One of the most popular and influential shows in the history of television, for many viewers the original Star Trek
(1966-9) defines good science fiction: however much it tries to be about the future, it cannot help but reflect the values of its own time, and Star Trek
's vision was very much a product of creator Gene Roddenberry's 1960s' liberal-humanist idealism. Conceived at the height of the Cold War and during the escalation of the Vietnam conflict, his was a radical vision of a world where national and racial differences have been put aside and all people work together. With a policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other civilisations, and violence only as a last resort, Star Trek
embodied a lost dream, a fantasy of what America could have been had John F. Kennedy not been assassinated in 1963. Captain James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner) had the middle name of a Roman emperor, but otherwise shared his initials with the late president, and both were young, good looking, womanising, charismatic popular heroes. If Kirk didn't uphold truth, justice and the American way from the White House, a big white starship was the next best thing. There was even a Russian, Mr Chekov (Walter Koenig), on the bridge, and the show delivered network TV's first inter-racial kiss between Kirk and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). Even though there was a white American male in control, it was still all a bit much for 1960s' mainstream TV, hence the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, boldly going on its five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, only lasted three seasons and 72 episodes before being cancelled in 1969, the year Man first walked on the moon.
While the once-ground-breaking special effects now look routine, and the then-radical politics have now become part of the politically correct global mainstream, Star Trek retains an enduring popularity due to its strong storytelling--the show employed such top science fiction writers as Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Norman Spinrad and Theodore Sturgeon--and admirable characters. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Scotty (James Doohan), Sulu (George Takei), Kirk, Chekov and Uhura remain icons for a world short of real heroes: loyal to the end, honest and utterly dedicated, these were the friends and colleagues who week after week trusted each other with their lives. Devoid of cynicism and self-interest the crew of the USS Enterprise never, ever let anyone down, and ultimately that is a very big reason for Star Trek's enduring popularity.--Gary S Dalkin