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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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 – 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 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 – 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 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.

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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 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 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 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.