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

miri 1.jpg

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.

miri 2.jpg

Star Trek – The Conscience of the King

king1.jpg

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 ….

king2

 

Star Trek – The Galileo Seven

gal1

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.

gal2

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.