Guardians of Forever: William Shatner

“Excuse me. I’d…just like to ask a question: What does God need with a Starship?”-Captain Kirk in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

As central to the very idea of Star Trek as Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock is, I don’t think that the character would work quite as well without Dr. McCoy and especially Captain Kirk to play against. There are two big reasons for this: One, Spock was promoted, and given a more prominent place in the cast. Second, the Captain would no longer be moody and burnt-out (though, to be fair, this is the end result of “The Cage”, but it’s a bit much to expect viewers to watch the pilot waiting for the star to become likable). This second change would come to define Star Trek, especially once Captain James Kirk was cast.

Gene Roddenberry’s initial choice for the role was Jack Lord. At the time, Lord was most known for having played James Bond’s best friend, CIA Agent Felix Leiter, in Dr. No. And, also like Jeffrey Hunter, he had starred in a failed TV series, Stoney Burke. But unlike Hunter, Lord’s star was seen to be rising. The problem is, Jack Lord was notorious for being, in Hollywood terminology, “difficult”. What this meant for him starring on Star Trek was that Lord demanded a huge ownership stake in the series, and a position as co-producer. So, he was out.

However, due to the rather surprising cancellation of For the People, a low-rated (its competition was Bonanza, the top rated TV show, and the ABC Sunday Night Movie) but critically acclaimed legal drama, William Shatner was available to sign on as Captain Kirk. Born in 1931 in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood, William Shatner was first and foremost a stage actor trained in Shakespeare. While TV and radio gigs paid the bills (including a semi-recurring role of the Canadian version of the seminal children’s show Howdy Doody), his passion was for the stage. Eventually, an appearance in a performance of Oedipus Rex that aired on the CBC (and was simulcast in America as an episode of Omnibus) in 1957 garnered him attention, leading to a series of five appearances on the legendary series, Westinghouse Studio One. The second and third appearances there, the two-part story “The Defender”, helped to launched Shatner’s career in Hollywood.

A contract with MGM and a key role in The Brothers Karamazov alongside Yul Brenner and Richard Basehart. Following a year on Broadway starring in The World of Suzie Wong, Shatner turned down three lead roles that could have made him a star, on The Defenders (reprising the role from his Studio One performance), Dr. Kildare, and Checkmate. Despite these missteps, seeing the future Captain Kirk on television was not hard, as he racked up tons of TV guest appearances, the most famous being his two turns on The Twilight Zone: “Nick of Time” and the all-time classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. Also, Shatner was part of the all-star cast of Judgment at Nuremburg, and again on the stage in A Shot in the Dark. However, with a wife and three daughters by 1965, William Shatner needed the steady paycheck of series work, and the cancellation of For the People came right as Roddenberry needed a star. The two met and “The Cage” was screened for the potential Captain Kirk, and he was pleased with the pilot. But, most importantly, he liked the green-skinned girl, and on May 4th, 1965 (the same day that For the People‘s last episode aired), Star Trek‘s second pilot and new star were announced.

Next week, with our ship’s captain cast, now we move onto the chief engineer.

Assignment: 1965: Doctor Who and Dr. Who and the Daleks

A primer on what Doctor Who is about for the TL;DR crowd, and those who miss The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

The hardcore primer that features just about every signature moment in the series to date.

It’s August 23rd, 1965. Since the 11th, “I Got You Babe” has spent the first two of its three weeks at the top of the charts, effectively launching the career of Sonny and Cher and proving that the charts merely went insane for just the one week of “I’m Henry The VIII, I Am” at the top. On the 13th, a group named Jefferson Airplane will make its first appearance as the “house” band at The Matrix in San Francisco. The 15th will see the Beatles pulling off the unthinkable, playing for a crowd of 55,600 at Shea Stadium (the home of the Mets and Jets) in New York. The next day, the American Football League officially awards a team to tobacco lobbyist Joe Robbie and Danny Thomas, located in Miami, Florida-the third pro sports team in the Deep South (after baseball’s Braves, who were biding their time in Milwaukee following an injunction, and the NFL’s Atlanta franchise, whose owners were literally poached away from the AFL). On the 21st, Gemini V was launched, and on the 22nd, Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants brutally beats Johnny Roseboro of the Los Angeles Dodgers with a bat, sparking a 14-minute brawl in one of the most notorious brawls in baseball history. We, however, are dealing with the release of Dr. Who and the Daleks.

“You’ve had this place redecorated, haven’t you? I don’t like it.”-The Doctor

Let’s be honest for a moment: Dr. Who and the Daleks is a terrible movie. The set design is atrocious, the comedy bits forced, and the pacing sluggish, at best. Part of this can be easily explained: the film is an adaptation of a seven part TV story, itself part of a much longer serialized TV series. The problem is, Dr. Who and the Daleks is actually half the length of the TV version. But even with these concerns, the movie’s greatest sin is being a poor facsimile of its source material. Peter Cushing, who was a superb actor, is reduced to playing a watered down version of William Hartnell’s original portrayal of the title character (well, sort of)-and without the element of spontaneity that made Hartnell’s performance so enjoyable. The rest of the cast fares even worse: Ian is reduced to being bad comedy relief (as opposed to being the action hero surrogate for the Doctor), Barbara is reduced to being a teenager not unlike Susan in the actual series, and Susan is de-aged to a pre-pubescent state.

“Who are you?”

“I’m the Doctor!”-Various characters and The Doctor

I am, however, getting ahead of myself a bit. Why? I’ve totally skipped over the show that inspired Dr. Who and the DaleksDoctor WhoDoctor Who was (and is) a Saturday-evening all-ages program that airs on BBC One. Created by Sydney Newman, C.E. Webber, and Donald Wilson (with substantial input from Anthony Coburn, David Whitaker, and Verity Lambert), Doctor Who was conceived to fill a gap between the sports series Grandstand (which, along with ITV’s World of Sport, served as a rough, British analogue to ABC’s Wide World of Sports) and music program Juke Box Jury. Newman decided that the rather unique convergence of audiences would be best served by a science fiction series, and after a lengthy development process, Doctor Who was born.

“The TARDIS can go anywhere.”

“TARDIS? I don’t understand you, Susan.”

“Well, I made up the name TARDIS from the initials: Time And Relative Dimension In Space.”-Susan Foreman and Barbara Wright

“Let me get this straight: A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard, it can move anywhere in time and space?”-Ian Chesterton

Specifically, Doctor Who is a science fiction series about an ordinary blue police box that’s bigger on the inside and can travel through time and space, and the man who owns it, a mysterious man known as The Doctor. At the start of the series, the Doctor’s (and, as a consequence, those of his granddaughter Susan) origins were left intentionally vague. Dr. Who and the Daleks eliminates this vagueness in favor of an easily explained origin, and suffers greatly because of it (the fact that the film’s TARDIS interior set is both smaller and less attractive than its iconic televised counterpart is also a huge problem). In fact, the movie isn’t really concerned with the literally limitless storytelling potential baked into Doctor Who. As Philip Sandifer puts it best, any story can be a Doctor Who story. Dinosaurs on a spaceship? Been done. Discovering the reason why Atlantis sunk into the ocean? Done three times. Visiting far-off galaxies and alien worlds? Constantly. Hitler has appeared not only on the show, but in one of the canonical spin-off novels from the ’90s. The Doctor literally married Queen Elizabeth I. Vincent van Gogh, Napoleon, Richard the Lionheart, Winston Churchill, Mary Shelley, Robin Hood, and many, many more have appeared.

Let me repeat: Any story can be a Doctor Who story.

The problem is, Dr. Who and the Daleks was never intended as a Doctor Who story in its theatrical form. It was intended as a Dalek story.

“Yes… Yes… To hold in my hand, a capsule that contains such power… To know that life and death on such a scale was my choice… To know that the tiny pressure of my thumb – enough to break the glass – would end everything… Yes! I would do it! That power would set me up above the gods! AND THROUGH THE DALEKS, I SHALL HAVE THAT POWER!”-Davros

EX-TER-MIN-ATEEX-TER-MIN-ATE!”-The Daleks

Through a quirk in British copyright law, the writers of TV serials through the ’80s retained ownership of characters and stories they specifically created unless they signed those rights away to the BBC or whatever ITV producer they were writing for. For Terry Nation, this quirk made him an extremely rich man when his serial, The Daleks, propelled both Doctor Who and the title villains to an unparalleled level of popularity in the UK. Dubbed “Dalekmania”, this craze was focused as much, if not more, on the hateful pepperpots as it was the Doctor himself (licensing concerns typically kept the various companions out of spin-off media until the ’80s). In retrospect, it’s easy to see why: besides the strength of Nation’s idea (if not always the application of such), which took a great deal of inspiration from the Nazis, the Daleks were ingeniously and iconically designed by Raymond Cusick. It’s telling, after all, when the only visual elements that have not been permanently re-thought are the exterior of the TARDIS herself…..and the Daleks. (Both elements are far more detailed now, and a bit more internally consistent than in years past, but you could go back to 1965 with a picture of the TARDIS and a Dalek from their most recent appearances, and someone from that year would instantly recognize them both.)

“There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.”-The Doctor

“You are monsters! That is the role you seem determined to play, so it seems I must play mine!”-The Doctor

There’s no doubt that the Daleks changed Doctor Who in a huge way. The first effect is that the Daleks led to more and more exotic aliens, which, since the original series had a per-episode budget equivalent to the craft services table at whatever the concurrent Star Trek series was, were often guys in suits. Yes, this meant that some monsters look beyond awful *cough*the Nimon*cough*, but it has since totally paid off now that technology and the budgets facilitate dudes in suits that look awesome as a rule and not a happy accident. The second effect is that it lead to Doctor Who abandoning its educational focus. For those not aware, the BBC is an independent, (mostly) non-profit corporation. So, ultimately, the Beeb has to operate in the public interest because it runs on taxpayer dollars pounds, typically in the form of the licence fee (though the commercial operations fund a lot of what the BBC does, especially internationally). So, at first, the show alternated between historical costume dramas (the BBC loves its costume dramas, and is really damn good at it, and has forced ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 to become really good at them as well if they want to compete) and futuristic science fiction tales grounded in some shred of theoretical science. But with the Daleks (and later the Cybermen, Yeti, Ice Warriors, Autons, Silurians, Sea Devils, Sontarans, Ood, Judoon, and Weeping Angels, plus a bazillion more), the science fiction elements got a little more fantastical, which seeped into the historical stories, and soon you had the Daleks working for Winston Churchill. Third, and most importantly, it introduced the concept of horror into the series. With monsters, horror becomes inevitable, because, hey, monsters. And, eventually, the monsters came to incorporate elements of fantasy (see: the Weeping Angels), and suddenly, there’s this insane yet completely rational meta theory surrounding the Doctor’s status as a fictional character because the Doctor landed in the Land of Fiction in The Mind Robber.

“The first question! The question that must never be answered! Hidden in plain sight! The question you’ve been running from all your life! Doctor Who? Doctor Who? Doc. Tor. Who?!”-Dorium

“All the cells of his body have been devastated by the Metebelis crystals, but you forget: he is a Time Lord.”-K’anpo

“You know when you see a photograph of someone you know, but it’s from years before you knew them. It’s like they’re not quite finished; they’re not done yet. Well, yes, the Doctor’s here. He came when I called just like he always does, but not ‘my’ Doctor. Now, my Doctor, I’ve seen whole armies turn and run away, and he’d just swagger off back to his TARDIS and open the doors with a snap of his fingers. The Doctor in the TARDIS. Next stop: everywhere.”-River Song

“This old body of mine is wearing a bit thin.”-The Doctor

However, it would be insane to think that the primary focus of the series is on the monsters. The focus has almost always been, and forever shall be, on the Doctor. When the series begins, we know so little about him: just that he has the TARDIS, his granddaughter is Susan Foreman, and that he can’t go back home. And then, without warning, the Doctor collapses inside the TARDIS…..and suddenly, he is literally an entirely new man. The behind-the-scenes reason for this is that William Hartnell’s health declined to the point where it was impossible for him to perform the role when it was shot to tape as-live with a few location/effects cutaways (he also got along awfully with the two producers that succeeded Verity Lambert, and I tend to agree in regards to the brief reign of John Wiles). John Wiles wanted to just replace Hartnell with a similar-looking guy who played the part the same. What ultimately happened, however, under Innes Lloyd was that the character fundamentally changed appearance and personality. And the program thrived with Patrick Troughton as its star (well, until his last season, when ratings died for no good reason), and it became a British institution with Jon Pertwee, and a massive international cult hit even later when Tom Baker was cast as the Doctor. This process, eventually dubbed “regeneration”, meant that the Doctor, and other people of his race, the Time Lords (a term rather ironically first used in the second least watched episode of the entire series), could be recast pretty much indefinitely with a minimum of story effort. It also allowed for the show to change with the times. (It also means that if you hate the current era of Doctor Who, you can wait a few years and it’ll be totally different.) The men (and, eventually, women) who play the Doctor approach the character in their own way, but still manage to be the same person (this has been helped over the years as we’ve had at least four Doctors now played by avowed fans of the series, including current star Peter Capaldi, and both revival series showrunners have been huge fans, as well).

What makes this work is that as much as we learn about the Doctor as a person, he (and again, eventually she) is a massive mystery. The Doctor’s real name is a secret that will never be revealed, and the circumstances that pushed him to leave his home planet in a broken-down time machine have been left equally vague. Further adding to this inherent mystery are the elements of alchemy in the character of the Doctor and the series itself (most of which can be traced directly to the work of David Whitaker) and the Doctor’s inherent duplicity and alienness. As noble as the character is, there is always some level of suspicion, darkness, and doubt surrounding the Doctor, and he is not above manipulating even his closest friends to achieve the greatest good.

“One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. Goodbye, Susan. Goodbye, my dear.”-The Doctor’s farewell to Susan

“Stubborn old fusspots!”-The Doctor, re: Ian and Barbara

“Splendid chap, all of them.”-Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart

“Jo, it’s all quite simple – I am he and he is me!”

“And we are all together, coo coo cachoo?”-The Doctor and Jo Grant

“A tear, Sarah Jane?”-The Doctor

“Brave heart, Tegan.”-The Doctor

“Whatever you say, Professor!”-Ace

“I…I love you.”

“Quite right, too.”-Rose Tyler and The Doctor

“Please don’t die, you’re the most wonderful man, and I don’t want you to die!”-Wilfred Mott

“Spoilers.”-River Song

“Kate Lethbridge-Stewart! A word to the wise-as I’m sure your father would have told you-I don’t like being picked up!”-The Doctor

“Fear is like…a companion. A constant companion, always there. But that’s okay, because fear can bring us together. Fear can bring you home. I’m going to leave you something, just so you’ll always remember-fear makes companions of us all.”-Clara Oswald

In many ways, it’s the Doctor’s friends, alternately referred to as his Assistants or Companions, who make Doctor Who work. At their most basic level, the Companions exist as someone to talk to the Doctor. On a more pessimistic level, they exist to be captured (or even killed), make the Doctor look good through ineptitude, and provide eye candy for the audience. When done well, the Companions enhance and emphasize the humanity of the Doctor, and are frequently the ultimate best friends or (rather controversially) lovers. As great as the Doctors have been, they would be nothing without their companions, and the support the best companions (Ian and Barbara, Vicki and Stephen, Ben and Polly, Jamie, Jo, Sarah Jane, Harry, Leela, K-9, Romana, Nyssa, Tegan, Peri, Ace, Rose, Donna, River, and Amy and Rory are the most celebrated, with Clara well on her way to joining the list) receive is almost as enduring as the Doctors themselves.

This is not to say that everything is sunshine and happiness with the way Companions work. For the longest time, the Companions received too little character development, devolved into being peril monkeys (Victoria is the textbook case of this, as the resolution to her final story literally involves her screaming her lungs out), or poorly conceived (Kamelion, Katarina, and Dodo). It was so systemic that Janet Fielding, who played Tegan, shunned her time on the show for a good, long while because of the issue (as it stands, she’s one of the most vocal critics of the poor treatment of female characters in Doctor Who). However, starting with the introduction of Ace, the Companions have received tons of development, and for the new series Companions, their normal personal lives continue on between episodes. With the exception of one era on the classic series (excluding the final two seasons with Ace), the Companions either abandoned their lives, had no lives after their introductory adventure, or were outright ripped away from their lives by the Doctor. Speaking as someone who is chronically unemployed and has 95% of his personal property sitting in a storage container, I can assure you that being removed from your natural status quo is a difficult and limiting experience (and I didn’t exactly have much of a social life before quitting my job and uprooting to San Diego in an ultimately quixotic maneuver. In a fiction context, it’s even worse.

“Jenkins! Chap with the wings there-five rounds rapid.”-The Brigadier

“You know, Doctor, you’re quite the most infuriating man I’ve ever met.”-Jo

“Nothing to do with you surprises me any more.”

“Thank you for the compliment.”-Sergeant Benton and The Doctor

And this brings us to Doctor Who‘s relevance to Star Trek. For a variety of reasons, Star Trek didn’t premiere on BBC One until 1969, after the show ended. But when it did show up, the series aired in Doctor Who‘s time slot while the show was on hiatus (as the number of episodes per season dropped massively when the show went to color). Ignoring the obvious budgetary differences, Doctor Who and Star Trek were not horribly compatible. The former series was fantasy with a science fiction gloss (and incorporating other genres on a story by story basis), while the latter was hard(er) science fiction with the structure of a western and a strong adherence to naval traditions. So, the ultimate response to both Doctor Who‘s regular budget issues and this incompatibility was the introduction of UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (since renamed the Unified Intelligence Taskforce since the UN is apparently comprised of humorless snots). The UNIT stories, besides tying the Doctor to Earth (primarily due to an exile put upon him by the Time Lords), are more action oriented and have a military gloss to them. Jon Pertwee’s Doctor became an action hero, using Venusian Aikido to combat foes just as much as his Sonic Screwdriver, and you can certainly point to Captain Kirk as a reason for this. (And with Jon Pertwee being the first Doctor to be as much of a “star” as an actor, the impact of a Kirk-inspired Doctor was ultimately huge.) A number of Doctor Who stories even included allusions to the Federation and/or Starfleet, though these got a lot more negative over the years as the opinion that Star Trek was a proponent of American Imperialism grew in Doctor Who fandom (to which I have two words: the Monoids).

Doctor Who‘s influence on Star Trek, while a big deal, never reached the original series. Besides the show (and the Filmation revival) being over and done with by the time Doctor Who became a staple on PBS, the fact of the matter is that Gene Roddenberry was strongly committed to the consistency of the science in Star Trek (something that reached new levels of dumb when Mike Okuda was named continuity wonk for the franchise) and even more committed to having his heroes encounter God, and finding God to be woefully lacking. This means that “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” isn’t particularly compatible with Star Trek. (It’s telling that the biggest overt influence Doctor Who has had on Star Trek is in the form of the Cybermen, who were born out of the rise of cybernetics, because they are certainly the one foe of the Doctor’s with a purely scientific basis.) Plus, Star Trek emphasizes that time travel is hard. Moreover, Star Trek learned on its own the merits (and drawbacks) of borrowing stories from every genre and/or popular story not bolted down to the floor (and a few that were).

No, Doctor Who‘s great influence on Star Trek can and is slowly starting to be in terms of the fan culture. From 1989 to 2005, Doctor Who was not in production, in large part because the BBC got tired of the show after ratings took a dive after multiple seasons of poor writing designed largely to pander to fans obsessed with the minutiae of continuity and story details. During that gap, now referred to as the Wilderness Years, fans filled the gap with unofficial fan productions (made possible because of that copyright quirk that made Terry Nation insanely rich) and officially-sanctioned books and audio dramas that ended up being largely written by fans. But mostly, Doctor Who fans (for the most part) grew up and learned to have some fun again. This is pretty much what needs to happen with Star Trek fandom, as there hasn’t been a TV series in production for a decade, and the reboot movies have dumbed down the property to a disturbing degree (and were co-written by Roberto Orci, whose political philosophy is largely diametrically opposed to that of Gene Roddenberry’s). So now, slowly, the fans need to slowly learn to have fun again and reclaim the soul of the property. Some of this is happening already: multiple fan productions exist, of which Star Trek: Phase II and Star Trek Continues will eventually be discussed here.

But the fun part? Still waiting for that. The same continuity-obsessed bickering exists in fandom, and while there is a post-Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series of novels, I for one was turned off when I found out that one of the first things the writers did was to break up Ezri Dax and Julian Bashir (who, along with Kira and Odo, was one of the first, typically adorkable, TV relationships I invested in emotionally), seemingly because Bashir was instantly loathed in fandom because of his awkward pursuit of Jadzia Dax in the early years of DS9. (And then there’s the issue of Star Trek on Blu-ray: the original series has new CGI special effects as the default setting, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation Blu-rays scrub Easter eggs thrown into computer displays-including at least one reference to Doctor Who-to “fit” series continuity in addition to having subtly altered special effects.) So, really, until fandom embraces having fun, and commits fully to creating something new and fun, Star Trek‘s Wilderness Years are going to persist.

“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do!”-The Doctor

Next week, in addition to actually sticking to the timeline of Star Trek Debriefed, we’re going to actually talk about the series. Specifically, the matter of a certain Captain.

Assignment: 1965: The Watts Riots

It’s August 11th, 1965, and the only thing that happened that anyone remembers is what we’re talking about today: the Watts Riots. It’s probably good that I don’t get to start the post with the usual pithy business that I’ve borrowed pretty much wholesale from Philip Sandifer and Marc Cushman, because the Watts Riots are one of the more unbelievably awful things I’ll be talking about on Star Trek Debriefed.

The Watts Riots were six days where a 46 square mile portion of Los Angeles exploded into violence as a result of decades of racism, institutional and otherwise, in the city. At the end of it, over 1,000 people were injured, 3,438 arrested, and 34 killed. The property damage estimate I found was $40 million dollars, and I’m pretty sure that’s in 1965 dollars. (Adjusted for inflation, that rings up to over $303 million in today’s dollars.) It also marked an escalation in the violent frustration boiling in America’s inner cities, something that still very much exists to this day.

There is no one reason why the riots started (though, again, a long history of racism in the area was a key factor, particularly in the form of Proposition 14, a voter initiative which overturned California’s law that made discrimination against renters and home buyers based on race illegal), but history tells us what exactly incited the riot: Marquette Frye, an African American man driving his mother’s car (a 1955 Buick) was pulled over by Lee Minikus of the California Highway Patrol, a white man. Frye failed the field sobriety test and the vehicle was ordered to be impounded. Meanwhile, Frye’s brother Ronald, walked a short distance to their house to retrieve their mother, Rena Price, who proceeded to tear her son a new one. At some point, however, Price was pushed, someone hit Frye, and another cop pulled out a shotgun. Backup was called in to restrain arrest Frye as rumors spread that the police had not only beaten him, but also kicked a pregnant woman. A crowd eventually formed as Ronald and Rena Price were eventually arrested as well. From that point on the crowd only got angrier and larger. The next day, LA police chief William H. Parker called in the National Guard. The next day, martial law was declared, and South Central LA was cordoned off as a strict curfew was enforced.

The riots were eventually characterized as an uprising, and with good reason. Most of the burned and looted businesses were white-owned. Chief Parker, whose police force had had issues with racism stretching well before his tenure, said the rioters acted like “monkeys in the zoo”. (To be fair, Parker, had desegregated the LAPD, but he had also started it down the road towards militarization with his reforms that were designed to combat corruption and create a leaner, more accountable police force.) The recommendations made by California governor Pat Brown’s commission (headed by former CIA director John A. McCone) were almost entirely ignored, and the generally accepted problems that fed into the riots (high unemployment, poor schools, poor housing, poor public transportation, and poor health care) were allowed to fester. Proposition 14, however, was thankfully ruled unconstitutional in 1967.

Now is the time for some spoilers: this isn’t the only substantial race riot I’ll be speaking about, and neither will it be the last riot in LA I discuss. In fact, this is arguably the moment that the LAPD’s sterling reputation (helped by TV shows like Dragnet that Gene Roddenberry contributed to when he was writing Parker’s speeches) began its long downward spiral. And the Watts riots are most certainly the point where police brutality, racial profiling, and militarization started in earnest. In fact, if we’re being perfectly honest, this is the event that shatters blind support for all police, especially in minority communities, and that was a huge cultural touchstone of my childhood.

Next week, we’re going back to England, this time to discuss one of the great icons of British television, and Star Trek‘s greatest rival in terms of international popularity.

Assignment: 1965: The Voting Rights Act of 1965

It’s August 6th, 1965. The Beatles release Help! (the album) in the UK, and the BBC announces that they will not be broadcasting The War Game, a pseudo-documentary on the effects of a fictional nuclear attack on the UK for The Wednesday Play on the grounds of its subject matter being too horrifying for TV audiences. (It will finally be broadcast in 1985.) Tomorrow, in one of the great, “What the Hell?” moments in pop music, Herman’s Hermits of all groups will unseat “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” from the top of the charts with “I’m Henry The VIII, I Am”. However, the big news is that President Johnson has signed another one of his biggest accomplishments into law: The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The point of the Voting Rights Act was to finally put some teeth into the 14th and 15th Amendments. The 15th, which was supposed to prevent voter discrimination regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” was in particular made a mockery of via Jim Crow laws in the South. The main reason the Voting Rights Act was needed, however, was that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while a landmark piece of legislation, didn’t actually outlaw most of the onerous policies in place that were designed to disenfranchise African American voters. As mentioned back in March, though, it was the marches on Selma and the violent backlashes to the marches. However, Johnson had the Voting Rights Act planned for quite some time: following the 1964 elections, which were a historic landslide for the Democrats and LBJ in particular, he instructed Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to draft “the goddamndest, toughest voting rights act that you can”. And with the massive outpouring of support for the Civil Rights Movement following Bloody Sunday, the President’s bill had the support it needed (Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen co-sponsored the bill specifically because of Bloody Sunday).

Dirksen’s support proved vital, as he ended up helping Katzenbach draft the final bill, which received 64 additional sponsors after he and Majority Leader Mike Mansfield introduced the bill. Other than a bitter fight over an amendment to outlaw poll taxes (which failed, though a compromise was made to authorize the Attorney General to sue any jurisdiction over poll taxes), the legislation passes through the Senate on May 26th with a 77-19 margin. The House, however, was another story, as the bill stalled and an opposing bill was put up for vote, siphoning away support until Virginia Representative (and, as history can rather definitively judge, racist Southern Democrat) William H. Tuck gave away the game by admitting that the Voting Rights Act would ensure that African American voters would be fully enfranchised. The House bill passed on July 9th, and after a contentious conference committee process (mostly over the poll tax ban that was in the House version), the Voting Rights Act passed on August 4th.

While this was by no means the end of the Civil Rights Movement (as evidenced by the insane racism directed at President Obama during his current Presidency), it was a major step forward. While originally intended to expire in 1970, the Act has been amended in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992, and 2006, with the biggest changes coming to the coverage formula for the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act. If you’ll forgive me for quoting directly from Wikipedia, the original coverage formula kicked in if: “(1) the jurisdiction maintained a ‘test or device’ on November 1, 1964, and (2) less than 50% of the jurisdiction’s voting-age residents either were registered to vote on November 1, 1964 or cast a ballot in the November 1964 presidential election.” The exact formula was revised in 1970 and 1975, but the districts covered have only been in the South. Other changes include extending the “test or device” ban to the entire country, and loosening some of the special provision bailout procedures in response to the strengthened national rules.

Of course, right now, the biggest issue with the Voting Rights Act is that the Supreme Court threw out the current formula with the Shelby County v. Holder decision. This is fine and dandy on its face (the formula is old, after all), but Congress has no desire to amend the Act to improve the formula (I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate why). The problem is, Section 5 is utterly toothless without a revised formula, and the old voter suppression habits are popping up in the South once again (the big deterrent technique being the ID requirements). The 2014 elections had a pretty fair number of issues because of it, but that was a lame duck mid-term election. Next year is a Presidential year, when turnout figures to be high(er). It goes without saying that the lack of Section 5 protections is a Bad Thing. Without getting into current political wonkery here, it’s really only a matter of time, though, before the protections are restored, especially if 2020 is breaks for the Democrats.

Next week, things get a lot more dire as we look at one of the darker events of the decade.