top of page

Alternate History in Star Trek, Part 2: The Original Series

By Tom Anderson

Gene Roddenberry, AH Pioneer. Photo taken from NASA public domain archives.

As I discussed in my Introduction to this article series, my intention is to cover not only the examples of Alternate History (AH) in the vast and diverse Star Trek franchise, but also those adjacent tropes which may have influenced viewers into exploring the AH genre. This is especially important in the case of Star Trek’s original series (TOS) from the 1960s, a time when the concept of AH was still quite little known. Indeed, if I took a fairly conservative interpretation of AH – that it is about exploring an alternative world that results from a different decision made in the past, and not merely escaping it – I could probably argue that no AH appears in TOS at all, and leave the article here.

Loath as I am to leave my editor with a one-paragraph article, I will instead push on and discuss those AH-relevant components that frequently do appear in TOS. These include the perhaps more obvious time travel plots, as well as the exploration of worlds which are instead the result of imagination or illusion in-universe. TOS’ writers were often eager to explore speculative and allegorical situations just as far-ranging as its science fiction contemporaries like The Twilight Zone, despite supposedly being tied to a fixed setting, ship and crew. Notably, as we’ll see in the next article, these speculative explorations often appear to have been the impetus which led spinoff novel writers to explore more detailed or ‘proper’ AH within the Star Trek setting. I’ll cover examples on an episode-by-episode basis, using the episode listing on Wikipedia to avoid the never-ending argument about the broadcast vs production order of TOS episodes.

“The Cage”: What better place to start than the original pilot? The plot involves Captain Pike being plunged into illusory virtual worlds (the titular ‘cage’) by the Talosians. One of these is the planet Rigel VII, which (as mentioned earlier in the story) an incident occurred in which three crew members died, including his own yeoman. The Talosians give him the task of saving Vina, the woman they are attempting to persuade him to mate with to breed a new race. Pike doesn’t play along, and later gets sent to a different illusion outside his home town of Mojave, with Vina and a picnic and a horse. While it’s not explored here in these strict terms, it occurs to me that putting a father-of-his-men Captain in an illusion where he could seemingly change history and save the lives of crewmen he failed (in his eyes) makes a lot of sense as a temptation trap. They should have done this in Star Trek: Generations with Kirk, instead of putting him in an illusion with...a horse and a woman we’ve never heard of before. Maybe the writers looked at the wrong bit of “The Cage”!

“The Naked Time”: Mentioned only because it introduces the idea of time travel to Star Trek; by accident, when the Enterprise escapes a doomed planet via gravitational slingshot, the chronometers start going backwards. (Incidentally, some viewers may think this is nonsensical, rather than the result of them receiving a time signal from elsewhere; my colleague Max Lindh remains irritated that Star Trek eventually abandoned the idea that ‘stardates’ were a relative dating system to get around the problems of relativistic spacetime). The gravitational slingshot time travel method will later show up in “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”, “Assignment: Earth” and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

“The Enemy Within”: A transporter accident splits Kirk into a ‘good’ and ‘evil’ version of himself, though with the ultimate message that Kirk cannot function without both halves. Mentioned only because it prefigures “Mirror, Mirror”.

“Miri”: Easily the strangest example of TOS’ habit of using ‘just like Earth’ planets, the setting of this one looks like an exact copy of Earth for no reason. It’s clearly meant to be a Twilight Zone-type plot with a 1960s Earth setting, but later TOS episodes would do this more subtly with planets that only aesthetically resembled Earth (as in “All Our Yesterdays” for instance). Anyway, it’s a ‘what-if’ scenario in which a deadly, man-made plague has killed all adults (referred to as ‘grups’, from ‘grown-ups’) and only children (called ‘onlies’) remain. It later emerges that it was not a bioweapon, but an experiment aimed at extending life – the children are centuries old but never mature. McCoy ends up developing a vaccine for the disease but is unable to test it due to being separated from the ship, so ends up testing successfully it on himself. The producers of 1960s Star Trek might have had some less than palatable views on some things, but at least these were the days when they were responsible enough to positively and accurately portray vaccines on screen.

“Dagger of the Mind”: Another ‘what-if’ episode in which an unscrupulous doctor has been using a psychological treatment device which, among other things, edits Kirk’s memories of a recent party – thus being arguably the first example of a technological device affecting memories in Star Trek.

“Shore Leave”: Features a planet of illusions, which eventually turns out to be a rogue alien amusement park. Heavy on the fantasy, much to Gene Roddenberry’s annoyance (who unsuccessfully tried to have his colleagues tone it down).

“The Squire of Gothos”: Kirk and company clash with the powerful but childish alien Trelane. I mention this one because of the interesting idea that Trelane has been observing Earth from a distance and forgot to take account of the speed-of-light delay, so he bases his clothing, architecture, verbosity etc. on the 19th century. I don’t think Star Trek ever used this idea again, yet an echo of it seems to appear in the later character Q (whom many have compared to Trelane and inspired writers to connect them) using Napoleonic-era uniforms in one early episode.

“Tomorrow Is Yesterday”: The Enterprise accidentally uses that time travel slingshot technique again and ends up in the atmosphere of Earth in – of course – the 1960s. (Props to the writers for using a black hole-type entity around the time they were first posited, as well as predicting the date of the first moon landing!). When a USAF pilot, John Christopher, tries to intercept the Enterprise, they end up beaming him aboard and then this starts a debate about polluting the timeline. This is probably the first example of a discussion of the butterfly effect that many viewers will have encountered. Parts of it will now seem painfully simplistic to the modern viewer versed in time travel tropes – for example, Spock argues they can safely never return Christopher because he can’t find any impact he had on history, only to later realise Christopher’s son did have such an impact! Nonetheless, for the time (haha) it’s a very good story and really paved the way for time travel and altering history as concepts not only in Star Trek, but doubtless in many other works of fiction too.

“The Return of the Archons”: AKA that one where Star Trek did “The Purge” in the 1960s yet nobody seems to have noticed. While tracking down a lost ship, the crew discover a planet ruled by a dystopian society called ‘The Body’, led by a dictator called Landru – which, it turns out, is actually a computer system succeeding the original which has erased all creativity from the people and periodically turns their darker impulses loose in a ‘Festival’ of sex and violence. This is the first episode to mention the Prime Directive, that Starfleet is not allowed to interfere with less advanced societies, yet Kirk argues it does not apply, as this society has been rendered artificially stagnant. This, of course, begins the well-known pattern of Kirk destroying computers even more often than the average user having to deal with Windows 11 updates.

“Space Seed”: Accidentally AH now, if nothing else. The crew find an old Earth sleeper ship from the 1990s, the Botany Bay, with a cryogenically frozen crew, led by a man named Khan Noonien Singh (dramatic chord). Turns out that they are the remnants of the genetic supermen who tried to take over Earth during the Eugenics Wars that happened in the 1990s. (Fans used to joke that it’s funny how we didn’t notice those happening, but then most people in the 1990s also didn’t notice the actual Congolese civil war that killed over four million people, so...) Besides the general idea of the cryogenically frozen crew from the past, this one is AH-significant for introducing Khan, and this is often the specific sticking point for some writers who argue Star Trek should be considered AH and recognise the Eugenics Wars. (By contrast, Voyager would later depict a flashback to 1996 with no mention of the wars – though with a cute picture of Khan’s ship launching in the background).

“A Taste of Armageddon”: Have we mentioned this series came out at the height of the Cold War? Two planets have been having their own war for generations, but to avoid collateral damage, have decided to just simulate computer-generated attacks and then the calculated ‘casualties’ will just obligingly report to suicide booths to be vaporised. A good example of the exaggerated ‘what-if’ based on taking current events to an extreme conclusion following the Cuban Missile Crisis – another one that could have been a Twilight Zone episode. Needless to say, Kirk blows up the computers at the end to force them to make peace.

“Errand of Mercy”: Speaking of the Cold War, this introduces the Klingons as the Federation’s on-again off-again allegorical enemy, vaguely invoking both Red Scare and Yellow Peril tropes (the earliest Klingons’ makeup was described as ‘futuristic Genghis Khan’). The two sides battle over control of the pacifist planet Organia, only to discover its inhabitants are actually very powerful beings who force a peace treaty on them and predict they will one day be friends. (Something that would probably be a nice piece of wish fulfilment to anyone living in the flashpoints of the real-life Cold War). This would influence countless examples of the ‘seemingly meek and backwards native people who are actually very powerful’ trope in other science fiction media, such as the Nox in Stargate SG-1.

“The Alternative Factor”: A very, very strange episode which I first saw on my grandma’s 1980s CRT television, and it didn’t make any more sense then either. However, it’s relevant because it’s the first Star Trek episode to explicitly feature a parallel universe and ultimately inspired their use elsewhere. Partly it’s the same plot as “The Enemy Within” in which a stranger (rather than Kirk) seems to be alternately reasonable and violent, but it’s because it’s two versions of a man named Lazarus from our universe and an alternative antimatter universe. (Don’t ask why he can travel to ours without annihilating with it – but it is said that if the two universes merge then they will destroy each other). They end up trapping the two Lazaruses in a dimensional corridor where they will wrestle for eternity. Also Lazarus calls his flying saucer ship a ‘timeship’ despite no time travel being involved. An inauspicious beginning for one of the foundations of AH in Star Trek, yet it would go on to inspire a better-known example in “Mirror, Mirror”.

Picture of Harlan Ellison in 1986 taken by Pip R. Lagenta and shared under the CC BY 2.0 licence.

“The City on the Edge of Forever”: Possibly the best and most iconic episode of TOS ever made, in which writer Harlan Ellison’s bizarrely vindictive misanthropic tendencies were channelled to a positive result for once. McCoy accidentally injects himself with a drug that drives him temporarily mad and ends up on a mysterious planet, with Kirk and company chasing him. He encounters a speaking time portal, the Guardian of Forever, which is showing scenes from Earth history, and leaps through it. To their horror, Kirk and co. discover that the Enterprise has vanished: McCoy has changed history and the Federation no longer exists. Kirk and Spock follow him through to the 1930s United States, actually arriving a little earlier, and try to figure out what will happen and stop it. They befriend an idealistic social worker, Edith Keeler, who speaks to a sceptical audience of Great Depression down-and-outs that better days are coming, seeming to prefigure Federation ideals. As Spock discovers as he tracks the changes to the timeline, the change McCoy made was in saving Keeler from her death in a car accident: her pacifist campaigning would have kept the United States out of World War II and allowed Hitler to eventually gain control of the world. To his bitter disgust, Kirk – who has fallen in love with Keeler – is forced to let her die and prevent McCoy from saving her, at which point the timeline is restored and they return. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. As well as being a powerful story, this was hugely influential on later writers – both on time travel plots in general across fiction, and on Star Trek spinoff writers, who love using the Guardian (as seen in my previous article about the novel ‘Federation’). It’s arguably the closest we get to pure AH in Star Trek TOS, in which we see an examine a Point Of Divergence/Departure (POD) and see its impact on the time stream, though again we’re trying to escape the nightmarish result rather than explore the resulting world. In some ways, that represents a positive over other takes on ‘Nazi victory’, and illustrates it was made in the 1960s, its creators more viscerally close to that outcome: all that’s implied is that Earth did not develop into a peaceful society, whereas nowadays they’d probably insist on making a CGI alternate Enterprise with swastikas on.

“Who Mourns for Adonis”: First Star Trek example of the idea that (in this case) the pagan gods of ancient Greece were actually advanced aliens, as later used (for example) as the whole basis of Stargate SG-1.

“Mirror, Mirror”: The most clear-cut example of a parallel universe in Star Trek, with Kirk, McCoy, Scott and Uhura accidentally sent to an alternate I.S.S. Enterprise operated by the evil Empire, a fascistic and sadist society that routinely uses torture and progression through assassination. The Mirror Universe would go on to fascinate both spinoff and, later, canon, writers, with the result that there are many more Mirror Universe stories. Almost all of which are really, really terrible. But this one’s made in an era when it was still OK to have actual morality on TV, so we have things like our Kirk convincing famously be-goatee’d Mirror Spock that the Empire’s system is self-destructive and it will inevitably fall, and it turns out that the mirror crew sent to our Enterprise were caught immediately, for it is easy for the civilised to pretend to be savages, but not the other way around. The contempt directed at the Mirror Universe is in stark contrast to the ‘evil is cool’ Mirror Universe nonsense we’ve seen more recently in Star Trek – not only in Star Trek: Discovery, I should say in case it sounds like I’m singling that one out, but in many other cases too. Anyway, that aside, this one is very significant as Kirk throws around the term ‘parallel universe’ and inspired a lot of other examples (though DC Comics had already done an evil-counterpart universe before this). As many critics have accurately pointed out, the Mirror Universe makes no sense, because there’s so much turnover in crew from assassination that how are our heroes’ counterparts all around and in their same positions at that precise moment of the swap? As a one-off, it was fine, but – as I said – it unfortunately captured the imaginations of some writers in a rather negative way.

“Metamorphosis”: I mention this one only because it introduces Zefram Cochrane, who is centre to a number of later Star Trek time-travel stories (see my articles on “Federation” and “First Contact”).

“Friday’s Child”: Mentioned only because it’s another example of Klingon vs Federation fighting (now more discreetly) over a planet stuck in the middle as a Cold War analogue – though that wasn’t the main focus and more of an afterthought.

“Wolf in the Fold”: An example of using a fantastic explanation for Jack the Ripper, in this case that he’s an energy being, Redjac, who possessed people and has been responsible for repeated chains of serial killings across numerous planets. Incidentally, if you want to reflect on one way that science fiction (and fiction in general) has changed since the 1960s, look at the scene where Redjac possesses the Enterprise’s computer and starts laughing and insulting the crew like a demon in an exorcism scene. Kirk and Spock don’t engage with or reply to it at all, but calmly continue with military discipline as they coordinate a response to drive it out of the computer (Spock using the old ‘calculate pi to the last digit’ trick). Partly it’s probably because these shows were being made by people who had lived through WW2, but that sense of realistic discipline is lost from Starfleet even as early as The Next Generation (TNG). Another good example is the original Thunderbirds versus its (otherwise quite good) recent reboot.

“The Trouble With Tribbles”: I mention this iconic episode only because it’s the setting for a later time-travel plot – and another bit in the Klingon vs Federation Cold War allegory.

“A Piece of the Action”: They’ve now worked out how to do ‘can we reuse existing historical Earth sets and ideas’, in this case via a planet of easily-led people who have based their culture on a book about Prohibition-era gangsters that someone from a past Starfleet ship left behind. The point is to show how important the Prime Directive is, and also to have fun with our heroes talking like Al Capone and using tommy-guns, obviously. Incidentally, Deep Space Nine (DS9) would later consider bringing back this planet and instead having had its inhabitants all become Star Trek cosplayers...thankfully, they instead went with the aforementioned time-travel plot about “The Trouble With Tribbles”.

“A Private Little War”: Another take on a Cold War allegory, with the Klingons and later Federation surreptitiously arming two sides on a less technologically advanced planet as a proxy war.

“Patterns of Force”: I discussed this one in my intro article. A way to do ‘Planet of the Nazis’ without doing parallel Earth, just have a(nother) planet of easily led people and a Federation historian who thinks the Nazi system, but it’s OK if we’re not racist, is efficient because he spent too much time in the Youtube comments section. Spoiler, it turns out that they are racist after all, and the group they persecute is called the Zeons (can’t imagine what that’s a reference to). More an excuse to reuse WW2 drama sets than anything, but at least back then you were allowed to say the Nazis were the bad guys without apparently offending somebody with a keyboard.

“The Omega Glory”: An episode I always think was at the start of the first season because of how bad it is, but no, it was just written by Roddenberry and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Possibly the most nonsensical ‘just like Earth’ episode, in which a planet of warring ‘Yangs’ and ‘Kohms’ turn out to be the remnants of Yankees and Communists living in the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a Cold War turned biological. In one memorable scene, it turns out the Yangs blindly worship the American flag and constitution, despite not knowing what they represent or knowing what said constitution actually says. OK, on reflection, I guess that part was realistic at least.

“The Ultimate Computer”: Richard Daystrom plans to replace fallible humans with computer control on starships, which predictably goes awry with tragic consequences. No prizes for guessing how Kirk resolves the situation. Relevant because of how it’s framed as a what-if about humans becoming obsolete (see the current self-driving car debate).

“Bread and Circuses”: Arguably one of the better takes on the ‘Earth, but’ episodes, and another candidate for being the closest TOS candidate to pure AH. In this case they wave away the planet having a parallel Earth civilisation as being due to Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development (funny how that never seems to happen to any other race apart from humans – well, except for that godawful TNG episode “Who Watches The Watchers” which does it to the Vulcans for once). Anyway, on this planet the Roman Empire never fell, and the current level of technology resembles (of course) the 1960s. Parts of this once again feel a bit Twilight Zone what-if shoehorned into Star Trek, but I think it works. In particular, the ‘TV studio for gladiatorial combat’, where they have American 1960s canned laughter to accompany gladiators fighting to the death, actually works quite well as both a ‘horrifying other’ for the 1960s TV audience, and probably the producers poking fun at themselves. The ending revelation – that the ‘Children of the Sun’ opposition movement is actually the ‘Children of the Son (of God)’, i.e. Christians, again feels like a Twilight Zone alternate Earth trope, but it’s a pretty good plot twist.

“Assignment: Earth”: The poster child for what TVTropes calls a Poorly-Disguised Pilot. Roddenberry wanted to make a show about an alien-trained agent, Gary Seven, in 1960s Earth trying to help the world through the danger spots of the Cold War. So in this one, the Enterprise has time-travelled once again (seemingly now as part of a routine historians’ mission, which seems a bit blasé and unfitting!) to try to learn how Earth made it through. Kirk and company run into Seven’s activities and initially are uncertain of his motives. Mostly, though, Kirk and Spock are just kind of ‘there’ and it’s about Gary’s failed attempt to secure his own show. At least he got to show up in some spinoff novels too. Oh, and I always assumed his ‘servo’ gadget was a ripoff of the sonic screwdriver from Doctor Who, but strangely enough, that had its first appearance in “Fury from the Deep” which came out in the same month as this episode! Talk about coincidences – Dennis the Menace and Dennis the Menace eat your heart out.

“Spock’s Brain”: Routinely considered the worst episode of TOS and for good reason, but one scene I like is when the crew debate over which of the three planets in a solar system Spock’s brain might have been taken to. This is interesting because it discusses the idea of technology levels and comparing them to ages of Earth history, as well as raising the idea of multiple planets in the same system having civilisations. Ultimately the point is to make the Holmesian deduction that, because the two planets with somewhat advanced civilisations are still not advanced enough to build the ship that stole Spock’s brain, it must have gone to the planet that seemingly has nothing but least on its surface.

“The Paradise Syndrome”: Kirk gets his memory wiped by a mysterious obelisk, and finds an idyllic existence among a group of Native American Indians on a planet protected from asteroids by said obelisk. This one is important because its explanation for why we can reuse some real Earth sets and costumes is that the people in question were brought there by some aliens called The Preservers, whose goal is – you guessed it – to preserve peoples in danger of being wiped out. This is the only time they ever get mentioned on-screen in canon Star Trek, but spinoff writers love them even more than the Guardian of Forever, so we’ll be seeing them invoked a lot later for other settings involving Earth civilisations on other planets. (They feature prominently in “Federation”, which I already discussed in a past article).

“Spectre of the Gun”: In this one the explanation for why we can use old Earth costumes and sets is that an alien race, the Melkotians (a rare but nice example of non-humanoid aliens in TOS) warn off Federation attempts to make first contact by putting Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Chekov in an illusory fantasy of the gunfight at the OK Corral. This seemingly innocuous episode prefigures all sorts of ideas in this genre of fiction: rather than trying to make the cowboy Western sets look realistic, they are shown in-universe as being like movie sets, the product of an illusion; Kirk and company have been put in place of the losing side, the Clantons, and therefore have to effectively change history (or this version of it); and it turns out the way they do so is simply by believing that the bullets being fired at them are imaginary. Spock has to use his mind meld to convince them of this, mind you, but it works; you can die in the game without dying in real life, as it were. He would have been a useful guy to have around in the Matrix films. Also, the idea of a Western setting for this kind of illusory setting-turned-very-real-stakes would inspire both TNG’s “A Fistful of Datas” and Red Dwarf’s critically-acclaimed “Gunmen of the Apocalypse”.

“Day of the Dove”: Another Cold War allegory. This time, an alien that feeds on hatred traps both Enterprise and Klingon crew in a never-ending cycle of revenge, equipping them with swords and sometimes edited memories. Kirk and the Klingon captain, Kang, have to set aside their differences and lay down their arms in order to defeat the alien: as Kang memorably puts it, only a fool fights in a burning house.

“For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky”: Long title, isn’t it? The Enterprise has to stop an asteroid hitting an inhabited world, but turns out the asteroid is actually a generational ship – likely introducing that concept to a generation (haha) of writers. The fact that the people on the ship have also forgotten their purpose, and have fallen under the sway of a computer (of course) would influence a lot of speculative fiction in the future – arguably it’s even used in Pixar’s Wall-E.

“The Tholian Web”: Features the USS Defiant (no, not that one) fading into ‘interspace’ and our heroes must rescue Kirk from her before he goes with her, while evading the non-humanoid Tholians. Many writers would speculate where ‘interspace’ led to, with the series Enterprise (ENT) eventually suggesting it goes to the Mirror Universe.

“Plato’s Stepchildren”: Even this late in the series, the writers are still capable of doing “this group of aliens have adopted ancient Greek culture because, um, reasons”. In a reminder of how episodic stories were at this point, it’s not even tied into the earlier case of Apollo and the other Greek pagan gods being revealed to be aliens. But at least it did have the first interracial kiss on American television.

“Wink of an Eye”: An example of how a lot of invisibility/parallel reality etc. settings can instead be done with aliens who travel rapidly and experience time so that seconds last hours, and are mostly imperceptible to the Enterprise’s crew. Some of the tropes here would be more widely developed in the seminal science fiction novel “Dragon’s Egg” by Robert L. Forward. They would then in turn be, ahem, ‘borrowed’ back into Star Trek for the Voyager episode “Blink of an Eye” – which only got renamed after its writers belatedly discovered the TOS episode existed!

“Elaan of Troyius”: An example of allegories being done rather clumsily – the first draft was even called “Helen of Troyius”. Also the Klingons are in it again and it’s yet another Cold War allegory, of a sort, this time with the driving question of why do the Klingons care about these planets seemingly lacking any valuable resources...

“Whom Gods Destroy”: Former Starfleet Captain Garth of Izar, hero of the Battle of Axanar, has gone mad following an injury. He has now taken over the psychiatric facility trying to treat him, leading an army of fellow inmates. Though cured at the end, some have pointed out that it would arguably have been more logical to bring back Garth rather than Khan as a nemesis for Kirk in the films; actor Steve Ihnat had already passed away of a heart attack at a young age, but Garth had become a shapeshifter, neatly explaining that away. Perhaps it is just that this episode wasn’t as good as “Space Seed”, though Garth has still returned in spinoffs and fan films.

“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”: An allegory for contemporary racism in the United States, in which an alien who’s black on one side and white on the other, Bele, has chased another who’s the other way around, Lokai, for (squints at notes) fifty thousand years. I actually think this one is nowhere near as unsubtle as it’s often accused of being (such as using contemporary George Wallace talking points about ‘law and order’ as euphemisms by Bele) and it does have a nice sequence where Kirk threatens to blow up the Enterprise unless control is returned. When they do get back to their home planet, turns out it’s long since destroyed by the racial conflict, but that doesn’t stop them fighting on its surface for all eternity, unwilling to let go of their hatred. Yes, Star Trek has looked at racism with more subtle allegories in later years, but evidence suggest that sometimes you just need to spell it out.

“The Mark of Gideon”: Features the 1960s terror of overpopulation, and a clever idea of Kirk thinking everyone else on the Enterprise has vanished, when actually he’s been beamed to an exact copy of the Enterprise made by the people of this planet which is so overpopulated that there’s no room to stand, so obviously how they were able to make space for this replica was, er, hang on. Makes no sense, but is a good example of how this was one of ‘the’ what-if dystopias for the period, as in the then-recent “Make Room! Make Room!” by Harry Harrison, which eventually became “Soylent Green”. Amusingly, the Earth we currently live on already has more people than the seven billion that Harrison pictured, and the USA is only ten million short of the 341 million he gave it.

“Requiem for Methuselah”: OK, so you know how in Warhammer 40,000 there’s this Emperor who was born in like 4,000 BC and has spent every year since being a complete dick to everyone? Well, Star Trek already did that plot, except because it’s Star Trek, he’s a pretty cool guy who doesn’t afraid of anything. The Enterprise discovers a planet that’s home to a mineral cure for a plague they’re trying to supply aid to, only to find its owner is Flint, who turns out to be the aforementioned immortal. His past aliases include Leonardo da Vinci and Brahms (no prizes for guessing that Voyager entirely forgot this when its writers decided to feature a recurring hologram of da Vinci). He bought this planet under the name of Brack, which you may recall from my article on “Federation” in which he appears as Zefram Cochrane’s sponsor. There are parallels here to “Forbidden Planet” (itself inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”) which was an influence on Star Trek in general. The writer, Jerome Bixby, would go on to reuse the idea in the much more questionable independent sci-fi story “The Man from Earth”. Flint would be another favourite for spinoff writers, and DC Comics crossovers would portray him as the good equivalent of Vandal Savage, a nefarious immortal with a similar backstory who had appeared in their pages since the 1940s.

“The Way to Eden”: AKA ‘how not to reflect contemporary events, the episode’. In which we discover that they still have hippies in the 23rd century and the Enterprise crew are forced to bring them to their tree-hugging paradise, in which it turns out all the fruit is actually full of acid, because subtlety. Fortunately, Star Trek would never again be so foolish as to put in a fleeting transient bit of culture as though it’d last for centuries, cough cough, sorry I can’t breathe over the fumes from that one character who vapes in Star Trek: Picard. I look forward to the Ferengi trading in bitcoin in season 2.

“The Cloud Minders”: Kirk and company need a mineral from a planet to cure a plague (again), but this one is socially divided between oppressed miners and a literal ivory-tower civilisation on the floating cloud city of Stratos.

“The Savage Curtain”: An alien Excalbian decides to test human notions of good and evil by putting Kirk and Spock together on a planet with illusions of Abraham Lincoln and Vulcan philosopher Surak, to fight Genghis Khan, Klingon leader Kahless (awkward both of them being there after what I said about the Klingons being based on ‘futuristic Genghis Khan’), an unethical Mengele-type doctor named Zora, and a 21st century human warlord named Colonel Green. If that sounds unsubtle, it could have been worse: the first draft featured Hitler and Attila the Hun on the evil side, and a ‘1970s flower power guru type’ (described in hindsight, obviously) on the good side. Perhaps they did learn their lesson from “The Way to Eden” after all. Nowadays I imagine quite a few people would complain about Genghis Khan being portrayed as ‘evil’, but they’d still probably be drowned out by all the neo-Confederate apologists instead complaining about Lincoln being portrayed as ‘good’...anyway, one of the better moments of this episode is that Lincoln is equally amazed by the concept of the transporter teleportation system, and the existence of taped music. (And also apologises to Uhura after calling her by an outdated term).

“All Our Yesterdays”: One of the most interesting time-travel plots in all of Star Trek. A planet named Sarpeidon is about to be destroyed by its sun going nova, but a librarian named Mr Atoz is evacuating its population through the time-travel atavachron – resettling them in different eras of the past, thinly spread to evade notice. Now that’s a concept for you. Our heroes get caught up in it and end up in past eras of Sarpeidon that somewhat resemble Earth/American history, without being too in-your-face about it compared to some past episodes. Spock also ends up in the distant past with a woman named Zarabeth who was exiled there as criminal punishment by a tyrant, and as it’s a time before Vulcans developed their logical way of life, he emotionally falls for her. (Not sure if that time-travel logic makes sense, but OK). This one really deserves to be better known in my view, it’s a time travel plot that even modern sci-fi wouldn’t usually consider. Oh, and an album got named after the Atavachron.

“Turnabout Intruder”: Not an Ace Attorney chapter, but the disappointing final episode of TOS in which Kirk gets body-switched with Janice Lester, an old flame who is resentful that women apparently aren’t allowed to be Starfleet captains. Obviously, this can be chalked up in-universe to just her being a bit mad and saying incorrect things, and is just because the writer didn’t have an idea of Roddenberry’s vision – wait, who was the writer? Roddenberry? Oh. Anyway, worth mentioning just for the body-swap gimmick, as it was probably an example which influenced later writers who used that.

That’s it as far as TOS is concerned. Next time, we’ll look at the successor animated series (TAS) and, perhaps more significantly, some of the spinoff novels based on the original series...



bottom of page