Trekking through the stars for 45 years…

Today marks the 45-year anniversary of the first-ever airing of Star Trek. The episode in question – and, yes, I do know this off the top of my head, thank you very much – was entitled “The Man Trap,” and it revolves around Dr. McCoy believing that he’s crossed paths with an old flame, only to later learn that she’s actually replaced by a shape-shifting creature that’ll suck the salt right out of you. Also, she’s married. Bones just can’t catch a break…

I admit it, I wasn’t watching when “The Man Trap” premiered, though I can at least fall back on the very good excuse of still being four years away from being born at the time. (A slightly adjusted version of this excuse is also why I can’t be held responsible for the series being canceled at the end of its third season.)

I do, however, remember my very first Star Trek episode, as well as where I was when I saw it.

My father, mother, and sister had just made the very long drive (for a kid in single digits, anyway) from Chesapeake, VA to Roanoke, VA to see my cousin Hortense and her husband, Dick. I’m sure my parents were exhausted, but for my part, I’d slept most of the way, and although it was ostensibly my bedtime by the time we arrived, I was still very much awake. As such, while they talked with Hortense and Dick, I zoned in on the television, enjoying a phenomenon that I rarely had the opportunity to experience: different TV stations. This was in the days before we’d gotten cable. At that time, we only had five stations to choose from in Hampton Roads: WTAR (as the CBS affiliate was called then), WVEC (ABC), WAVY (NBC), WHRO (PBS), and WYAH, the independent station that was part of Pat Robertson’s empire. (The YAH was reportedly short for “Yahweh.” Or, at least, that’s what Wikipedia says is in Robertson’s autobiography, Shout it From the Housetops, anyway.) This was my big chance to find out what the folks in Roanoke were watching.

What I found was a show that blew my tiny little mind…and it all started with a giant green hand:

The episode was called “Who Mourns for Adonais?” and it found the Enterprise literally in the clutches of an entity claiming to be the god Apollo. I was hooked immediately. Cheap special effects? You weren’t getting any criticism from this kid. The giant green hand, the transporter, the way Apollo suddenly grew to three times the size of Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, Chekov, and the never-seen-before-or-since love of Scotty’s life, Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas…I loved it all.

Unfortunately, no station in Hampton Roads was showing Star Trek. But it didn’t matter. I was hooked. I needed more. To make up for my inability to actually watch the show, I used my allowance to buy a copy of Star Trek Concordance, written by legendary uber-fan Bjo Trimble, which educated me on everything I could possibly want to know about every episode of the series, both live-action and animated. As a result, I knew most of the episodes inside and out before I ever actually saw them.

Eventually, WYAH decided to start showing reruns of Star Trek, and although I can’t recall the precise date, I feel certain it was more or less in conjunction with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture…which, as you might imagine, thrilled me to no end. My buddy Donnie Sadler has often reminded me how he spent much of his screening of the film counting the number of tiles on the ceiling of the Great Bridge Twin, but when I went to the theater to see it, I was in awe. As for the series itself, I was such a geek that I went through my copy of Concordance and circled the titles of each episode as I saw them…which is how I discovered that WYAH skipped a couple of episodes. I’m almost positive that there were three episodes left out of the rotation, though the only ones I can remember with absolute certainty are “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and “Catspaw.” All that matters, though, is that I upped myself to super-geek status by actually calling the station and asking for an explanation as to why they hadn’t shown these episodes. Although it’s been long enough now that I can’t claim that this is an exact quote, but I was basically told that the episodes in question contained elements of magic and/or psychic phenomena that did not meet with the established standards of the station…which, as you may recall, was owned by Pat Robertson. Sure would’ve made a great article…

But I digress. I come here not to bash Bible-thumpers but to praise Star Trek. It’s been a great voyage thus far, and I continue to have just as much enthusiasm for the franchise as I ever have. Indeed, my initial purchase for my new Nook was a Star Trek novel. My obsession with television was already solidly in place before I first saw that giant green hand grab the U.S.S. Enterprise, but it’s fair to say that Star Trek helped secure my fascination in sci-fi.

Thanks, Gene Roddenberry, for all your efforts as the Great Bird of the Galaxy. Even after 45 years, the voyage you began continues ever onward…

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