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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7 – 63 UP. Network BD/DVD Review

Seven Up! was a World In Action special broadcast in May 1964. Planned as a one-off, it looked ahead to the far-off year of 2000 AD, reasoning that the seven year olds of 1964 would be forty three in 2000 and by then many would be key members of society (“executives and shop stewards” as the narrator puts it).

World In Action editor Tim Hewat had a jaundiced view of the British class system – wondering if someone’s social and economic background predetermined their future, even from a very young age.  Deliberately choosing a diverse mix of boys and girls from various parts of the country and different economic backgrounds, Seven Up! quizzed these voluble youngsters about subjects which included life, love, marriage, fighting, education and their plans for the future.

One of the unusual things about Seven Up! is the fact it was directed by a drama director (Paul Almond).  He was at Granada waiting to do something else and stumbled across Seven Up! almost by accident. Michael Apted (a researcher on the original programme) took over directing duties from the second edition onwards, maintaining this drama link.

What’s remarkable is how many of the subjects kept on returning once it was decided to make a new programme every seven years.  Charles dropped out after 21 Up in 1977, never to return, whilst others (John, Symon, Peter) have skipped certain ones but later came back (Suzy didn’t contribute to the most recent – 63 Up).  Lynn is the first to have passed away, dying in 2013 after a short illness.

Given that the original research process was fairly random and haphazard (no long term contracts or agreements were signed as no thought was given to the possibility of future programmes) the fact that most have come back again and again is testimony to the relationship they’ve forged with Michael Apted through the decades.

There has been a certain amount of tension though.  Apted himself has admitted that on occasions that he was tempted to “play God” and mould the interviews and programmes in a certain direction to tell a predetermined story.  The unbalanced male/female split (ten to four) is something else Apted now regrets, whilst only one contributor – Symon – is mixed race, another missed opportunity.

Taken in isolation, Seven Up! is a really interesting and entertaining watch.  The introduction of Andrew, Charles and John (all pupils in the same expensive Kensington pre-prep school) is unforgettable – along with the rest of their class they perform Waltzing Matilda in Latin.

Jackie, Lynn and Sue all attended the same primary school in East London (a slight pity that three of the four girls were plucked from the same area, but as previously discussed nobody was anticipating a long-running series at this point).

Although a fair number of the children were London-based, Neil and Peter hailed from Liverpool whilst Nick was raised on a farm in Yorkshire.

There’s plenty of amusement to be found in Seven Up! (John loathing the Beatles’ haircuts) as well as more reflective moments (Bruce wishing more than anything to see his Daddy again, who was six thousand miles away). 

When Seven Plus Seven was made in 1970, things really began to get interesting (as the process of comparIng and contrasting the people they are now to the people they were then could begin). This of course is the main strength of the series as it developed, especially with those who have had the most troubled or colourful lives.

Paul has had an especially chequered journey. A lively and amusing child at seven, by the age of 21 he’d dropped out of college and was living in a squat. Still homeless at 28, by the time of 35 Up he’d slowly begun to turn his life around and during the last few decades has become a local councillor as well as contesting several General Elections.

The stories of some of the others, such as Andrew, whose lives have progressed in a much more orderly fashion are still of interest – not least for the initial shock of seeing how they’ve aged when each new programme appears.

In order to contrast the current individual with their past self, liberal use has always been made of their archive interviews. This is understandable (especially during the early broadcasts, where the audience would otherwise have struggled to remember all the faces from seven years earlier) but it does mean that there’s a certain amount of repetition in each programme. Therefore the series is best sampled at irregular intervals rather than via a box-set binge-watch.

But however you view it, the Up series is an unmissable slice of social history. The format has subsequently been copied by various other countries, but the original is still the best. Enlightening, moving, amusing and deeply thought-provoking, this is British documentary making at its very best. Highly recommended.

The Programmes 

Seven Up! (39″ 35′)

Seven Plus Seven (51″ 56′)

21 (99″ 50′)

28 Up (61’05” and 73″44′)

35 Up (115″ 02′)

42 Up ( 59″ 40′ and 72″ 31′)

49 Up (70″ 27′ and 70″ 19′)

56 Up (46″ 58′, 46″ 57′ and 50″ 01′)

63 Up (47″ 40′, 47′ 45″ and 47′ 44″ )

Special Features

Michael Apted at Granada (21″ 41′)

Ir Was Only Going To Ever Be One Film (13″ 36′)

28 Up Commentary Track

7 Up and Me (46″ 32′). 2019 documentary narrated by Joanna Lumley in which celebrities discuss what the Up series means to them.

7 – 63 Up is available now from Network. The Blu Ray edition can be ordered here and the DVD is available here

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.

Star Trek – What Are Little Girls Made Of?

Exo-III is familiar early Star Trek planet – home to a once great civilisation, it’s now (apparently) barren, save for a few human interlopers.

One of these is Dr Roger Korby (Michael Strong), a brilliant scientist and – by a remarkable coincidence – Christine Chapel’s long lost fiance. The pre-credits sequence does lay on Korby’s research endeavours and general high standing a bit thickly, but I daresay this info-dumping was a necessary evil. 

The few first minutes also features a fair amount of Christine looking teary and wistful. The last communication with Korby was some years ago, so will he still be alive or has he perished in the icy wastelands? By a miracle Korby seems fine – hurrah!

But this is Star Trek remember and it quickly becomes clear that something isn’t quite right ….

What Are Little Girls Made Of? gives Majel Barret a major role, although Christine is fairly passive throughout. Nurse Chapel and Kirk beam down to the planet’s surface together, but they’re never as engaging a team as Kirk and Spock or Kirk and McCoy would have been. The fact that Spock and McCoy remain on the Enterprise does weaken the story a little. Indeed, we don’t see Bones at all, which is a shame.

Sherry Jackson (as Andrea) makes a memorable first appearance (her costume has something to do with this). Christine’s hackles instantly rise when she spies the nubile young Andrea – had they spent a few minutes alone together I’m sure Nurse Chapel would have started to scratch her eyes out.

After a fairly slow beginning the pace rapidly picks up. Korby reveals himself to be a highly unstable type whilst Kirk has no compunction in using Andrea as a human shield (or zapping Korby’s assistant, Brown). But the arrival of the imposing Ruk (Ted Cassidy) temporarily stops Kirk in his tracks. Kirk pinned to the wall by Ruk is an arresting sight.

Both Brown and Andrea are androids. Golly. Andrea is a remarkably pretty sort of android, although Korby maintains that he has no feelings for her (and vice versa). Then why make her so drop dead gorgeous?

Kirk being copied is a wonderfully pulpy sci-fi moment – a naked Jim (save for a covering to conceal his modesty) is strapped to a revolving table whilst a shapeless form lies next to him. After a few minutes the object gradually turns into a duplicate Kirk. So does this mean that there was there a real Andrea once upon a time?

Even this early on in the series’ history, What Are Little Girls Made Of? feels like archetypal Star Trek. An ersatz Kirk, a respected Federation man gone rogue, an attractive femme fatale, a dead civilisation which holds the key to untold knowledge and power. But whilst it’s all very familiar, it’s also great fun.

Kirk attempting to attack Ruk with the most phallic stalictite you’ve ever seen is an unforgettable moment. It surely had to be intentional, although how they got that past the censors is anybody’s guess. Oh, and Kirk’s plan to instruct the android Andrea in the ways of human love is another of those moments where it’s hard not to smile …

The first of Robert Bloch’s three Star Trek scripts, this one is probably also his best. It received an uncredited rewrite from Gene Roddenberry, but at this point in the series’ history it looks like Roddenberry’s script tinkerings were beneficial (this wouldn’t always be so).

Bloch may be best remembered today as the author of Pyscho (later filmed by Alfred Hitchcock) but he had written a fair number of pulp sci-fi stories in his younger days, which helps to explain the tone and style of this episode.

Although What Are Little Girls Made Of? seems to be little more than good, clean goofy fun there are some interesting philosophical questions bubbling away close to the surface. I daresay the late twist won’t take anybody by surprise but this is another S1 favourite for me.

Star Trek – Balance of Terror

Balance of Terror is a key Star Trek building block. The previous episodes have tended to concentrate on civilisations either long dead or dying. But today for the first time we encounter a race – the Romulans – who are a similar size to the Federation and also have an interest in space exploration.

Mind you, at this point the Federation has yet to be formally introduced (that wouldn’t occur until A Taste of Armageddon). But what Balance of Terror does so well is to dig into the Earth/Romulan conflicts of old.

At a single stroke, we learn that the Earth is not a newcomer to space exploration – indeed, having fought battles against the Romulans in the past, old resentments still linger. These attitudes are articulated by Lt. Stiles (Paul Comi) who directs his bitterness towards Mr Spock (due to the shared Vulcan/Romulan heritage).

Whilst Stiles is a character type we’ve seen before – a loose cannon aboard the Enterprise – his racist and xenophobic attacks on Mr Spock still have an impact. Not only because by now the viewer has come to embrace Spock as a key member of the crew, but also because they help to shatter the commonly held view that the Star Trek universe is one where such attitudes no longer exist.

As has been observed in the past, Balance of Terror plays out like a WW2 submarine movie. Two equally matched captains – Kirk and the unnamed Romulan Commander (played by Mark Lenard) – engage in a tense game of cat and mouse.

Lenard is, of course, excellent and it’s easy to see why the series was keen to have him back as soon as possible. Spock might describe the Romulans as warlike, cruel and treacherous but that’s a far from accurate portrait of Lenard’s Commander, who is honourable, poetic and world weary.

Unlike his junior officer Decius (Lawrence Montaigne), the Commander has no stomach for war – suggesting that unlike his superior Decius has yet to encounter a real battle. 

The Romulan Commander may not wish to fight, but he is honour bound to do so. That doesn’t mean that he has to relish the prospect though (unlike Decius). “No need to tell you what happens when we reach home with proof of the Earthmen’s weakness. And we will have proof. The Earth commander will follow. He must. When he attacks, we will destroy him. Our gift to the homeland, another war.”

It’s plain that this “gift” is something which will bring only death and destruction, not the glory that Decius seeks.

Had Star Trek gone down the more obvious route, portraying the Romulans as the bloodthirsty types Spock believes they are, then Balance of Terror would still have been a fine episode. But Mark Lenard’s multi-layered performance raises the story up several notches. One of the best – if not the best – Star Trek episodes.

Star Trek – Charlie X

Charlie Evans (Robert Walker) is a highly unusal teenager. The only survivor from a transport ship which crashed on the planet Thasus, it’s a mystery how he was able to survive all by himself for so long ….

The series might have already tackled the “human becomes god” storyline with Where No Man Has Gone Before, but it was clearly a storyline that had legs, as Charlie X refined and improved the concept (and ended up airing first as a consequence).

If Gary Mitchell was a seasoned man of the world then Charlie Evans is his exact opposite – a stumbling teenager. All of Charlie’s early scenes feel somewhat awkward (as we witness the misfit boy attempting to fit into the culture of the Enterprise)

But there’s an added wrinkle – it’s already been revealed to the audience that he has unusual powers of suggestion (although Kirk and co remain ignorant about this for the moment).

Kirk, Spock and McCoy spark off each other wonderfully in a scene where both Kirk and McCoy try to dodge the responsibility of becoming Charlie’s mentor (primarily to broach the difficult subject of the birds and the bees). Kirk, due to his rank, is able to dump this responsibility onto the less than ecstatic McCoy. Although things don’t quite work out the way Kirk hoped ….

But Charlie’s already learning, thanks to the presence of Janice Rand. From their first meeting (“are you a girl?”) he is plainly transfixed by her, although giving her backside a friendly slap doesn’t go down well!

D.C. Fontana (contributing her first script for the series) seems to have great fun with the concept of Jim Kirk as a substitute father. His stumbling explanation to Charlie as to why Yeoman Rand didn’t appreciate a slap on the behind is nicely done.

Well, um, er, there are things you can do with a lady, er, Charlie, that you, er… There’s no right way to hit a woman… I mean… man to man is one thing, but, er, man and woman, er, it’s, er… it’s, er…. well it’s, er, another thing. Do you understand?

Another highlight is the musical number shared by Uhura and Spock. It’s a lovely piece of character development – enabling us to believe that the people we see episode in and episode out are actually real people who have a life outside of tackling whatever the crisis of the week is. I also like the way that Spock’s initial irritation at Uhura’s warbling quickly gives way to amused resignation.

It’s not just a filler scene though, since it moves the plot forward (Charlie wants to chat to Janice so he casually silences Uhura with a glance). His prowess with card tricks then enchants Janice and the others, giving Charlie the adulation he craves ….

Kirk does his best to mentor the boy. At one point they tackle a gym session ( a bare-chested Shatner in red tights is quite a sight).

But things take a nasty turn shortly afterwards as Kirk finally realises just how powerful and increasingly uncontrollable Charlie is. Lawrence Dobkin’s direction is noteworthy here – focusing in on both Kirk and Charlie’s eyes whilst the rest of the frame is plunged into relative darkness.

It’s a shame that Rand is reduced, yet again, to the status of a sexual object. Sadly that seemed to be her prime function during the brief time she spent on the Enterprise.

Charlie X takes a fairly routine storyline and manages to craft a memorable episode out of it. Robert Walker is excellent as the misfit Charlie. Despite his various crimes (which include murder) it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him – at one level he’s simply a mixed up teenager, albeit one with unbelievable powers. 

The way that Charlie’s tricks and pranks become darker as the episode progresses (ageing harmless crew members or simply wiping their faces) helps to give the story a real punch. It’s not difficult to see why it was one of the first stories to air – even this early on Star Trek was really beginning to pick up strong momentum.

Star Trek – The Naked Time

Every time I watch the pre-credits sequence of The Naked Time, I have an uncontrollable urge to shout out and tell Lt. Joe Tormolen (Stewart Moss) not to take off his glove ….

Surely when beaming down to a strange planet, especially when you’re wearing protective suits, it’s maybe just a little unwise. Oh well, it’s not as if the suits sported by Tormolen and Mr Spock were especially air-tight anyway.

Tormolen has picked up a nasty infection, although it only manifests itself in earnest once he’s back on the Enterprise. Moss doesn’t have a great deal of screentime, but Tormolen’s breakdown is very effective and fairly dark. At one point, after threatening Sulu with a knife, he attempts to turn it upon himself. 

Sulu and Lt. Riley (Bruce Hyde) manage to wrestle it off him, but it’s still a tense little scene. Albeit slightly negated by the fact that several other crew members just sit around doing nothing to help!

What’s interesting about the episode is that after this flashpoint (and Tormolen’s subsequent death) we see a sudden gear change as the comedy begins to ramp up. The virus makes people lose their inhibitions – in Sulu’s case this means that he strips to the waist, oils himself up and runs around the decks with a rapier, causing havoc …

When he reaches the bridge, there’s a nice bit of comic business from William Shatner (Kirk attempts to block the sword and gets a nasty nip for his pains). Even Leonard Nimoy gets in on the act – after disabling Sulu, he instructs that “d’Artagnan” be taken away.

As for Riley, the virus turns him very Irish. Luckily for us all, Hyde doesn’t attempt an Oirish accent (although Riley’s singing is painful enough).

It’s rather unfortunate that Riley decides to take over the Enterprise (which he does so with embarrassing ease) at exactly the same time that the ship is dangerously close to a planet about to explode. This is a slightly clunky plot mechanism, but without it Riley would simply be a low-level irritant.

All the interest in the second half of the episode revolves around some well-crafted character interactions. Nurse Chapel’s passion for Mr Spock, for example (which comes a little out of the blue, since we’ve never seen her before). 

Both of them are now under the influence of the virus. For Chapel this makes her painfully honest, for Spock it’s all about having a nice cry. Nimoy takes these scenes and manages to wring every possible drop of emotion from them. Subtle they’re not, but they are strangely compelling.

The Naked Time gives us one of Star Trek‘s classic lines (Scotty’s plaintive “I can’t change the laws of physics”) so that alone makes it worth the price of admission. Kirk attempting to bring Spock back to normality by giving him several good hard slaps is also noteworthy.

Indeed, there’s so much going on that in the end the episode feels a little bitty. Dropping Riley from the story and maybe concentrating on Kirk and Spock’s breakdowns might have been one way to go. But no matter, The Naked Time is another strong early story in which all the regulars benefit from some decent character moments.