Sunday, May 31, 2009

Star Trek--"Who Mourns for Adonais?"

Like in “Return of the Archons,” Trek safely takes on the death of religion, this time while dealing with the Greek pantheon. It would be easy to notice the fate of Apollo is a commentary on humanity’s outgrowing of religion even if the final exchange between Kirk and McCoy did not beat you over the head with it.

A giant, green hand grabs the Enterprise and holds it fast. A being claiming to be the Greek god Apollo. He threatens to crush the ship unless a landing party meets him face to face. Kirk beams down with McCoy, Scotty, Checov, and an anthropologist named Carolyn Palamas. She will, of course, catch Apollo’s eye.

Apollo claims he and the other gods once traveled to Earth. There they reveled in the worship of the people. But soon, people stopped believing in them, so they began to lose power. They eventually headed out to deep space to wait until people started worshipping them again. It never came to pass, so all dispersed themselves but Apollo. He remained, impatiently waiting.

He now demands the Enterprise crew worship him. Apollo offers them a peaceful, happy life if they do so, but is an arrogant, petulant tyrant Apollo uses his powers to punish disobedience as though all should cater to his whims. Apollo represents the stereotypical argument against the Christian God, even down to the humorous idea God uses lightning bolts as punishment. As the atheist perspective goes, God demands you unequivocally love Him or He will make your life miserable on earth, then send you straight to hell.

Spock and company onboard the Enterprise eventually figure outr Apollo’s temple is the source of his power. When he is in a weakened state because of the landing party’s rejection, Spock destroys the temple. Apollo has to disprse himself across the stars just like his brethren. I assume we can take from that if we stop believing, we can destroy brainwashing churches, and the bonds of theism will be released, allowing human progress. At least that is what kirk says when he notes Apollo’s fate was sad, but necessary, because humans do not need him anymore.

It is not a terrible episode, but it does not break any new ground, either. We already know the philosophy of trek is that religion impedes progress. “Return of the Archons” did the plot better, in my opinion. It will not be the last time the idea is dealt with, either. The portrayal of Palamas is also insulting. She is an intelligent, strong academician just like McIver in “Space Seed.” But like McIver she falls hard for the biggest macho jerk she has ever encountered. Surely women like those two would have higher standards. Come on, guys do not alwaysfall for the bimbo. why should the women? Is it too much to ask to break the mold a bit?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Star Trek--"Amok Time"

By the end of the first season, Spock was becoming the break out character. He was the cool philosopher type the counter culture dug at the time versus the space cowboy Kirk. There are rumors the subtle rivalry between Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner was so tense, Shatner counted lines in new scripts to make certain he had more dialogue than Nimoy. One assumes, if the rumor is true, the pair must have greatly enjoyed the famous fight sequence in the climax of “Amok Time.”

This is the second script penned by science fiction great Theodore Sturgeon. I am pleased gene Roddenberry decided to hand over the duties of creating the Vulcan mythology to someone else period, much less someone as talented as sturgeon. "Amok Time" is the second , final, and best of his filmed scripts for TOS, earning a 1967 Hugo nomination.

Before I go into the meat of the review, understand I think one of the many detrimental effects on Trek inflicted by ENT was how it cheapened ’Amok Time.” I liked the idea the Vulcans kept their rituals to themselves. It did not strike me as odd in the slightest no one on the Enterprise knew what pon farr was. It is logical for Vulcans to have kept that sort of intimate process to themselves. With that in mind, it isa testament to the friendship Spock feels for Kirk that he revealed the truth to his captain. Of course, Kirk disobeys orders to save his friend because there are higher principles in play. But ENT made all sorts of revelations between humans and Vulcans a century beforehand, including marriage rituals. The continuity screw up is irksome.

On with the show. Kirk does risk his career by diverting theship towards Vulcan and Spock’s cosmic booty call. Surprisingly, the two wind up in ritual combat over the manipulative T’Pring, Spock’s betrothed who actually has the hots for another Vulcan. This is the first and only time a woman chooses Kirk without having any romantic interest in him. She runs a pretty big risk here. She is hoping if he wins, he will have no interest in her, but Kirk is a horny little devil who goes after androids and green skinned slave girls. Her logic might have proven flawed if not for McCoy’s quick thinking to fake Kirk’s death by Spock.

it was all an elaborate ruse by T’Pring to free herself up. Like I said above, she hoped Kirk would have no interest in her if he won and Spock would release her from marriage over the stigma of her having challenged the union. Well, the plan did eventually work. Spock lost all interest after he believed he had killed his captain, although raging hormones a few minutes previously had not given him pause about killing his friend. At least everyone got a happy ending, including Spock.

“amok Time” has been mercilessly parodied throughout pop culture, from Stargate SG-1 to Futurama to The Cable Guy and well beyond. The duel between Kirk and Spock is the most famous sequence in Trek history.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Now, because T‘Pau was a character featured in this episode and I really like the song, here is 1987‘s “Heart and Soul’ by one hit wonder T’Pau:
Star Trek--"Operation--Annihilate!"

I have received a special request to tread gently on this episode. It will not be a tough Task. In spite of some absurd moments--flying, plastic barf attacking Spock--”Operation: Annihilate” is one of the most solid episodes of TOS. What is more, you can imagine Kirk is certainly still in pain over losing Edith Keeler as hefaces the terrible death of family members by the parasite infecting the planet, not to mention the risk of his friend Spock going blind because of the cure.

Die horribly, they do. The scene in which Kirk’s sister-in-law dies is often butchered in the syndicated version because it is considered so disturbing. I would say “Operation--Annihilate!” is the grand pappy of the science fiction/horror genre of alien ifestation movies. Depending on how much you value substance over style, you mat consider this the best version of the theme, since it relies heavily on suspense and a sense of tragedy over gory special effects.

Theesense of tragedy is palpable. The kirk children are orphaned, the colony is devastated, and Spock runs the risk of becoming blind even if McCoy’s plan to expose the parasites to radiation work. It is enough to make me overlook the absurdity that McCoy is skilled enough to come up with a soution to kill a parasite in a matter of hours an entire colony was not able to get rid of for months, yet he is unaware Vulcans have an inner eyelid which will ultimately save Spock’s eyesight., I guess in exobiology, the philosophy is to not sweat the small stuff.

A minor nitpick: Spock’s refusal to wear protective goggles as he is being exposed to the radiation because the colonists are not going to have any in unnecessarily self-sacrificing and melodramatic. Perhaps he was secretly relying on his inner eyelid to save him, but if so, it is odd he would not mention them to McCoy. Do Vulcans have a secret penchant for drama? It looks like Spock does.

I liked the episode, so rather than end my review on a nitpick, I will note that George Kirk, of whom we only get the briefest glimpse after his death, was played by William Shatner sporting a slightly different hairstyle. This is the only time in TOS he played a different character other than Kirk outside of any alien doubles, androids, or split personalities, of course.

“Operation--Annihilate!” is a worthy end to the first season of TOS. In sum, it was an uneven batch of episodes. Tomorrow, I will start covering the secnd season. I believe it is the best of the series desite a couple duds. My favorite TOS episode aired during the second season, too, but we shall get to that one in about a week and a half.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Star Trek--"The City on the Edge of Forever"

First things first: I am ahuge Harlan Ellison fan. I first noticed him when he had a segment on Sci Fi Buzz back in the glory days of the Sci Fi Channel before it became a place to dump cancelled NBC Universal shows and bad straight to DVD movies. I loved his wit and attitude. I have tried to put as much of it as I can into the Eye. Over the years, I had seen his episodes of The Outer Limits, read some of his comics, and had seen this episode before I knew who he was, but I developed a newfound appreciation for him that compelled me to scour used bookstores to find his written work. When it comes to ellison, I am partisan, which is why much of this review is going to talk about the decades old controversy surrounding the script.

But let us talk about the episode itself. “The City on the Edge of Forever” is the most unique episode of TOS. The drama is the best of the series because the ethical dilemma is not as black and white as the moral questions usually are. Such would be the caswe even if kirk had not fallen in love with Edith Keeler. That element just adds an extra pain to it. Kirk has to let an innocent woman die in order to preserve a history in which 46 million people are supposed to die in world War II. There is no good option there.

I like the exploration of the significanse of an individual. “tmorrow is Yesterday” played with the idea, but there was an underlying humor to to trying to erase all evidence of the Enterprise’s presence in the past that the seriousness of the consequences of tampering with history were lost. “The City on the Edge of Forever” corrects that error beautifully. Through doomed, good hearted Edith Keeler we learn that even the best of intentions can cause unintended harm. We, wedo hurt other people by our mere existence, not just our more proactive moments. Cynical, but a fact of life.

I also think Kirk’s romance with keeler is the only meaningful one of the series. There are a couple of subsequent cases one can argue--’The Paradise Syndrome” comes to mind-- but they just do not resonate quite like Keeler. I will confess it might be a personal touch that pangs me. But I would rather not go into that. Suffice to say, sometimes an episode of television can be like a song. The writer may have his own ideas about its deeper meaning, but once it is out there, it is yours to feel about it as you please.

In an earlier review, I said the moment an agonized kirk clutches McCoy as Keeler is fatally struck by the car is the most painful moment in TOS. It bears repeating here. I cannot think of any other moments as heart wrenching for me.

With that out of the way, the best means I can talk about Ellison's dispute over the original script is to comment on the 1996 book he wrote about it. The book is trademark Ellison fury, searing every page.

For more than forty years now, controversy has raged over the fan favorite TOS episode, "City on the Edge of Forever." Here, Ellison gives us the story of his script, how it was written, then rewritten numerous times, finally to the point where he disavowed it, trying to put his nom de plume, Cordwainer Bird as author.

The book, which starts as an interesting piece of, if not Trekker lore, television behind the scenes, quickly becomes a (likely justified) character assassination of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Plenty of evidence is presented to prove the claims of dishonesty by Roddenberry against not only Ellison, but other creators. "City" is not the first tome to assert Roddenberry's credit stealing or lack of writing ability (although it has never been put so succinctly as when Ellison says Roddenberry, "couldn't write worth sour owl poop.")

In three separate interviews printed here, Roddenberry claims that Ellison's script was unfilmable for two reasons. One, he had several crewmen acting out of character and two he was over budget. Taking these one at a time, Roddenberry was actually quoted as saying, "He [Ellison] had my Scotty dealing drugs!" Scotty does not appear on the script anywhere. Several times Roddenberry had apologized for his mistake, but he never seemed to stop making it.

Although Scotty was not dealing drugs, another character created just for this episode, Lt. Beckwith, is dealing in Jewels of Sound, a sonic narcotic. Roddenberry objected to having any of his perfect crew showing such poor character. Perhaps this was Roddenberry's complaint, and not defamation of Scotty, but Starfleet officers in general, whom Roddenberry never wanted to show with conflicts or flaws.

As for the second issue, budget reports reprinted here show Ellison did go over budget $66,000, which is a negotiable amount. Ellison proved he was willing to rewrite to accommodate expenses; he did so three times without pay, something that is against the rules for producers to ask writer's to do, according to the Writer's Guild of America. Roddenberry's claim of being $300,000 over budget is ludicrous and, I would hope, just a result of bad memory and not a willful lie.

No one else is safe from Ellison's legendary wrath, either. He recounts an incident with William Shatner, who had requested to be the absolute first to read Ellison's completed script for "City". Ellison invited Shatner into his home (after Shatner wipes out his motorcycle showboating in his driveway.) to examine the script. And examine it he does-for several hours. Thus we had the first request for a rewrite, because Shatner had counted the lines he had, and realized that Leonard Nimoy had a handful more. Such were the egos involved here.

What exasperates the point to almost unbearable levels is that the original script, unfilmed and owned exclusively by Ellison, won a Writer's Guild of America award, while the filmed version ("a thalidomide baby version of my script", according to Ellison) won a Hugo in 1967 for Best Dramatic Presentation, the only teleplay ever to do so. Ellison accepted the Hugo award in "memory of the script they butchered, and in respect to those parts of it that had the vitality to shine through the evisceration."

One is compelled to ask, then: Is the script really that great? In a word, yes. As a piece of writing, the original "City on the Edge of Forever" is a touching story. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of a legless World War I veteran named Trooper who becomes a tragic hero, so important and yet, unimportant. He is a very poignant character I would have liked to have seen added to Trek lore.

Ellison's original script has an officer, Beckwith, dealing in drugs and then escaping to a nearby planet. Beaming down after him, Kirk and crew discover the Guardians of Forever, who watch over a beautiful ancient city. As in the filmed version, a portal shows the crew events from Earth history, but Beck with is the one to jump through to escape, not McCoy. He is also the one who saves Edith Keeler and changes history.

The love story between Kirk and Keeler is played up, and becomes all the more tragic as Kirk honestly contemplates sacrificing for love the future, as it should be. In the end, Spock must grab and hold Beckwith as Keeler is killed, there by setting the time stream right again. Beckwith jumps back through the portal and lands in the heart of a sun and is forced to repeat that cycle forever.

This book is worth a read through, particularly just to have a copy of the original script. A good seventy pages is nothing but an angry rant by Ellison that true fans of his will enjoy, but others will think is just fussy and unnecessary. Because of this episode's status in the hearts and minds of fans everywhere, the battle to claim credit for it may never cease. Ellison, however, makes a fine case here.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Star Trek--"Errand of Mercy"

“Errand of Mercy” marks the first appearance of the Klingons. Other than that, the episode is largely unremarkable. Call it blasphemy if you must, but I am not particularly impressed with TOS Klingons compared to their 24th century counterparts. Od, since several TOS Klingons will make appearances in a couple of DS9 episodes. Regardless, I find Klingons at first to be cruel barbarians with little character to make them interesting. It is particularly bad here, although kor does make a formidable villain. But so do the Borg and they all have the personality of a moon rock.

Much like in the Superior ‘Balance of Terror,” the federation finds itself on the verge of a massive war that has not even been remotely hinted at up until this point. The klingons are massing war materiel in a secotr of space in which there is one independent planet, Organia. Should Organia fall, the balance of power will tilt towards the klingons. Kirk and Spock go undercover in order to compel the Organians to fight the Klingons. Nothing they do convinces the pacifist seemingly Organians to do anything.

What follows is a number of TOS staples which are done much better in subsequent episodes, particularly the third season’s “A Private Little War.” One retrospective element is the organians are actually beings of pure energy far advanced than humans or Klingons, whom they consider--surprise, surprise--complete savages far beneath them. Cue the Thespians, Metrons, whatever the heck Trelane and his parents were, Gary Mitchel, etc. The organians halt all ability to use weapons and force the Federation and Klingons into an uneasy peace

There is nothing exciting here, nor was there anything to take away from the episode. If the Origonians were supposed to represent the virtues of pacifism versus the ready for battle Federation and Klingons, it failed. The Origanian wound up enforcing their will more harshly than either of them. Even the implied off screen torture scene does not resonate much squeamish feeling, since Spock just brushed it off like it was an uncomfortable, but thrilling roller coaster ride. It kind of took the sting out of it. Actually, there was not much sting about anything. A very forgettable episode.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Star Trek--"The Devil in the Dark"

As the story goes, stuntman and designer James Prohaska, who had previous appeared in costume as two of the Talosians’ zoo specimens in “The Cage,” crawled into Gene Roddenberry’s office wearing his newly ed Horta costume. Rodenberry was so impressed, he wrote “The Devil in the Dark” in four days in order to utilize it. Thus was born a Trek classic and one of my favorites.

One of the reasons I enjoy it so much is that it has a message of wildlife stewardship without going over the top with animal rights activism. Considering Roddenberry’s zealous idealism and the short time he supposedly wrote the script in, it is a miracle the message is so reasonable. There is hardly a Hollywood writer today who could resist the urge to turn the story into a weepy, guilt ridden diatribe on man’s destruction of the earth.

But see reasonably ‘the Devil in the Dark’ plays out. The Horta are peaceful creatures doing there own thing. They do not mind humans mining their planet up until the miners inadvertently destroy Horta nests full of eggs. The Horta are unable to communicate, so they defend their nests by force. The horta are hunted asdangerousanimals until communication can beestablished, at which point the dispute is cleared up and all parties reach an agreement to cooperate with one another in mining.

One might complain the solution was pat since both sides suffered deaths in the conflict, but I am willing to chalk that up as tragic losses on the rocky road to peace. The solution that the Horta will help the miners by digging tunnels themselves safely around their nests is a much better solution than the defeatist idea of the miners leaving the panet in disgrace as some sort of genocidal savages while the Horta remain behind quivering victims who need to be spared from any further barbarism save for the humans building some memorial to the fallen to perpetuate eternal guilt for their mistake. I can see clearly how that sort of ending could have come about, particularly in this day and age.

To guage how close the story could have come to being over the top, look no further than the mind meld between Spock and the Horta. It is the second most dramatic moment in the series, right behind a distraught Kirk clutching McCoy to keep him from saving Edith Keeler. the sequence could have easily been a corny exercise in maudlin anguish, but it was done perfectly. Consider it a testament to Leonard Nimoy’s strengths as a gifted actor.

I only have one criticism of the episode. Why is the planet called Janus VI? Like Lazarus in “The Alternative Factor,” the name serves as a allusion with no pay off. Lazerus never had anything to do with resurrection in ’The Alternative Factor” and there was no two-faced deceotion in ’The Devil in the Dark.” I do not think was an ignorant man by any means, but dropping these allusions into scripts without a payoff gives the impression he is trying to appear intellectual but revealing he does not know much about their true meaning. More care would have been nice.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Star Trek--"This Side of Paradise"

So what is Trek’s position on drug use? Harlan Ellison remains angry today a plot point about drug use was cut out of “The City on the Edge of Forever” in favor of McCoy’s delirium serving as the story’s catalyst. Twenty years later, TNG took another stance against drug use when Picard decided to end the drug trade between a supplier planet and another planet of addicts. But before both of those, we have “This Side of Paradise‘ which just might imply smoking pot is not all that bad.

Considering the title of this blog, which is mostly a bitter joke on my blind eye. But still a reference to one of my favorites, The Odyssey, it would be intellectually dishonest to not draw parallels between this episode’s story and the Lotus Eaters. The lotus eaters were a Northern African people who used to eat a plant which induced apathetic, peaceful sleep. Heavy winds blew Odysseus and his men to their home. The men took part in munching on the plants and promptly lost all interest in the journey home. Odysseus had to round them up to get them back on the ship.

With the added science fiction element of the plant spores protecting the colonists from radiation, that is the basic plot of “This side of Paradise.” the entire crew, save for Kirk, are infected by spores from silly looking plants and it is suddenly the Summer of Love two months early and dozens of light years from San Francisco. As usual, kirk is immune because his duty to the Enterprise supercedes all other urges. It isup to him to rescue the crew.

This is not a kirk-centric episode, however. Spock steals the show as he falls in love with a girl for the first time. We get to see Spock’s inner turmoil over his half human/half Vulcan status. Kirk is actually the square in this one, as he not only ruins everyone’s buzz, but does so in the harshest manner possible. He has to make Spock angry in order to snap him out of his high. He does so by making all sorts of hateful remarks about Spock being a green blooded half-breed. Spock may be a fictional alien, but I still could not help wincing at the sequence. You have to figure there is some truth to the feelings Kirk is expressing, if not from him, then by the human population in general.

Regardless, once spock has recovered, he and Kirk use some mumbo jumbo sonic waves to anger everyone on the planet to snap them out of their haze. It works, but everyone is bummed. The hint fro most of the returning crew is they are bummed to no longer have their peaceful apathy. Spock is a little more bitter. His time under the spores’ influence was the only time he has ever been happy.

Tell me you do not believe the Lotus eater parallels are just plausible deniability for a pot legalization screed? Everyone who breathed in the spores was happy, amorous, and at peace. Kirk serves as the authority figure--the fuzz, if you will--who uses violence to bring the turned on, tuned in, and dropped out crewmembers back to reality. Timothy leary had just coined that phrase in September of 1966. It would have been well caught on among the California counter culture by the time this script was being written in 1967. It is difficult to deny the writer might have sneaked one in on us.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Star Trek--"Space Seed"

I am going to make what will probably amount to the biggest blasphemy in all of trek; “Space Seed” is not all that great an episode. Yes, Kan is the most interesting , fleshed out villain of the series, but much of his appeal comes from his appearance in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I think that it is the best movie with the original crew, if not the nurseries, so I imagine its quality somehow elevates “Space Seed” to an undeserved height.

Do not get me wrong. It is still an enjoyable episode. The characterizations are perfect. You just do not get enough about the eugenics program to dig into the nuts and bolts of it. For example, just how are Khan and his men enhanced? They have increased strength, endurance, and intelligence allegedly enough to conquer the planet, but are defeated by a woman’s betrayal and a fistfight with kirk, albeit he did use a pipe there to finish him off. Khan does not offer up any decent arguments why eugenics is a god thing, either. He just spouts off a number of slogans.

I suppose you can rationalize that away with Khan’s arrogance. He does quickly adapt to the 23rdcentury. He takes itasa given he ought to be in a leadership position. Perhaps his betrayal comes because he is so arrogant, he cannot comprehend that Marla McGiver might ever turn on him. It is nice touch, by the way, for a woman to fall in love with an exotic man rather than the usual Kirk falling for some half naked alien.

The flaws I just mentioned have been recognized by subsequent Trek writers, save for the TNG episode “Unnatural Selection” in which the Enterprise visit’s a facility working with genetic engineering. The episode gets swept under the rug considering the issues surrounding Julian Basher’s genetic enhancement in DS9, the fugitive status of Arik Soong in ENT, and several novels, including a hint in one that escaped enhanced humans hid out in remote areas like the Alaskan wilderness. An accusation Will Riker might be descended from them is a stigma that gives him a sense of self-loathing, much less trouble in the rest of the novel. The latter is not canon, of course, but seeks to elaborate on the bitter feelings towards eugenics that still linger in the 24th century.

I find it implausible kirkwould simply maroon Khan after his defeat. He and his men are clearly every bit the threat to peace they once were, should they not be imprisoned or executed? It was just a handful of episodes ago theFederation was willing to execute Spock for violating the general order against contacting the Talosians, so they are not above it. Kirk had ordered Scotty to destroy the surface of Eminiar in the previous episode in order to save the ship. Surely executing Khan could be rationalized eve more easily.

An opportunity was wasted here, probably because the writer could not decide what the episode was to be about. Was it a allegory on the Nazis trying to build a master race? Not really. Was it a warning about science without morality? Aybe that was the purpose, but insufficient effort went into it if so. I am going to cut “Space Seed’ some slack, however. I am looking at it now as one who finds abortion, embryonic stem cell research, social Darwinism, and euthanasia as banes of our existence. Those practices are true science without morality and something I suspect Trek did not imagine were going to become, not increasingly accepted, but considered merciful today. reality has become more horrible than the fictional near future of Trek.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Star Trek--"A Taste of Armageddon"

What is the value of a “clean war” in which losses are incurred by the government, but society as a whole remains relatively untouched/ it might sound like an appealing concept. The characters in the novel All Quiet on the Western Front sardonically joke theircountryies respective leaders ought to meet on the battlefield individually to fight out their disputes with out regular soldiers. But the removal of the human element of war can make battle too easy a solution for disputes, as ’A Taste of Armageddon” demonstrates.

The two planets Eminiar VII and Vendikar have been at war with one another for five hundred years. The waris fought entirely with computers. Thecomputers calculate the amount of losses in each simulated attack. The casualties willingly march into incineration chambers as part of their civic duty. The Enterprise is considered destroyed while in orbit of Eminiar VII. Real conflict ensues when Kirk refuses to allow his crew to be incinerated.

I am certain the theme of this episode resonated more when it originally aired during the height of the Cold War. You can see very clearly the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) which was a serious topic at the time. MAD was a nuclear war deterrant strategy which said any nuclear aggressor would be totally annihilated in response to any attack. What does not measure up is how MAD in the real world was out of the citizenry’s hands. If nuclear weapons starting flying, civilization ceased to happen. The citizens of Eminiar VII, however, went willing to their fate when they could have made a Logan’s Run escape, whether hopeless or not.

Their self-sacrificing is hard to comprehend. But that is the point. Becoming desensitized to war is a horrible thing. there is no way thewar would have lasted five hundred years if people actually had to run off, fight, and die in it. By removing the human face of war, it becomes no different than diplomacy in cost. Indeed, the two planets decided why bother with diplomacy at all when fighting isso easy?

There is a cautionary message their applicable even now that dirty bombs carried by a terrorist into a crowded area is a bigger concern than Russia orChina firing its arsenal in our direction. I am no peacenik. There are principles worth fighting for. Only the dead have seen the end of war. But the clical aspect of modernized war where someone can sit at acomputer and rain down death upon an enemy thousands of milesawaywithout ever looking him in the eye ought to give everyone pause. When it is that easy to remain distant from the horror of war, the criteria for what war is necessary to fight may become dangerously lenient.

In further historical context, “A Taste of Armageddon” had Vietnam War overtones. The annoucement of the numbers of projected dead was a statement on the body count totals read on the nightly news of the time. Robert Fox, the federation ambassador who defies the order to stay away from Eminiar VII because he wants a Federation port there, is probably a warped representation of the antiwar activist’s view of the pro-Vietnam War politicians. Fox’s incompetence embroiled the Enterprise in a war it should not have been in. It is only when he is captured and his death in a disentegration both is imminent that he understands the nature of the conflict. That Kirk is able to end a five hundred year old war and force the two sides into negotiation by destroying the means of fighting sounds like the “give peace a chance" mantra of the antiwar movement.

As far as canon sources are concerned, it worked. Eminair Vii is mentioned once in DS9 as a vacation spot and the transport ship ferrying the the TNG crew away from the crashed Enterprise in Star Trek: Generations is the SS Robert Fox. Several comic books and novels tell a different story. In “The Trial of Captain Kirk’ for DC Comics, peace talks broke down. A nuclearwarerupted instead which turned both planets into irradiated wastelands. Kirk’s responsibility for the war was in question. Subsequent novels in the Shatnerverse series of trek novels have also continued the idea a nuclear war devastated the planets. You should draw your own conclusions o which was the best ending depending on your own cynicism.

This is one of the better episodes of the season because it is thougt provoking. It was probably bad to air two episodes in a row in which a computer controls a society, but I think the idea was done with more intelligence here. At the very least, Kirk did not talk this computer to death with that extraordinary skill of his.

Rating: *** *(out of 5)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Star Trek--"Return of the Archons"

Gene Roddenberry’s secular humanism is well known, though at its heart unreasoned and often hypocritical. He never got to be as overt about his beliefs in TOS as he did in TNG because of the social mores of the day. Thus far, Christianity has been mentioned twice, both in passing. The first was the Enterprise chapel shown in “The Balance of Terror” and the second was the mention of Christmas in “Dagger of the Mind.” Both were innocuous mentions without endorsement or criticism. Now with “The Return of the Archons,” we begin to see the view of religion Roddenberry actually had, albeit disguised enough to not blatantly offend.

The planet Beta III’s population act like zombies following the will of a being known as Landru. They have no sense of individuality and their culture has stagnated. Outsiders are taken by lawgivers, men dressed as monks robes with a subtle hint of the Grim Reaper are taken to an absorption chamber where they are processed into these zombies. Ladru is actually a hologram projected from a computer that is running the planet. Kirk displays his extraordinary ability to talk a computer to death in order to free the planet. Everyone on Beta III, in spite of the only way of life they have ever known being destroyed, are much better off.

To me, that is a typical atheist critique of Christianity. Christians give themselves completely over to God represented here by the computer while taking order from Landru, a long dead being who is not actually there. The computer’s word is enforced with extreme prejudice by the clergy known as the Lawgivers. The lawgivers brainwash people into the religion. But the entire system can be destroyed by applying logic to the computer. The computer self-destructs and everyone is better off for it.

If case you had any doubts whether the population of Beta II would be better off, Kirk happily lectures Spock why he is wrong about the Prime Directive, which makes its first appearance here, applying. Kirk reasons the Prime Directive applies to functioning, vibrant societies. One in which the population dutifully follows a religious belief cannot possibly apply. Note the irony that Spock is using rationalism, a major tenant of atheist belief, in his argument, while Kirk dismisses it based on emotional prejudice. I did say Roddenberry was an unreasoned hypocrite in his secular humanism, did I not? This is another instance of a human lecturing an alien over the proper way of thinking even though said alien is more properly following actually humanist philosophy.

Forget the exaggeratedly negative view of Christianity and view the general principles. Beta III has a religious culture, no matter how they got it, and it works for them. There is a movement of ’free” men trying to change things and that is their right. If nothing else, it demonstrates the society is not stagnant at all since there is disagreement. Spock says the society ought to be left alone even though it is one the Federation would not endorse. Kirk says no. too many peoplearefollowing a religious idea that does not meet his standards, so it has to go. never mind that not only is he placing his opinion over an entire planet’s, but ignores how paralyzing it would be for the population to completely lose its way of life in an instant. But, hey, Christianity is just that evil. The cost of getting rid of it is irrelevant.

I have talked about this episode before with friends who assert the theme is not about religion at all, but a morality tale on modern man’s reliance on technology. I disagree, not only for the reasons I spelled out above, but because it is not revealed Beta III is run by a computer until the end. If “The Return of the Archons” was meant to caution us about dependence on technology, it squandered the opportunity by not playing its hand sooner. The argument is further weakened by the eventual introduction of the Borg. They are a much more pointed critique of dependence on technology. They are also an effective knock on communism nearly twenty years too late, but who is counting?

While I disagree with the overall message, I can appreciate how Roddenberry went about it. It isnot a bad episode, save for two major logical lapses. First, what was the point of ever mentioning the USS Archon? The ship disappeared acentury ago on Beta III, but was never really relevant to anything other than giing the episode its name. Second, there was never any explanation why the Festival occurred. Was it to blow off steam or just another critique of Christianity trying to make them look like hypocrites for indulging in periodic debauchery along with piety? We are left wondering.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Star Trek--"Tomorrow is Yesterday"

I have critiqued TOS episodes several times for originating concepts trek does poorly, like children, mad scientists, and nearly omnipotent beings judging humanity, but ’Tomorrow is Yesterday” offers a chance to praise TOS for starting a trend Trek does well: time travel. It has been done in every series and several of the movies. Even ENT managed to get it right once in “Twilight,” although that barely makes up for the previous effort in which Archer and T’Pol struggle with a drive through in 2004. I have blocked the episode title out of my memory for the sake of my own sanity. There were Xindsi, as I recall.

In stark contrast to the previous episode, ’The Alternative Factor,” the plot and theoretical science actually make sense. The Enterprise is thrown back in time to 1969. The damaged ship is spotted by an USAF fighter. The pilot has to be beamed aboard before he can fire at the Enterprise. Thus the dilemma becomes what to do with the pilot, John Christopher?

How the ethical problem is dealt with is my favorite part of the episode. Many fans prefer the humorous, fish out of water aspect of Kirk, Spock, and Sulu struggling to cover their tracks while dealing with “modern day” man, but I find the existential element much more satisfying. Kirk and Spock decide they have to keep Christopher onboard in order to protect the future. They believe they can do so because Christopher is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. That is until they discover his future son will be a famous astronaut to Saturn in the distant future.

We would all like to think we are more important than we actually are. The point was driven home to me six years ago when my mother died. Aside from the emotional legacy she left behind, she has been pretty much wiped from history. There is nothing physical that says she was ever here besides my siblings and me. I cannot measure our significance with any degree of precision. Maybe the only way any of us will matter is because of a lone great-great-grandchild somewhere down the line who does little more than push Edith Keeler out of the way of a speeding car. Maybe not even that much. One’s place in the universe is unknown until it is all said and done at the end of time. A heady thought, no?

Spock comes up with a too convenient plan to restore the timeline back to the way things were. The pat solution which wraps it all up in a pretty package with a nice little bow is the only thing preventing me from giving “Tomorrow is Yesterday” five stars. Ity is still one of the best of the season. It also has the strange honor of predicting the moon landing would take place on a Wednesday in 1969. It is one of the few future predictions Trek gets right.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Star Trek--"The Alternative Factor"

The streak of good episodes had to end at some point. With “The Alternative Factor,” it ends with the loudest thud imaginable. The episode is a absolute mess. The plot that the fate of two universes is at stake is too overreaching for for single, regular episode, particularly when we do know enough about the guest characters involved to care. Not that it matters, since the writers did notcare, either. No one can decide whether the episode is about parallel universes, temporal rifts, antimatter, or a dilithium induced drama. I am not even certain which lazarus had the wound on his head. Surely they could at least keep that point straight.

Lazarus was the worst part of the episode. Why even name him Lazarus? It foreshadows a twist that he was perhaps resurrected from the dead at some pint, but nothing like that is ever revealed. We never find out any motivation forwhy he wants to kill his antimatter counterpart other than he is insane--or is he? We never learn which Lazarus, if not both, are nuttier than squirrel poop. It would be lazy, but forgivable for Lazarus to just be a mad scientist with no rationale motivation if the plot could hold my attention, but no such luck here.

Conventional wisdom in the episode suffers because a romantic element was cut out of the episode between Lazarus and Charlene Masters. An African-American actress was cast for Masters and there was a reluctance to air an interracial relationship on television. Instead of that subplot, more scenes of Lazarus planet side were added, featuring him falling down. A lot. With the continual pursuit by the Anti-Matter Lazarus. The substitution was overkill on the idea the two Lazaruses hated each other.

I am not so certain if the romance had been kept in things would have been much improved. The story jumped all over the place with illogical twists. Even as geeky as I am, I could not keep track of, noe care about, the explanations why the two universes were even going to be destroyed if something was not done. This was also the third time this season the villain was a mad scientist. Surely there are villains out there who have rationalized a dastardly plot of conquest? If so, we have not seen one yet.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Star Trek--"Arena"

I have been anxious to get to this one. It has absolutely everything that makes TOS fun and interesting. The series was at its best when it dealt when it explored the morality of war rather than when it dealt with some far fetched science fiction concept. I will be better able to explain that tomorrow when I post my scathing review of ’The Alternative Factor.” Suffice to say in regards to ’Arena” and other episodes like it, the riveting plot makes you forgive the almost embarrassing production values.

In that regard, “arena’ reminds me a lot of the original Doctor Who. The BBC had such tight budgets, many episodes looked like a high school production. But that is not what mattered. It was all about the story. Fortunately, the stories were often so good, the production values did not matter. So it is here. The federation outpost looks like a wild west fort, the Gorn is a man in a phony looking rubber suit, and practically no effort was made to disguise the stunt double playing Kirk through much of the fight scene. Considering how physical William Shatner enjoyed being--he wanted to wrestle the tiger in “Shore Leave”--it must have been tough for him to sit much of the brawl out.

The Enterprise arrives on Castus III only to find the colony has been destroyed. The invitation to the colony was a ruse perpetrated by the Gorn in order to destroy the only Federation ship protecting that sector of space. Kirk assumes such an act is prelude to an invasion and decides the shop must be destroyed with all hands aboard. In one of the rare instances in Trek an alien corrects human morality rather than the other way around, in proper fashion, Spock urges caution out of respect for sentient life.

Before any further action can be taken, the Metrons appear and kidnap Kirk and the Gorn captain elsewhere to settle their differences. The two battle one another in the second most parodied fight in TOS history behind the ritual scuffle between kirk and Spock in “Amok Time.” Kirk goes all MacGyver on us when he realizes he cannot overpower the Gorn by creating a makeshift cannon. He not only knew how to make quickie gun powder, but he could separate all the distinct elements into individual piles after dumping them all into the bamboo cane. Talented guy, that Kirk.Kirk refuses to kill the incapacitated Gorn even though his natural repulsion to reptiles urges him to. The Metrons, who arranged the conflict, appear and note their surprise at Kirk’s show of mercy. They believed humans were too savage to care about such things. Predictably, they still refuse to have anything to do with half-savage humanity, but at least unlike Trelane’s parents in the previous episode, they consider Kirk of higher value than an insect. I thought the Metron recognition humans deserved some higher respect even though they were allegedly not as enlightened was much more realistic than that of previous aliens we had encountered up until this point.

It is never really established whether the federation actually had built its colony in Gorn territory. If so, then destroying the colony was arguably a legitimate military action, although one would think there should have been some negotiation first, particularly because of civilian casualties. That is an argument within the Just War Theory of legitimate targets--you know, the one that also says Alderaan’s destruction was legitimate because the planet’s leadership was in rebellion--which can be squeamish topic of discussion in this day and age. Try defending the atomic bomb droppings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on any college graduate under thirty with a liberal arts degree. The self-loathing expressed by the young critics of making tough decisions in the name of defending higher principles will make you weep for the future.

The reason it will is evident in the moral lesson of “Arena,” a lesson apt for today’s war on terror. Kirk refuses to kill the Gorn even though the Gorn would not hesistate if the roles were reversed. So it is with the United states and Al Qeaeda. Wefret overwaterboarding them while theydo not blink at the prospect of flying planeloads of innocent people into skyscrapers hoping to kill tens of thousands. That makes us better than them, because we aredoing--reluctantly--what we have to in order to defend ourselves. It is not fair to consider survival tactics that half savage.

While the Gorn are never seen again until a Mirror Universe episode of ENT, it is casually mentioned on a couple occasions the Federation not only settles Castus III, but the Gorn join the war against the Dominion, albeit they are never shown on screen. Further proof defending oneself by harsh means does not preclude the possibility of strong ties later when when both sides agree to a legitimate resolution to conflict.

On a less savory note, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelly all suffered damage to their hearing because of the firing of the mortar in the ground battle with the Gorn during the first act. They suffered for their art, folks.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Star Trek--"The Squire of Gothos"

Today’s episode is another iconic installment of TOS. “The Squire of Gothos” is a variation on “Charlie X,” the earlier first season episode dealing with an enfant terrible The second time around is much more improved. Perhaps it is because Trelane is a spoiled brat rather than the psycho Charlie was or because the Enterprise crew exercises fewer lapses in logic when dealing with him, but I can forgive the plot similarities because of the improvements.

Trelane is obviously a precursor to Q. At least one novel speculates that Trelaine was a Q, but I have to assume the idea has not been added to the flim4d canon of Trek. I recall Q conjuring up aliens in French military uniforms in a first season episode of TNG. The act was an obvious homage to Trelane’s stated fascination with Napoleon. Both Trelane and Q share an interest in Earth history in general.

One objection I have is why superior beings have such an overt dismissal of lesser beings, in this case humans? Trelane, I can understand, since he is a child. But the parents only chastise Trelane as overstepping his bounds by terrorizing the Enterprise crew and hunting Kirk for sport. To say humans areants compared to them is not a fair analogy. Both humans and Trelane’s people possess the hiher levels of reasoning. What Trelane has done is not using a magnifying glass to fry ants, but torture something as similar to himself in intelligence as a chimpanzee is to us. Perhaps even closer in intelligence. Does that not merit a more sympathetic attitude towards Kirk, etal, which they do not receive?

I have not gotten the vibe “The Squire of Gothos” was meant to be a morality tale about human cruelty to animals, but a bit more compassion on the part of the parents would have been appropriate here. As it was, the episode was really a fun romp that is best served not trying to moralize over. Trelane was a kid who is not properly watched by his parents. He acts just like a kid would under those circumstances. It is difficult to sympathize with him, mind you, but it is also hard to consider him a villain in spite of the gravity his actions. If anything, the parents are the villains of the piece. I am curious how many Trekkers look at it that way?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Star Trek--"Shore Leave"

The science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon makes his trek debut with this episode. It is the weaker of his two outings, but considering his second was the Hugo award winning “Amok Time” in which much of Vulcan culture was established, it is not much of an insult to call it the weaker. Sturgeon wrote a third script, titled ‘The joy Machine,” but is was never filmed. The story was a standard computer controls an entire planet plot used several other times in the series. It is not really surprising the script was rejected. It was adapted into a novel in 1996. I read it in 1998. I enjoyed it more than most of the handful of Trek novels I have read, but considering their general quality, your mileage may vary.

“Shore Leave” is one of the more iconic TOS episodes, so there is a tendency to overlook it flaws. I found it enjoyable enough to forgive errors as well, but they are worth noting in a review. The biggest is the logical lapse in having an amusement park planet without any instructions readily available.

You could argue that is because the planet is intended for the private amusement of the Caretaker’s people, in which case better efforts should have been taken to prevent trespassing. But if the Caretaker was open to others enjoying the planet, as he apparently was, then how the place works should have been made clear from the beginning. At the very least, the reality of pain and “death” should have been noted. McCoy was very clearly in pain when he was stabbed by the Black knight’s lance, Kirk was beaten and bloodied by Finnegan, and surely Sulu’s gun could have killed or the tiger could have mauled anyone. The creations are dangerous things to not have any warning about.

Think about the hypocrisy, too. The Talosians have technology to create illusions so real, the federation has cast aside its ideals and imposed the death penalty on anyone going to Talos IV to use. Then, in the very next episode, the Enterprise arrives at a planet where tangible creations of the imagination or not only possible, but can cause pain and suffering. The place is more dangerous than Talos IV, yet Kirk not only opts to stay and enjoy the technology, but invites the entire crew to join in. let us have some consistency here, shall we?

“Shore Leave” is another one of those episodes that you will enjoy a heck of a lot more if you do not think about it much. Thirty years later, VOY would make an entire seven year run with the same problem, so I can swing it for a TOS installment or three.

Rating: *** (out of5)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek--"The Menagerie, Part I-II"

I am going to combine the only two part episode of TOS into one review since the bulk of content is from the unaired pilot, ’The Cage.” I have already written about how much I liked it, so there is no need to retread old ground. “The Menagerie” was the first of three episodes in Trek history to win the Hugo for best dramatic presentation. I take that as evidence I am not the only one who recognizes the quality of "The Cage.”

All that said, there are some very peculiar elements that make wonder why many fans regard the episodes so highly. It is not just the curt martial plotline being reused not only from the second time in a season, but for three episodes in a row. What bugs me is the incredibly awkward way in which “The Cage” was added to the new material. It was obviously meant to reuse already filmed material in a cost cutting effort, but I think it could have been handled better. I really did not like some of the twists that had to be made to fit it all in.

First, Why did Spock feel the need for the ruse? Even kirk mentions this to him. Would it not have been logical to suggest Pike be sent to Talos Iv to live out his days in blissful illusion? It would especially make sense since Spock already had the approval of the Talosians. He could have suggested the idea long before ever coming into contact with them and never risked the death penalty if Starfleet had nixed the idea. The ruse should have been a method of last resort, if at all, not the first idea Spock came up with.

Second, why does the Federation have a death penalty? Personally, I support the death penalty for certain heinous crimes, so the concept of it does not bother me. But having it as a penalty within the idealistic Federation does not fit. Even being in favor of the death penalty in some cases, I find it petty and barbaric to impose it on what is essentially trespassing. If the Federation wants to forbid travel to Talos Iv, fine. They can do that. But any punishment for traveling there ought to be the Talosians jurisdiction. It is their sovereign planet. The death penalty for traveling to Talos Iv is dumb on both those levels.

Third, could they not have made pike look a little more like Jeffery Hunter or at least done a better job of scarring or obscuring his face? While putting myself in his shoes, I can understand the horror his life must be filled with, but even so, I cannot get passed the realization that looks absolutely nothing like Pike. 8if they were going to go this route, then they should have given him a mask, a la Doctor Doom, and only hinted at how horribly disfigured he was. Such a move would have enhanced the idea he would rather live out his life as an illusion rather than reality. Our imaginations could have come up with something much more horrific than what the makeup department accomplished.

Finally, I think there must have been a better way of including scenes from "The Cage.” Perhaps Spock could have told the story in flashback to Kirk on a shuttlecraft trip or something. At least that way, some of the odd, almost laughable edits would not have occurred. Particularly those final scenes where Vina is revealed to be hideously deformed and kirk has a conversation with a Talosian keeper on a view screen looked worse than some amateur YouTube edits do now. Flashbacks would have much improved thestory, but that is a subjective matter.

For all its faults, I will give “The Menagerie” some kudos. There is a high entertainment value to the story if you do not think about it too hard. One of the reasons you should not think about it too hard is because you will have to wonder why the Talosians never showed up again. The death penalty for contacting them obviously had to be rescinded by the time of the 24th century. Does it not strike you as odd they never showed up again, particularly in desperate situations like the Borg or Dominion invasions when not ony would their advanced technology came in handy, but out of their own survival, they should have been willing to aid the Federation? For my money, the Talosians were the first group of powerful aliens prominent in TOS who should have logically showed up in later series, but never did. Andorians, Gorn, and Tholians also qualify, at least up until ENT, but it is the Talosians that first put the unusual absence in mind.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Star Trek--"Court Martial"

Up until this point in the series, Kirk has been presented as an extraordinary man who has defeated a nearly omnipotent being, resisted brainwashing and a mind altering disease because of his emotional attachment to his ship, outwitted centuries old children, and had every attractive woman in the galaxy after him. The guy is almost inhuman. So when the idea that he would face a court martial for negligent homicide comes up, one would hope we might see kirk’s fallible side.

No such luck. As far as creating dramatic tension is concerned, this episode ranks right up therewith “The Conscience of the King.” I will also give the episode props for realistically portraying a court martial proceeding. I was even impressed there was a black commodore and a dedicated female prosecutor, even though making her an old flame of Kirk’s was unnecessary. Ethically, she probably should have recused herself. Regardless, both proved trek was willing to rise above cultural standards of the day.

That is about all I can say positively about “Court Martial,” however. It would have been great if Kirk really had been in a spot where a crewmen he had bad blood with died because of one of Kirk’s decisions. It would have shown Kirk has to make uncomfortable decisions which may not be the right choice. Leaving it up to the audience whether irk did the right thing or not would have added dimension to his character. Maybe he is not so perfect after all.

But no. It is a frame up by Finney for no other reason than Kirk is the most wonderful man ever and he is jealous. Ruining his career would be the perfect revenge. Except what was Finney planning to do after faking his death? Once it was known Kinney was alive, Kirk would be off the hook. Sure, Finney was a nut, but that is a real copt out. The whole situation ends in a trademark fistfight at which point the episode becomes a complete train wreck.

The idea had a lot of promise. If it had been a legal drama, perhaps one without any clear resolution whether Kirk’s actions were justified, the episode could have been great. At the very least it would have added some color to Kirk. We have already seen from ‘The Enemy Within” he reliesa lot on his dark side for much of his decision making. It would have been nice if the writers had explored the idea further.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Star Trek--"The Galileo Seven"

Spock gets his first moment to shine in the series here, but unfortunately, it is a dud. As first officer of the Federation’s flagship, you would expect Spock to have more experience and command ability thn he demonstrates here when his shuttle is stranded on a planet with hostile natives. Yet he implies this is his fist command. It shows. He is completely unsure of himself, makes some completely illogical decisions which lead to the deaths--comically, really--of onered shirt right after another, and generally appears incapable of taking a leadership position without Kirk’s guidance.

Knowing Gene Roddenberry, that is probably intentional. It is not just that Kirk is supposed ly an ubermensch, but humanity itself is far superior to any alien. The concept that the Federation is a human dominated utopia whose sole purpose is to teach degenerate aliens how to act properly is more obnoxious in TNG many years later, but TOS had a case of it, too. Aliens are the troublesome folks just by their nature. With the remarkable exception of Kodos in the previous episode, any humans featured as villains are insane, under alien influence, or doppelgangers.

So I guess you cannot help but expect Spock, even though he is the hero of the story, to win in spite of himself by making the illogical decision of igniting their remaining fuel to attract the Enterprise’s attention. Taking such a risk was a human thing to do. Spock was certainly nagged enough by McCoy in particular to drop his logical ways and make such a move. As if the point was not nailed home yet, Kirk specifically needles Spock about the action of sending up the “flare” was motivated by his human side. Beat us over the head with it, how about?

On a sad note, Rand was supposed to be one of the Galileo Seven, but Grace Lee Whitney had already left the show. It is too bad, both because of how her life tragically turned out, and for the character of Rand, who had much potential. I suppose Whitney’s departure did allow for Nichelle Nichols to move to the forefront as the leading female character, but she never got much chance to shine, either, truth be told.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Star Trek--"The Conscience of the King"

Many fans dislike this episode because it features no elements of science fiction. I think they are being unfair. It is one of the best episodes of the season and series overall. It is one of the few times we see a Federation make the wrong moral decision without it being explained away by him being insane. Kodos killed the colonist believing he was saving as many people from starvation as he could. Even all these years later, he still stands by his decision. It is left up to the audience to decide whether he is correct. If only Trek had more instance where they left the audience to draw their own conclusion rather than preaching a gospel of Roddenberry morality.

I even forgive some of the contrivances, such as how odd it is for the two remaining witnesses, Kirk and Riley, to both be serving on the Enterprise there has been quite a bit of criticism leveled at the use of riley here, but I think it is perfect. Riley’s last appearance was a buffoon as he suffered from the intoxicating illness during “The Naked Time.” Encountering Kodos, the man who murdered his family, forces him to grow up and decide not to kill him in revenge. I suspect ifd you did not have the two images of Riley to contrast, the impact would have been lessened.

Compare the use of Riley with the other major attempt at creating dramatic tension which failed as far as I am concerned. It is kirk’s friend, Dr. Thomas Leighton, who calls to his attention the traveling actor Karidian might be Kodos in disguise. Leighton wears a Phantom of the Opera-type mask on the left side of his face, presumably to coveran injury Kodos gave him during the purge. It is never stated that was happened, however. It leaves me to wonder exactly how the colonists were killed. I figure it was a clinical, systematic move, but if Leighton was mutilated then, it had to be some sort of nihilistic mob killing where colony authorities were hacking people up for the sadistic pleasure of it. The episode would have been made better if the actual massacre method had been made clearer. As it is, it appears the writer did not have anything specific in mind.

I forgive all that, because the moral question is the real point of the episode. Was Kdos right to do what he did/ is the fact his daughter could insanely rationalize killing to protect his name evidence he was mad, too? For that matter, was kirk’s romancing her for the sole purpose of discovering Kardidian’s true identity a legitimate tactic? Bear in mind, this is all going on inside the supposedly perfect Federation where idealism and high minded morality is king.

I cannot help but place this episode in the context of history, as well. By the late ‘60’s, the Israelis had arrested, tried, and executed Adolf Eichmann, whom many considered one of the main architects of the Holocaust, and were actively hunting numerous other Nazis believed to be living in South America and elsewhere. There was still a definite sense that perpetrators of the human genocide of world War Ii were still out there, in hiding with help, and convinced their actions were justified. We are still finding out some of these monsters lived to a ripe old age in comfort even today. Witness the discovery of Albert ‘Dr. Death Heim, who died in Egypt in 1992 The news of his living safely there just broke in February, 64 years after the war ended. The allegory of ‘The Conscience of the King must have had a much greater impact then when someone like Kodos could have been exposed at any time.

For the continuity buffs amongst us, the biography of Hoshi sato in the ENT episodes, “In a Mirror Darkly, Part II” stated Hoshi and her family were among those killed by Kodos. Just an odd tidbit to throw in there.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek--"Miri"

“Miri” is further proof Trek does not do children well. It is difficult to tell whether the children, with their “bonk, bonk, blah, blah” dialogue is the worst element of the episode or if it is the undressed plot holes. Maybe it is the somewhat disturbing idea that Miri, though much older than she looks, is still a child with a crush on kirk. We will have to work through this and decide.

The Enterprise answers an Earth-like distress signal and discovers it is coming from a planet virtually identical to Earth. I imagine ths is a budget saving solution, but gene Roddenberry could not leave it at that. He had the idea every planet with a human population would develop exactly like Earth. the result here is not as bad as in “The Omega Glory,” but is still a cring worthy, unnecessary idea. We know the studio wanted to save money on sets. Just leave it at that.

The planet is populated by children who are actually much older than they seem. The planet has been ravaged by a plague that slows aging drastically, but kills upon adulthood. The kids do not care much. They are more interested in playing silly games real children would more than likely find mind numbingly boring. I have already commented on the silly dialogue. One wonders if the screenwriter was ever a kid himself. I bet he suffered eternal wedgies from his classmates. Too bad he never read Lord of the Flies, either, or the children’s savage behavior living in a society without adults would have been more realistic as opposed to inane.

The landing party naturally contracts the plaque, too. The effects are quite disturbingly disfiguring. That is about the only decent part of “Miri.” there is a definite tension in the race against time for a cure. Being the miracle worker that he is, McCoy manages to find a vaccine just in the nick of time. An entire planet full of scientific minds were unable to do so before being wiped out. Talented guy, that McCoy.

A subplot about the children running out of food is present, but is never part of the tension. In fact, it is never openly addressed. The audience is lefted to assume the problem has been fixed when Federation babysitters arrive to take care of the children. Speaking of, the children were all kids of the cast and crew, including Lisabeth, the daughter of William Shatner. She is the little girl he holds up after being mobbed by the rest of the little brats. That is about the only point of interest in “Miri.”

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek--"Dagger of the Mind"

Would you look at that--two episodes in a row with a mad scientist running a criminal plot without the slightest hint of his motivations who decides to use Kirk to further his plan, whatever that may be. Dr. Tristan Adams, the head of a penal colony named after the Greek mythological king Tantalus, who spent eternity in terrible agony, has developed a device to condition the minds of prisoners. He plans to use it for his own evil ends by…well, I do not know. He has not thought that far ahead. I guess the guy is just nuttier than squirrel poop.

If there was a purpose behind “Dagger of the Mind” other than to make allusions to literature and mythology, I have no idea what it might be. Perhaps the senseless nature of Adams’ actions was meant to frighten the audience with nihilistic horror, but it did not work for me if so. There were too many dumb elements, apparently meant to be clever, for the episode to be effective.

For example, Kirk beams down to the penal colony with a woman he met at a Christmas party. Her name happens to be Noel, the French word for Christmas. It is the second in very few mentions of of Christianity in trek. We will not see the Christmas holiday again until Star Trek: Generations in 1994. It is interesting to get a hint Christianity is still practiced in the 23rd century, but was having acharacter named Noel from a Christmas party really necessary? It sounds like a too contrived effort to be cute.

Theepisode is pivotal in that we see Spock perform a Vulcan mind meld on Van Gelder, a colleague whom Adams experimented on to the point of madness. The mind altering device worked on him splendidly. Kirk, not so much. He loves the Enterprise so deeply, the device has no effect on him. All righty. Yes, this one was pretty bad.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek--"What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

Sadly, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” is another episode that I thought was great in my younger days, but now recognize its many flaws. Most of my positive feelings for the episode centered around my fondness for another childhood favorite, The Wild Wild West. I could draw so many parallels to a typical JamesWest adventure. There was an implausible science fiction element that never really gor explored, mad genius villain like Dr. Loveless, a giant henchman like his assistant, Voltaire, and a pretty girl inexplicably there just to serve as eye candy. If I did not know better, I would say it actually was a rewritten script for The Wild wild West.

You cannot blame me for that. There had only been a handful of TOS episodes aired by this point, yet two major plot elements were repeated here for the second time. First, there was another Kirk double like in “The Enemy Within.” second, Dr. Roger Korby turned out to be a replacement for the deceased original like Nancy in “The Man Trap.” The idea this was n adapted, unused script from another show is more comforting than to think the writing is so lazy and unoriginal.

But lazy it is. A fine opportunity was missed to explore the sentience of androids, the value of human frailty, or even a logical reason why one would want to rule the galaxy in the first place. There is no exploration nto the nature of the androids. They could have been organic aliens just as well. The discussion about emotions crippling humanity was reduced to a couple throway lines between Kirk and Korby. The fatal flaw that kirk can introduce racist attitudes into his robot double in order to arouse suspicion escapes poor Korby. Odd, since he is an android, too. His plot to take over the galaxy is reduced to little more than a criminal endeavor with no grandiose scheme whatsoever. He just wants power.

I also have to question the wisdom of making Nurse Chapel Korby’s fiance. He has been missing for five years, so she joins Starfleet to look for him? Highly implausible. We had not been given the slightest hint before she had any such motivations in her previous appearance in “The Naked Time.” She got over it pretty quickly, too, since she spends the rest of the series pining for Spock. Like McCoy with Nancy, she lost a long lost true love, but the sting went away rather quickly.

We have a mediocre episode here with lukewarm ideas that are never fleshed out. Oddly enough, variations on the story--created androids are eventually feared and deactivated/destroyed by their creators-- is going to be repeated throughout Trek regardless. Some panned out better than others. The best effort is dr. Noonian Soogn shutting down the humanlike Lore in favor of Data, thus creating a sibling rivalry. The Worst is “Prototype,” the VOY episode in which Torres gets the whim to repair a robot she finds out in space only to rekindle a genocidal war. The robot, Automated unit 3947, was from a series a robots who rose up to slaughter their masters rather than be deactivated like Ruk and his brethren had done to the Old Ones. Leave it to VOY to ape a really bad episode of TOS.

About the only bright spot, aside from my nostalgia for The Wild Wild West, is Ted Cassidy as Ruk. He serves as a memorable character is spite of the poor material he was forced to work with. An interesting bit of trivia; everyone knows Cassidy’s most famous role was Lurch on The Addam’s Family. On TNG, Carel Struycken plays Mr. Homm, a longsuffering assistant to to the obnoxious Lwaxana Troi who has a similar appearance. Apparently, others took notice, because Struycken eventually played Lurch in two big screen versions and one direct to DVD of The Addams Family in the ’90’s.

Then there is this:I am am not passing judgment, mind you. Just pointing it out. kirk and ruk seemed to have a little something going on there, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Ratings; ** (out of 5)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Star Trek--"Balance of Terror"

While there had been a couple of entertaining episodes in the run so far, “Balance of Terror” is where TOS really begins to shine. It is a pivotal episode in several ways. It is the first time the Enterprise has truly faced a worthy adversary. The story introduced the Romulan Star Empire, a mysterious, xenophobic race with the power to destroy the Federation. Plus, it introduced us to Mark Leonard, a venerable Trek actor who will eventually play spock’s father, Sarek, in two series and several movies, as well as take a turn as a Klingon in yet another.

On a less geeky level, it is the best script since the unaired pilot. “Balance of Terror” is based loosely on 1957’s The Enemy Below, in which an American destroyer must hunt an enemy submarine. It accomplishes the paranoid, claustrophobic feel ”The Corbomite Maneuver’ was unable to pull off due to thin content. Indeed, “Balance of Terror” is similar enough to ’The Corbomite Maneuver,” one suspects one suspects it is correcting the mistakes of the former.

The most glaring example is that of Stiles. Like Bailey, he is suffering fro high emotions. While Bailey was eaten up with fear, Stiles is all bout hatred for the Romulans, who killed some of his ancestors in the Earth-Romulan War a century ago, and is suspicious of Spock once the similarities between Vulcans and Romulans become known. Unlike Bailey, the resolution to Stiles’ storyline is more believable. Spock saves his life, leaving a deep impact on his prejudices.

One significant, not to mention welcomed, difference between ’Balance of Terror” and many Trek episodes is a crewman’s death actually has an emotional impact. When the Romulans attack Outpost 4, Kirk is in the middle officiating a wedding between two crewmembers. During the subsequent battle, the husband to be is killed. Kirk has to console the bride to be, but she slaps him instead. Her love had to die in a war neither of them really cared about. It is interesting to note the slapping scene took place in the ship’s chapel. It is one of the few hints in TOS that Christianity is still practiced in the 23rd century.

There is an antiwar message at play here. It is not as heavy handed as you might expect from Trek. In war, everyone loses something important eventually. There is nothing to celebrate in victory. Both Romulan commander and Kirk reach this conclusion independently, adding an unusually deep dimension to the previously enemy. Consider the significance; this was at the height of Cold War propaganda where both sides were caricaturing the other as the heartless, evil enemy Any other show might have presented a more jingoistic story. Trek laid it all out there.

It pays to mention how weird it is to consider the Earth-Romulan War to have been fought ship to ship without either side ever getting a look at each other. I suppose that was suppose to symbolize the fear of dying in a nuclear war where victims never see the enemy coming. In that regard, the idea probably had an emotional sting. But foremost in my mind in 2009 is how ENT was eventually supposed to cover the war in a similar manner to Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War. The creative team for ENT was not in Ronald D. Moore and Ira Steven Behr’s league when it comes to plotting, so I already had doubts even without them being hamstrung by the whole “they can never see each other” mandate. It was one of those issue nagging in the back of my mind that kept me from giving ENT a fair shot. I imagine I was not alone.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek--"Charlie X"

If there is one thing trek has been consistent with, it is making children centered episodes terrible. The only exception across five series I can come up with is TNG’s “Worship,” the episode in which a boy coping with survivor’s guilt emulates Data in order to shield his emotions. I am pretty sure I am in a minority for liking that episode, too. All of all those sub par episodes, “Charlie X” is right down there with TNG’s ’Imaginary friend’ as the worst.

Charlie Evans is The Twilight Zone’s Anthony Fremont without a drop of imagination in him. The kid is just a vicious little psycho. I am not certain he has a better excuse for his behavior, either. Fremont was an undisciplined little boy. You can understand why he would turn the world into his own personal playground and rough up people like they were his toys. But while Charlie has had no human contact for seventeen years, he has been raised by a wise, powerful race of aliens called the Thapians. They granted him powers to help him survive. Surely they would have taught him how to conduct himself better. Apparently, he did not bother to learn. I assume that was just Roddenberry’s heavy handed preaching that power corrupts.

Not that the Enterprise crew does a better job with him. When he immediately develops a crush on Yeoman Rand, she finds a teenage girl to dump on him. That is a fantastic idea. Here is a antisocial, hormones raging teenager for whom strange and bad things keep happening around. Why not give him a hot, young girl to romp around with unsupervised/ it sounds like a winning idea to me. Kirk does not do much better when he decides to teach the kid to fight and winds up losing a crewman to Charlie’s tantrum.

The most uncomfortable part is Kirk’s plan to stop Charlie once he takes over the ship and plotsa course towards the colony home of his nearest relatives. Kirk know he will cause even more havoc there, so he cannot allow Charlie to reach the colony. So what precisely could he do? Kill him? Before the question can be explored, he Thasians show up to take Charlie back after realizing he is too dangerous to be among his own kind. There, at least, is an acknowledgement they have made a mistake with him.

We are supposed to sympathize with Charlie. The Thasians are cold beings, unfeeling beings. But he has been such an untamed brat beyond redemption, I just could not. He got what was best for him. At least we did not have to see Kirk come to the decision to kill Charlie or otherwise permanently pacify him. Such a solution would have been the only thing that could have made this episode any worse.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Star Trek--"The Naked Time"

“The Naked Time” is probably most famous for Sulu’s swordsmanship escapade, but it should probably be better known as a primary example of Gene Roddenberry’s unwillingness to develop his characters without some gimmicky plot serving as the catalyst. Three series have done a similar episode (TNG and ENT) where the crew is infected with some sort of illness which forces them to act irrationally. But unlike “The Man Trap,” which was a pioneer in shape shifter stories but one of the worst of the bunch, “The Naked Time” is far superior to the other two, if for no other reason than no crewmembers engaged in drunken sex with an android or Tony winner Scott Bakula was not wishing he literally could leap into another life likes Sam Beckett and escape the awful scripts.

The interesting part about the episode is the dichotomy between the comical behavior of those infected versus the danger they are all in. the collapsing planet below threatens to take the Enterprise with it unless Spock can straighten up enough to perform an experimental move to save the ship. Spock is the pivotal character here and you have Leonard Nimoy to thank for that. The big scene where Spock breaks down over the constant battle his Vulcan and him sides rage within was completely improvised in one afternoon after Nimoy suggested the original scene, which would have been a laugh line, was undignified. The result is one of the first glimmers we see of the strong bond between Spock and Kirk.

Spock’s emotional breakdown is the key selling point for the episode. There is a lot of enjoyable humor in it, especially with riley. He will only get one more big episode before he disappears altogether. Most of the other drama was overdone. A crewman dies on the operating table solely because he believes he deserves to. When McCoy finally develops a hypospray, he rips Kirk’s shirt to administer it even though hypos have gone through shirts in every other instance. It was manufactured drama. Not that it matters, since apparently Kirk’s love for his ship helped him fight off the infection anyway. All right.

But the worst moment of the episode came right off the bat. The landing party who found researchers dead from the results of the infection were wearing environmental suits made out of shower curtains. It was more Carol Burnett’s pardoy than Scarlet O’Hara’s desperation. I have no clue why the production staff thought that was a good idea.

Rating: *** (out of 5)