Archive for March, 2022

Trekaday 016: The Survivor, The Infinite Vulcan, The Magicks of Megas-tu, Once Upon a Planet, Mudd’s Passion, The Terratin Incident

Posted on March 31st, 2022 in Culture | 1 Comment »

TAS S01E06 The Survivor (3.5 out of 5 stars). The survivor in this case survived a meteor “swarm” and turns out to be a 23rd century Lord Lucan. I think that’s Shatner doing his voice, and Nichelle Nichols as his fiancée. Far from this being a post-monetary society, Lucan is a wealthy philanthropist – and in fiction they are always either masked vigilantes or psychopathic super-villains. Wanna guess which one we have here? So, this turns out to be that good old Trek stand-by: something nasty has snuck on board the ship. Lucan impersonates Kirk and takes control of the ship. While this doesn’t suffer by trying to space battles in animation, it doesn’t take advantage of the medium the way that Furthest Star did, so this all feels a bit rote – and the early plotting requires the crew to be dumber than usual. Some character work from “Carter” does something to redeem it. The relationship between the Vendorian and the grief-stricken Lt Anne feels very Star Trek in a way that many of these episodes have struggled to achieve. We also meet the leonine Lt M’Ress in this episode.

TAS S01E07 The Infinite Vulcan (4 out of 5 stars). Walter Koenig’s script is very fast paced – we go from Sulu dropping the alien plant that just stabbed him to “he’s got a minute to live Jim!” in seconds. For the first time in ages, we get to see a really extravagant alien city and some aliens (and giant humanoids) that the 60s show would’ve struggled to realise, and this feels like a really strong version of what animated Star Trek could and should be (although about the final exchange between Kirk and Sulu is all sorts of wrong). But the great strength of the live action episodes – the chemistry between the leads – never really comes through here. Nimoy and Kelley are fine, but it’s evident throughout that William Shatner really couldn’t give a shit about this job. His line readings sound as if they’ve been tossed off in between golf games (and my understanding is that’s basically what happened).

TAS S01E08 The Magicks of Megas-tu (4 out of 5 stars). After a wobbly start, during which the show’s scientific advisors seem to have gone for a liquid lunch, this generates considerable energy and pace. And even though those world-class character dynamics are never present, this admirably fulfills the brief of using the animation medium to tell thought-provoking science-fiction stories, even if it is using familiar tropes –the bridge is visited by a playful being with god-like powers who puts humanity on trial.

TAS S01E09 Once Upon a Planet (2 out of 5 stars) is another sequel to a TOS episode and early dialogue rams that fact home, even though the painted backgrounds only vaguely resemble to location chosen for Shore Leave. The solution to the problem turns out to be the same as last time, followed by having a chat with the previously murderous computer, so this is all a bit of a bore – zero gravity on the bridge is quite good fun though.

TAS S01E10 Mudd’s Passion (1 out of 5 stars). I disliked Mudd’s Women and hated I, Mudd, and so I wasn’t looking forward to this one – yet another sequel to a TOS episode and in this case a third instalment. If anything this was worse than I expected. This time the slimy bastard is offering a strictly heterosexual love potion, which he’s knocking out at 300 credits a pop.

Some of the best episodes of TOS have probed and pushed at the limits of Spock’s logical stoicism. But this story does it with no subtlety, feeling or attention to detail. In earlier episodes such as All Our Yesterdays Spock was sufficiently self-aware to notice his own odd behaviour. This is a 10-year-old’s version of “being in love”, which is disappointing even in the context of a show aimed at children.

Nurse Chapel is given more to do here but she is once again defined almost entirely as “having the hots for Spock”. And McCoy refers to a fellow officer as “that pretty little Lt Uhura.” Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

TAS S01E11 The Terratin Incident (3.5 out of 5 stars). Some sources give this as the 12th episode, not the 11th. I don’t know what’s going on there. This gives us another venerable science fiction idea but not one that Star Trek has attempted before – the crew is shrinking. It’s a wonderful use of the animation medium – it could never have been achieved in live action. Even making the crew suddenly smaller would have wrecked the budget, let alone slowly decreasing their size. All of the usual scientific inaccuracies with size-shrinkage are present here, but it seems churlish to complain about that when this is such fun to look at. Once again, the transporter is used as an all-purpose biological reset switch.

Stray thoughts

  • The original series began as a meditation on the nature of being human, and quickly became a strikingly thoughtful science fiction adventure show with particularly strongly-characterised leading characters and a remarkably coherent vision of the future.
  • Although produced under heavy budgetary constraints, these affect the final product differently, and it takes a fair few episodes before The Animated Series discovers the possibilities afforded it and begins to make real use of them.
  • Red shirts have a much longer life-expectancy. In fact, death is a very rare occurrence in this incarnation of Star Trek.
  • The Animated Series flirts briefly with the more thoughtful elements of the live action show, but when it tries to tell a personal human story and neglects the interplay between the regulars (which is always) the results are often dull. The episode with the most depth of characterisation – Yesteryear – suffered precisely because Kirk wasn’t there for Spock to bounce off. It never really recaptures the magic of the live action show, not least because William Shatner in particular is barely giving anything in his line readings.
  • That said, the best episodes are better (and certainly shorter) than a great deal of those in Season Three.
  • The key cast of this series is (in order of importance) Kirk, Spock, Chapel, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu. Poor Sulu.

Oscars 2022: Nightmare Alley, King Richard, CODA

Posted on March 27th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

Nightmare Alley

Guillermo del Toro follows up his Best Picture-winning storybook fable about forbidden fish love with this noir remake based on a hard-boiled novel, but once again he renders it in a glossy, pixel-y style which is sometimes at odds with the content of the first act. It’s true that the exotic and colourful carnival world looks wonderful through his lens, but given that a key element of the story is the contrast between the wondrous sights presented to the public and the mundane reality behind the scenes, I can’t help but wish for a similar contrast in the style of shooting – here everything looks like a perfectly contrived videogame cut-scene.

Gliding through proceedings with his customary charm is an effortless Bradley Cooper, who manages to drive a clear line from the shy outsider fascinated by the carny schtick, to the nervy neophyte conman, to the hardboiled and cynical huckster, to the frightened man on the run he becomes by the movie’s close. But the tone and the structure goes awry when we leave the carnival and abandon the wonderful cast of characters we have established, who make a single brief token appearance after the time jump.

What follows is rather more predictable, rather more rote, rather more a product of the genre conventions, and again somewhat swamped by the lush visual style which overwhelms almost everything, rendering even the excellent Cate Blanchett a standard-issue femme fatale, and giving Richard Jenkins almost no room at all to show what he can do. A few shocks along the way don’t fully make up for a storyline which meanders to a conclusion which I was unlucky enough to see coming in the opening ten minutes.

King Richard

Assuming you don’t know the first thing about Venus and Serena Williams and the role their father played in their rise to competitive tennis superstardom, this film will fill you in. It will even tell you the second thing, although it does pretty much stop there. Taking nearly two-and-a-half hours to laboriously plod through the key points of their life story from 11 to 14 (Venus) this fails to achieve much except recreating episodes which are fairly well-documented already. That Richard Williams abruptly stopped his offspring from playing competitive matches until Venus suddenly debuted as a 14-year-old pro must have been hugely frustrating for those around him and I can see how it looks like dramatic conflict in a story outline, or even in a script. But on screen, it never generates any real tension or interest, or character development, with all the major players ending the film in exactly the same place they started it, only $12m richer. With the conclusion of the story never in doubt, the only reason to see this is for Will Smith’s excellent performance, completely inhabiting Richard Williams and giving him depth and soul which the limited screenplay and flat direction doesn’t deserve.

CODA

This was the last of the Best Picture nominees which I watched and one for which I had high hopes after it pinched the PGA award from The Power of the Dog. Nightmare Alley was dazzling but empty, King Richard was pedestrian and dull. CODA was never less than entertaining and left me suitably heart-warmed but for a film which is emerging as a front-runner in the Oscar race, it’s pretty unambitious, unconfrontational stuff, which in another year might have been little more than an after-school special.

A lot of what it attempts to do, it succeeds in. The eccentric family unit of deaf Frank, Jackie and older brother Leo, complimented by hearing daughter Ruby, is very well-drawn both on the page and on the screen. It’s always a delight to see Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur is a wonderful figure and has picked up a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but it’s Daniel Durant as Leo who impressed me the most with his easy charm, contrasted with flashes of barely post-teen anger.

The film also seems to have dodged some of the accusations of inauthenticity which dogged the French original (at which subtitles had to be provided for deaf audiences who couldn’t make out the poorly-executed sign language), although Deborah – who has worked as an interpreter – wondered at Ruby’s consistent editorialising, in contrast to the usual ethics of CODAs who generally interpret everything regardless of their own feelings, and also at the deaf people refusing to “turn on” their voices even when trying to be understood by hearing people. One can only imaging that the deaf actors and consultants on the film were aware of these issues, but it is strange.

What’s less easy to forgive is how much of a chocolate box of a film this is, with magically easy solutions to potentially intractable problems, ideal boyfriends, mildly eccentric and inspirational teachers, a minor work conflict which doesn’t required too much exposition to unpack, and some tasteful conflict all set to soaring ballads. Can the Academy really look at this and The Power of the Dog and call this the best film of the year? Will CODA be another Green Book, getting virtue points for its representation and providing a warm hug of reassurance when depicting a marginalised community? It’s not impossible.

Of course, representation only works if lots of people see your story, and – let’s be clear – a warm family drama on Apple TV+ is going to get lots more hearing Americans watching than this year’s other sign-language film the highly inaccessible Drive My Car, but then the prize should be lots of viewers, not the highest award that filmmaking has to offer.

Which leaves us with some predictions to make. I still think the sheer originality of The Power of the Dog can and must triumph over the very watchable but shmaltzy CODA, but I appreciate that Campion’s film is a hard one to love. Less in doubt, surely, is Campion for Best Director (you may remember that when Green Book won Best Picture, Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director for Roma). My personal favourite of this crop is probably the wonderfully original Licorice Pizza although I have a lot of time for the beguiling Drive My Car as well – but I enjoyed watching all of this year’s nominees except for This Way Up. My chief complaint is that room should have been made for Tick Tick BoomFlee or (by reputation) The Worst Person in the World.

Best Actor looks like a straight fight between Will Smith and Andrew Garfield – both excellent and I think Garfield might have the edge, although Will Smith has waited longer for his. Best Actress I think is Jessica Chastain’s to lose, although I haven’t managed to see The Eyes of Tammy Faye yet. Best Supporting Actor might well go to Troy Kotsur, especially if CODA does not win Best Picture. Best Supporting Actress is going to go to Ariana DeBose and nobody else needs to bother writing a speech.

The screenplay awards are harder to call, but I think I’d bet on Kenneth Branagh winning for Belfast, and that film winning nothing else, and Adapted Screenplay could well make it three for three for The Power of the Dog, unless the Academy turns on Campion, following her stupid crack about the Williams sisters at the Critics Choice Awards.

My previous poor record at this game has taught me to hedge my bets a bit. See you back here soon to pick over the results.

Trekaday 015: Beyond the Farthest Star, Yesteryear, One of Our Planets is Missing, The Lorelei Signal, More Tribbles More Trouble

Posted on March 25th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TAS S0E01: Beyond the Furthest Star (4 out of 5 stars). If you want to watch animated Star Trek, now’s the time for you. The enormously warm, funny and cheeky Lower Decks has been given a third series and Prodigy, aimed at a younger audience and not quite as much fun for me – but visually hugely ambitious – is likely to come back for more too. But between 1973 and 1975 Star Trek returned, essentially to complete its five year mission, via the medium of Filmation.

Let’s be clear – these aren’t Disney artists and this isn’t even at The Simpsons level of visual polish (even South Park leaves it behind) but on the plus side, nearly all the regular cast have returned, some of the writers have, and just being animated means that at the very least different budgetary constraints exist. Weirdly, for me it’s rather like watching lost Doctor Who episodes which have been recreated in animation.

Once Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley were onboard, producers initially decided to just get James Doohan and Majel Barrett to do all the other parts (as well as voicing Scotty and Chapel) but Nimoy pointed out that this effectively meant keeping all the white cast and refused to take part unless Nichelle Nicholls and George Takei were hired as well. Following the last-in-first-out rule, that means we won’t see Chekov again until The Motion Picture, but Walter Koenig did deliver a script for the series. His place on the bridge is taken by the tripedal Lt Erix.

So, in many ways, this is the same as before. But in other ways, things are off. The Alexander Courage theme music was presumably too expensive and so a theme tune was commissioned which sounds reminiscent of it, but not so close as to invite law suits – like a set of CDs I used to have of knock-off film and TV music with track names like “Not The Terrestrial” and “Pulp Fact”. And the titles look pretty similar too, although drawing the Enterprise rotating through different angles is tiresome work, even with rotoscoping, so it sometimes strafes sideways in a very peculiar manner. We also don’t have teasers anymore – the titles come first.

The first episode ticks a lot of the usual boxes – exploring a deserted space station, the Enterprise molested by a mysterious entity which tries to take it over – but it’s brisk and exciting enough and the space station is vastly more imaginative and lavish than anything NBC could ever have afforded. The characters are generally recognisable (James Doohan even when – for reasons best known to himself – adopting a silly-ass-British accent for the transporter operator) although those precious interpersonal dynamics are not much on display and Shatner is underplaying everything to the point of near torpor. Maybe as if to compensate, the stock music goes completely bananas even when all that’s happening on screen is the landing party having a little wander.

After a number of episodes which seem heavily padded in order to reach 48-50 minutes, it’s a genuine pleasure to see a tight and exciting story wrapped up in half that time. I just hope future installments also give us something of the people I’ve been watching for 79 episode, even if they are filmed over the shoulder or their dialogue is heard over someone else’s reaction, because that saves having to animate their lip movements.

TAS S01E02: Yesteryear (3.5 out of 5 stars). When in doubt, revisit the scene of past glories, and TOS had few episodes as glorious as The City on the Edge of Forever. So, on the one hand, it’s disappointing to see the portal now named and used as a simple research tool – a walkthrough Wikipedia – but on the other hand, the story potential is amazing and the twist that nobody recognizes Spock when he returns is strong. But the mystery is solved very quickly, and Spock’s plan to save himself in the past is carried off largely without incident. So, I admire the courage of this animated series to, in only its second episode, build a story around character and situation rather than action and adventure, and I greatly enjoyed hearing Mark Lenard again, but the set-up promised rather more than the execution delivered. Maybe if Kirk had joined Spock for the trip into the past, the adventure would have had more substance.

TAS S01E03: One of Our Planets is Missing (3.5 out of 5 stars). A planet-killing cloud is moving towards an inhabited planet. The dilemma of whether to tell the governor of the planet and his dilemma about whom to save in the few hours remaining, all feels very grown-up. There’s even a debate about whether it’s ethical to kill the thing or not (in the end, they just persuade it to move on, which doesn’t feel like a very permanent solution). The idea of a giant amoeba in space isn’t new (in fact, it’s not the first giant amoeba to have absorbed the Enterprise but it’s well thought-through. Shame that the technobabble is scientifically illiterate (but not for the first time, or the last). And I’m still waiting for an episode which really makes use of Star Trek’s main strength – the character dynamics between its leading characters. And there’s another one of those hyper-specific countdowns, this time down to the very second.

TAS S01E04 The Lorelei Signal (2 out of 5 stars). Mash-up of the Bermuda Triangle and the sirens of Greek myth. The menfolk on the Enterprise are bewitched by visions of female beauty and won’t listen to Uhura and Chapel who are unaffected. Even Spock cannot dismiss the effects. Before long they are welcomed to Castle Anthrax (“Bad Zoot! Wicked Zoot!”) and are allowed to watch Star Trek on a view screen. Kirk describes it as “the answer to all a man’s dreams”. It’s fun to see Uhura take command of the ship as the landing party begins aging to death, but this is all too silly and too slow-moving for the stridently progressive elements to have any power. The headbands sap the strength of the men and transmit it to the women, but although they figure that much out, taking the headbands off seems never to occur to anyone. The women search for the escaped men of the Enterprise but never think to ask the Find Anything Machine, which locates them instantly. Eventually of course, it’s Spock who figures out the solution, not Uhura or Chapel. The all female-rescue party, every one of them in mini-skirts can’t help but look like a girl band, and the large guest cast tests the versatility of Barrett and Nichols considerably.

TAS S01E05 More Trouble More Tribbles (2.5 out of 5 stars). What’s better than quadrotriticale? Quintotriticale! (25% better). The initial skirmish with the Klingon ship and the grain transport takes forever and is pretty dull. Captain Koloth never introduces himself and yet Kirk addresses him by name. Despite the promise of the title, it’s many minutes before any tribbles show up. The artwork for Cyrano Jones isn’t bad (he looks more like Stanley Jones than Kirk looks like Shatner for example). Tribbles 2.0 don’t reproduce but they do get fat, which turns out to be almost as bad – the cat which Jones procured to catch the mice turns out to be incapable of handling the obese ones. While the sight of them lolloping around the Klingon ship is fun, this has none of the charm of its progenitor.

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.

Oscars 2022: Belfast (and The Batman)

Posted on March 17th, 2022 in At the cinema, Culture | No Comments »

Here be spoilers – you have been warned.

Belfast is this year’s “small” film, and like previous such Best Picture nominees (think Brooklyn, Lady Bird, The Kids Are All Right) it doesn’t really have much of a chance when it comes to Best Picture. But it does have a bit more heft than some of those, firstly because it’s a Kenneth Branagh film and secondly because the background of The Troubles anchors it to something a bit more meaningful.

Branagh, serving as writer for only the second time after In the Bleak Midwinter, has crafted a story drawn from his own memories of growing up in Northern Ireland. As such it’s quite a personal film, but I often find him rather an anonymous director, capable of slinging the camera around if he feels like it, but rarely stamping much personality on the material. Here, he manages to create an intimate family portrait, with some occasional flashes of directorial inspiration, such as having the movies that the characters go and see film the frame with colour, whereas everything else is shot in crisp black-and-white

But it’s an actor’s film first and foremost and Branagh’s cast easily rise to the challenge. Catriona Balfe leads from the top, turning what could have been a mere obstacle into a complex and relatable character. Jamie Dornan’s straight-arrow dad has a little less to work with, but he’s always a compelling presence, and Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench somehow make a believable couple despite the almost twenty-year age gap between them.

Walking away with the picture though is ten-year-old Jude Hill as Buddy who is never less than completely convincing, with his wide earnest eyes taking in the delights and horrors that life presents him with. What the film isn’t is in any way subtle. The child’s eye view of adult concerns is often used to hint at deeper themes, but here everything is laid out as clear as can be, and if anything the need to always have Buddy in the frame eventually becomes a distraction. And it walks a perilous tightrope between heartfelt sincerity and mawkish sentimentality, tipping over into the latter as Dornan stares impassively out of the window of a departing bus to the syrupy strains of Van Morrison.

Belfast is a perfectly charming way to spend an evening, it’s impeccably made and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. But it doesn’t confront any deeper truths about life, love, family or politics along the way. Like its paternal hero, it won’t get involved and it won’t take sides.

I also took in The Batman, which should have been right up my street, and has been getting strong reviews. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood, but it didn’t work for me at all. Nothing seemed to gel from Robert Pattinson’s absurd Robert Smith-like emo Bruce Wayne to Zoe Kravitz’s ridiculous nosekini balaclava to Riddler’s secret plan to assemble a secret militia via the secret means of public YouTube video comments. The entire movie seemed to consist of people walking through shadows, reciting enormous paragraphs of complicated exposition at each other, and then sinking back into the gloom again, while a monotonous soundtrack continually thumped away.

The nadir was the near-death of Alfred, who seemed to be largely the architect of his own misfortune (although lucky for all concerned that the Riddler chose to try and knock off Bruce Wayne remotely rather than in person the way he did all his other targets). The explosion which takes out a wing of Stately Wayne Manor when Alfred blithely opens an extremely suspicious lookin package only renders him comatose, and Bruce is there when he finally wakes up – and immediately begins info-dumping again like nothing has happened. That’s also his last appearance in the film.

Quite why it’s had such good notices isn’t entirely clear to me. Maybe I missed something, maybe other people really hated Ben Affleck’s version, or maybe the critical consensus will move over time. Or maybe I’m just the outlier who doesn’t appreciate good Batmanning when I see it. Regardless, I’m not in a hurry to see the inevitable sequel.

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.