Tuesday 15 October 2013

These Are The Voyages: The Original Series Season One

I've read a lot of Star Trek not only since I started SKoST but for quite some years and I've never encountered a book that comes close to this.

NB: Article updated 23/6/14

Within the archives I have well thumbed copies of The Making of Star Trek by Stephen Whitfield, the Star Trek Compendium and the encyclopedia but a recent publication has eclipsed everything before it; These are the Voyages.

Charting the evolution of The Original Series from the spark in Gene Roddenberry's mind to the two pilots and then through to Operation: Annihilate! your first thought will probably be "Oh no not again..." but I can assure you that this will be one of those books that in years to come is reverred as one of the ultimate reference guides to Star Trek.

But why can I make such a grandiose claim so early into a review? Why would I want to stick my neck out at this point? Because it's true. I actually have to confess that due to other commitments I was unable to read this when it arrived in the post and have only recently been able to sit and digest its considerable content. My, was I silly for letting it sit around for so long unread.

Now going back to the early 1980's, These Are the Voyages was originally intended as a TV special which was cut in favour of Leonard Nimoy's Star Trek Memories following the release of that "minor" movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (you might have heard of it....). I'm frankly glad that it didn't and 31 years later we get to see this publication out for sale.

This is the ultimate story of The Original Series and I would dare anything to try and come close. It's not just a simple episode guide for the first batch of classic episodes; it's the heart and soul of the show, the producers, the stars and Gene Roddenberry laid out for all to experience. It's almost the day to day evolution of every Star Trek episode from concept through to aired version.

So what's the content? What makes this different to Whitfield's work or the Compendium? Why should you buy it? Simply, it's the Absolute Final Word on The Original Series. Not sure? Well, read on.

In the Beginning...

The opening sections detailing Gene Roddenberry's life story and the initial origins of the show have been walked many times before in historical and legendary context but there are still one or two titbits of information hidden that will add themselves to your knowledge of the series. It's exceptionally well written and you can feel the slog that it took to bring Star Trek  to the TV - twice. 

That's only a small part of the story here though. Each episode following The Cage is split into sections detailing different aspects of the stories. The refresh of the plot is minimal - for once - and for the uninitiated this is great. Even better is that these synopses are from TV Guide in the 1960's from the original listings or NBC press releases. Good move. These inturn are fleshed out by the author but I'm not sure this was an absolute necessity. Anyway...

I suspect that 95% of readers however will be life-long or hardcore fans with an interest in the show's background and it's multiple shades. Author Marc Cushman has painstakingly delved into all the episodes of season one examining everything from the date of the first draft submission right through to the final wrap on stage, post-production and even into ratings figures.

It really is the ultimate guide and I can't wait until the undoubted season two and three volumes. I must make a small admission too at this point; I was reading another Star Trek novel at the time which will remain nameless and I just fancied reading a couple of pages of These Are the Voyages as an alternate for an hour however that hour turned into two...then three...and a week later I was still hammering through the pages - it really is that good. Period. It is now excessively thumbed and has pride of place amongst The Library.

All Aspects

Nothing is left undisturbed; each episode receives a series of soundbites and an author's assessment of the show before getting into the mechanics of the show and examining the anatomy of each TV hour. The Story Behind the Story examines the path to the screen; the wranglings and constraints faced by Roddenberry and the producers especially after their budget blowing first pilot that ran away with the cheque book. 

Cushman takes memos and quotes from key personnel such as Bob Justman, Gene Coon and a plethora of others to explain how each show came about. For example, in Miri, Roddenberry asks for the children to have their own language developed after the script is initially turned in as well as adding more to the character of Spock who was becoming something of an audience draw. If you want to know the battles that took place to get elements taken out or added in then this is a great section for you. There's even notes which show the network's concerns on how alien attacks and other violent elements should be displayed to the audience. Some of these might seem tame now, but in 1966 what should and shouldn't be televised was very different; such as the animalistic nature of the evil Kirk in The Enemy Within in relation to the almost-rape scene that takes place.

This in turn gives way to Pre-Production, Production Diary and Post-Production and then to information about the release of the episode accompanied by never-before-seen ratings as well as some great quirky asides in From the Mailbag as well as details on the fallout from episodes and their legacy in years to come. The immediate one for that last point comes from George Lucas remembering Clint Howard as Commander Balok in The Corbomite Maneuver!

What these sections give us is the "How". Before this production the majority of information focused on diagrams of sets and what we actually saw on the screen. Here Cushman gives REAL insight into the order in which episodes were shot, the difficulties faced day to day and how the show genuinely evolved. Indeed, The Galileo Seven obviously covers the whole matter of AMT's involvement in the creation of the recently restored shuttlecraft but what I didn;t know is how the crew of that ill-fated mission was formed and altered as well as how the incidents on the ship were used to keep the pace of the show going. Commissioner Ferris for instance wasn't part of it to begin with and Kirk was on the Galileo! Due to those 1960's budgets and effects, this book also manages to point out where things didn't go so well or look as good as they could and The Galileo Seven is a fine example to cite again - polystyrene rocks and bouncy spears anyone? Nobody's perfect and it's good to see that they were aware, even then, of a level of quality that should (if not always) be achieved.

That whole story of the story piece is my favourite aspect of each episode, uncovering what made it tick, why it ended up in the format it did - and that Gene Coon's Arena script was perhaps a little on the verge of plagiarism to begin with. Not that I would take away from the other areas. The story behind The City on the Edge of Forever is the largest here, giving a lengthy but still incredibly interesting layout of all the difficulties and tribulations that faced Roddenberry particularly around writer Harlan Ellison as well as the torturous rewrites it required to become the landmark episode that was made.

Pre-production mainly focuses on who was being cast in the guest roles each week and what they had previously been seen in. While not massively exciting it's not something that gets a lot of space elsewhere and it's interesting in a few cases how actors from this show criss-crossed paths in other guises over the years - and other Gene Roddenberry scripts.

In Sequence

The diary of production sets the filming into a certain period, relating events of the day (such as Walt Disney dying on the same day that filming began for Space Seed as well as detailing how long filming took for each scene, what days the bridge scenes were shot and in some respects where the budget was slapped. The Cage is a wealth of information on just how passionate Roddenberry was about his show; it went massively over budget and over on shooting schedule because of what was required, the limited set of stages to film and a variety of other issues including pigeons believe it or not.

Post-production creates an interesting tale too and is one aspect best viewed across the whole season. There are a lot of pieces here about the building of sets, models and the work that went into adding the "magic" if you will to the physical action that had been filmed on stage - but here we also learn how that season budget was being spent and frittered or soothingly massaged to ensure that there wasn't a Grand Canyon sized hole in the Desilu funds by the end of the first year. You can see how scripts were chopped to save funds and face by the time it came to Operation: Annihilate! or that bottle shows were always welcomed to save as many dollars as possible.

The Mailbox element is something I've not seen before in print, relating some of the fan mail that the studio received during transmission of the show. There's a lot of positive feedback that you would expect from studio executives and the public who were warming to the show as the included and surprisingly buoyant ratings show.

Oh - and I seem to have forgotten to mention the abundance of awesome photos that adorn more pages than not. A lot of them (and I mean A LOT) have rarely or never been seen before and just trawling through them is an activity in itself - publicity shots, candid snaps taken off camera, photos culled from off-cuts that never made it onto the screen - all can be found within these pages and just add another layer to the conclusion that in the future this will be the one series of books that will act as the last line of reference for The Original Series bar none. Sorry to all before but this just has everything covered from the first page right to the last. 

You're Still Reading..?

I cannot enthuse enough about this book as it's something that just keeps on giving. One reading might be cover to cover to assimilate as much as possible however in the future it's the ultimate reference point for "Wasn't that in...?" or "I'm sure that wasn't in the first draft...". I think I'll certainly see a few episodes in a slightly different light having ploughed through this in a lot less time than I imagined. I could cite examples continuously but the best advice I can give is to order a copy, find a quiet room (or buy some earplugs) and just read it.

Maybe even read an episode and then watch it - it doesn't matter apart from getting onto a site or visiting a shop that sells it...NOW. For once, this is a book where I'm not even attempting some form of balanced review. It's all good. Yes, it is a mighty 580 pages but it's 580 pages of 110% pure Star Trek gold that would be, well, illogical to miss. To date this is my absolutely number one favourite book on The Original Series. Cushman's (pictured below) style is very easy to understand and follow. It's not rocket science, it's not overly technical when it comes to filming or model work and that makes it accessible to all levels of fans whether they just want to understand more about what made the show tick.  What is apparent is that this guy loves the material and has amassed an incredible amount of research to make These Are the Voyages

From my perspective as a writer it's how that idea grew that intrigues me and I can be sure that for some filmmakers the order of shooting will be a highlight. It successfully caters for all in just about every way possible. It's the new reference bible for the series and this is only the first part of the trilogy. I can't wait for the next two to be published to complete my collection and further my knowledge of the show.

There will always be bits that we know but here there's something new, different and unseen on each and every page you turn. It's a Star Trek book you'll return to again and again and I certainly will be myself. I now feel like I know the true story; the real story; the FULL story perhaps, behind the creation of TV's greatest franchise. My one regret or niggle?  I just wish I'd read it earlier because it's probably the best Star Trek book ever written.

These are the Voyages Season One is available right now from Jacobs Brown Press by clicking HERE

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1 comment:

  1. Miri a planet that looks just like Earth the same Contenets the same islands and the same oceans a Ghost town