Doctor Who – The Space Museum. Part One – The Space Museum

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The common consensus about this story is that it has an intriguing first episode but this early promise is then squandered as the remaining three installments consist of little more than a lot of tedious running about. Some, like Rob Shearman, have mounted vaillant defences on its behalf – but I think its reputation as an also-run is fairly safe.

Although saying that, it’s not a total disaster and it’s true that the opening episode does show plenty of promise. What’s unusual about this one is that it does attempt to show some of the consequences and paradoxes of time travel – an area which the series rarely tackled during its original run (Day of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars and Mawdryn Undead are three fairly rare examples off the top of my head).

We open with a mystery – in the first few seconds the four time-travellers are still dressed in their garb from The Crusade, but seconds later they’ve changed into more familiar clothes. But since they don’t remember doing it, how has it happened?

The Doctor at first doesn’t quite get Ian’s drift when he tells him that they’re wearing their clothes (“well, I should hope so, dear boy. I should hope so”) but then airily dismisses their concerns. “You know, it’s so simple. It’s time and relativity, my dear boy. Time and relativity.” When asked to explain further, the Doctor claims he doesn’t have the time, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t have a clue!

Other strange instances – time runs backward after Vicki breaks a glass – are further puzzles, although these are harder to explain. If the Doctor’s later conjecture that they’ve jumped a time track is correct then that could explain the clothes issue – somehow the TARDIS has pushed them into their own future, so it would be reasonable they weren’t wearing their crusading costumes – but the glass/water mystery is more inexplicable.

Of course it could be that our old friend the TARDIS was attempting to raise the alarm that something was wrong (as it did during The Edge of Destruction). If that’s the case then it was with just as much success (i.e. not very much).

There’s an eerie feel to their initial investigation of the Space Museum. Although the four time-travellers seem corporeal and solid, it’s later revealed that they’re little more than insubstantial phantoms – unable to leave footprints in the dust, touch objects or speak to the inhabitants. When they find themselves displayed as immobile exhibits in the museum it’s a striking moment. In this version of the future the Doctor and his friends were captured and turned into exhibits, but that’s only a possibility – it doesn’t have to come to pass.

So they have the chance to change the future and ensure that this grisly occurrence doesn’t come to pass, but how to proceed? Should they go straight back to the TARDIS and leave? Or would that lead directly to the cases?

This part of the story is undoubtedly the highlight as it helps to raise the stakes of the adventure a little more (if they fail then they already know their fate). It’s also fair to say that had this started as just a normal adventure, without this timey-wimey subplot, then The Space Museum would be even less of interest than it currently is.

And we get to see a Dalek! Albeit as an immobile museum exhibit like everything else. It’s a nice foreshadowing of their imminent reappearance (you have to love Ian’s comment that it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever meet them again – I doubt many in the audience were convinced). What’s slightly odd is Vicki’s comment that she’s never seen an image of a Dalek, although she’s read about them in her history books. It’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t be some visual evidence or photographs of them available during Vicki’s time.

The stock music is at times rather overpoweringly dramatic, although some of the tracks are successful in creating the required odd atmosphere. With the four regulars the only actors with speaking parts (at least speech that we can hear) it’s an excellent vehicle for all of them. For example, Vicki gets some dialogue which shows that whilst she (like Susan) may be sometimes written as a mid twentieth century girl, she’s most evidently not. “Time, like space, although a dimension in itself also has dimensions of its own.”

A more than decent opener, but what will happen when we meet the Moroks and Xerons?

Star Trek – Operation – Annihilate!

How do you follow The City on the Edge of Forever? Not easily, but Operation – Annihilate! does have a nicely grim tone (especially from Kirk) which given the events of the previous episode fits nicely.

Kirk is very snappy throughout. The reason is obvious (Jim’s brother, sister in law and nephew live on a colony planet called Deneva, currently in the grip of an outbreak of mass insanity) although it’s still jarring to see him snap at Uhura for no good reason.

This downbeat mood also infects McCoy, who later has a short argument with Nurse Chapel about the best way to treat Spock. All of these moments help to disguise the fact that there’s a rather pulpy science fiction idea at the heart of this episode.

Whilst they may look less than impressive today (flying pancake-like objects moved around with fishing wire) back in the 1970’s the parasitic organisms who are driving planet after planet mad were the very stuff of nightmares.

We never learn a great deal about them. They just seem content to move across the galaxy in a straight line (why?) infecting each new planet they arrive on. Given that their rate of progress is quite slow (measured in years)  I’m not sure why it wasn’t decided to evacuate Deneva before they arrived.

I do like the way that today’s eye-candy Yeoman (played by Maurishka Taliaferro) ventures the opinion that the parasites don’t look real. It’s a dangerous game to play though – once you start pointing out how absurd or artificial things are, you’re on a slippery slope ….

As often with Star Trek, guest roles are few and far between. There may be a million colonists on Deneva, but they’re represented by several pipe-wielding types and Jim’s family. Kirk’s brother, Sam, is dead when he arrives and Sam’s wife, Aurelan, follows shortly afterwards. Although not before she’s done a great deal of screaming and wailing.

This leaves Jim’s nephew, Peter, and it’s maybe not surprising that Kirk’s focus is on him (and also Spock, after he gets infected). McCoy angrily (as already touched upon, there’s a fair few raised voices in this one) reminds him that all the colonists are his responsibility, not just these two, but it’s a plot point that doesn’t really go anywhere. A pity, as there might have been some dramatic capital to be mined our of Kirk’s personal/professional conflict.

Spock’s internal battle with the parasite is a highlight of the second half of the episode. As is Scotty preventing a rogue Spock from beaming back down to the planet. James Doohan, like all the second string regulars, often had very little to do – but he was always well worth watching anyway.

Operation – Annihilate! is a strange mixture of downbeat storytelling and pulpy SF (the fact that the episode title has an exclamation mark in it suggests that we shouldn’t take this one too seriously). It’s one of those episodes that tends to get overlooked (despite being the series one closer) but I’ve always enjoyed it.

Star Trek – The City on the Edge of Forever

Few Star Trek stories have generated quite the same level of debate and interest as The City on the Edge of Forever has.

It’s well known that the series often saw disgruntled writers irked at the way their scripts were reworked before they reached the screen, but no other scribe was quite as vocal about this issue as Harlan Ellison was. There’s plenty of additional reading for those interested – such as Ellison’s own book on the subject (which includes one of his draft scripts) and a graphic novel adapting his original screenplay.

Sometime, when I’ve a few days to spare, I’m going to investigate the whole saga in depth …

The television City opens with a mad McCoy on the rampage.  The way that McCoy accidentally skewers himself with a hypodermic full of Cordrazine feels a tad unsatisfactory. Cordrazine is an excellent plot contrivance drug, filling the subject with an overwhelming sense of paranoia and delusion (thereby turning the normally rational McCoy into the ideal sort of person to drive the story forwatd).

Bones beams down to a nearby planet filled with Ionic columns (for some unspecified reason) and a mysterious, if rather cheap looking, edifice who grandly proclaims himself to be the Guardian of Forever.

If a wacky, out of control McCoy is plot contrivance number one, then the Guardian’s time portal (a magic door which provides the user with a gateway to their own past) is number two. But let’s not niggle – once McCoy has jumped through the portal (and changed time in a dramatic fashion) we know that the preamble is over.

Kirk and Spock follow him through to 1930’s depression era America. Their mission? Find McCoy and ensure that time is placed back on the right track.

We’ve sort of been here a few times before (or rather alien planets which resembled this era) so it’s not quite novel. But it’s still fun to see Kirk and Spock – fishes out of water – learning to adapt to this strange new world. Stealing some clothes seems quite straightforward, until they run into a police officer ….

Shatner and Nimoy deadpan nicely as Kirk and Spock attempt to explain Spock’s strange appearance (he’s Chinese and caught his ears in a mechanical picker when he was a child). This is a bit silly (and ever so slightly racist) but there’s something appealing about the way the pair seem to be slightly more relaxed and off-duty in this new world.

The arrival of a soft focus Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), who runs the 21st Street Mission, changes the tone of the story. Immediately the soundtrack gets very string heavy and Kirk begins to pay close attention to Ms Keeler. Joan Collins! Her appearance is obviously one of the reasons why this story has retained a certain profile.

Edith turns out to be a prophet as somehow she’s able to picture a future where mighty starships explore the galaxy (Jim’s obviously impressed with this). Quite why she’s decided to share this news with the down and outs at the Mission is something I’ve never been able to work out. Presumably they view her ramblings as a reasonable price to pay for a bowl of soup and a warm fire.

Jim and Edith’s budding relationship is developed rather charmingly. The recurring musical motif of Goodnight Sweetheart is a nice touch from Fred Steiner and helps to bolster the romantic mood. 

The happy times they spend together makes the sucker punch in which Spock sees two futures for her (one where she lives, the other where she dies) all the more powerful. Even with a third of the story to go, it seems horribly likely that Edith will have to be sacrificed in order to put time back on the right lines again.

We then learn that Edith Keeler will later form the peace party and inadvertently help Hitler win WW2. Needless to say this is a tough thing to swallow (little Edith did that all by herself?) but it has to be something that substantial to explain why Kirk would be prepared to let her die.

The ending is as gut-wrenching today as it no doubt was back then. Shatner is spot on as Kirk wrestles with his dilemma – if he saves Edith then he will condemn countless unborn millions to death. We know that Kirk will do the right thing, but it’s plain that the cost will hang heavy with him. Shatner doesn’t overdo it, but still does enough to convince the audience that Kirk is a shattered man by the time the credits roll.

Few Star Trek episodes end in such a downbeat fashion as this one, but any attempt to lighten the mood just wouldn’t have worked. For all that the script was a heavily rewritten compromise, it still stands as one of the finest from all three series.

Star Trek – Errand of Mercy

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The Federation is at war with the Klingon Empire. This all seems a bit sudden (after all, we’ve never heard of the Klingons before) but that’s one of the drawbacks of episodic television ….

The Klingons are presented to us as violent, oppressive and cruel. You can take them to be either crude caricatures of the Russians or the Chinese (the original script highlighted their Oriental features).  We don’t learn a great deal about their Empire in this story (save that they love conquest) but it’s plain that they’ve been designed as the antithesis of the Federation.

Organia is the first battleground. A strategically important planet, Kirk has orders to ensure it doesn’t fall into Klingon hands (he is authorised to take any steps necessary).  As you might expect with a Gene L. Coon script, this is a pretext for a rather stinging anti-war story.

I can’t think of many other Star Trek episodes which so dismantles the character of Jim Kirk, revealing the flawed man behind the heroic image.  His bad day begins when we witness him being totally infuriated with the council of Elders, led by Ayelborne (John Abbott).  Their smiling passivity and total reluctance either to defend themselves or ally to the Federation baffles him.

Kirk attempts to paint a bleak picture about what life under the Klingons would be like (massive slave labour camps) and then counters this with a rosy vision about how they would flourish as a member of the Federation.

We can be of immense help to you. In addition to military aid, we can send you specialists, technicians. We can show you how to feed a thousand people where one was fed before. We can help you build schools, educate the young in the latest technological and scientific skills. Your public facilities are almost non-existent. We can help you remake your world, end disease, hunger, hardship. All we ask in return is that you let us help you. Now.

All this is no doubt true, but we’ve already been told that Kirk has to acquire the planet for the Federation, so his actions aren’t motivated by simple altruism.  And if the war intensifies, no doubt this planet would suffer no matter who was in charge. The way that the Organians politely decline with a tinge of sarcasm (“we thank you for your altruistic offer, Captain, but we really do not need your protection”) is delightfully done.

Errand of Mercy benefits enormously from two excellent guest performances.  Firstly, John Abbot as Ayelborne.  And secondly John Colicos, who is splendid as the Klingon commander Kor.  Shatner always worked well when put up against strong guest actors and one of the chief joys of this episode is watching Shatner and Colicos face off.  Kor is no simple-minded savage – he may be brutal (although like Kirk he’s only obeying orders) but he’s also articulate and bleakly amusing.

Kor finds Kirk to be a kindred spirit.  Once Kirk is in his power, Kor is keen for the pair of them to share a drink and have a chat about the concept of war.  And however much Kirk might protest that he’s nothing like the Klingons, everything we’ve seen so far would suggest otherwise ….

Coon delivers so many very quotable lines. As the story progresses, it’s difficult to work out who despises the Organions more – Kirk or Kor. Kor articulates his worldview. “Here we are on a planet of sheep. Two tigers, predators, hunters, killers, and it is precisely that which makes us great. And there is a universe to be taken”.

The climax of the story – Kirk, Kor and their two battlefleets are rendered null and void by the Organians – is a breath-taking moment, not least for the manic way that both Kirk and Kor react.  Kirk’s beside himself that someone has dared to stop him fighting (ironic, given how often he’s meddled in the affairs of other planets).

The end of the episode reveals that the Organians are impossibly highly advanced and only took human shape in order to give the Federation and the Klingons a reference point.  This leaves a few questions dangling (indeed there are a few plot holes throughout the episode) but these minor niggles don’t really affect the story too badly.

The Klingon make-up may not look too good today, but that’s about the only negative I can find in a story which I’ve always been happy to place in the top tier.

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Star Trek – The Devil In The Dark

On the surface The Devil In The Dark seems to be little more than a pulpy melodrama. Kirk and the others have beamed down to Janus IV, a mining planet under attack from a mysterious creature.

The incidental music is ramped up, everybody’s playing it very grim, and the luckless extras continue to die – fried to a crisp by something which lurks in the dark.

But since it become clear that the theme of the episode is concerned with not judging by appearances, maybe it’s best not to be too hasty about the nature of the story ….

The pre-credits teaser is an interesting one. There’s no sign of the Enterprise crew, instead we follow the beleaguered miners as they attempt to defend themselves. Chief Engineer Vanderberg (Ken Lynch) might be bullish, but you just know that one of his hapless subordinates (left all alone in the caves) is fated to have a very short lifespan.

The caves themselves look quite good  (although maybe the lighting is a little too bright). But there’s no disguising the smooth studio floor, which is a problem also encountered in many Doctor Who cave based stories.

These early scenes seem to be setting us up for a tense story in which Kirk and co battle it out with this unseen attacker. The importance of Janus IV is made clear – its mineral wealth keeps a number of Federation planets functioning – so any interruption to the mining schedule will cause untold deaths (in addition to the many fatalities already recorded on this planet).

At this point, nobody seems to query whether the indengeous creature has a greater claim to the bountiful natural resources of Janus IV than the Federation does. The imperialist nature of the Federation is clearly laid out – here’s a planet rich with mineral resources, the Federation needs them, the Federation will take them.

William Shatner’s father died during the recording of this episode. Always the pro, he carried on and turned in a really nice performance. I especially liked the non-verbal moment when Kirk viewed the charred remains of another dead redshirt. Grief, mixed with a determination to press on, was shown on his face.

The triumvirate of Kirk/Spock/McCoy are all working well today. Bones utters, for the first time, his signature “I’m a doctor not a …” . In this case a bricklayer (when he comes face to face with the silicon based Horta).

There’s some nice tension between Kirk and Spock. Kirk is initially in something of a bloodthirsty mood – the Horta has to be killed and as quickly as possible – whilst Spock is driven by a sense of scientific curiosity. At this point the audience can choose who they want to side with – Kirk for vegence or Spock for compassion. 

Although when the Horta directly threatens Jim, Spock is quick to change his point of view (telling Kirk to destroy the creature immediately …)

There’s no getting away from the fact that the Horta looks very silly (its initial appearance is certainly one moment when the caves weren’t nearly dark enough). Spock’s mind meld with the creature is another eyebrow raising scene but all of this is worth it for the final reveal – the Horta isn’t naturally aggressive, it’s only been acting in self defence.

It’s a lovely twist, although you have to say that it’s taken a while for the series to have reached this point. For example, nobody shed any tears for the salt monster in The Man Trap, even though it was the last of its kind.

The Devil In The Dark is another quality episode from Gene L. Coon. As we’ve come to expect with his scripts, the Federation is far from the enlightened force for scientific good it would later become. Instead, it’s much more of a colonial power – ruthlessly annexing Janus IV and then preparing to beat off attacks from the natives.

There mighr be a happy ending – the miners and the Horta come to a friendly arrangement – but this doesn’t lessen the cynical nature of certain parts of the story. It’s just a shame that the design of the Horta itself means that many casual viewers will probably struggle to take the episode that seriously.

Star Trek – This Side of Paradise

The Enterprise arrives at Omicron Ceti III, a planet where it’s believed that – following a deadly bombardment of Berthold rays some years ago – the Federation colonists would have all perished. However that’s far from the case – everyone is hale and hearty and apparently living in a state of paradise.  Quickly all of the Enterprise crew, apart from Kirk, fall under the spell of some mysterious flowers and the tranquilising spores of peace and love they spurt out  ….

This Side of Paradise, a thinly veiled critique of the hippy movement, finds the series coming down firmly on the side of the establishment.  The fact that Omicron Ceti III is as close to an idyll you could hope to find cuts no ice with Kirk, who rarely has any patience with this sort of thing (see also The Apple, if you dare, in series two).

It’s interesting to note that the spores aren’t presented as controlling or evil. They need a human host to survive, but there’s no sense of malignancy. Indeed, the fact that they’ve given Sandoval (Frank Overton) a healthy appendix back to him has to be a mark in their favour.

The way that that everybody on the planet has elected to tune in and turn on seems to be the thing which most irritates Kirk (and no doubt Gene Roddenberry).  Star Trek may champion the individual, but also – especially in its first incarnation – strongly believed that the individual had an obligation towards society.  So by electing to cut themselves off from the rest of the universe, the inhabitants of Omicron Ceti III have abdicated this responsibility.

Kirk’s is later given a speech which sets out his vision of the universe. “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”.  The phrase “sound of drums” has an interesting warlike feel to it.

One of the key parts of This Side of Paradise is observing how Spock transforms from his usual totally buttoned-up persona into the loving companion of Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland).  It’s – of course – a great showcase for Nimoy, especially since you realise that this could only ever be a temporary escape for Mr Spock. The series format dictates that he’ll have to be locked back into his emotional prison by the end of the episode.

In some ways Kirk finds himself cast in the role of Spock’s spurned lover, desperate to break up the relationship between his second in command and Leila. And although Kirk is aware that his master-plan to snap Spock out of his loving daydream is dangerous (due to Spock’s great strength) he still goes ahead with it. Why not target McCoy or Sulu first?

Certainly if Kirk/Spock slash is your thing then there’s plenty of interest in this episode.  Not least when the pair decide to settle their differences by getting physical ….

This Side of Paradise is an acknowledgment of the way that Spock had become something of a sex-symbol by this point.  Kirk might be the more conventional leading man, but there was clearly something about Spock which caught the imagination of a good section of the audience (no doubt to William Shatner’s irritation).

The original draft centered around Sulu – which would have given his character a much needed boost – but I think that re-writing it for Spock was the right decision.  Jill Ireland gives a nice performance as Leila, even if her first scene rather overdoses on the soft focus. 

Kirk’s master plan to destroy the spores (he realises that anger is key) is a neatly ironic twist (fighting peace with violence). And the image of Kirk alone on the Enterprise is a memorable moment. With all of his crew having mutinied and transported down to the planet in double-quick time, he briefly cuts a desolate and defeated figure.

This Side of Paradise contains plenty of interest for the Spock fan, or indeed the Kirk/Spock fan. 

Star Trek – Space Seed

The Enterprise encounters an apparently derelict late twentieth century spaceship, the SS Botany Bay. On closer inspection it’s found to contain several hundred human beings who have been held in a state of suspended animation for over two hundred years.

Their leader, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), is revived. Strangely charismatic to some, his dreams of conquest are as strong now as they were back in the 1990’s ….

Space Seed is held to be something of a classic, although it’s always been one that I’ve never really engaged with. Ricardo Montalban lights up the screen whenever he’s on, but Khan’s relationship with the hapless historian  Lt. Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue) has always irritated me.

It’s nice to have a meaty guest role for a female, but a shame that McGivers is such a limp and easily manipulated character. That she’s held in mild contempt by Kirk is made clear right at the start, when he struggles to get her name correct (his tone also implies that as a historian she doesn’t fulfil any useful function aboard the Enterprise).

This seems harsh, but when they beam over to the Botany Bay you have to concede that he may have a point. The moment McGivers claps eyes on Khan she goes more than a little weak at the knees. That she suddenly falls head over heels in love with him does stretch credibility a little (although it’s later explained that she has a thing for dominant men from history).

As you’d expect, there’s oodles of soft focus shots of Rhue as Khan effortlessly seduces McGivers. He pulls out the old “your hair would look better down” line which never gets old ….

If Khan had used some form of mind control on her, rather than simply his own ripling testosterone, possibly I wouldn’t have such an issue with the story. Especially since we then have to accept that McGivers is quite happy to betray her colleagues and help Khan take control of the Enterprise.

The moral of the story seems to be that women (even ones from the future) are easily dominated and require a forceful man to keep them in line. Hnm. It’s consistent with some of the previous first season stories, but no less easy to stomach.

Elsewhere, there’s some nice background to the Eugenics wars of the 1990’s (a far off period of time back in the sixties). Mind you, given that Khan ruled a large part of the world for a number of years, it’s slightly strange that nobody recognised him to begin with, not even the historian McGivers.

Remaining in nit-pick mode, the instrumentation of the Botany Bay doesn’t look any less advanced than that of the Enterprise (given the age of the vessel this is remarkable). And given how long it took Khan to wake up, it’s amazing that he’s able to nip over to the Botany Bay and seemingly revive all his crew in a matter of minutes.

Highlights of the episode include McCoy’s face off with Khan. Khan, having just woken up, puts one hand around Bones’ throat and holds a knife there with the other. “Well either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind”. I love Bones.

The latter part of the episode ramps up the action as Khan takes over the Enterprise. This he does with embarrassing ease, but since he’s already been described as a superman I suppose this sort of thing comes naturally to him.

The climatic fight between Kirk and Khan is a good one, provided you can ignore the rather obvious doubles. And McGivers does eventually come good, which gives Kirk the excuse to bundle her off with Khan to the inhospitable planet Citi Alpha 5 (we’d have to wait until 1982 to find out how things worked out for them).

A story of two halves then, with the second much more engaging than the first.