. But I’m always looking for more recommendations, so feel free to leave them in the comments!

Data, Spock, and Star Trek Emotions

“Unlike Data, for example, [Spock] at least has feelings.” -Richard Raben, Boldly Live as You’ve Never Lived Before: Unauthorized and Unexpected Life Lessons from Star Trek

I posted this quote (from a book I read for another post) on my Facebook a while back, with the simple caption “#NERDRAGE.” It generated an excellent conversation about Data, Spock, emotions, neurodivergence, and Star Trek’s unstated values. I wanted to share some of those thoughts here because they’re really, really important. Instead of just spouting off about it myself, I’m pleased to present it in conversation form with two brilliant Facebook participants, fellow Comparative Geeks contributor Rose B. Fischer and super duper college buddy Lani. Edited slightly for readability.

Hannah: So, my irritation with the above quote is twofold: The statement that Data doesn’t have emotions, and the implication that having/expressing emotions is intrinsically better. They sound contradictory but they’re not, given the two characters being portrayed and especially the connection with autism.

Firstly, the definition of emotion. I have this conversation every time I watch the movie Equilibrium, where “emotions are suppressed/removed” but things like loyalty, ambition, and disgust (ironically, disgust for emotions!) all remain. Data’s kind of the same, he “doesn’t have emotions” but actually he has desire (for knowledge/curiosity, desire to please), happiness and sadness when good or bad things happen, affection (for Spot), loyalty to Picard/his friends/Starfleet, etc. Where does emotion end and an intellectual position begin?

Lani: If we are are argue that Data has no emotion, we have to argue that the desire to experience emotion is, in and of itself, not an emotional experience. Beyond that, his friendship with Geordi, his affection of Spot, and his desire for a family unit all suggest emotional response.

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“Phantasms”

Rose: The issue that’s consistently played up with Data is lack of emotional awareness, compounded by incomplete cultural/social understanding. He can analyze human culture norms but isn’t invested in them and doesn’t have a bunch of conditioned responses based on observed behavior since infancy. There are several instances of other characters recognizing emotion in Data and commenting on it. Data usually “corrects” them, but context makes it pretty clear that the audience is meant to infer that Data has more emotional capacity than he realizes.

Hannah: Yeah, a lot of people tease about this, as in “Oh, they’re trying to write an emotionless character but they keep accidentally giving him emotions anyway, haha,” but I think it’s a more foundational concept that there IS no distinct line between emotions and thoughts/opinions/beliefs. The issue here is with comprehension and expression, not existence. Data doesn’t understand other people’s emotions or the way humans act because of them, and because others tell him he doesn’t have emotions, he believes them and continually uses that as a defense, reminding others that he’s responding in his own way and isn’t capable of doing what they’re doing.

The Enterprise crew tends to be more understanding than the rest of the universe in all things and all situations, and they generally provide a supportive environment in which for him to experiment and learn, but it still would’ve helped him out enormously if there was ANYONE there who could go “Oh, me too, I also find this difficult and this is what my emotions are like,” etc. Data’s emotion chip basically gives him overwhelming emotional reactions, and cues the matching physical action (laughter, etc.) but he gets little or no help learning how to deal with them the way a (neurotypical) child usually learns.

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“The Outrageous Okona”

Lani: Data’s ability to process emotions coincides closely with the disorder alexithymia, which is the inability to understand, identify, and process one’s own emotions and, no surprise, research shows that 85% of autistic adults have it. So yes, Data’s experiences are highly analogous with autistic experiences.

Also, speaking as an autistic adult, one thing I have learned over the years is that if someone tells you that you have no feeling, your instinct is to believe them. Especially if you are alexithymic and can’t identify those emotions, it is very easy to take the words of someone else regarding your own emotional experiences as gospel.

The flip side of that is Spock’s experience with emotions, which is also analogous with an autism spectrum experience: your emotions are Big. They are Big and they are Violent and they don’t fit right inside you and you don’t know what they are or what to do with them. You’ve been told that your emotions–not other people’s, but yours–are odd or unnatural or too Big, too Violent, and you learn to push them aside because no one has time to understand your emotions, which are big and violent and angry and confused. And so you learn to dislike them and to feel ashamed of them because they are difficult to deal with and People Like You shouldn’t have or need emotions, anyways.

So yes, Spock has emotions. And Data has emotions. And they process them differently from each other, and differently from the humans around them. But to classify emotions that do not fit the typical mold as nonexistent is a dangerous place to start.

Hannah: Yes. Plus the fact that they exist doesn’t mean they need to be pushed into typical channels. Spock’s situation is almost the opposite of Data’s, he knows he has emotions but he’s always dealt with them by getting rid of them. Some fans complain that he gets “turned into Kirk” by the end of the movies, and I agree with that in part — I would’ve loved to see him remain more alien and more incomprehensible in some ways — but that also shows his journey toward accepting his emotions and factoring them into the equation, but still never allowing them to overwhelm him. (eg he has an emotional attachment to Jim, so he breaks rules and lies to save him, but he doesn’t need to indulge in an emotionalistic display about it.) He was suppressing them and suffered a lot of internal distress about his emotions, but learning to “express” or “release” them was not part of the solution at all.

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“The Devil in the Dark”

Rose: Spock can be an analogue for trauma survivors, too, though I guess not as close as the one with autism.

Spock expresses emotion by acting in supposedly “illogical” and non-Vulcan ways. His entire relationship and way of interacting with McCoy is emotional, even though neither one will admit it. What logical purpose is served by the way they banter? He didn’t need to learn to “express” emotions in the sense of becoming a passionate romantic or having big Vulcan rages, or laughing at jokes, but he was always expressing them whether he wanted to admit it or not.

I think what a lot of the fan commentary is saying is that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to express feelings. It’s codified as closer to what a stereotypical neurotypical person would do, so obviously problematic from that perspective.

Equally so for anyone dealing with trauma. Primary symptoms of trauma-related disorders involve inability to express, identify, or cope with emotions, having emotional reactions and responses that are frowned upon by society (either too much or too little) or in simply needing alternative means to express and cope with emotions because the ones society likes don’t work anymore. Star Trek has a poor track record for mental illness in general, but Spock and Data both demonstrate degrees of my experience in trauma recovery (moreso Spock, because I’m prone to rages that nobody sees and recognize emotions but don’t react or express them in commonly accepted ways. Data comes in with the aspect of needing feedback and rarely having an opportunity to get it because then I have to explain the problem…)

Plato's Stepchildren

“Plato’s Stepchildren”

Hannah: Absolutely. It’s also relevant that both characters essentially come from non-human cultures, although Data doesn’t really have a “culture” in the same way. That would be enough to say “this character is different, stop slapping them down for not expressing the same way humans do,” but the fact that actual humans are actually like this makes the whole thing that much more important. Data and Spock are VITAL crewmembers and friends, and neither of them would be improved by making them more “normal,” either more “useful” for others or more comfortable with themselves.

Both of them learned and grew as people, becoming more confident and happy and satisfied with themselves, but neither of them were “fixed” by becoming neurotypical, it’s the opposite. And for the most part, the shows/movies didn’t indicated that they should be, it’s the fan reactions/commentary that have grown up in response to them. The whole response to Data and Spock devalues intellectualism and all the things Data and Spock actually care about the most. Ties into the “right and wrong expressions” issue, plus the idea that they need to learn from humans because emotionalism is some kind of glorious thing that makes humanity special in the cosmos when it’s not.

Lani: Neurodivergence is woefully underrepresented in Star Trek. I actually can’t really think of any canonically neurodivergent characters? Worf has a very brief (one episode) bout of suicidal ideation, but that’s about it. Which is really disappointing to me because in a universe that says that differences are the things that make us great, in a rare sci-fi universe where disability isn’t treated as an evolutionary failure, it would nice to see some hint of canon neurodivergence.


Let us know what you think in the comments below! And if you’re interested in this topic, don’t miss the post on my book blog tomorrow, a review of The Myth of Irrationality: The Science of the Mind from Plato to Star Trek by John McCrone!

Trexels – Star Trek Casual Gaming

I don’t mind saying I’m a casual gamer. In fact, I just did a few weeks ago when I reviewed High School Story. When I browse through Star Trek games, a description listing “explore new worlds, fight battles, assign officers, build your own ship,” and all that can actually put me off. I still want to play those games, but they sound like work when I want relaxation, or a huge time commitment that I can’t make on a daily basis. So, when I found Trexels, I knew I wanted to give it a try — It’s basically a Star Trek version of simple sim/building games like High School Story or Farmville, made by YesGnome LLC.

Trexels ship building

The game is very clear and guided at the beginning, and you mostly choose from options rather than completely designing from scratch, but there’s some flexibility in your assignment of officers and order of missions. (Plus it’s a mobile game, so of course it’s designed to be relatively simple, easy to pick up and put down). Your time is split between constructing rooms in your ship, which give you resources and abilities, and going on exploratory missions. There’s a pretty interesting game mechanic where battles, negotiations, and scientific studies all involve quickly tapping on glowing cubes randomly strewn across the screen in order to power up your weapon/diplomacy/research. It gets more complicated as the game goes on and you accumulate more abilities, although the mechanic stays the same.(And I should mention there’s an option to battle other gamers’ starships, but I don’t play that much because I’m not good at it.)

Those quests/missions are my favorite part, because they most closely resemble Star Trek episodes, and I love the way they incorporate original series sound effects and incidental music (plus occasionally the voice of George Takei). The interface has a colorful Next Generation feel to it, though. The whole game is an odd but fun conglomeration of all the shows, beginning with TOS-style characters and slowly incorporating those from later eras, including your own choices and VIP characters from the shows. The characters show a variety of Star Trek races and human skin tones, and “dating” isn’t a concern, so I’m satisfied with the diversity available.

Trexels TNG characters

As the game progresses it takes a lot of grinding for resources between missions, so that’s my least favorite part, but it’s certainly doable without spending real money. There are also too many screens for each activity, specifically reward screens showing how many resources you just got that seem to take forever. And despite the general guided quality early in the game, I would have liked a little more instruction on how to use officers. You need a bridge crew, but then you also have a list of unassigned officers you can send on away missions, and each officer has their own advantages and disadvantages plus skill points.

I definitely wish I could get resources more quickly and do more missions, but on the whole, I’ve very much enjoyed Trexels and the style of directed gameplay it offers. It’d be a great choice for anyone wanting a casual Star Trek game. I think it’s whetted my appetite for the more advanced Trek games though, so leave any title recommendations in the comments!