To Boldy Go……
What can be said about Star Trek that has not already been said?
I will not dare tread on ground that has already been walked by so many over the years, and I will limit myself to the way it affected my own life as a series.
Now, obviously I did not see it during its initial run, but even by the early ’70s in the UK it was still being broadcast at prime-time, and was in that peculiarly important and comforting 7pm to 8pm slot, which sat perfectly between the post homework bath and bedtime for a young lad like myself – curled up in my pajamas at my Dad’s side, waiting for the last moments of the news to run out, and those unmistakable opening credits to take their place…
I loved what its creator called ‘the wagon train to the stars’.
Not just for the effects, the action, and the sheer exuberance of it. I loved something about it that I could not put a finger on as a child, and only really came to grips with in later years: in essence, and in a callow way, I was learning important lessons about being ‘human’ from watching how different cultures and even species dealt with each other in the distant future.
Indeed, this process is best exemplified by the episode The Devil in the Dark.
The Enterprise is summoned to investigate reports of a murderous monster killing the crew of a mining operation on the planet of Janus VI. The creature is seemingly destroying hardware and killing the miners, possessing the power to tunnel through any rock as if it were butter.
However, after a few scenes in which the beast – a truly Lovecraftian blob of protoplasm which kills with powerful acids – seems to live up to its name, we have Mr. Spock coming to the realization that there is more to the matter than meets the eye.
Whilst the remaining miners and the Enterprise security details continue to engage the creature, and disastrously at that, Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock finally get to the truth, when the beast corners Kirk and shows no desire to kill, even though being wounded by the Capt.
Through a ‘mind meld’, Mr. Spock finally gets to the truth: that the beast is the last survivor of a species, calling itself The Horta. This lone Horta is guarding the eggs of her whole people, and defending them from the destructing miners who she sees, through an inability to communicate with them, as dangerous interlopers.
Horror, action, and a very particular form of inhuman humanism at work.
The perfect way to teach a young boy about the nature of bigotry, racism, and ultimately of forgiveness.
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…
Blessed with talented writers, actors and creative minds, the original Star Trek broke ground in many ways for me, and – as you can guess – up there with these other elements were the props and models which were made for the run.
The ships especially were, at Gene Roddenberry’s command, to have a look which departed from the then-common rocket look which was the view that B-Movie directors had of the future.
The Enterprise herself, for example…
The initial sketches and ideas by Roddenberry hinted at wanting something like a ‘Flying saucer’, but… moreso.
This rather sketchy brief was handed off to Walter Jefferies, whose work as a visual futurist had already won praise around the TV and film community, which had seen him hired on as the original art director of the series. He had been informed by Gene, who was very clear about what he wanted his ship to do, that the ‘hero ship’ should be a practical and habitable thing, but little more beyond that. Apart from the notion of a large saucer, Walter was stumped for many weeks to come up with the right look.
If the design was to stand the test of time, the ship – all the series’ ships – had to be devoid of things which could be rooted in the present, and dated easily from that.
This was not to be some sort of Flash Gordonesque affair, and this is what stumped Jefferies the most. It had to be something which had never been seen before and something which would not date as the show passed into the unknown future.
And unenviable task indeed… Especially as Walter rather disliked the idea of a flying saucer. However, his initial design would have had a sphere in the place of saucer we know and love. Whilst this might have been more practical, it looked about as ‘fast’ as a bag of apples, so the sphere got squished.
His final solution, and the one Gene eventually approved, was really a compromise:
“I was concerned about the design of ship that Gene told me would have warp drive. I thought, ‘What the hell is warp drive?’ But I gathered that this ship had to have powerful engines — extremely powerful. To me, that meant that they had to be designed away from the body. Boy, I tried a lot of ideas. I wanted to stay away from the flying saucer shape. The ball or sphere, as you’ll see in some of the sketches, was my idea, but I ended up with the saucer after all. Gene would come in to look over what I was doing and say, ‘I don’t like this,’ or, ‘This looks good.’ If Gene liked it, he’d ask the boss [Herbert Solow] and if the boss liked it, then I’d work on that idea for a while.
For the hull, I didn’t really want a saucer because of the term flying saucer and the best pressure vessel of course is a ball, so I started playing with that. But the bulk got in the way and the ball just didn’t work. I flattened it out and I guess we wound up with a saucer! I did it in color on a black matt board, and by the time I finished I thought we really had something.”
Walter Jefferies quoted in The Star Trek Sketchbook
Not very far from the final version…
To go… Stylishly!
As with all artists, the budget restraints of production threw model-makers and prop/set builders for the series into a real frenzy of creation.
Jefferie, for example, was able to assemble the prime shooting model for the first season for less than 700USD (even though only lit down its Starboard side – hence why we always seem to see it make its slow, majestic progresses to Port 😉 ).
And with other ships as well, ingenuity won out. The Galileo Shuttlecraft build (both model and full size set prop) was funded by the kit maker AMT, in return for the rights to sell a model version. Though it was not as ‘sleek’ as Jefferies initially wanted (something which would be corrected in TNG), the blocky design still looks outstanding.
However, with a great many fans, it is the enemy ships which loom largest in the imagination.
The Klingon Battle Cruiser (AKA the D7) was designed by Jefferies (and, once again funded by AMT) to be shark- or manta-like in appearance, but given a profile that was intended to look deadly from any angle.
An interesting note: I am told that this version of the D7 was the half-shooting size model used by AMT from which they took their measurements to make their own molding tools. Once the process was complete, it seems to have ended up with Gene, who passed it on to friends, once the series wrapped.
I’m glad it is still tootling about the place…
However… For me, there is only one ship in the series… Chang Wah-Ming’s minimalist beauty: The Romulan Bird of Prey!
1/1000 Star Trek Romulan Bird of Prey by Polar Lights
This has got to be the most infuriatingly simple kit I have ever made… Can’t be more than a dozen parts in the whole thing.
However, though a small snap-fit kit… This is Polar Lights. That speaks for itself.
I’ve built a few versions of this lovely ship before, and I still hope that someone will produce a 1/350 version to go with my USS Enterprise.
This one, though small, seems to be better scaled and molded than every one I have built so far.
Quite a departure from my usual kits, to be sure, but let’s have a look.