TOS S02E07 Catspaw (1 out of 5 stars) really didn’t work for me. Redshirt Jackson beams back alone and promptly collapses. “The man is dead,” intones McCoy, but a voice from his corpse proclaims that there is a curse on the ship – definitely one of the sillier teasers we’ve seen. Rather than one of our regulars, someone called La Salle is put in charge of the ship as The Big Three beam down to investigate. La Salle has a stick up his ass and is mean to Chekov, but that never turns into anything particularly interesting. Meanwhile, the landing party ends up manacled to a wall, and before long, they are face-to-face with a Batman villain. “Why all the mumbo-jumbo?” Asks Kirk not unreasonably after 15 long minutes of tedious padding. He does not get a satisfactory answer. This is the playful alien with god-like powers yet again, only dressed up in Halloween clothes (it did air in late October). About the only Trek cliché more dreary than that is the alien sexpot to whom Kirk has to explain love. And that’s here too. I honestly couldn’t wait for this one to end. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any sillier, it turned into Kitten Kong.

TOS S02E08 I, Mudd (2 out of 5 stars) opens with Bones’s spidey-sense tingling when new crewmember Norman walks past. (Note again that the Enterprise is not far from home, seeking out new planets and new civilisations. They are less than 72 hours from a starbase which supplied them with a new crewmember – and yet before long they are orbiting a planet which has never been charted.)

“I don’t believe it!” exclaims Kirk on seeing Harry Mudd (he obviously didn’t read the title of the episode). Chekov doesn’t recognise him, so he joined the ship somewhere between Mudd’s Women and Space Seed. Mudd is no longer running a human harem but he’s still fairly unreconstructed, keeping an android version of his shrewish wife to torment for his amusement. Lol.

Just like last week, the main cast stroll around gaudy sets while a guest star villain strokes his moustache and pontificates until it’s time for the episode to end. I watch this show for three things – strong science-fiction adventure plots, character interplay between the regulars, and thought-provoking ideas about the future or the nature of humanity. This provides none of the above, but ploddingly takes us back to the OG Star Trek cliché, the gilded cage (which is even described as such). The plot is largely resolved when the androids turn on Mudd without our characters having to lift a finger. When they do start taking action, I rather wish they hadn’t bothered as they contrive to confuse the androids to death (yawn) in the most embarrassing way possible.

TOS S02E09 Metamorphosis (3.5 out of 5 stars). It apparently takes three senior bridge officers to ferry one Karen-ish ambassador from A to B after she succumbs to a virus (she refused to get vaccinated I assume). All she can do is grumble about “The Star Fleet”. When they ditch on an asteroid, Shatner almost dances out of the shuttle, pointing his phaser in every direction. 18 months in and he’s still having the time of his life.

When they meet another survivor, he begins cracking on to the Ambassador because of course he does. It’s odd that the crew doesn’t immediately recognise him, given how famous Zefram Cochrane is in space-faring circles. Cochrane is willing to help them escape (so no gilded cage this week) which cuts down on conflict but we have Ambassador Karen for that. He is reluctant to see his jailer murdered, which is a fascinating wrinkle, recalling Devil in the Dark, but this time with Kirk urging lethal action instead of fighting to prevent it. The robot voice which speaks for the “companion” sounds female, which the crew takes to be a reflection of the feminine nature of the entity rather than the programming of the translation device.

Full of fascinating bits and pieces, this one doesn’t quite hang together (Why does it have to be warp pioneer Cochrane on the planetoid? Where did this Companion come from? What’s this war that she and only she can prevent (or not!)? What will happen now that she’s being metamorphosed into an Eve for Cochrane’s Adam on their barren Eden?) but it’s a huge step up from the last two. It ends when the Companion Superman II’s herself, giving up her powers for love. But did anyone ask Karen if this was what she wanted?

It’s ages before we see the Enterprise and Scott has to record the ship’s log. Kirk is never seen on board the ship – which I think is a first.

TOS S02E10 Journey to Babel (4 out of 5 stars) sees the return of Mark Lenard – and he’s Spock’s daddy! Not only that, he’s brought Spock’s mummy. The Enterprise is awash with alien dignitaries this week. The Telluride delegates are under particularly shitty masks but they do sound and behave like an alien race, albeit a rather monolithic one. The Andorians are another example of the series’ reach exceeding its grasp, but whoever said that was a bad thing? Lenard is iconic as Sarek and “Miss Jane Wyatt” is a bit of a treat as Amanda.

The dissection of Vulcan culture is utterly fascinating. Amok Time was exciting because it showed us a side of them we’d never considered. This episode is exciting because it shows us aspects of their culture which we already knew about but it explores consequences of that culture which we’d never considered. At one point, Kirk mentally rounds up the usual suspects –  Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons… the Star Trek galaxy begins to have more and more familiar faces and species. Kirk is beaten up so significantly, he offers to temporarily relinquish command, even as Spock refuses to abandon his post in order to save his father’s life. Keep watching, as Kirk’s command of the Enterprise will be called into a question a lot in this batch of episodes.

The unidentified alien following the ship becomes a murder mystery plot which in turn gives way to a medical emergency/family sacrifice story and the combination is a little muddled, but the components are all first class. Even if Shirtner gets his shat off again (strike that, reverse it) for no good reason.

TOS S02E11 Friday’s Child. (2.5 out of 5 stars) is a relentlessly silly runaround with poorly-matching studio sets and location work at Vasquez Rocks. More diplomacy. More Klingons. Tige Andrews doesn’t look much like the Klingons we’ve seen before (or since). They’re portrayed as much more cunning and charming than they will be later. More redshirts get mown down too. Bones says to Kirk at one point “I know what it means to you to lose a crewman.” After this many deaths, he should know.

Main guest star is Julie Newmar, who does much to class up the joint, but the whole plot turns on the fact that the red-shirts are dumb-dumbs and that Kirk refused to do his homework before beaming down. Thank heavens for Scotty, who at least still knows how to Captain a starship.

TOS S02E12 The Deadly Years (3 out of 5 stars) features heavily in the book about the making of Star Trek which I devoured as a boy, going into great detail about how the makeup was done, so the surprise for me was seeing geriatric actors as the colonists/scientists/ambassadors/whatever on the planet of dreadful ageing. This is a great science-fiction concept of course – recently repurposed by M Night Shyamalan for his diverting movie Old.

I was briefly surprised to see Kirk treating a woman on board as a subject matter expert and not as tottie, but in moments it turns out that she’s an old flame because of course she is. The initial effects on the crew are delightful subtle. Kirk has a moment of forgetfulness. I think I can see a little grey at McCoy’s temples. But our team are a bit slow on the uptake – until a virtually decrepit Scotty walks into sickbay.

Somehow Shatner manages to look more fit and healthy today at ninety than he does under the final stage of his old age make-up here. Whether he’s wearing a thinning hairpiece over his regular toupee or not I could not say. It’s lucky that Kirk’s natural aging doesn’t make him this forgetful this quickly or The Undiscovered Country might have gone very differently.

The science fiction aging-to-death stuff is all great, there’s some lovely Spock and McCoy stuff as age increases their foibles – there’s even some good material for Chekov. Kirk’s dalliance with his old flame is of scant interest, however. The trouble is that the “affliction” is so grave that a full and hard hitting of the reset button cannot be too far away. Making the story more about Kirk’s competency helps to distract us, but it’s an in-built flaw of the premise – thus the young Lieutenant who keels over with unseemly haste to raise the stakes. And the result is that when they should be racing to solve the problem, our team is sitting around a conference room, reviewing the events of earlier scenes. Then when the reset button is hit, Kirk rebounds to full strength like an overstretched bungy cord, ricocheting around the bridge, hammering out his Corbomite bluff once more. Consequences are for losers.

TOS S02E13 Obsession (4 out of 5 stars) is Star Trek’s first go at Moby Dick, but not the last. Kirk confronts an alien cloud he failed to defeat on his first mission and his judgement is clouded as a result. This is another episode with a very high redshirt bodycount and Kirk keeps putting these young men in harm’s way, which makes his chewing out of the poor boob who froze when confronted with the menace even less acceptable.

Kirk is considered possibly unfit for command for the third time in as many episodes, with some dialogue near identical to last week. This is fairly clearly the superior version, rooted in character and not a space virus, but it is so much less impactful due to the broadcast order of the episodes. The resolution, when it comes, is tense and well-handled (although the outcome is hardly in much doubt) and the episode is well-paced with good character stuff. Although I was somewhat surprised to see Spock going to give the pep talk to Lt Frozeup? They give this job to Spock? Spock??

Stray observations

  • We’re past the half-way point of TOS now and the strain is starting to tell. There a couple of famously fantastic episodes to come – but there’s also Spock’s Brain.
  • If you’re ever tempted to show someone an episode of Star Trek who’s never seen it before, I can’t recommend not showing them Catspaw or I, Mudd highly enough (no I did not make that mistake).
  • The average score so far for Season Two is quite a lot lower than Season One, hovering around 3.1 out of five. Can the back 13 redeem the season?
Trekaday 007: Amok Time, Who Mourns for Adonais, The Changeling, Mirror Mirror, The Apple, The Doomsday Machine
Oscar Nominations 2022