By: Alexandra August
Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross’ 50 Year Mission: The Oral History of Star Trek is a gift of new content to any Trekker who wishes they could go back in time and experience the franchise all over again. Friday night of New York Comic Con, the authors and Scott Mantz (Access Hollywood) hosted a panel to discuss their two-year labor of love with an audience of dedicated Trekkers. Honestly, it felt less like a typical panel, and more like a family reunion. But instead of reminiscing about shared memories, the audience was gifted with new ones.
Weird ones. Boy howdy did this evening prove the adage, “Truth is stranger than (even science-)fiction.”
During the generous three-hour session, two of Trek’s most affable insiders eagerly broke down some of their favorite revelations uncovered in the creation of the dual-volume work. Take some of Gene Roddenberry’s early movie concepts: there was “The Cattlemen,” which featured Kirk rescuing a race of sentient cattle from their evil, ranching overlords. Another spec, “The God King,” saw God and Jesus returning to Earth, perturbed that no one recognized them. Long story short, Kirk wound up in hand-to-hand combat with Jesus Christ on the bridge of the Enterprise. Personally, I think the world is the lesser for not having seen that, but according to Gross, “For some reason, Paramount said, ‘No.’”
Of course the above is a drop in the bucket when it comes to what 50 Year Mission has to offer in the way of strange and juicy tidbits. William Shatner famously released “Chaos on the Bridge,” a documentary about the extremely turbulent first three seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But the doc barely scratches the surface compared to what the books cover, specifically Roddenberry’s strange involvement of his lawyer, Leonard Maizlish, in creative decisions, valuing the latter’s opinion even over that of the show’s writers. Also of note: Shatner and Nimoy’s famous feud and Shatner’s infamous downplaying of it, and the extreme friction between co-stars Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Taylor after Taylor’s addition to the struggling Voyager and Mulgrew’s perceived undermining. All of these stories have long been wondered about by Trek watchers, and are now finally illuminated by those in the extreme know.
The audience was also treated to a hilarious Easter Egg recently uncovered: a clip from a Star Trek: The Animated Series PSA warning against the perils of “Hard Drug Abuse.” In one of Trek’s more thinly-veiled metaphors, the short sees the Enterprise discover a planet who’s civilization has been brought to ruin due to “Hard Drug Abuse.” On an away mission, Spock notes the addled minds and uncontrollable limbs of the dominant race and identifies their problem as similar to the one Earth experienced in the 20th century. Get it? The efficacy of said PSA remains in question, and ironically it was evocative of an episode of Archer.
So, obviously, buy this book if you’re a Trekker to any degree, but if you fit that profile AND are in the position to see this panel when it’s offered again, DO THAT, TOO. Altman, Gross and Mantz were so passionately delighted by their subject matter, that it was infectious. Everyone in the audience wound up feeling like a bit of an insider themselves. Dream come true for most fans who feel like they’ve always been on the outside looking in. And, frankly, what better way to experience an oral history than, well, orally?
Images: Paramount Studios, William Shatner