WAGON TRAIN TO THE STARS

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In a 1964 presentation to Desilu Studios, Gene Roddenberry used a phrase that would become a lasting description of his vision for the series. Star Trek, he said, would be like a "Wagon Train... to the stars".

 

What does this phrase mean? To television executives and TV viewers in the 1960s, this description would have made perfect sense. Gene was referring to the popular western series, "Wagon Train," which aired on NBC and ABC in the late 1950s and early 1960s. "Wagon Train" followed 19th Century pioneers in their westward journey to settle the American Frontier. Led by a strong Wagon Master (Ward Bond, later John McIntire), the team encountered new lands, new cultures, adventure and danger as they made their way from Missouri to California.

 

Roddenberry saw his series as a similar "trek." He was also imagining the adventures of pioneers who would travel through dangerous, uncharted territory. His new show was to be a period piece, too -- but Star Trek would take place in the future, and in space... which he called "the Final Frontier."

 

This analogy helped others grasp the concept of the science-fiction series, which was unlike anything that had been produced on television previously. Until this time, films set in the future, or that depicted aliens or other worlds, were considered somewhat silly and unrelatable for a mainstram audience. They were also expensive to produce. However, Roddenberry set out to explain his characters and stories in familiar ways, treating the concept as true-life history rather than future fantasy. This method helped him ease skeptics in the television industry and would later captivate viewers in a way not yet seen with science-fiction entertainment. 

 

"Wagon Train" was a popular TV Western series that aired on NBC and ABC from 1957-1965.

Watch the 1962 episode of "Wagon Train" called "The Malachi Hobart Story". As you view the episode, consider any similarities you notice between the format of "Wagon Train" and the earliest versions of "Star Trek."

Read: Gene Roddenberry's original pitch for Star Trek

The Pilot

After CBS passed on the series, Roddenberry and Desilu took the idea to NBC where Star Trek was given the green light to produce a pilot episode. The first adventure, called The Cage, was to follow the crew of the S.S. Yorktown (later, the Enterprise), commanded by Captain Christopher Pike (called Robert April in Roddenberry's original treatment), played by actor Jeffrey Hunder. His First Officer, a woman known simply as "Number One," was played by actress Majel Barrett. The episode also included the alien crewman named "Mr. Spock", played by Leonard Nimoy, who was assumed to be part Martian and appeared with pointed ears and eyebrows. The Cage was completed in 1965 at a cost of over $600,000.

 

Watch Gene Roddenberry introduce The Cage for the episode's DVD release in the 1990s. In a rare on-camera appearance, Roddenberry describes his original vision and a few candid thoughts about the reactions of the Network censors.

Watch the original pilot episode, The Cage, starring Jeffrey Hunter and Majel Barrett on Amazon or other streaming services. The episode is also available for digial purchase and on DVD.

NBC rejected the pilot in February 1965, citing a number of issues with the concept. The network believed the writing was "too cerebral", a critique that would be applied to Star Trek many times in the future. They felt it was also lacking enough action to keep audiences interested. This differentiator between Star Trek and other, more battle-based space adventures is also cited by both fans and detractors to this day.

 

The Great Bird of the Galaxy

Gene Roddenberry is a revered figure in the history of Star Trek. Stories of his life and creative work have grown into legend over the years, making it sometimes difficult to know which tales about the famed Star Trek creator are fact and which are fiction. However, there is no question that the man, and the legend, have been a driving force behind the franchise, and his vision an inspiration to millions of fans worldwide.

 

Roddenberry imagined Star Trek as a different kind of series, with very specific ideas about the future of humanity. He often frustrated producers, directors, writers and network executives as he tried to shape and protect the Star Trek concept. Some, like Assoc. Producer Robert Justman, began referring to Gene as the "Great Bird of the Galaxy." The title wasn't always a compliment. Sometimes it reflected frustration over  Roddenberry's unusual ideas and the importance he placed on specifics, from science to ideology.

Today, Roddenberry's guiding philosophy is often referred to as humanist. This is a general term meaning a belief system that values rational and critical thinking, scientific discovery, and furthering the progress of human-kind. Whatever one may label it, Roddenberry's worldview is woven throughout Star Trek.

 

As a former LAPD officer and Air Force combat pilot, Gene abhorred violence. He imagined a future where the people of Earth prefered to solve conflicts with dialogue and diplomacy. This becomes a core value of Starfleet, giving rise to Trek concepts like "phasers set to stun," in which weapons are used to subdue rather than kill. With a deep belief in equality, Roddenberry gives us a diverse cast of men and women, setting the stage for a franchise that endeavored to tell stories of "infinite diversity in infinite combinations." Believing the spiritual beliefs of his time would have faded away by the 23rd Century, he discouraged writers from using familiar religious terms and symbols in Star Trek stories. However, Roddenberry was not an athiest. With a belief in higher universal forces, he imagined a series that could explore -- and seek to understand -- the unknown. From this scientific spirituality we get a franchise unafraid to present new belief structures, and to challenge those of the present.

 

Finally, Roddenberry's reverence for science is at the heart of perhaps the most widely known element of Star Trek -- it's remarkable history of predicting or inspiring real-world technologies. This tradition began with Gene, who insisted that the series be based in actual science, expanded and projected into the future. That challenge has inspired writers, designers, and more than a few scientists since.

Matt Jeffries is as responsible for the design of Star Trek as anyone. His experience in aviation, and creating aircraft designs for film and television, made him the ideal Art Director as Desilu began work on the U.S.S. Enterprise. Jeffries considered current air and space science to extrapolate a realistic starship concept, including the now iconic saucer section and extended warp nacelles. He directed the construction of ship models, sets and props for Star Trek: The Original Series, and in the process he created a fleet aesthetic that would guide Star Trek into the future. His contributions are so significant that the maintenance shafts aboard future Starfleet starships would be named Jeffries Tubes in his honor.

Jim Rugg was a member of Jeffries' team responsible for the special effects aboard the Enterprise and the strange places it would visit. Many of the practical effects seen on the Original Series, from blinking lights to explosions, were the work of Rugg. His designs for the Enterprise bridge equipment are some of his most memorable contributions. Using physical switches, dials and lights, the panels surrounding the crew seemed tangible and realistic to viewers in the 1960s. Though these environments may appear somewhat dated today, it's important to recognize Rugg's creative foresight, especially in a time before the Apollo missions and Moon landing.

Wah Chang began designing Star Trek props and makeup with the orignal pilot. For The Cage, Chang created the memorable look of the Talosians, with their bald heads and pulsing veins. But his most significant contributions -- the Communicator and Tricorder -- remain some of the most impactful pieces of Treknology. Many of Chang's concepts have inspired real-world versions, most notably the Communicator, which served as inspiration for Martin Cooper, inventor of the cellular phone.

Building a Universe: Treknology

Roddenberry may have provided the guiding principles for Star Trek, but it took a team of many talented and creative people to realize his vision. Here are just a few of the minds that helped build the foundation of the franchise. We will explore their contributions, and those of many others, in the weeks ahead.

Where No Show Had Gone Before

The offer to produce a second pilot was quite unprecendented and reveals the strong interest NBC had in Roddenberry's concept. "Where No Man" represented a test for Desilu. Could the team replicate and refine their work on The Cage with a much smaller budget? This time, with many of the practical expenses out of the way, Roddenberry needed a great story. He recruited Samuel A. Peeples to write the script -- the very friend who inspired the phrase "Wagon Train to the Stars."

Watch the second pilot episode, Where No Man Has Gone Before, on Amazon or other services. The episode is also available for digial purchase and on DVD.

As you watch "Where No Man Has Gone Before", consider the differences between this episode and the original pilot. 

 

How does the change in captain affect the show? 

In what ways is William Shatner's Capt. Kirk different from Hunter's protrayal of Capt. Pike? 

 

How would you descrbe this early version of Spock? 

As a pilot episode, many character elements are not yet on display, or even planned. Spock may now be the first officer, but do you notice anything missing?

 

How is the story of "Where No Man" different from "The Cage?"

You've heard the criticism that The Cage was "too cerebral" -- what does this mean? and is the second pilot just as cerebral?

 

Be sure to note any other observations or questions you may have while watching "Where No Man Has Gone Before."

The following episodes will be screened in #TrekClass LIVE on Monday, Sept. 21, at approx. 7:15pm and 8:30pm EST.

Online students are invited to join us as we "live tweet" using the course hashtag, or to review the tweets afterward by searching #Trekclass on Twitter.

Balance of Terror

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

In Balance of Terror, we meet our first significant adversary for the Federation: The Romulans. Writer Paul Schneider took inspiration for this story from the 1957 film, The Enemy Below, about a tense confrontation between an American destroyer and a German U-boat. This "cat and mouse" game with the Enterprise serves as an effective backdrop for introducting the Romulan Empire, created to reflect the relationship between the United States and its adversaries during the Cold War. However, Balance of Terror goes beyond the traditional war story to introduce concepts of tolerance now closely associated with the Star Trek franchise.

The City on the Edge of Forever

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

Arriving late in the first season, this story was written and rewritten many times by Harlan Ellison, a sci-fi writer hand-picked by Gene Roddenberry to work on Star Trek. Many weeks and episodes passed while Ellison worked to transform his intriguing story idea into a true Star Trek adventure, but it was well worth the wait. The City on the Edge of Forever is filled with thoughtful dialogue, deep character development, romance and even time travel. Widely regarded by critics and fans as one the greatest of all time, this episode is a perfect example of the qualities that define Star Trek, then and now.

 

 
 

The "Away Mission" section encourages deeper exploration. To use a modern term, this is the "binge watching" portion of the course. Here you will find a curated list of episodes taken from the season or era discussed in the Mission above. Each is accompanied by a brief introduction and/or suggested questions to consider. Remember, you may complete Away Mission viewing on your own schedule.

The Corbomite Maneuver

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

As you watch, remember to record your observations in your Personal Log. Then, share any interesting takeaways with the class in our online community.

The Corbomite Maneuver was the first regular-season episode filmed, and serves as an introduction to our principal cast, and in many ways the now familiar Star Trek format. The self-contained adventure plays like a stage performance, almost entirely aboard the Enterprise. This approach, sometimes called a "bottle show," focuses on internal character drama rather than external exploration.

 

As you explore Corbomite, consider the early appearances of the Enterprise senior officers. How would you describe Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy? How is his relationship with Capt. Kirk different from the others? What does the addition of McCoy bring to the series and its overall storytelling?

 

Examine Captain Kirk and his leadership on this early mission. How would you describe his character? What about his approach to command? 

 

Two women members of the crew also debut in this episode: Lt. Uhura and Yeoman Janice Rand. How would you describe their first appearance? Are there differences in the ways these women are portrayed? If so, what are they? Why might this be the case?

 

What does the part of Lt. Bailey reveal about Star Trek's message? In this early episode, can you identify key themes of the series?

Mudd's Women

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

The Enemy Within

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

With the second and third episodes produced, Star Trek begins to push the boundaries of television storytelling... and the limits of NBC network censors. Mudd's Women, one of Roddenberry's original pilot concepts, is a tale of intergalactic drug dealing and prostitution. Remarkably, NBC overlooked these themes, which were quite taboo for TV in the 1960s. That is perhaps due to the wonderful performance by Robert C. Carmel as "Harry Mudd,"  the cosmic con man who would become one of Trek's more memorable guest stars.

 

The Enemey Within, however, takes a darker turn as a transporter malfunction creates a futuristic twist on the classic "Jekyll and Hyde" concept. Here, Captain Kirk is split into two beings, his good and evil halves. The latter is responsible for an intensely difficult scene depicting the first attempted rape on network television.

Drugs and altered states will become a recurring theme in Star Trek. In fact, early drafts of The City on the Edge of Forever included a drug-addicted member of the Enterprise crew before the story was rewritten to eliminate that taboo element. Why fo you think the drug angle was not rejected by Roddenberry and team, or NBC, in the case of Mudd's Women?

The Enemy Within introduces the famed Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic that is today considered the heart of The Original Series. How would you describe the three-way relationship between these characters? How do the three characters represent various aspects of humanity? How does this relate to the Roddenberry/Trek philosophy?

The Naked Time

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

Miri

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

In this Away Mission we explore two stories associated with two of Star Trek's notable producers/script editors. Realizing it would be impossible for one person to oversee all aspects of the Star Trek universe, Roddenberry first enlisted the help of writer John D.F. Black, who helped to craft the early episodes in Season 1 (a more modern term for his role might be "showrunner"). Black's best-known contribution is The Naked Time, a classic episode that uncovers deeper character elements of our officers when the Enterprise crew is exposed to an alien diesease that begins to break down their inhabitions.

 

Gene L. Coon took over as showrunner with Miri, another episode involving an alien disease. Coon's contributions to Star Trek are significant and numerous. He is responsible for shaping much of the language and key concepts of Starfleet, the United Federation of Planets, and many other elements now closely associated with the franchise. For this reason, Coon is sometimes referred to as "The Forgotten Gene," considered second only to Gene Roddenberry in his influence over the program.

In The Naked Time, we begin to see the series tackle powerful, universal concepts, thorugh science-fiction storytelling to achieve a level of depth and honesty that would be difficult for a contemporary production. Identify these aspects of the story and note what the episode reveals about Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Sulu and the others affected by the disease.

Miri also addresses Earthly issues, this time found on a far-away world. Less subtle, the episode reflects many of the questions and counterculture ideas on the minds of everyday people in the 1960s. Can you identify the conenctions between this story and the issues of the day in which it was produced? What points might the writers be making?

The Galileo Seven

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

The Galileo Seven is the first story to include use of the Enterprise shuttlecraft. As the series was in its early stages, the need to land the Enterprise or a shuttle on an alien planet each week was a major budgetary concern. This problem was typically solved by using the transporter to instantly put the crew on the ground. This time, with the new shuttlecraft set, we have the opportunity for a survival story when the Galileo makes a crash landing on Taursus II.

The Galileo Seven is a key episode in the development of the Spock character. When the shuttle crashes, Spock is the ranking officer in command. Now his logical, Vulcan qualities take center stage. How do Spock's actions differ from the human instincts of his crew? What does this contrast teach us about human emotion? What does it teach Spock?

Dorothy "D.C." Fontana

Dorothy Fontana had worked as Gene Roddenberry's secretary during the time of The Lieutennant and the development of Star Trek. As his trusted associate, and a talented writer herself, she was as important to the formative years of Trek as anyone. Fontana wrote or contributed to many of Star Trek's most classic stories, but she did so not as "Dorothy," but "D.C. Fontana" -- a pen name that consealed her identity as a woman. It was not easy for a woman writer to find work in the 1960s, especially in action-adventure television. Roddenberry knew Dorothy understood Star Trek as well as he did, hiring her in 1966 (late in the first season) as script editor for the series. Her most notable contributions to the first year of Star Trek include Charlie XThis Side of Paradise, and the fan-favorite, Tomorrow Is Yesterday.

Tomorrow Is Yesterday

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

In Tomorrow Is Yesterday, Fontana fulfills the dream of many Star Trek fans -- then and now -- when a man from 20th Century Earth is transported aboard the Enterprise. Through the eyes of U.S. Air Force Captain Christopher, we see the starship with new wonder, and the stark contrast between his/our world and the 23rd Century of Star Trek is both delightful and thought-provoking. The time-travel aspect of this episode will be seen again in the franchise, making for some of Star Trek's most memorable (and popular) episodes and films.

Take this opportunity to learn more about Dorothy D.C. Fontana, her career and role in Star Trek. Fontana remains an important part of the franchise, far beyond the Original Series, and she has given many wonderful interviews and insights over the years. Begin by conducting research on Fontana (online or in the recommended texts for this course). View D.C.'s early Trek episodes and consider the 1960s climate in which she was working. Then, share your research and reflections in the online community.

The Prime Directive

Starfleet General Order 1 is more commonly known as the "Prime Directive." It is an idea that's become as closely associated with Star Trek as "warp speed" or "beam me up." But what does it mean? As first referenced by Mr. Spock, the Prime Directive is a policy of "non-interference" that is strictly adhered to by the United Federation of Planets. Indeed, Capt. Kirk once said, "A star captain's most solemn oath is that he will give his life, even his entire crew, rather than violate the Prime Directive." Put simply, the Prime Directive prohibits a starship crew from imposing the ideals, laws and technologies of the Federation on other, often less-developed, worlds and cultures. It was (and is) a powerful idea, particularly in the post-WWII era of American involvement overseas, and an effective story device that allows our characters to experience the cultures of the "strange new worlds" they visit. However, as any Trek fan can tell you, the Prime Directive is not always clear, and not always upheld. Ahead, explore two episodes in which the Prime Directive is a factor, and examine Captain Kirk's interpretation of the policy. Then, keep your sensors scanning for other examples of Prime Directive challenges as we proceed through future missions.

The Return of the Archons

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

Errand of Mercy

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

The Return of the Archons marks the first mention of the Prime Directive in Star Trek. After researching the concept of this general order, analyze Capt. Kirk's actions in this story. Do you think Kirk's interpretation that the Prime Directive refers only to  "a living, growing culture" is correct? How does Kirk's analysis relate to contemporary views of American intervention overseas in Veitnam, for example, or in the global affairs of today?

Errand of Mercy introduces the Klingons, who have no such policy of non-interference. Compare the Klingon approach to the principles of the Federation. Can you make an argument for or against either method of interplantary involvement? What about the Organians? Is it their right to follow this pacifist philosophy? Has Kirk violated his oath to the Prime Directive by opposing it?

A Taste of Armageddon

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

A Taste of Armageddon addresses issues of war and peace in a seemingly prophetic way. Arriving on planet Eminiar VII, Kirk and crew find that the world has been at war for centuries. Their method of killing has found a technological "solution" in which a computer coordinates virtual attacks and "casualties" are instructed to self-terminate in death chambers. Kirk is horrified by this, arguing that war is supposed to be brutal and unpleasant in order to make killing worth avoiding. His message (delivered in a classic Shatner speech) was thought-provoking in the 1960s, but takes on new importance today as our own world has found technological methods of making destruction easier to dispense.

After viewing this episode, research the arguments for and against modern-day "drone" warfare. Proponents of these unmanned aerieal vehicles believe the ability to operate a war by remote control is a strategic advantage that spares the lives of soldiers and pilots. Opponents argue, much like Kirk, that drones make it far easier to commit acts of war without experiencing the deadly impact of the attacks. What do you believe?

Lessons in Tolerance

In this Away Mission you will explore Star Trek's method of using science-fiction storytelling to discuss -- and disarm -- challenging issues of the day. As you watch, note how the use of alien beings and concepts allow for a more direct approach to the issue of racial prejudice and bigotry. In Arena and The Devil in the Dark, encounters with the Gorn and the Horta bring our crew face to face with cultures and creatures that look and think differently. Human prejudice and survival instinct take hold, and even the enlightened minds of 23rd Century Federation citizens react violently to difference, ignoring the potential for dialogue and understanding. Watch how these stories -- which appear crude and even cliche today -- transcend the genre of sci-fi monster films to become something much more. For these reasons, it is perhaps no surprise that William Shatner has cited The Devil in the Dark as his favorite episode of Star Trek.

 

Arena

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

The Devil in the Dark

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

After watching Arena and The Devil in the Dark, recall Gene Roddenberry's experience producing The Lieutennant for NBC and his conflict with the network over the racially charged episode, To Set It Right. How does the Star Trek format allow Roddenberry to bypass censors to deliver these messages? Would these episodes have been seen differently had the Gorn or Horta been a human of another "race" instead? 

Spotlight:  Khan Noonian Singh

As you watch, remember to record your observations in your Personal Log. Then, share any interesting takeaways with the class in our online community.

Space Seed

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1

Our final Away Mission introduces one of Star Trek's greatest villians: Kahn Noonian Singh. The character, who will later become the focus of a feature film, emphasizes one of the most powerful elements of the franchise -- Star Trek is a history of our future. Unlike science-fiction and fantasy stories that unfold in galaxies far away, Trek is written as the story of our own world and future progress. Here, Khan represents an era of our history that could well have happened. He is one possible outcome of misguided  human ambition.

 

As you watch Space Seed, consider how the "historical" elements of Star Trek and Khan's character give the story additional power. Which aspects of Khan's existence (or the conditions that created him) relate to the actual history of human-kind? What are writers Gene L. Coon and Gene Roddenberry trying to tell us through Khan?

 

Beyond the historical humanism of the story, there are elements that betray the age in which it was writtern. Take careful note of Lt. Marla McGivers and her interaction with Khan. What do you note about the way McGivers is written? Would the character be crafted the same way today?

After completing Mission 01, don't forget to share your thoughts and research with the class in our online community.

 

You may choose to complete some or all of this unit, but we want to hear your insights on the questions above, or anything else you've noticed in the episodes assigned.

 

If you've viewed one of the other Season 1 episodes not included in the Mission, please feel free to discuss those as well.

 

Tip: Try sharing your question responses individually, rather than responding to the entire unit in one post. We've found this makes for easier discussion.