Trekaday 039: Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country

Posted on August 3rd, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (4 out of 5 stars)

Star Trek V had been given a drubbing by the critics, was wildly disliked by fans and hadn’t made the kind money it was supposed to (it cost more than the previous film and made half as much). Possibly, if it had been a smash, there never would have been a sixth film with the original cast. But 1991 would be the 25th anniversary of the franchise and Paramount wanted to commemorate it in some way. Not for the first time, a Star Fleet Academy story was pitched which would have seen a reckless young Jim Kirk meet a stuffy Vulcan named Spock and gradually the two of them would learn to get along. Sounds ghastly, right? And although TNG had proved that there was life beyond Kirk, nobody thought that there was an audience for the same characters but without those iconic actors. Meanwhile, Harve Bennett had gone, the ordeal of cranking out four movies in seven years having taken its toll, and nobody had an idea for how the old crew could compete with the new televisual upstarts.

Nobody, except Leonard Nimoy. He had two ideas. Idea number one: what if the Berlin Wall fell in space? Something must have happened to put Lt Worf on the bridge of the Enterprise by TNG’s time. Idea number two: send for Nicholas Meyer. Meyer’s working title for Star Trek II had been “The Undiscovered Country” which of course means death. Apt for a story as steeped in loss and death as Star Trek II. Now, Paramount would ret-con Shakespeare and claim that it referred to the future.

Is the resulting film any good? Well, the plotting is generally solid, nowhere more so than in the first third, which establishes Sulu as the captain of the Excelsior and puts him in a position to see the Klingon moon Chernobyl Praxis blow itself up. Now Spock is attempting to broker a peace, and it seems only fitting that the crew of the Enterprise be brought out of mothballs and sent to escort the delegates through Federation space. Robin Curtis being unavailable, and a second recasting of Saavik not to anyone’s liking, a new character was created who could fulfill the role of spunky young Vulcan woman who quotes regulations at Kirk. Shatner’s beaming grin as he tells her where she can stick her rule book is him at his most punchably smug.

Shatner was deeply unhappy at having to play Kirk’s anti-Klingon sentiments, hating the line to Spock “Let them die.” And – you know what? – I think he was probably right. Yeah, Kruge killed his son, but don’t forget that a week earlier he had no idea he even had a son. It’s hard to connect the bitter, angry old man in these early scenes to the stoic captain who stamped out racist sentiments when his crew saw Romulans for the first time. Trouble is, it’s also hard to connect these early scenes to later scenes in which he’s doing everything he can to fight for peace. Meanwhile, poor Bones just traipses around after him, getting – yes sure – more screen-time than Scotty-Uhura-Chekov-and-Sulu but never getting anything at all in the way of character development. Looking at the trio of Spock, Kirk and McCoy the question “Who would be most likely to give in to knee-jerk prejudice about former enemies becoming new allies?” seems to be to be best answered with “The bad-tempered one who keeps making grouchy remarks about pointy ears and green blood, not the calm and practical negotiator.” That would preserve the dynamic of logic and emotion vying for the Captain’s decision, which was the very essence of TOS.

So, as usual (in every film bar II) there isn’t much in the way of depth to any of these characters, and what little there is doesn’t really work, but it’s still a pleasure to see especially Nimoy and Shatner together again and whenever one of the others gets a line it’s warmly nostalgic – even Janice Rand pops up for a split-second. Much of Kirk and McCoy’s adventures on the prison planet are exciting and funny with the interplay between Kirk and his shape-shifting doppelgänger a particular highlight. Meanwhile, on the Enterprise there’s a rather low-stakes and long-winded Agatha Christie play being enacted, which naturally ends with the only expendable cast-member turning out to be the traitor. It also surely cannot have been a surprise to anyone that the bad-guy on the Klingon side turned out to be the cackling bald-headed one with the eyepatch. I’m only surprised they didn’t give him a cat to stroke.

But despite all these structural and character flaws, it’s a very easy film to watch and a very easy film to like. As director, Meyer keeps it light and fast-moving; as screenwriter (with Denny Martin Flynn) he keeps the jokes and call-backs coming and if Cliff Eidelman’s music can’t approach Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner’s majestic compositions, it is at least a step up from Leonard Rosenman’s plinky-plonky score for Star Trek IV. And I haven’t even mentioned the rest of the guest cast. As well as a scenery-chewing Christopher Plummer, here’s late lamented David Warner having the time of his life, here’s Kurtwood Smith as a Klingon version of a Kung Fu master from a Shaw Brothers movie, here’s Christian Slater of all damned people. And here’s Michael Dorn, connecting the old show to the new one, playing Worf’s great-grandfather. This film is so stacked, they shot scenes with René Auberjonois and cut them before release. René Auberjonois!

What doesn’t work is the appalling mind-rape of Valeris which is presented without any comment. Spock smacking that phaser out of her hand is perfect, but what happens next is just horrible and I think if the film were being made in less of a frantic hurry to slide in before the end of 1991, it might have been re-thought. So, for me this one ends up in the middle of the pack somewhere. It’s about on a par with Star Trek III but it doesn’t have the problem of undoing the plot of something as perfect as Wrath of Khan. In fact, it’s something of a relief that it’s as enjoyably watchable as it is, following on from Star Trek V and that might earn it an extra, illogical half a star.

But it was definitely time to stop, as what Meyer and co had taken two years to do on the big screen, Rick Berman and team were doing every week in syndication, with higher concepts, greater depth, a more fleshed-out supporting cast and nearly as much visual polish. This is the end of a lot of things which started on NBC in 1966. It’s the last appearance in any professional Star Trek production for Nichelle Nichols (who has also now left us), George Takei and DeForest Kelley. It’s the last movie centred on the original cast and the last set entirely in the 23rd century until JJ Abrams shows up. Shatner even signs off by altering the famous catch-phrase from “no man” to “no one” as Patrick Stewart had been saying for five years.

Star Trek was dead. Long live Star Trek.

Trekaday 027: The Final Frontier

Posted on May 29th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (2 out of 5 stars)

Star Trek IV was a smash and Nimoy had created the story and directed the film. Trying to be a good friend, he diplomatically pointed out to a devastated William Shatner, whose ego was self-destructing, that the “favoured nations” clause in their contracts could be interpreted to mean that for each film Nimoy directed, Shatner could direct one too. With carte blanche from a happy studio sitting on a pile of Star Trek cash from the last three movies, Shatner set to work on The Final Frontier.

Unlike The Voyage Home, the Star Trek movie for people who didn’t like Star Trek, this was going to be for the fans. And unlike the last two installments, which had established the seven regulars as a gang of friends who work together to solve mutual problems, this film was going to go right back to the television series and focus on Kirk, Spock and McCoy, with odd bits and pieces for whichever other actors were hanging around. And although all of this was conceived in the shadow of the increasingly successful and well-regarded new show, no heed at all was paid to what was happening on Monday nights in syndication (apart from the re-use of some Enterprise corridor sets).

What was Shatner’s big idea? The one that Roddenberry had been dicking about with for ages, the Enterprise meeting God. Give us strength.

What’s good about this? Well, as director, Shatner’s shot-making isn’t half bad. Compared to the rather ordinary-looking Star Trek IV, the opening scenes on Nimbus III are splendid, and the Secret Pain scenes are very stylishly mounted. In fact, given the material the director has been handed, there aren’t any really serious mis-steps in the production, apart from a few ropey-looking effects. Then again, not all the casting comes off. They wanted Sean Connery to play Sybok, and the actor they got has nothing of his magisterial charisma. David Warner is fun but will be iconic next time round. As noted, almost none of the “second tier” regulars get much – and sometimes when they do, I rather wish they hadn’t, as more often than not they’re being demeaned, undermined or used for cheap gags. The Motion Picture theme (now much more associated with TNG) is back and in general Jerry Goldsmith’s music is pretty good, and Nimoy and Kelley are as fine as ever – in fact this is probably the best cinematic outing for McCoy.

But the rest of it? Structurally it’s a mess with tedious early scenes on Nimbus III and in Yosemite that go nowhere, it grinds to a halt in the middle with the fascinating but ultimately barely-relevant Face Your Pain segment, and the money runs out at the end so we conclude with a whimper rather than a bang. Far too many ideas are overfamiliar from previous outings and Shatner is so keen to rewrite the Kirk-is-old-now narrative established three movies ago that he shoots himself clambering up a sheer face of the aptly-named El Capitan. Lol. He doesn’t realise the gravity of his situation. Rofl.

Choppily edited, indifferently acted and tonally uncertain, with comedy beats that elicit more cringing than laughter, this muddle of a film staggers from mis-conceived scene to mis-conceived scene in ways that make me miss the sluggish but consistent Motion Picture. If it weren’t for the success of TNG I doubt there would have been a Star Trek VI, especially given that Shatner’s film barely made its money back. Reportedly, the director’s preferred two-hour cut was shorn of 15 minutes by studio suits and producer Harve Bennett, although time is still found for an interminable rendition of “Row Row Row Your Boat” round the old camp fire. Those scenes of “secret pain” are great (in writing, filming and acting) but they play as if ten minutes of a much better movie has been edited into the second act of this one. Those ten minutes earn both of the two stars I’m giving this very uninteresting film.

Trekaday 019: The Motion Picture, The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home

Posted on April 15th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

Star Trek The Motion Picture (3 out of 5 stars). It wasn’t just Star Trek which went off the air in the early 1970s. Fantasy-based sitcoms like BewitchedI Dream of Jeannie and The Munsters had run their course. Irwin Allen’s science-fiction adventure serials like The Land of Giants and Time Tunnel had finished. American television was dominated by domestic sitcoms, glossy crime capers and nostalgia. Movies were enjoying a new resurgence of gritty violence as censorship collapsed. Spaceships and aliens were at the top of nobody’s agenda.

Desilu was bought by Gulf + Western before Star Trek finished its original run. Thus, the rights to Roddenberry’s creation now lay with Paramount, who considered trying to bring it back as a movie in the 1970s and then as a TV show, tentatively titled “Star Trek Phase II”. One key question was whether or not William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForrest Kelley would return. The assumption during the planning of Phase II seems to have been that Shatner would do the first few episodes, Nimoy probably wouldn’t appear at all, and Kelley could be used if he was available. The others were making most of their livings at Star Trek conventions and could probably be relied upon to show up for almost anything. And then, Star Wars hit and everything changed.

A lot of the legacy of this confusing time shows up in the film which eventually emerged – Star Trek The Motion Picture directed by Robert Wise, which shunts Kirk off into the role of admiral, making him a stranger on the bridge of his own ship, and giving far more screen time to new cast members Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta than to our familiar crew – which makes some sort of sense when you look at the film as a pilot for a new TV series, except that Decker and Ilia’s chief plot responsibility is to be killed off at the end. Kirk’s journey away from and back to the captain’s chair never pays off in any meaningful way, and McCoy gets almost nothing to do except grouse about Spock. Nimoy, who almost wasn’t in the film at all, gets something close to an arc, largely thanks to a scene at the very beginning which asks him to choose between Vulcan and Star Fleet, but really this is the story of Decker and V’Ger which is very odd for the film which brought Captain Kirk to the big screen. Worse, the conflict between Decker and Kirk isn’t resolved. It’s just busy-work to keep our attention during the first half of the film, using up the first hour which is how long it takes to get the Enterprise to the cloud. Pretty much as soon as Ilia is converted into a probe, Decker gets off Kirk’s back and becomes just another officer. He at least does better than Sulu, Chekov and Uhura, all of whom are never given any lines beyond the purely functional.

Contributing to the disjointed feeling is the enormous amount of time in the second act devoted to uncovering Ilia’s memories from within the probe. While this makes perfect sense as a thing for the Enterprise crew to attempt, and it threatens to develop some of the characters (but not the ones we care about from the TV show) nothing ever comes of it, as once Kirk and co. make it on board V’Ger they solve the mystery entirely without recourse to anything the probe told them or they told it. The same could almost be said of Spock’s journey into V’Ger, although that at least is developing his arc, as begun in the opening minutes of the film, and it does provide some of the clues which Kirk needs, but really everything hinges on the discovery that V’Ger = Voyager – a nifty reveal, to be sure, but one which renders an awful lot of the preceding material moot.

All of this sounds like I’m giving it a bit of a kicking, but watching it again, after seeing 102 episodes of the television show, much of it does work. That score is completely iconic (the second of three genuinely great pieces of Star Trek music and we don’t have to wait long for number three), it does have a scope and a breadth which some other big-screen entries in the series sorely lack, and Shatner and Nimoy are as good as ever. It also isn’t half as long as you remember at 133 minutes including titles. That’s positively svelte compared to lumbering Nolan, Villeneuve or even Russo Bros epics. And the story is big enough to earn its place on the silver screen, even if (as I noted along the way) a lot of it is culled from bits-and-pieces of television episodes.

What doesn’t work? The pacing is off, the uniforms are drab, the supporting cast barely register and it feels stiff and cerebral in the way that The Cage did (and Where No Man Has Gone Before didn’t). Roddenberry, Wise, Livingston and co. were so at pains to avoid it being goofy, they forgot to make it fun. But in the context of Silent RunningsClose Encounters of the Third Kind, or even ET, and as an alternative to the brash and cheerful slaughter of Star Wars, this successfully carves out a place in the starry heavens for a more thoughtful kind of storytelling, even if a large part of its legacy turns out to be making it clear to the next creative team what not to do.

NB: I watched the theatrical version on Blu-ray. Maddeningly, when Robert Wise re-edited it in 2001 to improve the pacing and fix up some of the visual effects, the work was only ever done at DVD resolution. Even more maddeningly, the recently-announced 4K directors cut won’t be available on home media until September.

For another take on this movie, see here.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (5 out of 5 stars). How do you solve a problem like The Motion Picture? Pretend it never happened. Gone are the sub-2001 beige corridors and philosophical conundrums. Gone are the shapeless uniforms and interminable spaceship porn effects sequences. In comes adventure, fun, and a swaggering joie-de-vivre that somehow meshes perfectly with a story which is about age, sacrifice, obsolescence and failure. The sheer number of classic concepts and images packed into this one movie is nothing short of astonishing – the Genesis device, the Kobyashi Maru, Kirk’s son, mind-controlling eels, that wonderful score – the list goes on and on.

Once again, most of the regular cast get very little to do. Even Bones is side-lined in favour of Kirk and Spock. Chekov comes off best, although grumpy fans noted that that Walter Koenig was not in the first season which included the episode Space Seed to which this story is a sequel. But who can be grumpy when we’re having this much fun – until that heartbreakingly perfect ending. “Franchise… out of danger?” It is now, lads. How amazing that producer Harve Bennett and writer/director Nicholas Meyer, neither of whom had seen a frame of Star Trek before starting work on this film, turned out to understand it far better than the man who created it, whose only role this time around was firing off absurd memos, all of which Bennett ignored.

For another take on this movie, see here.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (3.5 out of 5 stars). How do you follow Wrath of Khan? Well, you kinda undo its most celebrated and emotional story beat. But given that, and given this film’s ruthless efficiency (Kirk takes Enterprise to Genesis, battles Klingons, takes Spock to Vulcan, roll credits), heavy death toll (Kirk’s career, Kirk’s son and the Enterprise as well as a bunch of badguys), this does what it sets out to do, and does it with a certain amount of charm and grace. The theft of the Enterprise from space-dock, as well as being the most crowd-pleasing moment of the film, is also the first time we see the Star Trek regulars working together as a team. In the TV series, they come-and-go at random. In the first two movies, they rarely get anything to do or say which isn’t strictly related to the ordinary operation of the ship. Here, they’re a gang, coming together to help a friend in need.

In place of the extraordinary Ricardo Montalban as Khan, here we have Christopher Lloyd as Kruge. It’s a testament to the amazing quality of the second film, that this one manages to get Christopher Lloyd as the chief villain and it looks like a downgrade. Also a new face is Robin Curtis, providing a more straightforwardly grown up and less bratty (but also less appealingly vulnerable) Lt Saavik. The change in actor has prompted some fans to speculate that “Lt Saavik” is a code name passed on from Vulcan-to-Vulcan but this is not considered canon.

Standing between two classics, this won’t be many people’s favourite, but even if you do subscribe to the notion that the evens are gold and the odds are trash, this is handily the best of the odds and works especially well as a bridge between the swashbuckling Khan and the lightweight Voyage Home, speaking of which…

For another take on this movie, see here.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (4 out of 5 stars). I dunno, maybe I was in the mood for some Star Trek and this really doesn’t feel like it. The beginning and the end (written by Harve Bennett, who got sole writing credit on III) are largely functional, just tying up loose ends from either the previous film or the middle of this one. The contemporary section, written by Meyer, feels like any other eighties fish-out-of-water American comedy and the relentlessly generic Leonard Rosenman score and flat direction from Nimoy only add to this feeling. Again, after a film which focuses on the regulars, we get a new face eating up more than her fair share of screentime – Catherine Hicks as Gillian Taylor – but her relationship with Kirk does work, and this film is the only one to actually use the regulars as an ensemble, even if that does mean that McCoy ends up playing straight man to Scotty and Chekov becomes little more than a McGuffin in need of rescuing.

Some of the humour works – Kirk and Spock talking over each other about Italian food, the famous punk on the bus – but some of it left me cold this time around – Spock’s inability to master swearing, Scotty talking to the computer mouse, Chekov bleating about “noocular wessels”. And yet it’s hard to deny the charm of this film and its cheerful refusal to take itself too seriously. God, what a long way we’ve come since V’Ger.

For what feels like the third part of a tight trilogy, not all the continuity is top-notch. The bridge of the Klingon ship looks almost nothing like the ersatz throne room seen in the previous film. I’ll have wait until The Final Frontier to confirm whether or not we ever again see the gleaming white JJ Abrams-style Enterprise A bridge which ends the film. I also believe that this is the beginning of “there’s no money in the future.” Kirk pawns the antique glasses McCoy gave him in order to get cash, commenting “they’re still using money,” and yet as recently as the first act of the previous film, Bones was in a dive bar, haggling over the price of passage on a ship.

For another take on this movie, see here.


Trekday 014: The Way to Eden, The Cloud Minders, The Savage Curtain, All Our Yesterdays, Turnabout Intruder

Posted on March 20th, 2022 in Culture | 1 Comment »

TOS S03E20 The Way to Eden (3 out of 5 stars) is the one with the space hippies, which obviously locks this into the late sixties in a pretty unhelpful way, but it also allows us a specific insight into what Star Trek is and how it works. This episode shows up the contradiction at the heart of Gene’s vision – a military ship on a mission of peace. Humanitarians with a strict chain of command. Herberts with a heart. So, on the one hand, Roddenberry explicitly based Kirk and the Enterprise on the Horatio Hornblower novels, and gave everybody naval ranks, but on the other hand, he got all bent out of shape when future creatives like Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer starting writing him and it like a military operation. Faced with actual hippies, Kirk’s rigid militarism is plain to see.

All that having been said, this is only passingly more interesting than recent episodes. There’s lots of talk of Romulans but they never show up. There’s yet another space plague sweeping the Enterprise (why won’t they wear their masks?) and at the end, they make it to a false Eden and someone name Adam dies after eating an apple – doyageddit? The landing party is powerless to stop the same fate from befalling another, standing still and crying out “Don’t bite into that! Stop!” (Darn, if only the crew had a handy portable device which could harmlessly incapacitate someone from a distance…)

In the middle, when the space hippies try and hijack the Enterprise, they become just another group of homicidal badguys who need to be outwitted – which is both a strength and a weakness, since it downplays the dated elements but removes the specificity. Spock of all people is the one sent into negotiate with them and they seem to respond to his laconic cool. Naturally, the crew has nothing to learn from these deadbeats – but we do get to see another one of those supposedly verboten female belly buttons.

I know that in fandom, this is not well-liked and the hippies have undeniably aged badly, but as a science-fiction adventure story, it doesn’t rely on the crew being overwhelmingly dumb, there aren’t any gaping plot holes, it isn’t egregiously padded (apart from a couple of musical numbers) and the guest cast is solid. Plus, any episode which makes use of the regular cast (Chekov went to the Academy with one of the women) gets bonus points from me.

TOS S03E21 The Cloud Minders (3 out of 5 stars) brings us more plague and more unobtanium needed to cure it. The Federation feels like a hugely insanitary place to live, with pathogens around every corner. There’s some dramatic camerawork early on which makes the most of the studio set (and the four shadows cast by all the actors) and that fits because this is setting up a dichotomy between the cloud city elites and the cave-dwelling troglytes in what I assume was some hint of social satire, but it’s all too subtle for me.

Easy low point of the episode is Diana Ewing as the vapid Droxine. Even by the misogynistic standards of TOS, her sub-Marilyn Monroe sexy baby princess act is incredibly irritating. When she announces at the end of the episode that she’s going to start digging in the mines herself, all I could think was “I wouldn’t want to be your shift supervisor.” Also – belly button alert! On full, flagrant display here and on Vanna.

But the story is full of nonsense. Despite the urgent deadline, hardy Spock who barely needs any comforts eagerly seizes the opportunity to take a nap when it is offered and then starts referring to the stupidest woman in all creation as “the lovely Droxine.” What’s particularly confounding is that this planet is a member of the Federation, membership of which can apparently be gained by filling in a postcard, with no need to have anyone actually visit and see what kind of planet-wide society has been established.

And then there’s the matter of the maguffin: zenite, which is shipped all over the galaxy and yet Spock is completely unfamiliar with the dangers of it in its raw state and there isn’t any other planet from which to obtain it. The people who mine and ship Zenite are also unfamiliar with its effects. So how do they know how to refine and package it safely?

The actual climax with Captain, Beardy and Girl-trog all slowly losing their minds is quite exciting, but it can’t redeem the rest of the episode. And another irritating trope is present too – the insanely precise countdown as if a natural event is an entirely predictable process like a timebomb, which is completely safe until the very last second, whereupon it becomes instantly fatal.

TOS S03E22 The Savage Curtain (2 out of 5 stars) begins with Abraham Lincoln in space, marks time for fifteen or so minutes and then plods through a re-hash of Arena yet again. Kirk’s fanboyish attitude to “Lincoln” is absurd. “Tell me the secrets of your ship.” “Why of course, all-powerful and mysterious entity about whom I know nothing.” There’s not much more to be said about this one.

TOS S03E23 All Our Yesterdays (4 out of 5 stars) even rips off the slow-motion effect used in Joan Collins Must Die but it does in fact present our heroes with a well-defined and tricky problem – if anything a harder one than they faced in the earlier episode. And while Spock regressing to a more emotional state and getting the hots for a foxy cave-chick isn’t quite in the same league as Kirk and Edith Keeler’s doomed love, it’s more depth of characterisation than we’re used to lately. Unexpectedly, this one isn’t half bad.

TOS S03E24 Turnabout Intruder (3 out of 5 stars) begins with yet another colony with barely any (expensive) survivors, and it swiftly gives us another fake captain. I’m a total sucker for TV episodes in which the regular cast play each other / impersonate each other / play different roles and Shatner has a ball here playing his catty ex-girlfriend. Sandra Smith doesn’t play Kirk with quite as much playfulness as might be expected – she doesn’t pick up on any of Shatner’s tics or quirks, more’s the pity.

But notice that how foxy Janice is is never the issue! Progress!! She even gets to wear a pants suit. So I was quite surprised to discover that this is one I am supposed to hate, on the basis that Janice hating herself amounts to the show hating women, and that her line “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women” is meant to imply that the Federation as a matter of policy doesn’t promote any women to the rank of captain (and it’s true that we don’t see any female captains in the whole of TOS).

But the line could equally well mean “You are in love with your ship and can’t ever love a woman completely” which we certainly know to be true of Kirk. And also, I don’t think we are supposed to think that Janice’s attitude towards women is meant to be the message of the episode, because Janice is… (checks notes) the bad guy. I think we’re meant to think that she and her self-loathing are repugnant. I’ve complained before about the patrician attitudes on display in these episodes and maybe the sexism has become a low-level background noise that I just don’t notice any more, but I thought this was a strong story with fun performances, maybe up to the point that “Kirk” starts demanding the death penalty, whereupon it all gets a bit silly, and after which the body swap just wears off because it’s the end of the episode.

This was the last one broadcast, and the last one shot. End of the line folks.

Final thoughts

  • In its last run of episodes, Star Trek fatally forgets how to construct either exciting science-fiction adventures or thought-provoking thought experiments, and so falls back on a small set of clichés, generally involving space plagues, torture, foxy chicks and mind games. Only the character dynamics can save many of these episodes and when they’re absent, it’s pretty much goodnight Vienna.
  • Although nearly nothing after The Tholian Web is really worth watching, most episodes contain something of interest. There genuinely was a special alchemy to this cast, even if William Shatner’s command of subtlety is rapidly slipping away. And while Nichelle Nichols and George Takei are given very little to work with, there are occasional crumbs for Walter Koenig and Majel Barrett.
  • The hidden MVP of TOS though is James Doohan as Scotty. Not only is he the only one I want to have the con if Kirk and Spock are AWOL, Doohan’s hugely charming and charismatic performance is every bit the equal of his limelight-hogging co-stars. Why didn’t I know this before? Because between TMP and Relics, he is never once given anything more to do than brief bits of comic relief.
  • Best episodes out of this largely sorry collection are The Tholian Web, The Enterprise Incident and the genuinely excellent Is There in Truth No Beauty?. Worst of a bad bunch are the idiotic Spock’s Brain, the maximally dumb And the Children Shall Lead, the lifeless Requiem for Methuselah, and the appallingly clumsy Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Average score for Season 3 is 2.71. Average score for TOS is 3.23.
  • We aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to this cast yet, though. Not only are there six movies waiting for us, there are also 22 animated episodes – of which I have so far seen precisely zero. Let’s see what’s out there.

Trekaday 013: Whom Gods Destroy, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, The Mark of Gideon, That Which Survives, The Lights of Zetar, Requiem for Methuselah

Posted on March 15th, 2022 in Culture | 1 Comment »

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

Posted on March 9th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

S03E07 Day of the Dove (3.5 out of 5 stars). Unlike a couple of recent stronger episodes which started badly and then found a groove, this begins with a wonderfully tense stand-off between the Federation and the Klingons, but rapidly unravels once the common enemy sneaks on board and – yawn – everyone starts going nutso.

We begin when the landing party beams down to planet Feather Boa and are swiftly joined by the surviving Klingons whose have a different and cheaper transporter effect. These are the Klingons we all know, swarthy, glowering and warlike. They have heard about Federation death camps and so we have a wonderful opportunity for these two warring groups to explore each other’s cultures. But the crew once again close their eyes and count to ten to permit a spinny red thing to come on board and before long, everyone is giving in to their worst impulses and waving ancient weapons around.

And when I say giving into their worst impulses, there’s a very, very upsetting moment where it looks as if Chekov is planning to rape the Klingon woman Mara. Dude. No.

S03E08 For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky (2 out of 5 stars). Only a few weeks after Kirk was snarling at friends for no good reason, here we have Nurse Chapel at odds with Dr McCoy, and it turns out this is because McCoy has diagnosed himself with incurable space plague. The doc pulls himself together and they beam down to what turns out to be a powered asteroid which will collide with the colony NotEarth V at around the same time they McCoy is scheduled to drop dead. Coincidence?

The landing party is taken captive and brought underground by guards wearing particularly dopey looking helmets which resemble those games where you have tilt a plastic box to guide a little ball into a hole. Kate Woodville as Natira is nothing we haven’t seen before but she makes a good job of the ice queen / noble savage who wants McCoy to be her mate and (other than he’d be written out of the series) I’m not sure what the dilemma is here. If he believes he only has a year to live, why not live in adored comfort? We never find out as he changes his mind about staying between scenes. That said, Spock’s hand of friendship on McCoy’s shoulder when he finds out about his condition is very affecting.

S03E09 The Tholian Web (4 out of 5 stars) is one I think I’m supposed to like more than I did. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty good, although it does begin with quite a familiar set-up, in which following the return of the away team, the crew starts acting nutso. This is communicated mainly through handheld cameras and distorting lenses. As is not uncommon with this run of episodes, this story throws everything at the plot and hopes to keep finding enough incident to fill 50 minutes, rather than exploring a single strong and original idea. So, we also have the fact that Kirk has “phased out” with a stricken ship and now the Enterprise is faced with some creatures called Tholians, who like many warlike alien races have an innate sense of drama, so rather than blasting the helplessly drifting Enterprise out of the stars, they elect to construct a web to entangle the ship after a sufficient time has passed.

The captain having been presumed dead, this becomes a Kirk-less episode, more or less, which puts Spock in the captain’s chair and at the centre of the narrative. They even hold a wake for Kirk. What is great about this episode (and what I imagine fans love about it) are the debates between McCoy and Spock on the nature of the duties of command, which is never less than compelling. TNG wishes it had character dynamics as good as these. Even Uhura gets something to do this week.

So, while I don’t believe for a moment Kirk is dead, the reactions of the crew feel real which makes up considerably for the contrived plotting, and Spock and McCoy fibbing to Kirk’s face about his final orders is very sweet. (Vulcans can lie!)

S03E10 Plato’s Stepchildren (2 out of 5 stars) brings the Enterprise into contact with a super-advanced spacefaring race with telekinetic powers but no penicillin. They have based their culture on Plato’s Republic, because heaven forfend we should meet an alien race that is actually, you know, unfamiliar. At least this time they found the money to build the whole set – this looks great and the physical effects aren’t bad either in a sort of Mary Poppins way.

“Where I come from, size shape or colour makes no difference,” Kirk tells a little person, and even manages to refrain from objectifying any women at all.

The inhabitants are so delighted with McCoy’s medical skills that they decide they want him to stay. So, it’s another episode, another quixotic alien with godlike powers – and it’s a return to that doughty TOS dilemma, the gilded cage. NBC won’t allow the Platonians to pull off limbs or pluck out eyes, which presumably they’re capable of, so instead they have to humiliate Kirk and Spock by making them cavort and sing and do drama school animal exercises. While avoiding any unpleasant violence this also makes a series which often flirts with silliness look totally ridiculous. It’s justified better here than in Catspaw, but it’s still not good.

Whereas several recent episodes have chucked three or four different story ideas at a plot to keep it going, this sticks to one idea but can’t find any interesting ways of developing it – even the chemistry of the Big Three seems absent, although Nimoy in particular is as good as ever.

S03E11 Wink of an Eye (3.5 out of 5 stars) is the one where the alien intruders are invisible because they move so fast. This is never treated with any rigour, logic or scientific understanding, but, if you can get past that (and some other dopey decisions like those highly impractical neck controls, positioned on one of the few parts of your body you can’t easily see) then this does present a suitably challenging problem for the crew to solve. Alas, the enemy is a foxy chick who has the hots for Kirk, but on the plus side, there’s some dramatic camera work, and some decent problem-solving. Not bad, but the glory days of Season One are far behind us.

S03E12 The Empath (2.5 out of 5 stars). Yet again, the Enterprise turns up just in time for the aftermath of a catastrophic event which has left no-one alive. Rashly, Kirk sends the ship away but then – who’dathunkit? – the same thing starts happening to the Big Three. First they stumble onto a Fringe physical theatre show with lighting effects and interpretive dance, then they’re stuck behind an invisible wall while big-foreheaded beige aliens observe them. The Cage is the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it? And we get those partial sets again, but they work far better here than in Gunfight at the Half-Built Corral.

The interpretive dance lady is Gem, the empath of the title. When she heals Kirk’s wound, she briefly acquires it herself which has a nice fairy tale logic to it, but a lot of this is just running about, being captured, escaping, seeing illusions, being captured again, until 50 minutes is spent.

Revoltingly, the Big Foreheads want to know whether Gem’s people are worthy of being saved and presumably would let them die by the millions if she didn’t sacrifice her life to save McCoy. The music tells us that something beautiful and noble is happening, but the premise is nauseating and it takes the Big Three ages to notice this fact and object to it.

Too strong for the BBC who didn’t show it until 1994 – and the sight of Shatner (or his stunt double) strung up by the wrists is certainly a very powerful one, but this feels reheated and over-familiar.

S03E13 Elaan of Troyius (2 out of 5 stars) brings an honest to goodness Bridezilla on board the ship, from a planet where the men are all assholes and the women are all sexpots (the costuming and hairstyling are also absolutely SNL-ridiculous this week).

Elaan’s attitude to Kirk is fun, as is Kirk’s wry acceptance of her giving him orders, when into this sitcom-level stuff comes a Klingon warship, and the space battle at the end is a highlight of the episode. Ultimately, this Taming of the Shrew knock-off quickly becomes an after-school special and then briefly an S&M space fantasy when Elaan wants to know more about this thing called “spanking”. No, really. That’s a thing that happened on this show. And just when I thought this was as stupid as it could possibly get, Elan turns out to have super-love-potion tears, for fuck’s sake. Although the fact that Kirk just shrugs off the effects because he’s effectively married to the Enterprise is actually kinda badass.

I also note that Vulcan mind-melding is no longer an intensely personal, frighteningly alien, rarely-used ability; it’s now treated as a standard piece of Star Fleet kit, which can be used to extract confessions at any time. Yikes.

Trekaday 011: Spock’s Brain, The Enterprise Incident, The Paradise Syndrome, And the Children Shall Lead, Is There in Truth No Beauty?, Spectre of the Gun

Posted on March 2nd, 2022 in Culture | 1 Comment »

TOS S03E01 Spock’s Brain (0.5 out of 5 stars) is an infamously dreadful instalment, so let’s get started with some of the good stuff. The new uniforms look very nice and evidently fit much better than the velour ones. And this is the first mention of a character’s name in the episode title, so maybe I’ll be able to remember which story this is.

Well, a chick in purple appears on the bridge to the sound of lush strings, but she incapacitates the entire crew with a single touch of her wrist-computer (nice fall from Majel Barrett). “That girl!” deduces Kirk. Are we to assume that nobody did anything to find her or figure out what was going on after they all passed out? Star Trek has always been slightly absurd, but this is virtually a parody, and the cast’s po-faced delivery makes it hard to laugh along with the joke.

A major problem with this episode of course is that Spock isn’t in it. True, Nimoy’s participation was in doubt as he wanted more money, but this doesn’t feel like how they’d write him out, so we don’t get the benefit of his laconic wisdom, but nor does it really feel like sky-high stakes.

Those multiple shadows on planet Sound Stage are back. I haven’t noticed them since early in Season One. And Scotty’s hair is now swept back like he’s cos-playing as Lt Data. Then as if things couldn’t get stupid enough, McCoy builds a remote-controlled robo-Spock.

Kirk apparently picked the first planet he found despite the lack of any evidence of an advanced civilisation. But lo! there’s Little Miss Wrist Computer who whammies everybody. So, this isn’t a committed telling of a compelling tale based on an absurd premise. This is sloppy and ridiculous all the way down the line, from Spock’s catatonic stare, to Kirk’s needlessly precise countdown to famously inept dialogue like “Brain and brain! What is brain?”

TOS S03E02 The Enterprise Incident (4.5 out of 5 stars) begins when a very grumpy Captain Kirk steers the ship into Romulan territory without explanation, from where we are oddly told that a sub space message will take three weeks to reach Star Fleet. The Romulans don’t want a Zoom call, it has to be face-to-face and the Romulan commander is a slinky female, so the stage is set for plenty of subterfuge, double-crossing and espionage – because of course this is a secret mission for the Federation.

On the one hand, having Kirk keep a secret is fun and novel but it feels like fake jeopardy because we are being kept in the dark by the writers. If you can get over that that, there’s lots of great stuff here, most notably Spock’s relationship with the Romulan commander. And, yes, the end is the same gag as Amok Time, but at Spock’s hand instead of McCoy’s but it still works. After last week’s car crash, this is very confident stuff with lots of good universe-building to go along with the intrigue.

TOS S03E03 The Paradise Syndrome (3.5 out of 5 stars) would love to be as detailed and as affecting as The Inner Light but TOS didn’t have top-shelf TNG to inspire it. So, this starts pretty poorly, with Kirk musing about what the odds are of such duplication of Earth cultures on alien planets (Well it happens every other week, so…) And the patronising depiction of alien tribes is actually modelled on native Americans – yikes! But actually, this plays out with a degree of sensitivity, some lush location work (something we’ll be starved of this year), and a nifty bit of set design for the monolith.

On the negative side, this doesn’t play to Shatner’s strengths, alas, and once Kirk gets one of the locals pregnant she has to die because otherwise he either takes her with him or abandons his unborn child, whereas this way he’s off the hook.

TOS S03E04 And the Children Shall Lead (1.5 out of 5 stars) opens on the planet Sound Stage, where everyone’s dead outside and in their jammies. There has been a mass suicide which spares only the kids. While never as blitheringly stupid as Spock’s Brain, this is one of those episodes which requires the crew to turn their backs and count to ten to allow the alien intruders of the week to get on with their dirty work – or in some cases don’t bother to do even that: when Tommy puts the whammy on Sulu, Chekov and Uhura the security guard just stands there benignly and watches it happen.

And the moral of this story is: evil is ugly so you better not trust it. This is immediately contradicted by the next, vastly superior story. But the worst part of the episode is undoubtedly when Kirk just straight up beams two redshirts into deep space – surely there should be some safeguards to prevent that kind of thing??

TOS S03E05 Is There in Truth No Beauty? (4.5 out of 5 stars) begins with some pretty standard TOS nonsense. The Medusans are so revolting as to cause madness on sight. A woman beams on board and the music goes bonkers. But – hey! – It’s Diana Muldaur again!! And as a human telepath who has studied on Vulcan, she shines a very interesting light on all of the Big Three. In fact, she’s almost too good a character: her takedown of Kirk makes him seem like a chump.

That the Medusans can’t be seen by any humanoid is kind of the Star Trek version of the funniest joke in the world from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but this isn’t just another Space Whoosit Makes The Crew Go Nutso For Forty Minutes episode. First comes the brilliant revelation that Pulaski Miranda Jones is blind. Then we get Spock’s body inhabited by one of the Medusans – and then Spock himself goes nutso. This is excellent stuff which kept me guessing to the very end.

A nearly redundant scene heavily features a Vulcan pin because Roddenberry hoped to sell copies of it to fans. It was never seen on the show again.

TOS S03E06 Spectre of the Gun (3 out of 5 stars) is another one I remember from James Blish, but – agh – it was so much better on the page/in my head. The lack of money is really starting to show as the crew beams down to the planet Dry Ice VI. They didn’t even have the cash for the transporter effect. Once there, they are supposedly in a re-enactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral, the Melkotians plan being to kill the landing party in the most entertaining fashion they can think of, rather than the most effective. So, this is essentially a holodeck episode (in fact it’s a specific holodeck episode, A Fistful of Datas).

But the script keeps trying to insist that they are stuck in the past and that everything feels completely real, while the impoverished set design is stuck merely suggesting saloons and shops with a few bits of flattage. This completely undoes the power of the ending in which our heroes have to believe that the bullets can’t harm them, which seems trivial when they look like they’re standing in a low-rent Edinburgh Fringe play. This isn’t just a dodgy looking giant rat or tin-foil alien. This is a budget cut which gets written into the story heedless of the damage it does. So, there’s good stuff here, but on the production side, there’s a distinct feeling of “will this do?”

Also, it’s the Arena ending again, and it’s still great, but hardly a surprise at this point.

Trekaday 010: Patterns of Force, By Any Other Name, The Omega Glory, The Ultimate Computer, Bread and Circuses, Assignment: Earth

Posted on February 24th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TOS S02E21 Patterns of Force (2 out of 5 stars) takes us into the home stretch for season two, and alas, the strain is starting to show, as familiar ideas get remixed and repurposed. Once again, an old mate of Kirk’s turns out to have made some pretty poor decisions off-screen. Yet again, a primitive race has nastier weapons than they are supposed to (see also A Private Little War and A Piece of the Action). One new wrinkle is the subcutaneous transponder which gets air-hissed into Spock and Kirk. Seems like that should be a standard piece of kit. It’s used here not to locate the captain and first officer, but to facilitate their escape from jail, following about the feeblest lashing I think I’ve ever seen.

There’s a whole run of episodes now which dick around with the Prime Directive. People do at least remember that it exists this week (unlike A Private Little War) but it doesn’t seem to hold Kirk and Spock back a whole hell of a lot. Among the supporting cast, Richard Evans and Valora Noland stands out. Noland in particular manages to play a young female character who isn’t the object of lust of any man at any time, which is a turn-up. It is odd in this tale of warring races that both the Ekosians and Zeons look identically human. TNG would definitely have given them forehead ridges or freckles or something.

Sadly, this has nothing like enough plot for the running time. The mystery is thin and the resolution is trite. And I’m not absolutely sure, but I think this was supposed to be some sort of very subtle allegory about the evils of Nazism.

TOS S02E22 By Any Other Name (4 out of 5 stars) starts with a bang. In less than three minutes of teaser, Kirk and co. are captured and helpless. In less than six minutes, the Kelvans have the Enterprise secured (and the actors do a very decent job of standing stock still). Kirk’s obedience is secured by a brutal method. He is “punished” for disobedience when they off a red-shirt and a red-skirt (although the justification for the captain’s plot armour isn’t bad – at least they’re trying). Compared to other red shirt deaths, this is really grim. They both look absolutely shit-scared before it happens. And it’s the dude who gets reconstituted. The young woman is dead and gone. Christ.

With the Enterprise under their control, and the crew reduced to a collection of paperweights which Gene Roddenberry had picked up on holiday (really!), the Kelvans set off for Andromeda – a journey which will take several centuries (vast distances actually mean something this week, which is very refreshing). Spock and Scotty work out a horrifying solution. They’ll mess with the intruders’ gizmos and blow up the Enterprise – and Kirk can’t bring himself to do it. He doesn’t believe in the no-win situation.

So, the stage is set for another grim, tense, battle of wits to rival Oh Crikey We’re In A Giant Virus (why can’t I remember these episode names?). What happens next is… not that. One Kelvan asks “Captain, what is this thing you humans call ‘food’?”. Another learns snogging from Kirk (of course). Scotty manages to get one of them drunk. It’s not always clear why they’re doing this, but it is often terribly funny, especially watching James Doohan go through his liquor cabinet, and the whole thing does kind of work in a Yojimbo sort of way.

In the end, the Kelvans discover that the human forms they’ve taken give them human frailties like drunkenness, jealousy, lust. And while I love that compassionate Kirk is still willing to help them work things out with the Federation, the solution – put them back on the planet they started on – is a bit pat and very hasty. For a while, I thought this one might get the full five stars, but the rapid tonal shift and trite ending take off some of the lustre.

TOS S02E23 The Omega Glory (1.5 out of 5 stars). The back half of season two seems very interested in what happens when Star Fleet interferes in the development of pre-warp planets – this is the fourth time in seven episodes. It’s also the second time in two episodes that crew members are reduced to their base chemicals. Another mysterious space plague requires the Enterprise crew to quarantine on the surface of the planet, where what look like mongol hordes turn out to be led by the missing and undessicated Star Fleet captain.

“A star captain’s most solemn oath is that he will give his life, even his entire crew, rather than violate the Prime Directive,” hams out Captain Kirk, before continuing “I was saying that just the other day as I handed out modern weapons to one side and not the other on the planet Neural.”

Captain Tracey thinks he’s found the fountain of youth and tries to get the Enterprise to back off. Scotty would never be fooled by Tracey’s cock-and-bull story over the radio, but sadly, Sulu is in temporary command. Once again, Kirk and Spock are locked up and Kirk earns the trust of his “savage” cell mate – who then betrays him in a way which doesn’t feel very Star Trek. Then, while Kirk’s out, there’s a very expensive massacre which happens off camera. Turns out old Tracey is an anti-vaxxer. Kirk, rightly, is furious at him. But the fountain of youth doesn’t exist and McCoy’s assessment of the bitter irony of Tracey’s poor decision making is nice – but after that, Tracey is the only real threat, so the tension evaporates.

The backstory here is that the two tribes fought a war and “The Asiatics won” – horror of horrors. Kirk and the white savages bond over the Pledge of Allegiance. At one point Kirk casually refers to the “yellow civilisation”, which I could really have done without. Somehow it all ends in a fight to the death between Kirk and Tracey, with the added wrinkle that they’re bound together at the wrist. That same damn music cue plays in this episode every time someone clenches a fist. I’m over it.

There’s also a moment when Spock puts the whammy on the sexpot savage. This apparently was a holdover from an earlier conception of Spock in which he could control females. A better version would surely be that she’s drawn to him, and they build up a relationship over the course of the episode, but this script isn’t really concerned with characters and their relationships. Play the fight music again!

At the episode’s conclusion, The captain Shats out the US Constitution as music swells. ’Murica! Ugh.

TOS S02E24 The Ultimate Computer (4.5 out of 5 stars) starts pretty poorly with more dated anti-computer rhetoric. The M5 can do everything a captain can do and never needs food or sleep. Kirk is aghast “I can’t run a starship with twenty crewmen.” (Until I need to steal one to get Spock’s body off the Genesis planet and then I can do it with a doctor, an engineer, a navigator and a Russian guy. I won’t even bring the comms chick. Hold my beer.)

But, as it becomes ever clearer that Daystrom’s (that’s another name we’ll keep hearing) machine is going to put him in mothballs, the script zeros on exactly what this means to Kirk. “Am I that petty?” he asks McCoy, in one of the episode’s best scenes. In fact, all the character stuff here is first rate – Kirk’s rueful acceptance of his situation, Spock’s rather touching declaration of loyalty, McCoy making him food like a mother hen. Kirk’s even sympathetic to Daystrom’s dilemma.

When the time comes, M5, like the computer in Superman III, won’t allow itself to be turned off. TNG would have explored whether M5 had a right to its life. Here they’re just try to find a way of turning it off / blowing it up / confusing it to death. Daystrom (a much richer character than most misguided-villains-of-the-week) has to talk M5 down personally. On the edge of a breakdown, he has made a digital copy of himself and it’s just as paranoid as he is.

So, on the one end, this is essentially the same solution as The Changeling, but with the added wrinkle that Federations ships are preparing to fire on the Enterprise. And, in contrast to Oh No The Crew Have All Been Turned Into Paperweights, Kirk preparing to sacrifice his ship and the skeleton crew is something I almost believe in. This is very classy stuff all round.

TOS S02E25 Bread and Circuses (3 out of 5 stars) is another example of something never really seen after TOS, the planet where “parallel development” has dolloped bits of Earth history onto another planet for no reason. This is due to something called Hodgkin’s Law of cheap episodes and cultural touchpoints, and on this alien planet, even extends to everybody talking English.

So, it’s another episode, another alien planet which has developed along Earth-fascist lines, but with a big scoop of the Roman Empire thrown in as well, so we end up with a very weird mash-up of Network, Gamesters of Triskelion, Arena, A Piece of the Action and The Omega Glory. This episode seems confident that it’s satirising something but I’m really not sure what that might be, or why I should care.

On the other hand, there’s really, really good stuff between Spock and McCoy this week (even if Kirk gets to have it off with a slave girl, just cos) and you can’t deny this thing has energy. Once again, Scotty is the MVP of the senior staff, so this feels a bit desperate and clearly doesn’t have the focus of the show at its best, but it passes 50 minutes relatively painlessly.

TOS S02E26 Assignment: Earth gets off to a bad start because the TARDIS, I mean the Enterprise, has popped back in time for a quick shufti before the teaser has even begun!?

Very quickly, this becomes the Robert Lansing and Terri Garr show – it was a “back door” pilot for a new series which was going to get Roddenberry off Star Trek. Lansing isn’t bad, with his Diet Coke Steve McQueen intensity, and Terri Garr is as charming as ever, but this sci-fi Get Smart isn’t what I tuned in to watch. Lansing barks orders at his computer which prissily responds “Identification not verified. Please supply exposition.” Spock weirdly falls in love with his cat. Terri Garr does her thing. And so on, and so on.

The problem is that after this many episodes with the regular crew, it’s hard to get invested in whatever it is that Gary Seven is trying to do, and even harder when we don’t know whether his purpose is noble or not. If it’s ignoble, then I’d rather spend more time with Kirk and Spock as they track him down. If it’s noble, then why am I interested in watching Kirk and Spock try and stop him? Kirk at one point tell us “I have never felt so helpless.” Uh-huh. Not great for the supposed hero of the show to be so completely denied his agency, is it?

And I genuinely couldn’t give a shit about this rocket and whether it stays on course or not. There is nothing human, compelling, interesting, engaging or edifying about it. It’s just people reciting numbers at each other, intercut with model shots. Make it stop. The spin-off series went no further, so let’s be thankful for that at least.

Season Two wrap-up

  • The two major differences between Seasons One and Two are as follows: Season One is the adventures of Kirk and Spock, plus some interchangeable crewmembers. Season Two is the adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, plus a regular family of recognisable crewmembers. But Sulu and Uhura never get anything much to do. Uhura gets a few choice lines here and there, but Sulu (not helped by the fact that George Takei was off doing a movie for several months) is eclipsed by Chekov who’s prettier, funnier and easier to write for.
  • The other difference is that the overall quality takes a pretty major dip. There are still some classic episodes here, and it’s rare that the Big Three are poorly used, but there are some real clunkers in this collection and a sense that this series which can go anywhere and do anything is already running out of ideas.
  • On the other hand, the more I see of the OG Kirk, the more I despise the JJ Abrams face-pulling, hand-waving, shouty-bang-bang, karaoke parody version of Star Trek. Nimoy presumably only read the script pages which included Spock Prime.
  • Average rating for Season Two is 3.1 (compared to 3.75 for Season One, and not counting Assignment: Earth). Best episodes: Amok Time (the only five star episode), Mirror Mirror, The Doomsday Machine, The Immunity Syndrome, The Ultimate Computer. Worst episodes: Catspaw, Wolf in the Fold, A Private Little War, Patterns of Force and The Omega Glory.
  • The only episode I’ve even heard of in Season Three is the first one, and it doesn’t have what you might call an unblemished reputation…

Trekaday 009: Wolf in the Fold, The Trouble With Tribbles, The Gamesters of Triskelion, A Piece of the Action, The Immunity Syndrome, A Private Little War, Return to Tomorrow

Posted on February 18th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TOS S02E14 Wolf in the Fold (1.5 out of 5 stars) never quite commits to being a “Scotty” episode. Despite the fact that the teaser in three minutes of belly-dancing we don’t get to see the incident which earned the ship’s chief engineer his shore leave and he is rapidly sidelined after his arrest for a knife murder in foggy old London Town (by way of Aladdin’s Agraba). Kirk suddenly remembers the Prime Directive and his diplomatic responsibilities. He has a flashback/mind-reading machine sent down from the ship, but he makes the rookie error of having a woman sent down with it who is promptly gutted. (This gizmo seems like a handy thing to have. Odd that it was never mentioned before.)

This episode is very peculiar mix of Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, Arabian Nights and 12 Angry Men with very little actual Star Trek. (It turns out that Psycho author Robert Bloch repurposed his short story Yours Truly Jack the Ripper, crossing out existing character names and writing in “Kirk”, “Scott” and so on. Bloch also wrote What Are Little Girls Made Of and Catspaw, so at least I know who to avoid from now on.)

Of course, it all works out for the best, and everyone’s laughing and smiling at the end, as they wash the blood of their friends and co-workers off their hands. That’s par for the course. What’s also common, but far far worse than usual here, is the patronising and parochial treatment of women who are practically treated here as a separate species, even harder to understand than Klingons or Romulans.

TOS S02E15 The Trouble with Tribbles (4 out of 5 stars) is one of the show’s most famous episodes and it is quite a treat, especially given the recent run of mediocrity. Again, it’s one I knew from the Blish books (although I at first mis-read the title as The Trouble with the Tribbles, which I still think sounds better). There isn’t a lot I can add to the thousands of words already written about this instalment, which is basically tremendous, if not quite hitting the heights of the very best of the season, such as The Doomsday Machine or Amok Time. Herewith some stray observations.

  • Chekov is easier to write for than Sulu. Chekov is young and silly and thinks everything good was invented in Russia. Sulu’s just this guy.
  • Even by the standards of this series, the lighting here is bonkers (in a good way). Every wall is a different colour.
  • Cyrano Jones (Stanley Adams) is far preferable to Harry Mudd and other comedy characters that the series has visited on us. Like Indiana, in early drafts his surname was Smith.
  • It’s nice to spend some time with some of the other bridge crew.
  • The unit of currency is “credits”.
  • These Klingons again look quite similar to the ones we will meet in future incarnations of the show. In fact, Koloth looks very similar (because it’s Trelane actor William Campbell). The brusque Klingon attitude has not been refined yet, however.
  • Comedy episodes (or moments of episodes) of Star Trek tend to marred by tiddly-pom musical cues to tell us how amusing everything is, and this is no exception. The difference is that this genuinely is amusing and the problem manages to be both absurd and very nearly intractable.
  • Who threw the first punch? If only we had a machine on board which could replay memories, or tell whether or not someone is speaking truthfully.
  • Same issue here as in Peter Harness’s majestic Kill the Moon. You can’t get two 1lb tribbles from a single 1lb tribble unless you first give it at least 1lb of food. Sure, they gorge themselves on quadrotriticale, but what are they eating on board the Enterprise? Dilithium? You don’t care about it here, so why do you care about it there?
  • The whole cast is having a wonderful time, and Shatner in particular is effortlessly charming and charismatic.

TOS S02E16 The Gamesters of Triskelion (2 out of 5 stars) suffers from a lot of drawbacks of sixties Trek. This is another recycled plot – in this case it’s a re-run of Arena (with a dose of, yawn, The Cage) – but this time with extra-ridiculous costumes, a Batman villain pulling the strings and some pretty shoddy fight choreography. The silliness isn’t helped by a couple of really nasty moments. It’s implied at one point that Uhura is going to be raped in her cell which is a bit fucking much for a show that won’t allow a bare navel or an “open-mouthed” kiss. I almost stopped watching at that point.

All the good stuff happens on board the ship, and it’s a relief whenever we cut back there. Ensign Haines is treated by acting Captain Spock as a valuable member of the crew, and not on object of lust or a subject of mystified speculation, which is something of a rarity. In fact, Spock, Scott and McCoy get some good material throughout – frustratingly good. All three act according to their natures, and they almost constantly butt heads, yet my estimation of all of them does nothing but increase.

Meanwhile, on the planet, we have a scantily-clad handmaiden in a tinfoil bikini and green hair, asking Captain Kirk what love is. He explains: “Love is the most important thing on Earth. Especially to a man and a woman.” A short while later, Kirk kisses her, belts her hard enough to knock her out, and then starts fishing around in her underwear. Jesus.

The problem isn’t just that it’s a rehash of Arena (and it really is, the shots of the Enterprise crew watching the fight are almost identical) it’s that it’s far less interesting version. Of course Kirk isn’t going to slaughter tinfoil bikini girl. The point of Arena is that he didn’t murder ugly lizard guy – because killing… is wrong. The message here seems to be that impaling big burly men to save your own skin is fine, and nobody should shed a tear over it, but sticking a knife in a pretty young woman is barbaric.

No jokey tag scene, we end on the moist eyes of the woman Kirk manipulated, lied to, snogged and abandoned (in that order).

TOS S02E17 A Piece of the Action (3.5 out of 5 stars) does give us a cool set-up. We get to revisit a planet that had contact with the “Federation of Planets” 100 years ago and see what transpired. It’s a lesson in why the Prime Directive exists. In reality, of course, this is just a flimsy excuse for transporting our crew into a Damon Runyon-style gangster movie. What works well about this is that the balance between the fun of the pulp world and the reality of the high concept science-fiction show is maintained. Kirk takes responsibility for what has happened on Sigma Iotia II and wants to fix it. But we also have the fun of hearing our noble Captain using the local slang and seeing him in fancy duds. Once again, it’s utterly impossible to connect the charming and amusing Star Fleet captain who struggles with a 1930s automobile to the brash and cocky asshole stealing a sports car in the JJ Abrams parody version.

There probably isn’t quite enough plot for the run-time. Spock and McCoy get captured, escape, beam up to the ship, beam back down to the planet and promptly get captured again. And the final negotiation is largely free of tension, as Kirk comprehensively has the upper hand throughout, but this is largely very entertaining stuff. I’m sure I heard James Doohan doing one of his silly voices on the radio. And that’s Vic Tayback (from TV’s Alice) as the number two boss who wants to be number one.

TOS S02E18 The Immunity Syndrome (4.5 out of 5 stars). Long before Nicholas Meyer conceived of the Enterprise as a submarine, or before Wolfgang Peterson created Das Boot, Star Trek was playing around with these story ideas, and there’s an amazingly oppressive atmosphere of doom in this story, which starts off with some familiar tropes involving missing planets and mysterious blobby things on the viewscreen, but which develops into something very tense and chilling in which Kirk makes some of his toughest ever command decisions. It’s very linear and maybe gets a little repetitive in the third act, but these are minor criticisms of a very strong episode, with decent sci-fi concepts, palpable tension and wonderful character work. There’s a very good chance that if you don’t like this episode, you don’t like Star Trek.

TOS S02E19 A Private Little War (2 out of 5 stars) begins strongly as Spock is shot in the back (it’s not a very gory wound, with or without the green blood). For the second time in three episodes, we’re going on a return visit to see how things have changed since we last made contact, but here the Prime Directive is summarily suspended so that Kirk can personally arm the natives in a heavy-handed Vietnam allegory that smothers everything else about this episode, but can’t quite eclipse the ludicrous sight of a very silly unicorn teddy bear monster with poison fangs which nobbles the Captain and causes him to speak only in single word sentences.

Of all the things that TOS struggles with, the one I really can’t stand is the patronising depiction of primitive cultures. This is better than embarrassments like The Apple and Friday’s Child but it’s still not great. Nancy Kovack (with another bare belly button on flagrant display) does a huge amount to try and make this work but it’s uphill all the way. Nurse Chapel’s chief character trait turns out to be: has the hots for Spock (and has to spank him back to health).

TOS S02E20 Return to Tomorrow (4 out of 5 stars) gives us our first sight of Diana Muldaur in a Star Fleet uniform (accompanied by soaring strings as if the mere sight of a female officer is the most surprising and alluring vision imaginable). We haven’t done much with alien possession on this show so far, which is surprising as it’s a) cheap and b) plays to the strengths of the show: casting and characterisation. Taken over by Sargon, Shatner goes for broke, and luckily doesn’t go full Kroagnon on us. He teeters on the brink a few times though.

The deal that the incorporal aliens make seems acceptable at first – they merely want to borrow Star Fleet bodies and will return them unharmed (I recall a very funny Red Dwarf episode which played with this idea). They even let the crew return to the ship to think it over, which they do while munching the scenery. Kirk’s big speech at the conference table is pure Shat through and through (but I kinda love it). DeForrest Kelley is a very underrated actor. His speech to Kirk when he’s restored is pure nonsense but Kelley sells the shit out of it.

Pretty soon, Kirk, Spock and Diana Muldaur (why isn’t it Nichelle Nichols??) are all mere vessels for alien minds. As soon as the all-powerful pure energy being wakes up inside Spock, he starts coming on to Nurse Chapel, natch, but Nimoy has great fun playing the chipper psychopath. It’s a slight issue that three all-powerful mind-reading aliens have no clue that one of them is plotting to kill one of the others. Maybe Henoch is “shielding” his thoughts?

Kirk’s “death” is exciting but it’s clearly not going to be a permanent state of affairs, although it is hard to guess how the resolution will play out. Thalassa attempts to swap Mulhall’s life for Kirk’s and McCoy turns her down, which is a great bit of nobility from the irascible doc. In fact, the only real problem with this story is that our heroes don’t have much to do. The fact that it’s their lives that are at risk sustains our interest, but almost all the crucial decisions, nefarious and noble, are taken by the telepaths with Star Fleet officers merely observers until “Nurse Chapel” turns that hypo on “Spock”. The ending is pure Trek, compassionate, complicated, and slightly ridiculous – but it works. I can’t help thinking that Kirk needs a Picard-style ready room, though.

Stray thoughts

  • I can see why this show was so beloved, but also why it was so endlessly parodied. When it goes silly, it doesn’t just go a bit wonky, it goes fully ridiculous.
  • For a series which can go anyway and do anything, a small number of plots get recycled an awful lot – the quixotic alien with godlike powers, the gilded cage, the infection which sends the crew mad, the naive alien species which needs to learn about how to live freely (or how to bone). The best episodes are often the ones which find something genuinely new – Devil in the Dark, Space Seed, City on the Edge of Forever, Amok Time.
  • Some weaker episodes are saved or nearly saved by the interplay between the main characters. This cast really is fantastic and when the writers keep the emphasis there, the series can do little wrong.
  • Even the weaker episodes are very well paced. Watching some 80s shows like Moonlighting or The A Team now they seem amazingly sluggish. With very few exceptions, these episodes fill 50 minutes amply with plenty of plot, action, and character detail.
  • Why are these episode titles so vague and so hard to remember? I never have any trouble recalling which Doctor Who story is which (you’re a real Doctor Who fan if it’s never even occurred to you that people might mix up The Seeds of Death and The Seeds of Doom) but without looking, I couldn’t tell you now which one was Wolf in the Fold, which one was Return to Tomorrow and which one was Errand of Mercy if my very life depended on it.

Trekaday 008: Catspaw, I Mudd, Metamorphosis, Journey to Babel, Friday’s Child, The Deadly Years, Obsession

Posted on February 11th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

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?