Star Trek – The Man Trap

M-113 is your average sort of Star Trek planet – it has plenty of false-looking boulders and a rather red sky. McCoy, Kirk and the short-lived Crewman Darnell have transported down to the surface in order to carry out a routine medical check on Professor Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) and his wife Nancy (Jeanne Bal).

You may well wonder why Kirk has tagged along to this routine assignment ….

Is it because Nancy is an old sweetheart of McCoy? It’s about the most credible reason I can think of (certainly Jim delights in ribbing Bones about his lost love – witness how amused he is when he learns Nancy’s pet name for him!)

Straight away we establish that something is badly wrong. McCoy appears to see Nancy as she was a decade ago, Kirk sees the same woman (but older) whilst Darnell claps eyes on a totally different character – a young, hip-swiveling minx.

There’s a slight lack of logic here – why does Nancy appear to Kirk as Nancy and not someone from his past as happened with Darnell? It also seems that later on McCoy views Nancy as the same middle-aged woman initially observed by Kirk. The actual reason for this is fairly obvious (chopping and changing make-up would have been time consuming) although it’s another slight story niggle.

McCoy is delightfully bashful when he first encounters Nancy (and Kirk makes full capital  of “Plum’s” discomfort). However there’s a good gear-change when crewmen start to drop like ninepins – Kirk suddenly becomes rather snappy towards the lovesick Bones (although he has the good grace to apologise shortly after).

Alfred Ryder’s first scene is a memorable one. His line delivery is somewhat bizarre (especially since shortly afterwards he settles down and starts to act fairly normally). Jeanne Bal (a salt-sucking monster able to take any form – like Nancy – it desires) doesn’t have a great deal to do except look wistful as she lures men to their doom.

In one respect it’s easy to see why this was chosen as the series’ debut episode. Not only are the three main cast members well served, but the second tier (Uhura, Rand, Sulu) are also catered for.

Uhura’s doomed attempt to make small talk with a polite but baffled Mr Spock is an entertaining scene (at present, he charmingly refers to her as Miss Uhura) whilst Janice and Sulu (today he’s an obsessive botanist) also get a good crack of the character whip. Although it’s a little irritating that Janice continues to be rather objectified (two leering crewmen hammer this point home).

Once the creature beams aboard the Enterprise then the fun really starts. It’s able to shapeshift at will (even reproducing clothes – which is a neat trick) and causes a certain amount of mayhem in the second half of the episode. Especially when it assumes the form of McCoy.

It’s maybe a good thing that we don’t see the true form of the creature until late on as it’s not the most memorable creation the series ever attempted. Still, it does provide the episode with a late moment of goofy shock.

The moral of the story seems to be that if you’re an alien life form who dares to tangle with the Enterprise then you’re going to to die. Kirk is at his harshest and most implacable when sentencing the creature to death although Bones is the one who actually has to pull the trigger. 

The alien might be the last of its species, but that cuts no ice with Kirk (or indeed Spock and McCoy).  The Next Gen no doubt would have gone for a more conciliatory ending, but here it seems that only death will do.

Which seems slightly at odds with the show’s philosophy (or at least the version often embraced by fans). “To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations” and then calmly kill it since it doesn’t behave in a human enough way ….

The Man Trap isn’t subtle but it is a rattling good yarn with decent roles for all the participating regulars, so it gets a thumbs up from me.

Star Trek – The Enemy Within

A transporter malfunction splits Kirk into two. One half is rather like his old self (albeit increasingly indecisive and vague) whilst the other is a rampaging monster ….

Everybody loves a doppelganger story and on that score The Enemy Within works pretty well, although it’s surprising that (as we’ll call him) evil Kirk was rumbled so soon. Nobody seems to believe, even for a moment, that the Captain’s simply gone loopy, which is a shame – surely there would have been decent dramatic mileage in eeking out this part of the story a little more.

Shatner looks like he’s having fun as sweaty evil Kirk. It’s certainly a story which places the Captain front and centre.

Although at one point Kirk calls his double an imposter, that’s really not the case. As the episode title suggests, evil Kirk is an integral part of him (it’s just now all of his negative impulses have been distilled into a single entity). 

Our Jim can normally keep the beast within him under control, but now he’s been split into two it’s the worst of both worlds – his evil side rampages through the Enterprise, drinking and mauling pretty Yeomen at will, whilst the “normal” Kirk descends into a period of extreme indecision.

The only female in the story – Janice Rand – is nothing more than a helpless victim, ravished by the “evil” Kirk. It’s not much of a part, but then the original series does have issues in this area (which we’ve discussed before, and I’m sure we will again).

Indeed, Janice’s only other major role (in Charlie X) also saw her objectified by a lustful male. Do you sense a pattern emerging here? Given the reason for Grace Lee Witney’s hasty departure from the series, this is bitterly ironic.

The B plot (Sulu and a handful of others trapped on the planet’s surface) never really amounts to much, although some entertainment can be derived from George Takei’s heroic attempts to convince us that it’s very, very cold down there.

The Kirk versus Kirk face off on the bridge is nicely done and concludes an episode which has a few little niggles but always tends to hit the spot for me.

Star Trek – Mudd’s Women

Ah yes, the one about the Space Hookers.

1960’s Star Trek often struggled with its depiction of female characters – one good thing you can say about Mudd’s Women is that although it’s an early low point, from here on in surely the only way is up …

This was clearly a story close to Gene Roddenberry’s heart. It was his original idea and he was also keen for it to be the second pilot. Luckily wiser counsel prevailed on that score.  

Harry Mudd (Roger C. Carmel) is presented to us as a loveable Oirish rogue, but the script never really acknowledges his darker side. The women may seemingly be content to be bought and sold like cattle (he pointedly refers to them as his “cargo”) but given that he has power over them (via a drug which has addictive properties) just how much free will do they actually have?

Following McCoy’s excellent characterisation in the previous episode, he isn’t called on to do much here except make googly eyes at the three lovely girls (the same goes for Scotty). Even Spock seems to be smirking at times, which since it’s still very early days doesn’t seem quite as strange as it would be later in S1.

The moral of the story? True beauty comes from within (and not from drugs) or some such flim-flam. To be honest it’s not really convincing and the (sort of) happy ending – Eve (Karen Steele) catches the eye of a bluff miner – also feels a little uncomfortable.

There are some interesting nuggets of drama in the episode (Kirk is desperate to get more Lithium for the Enterprise, but the miners don’t want to sell). This results in Kirk uttering some not very veiled threats – an early sign that the Federation can’t always afford to take the moral high ground.  

Mudd’s Women is entertaining enough but fairly dispensible.

Star Trek – The Corbomite Manoeuvre

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This is a bit more like it. Now that Dr McCoy’s in place, Star Trek feels much more like Star Trek. Although it’s slightly jarring to hear Kirk call him “McCoy” rather than “Bones” everything else about their relationship feels right. This means that this episode – the first DeForrest Kelley recorded – could be broadcast later in the series one run without it seeming too out of place (which is what happened).

I do like the sight of sweaty Kirk (following a punishing medical from McCoy) casually strolling through the corridors. Clearly he doesn’t mind showing his pecs off to the lower orders.

Although Kirk later makes it quite clear to the increasingly hysterical helmsman, Bailey (Anthony Call), that the command structure of the Enterprise isn’t a co-operative, he does actually listen to the advice of both Spock and McCoy.

But as Spock says, Kirk ultimately tends to goes his own way (“Has it occurred to you that there’s a certain inefficiency in constantly questioning me on things you’ve already made up your mind about?”). That’s a nice building-block moment which helps to define the Kirk/Spock relationship.

Kirk’s interaction with McCoy is much more sparky – at one point we observe raised voices after McCoy questions whether Bailey is fit for duty.  Indeed he threatens to make it official. “I intend to challenge your actions in my records. I’ll state that I warned you about Bailey’s condition”.

But everything works out in the end as Bailey redeems himself.  True, Anthony Call is required to go soaringly over the top several times but this doesn’t feel too unrealistic (compare and contrast to The Next Generation, where everybody tends to exhibit a Zen-like calm whatever the situation).

The Corbomite Manoeuvre is the one with Balok, the alien who sports a permanently shocked expression and spends most of the episode threatening deadly vengeance.  That Kirk manages to outwit him with nothing more than a nice spot of bluffing feels satisfying.  This episode might be a bottle show which – on the surface – appears to move very slowly, but there’s plenty of character interest throughout (Scotty pipes up with a few witty comments, for example).

The modelwork and special effects stand up very well (good as the replacement CGI often is, I always prefer to watch the originals).

The Corbomite Manoeuvre would have made an excellent opening episode, so it’s a slight pity that it was shunted down the order somewhat.  Never mind, since the episodes can now be watched in any order, going down the production order route is one that I’d recommend.

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Star Trek – Where No Man Has Gone Before

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Where No Man Goes Before is a bit of a mixed bag. From a historical point of view it’s fascinating (shouty Spock) but I do find it drags a little midway through.  One niggle I have is that since this episode (in production order) gave us our first sight of James T. Kirk, it’s slightly too much that we’re also introduced to Jim’s best friend, Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) at the same time.

As we don’t really know Kirk yet, it’s hard to feel that invested about his lengthy off-screen friendship with Mitchell.  So when Mitchell suddenly acquires god-like powers it doesn’t have a great deal of impact.  Kirk’s moral dilemma – will he have to kill his old pal? – is a meaty one, but would have played better had this been a mid-series story and Mitchell was a semi-regular.

Sulu and Scotty are present, although they don’t do much except stand around awkwardly.  The Kirk/Spock relationship is tentatively established, although the info dumping about Spock’s Earth heritage feels a bit crude.

Kirk:Have I ever mentioned you play a very irritating game of chess, Mister Spock?
Spock: Irritating? Ah, yes. One of your Earth emotions.
Kirk: Certain you don’t know what irritation is?
Spock: The fact one of my ancestors married a human female.
Kirk: Terrible having bad blood like that.

Although William Shatner gets the chance for a nice spot of fisticuffs, the episode really belongs to Gary Lockwood and Sally Kellerman (as Dr Elizabeth Denyer). The 1960’s series would often have an issue with strong female professionals, and it’s something which begins here – Dr Denyer is dubbed a walking freezer unit by Mitchell.

Decent enough overall then, but there’s a real sense that something’s missing.  Dr Piper (Paul Fix) didn’t really have much of an opportunity to shine but his replacement would fare somewhat better ….

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Doctor Who – The Crusade. Part Four – The Warlords

If the previous three episodes of The Crusade tended to concentrate on the court intrigue at both Richard and Saladin’s camps, then The Warlords offers a sharp change of pace.

Saladin, Saphadin and Joanna are all absent and Richard himself only features in a single scene.  His brief appearance is partly to reassure the Doctor and Vicki that he knew they didn’t reveal his plan to Joanna (he was aware it was the Earl of Leicester, but confesses it was politically expedient not to confront him directly).

The scene also allows the Doctor to inform Vicki and the viewers at home that Richard would, ultimately, be unsuccessful in his aims.  He may only have a short amount of screen-time in The Warlords, but once again Julian Glover is unforgettable.

DOCTOR: There is something important, sire. If you are able to defeat Saladin in this battle, can you hold the city?
RICHARD: Win the battle, lose the war. The greatest fear we have. We’ve come so close. I must see Jerusalem. I must.
DOCTOR: You will, sire.
RICHARD: You think so?
DOCTOR: I am certain, sire. And when you look upon the city itself, you will be able to find the answer to the problem of this war. May we now take our leave, sire?
VICKI: Are we going back to the ship?
DOCTOR: As fast as our legs can carry us, my dear.
VICKI: Doctor, will he really see Jerusalem?
DOCTOR: Only from afar. He won’t be able to capture it. Even now his armies are marching on a campaign that he can never win.
VICKI: That’s terrible. Can’t we tell him?
DOCTOR: I’m afraid not, my dear. No, history must take its course.
(The Doctor and Vicki leave.)
RICHARD: Help me, Holy Sepulchre. Help me.

Ian (still on his mission to find Barbara) has unfortunately run into the villainous Ibrahim (Tutte Lemkow) who has devised a novel way to discover where Ian’s money is stashed.

A little pot of honey, made from pounded dates and very, very sweet. There, my lord, a little bit on your wrists and a little bit on your chest. Now, over there is a hungry home, full of ants that go wild for date honey. We must be generous to them. Lay a little trail across the sand, like this. And I will sit in the shade of the trees and dream of all the treasures I will get when the ants discover you. If you crane your neck around, my lord, you will soon see what you take to be a black line along the honey. Why, you will be able to see it getting closer and closer. My little ones! Such ecstasy!

Lemkow is good value, especially when Ian turns the tables on Ibrahim and forces the little thief to take him to El Akir’s palace.  From then on, Ibrahim becomes servile and keen to assist Ian (although there’s no doubt that he would be happy to change sides again at the first opportunity).

At the start of the episode Barbara is once more in El Akir’s clutches – although yet again she’s able to escape from him fairly easily.  This unfortunately doesn’t do the character of El Akir any favours – and his limited screen time during all four episodes does ultimately means that he’s not one of Doctor Who’s most tangible or memorable villains.

El Akir is more of a plot-device (initiating the story by attacking Richard and his friends, kidnapping Barbara to ensure that the Doctor can’t leave) than a fully-rounded character.

If you compare him to the likes of Tegana or Tlotoxl then he seems even more underwritten, although had this story been a six-parter there might have been more scope to develop him. As it is, he seems to be denied even a particlarly impressive death scene as the soundtrack suggests that Haroun quickly dispatches him quite abruptly. 

Since Haroun rescues both his elder daughter Maimuna and Barbara it unfortunately rather negates Ian’s mission (he turns up shortly afterwards).  It’s a little surprising that Ian doesn’t get the heroic fight with El Akir – particularly since William Russell was well able to handle a sword (he had previously starred in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot).

Ian and Barbara then head for the forest at exactly the same time as the Doctor and Vicki.  This is slightly sloppy plotting, as it would have been more logical for Ian and Barbara to return to Richard’s court (they had no way of knowing that the Doctor and Vicki had made an enemy of Leicester).

But clumsy though this moment is, it does give us a nice final scene as Ian is able to spirit the Doctor and Vicki away from under Leicester’s gaze.  Leicester watches in horror as the four time-travellers disappear in the TARDIS and resolves to “not speak of this. Let this story die here in this wood or we’ll be branded idiots, or liars. Poor Sir Ian, brave fellow. Spirited away by fiends. What dreadful anguish and despair he must be suffering now?”

If The Warlords doesn’t quite match the scale and sweep of the previous three episodes (and who are the titular Warlords anyway?) overall The Crusades is still a first class story which thanks to the cast and Douglas Camfield manages to transcend the limited budget and studio-space and produce something quite magical.

If the two missing episodes are never recovered, maybe one day animated versions can be produced – as it’s a story that certainly deserves to sit on the shelf alongside the rest of the second season.

Doctor Who – The Crusade. Part Three – The Wheel of Fortune

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For me, The Wheel of Fortune is the best episode of The Crusade. It has three moments of special interest – Haroun’s life story as told to Barbara, the clash between Leicester and the Doctor and the confrontation between Richard and Joanna.

Haroun (George Little) lives for one reason only – to kill El Akir. He tells Barbara the reason why.

HAROUN: Last year my house was a fine and happy place. A gentle wife, a son who honoured and obeyed me, and two daughters who adorned whatever place they visited. Then El Akir came to Lydda and imposed his will. He desired my eldest daughter Maimuna, but I refused him.
BARBARA: So he took her?
HAROUN: Yes. When Safiya and I were away, he came and burned my house. My wife and son were put to the sword.

It’s a perfectly pitched and dignified performance by George Little. Whilst the character invites our sympathy, Little never overplays – instead he allows the script to do the work.

Equally good is Petra Markham as Safiya. Her father has never explained what happened to the rest of their family, but she has faith that all will be well. “It is a strange mystery. They’ve gone away and we must simply wait for their return. It is the will of Allah”.

Jacqueline Hill is also excellent these scenes – for example, the way Barbara listens in horror to Haroun’s story and later when nearly revealing the truth to Safiya about her missing family. Another key moment is when Haroun leaves Safiya in Barbara’s care. He leaves his knife behind and insists that she use it to kill Safiya and then herself if they’re discovered by El Akir’s men. Barbara is appalled (“No. Life is better than this.”) but Haroun is insistent. Again, Hill plays the scene very well, her performance helping to reinforce how cruel El Akir must be.

The spat between the Doctor and the Earl of Leicester (John Bay) is a very interesting one. It’s another of Whitaker’s lovely Shakespearian pastiches that Hartnell and Bay both deliver with aplomb.

Although the Doctor usually takes the moral high ground, he doesn’t really have it here. His dismissal of Leicester as having no brain doesn’t seem at all fair. Leicester is a soldier, trained to fight, and it’s difficult to argue with his statement that “armies settle everything”.

LEICESTER: Sire, with all the strength at my command I urge you, sire, to abandon this pretence of peace.
DOCTOR: Pretence, sir? Here’s an opportunity to save the lives of many men and you do naught but turn it down without any kind of thought. What do you think you are doing?
LEICESTER: I speak as a soldier. Why are we here in this foreign land if not to fight? The Devil’s horde, Saracen and Turk, posses Jerusalem and we will not wrest it from them with honeyed words.
DOCTOR: With swords, I suppose?
LEICESTER: Aye, with swords and lances, or the axe.
DOCTOR: You stupid butcher! Can you think of nothing else but killing, hmm?
LEICESTER: You’re a man for talk, I can see that. You like a table and a ring of men. A parley here, arrangements there, but when you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, we the soldiers, have to face it out. On some half-started morning while you speakers lie abed, armies settle everything, giving sweat, sinewed bodies, aye, and life itself.
DOCTOR: I admire bravery and loyalty, sir. You have both of these. But, unfortunately you haven’t any brain at all. I hate fools.

Saladin and Saphadin discuss the marriage proposal. Saladin is extremely cautious.

Have England, France and all the rest come here to cheer a man and woman and a love match? No, this is a last appeal for peace from a weary man. So you write your letter and I’ll alert the armies. Then on either day, the day of blissful union or the day of awful battle, we will be prepared.

And sadly that’s the last we see of Saladin and Saphadin as they, along with Joanna, don’t feature in the final episode. This does give The Warlords something of an anti-climatic feel, but we’ll discuss that in more detail next time.

When Joanna learns that Richard plans to marry her off to Saphadin, it’s fair to say that she’s not best pleased. The scene is a thrilling moment, as both Julian Glover and Jean Marsh attack it at full-throttle. It’s hard to find many examples of Doctor Who scenes pitched at such a level – which makes this one all the more special.

JOANNA: What’s this I hear? I can’t believe it’s true. Marriage to that heathenish man, that infidel?
RICHARD: We will give you reasons for it.
JOANNA: This unconsulted partner has no wish to marry. I am no sack of flour to be given in exchange.
RICHARD: It is expedient, the decision has been made.
JOANNA: Not by me, and never would be.
RICHARD: Joanna, please consider. The war is full of weary, wounded men. This marriage wants a little thought by you, that’s all, then you’ll see the right of it.
JOANNA: And how would you have me go to Saphadin? Bathed in oriental perfume, I suppose? Suppliant, tender and affectionate? Soft-eyed and trembling, eager with a thousand words of compliment and love? Well, I like a different way to meet the man I am to wed!
RICHARD: Well, if it’s a meeting you want.
JOANNA: I do not want! I will not have it!
RICHARD: Joanna!

As this is the last surviving episode of the story, it’s worth taking a moment to praise Douglas Camfield’s direction. He always had an eye for unusual camera angles, plus he isn’t afraid to place the actors in unusual configurations. This helps to make the frame more interesting than just having them stand in a line (something many other directors would have been content to do).

Barbara is back in El Akir’s clutches at the end of the episode (the second that’s ended with Barbara in peril). El Akir’s final words here are truly chilling, thanks to Walter Randall’s matter-of-fact delivery. If El Akir had been an eye-rolling villain then it would have been easier to discount his threats. It’s his calmness that’s somewhat disquieting.

The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away.

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