On September 8th 1966 the very first episode of Star Trek was aired. This year the world will have been watching Captain Kirk and his crew ‘Boldly go…’ for 50 years. It also means that more people have seen the episodes and films in creator Gene Roddenbury’s epic series after his death than before it.
Whether you are a fan of the original 1960’s series starring William Shatner as Kirk, The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, or the less successful prequel, Enterprise, there are many unifying factors which make the franchise as popular today as it has always been.
In every episode of Star Trek, whatever the individual franchise, a firm belief in human progress is paramount. Lawrence Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek, said, “One of the things about Star Trek is that it gave a hopeful view of the future… a future in which our knowledge, particularly in science and technology, actually makes society better.”
Not only did the series exude hope, it paired the theme of technological advancement with positive social progress. The crew of the starships, from the Enterprise to Voyager, hit race-relations head-on. From Vulcans to Africans, Russians to Klingons, the crew was multicultural: it was personal achievement that got you onto a Star Fleet vessel, not race or background. Star Trek also promoted a world of gender equality. For example, Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel in space, who been 10 years old during Star Trek’s first season, has said that it was seeing Uhura onscreen that inspired her to join NASA.
It has been argued that if Star Trek had debuted ten years than it did, it may not have maintained its popularity. For it was released at the height of the US Space Race with the USSR, and captured the optimistic, patriotic zeitgeist of America getting the first man on the moon.
The characters, music, catchphrases and trademark sound effects of phasers and transporter beam; all add to the enduring and nostalgic appeal of this sci-fi classic.
With brand new films giving a new generation the chance to see Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest in action as young men and women, and a new television series scheduled for 2017, the Star Trek franchise is set to run and run.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.