Star Trek (1966) is, as show creator Gene Roddenberry once said, like “Gulliver’s Travels in space.” Every episode is both a suspenseful action story and a morality tale, set out to simultaneously entertain and provide enriching thought material for the viewer via classical mythological style. Protagonism is centered around altruism, and the characters must make decisions based on those ideals. They exist in a universe free from internal conflict, disease, poverty, or hunger, set out on a galactic mission to discover and communicate with other life forms.
The show’s first draft, titled “Star Trek is…” described the show as such: “A one-hour dramatic television series. The first such concept with strong central lead characters plus other continuing regulars.”
The series would feature allegories of contemporary cultural and social issues, making its morality tales that much more cohesive and tangible for audiences. Roddenberry’s world would operate under Roddenberry’s rules, allowing him to make social comments on sex, religion, science, and the ongoing political conflicts of the era. The 1960s were one of the most volatile times in American history, and Roddenberry saw it as an opportunity to provide audiences with something uplifting and optimistic about the future. It had a political agenda, sure, and took a progressive stance beside the emerging counterculture of America’s youth. It was his vision of where he hoped humanity would someday evolve, learning from the mistakes of its past.
In short, he was hoping to somewhat lead by example: Depict the world operating harmoniously, and perhaps people will believe it is possible.
The Federation was Roddenberry’s space-based stand-in for the United Nations. While they worked to not directly interfere with the natural progression of any species they encountered (Star Trek’s Prime Directive), they mediated situations and tried to spread peace and offered assistance to those they came in contact with.
The series eventually got colloquially dubbed “Wagon Train (1957) to the stars.” Roddenberry utilized many of the characteristics of old westerns when constructing Star Trek’s stories and concept. They used the same paradigm of a constantly continuing journey; a trend that would be continued in all subsequent Star Trek series (with the exception of Deep Space Nine (1993)).