Star Trek is 40!

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No television program has influenced the world as much as Star Trek has or has established as strong of a fan base. Between the original series, The Next Generation, and the other spin-offs, Star Trek has created a complete universe in which fans have immersed themselves for decades.

We know all about the Federation, the Klingons, the Vulcans, the captains, and the nastiness of phaser deaths. So here we are, 40 long years after Star Trek's debut, still watching the reruns and DVD releases, keeping up on what the next feature film will be about, and waiting eagerly to see what the newly CGI-enhanced original series is going to look like. William Shatner is as active as ever, not only starring in Boston Legal, but also being roasted on Comedy Central, appearing in commercials, and still writing Star Trek stories. He seems to be everywhere these days.

Other stars from the various series pop up here and there, and we're always happy to see them--like Jeri Ryan, who costars in the new CBS series Shark. And even though Star Trek doesn't currently have a running series on the air, there's always a sense that someone may yet create another spin-off (how about going further into the future--past The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine?).

As Trek enters middle-age--with a J.J. Abrams-directed movie on the way--check out our littlle roundup and...live long and prosper.

Star Trek

This is the show that started it all. Much has been said about Star Trek, but let's say it again anyway. Action. Babes. Histrionics. Chintzy effects (until this new DVD set). Shatner in full effect. No matter how you feel about it, you can't deny the impact the series has had on TV.

TV critics derided it, and the show was continually threatened with cancellation, but Star Trek endured in syndication and grew into a phenomenon. The special effects become dated, but it remained enjoyable to watch the interplay between the classic characters: the impulsive, swaggering Kirk; the emotional, sensitive Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley); and the calm, strong (both emotionally and physically) Vulcan, Spock (Leonard Nimoy). The Enterprise crew was impressively multiethnic for its time.

When the series premiered in 1966, NBC wanted to use its new color broadcasting abilities to the fullest, so Star Trek has bright, primary-colored pallette. After the pilot was shot, the original Enterprise captain, Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter), was replaced--many say to the detriment of the show--with Captain James T. (for Tiberius) Kirk and recast with Canuck William Shatner. If this simple twist of fate hadn't occurred, we might never have had T.J Hooker, the Tek War novels, or the sobering ecological telefilm Kingdom of the Spiders.

Stellar episodes:

Really, almost every episode of this series is remembered fondly by the fans who watched it. We aren't highlighting "The Trouble With Tribbles," even though it featured a rollicking Starbase bar fight between the Enterprise crew and the Klingons. You don't need to have your memory refreshed about the fuzzy little guys who ate all the quadrotriticale space wheat and then fell out of the overhead storage bin, landing in a humorous fashion all over Kirk.

There, we just highlighted it.

"Plato's Stepchildren"

Kirk and his landing party find themselves at the mercy of a twisted being who possesses powerful mind control. This episode made TV history by featuring the first interracial kiss--between Kirk and Uhura. Also, Kirk took his shirt off a lot and performed his patented "sideways jump-kick."

"Mirror, Mirror"

To paraphrase Kirk: "Computer, is it possible that, during the act of beaming, members of the good Enterprise were transposed into a parallel dimension inhabited by an evil Enterprise? One where Spock has a goatee? And if so, do I have to watch the evil Sulu be tortured again? That really made me squirm. Oh, and computer, can you stop the more heavily made-up evil Kirk from drinking space booze and rampaging down the hallways of good Enterprise, kissing all the yeomen? That's sort of my gig."

"Shore Leave"

This one was tough to watch, because McCoy got killed by the imaginary knight, there was a World War II airplane that strafed the other crew members, and, at various points, there was a giant white rabbit and a menacing tiger. But it was all worth it because Kirk chased his old academy nemesis, Finnegan, through a field of flowers, accompanied by jaunty music. Then they fought real good.

Star Trek: The Animated Series

This gem from the early 1970s is exactly what you'd expect: stiff animation, static backgrounds, and cool plots. The best part: The original series' actors lent their voices to their characters (they weren't doing much else at the time anyway, aside from releasing albums).

The animated series, which won an Emmy in 1973 for Best Kids' Show, picked up immediately after the original series ended. The show added new aliens to the Trek lore and featured wacky adventures that were impossible to do in live action, like underwater adventures or "shrinking crew" plotlines.

Stellar episodes:

"Beyond the Farthest Star"

In orbit around a dead star, the Enterprise comes across a huge starship inhabited by a parasitic life-form that threatens the entire ship. It's always great when space parasites threaten the Enterprise.

"Yesteryear"

Spock must return to his own past on Vulcan to prevent his death as a youngster. Again, time travel plus Vulcans equals awesome.

"One of Our Planets Is Missing"

This might sound like the title of a wacky 1960s Tony Curtis comedy, but in truth it is a chilling examination of a planet-eating space cloud that menaces the known galaxy.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

The year was 1987, and the timing was right for a new cast of characters. The feature films were still going strong, having hit a new high with 1986's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But a new movie every few years couldn't possibly quench the thirst for new Star Trek adventures. So armed with the latest in computer animation and a cast that included the marvelous Patrick Stewart, the voyages of the starship Enterprise began again nearly 20 years after the original five-year mission.

"To boldly go where no one has gone before!" It was a sign of the times that "man" had been replaced by "one" in the opening monologue and that for the most part the captain kept the philandering to a minimum. The crew included a Klingon, and women had stronger, more active roles in running the ship. Captain Picard came off a bit stern and dry in relation to Captain Kirk, but he quickly won us all over with his intellect, courage, and judgment. The Borg were brilliant new villains who gave us the catchphrase "Resistance is futile!" and were the bad guys in the best of the later feature films: Star Trek: First Contact. The Next Generation was on the air for seven seasons, and no doubt fans would have been thrilled to see it continue for another three or five years.

Stellar episodes:

"The Best of Both Worlds (1)"

A Starfleet expert on the Borg, Lieutenant Commander Shelby, is assigned to the Enterprise to investigate the disappearance of a Federation colony.

"The Best of Both Worlds (2)"

Riker must pull out all the stops to save Earth from a Borg invasion being led by none other than Locutus, otherwise known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

"All Good Things... (2)"

Shortly after Picard is diagnosed with a long-term, potentially debilitating brain disorder, he starts experiencing bizarre shifts into three main time periods: 25 years into the future, a few days before the Enterprise-D is sent on its mission to Farpoint station, and the present.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Star Trek: The Next Generation's ongoing success into the '90s led to the creation of another spin-off. But unlike the previous two space-faring adventure series, Deep Space Nine was set aboard a rebuilt mining space station and delved more into the political machinations of the Star Trek universe. The program didn't quite ignite the widespread excitement that The Next Generation did, but it had its own hardcore Trekkie and science-fiction fans. And if you thought Captain Picard could be stern and humorless, along came DS9's Commander Benjamin Sisko to make Picard look like Harry Mudd in comparison. A number of newer races also took center stage, including the giant-eared Ferengi, who mirrored the '80s breed of capitalists, and the Bajorans and Cardassians. To boost interest among the more general population of Star Trek fans as well as make Trekkies even happier, Next Gen's Worf was eventually made a regular character.

Deep Space Nine was portrayed as a center of travel and commerce thanks to a stable wormhole discovered nearby that led to the largely unexplored Gamma Quadrant. And over the course of seven seasons the series expanded the Star Trek universe's mythology with events like the Battle of Bajor and the Dominion War. It was often very effective at portraying the sacrifices and costs of war, as it embarked upon longer story arcs than the previous two Star Trek series. But since the series ended, it seems to have been forgotten except by its most loyal followers. Its current run on the cable channel Spike might help cement its place in the popular imagination and spur a second look by the fans who ignored it the first time around.

Stellar episodes:

"Trials and Tribble-ations"

While returning to Deep Space Nine with the Bajoran Orb of Time, the crew is thrown back to the 23rd century. They must infiltrate the original starship Enterprise to stop an undercover Klingon from assassinating the legendary Captain James T. Kirk.

"In the Pale Moonlight"

Sisko and Garak lure the Romulans into the Dominion war to get them to join the Federation/Klingon Alliance. Without them, the Federation and Klingon Empire would eventually lose the war and fall under Dominion rule.

"Sacrifice of Angels"

Sisko faces thousands of Dominion warships alone in an attempt to regain Deep Space Nine. Kira, Jake, and Leeta are suspected of trying to stop the attempts at disabling the minefield and are held for questioning. Everything seems doomed and everyone makes ready for a final stand.

Star Trek: Voyager

After the somewhat underwhelming DS9, Voyager took the series back to what it did best: space exploration. The show featured Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway, and she had an arch Vulcan, Tuvok (played by Tim Russ), to help her out.

Voyager followed the adventures of the Federation starship Voyager as it pursued a rebel spaceship in a dangerous part of the galaxy. A freak accident throws the Voyager thousands of light years away into uncharted space. Janeway and her crew join forces with the ship they were pursuing, a race called the Maquis, and attempt to find their way home. The series premiered in 1995 and ran for six moderately exciting years.

Stellar episodes:

"Timeless"

The Voyager is attempting to use a new technology that will speed its return home, but a small mistake causes the ship to crash into a planet. Years later, the sole survivors of the accident, Chakotay (Robert Beltran) and Kim (Garrett Wang), steal a time-travel ship called the Delta Flyer in an attempt to send a message back in time and avert catastrophe. The only thing standing in their way is Captain Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton), who attempts to stop them.

Any episode containing time travel and Next Generation characters earned major bonus points.

"Scorpion"

The crew of the Voyager figure out how to "cure" the Borg, the evil hivelike race that menaced the Starfleet in Next Gen and DS9. The Borg send over an emissary--Seven of Nine (played by Jeri Ryan). Space babes were never the same after that.

"Future's End"

The Voyager and a Federation timeship from the 29th century, the Aeon, are pulled back in time to Earth in the late 20th century. While the Aeon crashes in Arizona during the 1960s, the Voyager orbits around Earth 30 years later.

Star Trek: Enterprise

Enterprise took place during the mid 22nd century. Commanded by Captain Jonathan Archer, the crew of the first warp-five starship Enterprise explored the galaxy. Enterprise did its best to add to the mythology and history of the Star Trek universe, through familiar races like the Klingons and Andorians, and with new creations like the Temporal Cold War, the Suliban, and the Xindi. It was interesting to see the early relations between the Vulcans and Earth's inhabitants. Unfortunately, the concept and cast never clicked with a broader audience like the studio must have been hoping it would, and the series could never quite shake the feeling of being a knocked-off retread of a retread of a retread.

Sure, it had its moments, like when it picked up a bit of steam toward the end of its run, and it had a couple of characters that were perfectly likable--our favorites being the Vulcan T'Pal and the Southern-drawling Trip. But here's the clincher for us: It was saddled with one of the worst television theme songs ever. Period. That experience alone, of hearing that song for the first time while watching the series premiere, was partly responsible for dooming its fate from the get-go. It would never recover from the awfulness of "Faith of the Heart." Why the powers that be didn't yank that song after the first or second episode will forever perplex us.

And we'll admit it--we were never big fans of Captain Archer or that the show was set before the original Star Trek. Prequels are fine in small doses, but it was difficult not to wish that the effort had gone toward taking us past The Next Generation. (We'll reserve judgment on the next feature film until we've seen it.) Bakula's Captain Archer never had the presence or gravitas of Picard, Janeway, or even Sisko. And we certainly couldn't imagine his keeping up with Olmos' Commander Adama in even the most benign situations. The new Battlestar Galactica series was arguably the final nail in Enterprise's coffin, in that Galactica madeEnterprise seem instantly irrelevant and dated. Enterprise should have been advancing the cutting edge of science fiction, but it couldn't even begin to keep up with Adama and company. But we still hold out hope that there will be a new Star Trek series one day. If we had our way, it would be set a generation or two after The Next Generation and would be as rough and tough as Galactica but with a grounding of Star Trek's wonder and optimism.

Stellar episodes:

"Zero Hour"

Archer leads a team to stop the Xindi weapon before it reaches Earth. Meanwhile, the Enterprise will have to face the Sphere Builders.

Any episode containing time travel and Next Generation characters earned major bonus points.

"Azati Prime"

After getting to Azati Prime, the crew discovers that the almost complete Xindi weapon is on an ocean planet. Their plan to destroy it calls for someone to pilot the recently acquired Insectoid shuttle on a suicide mission, and Archer decides he'll do it.

"Countdown"

With time running out and the Xindi weapon about to be armed, Archer has to make a deal with several Xindi.

So what do you think? Do you want to have a shouting match a la McCoy and Spock? Or do you want to smash us like you're Worf? Or do you want to kiss us like you're Kirk, in a vaseline-lensed close-up? Sound off!

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