Review by C.J. Bunce
TV historian and Star Trek expert Marc Cushman is back to continue his second trilogy of books about the development, production, and struggles behind the first two decades of Star Trek. In These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 2 (1975-77), at last we get to delve into the biggest Star Trek project never delivered: The 1970s Star Trek: Phase II series that would be parted out and become Star Trek: The Motion Picture and later Star Trek: The Next Generation. And that’s not all–ideas and early scripts for Phase II continue to be tapped in the 21st century Star Trek series and films. Even better, Cushman digs into the ever-developing Star Trek novels, conventions, and more, which became the practice grounds for the wider, broad world of pop culture fandom as a whole. How did Star Trek finally movie forward from the original series to become what it is today? How did the fans play a major role in making that happen?
What is clear is the research in These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 2 (1975-77) will be tapped for decades by anyone studying the origins of modern fandom, the history of television production, and for Star Trek fans, this is the definitive, most comprehensive discussion of Phase II ever compiled (even more thorough than Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens’ Star Trek: Phase II–The Making of the Lost Series, from 1997–the only previous, major attempt to gain insight into this fascinating project). Cushman’s writings on television are always scholarly, treating the key benchmarks in the history of television as its own important, valid niche of the overall study of the history of science and technology as well as entertainment.
As the two Cushman Star Trek trilogies reflect a biography of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, here we find Roddenberry at a particularly low point–probably as close as he got to his breaking point–in trials where other studio executives might have given up. Yet he kept busy between his Star Trek projects. These included tie-ins like novels and fan-directed collectibles from his company Lincoln Enterprises.
We’ve discussed before here at borg the idea that when Star Trek moves forward with new projects it has a tendency to return to the well–to go back through those earlier ideas that never saw light of day. As an example, Roddenberry wanted to have his charismatic lead Captain James T. Kirk to have a face-to-face encounter with God. Understandably, as Cushman writes, various factions within the studio culture were going to thwart the idea because of the political hurdles such a story would butt up against. And yet, Roddenberry persevered, the concept eked out into scripts for Star Trek: Phase II. It manifested itself in a way into the V’ger of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And eventually it was fully realized in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
But that’s only the beginning of the analysis. Ever wonder why Chekov became a red shirt in Star Trek Into Darkness? You’ll see the reason in the book. Persis Khambatta’s Ilia was initially one of the new stars of Phase II, which was transformed into the female lead of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Instead of a bit part in that movie, David Gautreaux was to take the Vulcan spot on the Enterprise, replacing Leonard Nimoy on 1970s television screens. Stephen Collins’ character Decker from the film, and Khambatta’s Ilia, would manifest themselves again in the form of Jonathan Frakes’ Will Riker and Marina Sirtis’s Deanna Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Readers will find parallels to future projects and the inceptions of character and story arcs aplenty through These Are the Voyages Volume II′s 650 pages of detailed analysis.
Fans of today’s comic conventions and Star Trek conventions will appreciate the anecdotes, the surprise reactions by the actors and Roddenberry to the public’s refusal to give up the original 1960s series. Cushman uses executives, writers, actors, and others, new interviews including familiar Star Trek creators like William Shatner, Walter Koenig, Jon Povill, Bjo Trimble, Clive Donner, Alan Dean Foster, and Doug Drexler, interviews of deceased creators assembled by the writer over years from Martin Landau, Robert Culp, D.C. Fontana, and others, all to provide a history of 1970s television industry production and fandom.
Packaged in a glossy hardcover edition with a foreword by Gene Roddenberry’s personal assistant Susan Sackett, the book includes dozens of black and white photographs, test shots, marketing images, and behind the scenes photographs.
Available from Jacobs Brown Press, These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 2 (1975-77) is available now here at Amazon and at the Jacobs Brown website here. In case you missed it, check out out review of Volume 1 here. Also take a look at Cushman’s other works reviewed earlier here at borg: These Are the Voyages Season One, These Are the Voyages Season Two, These Are the Voyages Season Three, and Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space Volume One. Look for our review of the final volume in this 1970s trilogy featuring Star Trek: The Motion Picture, coming to borg later this month.