Category Archives: The Original Series

Little Girls are Made of Sex Droids: Star Trek asks the Android Question

Trek Through Trek – Part X

Clearly a sex bot.

Clearly a sex bot.

Extremites, what are little girls made of?

That is the central question at the core of today’s Trek Through Trek. According to the episode, that uses this question as a title, little girls are made of sex droids.

….. What?

Original Series episodes fall into three categories: culturally important, charming sixties camp and bat shit terrible. What Are Little Girls Made Of? falls somewhere in between the latter two.

The Enterprise is on a mission to discover the whereabouts of Nurse Chapel’s scientist husband Dr. Korby. Korby has been kept alive in the tunnels of the planet  by androids left over from an extinct race that used to populate the planet’s surface. These androids don’t wish to leave the planet when the rescue team, headed by Kirk, arrives. Instead, their intent is to kill off human Kirk and replace him with an android. Why they wish to do this is unclear, but this is the 1960s and in the Sixties androids were evil by virtue.

Androids have always been a favourite ‘go to’ in science fiction. Questions like “what constitutes individual thought?” and “what does it mean to be a human?” have shaped this genre since its conception. This episode begins Star Trek’s storied legacy of discussing these most frightening of inventions.

Even though this episode was the beginning of a legacy that would drive story lines right up to Next Gen, it almost never happened. Unlike the others in the first season, the final script seen on-screen had very little similarities with the first draft. Gene Roddenberry read the first submitted script and tossed it in the garbage. He claimed that androids capturing Kirk and replacing him with an android version was so cliché that it bordered on copyright infringement. Gene’s answer was to rewrite the whole thing. Instead of capturing Kirk and taking over the Enterprise, the androids would talk about doing that but never get there.

Roddenberry is a brilliant idea man, but he’s a terrible writer. He enjoys lofty conversations rather than heightened action. Sometimes this pays off, but most of the time a Roddenberry story becomes a meandering directionless mess, full of philosophical speeches and civil dinners.In this episode there are tons of those. A debate over the nature of intelligence occupies a full act while each character tries and fails at distracting the audience from the obvious coloured blocks of painted wood they are pretending to eat.

Am I the only one that sees a styrofoam penis? Is that odd?

Am I the only one that sees a styrofoam penis? Is that odd?

Ignoring all the nepotism and pedantic dialogue, this episode does present some compelling ideas. Andrea, an underused character, is a creation of Korby’s for the single purpose of companionship. One of the inevitable reasons we will create androids in the future is to use them as sex toys. What will this do to relationships? How will human interaction change? This is an underlying powerful discussion of the episode but it is never touched on beyond passing reference.

The passive ignorance of the female characters in this episode upsets me. They become watchers of the plot rather than participators in it. There are so many questions they could pose as women that are ignored because of zeitgeist misogyny.

…Little Girls… was written fast. It was also rewritten during filming to the point the show went over deadline and budget.

Sometimes poor execution can destroy any good ideas.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain Julian Munds.

The Episode We Are Watching: What Are Little Girls Made Of? (Episode 9 of Season 1 of The Original Series: October 20th, 1966)

My Rating Out of 5 Tribbles: 2 Android Tribbles That Are There To Serve You.

My After Episode Thoughts: “So much eating and talking…. eating and talking.”

Pros: Some wonderful philosophical conversation. Charmingly cliché ending.

Cons: The sexism. The nepotism. The boringism.

<— PART IX

—> PART XI

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What Star Trek’s Balance of Terror Can Teach Us About the Ukraine Crisis

Trek Through Trek – Part IX

ariane179254_StarTrek_1x14_BalanceOfTerror_1098Extremites, when I sat down today to watch the news I was bombarded with coverage of the Ukraine crisis. I have been following this event with great interest; being a political nut, historical fanatic, and Russophile, this conflict plays on my chords.

The news coverage of the Crimea conflict shows just how off base Western Culture is when talking about Russian people. If you are a Western Child, you grew up with a stereotype of Russians as bad guys who live there lives in the soul purpose of destroying everything the West holds dear. This stereotype has led to an oversimplification of Russian relations; making it a black and white scenario.

Nothing is black and white.

No piece of literature, no piece of cinema, no television show, has illustrated that more than Star Trek.

Today’s Trek TroughTrek focuses on one of the best Star Trek episodes of all time: Balance of Terror. This episode is a prescient and important piece that is more import now than it has ever been.

If you read this blog on the regular you are aware that I love to talk about the Cold War. It is near impossible to discuss Silver Age comics without a rudimentary understanding of what made up that period in history. What is astounding to me about this time is how close the Earth was to thermo-nuclear holocaust. This is not hyperbole. The leaders of both sides entertained nuclear weapons as a viable military option; an idea that seems less prominent today.

Diplomats in the period had a death scenario that hang in the back of their minds like a cobweb. Called the ‘single soldier scenario’, it went something like this: in a period of heightened tensions, one soldier lets loose a bullet which kills an enemy soldier. This then butterflies into a larger scenario that forces both governments to retaliate with armies and major war actions. The actions would snowball to the release of nuclear weapons, ending in complete destruction.

Lots of works of the early Sixties were obsessed with this possibility. Kubrick’s masterpiece Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb took that scenario to a frightening end. Multiple books and plays capitalized on this fear as well. Balance of Terror takes influence from this scenario and extrapolates it into an intense military nightmare.

Balance of Terror was not coined as an allegory for the Cold War. It was an adaptation, by Paul Schneider — in space, mind you— of the 1957 film The Enemy Below, which concerns a destroyer battling a German U-Boat in World War II. Paul Schnieder says that it was his intention to make this episode of Star Trek feel like a sailing epic: “like two Master and Commanders duking it out in full blindness.”

Balance of Terror is a very simple premise compared to some of the other episodes. A Romulan Commander leads his Bird of Prey across the borders of the Neutral Zone, a boundary between Federation Space and the Romulan Star Empire, to destroy a series of star bases. Why he does this is never discussed. The Enterprise is tasked with maintaining peace along the border by any means necessary. Because the Romulans have no warp capabilities they have created something called ‘a cloaking device,’ which hides the ship from any screens. Kirk must use his ingenuity to catch the ship without being able to see it. Over the episode Kirk and the Romulan Captain — played by Mark Lenard, who later went on to play Spock’s father Sarek — gain a mutual respect for one another as they tilt lances in a mortal struggle.

Imagine the Federation was the Ukraine and the ‘Neutral Zone’ was Crimea. Putin, being the Romulan Commander, has crossed the border under the pretence of protection and the Enterprise, being the West, must protect the boundary between the two sides. What is different about our situation than the one posed in the show? One major aspect. Respect.

Respect!

I can hear you saying that Putin does not have respect for the West. I’d submit the exact opposite: the West does not have respect for Russia.

citi-massively-cuts-its-growth-forecast-for-russia-thanks-to-the-ukraine-crisisI think Putin has great respect for the West. This is why he works his life, and many other Russian politicians as well, to always get the upper hand. This is why he and his administration are so terrified of the Ukraine, and Georgia before it, forging closer ties with the West. When Russia makes a complaint, whether it be a noninterventionist plea or a political ask, the West shrugs it off as a byproduct of a ‘little people trying to restore the former glories of a superpower past.’We don’t look at these actions and wonder why Russia is calling for them. We have never been able to look at diplomacy from Russia’s point of view and understand why they act the way they do.

This is what Balance of Terror suggests we should do in a period of heightened tension. Kirk spends the episode trying to think like his opponent. He assumes the Romulans are acting under orders and all they want to do is return home unscathed. Knowing that the Romulan Commander would go to drastic lengths to escape, Kirk never once believes the surface clues. Kirk is holding onto his weapons, wondering why the aggressor aggresses, and uses these conclusions to determine his next action. Imagine if the West did that with Russia instead of chanting “destroy an ‘evil aggressor.’”

War is never the answer.

War is never going to end without mass death and devastation.

Our military and political leaders need to think more and posture less.

Thinking is not weakness, it is strength. Star Trek teaches us this.

What a heck of a show Star Trek is.

Until next time, Extremites,

The Episode We Are Watching: Balance of Terror (Episode 8 of Season 1 of The Original Series: December 15, 1966)

My Rating Out of 5 Tribbles: 5 Tribbles Crossing the Neutral Zone, incognito.

My After Episode Thoughts: “What a powerful episode… How do they rectify the Mark Lenard thing?”

Pros: The concept is simple, yet, powerful. All performances are top notch esp. Mark Lenard. It all feels very believable. The score is some of the best music in the The Original Series.

Cons: I don’t have any.

<— Part VIII

—> Part X

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The Twilight of Charlie X

Trek Through Trek — Part VIII

Anthony.... the Child.

Anthony…. the Child.

Have you watched The Twilight Zone?

Apparently everyone who became a nerd, of any sort, did when they were kids.

I never did. I cannot remember why; as the old syndicated show and the modern redux both figured heavily on the tubes of my childhood television. I cannot remember if it was ignorance — kids are stupid and this one was doubly so— or parental guidance that was the reason behind my not watching of the show. I doubt it was the latter as my parents let me watch some pretty foul stuff as a child. I saw Schindler’s List at a young age and was guided into the brilliance of the film by them. It must have been the former: I was just a stupid kid.

When I grew into a smarter person, I watched the show and fell in love with it. This is a good thing because this episode, Charlie X, seems to be heavily influenced by that show.

Jerome Bixby’s It’s a Good Life is considered one of the seminal episodes of The Twilight Zone. It’s a about a young boy, named Anthony, who possesses omnipotent powers with which he holds the small town of Peaksville, Ohio hostage. He can read every thought of the people that surround him meaning he immediately reacts to any negative idea that they hold. Anthony  punishes these unfortunate thinkers by changing the offender into something else. At one point he punishes a person for thinking a terrible thought by changing him into a lizard. Because of this this child’s ‘thought policing,’ every Peaksvillite must go through life in a constant stupor believing everything is “good.” For example, when Anthony’s mother says ‘it is too hot because it is summer,’ Anthony responds by making it snow. His father tells Anthony that the crops will die from the early snow:

“...But it’s good you’re making it snow. A real good thing. And tomorrow… tomorrow’s gonna be a… real good day.

Needless to say, this episode is extraordinarily unsettling; like all the best Zone stories were. It’s a Good Life left ripples that echoed across 50 years of Sci-Fi. Perhaps, you may better the story from The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror II. In Bart’s nightmare, the second portion of the episode, he takes on the role of Anthony and holds Springfield hostage in a similar way. The early Treehouse of Horrors would borrow heavily in a fantastic fashion from The Twilight Zone

William Shatner, our beloved Captain Kirk, got his television start on the Zone in one of the most iconic episodes Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, again parodied by Bart in Terror at 5 1/2 Feet, as the man who famously sees a gremlin on the wing a plane. In this episode he uttered probably one his most famous lines in television history: “There is _ something_ out there!” It is his performance that put him on the radar of Gene Roddenberry, who then gave the fairly untested Canadian Shakespearian his most iconic Star Trek role. Strange how these things all tie in.

Charlie X

Charlie X

Charlie X, like some of the other early Trek episodes, is once again a rather cooky premise realized brilliantly by actors. The Original Series was peppered with actors who were not afraid to really go for it. Guest actor Richard Walker plays  young omnipotent being Charlie Evans. Richard is in top form here. Grace Lee Whitney, in her wonderful memoir of the period, says Lawrence Dobkin, who is the director of this episode, told the entire cast on the first day of shooting that Richard is not to be spoken too. This odd off camera direction came from the fact that the young actor was method.  He wanted to remain separate from the crew of the ship to create cold distance between him and them. Surely enough it seems to be present every time Charlie Evans is on screen. Distantial alienation is perfect for this plot, for without the wonderful acting, would come off as a cheap copy of It’s a Good Life.

Compare the plots: Charlie X is about a young boy who has been given omnipotence by a supposedly extinct race, called the Thasians, and he uses that power to exact his wants and a needs on the people who surround him. It is, subtract the mythological alien race, It’s a Good Life. The similarities are much too close to ignore.

The marvellous aspect thing about this episode is that it conveys a new side of Kirk. So far Kirk has been emphasized as a swashbuckling commander; a captain who is more Flash-bang then thoughtful. However, when the lost Charlie Evans is looking for a father figure to guide him through his new experiences with human interaction, he latches on to Kirk, naturally, being the best example of Star Trek masculinity on board. Charlie has never met a woman before and Kirk tries to help him understand the complexities of sex relations. There is a wonderful scene that takes place in the ship gymnasium that offers a glimpse into Kirk’s nurturing side and also shows how insanely fit William Shatner was in the 60s.

Kirk’s guidance ultimately fails to help Charlie assimilate and this is where the core conflict of the episode resides. Since Charlie is unable to achieve his desires, he goes on a rampage using his powers, taking control of the ship and zapping crew members off into the netherworld. 

Speaking of crew members there is a rather hokey and, likewise, iconic scene that focuses on the camaraderie of the crew. Uhura sings an impromptu song about the Enterprise with Spock accompanying her on a harp. I believe it was this scene that inspired J.J. Abrams to create the romance between the two crew-members members in his New Star Trek; proving, that J.J.’s research consisted of a couple youtube clips. This relationship in the new films seems wrong because it has never been present before and serves to cheapen the characters. It feels imposed upon the films.

Though this episode is really entertaining to watch; once again, where it falls apart is the drawn out ending. The Thasians, witnessing the swath of destruction Charlie has left, catch the ship and forcibly take Charlie back into their command. It’s a haunting ending mainly because of how  Richard Walker plays it. His sorrow at being cut off from humanity is palpable beyond belief, but it is also an extraordinary drawn out scene full of exposition and what I like to call Star Trek extrapolation: that’s where all characters on the bridge, mainly Spock and Dr. McCoy — who has once again found a reason to be on the bridge when he should be at his station — digest what is going in front of them. The scene served to deflate a very powerful performance and the easy fix of the ‘Thasian reset’ did not leave me with that all-important pit in my stomach that the aforementioned Zone episode achieved. 

The Twilight Zone is one of the most important television shows in the history of television and Science Fiction. If you haven’t watched it yet I sincerely suggest you get on that. It will give you an expanded understanding of shows like Star Trek and The Simpsons. Plus, it’s just a good watch.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds

The Episode We Are Watching: Charlie X (Episode 2 of Season 1 of The Original Series: September 15, 1966)

My Rating Our of 5 Tribbles: 3 1/2 Tribbles who just want to be liked.

My After Episode Thoughts: “Way to rip off Twilight Zone, Star Trek.”

Pros: Wonderful Performance from Richard Walker and William Shatner. The effects are great and you really feel the power of Charlie Evans.

Cons: The story is the same as Jerome Bixby’s It’s a Good Life and doesn’t quite reach the haunting heights of the Bixby because of a drawn out and unfocused ending. Yeoman Rand is once again the damsel in distress.

<— Part VII

—> Part IX

 

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Understanding the Musical Origins of the Star Trek Theme

This is a marvellous piece done by CBC music that really puts the Original Star Trek theme  into musical perspective.

It’s well known that Jerry Goldsmith, who composed the theme to the Motion Picture, which would later become the theme to the Next Generation, borrowed motifs from Holst and rightfully so. But this video traces the opening chords through Mahler, Brahms and Beethoven. A really wonderful piece. Have a watch.

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Time To Get Naked With Star Trek: the Dark Side of Exploration

Trek Through Trek – Part VII

By: Julian Munds

The pecks!

The pecks!

Star Trek is famous for its optimistic vision of the future. It depicts a humanity that is without prejudice, without irrational thought and without greed. Trek is known for its idealism, particularly with its focus on exploration, wether scientific or cosmic; but exploration is not always an ideal experience. For every beneficial great discovery that takes place, there is an equal chance of complete disaster. The Naked Time shows the dark and frightening side of what the Enterprise seeks to achieve on their five year mission. This episode is the dark side of exploration.

Exploration is in humanity’s DNA. From the very beginning we were wanderers on this Earth. Out of our birth on the continent of Africa to our jaunt across the dry Bering strait, it is a human compulsion to reach beyond the horizon. However, not always are the things discovered there, kind.

Tales of calamity caused by miscommunication, unknown animals and, most importantly, introduction of foreign diseases flood our history. The Great Plague of the 1300s, which took one-third of Europe’s population, was caused by the transportation of rats on ships bound from the far east. Yellow Fever and Smallpox spread in similar ways. Disease is one of the worst parts of venturing in the unknown, not because of the actual death but because of the inevitability of demise.

What must it feel like to contract a new disease that is incurable?

What must it feel like to die from something no one has ever seen before?

The Naked Time is considered one of the top 10 greatest episodes of the Original Series. This is an interesting choice because the action does not take place in some exotic locale or amongst a cataclysmic enemy, but entirely within the Enterprise corridors.

The plot goes like this: a mysterious disease, that is transmitted through perspiration, allows one’s inner wants to drive the infected to insanity, then followed by a painful death. Imagine a mass hysteria caused by a virus that creates both dementia and  death in rapid succession. The disease of planet Psi 2000 is like a sped up form of Alzheimer’s dementia.

The title is a wonderful one. Not because it was later associated with the glistening hilarious pecks of George Takei but because it is a comment on what it means to be truly naked.  Nakedness is not only a physical attribute but could also be a mental one. The title refers to the major symptom of the disease.

As the infected brain deteriorates, the victim’s secret desires drive her insane. I.E. Sulu truly wants to be a swashbuckler at heart so he galavants through the ship challenging people to sword duels. Ensign Riley “fancy’s himself an Irish king” and proceeds to sing Irish folk songs over the intercom.Nurse Chapel, in her first regular series appearance, professes her undying love for Spock.

One of the most utterly frightening moments in the episode comes from Spock.When he gets infected, his human side starts to conflict with his logical Vulcan side

Nimoy's acting chops.

Nimoy’s acting chops.

and uncharacteristically, Spock has a full mental breakdown.

Kirk can’t even escape the infection, for his inner anxieties flood his mind just as he attempts to save the ship from impending orbital disaster.

Roddenberry’s world exists on rational control. Not control of people; Star Trek is largely a very free society, but personal control. Irrationality is punished. The disease attacks this ideal. It takes away all precision of mind and leaves each character vulnerable.  Nothing is more frightening to a world that is based on rational thought then the loss of that very rationality.

To truly explore, what was once irrational, must be entertained.

Not all things can be explained by known scientific models. New models of experimentation must be employed to result in new discoveries and McCoy spends the episode doing this. What began as  “space madness” becomes, through exploration, a treatable disease.

Other scientific leaps occur in this episode as well. When the Enterprise begins to descend to the planet surface, because of Riley’s course corrections, the crew must set all engines into a kind of reverse warp lest it be destroyed by gravitational pull. This creates a time bubble which makes it possible for the ship to travel through time. Time travel would later figure heavily in some of the greatest episodes and movies of Star Trek.

The Naked Time is all about wrestling with the uncontrollable, whether it be impulsive mental thoughts or undiscovered sciences. It establishes the tightrope, that would come to define the show, between the insanity of the unknowable and rationality of exploration. Naked Time is very worthy of the accolades it receives and not only because of the greased up pecks of Hikaru Sulu.

The Episode We Are Watching: The Naked Time (Episode 6 of Season 1 of the Original Series: Sept. 29, 1966.)

My Rating Out of 5 Tribbles: 4 1/2 Tribbles with glorious, glistening muscles.

My After Episode Thoughts: “Whoa. That’s a goody. A frightening idea.”

Pros: Brilliant Premise. Nimoy’s acting is inspired. Pretty much everyone’s acting is extraordinarily inspired.

Cons: The science behind the Time Travel was a bit dense.

<— Part VI

—> Part VIII

 

Discussing Star Trek’s Man Trap Monster-Flick

Part VITrek Through Trek

The Episode We Are Watching: The Man Trap  (Episode 1 of Season 1 of the Original Series: Sept. 8, 1966)

My Rating out of 5 Tribbles: 3 Tribbles who really need salt.

My After Episode Thoughts: “Wow. That really sucked. You see what I did there. Oh. I’m alone.”

Pros: The Enterprise Community, Deforest Kelly and the creature.

Cons: The ending. Kirk’s and especially Spock’s indifference to the whole affair.

sttos-mantrap-nancycraterNBC used The Man Trap as the premiere to the Original Series of Star Trek because the plot of the episode both gave a decent introduction to the characters and  represented, in their minds, “traditional Science Fiction.” Apparently, they believed “traditional Science Fiction” is a group of humans trying to escape from a hostile alien  because, at the core, that is all this episode is. The episode is nothing but a traditional monster flick. Albeit one, with some wonderful character development.

I have gushed, in a prior article, about my man-love for Leonard McCoy. The Man Trap is Bones centered which mean won me over in the cold open. I wonder why NBC decided that a McCoy episode should reintroduce Star Trek to the world?

Bones represents a 20th century familiarity that the other characters of the crew lack. His passion for life in all its forms is what makes Leonard integral to the make up of the first crew.

In this episode we get a glimpse of a past romantic entanglement that the good Doctor had been involved with. Nancy Crater, former fling of Leonard McCoy, married Alfred Crater, a mild mannered space Alienologist, who shortly after tying the knot, asked her to accompany him to a planet in the middle of nowhere.  The planet has no designation beyond M-113. Kirk and McCoy are tasked to the planet on a routine inspection just to check up on the well being of the settlers. Apparently, the Federation does this to all settlers in the Universe and thinks it prudent to send a captain of the Flagship to complete this routine job.

When the Away Team arrive on M-113, they find Nancy, but something is clearly up. Nancy appears as a different person depending upon who is looking at her. I must say when I saw this conceit, I loved it; it really piqued my interest. However, as the show progressed, I began to notice the conceit was slipping when she was with McCoy. In this first meeting she is in youthful visage, while Kirk sees an aged woman, however as the show progresses the aged version is the only woman McCoy sees. McCoy never makes a comment on this.  This seems like an odd oversight. Could this be because McCoy only sees the inner woman?

What is the nature of that inner woman? Is she an unknown monster?

Whatever it is, it needs salt to live. The monster uses its hidden suckers to pull all the sodium chloride it can out of the bewildered crew members. This is an

The Creature!!!

The Creature!!!

ingenious idea: an alien chameleon that takes on the facade of a person that the victim most desires and utilizes this lie to lure the victim to a salt feast. The best example of this lure in use occurs when Uhura encounters a tall man who speaks her language (Swahili, for the uninitiated) to woo her into salty submission. This doesn’t work but it is a great moment none the less and it also happens to be the first moment of development for a woman who, thus far, has been glued to the radio.

It is wonderfully compelling to watch the creature fight for its life by using the guise of Bones to plead his case for survival. I found myself chastising the Captain for his callouss murder of a sentient creature that is the last of its kind.

I wonder the morality of this killing in the scale of Star Trek lore.

We are still extraordinarily early in the establishment of Trekdom, heck, the word Federation still has yet to be uttered, but the idea that humans would unmercifully kill a creature that is just fighting for its life seems to violate some unwritten Star Trek law.

Yes, the creature has sucked to death a large amount of the crew, but it did this only to live.

Perhaps, a comment is being made on its insatiable hunger and how it is this very hunger that destroyed its planet.

Still, I do feel bad for the creature.

As I said before, NBC thought this was a simple episode because of its monster chasing plot.

It is.

There really isn’t much to delve into literary wise.

Aside, from the difference in the background crew.

As the series progressed the action that took place in the many enigmatic Enterprise corridors, heavily featured in this episode, dissipated into empty busy work. I love the sense of community that permeates the Enterprise here. There is so much action and joshing around of crew members. I wonder why this dissipated. Perhaps, it is because of the poisonous controlling atmosphere that NBC began to impose on the show in later seasons.

The Man Trap is simple monster flick. Nothing hugely outstanding, but nothing repugnant either. I did get a tad bored in the middle which makes me wonder why such a vanilla episode was chosen as the second pilot of the show.

<— Part V

—> Part VII

Getting to Know the Beast Within Kirk

Part V – Trek Through Trek

What we’re watching: “The Enemy Within” Episode 4, Season 1 of TOS (October 6, 1966)

My Rating Out of 5 Tribbles: 3 Tribbles that think they are “THE CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP!”

My After Episode Thoughts: “A brilliant performance that places Shatner in the pantheon of the acting gods.”

Pros: Shatner’s performance, Epic moment in McCoy history, did I mention Shatner’s performance?

Cons: Spock’s supposed logic, Sulu’s B-Plot, the chauvinism, the damned dog in an alien suit!

Shatner giving it all he's got!

Shatner giving it all he’s got!

If there was any doubt that William Shatner is one of the most important and special actors in television history, this episode should put all of them to rest. From the opening moment when we see Beast Kirk materialize on the transporter deck, his presence is astounding.  The way he uses his eyes and physicality to embody his alter-ego’s predatory nature is no easy feet for any actor. Kirk’s two sides are clearly set up as opposites and there is not a lazy moment in which we can see this conceit. His two characterizations are grabbed by the throat and he forces the watcher to believe that his personality has literally split in two.

William Shatner raving aside, this episode is sadly ‘run of the mill’ and backward. The sexism of the last episode is still frighteningly present. At one point Beast Kirk, how I’ll refer to Kirk’s alter ego, attempts to rape the unsuspecting Yeoman Rand in a scene that is unsettling and ahead of its time in brutality. The result is a moment that is very unusual for the largely melodramatic television of the 60s. Grace Lee Whitney, who played Yeoman Rand, says in her memoir that to achieve the right kind of brutality for the scene Shatner slapped her to catch her off guard. Bill is truly a man that goes into these things full throttle and I wonder if that kind of conduct would be tolerated in this day.

After this frightening moment the crew allows the Captain to interrogate Rand after she accuses him of attempted rape. The prospect of a suspected rapist interviewing the victim is an unpalatable idea and dates the episode horribly. The final dialogue of the episode, uttered by Spock, further serves to paint the show with a chauvinistic brush. Spock suggests to Rand that Beast Kirk had some desirable qualities for a mate. This strikes me as an extremely insensitive and barbaric comment. Trekkers might attribute this up to Spock’s coldly logical nature. I, however, believe it is the result of dated chauvinistic writing, and it really put me off my overall experience.

Further more, I question Spock’s logic in this episode. Usually his logical explanations are entirely on the mark, but in the case of this episode, I am not sure they are. When Kirk denies the misdeeds that are perpetrated by Beast Kirk, Spock arrives at the conclusion that there must be an impostor aboard the ship. Is this really the most logical answer? Is it not more logical, that with the example of all these crew member’s accusations, Kirk maybe lying? No character ever entertains that idea. This seems like a missed opportunity narratively.

Then again, the episode only had so much time to cover the main story as a lot of screen was wasted on a distracting B-plot. Crew members are freezing on the planet and cannot return to the ship because the transporter is down. In later episodes this conundrum would be fixed by a shuttle bay, but this is still early in the series so no one obviously thought of this yet. The B-Plot only serves to distract from the far more interesting core plot of Kirk’s issues.

There are two fantastic moments that occur in this episode and they served to etch themselves into Star Trek lore. First, there is a poor dog in an alien costume that is tossed from character to character. It is the most distracting prop/character I think I have ever seen. The stuffed carcass that later doubles for him would have served better then a nervous canine covered in rainbow fluff. Nevertheless this canine’s performance is iconic and is a running gag in Trekkerdom. Second, this is the first episode in which McCoy explodes toward Jim that something is dead.

Wow.

When it happened I actually applauded. It was like the feeling the Wright Brothers must have had at Kitty Hawk.

What a wondrous moment!

All problems aside, this episode remains the moment Shatner stepped out from space oddity to the mythological titanic force that he became known for. I am happy I witnessed it but sad it was in a mediocre chauvinistic episode.

This was the best they could do?

This was the best they could do?

<— Part IV

—> Part VI

Muddy Waters

My Trek Through Trek – Part IV 

What we’re watching: Mudd’s Women Episode 6 of Season 1 TOS (October. 13, 1966)

My Rating Out of 5 Tribbles: 1 Tribble, which thinks that a miner’s kitchen is liberation.

My After Episode Thoughts: “Original Series sexism at it’s best with a space pedophile to boot.”

Pros: Wonderful cinematography, The Venus Drug.

Cons: Harry Mudd, The Space whores, soliloquizing for no reason, just about everything.

180px-Mudd's_women-1

The space whores!

Today my trek takes me to Mudd’s Women, the fourth produced TOS episode and, dear god, what a mess!

Star Trek is famous for its strides in feminism with the inclusion of women in places of power yet judging by this episode you would never know it. The plot concerns a space pimp and his three whores. I use the word whore because that is what these women are. They do not even resemble real women. Somehow these space whores don’t even seem to breathe and, what really grinds my gears, is that they walk the same halls with Uhura and the liberated women of the Federation. It is strange that Uhura appears in the cold open yet disappears from the bridge entirely for the rest of the episode. Are we to believe that she was not needed for the four or so days in which this story takes place? Has she been given an extended vacation because there are now other women on board? I think not. Perhaps, Stephen Kandel and Gene Roddenberry (the writers of this episode) were somehow embarrassed to have her on the same ship with these gross over sexualized caricatures. Perhaps, and more likely, they just plain forgot about her.

Blatant sexism aside there are plenty more faults in this one. The episode veers wildly from tragedy to comedy: one moment I’m (meant) to laugh at a humorous quip from McCoy and the next moment I am (meant) to feel the turmoil of three lost women who are used as a commodity in a transaction for Lithium crystals. Excuse me? One must first be presented humans to empathize with, not gratuitous ‘butt-shots’ with a semblance of emotions.

I am not sure what Shatner is doing with his performance in this episode. I am sure he didn’t even know. At a particularly tense moment of the story Kirk tears Scotty to bits over the Scotsmen’s need to present the facts about orbital time and how long the core has power. Two lines later Kirk inexplicably and easily apologizes. Why was this written into the episode?  Scotty is the ship’s engineer for pete’s sake! It is his job to look out for the ship and therefore the crew inside of it. The majority of Kirk’s motives in this episode are bipolar. One minute he is as cold as a Klingon prison moon and the next he is as warm as a supernova.

Sidebar… I have noticed when the writing becomes particularly bad, like the aforementioned Scotty dress down, Shatner’s iconic choppy melodramatic rhythm becomes prevalent. This must be how he muscles through the writing abortions that sometimes are present in the show. Shatner is not a terrible actor as so many believe, on the contrary, he is one of the very best. He knows how to make terrible writing interesting and bold. The dress down, though it makes no sense, is a piece of damn interesting interaction. Kudos, Shatner, you magnificent bastard!

Lest this post become a bitch fest, I’ll talk about the pros of the episode and there are some. While this episode may be a mess thematically it is shot fantastically. In the cold open there is a brilliant tracking shot that sinks from the science station to Sulu at helm. Magnificent. Worthy of the cinematography of Michael Ballhaus. There are some equally interesting shots throughout the halls and in the prison even though it is capturing an odd soliloquy where Harry expounds his dastardly plans to dupe the Captain. Not to mention this all happens within ear shot of two security guards.

Uh… Harry they can hear you. You may not wish to share your half baked plan in front of two guys that can walk over to the Captain and say “Sir, that space pirate dressed like a Quentin Crisp Australian cowboy fantasy is trying to con you.” 

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The space pimp!

Let’s look at this Harry Mudd. On paper he is interesting. A space pirate who is wanted for fraud who inexplicably gets caught in an asteroid field (wait a minute… Han Solo? Is this your fabulous alter ego?) Alas, interpreted by Roger C. Carmel, this space rogue becomes a jolly joke with a huge Santa Clause belt buckle that evokes more space pedophile then dangerous fraudster. He talks literally like a pirate. No kidding. Carmel borrowed the West Country dialect of Robert Newton to form Mudd’s annoying cadence. Someone should have seen that this episode is all too hokey.

Carmel is at least 50% to blame.

I should also note the fascinating Venus Drug. It’s a drug that makes you grow younger or appear younger or uh… act younger (this is confusing as different characters say different things about it.) The way the Venus Drug is used reminds me of the actual way pimps and sex traders use heroin and other drugs to placate their victims into staying in the trade. This is a marvelous observation about the sex trade and were this episode shot in 1996, instead of 66, something would have been made of it. Though they get close. One of the only enrapturing moments occurs when the women first go into withdrawal and realize the hold Mudd has over them. This is a startling moment and shows that this supposedly jolly Mudd is not all he is cracked up to be.

I could go on for pages about what is wrong with this episode. It is certainly bottom of the barrel. I wont. Instead I leave you with a summation that Paula M. Block presents in her and Terry J. Erdman’s massive reference book Star Trek: The Original Series 365 when she addresses the disgusting anti-feminist theme of “How to marry a millionaire” which is prevalent through out the original series:

“Take Eve, the most rational of the three women. After spending most of her life cleaning up after a bunch of unappreciative male siblings, all she wants is the opportunity to connect with a good man. Even after learning that she doesn’t need the Venus drug to appear desirable, Eve can’t foresee a future that doesn’t involve snaring a man. The thought of serving aboard a starship never occurs to her – except perhaps as the captain’s wife. So she consigns herself to life on barren Rigel XII, cleaning up for another unappreciative male (miner Ben Childress) and listening to the winds blow day and night.” (pp. 039, 126)

It is hard to believe that this is the same world that would later give us Captain Janeway.

<— To Part III

—> To Part IV

Bailey, Bones and Balok

My Trek Through Trek – Part III

What we’re watching: The Corbomite Maneuver. Episode 11 of Season 1 TOS (Nov. 10, 1966)

My Rating Out of 5 Tribbles: 2 1/2 Tribbles who you think are cool when you first meet them, but turn out to be Clint Howard in a silver poncho.

My After Episode Thoughts: “Brilliant premise ruined by an acid fueled reference to the Wizard of Oz

Pros: Dr. Leonard Fing Bones McCoy is in the house! Kirk’s salad. Spock’s daddy issues. Nuclear Allegory.  Fine early character development.

Cons: Clint Howard. Ensign Bailey. Cheap, easy ending. Did I mention Clint Howard?

Kirk: Captains don't eat no salad. McCoy: They do if they want to fit into their velour.

Kirk: Captains don’t eat no salad.
McCoy: They do if they want to fit into their velour.

In the last Trek Through Trek, I wrote about how a gripping story can be cheapened by a hasty final act. The Corbomite Maneuver once again demonstrates this. If I were to look at this episode based souly on its strides in character development, it is easily a 5 Tribble episode. The iconic crew is finally in place: Sulu takes his seat at the helm, Uhura, in all her sexy revolutionary glory, sits at communications and most importantly, my favourite character of all Star Trek, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy makes his first of many excuses to be on the bridge and not in sickbay. I swear, he is the only doctor who seems to rarely want to practice medicine.

It is a misconception that the original Enterprise crew was held together by the relationship of Spock and Kirk. Some will even claim that it is the interaction of the ensemble that makes this show. I, however, believe it is the trio of Spock, Bones and Kirk that hold this crew together; Spock is coldly logical, Bones is pure empathy and Kirk is the instinctual arbiter. Bones is essential to the original Enterprise. Red blooded Humanity runs through him like green blooded logic streams through Spock. McCoy is the moral centre, always standing up for the little guy. Sometimes advocating so much for him that he allows his emotional nature to get in the way of the mission at hand. He is the connection we as a 20th/21st century audience have with 23rd century issues. His distrust of technology parallels our unease to the storm of technologic advance that we deal with everyday. It is only fitting a that a great Western character actor like DeForest Kelley brings him to life.  Spock is the brain, Bones is the heart and Kirk, well… he has to be the crotch.  The sex, as it were. If one examines each Star Trek crew, one can find this dynamic. Apply this triumvirate to TNG: Data is the brain, Picard the heart and Riker the sex. McCoy’s debut is not the only first in this episode. Just head on over to Memory Alpha if you want to see how many grounds are broken in these 50 minutes. The list is endless. Perhaps, it is all this establishment that hampers the main trajectory of the episode.

For the first three acts, Corbomite, has a lot going for it. It is a tale of first contact. The first of many such tales. It points out how fear of the unknown can severely derail future events and relationships. The episode solidifies the adage that first impressions are everything. When that poor greenhorn Ensign Bailey coaxes Kirk into firing phasers at Balok’s Fasarius ship, Kirk sets off a reaction that nearly turns the five year mission into a five minute jaunt.  Events like these have happened in our own history.  For example when Captain Cook first landed on the islands of Hawaii, something he did, left him dead in the sand. Magellan too. Countless explorers have by accident caused war without them knowing why. When the Zulu first saw the tall ship’s sails on the horizon, they mistook the white tapestry for clouds and thereby thought the pasty men, that landed on the their shores, arrived from the skies. This belief caused all sorts of repercussions for the history of Southern Africa.  It is not inconceivable that Balok would think that humans were attempting war when they destroyed his explorer buoy. This is a fascinating idea and it gives the episode real teeth. Until the end, of course.

What must it be like to be Ron Howard’s younger brother? How can one ever find a name for oneself if one’s older brother is such an extraordinary young child actor, writer and

This is how I feel about the fourth act.

This is how I feel about the fourth act.

oscar winning director? It must suck to be Clint Howard. His claim to fame, aside from Austin Powers innuendos, has always been his involvement in Star Trek. He has been involved in three different episodes that span the 60s, 90s and 2000s. Clint’s most iconic moment is probably his portrayal of Balok in this episode. However, I don’t think it is because of his stunning performance. Trekdom’s fascination with Clint is more likely the result the absurdity of his character. Balok is a child, alien, scientist with the voice of a muppet. He might as well have been a puppet like his alter ego. Better yet, if this puppet was the only incarnation we encounter, Balok would be far more fascinating.

Speaking of fascinating, this episode is the first moment when Spock uses this catchphrase.

I really dislike when a story is full of potential and suspense only for it to be undercut by some odd character choice. The whole episode goes to great lengths to set up a brilliant threat to the Enterprise, only to turn it was a master plan coined by an oddly overdubbed child. I understand that the creatives surely wanted to create a “nothing is what it seems” theme, yet, it turns the episode into a farce. This is a reoccurring problem with early Trek. The creatives don’t seem to trust their material. More likely, they don’t yet understand what they can do with Star Trek. Hell! This is only the third episode.

The Corbomite Maneuver has such a gorgeous message but only ends up being undercut by a cooky creature shot and a ‘hip’ sequence.

P.S. Am I to believe that Bailey became an Ambassador for all of humankind? One moment he was an green ensign and then only a few short hours later he is worthy of inter world diplomacy. What a cheap little ‘explain away ending.’ Thank the stars the show gets better!

—> To Part IV

Going Where No Man Has Gone Before

My Trek Through Trek (Part II)

What we’re watching: Where No Man Has Gone Before– Second Pilot. Episode Three of Season 1 (1966)
My Rating out of 5 Tribbles: 3 1/2 Tribbles…… Who can read your mind. OOOOWEEOOOOWOOO!
A Snapshot of my after episode thoughts: “Kneel before Mitchell!”
Pros: Captain Kirk. A quirky villain. Great space sequence. Mysterious. Vulcan Spock. A great sense of humour.
Cons:  A slow and messy 4th act. Self important dialogue. Lack of motivation for Kirk’s revenge.
Every Trekker owes a debt to Lucy!

Every Trekker owes a debt to Lucy!

When I conceived of this journey through Star Trek I debated for a long time, 3 or four hours which is a long time for a guy like me, in what order I would tackle the episodes and movies. There are three different ways one can travel through Trek, canonically,  chronologically by broadcast date and chronologically by production date. Each order poses different problems. If I chose to view canonically, I would have to begin with Enterprise, which would mean I would jump into a fresh series for me as I didn’t watch it when it was on TV. I decided against this because I am not sure if I will like the show and therefore ultimately abandon my project before it has begun. The broadcast order poses its own problems as it confuses the development of the series. Following that order would make  this episode the fourth in succession. This position is incorrect as Where No Man Has Gone Before was intended as a second pilot. I ultimately decided to go ahead and view Trekdom in its production order. This order may not be optimal if I want guidance and illumination into the history of the Federation, but it does offer insight into how this world developed. It’s a far more interesting order for a young director in training like myself.  This will cause a problem when I enter The Next Generation when the episodes loose canon when watched in production order, but we’ll navigate that Nebulae when and if we cross it.

To understand the monumental importance of Where No Man Has Gone Before, one must first ask Lucille Ball. No kidding here. Fricken Wah Wah Lucy. Without Lucille Ball there would be no Star Trek past the Jeffrey Hunter sweater epic that is The Cage. The story is as follows: after the failure of The Cage, Gene Roddenberry continued to shop around his idea for a Sci-Fi epic. No one was buying, until Lucille Ball, a friend of young Gene, somehow saw the pilot and said in passing to the president of NBC that they should greenlight a second pilot and actually air it to get sample of an audience’s  reaction. This testing was not done with The Cage which wasn’t broadcast until 1988. Long story short, NBC did. Gene under NBC guidance overhauled the show, hired a young Canadian actor cutting his teeth on Sci-Fi on shows like The Twilight Zone to replace Jeffrey Hunter who had returned to his career as a matinee idol and the rest is history. Trekkers love Lucy indeed.

All right, boring nerd history aside, let’s talk about pilot deux.

Right at the top one can tell that this is a different beast then the terrible first pilot. It does not overwhelm with the pretension of Jeffrey Hunter and Martian Spock. Instead we are greeted with a comedic battle of wits between the colder more logical Spock and a charismatic Kirk. Snide jokes are being traded back and forth between two friends. Friendship is the core of this episode and indeed every good Star Trek episode hence forth.

From this point forward, the vision of the future is very different. It is cleaner, more sleek and spartan. This is reflected in the redesign or, perhaps, clean of up of the Enterprise set. As the episode progresses it becomes well understood that this is not a cluttered claustrophobic war vessel but a visionary bastion of human exploration.

You may recall, if you read the last entry, that I in my ineloquent manner, made a big storm of the inefficient women on the bridge. I put the blame in no small manner on psychedelic sexualization of every skirt. The women of this episode’s Enterprise are night and day (as far as can be under the moral lens of the 60s). Dr. Elizabeth Dehner is a woman of wry humour, with a constant upturned grin that seems to suggest that she is secure with her womanhood and her life. When Gary Mitchell throws some 60s style degradation at her, she easily makes mince meat of the crass helmsmen. However, you can still see the 60s female role peep through this episode though. When the Enterprise crosses the forcefield, a sleek and suspenseful sequence that evokes thoughts of ancient mariners falling over the edge of the Earth, the young blonde clad Yeoman raises her hand inexplicably to hold onto the strength of a male courageous limb.  Even the damsel in distress exists on the bridge of the Enterprise.

The bridge is populated by many other firsts. George Takei makes his first appearance as Sulu, but is curiously in charge of physics, Jimmy Doohan sits at the helm in his Pseudo-Scottish presence as Scotty and there is even an unnamed man of colour sitting there pushing buttons. Spock stands for the first time in his mainstay location just to camera right of the Captain’s chair. His performance bares more similarities to iconic Spock, yet at one point he yells in a very un-Spock-like manner. (Un-Nimoy-Spock-like, for Quinto is all over the place vocally.)  It is clear that Nimoy and perhaps Trek itself is still unclear as to the role that this character will play.

What the creatives of Star Trek are sure of is: the role discussion will play in this world. All the characters clearly parse out the issue of sudden powers in a human and this conflict

"You cannot kill me, so, let's discuss why."

“You cannot kill me, so, let’s discuss why.”

is not one centered on the destruction of a threat, but rather the ramifications of evolving before our time. Gary Mitchell is a human who is suddenly given the ability to grasp all the information that his brain can handle and then some. This occurrence demonstrates what may happen if humans were suddenly offered a surplus of information. Can we handle too much information? A timely question for us now that we have all the thoughts of human kind at the touch of our finger tips. It’s obvious Gary cannot handle this as his mind explodes in a myriad of godlike powers conveyed in some cheesy yet surprisingly effective effects sequences, most noticeably in  the really good and probably simple telekinetic sequences.

Where No Man Has Gone Before is not without its flaws. The final act is hampered by self important dialogue that seems to slow the conflict between Kirk, Mitchell and Dehner into a staring contest (at least we get great views of the expensive contact lenses). The final standoff plays as a thought experiment of the evils of an imperfect god, a debate upon the illogic of praying to deities that ask for obedience for no reason and are perhaps political allegories of deflection of human inadequacy on their creations.  A common anti-religious theme that pops up many times later, even in the feature films. This “climax” takes the teeth out of an otherwise fascinating episode, but manages to satisfyingly convey a timely criticism of human development.

Flaws in an unfocused climax aside, Where No Man Has Gone Before is a grand episode that makes it obvious why this show was able to greenlight a full first season. What can be said is the greatest element that adds to the future success of Star Trek, is the addition of William Shatner’s Kirk. Say what you will about the man but he is willing to go for it. Throwing himself convulsing when he wishes and essentially oozing charisma, where Jeffry Hunter oozed nothing but an eel like aura. Certainly Hunter would not throw himself to the floor in flailing turmoil. The Trek trek is on!

Spock_and_Kirk_(2265)

“I don’t get, green blooded humour.”

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