I enjoyed J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, but I think the critics have been kind to it (I largely agree with the comments in this article by one of my colleagues). If there is one thing about it that I unequivocally celebrate, though, it is that it has made Star Trek creditable again to a general audience. It is not so easy to laugh of long-time Trekkers like me now that the movie has made over $70 million.

The distributor, Paramount, will presumably be hoping that some people who came to the movie with little prior knowledge of Star Trek will now want to explore the franchise’s back catalogue. Anyone in that group with an inclination to explore Star Trek’s history should definitely track down an excellent book called The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield and the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry.

I am onto my second copy of this marvelous 414-page paperback because years ago I was foolish enough to give the first copy away (along with too much of my other Trek memorabilia). Even so, it brings back fond memories of vaulting the short staircase up to the science fiction section in my favourite bookshop in Cambridge, England, to seek out a new Fotonovel or the latest James Blish adaptations of the original series’ episodes. In those days The Next Generation wasn’t even a twinkle in the Great Bird’s eye. Now classic Trek is old enough to be made anew and Whitfield’s book has gone out of print. If you want it, you’ll have to buy it used, but don’t let a torn cover put you off. The good news, too, is that it can often be found at bargain prices.

One reason why The Making of Star Trek is worth reading is that it was written when classic Trek was still being made. In fact, it was originally published before the third season had aired or even got more than a half-season order. Consequently the episode list at the end only covers the series’ first two seasons. There is a thrill to be had from reading the speculative last couple of chapters (including one titled ‘Wither Star Trek‘) and knowing what has happened in the years since the book first came out.

What Whitfield and Roddenberry (who is frequently quoted) provide is not only an account of history in the making, however. This book is a highly detailed, yet readable, description of the process of producing of a complex network television show at a time when TV was a relatively new medium. Moreover, it provides intriguing insights into what might have been. Take, for instance, this excerpt from the original series outline, which is reproduced in Chapter 1:

THE FAMILIAR LOCALE is their vessel – the U.S.S. Enterprise, a naval cruiser-size spaceship. (in the initial draft of the format, she ship was the U.S.S. Yorktown) …

THE LEAD ROLE is Captain Robert T. April, mid-thirties, an unusually strong and colorful personality, the commander of the cruiser.

OTHER CAST REGULARS are a variety of excitingly different types: “Number One,” a glacierlike, efficient female who serves as ship’s Executive Officer; Jose “Joe” Tyler, the brilliant but sometimes immature Navigator; Mr. Spock, with a red-hued satanic look and surprisingly gentle manners; Philip “Bones” Boyce, M. D., ships doctor and worldly cynic; and uncomfortably lovely J.M. Colt, the Captain’s Yeoman.

Of course, this will be familiar material to those steeped in Star Trek history, but even die-hard Trekkers are likely to find something interesting in this book. For example, in extensively reproduced correspondence between Roddenberry and studio executives, production personnel or advisors there is much detail that hasn’t been reproduced elsewhere. Such material also adds a personal touch to the historical content.

In addition to describing how the series was pitched, the authors cover the challenges that the production crew encountered in putting both the Star Trek pilots and the first two seasons on the air. The writers of the new Star Trek movie could take a lesson from an extensive section on the originally unaired pilot, ‘The Cage’. This includes nine pages comprising an exchange of letters between Roddenberry and Harvey Lynn, an advisor to whom Roddenberry had sent his script for constructive criticism. Lynn put Roddenberry straight on a number of points, including suggesting  avoidance of the word laser for the ship’s guns.

Elsewhere in the book there are accounts of the casting process, proposed lists of the 12 Starships that were supposed to be in the Enterprise Class and other proposed Vulcan names beginning with ‘Sp’ (including Spulk, Spirk, Splek and the unpronounceable Spxyx). The contents also include schematics of the Enterprise, the production budget for “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (total cost, $299,974), a list of possible names for the Captain (Kirk is one of 16 that include Raintree, Timber, Boone and North), and early descriptions of the Romulans and Klingons (interestingly, the latter were said to consider honour “a despicable trait,” which contrasts with the characteristics given to this race in Star Trek: The Next Generation).

The Making of Star Trek is a fascinating read because of its context, content and its accessible writing. Whitfield (whose real name was Stephen Edward Poe) shows a genuine affection for the series and there is much modesty and humour to keep the book from being dry. That authors’ biographies are among the back pages and Whitfield’s states that this was his first book. He co-authored it at the age of 32. Sadly he died in 2000 and therefore he won’t be able to witness any revival of interest in The Making of Star Trek that might be sparked by the new Star Trek film. Nonetheless, he has secured his place in Star Trek history by contributing to perhaps the best account of the franchise’s early days. The final sentences in the book could apply as much to The Making of Star Trek itself as to the show that the book was about.

Wither Star Trek?
It really doesn’t matter. We have its legacy…all we have to do is use it.

Michael Simpson is the Associate Editor of the film and TV website CinemaSpy.com and a freelance writer on a wide range of topics (CinemaSpy; Home).

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