TOS S03E14 Whom Gods Destroy (3.5 out of 5 stars). The Enterprise visits Planet Arkham Asylum, and parades Clarice-like past various inhabitants including – hey! – Keye Luke who’s meant to be running the place. Turns out that the biggest madman of them all, Garth, has been taught shapeshifting by… wait, what?

Yes, apparently, metamorphosing all of the cells in your body into a perfect replica of another person is a skill which anyone can acquire with a little diligent study. Anyway, all he has to do now is impersonate Kirk and get himself beamed on board the Enterprise, but – wouldn’tchaknowit? – on this one occasion, Kirk and Scotty have figured out a code word, you know just in case the facility they’re beaming down to has been taken over by a shapeshifting lunatic without notice.

So, this is all pretty dopey stuff – but, you know what, I had a good time with it. Steve Ihnat is suitably Batman-villainous, and his green skinned alien slave girl sidekick is Yvonne Craig, aka Batgirl. They even kill her off, which I was genuinely shocked by. In the end, of course, Spock has to choose between two Kirks and fumbles this elementary task so badly that even Kirk has to point out his shortcomings. This was another one banned by the Beeb, but it’s hard to understand why.

TOS S03E15 Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (1 out of 5 stars) Alongside some quietly progressive casting when it comes to non-white actors, TOS has had a huge blind spot when it comes to the depiction of women. Some of its anti-war allegories have been pretty clumsy too. So… let’s see what happens when they decide to tackle racism head on. Yikes.

The Enterprise rescues Lokai, a black-and-white refugee from a missing Federation shuttlecraft. Like all Americans, the Big Three are fascinated by skin colour. Blue skinned aliens, fine. Green skinned aliens, fine. Dark skinned aliens, fine. Light skinned aliens, fine. Half light and half dark – HOW CONFOUNDING IT MUST BE A MUTATION WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE? Later, one of these super-advanced aliens gets evolution wrong and Spock corrects him, getting it only slightly less wrong. Sigh.

White Kirk then accuses Lokai of stealing the vehicle he was driving with no evidence. We’re lucky he didn’t put him in a chokehold, or just phaser him on the spot. (It is a white actor I guess.) Then another Cheronian turns up in a budget-saving invisible spacecraft. Cheron is in “the southern most part of the galaxy” (lots of galaxies have a south).

This second astoundingly piebald arrival is played by Frank “The Riddler” Gorshin, which is a bit of a treat. We even get some Batman-style zooming in-and-out at one point. Gorshin has been pursuing Lokai for eleventy billion years because he is an escaped member of their subjugated class. Kirk and Spock can’t see the difference, but Gorshin points out that his, dominant, race is dark on the right side and light on the left. The slave race is dark on the left and light on the right. Doyageddit? Following this, Kirk tells off Lokai for being uppity.

There follows a famous self-destruct sequence which is adequately tense but feels like padding. We start with Kirk in charge and the Cheronians as docile passengers. Lokai takes control of the ship, Kirk threatens to blow it up, Lokai backs down. Kirk is back in charge and the Cheronians are now docile passengers – but we did use up ten whole minutes of screen time. Then it turns out that Bele could have burned out the self-destruct at will at any time.

So, taken as a science-fiction adventure story, this is pretty dumb and pretty slack. It isn’t clear whether both Bele and Lokai have extraordinary powers over matter. If only Bele has, then the master race actually is superior. Yikes! If not, then why don’t we see Lokai use similar powers? And that’s the other problem – as a parable about racism it makes some pretty nasty assumptions about what’s actually been happening in 1960s America, because it basically blames both sides. Spock sardonically points out that by standing up against oppression, Lokai has got many of his followers killed. Better to just keep picking cotton then I guess.

When they get back to Cheron, the planet is a burned cinder, both “sides” having destroyed each other. Bele and Lokai leave the bridge and spend ages running up and down the Enterprise corridors. “Let them go,” allows Kirk, “What can they do? Except alter the entire substance of the ship at will. Where can they go? Except anywhere they wish using our transporters.”

This episode super-wants to be a plea for tolerance and understanding, (“Listen to me!” pleads The Shat, emoting so hard he might burst a blood vessel) but it ends up saying black and white people are equally at fault for slavery, lynching, red-lining and so on. Racism is the systematic persecution of one group by another. That’s not what’s depicted here. And in the end, compassionate Kirk leaves Bele and Lokai to starve to death on their dead planet, because racism is everybody’s fault. Let’s all think about then, eh, viewers?

The decontamination plot is also pretty uninteresting. And crop-spraying an entire planet twice seemingly takes less than a minute. Nobody’s paying close attention anymore, and when you’re trying to use your hit show on primetime television to make an important and relevant statement about society, details matter.

TOS S03E16 The Mark of Gideon (2.5 out of 5 stars). For much of this episode, Kirk roams around what appears to be the Enterprise only it’s entirely deserted, which is a neat enough way of taking standing sets and putting the captain into jeopardy with a mystery to solve – but it isn’t terribly interesting.

All of this turns out to be theatre designed to extract some of Kirk’s blood (which following his brush with plague would have antibodies, not infectious agents) and use it to infect a woman. Their bonkers plan is to create a plague to thin out their population. Because, you know, that’s better than just getting people to have fewer children (life is sacred in their culture, so mass murder is the only option they have left). Poor old Spock meanwhile can’t get anyone from Star Fleet Command or the Federation to take him seriously, so is reduced to making uncharacteristically bitchy comments about the uselessness of diplomacy.

This falls into the category of “oh, that’s like the kind of thing they used to do on Star Trek”. The right elements seem to be present, if you squint, but the ethical conundrums are trite, the proposed evil plan is ludicrous, the mystery dull and the character work almost non-existent.

TOS S03E17 That Which Survives (3 out of 5 stars) Faced with a seemingly-insoluble scientific conundrum, Kirk assembles a landing party consisting of himself, the ship’s physician, the helmsman and a disposable geologist, and leaves his science officer to sit in his chair. But wait! A foxy chick appears in the transporter room and tries to stop them beaming down. Quakes rock the ship and the planet. Spock has apparently forgotten how people communicate – and doesn’t notice that the stars are wrong. An irrational, illogical, emotional woman has to point it out to him. He also disregards Scotty’s insight about the feel of the ship.

Despite the fact that each of the murder-bots announce who they are here to kill (and recite their CV at them) it takes the landing party ages to catch on to the fact that each is programmed to kill only one person. And it takes the murder bots ages to catch on to the fact that if they have three targets, they should send three murder bots – all played by the same person, because the purse strings are still straining (it’s Lee Meriwether, continuing the recent trend of casting Batman actors in guest roles).

The battle to save the Enterprise is okay, but it never feels as if the ship is racing out of control. And Spock has become a parody of himself, but this is a decent episode for Scotty fans and James Doohan makes the most of what he’s given.

TOS S03E18 The Lights of Zetar (2 out of 5 stars) gives us more Scotty material as today he has a schoolboy crush on the ship’s latest foxy passenger and there’s some pretty nauseating locker room talk from Sulu and Chekov as a result. But, before long, an alien force has taken control of the ship which makes people gurn uncontrollably. It’s 50% ludicrous and 50% disturbing (the sound effects help).

There’s some fancy camerawork this week – an overhead shot of Kirk in the captain’s chair, a zoom in to Lt Legsfordays eye – but the plot never makes a blind bit of sense and everyone – even Spock – keeps calling a fellow officer in distress “the girl”. Plus Shatner’s pep talk to her is him at his most hammy and staccato.

TOS S03E19 Requiem for Methuselah (1.5 out of 5 stars) kicks off with a crackerjack display of brinkmanship (albeit sold with some pretty ropey marionetting) which then fizzles into absolutely nothing, so we escalate from megadeath from the skies to a lesson in how to play billiards. Spock wants to talk about Brahms and Kirk couldn’t give a shit, so he leaves his science officer to his sheet music while he goes off to do some advanced bio-chemistry on the tainted unobtanium.

Then, Kirk is suddenly completely in love with his host’s female companion. The title of the episode having given away Flint’s secret, the other revelation is that his “daughter” is, ho-hum, an android. Kirk, who only a few episodes ago, shrugged off the effects of an actual love potion, is so crestfallen that Spock finds it necessary to rewrite his memories for him without his consent. Jesus.

Stray observations

  • The rumours are alas true – the third season is a significant step back from the first two, which are pretty close in quality although I found more absolutely top-flight episodes in the first batch.
  • Any thought of developing the regular cast into individual characters has left the building. No matter what the situation, Kirk, Spock and McCoy will all beam down, taking as many red-shirts as the level of jeopardy requires.
  • Shatner does his best to prop up weak material by going for broke and this is a path from which there is no recovery.
  • Kelley and especially Nimoy never give any hint that they are working with sub-standard material. James Doohan does much with little, and Majel Barrett occasionally gets a few crumbs. Nobody else gets a look in anymore. They just press buttons and report information. But, hey, a job’s a job.
Trekaday 012 Day of the Dove, For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, The Tholian Web, Plato's Stepchildren, Wink of an Eye, The Empath, Elaan of Troyius
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