Star Trek is, without a shadow of a doubt, the series that set the standard for US television science fiction featuring a regular cast, and to this day continues to be the yardstick against which all new programmes are measured.
Created by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek saw the crew of the USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner), boldly going where no man had gone before and exploring space in a pretty new and original way. The half-Vulcan Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy) was the ship's science officer and second-in-command, with the crotchety Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelley) completing the leading triumverate of characters as the ship's surgeon.
Between 1966 and 1969 the series managed to rack up seventy-nine episodes across three seasons, but from its initial transmissions could only ever be described as a failure. Amazingly, the series managed to escape cancellation twice — aided by an unprecedented campaign by fan groups — before the axe finally fell.
However, in the few year that it had been on the air, Star Trek had proved popular enough for a series of novelisations based on episodes of the series to be written by James Blish, and which were published by Bantam Books. 1970 saw the release of Spock Must Die (again written by Blish) and this was the first proper novel to be published based on the series.
But while the television series had been cancelled in 1969, the early 1970s were to actually prove the most pivotal in the history of the series, as the sale of Star Trek into syndication saw the show gain a completely new audience — and an extremely vocal one at that.
1973 saw the first signs that Star Trek was far from forgotten, when an animated series went on air. Now best known for the appalling animation by Filmation, the series is notable for using the voices of all the original cast, apart from Walter Koenig (aka Ensign Chekov). It eventually ran for twenty-two episodes and had ties to a number of original series stories including another encounter with the Tribbles and a return trip to the Guardian of Forever. Sadly, these days it seems that Paramount are intent on trying to erase the show from history, which is a shame as it's an entertaining series.
As with it's live-action parent, the animated series spawned a series of novelisations, although this time they were to be written by Alan Dean Foster and were published by Ballantine.
The following few years saw the success of the syndication sale finally having a major impact on Paramount, as their plan for a new TV network included a revival of Star Trek at its heart. But while the plans for both the network and the new live-action television series were ultimately to get nowhere, the groundwork for the Star Trek series wasn't to go completely to waste. Paramount instead decided to produce a full-length feature film.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture finally reached screens in 1979 and reunited the whole cast from the television series. The release of the movie also proved a major turning point in the publishing of books based on the series. Although Bantam had been releasing an occasional series of original novels since 1976, the rights to publish the novelisation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture went to Pocket Books, and in 1981 the company was to pick up the rights to publish original fiction as well, with Bantam's series finally coming to an end with Death's Angel.
Starting with Vonda N McIntyre's The Entropy Effect, Pocket embarked on a publishing schedule that saw them putting out around six new novels every year — many of them now regarded as amongst the very best ever released based on the original series.
As the decade progressed, the ongoing series of movies featuring the original cast continued to pull in the audiences, and Gene Roddenberry's plans for a new television series finally came to fruition in 1987 with the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ironically, the syndication market which had kept the series alive in the 1970s was now seen as the ideal ground to launch the new series, although in a move that was to shock Star Trek fandom to its very core, it wasn't to feature the original cast...
Set some seventy years after the adventures of the original series, The Next Generation saw British actor Patrick Stewart assuming the command chair of the Enterprise-D as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Other notable characters included the android Data (Brent Spiner), and Wesley Crusher (Will Wheaton) — a teenage genius whose three-and-a-bit years on board the ship was to prove about three-and-a-bit years too long for most viewers. As well as introducing popular villains such as the Borg and the omnipotent Q, the series also saw the return of old favourites such as the Romulans and the Klingons,the latter of which were now allies of the United Federation of Planets. Much to the delight of the popular press, the most visible sign of this new alliance was Worf (Michael Dorn) who was elevated to Security Chief after the terminal departure of Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), giving ample room for puns about Klingons on the starboard bow!
Unsurprisingly, the commencement of Star Trek: The Next Generation saw Pocket Books swiftly launching a second range of books, beginning with a novelisation of the opening episode, Encounter at Farpoint. As is usual with tie-in ranges, the earliest releases were somewhat variable in quality, but with the discovery of Peter David, who was to go on to write many of the best Next Generation books during the early 1990s, it's fair to say that the average quality of the books soon began to rise.
With The Next Generation proving a major success both in the US and internationally, it was inevitable that Paramount would seek to keep the money-making machine rolling for as long as possible. And with rumours rife over the continued existence of the show after Season 5, the announcement was made that a third live-action Star Trek series was to go into production. In the event, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was to launch in early 1993 and was to be on air alongside the eventual Seasons 6 and 7 of The Next Generation.
Unlike its parent series, Deep Space Nine was to diverge considerably from Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future, and was arguably far better for doing so. Set in the same time period as The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine was a former Cardassian space station located in the Bajor system which had recently been liberated from decades of Cardassian occupation. With the discovery of the only known stable wormhole (inhabited by beings known to the Bajorans as the Prophets), the system became a major stop-off point for ships, especially for those wishing to travel to the Gamma Quadrant. In charge of the station was Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), a Starfleet officer assigned to one of the furthest outposts in the Alpha Quadrant. His second in command was Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), a former member of the Bajoran resistance during the occupation, with further characters being Chief of Security Odo (Rene Auberjonois) — a shapeshifter of (initially) unknown origins, Dr Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig), Chief of Operations Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney) who transfered across from the Enterprise-D during the opening episode, Lieutenant Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrel) who was in charge of science, and in the station's civilian area Quark (Armin Shimerman), a Ferengi who ran the local bar and whose dodgy connections and business dealings were to prove as useful as they were dangerous.
Yet again, the launch of a new Star Trek series saw Pocket Books expanding their publishing slate, beginning with a novelisation of the opening episode, Emissary, by JM Dillard.
1994 saw The Next Generation finally coming to a halt after seven successful seasons, but plans were already in place for the series to move to the big screen, replacing the now geriatric cast from the 1960s series who had clocked-up six movies. Star Trek: Generations was to see the two captains of the Enterprise finally meeting, but only Picard was to be alive at the end of the movie. With the baton well and truly handed over, the next three movies were to be wholly Next Generation affairs.
The ending of The Next Generation on television meant that there would once again only be one Star Trek series on air. However, with impeccable timing Paramount announced that a fourth series was to go into production, to start airing early in 1995.
Star Trek: Voyager was once again set in the same time period as The Next Generation, but this time was to be based in the Delta Quadrant after the USS Voyager gets thrown seventy-thousand lightyears outside Federation territory by a being known as the Caretaker. The following seasons saw the crew, under the command of Captain Kathryn Janeway, trying to make their way home as best they could, encountering various enemies such as Species 8472 and the cybernetic Borg. Sadly, by this stage the Star Trek franchise was beginning to shown signs of extreme wear around the edges. While the acerbic holographic Doctor on Voyager was to prove one of the most popular characters from any of the new series, and the obvious charms of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine were to prove a draw for the increasingly jaded male viewers, the remainder of the cast were never better than mediocre, and several of them, including Chakotay (Robert Beltran) and Neelix (Ethan Phillips), were embarrassingly bad.
As expected, Pocket Books expanded their range yet again, with the first Voyager book being a novelisation of the series' opening installment, Caretaker.
Back on Deep Space Nine, while the first few years of the show had tended to concentrate on one-off stories, the introduction of the Dominion at the end of Season 2 saw the show take a much darker turn as they sided with the Cardassians against the Federation and the Klingons. The start of Season 4 also saw a major change in the Star Trek world when the Federation/Klingon alliance broke up, allowing Deep Space Nine to introduce Lieutenant Commander Worf to the mix for the remainder of the show's seven seasons.
Amongst general sci-fi TV fans, Deep Space Nine is now generally regarded as the best of the 1990's Star Trek series, although mainly due to the impact of the continuing storylines between Seasons 4 and 7. Unfortunately for Voyager, that particular series is not held in such high regard, as the series rarely reached the heights of its pilot episode. Although it managed to stay on air for a full seven seasons, even the final episode where they reached home proved to be a major disappointment.
But even before the end of Voyager in 2001, it was obvious to most people that the quality of the Star Trek books being published was suffering — mainly due to the sheer number that were being issued. There was also a certain amount of disquiet amongst readers and collectors about the way in which Pocket Books was increasingly releasing multi-volume series in an attempt to get the fans to buy all of the books. However, with the end of Deep Space Nine and Voyager on television, it's fair to say that a new era for Star Trek publishing was just around the corner. With the continuing adventures of those series now at an end, Pocket were freed to carry on the story after the events of the concluding episodes. Instead of the rather mediocre tie-in's that had been emerging over the previous few years, the novels were now able to tell proper stories that didn't necessitate the use of the dreaded 'reset button' at the conclusion.
Season 7 of Voyager wasn't to be the final nail in the coffin of new television Star Trek, however, as it was announced that a brand new series, set a generation before the exploits of Kirk, would go into production for airing from September 2001.
Enterprise was set aboard the previously unmentioned experimental prototype of the Enterprise, under the command of Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula). The opening episode kicked-off with the first encounter with the Klingons.
Pocket Books' inevitable spin-off titles started in 2001 with a hardback novelisation of Enterprise's opening story Broken Bow, written by Diane Carey.
However, despite an interesting premise (and changing its title to Star Trek: Enterprise from Season 3), the same old problems that had bedevilled Voyager were still in evidence with Enterprise. Cardboard characters and too much time travel were once more in evidence, and by 2005 the ratings were in terminal decline. Much to the relief of many Star Trek fans, the series was finally put out of its misery after four mediocre seasons. The final episode is widely regarded as the ultimate example of the distance the franchise had fallen since the early 1990s, being as much of a showcase for two Next Generation characters as it was a respectable closing for viewers that had stayed the distance.
Unsurprisingly, the failure of Enterprise — as well as the indifferent response to the Star Trek: Nemesis movie in 2002 — saw the franchise being put on hold for several years.
Off screen, Pocket Books' approach to Star Trek fiction also underwent a major change, with releases being cut back to just one title per month from Autumn 2005. However, with the continuing Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager novels forging ahead with their own continuations, and a number of authors now hard at work on side-projects that cover the more tangential aspects of the Star Trek universe, it seem that, as with the Doctor Who books of the 1990s, the lack of new television episodes has forced the storytelling to be more adventurous.