50 years of Star Trek-the basics

50 years ago, the popular “space opera” TV series Star Trek aired it’s first episode, “The Man Trap.” Since then, it’s become somewhat of a major global success, and has influenced several other series, including it’s own sequels, films, and spinoffs.

This post will sort of give a rough idea of what the series is about.

The premise behind the series is that after a devestating third world war, mankind develops faster-than-light travel and makes first contact with an alien race. Eventually, they form a utopian society, where most wars, diseases, and other problems have been eradicated, or don’t happen as often. They also develop new technology, such as the transporter-allowing instantenous transport from a space vessel to a planet’s surface and vice versa, and the phaser, an energy weapon.Meeting more alien races, they eventually form a United Federation of Planets, although one that borders some civilizations that don’t necessarily share the Federation’s idea of peace-among them, the warrior race known as the Klingons, and the secretive Romulans.

One of the Federation’s aims is to explore the galaxy. To this end, they have formed Starfleet, a semi-military organization devoted to not only exploration, but also defense and diplomacy. Among Starfleet’s ships is the Enterprise, whose legacy is the main subject of many of the series and all the films.

The Various incarnations of the Enterprise.

The first Star Trek pilot was actually developed in 1965, and featured a radically different crew from what we would eventually get, with Captain Christopher Pike commanding the ship, along with Number One (Majel Barret) and Spock, who would the only cast member retained for a second pilot. The plot dealt with Pike and his crew investigating some shipwrecked survivors, only for Pike to be trapped by aliens as an experiment. Although unaired, the pilot’s footage and continuity was incorporated into a later original series episode.


A year and a half later, the reworked Star Trek debuted on TV, with Nimoy returning as science officer Spock, but introducing a new captain-James T. Kirk (William Shatner), as well as Dr. McCoy (Deforrest Kelley). The three would form a sort of trinity, with Spock being the voice of logic, and McCoy the voice of emotion, with Kirk heeding their advice in making command decisions. Also part of the crew were Lt. Uhura (Communications) Sulu (Helmsman) Scotty (Engineering) Chapel (Nurse) and starting with the second season, Chechov (Navigation as well as science support, and eventually also tactical)



The series lasted for 79 episodes, before ratings forced it’s cancellation. Although not highly rated during it’s initial run, the show soon gained a massive cult following in reruns and syndication.

It was briefly revived as a low-budget animated series in the early 70’s, featuring many of the cast returning to voice their characters, as well as two new alien characters.




Eventually however, there was a more major revival. Initially, there were plans to make a sequel series called “Phase II”. The series nearly entered production, when, after the success of “Star Wars”, it was decided to make a film series instead. Using some of the ideas, cast, and sets from Phase II, the original crew-along with a few newcomers-were reunited for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.



The film featured the crew reuniting aboard a revamped Enterprise as a mysterious space entity heads towards Earth. The film was mostly criticized as lacking the charm and humor of the original series, and also making the characters somewhat cold towards each other. However, the film made enough to justify a sequel.


That sequel was the Wrath of Khan, which reworked the movie series with new uniforms, as well as more humor and action. The plot deals with Kirk and Spock using the Enterprise as a training ship for Starfleet cadets, when one of Kirk’s old enemies from the original series-Khan-escapes from exile and plans to take revenge on Kirk. Kirk also discovers he has an adult son. The film ended with the shocking death of Spock. Today, it’s still considered one of the best films.

The next two films-The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home-turn the crew into fugitives, as they discover that Spock can be revived, but they have to break starfleet rules to do it. This proves costly, although Spock is brought back, Kirk’s son is killed and Kirk is forced to destroy the Enterprise. Eventually however, they save the Earth from a giant space probe trying to communicate with the now extinct humpback whales (by going back in time to 1986 to pick some up), and have the charges lifted, although Kirk is demoted back to Captain. They even get a brand new Enterprise, the Enterprise A.


The Voyage Home was followed by The Final Frontier and the Undiscovered Country. “Frontier” was mainly panned by critics and didn’t make too much money, but Undiscovered Country largely redeemed the film series, but having a send-off for the original crew as they play a vital role in the beginning of a peace with the Klingons.

In 1987, after success of  the films, it was decided to once again try Star Trek on TV again. The result was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Taking place seventy years later, the show featured a new Enterprise (The “D”), with new technology such as a ‘holodeck’ able to create simulated environments. The crew included Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), an occasionally strict but compassionate commander; Riker, the ladies-man first officer; Deanna Troi (Marina Sitris), Riker’s former love interest and an emphatic consular, Data(Brent Spiner), an emotionless android and chief of operations; Geordi Laforge (Levar Burton), initially the helmsman but later chief engineer; Worf (Michael Dorn), a Klingon security officer who eventually becomes tactical officer; Tasha Yar, the initial tactical and security chief, and Beverly and Wesley Crusher, the chief medical officer and her teen son.


The series would outlast the original series, running seven seasons and spawning four films. It also introduced several new alien species that would become important in later series, such as the Cardassians and the Borg (A cyborg race).Throughout the years, some changes were made. Uniforms were updated, Picard lightened up, Worf had a son, Riker grew a beard, Yar was killed off, Crusher left and then returned-and Wesley eventually left for Starfleet academy. In addition, supporting characters were added or expanded, such as Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) and Miles O’ Brien (Colm Meaney).


Next Generation also spawned four feature films. The first, Generations, had Picard team up with Kirk-trapped in a fantasy-world anomaly for decades-to stop a madman trying to destroy a star (The adventure also killed off Kirk.) This also featured the destruction of the Enterprise D. In First Contact, Picard and the crew, with a new Enterprise, go back in time to stop the Borg from destroying the Federation before it’s ever created, by destroying the first warp ship.

The next film, Insurrection, had Picard violate Starfleet’s orders to save a group of people with near immortality from being displaced by an attempt to harvest their secrets. Finally, Nemesis has Picard face a clone who has taken over the Romulan Empire. This adventure also featured the death of Data, and most of the ship’s crew leaving to take on new responsibilties and commands.

Next Generation spawned a spinoff, “Deep Space Nine”. This sees a Federation crew take control of a Cardassian space station near the deeply spiritual planet of Bajor, recently freed from Cardassian rule, and also near a stable wormhole leading to a new sector of the galaxy unreachable by warp. Led by Borg survivor Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), and featuring Bajor’s liason Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) Doctor Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) bar owner and con-man Quark (armin Shimmerman) Security officer Constable Odo (Rene Auderjonis) science officer Dax (Terry Farrell) TNG alumni Colm Meaney as chief O’ Brien, and eventually Worf, who helps out when the peace with the Klingons is briefly lost.


The show dealt with darker subject matter than the other series, and largely did not take place on a ship, although the station was eventually equipped with the Defiant, a more war-minded ship intended to be used against the Borg (Which it is able to briefly do in First Contact in a cameo role), but eventually put to use against the Dominion-a group led by Odo’s race, the Founders.



Around the time of Deep Space Nine’s third season, another spinoff was developed, Star Trek Voyager. Dealing with a ship intending to hunt federation rebels known as the Maquis, but ending up on the other side of the galaxy due to an entity, where the crew forms an alliance with the rebels (many of whom are former starfleet officers). They also pick up some new members-the alien Neelix (Ethan Phillips), who becomes the ship’s cook, and his girlfriend, Kes (Jennifer Lien); eventually they also liberate Borg woman “Seven of Nine” (Jeri Ryan), who also becomes a crew member. The crew featured Captain Janeway (Kathryn Mulgrew) first officer Chakotay (Roger Beltran) operations officer Harry Kim (Garret Wang) helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan Macneill) half-klingon engineer B’lanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) tactical/security officer Tuvok (Tim Russ) and a holographic doctor known simply as “the Doctor” (Robert Picardo).

As they were in unknown space and without anyway to contact the Federation or get home quickly enough, the series dealt mainly with them discovering new planets and species, as well as often bartering for supplies. They also encountered more familiar villains, most notably the Borg.

The final spin-off for many years was Star Trek: Enterprise. Whereas the other shows mostly took place in the Next Generation era, this one took a new approach, dealing with an era a hundred years before, with the Federation not developed and Earth still not quite sure of it’s place in a larger universe. In addition, most of the familiar Star Trek technology hasn’t been invented yet (such as faster warp drives, holodecks, and instant food creating replicators) and some are still in a testing phase (the transporter). The crew are on the first ship to be called “Enterprise”, a prototype capable of Warp five, and are mainly on a mission of exploration, although they soon become involved in other conflicts, mainly a temporal “cold war” dealing with time travelers, and a threat from an alien race known as the Xindi who are developing a weapon that could destroy the Earth.

The crew of this series included Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) his first/science officer and Vulcan liaison T’pol (Jolene Balock) Charles “Trip” Tucker III (Coneer Trineer) tactical and security Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating) communications officer Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) helmsman Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) and alien doctor Phlox (John Billinsgely).

Ultimately though, the show didn’t quite gain the ratings and acclaim of the other spinoffs, and was cancelled after four seasons.

In 2009 the Star Trek series was brought back on film, seven years after “Nemesis” with a new cast portraying the original crew, as well as a new look for the original Enterprise. Still in continuity, it explained that the older Spock (Leonard Nimoy) had gone back in time-along with a group of angry romulans-and had created an alternate timeline in part by altering the circumstances of Kirk’s upbringing, and he needs to encourage the young Kirk to fulfill his destiny as Enterprise captain. The film and it’s sequels-Into Darkness and Beyond-largely have focused more on action and humor than it’s predecessors.



The ‘reboot’ cast has Chris Pine (Kirk) Zachary Quinto (Spock ) Karl Urban (McCoy) Zoe Saldana (Uhura) Simon Pegg (Scotty) John Cho (Sulu) and Anton Yelchin (Chechov).

As of this writing, a new series is in development for CBS’s online streaming service. Known as “Discovery” not much is known yet  except that it takes place a decade before the events of the original series and features this ship.