Just for kicks, I typed in “Star Trek” on Amazon Books, and came up with an astonishing 18,061 titles. The cultural impact of Trek is unprecedented, and just continues to grow. So when I picked up the new Star Trek FAQ by Mark Clark, I wondered just what he could possibly add to the massive amount of literature already available on the subject. As it turns out, turning up hitherto bits of minutiae for the edification of “Those who go to the grocery store wearing Vulcan ears and a Starfleet uniform” was not his goal. The Star Trek FAQ is meant for the rest of us.
As Clark explains in his Introduction, the book is “Primarily a
historical account, with some analysis and criticism to provide
perspective.” As such, he has done an excellent job of condensing many
of the various elements of the original Star Trek series into one easily digested volume.
Just to be clear, the Star Trek FAQ concentrates solely on
the first series, which ran for three seasons on the NBC network from
1966 to 1969. As even the most casual Trek fan knows, (Clark
studiously avoids the terms “Trekkie” or “Trekker”), the show did not
fare well during its original prime time run. Where it really caught on
was in syndication during the '70s. But this was just one of the many
“second chances” Star Trek was blessed with.
The pilot episode was “The Cage,” and featured (with two exceptions) a
completely different cast. The Enterprise was helmed by Captain
Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), and the first officer was “Number
One,” a female, portrayed by Majel Barrett. The Vulcan Mr. Spock
(Leonard Nimoy) is present as second lieutenant, but his role is vastly
diminished in comparison to what would follow. NBC initially passed, but
creator Gene Roddenberry--“The Great Bird of the Galaxy” as Clark
refers to him--was so persuasive that the network green-lit an
unprecedented second pilot. Out of a pile of possible scripts, “Where No
Man Has Gone Before” was selected, and the brass were pleased enough
with the results to give the go-ahead to the series.
The rest might be history, but there were trials and “tribble-ations”
aplenty ahead for the cast and crew. For all the peace, love, and
understanding that the Star Trek world of the future was meant
to represent, there was a lot of strife on the set. Apparently Captain
Kirk (William Shatner) was none too popular with any of the cast, and
there was a great deal of network interference with the series. It seems
that the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself was the main offender in
regards to rewriting scripts, however. One piece of the Star Trek
puzzle that I had never previously considered, but makes perfect sense
in retrospect, was how influential Majel Barrett was. She was
Roddenberry’s closest confidant (they wed in 1969), and apparently had
an enormous amount of impact on the show.
“History” is indeed the watchword here, as the author delves into the pre-Trek careers of all of the major players. Having read a number of the books in the FAQ
series, one aspect of them that I particularly enjoy is the format. The
design of the books almost encourages the reader to skip around to
various topics of interest. For example, who could resist the chapter
titled “Private Little Wars: Rivalries and Feuds,” or “Operation
Annihilate!: Shows That Beat Star Trek in the Nielsen Ratings”?
The shows that did beat Trek? Get ready to laugh (or cry). In the first season (1966-67) Star Trek regularly lost out to My Three Sons and Bewitched. During the second season (1967-68) audiences preferred the shenanigans of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. to those of James T. Kirk. And in the third and final season (1968-69), a program called Judd for the Defense won out.
My personal favorite section of the book is “That Which Survives: Star Trek
in the 1970s.” In this portion, Clark discusses the amazing success of
the show as a syndicated property. He also details the life of the
little-known animated series, which produced 22 half-hour programs and
ran for two seasons, from 1973 to 1974. The chapter “Five Year Mission:
The Long Voyage Back, 1975-79” is not to be missed either.
Rounding out this 414-page compendium of Trek FAQ’s are brief descriptions of all 79 original episodes, famous Star Trek quotes, discussions of memorable guest stars and parodies, and much more.
For the casual fan, this Star Trek FAQ
hits the mark as a distillation of the vast amount of information
available regarding the original series. The book concludes in 1978,
with the announcement of the first feature film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the Introduction, the author informs us that the sequel Star Trek FAQ 2.0 will be coming in 2013. In it, he will explore the films and television shows such as The Next Generation which followed the original.
I am looking forward to it, but am quite happy for now to learn all
about the early years of this most “fascinating” (to use Spock’s
favorite term) television series.