As Patrick Stewart reprises his Picard role for a new series on Amazon,looks at the highlights of a sci-fi franchise boldly going for six decades.
Star Trek (1966-1969)
Set aboard a 23rd century star-ship, Star Trek was originally pitched by creator Gene Roddenberry as “Wagon Train to the Stars”, but NBC found the pilot too cerebral, anddisliked the USS Enterprise’s female first officer.
Jeffrey Hunter quit as Starfleet Captain Christopher Pike, leaving Leonard Nimoy’s half-Vulcan Spock the only character to survive tothe series.
William Shatner was cast asCaptain James Kirk, with DeForest Kelley as Doctor McCoy. Much drama came from Kirk mediatingbetween Spock’s logic and McCoy’s compassion.
Scotty (James Doohan) worked miracles in Engineering, with Sulu (George Takei) helming and Chekov (Walter Koenig) navigating. Martin Luther King praised NichelleNicholls’ Uhuru for her importance as an African-American woman on TV. Star Trek became a 1960s cultural icon, addressing contemporary issues such as racism, sexism, and nationalism, while battling Russian-analogue Klingons and Romulans.
It was cancelled in 1969.
The Original Series films(1979-1991)
Star Trek’s fandom grew post-cancellation, sustained by a brief animated series. In 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture forgot to be Star Trek. The Wrath of Khan (1982) was a vast improvement, with Spock dying for his friends.
This being sci-fi, he returned in The Search for Spock (1984).
Environmentalist Nimoy directed The Voyage Home (1986), the one with the whales, to huge commercialsuccess.
You should avoid the Shatner- directed The Final Frontier (1989).
The Undiscovered Country (1991) returned to form. An ageing crew faces retirement on the eve of peace with a Glasnost-era Klingon Empire.
Star Trek: The Next Generation(1987-1994)
The Next Generation escaped the original’s shadow to became a huge success.
A century after Kirk’s swashbuckling time, the new Enterprise was the United Federation of Planets’ flagship, exploring the galaxy under a thoughtful, diplomatic captain. Patrick Stewart, a world-class actor, became a global star.
Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) was heroic, and Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis) empathetic, but two non-human characters shone.
Whereas Spock disdained his humanity, Brent Spiner’s android Data yearned to be human. Michael Dorn’s Klingon Worf always seemed about to murder his colleagues.
In an age of relative peace with the Klingons and Romulans, a new threat emerged in the cyber-zombie Borg.
Star Trek: The Next Generation films (1994-2002)
Generations (1994) saw Kirk give his life to help Picard save millions. Mediocre.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, First Contact (1996) remains by light-years the best TNG film, and is perhaps the perfect Star Trek film.
The terrifying Borg attack Earth, and via time travel attempt to undo Star Trek’s entire history.
Insurrection (1998) is an overlong, ho-hum TV episode.
The final TNG film, Nemesis, (2002), almost killed the franchise. A disturbed Picard clone (Tom Hardy) becomes Romulan Praetor, and declares war. Data dies saving the Federation. Dire.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine(1993-1999)
Set on a space station orbiting a wormhole to the far side of the galaxy, DS9 was often darker than its predecessors, exploring trauma, religion, and war, in serialised stories across seven seasons.
The superb Avery Brooks played Commander (later Captain) Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek’s first African-American lead.
Colm Meaney’s everyman Miles O’Brien transferred from the Enterprise, and was later joined by Worf. The late René Auberjonois was wonderful as Constable Odo, sparring with the brilliantly venal publican Quark (Armin Shimerman).
Airing after Roddenberry’s death, DS9 broke from his sometimes-stifling optimism, featuring by series’ end all-out war.
Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)
Irish-American Kate Mulgrew played the USS Voyager’s Captain Katherine Janeway, the franchise’s first female lead, stranded 70 years from home, with half her crew political dissidents. Intended to shake up Star Trek’s cosy familiarity, Voyager spent seven seasons returning ever-safer to home.
Robert Picardo’s petulant Emergency Medical Hologram was magnificent.
A mid-series course-correction introduced Jeri Ryan, in skin-tightcostume, as icy former Borg Seven of Nine.
It was a cynical (and successful) ratings-booster which rankled with Mulgrew, but Ryan was an intelligent actor with great comic timing. Seven became Voyager’s stand-out character, and returns in Picard.
Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005)
Set a century before Kirk’s era,Enterprise neither lived long nor prospered.
Scott Bakula, usually a fine actor, was wooden as Captain Archer.
Jolene Blalock had a thankless task as the show’s sex symbol Vulcan, T’Pol, and an effort to replicate the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic with T’Pol, Archer and Chief Engineer Tucker (Connor Trinneer) was doomed.
A post-911 alien attack on Earth saw the series take a harsher turn, while the fourth season looked at the events leading to the founding of the Federation.
Enterprise was cancelled in 2005.
Star Trek Rebooted films (2009-2016)
The Onion claimed Star Trek fans had condemned JJ Abrams’ action reboot as “fun and watchable”. There’s something to that.
A 2387 disaster destroys the Romulan home-world and blasts an elderly Spock (Nimoy) into the past, alongside Romulan terrorists, creating an alternate timeline.
The new cast is a joy: Chris Pine’s swaggering Kirk, Zachary Quinto’s soulful Spock, and Karl Urban’s cantankerous McCoy. Zoe Saldana is fantastic as Uhuru.
Into Darkness (2013) is a mess, remixing The Wrath of Khan, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan, while Beyond (2016) underperformed. A fourth film is in development.
Star Trek: Discovery (2017- )
Set a decade before the original series, Discovery (two seasons and counting) stars Sonequa Martin-Green as disgraced officer Michael Burnham, with Doug Jones as the genuinely alien-looking Saru. Anson Mount is excellent as Captain Pike of the Enterprise.
Discovery features an LGBTQ couple, and Beyond gave Sulu a husband and daughter.
LGBTQ people were until now unrepresented in the franchise.
Discovery is not without faults — dodgy plot lines, for starters — but it has revitalised Star Trek for the streaming age.
Discovery is on Netflix. Several spin-offs are in development.
Star Trek: Picard (2020-)
2399: Jean-Luc Picard has retired to his vineyard, terribly affected by Data’s death and the destruction of Romulus. Patrick Stewart (79)returns 18 years after Nemesis, for what he insists is not a TNG reunion.
Because Star Trek is always as much about the present as the future, the Federation is now gloomier and more isolationist.
Romulans experiment on Borg prisoners, while Starfleet develops a series of Data-like androids. A desperate young woman begs Picard for help. Denied official assistance, Picard assembles a band of renegades.
Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis return as Riker and Troi, with Jeri Ryan and Jonathan Del’Arco as ex-Borgs Seven and Hugh. Brent Spiner (70) returns as Data, reportedlyde-aged by CGI.