Star Trek: Epic Episodes – Book Review

Star Trek: Epic Episodes arrives promoted as a collection of some of the best articles from the vaults of Star Trek Magazine; with a focus on landmark episodes of both Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG); as well as featuring as number of interviews with key players.  A mixture of poor presentation, and a scattergun approach to article and interview selection makes this feel less like a selection of the very cream of these two shows, and more an anthology of whatever came to hand.

First, the selection of episodes is both thin and eclectic.  From a count of 79 TOS (80 if original pilot, ‘The Cage’, is included – which it is here) and 178 TNG episodes, there are merely 15 episodes receiving discrete articles.  Many of those episodes are clear choices: ‘Balance of Terror’, ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’, ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’, ‘Space Seed’, ‘The Best of Both Worlds’, and ‘The Inner Light’ would all make most fan lists of classic episodes worthy of discussion.  It was surprising to see quite so many omissions though: both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy named ‘The Devil in the Dark’ as their favourite episode, but the narrow selection includes neither this, nor ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’, ‘The Doomsday Machine’, ‘Chain of Command’, ‘All Good Things’, or any other of a number of episodes that would make up many best-of lists.

The episodes that are here are covered with a reasonably lively mixture of production history, facts about the episode, alternative casting ideas that had been considered (though it seems unlikely that Jeff Bridges would have been considered for the role of Captain Kirk at 16 years of age, as this book claims during its discussion of the second TOS pilot), and eye witness accounts of all aspects of bringing the show to the screen.

Interviews are less successfully presented at such a long time removed from their original publication.  So, we get to read William Shatner reveal whether he thinks he’ll ever appear in an episode of Enterprise (a Star Trek incarnation cancelled in 2005), a tease for a book he is writing (that has now been on the market for 13 or 14 years), and Leonard Nimoy discussing his photography work (Nimoy having died nearly four years ago).  More welcome is the focus on some of figures less known to more casual fans: a focus on the contributions of showrunner Gene Coon, and ground-breaking writer (as a woman working in prime time TV) DC Fontana.  Though the reproduction of a full interview with the actor Christopher McDonald, player of a mid-sized role in a single episode, is more of a head-scratcher.

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Presentation appears to be a mix of scans of originally printed magazines, and articles that can be reproduced directly from the electronic files in the post-digital era.  By-and-large the scanned reproductions look terrible, with some lines of text looking squashed, and others looking stretched out.  Whether this is an unavoidable by-product of scanning, or laziness in quality control, we can only guess.  Layout is also confusing, with the aforementioned Shatner and Nimoy interviews on alternating pages, so we have one interview being cut off, in one instance, mid-sentence before picking up again two pages further on.

At one point we get 40 consecutive scanned pages of varying levels of legibility / print quality, before finally picking up with the more modern presentation.  Despite Star Trek Magazine still being in print at the time of writing, and articles spanning all eras of Trek, the font choices for this book generally reflect the design philosophy of Star Trek from 1987-2001 (TNG to Star Trek: Voyager), in itself an unusual choice when discussing TOS, for example.

Star Trek: Epic Episodes is a book the title of which immediately leads to false expectations.  This is simply an anthology of reasonably random material from this magazine, concerned with the two most famous incarnations of the show.  At 178 pages, the book has plenty of material, lots of titbits of information – some of it little known – to interest the casual reader, and plenty of variation in article type – interviews, episode guides, a look at a particular theme or feature of the show.

It is unclear quite who it is for, however: those with a nostalgia for the magazine will likely still hold back copies; those looking for any kind of episode breakdown / recap / production notes would do just as well with the many online sites that deal with such (as well, of course, as Memory Alpha, and even Wikipedia); and for those really looking to build an in-depth knowledge of behind the scenes on Star Trek, they would be better buying one or both of the volumes of The Fifty-Year Mission – the outstanding 50th anniversary two-part tome on the entire history of the Star Trek franchise.

In an era where the consumer can pick and choose entertainment precisely to taste, the presentation of such a seemingly random set of articles is somewhat unsatisfying.  It is, however, fine as far as it goes, with a high degree of readability.

Star Trek: Epic Episodes is now available from Titan Books.

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