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)

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