July 10, 2014

Is There Anybody Out there

For anyone there who still follows this page, I am moving it to a new system in advance of the U of MN's blogging system being shut down later this year.

From now on any new content will be found here:

Ceremonial Tuskout

Go check it out!

So far the new page is mainly there for our long-running Star Trek entries/podcasts but I may do more than that in the future. All the old Trek-related stuff from the old site will move there plus anything else I feel like saving. There's a lot of stuff on this blog, much of it pretty irrelevant.

That is all.

June 27, 2014

1996 Is Calling...

...and it wants its rant back.

While I contemplate the future of this blog and its associated podcast, I thought I'd share something I dug up while going through some very old saved email (well, it's old for email) discussions from the mid-1990s. I'd call it a good snapshot from the time, something that among other things tells me how my friends and I treated the medium of email. The messages are often extremely long and read much like blog entries or discussion board posts. It's hard to imagine this stuff being shared over any social media today. On Facebook, no one would even get past the first couple of sentences. To bring this back to some sort of subject, I chose to post this entry because the subject loosely fits this blog. The text file this was culled from didn't have an exact date on it but it did have all the email addresses the "essay" was originally sent to. I note today that while I recognize the email addresses, not one of the people associated with them still uses the address listed here (I haven't had an AOL email address in a looooong time). I corrected a few typos and formatted it for clarity but it's otherwise exactly what I wrote so let's see what I had to say about home video in 1996:
Let's just wait for the video...(long)

Dear friends: Today I am going to write about video (for you tech people, I mean consumer video, (IE. VHS and Laserdiscs that most people buy and rent). Since several friends have gotten on the bandwagon and purchased VHS decks somewhat recently and seeing that I am the resident authority on the subject, a dubious distinction to be sure, I thought it'd be a good time to give you all my take on video: where it's been and where it's going, and what is both good and bad about it.

True, it may seem like a silly thing to write about (although presenting it through the Internet seems strangely appropriate), it is a device that has changed the face of home entertainment in more ways than three.

Part I: A brief history of (video) time. Way back when, in 1976 or so, Disco was going strong and a new consumer wonder was introduced: the video cassette recorder. The early VCRs were large, ungainly, crude (by today's standards; just being able to time-shift a single program was quite the big event in those days--that is, for those who were adept enough to figure out how to program the beasts (those slobs have it so easy today!), and expensive (around $2,000).

And for you Betamax diehards (that would include myself and a few others whom I will not name in order to protect their families), I shall quickly cover the great Beta/VHS war that was waged in the early 80's.

1975: Sony and JVC both introduce new VCR formats (Sony=Beta, JVC=VHS), totally incompatible with one another. Now, as we currently see it, that was a very idiotic thing for them to have done, but the entire history of the recording industry has been littered with the corpses of formats that lost the struggle. Will they ever learn? Now, these two Japanese electronics giants had different ideas of how they should go about conquering this brave new market. Sony, knowing that they had the technically superior product, (Beta was a better format; nobody who knows anything about video would ever deny this) decided to keep it all to themselves and make all the profit since they figured that all those people out there would buy the Betamax no matter what since it was better. JVC, on the other hand, began licensing other companies to manufacture its machine (for a suitable fee, of course), to the point that anybody who wanted to could manufacture and market a VHS deck. It doesn't take much thought to figure out what happens next. By the early to mid 80's, when VCRs really started to sell, Sony was still keeping Beta to themselves (they did license to Sanyo, NEC--now out of the US market--, and Toshiba--one of the only companies to make both formats for a time--but by then it was too late), profiting in the short term, but losing the format war altogether since those few companies (at most) just couldn't get the market share that JVC and the dozen other (if you count the small fry) companies could manage. So, why didn't Beta succeed at least as well as, say, the Macintosh did? Beta just wasn't different enough for most people to notice. The Mac, on the other hand, while performing similar functions to its competitors, had a distinct and different operation and look which attracted a loyal customer base who didn't mind paying extra and only buying Apple products. So, Beta was relegated to the consumer electronics scrapheap and we all got stuck with the inferior, but better marketed format. Life isn't always fair.

And now, back to our story: At this point, the 80's are in full swing and a new business is being created: the video rental retailer. Up to this point, most people who bought VCRs, did so to record television shows (there was a Supreme Court case, brought about by the networks, around this time in which it was declared legal to record broadcasts for personal use). Pre-recorded movies on tape were expensive (they were often badly duplicated television copies) and often difficult to locate, but some people got the idea that if they bought these tapes and rented them out to people (the first Blockbuster was opened in '85) that they'd make a lot of dough. Boy, were they right. By the late 80's, the price of new VCRs had dropped so much that it seemed like EVERYBODY had one (many were buying second or third machines) and the video rental retailers kept right up with them. Another force driving all this at this time was the fact that the movie studios finally caught on and began mass producing videos and releasing a large number of titles. The demand is met.

And that pretty much brings us into the present. VCRs have been getting even cheaper (in more ways than one, but that's another topic I'd rather avoid at the moment) and video stores litter the landscape of America, there to satiate our ever-increasing appetites video movies. Laserdisc? I really don't need to say much about them since those who know, use Miracle Gro.....no, that wasn't it.....oh yeah, know better and the rest of you will never understand why they're better than videocassettes....Now that we all know where that grand institution known as home video came from (or was it a hideous UN plot?!), I can zero in on its effects on the public.

Part II: What's good about video:

Convenience. No one can deny the simple convenience and availability of the format. Video tapes are easy to use, cheap, and the choice of titles gets better all the time. I, as a rabid consumer of classic film, would be the first to admit that video has allowed me to see and own, for that matter, films I wouldn't have access to in theaters (cable is also getting quite good in this area and of course, cable and home video are getting closer and closer all the time) and this could get even better with the eventuality of video on-demand.

Cost. Yep, it's cheap.

Privacy. This could be lumped in with the convenience area, but there is no denying the fact that people often prefer to watch flicks in their living rooms (the video boom has breathed new life into the porn business) and to a certain point, I would agree. So, it would seem that video has it all wrapped up. It's convenient, cheap, there is a huge choice of titles, and you don't have to go to the trouble of going to that stinky movie theater just to see the latest Van Damme epic.

Part III: What's wrong with video:

Having said all that, I begin with this statement: I believe that the advent of home video has had the most detrimental effect on the art of film-making in its one hundred year history. This may sound a bit like an overreaction, but think about it: what other factor has had this kind of negative effect? Bear in mind that when I say "negative," I refer strictly to the "art" of film-making and not the financial performance of the film industry, which has benefited from the video surge (it helps that the film companies are actively involved in the business).

Some might argue that the coming of television in the early fifties was a more serious threat. Television was indeed a threat to the film industry, that is, the companies that produced the films (this of course, was mainly due to the studios' short-sightedness and the fact that the television networks grew out of a different industry: radio--the Sherman anti-trust act didn't hurt either). However, to the people making the films, it was a blessing in disguise. A number of positive changes came about, mainly thanks to competition with the tube:

The elimination of the Hays production code, (named for Will H. Hays, a former RNC chairman, during the Harding administration, who headed the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, which was created during the twenties by the studio moguls as a response to public pressure to exercise some kind of film censorship. Generally known as the "Hays Office," it came up with the "Hays Code" which dictated what could and couldn't be done on camera. The code was almost always strictly enforced by the Hollywood studios.) the advent of widescreen processes, such as Cinemascope (its current incarnation is known as Panavision) and the use of stereophonic sound (googlaphonic?!), and the elimination of the strict, micromanaged studio system (which is a whole other essay all by itself) which was often stifling to artists in film.

Video, oddly enough, has had the opposite effect. Instead of hurting the business end, it has damaged the creative end of the chain in more ways than one. One problem: video now often dictates how films are made (the marketing deals and strategies are figured out before the film is even shot, in many cases) from the types of films that get made to the way they are shot (oh, I guess I can't do this wide shot since it wouldn't look good on Joe Sixpack's 20" TV) to the material. "Forrest Gump" is a good example of a made-for-video film. It looks great on TV, and all those hit songs! It has also effected the way people watch films in the theaters. To many people, used to watching videos at home on their stratoloungers, going to see a film in the theater isn't much different. They seem to act the same way in a theater as they do at home (which would lead one to believe that most people are assholes in their own homes); they make noise during the film, talk, and be generally annoyed that their collective attention spans are being stretched to such extreme lengths.

So, it would seem as though the only reason most people ever go to a movie theater at all is because they can't see the material anywhere else. Now, if all the new films were simultaneously released in the theater and on video (and, yes, let's be fair: the price being the same to see the film), how many theaters would remain open? My guess would be very few. Is convenience that important to people? For you see, seeing a film in a dark theater, light through celluloid, is a different experience than watching it on television. Screen size aside, it is simply a different way to see the film for the way it is presented is different: you are actually going out to see, that is, to give your complete attention to, a film. While when seeing it on video, you're in your house, there are distractions, you can do the dishes, and so on. And then there's the technical end of it. The simple fact is, that most films, made after about 1953, were meant to be shown on a screen that's not only many times larger than a tv, but one that has a different aspect ratio (why they have to crop films when they're put on video). Letterboxing helps, but relatively few video consumers understand or care about something so complicated as screen sizes. So, am I advocating total abolishment of home video? Of course not. I find video to be quite useful, but, and I trust I can speak for most of you, I would rather see a film in a theater every time than watch it at home. A good Laserdisc of a film is a great thing to have around if you want to study a film; I like having certain films available to me because I am interested in how they are made. However, most people rent a video and forget all about it the next day and no wonder. The way they are watching it is so non-committal, that (those films that have material worthy of concentration) becomes meaningless, like the bad sitcoms they saw the night before.

And that brings me to another point: television. Television and film are becoming more and more alike, each borrowing from one another. I would almost call it, the dumbing down of film. Television/video has gained the slick production values of (this is relative) Hollywood, look at ST:TNG, and many of the films produced today have been reduced to big-budget television shows with no more depth than your average episode of 90210 (and don't even get me started on music videos!).

Part IV: Please be kind, rewind
Maybe the "American People" don't care about the art of film. Maybe they like to see good acting, writing, and direction (oh, and let's not forget special effects!) ,but only if they can see it while running on the treadmill. People obviously like to get out of their houses, but if they don't care about the films, why don't they just sit in bars and drink? There are many forces at work here and most are simply products of our society. People just don't want to concentrate on anything for very long and video is tailor made for our go-go way of living, it would seem. So, I apologize for the extreme length of this bit, but I thought some of you might be interested in this (since we are, after all, a generation of film students) to a certain extent. Chime in if you wish. I probably sound like I just joined the AARP film society, but this attitude has been built up over some time now and much of it has become more clear to me. I used to have a pretty laid-back attitude about video, but after years of use and observation, I have discovered the true, evil, twisted, government plot of this insidious device!

Help us, Sponk!!!!! See you at the video store! johnK

Well okay then. I really had to resist the urge to edit the hell out of that thing but the past is the past, right? I have to keep telling myself that this was five years before Wikipedia which today is a great resource for this kind of information. As far as I can remember, I really just pulled most of that essay out of my ass. There are some facts that aren't 100% correct but close enough to make the point. I like to think that I write somewhat better than that today. Oh yes, of course I do!

The other things I remember thinking as I read this piece were:

1. Where did I get off being so sanctimonious about movie and TV culture? Frustrated video store employee, guilty as-charged. I could easily write another long essay poking holes in my "video has damaged the art of filmmaking" screed but life is too short.

2. My remarks about home video: when I stop to think of the myriad forms of technology available to me today to watch movies and TV shows, I am amazed. We have it SO much better than we did in those days. Despite my ranting about the public at large disrespecting the "classic" movie-going experience, I as a film fan have never had it so good. There are so many ways to get access to content now. Sure, it's a pain to have to navigate all the different streaming/download services to find what you want but with few exceptions, we have easier access at far higher quality than ever before. And while first run movie theater ticket prices are higher, the price for purchase/rental of video today is the same or lower than it was in 1996.

Today, whenever I have to deal with video tape, I am reminded of how crummy it is as a consumer experience. I certainly have criticisms of DVD, Blu-ray, and Internet-based streaming services, but if the long term issues with digital archiving and storage can be solved, we're all a lot better off. Related to that, I have to say that I'm impressed that the few tapes from the 1980s I've played back recently (to digitize) still play and look about as good as they did decades ago. Will we be able to say the same for the digital content that's stored on servers today? Possibly. I hope.

So, if I could reach out and respond to my 1996 self, I would have two things to say:

1. Take it easy on the elitism.

2. It will get better.

June 12, 2014

TOS Rewind #63 and #64: "Wink of an Eye" and "The Empath"

Due to reasons far too boring to go into here, we doubled up this entry with TWO episodes! Wow, are you people lucky...

Our podcast, also covering both episodes, can be found here.

Up for our consideration:

Wink of an Eye (11/29/1968)

and The Empath (12/06/1968)

"Wink of an Eye" feels like it has a lot of recycled ideas. The story of aliens taking over the ship is one that we've seen before. Wait a minute, am I actually recycling my reviews in response?!?! The ways in which our heroes overcome the aliens, while not exactly the same as other episodes, has a familiar feel. There are some interesting concepts on display, such as the way that the aliens are operating on such an elevated speed that they can't even be seen. This is interesting but the way in which this idea is portrayed in the show is sloppy to say the least. The science in this episode is glaringly bad, even for classic Trek. To be fair, aside from a few fantastical concepts such as the transporter, Trek tried harder than most shows and movies to make the science believable. But this episode displays a lack of detail that you don't see earlier in the series.

On the advice of Rob, I have been reading These Are The Voyages which chronicles (in great detail) the production history of this show. I've only read through the first half of the first season but what is very apparent is how much effort was put into making the scripts ready for production. A number of writers and producers had a hand in refining or outright re-writing the stories submitted by the authors. This may or may not have been for the best but there was a lot of effort going on to make the show consistently interesting and entertaining. I suspect that as the final season wore on, there was less of this, certainly by Gene Roddenberry who had little involvement with the show, and it shows with the way these later episodes come across. You can't blame everything on low budgets.

There are decent character scenes between the series regulars and it's somewhat amusing to see Kirk explicitly (as could be done in 1968 Trek) sleep with alien woman as part of a ruse to buy more time. However the ending of this episode feels off to me. The Enterprise just leaves the aliens back on the planet without much resolution, other than their implied destruction I guess. Kirk must have not wanted to share the cure with them...

The HD/remastered version looks great of course. The main difference I see is the backdrop on the planet wasn't reused from an earlier episode.

Ah, "The Empath".

This is another one I was never that fond of in the (distant) past. The ideas of the story seem familiar: aliens experimenting on people to test them. Yep, seen/done it. The Vians, who are this super race that we learn next to nothing about, bear a close resemblance to the "butt heads" of Talos IV ("The Cage"/"The Menagerie") but are far less interesting.

The sets and direction of this episode are pretty unusual, I'll give it that. I kept thinking as I watched that this could be an abstract stage version of Star Trek. The sets are really minimalistic and obviously set up on a darkened sound stage. Cheap, but the stripped bare sets don't benefit the story all that much. The environment isn't really supposed to be an improv-theater, more like a laboratory.

The performance of the woman who plays "Gem" (the empath) is actually quite good, if exaggerated. The lack of dialogue makes her acting come across like an old silent movie dramatic performance. Or maybe she's a mime. In any case, I have no doubt the actress was directed to perform the scenes in this way. The quirkiness of her scenes along with the interactions with our usual characters kept me interested even when the details of the story didn't really work. Like I said above, this episode could have benefited from a healthy dose of the Roddenberry script hatchet treatment. Like the Vians, who are cast using actors who probably were used to playing such roles as cab drivers or union foremen, no one seemed to care enough to make this story work well.

Some of the stylistic elements of the episode, such as this long sequence where Kirk is falling in slow motion, just go on too long and needed some editorial intervention. This is, by the way, a classic scene where one could poke fun at Shatner's acting style. However, I can't blame him for this one as I'm sure he's doing exactly as directed. Somebody thought this was a good idea...The pacing doesn't move well which tends to undermine the occasionally creepy atmosphere that the episode manages to convey.

I don't recall much different in the HD/remastered version but the sharper picture sure made the yellow carpeting stand out on that set platform Gem is found on!


And Eric's turn:

Friday the Thirteenth, full moon, Mercury in retrograde, and our black cat has crossed my path multiple times. If I were superstitious, I'd be royally screwed. But I'm not, so on with the original Star Trek review. This time, "Wink of an Eye" is up.

The only episode that rivals this one for getting the science so ludicrously wrong is "Operation Annihilate." We cover many of the inaccuracies in our podcast, but there are some other egregious gaffes:

Unless the radiation sickness is highly selctive by gender, the women would've been streilized too.

If McCoy found an antidote for the radiation sickness that worked on Kirk and Spock, with a little work, wouldn't he have been able to help the Scalosians too?

Unless time was accelerated too, the phaser beam Kirk shot at Deela would have moved at the speed of light as usual.

The story is very similar to a short story by H.G. Wells titled "The New Accelerator." It also strongly resembles and episode of The Lone Ranger, and an episode of The Wild Wild West titled "Night of the Burning Diamond."

Gene Coon was the first season Producer for The Wild Wild West, and he wrote "Wink of an Eye."

Finally, what still nags me is that Kirk simply left the Scalosians there to die. This is really out of character for the good captain, and it seems to be at serious odds with the high ideals of the supposedly benevolent United Federation of Planets. "Wink of an Eye" is not, however, wholly irredeemable. The one scene I like is where Kirk is running down the corridor and sees the recently accelerated Spock. He simply smiles as if he's pleased but not altogether surprised.

So, to quote Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."

"The Empath"

I've been trying to think of something to say about "The Empath" that we didn't discuss in our podcast. The only thing I can think of is to reiterate how pointless it seems. Wouldn't it have been simpler and more revealing for the Vians to observe Gem's race to see if they met the criteria for being saved?

Also, Kathryn Hays, the actress who played Gem, seemed to be channeling an old silent movie actress. And while that may have been apprpriate for the role, I still found the overwrought emoting annoying.

And finally, I really didn't appreciate having to listen to bible quotes.

Before I sign off, I was just looking at the Memory Alpha entry for "The Empath," and apparently it was DeForest Kelley's favorite episode. Go figure. Anyway, there's some small hope that the next episode will be an improvement. LLAP.

Next time: "Elaan of Troyius"

May 1, 2014

TOS Rewind #62: "Plato's Stepchildren"

Today we tackle Plato's Stepchildren (11/22/1968)

Our podcast can be found here.

Unlike our previous episode, this was never one I enjoyed much as a kid. I think I can appreciate the episode's virtues slightly more today. Maybe.

I have to wonder what Shatner and Nimoy thought when they read this script. "You mean, I have to crawl around and act like a HORSE?!" All in a day's work I guess.

We find ourselves back in another story about power corrupting: and man, how these people are corrupt! The acting is often bad this time around and Parmen just doesn't impress as a villain. The constant humiliation that Kirk and Spock (particularly Spock) have to endure has a point, as far as it goes, but the payoff just isn't there at the end. Parmen turns out to be a coward when faced with Kirk gaining the telekinetic powers and just weasels his way out of the situation. There's some twisted (for 1968) things the characters have to do and we get the message loud and clear that the Platonians are a bunch of twisted assholes and have been that way forever. The problem is that the situation just doesn't make for a compelling episode of Star Trek, even if you put aside the costumes and the "horseplay." It seems hard to believe that no one in Starfleet wanted to come back here and do something with this powerful substance but it's probably best that the Platonians be largely forgotten going forward for the sake of the viewers at least.

Michael Dunn, as Alexander, partially redeems the episode. Dunn delivers a dramatic performance and is quiet convincing, especially when Kirk offers Alexander the power to overthrow Parmen. The exchanges between Kirk and Alexander seem genuine and have just a bit of the spirit of Trek. The idealism that living in the world of the Federation means not having to put up with people like the Platonian pricks. Well at least that's the idea. These good scenes are almost undone however by Kirk's line at the end of the episode, "I have a little surprise for you." Ouch. I remember Dunn from the 1965 film, Ship of Fools where he managed to stand out with another cast of scenery-chewers.

Also memorable is Spock's "Bitter Dregs" song (yes!). Just be glad Shatner didn't sing it. The kiss, though forced by the Platonians, is important for TV history and Nichelle Nichols plays the scene well.

There are too many ridiculous elements to list here, and perhaps it was best for the writers not to even try to explain much of what happens in this episode. There's one scene where Kirk calls the Enterprise and Scotty just says that things are "stuck." They could have at least tried to make some bogus techno-babble beyond "the ship is broken, Captain".

The enhanced effects were fine but since much of the episode happens on the planet, there wasn't much to see.


Eric's take:

To be fair, there aren't many original Trek episodes that would've been a satisfying follow-up to "The Tholian Web," and I don't think any of them come from the third season. That said, I found on rewatching "Plato's Stepchildren" that it is not as ridiculous as I remembered. Our podcast covered the episode well, but there are three points that bear repeating.

First, the premise of the story is interesting, that a spacefaring jet set (space set?) visits Earth during the time of Classical Greece and happens upon Plato. They dig his ideas, and the colony they set up after they leave Earth is modeled on Plato's Republic. As it turns out, however, their republic is conspicuously perverted, which forms an intriguing basis for the episode.

Next, the scenes where Kirk and Spock are forced to debase themselves (e.g. the Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum song and dance duet) are cringe-worthy. I still find them rather painful to watch, but it occurred to me that that is the purpose of those scenes. Parmen's stated intention is to humiliate Kirk and Spock, so it follows logically that they are made to act in humiliating ways. And our reaction (disgust, embarassment, etc.) is exactly the kind of reaction that is supposed to be evoked.

Finally, it could easily be argued that the late Michael Dunn, who played Alexander, steals the show. (He outdoes Shatner in scenery chewing, and that's saying something.) When I've thought about this episode over the years, it is Alexander who I remember. Dunn's performance is superb, utterly convincing and at the same time endearing. He was a noted character actor who also played, to great effect, Dr. Miguelito Loveless in The Wild Wild West, a Spy/Western TV series that ran concurrently with original Star Trek. Sadly, Dun passed away in 1973 at the much too young age of 38.

So there we have it. Although it remains among the less-notable episodes, upon reconsideration, "Plato's Stepchildren" is not as ridiculously campy as it seems.

Next time: "Wink of an Eye"

April 16, 2014

TOS Rewind #61: "The Tholian Web"

Up today: The Tholian Web (11/15/1968)

Our podcast for this one can be found here.

Eric get the first shot:

As far as I'm concerned, "The Tholian Web" is the best episode from the third season. And although that isn't saying much, it is also among my top 15, if not top10, original Star Trek episodes.

I watched it three times, ostensibly in preparation for this review but really for no reason other than it's damn good, a favorite for as long as I can remember. The story is both great Trek and great science fiction. The premise of another Constitution Class starship caught in an destabilizing, interspatial rift cleverly allows the producers to use a credible SF concept to do what is in ways a ghost story (which Gene Roddenberry forbade, although I think he would've let this one slide).

One reason this episode is so good is that the characterizations are spot-on. In particular, Spock's eulogy at Kirk's memorial shows this in its simplicity and elegance: "I shall not attempt to voice the quality of respect and admiration which Captain Kirk commanded. Each of you must evaluate the loss in the privacy of your own thoughts." This is beautifully characteristic of Spock. And as I'm thinking about it, I realize it is echoed (at least in sentiment and simplicity) by Kirk in Spock's funeral scene in Star Trek II: "Of my friend, I can only say this; of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most human."

Similarly touching are Kirk's last orders, which Spock and McCoy listen to after the memorial service. I can't think of a scene in any episode that better shows the depth of the friendship between these characters. Spock and McCoy are in a heated argument, but when they hear Kirk's voice, they immediately stop and are visibly moved. And Kirk shows how well he understands and cares for his friends when he accurately predicts the tactical situation, both with the enemy ships and between Spock and McCoy, and offers advice to help defuse both situations. This is the real beauty of the scene--the underlying affection and care that is so easily believable.

Finally, a point about McCoy came up in our podcast that deserves, I think, to be reiterated. At more than one point in the episode, McCoy is argumentative with Spock to the point of seeming mean-spirited or cruel. "[Kirk] was a hero in every sense of the word, yet his life was sacrificed for nothing," for example. Or "Do you suppose they're seeing Jim because they've lost confidence in you?" This can, of course, be attributed to the mental instability caused by the interspatial rift, but I think McCoy's "meanness" is actually a way of helping Spock. The barbs and insults are a conscious attempt to provoke an emotional reaction in order to engage Spock's human half, which is arguably where his intuition resides. (And as Kirk points out in his last orders, intuition is vital to being able to command effectively.) With this possibility, McCoy's irascible and crotchety nature becomes an intentional facade while the character takes on new depth, and we see just how true a friend he is.

So in the end, "The Tholian Web" is really a collection of excellent character scenes interwoven with a great story that reveals the power of true friendship. Once again, a damn good episode.


Eric's review is tough to follow but here goes...

I once heard Roger Ebert say, regarding the film Casablanca, that he didn't necessarily think it was the best movie ever made but that it might be the one he enjoyed watching the most (paraphrasing). I think this could be a good way to look at this episode. Taken as a whole, with regards to the entire series, I think it falls very slightly short of the very best but if I have to pick one episode to just randomly watch, when I want a Star Trek fix, this would be it. As Rob reminded me recently, this was always the episode I claimed to be the best as we were youthfully watching Trek.

This episode also happens to be the highlight of Season 3. The story is compelling and the familiar character dynamic is firing on all cylinders. The early scenes where Kirk and the landing party are investigating the interior of the Defiant are tense and chilling. The music and having the characters in space suits really ratchets up the atmosphere (or lack thereof, heh). These scenes take place without the usual shipboard sounds, just the music and the men talking to each other. The place just feels off.

Once Kirk has been lost, Spock is thrown into command with another crisis: the Tholians, a race we have never seen before. We discussed on the podcast how there is perhaps too much going on in this episode: the missing Defiant, the deterioration of the crew's mental condition, the combat with the Tholians, and of course Spock trying to keep everyone under his command in order. Looking back on this episode, I think it all works and I don't ever feel as though extra plot elements are being thrown in to keep things from getting too slow. The pacing is tight and yet most things don't feel rushed. The scene between McCoy and Spock in Kirk's quarters takes the time it needs, a moment of quiet reflection in an otherwise high-powered storyline that doesn't lack for drama. I like the fact that the aforementioned scene was included as it wasn't strictly necessary; the story would have worked without it. What the scene adds is sensitivity between two old friends, fighting not unlike a pair of stubborn, opinionated brothers.

Despite the fact that only the existing ship sets were used, the episode never feels cheap. The actual Tholian that is shown, only its head and a hazy background really, reveals just enough to make it seem alien and leaves much to the imagination. A little colored aluminum foil and good lighting can go a long way. The way the Defiant scenes are shot and lit makes it seem somehow different from the familiar Enterprise. The space combat and effects shots are very good, as good as anything they did in the series; a real standout in a season that often feels short-changed.

I really enjoy watching how Spock handles command in this episode. You get the impression that he has learned from his previous experiences and does rather well under pressure. Even though episodes like "The Galileo Seven" aren't referenced, I have to wonder if the writers were up to speed about how the character handled command then versus this time, two seasons later. Either way, it works. Kirk is absent for much of the episode but it really missed by the crew. Kirk's disappearance leaves a hole that some characters don't know how really fill.

Idea-wise, the episode is not really that original, but the concepts (space madness, alien contact, alternative universes, etc) are weaved together in such a way that the story feels fresh and not nearly so borrowed like other episodes in this season. The sad part is that I know that this is as good as it gets and it's only downhill from here in the quality department. Oh well, at least space hippies are good campy fun.

The new effects for the HD version of this one are very good but the old effects weren't too bad to begin with. Perhaps the added clarity of the new shots is the best thing: the old shots were optical process shots that tend to look a bit on the fuzzy side.

Next time: "Plato's Stepchildren"

April 2, 2014

TOS Rewind #60: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

And now we land on For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky (11/08/1968)

Check out our podcast for this episode here.

Once again, our heroes find themselves with a wayward society run by some ancient civilization's computer. This time, they're on an asteroid that happens to be a spaceship and will soon collide with an inhabited world unless it's put back on course. Oh, and this computer really doesn't like to be told what to do and is kind of a control freak.

I think it's pretty safe to say that this episode is very heavily borrowed from earlier science fiction, including Robert Heinlein and even earlier this very season in "The Paradise Syndrome". The ideas here are very similar: "primitive" group of people being guided by a now-faulty caretaker computer. Our heroes get to fix things.

This one would be pretty much a throw-away exercise in lazy duplication were it not for the focus on McCoy. The plot element where Bones self-diagnoses himself with a fatal, incurable illness is quite melodramatic. It could be that we have already gone so far beyond this point in Star Trek to not take McCoy's impending death seriously but in the episode it seems subdued as well. Kirk seems to display very little emotion when he hears the news and callously orders Starfleet to send out a replacement doctor. This part of the episode seems inconsistent given how close the main characters are by this time. I have to wonder if the writers felt this would make it more realistic when McCoy decides to stay behind with his new girlfriend.

However, the romance between McCoy and Natira, the leader of the people on the asteroid, is the primary attraction of this episode. Unless I'm forgetting something, this is the only other episode with the exception of "The Man Trap" way back at the beginning of the series where McCoy is portrayed as having any relationships other than those of friendship (with Kirk/Spock). Abbreviated as it is, it's nice to see this character branch out just a little and the scenes have a certain sweetness to them. On the other hand, like many other subplots of the original series, the relationship has no life outside of this episode.

Otherwise, the costumes are extremely silly and the sets reused or cheap. We do get an unusual scene with Kirk talking to Starfleet; that didn't happen all the time but there's not that much new or interesting going on.

The new effects for this episode look nice and improve on the shots where the Enterprise is following the asteroid/ship.


Eric's take:

The best word to describe my feelings about "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" is meh. Profound mehness.

To be fair, there are things I like about this episode. McCoy getting the girl is a refreshing change of pace. I wonder, though, what happened behind the scenes to convince Mr. Ego (aka Bill Shatner) to relinquish his sex god role, if only temporarily. I also enjoyed, as usual, the interactions between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. By this point in the series, both the writers and actors know the characters inside out, so even the average (or pitiful) episodes have good character moments. And lastly, there really isn't any overt or egregious sexism or misogyny.

But now the reasons for this episode's aforementioned mehness. To begin with, the sub-plot of McCoy having a terminal illness seems like a contrived plot device. It could be argued that it provides the necessary incentive for him to stay on Yonada with Natira, but I question whether it is necessary given McCoy's admission of deep loneliness. It actually would've been more genuinely dramatic for McCoy's decision to leave the Enterprise to simply be a life choice.

Also the premise of the story--our brave captain and crew versus the artificially intelligent supercomputer--is derivative of at least three much better episodes: "Return of the Archons," "The Changeling," and "The Ultimate Computer." And in a similar vein, the story also plagiarizes one of my favorite science fiction books by one of my favorite science fiction authors. "Orphans of the Sky" by Robert A. Heinlein is a novel about a massive starship full of colonists who not only do not know they are colonists, but also do not know they live inside a starship. (As you might guess, I recommend this book quite highly.)

So "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" is neither great nor excremental. It's just, once again, meh. The next episode, though, is a real gem.

Next time: "The Tholian Web"

February 9, 2014

TOS Rewind #59: "Day of the Dove"

Download or stream our podcast for this episode here.

Up today: Day of the Dove (11/01/1968)

This episode is perhaps the opposite of the last one: where "Spectre of the Gun" looks better with age, this one is perhaps not quite as good. My younger self also greatly preferred "Day of the Dove" to "Spectre" for pretty obvious reasons. This episode contains a fair amount of action and the Klingons were always fun villains in the old series. The only thing missing, according to John, aged 12, was a space battle. Nobody's perfect.

The idea for this episode is fairly compelling: two rival groups are thrown together in a situation that almost plays like an evil science experiment where the subjects placed into an artificial situation while the aliens observe. In this case, the alien just feeds off the hostile emotions. It may seem extremely contrived but it does sound like someone's idea of Hell; unending hatred, pain, and violence with no release. The resolution comes off as a bit pat, but the setup where the Klingon ship and the Enterprise are lured to the planet is very effective. The only thing that lessens the drama is the way that the presence of the alien is revealed early in the first act. We know the alien is there way before the characters do and it robs some of the suspense. It would have been more satisfying if we'd gotten a bit more insight into this alien but that would have required slowing down the action. Next Gen was far more adept at this.

The character interplay, like many episodes this late in the series, well broken in like a comfortable shoe. A side benefit of Third Season is that we often get Sulu and Chekov at the same time (George Takei was absent for much of Season 2 and Chekov wasn't introduced until after Season 1). Speaking of Chekov...the poor guy gets another round with the Agonizer just like his mirror universe self did in Season 2; a cosmic joke if there ever was one. Chekov also gets the ugliest scenes in the episode where he attempts to rape and possibly kill the Klingon captain's wife until Kirk intervenes. Pretty edgy stuff for 1968 television, but he was a Russian so all is good, right?

The rest of the crew is good and Kirk once again is mostly immune to the alien influence, though his decision to destroy the disabled Klingon ship at the beginning of the episode is another clue that perhaps not everyone is right in the head. The scenery chewing duties are shared by pretty much everyone, except perhaps Sulu and even Spock and Scotty get into the action.

The casting of Michael Ansara as Kang was fortunate. Ansara's performance is right for the character where John Colicos, who was supposed to come back as Kor from "Errand of Mercy" might not have worked as well. Nothing against Colicos, who is still great but his flavor of Klingon is perhaps a bit too, well, nuanced for the story of this episode. Kang fits. Kang's wife, Mara is a welcome addition to the Boys Club. There are criticisms to be made about her but she is a prominent character with authority so overall this was a plus.

The original series Klingons haven't aged at all well, at least the way the appear. In the clear light of HD, they have this unfortunate look of actors with a lot of black/brown makeup on with a few costume flourishes. Options were of course limited back then but when Trek made the move to bigger screens and budgets, the showrunners were smart to "update" the Klingons. Some have dinged this episode for having almost all its action confined to the existing Enterprise sets. I don't really see a problem with this. The episode works for this and playing this out on a cheap-looking planet set or the same old California location wouldn't have improved anything. The sword fights are pretty anemic but fight choreography has come a long way.

The HD effects and picture are of course very good again this time. The enhanced effects are welcome for the ship shots and planet effects.



Oh joy, a warming trend. It's 0 degrees outside, which is still cold enough to freeze the balls off of a brass monkey, and still has absolutely nothing to do with our current episode, which this time is "Day of the Dove."

Like "Spectre of the Gun," the budget constraints worked in favor of this episode. Since it was least expensive to film on the standing sets, almost all of "Day of the Dove" takes place on the Enterprise. Luckily, however, this is exactly what the story called for. It didn't seem at all contrived to me (which can often make the difference between a good episode and a lousy one). I also applaud the late Michael Ansara's portrayal of Kang, who is one of my favorite Klingons. He combined the warrior aggression and ruthlessness with nobility and dignity. Very nicely done and a good template for ST:TNG Klingons like Worf. (Geeky Note: A much older Kang appeared in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Blood Oath" with William Campbell as Koloth and John Colicos as Kor. Great fun. If you haven't seen that episode, it comes highly recommended.) And I like the basic story: A powerful alien entity sets up a situation of continual, regenerative warfare and violence on the Enterprise in order to feed off of the negative emotions and actions of the Klingon and human crews. The implication that this entity has been responsible for some (or much) of humanity's bloody inhumanity is also interesting, if improbable.

Despite the fact that I enjoy the story, the swirly, multicolored entity bears too strong a resemblance (at least in terms of nature and function) to Redjac from the second season episode "Wolf in the Fold." In addition, the fight scenes look staged, especially by the standards of the later Trek shows. Klingons are vicious warriors, but they don't look or act like it in "Day of the Dove." And finally, what happened to the Organian Peace Treaty that was established in the first season in "Errand of Mercy?!" One would think that the Organians would have taken notice and put an end to the battle given their enormous power and obvious determination to prevent the Federation and the Klingon Empire from fighting. Evidently, whoever was in charge of continuity was asleep at the switch.

In spite of these flaws, "Day of the Dove" still stands out as one of the better third season episodes. Although I'm not sure whether that's saying a great deal or very little...

Next time: "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky"

December 31, 2013

TOS Rewind #58: "Spectre of the Gun"

Up today: Spectre of the Gun (10/25/1968).

The podcast for this one can be found here.

There seemed to be this unwritten rule for many years that TV shows in years past had to have at least one episode set in the old West. Which lends the question...if a science fiction show had to set an episode in the Old West, the what if Bonanza had an episode set in outer space?!!!! Ahem... If The Prisoner could have one, then I guess why not Star Trek? I could see an argument either way as to whether this was just a convenient way for the show to use some existing props at the studio and easily insert the Western genre into the show to tell a story. The show manages to justify not only the setting but the sparse sets and props. Indeed, the odd look of the half-finished sets actually adds to the dream-like atmosphere of the episode. I read that they were planning on shooting this on real backlot or location settings but didn't have the budget. It's a good thing that they went with the interior sets instead.

Star Trek had a number of "alien test" themed stories but at least this one puts a fun twist on it. Once Kirk decides to beam down to the planet, he and the audience are inserted into the strange world the aliens create based on what we are told is Kirk's memories/imagination. Of course I have to assume this setting is based on some old movies or something; in any case, it gets the job done: a good symbol of Kirk's human (AKA "American") cultural heritage.

The landing party seems genuinely bewildered by the setting they're thrown into. Sure, Kirk ignored the aliens' warning about not wanting any outside contact but it is fairly odd to have been thrown into this elaborate illusion. Is this to truly test the humans or is it an execution sentence that Spock manages to outsmart? In some episodes, the reasons and details behind the plots can be frustrating. In this one, the vagueness just allows us to imagine the why and the how. There is also no other "framing story" going on aboard the Enterprise. We don't know how long the landing party is missing or what the rest of the crew is doing. The action on the planet is nicely disassociated with the show's normal reality.

If I remember correctly, I was never overly fond of this episode all those years ago. Sure, I didn't really dislike it but I'm not sure my 12 year old self appreciated it as much. There are interesting ideas that reward a repeat viewing. Other than the somewhat-obligatory fight scene at the end, there isn't a lot of action.

Interestingly, the landing party has no expendable (AKA Red Shirts) characters to be killed off which is refreshing. Chekov's "death" must have been a bit of a shock at a first viewing though it's hard to see that with fresh eyes today. Somehow though, the dreamlike atmosphere makes his death seem less than real. Hindsight perhaps...

The guest actors are decent, mostly playing stock Western types: the ineffective Sheriff, the bartender, the menacing bad guys, etc. The performances of the Earps/Doc Holliday are a bit subdued. I don't know if this intentional or the sign of a phoned-in performance, but like the half-baked sets, the characters fit.

The dynamic between the characters is running on all cylinders; there are funny lines between them all and watching Kirk and Spock figure out the "rules" of their Tombstone, AZ prison is entertaining. This is also another episode where there is a new-sounding musical score, this time by Jerry Fielding who also scored the classic 1968 Western, "The Wild Bunch".

Beyond the nice-looking picture and sound on the HD version of this show, the enhanced effects didn't really add much this time around. The alien fog shrouded head still looks pretty cheesy.

But don't misunderstand: this episode holds up well and is a real standout of Season 3.

And now Eric gets his turn:

Ah, the first review of 2014. As I write this, the temperature outside has reached the forecast high of -12 F. Positively balmy. With a wind chill of -33 F, I'm pretty sure it's literally cold enough to freeze the balls off of a brass monkey. All of which has absolutely nothing to do with our current episode, "Spectre of the Gun."

I'm not going to attempt a literary analysis of this episode. (You're welcome.) But I will say that I'm inclined to rank it among the best third season episodes. Admittedly, this is probably a case of damning with faint praise, but "Spectre of the Gun" works surprisingly well. As we discussed in our podcast, the budgetary restraints of the third season served to heighten the surreal feeling with minimalist sets and a featureless, red sky. Given that the scenario is drawn from Kirk's imagination and entirely academic knowledge of the 19th century American west, it is appropriate for the surroundings and characters to be incomplete and lacking in depth. In fact, this is what gives the episode its sense of unreality.

And the resolution is well done too. Spock--who else--deduces that their entire situation is an illusion, and thanks to his Vulcan mental discipline, is able to render himself immune to any danger from it. Of course, he has to mind meld with the others to instill in them his level of awareness and detachment. But it works: no contrivances and no deus ex machina. The only real error that I caught in this episode was that the town Marshal of Tombstone at the time of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was Virgil Earp, not his better-known brother Wyatt.

"Spectre of the Gun" does a delightful job of playing with our sense of reality. In fact, the only episode that deals as well with illusions and their inherent danger is "The Menagerie."

Next time: "Day of the Dove"

October 22, 2013

TOS Rewind #57: "Is There in Truth No Beauty?"

Today we take a look at Is There in Truth No Beauty? (10/18/1968)

The podcast for this episode can be found here.

Since I continue to find this episode...um, annoying?...Eric gets to start us out:

This review was initially a real quandry for me. The question inherent in the title, "Is There In Truth No Beauty?" made me want to do a more in-depth analysis, but as I watched and rewatched this episode, I kept finding that this question gets a frustratingly shallow treatment. It wasn't until I thought of the 1999 movie "American Beauty" (which does a much more meaningful examination of the nature of beauty) that I realized the theme I was looking for is that beauty is not in truth, beauty is truth.

To be clear, I am referring to personal truth and inner beauty. One of several gripes I have with this episode (along with the misogyny, misandry, and atrocious dialog) is that it focuses on physical beauty, exemplified by Miranda Jones, or the hideous lack thereof, represented by Kollos. As Kirk says, "...most of us are attracted by beauty and repelled by ugliness. One of the last of our prejudices." And while this is true, physical beauty has little or nothing to do with a person's character, which is closely tied to a person's intrinsic honesty. And honesty goes hand-in-hand with truth.

Consider Miranda Jones, who is outwardly very attractive. So much so that she has the human males stumbling over each other to try to woo her. In fact, they're so busy thinking with their glands they don't notice her distinct, but carefully veiled, defensiveness and animosity towards Spock. She is filled with anger and resentment because he is more adept as a telepath, but she isn't honest enough to admit this, even to herself. And this isn't the only way Miranda is living a lie; as we find out later in the episode, she is blind but hides that fact thanks to a sensor net woven into her clothes. This is a blatant and entirely intentional deception, and it isn't until McCoy reveals her blindness that her internal facade of dishonesty begins to crack. Finally, when Kirk confronts Miranda about her unwillingness to help Spock, her inner ugliness is laid bare and she is forced to accept and embrace the truth. And it is this that makes her beautiful.

Ironically, it is Miranda who frames the contradiction between Kollos' appearance and his true nature. She asks if Kollos is to ugly to bear or too beautiful? And when Spock mind melds with Kollos, the answer becomes clear. Kollos is completely without guile. His confusion over communication via speech is because it is so highly susceptible to inaccuracy and misinterpretation. Kollos is utterly honest, and it is this truth that is beautiful in stark contrast to his physical appearance.

So despite the flaws in this episode, there is enough substance to answer the question: Is There in Truth No Beauty?


Annoying? Do tell...

What I see with this episode is an awkward attempt to combine some sci-fi elements with a treatise on we humans' treatment of beauty. At least what we consider to be beautiful, that is...

The episode certainly has its heart in the right place. The idea of truth and beauty, well-expressed by Eric above, I can offer no quarrel with. The idea behind the "Alien of the Week" , the Medusans (obvious and awful) is not new; Trek has had a number of non-corporeal beings before. But the way this being is used in a plot is a new twist at least. These aliens, while possessing very noble characteristics, are literally unbearable to look at. At least by we puny humans. Miranda has the physical beauty but is filled with petty jealousy and other emotional "ugliness". Okay, pretty good setup

The main problem is the way the characters handle this. Miranda's conflicts are done in such a shallow, soap opera-style manner that it feels like the writers were either being lazy by using tired (even in 1968) melodramatic tools or didn't think the audience would "get" the concept otherwise. If you doubt this, go back and rewatch the scene where McCoy reveals Miranda's blindness.

Speaking of tools, Marvick is probably the worst offender in the bad drama department for this episode. He seems a bit unhinged even before he settles into his role as plot device. Now, it isn't that surprising considering he's in a love triangle with Miranda and Kollos. Talk about a no-win scenario...but Marvick playing "insane" is laughably bad (with the help of some skewed camera angles and fish eye lenses) and quite obvious as the device to get the Enterprise into a bad spot. The "we've traveled outside the galaxy and can't get home" plot is pretty weak and since it's a device, let's just move right along...

Ultimately I think this one could have been pretty decent. The idea is solid and you really can't blame the usual Season 3 budget woes for the problems. The writing needed a serious rework and if you don't believe me, recall the awful dinner scene at the beginning where Kirk and the rest of the crew are acting pretty badly. Shatner and the rest are just, well, following orders. I'm sure I've mentioned before that I just don't enjoy Diana Muldaur and I'm not exactly sure why. Some of the time her performance works here but she often comes off as just plain unsympathetic. Part of that is due to the way the character is written but the actor does have something to do with it. D.M. rubs me the wrong way and I'm going to have leave it at that. Humph!

So, Eric has the better take on this one and I do hope that next time I'll have a little bit more of interest or value to say...

Next time: "Spectre of the Gun"

September 19, 2013

TOS Rewind #56: "And the Children Shall Lead"

The podcast for this episode opens with a not-too-lengthy discussion betwixt the three of us regarding the newest Trek film, Star Trek Into Darkness. Check it out here.

For your consideration, we have And the Childran Shall Lead (10/11/1968).

Well, I believe we've reached another low ebb of our beloved Original Series. Yes, everyone remembers Spock's Brain as being awful but it's really a few notches above this one both in terms of ideas/story as well as just plain watchability. For you see, Spock's Brain at least has its camp value and funny costumes going for it. This episode has me grasping for the Brain remote control so I can click my out of this. In the end I have to conclude that this episode is a prime example of the general malaise that took hold of the show in its last season when the network decided Trek had no future. That a script this poor managed to be considered at all speaks volumes. Really, no one cared all that much by this point and it has to be considered amazing that the actually good episodes that come later made it at all.

What we have is a basic morality good vs. evil story that doesn't have the interest or really the nerve to pursue its ideas, such as they are. Much of the time is devoted to the ridiculous way the crew is used by the children and their evil leader. It's just very hard to take things seriously when they show poor Sulu being terrified of a screen full of flying Ginsu knives. Kirk's breakdown on the bridge is also bad; I wonder if Shatner deliberately hammed up the scene beyond his usual scenery-chewing ways because he was somehow attempting to compensate for the script.

For all the silliness present in this episode, the show doesn't want to tackle the one serious matter it does actually present. The children have, directly or not, participated in their own parents' deaths. It may be too much to ask of a 60s era TV show to tackle something like this head-on but since it's the only serious idea presented, the guy who wrote this should have known better. Everything is wrapped neatly at the end, which is to be expected but the evil that humans are capable of, even children, under the right/wrong influence is not explored as a matter of human nature. Instead, the show uses this "legendary" evil alien/demon thing as the monster. Again, if you don't want to go there, make the episode a monster/alien suspense story. That would have been at least coherent, though as a traditional villain, the dude in the large shower curtain leaves much to be desired.

The sets are already beginning to be reused this season and they look cheaper; the reduced budgets continue to be apparent in the look of the show. I could go on about this episode but it doesn't really seem worth the time to pick it apart further and there isn't really a good idea, at least not an idea worthy of Trek, here to extract and analyze. Maybe next time?

The effects for the remastered version were good, though there was little added in this episode.


Eric has the floor:

"And the Children Shall Lead" is another attempt at a Star Trek horror story. And as such, it is only marginally successful. I do remember it being somewhat frightening when I was much younger, but now, it comes across as more laughable than scary.

One of the things that bothers me is how stupid and shallow the crew are portrayed. It's incredibly insulting, and misogynistic, to make Uhura's biggest fear growing old and having her beauty fade. And Sulu's fear is that the Enterprise will go off course and be destroyed by a wall of swords and daggers in space?!

I also object to the portrayal of the children. Maybe the youngest kids would play games like Ring Around the Rosie, but Tommy Starnes is shown playing with them, and he's supposed to be in his early teens. No non-lobotomized teenager in the history of the universe has or would play games like Ring Around the Rosie with a bunch of prepubescents!

And here's a quote from the Memory Alpha wiki regarding the casting of the late Melvin Belli as Gorgon:

"The idea to cast noted attorney Melvin Belli as Gorgon came when his son, Caesar Belli, was cast as Steve. Producer Fred Freiberger hoped that the presence of Belli would boost ratings. This plan failed and Freiberger realized it would have been more appropriate to cast an actor in the role."

Agreed. And when I looked up Melvin Belli on Wikipedia, I found that he had what may be a contender for most unfortunate middle name of all time: Mouron. Or perhaps it's just weirdly apropos for an attorney. I'll have to consult my lawyer friends.

One note on the production is that the set where the kids and Kirk have ice cream is an arboretum set that was constructed in the third season to emphasize the need to give crew members a way to stay connected to nature while on deep space missions. It was originally supposed to be introduced in the episode "Elaan of Troyius," (which was filmed before "And the Children Shall Lead") but the scenes where it was used were cut.

Finally, I have a problem with the title. "And the Children Shall Lead" is derived from a biblical quote (Isaiah 11:16):

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

First, I don't see how this has any relevance to the episode, and second, being an agnostic, secular humanist, I don't appreciate the religious allusions.

So, it looks like I don't have much good to say about "And the Children Shall Lead." Oh well, the next episode should spark some interesting discussion.

Next time: "Is There in Truth No Beauty"

July 8, 2013

TOS Rewind #55: "The Paradise Symdrome"

Today we get down with The Paradise Syndrome (10/04/1968)

The podcast for this episode can be found here.

Eric starts us out:

"The Paradise Syndrome" is an interesting episode. Not because it's particularly good--it's just average--but rather because of Kirk's interaction with the "primitive" civilization on the planet.

We discuss many of the reasons to criticize this episode in our podcast, but as I've given it more thought, what annoys me most is the way Kirk interacts with the indigenous tribe to which he comes to be regarded as a god. The environment on the planet is described as idyllic, a paradise like Shangri-La, and Kirk praises the tribal elder for the prosperity of their fields and the happiness of their people. Why, then, does Kurok (Kirk's memory blurred god name) feel the need to fuck with it?

He introduces new ways to preserve food, makes an oil lantern, and describes plans to build a canal. In short, he raises their level of technology and is clearly intent on raising it much further. Again, why? The tribe is productive, healthy, and content. Why mess with that? The answer that is implied is that increased technology is necessarily good. Kurok is helping these people. We need look no farther than our own, bloody history, however, to see how the meeting between Native Americans and more advanced technology was anything but helpful to them. And while we've gained many comforts, conveniences, and benefits, thanks to our level of technology, it has also forced us to sacrifice a great deal and put ourselves in danger in many ways: overpopulation, environmental destruction, weapons of mass destruction, new and lethal pathogens, compromised food and water supply, pandemic poor physical health, unremitting stress, and disconnection from the natural world to name a few.

There can be no doubt that this is a complex issue, and I acknowledge that it is unrealistic to expect any one-hour TV drama to do more than scratch the surface. What bothers me is that the idea that technological advancement is good is presented in "The Paradise Syndrome" as axiomatic. Nitpicky? Perhaps, but to paraphrase an old saying, the devil is in the subtext.

We're all Kirok!!!!!!

As I remarked on the podcast, I have long had a special loathing for this episode. I don't really ever remember liking it that well and remember groaning when I would happen upon this episode on TV. Just as some of the series has gotten worse with age, could this one have gotten, better?

Let's break it down a bit. First, the good:

The fundamental idea for this episode is actually pretty solid. The story of an ancient advanced race of space-faring people saving/moving humanoids around the galaxy to explain all those very similar-looking people gets more fleshed out here. Of course, this idea is a very convenient way of avoiding expensive costumes and makeup but at least there is some thought behind it.

The subplot with Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew trying to stop the asteroid has some good character moments between Spock and McCoy. Naturally the long period of time it takes for this part of the storyline to unfold allows events back on the planet with Kirk to proceed, but the writers had to do something to keep the gang busy.

The episode does not look at all cheap. The decision to shoot on location, even if it's in L.A. at Andy Griffith's fishing hole, gives the show a richness it often lacks when they're depicting scenes off the ship. The shots outdoors look cinematic; HD really makes these scenes look good, thanks to the production's use of 35mm film. Also, the set and props of the alien obelisk look great. The exterior of the obelisk was not used anywhere else in the series and looks impressive. The American Indian costumes, no doubt borrowed from Paramount's collection, also look good. Funny enough, this may be one of the best-looking episodes of the third season.

For the first time in a while, I noticed that the musical score is mostly new for this episode. The show reused music cues throughout much of the second season so it's nice to hear something different, even if the score relies a bit too much on musical cliches to depict the idyllic life of the tribe.

The not-so-good.

The portrayal of American Indians is perhaps, by the standards of the time, average, but by modern standards: not so great. Eric pointed out many problems with the attitudes about the "backwards" ways of the people on the planet. The one dodge they could perhaps come up with is that Kirk has lost his memory and doesn't realize he's violating the Prime Directive. The way the show slants things however is that everything Kirk introduces to "improve" the tribe's way of life is a net good. Unlike other episodes where there is meddling with other cultures, we don't really see the downside of what Kirk does. Sure, the asteroid is deflected, but one comes away from the episode wondering what damage was done to the tribe. Other than Salish losing his girlfriend, that is.

Speaking of Miramanee, she bugged me. I think the person playing her was fine but the Miramanee character was written purely as the "dumb pretty American Indian girl" as the love interest for Kirk's visit to paradise. Ahem. I think they could done a lot more with this character. I also found it harder to empathize with her after the way she dumps Salish, her previous lover. Miramanee seems to have few feelings about the matter and just shrugs as she takes up with Kirk, who, even with his brain zapped, is a smooth operator.

Shatner. Now, depending on your point of view, the performance of Shatner in this episode could go in the plus or minus column. If you're not a fan of Bill's style of acting then you're really not going to like it here. There are moments that are relatively restrained (Miramanee's death scene) but other times Shatner goes pretty far over the top; the dramatic scene near the end where Kirk yells into the wind as well as the earlier bits where Kirk is doing this reverb-filled voiceover (sounds like his "musical" ventures sometimes!). Which can be entertaining, again depending on your liking of Shatner. As for me, the Shatner scenery chewing used to bug me a LOT but I now appreciate it for what it is; you have to embrace the performance somewhat to really appreciate the character of Kirk or for that matter, the spirit of the original series. I think that for many years I allowed the camp of these scenes to obscure anything positive about this episode. Yes, the episode is middling and has problems, but I've definitely upgraded it in retrospect.

The new effects make this episode look even better. The asteroid and the phaser effects are well done. This is one of those episodes where I would not want to go back to the old shots.

Next time: "And the Children Shall Lead" (God help us)

May 2, 2013

TOS Rewind #54: "The Enterprise Incident"

The podcast we recorded for this one can be listened to/downloaded here.

Up today: The Enterprise Incident (9/27/1968).

After the last episode, pretty much anything would be an improvement but this one is actually decent.

I have to wonder why they wouldn't have led the season with this one instead of "Spock's Brain". "Incident" would have been a strong, action and intrigue-filled opening as opposed to the camp and just plain awfulness of "Brain". But hey, they don't pay me the big bucks to make network television programming choices so what do I know?

One of the notable things about this one is the way that it references earlier parts of the show: the Romulans are already known to the characters and even the fact that they are using a Klingon-looking ship is noted. On the other hand, the fact that Kirk and co. act like the cloaking technology is new seems like something that the writers could have easily fixed; it comes off as just lazy today. To be fair, I do have to wonder if you went back and scrutinized other TV shows of the era, say the entire run of Bonanza, whether you'd also find as many or more continuity flaws. I don't think the people who produced television then thought the audiences paid that much attention or slavishly watched every episode. TV seemed like more of a disposable product back then.

There are some implied connections to the first season episode, "Balance of Terror" where once again, we're reminded that Vulcans and Romulans share a common ancestry. These two episodes form the foundation of all the Romulan-filled episode and movie plot. All in all, the Romulans were the more interesting of the two villain races that were introduced in the original series.

Of course it needs to be said how great it is to see a female adversary in the old show. Sure, the Romulan commander (never given a name by the writers) is snookered by Kirk and Spock but she is an authority figure who (mostly) retains her dignity throughout and is a refreshing change from the usual characters our heroes go up against. The commander is also totally NOT interested in Kirk...again! That's two in a row where the lead woman character of the episode is not remotely charmed by Kirk. Now we know things are gettin' weird! However, Spock really puts on what we have to assume is a Vulcan-style seduction act and sells it to us and the object of his deception. The commander may let her guard down a bit too quickly for real credibility but it's easy to see how she falls for Spock; she acts like she's been waiting to run into Spock and has a thing for Vulcans. Heh. So don't examine this part too closely but this part of the plot, which is given ample time to develop, certainly adds to the entertainment value of this episode.

Kirk is less of a focus in this episode, especially after he's done playing crazy. Shatner does the right amount of scenery-chewing to make the story work and is actually a bit of a jerk in the opening act. I found it amusing that he was the one qualified to sneak back aboard the Romulan ship, locate the cloaking device (with its light bulb-esque socket), and remove it but heroes have gotta do their thing. McCoy has a few good moments and now, we have Sulu AND Chekov together on the bridge.

The feel of the story definitely goes along with the Cold War time; the story could have been between two naval vessels. Once again I find myself wishing for just a bit of background and exposition that we got in abundance Next Gen: obviously there's some Starfleet Intelligence intrigue going on here that would be fun to see further explored. The scenes where Kirk has been made up to look like a Romulan have always been fun even if it reminds me a bit of how they used to make up white actors to look like Asians in the old movies. The pacing is good and there's the right combination of suspense and humor to make this episode memorable.

Like Eric, I liked this episode when I was growing up. We were always wanting to see more of the Klingons and the Romulans back then and this episode always stood out for upping the threat factor of the earlier seasons. Sure, the "romance" scenes weren't that cool for us but it was all for King and Country so go Spock!

The new effects add to the episode. Being able to more clearly see the other ships is great and the attention to detail is appreciated, such as the bird logos visible along the bottom of the hulls.


And now Eric's take:

In our podcast, we talk about how infinitely better it would have been to start the third season of original Star Trek with "The Enterprise Incident" rather than "Spock's Brain." There's no doubt that "The Enterprise Incident" is a better episode by at least an order of magnitude, but I'm not sure if beginning the season with a strong episode like this and then following up with a festering turd like "Spock's Brain" would have been more or less disappointing.

In any case, I recall enjoying "The Enterprise Incident" growing up, and on seeing it again, I was pleased to find that for the most part, it held up. There are, however, some interesting facts about this episode that I didn't know until very recently. For example, the story is loosely based on the Pueblo Incident, where on January 23, 1968, the USS Pueblo, a Naval intelligence vessel, was captured by North Korean forces while conducting spying operations in the Sea of Japan. Also, in D. C. Fontana's original script, the premise is that the Romulans have improved their cloaking device since it was first introduced in the excellent first season episode "Balance of Terror." In this draft, however, the device is stored in a laboratory instead of being installed on an active duty ship. This brings me to my main criticisms:

It is clearly established in the aforementioned "Balance of Terror" that the Romulans have a cloaking device, but when Kirk and company discuss the matter in "The Enterprise Incident," they seem to have completely forgotten that fact, as if the Romulan cloaking device is entirely new. At best, this is a jarring continuity error.

My other primary complaint is that the security around the cloaking device on the Romulan ship is pathetically lax. First, Kirk beams aboard the Romulan ship undetected and then knocks out the only guard in what Spock describes as a heavily guarded area. He then proceeds to enter the top-secret, restricted cloaking device room where there is only one Romulan whom he knocks out as easily as the first guard. Now we discover that the cloaking device, an amazing piece of highly advanced technology, is a gadget the size of a table lamp that bears a remarkable resemblance to Nomad from "The Changeling." And the coup de grace is that Kirk simply lifts it out of its receptacle and carries it off. Apparently, we're supposed to believe that it functions without any physical connection to the ship. That being said, the Romulans did detect the the transmissions between Kirk and Spock's communicators, but still...

Despite these flaws, "The Enterprise Incident" is a well-paced, interesting story that keeps you guessing. The lead-in with Kirk feigning a mental breakdown is particularly well done, and I always enjoy the interaction between Spock and the Romulan commander. And what self-respecting Trek fan doesn't dig getting to see Kirk sporting upswept eyebrows and pointed ears? (Although I tend to agree with Spock that it isn't aesthetically pleasing.)

Next time: "The Paradise Syndrome"

April 2, 2013

TOS Rewind #53: "Spock's Brain"

Welcome to Season 3!

Spock's Brain (9-20-1968)

Our award-winning podcast can be found here.

Eric did a fine job outlining the production background of Star Trek at this time of the series which puts the, ahem, quality of this episode into perspective so he goes first...

"Spock's Brain" has the distinction of being both the first episode in the third, and final, season of original Star Trek and one of the worst episodes in all of Trek history. But before delving into that particular miasma, a brief explanation of what happened between the second and third seasons is in order.

As I noted in my last review, at the end of the second season, NBC tried once again to cancel Star Trek, and once again, it was saved by a letter writing campaign by the fans. Not only was it saved, but NBC also promised Roddenberry a primetime slot in the Fall 1968 lineup, and on that basis, he agreed to be line producer for the third season. The network then (oh surprise!) reneged and put Star Trek in the Friday, 10:30 pm slot. (A death stroke for any series that targets the 18-25 demographic.) Roddenberry protested, but NBC wouldn't back down, so he walked away. This deprived Star Trek of its creator and Executive Producer. To make matters worse, one of the key producers, Gene Coon, had also left by the time the third season rolled around. This was when Fred Freiberger was brought in to take over the showrunner/producer role. And while I (and many other fans) have been inclined to blame him for the poor quality of season three, the Friday night death slot and a drastically reduced budget meant that he had little to work with.

That said, there really can be no excuse for "Spock's Brain." What is maddening, though, is that there is also no reason for this to be the case. It was written by the aforementioned Gene Coon (under the pseudonym Lee Cronin) who wrote several excellent episodes, such as "Arena," "Devil in the Dark," and "A Taste of Armageddon." And it was directed by Marc Daniels, who helmed some of the best original Trek episodes, like "The Menagerie," "Space Seed," and "The Doomsday Machine." I'm not going to bother with a detailed analysis of its many faults (e.g. painfully laughable dialog, blatant sexism, and extreme camp); we cover that quite well in the podcast. (Give it a listen.) But I still wonder just what the hell happened during the production of "Spock's Brain?" Were all of writers and producers incredibly stoned? Did Marc Daniels have a stroke? Maybe it was just the perfect (shit)storm of crappy TV. I don't know, but it's a shame--it could've been a good episode if it had had a decent script. I suppose, however, that it's better not to dwell on such things. Let's just clear our palate with the next (thankfully much better) episode.

I find it quite amusing that I write this on the very day day President Obama announced a new initiative to map the human brain. If only he'd opened his announcement with this line:

"Brain and brain! What is brain?"

One of the most infamous lines uttered in all of Star Trek. Yes my friends, we have arrived in third season where the going gets rough. Sure, there are some decent episodes sprinkled about but beginning the season with something this awful indicates that something is just not right.

I can see why Eric wanted to focus his review on the behind-the-scenes action instead of the content. It's hard to really know where to begin.

I'm quite certain that ever since I first saw this episode, I knew it was a dud. Even 10-year-old John had better taste than this. I have memories of looking through my Uncle's TV Guide issues and groaning to myself when I figured out that Spock's Brain was coming up on TV that week. Sigh.

Is Spock's Brain the worst episode in the original series? Right now I'm tempted to say yes but I know there are other offenders waiting out there for us so I am going to hold off on proclaiming this THE WORST EVER.

There are a few positive things about this one, sure. Actually the opening scene, right before the mystery woman appears, is not that bad a setup. There is a tight sequence of the bridge crew going on alert, going about their jobs, seemingly ready for anything. Well, almost anything! Then the Amazon-go-go woman in a costume out of an Austin Powers movie shows up and swipes Spock's brain because none of their brains are up to the job. Well, okay I can buy that...wait, WHY AM I TRYING TO BUY INTO THIS STOOOPID PREMISE?!?!?!?

And the contraption (seems like the right word for the Zenith Space Command remote control McCoy has for him) that makes Spock run sans brain has to make this mechanical clock-like sound when it's running...yeah, sure. Actually if they hadn't done this silly sound, the sight of Spock walking around like a zombie might have had some dramatic impact or at least given this episode some kind of serious atmosphere.

Some of the ideas, like using a living brain to run machinery and whether or not the Prime Directive applies to a planet like this (wait a minute, why WOULDN'T the PD apply here???), are decent and perhaps well-worth exploring in a Trek episode, but there are so many ways in which this one goes off the rails that you really do have to wonder what went wrong. I've run across articles that claim there are rumors that this episode was written as a joke or a comedy episode, perhaps like I, Mudd. If this were true, the episode might have been more successful, if still as offensive. Of course if this was supposed to be a farce then why would you want to open the season, the time when you're trying to keep the audience tuning in for the new season, with something like this? Alas, I have no answers...

But this is what we're left with: a groaner of an episode to open a season that already had plenty of built-in disadvantages (time slot, network antipathy, reduced budgets). At least you can laugh at some of the camp and there are a few actual humorous moments. I believe there are some upcoming episodes of questionable quality that won't be as easy to sit through. When two Red Shirt security guys beam down to the planet and don't suffer even a scratch AND Kirk doesn't even try to seduce the alien female to get what he wants, we know *something* is wrong!

The remastered version serves up its usual HD clarity and slick effects. The space scenes are nice but never enough to take your um, brain, off of this episode.

Next time: "The Enterprise Incident"

March 26, 2013

TOS Rewind #52: "Assignment: Earth"

Up for us this time: Assignment: Earth (3/29/1968)

Our podcast for this episode can be found here.

Eric starts us out:

With "Assignment: Earth," we bring the second season of original Star Trek to a close. As an episode, it has the distinction of being the only one that isn't really a Star Trek episode. It is actually a pilot for what was to be a new Gene Roddenberry series titled (you guessed it) "Assignment: Earth."

To the best of my knowledge, there are no other examples of airing a pilot this way. Perhaps for good reason. The story and premise of "Assignment: Earth" is solid and interesting, but for the most part, it sidelines Kirk and company, which means it doesn't deliver as Star Trek. To be fair, though, I can understand the calculus that must've been at work. Towards the end of the second season, NBC tried once again to cancel Star Trek, and once again, it was saved by a letter writing campaign by the fans. Nevertheless, Roddenberry saw the writing on the wall, and with "Assignment: Earth," seized the opportunity to try to launch a new series to take Trek's place.

And as an SF series, it had potential. The premise, that for a very long time an advanced alien species has been sending agents to Earth to help humanity survive and mature as a race, is compelling (and similar to the premise of another Roddenberry series pilot, "The Questor Tapes"). The main characters, Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln, had potential I think, but the late Robert Lansing's portrayal of Gary Seven seems a bit flat, and Roberta Lincoln, played by Teri Garr, is a bit too ditzy and insubstantial. In both cases, a little time for the actors to get a firm handle on their characters may very well have solved these problems, but we'll never know. "Assignment: Earth" was not picked up by NBC. Original Star Trek, however, did go on to have a third season, which we'll begin discussing in the next review.

For now, though, I'll close with some final thoughts about the second season. Overall, I think it edges out the first season for consistently turning out exellent stories. There are low points, of course--"The Apple" springs to mind--but they are outweighed by some of the best episodes in Trek history (e.g. "Amok time," "The Doomsday Machine," "Mirror, Mirror," "The Ultimate Computer" and so on). Also, the actors, writers, and producers are comfortable with the characters, theme, and format of the series. There is none of the struggling to find their footing that was evident, understandably, in the early part of the first season. That said, the first season episodes perhaps did a better job of delivering their messages with subtlty. And the sense of wonder that I've mentioned before was more evident; the impression that the Enterprise was out in deep, unexplored space was stronger and more convincing than it was in the second season.

I find, not surprisingly, that I honestly can't choose one season over the other, so, given that it has crossed from late at night to early in the morning, I'll leave it at that. LLAP.


So let's get this out of the way right now. This episode was frustrating and somewhat irritating for me to watch. Eric has given us a good summary of how this episode, a pilot for a new Gene Roddenberry show, came to be. I really want to cut Gene and his gang some slack for the situation they were undoubtedly in. These guys decided to use any tool at their disposal to sell a new show to rise from what they felt were the ashes of Star Trek. I'm sure in Gene's mind, Trek was about to be cancelled and probably forgotten. Even by those who wrote all the letters to the network begging for Trek's renewal. The new series would hopefully be a hit with its secret agent-like main character and attractive "assistant". The new show would have just enough sci-fi appeal to keep Star Trek's audience tuning in but be more accessible to mainstream viewers of 1968.

Well we know how well that plan worked out. The new show was not picked up, Star Trek held on for one more season, and Gene found himself left with a show that the network still wanted dead. Gene bowed out of the daily running of Trek and we have Third Season. I really understand the pickle Gene was in and perhaps he had no other option. Unfortunately the pilot/Trek episode we're left with is what we judge. The episode is just another failed concept and that's fine: there are lots of them out there littering the TV landscape. The problem is that the episode is quite compromised as Star Trek.

The irritating part is the way that the Trek characters are given relatively little to do and when they do something, they're really diminished so the Gary Seven character can come off as more impressive; Kirk and company don't really have anything important to do other than be spectators to the epic coolness of Gary S. And his sweet office.

"Captain's log, supplemental. Spock and I are in custody. Even if we'd talk, they wouldn't believe us. We're powerless to stop Mr. Seven or prevent the launch, or even be certain if we should. I have never felt so helpless." This quote pretty well sums up the state of our beloved Trek characters on this episode. Gary Seven is even immune to Spock's neck pinch! Fortunately for Kirk, the government "security" people hold him are even more pathetic.

As Eric pointed out, Teri Garr's Roberta Lincoln character is a ditz. Lincoln alternates between clueless airhead with a bad wardrobe to world-wise patriotic hippie; "hey man, don't be monkeying around with my nation's rockets. I know this world needs help. That's why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know?" Young people really can do anything!

The way time travel is used seems quite trivial and the whole setup where the Enterprise is just hanging out checking out history seems odd. Is that the best use of a Federation starship? Unfortunately even if the new characters were amazing, they're just footnotes in a middling Trek episode. If this episode disappeared tomorrow, I doubt anyone would miss it. I have to think that this concept, which is fine would have better served by an episode that just focused on the new characters/world even if it was set in the Trek universe. A simple mention or cameo by Star Trek characters would have sufficed.

And what the hell was up with Gary's cat? Perhaps the cat should have been the main character.

Next time: "Spock's Brain"

January 10, 2013

TOS Rewind #51: "Bread and Circuses"

Today we'll take a look at: Bread and Circuses (03/15/1968)

The podcast can be downloaded/listened to here.

Another nostalgic angle on Trek: Like the last episode, this show is one that I always enjoyed seeing growing up. There is a lot of combat and our heroes seem to get into one mess after another. Unlike "The Ultimate Computer," this episode doesn't hold up as well when watched today.

Once again we find ourselves with yet another parallel Earth. I get the fact that Roddenberry always planned for this idea on the show but it's done in such a literal way in episodes like this that it just stretches things a bit too far. Once I get past that, I enjoy the episode a lot more.

One of the strongest aspects of the show is the use of television, the medium itself as a reflection of a society. I may be wrong but I don't think a lot of TV programming of the 1960s worked this in. The gladiatorial matches on TV don't sound all that different from some of the reality TV we have today. One could also draw a conclusion about televised sports from this as well. The Roman Empire was known for its use of violent entertainment. The great thing here is how this is translated into a 20th Century form and how it may be used to suppress the populace. Unfortunately not enough attention is paid to this angle and we are left wondering how the TV culture really works with a modern-day Roman Empire.

Another angle in this episode that isn't really given enough time to be fleshed out is the religion part of the story. Star Trek almost always stayed away from religion and the way it is so matter-of-factly inserted here feels strange. If they wanted to really talk about Christianity, then sure, go for it. But the way the topic is finally brought up at the tail-end could have come from a greeting card; no one could really be satisfied with it (except for perhaps the network people who may have had something to say about this, who knows).

The Kirk/Spock/McCoy scenes are good; at this point our regular characters are well established and the scenes are fine, though I feel like the emotional scene with Spock and McCoy in the jail cell is a bit forced.

Otherwise, the Captain Merik is played well. I like the way that Merik is a Starfleet dropout and not just another Kirk-level officer gone rogue. Merik becomes a tool of the Roman Marcus but does redeem himself at the end when he gives his life so that Kirk and the others can escape. The Roman Marcus character is interesting. Marcus is of course violent and tastes that run to, well perhaps all sorts of things and people. I can't help but think that the Marcus character was inspired by some of the 1950s Hollywood Roman epics. The Roman leaders in those films a a bit warped and it looks like Marcus perhaps prefers both snails and oysters.

The CG effects this time add little to the episode but those outdoor scenes sure do look nice in HD.


Eric's review:

t's the afternoon of the Winter Solstice as I write this, and given that the world is still in existence, I must conclude that the Mayans were wrong--that, or we're seeing yet another example of idiotic misinterpretation of ancient texts, which leads nicely into my review of "Bread and Circuses."

We did a comprehensive review of this episode in our podcast--please give it a listen--so I'm going to focus on what still leaves me utterly perplexed: How could a staunch secular humanist like Gene Roddenberry have written and produced such a pro-Christian script?

To give some background, "Bread and Circuses" is loosely based on a story idea Roddenberry included in his Star Trek pitch to the networks, dated March 11, 1964. It is titled "The Coming" and says simply:

"Alien people in an alien society, but something disturbingly familiar about the quiet dignity of one who is being condemned to crucifixion."

Obviously, a great deal of evolution, and four years, happened from this one-sentence description to the script for "Bread and Circuses," but the idea was one of the first Roddenberry had for Star Trek.

(Note: Another idea Roddenberry included in his pitch was the "parallel worlds" concept, which he rightly said was key to Star Trek. Interestingly, though, a reasonable explanation for such a wildly improbable principle wasn't offered until the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Chase" aired on April 26, 1993.)

Some reasons for this seemingly anomalous episode could be:

Roddenberry intended to deal with Jesus as a historic figure rather than a religious figure. (The problem with this is that it would be difficult, at best, to divorce one from the other.)

The episode included the pro-Christian slant at the behest of the network.

Gene Coon, who co-wrote the script, influenced the religious aspect.

There's no way to get a definitive explanation, but I'm still perplexed. Happily, though, Star Trek (with the exception of this episode) has managed in all of its incarnations to deal with religions in an objective, non-biased way. And as with many other original episodes, I still enjoy it despite the flaws.

Next time: "Assignment: Earth"

Shades of Mediocrity

One Day at a Time

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