By Fleet Capt. Dave Mason
Commanding Officer, USS Angeles
I’m a doctor, not a …
Our language, our culture, our view of the universe would be less bright if not for “Star Trek.”
The series inspired not only the USS Angeles, but clubs around the world and fans who became engineers, doctors and other professionals. The series gave people hope of a better life for themselves and a better world for everyone.
A show full of aliens, from the rowdy Klingons to the logical Vulcans, was all about the human condition.
From 1966 to 1969, it addressed social issues in the guise of a sci-fi series, from racism (“Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”) to the Vietnam War (“A Private Little War”) and overpopulation (“The Mark of Gideon”). The series had great morality plays since its first broadcast, 50 years ago, with “The Man Trap” on Sept. 8, 1966 on NBC.
The heroes made sacrifices for the greater good, but had fun and humor in their relationships. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and McCoy (Deforest Kelley) teased each other mercilessly, but obviously cared about each other. Chekov (Walter Koenig), the show’s answer to the youthful Monkees or Beatles, thought everything was invented in Russia. Sulu (George Takei) knew how to handle a foil and really dug plants.
And as Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, was inspirational. Uhura was a black character in a professional role, which was groundbreaking for TV in the 1960s. When Nichols thought about leaving the show early, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged her to stay.
While compelling, “Star Trek” wasn’t perfect. There were the clunkers such as “Spock’s Brain” and “This Way to Eden” and the movie I find difficult to stomach, “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.” But we saw great heroism in episodes such as “The City on the Edge of Forever” and the extent of Spock and Kirk’s friendship in “Amok Time.” Capt. Kirk saved the world more than once, with a lot of humor actually, in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” And he paved the way for interstellar peace in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”
And I know you want to say it:: Khaaaaan!
The franchise could be fun and dramatic, as “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” proved. But it was also about discovery, exploration and courage. “Risk … is our business” Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) said in his trademark, staccato style, in the episode “Return to Tomorrow.”
And Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart) defended the rights of the disenfranchised. He worked to save Data (Brent Spiner) from being disassembled in “The Measure of A Man” in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
“Your Honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life; well, there it sits! Waiting,” Picard argued as he defended Data at a hearing to determine his fate as an artificial life form. Picard convinced the judge, who ruled Data had the right to choose his destiny.
Throughout its history, “Star Trek” has never shied away from such philosophical debates. Space is full of big questions.
To think, the franchise almost had a premature death.
A letter-writing campaign led by fans Bjo and John Trimble, who were honored at the recent “Star Trek” convention in Las Vegas, saved the show from cancellation after its second season. Sadly, the show couldn’t be saved after a third season with NBC’s horrible 10 p.m. Friday time slot long before the age of VCRs or DVD recorders.
But the trek couldn’t be stopped. The show found new fans in syndication when the episodes aired at the dinner hour on local stations.
The popularity led to conventions, 13 movies, four live-action spinoff series and an animated series, plus countless books, fan fiction and fan films, and an endless list of sayings in our culture.
“Cap’n, I canna change the laws of physics!”
Scotty (James Doohan) would say that just before finding a way to change the laws of physics. How else could he keep up his reputation as a miracle worker?
And the miracle of “Star Trek” continues, with more movies ahead and “Star Trek: Discovery” premiering in January 2017, first on CBS, then CBS All-Access.
I’m glad. “Star Trek” is too good to be left to a movie once every few years. We need its weekly episodes to remind us that the world can be better. We can be better.
After all, “Star Trek” predicted a world without hunger or war or racism. That seems impossible, but progress starts with our imagination.
We have made much progress since the 1960s in civil rights and have broken glass ceilings. We have made technological advances that were predicted on “Star Trek,” especially in terms of computers and communications. Our medical advances would make Dr. McCoy proud.
We couldn’t have done any of that without optimism and determination. “Star Trek” taught us that.
The USS Angeles appreciates the wonder of Gene Roddenberry’s creation, and we wish the series a very happy 50th anniversary. We look forward to the next 50 years.
Make it so.
And you can be part of the adventure. To become involved with the very active USS Angeles, click on “Join us” at the top of this page. We’re ready to beam you aboard.
By Fleet Capt. Dave Mason