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Book Review: `These Are the Voyages, Season Two’ by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn

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Last year, when I reviewed the first volume of These Are the Voyages — The True History of Star Trek: The Original Series, I asked author Marc Cushman a key question: After all these years, why do we need a new book about the history of Star Trek? Hasn’t all the ground been excavated and explored to the point there’s no place left where no one has gone before?

Well, for one reason alone, Cushman’s first volume — covering the pre-production work and resulting first season (1966-1967) demonstrated that considerable mythology about the series has been taken for gospel over the past four decades that isn’t so. In particular, Star Trek wasn’t the ratings loser many have maintained. On top of that, Justman had the cooperation of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and producer Robert Justman which gave Cushman unprecedented access to a treasure trove of original studio archives including staff memos, contracts, schedules, budgets, and network correspondence no one else has had access to. It took Cushman over 20 years to not only synthesize all this information, but also interview many of the participants including writers, directors, and guest stars as well as members of the main cast.

As a result, Season One earned considerable respect from Star Trek insiders and is clearly an indispensable reference work for any Trekkie or Trekker or anyone who’s more than a casual fan of “Classic Trek.” The same is true of Season two.

I admit, when I interviewed Cushman about his first volume last year, I naively presumed the books covering seasons two and three would be shorter as they wouldn’t include all the material about how the original concept came to be, not to mention all the background information on the original cast and producers. Cushman just laughed. The second volume of These Are the Voyages goes well over 600 pages, and that’s before the appendices.

That’s because, for each episode, we read how the scripts were chosen and shaped, are given a day-by-day production history, are provided the broadcast information including original airdates, repeats, and those surprising ratings. While NBC didn’t give Star Trek an especially good time slot on Friday nights, it typically came in at number two and sometimes topped the competition which included such fare as Hondo, Accidental Family, and Operation: Entertainment. I was alive and well at the time, and confess, then and now, I never heard of any of them.

Layered into all this are the memories of the cast and crew, especially the guest stars who all have unique stories to tell about their time on the Star Trek set. We also get contemporary reviews and listener mail, especially an almost day-by-day account of the mail campaign that saved the series for another year. Along the way, we also go behind-the-scenes to see how the second season evolved, from the addition of Walter Koenig as Ensign Pavel Chekov to the departure of producer Gene Coon to the change of studio ownership, which resulted in a tightening of shooting schedules. Did you know Sulu was missing in many episodes as George Takai was loaned out for work on a John Wayne film?

Readers who follow the entire story in sequence will come up with their own interpretations and reactions to the volume, but I am certain most knowledgeable fans will be even more appreciative of the work invested by Gene Coon and D.C. Fontana. Both Coon and Fontana have been far from unsung heroes in the Star Trek realm, but it’s eye-opening to see an almost day-by-day account of how they read and doctored scripts, nurtured some, feared others, avoided repetition when possible, and kept the continuity straight. For me, the scriptwriting process is the heart of the book where we read how the staff took the proposed ideas and molded them into what the actors finally made flesh for the small screen. On nearly every page, we see the evidence of a production based on considerable care, dedication, and imagination.

If you’re a serious Star Trek fan, the new book is now available for pre-ordering at
www.thesearethevoyagesbooks.com

I can’t wait for season three, coming later this year.

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