Thanks to the wonders of SKY On Demand I caught up with this Channel 5 special last night (13th May 2013). Originally aired on the Discovery Channel earlier this year (January 5th 2013) and clearly positioned at a time when interest in the franchise is beyond its peak, The True Story offered us a chance to see what made Star Trek a reality back in the 1960's. Hyped up as a "Documentary (that) reveals how the original Star Trek series almost didn't take off..." (UK Daily Express headline) I should've realised the error of my ways before settling in for an hour.
While BBC 2 decided to show a repeat of The Star Trek Story on Saturday night (11th May 2013) at least this was a new(ish) programme. The problem was that unless you've lived under a rock for the last 50 years the story of Star Trek's conception is hardly mind-blowing since it's been out in the open for decades: pilot one failed, got recommissioned for pilot two, Roddenberry got to keep Spock and had to lose everyone else, there you go, all done in two lines.
What I was perhaps aware of, but not THAT aware of was how little Roddenberry began with , how little he seemed in control and that the bulk of what we saw on the screen was created by others (the obvious example being the USS Enterprise herself). Roddenberry had a lot of self-belief and that's evident here - mistresses (all bar two female guest cast apparently), publicity campaigns, standing with the fans to help save the series - The True Story stands Gene out as a hero who loved the attention just as much as he loved the series he created. Indeed he preferred "creator" to "producer".
Quite an amazing journey considering he pitched the show from a piece of A4 and was not the greatest orator yet managed to convince Herb Solow to help him get not just one but two pilots commissioned. Solow is quick to point out that he had to give Gene a lot of help to pitch to NBC and that it's not Roddenberry who deserves the credit overall. Sadly we can't get the other side to this story since Roddenberry died in 1991.
At least they ensured that, while he might have been a handful to work with, Roddenberry's vision was noted and spoken of. His all-consuming passion helped bring the series about and that's something that should never be forgotten no matter what "bad press" may exist in regards to some of his other questionable activities away from the limelight of Star Trek.
There were also examples cited of 3D printers replicating body parts in fine detail, the work of IT experts in the field of android development which all backed up that science and Star Trek were truly linked and influenced each other. The only scary thing is when the scientists involved in these experiments work out how long it would take to beam a human from one point to another...put it this way you'd be long dead and dust before it got halfway through the process. What I would also add is that while these diversions were great and added another layer to the mythos, were they really necessary and did they help tell the true story? I would argue no. In fact they removed time that could have been dedicated to the story and maybe some bits we hadn't heard before from one or two more people associated with the series.
You could see that the effort was there and this was a valiant attempt to retell and retread some old paths with a twist but ultimately it was a bit of a letdown. Ideal timing on the TV thanks to the release of Star Trek Into Darkness but more relevant footage and interviews would have been appreciated. In fact there were no clips post-The Motion Picture which really missed out on some opportunities to talk about the first six movies and the way in which the TV series developed. The only real lip service the 79 episodes got was from the interracial kiss from the third season's Plato's Stepchildren. Another tragedy was the referencing to the 1974 Voyager probe - which was not the same one which was featured in the first movie. Whoever did the research for this show didn't do it that precisely and for a moment when it got mentioned I was scratching my head trying to work out what had gone on.
While a bit of a let down, new fans who have just sat through 133 minutes of JJ Abrams' re-imagining will probably find this of interest. Those people of a more discerning ilk and a greater knowledge of the series might wish to avoid it it they spot it in the schedules in months to come. I would suggest that you seek out either William Shatner's The Captains or Rod Roddenberry's Trek Nation if you're looking for something with considerable more meat on the bone. While they offer little into the actual history of the show, their insight and anecdotal nature provide much more detail into the world of the franchise in front of and behind the screen. This on the other hand is akin to skim-reading the back cover of an autobiography - and one chapter of it at the most.