Cynics often state that there are really only five stories that have ever been written, and that all subsequent books, plays, TV shows, movies are mere iterations of these five basic tales. In other words, all the movies and shows we watch today are essentially reboots of stories we have already seen in myth, theatre, and literature.
Now that all the original Star Trek episodes are available on Netflix’s watch instantly feature, I’ve began to notice that among the over sixty episodes spread across three seasons, there are really only five Star Trek stories as well. Furthermore, these five stories have been repeated ad naseum in the five additional tv series, eleven movies and countless books, comics and games that have been produced in the wake of the original program. While the existence of the five basic stories of western popular culture suggest that there is some collective cultural conscience evident in the popular western zeitgeist, the apparent repetition of five Star Trek plots over 45 some odd years of storytelling is a reflection of something else: cheapness.
Although the digitally remastered versions of the original series available on Netflix have fixed the laughable special effects that have caused the show to be the butt of so many jokes and parodies over the years, there are some corner cuts that even state of the art computer graphics can’t fix. Props, sets, costumes and even actors are re-used, redressed, and retweaked to be something else. You’ll notice the same backgrounds used as different planets, the same sets used as different places, the same music repeated over and over again, and even the same footage used to represent different. But the one element repeated most often in the original Star Trek series, are the plots themselves. So without any further ado, here are the five basic Star Trek stories.
1. The “Everyone Stare at the Big Blob on the Screen” episode
Whenever the producers didn’t feel like building any new sets, paying for new costumes, or casting new characters, they could always just rotoscope some big blob of crap on the viewscreen that flashes lights on the set and shakes the camera while Spock tells us how fascinating this cheap blob of crap is.
2. The “We found some cool costumes/sets on the NBC backlot” episode
Whether its Cowboys, Knights, Roman Gladiators, 1930s gangsters or even Nazis, the writers could always find some clever way to get the crew of the Enterprise onto some planet or time vortex built entirely out of shit left over from other shows with actual budgets.
3. The “Everyone has contracted some evil space disease” episode
Why beam the crew down to some expensive planet when you can have them contract some weird space disease that makes everyone go nuts. The crew will scream, yell, scrape at their skins and lash out violently at their crewmates…anything but build another paper maiche set!
4. The “We’ve found a wrecked ship that conveniently looks exactly like our ship” episode
Need a way to pretend that the same sets you see every week are actually a completely different location? Have the Enterprise crew find a wrecked ship that looks EXACTLY like theirs! You can tell that it’s a different ship because the lights are off and there’s people lying dead their workstations. Most of the time, it just looks like someone had a Klingon house party while Kirk was on shore leave. Extra points if the crew contracts the evil space disease FROM the ship that looks exactly like theirs.
5. The “This is actually surprisingly good and still holds up after all these years” episode
For all the critiques and jokes leveled at the original Star Trek, the fact remains that this is still a great show that holds up very well after all these years. So hop on Netflix and boldly go where lots of people have gone for 45 years. Engage!