Star Trek TOS: 10 Real-Life Historic References In The Show
You wouldn't think that a science fiction show that only lasted three seasons would have a lot to say about the problems of daily life, national turmoil or global political issues, but the fact is that Star Trek took on those issues in virtually every episode. Some of the references are general and easy to recognize, like the Civil Rights era callbacks, while some episodes are based on obscure but important events that actually took place.
Star Trek has become such a ubiquitous pop-culture icon that numerous references to the show appear in advertisements, movies, and other TV shows. In its time, however, Star Trek was controversial because of the references it made to real-life. The 1960s was a decade of upheaval and writers had a lot to say about it.
10 Back In The USSR
The wall wouldn't come down for another 20 years, but cracks began to appear in the Iron Curtain in the late 1960s. This isn't about a single episode, but a character. Anton Chekov was a later addition to the crew, and you notice that he didn't fit in as well as the other characters did. He makes references to the "Russian" people, culture and inventions constantly even though the concept of nationalism is supposed to be obsolete in the 23rd century.
One notable comment is about the "little old lady in Leningrad" who invented whiskey before the Scottish did. Chekov's character is a comment not only on the Cold War but on the relentless Soviet propaganda that the rest of the world was finally starting to see, and we saw that integrated into the dialogue in various episodes. The Klingons often fill this role when the show tackles politics on a larger scale.
9 The USS Pueblo And North Korea
Speaking of the Cold War, the episode "The Enterprise Incident" is based on a real-life event that occurred between North Korean and American military forces. It's one of the many to wade into this territory but the only one inspired by an actual occurrence. In 1968, the USS Pueblo was caught and boarded by the North Korean navy, who claimed they were trespassing. The Captain of the Pueblo said the ship was in international waters, but when the North Koreans caught him shredding documents and destroying possible evidence, it wasn't a good look. Regardless of the plain truth, the crew of the USS Pueblo spent 11 months being interrogated by the North Korean authorities after the incident.
8 The Ultimate Replacement
Human beings have been afraid that machines will replace them since the dawn of the industrial age. The 1960s saw a huge jump in technological advancement, and it wasn't only the assembly lines that lost many of their human workers. Computers were starting to make waves in the general population, as they were getting faster and smarter. The episode "The Ultimate Computer" references this issue with a machine that can run the whole ship, even without a Captain. Spock is fascinated, but his wonder turns to horror when the plot goes exactly where everyone knew it would, unmasking society's greatest fear when it comes to artificial intelligence. Skynet and The Matrix would terrify us years later with the same theme.
7 The Coldest Case File
There's a morbid fascination with the story of Jack and Ripper, one of the world's first known serial killers. The mystery of his identity was never solved and modern historians, crime enthusiasts, and literature buffs still obsess over this shadowy figure. We know, however, that he existed. Star Trek had their own take on this non-fictional villain, asserting that he was an entity beyond human existence who took sustenance from distressed human emotions.It seems far-fetched, but it would explain how the Ripper was able to move with such ease in the teeming streets of London without ever being caught, which is the real question the writers are asking.
6 A Private Little Proxy War
Some episodes tackle several issues at once, but "A Private Little War" was very much about Vietnam specifically. The Klingons play the USSR again, as the stronger and more advanced power supporting the enemies of the Federation in secret, while the US, or should we say the Federation, backs the opposing side. How noble are the intentions of either side, however, and should the Federation be involved in this at all? This episode made it past the censors and aired only days after the infamous Tet Offensive. The subject matter was so volatile that the writers included a racy, open-mouthed kiss to distract the censors away from the plot. True story.
5 The Voyager Probe
There were several Star Trek episodes that featured old machines or computers that had been launched by humans, only to return even more powerful and sometimes dangerous, but only one was based on a real space probe. The launch of the two Voyager probes in 1977 inspired writers, filmmakers, and storytellers all over the globe. It was also an important detail in the film Star Man, which spawned a TV series of its own. Before that movie, however, Star Trek came to the big screen and gave us their own version of Voyager's future. It's not a very optimistic one, which is out of character for Star Trek and might explain why the movie wasn't exactly a roaring success.
4 Klingon Chernobyl
The movies that feature the crew of the original Enterprise also had some interesting things to say about life on Earth. What happened behind the Iron Curtain was still mostly hidden, despite the occasional piece of news that would slip through. However, the Soviet Union couldn't hide everything, even though that's exactly what they tried to do when the reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant blew up. The timeline and even a lot of the dialogue is a recognizable echo from that time, with the Klingons initially denying that anything had happened, to then saying that something did happen but it was under control, to finally asking the world for help. There's also a reference to those on both sides that resisted peace and wanted the Soviet Union, or the Klingons, to wither and die rather than open up to the rest of the world, or the universe.
3 More Human Than Human
Not exactly, but even in the 1960s, the question of eugenics was in the news before DNA had even been discovered. This was a common theme in the dark, gritty science fiction of the 1980s, from the replicants of Bladerunner to the cyborgs of Terminator. Decades before any of that, Star Trek took on this real-life concern of enhanced human beings in an early TOS episode. Kahn first appeared in "Space Seed" and he was one of the first "enhanced" humans to appear on the small or big screen, and his character and his backstory were so compelling that it spawned one of the best sequels in movie history.
2 Rura Penthe
Although most modern television and film fans will think this is an original invention from the series, it's not. This is a reference to the Disney adaptation of "20 000 Leagues Under the Sea." Captain Nemo mentions he was once a prisoner on this hellish place, taken from his family and forced to mine salt, sulfur, or various other materials often used to make weapons. The name of this penal colony is fictional, but places like this really did exist, and not so long ago they seemed to make up the backbone of global colonial power.
1 "I, 007."
This reference will slip past you unless you're both a Star Trek and James Bond fan. In the episode "I, Mudd" the bumbling pirate is being held captive by a planet populated by androids. Mudd is allowed certain freedoms, and one of the things he does with his spare time is to design a line of female androids to his "exacting" requirements. It's not surprising that he builds a Bond girl. No, he actually does, that's not just an expression. The Annabelle Series not only wears the "007" number but is actually named for one of the earliest Bond girls, Annabel Chung from Dr. No. It seems that the writers were throwing some shade at their more old-fashioned counterparts with this reference.
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