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, 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"

December 28, 2012

TOS Rewind #50: "The Ultimate Computer"

And now, The Ultimate Computer (03/08/1968)

The podcast for this episode can be listened to or downloaded here.

As a bonus, Andy and I recorded a review for this episode on 9/15/2007.
Download it here.

Eric's review:

Well, no Trek-related obituaries, so I'll get right to my thoughts about our current episode. When "The Ultimate Computer" came up in the queue, I fondly remembered the past 30,000 times I've seen it, but what I didn't remember was what an exceptional episode it is.

To begin with, I watched the remastered version of the episode, and this is definitely one case where the improved special effects added to the story. I enjoyed getting to see another design for a Federation starbase and really appreciate that it follows the established design lineage (i.e. Space Station K-7 in "The Trouble with Tribbles"). I also was surprised by how much the new effects add to the drama of the action sequences.

The story, superficially at least, is just Kirk vs. Computer again, but it is the best of those stories. (Although "Return of the Archons" and "The Changeling" are tied for a close second.) The premise--a revolutionary supercomputer is installed on the Enterprise for the purpose of replacing the human crew--is handled insightfully. Kirk's response to the prospect of losing his captaincy to a machine rings true. His reaction when Commodore Wesley refers to him as "Captain Dunsel" is affecting, and we are sympathetic to his plight. The support and compassion McCoy and Spock show him is sincere and touching; they both, in their own characteristic ways, are unwavering in their loyalty and friendship.

What really makes this an exceptional episode, though, is Dr. Daystrom. I never fully appreciated the depth and complexity of this character--He is arguably the antagonist, but he is also sympathetic and perhaps even pitiable. His genius is undeniable, one of the Federation's greatest minds, but he is also a paranoid schizophrenic, and he transferred those traits to his M5 computer, which is put in control of the Enterprise. This sets up wonderful dramatic tension, and William Marshall makes the very most of the role. And now that I think about his excellent performance, I found myself asking an interesting question: Did Daystrom's genius cause his insanity or was his insanity a innate condition that was expressed, due to his experiences, as genius? It's the old Nature vs. Nurture argument, and while I'm hardly an expert, I tend to think the latter scenario is the case. Daystrom had a predilection for schizophrenia that might not have developed except for his early success and the perceived scorn of his contemporaries.

Even with these richly deserved plaudits, I do have a complaint that concerns Commodore Wesley. When the task force is getting its ass kicked by M5/Enterprise, he keeps yelling things like "What is Kirk doing?!" It seems unlikely that he simply forgot that M5 was put in control of the Enterprise for the express purpose of seeing how well it can handle situations such as combat, so I'm mystified as to why he blames Kirk for M5's rampage. It doesn't make any sense, but ultimately (heh) it's a minor quibble with an otherwise superb episode.

I'll close with the full text of the magnificent poem Kirk quoted:

"Sea Fever"

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967).
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)


"The Ultimate Computer" is one of the rare episodes that was not only a childhood favorite but also holds up extremely well to the passage of time.

Despite the fact that Trek was a science fiction/adventure show, it didn't actually touch on the role of technology and human society all that often, at least not at the detail that this one does. This is not a knock against the program as these issues can be weighty and tough to distill into a 50 minute television show that above all needs to entertain. The seriousness of the ideas is easily seen in the excellent scene in Kirk's quarters where he and McCoy discuss he relentless march of technology and how it has this tendency to disrupt the fabric of human society, all the way down to the individual. The scene isn't all that long but it gets the point across effectively and as Eric points out below, uses the poem to accent the feelings Kirk is expressing.

"We are one big happy fleet!" (I wonder how Khan would handle his job being outsourced!)

The chance to get a bit, if you'll excuse the term, meta with the workings of Starfleet doesn't come along very often throughout the original series and this episode takes full advantage. Daystrom's M5 is allowed to control one of the most powerful starships in the fleet so we have to assume that the top commanders are at least entertaining the idea of an automated fleet having been convinced that, to quote McCoy, "the right computer finally came along." The fact of the matter is, it's quite easy to see from the early action of the episode, exactly why the top brass thought it was worth pursuing. The Enterprise does indeed operate more efficiently under the control of the M5. It doesn't seem all that far-fetched, even knowing the outcome of the episode, that those in charge would consider the M5 a better choice to control the helm, weapons, etc than Sulu and the gang. But Kirk and his breed of captain prove to be irreplaceable. It's funny how no one speculates how well an M5 would replace Spock!

Daystrom is the character that really makes this show tick. Not only is Daystrom a very well developed character, one of the best non-regulars, he is also emblematic of a shattered genius. The story moves beyond its focus on the benefits and perhaps dangers of placing a ship under computer control and becomes a psychological study that gives us a character that is worthy of both scorn and pity. McCoy is the audience's emotional view of Daystrom; at the start of the show he is suspicious and dismissive of Daystrom and his machine. By the end he feels the sympathy that we do. William Marshall gives the role the depth that is needed and makes the character's swagger to emotional meltdown quite believable. Marshall pushes the envelope of scenery chewing but is never out of character. Shatner actually plays this episode more on the subdued side; perhaps this was the direction but the thoughtful, vulnerable side of Kirk really adds to the character.

As far as Eric's complaint about Commodore Wesely, I have to agree. Wesely acts as though he's completely forgotten that the Enterprise is under computer control. Sure, Kirk's supposed to have a "kill" switch at his chair, but an extra sentence of dialogue would have made this a bit more believable.

The new CG effects really help with this episode. Not only do we get to see another Federation space station, but the exterior shots of all the starships are much better than the old optically re-printed Enterprise shots we had before. Of course when I was young, just the idea of all those extra Enterprise-like ships on the show was exciting and I didn't really care what it looked like on the screen.

Next time: "Bread and Circuses"

September 8, 2012

TOS Rewind #49: "The Omega Glory"

And now we get to The Omega Glory (3/1/1968).

Eric, Rob, and I recorded a podcast. click here to listen or download

I write this on September 8, 2012; 46 years to the day that Star Trek first aired on television. Fascinating.

Here we have another episode where the Cold War shows its influence on the series, in particular, on Gene Roddenberry who wrote this episode. Roddenberry considered using this script for the show's second pilot (after the network rejected "The Cage"). Of course in hindsight its easy to see that they chose the correct episode. "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is a more balanced, comprehensive representation of Star Trek, or at least of what the show was intended to be. I do have to wonder though how different this episode would have been had it been produced in 1965-66, at the very beginning of the series, and not more than halfway through Season 2.

The basic idea for this episode is actually quite compelling. The Enterprise encounters another Federation starship with its crew dead from a mysterious disease with only the last brief log entry from the ship's dying doctor to provide any clues. So, first of all, the Exeter has been missing for months and yet Kirk and the crew don't seem to be on a mission to find the ship. If the Enterprise is looking for the Exeter, it is not made at all clear from the episode's dialogue. Also, a disease that reduces a human body to a "few pounds of chemicals" seems a bit far-fetched. However, the story works better if the fate of the Exeter crew remains a mystery for at least a while.

Once Kirk and the landing party beam down to locate Captain Tracey, who is the only survivor from the Exeter, they soon discover that they have dropped into the middle of a local conflict between the Kohms and the Yangs with Tracy propping up the Kohms with the power of his phaser. This situation is a classic example of Star Trek's Prime Directive: Tracey has clearly violated the Directive with his self-serving interference in the planet's affairs.

Tracey, as a way of trying to convince Kirk that his actions were justified, explains that the immunity that the planet provides from the disease that killed the Exeter crew, also grants enormously long lifespans to those who live on the planet. Tracey believes that this can be isolated by McCoy and made into some kind of serum that will grant near-immortality to those who take it. Tracey thinks this will be his golden galactic ticket to fame and fortune; he also believes it will justify him killing thousands of people to get it.

Kirk of course doesn't buy into all this which sets up the conflict between the two captains. The episode actually works well until the end where it's revealed that the Yangs and Kohms are close parallels to Earth's America and Communist (China, I assume) rivalries. The story angle regarding Tracey trying to use the long life span of the locals to his own end is well done and the conflicts surrounding the Prime Directive work well. It just goes off the rails for me when Roddenberry uses such an obvious thing as making the two sides direct copies of Earth nations, right down to the USA flag. This reliance on familiar symbols and ideas that are SO similar to Earth is either a sign of laziness or believing, as Eric points out, that the audience needs to be spoon-fed the idea. The audiences in 1968 didn't need that and other Trek episodes managed to work in then-contemporary socio-political ideas without such brute force in the writing.

I believe this episode could have been one of the best in the series, had the script been written differently; the story idea is very good. The production quality and acting is also not a problem. Ron Tracey is a great character and a significant opponent to Kirk. In fact, Captain Tracey beats Kirk more than once. Tracey is also a character who, due to his personal nature or the effect of his entire crew dying while he stayed behind, is coldly determined to get what he wants and survive. Tracey is desperate to win at any cost. There is also great interaction between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy here. All of this makes for an episode that comes tantalizingly close to being a great show but is undone by the writing, in this case another "parallel Earth" story line. I think Trek is best when it stays away from this and doesn't get too literal with its commentary on the times.

The remastered episode I watched looked very good and it was fun to see the lettering on the hull of the Exeter where in the original effects shots (which were not at all bad), we just saw a mirror image of the Enterprise orbiting the planet.

And, Spock's mind meld from across the room was quite silly.


And here's Eric's review:

As with my previous review, sadly I need to preface my comments with the news that another Star Trek alumnus has passed away. William Windom, the actor who played Commodore Matthew Decker in "The Doomsday Machine," passed away on August 16th. He was 88.

Now on to "The Omega Glory," an episode I fondly remember. And I was pleased to find that, for the most part, it has held up well over the several years since my last viewing. There was, however, a significant flaw that never stood out before: the exact parallels to Earth and the Cold War, were so blatant as to be laughable. It didn't ruin the episode for me, but I do hate being jarred out of an otherwise good story by something so ridiculous. One would think that at least a little subtly, and a little less spoon feeding, would be possible. Also, Spock's long distance mind meld at the end of the episode really doesn't work for me.

But on the other hand, this episode has two of the best guest stars in the original series: Morgan Woodward as Captain Ron Tracey and Roy Jenson as Cloud William. Both characters were interesting and had surprising depth, and both were played quite well. I especially like the way Capt. Tracey comes off as a stone cold bad-ass.

There is also the good action sequences and character interaction I've come to expect from original Trek, but the one aspect of this episode that sets it apart for me is that we get to see another Constitution Class starship, the Exeter. There are just a few episodes from the original series that feature other Starfleet personnel, and even fewer that show other Starfleet ships. Seeing them gives us a broader context for the series and reminds us that the Enterprise, despite being unique and special, is just one part of a very large fleet.

Next time: "The Ultimate Computer"

June 19, 2012

TOS Rewind #48: "By Any Other Name"

Up this time around: By Any Other Name (02/28/1968)

The podcast for this episode can be found here.

There are two things that always come to mind when I think about this episode.

1. The scene where Scotty drinks an alien under the table.

2. The scene where the (female!) redshirt (redskirt?) is, to quote an old SNL sketch, "turned into a cube, and crushed."

Besides these two memorable moments, this episode is unfortunately uneven; I just get the feeling that the writers just didn't have the pacing and tone of the show balanced. Eric points this out well, but it bears repeating.

The first few acts of the episode are quite serious and, assuming an SNL sketch hasn't made it into a joke, the early scene of Rojan coldly killing the crew member to make a point has a dramatic impact. Once the Enterprise leaves the galaxy and Kirk has decided to not destroy his ship (more on that later), the tone shifts to a less serious insurrection. It almost feels like, "well, we can't beat these guys so we might as well have some fun messing with their minds." Hmm, okay. I can't fault the tone here too much as the scenes where our heroes are undermining their captors' new "human" natures are just too much fun. Kirk is clearly enjoying his alien seduction duties even more than usual and Spock totally knows when to strategically place the right button-pushing statement to push Rojan over the edge to jealousy. I am going to pause for a moment to ponder just what Kalinda's job on this colonization crew is exactly? I get that a long-time expedition might have couples aboard but only Rojan seems to have a, er...spouse(?). No one else seems to have any sort of relationship. Leadership has its privileges...

I suppose the main point is that all this setup at the beginning seems like a waste; it's easy to forget the seriousness of the opening acts when we're laughing at Scotty, who just twenty minutes prior, was ready to destroy his beloved Enterprise. And that's a shame really. The buildup to the point where Kirk has to make the call on whether or not to blow up the ship is nicely done with a tense buildup. The resolution, the Kelvans being undone by their choice of life form to morph into (good thing they didn't decide to become Vulcans!) has its problems, but at least Kirk and the crew get out of this situation on their own. There is no cosmic force that helps them out at the end. The resolution results in a, to quote Eric, "group hug," but the strategy of pissing their captors off and sleeping with the alien leader's lover is not without risk.

It's hard to imagine this episode without all the humorous character elements but I wonder if the pacing and tone would have worked better if the setup were somehow different. The material in this episode could have been made into two different and perhaps more successful shows.

As I have mentioned, the Kirk/Spock/McCoy/Scotty characters are all given plenty of good material. Despite the flaws in the story, if one were to compile a short list of original series episodes that really demonstrate the core characters of the show, this would have to be among them.

I did view the remastered version of this episode but there were minimal changes to the special effects. The space scenes in the original version were pretty decent.


And now we have Eric's review:

Before I get to my review, I want to note that Warren Stevens, the actor who played Rojan in "By Any Other Name," passed away on March 27th. He also played Dr. Ostrow in the 1956 classic SF movie "Forbidden Planet." He was 92.

Now for my comments on "By Any Other Name," an episode that has many things going for it, such as: a great title (gotta love the Shakespeare), some interesting intrigue by Kirk and company, and a healthy dose of great character scenes. Unfortunately, however, it also suffers from some glaring weaknesses: a jarring shift in tone halfway through the episode, an abrupt resolution that strains credulity, and a subtle but significant continuity problem that I address in my closing.

The title of this episode is from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" (Act 2, Scene 2): "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
 by any other name would smell as sweet." Lovely blank verse, but I'm not sure exactly how it relates to this episode. Perhaps it is meant to point out the familiar Trek theme that aliens are not so different from us (particularly when they take human form, as in this episode). Or it could simply be a reference to the scene where Kirk quotes that line to Kalinda. Your guess is as good as mine.

I also like the way the crew figures out how to defeat the Kelvans. No deus ex machina like we saw in "Return to Tomorrow." It's a logical, well-reasoned plan that is executed to delightful effect. Which brings me to the character scenes. All of the main characters (who were not turned into styrofoam tetrahedrons) got to have great scenes turning the Kelvans' newfound emotions against them: Kirk awakens the sex kitten in Kalinda (the hot alien, naturally); Spock brings out Rojan's jealousy while playing a nice, sedate game of chess; McCoy drives Hanar to distraction with some sort of stimulant; and best of all, Scotty drinks Tomar under the table. This last may be Scotty's best scene in the entire series, and it is certainly one of the funniest in original Star Trek. ("It's green" is a favorite quote among fans.)

The drawback to these great character scenes is that their onset signals a jarring shift in the tone of the episode. Before, on the planet, the situation is quite serious--no hint of humor--but as soon as we get back to the Enterprise, the crew starts having these amusing, often hilarious, interludes with the Kelvans. This is followed by a group hug resolution that is facilitated by an abrupt, diametric shift in Rojan's attitude. He goes from being a hostile invader bent on conquering the Federation to a friendly visitor looking for guest accommodations, and he does this while being held in a headlock by Kirk. Sorry, that just doesn't ring true. But in defense of the producers, I think they simply ran out of airtime for the episode.

So, as with many other episodes, "By Any Other Name" is a mixed bag--enjoyable but best not examined too closely. Despite that, I want to sign off by posing a question that's been nagging me: what happened to the incredible upgrades the Kelvans made to the Enterprise engines after this episode?

Next time: "The Omega Glory"

March 9, 2012

TOS Rewind #47: "Patterns of Force"

What, you guys are still doing this Star Trek thing?

Yes, the project still chugs along, just at a slower pace. We'll get there!

Up this time: Patterns of Force (02-16-1968)

We did a podcast for this episode: Listen to it here.

Here's Eric's review:

I have been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember, and World War II has always been of particular interest. So it stands to reason that "Patterns of Force" would be one of my favorite original Trek episodes.

Yep, that certainly stands to reason, but after doing the podcast I got to thinking about it. In many ways it is a fun episode: there's lots of action and drama, and we get to see Kirk and Spock dressed up as Nazis. (As to this last point, however, both Bill Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are Jewish, so I have to wonder how they felt about all the Nazi trappings.) Still, there are two glaring flaws that I find hard to overlook.

My first issue is with Spock's improvised laser in the Ekosian cell. Yes, Spock is a genius scientist, but the notion that he could create even a crude laser using a couple of crystals held in a bent bed spring is beyond ludicrous. Even if he could construct a such a laser, an ordinary incandescent light bulb wouldn't begin to provide enough power for it to operate at a level sufficient to burn through an inch-thick bar of steel.

And if that isn't bad enough, the very premise of the story defies credulity. John Gill is said to be a noted professor of history who had taught at Starfleet Academy. One would think, then, that he would be rational, intelligent, and very well-educated. So how could such a man, let alone an historian, conclude that a governmental/social system modeled on the Third Reich could be something other than bigoted, brutal, and sadistic? Nazi Germany was an ultra-conservative, nationalistic, military dictatorship with some elements of socialism and fascism. And their unifying forces were unbelievably arrogant pride in their own pseudo-race and hatred of any person or group that Hitler and his sick, twisted cronies proclaimed to be impure. It is totally absurd that an historian of John Gill's stature could think that such a system could be run benignly--its very basis, everything that made it powerful, was corrupt, immoral, and malicious.

I hate to be so hard on an episode I've enjoyed through the years, but upon re-watching, discussing, and reflecting on it, I am forced to conclude that it is seriously flawed. Strangely, though, even as I write this, I know that I will be able to overlook those flaws and enjoy watching "Patterns of Force" sometime in the future. Chalk up another win for cognitive dissonance.


Ah, the "Nazi episode." Like Eric (and Rob), I had a great fondness for this one growing up. We were all into World War 2 stuff at the time (I used to build WW2 airplane models) and this combination was irresistible. The idea of the Enterprise encountering a planet so similar to Earth in the 20th Century is far better suited to contemporary storytelling and television budgets (you get to use the studio sets and backlot) than to any kind of sci fi credibility. At least in this one, they make an attempt to explain why this planet would bear any resemblance to our Earth; unlike an episode such as "Miri."

If you peel away the "let's make a society based on Nazi Germany without all the nastiness" ideas, you're basically left with an episode where we get to watch a 2 man commando mission (Kirk and Spock) infiltrate and take out the Nazis. That alone assures its attraction to 10 year old Eric, John, and Rob. There were many popular Hollywood movies in the 1960s that were centered around Allied heroes kicking ass on the Nazis ("The Guns of Navarone," "Where Eagles Dare," etc). I have to wonder if this had some influence on the writers of Star Trek. There were plenty of other times where there are influences.

The main premise, aside from commando Kirk and Spock, is interesting if flawed. As Eric pointed out on the podcast, Gene Roddenberry flew planes in WW2 and his experiences must have had some influence on his writing and ideas for Star Trek. The big problem with the kinder/gentler Nazi idea is that it seems hopelessly stuck in the 1960s, where apparently there was a popular theory among historians that National Socialism could have come out differently. I also think it would have been difficult to really address some of the seriousness of the Nazis on 1968 television. It occurred to me that an episode like this might have worked better with the style of Next Generation; more analytical, less censorship. However, it's hard to imagine this episode being made in the late the end though, the ideas are still fun and interesting. Sometimes even a failed story idea can have value. It certainly got all of us to think about it.

Yes, the scene in the jail cell where Spock makes his "laser" is very silly (I think I thought so at age 10) but I'm not sure it really hurts the episode for me. This scene fits in well with the idea of Kirk and Spock chewing bubble gum and kicking ass (and they ran out of bubble gum). Speaking of the jail scenes, how about the part where they whip Spock across his bare back? You can actually see his green blood on the whip marks. That's different and pretty graphic for Trek. As is typical for this kind of episode, things conclude leaving us to wonder what happened after the Enterprise left.

The writing for this episode is still very good. The script makes the most of the limits imposed on the subject and the main characters are given some very good dialogue. There are genuinely funny moments throughout the episode and the interaction between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy feels right to me. Another element that was done well here is the way that the John Gill character comes across as sympathetic. The scenes at the end where he confesses to Kirk how his best intentions and ideas went horribly wrong have real depth to them. I find the whole sequence pretty sad actually.

There wasn't much to really see as far as remastered effects in this episode. The quality of the image and sound continues to be outstanding. I am looking forward to the similar treatment they're doing to The Next Generation episodes.

Next time: "By Any Other Name"

May 31, 2011

TOS Rewind #46: "Return to Tomorrow"

Up now: Return to Tomorrow (02/09/1968)

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast for this one. Listen to it here.

Eric starts us out this time:

Return to Tomorrow is one of those episodes that's a mixed bag. It is commendable in many ways, but there are detractors too.

Just as a matter of trivia, Dr. Ann Mulhall is played by Diana Muldaur, who also played Miranda Jones in the third season episode, "Is There in Truth No Beauty" and Dr. Katherine Pulaski in the second season of Star Trek:The Next Generation.

In any case, let's begin with the positives. One thing I always enjoy about this episode is getting a glimpse into the fictional prehistory of our galaxy. Sargon's race existed long before humanity and may have been responsible for some of the intelligent humanoid races that subsequently evolved. (This could present some serious continuity problems, given what ST:TNG established about the prehistory of intelligent humanoid species in our galaxy, but I'll save that geekiness for another time.) Leonard Nimoy also does a delightful job playing the evil Henoch--I have to believe that was a great deal of fun. And not to be outdone, DeForest Kelley turns in a subtle but excellent scene when McCoy refuses to betray Kirk and Mulhall saying she will not "peddle flesh!" Probably the most moving scene, though, is when Kirk, in a briefing, delivers a spot-on summary of the mission of the Enterprise, which is by extension a summary of Star Trek.

On the down side, it was less than satisfying to see the crew being used as helpless pawns in the power struggle between Sargon and Henoch. That sort of situation usually is a hallmark of a sub-par episode. And the resolution of the episode seems a bit contrived and muddled. In spite of these detractors, however, I find that Return to Tomorrow holds up surprisingly well.


I realize this sounds like a repeat of some earlier reviews, but this is another one of those episodes that I have never loved, but also didn't despise. I'll get back to that factor later as I believe that Eric nailed the fundamental issue with this episode well.

So here we are, watching our brave heroes cruising along in space when some alien intelligence contacts them from a seemingly dead planet in a remote section of the galaxy. The idea of the Enterprise encountering this sort of situation has always been compelling for me; it is good, classic science fiction. The setup here looks good: who were these people? What happened to their civilization? How did they keep the lights going for centuries in those plastic globes? Of course we can't have some big cheese from a long-dead advanced civilization appearing without a healthy dose of condescension: "my son." Shouldn't that bother Kirk just a bit after the treatment he and the crew got from Apollo?

As soon as it's revealed that Sargon and the other aliens want to "borrow" Kirk and company for a while that we get one of the better parts of this episode. The cast actually has a decent discussion about making contact with aliens like that. McCoy is placed as the skeptic here and he has a very good point, but has no chance when Kirk gives his "risk is our business" speech. It's a good one that serves to prime the viewer for some good old fashioned alien mind control. As Eric pointed out already, a real weakness in this episode is the way that the main characters become sidelined while Sargon and Henoch battle it out. I also have to ask: if Sargon is so incredibly smart, why doesn't he think twice before letting Tenoch (Spock) out of his globe, knowing he was an enemy in the old interstellar war? The story resolution feels like a cheat with the aliens seeing the error of their ways (not so smart, eh?) and disappearing into outer space. But at least they have their love to keep them warm...

Another factor here is the way that Shatner acts when Sargon is in his body. Not only do we get the scenery chewing Kirk-like performance, but the acting has this extra slow-moving heft that looks silly even for Shatner. Compounding the issue is the insistence on using an echo effect for the aliens whenever they are in their bodies. Would it have killed the director to rely on the actors to tell us when the characters had changed?. Nimoy fares best under these circumstances as he gets to play an evil, conniving character that is completely different than Spock. Sargon is like an older stuffed shirt version of Kirk. Diana Muldaur is fine, but I have never really warmed to her performances either in the Original Series or her turn as Dr. Pulaski on Next Generation. Maybe it's just me...

The effects on the Blu-Ray version look fine, though there wasn't a lot of new material. Maybe I would have been more impressed if they'd offered an alternate audio track that removed the echo from Shatner's voice!

Next time: "Patterns of Force"


April 4, 2011

TOS Rewind #45: "A Private Little War"

Today, we take on A Private Little War (02/02/1968)

The podcast for this episode, where discuss wigs, St. Patricks Day vocalizations, and even Star Trek: it can be found here.

One of the elements of classic Star Trek that is often recognized is how the show weaved social and political ideas of the 1960s into its narratives. "A Private Little War" puts the Vietnam War front and center. I often appreciate the way Trek does this, but in this episode it comes off as a bit heavy-handed and obvious.

The story begins with Kirk returning to a world he served on years prior on, we assume, some sort of information-gathering mission. It would be interesting to learn whether this was a standard Federation practice: embed Starfleet officers within primitive planetary cultures. Was this some sort of scientific mission? This is the sort of thing that Next Generation handled with much more credibility. The other thought I had was that this could fall under the pre-Prime Directive policies for Kirk's friend Tyree seems to know Kirk is from another word even if he doesn't fully grasp the reality of people from other planets traveling through space. Unfortunately this idea is given very little time before we're plunged into the main Klingon intervention plot. Once we learn how the rival villagers (village people???) are obtaining weapons far too advanced for them to have developed on their own, the story turns on whether or not Kirk will decide to even the odds by arming the hill people, including his old friend. Another wrinkle in the plot is the fact that Tyree is a peaceful man who is very reluctant to fight. What we are not told is the motivation for the Klingons arming the one side. Since they obviously have no qualms about breaking the peace treaty by mucking about in a planet's development, why don't they just simply walk in and take over? In any case, the one representative of the Klingons seems more like a slimy bureaucrat than the much more interesting Kor from "Errand of Mercy." This guy is lame enough that he isn't even referred to by name (he is listed in the credits) in the script. We know instantly that this particular Klingon would have his ass handed to him by Kirk in a fight.

No, the real issues go back to whether or not Kirk arms the other side and whether or not Spock manages to recover from his gunshot wound. Spock being wounded of course keeps him back aboard the Enterprise in the Sickbay. This has the unfortunate result of Spock not being present during the discussions down on the planet where they decide to arm the hill people. Spock would normally be a natural counterpoint to Kirk's, ahem, militaristic tendencies. The naysayer in the debate ends up being McCoy and he just isn't up to the task (I'm a Doctor, not a policy wonk!).

I think one of the more dissatisfying parts of this episode, is the way the story is resolved. Sure, Spock recovers, but the story is wrapped up without much of a nod as to the results of not only the Klingon interference, but Kirk's. Is this another time when Kirk goes against regulations, relying on his instincts? It would have been nice to see at least a small mention of the big picture since they spent time earlier in the episode telling us why it was a big deal that the Klingons were arming the villagers.

As far as the characters go, we don't get a lot of Spock as he is taken out fairly early. However, we do learn some more Vulcan background; the way Vulcans heal themselves with the help of pure mental willpower. Kirk gets his usual share of scenery chewing and McCoy has plenty of choice reaction shots. Come to think of it, McCoy doesn't get much action in this episode. With Noona (Tyree's wife), the local roots/drugs expert taking care of Kirk's poison bite and Dr. M'Benga looking after Spock (supposedly an expert on Vulcans), poor 'ol McCoy just gets to hang around and watch Kirk and Tyree get high on Noona's drug roots. Roots...hahaha. Speaking of Noona, she is quite the stereotypical "native" or "exotic" woman, isn't she? Of course, we can't always blame her for getting tired of the milquetoast Tyree who acts like he'd rather hang out in the cave sniffing Noona's, um, roots. We talked on the podcast about the silly wigs the planet's people wear; another cheap way to make the "aliens" look different.

Growing up, I remember having a somewhat indifferent attitude to this episode. There are no space battles or interesting aliens to recommend the episode. There are some fights, such as one where Kirk wrestles around with a guy in a white furry costume, but they just don't have the punch (sorry) of some other fight-heavy episodes. Plus all the scenes with Noona writhing around in a sexual way wasn't all that impressive to a ten-year old. What is impressive about Noona's writhing is the way it apparently got by the censors of the time. It looks pretty, well erotic. At least it is for 1960s Star Trek. I count it as yet another example of a genre show slipping things under the radar.

As usual, I watched the BD version of the episode with the enhanced effects. The new effects were quite limited with a few orbital flybys, though they threw in a Klingon ship that I am pretty sure wasn't in the original. The outdoor scenes, of which there are many, look fantastic in HD. The detail was so good that I was able to spot spray paint marks on some of the rocks. I guess this area was (is?) a popular hangout near Los Angeles at the time.

And Eric's take:

I really don't have much to say about "A Private Little War." It's an average episode, and as such, my feelings about it are also average. The story, an anti-Vietnam War polemic, is certainly well-intentioned, but it is far too overt to be effective. (At one point, McCoy even refers to the twentieth century wars in Southeast Asia.)

I also object to the obnoxious white wigs they put on the actors playing the inhabitants of the planet (cleverly called Neural). If that's all the makeup effects budget would allow, they should've just let them look like twentieth century humans... as if a wig would distinguish them as aliens.

Still, the dialectic between Kirk and McCoy was fun to watch, although I would've liked to have seen Spock involved in the debate. The violent, warlike history of the Vulcans no doubt would've given him an interesting perspective. And in the end, I don't see how Kirk's solution isn't a blatant violation of the Prime Directive, regardless of whether or not the Klingons had already interfered. But the end of the episode is inconclusive, so there was a twenty-year wait to see the result (albeit indirectly).

The Next Generation episode "Too Short A Season" aired on February 8, 1988 and featured an ailing and aged (but very Kirk-like) Starfleet Admiral sent on one last diplomatic mission to a planet where, forty years ago, he rescued a group of hostages by giving in to their captors' demand for arms, and then arming the opposing side with exactly the same weapons. His rationale was that it would preserve a balance of power. Sound familiar? The problem, as it turns out, was that it plunged the planet into 40 years of bloody civil war. So apparently, in the twenty years between "A Private Little War" and "Too Short A Season," Roddenberry seriously reconsidered his ideas about ways to prevent (or end) violent conflict.

Next time: "Return to Tomorrow"

January 25, 2011

TOS Rewind #44: "The Immunity Syndrome"

OK, back in the saddle with a real classic from Season 2: The Immunity Syndrome (1/19/1968)

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast for this one. Listen or download it here.

I'm starting things off this time:

This episode falls into the classic formula where the Enterprise finds something out in space and has to deal with it. For me, this kind of story line is one of the core narratives in Star Trek and also one of the most appealing. This exploration narrative has some real science fiction meat to it; the ideas here are quite compelling. One of the aspects of Trek that I have always been attracted to is the idea of the Enterprise being out there in space, just exploring and sometimes they find some very bad things. In this case, the menace is a totally mindless and yet very deadly life form that must be destroyed before it gets too far into populated space. On the surface, this has some similarities to the challenge presented in "The Doomsday Machine," back in Season 1. Hell, there is even a prior failed attempt by another Federation starship. However, the way the crew goes about handling the creature in this episode is different.

Having the Intrepid, first ship to encounter the creature manned entirely by Vulcans is an interesting twist. The way the Intrepid is portrayed in the episode makes it a good addition to Spock's character and the entire Vulcan development on the show. When the crew of the Intrepid dies, Spock feels them die, even from a relatively vast distance away. This sense of connectedness is nicely used in the dialogue when Spock explains this to Kirk and McCoy with a comment about how humans just might have had fewer bloody wars if they had this kind of sensitivity; humans care deeply about individuals, yet can be quite indifferent to mass suffering. George Lucas would later use this idea in the first Star Wars movie when Obi Wan Kenobi (hey, did you know that MS Word recognizes "Obi Wan Kenobi" in its dictionary?!) feels the people of Alderaan cry out before they are blown to smithereens; Vulcan Jedi mind tricks indeed.

The pacing of this episode from when the Enterprise is trapped in the void of the creature is very effective. It is established that the crew is already tired and due for some down time. The fact that the creature saps energy from the ship and the people aboard is nicely integrated into the story and the way the characters act as the story plays out.
Perhaps one of the best things I see in this episode is the way that the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic is used, especially between Spock and McCoy. The way that the two fight about which one of them is more suited to go on the shuttle mission, which is sure to be a one-way trip, is handled very well. Not only are both of them driven by their scientific curiosity, but also in a last way to one-up the other and go out in a blaze of glory. Spock's human side is on full display this time. The most effective scenes are when Spock asks McCoy to wish him luck before he gets aboard the shuttle; McCoy says nothing, but wishes him luck after the doors have closed. Later, when it looks like Spock is doomed, he makes a last jab at McCoy, "Doctor, you should have wished me luck." Wow, that is actually very powerful stuff for those two. Between those lines and the reaction of McCoy and Kirk packs quite the emotional wallop. The character dynamic of these characters really didn't get much better than that.

This episode has always been a favorite of mine, even when I was growing up. There isn't any real space combat, but the dramatic tension, sense of danger, and space exploration ideas really worked for me. The addition of weird creature shots in space combined with the ships being menaced by a humongous space amoeba-like thing did the trick.

I once again watched the BD version with the new effects shots. I was pretty happy with the way they did the new shots although I always felt that the original effects worked remarkably well on this episode so I don't know how much there really was to improve upon. As always, the image quality was top notch.


Now let's see what Eric has to say on this one:

When I saw that "The Immunity Syndrome" was coming up, I felt a bit of trepidation. It had been years since I'd seen it, and I had to wonder if the premise of a giant space amoeba would hold up or be unbearably campy. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised.

All the usual plaudits apply: good story, acting, direction, and production. But what puts this episode in my top 20 (maybe top 10) is that it has heart. The script manages to be genuinely dramatic (no cliché or self-parody), and the character interactions, particularly those between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, are poignant and touching without being maudlin. My favorite line is Spock's: "Tell Dr. McCoy he should have wished me luck."

Another aspect of "The Immunity Syndrome" I appreciate is that it introduces some really cool SF concepts in an intelligent, believable way. My initial concern about the "giant space amoeba" element of the story was unfounded. The way McCoy describes the creature is simply to compare it to an amoeba as the closest analog in our science. And the idea that there could be an entity so huge that to it we're nothing more than microscopic particles is a delightfully mind-bending concept.

Thanks to John, I got to see the remastered version of this episode, and unlike some of the other remastered episodes, this one is a worthwhile improvement over the original. The new special effects of the creature and its interaction with the Enterprise are subtle but impressive.

For me, there are no real negatives associated with "The Immunity Syndrome." As fas as I'm concerned, we can chalk up another home run for original Star Trek.

Next time: "Return to Tomorrow"

July 14, 2010

TOS Rewind #43: "A Piece of the Action"

Up this time: A Piece of the Action (01/12/1968)

We recorded a podcast for this one. Check it out here.

Eric starts us out:

It had been quite a while since I'd watched "A Piece of the Action," so I was thoroughly delighted to see it again. This is one of my favorite episodes. It's not profound but it is tremendous fun.

After the success of "The Trouble with Tribbles," it was deemed that comedic Star Trek episodes were viable, so "A Piece of the Action" became the twentieth episode produced in the second season. Actually, though, it is based on a synopsis titled "President Capone" that Gene Roddenberry included in his first series proposal in 1964.

Through its many iterations, the story was sometimes more serious, but it ultimately was fully as funny as "The Trouble with Tribbles." The "Fizzbin" scene still cracks me up, and Kirk and Spock's adventures in the antique car are hilarious. I also get a kick out of Scotty's attempts at using the admittedly stylized gangster lingo. And the guest stars seem to relish their roles. Anthony Caruso turns in a great performance as Bela Oxmyx, and Vic Tayback is spot on as Jojo Krako. (Note that Vic Tayback is perhaps better known for his role as Mel Sharples in the 1974 movie "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and the subsequent TV series "Alice.")

Now that I think of it, my opening assertion that this episode isn't profound isn't entirely accurate--I did discern a subtle message upon rewatching it. A case can be made that "A Piece of the Action" is actually a stinging commentary on organized religion. Consider that the government and society of Sigma Iotia II are based on slavish, fanatical adherence to the interpretation of the information in a scholarly book left by an earlier Federation expedition. The "Book" (as the Iotians refer to it) is revered as a sacred text, as evidenced by Bela Oxmyx's indignant demand: "I don't want no more cracks about the Book!" The parallels between the Book and the Judeo-Christian Bible are obvious. In fact, at one point, Dr. McCoy refers to it as the bible of the inhabitants of Sigma Iotia II. Interestingly, though, their adherence to their bible has produced a corrupt, brutal society where murder and treachery are the norm. The Book's influence has also produced a fragmented society in crisis because all the different factions constantly war with each other. Again, the parallels with the woes of human societies preoccupied with and devoted to religion and religious texts are numerous.

So, as it turns out, "A Piece of the Action" is not just a wonderfully funny, well-told story, it is also an insightful, biting commentary on religion. Quite an impressive accomplishment, when you think about it.


Like The Trouble With Tribbles and a few other Trek episodes, this is another fairly lightweight episode compared to most. This episode takes an intriguing concept and makes a farcical episode out of it while not completely losing sight of the ideas expressed. The events leading up to this episode would seem to obviate the need for The Prime Directive which did not exist when the earlier Federation ship visited the planet in this episode. It is fun to ponder the idea of an entire planet's society structuring itself on a book about the Chicago gangs of the 1920s. Now, the Enterprise encounters a world that looks like the backlot at Paramount! The way these residents behave reminds me most of older Hollywood gangster movies; I kept waiting for James Cagney to walk into the room during some scenes. The humor comes at a full tilt in this episode with the bits involving a made-up card game and Kirk trying to drive a stick shift standing out. The way Spock gives Kirk so much grief about his lack of driving skills is hilarious. Some of the plot points are paper-thin, but when we're having this much fun watching the characters go at it, we really don't care that much.

The cast, including the guest actors, have a ball doing these silly characters (or is it caricatures?), and it shows. Shatner and Nimoy get to have many fun back and forth sequences with plenty of verbal jabs to keep us occupied. Doohan's bewildered performance is perfect as he struggles to figure out why all these people are acting so strangely. Concrete galoshes indeed. The resolution to the issue of unifying the chaotic structure, or lack thereof, of the planet is far from detailed, but has an interesting creative twist. We end the episode not really knowing what the people of this world are going to do going forward. Maybe we don't really need to worry about that too much, for after all, it's pretty much a jiffy-Trek. Religious angles aside, of course. I always liked this episode growing up. It's hard to go wrong when you have Kirk and co. running around in pin stripe suits sporting Tommy guns.

The remastered version had the usual detailed picture, some new planet effects shots, and a re-done Enterprise phaser blast on the street. The image always looks so good on these episodes where they either shoot out on location or use a movie-quality set like a backlot. This one was no exception.

Next time: "The Immunity Syndrome"

June 21, 2010

TOS Rewind #42: "The Gamesters of Triskelion"

Up today: The Gamesters of Triskelion (01/05/1968)

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast; listen to or download it here. We tried a different method of recording our tracks this time. I've had to record our Skype sound on my end only. This did work, but it isn't the best audio quality, depending on how all our 'net connections were faring that evening. This turned out a little better, but if you listen you'll be able to tell that we or I have some more work to do.

Eric got the jump on me this time, so here's his review:

I just noticed that "The Gamesters of Triskelion" was the first Star Trek episode aired in 1968. Knowing that this was, to say the least, an eventful year, my curiosity was piqued to find out just what happened. I was actually surprised--here are some of the highlights:

· The Vietnam War escalated with the Battle of Khe Sanh, the Tet Offensive, and the Mai Lai massacre.

· Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.

· 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered.

· The Beatles created Apple Records and released their self-titled album commonly known as the White Album.

· France detonated its first hydrogen bomb.

· Nixon was elected president.

· Elvis Presley made his concert return with the '68 Comeback Special.

· The Zodiac Killer began his murder spree in San Francisco.

· Apollo 8 entered orbit around the Moon allowing astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders to be the first humans to see not only the far side of the Moon but also the planet Earth as a whole.

I note this to give a sense of the times Star Trek commented on and reflected. Also, the success of movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the public fascination with the space program set the stage for science fiction on TV.

And while Star Trek is arguably the pioneer of serious television SF, "The Gamesters of Triskelion" is perhaps not the best example of classic Trek. It's not a bad episode, but its message is rather muddled and diluted, and I find the laughable production values to be more of a distraction than usual.

Despite these complaints, I did find an interesting theme. Obviously, there's Kirk's passionate defense of freedom and the human spirit (echoes from episodes like "The Menagerie" and "Metamorphosis), but beyond that, I saw this episode as an indictment of professional sports, particularly boxing. Admittedly, professional boxers aren't slaves...exactly. They are not the property of their "managers" and "promoters," and those at the pinnacle of the sport enjoy considerable wealth and prestige. But the rest (those who aren't at the very top) have to perform adequately, or they find themselves discarded and on the street. And even if they continue to please their handlers, boxers are generally washed up once they hit their early to mid-thirties. This is where the parallel to "The Gamesters of Triskelion" comes in. A central plot point is that the thralls are not educated--they're kept in a perpetual state of ignorance and dependence in order to provide entertainment for the providers. And when they can no longer compete, they're discarded. This insidious cycle isn't broken until the providers lose their wager with Kirk and have to free and educate the thralls.

So, there is a message to be found here (even if it's obscured). I would state it this way: Those who derive wealth and entertainment from the athletic abilities of others are little better than parasites, and they owe the people they feed on the means and opportunity to be self-supporting and self-determining.


Pity the Tool.

I went into this episode fully expecting to laugh at the cheesy costumes, gummy brained aliens, and a douchebag named Lars. In this respect, the episode did not disappoint. Lars was still a douchebag, the "Providers" still looked like rubbery brains in a large jar, and the costumes were...ahem!

One of the problems with this episode, even discounting the above, is that I feel like it covers familiar ground in the ideas department--I have a feeling I'll be repeating this statement before we're done with the series. The plot setup, which includes the Providers, aka highly evolved aliens who are now very powerful glowing brains in a glass case, abducting the landing party for use in a pseudo-gladiatorial slave colony. It is a rather obvious setup for a rousing speech about freedom and the evils of slavery. Not to mention the moral superiority of America/The Federation; and the combat is an excuse for Shatner to run around without a shirt, looking as Rob pointed out, rather paunchy. Kirk's talk about the free spirit of humanity is also a convenient way for him to talk his way into Shahna's (Kirk's "drill thrall") shorts. Shahna actually utters the line, "I will train you well." I'll bet you will! Like other episodes, Kirk uses his charms to take advantage of his current love interest. Shahna naturally almost kills him later in the episode and I do like the fact that she actually beats him. It makes up a bit for her being such a sucker.

One of the things that surprised me this time around was the scene where Lars goes into Uhura's cell looking for some slave on slave action. It could easily be read as an off-camera attempted (?) rape scene. It's pretty clear that Uhura fights him off, but the scene is actually intense and plays a bit edgy for 1968 television. Plus it comes at a commercial break where there's a natural tension, so this seemed like a bigger deal than I used to give it credit for. I just have to ask, what is the deal with Lars, anyway? He just has a lousy costume, not even some funky face makeup. The writers didn't even give 'ol Lars an alien sounding name, unless Lars was sufficiently foreign for 1968 audiences. I have to believe that Lars has pre-determined douchebaginess (is that even a word?) and that the character has no real choice in the matter. Lars is just a tool. I almost pity the guy...almost. I think we missed an opportunity to dissect this character on the podcast. Who knows, maybe there's some fascinating insight buried within this character that could even open up something really compelling about this episode. Or maybe not; just seeing if anyone's paying attention.

Meanwhile, Spock and the rest have to figure out where the hell Kirk and the other have gone. My main problem with this "B" story is that it seems to run out of steam before the plot requires them to show up. There are some good traded barbs of the usual sort between Spock and McCoy, but it plays like it could have used a bit of trimming.

The hand-to-hand combat, which is the main action, other than Kirk's little jaunt in the ruins with Shahna, that is. I appreciate the interesting camera angles and the three segment design of the floor and the choreographed combat isn't too bad, by Trek standards. The whole fighting set reminded me a little of the gladiator school sets from Spartacus. Of course the final fight where Kirk has to fight three other thralls is easy to ridicule; they often seem to be taking turns attacking him! Lars is satisfyingly offed by Kirk, so that's something at least.

In the end, Kirk turns the tables on the gummy brain aliens and they have to "challenge" themselves to turn their little slave colony into an actual society. We were asking ourselves, "what's a quatloo?" I think it's the cool new name for an advanced porta-potty: the Quat-Loo! Eric covered the episode's possible indictment of spectator sports as a society-crushing exploitve endeavor. I think boxing is perhaps the closest analog we have to what's portrayed here. And hey, if the sports comments don't get us some feedback, what will?!

I'm not sure the production values are really that far below what we've seen in past episodes. I think Eric was beginning to recognize the reuse of old sets and props from previous episodes and combined with the neon-colored rubber brains, was perhaps too much. I could also be accused of being to easy on old Trek. As I pointed out on the podcast, we will probably look back at this "so-so" episode with fond memories when we get deep into the third season!

I have a dim memory about watching this one while I was growing up and thought it was fairly OK. The action helps, plus there's nothing like watching Shatner writhe around on the floor under the pain of those collars. Sure, there aren't any space battles, but some hand-to-hand combat, complete with odd weapons, still does the job when you're 12.

The BD version of this episode looked great. Galt, the head thrall, had a poor man's Dracula costume and the HD image made his makeup look like it was a powder coat. The new effects were limited to a couple of planets, so nothing big here. I continue to be impressed at the overall quality of these BDs. They actually look better, in some ways, than the BDs of the Trek movies. There's something wrong about that; but that's another blog entry.

Next time: "A Piece of the Action"

May 23, 2010

TOS Rewind #41: "The Trouble With Tribbles"

Up this time: The Trouble With Tribbles (12/29/1967)

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast. Get it here. The sound quality on this one was rough. I'm working on doing a different method of recording these which should hopefully address the problems.

Ah, the Tribbles. I tend to view this episode as the original series equivalent of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." It's a favorite to both serious and casual fans alike. It's really hard not to like this one, especially since it riffs on the familiar characters so well. Kirk spends the episode with equal measures of snark and irritation at having to expend his Captainly (?) energies on something best left to bureaucrats and rent-a-cops (or would that be rent-a-captains?). "I think of this project as very important. It is you I take lightly." Wouldn't you love to use that line at your next work meeting?! Spock and McCoy are even more sarcastic with their verbal jabs than usual. In a normal episode, this would have risen to the level of distraction, yet it fits like a glove in the rarefied air of this episode. The most memorable character interactions, for me actually revolve around Scotty. His dialogue in the bar scene is hilarious and works so well for the character. The aftermath of the bar fight scene is also spot on. It's really fun to see this much time devoted to scenes like this.

Those great character scenes are of course made possible thanks to the plot, which while moderately important is easy to push aside for funny set pieces. I think what really makes it work here is the way that it has just enough credibility. One of the failings of I, Mudd which is quite farcical is that its plot really pushes things to the extreme. Balance is the key to an episode like this and the flow from scene to scene feels right. "Tribbles" is more than just a bunch of jokes at the characters' expense, which makes if rewarding to return to after so many years. Another interesting factor here is the surprising amount of continuity with an earlier point in the series, something this show (and to be fair, most older TV shows) didn't too very often. The Organian Peace Treaty is used in the plot with the Klingons and they'd even planned on re-using the Commander Kor character from that first season episode ("Errand of Mercy"), but the original actor was unavailable. This was actually a good thing as the actor they did use, William Campbell from "Squire of Gothos" turns in a, dare I say it, flamboyant performance that fits the episode as it's written. The Cyrano Jones trader character, with his groovy 1960s shirt (!) is a lightweight version of the Harry Mudd character. Jones lacks some of the menace of Mudd, but again that works well here. Jones is the Tribble delivery system with some comic scenes for good measure. Besides, Kirk doesn't need a Mudd-like nemesis this time, he has the whole Federation bureaucracy for that!

I once again watched the BD "enhanced" version of this episode with its usual high picture and sound quality. The new effects mostly included renderings of the Enterprise, the Klingon ship (not shown in the original shots), and the space station. These were different shots than were made for the DS9 Trials and Tribbel-ations episode (a really fun DS9 original series tribute episode). They really piled on the bonus features for this episode and included a commentary with the episode's writer and lots of other goodies.


And Eric's take:

Hmm, this one is actually rather difficult. Don't get me wrong, "The Trouble with Tribbles" is one of my faves (an opinion that I think is shared by most fans). It is also widely-believed to be the best-known episode among non-fans. Why? Put simply, it's hilarious. And amazingly, it manages not to be a complete farce. The story is good, and the acting and direction is solid. The only real problem is that its distinct lack of depth or profundity makes the episode difficult to review.

So how about some favorite scenes. There are so many that are wonderful, but I think the best are Scotty's--his scene in the bar and the ensuing fight with the Klingons is classic, although the subsequent scene with Kirk may be even better. The scenes between the big three (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy) are also great, and both Chekov and Uhura have some fun moments.

It's also worth noting that this episode was the first professional writing credit for David Gerrold (a noted science fiction author). It also spawned a really good entry in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine franchise: "Trials and Tribble-ations," as well as the not-so-good episode, "More Tribbles, More Troubles," from the 1970s animated Star Trek series.

My only gripe is that tribbles (the creatures) were basically plagiarized versions of the Martian flatcats from Robert Heinlein's 1952 novel "The Rolling Stones." But even that does little to diminish my enjoyment of the episode. It was intended to be a whimsical, lighthearted laugh fest, and as such, it succeeds brilliantly. It will always be in my top ten.

Next time: "The Gamesters of Triskelion"

April 2, 2010

TOS Rewind #40: "Wolf in the Fold"

Up this time: Wolf in the Fold (12/22/1967)

As usual, Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast. Get it here.

This episode has a number of notable things about it.

It was written by Robert Bloch, who is probably best known for the novel that Psycho was based on (he also wrote an earlier episode of Trek: Catspaw).

This is one of the few episodes where Scotty gets a significant role in the story.

The actor, John Fiedler, who played Hengist was also the voice of Piglet in the Disney Winnie the Pooh films and TV/video specials. I remember him appearing in the 1970s "Bob Newhart Show" as a regular character. He was quite the versatile character actor!

What we have here is a murder mystery combined with a science fiction plot. Our heroes are here on the planet Argelius so Scotty can chill out and supposedly get over his "total resentment towards women." This is apparently due to an incident where Scotty was injured due to the error of a female crew member. McCoy seems to think this will be cleared up by some shore leave and hot dancer (prostitute?) action. Uh, Okay! They don't dwell on this very long, which is just as well really. After some extended ogling, Scotty is walking out the door with the dancer and before long, the dancer turns up dead with Scotty holding the knife. Scotty remembers nothing of the incident and can't explain what happened. Before we know it, "the law" shows up and since this planet is usually all peaceful and quiet, they have an off-world law enforcement bureaucrat, Mr Hengist on the scene (he really doesn't come off as an actual cop). Naturally, the law of this idyllic planet dictates that the punishment for murder is "death by slow torture." Gulp! So what the hell's going on? Normally, as Kirk/McCoy point out, Scotty wouldn't be capable of this sort of act, but there's this psychological "resentment" thing in his head. Ruh Roh!

As the investigation continues, there's a seance-like scene where the Argelian Prefect's wife does this empathic ceremony to determine the truth. They first try the high tech solution, scanning Scotty's brain, but the female technician who's conveniently left alone in a basement room with Scotty, is killed before it can be performed. Scotty is now on the hook for another killing. The ceremony commences, quite effectively: there are some fun camera angles and the timing of the lights going out/screaming works very well. And yes, you guessed it: the lights go out and the Leader's wife is found dead--another notch in Scotty's, er post, but not before she is able to utter some names and clues to what's really going on here. Hengist is ready to get out the torture equipment and get all Gitmo on Scotty's ass, but Kirk manages to talk them all into moving the proceedings aboard the Enterprise.

Now that they're all on board, I really don't get why they wouldn't do the mind scan on Scotty before going any further. They say they're going to get around to it, but first we need another Trek Trial (I should trademark that!). After a lot of dialogue, they figure out that maybe someone like, I don't know, Spock(!) should check out those names the Argelian Prefect's wife shouted out before she was killed. This part of the episode reminds me of how differently we look at tools such as computers today. When Spock asks the computer to search for the term "Redjac," it comes up with nothing. Only after he tells it to search for a "name" does it spill the beans. Apparently the Enterprise didn't have its Google Appliance installed yet. This is the point where the episode runs off the rails a bit for me. Once unmasked, Hengist/Redjac or the energy fear-feeding entity, takes over the computer and threatens to kill off everyone. This would have been somewhat more sinister if they'd used someone other than John Fiedler's voice for the "Jack the Ripper" computer. It makes me giggle, frankly. And of course, the bit where Spock announces he's going to make the computer solve Pi, is hilarious: "Nooooooooo!"

McCoy shoots everyone up with "tranquilizers" which happen to work like weed and the entity, after being defeated by Pi, re-enters Hengist's body. I was never clear whether Hengist was just some poor sap who got possessed or whether he was never really a non-Redjac person. Oh well. Hengist makes one last attempt at sowing terror but is shot full of drugs reducing him to a silly psycho. One amusing thing: apparently, the script called for Scotty, McCoy, and Kirk to be drinking booze at the cafe at the start of the episode, but the network objected. Uh, Okay. So they were fine with the entire crew being high on cosmic mushrooms? Anyhow, they drag Hengist into the transporter where his atoms are scattered around the cosmos, presumable never to be heard from again. Cue the jokes and laughter.

Despite the ribbing I gave here, I do enjoy watching this one. James Doohan manages to not overact too much and Shatner even keeps things in check, sometimes more than is called for; he seems a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing. As I said before, the seance scene is very effective and the pacing of the first half is fine. I just find the ending unsatisfying, on the whole. It's like they didn't know how to finish things off. I like the idea that a figure such as Jack the Ripper could be a nearly-immortal fear-feeding energy being; that's good sci fi. John Fiedler actually does pretty well with this role. On the surface, he looks right (Piglet wouldn't do THAT!), but there's something a bit shifty and a bit off about him.

There wasn't much different about the new effects on this episode other than the usual replaced shots of the Enterprise orbiting the planet. As far as I could tell, all of the music was recycled from earlier episodes, including the "exotic" dance music heard at the beginning of the episode, heard earlier in "The Cage" and "The Menagerie." I'm sure I'll hear it again before we're done.


And now, on to Eric's review:

"Wolf in the Fold" is another solid original Star Trek episode penned by Robert Bloch, who also wrote the episodes "What Are Little Girls Made Of" and "Catspaw." (More notably, however, he wrote the book "Psycho," upon which Alfred Hitchcock based his famous movie of the same name.) It is essentially a horror story, and as such, it fills the role well. There are genuinely scary scenes. Seeing Scotty holding a bloody knife after a brutal murder is particularly disturbing. The "séance" scene is also very well done. What I still find most fascinating, though, is the concept of Redjac; it's not only interesting SF but also a compelling explanation of Jack the Ripper.

This being said, there some flaws that have become more glaring over the years. One is that the premise--that Scotty becomes a raging misogynist when an accident due to a woman befalls him--is not only ridiculous, it speaks very poorly of Scotty's mental stability and resilience. Further, I find it very hard to believe that Dr. McCoy would prescribe shore leave on a planet that's essentially a worldwide whorehouse as effective therapy. The "Get-him-laid-and-everything-will-be-fine" approach? I think not.

Another less obvious point is that the character Hengist (who turns out to be Redjac's host), is played by John Fiedler, who also provided the voice for Piglet in the original Winnie the Pooh cartoons. Knowing that, it's difficult to be intimidated by him when he's mouthing gruesome threats. I keep picturing Piglet shouting: "Die, die, die, everybody DIE!" and well, it just doesn't work.

Most notably, the last act of the episode, aboard the Enterprise, takes a comic turn that's rather jarring, and it completely destroys the menacing atmosphere of the episode. And while it makes sense, in a way--the crew would be pretty jolly after being loaded up with happy juice--I would've preferred to see the macabre mood maintained throughout.

Still, this is an episode I can, and do, enjoy despite its flaws. All in all, another solid entry in the canon of original Start Trek

Next time: "The Trouble With Tribbles"

March 9, 2010

TOS Rewind #39: "Obsession"

Up next: Obsession (12/15/1967)

Our usual group recorded a podcast for this episode. Download it here.

"Obsession" has two basic elements to it. One, a story surrounding our heroes battling a deadly alien creature. Two, a closer look into Kirk's personality/backstory and his relationships with the crew.

The monster story here has a fairly conventional arc, right through the climax on the planet where Kirk and Garrovick have their final showdown with the creature. The part in space where the creature turns and attacks the ship is a good twist in the story. The thing I find more interesting about this episode is the focus on Kirk's past and a demon that haunts him from it. This is one of the first times we're given much about Kirk's previous military career other than brief bits of information. The character focus in this episode reminds me a bit of the one in "Conscience of the King." There, like here, Kirk is driven almost single-mindedly to fix something from his past; even if it puts his command or other lives in jeopardy. It's compelling to see Kirk's character stripped of its usual veneer or confidence like this and I believe the inner turmoil on display here is done even better than in that previous episode.

One aspect of Trek that works so well for me is that way that the main characters interact under stress. Most of the time, the familiar characters work together, using their collective strengths to prevail. This time, Kirk spends much of the story working alone or even against his friends and crew to an extent. Kirk seems to forget the trust that Spock and McCoy have in him. This would normally be an inconsistency, but in this instance it reinforces personal nature of the situation. Kirk's feelings of guilt over his past inaction is so intense that he doesn't want his closest friends in on it. The one odd thing about this is the way Kirk seems to leave them clues to the situation. This doesn't always make a lot of sense, but it does make the story flow well with a nice buildup of tension. The way Spock and McCoy team up to figure out what the hell's going on with Kirk helps the story and provides some interesting character development and a few good scenes between them. I also enjoy the scenes with Garrovick who comes off as a genuine character beyond being a cipher for Kirk's self-pity. Garrovick is still new to the whole thing and not 100% sure of himself. Another interesting thing is the way that Spock learns about and tries to deal with Kirk and Garrovick's self-guilt. Spock almost plays ship counselor during a couple of scenes, talking about things such as "wallowing in a pool of emotion." Ha!

One thing that I'm not crazy about is the way that Kirk seems to "sense" what the creature is up to (reminds me of "Metamorphosis"). Of course we need to know some of this information, but it comes off as a somewhat contrived. I also wonder if the suspense would have been more effective if they had not shown the creature right off the bat. It's not a big deal of course.

The performances here are generally good. Some may find a bit too much Shatner for their liking but considering how Kirk is written in this episode, I don't think it's too far out of line. The rest of the cast is in good form and the guy who played Garrovick got the balance of the role right without overplaying the scenes with too much sullenness.

I liked this episode well growing up as it had lots of drama, dead red shirts, and even some action in space. I noticed that they recycled some of the music from "The Doomsday Machine." As Rob pointed out on the podcast, this is a drawback of watching the series in broadcast order. It becomes easier to catch things like this as you work your way through. The enhanced effects added a little bit this time around. The scenes in space where the creature is pictured look less like a white blob on the screen and they have a new shot of the Tycho planet after the bomb is detonated with an appropriately large hole on it.

Now let's see what Eric has to say:


I remember "Obsession" being a favorite episode (in the top 20) when I was younger, and upon rewatching, I was pleased to find that it held up. It has pretty much everything: action, drama, pathos, and some really interesting character interactions. But what I like best is that it is a Kirk episode. It fills in some of his back story, and it develops his character in a surprising way.

One thing I've noticed about 60s TV is that heroic, leading characters are rarely portrayed as genuinely flawed. If there are chinks their armor, they're the kind that are more admirable than detestable. Not so with Kirk in this episode. He's faced by a demon from his past, and in his struggles to deal with it, he acts irrationally, risks lives, and mistreats his crew, most notably Ensign Garrovick--the newly-assigned security officer whom Kirk harshly punishes for a completely normal, and forgiveable, reaction to an emergency. And what is particularly reprehensible is that Kirk is not motivated by fair-minded attention to his command duties; rather, it is a vicarious way for him to do penance for his perceived inadequacy in a similar situation when he was a young officer. The problem, of course, is that Garrovick has to bear the burden of Kirk's self-flagellation, which is not only undeserved and grossly unfair, it also creates, in Garrovick, the same demon that has plagued Kirk for eleven years.

Kirk's behavior is understandable, if not entirely excusable. We can sympathize with having something in your past that haunts you and affects your behavior and ability to function until, and unless, you deal with it. We expect our heroes to deal with such issues better, though, and that's why Obsession is such a good episode. It shows us that the noble James T. Kirk really is a human being just like us, complete with infuriating flaws. Of course, he does ultimately defeat his demon and manages to redeem himself in the process. Which is as it should be--he is, after all, a hero.

Next time: "Wolf in the Fold"

February 8, 2010

TOS Rewind #38: "The Deadly Years"

Today, a bunch of old dorks tackle The Deadly Years (12/08/1967)

Lee joined us on the podcast this time. Check it out here.

This episode, which has the amusing scene where DeForest Kelley refers to Spock as "Sponk," does have its moments even though parts of it don't hold up so well.

I think the whole "horror of aging" thing that goes on here was more effective when I was, well, younger! Today it plays as a lot more silly and full of stereotypes. The way the "aging" (they do point out that this is actually a radiation-caused condition that resembles aging) effects are portrayed in the show are quite over-the-top and almost comically stereotypical. The man they meet on the planet's surface, named "Robert Johnson," acts like an old Jewish caricature of a person we've all seen before in movies or TV. Kirk falls asleep in his chair and forgets about giving orders. McCoy gets extremely crotchety and doubles his usual drawl. Scotty practically looks undead, he's so overly made up. As usual, it's easy to pick on the makeup, but the script has the cast acting like "old people." The writer/director just went a little too far with the old age theme. The actors seem to be trying to portray their characters as they would be decades on, literally. Our physical/mental abilities decline when we get old (well most of us!) but some of the change in people is due to actually living all those years. It affects our personalities and other characteristics and I just don't buy that some kind of radiation sickness would do this, at least not to the effect that is portrayed here. The cast really do try to play it convincingly; DeForest really goes all out.

The other issue I have with this episode is the competency hearing that brings the movement of the plot to a halt. I understand the need to put Kirk on the spot, but the examples of why Kirk should be relieved have already been shown to the audience. It comes off as redundant and as a padding mechanism. The time could have been used better. The shipboard trial had also been used twice before in other episodes and feels a bit too familiar. It's an easy dramatic device they should have avoided this time.

Despite the harping I did on the characters and their "old people" acting, I did find some good character dialogue on display here. The interactions between the main characters are consistent and there is still some warmth here. This helps the episode quite a bit and also provides us with some memorable lines:

McCoy: ""I'm not a magician, Spock. Just an old country doctor."

Sponk: "Yes, as I always suspected."

The scenes with Kirk's former lover, Dr. Wallace, whose presence on board isn't really explained, seem mostly artificial with the exception of a scene where Kirk asks her whether her affection is based on pity or if she just likes old men. The bit where he asks her if she wants a "going away present" is actually pretty harsh, considering him having mere hours left to live. The best thing I read about Dr. Wallace: "Dr. Wallace's costume was made from drapes." Yep!

The Commodore Stocker character is actually not too bad here. He comes off as a sympathetic, if clueless Starfleet bureaucrat. Stocker reminds me a bit of the various military tool general characters you often saw on the MASH tv show. They wrote Stocker to be a bit less of an asshole as other Starfleet superior officers are. Sure, the scene where he sits in Kirk's chair with a deer-in-the-headlights expression is silly, but it gives the follow up scene, Kirk's return to command, all the more triumphant. Kirk is taken down many notches but he gets a super hero-esque return for the climax.

The BD copy I watched looked great, as usual. It's another time where the makeup, the old age effects this time, don't look so great on a high rez screen. There weren't many effects shots in this one, but you do get to see multiple Romulan ships instead of the recycled scenes from "Balance of Terror."


Here's Eric's review:

Upon rewatching "The Deadly Years," I found I enjoyed it as much, if not more, than I remembered. If nothing else, it is a well-done, interesting story. But I also discovered a theme I hadn't previously noticed: while advanced age may limit one's abilities, youth does not necessarily confer ability.

In our podcast, we talk about the shortcomings of this episode--mainly that the courtroom scene appears to be gratuitous filler and that the portrayal of the prematurely aged characters casts the abilities of the elderly in an unfavorable light. Both points are valid, but rather than being shortcomings, they actually support my contention.

To begin with, the courtroom scene is a consequence of the hearing called, over Spock's protest, by Commodore Stocker, the desk-bound paper-pusher with no command experience. Stocker also, subsequently, takes command of the Enterprise. This makes sense from the standpoint that he is far younger and fitter (in terms of actual physical condition) than Kirk. But the fact of the hearing takes time away from the crew's effort to find a cure for the aging effect. And when Stocker assumes command, his actions almost result in the destruction of the Enterprise. So the courtroom scene demonstrates that Stocker's relative youth does not give him the ability to command a starship (even if he does hold flag rank), and it sets up the definitive illustration of this point--his botched battle with the Romulans.

Further, it is simple fact that a person's physical and mental abilities deteriorate with advancing age. Suggesting otherwise would relegated this episode to little more than farce, so the increasing difficulties we see in the affected characters has to be shown for the premise of the story to be believable. The vindication, however, comes when it is "old" Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, rather than the comparatively youthful Dr. Wallace, who figure out how to cure the aging illness.

So "The Deadly Years" really is not an investigation of the issues the elderly face. Rather, it is a story about the fallibilities of youth told through a look at the consequences of aging.

Next time: "Obsession"

January 25, 2010

TOS Rewind #38: "Friday's Child"

Today we take a look at Friday's Child (12/01/1967)

And of course, Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast: listen or download it here.

Ah, more Federation intervention in the Cosmos...

As Rob and I discussed on the podcast, neither one of us remembers being very excited about this one when were kids. In retrospect, that seems odd since there is a fair amount of combat and some time playing cat/mouse with a Klingon ship. As Rob mentioned, maybe it was the "birthin' babies" stuff.

Hot on the heels of "Journey to Babel," we get another episode that builds the political background of the Trek universe. Sure, it isn't nearly as rich as that one, but the plot surrounding the negotiation between the Feds, the Klingons, and the Capellans raises some interesting questions about the mechanics of the Federation and its dealings with other non-member worlds. I have to assume that Capella IV is not a regular Fed member, but they obviously have had contact in the past (McCoy was part of a previous mission to this world). Seeing how primitive this civilization is, why would the Prime Directive not apply here? One argument could go along the lines that since the Klingons are already vying for the minerals, the Feds have no choice but to talk to them, but apparently there were earlier contacts. What's up with that? Wouldn't McCoy and the others previously offering them medicines/hospitals be interfering with their development?

Eric mentions how much of a disappointment the Klingons are in this episode. True enough. The one Klingon we get to see is a bit of a weasel, really. He's also a coward who's chicken to take on Kirk when the chance is offered! For something so important, a crucial mineral, the Klingons could have sent someone more competent. For all the buildup surrounding the Capellans in the teaser, they sure don't seem that impressive. It often looks like some guys hanging around in tents with bad Ren Fest costumes. Sure, the costumes are always an easy target in TOS Trek, but these were quite silly. They tried to make them more than the stereotypical "noble savages," but much of the time it comes off as a retread of an old movie where the Americans are trying to "reach" the natives to explain why our superior Western values are worth siding with. I feel like the intrigue over the negotiation between the Capellans, the Feds, and the Klingons was interesting at the beginning. Instead of an exchange of ideas between the two sides, we have an introduction that breaks down into a chase sequence. In the end, Kirk just has to hold out long enough for the Klingon to prove his treachery. It does work, though it doesn't really compel me to take anyone here as serious adversaries. A similar complaint can be raised about "The Trouble With Tribbles," though that episode gets away with it due to its less serious nature.

Despite the plot issues, the familiar characters are written with their usual flair and there are some genuinely funny bits in the episode, particularly the end where it's revealed that the new Capellan regent is named Leonard James Akaar. Spock's eyes practically roll to the back of his skull. McCoy has a few fun scenes with Eleen, the expectant mother (I'm a Doctor, not an escalator!") and the penultimate scene where Maab pays his price for trusting people too much.

The music is a lot of fun here, as it often is in TOS. The score almost has a jazzy feel during the scenes where everyone's running around the hills making homemade bows and arrows. I continue to view TOS on blu ray and love the picture quality. The new effects didn't do much on this one, though the (wussy) Klingon ship looked more realistic.


And now, here's Eric:

According to the old nursery rhyme, from which this episode takes its title, Friday's child is loving and giving. Cool enough, but who is Friday's child? Eleen? Her baby? Or, as Doc Dregs suggests in our podcast, McCoy? I've never been able to answer that question. Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana, who wrote the episode, is still alive, so maybe I should email her...hmm...

Anyway, Friday's Child is another Star Trek episode that is good but not great. It is enjoyable from the standpoint of getting to see an interesting alien civilization, and there are some funny scenes--I always get a laugh out of the going-out-of-orbit joke at the end. Scotty also gets a turn in the center center seat in one of his few opportunities to take command of the Enterprise.

Still, for a warrior race that prefers combat to sex, the fight scenes with the Capellans are wholly unconvincing. And the portrayal of the Klingons is...wrong. Kras, the Klingon emissary, is a sniveling, almost sycophantic, coward. He shows none of the ruthless, but honorable, cunning we saw in Kor ("Errand of Mercy," first season) or the courage and nobility we will find in Kang ("Day of the Dove," third season).

With that said, the theme I found in this episode is that true leadership requires accountability and often, as a result, self-sacrifice. We see this demonstrated by Maab when he upholds his duty to fight and die in defense of his command. It is further shown by Akaar (who kills Maab and assumes leadership) when he sacrifices himself to take out the Klingon who betrays his pledge and threatens the Capellans. Both of these leaders are honored, Akaar in particular, as is fitting.

So there it is. The theme and the episode are worthwhile, if not especially profound or deep, which explains much of why "Friday's Child" is good but not great.

Next time: "The Deadly Years"

January 2, 2010

TOS Rewind #36 and #37: "Metamorphosis" and "Journey to Babel"

This time we present a two-fer: Metamorphosis and Journey to Babel. The podcast also covers both episodes.

Download it here.

I'll have Eric start us out this time:

"Metamorphosis" is an odd episode, which may be why I like it. It's not action/adventure; there's no discernable sociopolitical commentary; and it's not farce or satire. So what is it? On one level it's an examination of the needs of the human spirit, but mostly it's an odd, almost surreal, love story. There are some disturbing elements, such as the way the Companion took over Commissioner Hedford's body. (Although we aren't privy to any discussion between the good commissioner and the Companion.) And Kirk is amazingly nonchalant about having to explain, as he surely would have, how they managed to lose the commissioner they were supposed to save.

Still, this episode is a refreshing change of pace, and in many ways. it's a touching love story. I've been trying to think of more literary analysis, but I couldn't come up with anything. Sorry. If you're really interested, though, our podcast gives a more detailed discussion. (Yes, a shameless plug.) In the meantime, let's move on to the next episode.

"Journey to Babel" has always been one of my favorite episodes. It's got everything: drama, action, lots of strange aliens, and we get to find out a whole lot about Spock, including meeting his parents. And the underlying theme of this episode is one that is echoed throught all of Star Trek (perhaps most profoundly in Star Trek II and III): the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one...except when they don't.

This is demonstrated by several characters. To begin with, Sarek, Spock's father, knowingly risks his life to personally attend the Babel conference because he is committed to making sure that the rights and welfare of the Coridanians (presumably millions if not billions of people) are protected. Their needs outweigh his own and those of his family. And when he falls ill, Spock volunteers to take a dangerous drug so that he can provide enough blood to make a life-saving operation for Sarek possible. The needs of the one win out in this case, at least until Kirk is attacked and injured and the Enterprise is pursued. At this point, Spock's priority shifts to his duty to protect the Enterprise and her crew, as well as the passengers and their mission. Amanda, Spock's mother, argues that Sarek's life is more important, and Spock is agonized over the decision. Until, in the final demonstration of self-sacrifice, Kirk leaves sickbay to resume command so that Spock can give his father the transfusion with a clear conscience. And all ends well.

But this leaves an important question unanswered: Do the needs of the many actually outweigh the needs of the few or the one? Sarek, Spock, and Kirk all demonstrate that putting the needs of the many first is noble and worthy, yet they also demonstrate that giving priority to the needs of the one is equally commendable. Quite a quandry, and it's one that is never resolved in this episode, or in any other Star Trek episode or movie, because it is entirely dependent on the particular situation. It can't be decided by logic--it's one of those pesky conundrums that we emotional humans have to feel our way through, hopefully with family and good friends to help.


"Metamorphosis" is one of those episodes I really hadn't seen in a long time. The neglect comes from the fact that it's not one of those great classic episodes, but it isn't an amusing stinker either. In my Trek consciousness, it gets a bit buried. And that's actually too bad really. This episode, while flawed has some very thought-provoking elements and manages to defy the typical formula of the series.

The story and ideas presented here are something I would usually attribute to a series such as The Twilight Zone; it's actually quite self-contained like a short story and could have been written with unfamiliar characters. One of us mentioned on the podcast that it had the feel of a meditation, if you will and that actually fits pretty well for this one. The things that nag about this episode are the sections that feel rushed and resolve themselves too quickly to be satisfying. This would have to include the part where Kirk and co. deduce the nature of the Companion and of course, the resolution. I have to wonder how this episode would have played if they'd stripped out the scenes back on board the Enterprise entirely. It would have been a bit strange not to know what the ship was doing while the shuttle and its occupants were missing, but it might have added a touch of mystery as well as given the story back on the planet some breathing room. Of course, the scenes between Scotty and Uhura on the bridge are very pleasant and gives us some small personalty development for these characters. Or, maybe they could have abridged the bits where Kirk and Spock are writhing around on the floor after attacking the Companion.

In any case, the way the secrets are revealed comes off as abrupt and the way that they suddenly have the Commissioner's fate resolve can be read as creepy. Was the decision really mutual? And, does she always have to talk with that boomy reverb in her voice? Aside from that, the exploration of the idea of love displayed here is interesting and can also be read as a message of tolerance. That message is one that could still be used today, quite frankly. This episode can be looked at from a "gender studies" POV: the Hedford character is conveniently without any personal attachments and has "never known love." She is of course a successful career woman and emotionally damaged. This is a very old-school way to write career women, there are many examples in classic Hollywood cinema. Usually the woman, in some kind of high-powered career, is never truly happy until the right man comes along and she can leave it all behind...for love. This time, it's the combination of the "right man" and an energy being that show her the way to true happiness. That whole business surrounding galactic peace was really a crock. If I seem a bit harsh here, consider that fact that they would never have written a male character into this sort of situation, would they? After all, Kirk is "married" to the Enterprise and while it may have some real impact on his love life, he seems to get by all right (the counter-argument to this would have to be the "no beach to walk on" speech in "The Naked Time").

The actor who plays Cochrane does so in a combination of "gee-whiz astronaut" and thoughtful world-weary man. The woman playing Commissioner Hedford does fine; the main faults with her are they way the character is written. Shatner and Nimoy are a bit restrained here and, as Eric pointed out, Kirk seems awfully chilled out about leaving Cochrane and Hedford on the planet.

I viewed the BD version with the new effects. The Companion effects were cleaned up a bit and the shuttlecraft footage no longer looks like it was reused from The Galileo Seven. The one place where the new effects fall down is the look of the planet: the original planet matches the color scheme of the set sky while the new planet effect looks quite different.

I often found this episode to be on the boring side when I was a kid. It was too slow-moving and I remember finding the Hedford character to be, shall we say, bitchy?

Okay, on to "Journey:"

This episode is up there in the top tier of the series. It is tightly constructed, has great character writing, some wonderful guest actors, and a good mix of action, drama, and humor. The episode also provides a great deal of insight into the world the Trek characters inhabit, particularly Spock. Yes, this is a real Spock/Vulcan embarrassment of riches, really. Between this one and "Amok Time," we get some very rich Spock character background. The contribution to the Trek canon of this episode can not be understated. New Federation races are introduced and we even get a glimpse into the way the Federation operates, politically. I find it interesting that this is one of the first times we get any idea that things aren't always perfect in the happy Federation: how un-Roddenberryesque! I have to wonder if the writers of the new film took a lot of the Vulcan backgrounds they used from this episode. One of the best lines from this one, spoken by Sarek: "Threats are meaningless and payment is usually expensive."

Of course the main attraction here is the story between Spock and his father. The opening scenes between them are particularly icy as we learn how the two of them interact. The scenes are written and played in a subtle way that gets the point across without too much exposition to bog down the pace. Mark Lenard and Nimoy really make it work here. D.C. Fontana also handles the relationships surrounding Amanda and Spock/Sarek well. We actually get a sense of how this unlikely family operates. I also like the way that the warmth between Amanda/Sarek comes across in a way that's believable.

The story moves along at a good pace with events that all culminate nicely for the climax: risky surgery and a cat/mouse space ship game. The ending is quite satisfying with the main characters in sick bay and McCoy grinning from ear to ear.

The effects on the remastered version were pretty decent. More new shuttlecraft and landing bay sequences are here (the original re-used earlier footage) as well as a redone alien space ship.

In the past, I tended to like this one a lot. I dug the space battle as well as the back and forth between Spock and Sarek. The fight between Kirk and the Andorian was effective (and still is today, actually).

Next time: "Friday's Child"

December 8, 2009

TOS Rewind #35: "I, Mudd"

This time we take a look at I, Mudd (11/03/1967).

Eric, Rob, Andy, and I did a podcast. Check it out here.

I mentioned when talking about "Catspaw" that I felt that the creators weren't always sure whether they wanted to be serious or not. Well, this time they had their tongues surely planted in cheek. This episode has a load of goofy material in it and often goes from one gag to another. A real problem for me is that they have this plot that's all too easy to poke holes in. The whole thing isn't all that satisfying but does have its moments. The first act, where the robot Norman takes control of the Enterprise, is too rushed for its amount of detail (they have to explain how he takes over the ship) and too long for a quick, if unimportant, "get them to the planet" plot point. Kirk and the crew just seem to shrug and wait it out once they become aware of Norman's actions. The whole thing just doesn't seem right for the characters.

Harry Mudd gets a proper introduction with the other robots and even introduces the replica of his ex-wife. Otherwise, all the other robots (save for Norman) are hot women in skimpy outfits, causing Chekov to exclaim, "this is even better than Leningrad!" After the plot is in full swing, it's time once again for those crafty humans to outwit the machines with a full-on Shatner speech: I believe at this point in the series, the Kirk talking the machine to death thing has officially become a joke. The head robot Norman is "smoked" by the humans' erratic behavior and a simple logic loop. Wow, there's some high tech, there! I really have trouble taking their plot to "serve" the galaxy very seriously and wonder why they didn't just go for something simpler. The penultimate scene where they leave Mudd on the planet with 500 "unlocked" ex-wife robots does indeed seem like a suitable fate for Harry (but of course, the character returns in an episode of the Animated Series)

Roger Carmel is back playing Mudd and he's fun to watch as he embraces the part with gusto. I usually resist using the word, "gusto" but it just seems apt in this cast. The rest of the cast gets to do some pseudo-improv during the scenes where they're attempting to overload the robots. Shatner goes between being cranky and whimsically sarcastic. I still find some of that amusing and I believe the cast had fun doing the scenes. Hell, it's a lot more than James Doohan usually got to do.

Interesting notes:

Norman is the only robot who talks, well, like a stereotypical robot. All the female "models" talk normally.

Kirk and Spock are the only members of the landing party not to be at all tempted by something the robot population has to offer. I'm surprised they didn't have some android babe try to go after Kirk. This time, it's all-business for the Captain. Also, I notice how Uhura is potentially "bought" with the offer of an immortal robot body. Chekov is ready to settle down with all the chicks and McCoy and Scotty get tempted by work-related labs and stuff. What does that tell you? That Uhura, always thinking about her looks...

The doors on the planet set look awfully similar to the Krell doors of "Forbidden Planet." Hmmm...

Of course I didn't really care about this stuff growing up. I always liked watching the shenanigans of I, Mudd and found the last half very amusing. The sight of those familiar characters acting like that for one episode was quite entertaining.

I watched the remastered version of this episode. Besides the usual ship/space/planet shot replacements, I noticed that they spruced up the part where Norman reveals the little access panel on his stomach. One of those times where it didn't really add nor detract from the episode.


Now let's turn it over to Eric:

This is going to be another short review, partly because of the holidays but mostly because there is nothing particularly profound about "I Mudd." It is essentially a satire, a lighthearted romp through silliness that often strays into surreal absurdity. The only themes that have any resonance are two that we've discussed before and are perhaps overused in original Trek: "Man vs. Machine" and "Man vs. Idyllic existence." (For more satisfying treatments, see "This Side of Paradise" and "Return of the Archons.") With both of these themes, Kirk fulfills the role he has in the past: advocate for the ascendancy of humanity over machines (in this case androids) and pleader for the human spirit's need for freedom and challenge.

The androids, by way of Norman, show the shortcomings of artificial intelligence--it lacks the human capacity to devise its own sense of purpose. (This is an interesting point, although many humans, despite being blessed with "organic intelligence," also suffer from that same difficulty.) In addition, the androids, with the possible exception of Norman, are incapable of original, independent thought. And even in Norman, this capacity is stunted at best. So naturally, it is human creativity, irrationality, and out-of-the-box thinking that wins the day.

Mudd, on the other hand, represents the "evils" of an idyllic existence (albeit one in captivity). Apparently it makes one fat, lazy, and pointless. The lesson is lost, however, when one refers back to the first season episode "Mudd's Women" and sees that Harry Mudd has always been fat, lazy, and pointless. In any case, Kirk and crew are able to escape only when they reject the "gilded cage" offered by the androids. And as a kicker, even Mudd (who clearly relishes having the androids to fulfill his every whim) is willing to join forces with Kirk to win his freedom.

So the themes in "I Mudd" are retreads from earlier episodes, and their treatment and resolution is notably unremarkable. This episode is hardly a gem, but if you watch it expecting nothing more than a light satire, it is still enjoyable.

Next time: "Metamorphosis"

November 2, 2009

TOS Rewind #34: "Catspaw"

Happy Halloween! We happened to hit this episode, one that's actually Halloween-themed, this week. Funny...OK, so we're a little late. Boo!

So we have Catspaw (10/27/1967), the one original series holiday special, so to speak.

Eric and Rob joined me on the podcast, which can be downloaded/listened to here.

So here we have the single holiday-themed episode in Trek history (I think). Sure, it's no Star Wars Holiday Special, but it's pretty weak for a second season episode.

I think the big issue here is that the writers couldn't seem to figure out whether this was going to be a silly/campy "Jiffy Trek" or something with serious concepts. There's a bit of both here, really and the mix just doesn't work. There a number of jokey references which, while amusing by themselves, just add to the muddled nature of this episode. The ending, as Rob points out on the podcast, is a bit odd as well. The idea seems to borrow from other Trek material and the idea of aliens assuming human form and not being able to deal with the accompanying "sensations," (ahem!) gets used again in future episodes. Another problem is that we don't really get what the aliens actually want from Kirk and co.

The acting here ranges from just okay to quite mediocre. I didn't think the actor playing Korob was too bad, but the woman playing Sylvia was often laugh-inducing. Part of it was her lines and costumes. Speaking of costumes, who thought the fuzzy wig on Chekov was a good idea? It looks really bad. They had the good sense to ditch it later, thankfully. The worst performance/character had to be DeSalle, the guy who's left in command when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down (Scotty and Sulu were already missing). He comes off as this stuck-up, annoying throw-back to bad WW2 combat movies: "Maybe we can't break it, but I'll bet you credits to navy beans we can put a dent in it!" Uh, yeah. That'll show 'em! Another great quote: "I can squash you! And that would be an interesting sensation, yes." Tee hee. The scene where Sylvia is trying to get it on with Kirk made Stacie laugh a lot. Of course, right after that when she finds out he's just messing with her is pretty fun. There's also a sequence where Sylvia, in the form of a black cat, grows to giant size to threaten Kirk and the landing party. It looks so incredibly silly that I was instantly reminded of the scene in Team America: World Police where the puppets are attacked by a black house cat.

Growing up, I would watch this one and say the 1970s equivalent of "Meh." Now, it doesn't hold up so well. It happens. I watched the BD/remastered version and aside from a re-done view of the outside of the castle, there wasn't a whole lot to see.

Now let's see what Eric made of this one:

It recently occurred to me that my written reviews of late have been nothing more than recaps of our podcasts, so starting with this review, I'm going to attempt a literary analysis (or something bearing a vague resemblance to a literary analysis) of our chosen episode. And I'll ask your forgiveness in advance--it's been a loooong time since I've written anything like this.

To begin, I'm certain there are many who would argue strenuously that there is nothing literary about Star Trek worthy of analysis. I, of course, disagree. As I've mentioned before, almost all of the original Star Trek episodes had underlying themes that were interesting and sometimes even profound. They not uncommonly suffered from poor presentation and/or inadequate development, but they are still there. And with a little coaxing, they can be brought out and examined. So, here goes...

"Catspaw" is about the use and abuse of power and the attendant consequences. Throughout the episode, the experiences and fates of Korob, Sylvia, and Captain Kirk show that a person must have the courage to use power and the wisdom and strength not to abuse it.

Consider Korob. He is the alien who has control of the transmuter, and thereby wields extraordinary power, but he doesn't use it to stop Sylvia until it is almost too late. When he is talking to Captain Kirk, he alludes that Sylvia's instability is the reason their introduction to our galaxy wasn't peaceful. So early on, Korob knew, or at least suspected, that there was a problem and didn't have the courage to act preemptively to head off the impending disaster. Of course, it can be argued that such suspicions aren't adequate to warrant neutralizing one's partner, but Korob also harangues Sylvia for abandoning her duty to their superiors, which should've been sufficient reason for him to act. Again, he lacks to courage to do what must be done, so it isn't until Sylvia has killed, enslaved, and goes on a murderous rampage, threatening to wipe out all human life, that he finally takes action. This gives Kirk the opportunity to defeat Sylvia, but in the process, Korob is killed.

Conversely, Sylvia has no problem whatsoever with using power. In all fairness, her situation is much like that of a drug addict. In taking human form, she is suddenly exposed to a host of intoxicating sensations that overwhelm her. This is understandable, if tragic. She uses her power not so much for the sake of power itself, as is true of so many villains, but rather to get her "fix" of sensations. In any case, regardless of her motivations, Sylvia grossly abuses her power--she commits heinous crimes (murder and slavery) and threatens genocide (credibly, one must assume) against the human race. Her fate, much like Korob, is defeat and death. And along the way, she is manipulated by Kirk, just as she used members of the Enterprise crew.

So now we come to Kirk's role. He is also unafraid to use power, which he has shown numerous times. It could be said that he is irresponsible because he takes sexual advantage of Sylvia, who doesn't understand sexuality or sexual politics. But at this point the question becomes: Do Kirk's actions demonstrate a lack of responsibility and morality, or do they show the strength and courage Korob lacked? The answer lies in Kirk's motivation in manipulating Sylvia, which is to gain the information and influence necessary to save the Enterprise and its crew, and (somewhat melodramatically) all of humanity. As a Starfleet captain, he swore an oath to protect not only his crew but also the entire Federation, so his motivation is rooted in sworn duty, and, in a larger sense, the moral obligation any decent human being would feel when faced with a threat to the human race. Also, perhaps even more tellingly, Kirk does not manipulate Sylvia out of malice or for his own benefit or pleasure. He does what he must do. He has the strength to use his power (masculine wiles?), and although he may be ruthless, he uses that power responsibly. As a result, he survives and is successful.

So "Catspaw" shows us that it is wrong not only to abuse power, but also to allow fear to prevent one from using power when it is called for. The ideal is to be strong enough to use power when needed and to temper that usage with wisdom so that it does not become abuse.

Next time: "I Mudd"

October 19, 2009

BG Podcast

We took a week off of Trek to discuss Battlestar Galactica and see where we all stood on the series finale. Sure, it took me some time to finally finish watching the show, but I like to think that it gave us all some extra time to ponder the show at length. Or something like that!

Eric, Rob, and Lee were along for the ride; I think we had a pretty good discussion. We'll be back soon with our next Trek episode (for all the multitudes of listeners out there!), but in the meantime, why not check out the podcast?

Download it here.

October 6, 2009

TOS Rewind #33: "The Doomsday Machine"

And now we get to one of the series true classics: The Doomsday Machine (10/20/1967). The podcast we did for this one can be found here.

This episode has always been a personal favorite and still is today. The episode has a very entertaining action/sci-fi story. Adding to this are some interesting concepts and decent performances from the cast.

Growing up, the whole idea of the wandering planet killer, along with seeing a copy of the familiar Enterprise was just irresistible. Despite the fact that the wrecked Constellation was a cheap toy Enterprise model kit (it was an actual AMT kit) that they altered, it was enough to evoke visions in my imagination of a real wrecked Enterprise sister. Sure, the planet killer looked like a glowing ice cream cone/wind sock dipped in cement (IIRC, that's actually what they used!), but it did the job. Plus, the odd look actually works better than some design with a more conventional look. The weirdness tends to make it more believable as an alien object (at least it always did to me).

Today, the episode still packs a punch and even has some interesting ideas behind it. The scene where Kirk and the landing party encounter Decker aboard the Constellation has a couple of notable points. One, when it's revealed that there is this planet killer/robot out there slicing/dicing planets, Kirk does some thoughtful speculation as to its origin and purpose. That bit of dialogue helps the antagonist rise above the "monster of the week" thing and draws parallels to cold war issues. The planet killer can also be interpreted as an environmental statement (thanks Lee for pointing that out) in that future generations are having to reckon with the destruction wrought by man-made machines. Sure, aliens in another galaxy may have built this thing and could be long-dead, but *someone* has to clean up the mess. This time, it just happened to be our heroes.

The other real point here is the scene where Decker reveals the fate of his crew. Windom, the actor playing Decker, really goes all out in the scene and goes right to the edge of scenery chewing. The performance, in the context of the material is right on. The emotionally-charged lines along with his effectively haggard appearance come across as genuine. Shatner is relatively subdued in this episode, which works well. Nimoy has some very good material to work with. In particular, his confrontations with Decker after he's assumed command of the ship are subtle and still dramatic. The looks on his face really convey the logical realization that Decker's actions will almost certainly assure all their deaths. This realization is even more effective after it's made clear that Spock can't prevent it, at least not yet. There is also a compelling bit of a strategy game going on with Spock and Decker: Spock's strategy will work, but only if he can relieve Decker of command before he kills them all. Decker wants to destroy the thing at all costs. If that means his own death, then so much the better at this point.

McCoy doesn't really get to do much, other than harass Decker. Scotty has some good scenes repairing the wrecked Constellation including some fun interaction with Kirk (Scotty, you've just earned your pay for the week.").

It sounds to me like there were some new musical cues written for this episode. The cues used when the ships are battling the machine sound different and are quite effective in an old-school movie music style: dramatic suspense-building music.

I watched this episode on BD and came away impressed. This is, by far, the best the show has ever looked on video and I liked being able to watch either the original or remastered effects. I've generally been lukewarm on the new effects work, but here it really did make a difference, particularly with the shots of the Constellation. There is real detail to the damaged ship and the debris field around it. They really got this one right. The new planet killer looks more menacing, though they went a bit overboard on the "molten" look of the interior. I know Lee preferred the original 'killer, but I think its modern look was mostly an improvement.

And now, Eric chimes in:

We apparently have gotten to the point in the second season where excellent episodes alternate with execrable ones: "Mirror Mirror" (a superb classic) followed by "The Apple" (see our previous reviews/podcast), and now time we're up to "The Doomsday Machine," one of the best original series episodes. After this is "Catspaw" (not completely fetid, but not great either)--It's starting to feel like a roller coaster...

Anyway, on to "the Doomsday Machine," which is certainly one of my top ten favorite episodes, and may be one of my top five. Once again, I'm not going to rehash our entire podcast, but this episode scores high just about every respect. The director, Marc Daniels (who also directed classic episodes such as "the Menagerie," "Space Seed," and "Mirror Mirror") turns in what may be his best work. The acting is well above par--Shatner is good, Nimoy is excellent, and William Windom, who plays Commodore Decker, is outstanding. His portrayal of Decker's haunted anguish is both wrenchingly believable and moving. And the story, written by SF veteran Norman Spinrad, is both an interesting cold war analogy and a great science fiction yarn. In "The Apple" we weren't given any clues or tantalizing hints about the nature/origin/purpose of Vaal (the malevolent mechanism du jour), which worked to the considerable detriment of the episode. With "The Doomsday Machine," however, these questions are asked and some thought-provoking answers are suggested.

But the story is successful as more than an imaginative SF tale, it is also excellent action/adventure. As such, the special effects are extremely important. This is probably the most effects-laden episode in original Trek, and while the original SFX were good (for the time), this is the one instance when I recommend the remastered version. The new digital effects actually enhance the storytelling. The wrecked USS Constellation has always been an affecting sight and presence, but the version in the remastered episode is even more disturbing--it's like seeing our beloved Enterprise crippled and ruined. And the planet killer, always menacing, looks even more macabre and otherworldly.

A few interesting bits of trivia:

· Commodore Decker is the father of Captain/Commander Will Decker in the "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."

· One of the Star Trek novels proposes that the planet killer was constructed by a race from our galaxy as a weapon to fight the Borg.

· Commodore Decker makes a subsequent appearance (yes, after his apparent death) in a fan-produced episode that takes place in the 20th century.

· At Gene Roddenberry's request, Norman Spinrad came up with a design for the planet killer that portrayed it as a massive battleship, bristling with all sorts of evil-looking weapons. He was reportedly disappointed in the design the ended up being used, saying it looked like a "wind sock dipped in cement." Roddenberry's response was that they ran out of money for the episode and had to make do. I think the design actually is more effective--it's quintessentially alien and ominous.

So this is episode is a real gem: excellent direction, superb acting, and a great story. I just wish I could be as enthusiastic about the following episode...

Next time: "Catspaw"

September 21, 2009

TOS Rewind #32: "The Apple"

Up now is The Apple (10/13/1967)

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast. As Kirk might say in this episode, "Podcasts...IN PARADISE!"

Download or listen to it here.

Eric gets the first shot:

This apple has a worm in it. Where the previous episode, "Mirror Mirror," is a great example of Star Trek at its best, "The Apple" is a great example of the dregs of the series. It's odd, actually, because the next episode, "The Doomsday Machine," is another classic. I guess the producers, and/or network, decided a sub-par episode might not be noticeable if it aired between two that are superb.

I'm not going to spend a great deal of time repeating the critique we did in our podcast, however. (Go listen to it!) By way of a quick recap, this episode fails in pretty much every category: the acting is wooden, the special effects (especially the paper mache model that was used for Vaal) are pathetic, and worst of all, the story is derivative and devoid of anything resembling a compelling plot. On the plus side (very narrow), there are some good character moments, particularly for Scotty. And the idea underlying the story isn't bad, the problem is that it's an underdeveloped rehash of "The Return of the Archons" from the first season. If the writer and producers has bothered to explain, or at least hint at, how and why Vaal came to be, the episode might have been okay. But they didn't...

All this being said, as I pointed out in the 'cast, original Trek was produced at a breakneck pace on a frayed shoestring budget, so it's amazing a much higher percentage of episodes weren't of the low caliber of "The Apple." And as I mentioned earlier, the next episode is a classic!


This episode is a bit of a stinker. I don't think it's one of the worst, but it really stands out within the second season as the rest of the episodes are generally quite good. The ideas expressed here might be more interesting if we hadn't seen them before in the far-superior "Archons." Landru, the society-guiding cyber intelligence of "Archons" at least had a back story and was a much more interesting adversary to the crude and poorly defined Vaal in this episode. Of course, having a planet with a stagnant computer-managed human society where Kirk has to decide whether or not to violate the Prime Directive is a good idea for an episode. Unfortunately, very little time is devoted to it. Much of the running time of the episode is spent killing off Red Shirts (this episode really establishes the tradition with four of them getting knocked off), Kirk repeatedly throwing paradise-lost-themed lines out, and bad "love" scenes between Chekov and Yeoman Landon. In its defense, the Red Shirt sequences are actually pretty funny and can be fully appreciated in the episode's trailer: it stitches together many of the bad/funny scenes in this episode.

Without the subplot of the Enterprise being attacked, perhaps there would have been time to actually explore the implications of Kirk interfering with the society, something that's only really given lip service here. Like the spore-shooting plants and exploding rocks ("Garden of Eden, with land mines." tee hee), the action in orbit is just there to juice up the tension. Of course one could argue that plenty of Next Generation episodes went in the other direction: all character/ideas with too little action. In the end, for this episode, it all comes off as silly and we find it hard to take any of the ideas seriously.

As Rob pointed out in the podcast, Shatner seemed to have dramatic difficulty doing tense scenes without a real villain to play of off. His performance if definitely off. Nimoy goes between overreaction and blandness much of the time here. Not that there aren't points of fun with the characters. I've always liked the back/forth between Kirk and Scotty in this episode and Spock/McCoy get some of their usual sparring in. There's also a very amusing scene between Spock and Chekov where they create a distraction.

As Eric pointed out, the facade of Vaal looks pretty shabby, though I remember it being somewhat more impressive when I saw it growing up. Another victim of large, high resolution screens. The planet sets look like rejects from Gilligan's Island, pretty sad. It's a good thing that the next episode brings the level back up...

Next time: "The Doomsday Machine"

September 1, 2009

TOS Rewind #31: "Mirror, Mirror"

Up this time: Mirror, Mirror (10/06/1967).

We recorded a podcast with Eric, Rob, Lee, and myself.

Click here to listen to or download it.

Eric starts us out:

"Mirror Mirror" is generally regarded as one of the very best classic Star Trek episodes; it is certainly in my top 10. The story is great SF--it's certainly not hard science fiction (i.e. SF that actually respects and does justice to science), but I can't think of any science fiction TV shows that are (or have been) hard SF. That said, Mirror Mirror is a great example of the kind of wildly imaginative science fiction that you find in the short stories and novels from the 50s through the 70s. It's pure geeky fun.

One of the best aspects of this episode is that there are great parts for all of the characters, not just Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. This is the only episode in which Scotty calls Kirk by his first name, and he's got several good pieces sprinkled throughout. Uhura is at her best--she gets to show her claws, which is always fun. Mirror Sulu is a delightfully malicious and lecherous diversion from his clean-cut counterpart in our universe, and who would've thought sweet little Chekov could be such a conniving, murderous shit? The version of these characters we're used to are shining examples of exceptional human beings, very upstanding and moral and proper, so it's delicious to see them stripped of their veneer of civilization.

Speaking of which, I really would've liked to see more of mirror Kirk, McCoy, Uhura, and Scotty. They are in the brig on "our" Enterprise for the whole episode, but if this had been a two-parter, it would've been great to see them attempt a breakout and takeover. The best mirror character, however, is Spock. He's essentially the Spock we know, but there's a hard edge there that makes him extremely cool. And what's fascinating is that Spock seems to be the constant in both universes. Despite being rather brutal and ruthless in the mirror universe, he's still intelligent, decent, and ethical, and it's this consistency that allows our Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura to return to our universe. It's also the factor that promises a heap o' trouble for mirror Kirk when he gets back to his Enterprise.

I'll leave my review there. There's much more that can be said about this episode (and we cover much of it in our podcast--go give it a listen). Mirror Mirror is classic Star Trek at it's best!


I believe we were all in agreement: this is top-drawer Trek. This episode isn't just thought-provoking, it's also a lot of fun. I have always loved this episode. The charge of seeing Spock with facial hair was something else. It isn't really that big of a deal, but when I was a kid, it certainly seemed like it. The idea of our familiar Enterprise being run by a group of futuristic thugs who happened to look like our heroes was irresistible.

It's easy to poke holes in the concept and science on display here, but the good/evil character ideas are still compelling. It's interesting to contemplate how this mirror universe actually operates. The episode doesn't give us a lot to work with, but we know there is central authority crossed with a gangster/pirate element (example: the hired goons used by the officers). As Lee pointed out in the podcast, this system probably wouldn't get very far in real life, but they manage to pack some interesting ideas into a very limited frame.

The character elements, as Eric pointed out, are the real draw here. Kirk and the landing party adapt to the new situation well. Uhura really does a 180 from being scared, clinging to Kirk, to taking on evil Sulu (complete with facial scar!). Sulu and Chekov are appropriately slimy. Hell, even the uniforms are different. Nimoy really does a great performance as the alternate Spock. His mannerisms are slightly different and he never overdoes it. "Mirror" Spock has this command authority we seldom see from the "good" version. Of course, we all think the Mirror Spock is WAY cooler than the regular one. His costume is cooler, and he's even more of a badass. Some things in the alternate universe aren't so different, like Kirk's relationships with women. This exchange between Kirk and Marlena (evil Kirk's, um, girlfriend?) got a chuckle out of me:

Marlena: "I've been a captain's woman, and I like it. I'll be one again, if I have to go through every officer in the fleet."

Kirk: "You could... I simply meant that you could be anything you wanted to be."


Another thing I really like about this episode is how they created the atmosphere of the mirror universe with relatively few changes to the sets and costumes. They obviously couldn't change things too much, but it's enough to get the point across. Besides, the characters are what really convince us that Kirk and co. aren't in Kansas anymore.

Like Eric, I think it would have been fun to have seen more of the evil Kirk/landing party in our universe. The one scene we see has Kirk acting like a bombastic gangster trying to bribe Spock to get out of the brig. This particular plot was mined in other Trek shows to good effect. We would have enjoyed seeing the aftermath with bearded Spock after the evil Kirk returned.

The remastered version had a few enhancements. The Agony Booth got some effects, so we don't just see Chekov sweating in that plexiglass tube. There are a few zapping effects when Spock hits Mr Kyle with the agonizer hoopajoop.

So there you have it. Definitely an episode I always like to watch and one that really makes the most of its limited time/budget. "Captain Kirk, I shall consider it!"

Next time: "The Apple"

July 31, 2009

TOS Rewind #30: Sci Fi in Movies DorkCast

Eric, Rob, Lee, and myself recently had a fun chat where we talked (at length!) about the science fiction genre in movies and some television. We had a lively discussion and listening to it would be a true test of your dorktastic geekiness! Sure, it isn't strictly about Trek, but if the shoe fits...

The file is in MPEG4/AAC format (it's a long one so I wanted to keep the file size down and still have it not sound crappy) which hopefully no one will have problems with.

Download/listen to it.

July 26, 2009

TOS Rewind #29: "Who Mourns for Adonais" and "The Changeling"

Wow, aren't we the efficient bunch: two episodes in one post!

We did a double-header podcast for this one as well. To listen to it, Click Here. Of course you can subscribe to our podcasts by using this link: in iTunes or your software of choice.

Our episodes this time are Who Mourns for Adonais (09/22/1967) and The Changeling (09/29/1967)

Eric will be starting us out:

"Who Mourns for Adonais" is another episode that was good, but not great. There were some good points, but there were glaring flaws too. John, Rob, and I covered it pretty thoroughly in our podcat, so I'll just recap. Rob pointed out, quite correctly, that this episode has a strong anti-feminist vibe. In fact, it strongly resembles "Space Seed" (from the first season) in this respect. Lt. Carolyn Palamas is overwhelmed by Apollo and rushes headlong into a romance much like Lt. Marla McGivers and Khan in "Space Seed." And in another parallel to that episode, Lt. Palamas betrays her new found love in order to save the crew. To my mind, this redeems her to a certain degree and also mitigates the anti-feminism, but it's still certainly there. Of course, as we note in the podcast, we have to remember that this episode was written and produced in 1967 and naturally reflects the attitudes toward women at that time.

Another aspect of this episode I don't like is that Scotty is portrayed as a hot-headed, testosterone-charged dolt intent on getting himself killed. I mean seriously, Apollo demonstrates quite clearly (early on) that he controls considerable power and Scotty is an expert engineer and a grown man. Regardless of his outrage, he has to know that attacking Apollo with a piece of statuary is ridiculous, pointless, and highly dangerous. Scotty is a great character and deserves better treatment.

What I like about this episode is the speculation that the ancient Greek gods were actually humanoid aliens who settled on Earth and influenced the flourishing of the Bronze Age Greek civilization. It's a well-used (perhaps hackneyed) theme in SF these days, but it was still relatively fresh in 1967. I also like the fact that Chekov gets some development, but what I enjoy most is the poignancy of Apollo's remorse that he (and gods in general) are no longer needed by humanity. This, however, brings up a contradiction. At one point, Kirk says: "Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate." This is, in itself, a contradiction--either humanity needs gods (or one god, as the case may be) or we don't. Which is it? The line is all the more peculiar given that Gene Roddenberry was a staunch secular humanist. And with one notable exception, references to god(s) and religion were either vague and equivocal or nonexistent in the rest of the series. If I were a betting man (and actually, I am), I'd wager that "We find the one quite adequate" was inserted at the insistence of the network censors.

Another interesting deletion that was apparently made due to the censors, was a closing scene aboard the Enterprise where McCoy informs Kirk that Lt. Palamas is pregnant by Apollo. It makes me wonder how different (controversial?) original Trek would've been if Roddenberry hadn't been hobbled by network censors...


Rob, who sadly doesn't join the written part of the blog, made the quip, "it's Misogynist Week" on the blog/podcast. This episode surely qualifies, though there are examples sprinkled throughout the series. This, admittedly normal for the time, attitude is established right off the bat where Kirk and McCoy are commenting on women Starfleet officers leaving the service upon meeting the right men. This is of course being aimed at the Lt. Palamas character, who Eric skewered, who is being lusted after by Scotty. Like Eric, I was annoyed at the way Scotty was written in this episode; he really comes off poorly.

So yes, the lovely and (perhaps) talented Palamas (OK, that was bad!) finally sees that shagging Apollo long-term might not be the best thing for the rest of the Enterprise crew. Of course she has to be lectured by Kirk before considering this. The idea that Palamas was pregnant at the end of the episode is pretty interesting, but I really can't imagine the network censors touching that one. Trek was an envelope-pusher, but 1967 NBC was not ready for something like this. The other characters also have their moments. Spock, who after being dissed by Apollo for looking like Pan, stays behind on board to find a way out of Apollo's giant energy hand (aka Bigby's Groping Fist). Spock really seems more at ease being in command, much more so than he was in "The Galileo Seven." He even gives Uhura some positive reinforcement. The landing party seems to spend a lot of time sitting around on the temple set, waiting for their next confrontation with Apollo. This waiting time is obviously needed so big A has time to put the moves on Palamas, complete with stock "paradise" footage. Ooo la la! The guy playing Apollo does have the chops to out-scenery-chew Shatner (WELCOME TO OLYMPUS, CAPTAIN KIRK!!!). Shatner seems to play this episode with a clear sense of Kirk's machismo being eclipsed: he looks really annoyed!

I'm also in agreement with Eric about the good aspect of this episode: the concept of advance alien visitors being worshipped as gods in ancient Greece. Cliched, yes, but still a good topic for Trek at that time.

I was mixed on this one, growing up. It had some cool phaser fire and Scotty being struck by lightning bolts, but had sections that were a bit of a bore.

On the enhanced version I watched, the new effects did improve one part. When the hand comes out to grab the Enterprise, it reaches out from the planet they're orbiting. The old effect, IIRC just appears in space. So, some upgrade on this part.

Now, Eric takes a look at "The Changeling."

I've always liked "The Changeling." It's an imaginative, interesting story and a well-done episode. (There is vigorous disagreement about this in our podcast, but I'll let that speak for itself.) There are numerous elements of this episode that are recycled in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, most notably, the idea of a probe from 20th century Earth meeting and merging with a much more advanced alien probe. But an in-depth discussion of this will have to wait until we get to reviewing the Star Trek movies.

In "the Changeling" I like that we get to see Spock use the mind meld again, particularly because this is the only time he does so with an artificial intelligence. It should be noted that Nomad is an extremely sophisticated artificial intelligence, which is why Spock is able to form the mind meld. This brings up a subtle and interesting point about artificial intelligence: when does it become so sophisticated that it can be considered to have a mind? And when this happens, does it become a life form?

Anyway, another aspect of this episode that I enjoy is the way Nomad is portrayed. It's voice and appearance, combined with the way it is shot, gives a convincing air of menace. What I like most, however, is the idea of a primitive probe from Earth coming into contact with an alien probe somewhere in deep space and combining. It makes me wonder if the alien probe it met could've been a Borg probe. Given the immense power Nomad demonstrates, it's at least possible. It also makes sense given the Borg directive to assimilate other entities.

And while it has much to be commended, this episode certainly has its share of flaws. As with "Who Mourns for Adonais," I really object to portraying Scotty as a stupidly impulsive hothead who feels the need to physically attack beings or machines that have clearly demonstrated their ability and willingness to kill humans. But the worst flaw is the idea that Nomad could wipe Uhura's memory, or some selected portion of it, and that McCoy and his staff could "re-educate" her in a matter of days so that it was as if nothing at all had happened. Ridiculous.

But we take the good with the bad. I still enjoy this episode every time I watch it. And next time we get to review one of the best original Trek episodes!


Here we are with what turned out to be almost a prototype for The Motion Picture (I am looking forward to discussing that one of these days). Eric summed up the concept very well and I am totally on the same page, as far as that goes.

The scene where Spock mind melds with Nomad. I am mixed on that one. On one hand, the idea that Nomad is an artificial form of intelligence that Spock can connect with is interesting and thought-provoking. On the other hand, the scene borders on silliness with Nimoy's robotic "Coneheads" voice. He sounds even more robotic than the actual robot!

Security nitpick. I understand that Red Shirts are there to be vaporized, but it gets absurd when a second set of guards fires on Nomad minutes after another set were fried after doing the same thing. Plus, after knowing that Nomad has extinguished entire civilizations, why would a simple force field contain it? Points for effort I suppose.

Kirk is fun to watch in this episode as he learns to deal with this mechanical menace he's brought aboard his ship. The fact that he seems to wait until the last possible moment to beam Nomad into space seems silly, but is certainly dramatic. I love Spock's line after Kirk has successfully talked Nomad into its own destruction: "Your logic was impeccable, Captain - we are in grave danger." Nomad itself was actually well done for the capabilities of the time. The camera angles and other effects gave the relatively simple robot model a certain amount of life as well as adequate menace.

Of course the thing we all agreed on was how stupid the "Uhura re-education" bit was. Of course the choice line about Uhura (after she'd had her brain wiped) was:

Nomad: "That unit is defective. Its thinking is chaotic. Absorbing it unsettled me."
Spock: "That 'unit' is a woman."
Nomad: "A mass of conflicting impulses."

Wow. But not to worry, she'll be back on the job in a week (complete with her memories?)! I realize that this was done to portray how Nomad had no experience with things like music and singing, but they really should have found a less laughable way to get it across. And what the hell is up with Scotty? Two in a row where he physically challenges powerful alien things and gets zapped.

Growing up, I liked this one about as much as I do today. The idea seemed cool and there was a fun space fight at the beginning. And hey, four Red Shirts get offed!

The remastered version had slick energy weapon effects during the opening scenes, but otherwise didn't really add much. After all, the main action happens on the ship.

One thing that bothered me that I don't remember focusing on before. At the end of the show, after Nomad has dispatched itself, there's this jokey scene on the bridge between Kirk and Spock. "It's not easy to lose a bright and promising son." This seems like an odd place for a "going out of orbit joke." After all, Nomad had killed billions of people and could very well have made it to Earth.

But, all in all this one was pretty good.

So the next episode we cover will be what I am sure are personal favorites for all of us: "Mirror Mirror." It may not be the absolute best of the series, but is certainly one of the most fun. Beards Ahoy!

June 2, 2009

TOS Rewind #28: "Amok Time"

Welcome to Season 2! Today we'll be tackling Amok Time (09-15-1967)

We did a podcast again, this time under 30 minutes! Listen to it here. I've added the podcasts into an iTunes-friendly RSS feed. And, if you listen to one of these 'casts and have a comment or question, we'll address it in our next round.

I'll let Eric start out the written review part:

“Amok Time” was definitely the right choice to open the second season of classic Star Trek. I hadn’t seen it in quite a while, so I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded just how good it is. As the quintessential Spock episode, it provides much important character development and fills in part of his back story, as well as adding greatly to our knowledge of Vulcan culture—we finally get to see the planet Vulcan and meet some of its full-blooded inhabitants. The story itself is interesting and imaginative, and thankfully free of any overt camp or cheesiness. The direction and acting (particularly Leonard Nimoy’s) are excellent. And the production is quite good, especially the design of the Vulcan set. To top it off, we get to hear the introduction of some of the most memorable music in the series.

With our modern sensibilities, we don’t think twice about the subject of this episode. Sexuality is common theme in today’s TV shows and is depicted both casually and explicitly, but in 1967, it was daring for Roddenberry to even attempt air an episode that dealt with such a taboo topic. I imagine the only way he got it past the network censors was that it dealt with alien (Vulcan) sexuality and was addressed in a circumspect (rather quaint) fashion. Still, this is another example of how original Trek was groundbreaking as a television show.

Another reason “Amok Time” stands out is Nimoy’s brilliant performance. His portrayal of Spock’s torment and embarrassment is completely convincing, as is his “blood fever.” And the final scene, when Spock shows open delight at discovering Kirk is alive, ranks among the best scenes in the entire series. Shatner and Kelley also turn in excellent performances. McCoy’s desperation to help Spock and Kirk’s willingness to sacrifice his captaincy to save his friend are touching. Spock’s request that they accompany him to the ceremony on Vulcan is similarly touching—he reveals that Kirk and McCoy are his closest friends. With Kirk, this is no surprise, but with McCoy, it is a little more surprising given their rivalry. What it comes down to is that the most important subplot of the episode is the affirmation of the deep friendship and affection between these characters.

Additionally, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the late Celia Lovsky’s outstanding performance. T’Pau is a great character. Kirk describes her as “…all of Vulcan rolled into one,” and Lovsky does a superb job portraying this. Arlene Martel also does an excellent job as T’Pring. The character is a stone cold bitch, but Martel plays her wonderfully.

So “Amok Time” scores high in many categories, but I appreciate it particularly because it does so much to develop Vulcan culture. This episode was written by the late Theodore Sturgeon (who also wrote the first season episode “Shore Leave”), and it is a testament to his fertile imagination and skill as a science fiction author. We get used to thinking of Spock as a human who’s a little different, but this story brings out just how alien he and the Vulcan race/culture are. The contrast of the brutal mating ceremony with the peaceful, stoic race we’ve come to know is startling and fascinating. And, when you think about it, logical. Spock established early on that Vulcans were once ruthless and warlike, in the extreme, and that they were saved by the adoption of logic as an overriding philosophy. But as a matter of biology, they still have to deal with the pon farr (the cyclical mating drive) that induces a kind of insanity. So it seems reasonable that as a traditional culture, Vulcans would maintain their ancient ritual for resolving pon farr, koon-ut-kal-if-fee (wedding or challenge). It is implied that the challenge option is very rarely used, but being the thorough, well-prepared people they are, Vulcans are ready for that possibility. And therein lies our story.

So there it is. “Amok Time” is an excellent episode and the perfect choice to begin the second, and arguably best, season of original Star Trek.

This time I had a plain old iced tea: maybe in retrospect, I should have picked something stronger!

At the risk of repeating Eric's comments, I want to start out by saying how good this episode is. Like him, I hadn't seen it in a good while and it didn't disappoint.

This is one of the big Spock showcase episodes and Nimoy really rises to the challenge. It would be easy for him to have dialed in a performance that said, "I'M A HORNY VULCAN!!!" Sure, there's a little bit of that going on there, but he really plays out the inner conflict of the character who's quite ashamed that he has to share this with Kirk and McCoy.

I have this impression of the episode from my childhood, that the Kirk/Spock duel lasts far longer than it actually does. The buildup to the confrontation is effective enough that the fight doesn't have to take the bulk of the screen time. And hey, Kirk's shirt gets cut open right off the bat. Those weapons are really nasty!

As Eric mentioned, the performance of the woman who played T'Pau just doesn't get stale. She comes off as pure Vulcan badass. Spock's bride is also a coldly logical operator. Her manipulation of Spock, Kirk, and the whole ritual makes her come off as a woman not to be messed with. Considering the whole arranged marriage business and the Vulcan ideas of women being "consorts" and "property" of the men, the actual female characters are very strong. I have to think that perhaps Vulcan needs to look into the concept of no-fault divorce. Very interesting.

This is another one of those classic episodes where they managed to work in a potentially thorny subject, sex, into 1960s network TV. By inserting it into the ritualistic Vulcan traditions, they mask the real ideas here to a degree. This was not too uncommon in old Hollywood, where some kinds of social taboos were presentable if portrayed as being part of a "primitive" culture. In this case, the Vulcans are ironically the "savages" while Kirk and the other humans come off as more civilized. This is reinforced by the sets, costumes, and the "ritualistic" drumming of the memorable score (reused many times later, of course). What they do, of course, is develop a relatively rich background for Spock's planet and give us a look at the Vulcan people. No other alien race in the Original Series gets nearly that much development.

Of course it's quite hard to top the ending scene where Spock shouts out, "JIM!" after seeing Kirk very much alive. Call it cheesy if you want: I happen to love it. We also are abruptly introduced to Pavel Chekov. After going through an entire season of Sulu+random navigator (with apologies to Lt. O'Reilley), it's good to have another character on board.

I watched the remastered version and actually liked the CG-redone Vulcan shots, They looked good and matched the existing set footage as well as what we've seen of Vulcan from the films. One of the few times that the enhancements did much for the show.

Next time: “Who Mourns for Adonais”

May 28, 2009

TOS Rewind #?: "Star Trek"

I have a bonus podcast up where we talk about the new Star Trek feature film.

I got Eric, Rob, and Lee in on the action.

Download the podcast here.

As always, if you have any questions/comments, leave a note and maybe we'll respond on our next session.

May 10, 2009

TOS Rewind #27: "Operation -- Annihilate!"

We reach the end of Season 1 with Operation -- Annihilate! (04/13/1967)

I was enjoying a cold Sam Adams (Bawston Laaaaager!) while we watched this one.

We did a podcast, a much shorter one than last time. Download the podcast here.

When I saw that this was the Season 1 finale, I thought it was a bit odd. Not so much. True, Trek was never produced with modern TV sensibilities like season openers and such and many current fans saw them out of order in syndication or on video. The episode does work all right though as it has a relatively positive outcome after the two previous ones which were pretty bleak.

We always jokingly referred to this one as "The Flying Pancake Episode." I should probably now call it "The Flying Bloody Omelet Episode." Go watch it and tell me if I'm off here!

We had a really good chat about this one on the podcast. The big thing that bothered Eric was the bogus science surrounding the way they kill the creatures. I'm sure he'll mention this, but it's pretty silly. However, to paraphrase my friend Andy, it may seem odd to go after this and not be bothered much by the other tech stuff like warp drive and transporters. I guess you have to pick and choose when to suspend your disbelief here. It does seem like they could have worked out this particular tech issue a bit better since they work conventional radiation/light into the plot. Writer laziness perhaps.

OK, so maybe the science is laughable and the creatures not nearly as creepy as when I saw it growing up, but it does have good Kirk/Spock/McCoy character goodness. The scenes after Spock is blinded are great. The bit where Spock tries to seize the bridge is classic: "Must take the ship!" This line has amusing, if relevant meaning as a phrase I use to get off my ass and do something. Maybe a clever T-shirt is in order...

Other stuff of note:

We meet Kirk's brother, who's dead by the time we see him, plus his wife/kid. I realize they did this to drive home the menace of the alien creatures, but it seems like a waste of a potential character to off him so casually. These last two episodes were pretty bad for our Dear Captain. Last time he's forced to let his true love get hit by a truck and now his brother is offed by some plastic bloody omelets. Sucky.

Nimoy does a credible job playing Spock being subjected to extreme pain; the inner struggle seems on the level. This is really a Spock showcase episode.

The plot of this one has obvious roots in earlier sci fi, which Eric will certainly go into. It also has a fun cold war Body Snatchers-esque paranoia, even if it's a bit undeveloped.

The locations they use for the planetside scenes remind me of 1960s college campus architecture: lots of tall skinny buildings with narrow windows. Fill all the open areas with concrete and you're there. But hey, what were they going to do?

They finally get Transporter Room security down in this one. You may recall that in the last two episodes, the pot-smoking red dudes manning the controls were easily overcome by Lazarus and McCoy. Well not this time! Now the dude is augmented by Scotty who remembers to pack heat, thus preventing Spock's escape. Sure, maybe he was there to get a hit from Mr. Leslie, but he was ready for action. I can just imaging Scotty pointing the phaser at Spock while saying, "This aggression will not stand, Laddie."

So all in all, a pretty good one with shaky science and some fun character interaction. The episode is very well paced, with appropriate suspense in the right parts. A solid, if unspectacular first season ender.


And Sir Eric's take:

As I write this, I am about five hours from going to see the new Star Trek movie, which gives me a delicious sense of excitement and anticipation that I rarely feel these days. Everything I’ve heard and read makes it sound like J.J. Abrams has done the impossible—he has successfully reinvented and relaunched Star Trek. This is especially apropos, since the premiere of the “reboot” movie very nearly coincides with the fortieth anniversary of the end of the original Star Trek series. And with this review, we’ve also reached the end of the first season of classic Trek.

To be honest, Roddenberry should’ve ended the first season with “City on the Edge of Forever” instead of “Operation Annihilate.” We discuss this, along with many other issues, in our podcast, so I won’t rehash my entire rant here. In short, “Operation Annihilate” isn’t a bad episode, but the glaring errors in the science make it very hard for me to watch. What’s worse is that the errors are so basic that even a barely competent science advisor would have caught them immediately—ultraviolet radiation CANNOT pass through most solid materials, most notably glass, wood, steel, or concrete!

My other gripe is that this episode plagiarizes both Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 novel “The Puppet Masters” and the 1956 film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Admittedly, it is Star Trek’s take on the Cold War paranoia themes presented there, but Roddenberry shouldn’t have “borrowed” so heavily and blatantly.

I don’t, however, want to end my reviews of the first season episodes on a sour note, so I will add that there are some really nice character moments in this episode, particularly between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. It demonstrates how far the series progressed in the first season—the cast and crew have have hit their stride, and it presages a great second season.

Next time: “Amok time”

April 21, 2009

TOS Rewind #26: "The City on the Edge of Forever"

Episode: The City on the Edge of Forever (04-06-1967). Drink: a Martini (classic episode=classic drinky).

Eric, Rob, and I had more trouble than usual getting the podcast done for this one due to scheduling and technical challenges (okay, so that was my particular challenge), but we managed to pull it off. It's long (52 minutes) and is spliced together from two separate attempts so my apologies in advance if there's duplicate material in there (the sound quality varies a bit as well). I think I have the tech problems ironed out so at least we should be good on that score. We hit a lot of points, so I think it was worth it. For those who are willing to brave the commentary, it can be found here.

Eric starts us out with his written version:

“The City on the Edge of Forever” is widely considered to be the best classic Star Trek episode, and for good reason. The direction and acting (particularly Bill Shatner’s) is top notch, and the drama is genuine and touching. And although I usually avoid the term, the “chemistry” between the characters works brilliantly. Best of all (for me at least, and if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, this should come as no surprise), it is superbly imaginative science fiction and a wonderfully dramatic, but tragic, story.

Before we go any further, I should mention the controversy surrounding this episode—“The City on the Edge of Forever” was written by Harlan Ellison who (to this day) feels wronged both by the studio for not paying royalties and Gene Roddenberry for rewriting his original script. I completely sympathize with Ellison’s grievance over unpaid royalties, but I’ve read the original script, and while it was quite good, it clearly wasn’t Star Trek and had to be rewritten to be produced as a Trek episode. In addition, it was (and still is) quite common for producers to rewrite scripts for their shows, and as Executive Producer and creator, doing such a rewrite was Roddenberry’s prerogative. Still, Harlan Ellison is a damn good writer, and he has an outspoken, no-bullshit, populist attitude I admire, so I’m not going to take sides. Both versions of the script are great.

Both versions of the script are also tragic love stories (albeit of a different nature), and both scripts deal with two of my favorite subjects: time travel and the history of World War II. Time travel in Star Trek has often been laughable, couched in ridiculous pseudoscience and technobabble, but in “The City on the Edge of Forever” it’s done through the Guardian of Forever, which I’ve always found to be an awe inspiring idea/concept/being. And, as long as you’re willing to employ a bit of imagination (which is necessary to enjoy science fiction), it’s perfectly plausible. No attempt at scientific explanation is offered or possible. And it is through the Guardian that the history of World War II is accidentally disrupted, allowing Nazi Germany to develop nuclear weapons before the United States. (No need to expound upon why this is extraordinarily bad.) The real drama of the story, however, is that Kirk has to allow a woman he loves to die in order to set things right. And he does, but at a terrible personal cost, which is beautifully, but heart wrenchingly, played out in the last few minutes of the episode. Kirk’s anguish, McCoy’s confused horror, and Spock’s gentle compassion all play off each other perfectly and bring the story full circle.

So what we’re left with is a tragedy in the best tradition of tragedies. And as such, it leaves us with a strangely satisfying sense of bitter completion that Kirk expresses perfectly: “Let’s get the hell out of here.”


I don't know if I have a real favorite of this show, but this could be it, along with a few others. As Eric points out, the story has a great premise that stands out even among the generally good episodes of the first season. Back when we covered "Tomorrow is Yesterday," I remember thinking that the whole time travel thing was being covered in a pretty nonchalant way. Sure, they have to correct the changes they've made to the past, but it isn't all that serious and they seem awfully sloppy with regards to how they've disrupted things. "City" sets a far more somber tone to this sci fi concept. Changes, even a minor one, can alter everything that is to come. This comes down to the idea here, doing the right thing at the wrong time. McCoy saves Edith and dooms the world. It's really interesting ponder the significance of everyday choices we all make. Sure, nothing I do will probably change the course of the planet, but you never know. Not that there's really an answer to all this. The only conclusion drawn here is the leave the hell alone and hope things sort themselves out.

I know my friend Lee knocked this one down a bit for not having an outstanding social message or commentary, but Rob presented one quite well on the podcast. I'm feeling lazy, so I'm going to refer he and anyone else to the commentary. ;-)

The character interaction here is especially strong in this episode. There is genuine warmth between Kirk and Spock as they go through their often amusing "Odd Couple" sequence in the second act while Spock tries to build his computer device from "stone knives and bearskins" (aka vacuum tubes and random electronics). The Edith Keeler character may not be 100% developed, but she has to be the best female character of the old series.

The acting is decent in this episode, with DeForest Kelley really doing a good job playing the drug-addled doctor. His scene with the street person is particularly good.

We covered a lot of ground for this one on the podcast, so if you want to hear more, go check it out.

I watched both the original and remastered versions of this one. There's one shot where I actually prefer the old optical effects: the planet.


The original.


The remastered.

Sure, the new one looks more like a real planet, but the old effect has that forlorn lifeless look that really works for this episode. Other than that, the rest of the changes were minor (and the improved picture quality, as usual).

Next time: “Operation Annihilate!”

March 19, 2009

TOS Rewind #25: "The Alternative Factor"

Today's episode: The Alternative Factor (03/30/1967) I enjoyed a nice Dewars Scotch with our podcast (and no, I'm not trying to rip off Ron Moore's podcasts!).

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast for this one. Download it here.

This is one of those episodes that, while having some very interesting ideas, ultimately doesn't work as well as it could for me due to the way it's executed. Back when I saw this one growing up, I doubt I was as critical as I am today. After all, it had some space-like effects and a few fights with funky lighting and effects. Cool!

Here's what I did like about it.

There are some compelling and unusual, for 1960s TV, ideas presented here. The parallel universe concept and the "corridor" allowing someone to travel between them is great sci fi (not SyFy!) stuff, even if it'd probably been written about before in books.

The teaser and first act of the episode work very well. The buildup with the mysterious effect and the somber invasion message from Starfleet (the first time we see Kirk and co. interact with anyone at HQ) cast a somber tone on the show right away. Then, this batshit crazy man named Lazarus appears and we really don't know what the hell is going on. As I said, the intro is very effective which makes the rest of the episode more disappointing.

The interactions between Kirk, Spock, and Lazarus are interesting at times. Kirk comes off as genuinely conflicted as he has to decide what to believe. Spock gets some good skeptical science officer time here and even gets in this jab at Lazarus: "I fail to comprehend your indignation, sir. I have simply made the logical deduction that you are a liar." The scene where Kirk and Spock figure out the nature of the two universes and the potential consequences is actually well done. Here is a scene where nothing exciting happens; the two of them are just hanging out in the briefing room having a chat. The camerawork and music builds up a good tension as it dawns on them what they are dealing with. Sure, it may seem over the top, but it does convey the situation without anything other than the acting and some economical production.

Unfortunately, for me, the episode is undone by a few things.

The guy playing Lazarus manages to seriously out-scenery-chew Shatner. The ranting and raving get old after a while and is giggle-inducing at times. I understand they were trying to portray an insane character, but it doesn't always come off right. Also, other than trying to spot the on/off cut on his forehead, it's almost impossible to tell the two Lazarus' (Lazari?) apart as they both tend to babble on crazy-like. Then there's his endless running around on the planet falling off cliffs. Rob and I laughed out loud one of the times. I understand that some of this was padding to fill in a missing romantic subplot involving Lazarus and the engineering officer. At least that might have made the episode more interesting and fleshed out the middle section, but it was cut from the script and, AFAIK, never filmed. By the way, where's Scotty? And where did his engine room set go? Then there's the strange facial hair Lazarus has. Sometimes it looks glued on and on the verge of coming off. OK, that's nitpicking...

Things sure seem lax on board the Enterprise in this episode considering how easily Lazarus manages to steal two sets of crystals. The red guy in the transporter room is a joke. Kirk has this frank discussion with Lazarus where he threatens to steal the crystals. Next thing we know, Lazarus is waltzing around the ship. hanging out in the lounge/lunchroom, and into the engineering section to steal the stuff without much trouble. Don't you think Kirk would have had him watched? Another odd thing: the planet-side scenes are obviously California locations, as usual. But, when Kirk crosses over into the other universe to meet the sane Lazarus, who now acts calm and rational, the scene is obviously on a soundstage with fake rocks. Hmm...

The effects just weren't able to convey they nature of the corridor and the other universe. The bits where Lazarus and his twin are fighting look silly and I have to assume that the dialogue was written to compensate for this. This is quite obvious where at the end of the episode and Kirk is ruminating about the fate of Lazarus. He gives his dramatic, "How would it be?" bit, as if he is needing to remind the viewers just how significant the resolution of the episode is. "What of Lazarus?!"

I watched the remastered version of this one, but of course the new fx didn't impact the fighting scenes. As usual, the images are extremely clean and the exterior ship shots look modern, but little impact on the episode itself.

And now Eric's:

I have always found “The Alternative Factor” to be compelling, but it is flawed. There are continuity problems, such as the dilithium crystals being kept somewhere other than the engine room in the matter-antimatter reactor. And the basic mistakes in the science are glaring—an antimatter Lazarus wouldn’t have been able to exist in our matter universe. The instant he came into contact with a particle of matter, there would have been a BIG explosion. Also, the entire universe couldn’t have been annihilated. But we talk about this in geater detail in the podcast, so I’ll move on to why I have a die-hard affection for the episode.

The setup in the teaser is very well done. It draws you in immediately and doesn’t let go, and this is representative of the good storytelling throughout. (Even a ridiculous story can be engaging, even enthralling, if it is told well. Consider Aesop’s fables and “The Wizard of OZ.”) The parallel universe theme is also a staple of SF that never ceases to be fascinating. And we could no doubt get into a deep “duality of man” discussion based on the “Sane Lazarus” vs. “Nutso Lazarus” situation. But aside from all of this, I enjoyed seeing an epsiode that doesn’t have an overt socio/political message. “The Alternative Factor” exists for no other purpose than to explore the idea that is the basis of its theme. There is also some nice pathos for Lazarus’ plight, but in the end—I know I’ve said this before—I always love the episodes that convincingly convey a feeling of being alone and isolated in the distant reaches of the galaxy.

So, despite its flaws, I have to give “The Alternative Factor” a decent grade for effectively evoking a sense of being in deep space.

Next time: “City on the Edge of Forever”

February 7, 2009

TOS Rewind #24: "Errand of Mercy"

Today's episode: Errand of Mercy (03-23-1967)

My drink this time: A Margarita: to mark the passing of Ricardo Montalban. We talked about the Khan stuff back here.

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast for this episode. The whole installment is late this time due to the fact that the first podcast got trashed due to a Garageband crash and our general busy-ness. We'll try and get the next one out quicker!

Download the podcast

Here's my brief take on this episode (more detail in the podcast).

At the risk of repeating myself, this is a crucial episode in the series. It would be important if for no other reason that it introduces the Klingons, quite well I'd say, and sets up a lot of material for Trek material going far beyond the Original Series. The whole point about making the Federation and the Klingons "get along" paves the way for an awful lot of material in The Next Generation. Sure, the Klingons aren't all that exotic, regular guys with dark hair/skin, but the detail that's presented about their Empire really helps get us beyond the usual Trek alien-of-the-week thing.

Kor is a great villain, one of the best Klingons I can think of. He's ruthless and cunning, plus he has a sense of humor: very important in a space opera. Kor can have large groups of innocent civilians put to death at the drop of a hat, but can still be cool enough to have a drink with Kirk, his big enemy, pointing a phaser at his chest. What a guy! As Rob pointed out in the podcast, it's really interesting to watch Kirk, while disguised as a peaceful Organian, virtually blow his cover just because he can't resist being called out by Kor calling him a coward. Classic. We miss the usual McCoy dialogue (one of the few TOS episodes he doesn't appear in) and you'd think Scotty'd be running the ship in crisis after his tough performance in "A Taste of Armageddon." Oh well, he needed the week off. And of course, at the end of the episode, Kirk has to sit back and admit how foolish he was to be pissed at not being able to go to war with the Klingons. Spock has a good smirk at the typical human inconsistencies. If you watch this episode, do it an tell me the Organia sets don't look like a weekend at the MN Renaissance Festival!

And of course, we have the concept of the uber-powerful aliens putting we puny humans (and Klingons) in our place. We really have no true frame of reference with regard to the Organians. Only Spock seems to fully realize this. It's not unlike the situation in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." The aliens aren't going to let us screw things up. The message: knock off the warmaking or we'll take away your ships! Hmm, beats having your entire race wiped out by Gort and Klatuu...


And now Eric's turn:

This is going to be a short review, since we covered most of the important stuff in the podcast.

One thing I didn’t mention is that the title “Errand of Mercy? is taken from “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby? by Charles Dickens: "It is an errand of mercy which brings me here. Pray, let me discharge it." A cool title for a great episode. It is, in fact, one of my favorites. The characters are superb (especially Kor) and the Democracy vs. Dictatorship analogy is well done. But the main reason I like this episode is that it evokes a powerful sense of wonder.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it is science fiction’s ability to evoke a sense of wonder that appeals to me. And as “Errand of Mercy? demonstrates, classic Star Trek, when at its best, wielded this ability magnificently. The story draws you in and makes you think that the Organians are meek, ineffectual simpletons. Kirk and Kor strut around, waging their interplanetary pissing match, secure in their superiority only to be brought up short when the Organians reveal that they are actually incredibly powerful, highly-evolved beings who have a problem with the lower life-forms disturbing the peace. So they put a stop to it. Conclusively. This is the kind of story that makes you think about humanity’s place in the universe and the possibility that their could be other intelligent life out there that is significantly more advanced than we are. Heady stuff. I guess I’m just a junkie for anything that will spark my imagination.

Next time: “The Alternative Factor?

December 30, 2008

TOS Rewind #24: "The Devil in the Dark"

Today we have The Devil in the Dark (3-9-1967) This installment is later than I anticipated, but the holiday season will do that. Eric starts us out:

As it turns out, it is perhaps better that I’m so late with this review. “The Devil in the Dark? was the favorite episode of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (member of the original cast and Gene Roddenberry’s widow) who sadly passed away on December 18th. Now, in a way, this review can be a tribute to her.

I got to meet Ms. Roddenberry and hear her speak in 1992, a few months after Gene died. She impressed me in many ways, perhaps most of all by how upbeat and cheerful she was so soon after losing her husband. I was also impressed by her candor when asked questions by the audience. What was particularly memorable, if you’ll indulge me for a minute, was three of her responses. One was a reply to a question about Gene’s take on equality. She said he belived in equality in all things except his marriage. Another was her answer to a question about whether he truly believed humanity would survive and grow out of its current problems. Her reply was that toward the end of his life, Gene still believed humanity could evolve to fulfill its potential, but he had begun to doubt that it would. (This saddened me and it still does.) And finally, when asked what her favorite episode is, she replied that “The Devil in the Dark? still moved her to tears because at its heart, it’s about mother love.

I agree. In a bizarrre, other-worldly way the theme “The Devil in the Dark? is indeed mother love. And it’s that bizarrre, other-worldly aspect that is one of the most important functions of science fiction as a literary genre—it allows us to look at humanity and the human condition from another, completely different perspective. For much of this episode, we’re certain that the Horta, the silicon-based alien that looks like a cross between a shag carpet and a deep-dish pizza, is a murderous monster that must be killed. The miners on Janus VI and Kirk and the rest of the crew, except for Spock, are similarly convinced. But it turns out that the Horta is quite intelligent and civilized and was just protecting her young against the miners who were indiscriminantly, albeit unknowingly, killing them. So then the problem becomes one of communication and thereby a peaceful resolution. Which is achieved. Mother love is reaffirmed and some of Star Trek’s most common and powerful themes are addressed: that different is not necessarily bad, that we don’t need to fear the unknown, and that violence isn’t the only way to resolve conflicts.

So this is my modest tribute to the First Lady of Star Trek. Thanks for helping to make possible stories like “The Devil in the Dark? that captured my imagination and fueled my sense of wonder so powerfully.


Wow, I am so dense. It didn't even occur to me to mention the passing of Ms. Barrett. Good catch there Eric and a nice tribute.

Speaking of lameness, I believe I wasn't feeling good when I watched this one, so no drinkie. I'll try and correct that in the future!

This episode is very very good. It has some great science fiction ideas and a very positive message. I think in the past that I had a bit of a negative bias towards this one due to the following:

1. The cheesy moving carpet/plastic pizza-looking Horta costume. This is odd in a way since I tend to be pretty forgiving of TOS's limited effects. It didn't seem all that bad this time around, though parts of the creature do have the look of hardened cheese wiz.

2. Nimoy's dramatic mind meld scene. PAIN!!!!! I can almost imagine the director telling Nimoy to put himself in full-on Shatner mode. I really don't have a problem with this scene, but in the past it seemed way over the top. Maybe it still is, but there is such an earnestness about the way Nimoy does it that it still works. You can easily see what he's trying to convey.

Okay, so the objections don't really get in the way of this story. The solution they come up with is very positive and fits in well with the Roddenberry universal view of future goodness. The idea that they're dealing with a being whose race dies off every so often and then reborn is pretty novel. Some real thought was put into the story, no question. Another good, if more conventional, device is the theft of the reactor part that gives the action more urgency and tension.

The character writing is very good here with Spock rightfully getting the bulk of the fun. There is a real sense of conflict between Spock's duty to Starfleet and his personal scientific philosophy about alien life. He, more than anyone, feels regret at the need to kill the Horta. Kirk has some interesting material, especially the scene where he is face-to-face with the Horta and has to decide how it will go. His dealings with the revenge-seeking miners are good too. Speaking of the miners, I got a real blue-collar vibe from these guys, more than usual in Trek. The colony leader seemed like he could have been a union boss of a group of longshoremen or something. The actor they cast definitely had that feel. McCoy has some fun stuff, as usual, with the "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer" being a highlight.

I watched the remastered/enhanced version for this review. There was the usual ultra-clean HD images and the new CG space/Enterprise shots, plus a re-done effects shot of one of the Horta-burned tunnels. It was better, I suppose, but I never had a problem with the old effect either. My opinion remains unchanged on the remastered versions: interesting to watch, but not really adding much for most of the episodes. The film footage that isn't replaced does look better than the previous DVDs, so I hope the eventual Blu-Ray versions (probably in 2009) include the old versions transferred in HD. I'd totally buy that.

One of the bonuses from the remastered episodes that wasn't included on the old DVD sets is the "Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest Rare Home Movies And Special Memories" feature. To quote from the Digital Bits review, " Blackburn was an extra and stunt performer on the series, and he appeared in many of its episodes in various roles. While on the set, he often had an old 8mm movie camera at the ready, and we get to see much of that candid, behind-the-scenes footage here, as he reminisces about his experiences. This is one of the best Trek bonus features I've seen so far. The footage is really fun and his little stories are interesting. There is more insight in to the show's production than most of the other crappy bonus material out there. It would be great to see Paramount put more effort into the quality of their Trek supplements and less into the cheesy menu screens. So what, they're not going to listen to me, but what the hell!

Next time: "Errand of Mercy."

November 19, 2008

TOS Rewind #23: "This Side of Paradise"

Our latest installment: This Side of Paradise (03-02-1967)

There was no drink this time ("who wants to counteract paradise, Jim-boy!"), but if I had my act together, I'd have come up with a Mint Julep.

Andy and I did a podcast for this one last year: check it out here.

Eric begins this time:

This will be a short review. Not because “This Side of Paradise? isn’t a good original Trek episode. Actually, it’s in my top twenty (maybe ten) favorite episodes, but Doc and Andy already did a podcast that covers it very nicely.

All in all, it’s a good story. The science is best left unexamined, but the intent is to look at what happens when people are offered (or in this case, thrust into) paradise. Does it work? Can they be content?

But before we get to that, a few thoughts about the character development in this episode. Spock gets the spotlight and the girl, both of which are good to see. We get a rare glimpse at his human half and the “self-made purgatory? he lives in thanks to Leonard Nimoy’s wonderfully sympathetic performance. Spock’s loneliness and quiet dignity are quite touching, and his gentleness with Leila Kalomi (especially when he has to reject her) gives a clue to why the character was, and perhaps still is, so popular with women. I also heard an interview with Nimoy where he said that he got a great many letters from teenagers in relation to this episode, most likely because Spock’s isolation and feelings of being alone and misunderstood quite understandably resonated with teenage kids.

So now to the premise of the story: humans are not meant for, or well-suited to, paradise. The only reason the colonists and the Enterprise crew are happy and content in the idyllic existence provided by the spores is because those same spores drug them into euphoria. (A none-too-subtle dig against the 60s counter-culture.) And when the influence of the spores is broken, everyone is dismayed and ashamed at their lack of productivity and progress. Kirk sums it up by saying:

"Maybe we weren't meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through – struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums."

My response to this is: why? Of course I’m a hedonist, but this episode doesn’t explain why peace and happiness and the healthy pursuit of pleasure can’t go hand in hand with progress. We as a race, Americans in particular, struggle and fight and claw because we can’t see out of the desperate, insanely competitive box our ancestors put us in.

So, despite the fact that “This Side of Paradise? is a good story and one of my top twenty episodes, I don’t agree with its conclusion. If humans must “scratch for every inch of the way,? it’s because we choose for it to be that way, not because there’s some unwritten law that decrees it must be that way.


I don't really have much of anything new to what I said on the podcast, but I'll summarize.

Growing up, I don't remember this being a real favorite, though Spock beating the crap out of Kirk had its allure. It was a lot of people in jumpsuits, romance with fluffy flute music, and some fake spore-throwing plants. So, not a lot of space action.

The obvious read, which Eric got into, is the mankind vs. paradise theme, which has been done before in Trek. Humans were offered paradise and walked out on their own, with a swift kick in the ass by Kirk (typical!). Just like "Return of the Archons," the people are in an involuntary paradise where very little seems to get done. Both episodes end with comments about getting on with what they're supposed to be doing (running a farm colony/building a society). In comparison however, the folks on Omicron Ceti III sure seem to have a better time (maybe they occasionally got rape/pillage fun time on the farm). The Communism vs. Individualism (American) idea is more solid here. Hell, they all wear the same jumpsuits and work on a coop farm. They could also be a group of Amish (oops, there's religion again!).

Another obvious variation on this is the idea of the spores as drugs. Pot would be the one that comes to mind. I seem to remember one of the crew talking up the plants in a stoner-like voice, "take a close look at these plants, sir!" (Dude, check out these plants!) And of course when Kirk snaps Spock out of his high, he realizes how wrong it is while still recognizing how good it made him feel while he was under its influence.

Speaking of Spock, this is obviously a real character piece for Spock. The spores unlock his emotional human side so he can have a fling with Leila, a woman from his past. The scenes with the two of them romping around in the California grass are nice and whatever you may think of the concept, Nimoy makes the most of this role here. If it wasn't for the hippy-dippy effect of the spores, I'd have a hard time buying that Leila is any kind of scientist. She does, however, get lots of soft focus on her closeups and that same flute-string music we've heard before. Very old-school.

McCoy gets to revert to his folksy booze-swilling self, which is a lot of fun.

Kirk somehow avoids the effects until the end. Apparently his potential loss of the ship broke the spell. One has to ask: wouldn't there be other people on board, faced with the prospect of never seeing their families again, who also would have had this reaction? Oh well, Kirk has the will and he saves the ship again. The scene in the transporter room where he has to piss off Spock is inspired.

"Does she know what she's getting, Spock? A carcass full of memory banks who should be squatting on a mushroom instead of passing himself off as a man. You belong in a circus, Spock, not a starship – right next to the dog-faced boy." Squatting on a mushroom? Wow, that's harsh!

In the end I have to agree with Eric. This doesn't seem so bad, even if it sounds horribly boring. No matter what Kirk might say, there are worse lots in life than to lay about under the trees with the occasional shift at the co-op farm.

Damn, time to get back to work!

Next time: "The Devil in the Dark"

October 26, 2008

TOS Rewind #22: "A Taste of Armageddon"

This time, we tackle A Taste of Armageddon (aired 2-23-1967).

We did do a podcast, but a technical glitch (or user error) prevented it from being recorded. I assure you that heroic efforts are being made to prevent this from happening again!

My old friend Lee joined us this time and he gets the first shot:


As I noted in our podreel, I found myself quite sympathetic to the Eminiarans. They came across as humane, thoughtful, sensitive, and (in the case of Anan 7) morally conflicted beings. Kirk and friends, meanwhile, were 23rd century neocons, inserting themselves into a situation they did not understand and deploying shock and awe, enhanced interrogation techniques, ethnocentrism, the radical over-valuation of military force and technology (with concomitant denigration of diplomats), and the true Bush Doctrine, which is gut feeling combined with near-absolute certitude. Anan 7 compromises his strict morality in an effort to (as he believes) save his world, while Kirk and Scotty risk committing genocide against an entire planet primarily to save their own asses. (E.g., it’s curious how Scotty disobeys a direct order that would put the Enterprise in danger, but unblinkingly obeys an order to prepare to murder hundreds of millions of innocent people.)

The inhabitants of Eminiar and Vendikar are so disturbed by the correlatives of war (suffering, violence, destruction, cultural implosion, sudden death—the screams of agony and grief and, everywhere, the corpses, blood, and gore) they’ve crossed a computer game with a lottery to create a form conflict in which every negative consequence but death has been removed. You die without ever seeing your enemy: indeed, the people who actually kill you are your own. If declared killed, you have 24-hours to prepare, say your good-byes, and report to a painless and efficient disintegration booth. Failure to do so would bring “real? war, and so the choice to be disintegrated is also a choice to protect one’s planet—even save it, as the Eminiarans believe that real war would mean cultural extinction.

Kirk expresses disgust at this arrangement, apparently forgetting that soldiers are also expected to “do their duty? and willingly die, if necessary, in times of war. He simultaneously appears, at times, to relish the idea of “the real thing,? while Scotty notes, “the best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser-bank.? Even McCoy hops on the technology and militarism bandwagon when he says, in response to Scotty’s noting “it’s a big planet,? “Not too big for the Enterprise to handle!? Considering the episode aired in 1967, around the height of the war in Vietnam, this is not what anyone in the U.S. needed to be hearing.

Of course, the adolescent fantasy of omni-competence—which is often found in film and television—guarantees Kirk’s gambit saves the day and (probably) ends the war. His gut conviction that the inhabitants of the two planets are too soft to fight a real war when given an opening for peace is shown to be correct. The idiotic and petulant Neville Chamberlain aping Ambassador Fox transforms himself into a humble, soft-spoken, mediating Jimmy Carter figure to help mother in the final credits. We are blood-thirsty killers, Kirk says, but we don’t have to kill today. (Ignoring the fact that, over the past 500 years, the people of Eminiar have not technically been killing anyone but themselves.)

In conclusion, this was a very entertaining, complex, and thought-provoking episode with a particularly effective performance from David Opatoshu as Anan 7. I wasn’t expecting an actual, well-rounded character, but there it was, and this actor’s presence made it real.

Bonus Track: The Dick-Putz (plus Asshole) Theory of Interpersonal Conflict on the Enterprise

This goes back to my confusion over Spock being such a dick to other crewmembers in the awful episode, “That Which Survives.? I assumed this was an isolated incident. But then again, sure enough, in “A Taste of Armageddon? Scotty goes all dickish on McCoy in a very similar way. Suddenly I realize: there are two roles, almost archetypes, that are being juxtaposed, again and again, for dramatic effect. I call these roles the Dick and the Putz.

The Dick is logical, forceful, intolerant of dissent, certain, and ALWAYS right.
The Putz, on the other side, is emotional, whiney, disorganized (no real plan), confused, and ALWAYS wrong.

The Putz serves to stimulate emotion and raise tension (“we’ve got to do something!?), while the Dick (at least in ATOA) shows why nothing can be done and the Captain needs to handle it himself.

Spock’s a natural Dick, because he’s so logical. Kirk can also go Dick. McCoy, meanwhile, makes the perfect Putz, because he’s so temperamental and probably drunk. Uhura is also a big Putz, though utilizing (because she is a woman) gasps and shocked expressions in lieu of actual words. Scotty, interestingly, goes both ways. He’s often a Putz, but if he gets some serious power he swiftly swells to Dickish proportions. (You know Scotty’s shifting into Dick-mode when he says to Kirk, in a weirdly forceful, commanding way, “Have a bonny trip.?)

McCoy misses out on the chance NOT to be a Putz when he’s apparently stuck in the shitter when the order to destroy Eminiar in ten minutes comes in. This would’ve been a great place for the humanitarian, emotion-laden doctor to get riled about something he could actually be right about.

Ambassador Fox, meanwhile, is neither Dick nor Putz, but Asshole—a figure who combines the worst aspects of the Dick with the worst aspects of the Putz: i.e., forceful, emotional, intolerant of dissent, certain, and ALWAYS wrong.

Anyway, I’m not sure how far this theory can be pushed, since I’m basing it on maybe three episodes and a number of vague impressions. So feel free to take it with a grain of salt. But be on the lookout, from now own, for Dicks, Putzes, and Assholes in TOS!


Now it's my turn. The drink of the episode is a Macallan 19 yr/old Scotch (natch!).

Eric had mentioned that this could very well be his all-time favorite episode of TOS. At first I was a bit surprised. I remembered it being a good one, but not one of the ones I considered to be cream of the crop. Revisiting this one has changed my opinion somewhat. I do think that this is one of the best, no doubt.

This episode is an example of why TOS holds up as well as it does today. The effects/sets/costumes (especially those uber-silly hats the Eminiar guards wear) are dated, but the ideas and execution of the show still have resonance 40+ years on.

One thing I find interesting about this episode is how it shows a potentially less-than-perfect Federation (I think this may be the first time the Federation is mentioned by its full name). This is embodied in the Ambassador Fox character, who, as Eric points out, isn't that likable a character. Fox is the classic government bureaucrat that finally sees things the right way. One could argue that Fox is the softie left-leaning type where Kirk and Scotty are the free-thinking types that get things done and clean up the messes that the weak pandering peaceniks have made. Of course this doesn't entirely fit, but it's fun to ponder the political implications of episodes like this. The material practically demands it. There are so many episodes throughout the whole of Trek where the Federation is held up as a model peaceful government that it's fun to see it assume a more "human" side (even though Fox appears to be some kind of alien). Of course at the opening of the episode it is Kirk who doesn't want to charge into a potentially dangerous situation after being warned to stay away from Eminiar. Fox makes it clear that there is a military priority to this mission: some sort of base of operations. A bit of a reversal.

Another thing that caught my attention is the fact that we are never shown anything of the Vendikar people, the ones the Eminiarians (?) are at war with. Not even some guy on a viewscreen. I believe this makes the show work even better. They truly are the "faceless enemy," even though for all we know, they may wear the same silly hats. I found myself wondering how this plot would have been handled as a Next Generation episode. I'd have to guess that Picard would have set up negotiations with both sides as soon as possible while still condemning their way of fighting war.

The characters in this episode are compelling and complex, particularly Anan 7. I'm in complete agreement with Lee on this: the character is well written and the performance convincing. He really does come off as a sensitive character that is grappling with a very big issue that he doesn't see an easy answer to. Kirk is earnest and appropriately snarky at times. He arguably assumes the role of a terrorist once he begins destroying the Eminiar death chambers: he makes no apologies, "I'm going to end it for you – one way or another." Spock is a lot of fun in this one as he deduces the real war going on between the planets. As always, he skillfully adapts to being a military badass when the situation requires it. Scotty really gets to have fun here where he stands up to Fox and gets some choice lines.

I sampled the remastered version of this episode. Aside from the cleaner looking picture, there weren't that many effects changed. The most noticeable one is the replacement of the matte painting when the landing party beams down. The new one looks much more realistic while keeping the look of the original. A nice touch.

And here's Eric to finish this one:


I’ve been anxiously waiting to do this review. “A Taste of Armageddon? is a strong contender for my favorite original Star Trek episode. Everything about it is excellent—the acting, the directing, the production, and especially the story.

All of the acting in this episode is solid if not superb. It’s particularly good to see Scotty get so much more to do than usual. He’s a great character and Jimmy Doohan made the most of his scenes. I always get a kick out of the line: “Aye, the haggis is in the fire for sure.?

The guest stars turn in excellent performances too. The late David Opatoshu does a nice job as Anan 7. The character isn’t exactly likable, but he is understandable. Opatoshu is able to imbue him with surprising depth. His motivation is essentially noble—to save his civilization—but his methods are questionable…at best. Still, he isn’t evil, just misguided and ruthless. His conflicted feelings about the whole situation are sincere, but ultimately, I don’t think he changes his philosophy about killing and war—he is just given a choice that forces him to pursue peace. (More about this later.)

Another well done guest character is Ambassador Fox (played by the late Gene Lyons). This guy really annoys me. I’ve never liked pompous bureaucrats and Fox, intentionally I’m sure, elevates being an obnoxious ass to an art form. What I like, though, is that he comes around at the end and manages to redeem himself to a large degree. He has to be threatened with disintegration before he relaxes his sphincter, but at least he does. And in the process, he proves that he can be useful.

And finally, Kirk is at his best in this episode. Shatner does a good job of keeping his habitual overacting at bay, and his delivery of Kirk’s lines about war and killing is great. He isn’t preachy, and what he says really resonates, especially when he talks about the horrors of war being the reason war should be avoided and when he tells Anan 7 that all it takes to avoid killing is to make a conscious decision not to kill. I also appreciate the fact that for once, he doesn’t break the revered Prime Directive. Nor does he play god—he destroys the Eminian war computers and disintegration stations because the Enterprise and the lives of her crew hang in the balance.

So now to the story. Put simply, it’s superb. (Even the title is excellent.) After seeing this episode more times than I can remember, I still love the moment when the nature of Eminian warfare is revealed. It’s all done with computers and those who are designated casualties are obliged to report for disintegration. It’s understandable. It’s even logical, as Spock points out. But, as Spock also asserts, it cannot be condoned. This is a perfect example of a mind-bending scenario that can’t be done anywhere other than science fiction. It reminds me of the SF short stories (particularly those by Isaac Asimov) that I used to read voraciously.

One aspect of this story that makes it work so well are the similarities and the contrasts. Both the Federation and the Eminians are ready and willing to make war, and kill, and wreak destruction. But Kirk and the Federation do it with all the gruesome trimmings, and as a result, don’t make war lightly. The Eminians, on the other hand, have removed the horrors of war, and therefore haven’t bothered to stop theirs for more than 500 years. It lends them a coldness. Notice that the Eminians have numbers in their names—could this be because it dehumanizes them to certain degree? (Of course, “dehumanizes? is a misnomer because the Eminians are not human. But they do represent humans.) Still, Mea 3 asserts that her life is dear to her, when she is declared a casualty, so perhaps the Eminians are no colder than humans who march off to war to kill and be killed for some cause (regardless of whether or not the cause is just). Maybe it’s the fact that the Eminians conduct their war so neatly and cleanly that is objectionable. The tidy, efficient (even industrial) killing has an uncomfortable Nazi quality to it.

What really makes this story stand out, however, is that it manages to present the questions anti-war polemics typically ask in a unique and clever context, without bludgeoning the audience. And those questions are: Is the killer instinct undeniable, and can war be avoided? I’m not sure either is clearly answered, but there are some hints. As I pointed out earlier, Anan 7 decides not to kill, but it is because Kirk gives him the choice of stopping the killing or waging a real war with all the attendant carnage. So it’s a coerced decision. Kirk, on the other hand, makes a conscious decision not to kill, but if things had gone differently, it’s clear that he would have. Given this, it would seem that our killer instinct can be denied. But when the decision to do so isn’t freely made, or when it depends on a situation unfolding in certain way, war is probably inevitable. Still, “A Taste of Armageddon? ends on a hopeful, optimistic note—our good sense and good luck may yet save us from ourselves.

Next time: “This Side of Paradise?

September 16, 2008

TOS Rewind #21: "Space Seed"

This time we tackle:



Space Seed (02-16-1967)

We have a podcast for this one featuring Eric, Rob, Andy, and myself (and my, do we go on!). Download the Podcast

I'll let Eric start us out:

“Space Seed? is a truly classic Trek episode that ranks in my top ten of favorites. It’s a great, original story that’s free of any overt campiness. And with the exception of a couple of flaws, it works beautifully.

As I noted in my last review, “Return of the Archons? was one of many Kirk vs. machine episodes. And while it was an excellent example of that kind of episode, it’s refreshing to get away from that premise. And “Space Seed? does this beautifully--it’s Kirk vs. man (or superman). The essence of the story is Kirk’s conflict with a genetically engineered villain from the late 20th century named Khan, who is awakened from suspended animation and tries to take over the Enterprise. Kirk and company win, just barely, thanks to the loyalty and ingenuity of the crew and Kirk’s physical stamina.

Come to think of it, “Space Seed? is actually Kirk vs. Science (rather than Kirk vs. man), since it was genetic engineering that produced Khan. He is cited as being the product of eugenics (or selective breeding), which interestingly was how Hitler attempted to create his “Aryan? race. Eugenics is basically a form of genetic engineering that weeds out undesirable traits and emphasizes other traits through carefully controlled breeding. It does not involve any direct manipulation of DNA as later Star Trek series have suggested. Anyway, it was apparently effective enough to produce a large number of these supermen (and women) in the late 20th century, which led to the Eugenics War of the 1990s.

I have often wondered why Roddenberry signed off on the Eugenics War. It obviously contradicts actual history. Maybe it was a backhanded condemnation of Hitler’s insidious “master race? ideas? I suppose one could write it off as an example of the parallel universe idea, but I prefer to look at it as a fictional alternate history. In any case, given that the episode was written in 1966, it’s a forgivable flaw.

A not-so-forgivable flaw, however, is the portrayal of Marla McGivers, the crewmember who initially helps Kahn in his bid to seize control of the Enterprise. She is mesmerized and seduced by Kahn in about as much time as it’s taken me to write this sentence. She abandons all of her Starfleet training and her sense of morality and ethics, with only token protests, simply because Khan is a charismatic beefcake. As a man, I find this offensive, so I can’t imagine how insulting it is to women.

Still, despite its flaws, “Space Seed? is a great episode. It manages to accomplish a kind of time travel, without having to fall back on any tired tricks or ridiculous pseudoscience. Marc Daniel’s directing is top notch, and the acting is uniformly excellent, especially Ricardo Montalban as Khan. The character is well-written to begin with, and Montalban does a superb job bringing him to life. Khan is perhaps the best villain in the Star Trek universe.
Which leads to one of the main reasons this episode is near and dear to me—it was the basis for the second Star Trek movie: “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,? Hands down, this is the best of the movies. It takes place fifteen years after the events in “Space Seed? and answers the implicit question at the end of the episode, after Kirk has exiled Khan and his comrades to a primitive, uninhabited world. Spock says: “It would be interesting, Captain, to return to that world in a hundred years and learn what crop had sprung from the seed you planted today.?


And the drink today: White Russian.

I have little doubt that most Trek watchers would agree that this is one of the best of the run. Even without its connection to Star Trek II, it stands as a classic of the series.

The familiar crew dynamic is present as usual, though Kirk (thanks to Rob for reminding me of this) is downright snippy with people on the bridge at the beginning of the episode. However, the elements that make this one shine are the "improved human" ideas in the story and Khan himself.

Eric did a good review of the concept of the eugenics war as portrayed here and while it may not have been new to science fiction as a concept, it must have been pretty fresh for television. It really is humanity vs. science, though it did occur to me that this is a bit about humanity vs. humanity. Spock says that superior ability breeds superior ambition. This is about science, but I'm glad something was written in the show to mention how humanity itself adapts along with changes in its abilities. "We offered the world ORDER!" Indeed...

Khan is the closest thing TOS has to a supervillain. He's physically tough and quite intelligent (though he suffers from the unfortunate tendency to monologue his adversaries, like many of his kind); a good match for Kirk. It is of course difficult to imagine anyone but Ricardo Montalban playing Khan. He so thoroughly inhabits the role that you forget he's supposed to be a guy of Indian-descent. His swagger, charm, and forceful delivery of his lines just kicks ass. Truly, no one aside from Shatner chewed the scenery with as much aplomb in the world of Trek.

As we discussed in the podcast, the character of McGivers was the one weak link in the episode. Her character is so weak and easily seduced that it comes off as insulting and sexist. I don't know if I buy the way that Khan takes her back at the end of the episode after she's betrayed him. She's awfully quick to change allegiances. But, this really doesn't spoil anything for me or make the episode fully hold up as a TOS classic.

Next time: “A Taste of Armageddon?

August 28, 2008

TOS Rewind #20: "The Return of the Archons"

The episode: The Return of the Archons (2-9-1967)

The drink: more vodka/lemonade.

We have three reviews for you on this one. Plus, an audio podcast!

I'm going to let Eric start us out:

To pick up where I left off in my last review (“…I want to see science fiction!?), I get what I want with “Return of the Archons.? In fact, this episode kicks off a string of excellent episodes that runs right up to the end of the first season.

“Return of the Archons? scores high in pretty much every category. The “cheese factor? is low, the production (acting, directing, cinematography, etc.) is good (maybe great), and the story kicks ass. It’s not only good science fiction, it addresses a social topic very near and dear to me—religion. John and I chatted a bit about this episode, and I think he’s of the opinion that it’s more of a commentary on communism. I can see that, but to me, the religious overtones are blatant: blind obedience and slathering, beatific devotion to an unseen guru (i.e. Landru); the emphasis on unity and brotherhood; referring to the group as a “body;? and perhaps most of all, the violent reprisals for anything that can be vaguely construed as sacrilege. (I half expected Michael Palin to come jumping out yelling “You never expect the Spanish Inquisition!?) Of course, in this society, the brainwashing is overt and direct. And instead of leaving a set of teachings (of questionable origin), Landru programmed a highly sophisticated computer to perpetuate his faith. It all boils down to the same thing, though—a repressed, stagnant society where there is no freedom of thought or action.

Which leads to the “Red Hour.? In the society in question, everyone under a certain unspecified age periodically goes nuts and has a giant orgy/riot, presumably to vent the emotions that are at all other times suppressed (kind of like the Vulcan pon farr). This is an interesting observation about most of our religions. They demonize some very basic facets of human nature (violence, sexuality, etc.) and try to force their adherents into rejecting or controlling these facets to a ludicrous degree. I’ve often thought that part (maybe a large part) of the high crime rate is that the religions such a large percentage of the population are indoctrinated into don’t teach people how to live with the less genteel aspects of their natures and channel the emotions they generate into healthy outlets. Not that I’m saying Landru’s “Red Hour? is a healthy outlet, but it is an interesting solution to the problem.

So, in any case, the denizens of Beta III had James T. Kirk to rid them of their oppressive guru, which turned out to be a computer. So, once again, we’re dealing with man vs. machine. Or more accurately, Kirk vs. supercomputer. And it won’t be the last time. (Not by a long shot.) But that particular theme is still very well done in this episode. I have to admit that I love watching Kirk out-logic computers until they go nuts and fry themselves. This leads to one small problem, though: despite Kirk’s protests to the contrary, it seems to me that he really did break the Prime Directive. The controlling power in the society may have been passively malignant and repressive, as well as personally repugnant to the good captain, but that really didn’t give him license to destroy it and completely disrupt the life of every person on the planet. And, as Spock alluded, an extensive study of Landru’s computer would’ve been very valuable. But Kirk, as he was wont to do, set the people of Beta III back on a normal, human path. Then again, they weren’t humans. Hmmm…


And for the first time, Rob takes a crack at TOS:

Thanks to Eric and John for inviting me to co-blog this one.

"Archons" has always been one of my favorite Trek episodes, and it holds up well. The writers tackled big subjects – totalitarianism, communism, religion, colonialism, and mob psychology– without leaning on specific comparisons with current or historical events (as in 'Patterns of Force" or "The Omega Glory"). There are lots of striking and creepy images, such as the (viewing it now, very well-choreographed) crowd scenes, and the sinisterly-gentle holographic Landru. But there's some fun Kirk-Spock banter as well. And I love the way George Takei and DeForest Kelley play their characters after they've been absorbed. Their portrayals are essential for the plot.

So what's the deal with "the Red Hour"? Probably added as a "fight scene," it gives the story an extra layer of mystery – one that is never explained. My theory: it's the Landru-computer's concession to the id. Humans can't tolerate perfect peace and harmony. Like the underground man says in the Dostoyevsky book -- the crystal palace is lovely, but you wouldn't want to live in it. Deep stuff!

It's been said that Star Trek is all about the Cold War. This episode's a powerful take-down of communism, but it seems to have implications for religion as well. St. Paul referred to the Church as "the Body of Christ." "Archons" is also, less positively, an argument for overthrowing communist governments in Third World countries. Kirk justifies violating the prime directive because it only applies to "living, growing" cultures. Really? He'd make a great CIA lawyer! And the local resistance is led by half-committed wimps who require outsiders (read: Americans) to give them spine.

Some would dismiss as ridiculous Kirk's amazing ability to talk computers into destroying themselves. Well, how else is the Enterprise going to defeat a foe with vast technological superiority? IMHO, that's how "The Squire of Gothos" should have ended. (Sorry, Eric!) That's a classic Trek theme – the triumph of reason and creativity over brute force. I just told my PC: "A question has been put to you. Answer it!"


Thanks bro!

All three of us really liked this one. I don't remember it being one of my real faves long ago: the shortage of fistfights and space battles makes that tough when you're ten. However, I have much more appreciation for it as an adult. As Eric and Rob both point out, this episode covers a lot of intellectual ground, much more than the usual TOS Trek episode. I can just imagine the NBC censors looking at this one and saying, "well, that's okay, it isn't about religion. Jesus wouldn't build a mind-enslaving computer to run the Earth!" Uh, yeah. However it happened, this one got on the air with some thought-provoking ideas. It'd be interesting to see what the 1967 audience thought of this one.

This episode does a really good job conveying the creepy oppression of the Landru-state. The way the people behave as well as Sulu and McCoy's behavior after being absorbed makes it even more of a menace. But this guy takes the cake:


This guy was just plain weird. He's played by a guy named Lev Mailer who apparently is an acting coach currently living here in MN. He looks like he should be in a Kurt Weil production and talks very strangely.

In the end, I think this episode strikes the right balance of science fiction ideas and social/political commentary. Here are a few odds and ends I liked/noted about this one:

"The Red Hour." It's a really interesting idea, a "pressure valve" as Eric calls it in our podcast, for the forcibly contented people under Landru. I also like the way that the story doesn't really explain the reason for it.

Marplon and Reger, the two who resist Landru, aren't your average underground resistance movement. They are actually wracked with doubt and are unsure of what they're doing on some level. All the better for Kirk to swoop in as the confident American to save them!

Kirk vs. Landru the computer god/commie party dictator. As Eric said, it was the first, but far from the last time he's found himself in a position to talk a computer to death. Sometimes the original is the best.

The mystery of how Landru manages to channel his power through thin air as well as telepathically control an entire population is an interesting sci fi idea. It may not be entirely original, but for TV of the 1960s, it must have been pretty fresh and potent.

I really like the teaser/intro of this episode. There is no Captain's Log or other expository dialogue to tell you what Sulu and O'Neil are doing and why they're being chased by these guys in robes. It sets up the episode very well.

So, there you have it. One of the better episodes and we still have some real classics coming up.

Here's the podcast (for real fans only--30 minutes of Trek geek yacking!

Download the podcast

Next time: "Space Seed"


August 7, 2008

TOS Rewind #19: "Court Martial"

Tonight's episode: Court Martial (2/2/1967). The drink: another Moscow Mule (hey, Costco had a deal on limes!).

In "The Menagerie" we got to see Spock put on trial. This time, it's Kirk's turn: accused of negligence causing the death of one of his crew. Unfortunately, this episode isn't nearly as good. I had a brief chat with Eric about this one and we both agreed that this wasn't Trek at its best. Like the last episode we reviewed, this one isn't really sci fi or even adventure. It was a courtroom drama shoehorned into a Trek episode. The beauty of "The Menagerie" is that it managed to blend courtroom drama with a real science fiction plot. This one has a pretty flimsy techno-plot that I find hard to buy. I'll break this one into the tired pros and cons thing.


We get to see Kirk in a new, vulnerable position. By being involved with the death of a fellow officer, supposedly due to bad judgment, he even earns the ire of his colleagues on the starbase. Spock and McCoy naturally stand by their captain, but it looks bad for Kirk. It's worth watching this episode just for that small bit of character development. This was also a brief look at the inner workings of Starfleet; both the justice system and Starfleet Academy are discussed.

Elisha Cook Jr.'s performance as Kirk's attorney is another thing that holds our attention in this episode. Cook was a hard-working character actor who turned up in a ton of films and TV shows. He was a good choice to play the eccentric technophobic lawyer.


The Ion Pod techno-plot device seemed awfully ridiculous, even by old Trek standards. The idea that Finney could somehow be thrown out of this pod and turn up at some random part of the ship just didn't work for me. Also, how could this "records officer" (what, did he work for HR?) sabotage the Enterprise that Scotty or some engineer couldn't detect it or repair it? There are other examples, but it looks like sloppy writing that is distracting within the context of Trek.

Finney's daughter is inconsolable at the beginning of the episode and is bitter about Kirk supposedly causing her father's death. She has completely reversed her stance later in the show, which I found hard to buy. They sort-of explain this but something doesn't work. I read that there was a scene with her that was left out for time. This might have made this more believable.

The ideas here aren't bad; machine vs. man and a former friend seeking revenge. I have to wonder if the whole Finney resentment thing would have been more effective if the show's format had allowed some way to develop Finney as even a minor character with this showdown building in the background. It certainly would have given this idea and climax a lot more heft. Finney is just another new character we'd never heard of, one with a long history with Kirk. But TOS was, like most TV at the time, quite episodic without the extended continuity and mile-long story arcs of today's TV dramas. It worked well most of the time for TOS and it isn't really fair, I suppose, to compare it like that. But hey, at least we had a fistfight in the engine room...with a really big wrench!

OK Eric, what do you have to say?


“Court Martial? is much like “The Conscience of the King? in that it isn’t really Star Trek or science fiction, and it isn’t one of my faves. (It also doesn’t have the advantage of a Shakespearean title or plot.) Like “The Conscience of the King,? it’s a story that could’ve been done on any TV drama. And that’s not to say that it’s a bad episode. Samuel T. Cogley (played by the late Elisha Cook) is a lot of fun. I particularly enjoy his impassioned speech about human rights. And the courtroom scenes are good too. Kirk’s testimony is nicely done, and the demonstrations of his crew’s loyalty are touching. I also like the opening scene where Kirk gets into a (verbal) fight with Commodore Stone—I’m not sure whether Kirk is gutsy or foolhardy, but it’s a good scene.

One major problem I have with this episode, other than those I already mentioned, is that it suggests that a non-engineering crew member could sabotage the Enterprise so cleverly and thoroughly that Scotty (the Miracle Worker) couldn’t fix it. Not!

Anyway, as I said before, this isn’t a bad epsiode, but when I watch a science fiction show (especially Star Trek), I want to see science fiction!

Next time: “Return of the Archons?

July 15, 2008

TOS Rewind #18: "Tomorrow is Yesterday"

Today's episode: Tomorrow is Yesterday (1/26/1967) The drink: beer (Blue Moon).

I'll have Eric take the first crack at this one:

“Tomorrow is Yesterday? holds the distinction of being the first Star Trek episode that featured time travel in a significant way. There was a brief instance of time travel at the very end of “The Naked Time,? but it was inconsequential and had no impact on the story. In “Tomorrow is Yesterday,? however, the Enterprise ends up in 1969 and accidentally destroys a US Air Force jet (an F-4 Phantom, I believe). The pilot, Captain John Christopher, is rescued, but Kirk and crew are then faced with three big problems: how to get back to the 23rd century, how to avoid disrupting the timeline, and what to do with their “guest.? These problems are further compounded when Spock discovers that Captain Christopher is destined to father the man who would command the first successful Earth-Saturn probe.

These problems are solved by using what they call the “light speed breakaway factor? to travel back to the instance when the Enterprise intercepts Captain Christopher’s jet and return him at that point. (Trivia note: This is the same technique they use in Star Trek IV to time travel back to 20th century Earth.) I won’t get into the scientific implausibility of this—suffice it to say it’s another instance where suspension of disbelief is required. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly decent story. In particular, I like the fact that the 20th century characters aren’t portrayed as ignorant, incompetent primitives in comparison to their 23rd century counterparts. One thing that surprises me about this episode, however, is that there is little or no commentary on the social/political situation in the United States of the late 1960s. It isn’t a big deal—later time travel episodes, like “Assignment Earth,? did so very effectively—it’s just surprising given Roddenberry’s passion for such commentary.

I don’t really have much more to say about this episode. The acting and directing are both good. It isn’t brilliant episode, but it is thought-provoking and entertaining, and that’s enough—they can’t all be gems.

First off, now that I've taken my long-ass vacation, it's time to get back on track with the Trek blogging.

As Eric said, this isn't one of the greats, though it is an entertaining one. He also mentioned that this was the first real time travel episode, aside from The Naked Time. I was reading today that this episode was originally intended as an immediate follow-up to that episode, which makes sense. It would have been interesting to have had these two as a 2 parter.

The time travel plot device has since become a staple of the Trek story ecosystem (some would say a tired one). Wait, is there such a thing as a "story ecosystem?" Sounds like BS to me, but I'm going with it. I remember really liking this one as a kid. In those days, the time travel thing hadn't been done so much and it was very compelling. The idea of the Enterprise hovering over "present day" Earth sounded cool.

Looking at it today, it comes off as a bit shallow, or a waste of a dramatic opportunity. However, it does lay some important groundwork for the time travel stories to come. One of the things that I noticed in this viewing was just how unfazed Kirk and the rest are about being in the past and having a guy aboard from the 60s. Kirk seems to be actually amused by the whole thing and almost acts disappointed when we learns that they have to return Capt. Christopher to Earth. It's so sad when your amusement is thwarted by history. The time travel idea would soon be used for a far more serious end in City on the Edge of Forever. Some of the very same ideas thrown about casually in this episode get more serious exploration.

Eric talked about the "slingshot" time warp trick already. The other thing it reminded me of was the kooky ending of Superman: The Movie when he flies around the Earth to turn back the clock. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples of this idea being used in the sci-fi/adventure/action realm.

I sampled the "remastered" version of this episode. I think this time it does improve on the original. For one, you actually get to see the Enterprise flying into the Sun and the breakaway. In the original, the Enterprise model just bounces around in place. Of course, like all the "updates," the new f/x just add a superficial layer onto the the show. Fun to see, but hardly essential.

Next time: “Court Martial?

May 18, 2008

TOS Rewind #17: "Arena"

Sorry about the long hiatus on Trek. For some reason, I've been out of the mood to do them, but am still determined so I'm going to write a very short entry and move along. Eric may have more to say here, but I have to get something out there and move along to the next episode, even if this one gets somewhat short shrift. So, we have Arena (1/19/1967). I don't remember what I was drinking, alas.

This episode does have a serious point to make, but it always gets a laugh out of me due to the low-budget alien. The Gorn looks a lot like some "Creature From The Black Lagoon" retread and it seems hard to believe these guys, who stagger around like...well, like a dude in a stiff rubber suit, can get much of anything done, let alone build spaceships. Okay, so I'm being a poop about the poor gravely-voiced Gorn, but it seems pretty silly. Then again, to be fair, I have to give Trek a shred of credit for trying something other than a regular human with a ridged forehead or funky costume.

"Arena" is one of those episodes where a superior alien race decides to teach us war-like humans a lesson (not to mention those other creeps we're fighting). The aliens seem to have equal contempt for both groups as they're willing to kill everyone aboard the losing ship. They claim that this is in the interest of peace. I'm not sure how this will ensure the peace, but whatever. Of course, I conclude from the end of this episode that Kirk and co. now at least know why the Earth colony was being attacked.

In the end, what we remember is the big fight between Kirk and the Gorn at that ever-so-useful piece of California real estate. The Gorn is clever, making that snare that almost kills Kirk, but Kirk makes a gun out of a bamboo tube and some conveniently available sulfur and coal. Clever humans!

See, wasn't that "merciful and quick"?!

Gene Roddenberry once said that Star Trek works by presenting an entertaining story, and while audience’s guard is down, slipping in a heavy idea or two. And since it’s all couched in science fiction, it’s easier to get the commentary on current events (and the human condition in general) past the network censors.

“Arena? is a good example of this pattern. Kirk, thanks to a highly advanced race, finds himself on a uninhabited planet squared off against the captain of an alien ship that attacked a Federation colony. This other captain is from a race called the Gorn, which has always looked to me like some kind of evolved dinosaur. (And let’s get the criticism of the Gorn suit and makeup out of the way now--yes, it’s laughably fake, but it was the mid-60s and they were on a shoestring budget.) Anyway, this is an interesting comparison given the episode of Star Trek: Enterprise (4th season) that featured a CGI Gorn that looked much like a velociraptor from “Jurassic Park.? Of course, if Kirk had been doing unarmed battle with that Gorn, he would’ve been bloody scraps in about thirty seconds.

But I digress, the good captain does survive. One minor complaint is that the “gunpowder? he concocts shouldn’t have worked. And if it had, his improvised cannon probably would’ve blown up in his face and killed him. Still, this is a good Kirk episode—he’s clever, tough, and in the end, noble. And the story itself is good. There’s lots of action and suspense, and it introduces two new interesting races: the Metrons and the Gorn.

So “Arena? is an entertaining story, but where are Roddenberry’s heavy ideas? Actually, it’s not hard to identify them. One is the familiar Star Trek theme that an enemy, or a perceived enemy, is rarely pure evil and often, once understood, is not actually an enemy. The other idea is also familiar to Trek and is demonstrated by Kirk at the end of the episode. He spares the life of the Gorn captain and by doing so, shows that mercy can overcome the human instinct for revenge; it just takes the ability to reason and a conscious intention not to give in to anger.

Next time: “Tomorrow is Yesterday?

March 3, 2008

TOS Rewind #16: "The Squire of Gothos"

Today's episode: The Squire of Gothos (1/12/1967). The drink: beer (Smithwick's).

This entry gets a double shot: written and podcast (see the end of the post for the link). Eric gets the first part:

Doc and I just did our podcast of this episode, so I’ll keep this short. Simply put, “The Squire of Gothos? is one of my favorite episodes. It’s a wonderfully imaginative story (with a really cool twist at the end) that is not only great Trek but great SF.

First, a couple of pieces of trivia: 1) William Campbell also played the Klingon Captain Koloth in the second season episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.?

2) In the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, William Campbell was originally going to reprise his role as Trelane (a grown up version), but Roddenberry ended up going with John DeLancie as Q. It’s assumed, though, that Trelane and his parents were also part of the Q. If you watch the early ST:TNG episodes with Q, you’ll see that the open handed gesture Q makes when using his powers is the same gesture Trelane uses in “The Squire of Gothos.?

I have no big complaints with this episode. There are some technical errors, but Doc and I covered those in the podcast. One thing that just occurred to me, though, is that Trelane’s folks showing up in the nick of time to rescue Kirk and company could be considered a deus ex machina. But if so, it’s not blatant, and it works well in the context of the story rather than coming across as a contrived plot device.

At its heart, this is just a very well done episode: terrific idea, great writing, solid directing and production, and great acting. For example, Trelane is comic, if a little nuts, at first, and then he steadily becomes more malevolent. Campbell does a great job maintaining a petulant, spoiled brat demeanor throughout, but it doesn’t become clear that that’s what it is until the very end. When his parents come to take him “home? it’s a genuine (and delightful) surprise because everything comes together and makes sense.

So the story is based on a really cool concept—an incredibly powerful alien child who plays with the Enterprise crew like a human child might play with an ant colony—and it’s also an example of excellent story telling. And, unfortunately, great storytelling is not that common in TV, or the movies, today.

Okay, so here are some brief points I got from watching this one.

Even though the idea of beings that can manipulate energy/matter with their minds alone (or with the aid of some sort of tool as in "Forbidden Planet") had been done prior to this episode, I can't think of an example in which this had been done with this kind of flourish. The Q-like (or he is Q) being has human-like traits. One could argue that this is the idea that even if humans get to the point where they can do this sort of thing, they'll retain their immaturity (at least when they're young). And the Q of Next Gen is obviously a being that never grew up! So, Trelane turns out to be a spoiled child. This of course allows for the "parents" to bail out Kirk and co. at the end of the show, but this is tough to avoid when you pit mere humans against all-powerful uber-beings.

The acting is quite good here with Campbell standing out as trelane. Kirk and Spock get to play along while looking annoyed. There is a lot of fun in this episode, which makes it more rewarding for me as a "lightweight" episode than "Shore Leave." Both episodes have ideas behind their plots, but this one is, for me, better executed. And hey, how often does one get to see Uhura play the harpsichord?

And here's Eric and my podcast for this episode:

Download file

Next time: “Arena?

February 12, 2008

TOS Rewind #15: "The Galileo Seven"

Tonight's episode: The Galileo Seven (1/5/1967). The drink: orange juice (I'm trying to get over a cold, so no booze for me).

Without a doubt, this is a Spock episode. Sure, there's the conflict between Kirk and the Commissioner, but this is a sideshow. By placing Spock in a stressful command situation, we get a great chance to see more character development at work.

I've always appreciated this episode for the added complexity it gives Spock. The script shows him having to deal with a very difficult command situation where logic isn't always the right solution. You can really see the character struggling with this as the situation deteriorates on the planet. Nimoy pulls out a good performance with actual nuance. The scene where everyone feels it necessary to kill some of the cavemen/aliens to keep them at bay illustrates the very well. Spock knows that this is the way to go and yet he allows his ideals as a scientist and as an individual, sway him. By refusing to take life, which he slams the human members of the shuttle crew for having disregard for, and stubbornly clinging to the idea that the creatures will behave logically, he puts his command in further jeopardy. This "routine" scientific mission becomes the ultimate command training scenario, with real stakes. Making matters worse is the fact that the crew under his command doesn't have much confidence in his leadership abilities. In fact, they're downright mean to the guy! The one exception is Scotty; probably due to the fact that he's too busy repairing the ship.

Some things I didn't like as much:

The tension between Kirk and the Commissioner was a bit over-the-top. The time crunch pressure should have been enough tension without having the Commissioner, the reminder of the time factor, having to be such a cold-hearted asshat. The shuttle crewmen seem overly hostile toward Spock from the beginning. The blatant disregard for his command seems silly and unrealistic. They could have done that situation with more subtlety. I'm sure they were trying to work in more bigotry and added tension, but this is overdone in the context of the Starfleet military structure. Don't get me wrong, it's really a minor quibble in what's got to be one of the best TOS episodes.

I watched the remastered version of this episode, since I had it handy. I found this to be one of the better efforts with the new F/X. Since there are a number of shots of the shuttle, the planet, and the space quasar phenomenon, I actually liked it pretty well. Here's a sample:


Of course, all the plastic boulders and goofy caveman guys and their spears are just as fake as you remember. The thing I remember being most impressed about growing up was the visual of the shuttle leaving the hangar bay. The original shot still holds up well today, though the new scene adds some CG goodies. Other than that, how can you beat watching a random crewman (non-red shirt) getting impaled by a giant spear!

And on to Mr. Eric:

Somehow, after freezing my ass off shoveling a mountain of snow out of my driveway for the 10,581,869th time (yes, I’m keeping track), I managed to rewatch “The Galileo Seven.? Not surprisingly, it was far more enjoyable than shoveling snow. In fact, this episode holds up very well and remains a favorite of mine. I find it fascinating because it’s an insightful examination of the qualities that make a good leader, and it’s done through a clever comparison of Kirk and Spock in their respective leadership roles.

Before I get started, one bit of trivia is that this was the first episode that featured the shuttlecraft. It wasn’t shown or referred to earlier because AMT (the company that produced the original series model kits) built the full-sized shuttlecraft mockup and was very late finishing it. This is also why Roddenberry came up with the transporter—without the shuttlecraft, he had to have some way of getting people to and from the Enterprise.

Another piece of trivia, technical this time, is that the depiction of the quasar in this episode was accurate based on what we knew in 1967, but in the intervening 41 years, astronomers have reached consensus that quasars are the very bright, distant, and active nuclei of young galaxies. 20/20 astrophysical hindsight...

Anyway, I’ve always enjoyed “The Galileo Seven? because it takes an insightful look at command and leadership. Spock gets his first command when Kirk puts him in charge of the science team being sent to investigate the Murasaki 312 quasar, and as soon as the team’s shuttlecraft crashes on Taurus II (a planet within the quasar), we see just how committed Spock is to basing his command on logic. On the Enterprise, by way of contrast, we see Kirk’s very human approach to command. He is determined not to leave his missing crewmates behind, despite the demands and threats of this episode’s resident bureaucrat, Galactic High Asshole Ferris. Kirk chooses compassion and loyalty, and insists on searching for the missing team until the last possible second, even though it could cost him his captaincy. Spock, however, takes a dispassionate approach that discounts the fact that emotional creatures, humans or the primitive anthropoid inhabitants of Taurus II, don’t react logically to emotionally charged situations. And this causes significant trouble for him. Thankfully, with McCoy’s “guidance,? Spock starts to understand that while logic and reason are important tools for a commander, feelings (intuition?) are just as important. And armed with this realization, he manages to get the team (minus two crewmen) off the planet, hopefully to rendezvous with the Enterprise.

This is where there is a wonderful convergence of loyalty and irrationality. Kirk, under duress from Ferris, is forced to abandon the search for Spock’s team, but he proceeds at the slowest possible speed and keeps every sensor directed toward Taurus II. And as ingenious as this is, it is Spock who makes it possible for the team to be rescued (in the nick of time) by making the completely illogical choice to burn the last of the shuttlecraft’s fuel to send a distress signal that the Enterprise picks up. So the team is rescued and Kirk and Spock show that a good leader has to base decisions on reason and logic that is leavened with emotional insight and occasionally, irrationality. And if they’re lucky, friendship.

Next time: “The Squire of Gothos?

February 8, 2008

Star Trek: The Nostalgic Picture

So last night I'm sitting in my home office transferring the Laserdisc of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) onto the computer for DVD burning and I get to thinking a little about this film. Why am I spending time transferring an old Laser when there's a DVD available (which I own)? Because this is the only way to view the original theatrical cut of the film in its 'scope aspect ratio. The old VHS and Beta (yes, I have one of these too!) video tapes were pan/scanned and used the television cut which ran 143 minutes. This version, which was never mastered at the correct aspect ratio, has a bunch of scenes that are either redundant or detract from the film. Let's face it: the original version (132 minutes) is long enough as it is (there's truth to the joke, "Star Trek: The Motion(less) Picture").

The Laser version is the way the film ran when I first saw it in 1979. The current DVD, which has some interesting updates and a bunch of bonuses, lacks the original theatrical version. They did this kind of tweaking to Blade Runner, but gave fans the option of buying a set with the theatrical cut. So, this is Trek: fans are well used to re-purchasing material. I'm sure they would have paid a few extra bucks for a version of this DVD that included all the various cuts. I know I would have. But they didn't, so here I am copying over the disc. It's analog video that looks inferior to the DVD, but it's original.

So what about this movie? Needless to say, it isn't the best film of the series. Many don't care for or are indifferent to it. Much of the criticism of the film is valid; for one take on it, check out this review by DVD Savant. Allow me to make a few critical comments...

1) The original cast standing around with little to do than pose for reaction shots. I think this gets at the heart of what's wrong with the film: where's the chemistry? They manage to get everyone back (even Janice Rand!) from the original series and the screenplay has them either making speeches or interacting in slight monotones. There are a few moments where the old character interaction comes back, but it's far too infrequent. The Decker (unit!) and Ilia characters seem to have more spark than the crew we all know/love (and this is sad since they're pretty lame characters). I see two reasons for this: the writing and the directing. The dialog is what it is, but couldn't Wise have wrung some emotion out of the scenes sometimes? I found myself missing the Shatner scenery-chewing (scary).

2) Long and boring. This is often why people have negative reactions to the film. Part of the problem here is that all the grand camera sweeps around the new Enterprise don't have the same impact on a small screen. I remember being blown out of my seat at the Rapid Theater when I first saw it. There was a lot of anticipation attached to that film. All I'd seen was the TV show and this was the new, big, shiny Enterprise on the big screen with a pompous (but in a good way) musical score to match. There's even an overture. Some of that slow exposition works well getting us back into the Trek world. They do spend too much time later on in the film showing off the effects and having the actors look like they're as impressed as we should be. There is a lot of standing around talking; this is a slow, deliberate "ideas" movie without much in the way of space battles or Kirk rolling around in the dirt fighting. One scene that stands out in all of this is the opening where the Klingons are re-introduced. Between the great music and the models/effects (which always looked good to me), this section kicks butt.

Another thing that DVD Savant points out, which I agree with, is the costumes and color schemes. The film has a drab color that isn't helped by the silly pajama-like uniforms the crew wear. And what's with the probe-Ilia's voice? If the probe duplicates the person "in every detail," why the robo-voice? Did they think the audience wouldn't remember her being zapped beforehand?

The "director's cut" DVD redoes effects and slightly reedits the film. Nothing substantial here. Sure, there are some cool-looking effects that appear, but it doesn't address the fundamental problems with the movie. Not that it could, really, unless there was some completely different version of the film out there.

Okay, so I have problems with the film. If so, why spend the time to preserve the theatrical version I've been slamming?

Nostalgia, obviously plays a big part. I have a soft spot for the film, not as much as the original Star Wars, but it is important. One of the things, besides the nostalgia angle, is how the cast still looks somewhat young in this film. Shatner looks reasonably fit and the rest of the cast is in pretty good shape. It's fun the see the TV cast on the big screen before they really got old. So, this isn't that significant a deal, but there's just something about it being the connection between the series and the long-running movie franchise.

Whenever I see this film today, I can't help but wonder what it could have been. Maybe the pressures of the release schedule (well-documented) were to blame, but if the screenplay had just placed more emphasis on the characters than the "space wedgie", it could have been much better. I was psyched to see the Enterprise on the big screen, but what we all really wanted was to see the old cast get back out there. Just having them present was great, but it could have been so much more. The tired old humans vs. machines thing wasn't what we want, it's Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and co. that we lined up back in 1979 to see. But we have what we have and I'll continue to enjoy it with my nostalgic haze, even from that mediocre Laserdisc.

January 20, 2008

TOS Rewind #14: Shore Leave

The episode: Shore Leave (12/29/1966). The drink: White Russian (I'm holding a beverage here!).

A friend of mine once came up with a term for this kind of episode: Jiffy Trek. The "jiffy" episode is usually pretty lightweight and doesn't advance the story arc of the show. This sums up this one pretty well. There is some light character development and lots of jokes. Even though this episode isn't one of my favorites, I still enjoy seeing it. Growing up, much of it was a bore for me, save for the extended fistfight sequences between Kirk and his old nemesis Finnegan. Kirk and an Irish guy rolling around in the dirt classic!

The characters get a little bit of fleshing out: you meet two people from Kirk's past (what's with the costume the actress playing Ruth is wearing?!?!) and some fun bits of Sulu playing with guns. The woman, Angela, is the same person as Angela Martine from "Balance of Terror." If you recall, she lost her fiance' in the episode. Funny how she's already rebounded to a new crewman. To be fair, this episode wasn't produced in this order and I don't think the script was written with this intent. I have to admit that I still get a kick out of the Kirk/Finnegan scenes; they're really fun. The other amusing scenes involve McCoy and Kirk. They have some funny lines and I love it when McCoy reappears with the showgirls on his arms. When one of them goes to Spock, Nimoy barely suppresses a smile. Tee hee.

One of the things that bugs me about this one is the subplot about the planet draining the ship's energy. I know they had to do something to keep a bit of tension going, but this just seems like a weak contrivance. The music in this one is a mixed bag, literally. Some of the cues work well, but other parts of the show feel like the cues were just thrown together. Seeing how good the music works in the best Trek episodes, this is a small disappointment.

So, this one is just OK. I appreciate it more watching the run in broadcast order since this one comes after a string of fairly serious episodes. The pacing works and perhaps this is one example where the network put a small amount of thought into which ones to air when.

And now on to Eric:

This will be another short review. Not because “Shore Leave? is a bad episode, it’s just not a fave. When one of the first things we see is a giant, obviously fake, white rabbit and a little blonde girl (Alice from “Through the Looking Glass?) it’s a little hard to regard the episode as something other than camp. This is unfortunate, however, because the premise is actually quite interesting—a planet created by an advanced race for the sole purpose of providing a simple, carefree source of entertainment and relaxation. Cool. But dangerous (or at least unsettling) if you don’t know what’s going on.

Such an imaginative idea really is no surprise given that the episode was written by SF vet Theodore Sturgeon (who also wrote the second season episode “Amok Time?). My understanding, however, is that Roddenberry wrote (or rewrote) the screenplay. In fact, supposedly, he was sitting in a trailer on-site pounding out the last acts of the script as the first acts were being shot. But I digress.

Besides having an interesting premise, this episode also provides a great opportunity for very economical character development: Sulu collects antique guns, McCoy has a streak of gentlemanly lechery, and Kirk, when he was a plebe (or first year cadet) at Starfleet Academy, was tormented by an upperclassman named Finnegan. This is nicely consistent with what’s revealed in “Where No Man Has Gone Before? (i.e. that Kirk was an extremely serious student). We also meet one of Kirk’s long-lost conquests: Ruth. Following the academy years theme, I had to wonder if she was the blonde lab assistant Gary Mitchell mentions in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.? In any case, there were several nice character moments. For example, I really like the way Spock maneuvers Kirk into going down to the planet for shore leave.

Here’s a wild idea--maybe this episode was a way to talk about tripping on LSD without having the crew drop acid. It was the 60s after all.

No? Okay. It was worth a try.

So, there’s nothing wrong with this episode, it’s just a little too campy (or perhaps silly) to be a favorite. Maybe it would be if the production hadn’t been rushed or had been approached differently. Oh well, at least it wasn’t “Spock’s Brain.?

Next time: “The Galileo Seven?

December 22, 2007

TOS Rewind #13: "Balance of Terror"

Today's episode: Balance of Terror (12/13/66). The drink: Auchentoschen Triple Wood scotch. I should mention that I've stopped using the site for reference as it's going to be shuttered and found the superior Memory-Alpha site. It's basically a big Trek Wiki. Loads of interesting info.

Just for fun, we're going to not only look at the original episode, but also the CG-enhanced remastered version. Content-wise, they're really the same, but the new effects work is an interesting contrast.

Let me just start off my saying that this is one of the best TOS episodes, period. I don't know if it's the best one, but it's got to be in the top 5 or perhaps 3. The show contains a lot of ideas and story for a single episode and despite being cribbed from a WW II movie, still seems fresh and exciting.

When I was watching Trek growing up, this one was always a favorite for obvious reasons: space battle! None of this romance or Earth-like societies run amuck, this has ships fighting, phasers, and explosions. And watching Kirk out-maneuver the Romulan commander was sweet. Today, those aspects do still hold up, but the character and story ideas are what puts this one over the top.

Story-wise, this episode is a re-work of the film The Enemy Below (1957). I haven't seen the movie (I've been meaning to check it out), but there's at least one other WW II submarine film that resembles this episode. The similarities are quite apparent from the dueling captains in their game of space war chess to the Romulan bridge which looks a bit like a submarine control center. It almost looks like there's a periscope in the middle of the console!

The Romulans: the idea of these people being an offshoot of the Vulcans was a great idea, one that was taken well advantage of in TNG and other Trek shows. Sure, they look like Vulcans with different costumes, but there's a well-defined difference between them and it allows the writers to work in the tension between Spock and Stiles. On that note, I find it interesting that even though Roddenberry made great pains to show that racism is a thing of the past in the Trek universe, it's on display with Mr. Stiles. I guess he just meant that to be regarding human racism, not bigotry directed at other species. (!) Nonetheless, it adds character tension and provides the chance for some backstory: the previous war between Earth and the Romulans. The Romulan commander is a classic sea captain, one who is ruthlessly efficient, yet intelligent enough to respect a worthy opponent. He is also wise enough to question the motives of the Romulan leadership's desire for war. Mark Lenard puts in a great performance here. This remains one of the best single performances of the Original Series.

Kirk is very cool-headed and thoughtful in this episode and, in a way, has similar attitudes to his Romulan counterpart. He has a scene in his quarters that seems right out of "The Cage" where he questions whether or not he's really making the right decisions. Swap Pike for Kirk and Dr. Boyce for McCoy and you have it. I don't really mind it being here as it provides a break in the otherwise fast pace of the story, but it is awfully similar. Spock gets to do some background on his race, which is nice and be a hero when he pulls Stiles out of the control room, saving his life. Stiles clearly doesn't know what to say when Spock says he's merely doing his job.

The suspense and drama in this episode work very well. The way they don't reveal the enemy right away is very effective and even though the cloaking device is a stand-in for a submerged submarine, it works. The first time the ship de-cloaks, it looks almost ghostly, an apparition preparing to unleash its cloud of fire. The way we watch the outposts get blasted builds the tension; we don't know who they are of why they're doing it. The human tragedy angle revolves around the Martine/Tomlinson couple, whose wedding is interrupted by the Romulan attack on the outposts. This is one of the only times in TOS where religion is really shown in any way; Martine's clearly praying (some have ID'd this as Catholic) in some kind of chapel. She also prays at the end scene where she's mourning her dead fiance'. I know I'm probably reaching a bit here, but I have to wonder about the fact that she's the one person who is outwardly religious and loses her beloved, the only casualty in the battle. Nothing to it, I'm sure, but I found it interesting. I also noted the end scene where she's mourning and Kirk tries to comfort her. He says something about there being a reason for it; in a way Kirk is playing the part of a priest I suppose. He doesn't sound like he really believes it himself. Martine finds this welcome, but not helpful. This scene appears to be a bookend to the story, a closing bit, but I found it containing a lot more meaning, even in what wasn't said. Kirk wasn't feeling victorious. Between watching the Romulan commander, whom he seemed to respect on some level destroy his own ship and having to place some meaning in the death of one of his crew, he seemed to be feeling empty and unsure of his own beliefs. You could argue that I'm going to far with this, but that's the way it played for me.

Another World War II idea in this episode that occurred to me surrounds the Neutral Zone outposts and the first Earth/Romulan war. This setup reads like another WW II scenario: the earlier war is WW I and the outposts are The Maginot Line. The first World War idea is obvious. The outposts, which are easily bypassed by the invaders (Germans/Romulans), are the symbol representing a false sense of security. The wall is sundered, the conflict begins again. I often see metaphors for the Cold War in original Trek, but clearly Roddenberry was heavily influenced by WW II; this episode really demonstrates it.

So, a very good episode that has really stood the test of time well. Let's talk briefly about the CG-enhanced version that I watched.

In case you're not up to speed on the "remastered" versions, they basically replaced all the exterior shots with new effects. So, anything that has the actors in it stayed the same. I've always found this a bit jarring. When they go back and forth between the modern-looking space effects and the 1966 bridge, it just doesn't match. However, I do find it interesting to see what they can do with the new technology, so I am a bit mixed on this. The thing that surprised me most about this particular episode is how little the new effects added to the space shots, which are an important part of this show. They tried to keep the look of the ships true to the original, so they don't really look that much more impressive. The only stuff that really looked better to me were the shots of the star background and the comet; nice looking visuals. One effect that was worse, to me, was the shot where the Romulan ship appears for the first time. In the original, the ship fades into view using some kind of optical effect, I assume. It looks fuzzier/grainier than the new shot where the ship just sort of pops in. The rough look gives it more of a ghostly/scarier look to me. This effect has always worked very well for me; a somewhat creepy entrance of a new villain.

My, that was a long, rambling entry! Now, let's see what Eric had to say about this one:

Let me say first that “Balance of Terror? is one of my favorite Star Trek episodes. It succeeds brilliantly on many levels, so I’m really jazzed to do this review. At the same time, it has turned out to be very difficult because there is so much I could address. I’m merciful, however, so I narrowed it down to three reasons this episode works so well: the development of the Star Trek universe is creative and imaginative, the overall production is great, and it is a superbly crafted story that is a metaphor for the Cold War and other important social issues from the 1960s.

Before I get to the actual review, I watched the remastered version of this episode and compared it to the original version. The story and dialog were (thankfully) untouched in the remastered version. but the special effects were cleaned up and enhanced digitally. It was cool to see what the FX might’ve looked like if Roddenberry had had today’s CGI technology in 1966, and the new shots of the ships and battle were well done. In this particular episode, however, it really didn’t make any difference to me. The original FX worked well enough, and the strength of this episode is in the story and the characters.

So, to begin with, the introduction of the Romulans into the Star Trek universe was brilliantly imaginative and effective. They’re an interesting and complex race and culture that has provided grist for many episodes and other interesting extrapolation in various forms. The fact that they’re related to the Vulcan race is fascinating and gives the Trek universe a sense of depth and ancient history. It also provides some delicious intrigue: When, how, and why did the two races split? We also learn that the Federation fought a war with the Romulan Empire over 100 years before “Balance of Terror? takes place. I would’ve loved to see “Enterprise? (the Trek spin-off series) deal with this, but they never did. And although I haven’t kept up with the Star Trek novels, I don’t think the Romulan War has ever been covered substantively. In any case, this episode introduced several important elements to the Star Trek universe, and it did it in an entertaining, believable, and interesting way.

In addition to making major contributions to the Trek universe, “Balance of Terror? was very well produced. The writing, direction, and acting are all top notch, but what I appreciate most of all is that the characterizations are spot on. Characters like Scotty, and Uhura, and Sulu, don’t get much time, but they are exactly as I expect them to be. I liked seeing Uhura take the helm when the navigator is called away and Sulu’s argument with Stiles in the briefing room is well-done. The so-called supporting characters don’t get much screen time, but they’re the ones who really give the show an ensemble feel. But on to the main characters. Kirk is at his best as a tactician, but it’s good to see that his confidence is tempered by a healthy dose of humanizing self-doubt. Kirk’s compassion also comes through movingly when he comforts the young woman whose fiancé was killed in the battle. And to give credit where credit is due, Shatner does an excellent job keeping his performance reined in. Similarly, DeForest Kelley imbues McCoy with his characteristic humanism without getting sappy or maudlin. The reassuring talk McCoy gives Kirk is one of the best in the whole series, and it highlights the quality of their friendship. Spock, as usual, provides the vital scientific/technical support, but there is much more to Nimoy’s performance. He conveys a subtle but very real sense that Spock feels like an outsider (a feeling that is significantly aided and abetted by Stiles’ overt racism). I also like that there is a definite impression that Spock is distressed to learn that the enemy (the Romulans) are an offshoot of the Vulcan race. Finally, Mark Lenard (who later played Spock’s father, Sarek) was superb as the Romulan commander. He managed to tell us volumes about the Romulan race in just a few scenes. And we feel for him too. He isn’t a bloodthirsty martinet, he’s a soldier doing a hateful task because he is duty and honor bound to do so. I’ve seen this episode dozens of times, and I still find it poignant when the Romulan commander tells Kirk: “In a different reality, I could’ve called you friend.?

Finally, there are quite a few themes woven into this episode, but one of the most noticeable is the situation between the Federation and the Romulan Empire and how it parallels the constant game of brinksmanship the United States was waging with the Soviet Union in the 60s. (I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that there’s an allusion to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.) And I like the way the comparison is made without bludgeoning the audience. It’s a good example of why Roddenberry created Star Trek, he wanted to talk about current issues (and the human condition in general), but he wanted to do so through science fiction rather than outright punditry. Another issue this episode deals with is racism, which was a major issue in the 60s (and still is, unfortunately). Lieutenant Stiles is prejudiced against the Romulans because several of his family members were lost in the Romulan War. This is understandable, if unacceptable, but he transfers this bigotry to Spock when they learn that the Romulan and Vulcan races are related. Kirk reprimands him for it, in a nice show of personal loyalty to Spock, but Stiles doesn’t come around until Spock saves his life at the risk of his own. The lesson may be a little overt, but it is well taken and it was just as important then as it is now.

In the end, the underlying theme of this episode is arguably the cost of war. The Romulans needlessly lost an entire ship and crew, and the young Enterprise officer who was going to get married (just before the battle started) dies manning a phaser station. Kirk tells his fiancée, “It never makes any sense.? It never has, it doesn’t now, and it never will.

Next time: “Shore Leave?

November 13, 2007

TOS Rewind #12: "The Conscience of the King"

After "The Menagerie," we make a decidedly different turn to The Conscience of the King (Original air date: 12-8-66). First off, I hadn't seen this one in a while, but remembered enough of it to be wary of revisiting. When I was growing up, this was a bit of a snoozefest for me primarily, as Eric has pointed out that it really isn't science fiction at all. I think I actually appreciated it more now than before. There are some ideas expressed in this episode that are important, such as the revelation that Kirk was present on a colony where there was a mass slaughter and the placing of the often-told Nazi hunter character onto Kirk.

We also get another situation that pits Kirk against Spock. Kirk is going underground in pursuit of Karidian, including taking the Enterprise off course. This scenario will be brought back in the episode, "Obsession."

Highlights: I liked Kirk in this show. He gets to be a slightly more complex character, especially when he seduces Karidian's daughter to get close to him (some of the back and forth flirting is pretty silly though). He is obviously attracted to her, but in the end plans to use her to accomplish his goals. He also expresses a truly thoughtful side when he ponders whether or not Karidian is the man he's after. Kirk really seems to be conflicted when he considers that the man may not be the mass murderer he's looking for instead of just pushing blindly ahead. The actor playing Koridian does a nice job, dramatic, but appropriate. I was also glad to see Kevin Riley return and wish they'd found a way to make more use of him. Finally, there's a short scene where McCoy is drunk in sickbay and tries to get Spock to join in.

Lowpoints: The character of Lenore is really overdone, IMO. The dramatic scenes she's in had the tendency to make me giggle. I blame the acting as well as the writing. And, the superimposing of the Shakespearean elements onto the story are heavy-handed at times.

So, a bit of an oddball episode, but it does have some good qualities.

And now, Eric:

This will be a short review—I think Doc, Andy, and I had a good discussion of this episode in our podcast. And, more to the point, “The Conscience of the King? isn’t one of my favorite episodes. It’s not that there’s anything glaringly wrong with it: the story and direction are both good, the production values are decent, and the acting is reasonably good too. The problem is that this episode isn’t science fiction or Star Trek; it’s Star Trek does Shakespeare. The plot, characters, and even the title are all Shakespearean, and as such, they work pretty well. Lenore has interesting elements of both Lady Macbeth and Ophelia, and Anton Karidian is basically an amalgam of Lear and Macbeth. All well and good, but “The Conscience of the King? is a story that could’ve been done by any TV drama. Star Trek is at it’s best when it does stories that can only be told through science fiction, and we’ll see some great examples of this in upcoming episodes.

Next time: “Balance of Terror?

We've added our latest podcast, "The Briefing Room" to this entry. It's a long one, but we had Eric participating as well.

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October 18, 2007

TOS Rewind #11: "The Menagerie"

And now we get to The Menagerie (Original air dates: 11-17-66 and 11-24-66). The drink this time is a gin Martini (in recognition of the line, "who wants a warm Martini?").

This episode an unusual one. It's the only 2 part episode done for the series. While future Trek series would expand the multi-part format further (DS9, in particular), having a 2 parter was pretty new at the time. According to what I have read, this one was come up with due to the fact that production was falling behind at the time and NBC needed more content. Roddenberry got creative and reused the old rejected pilot, "The Cage" and built a frame story around it with the current cast. I have to wonder if this kind of thing had ever been done like this before. The effective reuse of another episode shows some very original thinking.

The situation in which this episode was produced could have easily resulted in a throw-away show to get around the problem. One Next Generation episode (end of season 2, IIRC) did something like this, but the result was extreme lameness. Truly a fine example of a weak clip show. This episode is anything but a tossed-off effort. Roddenberry constructs a compelling story that not only integrates the material from the old pilot, but even manages to further develop the Spock character. This episode really builds the foundation of Spock's enduring loyalty to his captain(s). The drama of the court martial is well paced and really builds the mystery of the Talos IV world. Kirk gets some good scenes in this one where he grapples with Spock's mutinous actions. Shatner manages a good mix of anger and hurt betrayal when he confronts Spock. The Mendez character makes a good foil for Kirk and serves to keep the story moving.

The core material used from "The Cage" is well-chosen. I've seen the uncut version of the episode and they seemed to have picked the more significant portions of the show. I won't spend a lot of time talking about this material since we're going to review "The Cage" later. One of the things that is fun about this episode is being able to compare the original cast to the more familiar one. At first glance, Jeffrey Hunter's Captain Pike is different from the familiar Kirk, but his character is actually more similar than I used to think. If Shatner has an old-school style of acting, Hunter is even more in this camp. It isn't really fair to compare Roddenberry's first captain character attempt, but Pike always comes off as a bit stiff. One of the characters I always enjoy from this early effort is the doctor, a proto-McCoy, if you will.

So, this one overall holds up very well for me and is perhaps better than I remember.

And now Eric's take:

Before I start this review, I should note that I have a cat in my lap “helping? me, so this will no doubt be the best review I’ve done…

When I was much younger, the only way I could see Star Trek was to catch it in reruns. (Yes, I lived in the time before VCRs.) Of course, there was no way to control which episodes were shown, so I was particularly thrilled when I got to see “The Menagerie.? I think this was because I saw it as a chance to step back into the future history of Star Trek, where there’s an earlier captain and crew (except for Spock) and the Enterprise is visibly different. Besides that, it’s just a good episode: It’s unique among original Star Trek episodes, and it features not just one, but two wonderfully imaginative science fiction stories where we get to see some great character development.

“The Menagerie? is unique because it is the only two-part episode in the original series, and as far as I know, it is the only television show that has managed to televise an unaired pilot as an integral part of a different episode. The unaired pilot I refer to is, of course, “The Cage,? Gene Roddenberry’s first pilot that was rejected by the NBC studio execs as being too “cerebral? and not having enough action. I’ve never been able to understand these criticisms, but I admire Roddenberry’s ingenuity in getting his original pilot aired (indirectly at least) over the protests of the studio pinheads. Of course, the official story is that there was a budget crunch, so Roddenberry had to use whatever footage he had to his best advantage. Hence, a two-part episode that incorporated an edited version of “The Cage.?

So from a production standpoint, “The Menagerie? is unique, but what really makes it a standout episode among original Trek episodes is that both “The Cage? and “The Menagerie? are excellent examples of imaginative science fiction. I won’t go into an analysis of the “The Cage? right now, (Doc and I will address it once we finish reviewing all three seasons of classic Trek) but there is much to say about “The Menagerie.? First, it is remarkably clever. It is a good story in its own right, but Roddenberry, who wrote the episode, managed to work most of “The Cage? into the narrative without it seeming contrived. There is also a nice element of suspense: Why is Spock so intent on taking Captain Pike to Talos IV? Why would the Talosians want a human who is a complete invalid? And will Spock be executed for violating General Order 7?

These are all interesting questions, but I feel obliged to voice one other nagging question I’ve never been able to reconcile—why didn’t Spock simply do a mind meld on Pike to find out what he wants and what he’s thinking? Someone once suggested, in a fan magazine, that it was because too many of Pike’s nerves had been damaged by the radiation he’d endured. I find this hard to accept, however, because it doesn’t explain how the doctor’s able to tap into his brain so that Pike could signal yes and no.

In any case, what to me overrides any flaws like this is the character interaction and development in this episode. Spock’s concern for Captain Pike is touching, and we quickly discover that his loyalty to Pike is so strong that he’s willing to risk his life for his former captain’s welfare. This is the first time the audience really gets to see the extent of Spock’s loyalty and how complete his integrity is. And it is not just Spock’s loyalty we see exemplified— both Kirk and McCoy, despite being confused and angry at his behavior, stand by him. These character traits are central to the theme and tone of the entire series and will play a decisive role in many later episodes.

Finally, “The Menagerie? concludes on a positive note of redemption, even for the seemingly malignant Talosians, who turn out to be quite compassionate. And that’s really the basis of this episode: compassion, loyalty and friendship. But it’s couched in a fascinating story about the power, and danger, of illusion. Only in science fiction…

Next time: “The Conscience of the King?

September 15, 2007

TOS Podcast 2

This time, Andy and I tackle "The Ultimate Computer."

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September 10, 2007

TOS Rewind #10: "The Corbomite Maneuver"

I took my end-of-Summer hiatus and now we're back with The Corbomite Maneuver (11/10/1966). The drink: Johnnie Walker Green Label.

Eric gets to go first this time:

Tonight’s episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver,? is the first production episode (after the two pilots), and it remains one of the better original Trek episodes. The character interaction is well done, Kirk is in fine form as a tactician, the underlying theme is meaningful, and the story is good, imaginative science fiction.

I may have mentioned this in an earlier review, but McCoy, Spock, and Kirk have often been referred to as the heart, mind, and soul of Star Trek (with McCoy being the heart, Spock the mind, and Kirk the soul). This may sound a bit trite, but after watching Trek for as long as I can remember, I find it accurate, and this episode brings out these qualities quite nicely—Spock provides Kirk with the intellectual analysis he needs, and McCoy is the advocate for the human side of the equation (which is exemplified by the way he stands up for Lt. Bailey). Kirk, of course, personifies Star Trek’s spirit of exploration and adventure, and he eloquently sums this up when he addresses the crew after Balok’s threat of destruction. (Two notes: Balok was played by a young Clint Howard, the younger brother of actor/director Ron Howard; and Kirk’s address strongly reminded me of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address when he said “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.?)

Another aspect of this episode I find very appealing is Captain Kirk’s inspired improvisational tactics (i.e. his use of the mythical “corbomite?). Again, I probably mentioned this in an earlier review, but Roddenberry modeled Kirk after C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, the brilliant fictional commander in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars. Hornblower is portrayed as a superbly creative, if unorthodox, tactician who always finds a way to overcome his adversaries. Sound familiar? But this is at the core of Kirk’s character, and it’s one thing that makes him so admirable. To paraphrase McCoy (in Star Trek III): Kirk always takes a deadly situation and turns it into a fighting chance to live.

So enough about the characters, the theme of this episode is that we shouldn’t fear the unknown. And we see this fear personified in Lieutenant Bailey. He is frightened of Balok’s warning buoy and wants to destroy it immediately. And later, when faced with the much greater threat of Balok and the Fesarius, he loses it (at least for a while). Then we discover that Balok is not only harmless, he’s actually friendly. So all is well with the Enterprise and her crew. But you don’t have to dig very far to find a subtle message to the Vietnam era audience that once you get to know them, there’s really no reason to be afraid of, and hate, all those strange Asian people with their strange Asian cultures.

Finally, the basic story in “The Corbomite Maneuver? is good science fiction. Granted, an encounter with a strange alien life form is hardly a unique basis for an SF story, but it’s the imaginative approach I find so captivating. What is the First Federation? Are there other ships like the Fesarius? Does Balok have compatriots, and if so, where are they? What’s all that space in Fesarius used for? In short, this story did a good job of evoking a sense of wonder. And to me, that’s what science fiction is all about.

Eric really nailed it on the head with the great characters and classic Trek ideas. Shatner plays Kirk just right in this one with the correct mix of military macho and contemplation. Nimoy does Spock a bit on the aggressive side, but seeing as this was one of the first episodes produced after the pilots, this is totally understandable. The one character I get a bit tired of is Lt. Bailey. I appreciate the reason for his character as the part of the inexperienced crew. A bit of Bailey is actually standing in for the audience, in a way, those of us who would be scared shitless at a giant alien ship with a disembodied head (a simple effect that always creeped me out growing up) and impressive voice counting down the minutes to our annihilation. My only problem with him is that he comes off a bit too whinny. No big deal. The suspense is built very nicely as Kirk struggles to come up with a tactic to save the ship. You just can't beat the whole Trekian ideal of friendly aliens who are just messing with us humans for, well, interstellar peace!

Besides the alien head effects, there's the huge lightbulb-filled alien ship, which looks very cool when it approaches and dwarfs the Enterprise. Some very efficient use (including camera angles and lighting) of limited effects. The suspense is build very nicely as Kirk struggles to come up with a tactic to save the ship.

That's about all I have to add to Eric's excellent review. Besides, I want to get to the next episode, "The Menagerie."

August 22, 2007

The TOS Podcast!

Check it out, Andy and I have done our first podcast for the episode, "This Side of Paradise." Yes, I know we're going out of order! It's geeky, dorky, and something indescribable. We had fun recording it, so I'm sure there'll be more.

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August 18, 2007

TOS Rewind #9: "Dagger of the Mind"

Tonight's episode: Dagger of the Mind (11/3/1966). The drink: Scotch (Glenfiddich 12 year).

Well well well, another show devoted to science gone awry. This time, the Enterprise visits an asylum run by the famous Dr. Adams. Adams has supposedly revolutionized the treatment of the criminally insane. Fair enough, he has indeed. The writers were trying to make a statement about the misuse of medicine for "legitimate" purposes. After all, the Neural Neutralizer is really a high tech lobotomizing machine. Just a causal look at the patients in the place makes this clear. There is some dialogue at the beginning of the show where clearly McCoy and Kirk clearly are having some form of debate on this topic. It sets up the show well.

When the crazed Van Gelder shows up (in a painted cardboard box), be shifts the center of the attention to his character. After all, playing a crazy man gives an awful lot of dramatic license to an actor and he takes full advantage. The potential menace of him is clear, yet the character gives you just enough to wonder if something odd is going on. The most important thing that happens in this episode is the first Vulcan mind meld between Spock and Van Gelder. Certainly one of the highlights of the episode.

Besides Van Gelder, we have the Adams character. He's pretty well played, particularly at the beginning where he's covering up the problems at the facility. Adams is slippery as well as charming. The only thing I question is how he thinks he's going to get away with using this thing long-term. Particularly after he tortures Kirk in it; it's not like no one's going to notice him either missing or being a mental case.

Other stuff: The Dr. Noel is a mixed bag for me. On one hand, she turns out to be a somewhat strong female character. For example, she sneaks into the engineering section and ends up killing one of the station security guards. On the other hand, her introduction where she tries to embarrass Kirk in the transporter room makes her seem very unprofessional. In the beginning, she just comes off as an naive ditz. However, she's actually quite attractive and has a slight wardrobe malfunction (sorry!) where you see her underwear through her uniform. Okay, so that was a sexist/objectification comment...bye bye credibility!

And now, Eric:

I’ve got iTunes playing as I start writing. Stevie wonder is singing “Sir Duke,? so it’s an auspicious beginning to tonight’s review of “Dagger of the Mind,? which is a decent original Trek episode. Upon rewatching it, however, I was struck by its similarity to “What are Little Girls Made Of.? In fact, the plot is basically the same with the exception that “Dagger of the Mind? deals with mind control, instead of life extension, via technology. I didn’t think about it until Doc and I started doing these reviews, but those two topics are common, in one form or another, not only in Trek but also science fiction in general.

One little note about this episode is that Simon Van Gelder (played by Morgan Woodward) must have a close cousin in Starfleet, because he bears a remarkable resemblance to Captain Ron Tracey of the U.S.S. Exeter. (See “The Omega Glory.?)

Another note that Doc will probably mention is that this episode features the first instance of Spock performing a “mind meld.? I seem to remember hearing, or reading, that Leonard Nimoy came up with the mind meld, but that may be apocryphal. He did invent the “V? shaped Vulcan salute, which was taken from a gesture he saw a Rabbi make, and he also suggested the Vulcan nerve pinch. But I digress—back to the episode.

As I mentioned in an earlier review, I’m not an expert on 60s culture, but there does seem to be a fascination, perhaps a preoccupation, with issues like mind control and brainwashing. I have to wonder if this isn’t due, in part at least, to a lingering fear of some of the more insidious programs of this nature that were undertaken by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II. There were movies around that time, like “The Manchurian Candidate,? that dealt with this subject, and it was also the subject of some original episodes of “The Twilight Zone? and “The Outer Limits.? In any case, the World War II connection makes sense, since Gene Roddenberry was a World War II vet. (He was a bomber pilot stationed in Europe.)

Finally, I found the “romance? between Kirk and Dr. Noel a bit ridiculous, but overall, the episode was well-acted. Morgan Woodward did a good job with Simon Van Gelder, and I liked how James Gregory kept Dr. Adams’ sinister nature from being too overt or overdone.

So, overall “Dagger of the Mind? is one of the better original Star Trek episodes.

Next time: “The Corbomite Maneuver?

August 15, 2007

TOS Rewind #8: "Miri"

Today's episode: Miri (10/27/1966). The drink: a rye Manhattan (very tasty).

When I was growing up, I used to think the episodes where they visited "alternate Earths" (yes, there was more than one) were kinda cool. Maybe I latched onto the idea of seeing our world in a different state or something. Nevertheless, it was intriguing, in a post-holocaust kinda way. Now, I understand their need to have a story that allowed the use of existing studio backlot space and costumes, but did they really need to have it be a planet that was identical to Earth? It seems a bit silly and unnecessary, considering they didn't have the time to actually explain it.

Bonk Bonk!

Once we get past that premise, the mystery of why the adult population is all dead is interesting and has some degree of suspense as the landing party begins to contract the disease. The part of Miri (Kim Darby) is well acted and the mob of small children is actually somewhat menacing at times. Check out the part where one of the kids gives Kirk a good whack with a hammer or when the kids shower Spock and the Red Shirts with rocks in an alleyway. The subplot of Miri having a crush on Kirk is kind of sweet, but could also be interpreted as icky. Shatner does attempt to make it as sensitive and un-creepy as he can, despite the obvious problem with the script. Of course, one of the funniest things in this one is where Kirk yells out, "No more BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!" Classic...and speaking of amusing things, there's the line where McCoy snarks about never having seen a worse collection of bad architecture. This almost seems a dig at the fact that they were shooting on a generic studio backlot with its inevitable collection of differing styles, like the building front that looks like a stable from a western. And this is supposedly the 1960s on this planet...right.

The writers were, besides trying to save money, attempting to interject a message about the dangers of medicine going too far to prolong human life. I find it interesting that this episode ran right after "What Are Little Girls Made Of," which also has a similar idea about using technology to cheat death. I doubt there's any real connection there; the network people probably didn't give anywhere near that much thought to what order the stories should go. In the end, while this one has its moments, it really feels compromised on a number of levels.

And now, hello Eric!

This is going to be a shorter review, primarily because “Miri? is not among my better liked original Star Trek episodes. It’s not a complete bomb—the basic story premise is interesting—but the execution leaves something to be desired.

Doc and I actually had a brief chat about this episode and agreed that a major flaw is the “duplicate Earth? plot device. Not only is it a lazy way to reduce production costs (no special efforts for art direction or special effects), but it’s also ridiculously implausible. I’m sure that if the entire (presumably infinite) universe was the search base, there would be a possibility of finding an exact duplicate of Earth somewhere. In our own galaxy, however, the odds have to be so astronomically slim that it’s, for all intents and purposes, impossible. And it’s hard to be a self-respecting viewer and accept this kind of disregard for science. That’s not to say that Star Trek hasn’t frequently played fast and loose with science, but I find this instance particularly annoying.

One thing I did like about this episode was Kim Darby’s performance— she did a convincing job despite being much too old for the role of Miri. Michael Pollard, who played Miri’s friend Jahn (the ringleader of the kids) did a good job as well. He was also too old for his role, but in both cases, their acting was good. It occurs to me, though, that one reason their performances stand out is that the rest of the acting was pretty much underwhelming.

My final complaint has to do with the relationship that was portrayed between Kirk and Miri. It appears that Kirk was using her and the fact that she had a crush on him, which would be despicable if she were a grown woman, but the fact that she was an adolescent girl makes it particularly reprehensible (and slimy). I may be misinterpreting what was portrayed, but even if that’s the case, I still found Kirk’s interaction with Miri unsavory.

But that’s enough criticism. Even Shakespeare had flops.

Next time: “Dagger of the Mind?

August 6, 2007

TOS Rewind #7: "What Are Little Girls Made Of"

Tonight's show, What Are Little Girls Made Of? (10.20.1966). Tonight's drink, vodka and lemonade (sorry no real connection there).

First, Eric's review:

“What Are Little Girls Made Of?? is another original Trek episode I’ve always liked. It has a claustrophobic feeling that I find appealing, and the director did a good job of immediately conveying, and maintaining, a feeling that things aren’t quite right. In that respect, it reminds me of John Carpenter’s remake of “the Thing.? The story is also good science fiction, but it occurs to me that the theme of a civilization moving underground (by choice or due to necessity) is hardly original. It was used in other original Star Trek episodes, including the first pilot, “The Cage,? and it was originated, as far as I can tell, by H.G. Wells in his story “The Time Machine.? So what is it about living underground that appeals to science fiction writers? It provides a good way of analyzing how humans are affected by being deprived of open spaces, sunlight, and natural surroundings. And this is an interesting ponderable (given that the human race evolved under such conditions), but there must be more than that. Any ideas, John?

Anyway, another reason I like this episode is the character Ruk. He looks outlandish, maybe even campy, but Ted Cassidy did a great job with the role. Ruk is immensely old and there’s a wonderful sense of menace and mystery about him. In fact, the mysteries hinted at in this episode are probably a major reason I like it. Who were the “old ones? Ruk refers to? How long ago did they live? What were the circumstances surrounding their extermination at the hands of their android servants? (Hmm, is it just me or does that sound a bit like the new Battlestar Galactica?)

McCoy was absent, but the interaction between Kirk and Spock is great. (Shatner does a good job—no overt overacting.) What I like best is the way Kirk deduces what’s going on, and, as he’s being duplicated in android form, intuits how to tip off Spock. And Spock, of course, picks up on the clue immediately.

Now to be fair, there are several reasons that I like this episode, but there is one problem I noticed—a main plot point is that nurse Chapel is searching for her lost fiancé, whom she is still very much in love with. In production order, however, this episode comes after “The Naked Time? in which she confesses her love for Spock. So is she totally fickle, or does she just conveniently forget about loving Spock when her fiancée turns up alive?

Finally, we’re left with the idea that machines cannot have emotions and feelings as humans do. There is something special about inhabiting a human body that cannot be transferred to or duplicated in an artificial life form. (This is an issue that will be dealt with both in later episodes and in The Next Generation with Data.) I have to wonder if this isn’t a product of the zeitgeist of 60s, but I’m not an expert on 60s culture. I do know that the question of whether or not machines can be alive, or sentient, or have feelings or a consciousness like humans is a very common one in science fiction. It is interesting, however, that this episode purports that androids can’t have feelings because Gene Roddenberry created Data who obviously could feel emotions (once he had an emotion chip). Roddenberry also has said that transferring a human consciousness into an android is a viable alternative to living in a human body and that it would be possible to have sensation and feelings in such an existence. This would seem to be an inconsistency, but then again, it’s a complex issue—one science fiction is uniquely well-suited to examine. (Take that you literary snobs!)

Hi, I'm back!

I believe this episode marks the first time that Trek dealt with the robots/computers replacing humans idea. I'm sure Eric can refresh us all on the "robots are people too" canon of sci fi literature, but much of this has been at least written before. That is, the loss of "humanity" when machines become a replacement for us. Throw in a dash of good old mad scientist and mix in some drama with the TOS cast, and you have this episode. This one was better than I remember, on the whole. I think at the time, the ideas expressed must have been somewhat novel to the TV audience. The acting is decent and Kirk has finds some clever ways out of situations. Some observations:

Ted Cassidy (he also played Lurch in the TV Addams Family), who played the android Ruk, is great. He might be my favorite thing about this one. Not only is he a giant and has that growling deep voice, but the way he's made up makes him look like some freaky undead-like guy. The eyes alone do the trick.

How about that giant turntable with the paper mache' "blank" android? They really do whip them up fast (maybe Dr. Soong from TNG should have checked this place out). Speaking of Kirk's double, couldn't they have found a closer double for him? There's one scene where you see that back and it's obviously not him.

What a dramatic ending! Kirk, for the first time, convinces a machine that it needs to commit suicide (along with his girlfriend). Rinse, repeat.

Speaking of firsts, this marks the first episode where guys wearing read shirts get offed.

And finally, how about the android Andrea's (Sherry Jackson) outfit? Thus begins a long tradition of scantily-clad alien/robotic women and you can even see her nipples on this one (probably not noticed by the TV audience at the time).

Eric asked me to comment about the "aliens moving underground" theme. The only thing I can think of is the perhaps unconscious (to the writers) ideas in the 60s about the cold war and the fear of nuclear holocaust. The example that comes to mind is "Dr. Strangelove." Particularly, when they're talking about having to move the survivors underground. The cold war had a pronounced effect on many science fiction writers (obviously, Trek is loaded with examples).

August 2, 2007

TOS Rewind #6: "Mudd's Women"

Tonight's episode: Mudd's Women ( Original air date: 10-13-66). Tonight's drink: who the hell knows, something involving Sprite and watermelon Pucker. In a sense, the choice of drink, while seemingly gross and random, actually has a symbolic connection to the episode. On one hand we have the lively effervescence (the Sprite) of the Harry Mudd character. On the other hand, we have the lemon-lime flavor mixed with an over-sweet fake watermelon flavor (rendering the drink a pale pink) clash that represents the ideas in this story. When I ponder this episode, I vacillate between thinking the show is trying to make a forward-thinking social statement about drug dependency and "just being you" and thinking that it's a clumsy attempt to make the statement that beauty is only skin-deep. Oh, and along the way, reinforce conventional stereotypes about women and their role in society (in the 60s).

Or, let me steal a quote from the Star Trek website comment section: "What's not to like about an episode in which the Enterprise is taken over by an insane pimp and his three junkie whores?" Crap, I wish I'd come up with that very amusing and accurate statement about the episode (there's even a shot of his police record where it mentions psychiatric treatment). This one, in some ways, is more satisfying than Charlie X in that the cringe-inducing moments are balanced by a smattering of good acting and funny situations as the crew is knocked for a loop by their hormones, not to mention some 60s-sounding pseudo-lounge music that accompanies the women as they swing their hips down the Enterprise corridors (I also couldn't help but notice the very obvious ass camera shots -- I've recently learned that this was edited out of the syndicated TV cuts). I've always enjoyed the appropriately slimy Harry Mudd character, well played by Roger Carmel, and the Eve character actually has a small amount of development. However, too many things in this one bug me. Maybe it's the fact that some of the ideas haven't aged well.

A few other issues:

What's with Uhura wearing a yellow uniform; was she afraid of being the first red shirted character to be killed? At the end of the episode where Eve swallows the placebo drug, how does she instantly don makeup and restyle her hair (looks like she also had a facial)? For that matter, how does a drug do those things?! Yeah, yeah, I know Roddenberry was going for the idea that attractiveness is at least partially dictated by self-attitude, but because they really went overboard making the women look unattractive, the "transformation" seems really contrived, even within the context of this story. And finally, why weren't the bridge crew giving Spock a hard time about "noticing" the women? There are scenes where he certainly looks interested. Oh yeah, he only notices the "interesting qualities" of Kirk (sorry, couldn't resist!)! So, that's my take on this one. If someone wants to point out something I'm missing about this one, I'm certainly open to alternate opinions...

And here's Eric:

Original air date: 10-13-66 Today’s date: 8-2-07

I’ve always liked “Mudd’s Women,? largely, I think, due to the fact that Harcourt Fenton Mudd (dontcha love the name) is a fun character, and the late Roger C. Carmel did a great job in the role. The scenes with the male crew members going hormonal over the three women were also amusing (although I’ll bet the female crew members didn’t appreciate it). I also loved the scene where McCoy has one of the women in sickbay for an exam: “I wouldn’t trust my…judgment.? Right Doc. And I liked the fact that Kirk apologizes to Scotty for getting snapping at him. It’s little touches like these that really help flesh out characters, and it does much for making Kirk likable.

One problem I have with this episode is that it uses the “crisis with the engines that results in a race against time? plot device for the second time in the series, but it was only the fourth episode produced. It worked in story, but it was a definite harbinger of that particular plot device being badly overused. This episode also had a very noticeable (somewhat off-putting) 60s sensibility with regards to sex roles, but the story was written by Gene Roddenberry, who was known for being lecherous. And keep in mind that the distaste for 60s sexism is from a 40-years-later perspective. In 1966, the viewing audience probably didn’t bat an eye.

Finally, the moral of the story, that you can be anything you want as long as you believe in yourself, is perhaps a little too blatant, but at the same time it’s positive and life-affirming, which is sadly missing in much of our entertainment these days.

Next time: “What Are Little Girls Made Of?

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 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 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 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.