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July 28, 2007

TOS Rewind #5: "The Enemy Within"

Tonight's episode, The Enemy Within, tonight's drink, a Moscow Mule (no particular reason other than it's a good Summer drink).

All right, we all know the drill. A transporter accident creates two Kirks: one good, one evil. If there is one episode you'd want to pick to most effectively torture someone who despises Shatner's acting, this would be the one (okay, there may be one more...). To give him credit, he does manage to play the split personality role with a great amount of contrast between the parts. He really pulls off the part of the character that is horrified by the side of himself he's forced to see and the loss of his command abilities. There is some good acting (I do have an appreciation, in the right context, for Shatner's acting) and even a bit of uncharacteristic subtlety. But my god, when he goes into "evil" mode, he goes for the dramatic jugular! I had forgotten how, shall we say, enthusiastically gets into the part. He must have had a ball wandering down the Enterprise deck swilling the bottle of brandy with a distinct swagger. That reminds me, my favorite line from this one has to be, "I said, GIVE ME THE BRANDY!" Now, why McCoy is the designated liquor distributor on board, I have no idea. Shatner's performance isn't helped by the goofy camera angles and other "differences" placed on the evil Kirk. The production team wanted to be absolutely sure everyone at home knew when the bad Kirk was on screen. Just look for Shatner with lots of sweat and eyeliner! OK, so some of the camera angles are fun, but they went a bit overboard on the rest.

One of the other notable things about this one is watching Spock figure out what's going on and how he helps Kirk deal with it. Despite the fact that he comments about his logic seeming insensitive, sensitivity is exactly what he's expressing in his own way. It can be called loyalty, duty, or logic, but there is no doubt that the Spock character feels for Kirk's situation. This is also the first time McCoy utters the words, "he's dead Jim" (in case Eric forgets to mention it).

I haven't talked about the music yet, so this seems like a good time to mention it. If you look at TOS as a whole, the music is memorable, but often gets overlooked. It was typical of television during that time period (and still might be true today) in that there were sections of music written for the show, which were reused throughout the series (The Twilight Zone is a prime example of this method of using a "stock library" of musical cues). They didn't have the resources to have new scores written/recorded for each episode. TOS had, particularly once it was going, a collection of cues that were used where appropriate. However, in the beginning, there wasn't much repetition and I heard something in the score for this episode I don't remember elsewhere. During the scene in sickbay where Kirk is trying to figure out how to cope, there is a fairly nice cello solo in the score. I'm sure it was used again, but seemed awfully particular to this scene. I've always liked the music in TOS. Sure, it was bombastic and cliched, but it had real character and seemed better than other TV shows had. The composers who wrote for the show definitely had an old school style (old school Hollywood) of writing. It's also the only Trek show in which the music left any real impression on me. The later shows, whatever their strengths, didn't have memorable music.

A couple of other things: For many years, I've always wondered why they just didn't send the shuttle down to fetch the landing party? Oh yeah, because they hadn't introduced the shuttle (coming soon!) yet. One thing I never thought about before was the scene where "evil" Kirk stalks Yeoman Rand (poor Janice Rand, some creep is always stalking her!) and attempts to have his way with her. There is definitely an intent to rape here and I'm a bit surprised that NBC would have let it on the air. It's kind of disturbing; he's got her on the floor and ready to go, but oh wait: this is the Evil Kirk...never mind. On that note, how about the end of the episode where Spock turns to Rand and makes a comment to her about the evil Kirk having "certain qualities?" So Spock is implying that women are attracted to that side, eh? An interesting observation coming from him.

And now, Mr. Shipley:

Now for “The Enemy Within.� This episode has the interesting, but highly improbable, premise that a transporter malfunction splits Capt. Kirk into two versions of himself—one with the “good� part of his psyche and the other embodying the “evil� part. But before I get to my review, the nerd in me has to point out that the transporter can’t make value judgments and therefore wouldn’t have been able to discern between the “good Kirk� and the “bad Kirk.� A transporter malfunction (as was graphically demonstrated in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture) wouldn’t have been polite enough to simply split Kirk into two living, physically complete beings; if he was lucky, it would’ve simply turned him into an unconscious pile of unappetizing goo.

But I quibble. The point of this episode is to examine the function and importance of the positive and negative aspects of the human psyche. And it does this very well. Shatner effectively differentiates between the way each half behaves--good Kirk is compassionate and intelligent and unafraid, but he’s also mild and unable to summon the strength and decisiveness necessary for command. Evil Kirk, on the other hand, is plenty decisive and strong, but he’s also brutal and aggressive and ultimately, cowardly. (Unfortunately, Shatner overacts the Evil Kirk scenes. It still works within the context of the episode, but I can’t watch this episode without remembering one time when my wife and I were watching this episode with Doc and his wife, Shades, and she commented: “Gee, Evil Kirk sure does sweat a lot!�) In any case, Shatner’s portrayals serve to underscore the conclusion that both Spock and McCoy come to, which is that the negative part of ourselves is necessary to our strength and force of will and that, as McCoy admonishes, it’s not really ugly, it’s just human. And later, ever the humanist, McCoy also points out that the intelligence of the “good� half is where our courage comes from. These differences are brought into even sharper contrast in the scenes where Good Kirk confronts Evil Kirk (which are pretty cool scenes). The scenes between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are also well done--their concern and compassion for their friend is genuine and touching.

So in the end, after observing how Kirk’s two halves fail to be able to function on their own, we see the inescapable reality that the “good� and “evil� parts of the human psyche need each other if we’re to live and function as humans. Of course, the unspoken corollary is that these two halves must balance each other. And therein lies the rub…

Next time: “Mudd’s Women�

July 25, 2007

Asleep at the Wheel (of WoW)

This was amusing enough that I had to share...my main Warcraft character taking it easy after a long day of smashing ogres.


July 24, 2007

"Why don't you knock a hole in your head and let some brains in."

If you click over to this week's complete list of new releases, you'll see a lot of re-dos, including a bunch of "Cliffs Notes" versions of previously-released classics. However, let's see what actual new releases we have:

Benson - The Complete First Season

Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. 2 It's pretty cool that Warner continues to release new-to-DVD classics. It's a good thing since they have the largest classic film library. This set of MGM musicals includes two films that were available on DVD in poor public domain copies, the rest are new on DVD: The Pirate, Words and Music, That's Dancing, The Belle of New York, Royal Wedding, That Midnight Kiss, and The Toast of New Orleans.

Hard Boiled Ultimate Edition (1992) Wanna bet that this isn't the ultimate edition of the movie?

Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. 3

Host (2006)

Ivan's Childhood (1962)

Land of the Giants - The Full Series

The Real McCoys: Complete Season 1

Stargate SG-1 - Season 10

Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Sixth Season

The Number 23


And stay tuned for more Trek coming soon!

July 19, 2007

TOS Rewind #4: "The Naked Time"

Tonight we have one of better shows of the run: The Naked Time. I poured myself a single malt Scotch (Macallan 12) for this one which seemed appropriate. After all, this is pretty much an episode where half the crew gets sloshed and the first episode aired that gives Scotty something real to do.

Most of you probably know this one well so I won't waste much time on the particulars. The real highlights of this one for me include:

1) Spock breaking down and having a good cry in the briefing room. This is really an important episode for the Spock character. For the first time, we really get in on the nature of his personality and the constant conflict between his human and Vulcan sides. Nimoy really gets to act out in this one. Even Shatner's soliloquy where he goes on (and on) about his relationship with the Enterprise doesn't stand up to Nimoy letting it all hang out (well, as much as he can). This episode sets up a lot of future character development. I am going to take advantage of revising my post after reading Eric (dirty pool, I know!) and make the comment that I think the intoxication idea is spot on. To paraphrase the guy who wrote this one, it was drunkenness without the stumbling around. Spock is in an artificially hyped state and Kirk...well, I'll agree with you on that. Crap, I just realized I'm arguing in favor of overacting! Shatner is doing his usual and I'll leave it at that.

2) Sulu gets to do something fun. Normally, he sits at the helm and says, "aye sir!" Well, not this week! The scenes where he rampages through the ship, sans shirt, with a fencing sword are especially amusing. You can really tell that George Takei was having a great deal of fun doing those scenes.

3) The introduction of time travel as a story device. Even though it's tagged on at the end, the fact that they wrote time travel (not a new concept in science fiction, even then) into the show at that early stage was further evidence that this show, unlike most that had come before, was going to try to handle real sci fi concepts.

4) Last, but certainly not least, Lt. Kevin Riley. Riley does show up unexpectedly in one more show, but I always liked him as a character and wished they'd found a way to use him somehow. His drunken Irishman routine is hilarious (funny, I just realized that Riley is actually acting alchohol-drunk...appropriate I suppose). The bit where he shouts, "one...more....time!" and Kirk says, "please not again," is just classic. "I'm sorry, but there'll be no ice cream for you tonight."

Other than the above, the show moves along with great pacing and real suspense, despite the comic relief sprinkled throughout. It's a rare episode that manages to do this balancing act so well. I could go on and one about this, one of my favorites. And hey, it gave us the line, "I can't change the laws of physics."

Additional note: One of the things I've really enjoyed on the DVD sets has been the original broadcast teaser trailers. They're remarkably well edited and lacking the exaggeration and outright distortion of the plot that typically characterize TV show promotional material. I haven't watched all the bonus material on the set yet, but so far, the trailers are the best of the lot.

And now Eric's section:

So, our next Star Trek episode is “The Naked Time.� I’ve always found this episode to be something of a mixed bag. The premise was interesting--it was basically a vehicle for character development, but it served that purpose quite well. We finally get to meet Scotty and see him actually doing something. (He’d been absent since a very brief appearance in the second pilot.) Nurse Christine Chapel also made her first appearance, so with this episode, all of the original cast (except Chekov, who joined the cast and crew in the second season) is in place.

In addition to presenting the entire crew for the first time, this episode gave some nice character moments. Sulu as a revolutionary French swashbuckler was great. And Lt. Riley (in one of his two appearances in the series) provided good comic relief, although I don’t think I want to hear the ballad “Kathleen� ever again. All of the characters, in fact, were in fine form, and it was interesting seeing some of their hidden insecurities and passions laid bare. For instance, Nurse Chapel’s unrequited love for Spock is introduced (and will be further developed in later episodes). We also see the depth of Kirk’s passion for his ship and Spock’s anguish over being able to feel but not show love. These interludes are revealing, but they’re also where I have problems with this episode. Leonard Nimoy is a fine actor, but I wasn’t impressed by his portrayal of Spock having an emotional breakdown. It just wasn’t convincing. And I found Kirk’s discourse on love to be overdone. IMO, both performances needed to be more subtle and restrained. Then again, according to Dr. McCoy, the effects of the “infection� were supposed to be like those of alcohol intoxication, and I don’t recall ever encountering a drunk who is either subtle or restrained.

So, despite a few annoying flaws, this episode succeeded admirably in providing a great deal of character development very economically, and it also set up some story threads that would be used to good effect in later episodes.

Next time: “The Enemy Within�

July 18, 2007

"I don't pray. Kneeling bags my nylons."

Hello everyone and welcome to another hot (and in the case of today, literally) week of DVD new releases:

Ace in the Hole (1951) Criterion issues the Billy Wilder classic. DVD Savant has a really nice review of the film here.

Esther Williams Collection Warner tackles the Esther Williams MGM catalog: Bathing Beauty, Easy to Wed, On an Island With You, Neptune’s Daughter, and Dangerous When Wet.

Factory Girl

Gunsmoke - The First Season A whole season of fun in Artful Dodge City!

The Hills Have Eyes 2

Premonition (2007)

Red Dawn (Collector's Edition) Ah finally, an SE of the Patrick Swayze "classic."

Showgirls - Fully Exposed Edition A comment from the IMDB crowd: "The first movie in history that jiggles you into a stupor of boredom."

July 17, 2007

TOS Rewind #3: "Charlie X"

Today, we have Charlie X.

Since Eric got his review done first, I figure it should go first in this post:

Original air date: 9-15-66

As I begin writing this, a cat is perched on my shoulder and Steely Dan is playing on iTunes. All in all, good conditions for reviewing our next Star Trek episode, “Charlie X.� This was the eighth episode produced and the second episode aired. Like “The Man Trap,� it’s not one of my favorites, but it is definitely a good episode. The basic plot of the story is reminiscent of the original Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life;� a kid has lots of nifty super powers but little self-control or discipline (as tends to be the case with kids) and thus causes big problems for the grown-ups around him. And the subject of “Charlie X,� one 17 year-old Charles Evans, does indeed cause problems for Kirk and company, including the destruction of a survey ship and its crew. But it’s hard to view Charlie as villain, largely due to the sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of Charlie by Robert Walker Jr. He’s just a confused kid. For the last 14 years, the only company he’s had has been the incorporeal aliens who gave him his powers. Naturally, he doesn’t know how to relate to other humans, especially women, and he has no clue about functioning in human society. This affords an excellent opportunity to examine the experience of growing up and navigating the trials and travails of life as a human being.

Kirk and the crew do their best to help Charlie learn what he needs to know, particularly Kirk and Yeoman Janice Rand, and this results in some excellent scenes. One of the best is when Charlie gives Janice a playful swat on the rear end. She, of course, is not appreciative, which makes for a very amusing scene. But what I enjoyed even more than this interchange is Kirk’s awkward attempt to explain to Charlie why swatting women on the butt is a no-no.

Shortly after this is another memorable scene that takes place in the rec room. This is one of the few times in the series where Uhura sings. And despite the mildly overwrought nature of her performance, it is a good scene, particularly due to her interaction with Spock. She even gets him to smile. This is something of a dramatic reversal from the harangue she gives him in “The Man Trap,� which makes me wonder if the producers weren’t laying the foundation for a romance between these two. I haven’t read or heard anything to indicate that this was ever planned, and I doubt that it would’ve been approved by the network, so I’m guessing it was just a way to show the camaraderie amongst the crew. (On a personal note, I have heard Nichelle Nichols, the actress who portrayed Uhura, sing live. She really has a great voice, and she used to sing with Duke Ellington’s band!) Okay, back to the review.

Throughout the episode there is a minor theme of McCoy trying to pawn off the “father figure� job on Kirk. It was well-done, and amusing, but I don’t understand why both of them were so adamant about not wanting to fill this role. Maybe they both thought they wouldn’t be able to do a good job, but when it gets thrust on him, Kirk does very well: “Charlie, there are a million things in this universe you can have, and there are a million things you can’t have! It’s no fun facing that, but that’s the way it is.� This whole scene, where Kirk gives Charlie the condensed version of Life 101, is oddly touching, perhaps because Kirk is sympathetic to Charlie’s anguish and admits he’s just as subject to the realities of life as everyone else.

The scene with the chess game is a good one too. It gives a good sense of the friendship between Spock and Kirk. And Spock’s interaction with Charlie is classic. Nimoy did a brilliant job (not just in this scene) of subtly conveying how intelligent and perceptive Spock is. Absolutely nothing gets by him, and he’s utterly logical about applying his deductions. This saves the day on many occasions, but it also drives McCoy nuts. And speaking of that, the Spock-McCoy feud is clearly evident in this episode, maybe for the first time. I remember reading that this relationship wasn’t planned, but the chemistry between Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley brought it out, and Roddenberry let the writers and actors run with it.

So by the end of the episode, we’re left with Charlie suffering from a healthy dose of adolescent hormones and an unrequited crush on Janice Rand. This is a perfectly understandable situation, given that Charlie is a young human male, but young human males (and we all should be fervently thankful that this is the case) typically do not have super powers at their disposal when they vent their frustrations. Fortunately, in something of a Deus Ex Machina, the same aliens who gave Charlie his powers return take him back to their planet so that he won’t cause any more trouble. It’s a better conclusion than Kirk having to kill the boy, but Charlie’s poignant plea to be allowed to stay reminds us he’s just a kid trying to fit in and make his way through the minefield that is life.

I'll be upfront about this: this isn't one of the worst episodes, but it may be one of the ones I would be least likely to just sit down and watch. Some of it is cringe-inducing, but some of it is actually decent. It isn't campy and silly enough to be entertaining, but isn't all that great either. Eric did a really nice job pointing out the positive aspects of it. I would disagree with him about Robert Walker's performance (and they really should have gone easy on his eye makeup!). Some of it just comes off as grating and it made it difficult for me to find his character very sympathetic, which is necessary for the conclusion to work. All things being equal, when Charlie gets taken back to the alien world, we should feel kinda sorry for him as it sounds like a lonely place for a human. I've always thought that the appearance of the alien, just a basic visual projected effect, was a bit creepy. But when this scene comes up, all I can do is think how glad they all are to be rid of him. I also got the impression that some of the dialog about Charlie's adolescent issues was grafted into the script from some psychology textbooks.

There were things in this episode I enjoyed, such as the amusing awkwardness in which Kirk goes about explaining how things work to Charlie. A piece of choice dialog: "There's no right way to hit a woman." I also felt the Kirk/Spock chess game was a great scene. As far as Uhura's singing goes, it did indeed come off like a bit of flirtation with Spock and hey, he did smile! Of course when Spock starts playing that autoharp with knobs instrument, all I could think of was a certain third season episode....but we'll be getting to that.

Next up: "The Naked Time"

July 13, 2007

TOS Rewind #2: "The Man Trap"

As you may notice, it's around Midnight as I begin posting this installment. I wanted to begin while the show was still fresh and yes, I resisted the temptation to drag out the projector and watch my faded 16mm print!. The Man Trap: this episode kicked off the run of the show when it premiered on NBC in the Fall of 1966. I was a bit mystified as to why they began with this one, but it actually does a decent job of introducing the characters, particularly Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, who gets to be the one who has to kill a monster that still has residual personal attachment. Sure, it isn't quite the same as Kirk killing the super-charged Gary Mitchell, but it's still a bummer. McCoy is his folksy self, but a bit subdued (Spock hadn't gotten on his nerves yet) as well as a pretty sensitive character. We actually learn quite a bit about Spock in this episode, in particular, that his blood is different than humans (a fact that, IIRC, saves his ass in a later episode too). There's also this interesting exchange between him and Uhura at the beginning where it seems as though she's really giving him a hard time, messing with him if you will. Either that or she's a really unprofessional officer! I feel like Spock is finally settling in as a character here. Kirk, considering it's the first time he's shown, isn't really given background, but his style and personality are readily apparent. Remember how I talked about Spock being the security toughie in "Where No Man..."? Well, Kirk reclaims it here. He plays it a bit like a combination sea captain and police detective.

You know, this really isn't far off since this episode is really, story-wise, a suspense/horror show. You've got a mystery, people being killed, and a monster. Funny enough, none of the crewmen killed had red shirts (a later development I suppose)! Shatner really gets into the cop mold when he's interrogating Professor Crater (seems like an unfortunate name for an archeologist) and, as another review I saw of this pointed out, he really does one impressive scream. The guy who played Crater was actually pretty good, even if he seemed at times to be a poor man's Spencer Tracy.

Story-wise, I liked this one a fair bit. It had some good pacing and suspense and a monster that still looks pretty creepy. One thing I noticed about the monster (I don't think it was given a name) was that it looked a bit like the Morlocks from the 1960 The Time Machine film (OK, so the Morlocks had beer bellies!). Still, a great effect, especially since you don't see it until the end of the episode.

And now we hear from Eric:

Ah, more Trek talk. And this time it’s “The Man Trap.� As established in the last review, this episode was not the pilot, but it was the first episode aired, so it served as the pilot. As such, I’m not sure how well it succeeded. Some regular characters, such as Scotty and Nurse Chapel, weren’t even seen. This can be forgiven, however, since it was the sixth episode produced and was never intended to serve as the pilot.

So, was it a good episode? Yes. It’s not one of my favorites, but it was still good. The acting and directing were solid and given the time and budget, the special effects were reasonably good. Most importantly, the story was good (if somewhat plagiarized). But before I talk about that, a few observations: First, I really noticed Shatner’s opening narration (“Space: the final frontier…�), probably because it was absent in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.� I also noticed that the red uniforms had been introduced by the time this episode was produced, but there was no “curse of the red shirt� (i.e. a crewman wearing a red uniform wasn’t automatically a walking corpse). In fact, the two crewmen who bought the farm were wearing either blue or tan uniforms. And speaking of uniforms, if you look closely, you can see some of the older uniforms from the first and second pilot. You can also see a female crewperson in pants instead of the inspid miniskirt. This might be a continuity problem or simply an example of Starfleet’s inefficiency at implementing dress code changes. Also, when Dr. Crater is shooting at Kirk and Spock, he has an old-style phaser from the pilots, which makes perfect sense--he’s been on this planet for years, largely cut off from “civilization,� so he’s not going to have the latest equipment. And finally, there was some significant character development evident in this episode. Kirk has more swagger and cockiness than in the second pilot or the first episodes that were produced, and I tend to think that this was due more toWilliam Shatner than the writers and producers. Roddenberry had conceived Kirk as a character very similar to C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower (who was neither swaggering nor pompous), but from what I’ve gleaned from various sources, Shatner exerted a significant influence away from this (especially later in the series). Spock too is much more characteristically logical and unemotional than in earlier episodes and the pilots, and I suspect this is simply a result of Leonard Nimoy and the writers having a better handle on the character. But enough observations--on to the story…

I’ve seen this episode dozens of times, but upon rewatcing it for this review, I was amazed to make a connection I never saw before: its plot is very similar to that of the 50s SF movie “The Forbidden Planet.� If you haven’t seen this movie (and you should), it’s set about 300 years in the future and deals with a military spaceship from Earth that’s traveling to a colony on a distant planet to check up on the colonists. The ship arrives and is promptly rebuffed by the presumptive leader of the colony, Dr. Morbius. The Captain insists on landing, and to make a long story short, they discover there’s a monster loose on the planet that wreaks havoc on the ship and crew. Sound familiar? But the episode isn’t completely plagiarized. There are several significant differences. For example, there is a love interest in both stories, but in “The Man Trap� it’s between Dr. McCoy and Dr. Crater’s wife, Nancy. In “The Forbidden Planet� the love affair is between the Captain and Morbius’ daughter. And to me, the most important difference is that the monster in “The Forbidden Planet� is a genuine monster. The “monster� in “The Man Trap� turns out not to be a monster at all, merely a starving, intelligent creature (the last of its kind) that’s trying to survive. So, it is both regrettable and sad when it is killed. And it’s this genuine pathos that ultimately makes the story and episode a success. Although I have one nagging question: At the end of the episode, why didn’t Spock or McCoy stun the creature instead of killing it?

Next time: “Charlie X�

July 9, 2007

"You want to wake up with something strange?"

After the last two posts, this one's gonna seem mighty small...tee hee...as always, click here for this week's list of new stuff.

After the Wedding (2007)

The Astronaut Farmer (2006)

Beauty and the Beast: Season 2

Bewitched - The Complete Fifth Season

A Bullet for Joey (1955)

The Contractor (2007)

Extras: The Complete Second Season

Frankie & Annette: MGM Movie Legends Collection MGM mines the back catalog for some Summer Fluff: : Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Fireball 500, Thundr Alley, Muscle Beach Party, and Ski Party. Boomers, get out yer wallets!

The Last Mimzy (2007)

The Stranger (1946) This may be the first time this has been on DVD in a non-public domain cheapie form.

July 7, 2007

TOS Rewind #1: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"

Is this name, "TOS Rewind," too lame? Well, feel free to suggest something else, but for now I'm going with it. As I said before, Eric and I are going to watch the entire run of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) in the next few months (or however long it takes) and write about each episode. So, let's get rolling with our first show, Where No Man Has Gone Before (for a synopsis, click here).

Here's Eric's section:

Hey there. Just a quick personal background before I talk about the original Star Trek episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before.� I’m Eric Shipley. Doc Dregs and I have been friends since high school (about 23 years), and we share a die-hard affection for original Trek, so he invited me to participate in his reviews of the original Trek episodes. Coolness, so here we go…

Doc and I agreed to review the episodes in broadcast order, but we decided it would be best to start with “Where No Man Has Gone Before,� which was the second pilot for the series. Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek’s creator and executive producer) filmed his first Start Trek pilot, titled “The Cage,� and submitted it to the network (NBC). It was rejected because it was, as the network execs reportedly put it, too intellectual and didn’t have enough of an action/adventure element. They were, however, impressed with some aspects of the episode (e.g. it made them feel like they were looking into a working starship), and on that basis, they commissioned a second pilot. So, Roddenberry retooled the cast (Spock was the only character to make the cut), and filmed “Where No Man Has Gone Before,� which was written by Samuel Peeples and directed by James Goldstone. The network pinheads were satisfied and gave Star Trek the green light, although “Where No Man Has Gone Before� was not aired as the pilot. “The Man Trap� and “Charlie X� were aired first and “Where No Man Has Gone Before� was the third episode the network broadcast. Why? Your guess is as good as mine, but Doc and I decided it would be best to review WNMHGB first given that it has some fundamental differences from the rest of the series: the uniforms and sets are the same as those from “The Cage,� and there are some cast differences such as Sulu being in the Astrophysics department (rather than at the helm) and Dr. Piper being the ship’s surgeon instead of everyone’s favorite country doctor, Leonard McCoy.

So, with that bit of exposition out of the way, here are my thoughts about “Where No Man Has Gone Before.� (Was that a sigh of relief I heard?!) I’m assuming that Doc has provided a synopsis of the episode, so I’ll jump in with my impressions. First, it’s good SF. Only in science fiction can you examine human nature by having people with latent psionic abilities bestowed with god-like powers through exposure to an energy field at the edge of the galaxy. (Some people call this corny or idiotic. To me, it’s wonderfully imaginative.) This episode is also good Trek, but it’s noticeably different from the Trek that would go on to capture the imaginations of millions. The “Age of Aquarius� sentiment isn’t evident, although the way the episode is written doesn’t leave much opportunity to bring it out. The close friendship between Kirk and Spock is clearly nascent, and the chemistry of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate is missing (and missed). One thing that really struck me, though, is the serious tone of the episode. There are a few lighter moments, but overall, it’s very somber. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this and much prefer it to the campy tone of some of the later episodes.

What puts this episode in the ranks of the best original Trek episodes, however, is that in the best tradition of Star Trek (and any good story), underneath it all is a thought-provoking theme or question, in this case: What happens when a man has limitless power thrust upon him? And as it turns out, the answer this episode offers is both an indictment and a vindication of the human spirit. Gary Mitchell is consumed by his powers and comes to exemplify the old adage about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Dr. Dehner, on the other hand, is possessed and corrupted by the same powers, but she, at Kirk’s eloquent, impassioned plea, lets her humanity win out and, at the cost of her own life, buys Kirk time to fight Mitchell. Ultimately, it’s Kirk’s resolution of the conflict between his compassion for his friend and his responsibility to civilization that saves the day, but it’s a close thing. He very nearly lost (on more than one occasion), because he was reluctant to do what he knew was necessary, i.e. kill Mitchell. The point, though, is that in the end, he did what he had to do. So, the human spirit wins out, but not without some bumps and bruises (and deaths). Both Kirk and Dr. Dehner found the strength to do what was right, but it wasn’t easy for them, and this adds a satisfying touch of reality—doing what’s right is rarely easy and can be extremely difficult. And in a way, even Mitchell is vindicated when, as the episode closes, Kirk observes: “He didn’t ask for what happened to him.�

Wow, thanks a lot for that Eric. Eric has such a vast head of knowledge on all things Trek and I appreciate him filling in a lot of the background details on this episode. It's important in this particular episode since it feels a little bit off and always has to me. When I say that, I mean that it doesn't quite fit. This is all quite normal for a pilot (or a second pilot), but as Eric pointed out, it was not shown first in the run of the show. That's pretty strange and must have been a head scratcher for the TV audience who'd already been introduced to the characters. I'd love to hear an explanation for that programming choice! To be fair, TOS doesn't really have a traditional "intro" episode where the characters and overall story are introduced. If you want to see a pilot really nail the whole show introductions job well, watch the pilot for Freaks and Geeks; it's amazingly well covered for a 45 minute episode.

The story: Eric already said it, this subject is classic sci fi; humanity colliding with or encountering powers beyond our control. Beyond the central idea expressed in the story, this show also introduces us the some of the "mechanics" of the Trek environment in a fairly economical way. The transporter is used and the concept of warp drive is introduced when Kirk explains how far out they really are when their faster-than-light (spool up the FTL Drive!!! ... sorry, random Battlestar reference) drive is knocked out. Beyond what was said before, I remember noticing that near the end of the episode, when Kirk and Mitchell are having their showdown, Shatner really has this expression on his face that says, "crap, this isn't going to work, is it!" It's a nice touch considering how often Kirk is so confident in later shows. Of course this is part of his central makeup, but it widens the character just a tiny bit. One point, after Mitchell and Dehner have their battle of lightning zaps, Kirk could have just burned him down with the phaser rifle, but instead begins a fistfight, the first of many. I'm sure they felt it had to be in there to sell the show (such action was missing from "The Cage"), but it seems rather odd in a way. After all, at that point, wasn't Kirk pretty sure he needed to kill Mitchell?

The main characters in this episode are given space to do their thing. The non-McCoy doctor isn't given much to do (some of his job seems to be done by the Dr. Dehner character), which is just as well given that he's a stand-in. Sally Kellerman, who also played "Hot Lips" in the MASH film, actually has a pretty good role in this show. I didn't used to think much of her performance, but it's actually fairly sensitive to the material and well acted. Gary Lockwood gets to do something here that he didn't get to do in 2001, play a real character. I'm sure he's done other things, but those two titles are going to be what people remember. Sure, he overacts a bit, but hey, he thinks he's a god...who wouldn't overact! I found it fun to watch Nimoy's protoSpcok in this episode. Sure, some of what the character was to become was there, but he comes off as a bit of a badass Science Officer/First Officer/Security Officer. He's really the one with "Balls of Steel" (hi Scott!) in this episode: "kill him, while you can." Don't believe me? He's the one that makes sure a big-ass phaser rifle gets sent down and is basically doing what Worf might do in Next Gen. The Captain Kirk character is surprisingly well formed in this first episode which tells me two things: One, Roddenberry had the character down from the outset. Two, Shatner made Kirk. This sounds obvious, but it bears repeating. Whether or not you like the character of Captain Kirk, Shatner was a big part of what it was and it's made plain watching the very first minutes of this episode.

Other stuff: I'm really glad they changed Nimoy's eyebrows! The sets look pretty much like recycled ones from the first pilot, "The Cage." However, there are some differences which make the ship sets look like an odd hybrid of the earlier ones and the ones used throughout the run of the show. I'm so glad they ditched the goose-neck lamp-looking things on the bridge and changed the uniforms. Now, we all know this show was ahead of its time as far as social issues go, but there is still some sexist stuff in this one. OK, I could write entries just about this topic, so I'm not going to mention every single instance of stereotyping, but there's a scene in this one where Mitchell complains about Dr. Dehner being assigned to observe him (some line about there being more "pretty girls" on board). Kirk's response, "consider it a challenge!" Hmm, Ok.... All in all though, this one still really works for me. It seemed better than I remember. As Eric said, it has a somber tone and is kind of a downer (Kirk has to kill one of his friends) and the show actually conveys a sense of menace with the way the editing is done. They really should have run this one first.

A brief word about the DVD: I have never seen this show look this good. The copies that were in circulation on TV when I was growing up were faded 16mm prints (or tapes from the prints) and they looked beat and faded. The DVDs, having been transferred from the 35mm film, look about as good as they're going to. The sound is also well preserved. I have yet to watch the bonus material, but I did sample the text commentary (a popup trivia thing) and while it had some interesting trivia, I really wonder why they felt it was necessary to point out that William Shatner plays Kirk!

So, there's the first round. I don't know that they'll all be this long, but we'll just have to see how it goes.

Up next: The Man Trap

July 5, 2007

"Must Take the Ship!"

The time: The late 1970s

The place: A split-level house in Rapid City, SD

I sneak out of my bedroom around 11:30 PM; the rest of the house is asleep. I make my way quietly to the living room and turn on the TV, being careful to turn the sound down low so it won't wake anyone. Yes, I am getting ready to watch my favorite show, Star Trek. The channel that ran it back then put it on right after The Tonight Show, which always seemed to run slightly long; 11:35 was the time it was scheduled. When I was younger than that, I recall watching it in the late afternoons after school. That was my first real introduction to the show and after that, I sought it out whenever it was being run.

In those days, as it was for many years, Trek was a normal syndicated TV show. Local stations were the only ones running it since there were few real cable channels (cable TV for us in those days was a handful of Denver stations and WTBS). This was in a time when the show had a fanbase, but was far from the franchise powerhouse it would become.

So why am I writing about this?

I am embarking on a small blogging project in which I will watch the entire Star Trek original series and write something about each one (yes, even the lesser episodes). I'm doing this because I really haven't watched the show in a number of years and I think it would be fun to reflect on this show that was so important to me growing up (navel gazing alert!!!). Old friend and fellow Trek fan Eric S will be following along and contributing to posts. Even though in the old days, the stations never seemed to run the show in any particular order, we're going to begin with Where No Man Has Gone Before and then proceed in original broadcast order. We will be watching the currently available DVDs and not the new enhanced versions. So, I'm looking forward to jumping into this and of course, feel free to comment as we go along. I'm going to try and have the first post out in the next few days.

July 3, 2007

"Why on earth would anyone want to go camping? "

Happy July 4th everyone. Shall we see what patriotic DVDs are being released this week?

Baa Baa Black Sheep, Vol. 2

Batfink: The Complete Series (1966)

Driving Lessons (2006)

Eureka: Season One

George Lopez: America's Mexican

Just the Two of Us (1975) So check out the description of this one: "In this classic lesbian sexploitation flick, married neighbors Adria (Alisa Courtney) and Denise (Elizabeth Plumb) plunge into a secret affair. But when hot young actor Jim (John Aprea) turns Adria's fickle head, Denise becomes desperate to recapture her illicit love. Soon, however, devious British temptress Mona (Elizabeth Knowles) sets her sights on the lonely Denise -- and her intentions are definitely not honorable." Tee hee

Neverwas (2005)

Our Very Own (2005)

Puccini for Beginners (2006)

Raid on Entebbe (1977)