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.

Star Trek – A Taste of Armageddon

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The Enterprise has travelled to Eminiar VII. Onboard is Ambassador Robert Fox (Gene Lyons), a man desperately keen to establish diplomatic relations with this mysterious and isolated planet. Kirk and a small landing party beam down, but whilst the locals are initially polite, the situation doesn’t stay stable for long.

Eminiar VII has been at war with a neighbouring planet, Vendikar, for five hundred years. The attacks may only be virtual (plotted by computer simulation) but the casualties are horribly real. Once the lists are totalled, the victims of each pretend attack have twenty four hours to present themselves to the nearest disintegration chamber.

The Enterprise has been declared a casualty of war, which means that every man and woman onboard is effectively dead ….

A Taste of Armageddon has an intriguing science-fiction concept, the problem is that it’s difficult to imagine any civilisation actually carrying such a crackpot scheme through (and for five hundred years no less).  We’re told that three million people are sacrificed each year – multiply that figure by five hundred and it becomes even harder to believe.

I’m also mildly amused by the fact that each disintegration chamber only takes one person at a time.  This must mean there has to be tens of thousands of them dotted around the cities – which is possible, if a little odd.  Surely after five hundred years they would have come up with a more efficient way of culling their population.

Possibly if the war had only lasted twenty years or so and the casualties had run into the thousands rather than millions each year it would have been easier to stomach.  But science fiction often likes to play with big concepts (it rather comes unstuck here though).

The fact that Eminiar VII is the planet of the silly hats is another problem, as is the total absence of any representatives from Vendikar.  Apart from a number of non-speaking extras, Eminiar VII is represented by two people – the ruler Anan Five (David Opatoshu) and the rather attractive Mea 3 (Barbara Babcock).

This is obviously a bit limiting in terms of creating a picture of a rounded civilisation – Opatoshu is fine as the smoothly silky diplomat who nevertheless will do whatever it takes to keep the war on a level footing but Babcock is rather wasted in a role that doesn’t really go anywhere.

It’s not all bad though. Scotty being left in charge of the Enterprise is a real treat.  As we’ve seen before, he’s a man who’s cool in a crisis (and is easily able to hold his own against the pig-headed Fox).  Scotty’s mournful remark that “the haggis is in the fire now” after Fox threatens to send him to a penal colony for disobeying his orders is such a stupid line that I can’t help but love it.

William Shatner is a bit more staccato than usual, although Kirk does have some good scenes towards the end of the episode as he attempts to bluff Anan Five into capitulating by threatening to destroy the planet (or was he not bluffing?).  Leonard Nimoy is also the recipient of a few nice little character moments, which helps to enliven the middle part of the episode.

The three redshirts who accompany Kirk and Spock down to the planet are incredibly anonymous. Yeoman Tamura (Miko Mayama) did catch my eye, but then she was very pretty ….

As I’ve probably said before, I like my Star Trek to err on the cynical side. A Taste of Armageddon fits the bill nicely in this respect – Ambassador Fox is a man prepared to do anything in order to establish diplomatic relations with Enimiar VII.  Even if it means using force, no doubt.  This paints the Federation less as an altruistic organisation dedicated to peaceful exploration and more as a military outfit keen to grab a foothold in a strategically important area of space.

Provided you don’t think about the plot too deeply, this is an episode that flits by in a very agreeable way.  Yes, everything’s wrapped up a little too neatly – a five hundred year war sorted out by Kirk in a few minutes – but that’s the nature (and one of the drawbacks) of episodic television.

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Star Trek – The Return of the Archons

The Return of the Archons mixes together several story ideas which even this early on feel like Star Trek archetypes (computers with ideas above their station and an alien civilisation modellIng their architecture and fashion sense on the Earth).

The show has already established that the galaxy is a vast, lonely place.  That the USS Archon (which provides us with the reason why the Enterprise has journeyed to Beta III) was reported missing nearly 100 years ago bears this out.

It seems that if you get into a scrape out here then it’s best to use your own ingenuity as no-one is going to come riding to your rescue. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Kirk feels justified in taking the law into his own hands.

Unlike Miri, which mentioned how strange it was that an alien society had aped the fashions of Earth, Archons quite wisely ignores this.  The real-world reason (it’s cheaper to use an existing backlot and costumes off the peg than it would have been to construct an alien town and create space-age fashions) is obvious, but it’s not really a problem.

In Tomorrow is Yesterday, Kirk was happy to beam down to present day Earth in his Starfleet uniform. But here the landing party makes much more of an effort (donning  appropriate period clothes).  A small touch, but it’s an indictor that this episode has a more serious tone.

The festival – a strict period of time where the usually docile inhabitants of Beta III are allowed to rape and murder at will – is a bizarre concept.  It certainly helps to give the episode a little extra spice.

There’s plenty to chew over in the script, although much is open to interpretation.  Is the mysterious and all-powerful Landru supposed to be a critique of organised religion?  The monk-like robes worn by Landru’s chosen ones, the Lawgivers, would suggest so.

But it’s also possible to read Landru as a piece of anti-communist propaganda. “Your individuality will merge into the unity of the good, and in your submergence into the common being of the body, you will find contentment and fulfilment. You will experience the absolute good”.

Nineteen Eighty Four looks to have been an inspiration as well (for the festival, see the two-minute hate – a somewhat more condensed, but similar, idea).

The way that McCoy and Sulu are brainwashed into total obedience is very jarring, especially Bones – who has always been the epitome of good-humoured common sense. Sulu – who gets the Landru treatment in the pre-credits teaser – is gifted a brief scene in which he’s required to do a spot of acting. It seems to have been quite a while since Sulu has done anything interesting.

Archons is the first episode to mention the Prime Directive, but Jim is quick to find a loophole. When Spock reminds him that the Prime Directive forbids interference in other civilisations, Kirk snaps back that the rule “refers to a living, growing culture. Do you think this one is?”.  That’s something of a fine distinction.

Kirk feels entirely justified in destroying Landru, since it means that democracy will be brought to a society which has been suffering under an autocratic ruler. But we’ve seen throughout history the problems caused when civilisations are tampered with. Sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not.

Star Trek would make several coded references to the Vietnam war throughout its three year television mission.  The series tended to be rather fluid (depending on the sensibilities of the specific scriptwriter) about whether American involvement there was a good or bad thing.  Archons is one where you feel that they’re firmly in the pro camp. 

Kirk doesn’t waste any time asking the inhabitants of Beta III whether they’d like to remain under the rule of Landru.  He’s decided their future for them and that’s that ….

Harry Townes gives a nice performance as Reger, one of the few not to follow the will of Landru. It feels rather contrived that Kirk and the others are directed to him with such alacrity – but the story needed someone like Reger to quickly fill the viewers in about how Beta III functioned. 

Return of the Archons doesn’t exactly have a watertight plot (just what is the point of the festival?) but everything is played with conviction and that helps to keep things ticking over nicely.

 

Star Trek – Tomorrow Is Yesterday

Tomorrow Is Yesterday has a wonderfully disorienting pre-credits teaser. Most episodes to date have opened with a shot of the Enterprise orbiting the planet of the week. But today we begin on twentieth century Earth, which means that for a few moments it’s possible to believe that the wrong channel has been selected and this isn’t Star Trek  after all …

Normal service is resumed after we see the Enterprise (a little wobbly, it’s true) moving through the sky. But an intriguing mystery has been established. How and why have they travelled back through time?

There’s a mundane reason for this atypical opening (the episode was originally planned as the second of a two-parter, following The Naked Time) but no matter, it still works.

The reason why the Enterprise has taken a trip back to the 1960’s won’t detain us for too long (something about the effects of tangling with a high gravity black star).  It makes little sense, but then neither does the way they return to their own time. A little more on that later.

Briefly the episode has a serious and downbeat tone. Captain John Christopher (Roger Perry) is a US pilot sent to investigate a mysterious UFO (which of course is the Enterprise). Beamed aboard, he’s aghast to be told by Kirk that they can’t return him  – he’s glimpsed the future and so could cause untold damage to the timelines if he went back.

There was scope for an interesting story to be crafted out of this dilemma – how Christopher would have adjusted to life in the future – but this wasn’t that episode. Spock quickly realises that they have to send him back (Christopher’s unborn son will become an important figure in the development of space travel) and so the romp begins.

It’s easy to see how the basic plot was recycled for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. There’s no whales, but the concept of Kirk and co carrying out a secret mission on contemporary Earth, bamboozling hapless officials as they go, feels very similar.

Kirk and Sulu beam down to the airbase, intent on removing all photographic evidence of the Enterprise’s existence. Kirk gets himself captured, but not before William Shatner has indulged in a fight with several soldiers that’s played purely for laughs. His later interrogation is pretty chuckleworthy too (especially the comment about his uniform). Shatner’s clearly having a ball in these scenes.

If it wasn’t obvious that Tomorrow Is Yesterday was the series’ most comic offering to date, then the soundtrack tends to hammer this point home at every available opportunity. For example, whenever Kirk talks to the computer (which now has a female personality and is deeply in love with him). Yes, it’s that sort of story.

If the reason for the Enterprise’s arrival in the twentieth century lacks a little logic, then that’s nothing compared to the plan cooked up by Spock and Scotty to get them back to where they belong. Best not to worry about this though, just go with the flow. The reset button solution does solve the problem of Christopher (not to mention another hapless individual who also got beamed up) but it’s also a massive contrivance.

Mind you, there are some episodes where I find plot-holes to be annoying and others (like this one) where I’m inclined to be more forgiving. Tomorrow Is Yesterday is frothy, uncomplicated fun and therefore impossible not to enjoy.

Star Trek – The Alternative Factor

Some Star Trek episode titles conjure up strong images. Mention Arena for example and visions of Kirk and the Gorn slugging it out man-o-lizard instantly comes to mind. Others like The Alternative Factor are a bit more of a mystery. That is until we’re a few minutes in and I realise that it’s the one with Lazurus (Robert Brown). Uh oh, we’ve got a bumpy ride ahead ….

To begin at the beginning. There’s a fine example of throwing yourself about acting (to simulate extreme turbulence) during the pre-credits teaser. Most science fiction series required this skill, but The Alternative Factor is an object lesson in how it should be done.

Continuing to watch the series in production order throws up some interesting storytelling quirks. This is the second episode in a row where Kirk gets very gung-ho, ordering a red alert and convincing himself that an invasion is just round the corner.

The episode also reiterates the notion that it’s a big galaxy out there. The Enterprise is required to face a mysterious phenomenon (which may be natural or could be alien-made) alone – no other ship will be able to reach them in time.

This is partly budget related of course, but it also works from a story-telling point of view. The way that Kirk and his crew are cast in the roles of pioneers, exploring uncharted terrority, raises the stakes (there’s no starbase to run to when the going gets tough).

The production was affected by John Drew Barrymore electing to leave the role of Lazarus at the last minute (during the first morning of filming in fact). Robert Brown, drafted in as a very hasty replacement, therefore had a tough task, so we should cut him some slack.

Brown’s performance is very full on (to put it mildly). But he could only work with the material he was given. The script is … not good. There’s some interesting concepts at work – Lazarus is at war with an anti-matter version of himself – but the realisation is a very muddled. After a while my attention tends to drift as Lazarus simply isn’t that engaging a character. A little of his fire and brimstone raving goes a long way with me.

There are still some incidental pleasures to be found though. I love the wonderfully blunt way Spock tells Lazarus that he’s lying. It seems rude, but Spock is able to explain this away with logic (of course).

Also noteworthy is the appearance of a black female lieutenant who isn’t Uhrua. Lt. Charlene Masters (Janet MacLachlan) doesn’t have the largest role, but at least Masters isn’t as feeble as some of the wilting Enterprise females we’ve seen so far this year.

Earlier drafts did feature her more prominently though. A romance between Lazarus and Masters might have been interesting, but that was one of many ideas which ended up getting cut (the interracial angle was a concern to the network).

Oh, and Bones referring to himself as a humble country doctor is delightful.

Overall, this isn’t very good at all, but then you can’t strike gold every week. Indeed, given the fact that the first season ran for twenty nine episodes it’s remarkable that the general quality remained very high.

Star Trek – Arena

Arena begins in a rather jolly way, but this mood doesn’t last. Jim and Bones are both licking their lips in anticipation of their visit to a colony planet called Cestus III. The Commodore (an old friend of Kirk’s) is renowned for the quality of his food and drink (Spock, of course, doesn’t join in with their banter).

This moment of levity is all the more effective for the way the episode sharply gear-changes after Kirk and co beam down and discover that Cestus III is a total ruin. By great good fortune (or plot contrivance) there’s a survivor. Kirk is keen for McCoy to keep him alive – but more because he has vital information about the attack, rather than out of any concern for his well-being.

Kirk might seem a little cold here, but it’s a good indicator of his military training kicking in (something which he hasn’t had to use too often during this first season, Balance of Terror being a notable exception). 

The tension ramps up a little more after Sulu reports that the Enterprise is under attack. Another nice Kirk character beat is shown here – he tells Sulu not to lower the shields in order to beam them back. That could leave the Enterprise vulnerable and the ship has to take precedence over individual lives. The needs of the many …

The early part of the episode, operating rather like a war film, is very atypical of the series to date. Most of the adversaries faced so far have either been singular (Charlie, the Salt Monstet, the Squire of Gothos) or abstract (the virus in The Naked Time).

The relentless barrages faced by Kirk and the others (very decent explosions, clearly this episode had a healthy budget) creates a feeling of dread as see see Kirk’s small gang getting picked off by their unseen adversaries.

Arena could have remained on Cestus III, but instead the remains of the landing party are finally able to beam back up (the alien vessel has disengaged). This feels a little pat, but no matter – the preamble is over and we’re now heading into the heart of the story.

It’s interesting the way that Kirk (based on very little evidence) is convinced that the alien’s intention has to be invasion. Spock seems to struggle with this concept for a few seconds before loyally agreeing with his captain.

Kirk decides that if they pursue and destroy the alien ship then the other aliens won’t dare to move against them in the future.  Mmm, okay. I can see a few flaws with this line of reasoning, but given the way the story plays out that was no doubt intentional

Kirk, still reeling from the destruction of the colony, appears to have vengeance on his mind. But he also tells Spock that “it’s a matter of policy”, which suggests that he’s not just acting from bloodlust (he’s also obeying standing Starfleet orders).

Kirk’s attempt to blast the alien vessel comes to naught after he and the captain of the other ship, a race we now discover are called the Gorn, are plucked from their respective vessels by the all-powerful Metrons.

The Metrons are somewhat irked to discover that their section of space has been invaded and have decided that Kirk and the Gorn should face each other in single combat. The winner’s ship will be allowed to leave, the loser’s ship destroyed …

It’s usually around this point that I have a hankering to watch the Blakes 7 episode Duel.

When Kirk disappears from the bridge, Uhura lets out a piercing scream. Not the behaviour you’d expect from a trained professional, but it fits with the series’ general treatment of females to date.

And then we meet the Gorn. He looks a bit silly doesn’t he? Maybe it’s all the grrrring and chuckling, or possibly it’s the fact his mask looks a little too much like a mask. His little tabard, which barely covers his alien modesty, is also worthy of a mention.

I have to confess that this is the point in the story where my attention starts to wander, especially since the Gorn isn’t a great conversationalist (at least to begin with). Shatner puts his all into the action scenes (surprisingly his shirt doesn’t get ripped) and also does his best to convince us that the lightweight rocks he tangles with actually weigh a ton. That’s something they can’t teach you in acting school.

Eventually Kirk and the Gorn are able to communicate. Once they do so it’s remarkable how the Gorn becomes less of a monster and more of an individual. The moral of the story then follows – aftet sparing the Gorn’s life, Kirk has proved to the Metrons that mankind might just have a future. Kirk’s refusal to allow the alien ship to be destroyed is another mark in his favour.

But Kirk is still shown to be a flawed hero. His initial desire to destroy the Gorn ship could have triggered a war. Whilst Kirk strong-arms it down on the planet, Spock and McCoy – watching events on the scanner screen – are able to discuss the nuances of their situation. Were the Gorn acting in self-defence on Cestus III? If so, their actions would be a little more understandable.

But that doesn’t explain who sent the faked messages which lured the Enterprise to the destroyed colony. The Gorn? That suggests a degree of cold-blooded calculation which doesn’t square with the Gorn’s claims that the human colonists had invaded their area of space and they only attacked them in self defence (which is a shaky enough argument anyway). Maybe this plot point got overlooked during the various rewrites.

The very silly-looking Gorn is a bit of a problem and the moral is ladled on rather thickly, but there’s still plenty of interest to be found in Arena. Generally anything with Gene L. Coon’s name on it is a sign of quality (I don’t think he should shoulder all the blame for Spock’s Brain).

I still prefer Duel though. It has Isla Blair for one thing …

Star Trek – The Squire of Gothos

We’re treading familiar territory in today’s episode – Kirk and the others facing someone with godlike powers (just like Where No Man Has Gone Before or Charlie X) – but The Squire of Gothos still engages and maintains a high level of interest from beginning to end.

A big part of this is down to William Campbell’s performance as Trelane (it’s an excellent guest turn – one of Star Trek‘s best).  Like Charlie, Trelane increasingly acts like a petulant child, which makes the final reveal (he actually is a sort of child in a man’s body) all the more satisfying.

Living in a sumptuous mansion decorated with twentieth century objet d’art (as well as some highly recognisable Star Trek memorabilia) Trelane toys with Kirk and the others in an amused, but disinterested way.  He can freeze people or alter matter at will, but these examples of his power may just be the tip of the iceberg.  We don’t learn a great deal about him – who or what he actually is – but this isn’t a problem. Indeed the fact that he’s such a nebulous character makes him all the more intriguing.

The way that Trelane places a cheery message – “greetings and felicitations” – on the Enterprise’s scanner screen is a wonderfully jolting moment.  The Enterprise in general, and the bridge in particular, always has the feeling of a safe haven – so to see it breached in such a casual way informs the viewer that today’s adversary is no run of the mill type.

Trelane is a keen student of Earth’s history, especially the wars, and expects Kirk to share his interest. “I want to learn all about your feelings on war and killing and conquest. That sort of thing”.  Of course Kirk doesn’t have a similar love of battle, but the episode doesn’t handle this in a heavy handed way (later iterations of Trek might have been a little more on the nose when discussing the way that today’s Earth people are obviously much more enlightened than the savages of the twentieth century).

Trelane and Kirk eventually fall out, seemingly because of the attention Tremane shows to Yeoman Teresa Ross (Venita Wolf). But in fact Kirk is only using Teresa as an excuse to test the limits of Trelaine’s abilities. 

This week’s fairly disposable female Yeoman, Teresa doesn’t really push forward the depiction of women in the Star Trek universe. Changed into a sumptious ball gown by Trelane, Teresa is relegated to the status of a decorative object, something which is confirmed when Trelane tells Kirk that they “fight for the attention, the admiration, the possession of women” (Teresa looks very nice but hardly says a word). 

Kirk being placed on trial by a vengeful Trelane works well. This is partly down to the enthusiastic way a be-wigged Campbell bangs his gavel, but also because of how simplistic the staging is. No doubt this was partly budget related, but the image of Kirk in the dock with a silhouette of a noose behind him is still a striking image.

Given Trelane’s unimaginable power, Kirk was never going to beat him in a fair fight. But the episode’s conclusion doesn’t feel like a cop out. In fact, the way that Trelane’s brittle bravado is pricked by his unseen parents (“stop that nonsense at once, or you’ll not be permitted to make any more planets”) is a very satisfying way to wrap things up.

Although primarily a Kirk story, Spock is also well served by Paul Schneider’s script. I especially love his confrontation with Trelane. “I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose”.

If I was one of those people who enjoyed making lists, then The Squire of Gothos would be pretty high up on my favourite episodes list.

Star Trek – Shore Leave

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Shore Leave is a highly enjoyable slab of fantasy. It’s best not to worry too much about the plot specifics, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Star Trek had ventured out of the studio a few times by this point, but mainly the location work hadn’t gone any further than the readily accessible back-lot sets. So this makes the glossy visuals of Shore Leave appear especially startling (no doubt the viewers appreciated the sunny vista just as much as the tired Enterprise crew). It’s certainly a change from the series’ more regular diet of identikit studio-bound planets.

Although Star Trek is probably fixed as a science fiction series in most people’s eyes, it wasn’t afraid of a touch of fantasy (although Shore Leave goes further than most stories in this respect). Eventually a rational explanation is given for all the weirdness (it’s the work of a highly advanced civilisation who conveniently live off-screen in a massive underground complex) but that’s a fairly cop-out resolution.  

If the network been prepared to embrace the fantasy concept it would have been interesting to have left the story resolution a little more opaque.

Very early on we’re primed to expect the unusual today. Bones’ encounter with a large bunny rabbit checking his watch is one of those magic Trek moments whilst Sulu has an entertaining tussle with a Samurai warrior. But the meeting between Yeoman Barrows (Emily Banks) and Don Juan feels much more problematic.

It’s easy to believe that Barrows’ part was originally written for the now departed Janice Rand, who was often at the mercy of predatory men.  Barrows is discovered in a dishevelled state with her clothing ripped, explaining that “it was so sort of story book walking around here, and I was thinking, all a girl needs is Don Juan”. We’re left with the uncomfortable implication that on some level Barrows had invited this assault.

Kirk needs to be cajoled by both Spock and McCoy to partake of some shore leave, even though his iron constitution is feeling the strain. There’s a gorgeous comic moment during the pre-credits sequence where we see a weary Kirk receiving a massage from (he thinks) Spock. But it was actually Barrows doing the work (which Kirk seems oddly disappointed about). There’s so much slash fiction fodder there ….

When he does beam down, Jim quickly embraces the planet whole-heartedly (casually dismissing the fears of another member of his away team). This is mainly because he runs into one of his old flames, Ruth (Shirley Bonne).

No doubt he finds that meeting up again with the cocky Finnegan (Bruce Mars), the bane of his Academy days, to be much less welcome.  Finnegan is (or more accurately, supposed to be) Irish, which means that the incidentals suddenly go into diddly-de overdrive.  This is not a good thing. But as compensation there’s a spot of classic Kirk shirt-ripping when he slugs it out, man to man, with Finnegan.

Bones is also having a fine old time, strolling through the woodland with the rather attractive Yeoman Barrows.  He seems keen to replace Don Juan in Barrows’ affections, but his advances come to an abrupt halt after he’s impaled by a lance wielding knight on horseback.  This sudden explosion of violence is very jarring – could McCoy really be dead?

Maybe he was, but the amazing restorative powers of the mysterious aliens who run this planet-sized theme park are able to patch him back together with very little fuss.  As mentioned before, you have to embrace this sort of plot contrivance in order to get the maximum enjoyment out of the episode.

McCoy seems no worse for his brush with death – squiring two lovely young ladies with a beaming grin on his face, it’s not difficult to work out what he’s going to be doing with the rest of his leave. And if not with them then maybe with the obliging Yeoman Barrows.

If you like your Star Trek grim and serious then the frivolity of Shore Leave might not appeal.  Personally, I’ve always been partial to a bit of whimsy so it’s always a pleasure to revisit this one.

It’s just a shame that William Shatner’s rash offer to wrestle a tiger (he felt it was just the sort of thing to add a little spice to the story) wasn’t taken up.  If he’d avoided being mauled to death, it would have made the episode just that little bit more special ….

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Star Trek – Court Martial

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Court Martial sounds like a winner (Kirk on trial) but sadly the finished episode is somewhat flawed. Don M. Mankiewicz’s draft script received a fairly drastic rewrite from story consultant Steven M. Carabatsos whilst post-production editing moved or cut various scenes (with the result that vital chunks of the plot feel like they’re missing).

Mankiewicz’s original premise – a cheap story confined to a single set – was opened up by Carabatsos but it’s debatable whether this actually strengthened the story or not. Although I do have a fondness for the concluding act – silly though it is ….

During an Ion storm, Kirk is forced to jettison a research pod containing Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Finney (Richard Webb).  Kirk maintains that the Enterprise was on red alert at the time, but the computer reports that the ship was only at yellow alert.  Kirk’s apparent perjury is enough to trigger a court martial.

An obvious weakness with this episode is the fact that we know everything’s going to work out in the end for Kirk, despite the evidence appearing to be completely damning.

But there are some good moments – such as the way Kirk’s old Academy pals give him the cold shoulder or the moment when Kirk angrily reacts to Commodore Stone’s attempt to sweep the matter under the carpet by asking him to resign.

As the court martial wears on, a battle plays out between Kirk and the computer. We’re told that “computers don’t lie” so it seems that Kirk must be the one who’s lying.  The conflict between man and machine crops up time and again in science fiction (just think how often Jon Pertwee’s Doctor berated the limitations of the machine mind).

This is a decent part of the episode (even the logical Spock is forced to admit that computers aren’t infallible). Indeed, the original drafts pushed this concept even further – originally the computer was shown to be sentient and had taken a strong dislike to Kirk, deciding all by itself to falsify the evidence.

Less successful is the allegation that Kirk jettisoned the pod out of a sense of malice. Evidence is brought to show that Finney’s career was seriously downgraded by Kirk, but we never believe for a moment that Jim would have acted at all incorrectly.  Indeed, Spock steps up to tell the jury that “it is impossible for Captain Kirk to act out of panic or malice. It is not his nature”.

By now you’ve probably realised the truth – an embittered Finney is alive and (sort of) well.  Having faked his own death and corrupted the computer, purely to bring shame and disgrace on Kirk, he’s now hiding in the bowels of the Enterprise.  Umm, okay.  Clearly Finney is far from the full shilling at the moment. Kirk ventures down to Engineering alone in order to face him.  Why? Because it makes for good drama I guess.

But although the logic of the story has thoroughly unravelled by this point, we can still enjoy the Kirk/Finney face-off.  The taunting Finney (“your own death would mean too little to you. But your ship .. it’s dead .. I’ve killed it”) is excellent value.  Finney – by attempting to target the Enterprise – has clearly chosen Kirk’s weak spot (and his one true love).

The inevitable fight then occurs. Whilst the pair are facing off, I like to simultaneously goggle at the obvious stunt doubles used whilst also marvelling at how easily Kirk’s shirt gets ripped. This always happened to him ….

Elisha Cook Jr. adds a touch of class to proceedings as Samuel T. Cogley,  Kirk’s defence attorney.  Although the way he abruptly vanishes before the end of the story is an illustration of messy editing fracturing the narrative flow.  As is a late voice-over from Kirk which attempts to paper over some of the other story cracks.

At one point Finney’s daughter looks to possess a vital piece of the puzzle (after talking to her, Cogley appears to have found a new line of defence) but it’s never made clear in the transmitted episode what this might be. A scene with her and Cogley returning to the Enterprise was filmed, but then cut. This is a pity (although it’s present in James Blish’s novelization).

Joan Marshall as Lt. Areel Shaw is rather watchable. An old flame of Kirk’s, she just happens to have been assigned to the court martial as its prosecutor. Starfleet (which is actually named for the first time in this episode) is clearly a small world ….

Court Martial is enjoyable enough (everybody looks very nice in their dress uniforms) but isn’t quite the finished article.  No matter, normal service will be resumed shortly.

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Star Trek – The Menagerie (Part Two)

Part two opens with a handy recap – continuing to observe the events from decades past, Kirk and the others learn that Pike has become a prisoner on Talos IV, captured by a group of oppressive looking aliens who aren’t big on small talk. They clearly have impressive powers though, since they’re able to conjure up illusions which are even better than the real thing.

Pike, with his arms crossed, looks rather butch as he faces down the Talosians from the wrong side of a prison cell. But the way he reacts to his captivity with a futile display of anger is probably the wrong approach. Given how dispassionate the telepathic Talosians are, brute strength isn’t going to cut much ice with them.

There’s something pleasingly oppressive about this scene – the physically powerful (but temporarily neutered) Pike facing down the calm aliens, who regard him with the sort of mild curiosity usually reserved for laboratory animals. Which is exactly what he is.

Scenes aboard the old Enterprise give us an opportunity to observe all the characters who never made it into the second pilot. Majel Barrett is icily effective as Number One – a female second in command could have worked very well, although I’m not sure that Barrett would have been a strong enough actress to carry it off on a regular basis.

Pike gets the chance to flex his muscles when he battles a slightly silly-looking opponent. It’s all still an illusion of course (which might help to explain why everything looks like it was recorded on a fake-looking backlot!) There’s another lovely matte shot in this scene – which rightly popped up every so often on the end credits as a highlights still.

The winsome Vina (Susan Oliver) is still hanging around Pike, but he’s having none of it. She continues to tempt him in a series of guises though, the most memorable being a green-skinned Orion slave girl (due to its regular use on the end credits during series one it has to be one of Star Trek‘s most indellible images).

Susan Olivier is excellent as the vulnerable Vina. She certainly provides a sharp contrast to the more straight-jawed antics of Jeffrey Hunter.

If the first part of The Menagerie was mostly new material with elements of The Cage dropped in towards the end, then part two is mainly comprised of the pilot footage. We do pop back to the trial room on a regular basis, but most of these short scenes do little to advance the plot (they seem to be included purely to give Kirk something to do).

And then The Menagerie rather stutters to a conclusion. The audience has been told several times that Talos IV is strictly off limits  (by setting course there Spock has invited the death penalty). This is later waved away in a rather casual manner (very disappointing). Also slightly staggering is the reveal that Mendez is nothing but an illusion created by the Talosians.

So the whole trial was a fake …

It’s obvious that Spock wasn’t going to be put to death, but this move does negate a great deal of the drama from the last few hours. It’s all slightly baffling  but let’s be generous and assume that Roddenberry was working against the clock.

The wheelchair bound Pike (one beep for yes, two beeps for no) is another of those enduring Star Trek images. Although the story’s message (the chronically disabled can’t possibly enjoy any sort of fulfilling life) hasn’t aged well.

Dropping Pike off on Talos IV, to be reunited with the aliens who tortured him (in order that he can live in peace there in an imaginary paradise) seems a strange sort of resolution. But it was never going to be easy to wrap a logical covering story around the pilot footage.

The Cage is best sampled on its own terms, but back in the sixties and seventies that wasn’t possible, so The Menagerie was the next best option. It’s a little bit bloated (and as discussed, the logic of the linking scenes rather disintegrates in this concluding episode) but for all its faults it’s still a memorable story.

Star Trek – The Menagerie (Part One)

I’ve never been one for replacement CGI. Both Star Trek and Doctor Who have received CGI effects makeovers which please many, but I’ll always stick with the originals

The opening shot of The Menagerie part one is a case in point. The matte effect may look a little artificial, but it’s also rather beautiful. The other thing which caught my attention during the pre-credits teaser was Bill Shatner’s little acting choices. The way Kirk slightly bumps his knees when he, Spock and McCoy beam down immediately focuses your eye on him. Say what you like about Shatner, he always knew how to grab the limelight. The lecherous look Kirk gives a young and pretty female Federation walk-on is also something of a stand out. I doubt that was in the script …

It’s well known today that The Menagerie was a mid season cheapie, written purely to recycle material from the unaired pilot. I don’t think this was common knowledge back in the seventies through. At that time I simply accepted that the scarred and mute Christopher Pike was the same man (and the same actor) we later see in the lengthy flashbacks.

The early part of the episode sets up an intriguing mystery. Why has Spock gone rogue? Duffing up the workers on Starbase 11, faking Kirk’s voice to convince Uhura and the others that they have a new mission, hijacking the Enterprise to ferry Pike to a planet called Talos IV. It all seems a tad out of character.

Whilst Spock is skulking about and putting his plans into operation, Kirk and McCoy – also both still on Starbase 11 – are exchanging harsh words. Kirk’s beside himself that someone’s interfering with the smooth running of his ship and decides to take it out on Bones. It’s unusual that they part with their differences still unresolved – normally their brief spats only last a few minutes.

I do love the notion of Spock comanderring the Enterprise, leaving Kirk stranded on the Starbase in the process. The tension then slowly ramps up as McCoy becomes more and more suspicious (this is resolved only after Spock finally admits that he illegally stole the Enterprise and requests that he be put under arrest).

Quite why Kirk and Commodore Mendez (Malachi Throne) decide to pursue the Enterprise in a titchy shuttlecraft isn’t quite clear. But maybe this was all part of Spock’s plan.

With Kirk and Mendez now onboard the Enterprise, but with the ship still locked on course to Talos IV, the stage is set for Spock (standing trial for mutiny) to present his case. Why they’ve decided to hold the court martial here and now is a mystery (although obvious in story terms).

Will Spock be able to tell a convincing tale by the time the Enterprise reaches Talos IV? I’ve a feeling he can …

The Cage segments give us a glimpse into a Star Trek universe that might have been. Jeffrey Hunter is a bit stiff as Pike, but remember this was only the pilot. Over time would he have softened and shown a little more light and shade? Maybe, but I think we got the better deal with William Shatner.

Star Trek – The Galileo Seven

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The Enterprise, carrying vital medical supplies for the New Paris colony, makes a detour to study a Quasar-like formation called Murasaki 312.  Surprisingly, instead of the Enterprise scanning the Quasar from a safe distance, a shuttlecraft (the Galileo) is loaded up and sent out into space.  This seems to be a rather reckless move, but had it not happened we wouldn’t have a story ….

The Galileo quickly spins out of control and crash-lands on the only planet in the region capable of supporting life (a remarkable slice of luck that).  Spock is the ranking officer, with six others – Bones, Scotty, Latimer (Rees Vaughan), Kelowitz (Grant Woods), Boma (Don Marshall) and the lithesome Yeoman Mears (Phyllis Douglas) under his command.

The Galileo Seven places Spock front and centre for the first time. Whilst Kirk remains onboard the Enterprise, carrying out a desperate search for the missing Galileo, Spock is in the thick of it – using logic in an attempt to find the answer to their predicament. But he discovers that this approach isn’t always appreciated by the others.

In the original draft, Kirk was in command of the Galileo. Changing to Spock certainly helped the story, even though Leonard Nimoy considered it was something of a faliure. Without the character of Kirk to bounce off, he felt that Spock’s effectiveness was reduced.

Spock doesn’t get off to the best start after he states that three crewmembers will have to be left behind (without their excess weight, the shuttlecraft stands a better chance of leaving the planet).  We never learn how Spock would have made this choice (only that it would have been logical).  Of course, you can always guarantee that on an alien planet the landing party will be thinned out thanks to the efforts of the unfriendly locals.

Latimer is the first to bite the dust – skewered by the biggest spear I’ve ever seen.  The ape-like creatures who infest the planet (thankfully they’re only glimpsed briefly) are pretty large, but quite how they managed to find the strength to impale this spear into the unfortunate Latimer’s back is a bit of a mystery.  Whenever we see them chuck spears later on they don’t do any damage at all.  A lucky first shot maybe?

Kelowitz and Boma are growing more irritable by the minute, their anger not helped by Spock’s decision that officiating at Latimer’s funeral would be a waste of time.  The pair are then keen to mow down the natives, but Spock favours shooting to frighten rather than kill. 

This is an interesting part of the episode – Kelowitz is left on guard after they’ve driven off the creatures, although Spock is convinced that having displayed superior force they are not in immediate danger.

Spock’s sadly mistaken and the result is that Kelowitz perishes. His logic has lead him astray and this causes him to reflect on his actions. “Step by step, I have made the correct and logical decisions. And yet two men have died.” It probably wasn’t very logical to leave poor Kelowitz all on his own – as soon as that happened I had an inkling his days were very numbered.

Boma is now openly mutinous but it’s more surprising that McCoy also strongly questions Spock’s command decisions.  That he chooses to do so in Boma’s company (rather than seeking a one on one conversation with Spock) does feel slightly off.

By contrast, Scotty is his usual no-nonsense self.  He spends most of his time tinkering away in the innards of the Galileo, but whenever he emerges he’s always utterly supportive and loyal to Spock.  As for Yeoman Mears, she doesn’t really contribute a great deal. She seems to be there for decorative purposes only (if the Yeoman has any strong feelings about Spock’s handling of the crisis then she keeps them to herself).

Spock’s rigidity and total inability to listen to the advice of others is key to the episode, but we also see that he saves the day by making an illogical act.  Although he’s quickly able to explain this away – an illogical move was the only logical option ….

Several plot contrivances are brought into play in order to raise the stakes. Firstly, the Enterprise has to search for the missing shuttlecraft without the aid of sensors.  And secondly, they only have a limited time as Commissioner Farris (John Crawford) is constantly at Kirk’s elbow, reminding him about his duty to deliver the drugs to New Paris.  Crawford’s performance is merely adequate (it seems strange that Farris appears to be smirking on certain occasions).

Notwithstanding a few plot flaws, The Galileo Seven is a decent episode. Leonard Nimoy is – as you’d expect – excellent.  I especially love the middle part of the story which sees Spock start to exert his authority with a raised voice.

Don Marshall (probably best known for Land of the Giants) has the pick of the guest roles although how Boma escaped censure is anybody’s guess.  But if you accept that the tie-in novels are canon then (in Dreadnought by Diane Carey) he was later court-martialled.

Generally the production looks pretty glossy (the full-sized shuttlecraft and miniature effects are especially noteworthy) but there are a few signs that the episode had slipped behind its shooting schedule. The painfully lightweight rock which we’re invited to believe has trapped Spock is a case in point. A retake here might have made thIs scene seem slightly less comic.

For those interested in firsts, this is the first episode to conclude with Spock looking dignified whilst the rest of the bridge crew dissolve into giggles. Whether that’s something to be celebrated or not is down to personal preference I suppose.

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Star Trek – The Conscience of the King

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The Conscience of the King is a fascinating, layered episode which operates in a much more morally ambigious universe than many Star Trek stories.

Dr. Thomas Leighton (William Sargent), an old friend of Kirk’s, calls the Enterprise to Planet Q. Leighton is convinced that the noted Shakespearian actor Anton Karidian (Arnold Moss) is actually Kodos the Executioner. The former governor of the Earth colony of Tarsus IV, Kodos was responsible for the massacre of over 4,000 people twenty years earlier (both Leighton and Kirk were eyewitnesses).

There’s a notable WW2 analogue which seeps through the episode. Kirk initially believes that Kodos is dead, although Leighton is far less sure (“a body burned beyond recognition?”). That’s a clear link to Hitler, although the notion of Kodos masquerading under a new identity also points towards any number of senior ex-Nazis who fashioned new lives for themselves after the fall of Berlin in 1945.

There are several disconcerting moments. The first occurs right at the start – instead of the familiar opening shot of the Enterprise zooming through space, we focus in on Karidian performing on stage as Macbeth. And the fact that Leighton’s first few scenes always shows him in profile seems at first to be a directorial choice, but this is not so …

After struggling a bit with Miri, Shatner’s back on top form today. He’s gifted plenty of good moments – for example, Kirk’s conflict with Spock. After Spock gently reminds him that he’s taken the Enterprise off course, Kirk snaps back that he’s well aware of this and “If my memory needs refreshing, Mister Spock, I’ll ask you for it”.

Although Kirk’s autocratic command style has been touched upon before, today’s episode digs even further into this topic. With Kirk still traumatised by the events of twenty years ago, he’s disinclined (at first) to listen to either Spock or McCoy.

That Spock is forced to seek Bones’ opinion is a nice little wrinkle (they’ve yet to really begin their games of one-upmanship but the tension between their differing approaches – logic on one side, emotion on the other – is still clear to see).

The atmosphere of The Conscience of the King is ramped up by having the key events take place at night. It’s a slightly strange concept and although Kirk explains that this is because the Enterprise duplicates the Earth conditions of night and day, it does seem hard on those working at “night”, since everything’s always going to be much gloomier for them ….

The strains of deep space exploration is mentioned several times.  Kirk admits that since the crew has been on patrol for a long time, the arrival of a group of theatrical players would help to break the monotony. Karidian’s daughter, Lenore (Barbara Anderson), later queries whether living inside the Enterprise has fundamentally changed the female crew (“made them just people instead of women?”).

Lenore might not be the best-drawn female guest character the series has ever seen, but she has her moments.  By now the viewer would have been primed to expect that she and Kirk would engage in a romantic liaison. And so they do, but there’s a sting in the tale – she’s clearly manipulating him to serve the best interests of both her father and herself (after the romantically manipulative Kirk of Miri, it’s slightly refreshing to see Jim outmanouvered for once).

Mind you, the leer he gives when he first claps eyes on her makes it hard to be that sympathetic towards him …

That both are dissembling throughout their relationship is another of those small touches which strengthens the episode.

We’re kept waiting for a while before Kirk and Karidian meet face to face. And although you know that eventually Karidian will be unmasked as Kodos (otherwise the story would lack a certain dramatic impact) this predictability isn’t a story flaw for me.

But if one were being picky, you could argue that it’s a staggering coincidence that one of the few remaining eyewitnesses to the massacre – Lt Riley – now serves aboard the Enterprise. Jim attempts to protect him (Leighton has already been murdered by this point) by moving him down to Engineering. But since someone nips down there and poisons his drink, maybe Kirk should have surrounded him with a group of redshirts instead …

The sparks which fly between Kirk, Spock and McCoy help to make this a top-tier series one episode. The Kirk/Lenore relationship might be a bit drippy on the surface, but that was the clear intention.

Arnold Moss’ performance veers towards the overblown (as does Barbara Anderson’s) but their broad playing feels at home in an episode which has a stage background. Kodos playing Karidian playing Macbeth ….

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Star Trek – Miri

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Given how large the Universe is, you have to marvel at the number of planets encountered by the Enterprise which look very similar to Earth. Miri‘s teaser goes one better as Kirk and co stumble across a planet which matches Earth perfectly (even down to the landmasses). But having established this intriguing mystery, the episode then promptly ignores it.  This is a slight irritation ….

After a run of studio-bound stories it’s nice to get out into the fresh air (even if it’s only as far as the studio backlot).  Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Rand and a few anonymous red shirts beam down in answer to an automated distress signal.

Miri is an odd one as it manages to be both ridiculous and unsettling at the same time.  There’s something disturbing about the idea of a desolate town overrun by a horde of feral children (although as we’ll learn they’re not actually children – they just seem to be).

But there are also a fair number of scenes which are pretty ripe – such as the moment when Kirk phasers and kills a teenage girl. It should be horrific, but we’re left with a strong sense of the absurd (such as the way that the girl latches herself onto Kirk’s back as she fruitlessly attempts to attack him).

This episode is noteworthy for featuring the last major appearance of Janice Rand (she’d pop up briefly in the next episode before disappearing).  As touched upon before, Rand has been an incredibly undeveloped character – existing mainly to serve Kirk coffee, swoon over him or fight off unwelcome advances from various lustful males.

Miri is a late attempt to beef her character up and it works pretty well, which makes it all the more frustrating that she was already on the way out.  As Rand and the others succumb to a strange virus, she tells Kirk that “back on the ship, I used to try to get you to look at my legs. Captain, look at my legs”. At the moment they don’t look so good ….

Although this might be another scene where Janice is positioned as a decorative object first and foremost (it implies that she spends most of her time aboard the Enterprise desperately attempting to attract Kirk’s attention) it’s also quite plaintively delivered.

Shatner’s laying on the ham today. The conflict between the grown ups (“grups”) and Miri and the other children (“onlies”) gives Kirk the opportunity to step up and deliver an impassioned speech. And Shatner doesn’t disappoint, wringing every last drop of emotion out of it.

All right. I dare you, I double-dare you. Look at the blood on my face. Now look at your hands. Blood on your hands. Now who’s doing the hurting? Not the Grups, it’s you hurting, yelling, maybe killing, just like the Grups you remember and creatures you’re afraid of. You’re acting like them, and you’re going to be just .. like … them. Unless you let me help you. I’m a Grup, and I want to help you. I’m begging you, let me help you or there won’t be anything left at all. Please.

The fact that the children then meekly decide that Kirk has a point (which stands in sharp contrast to the havoc they earlier wreaked on the Enterprise crew) is another of those moments where it seems that the script needed a few more drafts to make the action seem a little less jerky and contrived.

Kirk’s relationship with Miri (Kim Darby) feels somewhat problematic today. Since Miri only looks about sixteen years old, the way that Kirk interacts with her (“you want to go some place with me?”) feels a little icky.

Although Kirk is shameless about manipulating Miri, it’s easy to see that he’s doing it with the best of intentions.  Even so, you can’t help but squirm a little as he ladles on the famous Kirk charm (telling Miri that she’s becoming a young woman, for example). Miri’s jealousy of Janice briefly sets up a rather odd, but entertaining, romantic triangle.

Although the BBC broadcast Miri in 1970, they then skipped it during the numerous re-runs which occurred during the next few decades (it didn’t receive another airing until the early 1990’s). Along with The Empath, Whom Gods Destroy and Plato’s Stepchildren, the four were deemed to be unsuitable for broadcast because they “dealt most unpleasantly with the already unpleasant subjects of madness, torture, sadism and disease”.

Miri doesn’t really hold up to intense scrutiny but provided you’re prepared to go with the flow it does contain items of interest. Never a favourite, but there are worse ones out there.

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Star Trek – Dagger of the Mind

When beaming cargo up from a penal colony, if it’s large enough to conceal a human being you should probably approach it with caution ….

Dagger of the Mind is a really interesting episode. It may feature a huge dollop of sexism (which of course isn’t a rarity for the original series) but there’s also a wonderfully cynical streak running throughout it.

As I’ve touched upon before, the Star Trek universe is often held up to be a shining utopia, but on closer inspection (especially during these early episodes) that’s not really the case at all.

Tantalus V is a rehabilitation centre for the criminally insane. Kirk has only heard good words about such places (likening them to holiday resorts) although McCoy is more cautious. “A cage is a cage, Jim”.

Dr Tristan Adams (James Gregory) runs the facility and has been a highly respected professional for decades. And yet it’s discovered that his work revolves around patients being subjected to mind-bending rays and other (unspecified) treatments which appear to leave them little more than docile vegetables.

Only one inmate – Lethe (Susanne Wason) – is allowed a voice. Apparently completely rehabilitated, she’s now employed as a therapist. We’re told that her treatment has merely suppressed troubling areas of her mind – which feels a little disquieting.

Adams doesn’t appear to have suddenly gone mad. Which suggests that his work during the last twenty years or so has received the tacit approval of the authorities. This is uncomfortable, as is the fact that we never learn exactly why each intimate has been sent there – just who has decided that they’re criminally insane? 

Had Adams’ number two,  Dr. Simon van Gelder (Morgan Woodward), not stowed away on the Enterprise then it seems unlikely that any of this would have come to light. In space no-one car hear you scream.

Quite why Adams and van Gelder fall out isn’t made clear although it may be that van Gelder recognised just how dangerous the neural neutralizer could be (when Adams is killed and van Gelder returns to the colony, Kirk is told that it’s been destroyed).

If that’s meant to suggest that all will now be well it doesn’t quite do the trick. Even though Kirk and McCoy share an end of episode smile to reassure the watching audience ….

Morgan Woodward rachets the intensity up to eleven during most of his scenes. It’s a remarkable performance – all bulging eyes and sweat – and plays in sharp contrast to James Gregory’s remarkably controlled Dr Adams. Of course the fact that Adams is so nice and accommodating can’t help but set the alarm bells ringing.

This week’s space totty is Dr Helen Noel (Marianna Hill). Kirk isn’t pleased to learn that McCoy has picked her to accompany him to the planet’s surface. Something obviously happened between them at the last Christmas party, but it’s not made clear exactly what.

I love the idea that the Enterprise has Christmas parties! There’s so much scope for interesting stories there …

Helen, of course, is devastatingly beautiful. But despite being a fully qualified professional, most of the episode finds her written down in the sort of patronising way that was typical of the series. The fact that she doesn’t pick up on the strange vibes all around her (zombie-like patients walking through the corridors) is a mark against her.

Her hero worship of Kirk is also a little eye-opening. This part of the story does give Shatner the chance to score some nice comic reaction shots, but it doesn’t help to stengthen Helen’s character.

The moment when she uses the neural neutralizer to implant a romanticised vision of herself and Kirk in his mind is also noteworthy. Although Kirk’s overactive libido has become one of the series’ running jokes, at this point of the show’s history he’s been very restrained. True, he does later give Helen a good old snog, but then he was under the influence at the time.

She finally redeems herself by disabling the force-field, allowing Spock and a troupe of red shirts to beam down. I love the casual way Kirk sends her off on this life or death mission, telling her that if she touches the wrong wire then she’s likely to be fried!

The original drafts featured Janice Rand rather than Helen Noel. It’s quite easy to see how Janice would have fitted in – especially since it’s already been established that she carries a torch for Kirk.

Later script rewrites by Gene Roddenberry rather obscured the reasons for Adams’ actions (one of the reasons why Shimon Wincelberg asked for the pen-name of S. Bar-David to be used).

Dagger of the Mind doesn’t feel totally satisfying, mainly because we’re left with the impression that little has changed on Tantalus V by the end of the episode. But the episode does generate plenty of food for thought during its fifty minutes.