Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Star Trek--"Spectre of the Gun"

Though not the first episode aired in the third season, “Spectre of the Gun” was the first produced. Two things are obvious. First, Gene Roddenberry was hoping for a big ratings grab right out the gate by capitalizing on the popularity of westerns. Legend has it hesold TOS originally on the premise it was going to be Wagon Train to the Stars anyway. Second, the per episode budget was cut to the bare bone. It is actually not so bad here since there is a sense of surrealism about the episode, but later on, it will become painful to witness. Almost as bad a viewing space hippies.

The interesting part is how the whole scenario begins with a brazenly unwise act on Kirk’s part. He chooses to ignore a warning buoy from the xenophobic Melkotians to stay away from their space. When he and a landing party beam down, they are trapped in a recreation of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Our heroes are, unfortunately, the Clantons, who lost the gunfight to the Earps.

Normally, I would complain that weare yet again faced with an unlikely bit of Earth history taking place out in deep space, but since this is just an illusion that requires no weird explanation such as lost book or a crazy historian or whatever the heck happened in “The Omega Glory,” I will let it slide.

Since we already know the outcome of the gun fight because even if we shamefully slept through high school history class, we all saw Tombstone (And rightfully shunned Kevin Costner’s self-serving Wyatt Earp), we know there has to be a twist to avoid the inevitable conclusion. The first hint comes when Chekov is killed while chasing skirts in his usual over the top imitation of Davy Jones. That went well beyond the shaggy hair. Chekov represented Billy Claiborne, whom Kirk notes survived the gunfight. Kirk fails to he represented another survivor, Ike Clanton. I am still in a generous mood, so I will let this slide, too.

All along, Spock insists the entire scenario is nothing but an illusion. Chekov died because he thought it was real.. If they have no fear, they will remain unharmed. There is no way humans can avoid doubt completely, so Spock mind melds with the rest of the gang to shore up their confidence. It works, as the Earp bullets pass right through them. Kirk eventually has Wyatt earp at his mercy, but opts not to kill him.

In true TOS fashion, his act of mercy impresses the Melkotians. Although they are have previously been brutally xenophobic to the point of killing trespassers in elaborate wild west scenarios, they open their planet up to the federation. Chekov is even found to be alive to chase skirts yet another day.

The episode is watchable, but there is nothing remarkable about it. As a history buff, I am irked they did not make a better effort to get the history correct. Wyatt Earp was not the marshal of Tombstone, the gunfight actually took place in front of Fly’s Photographic Studio, and the gunfight was a spontaneous affair. Maybe you can chalk the inaccuracies up to kirk’s faulty memory, but that is kind of a cop out. At glance at an encyclopedia could have cleared all that up in the scripting stage. There is no reason for the errors.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Star Trek-"Is There in Truth No Beauty?"


“Is There in Truth No Beauty?” is a decent installment of the fairly mediocre third season. It rarely makes anyone’s best list and it does not make mine, either, but it deals with emotional issues in a more subdued manner than most TOS efforts. I appreciate the effort.

It is another of the rare episodes in which the guest stars have a big role. Dana Muldaur appears a second time in TOS as Dr. Minerva Jones, a telepath who studied on Vulcan how to tune out emotions when reading others. She is joined by larry marvick, one of the designers of the Enterprise’s engines, and Kollos, a Medusan ambassador so ugly to human sight, he has to remain hidden in a box to prevent anyone gazing upon him from going mad. Medusans are fantastic navigators. The Federation would like to use them to guide their ships. It is Miranda’s job--one Spock turned down--to establish a mind meld in order to perfect communication.

At a formal dinner, Minerva senses someone at the table is plotting murder. It turns out to be Marvick, another Federation official who is insane. They really should improve the psychiatric exams in their recruiting process. Marvick is in love with Minerva. He does not want her to go off with Kollos, so he pans to kill the ambassador. In the attempt, he catches a glimpse of the ambassador and goes even further cuckoo. He breaks into engineering and sends the ship across time and space to a point the crew cannot figure out how to get back before he dies under the strain of madness.

I have to note the whole concet of a galactic barrier in Trek is a murky one for continuity buffs. It has been featured a couple times in all, but for most of Trek, the idea there is an edge to the galaxy that is easily reachable does not seem to exist. I like that idea better. I think you can reconcile the time travel aspect of Marvick’s actions may explain why they reached the barrier so quickly, but the less you think about it, the better.

The twist here is Minerva is blind, but has been faking sight with some sort of artificial radar sense. Well it works for Daredevil. The point is she cannot meld with Kollos because she cannot see to navigate the ship. Spock can, but he would have to wear protective goggles to do so. Spock melds successfully and Kollos leads them to safety, but Spock forgets (?!) to put on his goggles and therefore sees kollos in all his glory. Spock goes nutty, too. Minerva can meld with him to repair the damage, but she does not want to. Kirk accuses her of jealousy. Out of guilt over the realization she is jealous, she melds with spock, repairs the damage to his mind, and gains the ability to connect with Kollos in the process.

The main themes of the episode are beauty and jealousy. McCoy wonders out loud why Minerva would devote her life to seeking communication with something as ugly as a Medusan. Inexplicably, Minerva notes McCoy has devoted his life to exposure to suffering and disease. That is true, but McCoy is a doctor trying to eliminate suffering and disease, not connect with it. Before the audience can note the illogical comparison, Spock scolds McCoy, noting that not all good things are beautiful.

The jealousy theme is dealt with a wee bot more maturely, at least in Minerva’s case. She is obviously overwhelmed in dealing with the emotions of others. One can easily assume her own are immature and difficult to manage. But Marvick is just another crazy Federation official. There was not a plausible excuse why a brilliant scientist like him would develop the serial killer mentality that murdering someone a love interest values will make her fall in love with you. I wish his motivation had been more intelligent.

There were many references to The Tempest, with Minerva as Prospero’s virginal daughter and Kollos/Spock as the monster Caliban. On a less literary note, the Vulcan IDIC (pictured above) was overtly called attention to in one scene because Gene Roddenberry was trying to sell them through a toy company. In order to make a fast buck of his dying show. Classy move, that.

Rating: ** *(out of 5)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Star Trek--"And the Children Shall Lead"

The is a constant that runs through all five trek series: episodes centering around children are awful. Doubly so if the kids a brats. “And the Children Shall Lead” is certainly no exception. It is more orless a retead of the first season’s “Miri” with a villain of the week rather than a plague having killed off the grown ups.

All of the adults have been killed on a federation outpost. Their children do not seem particularly bothered now that they are all orphans. They have a "friendly angel” to hang out with named Gorgon. He helps them take over the Enterprise and cause havoc before thecrew shows them old images of their parents playing with them. Thekids realize what has happened and burst into tears. Gorgon loses all his influence over them since they are now upset.

That is pretty much it. The episode is basically “Miri’ with a darker ending. These kids are going to wind up much more traumatized than the survivors of "Miri” and all because of an uninteresting villain with no obvious motivation for his evil actions. To add insult to injury, we see the full Federation flag for the first time. It is this gaudyred thing with cheap stars around the trimming. It looks like something a cash strapped high school would use at sporting events. I would have expected better from an interstellar Federation.

There are no bright spots whatsoever in ‘And the Children Shall Lead.” I wanted to cry right along side the kids for the hour of my life I will never get back.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Star Trek--"The Paradise Syndrome"

I noted there were very few gems among the third season rocks. “The Paradise Syndrome” qualifies as one of the them. It is an obvious attempt to recapture the mood of ‘The City on the Edge of Forever.” while I will grant you it plays second fiddle to its inspiration, it is still a moving episode and the best kirk-centric installment of the third season.

Kirk, spock, and McCoy beam down to a primitive planet to discover a displaced Native American tribe. There was no compelling reason the natives could not have juat been human-like, but I am willing to overlook that oddity. They discover a strange obelisk in which Kirk accidentally becomes intrapped. Spock and McCoy search for him briefly, for whatever reason not assuming he is in the obelisk, but quickly depart. The Enterprise’s main priority is to stop an asteroid from destroying the helpless planet. They have to tend to that immediately.

Kirk has partially lost his memory. He ingratiates himself into the tribe by performing CPR on a drowned boy everyone assumed was dead. The tribe consider Kirk a god because of his actions. Kirk eventually marries and impregnates a woman named Miramanee. The two have a happy life together until Kirk fails to stop a storm. In anger, the tribe stones the both of them. Spock and Mccoy intervene after failing to stop the asteroid and revive Kirk. A mindmeld restores his memory. But Miramanee’s wounds are fatal. She dies in kirk’s arms just after he figures out how to deflect the asteroid with the obelisk.

I noteda couple plot holes above that could have ruined the episode. For some, they probably did. But I thought ‘The Paradise Syndrome” was good enough and unique enough among TOS to overlook its flaws. It is one of the few third season episodes with any heart to it whatsoever.

There were some interesting revelations about kirk here. First, you got the hint he was a world weary sort, tired of the responsibilities of being a captain and wanting something simpler out of life. Yet he still winds up acting much like himself even when he has lost his own identity. Second, it is demonstrated yet again he can only love a woman when the Enterprise is not foremost on his mind. The ship is a harsh mistress. Finally, it is reinforced his ship is the only thing he can love. He loses everyone and everything else. Note how he realizes this by Star Trek V: The Final Frontier when he says he has always known he will die alone.

‘The Paradise Syndrome’” pains Kirk as a tragic figure. It burens even more so as in the next episode, he is right back to status quo. But both he and the audience know what is really going on in his heart. It is tough to watch from here on out.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Star Trek--"The Enterprise Incident"

“The Enterprise Incident” is widely considered a highlight of the third season. While I agree it is a notch about most episodes in its complexity, you have to buy into an implausible number of coincidences in order to accept the plot. Basically, it is difficult to believe Starfleet would undertake such an idiotic plan.

Think about it. They had to assume the crew would not mutiny when Kirk order the ship into the Neutral zone. They had to assume the Romulans would opt to capture the Enterprise rather than destroy it. The Romulans would have had to take both Kirk and Spock prisoner. They would have to believe kirk was crazy, spock killed him, and that spock was falling for the Romulan commanders wooing attempts. Finally, you have to accept that kirk could steal the cloaking device and Scotty can install it properly even though he has never seen one before and there is no reason to think it is compatible in any way with Federation technology.

If you can accept all that, it is a decent episode. There is nothing terribly wrong with the story other than how contrived the plot is. “The Enterprise Incident” is worth watching, but not worth any raves.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Star Trek--"Spock's Brain"

Were you dreading the beginning of the third season reviews? I admit I was. There is an incredible drop in quality between the second and third seasons, which is saying a lot considering the shoestring budget and recycling of plot elements that plqued the second season. The series was all but canceled after the second season. Much of the writing staff dispersed throughout Hollywood before a fan campaign won the show another season. The budget was reduced even further 9only two episodes have location shooting because of cost0 and Gene Roddenberry became executive producer in nme only after the show was given the 10 PM Friday night death slot.

The bright spots of the third season are fewandfar between, but admid the lackluster plots and minimalist sets, a few gems managed to shine. “Spock’s Brain” is not one of them. I will confess thereis a certain absurd fun to it that keeps me from saying it is the worst episode of TOS. It is not. I am not even certain I put it in the bottom five. There is a mocking entertainment value to it. The best way I can think to describe it is I feel this episode is what most other fans think “The Trouble with Tribbles” is. You may make preparations to burn me at the stake for blasphemy now, if you deem it necessary.

The idea behind the plot is a good one. It was already established in “Amok Time” Spock’s service in Starfleet has made him a legend. It makes sense someone would think his brain would be something highly prized. Now, from the vantage point of 2009, the plot would have been better served twenty years later if someone had stolen Data on TNG in order to run their planet, but we have to work with what we have. What we have is an amusing mess.

The Enterprise discovers a ship being propelled by ion drive. A woman appearson the bridge, renders thecrew unconscious, seeks out Spock, and places her hand on his forehead. When thecrewawaken, they discover Spock in sickbay, brainless and on life support. McCoy explains they have 24 hours in order to restore Spock’s brain even though he has no clue how to transplant a brain in the first place. Presumably he is counting on cooperation from the thieves or beginner’s luck on his part.

They follow an ion trail to a system with a handful of planets. There are only eight hours lwft to save Spock, so they can only search one planet thoroughly. Energy readings from the most primitive planet make it the most likely place to search. The landing party is ambushed by primitive men called Morg. They subdue the Morg, who declare there is a big difference between the landing party and the hot, half naked, but brainless babes below who cause pain and delight. Back in college, we called those Alpha Delta Phi or Chi Omega, if you were fortunate enough to snag one. The morg do not seem to know what women are. There isno fraternity equivalent I can joke about there, sorry.

Chekov discovers an underground city with his piddling tricorder the Enterprise Sensors were unable to pick up from space. How did that happen? McCoy subsequently beams down with Spock as the coolest remote controlled toy ever. Seriously, after you have jerked a Vulcan around, model planes are trite. Our heroes discover the underground city is populated by hot babes with the minds of children, thereby reinforcing my Alpha Delta Phi analogy.Our heroes are knocked out. When they revive, they discover they have been fitted with pain belts. Kirk wants answers, but the best he gets is, ’Brain, brain. What is brain?” I am sorry, but around two AM in Five Points back in the day, that is about the best an Alpha Delta Phi could manage, too.

They eventually incapacitate their guards and discover Spock’s brain has become the central controller of the planet. He quips that, while he would trust McCoy to pull a splinter out, he would not trust him to put his brain back in. They should have left the ingrate right then and there. Loyalty trumps lack of faith as it should, I supoose. They eventually find spock’s brain in a black case, but one of the childlike hot babes is guarding it. She activate their pain belts, but Kirk uses remote controlled Spock in order to shut them off.After a minor struggle to subdue the girls, they learn there is a helmet that provides temporary knowledge necessary to perform complicated tasks. McCoy uses it to learn how to restore Spock’sbrain. When he has the knowledge, he remarks a child could do it. Well, duh. A child did do it. More or less, at any rate. The woman only had to touch Spock’s head. McCoy actually had to perform surgery. But it is always easier to break than repair, so I will let it slide.

There is a incidental explanation how the retrograde civilzation came to be with the genders split, but who cars at this point? We lost most of the audience back at Spock’s brain having been stolen without the most obvious esults like, um, him being dead and all. Bad episode, yes, but like a horrible car crash you cannot look away from.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Star Trek--"Assignment: Earth"

“Assignment: Earth” is the most unusual episode of Trek as it served mainly as a pilot for a new show Gene Roddenberry was cooking up. The show was to featurea futuristic James Bond character named Gary Seven, his clueless assistant Roberta Lincoln, and Isis, a cat that could turn into a human. Seven andhis entourage took center stage of the plot it is clear their convergence with our heroes was a matter of cross promotional conveniencve. Considering TOS was thought to be all but cancelled at this point, I cannot blame roddenberry for the idea, but it is difficult to fit “assignment: earth” into overall Trek continuity.

Thew Enterprise runs into Seven after it uses the famous slingshot method to travel back to 1968. They capture Seven. He admits to them he is a human from the future, descended from other humans taken by an alien race 6,000 years ago. His job is to alter events for the good of the future. He will not say why he is in 1968, but as the plot unfolds, we learn that he plans to detonate an American nuclear missile safely over Eurasia in order to frighten the world into ending the arms race. The plan almost fails with the intervention of Kirk and Spock who believe Seven is actually trying to start World War II. Seven convinces them he is earnest by saving Kirk and he is allowed to explode the missile as originally planned.

For an advanced human from the future, Seven certainly comes up with some dumb plans. Whether it blew up safely in the sky as a warning or not, a missile headed towards Warsaw Pact countries is an act of war. Most certainly not a nuclear war, but I cannot imagine an American “accident” like that would prompt a breakout of peace. I am not enough of an idealist to think that idea is going to do anything but make Cold War tensions worse.

As a pilot, there was some promise in a potential show standing on its own. As part of the trek universe, it is a square peg in a round hole. Seven is completely ignored throughout the rest of Trek on television and film, although a number of novels and comic books feature his adventures on the periphery of major Trek events. Most notably, Seven allegedly helped end the Eugenics Wars in the novels.

I am not a huge fan of “Assignment: Earth” because of its odd fit. The regular TOS cast was pretty much incidental to the story. In fact, all they really do is get in Seven’s way. They believe their actions to be proper, it is not particularly entertaining to find out the main characters have been acting completely wrong until the end when tegument star becomes the hero. In this case, it is even worse, since Seven had somean incredibly dumb idea to scare people into peace. I am glad TOS did not end on such a sour note, but considering much of the third season to come, it is only a small blessing.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Star Trek--"Bread and Circuses"

Bread and circuses refers to the Roman practice of offering free grain and entertainment to the unemployed masses in order to pacify them. Considering the convergence of our country’s economic downturn with the popularity of gaudy reality television, one has to fearfully note how similar we are to Rome in its declining years. For that matter, just how different are Al Qeada terrorist flying airliners into skyscrapers from the Visigoths marching on the hills of Rome?

At the risk of being a hypocrite, I liked ’Bread and Circuses” in spite of my previous complaints about the Enterprise encountering planets implausibly similar to Earth. My fondness for the episode is doubly worse considering how much I brutalized ’Patterns of Force” and ’The Omega Glory.” I will argue that there is no hypocrisy here. Unique to this episode is historical speculation: what if rome Never fel? For my money, historical speculation adds something to the stew that was lacking in the other two episodes I savaged.

Much of the episode is run of the mill stuff we have seen before. The Enterprise discovers the crew from a destroyed Federation ship has taken part in a primitive society. The captain of the crew is corrupt, perhaps slightly mad. Our heroes are captured and forced into combat in order to amuse their captors. They eventually escape and the crazed, rogue captain is killed in the process.

But there are some added elements that make this one rise up most other episodes with similar themes. The captain of the destroyed Federation ship, Merrick, has kept his true identity a secret to all but the highest leaders of the society in order to not violate the Prime Directive. His actions in sending the other crewmen to their deaths in the gladiator arena had a twisted logic to it, but was effectively to enforce the Prime Directive as well. The friendship between Spock and McCoy is deepened beyond their usual old married couple bickering when Spock saves McCoy, but has a difficult time accepting thanks because he fears showing his emotions. “Bread and Circuses’ also presents the most clear evidence Kirk has had sex with a woman. As he very clearly went to bed with Drucilla. Considering the next most obvious evidence of sex was Uhura’s off camera rape in “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” this was a much kinder, gentler touch.

The final bit that seemed awkwardly thrown in the mix was the escaped slaves who worshiped the “son.” our heroes believes the salves are sun worshippers until Uhura discovers they actually worship Jesus, the Son of God. Kirk marvels the society has had both Caesar and Jesus, but nothing else comes out of it. Was that just padding for time? The story might have been improved were it a bigger factor.

Rating: *** (out of 5) .

Monday, June 22, 2009

Star Trek--"The Ultimate Computer"

I am no Luddite, but I have always enjoyed morality tales about technology getting away from mankind. I think most of them are implausible. We have known for forever that you cannot stand in the way of progress. Just ask John Henry’s broken heart. When a story comes along that can plausibly demonstrate man’s superiority over machine, I have to give it all due credit. Such is the case with “The Ultimate Computer.”

Dr. Richard Daystrom, namesake of the Daystrom Institute in subsequent trek series, arrives on the Enterprise with his latst development. It is M-5, a computer that can take over all functions of a Starship with the intention of eliminating human error. With the ship under M-5’s control, it surveys a nearby planet and makes recommendations for a landing party. Later, it effectively engages in a war games executrices. Kirk is skeptical that a ’perfect computer should have this much power and control when living beings are a stake.

Right on cue, Kirk’s fears are confirmed. M-5 alters course to intercept a freighter. It opens fire, destroying it. Daystrom reveals in included a survival instinct in M-5 which apparently lacked much discretion. M-5 subsequently destroys another starship when it considers staged war games to be real. The other ships involved have permission to destroy the controlled Enterprise, but Kirk is able to use his extraordinary ability to talk a computer to death for the fourth and final time in order to prevent further bloodshed.

It is interesting to note Kirk’s train of thought this time. He argued that M-5’s programming prevented it from murder, yet it killed everyone on board the Excalibur, a violation of the “laws of God and man.” M-5 knew the penalty for murder was death, so it shut itself off. Is this a contradiction? In “The Menagerie,” it is stated the Federation only imposes the death penalty on trespassers to talos Iv, which is ridiculously excessive in its own right. But does the Federation have the death penalty for murder or did Daystrom just include that bit of logic as a fails afe measure? M-5 may have considered Daystrom a godlike creator for all I know. NOMAD revered Jackson Roykirk, so it is not without precedent.

Regardless of the unoriginal resolution, I liked the episode. One thing TOS did well was space battles, even with the low budget special effects. It is too bad they did not do more of them. The idea of computers taking over was acontemporary fear that sounds quaint now, but the great 2001: A Space Odyssey was filming at roughly the same time with a similar theme as “The Ultimate Computer.” the contrast between the two is fascinating. Kirk uses human ingenuity to disable M-5 while Dave uses the “primitive” technology of a screwdriver to shut off HAL. Which speaks better of mankind, the use of his natural abilities or his utilization of tools? Interesting topic for debate.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Star Trek--"The Omega Glory"

A few reviews back, I said from here on out there were going to be many episodes with bad ideas poorly executed. As far as the second season goes, “The Omega Glory” is the the epitome. It is by far the worst episode of the second season and in the bottom three with “The Way to Eden” and “The Alternative Factor.”

The Enterprise encounters a completely abandoned starship for the second of three times. The entire crew has been drained of water and left as crystals. The captain left a recorded message that he fled to nearby planet Omega IV. The planet has some sort of immunity properties, so he has survived the disease that caused the rapid dehydration of his crew. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and cannon fodder Galloway beam down to Omega IV to learn there is a longstanding conflict still going on among the iron Age Khoms and the seemingly primitive Yangs. Tracey has violated the Prime Directive, becoming involved in the conflict so he can determine the immunity properties and take them for personal use.

There are two big problems with “The Omega Glory.” First, it cannot decide what it wants to be. Second, the mess is based on such an awful pun, it is embarrassing to watch.

The episode has elements of Joseph Conrad‘s novel Heart of Darkness. The are probably more familiar with Francis Ford Coppolla’s adaptation Apocalypse Now which transferred the story to the Vietnam War eleven yearsafter “The Omega Glory.” Believe me, this was not the inspiration, but tracey has a lot of Col. Kurtz in him. But Tracey is searching for a Fountain of Youth allegory rather than just building his own kingdom. It is difficult to tell exactly what wear supposed to take away from the basic plot.

But the second problem with the pyun, overshadows any of that concern, so what difference does it make. “The Omega Glory’ is a heavyhanded comment on the cold war conflict. Yangs represent Yankees or the West. Khoms is shorthand for Communists. The Khoms are all Asian, so they are presumably Chinese or Vietnamese.

You might think with that the story is about Tracey exploiting the resources of smaller powers in the name of his ideology, but it actually winds up an implausible promotion of jingoism instead. The Yangs value freedom above all else. Their holy texts incredibly are the Pledge of Allegiance and the Constitution of the United States.Um, yeah.

I understand Gene Roddenberry embraced the idea all planets with humanoids would develop similarly to Earth. Anthropology was not his strong suit. It is forgivable in some episodes where it only has a light touch. This is not one of those episodes. If Roddenberry wanted to do something like this, he would have been better served to make it a time travel story with a possible far future Earth. Then it would have served as the patriotic morality tale he obviously intended, but could not pull off.

I have to pile on a little more over prime Directive hypocrisy, too. Tracey wants Kirk to supply the Khoms with phasers so they can finish off the Yangs. Kirk refuses, saying it is a violation of the Prime Directive even though he armed a faction in “A Private Little War.” In that episode, Kirk sided with the more primitive culture against the more advanced. He eventually does the same here by allying with the Yangs. While he does not arm them, he does define their holy texts for them, thereby effecting their development, as spock points out. Kirk, of course, explains why hehas not violated the Prime Directive. As usual, it boils down to anyone else imposing their values is bad, but kirk is always right on the money.

As a Christian, I have to make a personal observation. Roddenberry was an avowed atheist who possessed an open contempt for religion. He tempered his disdain to stay in tune with the mores of ‘60’s society, but let it run wild the first season of TNG. When he wrote about religion, he was often awfully clueless. "The Omega Glory" was one of the rare examples he inadvertently supported a fundamental (not fundamentalist) Christian idea--that God is the Ultimate Creator from which freedom comes. You could argue that the many planets existing similar to Earth is proof of Intelligent Design. You culd also argue that sinceAmerican principles developed so overtly on omega IV, inalienable rights do come from God rather than society as atheists believe. You could also argue that terrible rumbling sound is Roddenberry rolling over in his grave at the thought.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Star Trek-"Patterns of Force"

Because of the manner in which Nazi paraphernalia was utilized, the airing of "Patterns of Force” was banned under the German Constitution and not aired in the country until 1999. Even then, it was aired on pay television lateat night. The episode had been available on VHS, but obviously there was not much encouragement for germans to view the episode. Count them as fortunate ones. I do not consider “Patterns of Force” offensive because of its content, but mercy, is it one dumb bit of schlock.

The episode begins with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy expressing how impressed they are that John Gill, the Federation historian they aresent to retrieve from the planet ekos, and his method of teaching history. Gill teaches cause and effect, rather than dates and places. In other words, Gill is an actual historian, not a junior high history teacher. Do marvel at Gill’s extraordinary gift of teaching history in the same manner it is taught in universities across the planet. What is worse, we are going to learn Gill is not all that skilled at measuring causeandeffec in the first place.

Our heroes discover ekos has been turned into an implausibly accurate copy of Nazi Germany. Aliens in Trek have unnatural skill at adapting to Earth conditions. How long do you think it would take Earth to become a carbon copy of some other planet after alien contact? It would not matter, I guess. Just insert Kirk and itwill all revert back to normal in 45 minutes.

Kirk and Spock go off in search of Gill. They naturally steal Nazi uniforms, because it just would not be cool if they did not flirt with the dirtiness of impersonating Nazis. Spock even remarks Kirk will make a very convincing Nazi. He is probably tweaking him for all the civilization he has destroyed along the way only to inject his personal values on them instead. McCoy joins them later, also in unform, and all three of them appear to be enjoying themselves a little too much. I chalk it up to the episode’s more buffoonish elements spoofing Nazism probably amused the jewish Shatner and Nimoy. Or maybe it was all so absurd, they were using a defense mechanism. I do not know.

In the interim, Kirk and Spock are captured and tortured. They pair are whipped, but the impact of thescene is diminished by the scars, which appear to be streaks of lipstick. Where they got green lipstick for Spock, I can only speculate. I assume the unconvincing wounds were made to appease censors. If so, it is one of countless instances in which censors prove they desperately need to find another line of work.

They escape and hook up with the Zeons. The Zeons are the most heavy handed allusion to Jews I have ever witnessed. I am an avowed Zionist and nearly philosemitic when it comes to Jews, but even I had a tough time accepting this part of the story. When our heroes finally encounter the drugged Gill, they learn he forcibly changed ekos from a society of anarchy to a Nazi styled society thinking it would hold the people together. Evidently, he thought the same as former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schoot that Hitler was good in the beginning, but went too far. So much for gill’s skill with cause and effect. Did he not know that not only would society get away from him, but with a planet of “Jews” nearby, he was just asking for it?

The attack on the Zeons s averted when Gill is revived from his drugged state and brings Ekos back to its senses. The dictatorship is overthrown. Luckily, the new leader promises to fulfill the Fuhrer’s original visioon. I assume that goes back to the whole ’Hitler was good in the beginning” deal. Before Gill dies, he tells Kirk the Prime Directive is the only way to go. He is a little late to be lecturing kirk over that, considering the path of destruction he has left behind over two seasons. Better late than never, though, right?

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Star Trek--"By Any Other Name"

With little variation in execution, "By Any Other Name’ is essentially “Return to Tomorrow.” normally, that would irritate me, particularly since the previous episode aired a scant two weeks prior. But the ultimate resolution of both episodes featured unique, creative resolutions, so they both have their virtues. I am partial to “By Any other Name.”

One of the episode’s main virtues is how it features the lament of a red shirt’s death. Too often, minor characters are brushed off as cannon fodder. I have heard some fans snark over the years Kirk only cared because an attractive woman was killed. Come on, guys. It is Hollywood. Every woman he gets killed is stunning. Give some credit for TOS appreciating the gravity of a life lost.

I will admit it is awkward for the mood of the episode to shift to a more light hearted tone after the death. While the rest of the crew has been turned into their base minerals, the senior officers are held captive by alien unused to humanoid bodies. They quickly form a plot to exploit those unfamiliarities which detracts from the direness of the situation in some respects, but is still entertaining. At the very least, it is not as over the top as in “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

Most of the manipulation is reasonable. McCoy uses stimulants to confuse, Spock toys with their emotions, and Kirk, of courses, seduces the pretty girl. Scotty’s turn as a lush drinking one of his captors under the table was unnecessarily silly and degrading to the character, but I will let it slide. I am not that prudish.

There is a peaceful resolution in which kirk offers to find his captors a new home rather than heading all the way to the Andromeda galaxy. Some consider it a trite solution which was agreed upon too quickly to be credible, but I am all right with it. Beings that far in advance would likely be reasonable sorts when it comes to compromise. They paid no consequences for their actions, but considering how much our heroes have gotten away with in destroying entire planetary societies, I cannot reasonably complain about it.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Star Trek-"A Private Little War"

After a brief turn as generic bad guys in “The Trouble with Tribbles,” the Klingons return to their natural role as stand ins for the Soviet Union in answer to the federation’s United States. “A Private Little War” is obviously meant to be an allegory for the Vietnam War. In that regard, it does a much better job than the upcoming and truly awful “The Omega Glory.” not only is this episode the superior Vietnam War allegory, but it serves as the best Klingon episode of TOS.

The Enterprise is conducting scientific research on Neural, a Stone age level planet protected by the Prime Directive. Or at least protected in theory. As has happened many times in the series, the idea that any contact at all affects the development of a primitive society is completely overlooked until TNG. The inherent hypocrisy has been evident in past episodes, but it is more prominent here since it is about the only time kirk actually hesitates before changing the status quo. If the ethical issues of destroying a society is going to be explored, it ought to be explored in its entirety. Regardless, kirk has had previous contact with the people of Neural. On this second visit, he discovers the klingons have been giving far advanced weaponry to one side of a conflict.

Kirk opts to make contact with his old friend Tyree against orders to engage the inhabitants even though, like I wrote above, contact was already made thirteen years prior. Tyree is a pacifist who believes his enemies will eventually revert back to peace. His wife, Nora, is a realist who wants kirk to arm her people so they can defeat their enemies. For the first time, kirk is reluctant to introduce such a big change, but he eventually acquiesces.

In a unique twist, it is McCoy rather than spock who argues against supplying the weapons. Usually, it is the ‘inferior” alien daring to question the human logic of Kirk with the humanist argument always coming out on top, silly logical alien. McCoy compares what kirk is doing to the British bush wars of the early 20th century. (Everyone is a history expert in Trek.) it should not surprise you that Kirk’s argument that the balance of power must be maintained wins out. So Kirk can out argue computers, aliens, and other humans. He has won the Triple Crown!

Nora is killed in a subsequent firefight. The grieving Tyree, angry over his wife’s death, no longer cares about peace and requests Kirk supply him with more weapons. Kirk does, though for once, he bitterly acknowledges he is not necessarily changing things for the better. It is a cynical, but refreshing end considering all other times Lirk has destroyed a society, the implication was it was better off for him having done so.

In between these goings on, there is a side story placing several crew members in danger. Spock is severely wounded by a flintlock, Kirk is bitten by a Mugato, and McCoy gets nicked in the firefight that kills Nora. This was part of Gene Roddenberry’s edict that main characters always had to be in some sort of danger. In this case, the situations were more of a distraction than usual. Thestory would have been better served if it had dealt solely with the moral implications of arming the people of Neural. Regardless, “A Private Little War” is still a top notch episode. It is befuddling how kirk got away with his actions, however.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Star Trek--"Return to Tomorrow"

I am in a tough position here. “Return to Tomorrow” is very similar in plot to Friday’s episode, “By Any Other Name.” Normally, I would complain that essentially the same episode was aired within two weeks of each other, but I just cannot. Believe me, it hurts. I will address “By Any Other name” at the appropriate time, but suffice to say, I like both for different reasons in spite of the lack of originality.

“The Enterprise encounters a planet that has been destroyed for half a million years. A landing party is compelled to beam down by a disembodied voice naed Saragon. Sargon, his wife Thalassa, and rival Henoch are incorporeal beings, the last survivors of their civilization, and they require solid bodies to inhabit in order to build premanent android bodies to house their consciousnesses. They choose Kirk, Spock, and a female science officer played by the future Dr. Pulaski, Diana Mulduar.

The plot is surprisingly not Invasion of the body Snatchers, but a tense story of survival. Human metabolism is incompatible with the aliebs while the likelihood of the android bodies is also I question. The ultimate twist comes when Henoch prefers Spock’s body and refuses to leave. Much of the time Spock is possessed is meant to be an excuse for him to act humorously out of character, but his salvation at the end is both exciting and tragic, as it leads to the permanent deaths of the three corporeal beings. In one of the few genuinely touching emotional moments of TOS, Sargon kisses Thalassa one last time in solid bodies before they dissipate forever.

I appreciated the genuine tension and emotion of “Return to Tomorrow.” As a history buff, I also appreciated the historical significance of the names Sargon (a Greek king0, Thalassa 9asea goddess), and Henoch (a variation of the Old Testamrnt name enoch..) That said, I had a tough time with the idea Saragonand Thalassa were the inspiration for the Adamand eve “myth.” I do not think it was necessary for the three characters to consider humans their children. It would have made more sense for them to have been completely alien considering the metabolic issues and the apparent unfamiliarity with Vulcans. Why would they know human prehistory, but no so much about Vulcans? humans cannot be that special in the universe, can they?

One last point, we welcome back George Takei as Sulu. He took off for ten episodes in the second season in order to film The Green Berets with John Wayne. I happen to like the jingoism of The Green Berets in spite of it having little bearing on the reality of the Vietnam War, but you can make up your own mind whether Takei made the right choice there.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Star Trek--"The Immunity Syndrome"

After a string of mediocre episodes, we finally get to one of the better installments of the second season. “The Immunity Syndrome” veers away from the silly inane humor of “The Trouble with Tribbles” and ’A Piece of the Action” while avoiding the ridiculous dramatic aspects of “The Gamesters of Triskelion” in order to present genuine tension. It was a nice change of pace.

What may sound like a dumb idea of an ameoba in space turned out to be a well executed concept. This is certainly not the first doomsday weapon encountered by the Enterprise. It is not thebest, either. But it is unique enough and provides a different type of danger than NOMAD or the Doomsday Machine to rise above any accusations of copying the previous two. As noted, TOS had a nasty habit of lifting elements directly from previous episodes while presenting them as something new. I am glad the temptation was not given into here.

What I liked most about the eisode was the genuine conflict Kirk faced. He was too often shown as an ubermensch who could do no wrong in finding a way to save everyone except for the guest stars and one off red shirts. Here he knows theonly way his ship can survive is to sacrifice one of his friends. He hasto make the choice between Spock and McCoy. I do not even consider Spock’s survival to be a cop out. As far as kirk knew, he was sending his friend on a suicide mission without any clever plan to save him regardless. Kirk was essentially helpless for the first real time. It was memorable.

A good episode overall. Certainly an improvement over most of the middle part of the second season. The remainder of the season will seesaw between good and horribly bad, but ’The Immunity Syndrome’ serves as a worthy segue.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Star Trek--"A Piece of the Action"

As with ‘The Trouble with Tribbles," I have to go against the conventional wisdom and for the same reason. I do not think this is one of the best episodes of TOS and the reason it is unappealing is because of the over the top humor. Much of this silliness wuld not pass muster in a Saturday morning cartoon.

While I like James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson (Key Largo is one of my all time favorite movies), I am not much into gangster movies. If I was more intune with the lingo and assorted other trappings, perhaps I would have enjoyed parody of the gangster movie genre. As it was, I thought our heroes were taking a step beyond mocking themselves as they did in ’The Trouble with Tribbles.” here they are pretending to be something they are not, doing it badly, and yet have an arrogance about it which was not only implausible, but annoying.

If that was not enough, the ending laughline renders the whole point of the episode moot. The Enterprise had come to the planet to investigate what changes may have occurred over the century since another ship, Horizon, visited. The Horizon visited before the Prime Directive was established, so there was a fear how detrimental the contact might have been.

Someone from the Horizon left behind a book called Gangs of Chicago. The impressionable Iotians took the bookas a suggestion how to build their society, so the planet became one big copy of Al Capone’s Chicago.

That is a passibly decent plot if executed well. I have already established it was not, but here is the kicker: McCoy leaves his communicator behind on the planet. Kirk jokes how that is going to cause tons of problems in the future and leaves it at that. They were sent to examine the damage done from a century ago and now realized how bad it could get. So one absent minded crewmember screws up again, this time in direct violation of law, and everyone laughs it off. No damage control, no concerns. Not even a reprimand for McCoy. Whatwas the poit of the episode if no one really cares about contaminating a primitive society? Better question; why should I sit for an hour and care if thecharactersdo not?

The only reason I will give the episode more than one star is because of Vic Tayback. I do not know if I have found memories of Alice from my youth or he played a good gangster, but he was about the sole bright spot.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Star Trek--"The Gamesters of Triskelion"

From time to time, a TOS episode not because of silly elements, but because parts of the are just too disturbing to think about. Often, these plots are glossed over. I am thinking about the archeologist from “The Man Trap” who continued on with an alien as his wife, the Companion reanimating a corpse at best, killing a woman to take over her body at worst, in “Metamorphosis,” destroying entire planetary societies because they do not fit Kirk’s values system in various episodes, and the deaths of numerous red shirts laughed off in many others. But none of that has ever bothered me as much as ’The Gamesters of Triskeion.” How this one got past the script treatment stage is beyond me.

The episode has a cookie cutter plot. Powerful aliens kidnap several members of the crew. They are treated as pets for their captorssaditic amusement while Spock searches for them in his own logical way which infuriates McCoy and Scotty. In the end, Kirk manages to both nearly talk them to death and wins a physical brawl. If that were all, this would be just a run of the mill episode. Unfortunately, it is not.

The first object able point disturbs me on two levels. Uhura is all but sexually assaulted on screen. We see a large man enter her cell, we hear her struggle and scream for the better part of a minute, and after the commercial break, the man is adjusting his pants and scolding her for resisting. The assault wasa completely unnecessary addition to the story. It completely degraded uhura’s character, which frankly does not get any respect on the best of days. She never did, either. Nichelle Nichols had to dance naked as a sixty year old woman to distract aliens in Star Trek V as late as 1989! It is awful, because by all accounts, she is one of the most gracious of Trek actors to her fans.

The second point about the incident is no one cares, on the show ort off. Kirk expressed helpless concern while while the assault was going on, but never followed up on it. He is too busy with the airhead in the silver bikini that makes her look likea baked potato. Chekov is busy, too, with a man/woman/thing or whatever the heck he wound up with that it was implied he was supposed to havesex with. Supposedly a knee slapping hilarious moment, but terribly offensive after what just happened to Uhura.

As for off screen, you never hear this sexual assault mentioned at all. Contemporary audiences had strong opinions one way or the other regarding the interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura in “Plato’S Stepchildren,” but her rape here earns nary a mention. The writer of this episode was a woman, Margaret Armen. I have to assume she was attempting to make a point by what Uhura suffered, but since she is given no sympathy, sense of justice, or even support from her colleagues, I am at a loss as to what it might be.

Second, Kirk’s logic on how to alleviate the situation disturbs me almost as much as when he voluntarily destroys the society of certain planets on a whim. Here, Kirk convinces the Gamesters to one fight, volunteering his entire crew as prisoners if they lose. If he wins, the slaves are freed, but they will have to stay on Triskelion and build a society with the gamesters Guidance. Bearing in mind these are all people who have been kidnapped and deserved to be sent back home even if they no longer remember anything about home. At best, Kirk is trading an iron cage for a velvet one. But what does he care? He and his crew get to leave regardless.

The wildest part is howhe brags to the gamesters the Federation has forced their idea of civilization on coutless of “barbaric races across the galaxy. So the result is the same. Both the federation and the Gamesters impose their ways on a people. It is just the federation somehow does it so much better. Whatever you say, Captain.

Kirk has also changed his attitude at some point between "Arena” where he refused to kill the gornfor the amusement of a "superior" race and now. He happily foughtto the death against three opponents. But, lo and behold, he will not kill the hot girl in the silver bikini. Ah, id only the other three had been sexy. Not that he cared about her, either. After seducing her with talk of where her home might be, he stranded her there just like everyone else. The final scene is asad moment whereshedreams of reaching the stars herself. Oh, well. I am sure things will work outwell with the former enslavers running the show unchecked with lots of former slaves now free to engage in anarchy. I am sure they do not hold any grudges against the Gamesters, either. What could go wrong?

“The Gamesters of Triskelion” is not the worst episode of TOS, but it runs dangerously close.

I would like to gag, too.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Star Trek--"The Trouble with Tribbles"

We have reached what is likely the most iconic TOS episode. “The trouble with Tribbles” alternates with “The City on the Edge of Forever” on virtually every bst list you would care to name. The latter comes out on top for me, not just because I am a huge Harlan Ellison fan, but “Tribbles” just does not measure up to its hype.

Blasphemy, I know. The humor is too over the top for my taste. the characters are practically parodying themselves. Kirk is more of a jerk than he should be, Chekov claims more inventions are actually Russian than ever before, Scotty is an abrasive drunk prone to bar fights, mcCoy’s old country doctor routine goes way too far, and spock falling under the tranquil spell of the tribbles was predictably silly.

Speaking of Scotty having a dark side, no one ever seems to note or care that the Klingons most certainly killed the tribbles he beamed over to their ship. It was revealed in DS9 the Klingons discovered the tribble home world and destroyed it. one wonders if Scotty's act was the catalyst.

I will grant the tribbles were a neat creation. One of trek’s major faults is its lack of creativity in non humaniod aliens. Witness the flying pancakes/fake barf in ’Operation: Annihilate!” tribbles were a great step in the right direction. Looking ahead, there are not many subsequent alien looking creatures in any future trek to compare.

I will also give some major credit for broadening the klingons here. The story takes them out of the typical Cold War allegory sparring--although they and the federation are competing over Sherman’s Planet in the background--and makes them a more well rounded villain. It will not happen often until Ronald D. Moore becomes the go to Klingon writer on TNG and DS9 a couple decades later, so savor it while you can.

I sound like I am way down on ’The Trouble with tribbles.” I am really not. It is a fun episode. But it does not merit the accolades it gets. Call it the folly of youth, but I much more enjoyed theDS9 follow up “Trials and Tribblations.” it added a few more interesting elements, sych as a plot to assassinate Kirk, clarified why the tribbles kept sporadically falling on kirk from the silo (Sisko and dax were looking for one with a bomb in it), commented on why Klingons have developed large ridges, and even reconciled why a crewmen with lieutenant insignia was called an ensign. Perhaps it is because I am more a DS9 fan than TOS, I cannot see the popular appeal of “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Star Trek--"Wolf in the Fold"

Remember a couple days ago when I said from here on out there would be many episodes of bad ideas poorly executed? Here is another fine example. I am sad to say the great Robert Bloch’s three turns of trek were all lackluster, but unfortunately, they were. It is a double shame, too, considering this is the only episode that centers around Scotty. It paints him in a bad light even though he is cleared of the crime for which he gets accused

Kirk and McCoy accompany Scotty on shore leave to a peaceful planet with many loose women. Scotty is recovering from an injury caused by a female crew member. Kirk thinks Scotty can be cured of his animosity towards women by getting laid. He winds up leaving with an exotic dancer, but shortly thereafter she is found stabbed to death with Scotty nearby, in a daze, clutching a bloody knife.

Scotty did not kill the woman, of course. It was a floating entity of evil which fed off fear. Said entity was responsible for the Jack the Ripper murders. That was a completely unnecessary touch. Is there some compelling reason why so much of Earth’s history is so important to the rest of the galaxy? I will concede I may be unfair here since “Wolf in the Fold” was probably one of the first stories in pop culture to use Jack the Ripper, but it has become so cliché, I cannot appreciate it. Chalk it up to my youth.

I am also bemused by the crew doping up in order to avoid fear for the entity to feed on. Talk about courage in a shot. I suppose it is more analgous to Prozac these days, but I cannot help but think it isa nudge to certain *ahem* “mood enhancers” popular with the young crowd that watched TOS.

Oddest line of the episode? It is a tie between two uttered by Spock. One, he described the planet as peaceful, with a gentle non violent population when their method of potentially executing Scotty for murder is death by slow torture, an unusually sadistic manner. The other was Spock’s declaration that everyone feeds off fear--even vegetarians. I am going to go with the latter. Your milage may vary.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Star Trek--"Obsession"

You rarely, if ever, find “Obsession” among the favorites list of your average Trek fan. I think that is unfair. Perhaps the contrivances are too mucvh to stand. I will admit it boggles the mind for Kirk and a new ensign to have juxtaposed positions from the ensign’s deceased father when encountering the same deadly creature after eleven years or that the same creature has randomly appeared where kirk just happened to be. Under most circumstances, I would hold that and the similarities with “The Doomsday Machine” in contempt myself. But I cannot. “Obsession” is one of the best episodes of TOS in spite of its obvious flaws.

“Obsession” is yet another Moby Dick allegory. Trek had had much success with that over the years. Kirk encounters a vampire cloud he believes was the same that attacked and killed half the crew on the Farragut, his first deep space assignment. I am fighting the urge to say it serves them right for naming their ship after a Union general who starved men, women, and children into surrendering New Orleans, but it is hard. Kirk bears guilt from the incident because he believes his failure to fire at the cloud resulted in the deaths. Kirk goes full Capt. Ahab on us, even to the poin the risks the lives of a colony in desperate need of medical supplies.

There are quite a few problems with ’Obsession” other than the contrivances and similarities to past plots. Ensign Garrowick’s father was killed by this cloud, yet he seems more upset over his comrade being killed. Granted, it was Garrowick’s failure to act that got his friend killed, but you would think a chance to avenge his father would drive him more. Garrowick lacks a lot of backback until the climax when he not only volunteers to help set off an antimatter bomb, but tries to forcibly knock out kirk with a karate chop. He grw a pair in just afew hours. Amazing. Garrowick is not disciplined for insuborrdination for his action. But then again, Kirk’s obsession lead to the deaths of crewmen, possibly the deaths o sick and injured in need of the medical supplies, and nearly forced a mutiny and he got away with all of it.

What makes this episodeso good is William Shatner’s portrayal of Kirk losing his perspective. Contrary to stereotyping, he does not ham it up at all. You can see he is eaten up by guilt without being beaten over the head with it. I was impressed with his look of absolute betrayal when Spock and McCoy threatened to remove him from command because of his irrational behavior. The best example was from the climax where Garrowick believes kirk is so far gone, he is about to sacrifice himself in order to destroy the cloud. Kirk stops and changes demeanor immediately to reassure Garrowick he is not going to play the hero. Hedoes not even lose his cool to any serious degree when garrowick tries to knock him out.

It is certainly retroactive continuity, but the incident o the Farragut explains kirk’s strong attachment to hisships and all he does to protect them. It does not explain why he is often so callousat the deaths of his red shirts, but there are some things psychology just cannot explain. Regardless, "Obsession”, while not perfect, is much better than it is given credit for being.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Star Trek--"The Deadly Years"

Like “Friday’s Child,” “The Deadly Years” is another bad idea poorly executed. Was it really a good idea to make growing old so scary and buffoonish? Surely Kirk’s bout wirth senility offended older people. I am not a hypersensitive fellow at all, so how the results of the rapid aging disease did not bother me. It is the hypocrisy to trek supposedly serving as an enlightened beacon in the modern world of ignorance while centering an episode around agism.

But that is not the only bad element. The episode blatantly lifts plot elements from past installments. The most blatant is another gung ho commodore taking over the ship and putting it in danger even though ’The Doomsday Machine” aired a scant few weeks previous. But we also have a mentally impaired Kirk ordering Spock to take over (“The Naked Time’), utilization of the corbomotie maneuver (”The Corbomite Maneuver”), and a miracle cure from McCoy after only a few hours of research (“Miri.”)

Because of that last one, “The deadly Years’ also introduced thedreaed reset button to Trek. Not only was the rapid aging disease stopped, but it was reversed. One wonders why people still age in the 23rd and 24th centuries if such a miracle cure exists. McCoy could make a mint offthe infomercial just with the promise of making people look younger, but less actually be younger. But more importantly, there should be a pox on this episode for intrducing the concept that would plague Trek for forty years. Mercy, it was the lifeblood of VOY.

Obviously, I am not a fan of this episode. I will give somwe kudos to the make up department for the aging effects. In many ways, they were much better than the rubbery look subsequent series will use for the various times they will use aged characters. Otherwise, there is not much to compliment in “The Deadly Years.”

Rating: * (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Star Trek--"Friday's Child"

There are two kinds of bad episodes of TOS. First, there is the good idea poorly executed. “The Alternative Factor” falls into this category. The idea of matter/antimatter universes conflicting with one another is a fascinating concept, but it was a terrible mess because Lazarus’ motivations were never well defined. The second kind of bad TOS episode is the bad idea poorly executed. We are going to see a bunch of these from here on out. “Friday’s Child’ is not the worst of the bunch, but Kirk’s Clique encountering Klingons on the Renaissance Fair planet could not have sounded promising even on the drawing table.

The episode attempts to serve as two allegories: the Cold War and the birth of Jesus Christ. The first one is done in earnest, but it was also done the last timethe Klingons showed up in “Errand of Mercy.” Once again, the Federation and the Klingon Ampire represent the United States and the Soviet Union competing for the loyalties of a potential satellite state. Note that, much like the Cold War, both sides attempt to curry favor with the potential satellite state regardless of whether the philosophy of governing suits them or not.

The second allegory of the birth of Jesus Christ is a bit more strained. “Friday’s Child” originally aired on December 1st, 1967. It is not a Christmas episode in the same sense “Catspaw” was all about Halloween, but you cannot miss the allusion. Or the humor in Jews William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy fighting to save the child, for that matter.

None of the above makes sense without a recap, so herewe go. The Enterprise is sent to the planet Capella in order to alleviate their complete absense of musical instruments. No, wait..I mean negotiate for mining rights. Unfortunately, the Klingons have gotten there first. The two powers make every effort to their governing philosophies as appealing to the Capellans.

A coup breaks out and the Big Kahuna’s pregnant wife, Eleen, has to be killed in order to prevent her child from automatically becoming ruler. Kirk, in flagrant violation of the Prime Directive, saves her, and the landing party takes her and heads for the hills. Literally.

Kirk and spock have to hold off the faction that wants the woman killed using primitive weapons they have made from the surrounding woods. You would think the Capellans would have an advantage, but lo and behold, they have never seen a bow and arrow before. Wondrous bit of technology, that.

In meantime, Eleen gives birth, so Herod has already failed and we are not even in the last act yet. She does not want the child, so she bonks McCoys over the head and does the exact opposite of heading for the hills since she is, you know, already there. Bearing in mind, she just gave birth like twenty minutes ago. She runs into the confrontation between the klingons, Capellans, Kirk, and Spock. Before things get really bad, a rescue team beams down, forcing the Capellans to surrender. The klingons get killed for no other reason than they are the bad guys. Eleen sings the mining treaty with the Federation on befalf of her son, the new ruler of Capella and the kid she did not want until she remembered she could rulethe planet as his proxy.

You see how these things work out? Eleen gets to exploit her unwanted son for power, so she is happy. Kirk has affected political change in a pre-warp society against the Federation’s most sacred rule, so he is happy. Bonus poits for the Klingons being kiled for doing exactly what Kirk succeeded in. The Federation gets its mining rights, too. That is a happy ending, right?

Rating: * (out of 5)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Star Trek--"Journey to Babel"

“Journey to Babel” marks the halfway point of my TOS reviews. Good twist of fate there. The episode is an iconic fan favorite, not only because it introduces spock’s family dynamic, but also establishes establishes the interstellar nature of the Federation. The episode introduces founding members of the Federation the Andorians and the Tellarites. Up until this point, the Federation appeared to be a humans only club with the Vulcans along for the ride.

But that is not the biggest deal about “Journey to Babel.” That would, of course, be the debut of Spock’s parents, Sarek and Amanda. Sarek is Mark Lenard’s second role in TOS--he played the Romulan commander in “The Balance of Terror”--but Sarek is the role he is most famous for. While leonard Nimoy’s volume of fan mail had long outstripped William Shatner’s, within a week of “Journey to Babel”’s airing, Lenard’s fan mail had dwarfed the two of them.

It is the strained, decidedly un-Vulcan relationship between the two that attracts fan attention. There was never a true resolution of their underlying issues since whatever reconciliation they managed in this episode was destroyed by a dispute over the peace treaty with the Cardassians in the 24th century. Tell me that is not a manufactured excuse to get away from your father. It was aterribly sad moment in TNG when Sarek died and the only succor Spock has left is a mind meld with Picard to share his father’s memories.

But Spock’s relationship with his father is only half of it. He has a palpable contempt for his mother. Not really for her personally, although he does find humans annoying in general, but because of his own sense of self-loathing because of his human half. His refusal to give up the bridge after Kirk is incapacitated was a childish way of asserting his Vulcan half. It was an emotional tantrum, so Spock, while trying to deny his human half in favor of his Vulcan, actually really suppressed the Vulcan entirely. He knew that, too. It was the underlying reason he agreed to the transfusion. He just could not fight himself.

The family drama and Spock’s inner turmoil was quite intense for a TOS episode. This was easily the best realistic dramatic story since “The City on the Edge of Forever.” At the risk of incurring the fiery wrath of Harlan Ellison, I note that D. C. Fontana wrote this episode and did an unaccredited rewrite on “The City of the Edge of Forever.” I cannot say for certain it was her touch that made the former great, but the common element is in both scripts.

I can even gloss over the inconsistency of Sarek and Amanda not being in attendance during the…uh… "festivities” of "Amok Time.”

Does it strike you that Tellarites and Andorians do not seem to be Federation material? I find their behavior versus the human's to be an obnoxious notion that every alien has something to learn from how humans do things, but never the other way around. Even Spock is not considered to be in the right until he gives into his human mother and saves Sarek. "Journey to Babel" is one of the more blatant examples of humanity superiority trouncing all over alien thought.

I am going to give the episode five stars even though I think it added too many side stories to it. Sarek’s heart attack and Spock’s initial refusal to help save his life would have been enough for a memorable episode. Instead, we meet new aliens, learn about federation politics, there is an assasination, a muder mystery which points to Sarek for all of three minutes, Kirk nearly dies, and the ship is attacked while all this is going on. It did not ruin the episode by any means, but some of the fluff could have been taken out for a more focused story.

Rating: ***** (out of5)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Star Trek--"Metamorphosis"

My TNG/DS9 era favoritism is going to shine through prominently in my review of “Metamorphosis.” The episode marks the first time the legendary Zefram Cochrane appears in Trek. I had seen the episode numerous times over the years before watching Star Trek: First Contact in 1996. As far as I am concerned, “Metamorphosis” was always a mediocre episode while First Contact is my favorite trek movie. The result is I like the original continuity of Cochrane’s story less in TOS than in the movie. As one who dislikes retconning in comic books, it is unusual for me, but that is the way it is.

The big reason I do not care much for this episode is not the mental gymnastics one has to manage in order to reconcile Cochrane’s life story, but the ethical issues involved. An shuttlecraft carrying Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and an ill Federation official named Nancy Hedford crashes on a remote planetoid. In a coincidence that boggles the mind, a rejuvenated Cochrane has been living there for 150 years with an energy being called only the Companion. The Companion is maintaining an energy dampening field preventing the shuttle from leaving the asteroid because she sensed Cochrane’s loneliness.

The conflict is simple: Kirk and company have to convince the Companion to let them go before Hedford dies of her illness. Along the way, Cochran discovers for the first time the Companion is female, adding an element to their relationship that repulses him. She does not understand how one can reject love of any kind. I assume she also does not grasop the concept of psychotic stalking, but I digress.

Kirk has to find another way to convince the companion to let them go. First, he explains that men need challenges or they will grow soft and die. In other words, do not stand in the way of social Darwinism. This argument thankfully (for the sake of us who like morality mixed in liberally with our philosophy) fails. After all, Cochrane has been doing pretty well for himself sitting on his keister for the last 150 years. Next, Kirk explains that there can be no love between things so different from each other. Apparently that is a better argument, but one should not dwell on it too much considering the lack of boundaries presented.

Here is where the episode completely blows it for me. The Companion previously stated she could not help Hedford. In the resolution of the episode, the Companion inhabits Hedford’s body, forsaking her powrs and immortality for love. Some fans say that was the ultimate sacrifice. I say it is evidence of metal disorder. The ethical problems of a being inhabiting the body of another person, especially when we do not know if she was actually dead yet, is not only ignored--by Doctor McCoy, no less--and Cochrane suddenly decides he has the hots for her. So he was lonely before, unhappy, then repulsed to learn the Companion was in love with him, but now that shehas a vagina, everything has changed. Kirk and company need to leave--oh, and keep this all a secret, okay? Thanks.

Sweet story, no?

Rating: * (out of 5)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Star Trek--"I, Mudd"

We were certainly all clamoring for the return of Harry Mudd after the truly awful first season offering ‘Mudd’s Women,” right? I cannot say that I was, but his second turn at con artist villainy is much better than his first. “I, Mudd’ is not a great episode by any stretch, but its humorous antics generally put it in fans’ ten lists regardless. I am not certain I would go that far.

The Enterprise is hijacked by Mr. Norman, an android posing as a newly assigned crewman. How did he get passed security checks? He takes the ship to a planet run by 200,000 androids. Like the Cylons, there are numerous copies of a handful of models. They have claimed Mudd as their master and wait on him hand and foot. They forcibly bring down the entire crew to serve themas well.

The androids have reached the same conclusion a nuber of the nigh omnipotent aliens the crew has encountered have: humanity is too barbaric to allowed to roam the galaxy freely. They plan to keep all mankind prisoner by taking full, pampered care of them. There is no word on why they are keeping Spock prisoner or what they plan to do with the even more savage Klingons, for instance.

The crew decides the best way to foil their plan is to act as illogically as possible in order to overload Mr. Norman, who Spock figures out is the central mind of the operation. Zaniness ensues with strange dances, skit performance, and finally, Kirk is up to his old tricks and talks a computer to death. It is the liar liar paradox that finally does the trick. Mudd tells mr. Norman he is a liar. Kirk responds that everything Mudd says is a lie. Mr. Norman cannot handle it and overloads. The androids go back to their original task of making the planet habitable. Mudd is paroled there permanently with 500 copies of his nagging wife.

There was certainly nothing new here. Not to mention there were plotholes big enough to drive a truck through. But the character of Mudd was much more enjoyable this time and even though Kirk used his extraordinary ability to talk a computer to death yet again, a unique path was used to get him to that pint rather than the usual phasor blast to expose the operation. It is not an impressive episode, but it is watchable.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Star Trek--"Catspaw"


I had to choose this photo over any other. It is Kirk, Bones, and bones. How could I resist?

“Catspaw” is the only holiday themed episode in the history of Trek. It aired during the week of Halloween in 1967 and featured all the stereotypical Halloween trappings: spooky castle, witches, black cats, voodoo curses, skeletons, zombies, magic wands--you name it. I will give the episode an “A” for effort. This was horror master and Psycho author robert Block’s specialty. But for me, this just is not one of the better episodes.

I have two big complaints about it. First, it is unoriginal as far as TOS is concerned at that point. Second, I do not believe such a setting would be an effective tool for aliens to use for…well, whatever their purpose was. It is never made clear.

As for being unoriginal, “Catspaw” is made up of elements from several other episodes. First, the aliens are considered old Ones, which is similar to the first Ones from bloch’s first TOS effort, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” Second, the crew is being hold prisoner by all powerful aliens who are actually less than they seem just like Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos.” Finally, mindless zombies were utilized in “Return of the Archons” right down to Sulu becoming brainwashed and controlled in both episodes. There is a difference between sticking to a winning formula and being unoriginal. By this point, TOS is suffering badly from the latter. It is becoming obvious why a third season was unlikely without a fan campaign to save it.

As for the setting, I can appreciate the episode was intended to serve as an homage of sorts to classic horror. It captures the feel Hammer Horror films are going to have great success with a handful of years later. But it just does not fit here. Men like the Enterprise crew are out exploring space in the 23rd century. I cannot believe they would be frightened by Sylvia and Kolob’s “magic.” There would have to exist some sense of superstition in our heroes. I cannot see how they would have any.

What is more, Kirk remarks to McCoy he is more impressed that someone went to all the trouble of building all that stuff. They could have just as well been trapped in a high tech prison if being impressed or puzzled is the worst that can be done to them. But a haunted house full of scary wonders is more impressive for television, I suppose.

True to form, Sylvia and Kolob have no magic powers. It is all done with technology. When their magic wand is broken, they are revealed to be tiny aliens who cannot survive in the planet’s atmosphere, so they die. They join the choir invisible without ever explaining why they toyed with our heroes or even their ultimate plan beyond ruling the galaxy. I guess they were just bored egomaniacs who watched too many horror movies.

I will mention one nice touch. It is a timely one, too, considering the high number of casualties in the last three or four episodes. The dead crewmen is commemorated at the end of the episode rather than their being a humorous moment between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as usual. We know the ship is extremely important to Kirk, but at times his casual demeanor at the end of an adventure is disconcerting, particularly when he has racked up a high body count. he should have showed more concern for his men more often.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Star Trek--"The Doomsday Machine"

“The Doomsday Machine” is my favorite episode of TOS. Feel free to groan because I have passed over several more popular choices. The episode had a rare double intensity because two dramatic situations were occurring at once. the first was the sparring between Decker and Spock over command of the Enterprise and the proper way to deal with the doomsday machine. The other was Kirk and Scotty’s desperate attempt to get the Constellation fit to booby trap the doomsday machine. Every episode of TOS featured only an “A“ story, so episodes odten felt padded. Not here. The writer, Norman Spinrad, began tightening the screws in the first reel and did not stop until Kirk was narrowly beamed out before it all went kablooey.

It was also rare for a guest character to play as important a role as did Matt Decker. He got to play mad Ahab obsessed over hunting his whale to the hilt. While I will give Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the gold for its overt Moby Dick references, I appreciated the more subtle nuances here. The only aspect left out--and I debate whether it would have improved the episode--was Decker’s self-s sacrifice actually destroying the doomsaday machine. I suppose it would, as it would have robbed Kirk of the chance to swoop in at the last minute and save the day. It is his show, after all.

In short, this episode was the complete package. There as tons of action, both in space battles and a rather amusing fist fight with a red shirt who miraculously does not die because of it before Decker stole the shuttlecraft he committed suicide in. There was a worthy menace in the planet killing robot. The alpha dog struggle for command between cool, logical Spock who knows the increasingly crazy Decker should not be in charge, but there is nothing he can do about it, was played out perfectly. The sense the crew feared suffering the same fate as the Constellation’s crew was palpable, yet they soldiered on. ’The Doomsday Machine” reminded me of all the best elements of “The Balance of Terror,” which I called my favorite of the first season.

I have written before how I like stories of doomsday scenarios. Perhaps if I felt differently, I would be annoyed this episode came so soon after “The Changeling.” the two share quite a few elements. But I consider that you can never have too much of a good thing. I can even overlook the fact Kirk just speculates out of the blue what the planet killer is and everyone takes for granted he has hit the nail right on the head. He even delivers two separate speeches comparing it to the H-bomb. I have a tough time seeing a correlation between Mutually Assured Destruction and the insatiable force of nature he was battling at the time, but he is the captain. I shall trust his judgment.

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