Season One of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Series, is a mostly good one, but uneven at times. Airing from September 8, 1966 through April 13, 1967 its top billed stars are William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, though DeForest Kelley quickly rises to the top. It featured guest stars like Gary Lockwood, Sally Kellerman, Roger C. Carmel, Kim Darby, Morgan Woodward, James Gregory, Arnold Moss, Bruce Hyde, Elisha Cook, William Campbell, Ricardo Montalban, John Colicos, and Joan Collins.
In its first season, Star Trek tries to do something vast in scope, with strong characterization and exploration of difficult themes. As with many first seasons, it’s uneven at times, with missed opportunities to explore the ideas it sets up. At times, there’s a beautiful vision of a utopian future laid out before us, articulated differently from time to time, but not really seen in its pure form–and it won’t be for awhile. In fact, it never really is, because the point is that humanity is continually striving toward that improvement, and we have a long way to go.
Edith Keeler offers us the clearest version of Roddenbery’s vision. The future is filled with hope, for her, a hope that we all want but there is a darkness we cannot yet see through:
Now I don’t pretend to tell you how to find happiness and love when every day is just a struggle to survive, but I do insist that you do survive because the days and the years ahead are worth living for. One day soon man is going to be able to harness incredible energies, maybe even the atom. Energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and to cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way to give each man hope and a common future, and those are the days worth living for. Our deserts will bloom…
She, like Roddenberry, hopes that ultimately technology and this continual striving to better ourselves will lead to something greater. It’s noble and powerful, and has been an inspiration to many thousands of people throughout the last fifty years.
In this season, there are still some missteps which haze that idealism a bit. There’s still slavery in the 23rd century, as we see in both “The Cage” and “Mudd’s Women.” Sexism is rampant, seen prominently in “Mudd’s Women,” “The Enemy Within,” “Shore Leave,” and “What are Little Girls Made Of?” And so is racism–in too many small instances to list here. If only seen in the context of this season, without the benefit of every other episode, this might seem to be a failure on Roddenberry’s part. However, it’s only a sign that there’s still a long incline to climb, many barriers to cross.
Where season one excels is in the establishment of the relationship between its core trio: Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley). Those three characters and their friendship have been set up extremely well here, the show expanding and deepening it little by little. They all poke fun at Spock’s Vulcanness (yes, we have to look a little aside at the specism), rib at McCoy’s old-fashioned ways, and trust Kirk immensely.
For some reason, the network constantly kept Star Trek on the chopping block. They declared that it was a drain on the finances and that its ratings didn’t justify its continued existence. In the end, there’s nothing at all to support these claims. In ever single demographic, it landed in the top ten, and in most demographics it remained in the top five. In fact, “out of all the 90 primetime shows, with all categories combined (new and old), Star Trek came in no. 2. It was bested only by Bonanza” (Marc Cushman, These Are The Voyages: TOS Season Two, 3). And yet NBC had it out for Star Trek. When hearing that the show was in trouble, fans started an unheard of letter writing campaign, saving the show for a second season. And what a second season it will be!
Spock mind-melding with the Horta is a powerfully emotional moment that could be hokey in anyone else’s hands. It’s a guy screaming about pain while hugging a Pizza-the-Hut, but Nimoy makes it work.
Kirk stopping McCoy from saving Edith Keeler from being hit by a truck–the sheer horror on Bones’ face juxtaposed with Kirk’s tightly shut eyes as they hug one another is so moving.
Some of the tentpole moments stand out to me as well, just for their meaning to the franchise overall: the first meeting of the Romulans in “Balance of Terror,” the first meeting of the Klingons in “Errand of Mercy,” Kahn’s reawakening and mano-a-mano combat, both in intellect and physique, with Kirk in “Space Seed,” Kirk’s combat with the Gorn in Vasquez Rocks in “Arena.”
So, I crunched the numbers, looking at my ratings over the whole season, and came up with some highs and lows. The season averaged a 7.2 overall.
Highest Rated Episodes
At 9.4, the top spot is easily “The City on the Edge of forever,” which I could have predicted. It’s followed closely by “The Devil in the Dark” (9.2), “Space Seed” (9), “Arena” (8.8), and “Balance of Terror” (8.6).
Lowest Rated Episodes
This has been an interesting exercise. I’ve watched Star Trek since I was a kid. In fact, I can’t remember not watching it. However, I’ve not ever taken the time to analyze each and every episode in such detail. Especially with the start of Star Trek: Discovery and having recently watched Star Trek: Enterprise, it’s been intriguing to look at the original series with new eyes, following two prequel series.
I’m really enjoying it, and I look forward to diving into season two, which contain a striking number of excellent episodes, with some poor ones. I predict two will be a stronger season overall, but season three… that will be a big old hot mess.
Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.