I’m going to make a confession right now. One that might get me ostracized from the io9 community forever: I don’t like Star Trek: The Original Series.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I watched Voyager in high school and was deeply disappointed in Enterprise when I was in college. But The Original Series? I could never get into that. And, believe me, I’ve tried.
Oh, it has nothing to do with the quality of the special effects or the campiness of the acting — hell, I’ve seen enough of early Doctor Who to not be bothered by either of those. But while I tend to thoroughly enjoy any First Doctor episode I watch, I just can’t, for the life of me, enjoy an episode with Kirk and Spock and McCoy.
Finally, one day, I figured out why: because The Original Series was all about morality tales. Almost all the episodes had clear and specific morals to them — which would have been fine if they were subtle, but TOS tended to hammer them into the viewers heads with a sledgehammer. “Racism is bad!” Okay, sure. “Genocide is bad!” Yes, I got you. “Pacifisim will lead to Nazis conquering the world!” Wait, what? “America it the best country in the universe!” Wait, huh?
I get it: at the time it came out, the series was very progressive. Unfortunately, it has not aged well. And its morality tales, especially, seem to be less about the characters learning anything — because, of course, the characters are from a utopian future where they already know these things are bad — and more about lecturing the viewer. And if there is one thing I cannot stand, it’s getting lectured.
I don’t even hate morality tales — Deep Space Nine’s episode “Duet” was a deep look at the morality of unquestioned prejudice and it has one of the most chilling and unsubtle endings of all time, but I love it because it never lectures the viewer. Instead, it’s all about Major Kira and her coming to understand her own feelings and motivations and since we identify with Kira, we get the lesson along with her.
I get the Gene Roddenberry had this vision for the future where humanity had finally outgrown its prejudices and was now keen to spread its utopian ideals across the stars. But that all seemed, to me, like grandstanding — like Roddenberry was, again, lecturing the viewer, saying, “Look how much better you could be if you just did what I told you.”
This is why I consider some of the best episodes of Star Trek to be the ones that clearly deconstruct Roddenberry’s vision, the most explicit being “In the Pale Moonlight” and the two-part “Homefront,” where the Federation is almost taken over by martial law caused by paranoia. This is why I love episodes that give characters actual moral dilemmas — where they can’t just choose the “right” option in a black-and-white morality tale, where they actually have to make a decision and that decision may not be the right one. Hell, this is why “Latent Image” is probably the best episode of Voyager there is, because there is no easy answer.
And that’s why I can’t get into Star Trek: The Original Series.