A few weeks back I started doing something I’ve wanted to do for a while: rewatch the original Star Trek series. It was very much a part of my teen years as I watched episodes over and over in syndication, but it’s been years since I caught any of the episodes, except in passing when TYG was rewatching them. When I began, I discovered Netflix’s run includes the original pilot episode The Cage preceding the first episode, Man Trap. The difference between them was interesting.
Gene Roddenberry has rightfully taken crap for a vision of the future in which women, even though qualified to serve on a space ship, are primarily eye candy. The Cage is a step up from that. The ship’s first officer, Number One (Majel Barrett) is competent; Captain Pike’s female yeoman, Colt (Laurel Goodwin) is much more tomboyish in demeanor than ST: OS’ Yeoman Rand; the show emphasizes that having a female yeoman on the bridge is a novel thing.
The show does make it clear that the woman are attracted to Pike, so who knows how they’d have been written if the original pilot went to series. But having a woman as first officer, and clearly competent, is still striking, particularly in that era.
A little too striking for the network, which told Rodenberry to either dump Number One or get rid of Spock; he opted to keep Spock, believing viewers needed to see an alien on board. Colt got replaced by Rand.
The opening episodes of the regular series do feel much more sexist. Yeoman Rand is mostly there to be pretty and smile and run errands (watching as a teenager, I thought “yeoman” must be something like a valet). Uhura flirts quite a bit with Spock. It’s disappointing to compare.
But then we get to the second episode, Charlie X. This gives the Enterprise it’s first encounter with a cosmically powerful foe, a teenage boy raised by disembodied intelligences who taught him their ability to transform matter. It’s apparently a limitless power, and Charlie’s a teenager, full of raging hormones and completely unused to dealing with other humans. He reacts viciously to slights or hurts and winds up a lot like Billy Mumy’s demigod on It’s a Good Life.
He also looks like the embodiment of the #metoo villain. Once he meets Yeoman Rand she’s all he can think about, and he can’t tolerate being told no. She tries introducing Charlie to a girl his own age; he treats the girl like dirt. His feelings, his needs, are all that he cares about; he thinks he loves Yeoman Rand but she’s just a means to an end, the end being his own satisfaction.
Watching in my teens, I knew he was out of line, but I saw him mostly as a tragic figure, screwed up by his own lack of experience dealing with people. Now I see him as much creepier.
I don’t think I’ll have more to say about the series until I finish S1, but you never know.
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