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Worst to Best

Star Trek
Season 1 Ranked – Worst to Best


Ah, Star Trek! Like many (former) adherents of the BBC of a certain generation, my familiarity with the original series derived from the endless repeats during the 1970s and early-80s. Such exposure failed to elicit any lasting devotion, however (certainly nothing to compare with homegrown Doctor Who). If anything, it was the movie incarnation that triggered a retrospective, new-found respect. That, and the increasing appreciation of all things inimitably Shat, in terms of eccentric performance style (there was a point where his name provoked only comments about his rug and ham, but decades of critical brickbats were eventually succeeded by the affection of those who grew up with his inimitable delivery). I guess the tester is those who think his performances of Mr Tambourine Man and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds are extraordinary in a good, rather than awful, way.

I don’t revisit the show frequently, then, which is still more frequently than I revisit (or visit full stop, in some cases) successor Trek shows. The last time was when the Blu-ray collections came out. On this occasion, I’ve watched them in production rather than transmission order, which has mostly been rewarded by a natural progression to the proceedings.

I’ve also had one eye on the show’s predictive programming, commentary or soft disclosure potential throughout; while there are elements that can be argued as relevant to such a lens, there’s little one might consider exclusive, as opposed to ten-a-penny in science fiction generally. The suggestion is that Gene Roddenberry was a White Hat – never a status one can assume in Hollywood; quite the contrary – which may explain the difficulties he had in sustaining his vision on air. Of course, the flipside of this is that his vision might, in some respects, be considered anti-dramatic (certainly, that was my response to many of the more turgid impulses that afflicted The Next Generation). 

It’s likely few of the positions here are especially trend-bucking in terms of received wisdom, certainly when it comes to the lowest and highest ranked, but there may be the odd divergent perspective on these thoroughly raked-over episodes, owing to my lack of dyed-in-the-wool credentials. Seasons 2 and 3 should follow in due course, but don’t expect any claims that Spock’s Brain is an unfairly maligned classic…



(Production Order: 1.12/ Broadcast Order: 1.8) Bored of the Flies. I never liked this one. Although, it seems, I’d have been fortunate enough to avoid it until the early-90s, as the BBC “banned” it owing to complaints after its initial 1970 showing. Did Star Trek occasionally opt for shows involving annoyingly preternatural kids because they came cheap (it seems Miri’s mostly comprised cast and crew offspring)? While it can’t get much more annoying than Michael J Pollard playing an overgrown child (complete with Nam protest army jacket), future True Grit star Kim Darby does her level best as a teen besotted – how could she not be? – with Captain Kirk. Who, naturally, turns on the charm. He just can’t help himself.

Kirk: Miri. A pretty name for a pretty young woman.
Miri: Pretty?
Kirk: Very pretty.

This state of affairs means Miri’s most put out when Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) complains about how James T never looked at her legs, despite her every strenuous attempt to dangle them in front of him… and NOW look at them! They’re all manky! (On a side note, the Enterprise desperately needs a robust HR Department to lay down the law, what with Janice constantly harassing her Captain over her unfulfilled yearnings.) These grups from the Enterprise, they’re useless, aren’t they? 

Which is still preferable to being little monsters. At one stage in the proceedings, Kirk phasers a girl who’s gone berserk – she’s hitting adulthood, don’t you know – and she dies. I was hoping he’d follow suit with the entire gang when they start beating on him, but instead he just gets a bit – only a bit, mind, as he’s super manly – torn and bloody.

Janice Rand: Back on the ship, I used to try to get you to look at my legs. Captain, look at my legs.

Why does this planet resemble ’60s Earth, exactly? What, did the grups leave Earth in 1966, land there, build “the most horrible conglomeration of antique architecture I’ve ever seen” and dress accordingly, if their brood are more than 300 years old? Or is this an unexplained parallel Earth (James Blish had it as a colony in the episode’s novelisation)? They were conducting a Life Prolongation Project it seems – ah, the old Luciferian quest for immortality – and bizarrely, “the idea was to create a series of new diseases, a chain reaction of viruses meant essentially to extend the life of the human cell immeasurably”. If you say so, doctor.

McCoy: She likes you, Jim.
Spock: She’s becoming a woman.

With a “A veritable zoo of bacteria”, these experiments have clearly led to the approximation of biological systems that conform to outdated 20th-century Earth theories of virus behaviour, something abandoned in the early 21st when it was realised the human population had been scammed for more than 150 years. So a vaccine is needed, to prevent death following “intense fever, great pain in the extremities, fuzziness of vision”. And those are just the early symptoms! Spock’s okay, because he never fell for such nonsense (“Probably the little bugs or whatever they are have no appetite for green blood”). Other symptoms include getting temperamental with each other – they’ve five days til they bite the farm – and blethering imbecility, such as collectively (including Spock) leaving their communicators in the lab while they fall for the kids’ “cunning” ruse. Doh!

Spock: Without them, it could be a beaker full of death.

The children are nightmarish riot of demon spawn, given to a sub-Burgess language system (“Lovey-dovey”; “Bonk bonk on the head”) and eternal juvenility. But then, how could it be otherwise when Pollard is their leader? Kirk has to plead with them for about 5 minutes, and its gruelling stuff, unalleviated even when he’s getting bonk-bonked on the head. Somehow, after 300 years of stuffing their faces, their food is only now running out (aren’t there any rabbits on this planet?) McCoy, fortunately, takes it upon himself to try the vaccine they’ve had no chance to test for several years before releasing to the public and pulls through, eliciting Spock’s bewildered admiration (“Who will understand the medical mind?”)

Crewman Farrell makes another appearance, and there’s the first in the show’s ha-ha-ha endings as Kirk, informed by Rand that Miri “really loved you, you know”, quips in response “I never get involved with older women”. Nice one, Jim. This is wretched stuff, most notable for the production getting out and about on location, which is very quickly no compensation at all. If Onlies it was. That’s quite enough of Miri. No more blah blah blah!

Charlie X 

(1.8/1.2) Oh gawd. A super-powered psycho brat. This one’s a tad older than Clint Howard (The Corbomite Manoeuvre), who was, at any rate, a reveal rather than a repetitive, circular, episode-long powder keg (“Well, they weren’t nice to me!”) There’s nothing very wrong with Robert Walker’s performance (26 playing 17, and a strong resemblance to dad), but aside from providing for an occasional, creatively twisted act by Charlie and some quality Shat, DC Fontana’s telepay (Gene gets story credit) has little place to go.

It’s another lust-for-Rand episode too, which is already wearing a bit thin (I hadn’t realised such attentions reflected Grace Lee Whitney’s experience on the show). Charlie inappropriately slaps her bum – and later vanishes her – but where did he pick that up anyway? He transforms poor, age-appropriate Tina (Patricia McNulty) into an iguana, destroys the merchant ship Antares and its crew, melts a 3D chess set after Spock beats him, and is later rather rude to the First Officer – “Very nice, Mr Ears” – before breaking his legs! But he makes him recite some William Blake – and Poe – so he isn’t all bad. Charlie replaces the meatloaf – in the 23rd century! That really is a shocker. Since it’s synthetic, one might assume Schwab and Gates held sway in this universe – with real turkeys in the ovens. Laughing in his presence is a particular no-no. Most alarmingly, and getting the drop on Sapphire and Steel by 14 years, he gives an unfortunate female crewmember no face at all.

The mystifying part of all this is the rationale for his behaviour. We’re told “He doesn’t understand what life is. He’s a boy”, and Spock opines that “We’re in the hands of an adolescent”. There’s no whiff of sense to this, other than concluding the Thasians, who saved him from his isolated status on their planet as a 3-year-old (“We gave him the power so he could live”) are really rotten parents. Did they teach him no basic values? Since he can seemingly conjure what he likes, can’t he conjure a replicant Rand back on Thasus to attend to his whims? After all, he doesn’t seem fussed about genuine affection (just the appearance of the same). 

And the Thasians, appearing as godlike heads on the Enterprise, give off the air of superior knowledge and wisdom; so if they’re oh-so Service to Others (for example, per the Law of One), quite how did they shepherd such a Service to Self, petulant monster into adulthood? One might allude to Charlie as a demiurge, an out-of-control child (of deities) whose creative whims are corrupted, but his is too familiar a trope to occupy special merit. The Thasians, like Charlie, appear to have some limitations, unable to spirit the Antares back into existence yet – luckily for Janice – able to right the Enterprise’s aberrations.

Shatner is generally good value when it comes to Kirk’s refusal to back down to Charlie, but the Captain’s plea to let him stay with humans is daft in the extreme. Krik’s also in the fulsome moobs zone here, showing Charlie how to spar (“Hey Charlie, do you like wrestling pictures?”) They should have played Kibo. Uhura sings a sultry song(s), at least partially at Spock’s wry/amused expense (he cracks a smile) while he accompanies her on the lyre/harp; this rather feels rather like the kind of scene you’d get in a tavern in an 18th-century pirate yarn, minus Mr Ears and the spaceship. In its favour, Charlie X maintains its dramatic conflict throughout, but the actual thrust of the same grows rather tiresome.

The Alternative Factor

(1.20/1.27) Star Trek dives headlong into antimatter universes, and if only Don Ingalis (later A Private Little War) had come up with something slightly more compelling, he might have done the concept some justice. Instead, The Alternative Factor largely comprises special guest star Robert Brown (supposed to be John Drew Barrymore, who didn’t show up for duty) as Lazarus… and Lazarus… getting all angsty every five minutes. Upon which, he and his double disappear into a blue-tinged negative image against a photo of a nebula, and the music goes spooky. And then he falls off a cliff. And survives. It’s all rather monotonous and unintentionally hilarious.

If you wanted to make a case that Star Trek was a bit shit, this would be a good place to start, since it boasts many of the show’s less estimable elements that invite parody. The kernel here, I’d maintain, is pretty good, but Brown’s performance, complete with variable paste-on beard, can’t sustain it. Neither can the “suspense” of what is going on, since it’s bleedin’ obvious as soon as Lazarus goes a bit wibbly, and his double comes forth, that he’s his own worst enemy. Which means all involved, even Spock to an extent – as he’s required to remain baffled and perplexed that bit too long – must consistently miss what’s under their noses. This is no rarity for Trek, but it’s the repetition of it in The Alternative Factor that becomes a chore. 

Inevitably, being as it’s antimatter that’s on the table, it’s affecting the entire matter universe (“Matter and antimatter have a tendency to cancel each other out. Violently”). All very Omega and The Three Doctors, but six years earlier, and much less engaging. Kirk’s superior officer, conscious that a complete disruption of “normal magnetic and gravimetric fields, time-warp distortion, possible radiation variations” has affected “every quadrant of the galaxy and beyond” suspects invasion. Spock puts it better that “everything within range of our instruments seemed on the verge of winking out”, all focussing on a planet below the Enterprise. The phenomenon represents “non-existence”. 

Kirk’s prize dopey moment comes when he pegs McCoy – “just a country doctor” – as a Grade-A numpty for suggesting Lazarus has super healing abilities: “Bones, if I had time, I’d laugh”. Give your medical officer some credit. His second prize dopey moment is failing to lock Lazarus up when he warns Kirk he will take the dilithium crystals. Which he does, of course.

The common description of antimatter as highly inimical and combustible when paired with matter has the effect of keeping it conceptually at a distance and its lab grown possibilities tantamount to the nuclear for things you simply shouldn’t be messing with. The Seth Material avers the existence of antimatter, at the other end of a sliding scale, pretty much, from matter and identifies it as a by-product of the dream state (energy that is channelled that way), itself a by-product of the physical universe. We do have our doubles there, but not as literally as Lazarus’ is presented. Notional explosive qualities aren’t identified, but then, Seth stresses the impossibility of physical contact with this universe; since ours “is non-existent for the same number of intervals that it is existent, then you will see that this gives us our antimatter”. 

Which does not, however, appear to prevent non-physical crossing over, in one form or another, if AIs are anything to go by. Seth further indicates there are two such universes, akin to a before image and an afterimage, the latter with near-approximate energy (the home of AIs and AMTs) and a weaker one, yet unable to materialise into matter. Seth suggested “In some manners you do exist identically in the world of negative matter, but in most manners you do not”. Unlike the twin Lazaruses, then, “That parallel self would not be recognised by you, as psychologically identical, and is indeed quite independent, and a by-product’”.

If The Alternative Factor largely fails to live up to its potential, it does provide something of a salutary denouement, of the “good” Lazarus (the antimatter one) willing to sacrifice himself to an eternity trapped in a corridor of madness with his twin for the sake of the universe. Spock’s assuring “Captain, the Universe is safe” is no comfort, as Kirk – who, in needs of the many utilitarian fashion, has allowed Lazarus to proceed – contemplates: “But what of Lazarus? What of Lazarus? 

Also appearing is Janet MacLachlan in an entirely nondescript role as Lieutenant Masters; it seems a romantic subplot with Lazarus was dropped, variously because she was African-American and because it was too close to Space Seed’s with Khan and a crewmember. I’ll admit, I fail to understand how/why Lazarus’ ship being a time machine affects the antimatter scenario (“It’s a time chamber, a time-ship, and I. I am a time traveller”). Perhaps it’s this that bridged worlds (which would connect with both the intrinsic linking of Time Lords to antimatter in Doctor Who, and also that of time traveller Nikola Tesla and his visit to the antimatter universe).

The Conscience of the King 

(1.13/ 1.13) Yeah, okay. The Shakespeare title was cool the first time (Dagger of the Mind). Now, it just seems a bit lazy/straining for credibility. Particularly since the referencing is so foregrounded. It would probably matter little, were The Conscience of the King a top-notch episode, but it’s rather so-so. A leader, presumed dead, guilty of crimes against humanity, may have resurfaced as a famous actor, and Kirk takes on the burden of ferreting out his culpability. Which involves getting all sexy-Captain with the man’s daughter. But of course.

Leighton: I did it to trap Kodos!

Kirk has been lured to Planet Q, doubtless were Donald Trump goes on vacation, by old pal Thomas Leighton (William Sargent), on the pretext of the discovery of an “extraordinary new synthetic food” (yep, sounds tasty). Turns out Leighton made the food bit up, though, as he’s convinced Anton Karidian (Arnold Moss), of a travelling Shakespearean acting troupe, is the notorious Kodos the Executioner (“Jim, 4,000 people were butchered!”) It’s a bizarre suggestion, tantamount to Alex Jones once having been Bill Hicks, so naturally, it’s true! Leighton, who had half his face go missing, was a witness to events, as was Kirk; anyone with first-hand knowledge winds up mysteriously dead, including Leighton. So Kirk wangles the troupe aboard the Enterprise and starts wooing Leonore (Barbara Anderson, of Ironside) in order to get to the bottom if it all. 

Lenore: I would have killed a world to save him!

Riley, who took over engineering in The Naked Time, is also a witness. But since this was 20 years ago (and Bruce Hyde is in his mid-20s – making Kirk a bit of a stretch for an adult – it seems he was a fresh-faced midshipman), he is after revenge for his father and mother being murdered. He gets fed some lubricant but survives (did Kirk send him back to engineering as bait?!) Turns out, it was Karidian/Kodos’ daughter all along (well, not so much the massacring 4,000 people part) and dad is remorseful – but not remorseful enough to turn himself in or withdraw from view – for his deeds (“I was a soldier in a cause. There were things to be done, terrible things”. Spock comments “Apparently, he had his own theories of eugenics”). Perhaps the name of the planet (Tarsus IV) is intended as indicative, that he had a change of heart (name, at any rate). Conveniently, Lenore “remembers nothing” about killing 7 men and will “receive the best of care”. Perhaps they can send her to Tantalus V for rehabilitation, now it’s running smoothly again and not brainwashing people at all.

McCoy: Would you care for a drink, Mister Spock?
Spock: My father’s race was spared the dubious benefits of alcohol.
McCoy: Now I know why they were conquered.

None of this is desperately engaging. It isn’t bad per se, but aside from that actual reveal it was Lenore, there’s little dramatic tension. The best scenes come from Spock investigating why “The captain is acting strangely” and trading barbs with McCoy (asked if it occurred to him that Kirk might have been acting grossly unprofessionally in inviting the players aboard so he could pursue Leonore for some hot rumpo, Spock replies “It occurred. I dismissed it”) When he confronts Kirk, he also has the choice rebuke “You must learn the difference between empiricism and stubbornness, Doctor” and won’t be deterred by Kirk telling him his inquiries are “out of line, Mr Spock”.

Leonore: All this power, surging and throbbing, yet under control. Are you like that, Captain? 

Curiously, Spock wields the hammer of exactitude while Kirk vacillates (“Logic is not enough”). Ultimately, there isn’t enough meat in Barry Trivers’ script, though. The Conscience of the King is also notable for an illustration of how incredibly dangerous phasers are; one set to overload could “Take out the entire deck”. There’s some rather jaunty Trek-theme muzak at Leighton’s soiree, and on a similarly note, Uhura’s voice is breaking glass in the rec room again.

The Galileo Seven

(14/16) The Galileo Seven is infuriating. You couldn’t call it a dull episode, and the challenges faced serve to ensure it’s engrossing, but the choices in terms of character leave no one looking very rosy, and certainly not the main triumvirate.

Kirk: What would you have me do, turn around and leave them there?
Ferris: You shouldn’t have sent them out in the first place.

First up is Kirk, sending the titular shuttle crew to investigate a quasar because, as he tells infernally pestering Commander Ferris (John Crawford), these are standard Federation orders. Obviously, the crew instantly get sent up Shit Creek, and you wonder if the Captain wasn’t so insistent just to get Ferris’ goat. Which would be entirely understandable, as Ferris is on the Bridge every five minutes telling Kirk how much time there is before he’s required to leave and deliver urgent medical supplies to Markus III. Far more sensible would have been Kirk making a note of the coordinates and returning two days later to check out the formation. 

Spock: I realise command does have its fascinations, even under circumstances such as these. But I neither enjoy the idea of command, nor am I frightened of it. It simply exists. And I will do whatever logically needs to be done.

Meanwhile, Spock is leading an away team that includes McCoy, Scotty and the entirely irascible Lt Boma (Don Marshall, later of Land of the Giants). McCoy is instantly stirring the pot when the shuttle crash lands on Taurus II, accusing Spock of getting his “big chance” for command. It’s a clumsy means of introducing a clumsy theme, whereby Spock must prove “logic was the best basis on which to build command”. Or rather, have it proved to him that it is not. 

Consequently, to prove how logical he is, he makes illogical decisions like leaving a crewman on his own away from the ship to warn everyone, should the giant ape creatures throw giant-ape-creature spears at them. Naturally, the crewman (Peter Marko’s Lt Gaetano), already irked over the spear that ended up in Lt Latimer (Rees Vaughn) and the prospect of Spock choosing who escapes in the overladen shuttle and who doesn’t, doesn’t last long. Spock posted him there on the irrational basis that the creatures would remain fearful of the phasers fired as a warning (“They should think twice before bothering us again”). 

Spock: Most illogical reaction. We demonstrated our superior weapons. They should have fled. 

You’d have hoped, even if he doesn’t respect Spock, McCoy would recognise that there needs to be an appearance of the chain of command. Instead, he’s openly deriding Spock in front of the men at every opportunity (“They were perfectly predictable to anyone with feeling. You might as well admit it, Mister Spock, your precious logic brought them down on us”). He’s on the side of the openly abusive and insubordinate Boma, a situation that reaches its most absurd extreme when Spock yields to their wish to go and bury Gaetano while the ship is preparing for take-off, with ravenous ape monsters all around.  At least workhorse Scotty defends the First Officer when Boma exclaims “I’m sick and tired of this machine!”: “That’s enough!

Spock: Quite simply, Captain. I examined the problem from all angles, and it was plainly hopeless. Logic informed me that under the circumstances, the only possible action would have to be one of desperation. Logical decision, logically arrived at.
Kirk: I see. You mean you reasoned that it was time for an emotional outburst.
Spock: Well, I wouldn’t put it in exactly those terms, Captain, but those are essentially the facts.
Kirk: You’re not going to admit that for the first time in your life, you committed a purely human emotional act?
Spock: No, sir.
Kirk: Mr Spock, you’re a stubborn man.
Spock: Yes, sir. 

If The Galileo Seven is much less impressive than I remembered, I do like the final exchange between Kirk and Spock (above). However, even that debases itself when the entire Bridge roll around in laughter at Spock’s response. Just to rub it in, chortling Boma is there for maximum vindication!

Mudd’s Women 

(1.4/1.6) “A most annoying, emotional episode.” You said it, Spock. No, that’s a little strong. Aside from his wife’s refrain in the sequel episode, I was never the greatest fan of Harcourt Fenton Mudd. While I’m all for loveable rogues, there’s a certain smug presumption when Star Trek tries to do it that’s slightly off-putting. That said, Roger C Carmel’s performance as Mudd couldn’t be called dull, making Shatner look like a shy retiring lamb by comparison, and his approximation of an Irish accent makes James Doohan’s Scottish one sound utterly authentic by comparison.

This is another “appearances can be deceptive” plot; perhaps Roddenberry was suspicious that all women were mutton dressed as lamb, or after him under false pretences? In production order, you get The Cage, and then this, the second in the series proper. In some respects, this is ’60s Trek at its unreconstituted finest, with rampant, unbridled 23rd-century sexism and bum shots at every turn. Then countered by the most facile of platitudes. Beauty is on the inside – “You either believe in yourself, or you don’t” – and even a slightly haggard, wrinkly mare can cook a decent meal for a Neanderthal miner. Indeed, the rejuvenating effects of the Venus Drug – not adrenochrome – seem basically to resemble the transformative qualities of the average person’s makeup kit after a week-long bender. Consequently, while the placebo at the end is ghastly and pat (coloured gelatine), it isn’t entirely far-fetched. 

“Leo Walsh” brings aboard three overpoweringly scored lovelies who instantly have an “almost hypnotic effect” on the crew, in particular Bones, Scotty and first-time helmsman Farrell (Jim Goodwin). Spock is immune, but for a smiley/shruggy response, while Shat initially does a bit of the old double take before Kirk conveys a reliably robust response to their lucky charms. 

Carmel – whom I didn’t realise had been scheduled for a Next Gen return before his death – is reliably OTT as Mudd, although he can’t sell for a second the idea that his character stands a chance in his plan to take over the ship (he plans to bargain the payment of lithium crystals the Enterprise needs – soon to be upgraded to dilithium  but still causing regular problems – in exchange for the girls, but how “I’ll be running this starship. Captain James Kirk, the next orders you’re taking will be given by Harcourt Fenton Mudd!”, I have no idea). His interrogation scene is good fun – against a lie detector – and the report on his history includes the rather endearing “psychiatric treatment – effectiveness disputed”. 

Obviously, by the end, Kirk is joshing with him in a benevolent jailer kind of way. This first Mudd episode is likeable enough, but there’s a certain indolence to the comedy stylings, that it’s coasting self-consciously on a winning character rather than striving to make every moment count, and the message/conceit is so thin as to be transparent.

Tomorrow is Yesterday

(21/19) The first of the “Star Trek visits the present” plots, which one might view as enterprising or strictly budget-conscious, depending on one’s cynicism. Certainly, aside from an enjoyable streak of knowing humour and a diligent line in conscientiousness with regard to preserving the timeline, Tomorrow is Yesterday feels rather makeshift and threadbare, singularly failing to develop its scenario in an inventive or dramatic manner.

 Christopher: Well, you people certainly seem to have interesting problems.

This is the second DC Fontana credit of the first season, and certainly more respectable than Charlie X. I like the (cold) opening, whereby we’re already into a scenario – a black star is the culprit, like not-dead Bowie – that has put the Enterprise, time warped to the late 1960s, on an intercept course with a couple of, ahem, interceptors. The episode’s guest star is Roger Perry, later of Count Yorga, Vampire (memorably riffed on by Peter Cook in a Derek & Clive sketch) as Captain John Christopher, beamed aboard the Enterprise so as to avert any danger of the starship being nuked. 

Kirk’s merrily amused by Christopher’s bafflement until Spock sets him straight about the dangers of Christopher spilling the future beans (this seems a little tenuous as far as potential perils to the timeline go, but as I say, full marks for diligence). Christopher, for his part, is a resolutely unsympathetic fellow, not just in Perry’s resistible performance but also his selfish attempts to get back to his wife and two children, consequences be damned (of course, then it turns out he has to get back, to father the child who will man the Earth-Saturn probe). 

Spock: Logically, as we move faster and faster toward the Sun, we’ll begin to move backward in time. We’ll actually go back beyond yesterday, beyond the point when we first appeared in the sky. Then, breaking free will shoot us forward in time, and we’ll transport you back before any of this happened.

Larky hijinks ensue as Kirk and Sulu attempt to secure evidence of the Enterprise’s existence from an airbase and end up with another present-day Earthman aboard their ship. We get the slingshotting later utilised in The Voyage Home as an effective but very literal means of time travel, and a frankly nonsensical scenario in which Christopher and the guard are beamed into themselves (I mean, eh?) at the instances before they first encountered the Enterprise/its crew. We’re supposed to nod appreciatively, I’m guessing, because Spock prefixes his explanation with an authoritative “Logically…

Kirk: I wouldn’t mind so much if it didn’t get so affectionate.

Balanced against such deficits is a rich vein of broad humour. There’s Kirk’s frustration with a computer that calls him “dear” and giggles, and Spock’s withering explanation that this quirk is down to repair and maintenance of the ship at Cygnet 14 “a planet dominated by women. They seemed to feel the ship’s computer system lacked a personality. They gave it one. Female, of course” (this reference to the Planet of the Strumpets rather undermines Christopher being surprised by the progressive acceptance of women as crewmembers).

Also: the constant use of Spock as a cheap gag (“I never have believed in little green men”); Kirk’s “Your logic can be… most annoying” in response to Spock warning about the effects of letting Christopher go; everything about Ed Peck’s police colonel’s reaction and the air of resignation with regard to the mounting abductee tally (Kirk: Yes I’m alright, but as you can see, we have another problem); Spock’s put down of Kirk using fisticuffs (“Don’t you find that painful, Captain?”); Kirk failing to comply with an interrogation.

One might also consider that Tomorrow is Yesterday revolves around future humans abducting 20th-century Earth people and messing with them before returning them home, their memories of their experiences affected. That, combined with an overt allusion to Roswell (“If I remember my history, these things were dismissed as weather balloons, sun dogs, explainable things. At least publicly”) and this is the about closest the OST will get to The X-Files territory. The real problem here is that Tomorrow is Yesterday lacks compelling guest characters and any intrigue in its dilemma. We’d have to wait a few episodes for a time-travel scenario that does…

Dagger of the Mind 

(1.11/1.9) A nifty Shakespearean title and a solid premise, but it’s one that reduces into far less formidable MKUltra mind-control/brainwashing antics. Still, we get the first Vulcan mind meld, so that’s a major boon. A mad loony who demands asylum at phaser point turns out to be Dr van Gelder (Morgan Woodward), the former director of a colony for the criminally insane on Tantalus V; we discover the new director, Dr Adams (James Gregory), has been messing with inmates’ minds (and his superior’s). Why? Because he’s the villain! Who better to sort it than the invulnerable-to-mind-control-except-when-it-involves-food-and-lovely-ladies Captain James T Kirk?

Woodward’s really good, suitably seized of disposition until Spock sets him right, but Gregory is somewhat underwhelming; Adams needed a bit more oomph to be enforcing such a dastardly scheme involving “an experimental beam we’d hoped might rehabilitate incorrigibles”; the neural neutraliser can render “minds so empty like a sponge, needing thoughts”. Hence, the second person Kirk and lieutenant Dr Helen Noel (Marianna Hill), one of the ship’s shrinks, meet – having beamed down to a Where No Man Has Gone Before matte painting – is called Lethe (Susanne Wasson). As in, the river. Geddit? Is S Bar-David subtle, or what? 

The relationship between Kirk and Helen is notable but for all the wrong reasons (the part was originally earmarked for Janice Rand). She’s an utterly incorrigible flaunting floozy who behaves in the least professional manner imaginable, getting all saucy with her Captain, sucking up to Adams by agreeing with everything he says, and then brainwashing Jim! You see, they met at the Science Lab Christmas Party, where Kirk talked to her about the stars. But she, with her prehensile breasts, wanted more, so when Kirk decides – because he’s an idiot, or the writer is – to test out the neutraliser, first he has an urge to run down the pie shop (Shatner’s still feeling the after-effects almost 60 years on) and then, the hussy shamelessly manipulates his memories, so now he’s a ravisher of Noels (“You swept me off my feet and carried me to your cabin”). Somehow, Kirk, through being very manly, I guess, manages to resist the beam sufficiently that he can call the Enterprise; he still isn’t incapacitated by the next session, whereas Adams ends up completely snuffing it. 

None of this is hugely satisfying, particularly sending Noel down a ventilation duct. At least we have Spock on hand for some inspired business. He cautions that he’s never used the mind-meld technique on a human before, but McCoy, being a petty contrarian and revealing an extremely casual attitude to his medical oaths, tells him “Now look, Spock, Jim Kirk could be in real trouble. Will it work or not?” There’s no sinister Vulcan music at this stage, but the language is on target (“Open your mind. We move together. Our minds sharing the same thoughts”).

McCoy: A cage is a cage, Jim.
Kirk: You’re behind the times, Bones. They’re more like resort colonies now.

On the subject of future medicine, Kirk is proselytising the help of the loony doctor over Bones’ protestations because he’s visited some space asylums, you know. Although, he does sound a bit like someone critiquing the “luxuries” of the prison system (they get their own TVs and everything!) It seems “Dr Adams has done more to revolutionise, to humanise prisons and the treatment of prisoners than all the rest of humanity had done in 40 centuries”. Which is pretty radical, especially since his treatment comes across rather like the standard operating procedure seen in the following year’s The Prisoner (A Change of Mind). A disappointment to the extent that, like The Corbomite Manoeuvre, it promises more than it ultimately delivers. Commendable, however, in unequivocally maligning the psychiatric profession.

What Are Little Girls Made Of? 

(1.10/1.7) Ah, the halcyon days of unequivocally evil AI! Well, almost. From the writer of the visibly pulpy Psycho, this is visibly pulpier, in a ’50s sci-fi B movie way, than anything the series has offered to this point, complete with hulking alien giants, mad scientists, fembots and doppelgangers. There’s also the requisite red-shirt casualty – two of them, to make up for lost time!

Perhaps mindful that they’d already done a Kirk double story 5 episodes ago, What Are Little Girls Made Of? opts to keep that element low on its lists of priorities – although there are two rudey-nudey Kirks for your money, their modesty hidden by an obliging girder – such that he only spends about 2 minutes on the Enterprise and, due to actual Kirk’s cunning racism, Spock’s onto him immediately. Albeit, Spock knows something is fishy with this whole thing from the off, and it isn’t just unaccountable jealousy towards Nurse Chapel at the prospect of being reunited with Roger (Michael Strong), exobiologist extraordinaire. That may be a reason there’s so little of the First Officer here, since 90 percent of the action takes place down on Exo-III (just the kind of imaginative name an exobiologist who has just been to Exo-s I and II would come up with).

Korby: Does this make such a difference?
Chapel: Don’t you see, Roger? Everything you’ve done has proved it isn’t you.

Chapel as a girly love interest is about as successful as one might expect, but for the sake of balance, Roger is about as manly as anyone called Roger can be (he also bears a passing resemblance to the offspring of Martin Freeman and Michael Badalucco, but with added sibilance). He incurs her immediate jealousy on account of fembot Andrea (Sherry Jackson), who wears saucy outfits and deports herself with a come-thither air. Roger’s situation also arouses immediate suspicion, owing to the casually blasé attitude of Dr Brown (Harry Basch) to the death of a red shirt down a crevasse (it’s “terribly unfortunate”). Brown’s an android, of course, as is hulking great Ruk (Red Cassidy, The Addams Family’s Lurch as well as voices for the ghastly alien from The Corbomite Manoeuvre and later the Gorn, here with an impressively bulked-up carapace). Ruk comes on like the Anunnaki were building replicas on Exo-III.

It seems Ruk is the remnant from an earlier civilisation, invoking both the ancient-aliens idea (excavated robotics would be found in the following year’s Tomb of the Cybermen, while the premise in general suggests primary Trek format influence The Forbidden Planet). And HP Lovecraft (there’s also reference to Roger translating medical records from the Orion ruins, so it appears he’s something of a scavenger of ancient tech; on that occasion, he “revolutionised immunisation techniques”. I’m guessing that wasn’t the Orion of the Orion Group, then). 

Ruk refers to his creators as The Old Ones – Bloch was a protégé of Lovecraft – while his response to their inferiority and inconsistency elicited a response that would warm the cockles of every budding Skynet out there: it became “necessary to destroy them”. We are told Roger uncovered the elements of the culture that led to their mechanistic approach (in response to living in the darkness rather than the light). Roger wishes to “revolutionise the universe” with his transhumanist creed, for he isn’t just set on giving everyone their own fembot – it’s unclear if Andrea has working parts; Roger says she’s “incapable of that” when the subject of love comes up, but to which kind of love is he alluding? – no, “No one need ever die again”.

Korby: What you saw was only a machine, Only half of what I could’ve accomplished, Do you understand? By continuing the process, I could’ve transferred you, your very consciousness into that android. Your soul, if you wish. All of you. In android form, a human being can have practical immortality. Can you understand what I’m offering mankind?

I rather like that this arch transhumanist has no real truck for notions of the soul – he references it merely as a sop to sentimental human foibles – and the analogy would really be the kind of transference that goes on in cloning centres with the consciousness chip (while a soul can be placed in a clone body, a consciousness chip is inherently dodgy and has no soul paraphernalia). Kirk dismisses this as programming and compares him to power-crazed despots (Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Hitler, Ferris, Maltuvis) while Roger retorts that the results will be better humans, without “jealousy, greed, hate” – which sounds a little Lumanian, per the Seth Material, and their aversion to violence that led to chipping – and the eugenics factor to boot (“No disease, no deformities”).

Korby: Why, even fear can be programmed away, replaced with joy. I’m offering you a practical heaven, a new paradise, and all I need is your help.

Roger wants a colony with raw materials, to proceed with his plan on the sly: “They must be strongly infiltrated into society before the android existence is revealed. I want no wave of hysteria to destroy what is good and right”. Of course, the moral twist is that Roger is also an android, and whatever he thought had been transferred – “your very consciousness”, not really believing in the soul – had not. Despite his protestations “I’m not a computer… It’s still me… I’m the same as I was before… perhaps even better”, he’s probably half right. He’s still a psycho. 

Korby: I’m the same! A direct transfer. All of me, human, rational, and without a flaw.

This is also the one where Kirk, whom we learn has a brother, grabs hold of a stalactite cunningly shaped like a johnson and attempts to beat Ruk about the head with it. Evidently an influence on Everything Everywhere All at Once. Do Fembots Dream of Electric Kirks? Well, the flesh-and-blood model has this one stirred by yearnings deep within. Andrea’s so flustered, she murderises android Kirk and then phasers herself and (consciousness-invested) android Roger to oblivion. That’s The Shat Effect for you. It also suggests a flip of Blade Runner proportions, that we should sympathise with man’s successor.

The Cage

(Pilot) It’s easy to see why this was cannibalised, rather than pressed into service as a filler screening in its own right. The Cage is rough around the ears, peculiar in characterisation – Spock – or downright dull in the same (pretty much all the “regular” cast, including Pike). The story is fairly extenuated too, since it revolves around of a series a seduced-Pike scenarios. But it does sustain interest, as the villains are pretty good. Plus, it allows you to see where all those end-credit images came from.

Notably, the pilot presents as a theme one repeated in the first broadcast – in the US – episode: illusion and deception. Pike is deposited in a pliable paradigm at the behest of the bum-headed (at the back, obviously) Talosians. Essentially, some ETs lurking underground are calling the shots, presenting a lie to the human(s) who have to go along with it, or do so because of their “shockingly limited” intelligence. Indeed, “Their power of illusion is so great, we can’t be sure of anything we do, anything we say”.

There’s also mention of Orion, and slavery, so it’s not such a nice place to hang out (dancing green slave girls aside). Did Gene have a soft-disclosure lowdown here? The Talosians, mind, were forced underground by (nuclear) war, thousands of centuries ago. Whether they looked more like us back then is unclear, although their bulbous heads are all about suggesting the telepathic and mental powers they profess. 

This is, then, suggestive of both future-human Greys (environmental change eliciting physical consequences) and Lumanians (the development of mind powers and the decision to live beneath the ground, distanced from less-capable humans on the surface). Where any kind of actual analogy becomes moot is that the Talosians are actively interfering with humans while also absent of an expressly negative intent. They’re simply above it all, what with being so brainy, and upon learning of man’s “unique hatred of captivity” turn all nicey-nice, allowing the old-and-deformed actual Vina (Susan Oliver) to maintain an illusion of beauty with a facsimile Pike. The reveal of her mangled form is quite grim stuff, and they wisely had the Captain already having rejected her advances so he doesn’t have to say “Yeuch. I don’t want you any longer now you’re gross”. Which is what he was doubtless thinking.

On the reboot front, Pike is tired of being in space, much as Pine Kirk is, no sooner as he gone into space (the perils of movie formats, and being deadly writers), of leading landing parties and deciding who lives and who dies. He’s considering resigning. It’s all a little grimdark, the sort of thing Kurtzman would use, with added gender-infinitive characters. Luckily, the Doctor’s on hand with some booze.

Pike: I can’t get used to having a woman on the bridge. (to One) No offence, lieutenant. You’re different, of course.

Apart from being a surly sort, Pike has the kind of sex appeal that will mark the 23rd century out as refreshingly regressive. He doesn’t like chicks on the bridge (Majel Barret is expressly exempted, as ever) and the only other female crew member is mad keen (“She often has fantasies involving you”). This may be why the female/male voiced Talosians cut him so little slack. Smiling Spock loves blue singing leaves and gets all smug at times. Nimoy’s performance – and eyebrows – becomes exponentially better after the regrouping. The Cage counts more as a curiosity than an indicator of hidden potential, though. The main point to emphasise is that it’s so flat, performance-wise. Those main cast changes worked wonders in boosting a so-so, solid concept into something special.

The Man Trap

(1.6/1.1) More emphasis on illusion vs reality (see The Cage) as a salt-sucking vampire poses as various crew members and, of course, an old flame of McCoy’s. This one lets the cat out of the bag that something is off almost immediately, with McCoy seeing young Nancy (Jeanne Bal, a decrepit 38 rather than a girl of 25), Kirk seeing old Nancy (Bal with grey flecks in her hair) and crewman Darnell seeing some hooker he met on a pleasure planet (Darnell looks a little like Walking Dead guy Jon Bernthal, and will shortly be lying-dead guy).

This is no masterpiece, obviously, and it was purportedly picked for the premiere because of its horror-tinged elements. The salt sucker is a reasonable design, admittedly, but it counts as a reveal rather than a guest-starring creature. Less reasonable is McCoy’s lack of doctorly diligence, somehow missing during his initial examination of Darnell that “This man has no salt in his body at all” (which reminded me of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone line: “He should be dead right now. He’s got more urine than blood”). 

One might account for this simply as his mooning over Nancy; at one point, Kirk reprimands him for the same with “I’ve lost a man!” As this progresses, we’re soon in full-blown doppelganger territory, with the salt sucker assuming the forms of dead crewman Green – who is randy for Rand’s salt – then some random guy Uhura fantasises about who speaks Swahili, and then McCoy. For some reason, Salty resisted urges to suck Crater dry, which you’d have though unlikely since she’s feeding on any crewman she can find on the planet. We’re told “She was the last of her kind” and “simply trying to survive”, but she’s granted no psychology of her own, as – presumably – an intelligent creature who might have a dilemma about draining other sentient creatures dry.

Also of note is Uhura getting flirty with Spock (doubtless an inspiration for the reboot) and more on gender divides – “I’m an illogical woman” – which include Rand taking Sulu his lunch (more plants too; these ones don’t like salt creatures). Uhura also identifies Kirk as “the closest thing you have to a friend”, a useful shorthand for the Spock-Kirk relationship in terms of the network broadcasting this first in the season. Still, while this is serviceable stuff, it probably isn’t one you’d choose for leading the charge.

Court Martial

(15/20) Kind of stupid in the details, but engrossing for an up-against-it Kirk defending his rep, Court Martial might have been something special with a bit more care in the crafting. In its favour is that the twist – at least to me – can’t be seen coming a mile off. Less so is that, when the antagonist is revealed, he’s going full-on m-m-m-mad.

Kirk stands suspect of hastily jettisoning crewman Lieutenant Ben Finner (Richard Webb) during an Ion storm before going to red alert. The computer says he did, but we know better than to trust computers. Kirk says it happened after red alert was sounded, and we know we should trust our goodly captain. Noble, honest James T refuses the offer of hushing things up and taking a grounded position, so Commodore Stone (Percy Rodriguez) institutes a court martial, one with old Kirk flame Areel Shaw (Joan Marshall) prosecuting. He’s defended by bookish Samuel T Cogley (Elisha Cook Jr, who has aged drastically in the decade since The Killing).

The set-up is a good one, if rather devoid of intrigue. It seems like an open-and-shut case, with a couple of witnesses called (Spock, McCoy, Nancy Wong’s personnel officer) and an early, frightfully histrionic confrontation with Finney’s daughter (Alice Rawlings), who’s about 15 going on 80 (“The man who killed my father! You murderer!”) One has to wonder slightly at Cogley’s level of expertise, given he evidently failed to review the video log before preparing his case. Doh! Perhaps his disdain for computers extends to all gadgets, TV included. It also beggars belief somewhat that no one present is called upon to testify to the sequence of events as they remember it (it would appear the only evidence of Kirk jettisoning the pod/Finney was his quietly flicking a switch).

Thank heaven for Mr Spock, then. He twigs the computer is suss, owing to his ability to beat it at chess every time. It turns out Finney isn’t dead at all, that he tampered with the computer (only Spock, the records officer and Kirk could do that, you see), and that he’s hellbent on revenge on Kirk for ruining his life due to an earlier incident where he blotted his copybook. Computers. Can’t trust ’em. Can’t kill ’em. 

There are some rather silly details en route, such as the danger the Enterprise may encounter due to a weakening orbit that results from the ship lacking the full crew aboard (so they can single out heartbeats to determine who is still aboard) and the court allowing Kirk to go and confront Finney alone; they should have nixed that straight off the bat. Cook unleashes impassioned ire about how it’s plain wrong to “elevate that machine above us” – a staunch anti-transhumanist there – and gets a grandstanding speech about human rights that invokes “The Bible, the Code of Hammurabi and of Justinian, Magna Carta, the Constitution of the United States, Fundamental Declarations of the Martian colonies, the Statutes of Alpha Three”. But he does sod all really helpful.

Kirk: She’s a very good lawyer.
Spock: Obviously.
McCoy: Indeed, she is.

There’s a decent intimate-moment gag in the last scene, as Kirk and Shaw snatch a sneaky close-up snog on the bridge in plain view of all present (above). We learn McCoy is an expert in space psychology – “I know something about it”. So that’s why he tries to get a rise out of Spock every 5 minutes. He’s a twisted sadist! And Kirk should fire his tailor. Absolutely dreadful sewmanship, week in, week out, at the slightest provocation, his manly moobs are mercilessly exposed, or there’s a tasty little off-the-shoulder number. Court Martial has several somewhat egregious lapses in coherence, then, but it’s an effectively dramatic episode nonetheless.

The Corbomite Manoeuvre 

(1.3/1.10) In which a horrifying, bald-headed alien with staring eyes is revealed to be a horrifying, 7-year-old member of the Howard clan. Which is supposed to be Jekyll and which Hyde, again? The Corbomite Manoeuvre’s biggest claim to fame is probably having Balok adorning the show’s end credits, as the deflating “There was nothing to worry about in the least” final reveal rather undercuts the entire proceedings. Still, there’s a nice glowing space-cube effect, and Kirk is given lots of space to have his decision-making questioned and show his foolish human brand of cunning (as well as another outing for his magnificent moobs).

Spock: Has it occurred to you that there’s a certain inefficiency in constantly questioning me on things you’ve already made up your mind about?

So this is the show into production proper, leaving pilots behind. Consequently, we have Bones challenging Kirk for the first time and Spock getting along nicely (and still smiling occasionally). Much of the attention is reserved for responses of one-time-only bridge hand Lieutenant Baley (Antony Call), however. Writer Jerry Sohl would also earn credits for This Side of Paradise (as Nathan Butler) and Whom Gods Destroy, while director Joseph Sargent would go onto big screen success with Colossus: The Forbin Project and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (and, obviously, Jaws: The Revenge). It’s a very localised affair, mostly confined to action on the bridge as Kirk responds to the mysterious cube and threatening ship, and only leaves the Enterprise in the last 5 minutes.

Kirk: When I find the headquarters genius that assigned me a female yeoman.
McCoy: What’s the matter, Jim. Don’t you trust yourself?
Kirk: I’ve already got a female to worry about. Her name’s the Enterprise.

Kirk has inherited Pike’s discomfort with women in his vicinity (Rand, basically a waitress), no doubt a response to early 21st-century disparagement of the white male in the power structure. He doesn’t like green salads either, so I’m guessing the replicator is short of mayo. Of more concern is his decision to promote Bailey (“I vote we blast it”) and responding with indulgence to the latter’s instability. Of course, being the captain, his judgement is ultimately proven correct. Or, does Kirk leave Bailey with Balok because he wants to get a blinkin’ liability out of the way, so no one thinks too much about his evidently poor judgement putting him on the bridge in the first place? Is it sound judgement to make an unstable crewman an emissary and leave him in the company of a minor?

Bailey: What, are you all out of your minds? End of watch? It’s the end of everything. What are you, robots? Wound-up toy soldiers? Don’t you know when you’re dying? Watch and regulations and orders What do they mean?

Balok speaks like a put-on of aliens verbosely attempting to tackle Earth speak, which I guess is a clever put-on on the part of actual Balok (“We make assumption you have a deity or deities or some such beliefs which comfort you. We therefore grant you 10 Earth time periods known as minutes to make preparations”). Indeed, one might interpret Balok as fully versed in crap SF tropes, as he refers to humans as “primitive and savage” and only comes a cropper when asked to play poker (but since it’s all a ruse on his part anyway, he presumably didn’t fall for Kirk’s naff gambit). Kirk, implicitly, condones underage drinking (tranya). Perhaps my abiding concern here is Scotty advising the transporter party to bend low. Presumably, if they hadn’t, we’d have ended up with a Philadelphia Experiment-type scenario. Eesh!

The Menagerie

(1.16/1.11-1.12) The Menagerie may be built on the chassis of The Cage, but its appropriation is the least effective part of the story. Particularly so, when it comes to the evidence in the first part; there’s far too much in the way of idling longueurs that would have the Sixth Doctor in The Trial of a Time Lord requesting “… can’t we just have the edited highlights?” However, and again, particularly in the first part of the story, the “What the hell is Spock up to?” framing is engrossing and unfolds with suitable blindsiding of the ship’s captain, particularly when said ship leaves him on Starbase 11 while Spock commandeers the vessel, course set for the forbidden Talos IV.

That Kirk’s pursuit and Spock’s subsequent court martial trial is a shrewd plan on the First Officer’s part to get the former on board with delivering the disfigured Captain Pike to a blissfully delusory existence with the Talosians (and in particular Vina) is an even bigger boon to crediting Spock’s brains. Obviously, in collaboration with the Talosians, whose abilities have gone from pretty impressive to borderline godlike, with all that long-range communication and conjuring. They’re also even more beneficent than they were at the end of The Cage (having been on the unsympathetic side hitherto). 

Particularly effective is the way Spock surrenders himself to McCoy for confinement. I could have done without the reveal that Commodore Mendez (Malachi Throne) was an illusion, so the court martial was simply a ruse too; a more satisfying exoneration for Spock would have been preferable, as would something a little more considered than a Mendez ex-machinae of the actual Commodore getting in touch to say that, given the circumstances, he’s lifting the prohibition order on the planet for this one special case (what, because they might otherwise have suffered suffering peoples from all over the Federation queueing up to visit/stay? Why exactly is there a prohibition order on the planet anyway? I mean, compared to any other less-than-desirable spot an Enterprise landing party has set down on?)

I have to wonder about 23rd-century space medicine, given so little can be done for Pike, marooned in a kind of portable iron lung and only equipped to offer yes/no responses; “Blast medicine”, as McCoy observes. I guess those delta rays are serious undesirable. The events – okay, repurposed events; my understanding is that the first pilot can be considered canon, regardless of the last shot of Pike and Vina – of The Cage are given as 13 years ago, and, it’s been 11 years, 4 months and 5 days since Spock left Pike’s side at the start of The Menagerie. This a slim episode for Shatnerites, as he’s very much in the shade. He gets to flirt with Lt Piper (Julie Parrish) for about 2 minutes in the first part, and he looks on beatifically as the Talosians – very quickly, since Spock has just left the room with Pike, supporting that this is just an image of how it will be for him – show the former Enterprise Captain and Vina.

There’s a certain verisimilitude to having The Cage lodged more than a decade prior, as the visuals, costumes, even Spock, seem like they’re from a different era. It also has the benefit of suggesting a 23rd-century continuity. That would be an enormous boon to The Wrath of Khan calling back to this season, but here, it’s key to the presentation. The lingering philosophical question is whether a life of illusion is preferable to one where one is conscious of reality. Here, it’s a fait accompli, as no one is likely to come down on the side of condemning someone to lingering suffering, given the option, but the broader question remains.

Shore Leave

(1.17/1.15) The oddball quality of Shore Leave – McCoy sees a giant rabbit from Alice in Wonderland in the first couple of minutes, with Alice in hot pursuit – is balanced by the inordinate amount of time it takes those affected to discern the nature of the various Enterprise parties’ experiences. It isn’t until Spock has beamed down, and into the last 10 minutes, that he suggests “Yes, we must all control our thoughts”, despite it having become patently obvious in the first 10 that they’re encountering whatever it is that they’ve been thinking about immediately thereto.

Theodore Sturgeon’s idea – his first of two for the series – of being so wrapped up in one’s illusion that one can’t resist its allure is reasonable enough, if we’re talking McCoy and his two Rigelian cabaret girls – although, by that point, he’s wise to the illusion – or in a life-and-death incident involving a tiger or samurai warrior (naturally, Sulu has samurai warriors on his mind). Somewhat less so with Kirk being repeatedly side-tracked by old Academy joker Finnegan (Bruce Mars, who only went and became a monk in the Self-Realisation Fellowship a few years later). His tussles with Finnegan obligingly lead to the Captain’s classic, manly-ripped-shirt look and are accompanied by some excruciatingly Oirish incidental music. All that was missing was Finnegan waxing lyrical about his lucky charms…

Kirk’s not the only one getting tatty. The delectable – the most-so of all yeo-women-of-the week? – Yeoman Barrows (Emily Banks) is a bit of a floozy, first having her eye on her Captain, giving him a back massage on the bridge – a highly amusing touch is that Kirk thinks Spock is obliging him: “That’s it. A little higher, please. Push. Push hard. Dig it in there, Mister” – before pressing the point (“I don’t see your name in any of the shore parties”). 

With Kirk proving resistant to her lucky charms, she instead sets her sights on McCoy. Who, being old and grizzled, can’t believe his luck and urges her to put on her fairy-tale princess dress (“I’d like to see you in it”). Further illustrating her character is that her first fantasy is being ravaged by Don Juan, leading to a ripped uniform. Not as ripped as Kirk’s obviously, as there needed to be some standards. That she’s a bunny boiler in waiting – as well that McCoy’s forgotten about his white rabbit – is illustrated by the penultimate scene, where she’s most put out by the Rigelian cabaret girls; McCoy is forced to relinquish them to Sulu and Spock (a dead loss for both on both counts).

Caretaker: Here you have to only imagine your fondest wishes, either old ones you wish to relive or new ones, anything at all. Battle, fear, love, triumph. Anything that pleases you can be made to happen.

That McCoy should be run through by a knight on horseback and apparently killed makes for something of a precursor to Spectre of the Gun. Any stakes suggesting we should be concerned for his permanent demise are defused by that larky Oirish music minutes later. Also less than satisfying is the rubbish explanation for all this. Nothing nefarious – or even slightly sinister – is going on at all. This is essentially an amusement park, and anything untoward that transpires is merely illusory. Good of the caretaker to let them know at the outset. 

The Caretaker advises “proper caution” and shore-leave parties recommence… so does this become the No.1 Federation tourist destination (there’s a The Animated Series sequel suggesting not so much)? Kirk’s obviously off for a spot of rumpo with Ruth (Shirley Bonne), and I expect something similar will be the priority of many of these mature 23rd-century space farers (presumably, all the female crewmembers will be imagining a ship’s captain… barring the odd Yeoman Barrows. While all the male crewmembers will be imagining a Yeoman Barrows, in “ripped yeoman’s outfit”). Spock analyses that planet’s life is composed of multicellular castings (“The plants, the animals, the people. They’re all being manufactured”). Which is probably more than the episode warranted in terms of explicability.

Kirk: You say your people built all this. Who are you? What planet are you from?
Caretaker: My impression is that your race is not yet ready to understand us, Captain.
Spock: I tend to agree.

A good episode for superior Spock action, from dismissing any notion that he needs a rest with the illogicality of running up and down on green grass using energy instead of saving it, to his response to Kirk telling him a hallucination clouted him on the jaw (“That sounds like a painful reality”), to his withering “Did you enjoy it, Captain?” after Kirk lays out Finnegan, to his rejection of McCoy’s totty (“With all due respect to the young lady, I’ve already had as much shore leave as I care for”). Some actual location work adds to the slight disorientation. Silly but fun.

The Devil in the Dark

(1/26/1.25) The one where Spock mind melds a scuttling plastic (pizza) bag. Doctor Who tried something not entirely dissimilar with The Creature from the Pit a decade later, to hoots of derision (not to mention dark mutterings about its suggestive appendages), but pathos overcomes most reservations here. Indeed, the least convincing part of The Devil in the Dark’s details is that colonists of Janus VI seem to be a bunch of working-stiff teamsters, less-than-impressed with the methods of these lousy, wiseacre Enterprise losers.

Kirk: I’m sorry Mr Spock, but I’m afraid the creature must die.

On a practical level, it takes an inordinate amount of time even for Spock to surmise the patently obvious (this happens all too frequently): that the abundant silicon balls littering the level the miners opened up 3 months earlier, giving rise to murderous attacks by the bag creature (Horta), are eggs (okay, to be fair, he keeps his thoughts to himself after McCoy ridicules his quick and accurate deduction that the creature is silicon-based, but any half-awake miner would add 2 and 2 together, surely). Presumably, because they’re round, rather than oval, it took longer. Less commendable still is the awkward manner by which Spock goes from protesting a “crime against science”, should Kirk kill the only survivor of a dead race – his Captain is unrepentant – to urging Jim to “Kill it!” (phasers are, hilariously and handily, set to silicon).  I’m guessing this is down to the need for the Shat to be the most empathic of all crewmembers, but it’s a bit silly.

Vanderberg: Look, we didn’t ask you here so you could collect rocks.

Nevertheless, there’s some enjoyable back and forth between the two throughout, particularly the exchange in which Kirk insists Spock join Scotty – who has lashed up an aircon despite claiming “I haven’t seen a PXK in 20 years” – because it wouldn’t do to have the 2 highest-ranking crew snuffed out. Spock counters with the odds against this occurring, and Kirk has to back down amusedly (it reads that this whole scene arises because Kirk wants Spock and his lily-livered creature sympathising out of the way; after all, he just ordered the creature captured if possible rather than killed). 

McCoy: I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer.

Nimoy gets to act some psychic stress – “sadness, for the end of things” – during his mind meld, which is engaging, dramatic and the first of its kind for the show. The laugh-off is good fun too, Spock professing appreciation of the creature’s grasp on logic in comparison to humans as Kirk and McCoy gang up on him (“She really liked those ears”), before responding to the suggestion that he becomes more human everyday with “I see no reason to stand here and be insulted”. McCoy, meanwhile, is called upon to aid the wounded silicon-based lifeform and does so with some thermal concrete. He proudly reveals his gloopy hands and professes he might be “beginning to think I can cure a rainy day”.

Spock: Captain, the Horta is a remarkably intelligent and sensitive creature, with impeccable taste. 

There is, let’s face it, a lot of wandering around tunnel sets during the first half, admonitions as to the urgency of their quest (since a dozen planets depend on the mineral wealth being exploited) and a rather familiar and very Trek scene in which the angry lynch mob want their pound of flesh only to be dissuaded when Kirk and Spock inform them they’ve been merrily killing the creature’s kids for months. Ashen faces all round and then nothing but smiles when the offbeat scenario of the creature doing their tunnelling for them is agreed upon as the happy solution for all concerned (well, Greta would surely have something to say about their collective enviro-diligence, or lack thereof). Unsure what the union rep will have to say about that, however. We’re never apprised how the Horta somehow, lacking digits, stole a nuclear reactor’s circulating pump.

Where No Man Has Gone Before 

(1.2/1.3) The second pilot, and an all-together more satisfying pitch. Kirk hits the ground running. Why, he even gets his shirt torn to reveal his manly chestage. Spock knows better, and is willing to tell a silly human doctor woman as much. The rest of the regulars – James Doohan debuts as Scotty, looking a little haggard, as does George Takei as Sulu, an astro-scientist for one episode only, and boring Doctor Piper (Paul Fix, so nondescript, I didn’t even notice he wasn’t John Hoyt’s The Cage doctor; obviously, space medicine is a high-turnover job) – are merely so-so, either through size of role or presence, but that’s rather made up for by what now looks like a punchy guest cast comprising Gary Lockwood and Sally Kellerman.

Dehner: Don’t you understand? A mutated superior man could be a wonderful thing. The forerunner of a new and better kind of human being!

Because he’d star for Kubrick a couple of years later, while she’d get much abuse from a couple of Korean-War tearaways in M*A*S*H a couple of years after that. Too much exposition for a season opener? I don’t know if that’s true. I’d say there’s more dramatic meat to this than The Man Trap (and certainly Mudd’s Women; although The Naked Time would have been the strongest pick, starting a show with the crew behaving uncharacteristically wouldn’t have been the ideal decision). 

There’s a Star Trek staple here, of transformation, and the imbuing of godlike powers on an ordinary human. That’s a Luciferian ideal (man becomes god, because the actual god is nothing), and for whatever reason, the show usually portrays the superman (in contrast to otherwise similar superheroes) as a bad thing, corrupting essential humanity, empathy and plain common sense. An alien force altering a human would later be seen in The Motion Picture, with a transhumanist bent, but while that movie gave two foundlings the chance to become their own technogods together, any opportunity for Gary Mitchell (Lockwood) and Dr Elizabeth Dehner (Kellerman) to make magic together on their marooned planet is undone by Gary being a bit loco. Indeed, there’s overt leading on such grandeur (“You’ll enjoy being a god”; “Time to pray, Captain”). Oh, for times such as these, when such follies where called out for what they were.

 Kirk: I believe there’s some hope for you after all, Mister Spock.

Another recurring theme is future history. V’ger was Voyager II. Where No Man Has Gone Before kicks off discovering the SS Valiant’s damaged ship’s recorder; Kirk rather brazenly heads off to the zone where the Valiant was, and the same ESP-related events happen to him (this also has shades of MKUltra-style experimentation, the force accentuating those already imbued with latent psychic skills). The Spock-Kirk chemistry is immediately tangible, with a clash of positions over the options Spock presents (maroon him or kill him) leading to the First Officer delivering some choice reasoning at Kirk’s protestations: “The captain of the Valiant probably felt the same way”. The final condescension from Kirk in response to Spock’s “I felt for him too” deserves a “Screw you, Captain”, but Spock will quickly become resigned to his closest friends’ disparagement.

A Taste of Armageddon

(1.23/1.23) A fine SF premise, this, whereby two planets, at war with each other for 500 years, no longer fire a single shot at each other. Instead, battle computers calculate the carnage and the citizens dutifully expedite themselves to disintegration booths when they receive the news of their demise. It’s Cold War – a fix at the highest level, perhaps, if not so much to those immersed in it – reasoning taken to an extreme. As Spock says, “There is a certain scientific logic about it”. Add to the mix a meddling ambassador (Gene Lyons), the sort of buffoon who previously got in the way of the Captain doing his job in The Galileo Seven, and you have an original and engaging episode. At least, until it devolves into confrontations, fisticuffs and charitable ultimatums in the last 10 minutes or so.

Of course, it could be argued Ambassador Fox is entirely correct in his insistence on striking a “treaty port” in the quadrant, so ignoring the Code Seven-Ten and proceeding with his mission. Sure, he’d be dead, but the intentions are valid. He’s all at sea when he does get down to the planet (I though Scotty wasn’t lowering his shields, so how come he arrives a few scenes later?) It takes Kirk’s show of brute force to broker a satisfying solution, one with Fox overseeing peace negotiations between Eminiar VII and Vendikar (there are shades of Doctor Who’s later The Armageddon Factor here, albeit the bombs there are real).

The scene in which Kirk and Spock realise the extent of the Eminiarians’ compliance with these self-imposed edicts, that half-a-million people have just been killed in the city, yet there is no sign of radiation or sounds of bombs going off (the computers have recorded the causalities, to be processed subsequently) is both absurd and chilling. But let’s face it, the conformity here is only an extreme take on how the majority of us are convinced to lead our lives, dosed with medicines that are bad for us, lifestyles and jobs that will hasten our expiration and facts of political or social life that simply “are”, because we’re told they are. 

Credited writer Robert Hamner seems to have contributed to pretty much every series going – including The Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Planet of the Apes, Fantasy Island and Wonder Woman on the genre front, as well as creating S.W.A.T. which currently has a revival going – and his sole work for the series has a confidently meaty quality, of clashing perspectives and philosophies, even if it doesn’t really resolve itself in as nimble a fashion as it sets itself up.

Spock: Yeoman Tamula, you stay here and prevent this young lady from immolating herself.

The mention of the USS Valiant early on – it went missing 50 years earlier after reporting on the sector – suggests this may be important to the plot, yet it’s never raised again (I’m sure we can guess what befell them, but still). The principle supporting cast are well chosen, David Opatoshu bringing charm and ruthlessness to Anan 7, while Lyons his both suitably irksome and a little Conan O’Brien as Fox (his acquiescence to the truth once down on the planet – “I’ve never been a soldier, Mr Spock, but I learn very quickly” – even sees Kirk having him guard some Eminiarians with a phaser). Barbara Babcock is Mea 3, resigned to her prescribed disintegration and sporting a new romantic haircut a decade-and-a-half before such things were a thing.

Spock: I do not approve. I understand.

Spock gets probably the episode’s best line (above) and an amusing Vulcan “gag” (“Sir, there’s a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder”) before administering an amusing Vulcan nerve pinch. Kirk is reserved the majority of the philosophical debate, unable to refute entirely Anan’s charge that he is – they are – a barbarian, except to demur “We’re less cold-blooded about it than you are”. He evidently believes it’s fair game to intervene in this war since his entire crew (almost) have been pronounced dead, and there’s a certain acuteness to his moral high ground – “You’ve made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you’ve had no reason to stop it. And you’ve had it for 500 years” – that could be analogised for any number of solutions our own society has formulated as acceptable – euthanasia, abortion, drone strikes – in response to messy situations. As he explains “I’ve given you back the horrors of war… You can either wage it with real weapons, or you might consider an alternative. Put an end to it. Make peace”.

Kirk: We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers, but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes.

The episode rums, of course, with the essential premise of man’s innate inhumanity, his unadulterated capacity for barbarism and savagery, one that has only been overcome through millions of years of evolution, and it might be apposite to ponder if that itself is a learned response that has simply been accepted without qualification (humans have always been awful, but we try to be better: who is it who is making sure we believe this?) 

The other thing to mention about this one is Scotty. It’s taken nearly a season to get there, but this is a great Mr Scott episode. He’s on to the fake Kirk message from the off (McCoy is reduced to a barely relevant observer throughout), has a very dim view of Fox, and refuses point blank to kowtow to his demands (“I know about your authority, but the screens stay up”). However, as noted above, Fox then beams down unimpeded. So either Scotty thought “Ah well”, or you can transport someone with shields up (the dialogue suggests otherwise, though: “We will make arrangements to receive you…”; “The minute their screens are down, open fire”). Scotty also gets to say “The haggis is in the fire for sure”, in case we doubted his proud Caledonian heritage. 

There’s an Albert Whitlock matte painting telling us what the planet looks like, but with that flat TV lighting it never looks more than a painted backdrop. Had it concluded as capably as it set out its store, A Taste of Armageddon would be in the very top rank of episodes.

The Squire of Gothos

(1.18/1.17) There’s something of Robert Walker’s gleeful malevolence of in William Campbell’s Trelane, albeit more childishly petulant than outright sociopathic. The godlike being treating the crew as playthings has been somewhat overdone (even in this season: Charlie X; Where No Man Has Gone Before), usually requiring the captain to display some remarkably effective low cunning in outwitting him. The Next Generation made a recurrent character from the idea (Q). The last 10 minutes of The Squire of Gothos are admittedly something of a damp squib, with Trelane chasing Kirk around a crappy studio garden before mom and dad show up, but for the most part, the episode represents another strong script from Paul Schneider (after Balance of Terror).

Kirk: Don’t be too upset by what you see, gentlemen. After all, his actions are those of an immature, unbalanced mind.

Indeed, Kirk facing up in macho fashion, especially when totty of the week Yeoman Ross (Venita Wolf) is subject to Trelane’s attentions – over Uhura’s “Nubian prize” – lacks much subtlety, based on getting a rise out of him so as to provoke a duel (and thus expose the machine behind the mirror that enables, or at least directs, his abilities). And then he does it again, suggesting Trelane embarks on his own Most Dangerous Game (during which Kirk somehow manages to snap his sword in two). And yet, when it comes to it, it’s the aging parents who bring him into line. 

SpockI object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose. 

I found Trelane’s limited interactions with Spock much more entertaining, including the latter’s “I object to you” snub while damning the Squire’s achievements with faint praise by parsing the difference between describing them as interesting over fascinating to Kirk and McCoy.

Trelane: You always stop me when I’m having fun.

This is an episode requiring facemasks to withstand Gothos’ surface (until it’s realised they aren’t needed) and which features the salt monster as an exhibit, besides Kirk and Sulu, when McCoy, Jaeger (Richard Carlyle) and the episode’s requisite aggressive helmsman of the week De Salle (Michael Barrier) beam down. The attempted escape from Gothos, the planet always reappearing ahead of the Enterprise is a nice touch, although Kirk should really have quit the second time it appeared, had he much in the way of nous. 

McCoy: There’s that magic word again. Does your logic find this fascinating, Mr Spock?
Spock: Fascinating is a word I use for the unexpected. In this case, I should think interesting would suffice.

The central conceit is that Trelane makes mistakes, hence his period accoutrements, and it’s already established that he’s immature when Kirk first tries to get a rise out of him. When Explorers offered its spin on the kids-as-aliens idea nearly 20 years later -aliens also obsessed with Earth culture – it was played overtly for laughs. The concept itself is one that lends itself to overripe hamminess, since while the stakes are nominally extreme, we know this is all just a game, a mind game, and it will turn out fine in the end.

Spock: For the record, how do we describe him? Pure mentality? Force of intellect? Embodied energy? Superbeing? He must be classified, sir.
Kirk: God of war, Mr Spock.
Spock: I hardly find that fitting.
Kirk: Then a small boy, and a very naughty one at that.

After all, that’s why the Next Gen crew always rather look forward to seeing Q again. Q embodies the advanced-but-not-that-advanced godlike being, something of a snub to concepts of advanced/higher-dimensional awareness, as it could be argued it reduces understanding of different states of development to human terms (Q is, after all, considering destroying the human race when first encountered, which no truly advanced race – as in Service to Others rather than Service to Self – would entertain). I see a novel suggested Trelane was a member of the Q Continuum and Q his godfather/father, which sounds about right.

The Enemy Within 

(1.5/1.5) The first in the original run (per production order) that really comes together, juggling the winning elements of theme, performance and drama as Kirk splits in twain due to a transporter malfunction and the Shat gets to go maximum evil (“I said give me the brandy!”) And not a little disturbingly disposed towards Janice in the process. This is also the one with unidog thing: poor little unidog!

Scotty: Except it’s not a duplicate. It’s an opposite.

You might position this as a far-off precursor to #MeToo, with Kirk accused from all sides (“I was sure I scratched you” says Janice; “It was you, sir” pipes up Foster in confirmation). So he’s being unjustly maligned, but at the same time, it’s a fair call. Evil Kirk is him, after all. We’ll see something conceptually similar a couple of decades later with Doctor Who’s Valeyard, the distillation of all that is evil in the Doctor. Notably, Spock, being on a rarefied plateau, resists ascribing reductive good/evil rationales, since they are “Earth terms”, but it’s tricky ground in terms of how he then ascribes behaviour. 

Spock: We have here an unusual opportunity to appraise the human mind, or to examine, in Earth terms, the roles of good and evil in a man. His negative side, which you call hostility, lust, violence, and his positive side, which Earth people express as compassion, love, tenderness.
McCoy: It’s the Captain’s guts you’re analysing. Are you aware of that, Spock?
Spock: Yes, and what is it that makes one man an exceptional leader? We see indications that it’s his negative side which makes him strong, that his evil side, if you will, properly controlled and disciplined, is vital to his strength. Your negative side removed from you, the power of command begins to elude you.

So authority is a negative, in “Earth terms”? Perhaps a better analogy would be the Law of One’s Service to Others or Service to Self – I know, it’s coming up a lot here – as it’s evident evil Kirk operates entirely in the latter category. Good Kirk, however, is so divested of faculties that he becomes ineffectual, which is hardly the operating definition of Service to Others. One might confer that in 3D physicality, both are elements to be martialled, as a prelude to outright polarisation at higher densities. 

The main takeaway is much less high-flown, however; this gives us a great Shat opportunity, particularly Laughing Evil Kirk and “I’m Captain Kirk. I’m Captain Kirk! I’m Captain Kirk! I’m Captain Kirk!”; “I’m the Captain. Don’t you understand? I’m captain of the ship! I’m the captain! This is my ship! My ship! It’s mine!” Spock, meanwhile admits to being “constantly at war” between his human and alien halves, which may explain his rather suspect parting comment to Janice: “The, er, impostor had some interesting qualities, wouldn’t you say, Yeoman?” You mean, rapey ones?

The Enemy Within gives Bones his first “He’s dead Jim” – poor little unidog! Nagging Bones, finding fault with anything Spock says, is a bit like Scully but both crotchetier and more fun. Spock does his first nerve pinch (on evil Kirk, Nimoy’s idea). Yay! Shat gets shirtless, again. Gotta get your money’s worth from those waxings. Crewman Farrell appears again (last seen in Mudd’s Women). It’s very cold on the surface of the planet at night (-117f/-83c) and attempts to send heaters to help Sulu and co were scuppered because the heaters duplicated and did not work. But how about Sulu’s request for a pot of hot coffee? How would that have turned out (this subplot wasn’t in the original script)? 

There’s also the first instance (I think) of a retrospective voiceover on the log entries, Kirk apprised of the impostor before he is in the narrative. Kirk opines that “I’ve seen a part of myself no man should”, so did he assimilate his memories of evil Kirk too? Directed by Leo Penn (Chris and Sean’s dad), this one was written by Richard Matheson – his only Trek credit – and while he admitted to riffing on Jekyll and Hyde, the results never feel derivative; the pedigree shows immediately.

Operation – Annihilate!

(1.29/1.29) Or Attack of the Flying Dover Sole Mini Pizza Pancakes (or bags of fake vomit). Certain episodes of Star Trek leave an indelible mark when watched at an impressionable age, invariably the ones with some form of terrifying creature, however crappy it may seem in the cold light of day. Thus, highlights of the first season would have been Arena, The Devil in the Dark and this, which, despite is risible title, offers the OST’s most dread form of alien life this side of the Tribbles.

And with sound effects equally as affecting. Admittedly, the introduction isn’t the most promising, warning us of a “pattern of mass insanity” spreading through the sector that suggests some sort of Terry Nation-style space ague. And you’d have thought someone, at some point, would have been able to photograph and send evidence of the “horrible things” flapjacking themselves onto all and sundry before succumbing. As possession tales go, though, Operation – Annihilate! belies its daft title and mockable premise, complete with shopping-mall/ leisure-complex planet – actually a business park – and succeeds in giving us a first-rate Spock inner battle and some suitably sinister scenes (I see IMDB is prey to reviews attesting to “a terrible end” to the season while giving it 7/10. Illogical, captain).

Obviously, this is a highly impactful Kirk episode too, since his brother dies and then his sister-in-law follows suit, such that only his nephew survives… yet he never mentions any of them again. Consequently, he’s able to josh around about Spock’s ears in the final scene. Let’s face it, though, he was only ever really worried about his First Officer, hence Bones reminding him of all those millions who would die. Sure, he rejects the utilitarian option – killing five saves ten etc, very Kobyashi Maru – but that’s only after Bones chides him with his responsibilities and he snaps out of his Spock funk. 

It has to be admitted, the solution – it turns out to be a spectrum of light – is on the busted-out-of-Starfleet-for-incompetence side of things any decent medical or science officer would have checked out as among the most rudimentary of influences that might have affected the health and wellbeing of the things. Were it otherwise, however, it wouldn’t allow Kirk a scene where he shows how incredibly keen and inspired he is in unpacking the impossible. It isn’t a good McCoy week, though, since he not only fails to consider this and fails to get all the gack out of Spock, but he also fails to consider that he didn’t need to blind him too (thank goodness for those Vulcan inner eyelids, useful in a bright spot).

Spock: It is not life as we know or understand it. Yet it is obviously alive, it exists.

Spock voices one of his “It’s life, Jim. But not as we know it” variants. The early scenes on the planet are suitably eerie, with armed thugs warning the crew they don’t want to hurt them before getting phasered. Aurelan is helpfully able to tell her brother-in-law “They need us to be their arms and legs. They’re forcing us to build ships for them”, which is very enterprising of them. While their hatching burbling noises are quite endearing, it seems they part of a whole, gestalt-like, and each is a huge individual brain cell (meaning they have extreme resistance to phasers… but not to a range of light. Okay). Not only does it not register on Spock’s tricorder (it registers more conclusively on his back when it latches on seconds later), “it doesn’t even look real” (so says Maurishka Taliaferro’s Yeoman Zahra). Which at least premeditates any viewer criticisms of Trek’s latest under-par alien menace.

McCoy: His body’s full of these tentacles, entwining and growing all about his nervous system.

McCoy’s description of this invasive threat put me in mind of the mess discovered when autopsies are done of victims who obviously haven’t succumbed through having multiple doses of the coof jab. It’s a pretty grisly sounding beastie, one that will attach itself everywhere, including Spock’s spinal cord, and “leaves a stinger much like a bee or wasp”. 

There’s no attempt at analysis of what the creature wants – aside from those spaceships, although it seems to have no problem getting from place to place – so the extent to which it possesses keen intelligence – what with it being very different and an “incredibly huge organism” – or it’s purely parasitical in nature isn’t really clear. Either way, its inimical properties aren’t so different to The Thing’s, and thus less “benign” than the influence of the pop plants in This Side of Paradise; the most common comparison has been drawn to Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. In contrast to the Thing, or the Vril lizard for that matter, the original human is not expunged, at least until the vessel itself is.

Kirk: You’re only half Vulcan. What about the human half of you?
Spock: It is proving to be an inconvenience, but it is manageable.

Luckily, Spock’s made of resilient stuff, leading to one of his great understated responses (above). He’s also able to get out of sickbay restraints without any trouble, something that really ought to have been considered generally, what will all the potential for overpowered aliens or supercharged post-human freaks needing treatment during the ship’s travels. His magnanimous response to McCoy messing up and blinding him is also classic Spock: “An equitable trade, Doctor. Thank you”.

Kirk: Mr Spock. Regaining eyesight would be an emotional experience for most. You, I presume, felt nothing?
Spock: Quite the contrary, Captain. I had a very strong reaction. My first sight was the face of Dr McCoy bending over me.
McCoy: ‘Tis a pity your brief blindness did not increase your appreciation for beauty, Mr Spock. 

And yes, the frivolous final exchange is one of the series’ very best, with Spock overhearing Bones admitting to him being “the best first officer in the fleet”. Doubtless, Kirk will reserve his tears over dead Sam and Aurelan for the privacy of his quarters later, and arrange to send little Peter off to Space Boarding School.


(1.19/1.18) One of the most iconic episodes, often for reasons as mirthful – Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’s use of Vasquez Rocks, the appearance of the adversary – as they are dramatic. Arena was also copy and pasted, to superior effect, in Blake’s 7’s first-season story Duel, where a powerful alien race sets the crew’s leader against a staunch enemy (Gene L Coon is said to have unconsciously plagiarised Frederic Brown’s 1944 short story, such that Brown receives a credit). Terry Nation’s sensible variation was mainly that he gave each party someone to talk to. In Arena, we have to settle for Kirk talking to himself and the Gorn making hissing-wheezing monster sounds like an asthmatic Tasmanian Devil.

Kirk: Never mind about me! Protect my ship!

This is Gene L Coon’s first writing credit for series – he was showrunner and the story editor responsible for many rewrites during the first season and first part of the second season – and he’s generally recognised as one of the foremost contributors to Trek characters and tone. He also wrote Spock’s Brain… It’s helmed by one of the most prolific of OST directors, Joseph Pevney, who has fun with the location work.

Kirk: How can you explain a massacre like that? No, Mr Spock. The threat is clear and immediate. Invasion.
Spock: Very well, then. If that’s the case, you must make certain that the alien vessel never reaches its home base.

Kirk’s attitude here is notable. He has a “come in peace, shoot to kill” habit at the best of times, but he’s positively hellbent on avenging the devastation inflicted on the Cestus III colony. Shades of this will surface in the movies in his attitude towards Klingons. There’s consequently a well-judged tenor of philosophical disagreement in approach between the Captain and his First Officer (Spock’s suspicion over the call to the colony in the first scene – it turns out to be a trap – is well placed). Kirk yells “invasion” while Spock pleads positive proof is needed, albeit yielding in each case to his superior’s decision. 

Spock: The destruction of the alien vessel will not help that colony, Jim.
Kirk: If the aliens go unpunished, they’ll be back, attacking other Federation installations.
Spock: I merely suggested that a regard for sentient life.
Kirk: There’s no time for that. It’s a matter of policy. Out here, we’re the only policemen around. And a crime has been committed. Do I make myself clear?
Spock: Very clear, Captain.
Kirk: I’m delighted, Mr Spock.

Indeed, one might even suggest Kirk borders on the bastardly (above). This makes for the most engaging meat of the episode, above and beyond the more adrenalised contre-temps between Kirk and the Gorn fellow that follow. After all, it turns out Spock is, if not right per se, at least correct in his call for prudence and restraint. When Kirk petulantly claims they are interfering (with his pursuit), the Metrons legitimately rebuke his presumption: “It is you who are interfering” (in their system) – yeah, you tell Kirk! 

The Gorn does indeed have his reasons: “You were intruding! You established an outpost in our space… We destroyed invaders as I shall destroy you!” I mean, they don’t mince words, these Gorn, but their general disposition is much closer to Kirk’s than Kirk’s is to Spock’s. Indeed, the exchange between Spock and McCoy (“Then we could be in the wrong”) represents a refreshingly non-combative pose, where both are morally agreed on preservation without the Captain there to stir things up.

Metron: There is hope for you. Perhaps in several thousand years, your people and mine shall meet to reach an agreement. You are still half savage, but there is hope. We will contact you when we are ready.

James Tiberius does, of course, relent in the final analysis, winning brownie points for showing mercy (“We feel there may be hope for your kind”). And one has to wonder somewhat about yet another advanced species (see The Squire of Gothos) showing itself prone to highly partial and erratic ethical quantifications. I mean, what kind of aspirational ethos is “The winner of the contest will be permitted to go his way unharmed. The loser, along with his ship, shall be destroyed in the interests of peace” (it also seems that they planned to kill the winner all along, in dialogue not included from the script, hence telling Kirk he will not be destroyed because he showed mercy). Right, killing in the interests of peace… 

Of course, when we finally see a Metron, there’s a curious overlay going on, played as “he” is by Carole Shelyne but outfitted and wigged like a guy in bad drag and voiced by Vic Perrin; perhaps the Metrons are transgender transhumanists, and their godlike status is really more Luciferian in aspect? Are their kids called Metronomes? (His name derives from the Talmudic Metatron. Which is why they look angelic, or like effete castoffs from I, Claudius, depending on your take.)

Kirk: Like most humans, I seem to have an instinctive revulsion to reptiles. I must fight to remember this is an intelligent, highly evolved individual.

The “what are we looking at here?” continues with the Gorn. One might suggest this is an early transposition of the Draco to science-fiction TV and movies, and if it is, it forms something of an apologia. Sure, the Gorn’s an ugly brute, one given to ugly noises and a pugilistic disposition, but his appearance is prefaced by Kirk’s preconceptions, that he may be wrong. Later too, as noted, it becomes evident that humanity might be considered the aggressors, and the Gorn, if not grossly maligned, have a legitimate claim to the action they took. Are we being asked to consider that we should accept the Draco? At least V will set that straight…

Kirk: A large deposit of diamonds on the surface. Perhaps the hardest substance known in the universe. Beautifully crystallized and pointed, but too small to be useful as a weapon. An incredible fortune in stones yet I would trade them all for a hand phaser, or a good solid club. 

The Gorn is both daffy looking and quite impressive. Perhaps because of the slower pace – complete with patented Shatner stage rolls – a degree of tension is milked from the combat, especially when the plodding, unagile Gorn is nearing a desperate Kirk. After all, we’ve seen he’s super strong, able to hurl polystyrene rocks like nobody’s business and withstand a gleeful Kirk bowdlerising him with a boulder. He also laughs on one occasion (over his superior plan) and calls Kirk out as an elementary buffoon (“I have heard every word you have said”). Kirk meanwhile gets to soliloquise somewhat portentously (above). 

So yeah. This episode is ripe for ridicule, if you choose to treat it foremost as a somewhat tatty relic, but it also has sufficient dramatic chops for it to hold its head held high.

Balance of Terror 

(1.9/1/14) Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the similar cat-and-mouse games of The Wrath of Khan – you’re obliged to mention The Enemy Below, of course – but I didn’t find Balance of Terror quite as unbeatable as I remembered. Some of the plotting and characterisation creaks rather, but there’s nevertheless strong anchoring from the premise of duelling Starship captains and great work from Mark Lenard as the sympathetic Romulan Commander. Character work? Pah, says JJ Abrams.

Commander: First study the enemy, seek weakness. If I were their commander, that is what I would do. 

One does have to conclude, though, that when the Romulan Commander opines, amazed, “He’s a sorcerer, that one. He reads the thoughts in my brain”, he isn’t far wrong. Somehow, the Enterprise manages to hit the cloaked Romulan vessel – which has very silly paintwork – every time it fires phasers. In order to create a balance in the terror, some daft finagling is needed (“Their invisibility screen may work both ways. With that kind of power consumption, they may not be able to see us”); the Romulans have superior weaponry but not range, invisibility but can’t see when in that state (relying on sensors, hence Kirk’s echo tactic). Aside from a late-stage nuke stratagem, Kirk keeps outthinking his opponent. 

Commander: We are creatures of duty, Captain. I have lived my life by it. Just one more duty to perform.

Although, to be fair, the latter is a believably weary figure, unconvinced by the call of his mission, to break the treaty for another clash (“Our gift to the homeland, another war”). There are strong touches here, with the Commander feeling the pressure of his own instincts versus those of his subordinates (“We will attack, but by my order”). Even his death is a “This is the way it has to be” in response to Kirk’s offer of capture. The “could have called you friend” is a bit on the over-sentimental side, possibly.

Spock: And if Romulans are an offshoot of my Vulcan blood, and I think this likely, then attack becomes even more imperative.

Some of the conceits are stretching it a bit, though. Romulus and Remus? They wouldn’t have gone with that, were they making it today (it would also be shit, though, so there’s that). And while I can just about buy the idea that “no human, Romulan, or ally has ever seen the other. Earth believes the Romulans to be warlike, cruel, treacherous, and only the Romulans know what they think of Earth” – something The Armageddon Factor, mentioned earlier, would later use – the idea that Spock has no idea they look like Vulcans is really daft.

Stiles: I’m alive, sir. But I wouldn’t be. Mr Spock pulled me out of the phaser room. He saved my life. He risked his life after I–
Spock: I saved a trained navigator so he could return to duty. I am capable of no other feelings in such matters. 

The other factor is the way Kirk has huge and persistent problems with his guest-navigator-of-the-week Lieutenant Stiles (Paul Comi). By this point, he should have banished him from the bridge the moment he started on about his ancestors lost in the war a 100 years ago. He starts getting all baity with Spock, who nobly resists the challenges and rebukes – and actually agrees with him at one point – and ends up renouncing his bigotry, not because he’s wrong, but because the First Officer saved his life. 

Kirk also, regardless of his battlefield prowess and repudiation of Stiles’ attitude, allows himself to be manipulated by the daft paranoia of a Romulan spy aboard and confesses his insecurities to Bones (“What if I’m wrong?”) As for Rand getting all up close and in his personal space when things get deadly and him clutching her protectively – FFS! 

There’s also a bookend culminating in loss to underline the futility-of-war theme, but it’s somewhat insubstantial as neither betrothed have made any impression. Bones is better with his harping on how “War is never imperative, Mr Spock” and “Do you want a galactic war on your conscience?” even if he soothes Kirk’s troubled conscience on cue (“Don’t destroy the one named Kirk”). This is generally a very strong episode, however, retaining its dramatic heft via a sturdy template and one of the OST’s best guest “villains”. 

Errand of Mercy

(1.27/1.26) One might regard teasing the reveal in the way Errand of Mercy does as a mistake, since there are very few possibilities for exactly why the Organians are so unfussed by the prospect of cruel Klingon enslavement. But the pleasures that come with this, of an increasingly irate and indignant Kirk, perplexed at their indifference and finding himself ironically allying himself in his disavowal of their attitudes with Klingon Commander Kor (John Colicos, later Count Baltar in Battlestar Galactica) more than outweigh that.

Kirk: I have no desire to die for the likes of you.

Kor: I don’t blame you, Captain.

Indeed, in this first Klingon story we have all the material we need to etch out Kirk’s abiding antagonism towards the Federation’s arch-nemeses; he can, after all, see a little bit too much of his own belligerence in their warlike posturing. And in Kor, we have an engaging, almost urbane Klingon, sufficiently self-aware (and aware of Kirk) that he gets to enjoy himself immensely. I’m doubtful there’s been a better Klingon since (although, I have to demur to some of the DS9 depictions, which include Kor’s return, as my viewing record there was patchy).  

Obviously, giving the Klingons black(-ish) face with Genghis Khan facial hair fell out of favour by the time The Motion Picture came round, but it does mean that, in this instance at least, they’re required to lead with the quality of performance rather than number of forehead ridges (the less said about their risible Discovery refit, the better. The less said about Discovery, the better).

Kirk: You don’t have to be sheep. You can be the wolves.

John Abbott makes Organian councilman Ayelborne slightly effete but simultaneously strong-minded, an effective combination when it comes to Kirk having the rug pulled from beneath him. It’s only really Spock who suffers somewhat from the dynamic, left bereft of insight or deductions due the script’s demand for elusive answers. Thus, he assess a “totally stagnant”, arrested culture, one that has spent 10s of 1000s of years with no advancement. He observes passively while Kirk throws his verbal weight around, going along with his captain’s schemes (including blowing up the Klingon munitions dump) when he should have been steering Kirk in the direction of key necessary information to be located.

Gene L Coon has lots of fun with the compare-and-contrast between Kirk and Kor, however, both separately calling the Organians idiots (Kor complains of “The stupid, idiotic smile everyone else seems to be wearing” while Kirk objects to their “idiotic placidity”). They’re united when it comes to protesting the Organians placing constraints on their ability to wage war with each other. They “have no right to dictate to our Federation” blusters Kirk, and Kor echoes his sentiments “Or our Empire!” The seeds for TNG are here from the outset too, as Ayelborne promises “It is true that in the future, you and the Klingons will become fast friends. You will work together”.

While there’s a certain elegance to all this, there’s also the occasional clumsy intrusion. Kirk referencing our topical history with “Armenia, Belgium… The weak innocents who always seem to be located on the natural invasion routes”. The Klingons are mustered with an overtly jackbooted stance too, complete with references to “Special occupation order No.4” (which makes, depending on your appetite for seeing the Allies as saying one thing and doing another, Kor’s attestation to “minor ideological differences” between the Klingon Empire and the Federation most amusing or outrageous). 

Ayelborne: Millions of years ago, Captain, we were humanoid like yourselves, but we have developed beyond the need of physical bodies. That of us which you see is mere appearance for your sake.

As to the Organians’ status, it seems Kirk is right to accuse them of having no backbones, being as they are no longer physical. Indeed, taking physical form for the benefit of humans is fairly textbook higher-D stuff, so they would probably, on this basis, be upper-6th or 7D. 3D races’ “emotions are most discordant” to them (when it comes to it, they probably have little reason to be actually hanging around “on” Organia, but that might be getting a bit too metaphysical for this story). One wonders slightly at Spock’s assessment, however, since it seems unnecessarily reductive; not only are they “as far above us on the evolutionary scale as we are above the amoeba”, but he also seeks to console Kirk’s embarrassment at his own behaviour by suggesting “Even the gods did not spring into being overnight”. Which gods does he mean? If the Greek pantheon, then actually, they probably did.

Kirk: Well, Commander, I guess that takes care of the war. Obviously, the Organians aren’t going to let us fight.
Kor: A shame, Captain. It would have been glorious.

As far as first-season introductions to Trek adversaries go, this one pips Balance of Terror. Kor’s so much fun, it’s a shame he didn’t get an OST rematch (Colicos was unavailable, it seems). Also of note is Sulu being put in charge of the Enterprise, not that he gets to do much but flee, once Kirk and Spock have beamed down.

This Side of Paradise

(1.24/1.24) Parasitical spores, drifting across space, reducing their hosts to shallow facsimiles of their former selves. Leonard Nimoy succumbs to the Star Trek version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a decade(-ish) after the original, and 10 years(-ish) before he’d appear in a direct remake. This Side of Paradise is the one with shiny, happy, smiling, loved-up Spock, and it’s rightly highly regarded, even if the solution to the plants’ effect is on the pat side.

No dowdy love interest for Mr Spock; Leila (Jill Ireland, the ex-Mrs David McCallum and by this point, Mrs Charles Bronson) is the kind of babe Kirk would be hubba-ing about all the way to the transporter room. Kirk is far too preoccupied with being the only one immune to the spores’ insidiously upbeat effect to have any time for luscious ladies, though; even when he does, belatedly, come under the influence, he quickly martials an inner revolt – not entirely convincing, it has to be said – that leads him to realise the solution, very conveniently. But what else could they do really, other than enacting the opposite? So the solution to the dilemma of lovey-dovey docility is violent emotion? Kirk, being super manly, is in touch with such brute values, I guess. And from thence, getting Mr Spock all seething, and onwards to order restored.

If the “You wouldn’t like Mr Spock when he’s angry” is a little on the abject side, it’s nevertheless played with conviction, and there’s a real stark desolation to Kirk, alone on the enterprise, his crew lovin’ it up on the surface of Omicron, contemplating his lonely fate. So much so, you can forgive that the answer is overly convenient; nothing that would counter this fix, this corner boxed into, would likely have escaped without some degree of criticism.

And anyway, while Kirk may be the principle motive force to getting the Enterprise out of this fix, it’s Spock’s story, and one that’s duly celebrated as one of his most memorable. Kelly’s attempts to wrest some attention his way through Bones mystifyingly becoming a deep-southern-fried hick once he’s all spored-up, fond of calling Kirk “Jim-boy”, are ultimately to no avail in this regard. Nimoy gives an entirely compelling portrait of one released from the shackles of logic and discipline, embracing fully the freedom of joy, humour and carefree abandon, such that you rather mourn his return to the Spock we know and love at the end, and his reflection “Except that, for the first time in my life, I was happy”. It’s almost enough to make one teary-eyed.

Spock: It’s a true Eden, Jim. There’s belonging and love.
Kirk: No wants. No needs. We weren’t meant for that. None of us. Man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is.

Interpretations of the plot have led to analogies to hippies (they’re all peace-loving vegetarians high on hallucinogens… although, all the animals have died, which isn’t so nice). Kirk’s beef with it all is a “what makes us human” one, rather than an “ideological” take, though. He believes man is there for the “challenge” (and promptly returns to the Enterprise in a huff), and if his stance is somewhat combative – indeed, such that he breaks the spell through inciting mass violence among his lulled crew – he has a point (the Lotus Eaters’ apathy has been identified as an influence for good reason). 

McCoy will later observe “Well, that’s the second time man’s been thrown out of paradise”, and Kirk will suggest man is meant to “struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can’t stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums”. Which again, might be overstating his case. The point, surely, is to seek out paradise without artificial means either preventing it (for example, TPTB making it seem like an impossible dream) or stimulating it (intoxicants blinding us to reality, the reality of the TPTB, invariably. Or more prosaically, escaping into fantasy worlds of video games or television – or drugs, or soma – to insulate us against said reality). 

The effect of the pods on those exposed is mostly dramatised musically, and effectively so too, such that it seems overwhelming. Uhura is mustered a scene where she comes over all sexy (or sexier). Of course, more explicitly adverse parasites are more common in SF, such as those replicating us (pod people) or, less fictionally, with the Vril taking us over. One does wonder that some specimens weren’t taken back for study, since anything that can stimulate complete health, to the extent of regrowing organs – Frank Overton’s appendixes (and I guess eradicating vaccine damage – inoculations are still given out in this 23rd century, alas) – surely merits distillation of its benefits.

The Return of the Archons

(1.22/1.21) If you can excuse the deranged computer talked into billowing out smoke and self-destructing as a grand climax, this is one of the very best of the first season. The explanation for this society is something of a stiff, clichéd and overfamiliar as it is, but what we see balances that out, a Body Snatchers, hive-mind scenario complete with the crew landing amid an unnerving, The Purge-esque debauch (this occurred to me on revisiting the episode, and I see it actually was an inspiration for the movie series). And then there are the title “characters”, whose name Gene Roddenberry surely cannot have selected at random…

The Archons are traditionally suggestive of those astral entities feeding off humanity’s emotions for sustenance, the minions of the demiurge with a “drone-like hive mentality” (John Lash). Another view has it that the Archons are essentially our own creations (“All your spirit guides, angels/demons, ET’s, reptilians, ascended masters et al are all thought forms which we have created along with the astral itself. We are supreme/divine beings that have created everything. Nothing is external to us” – from a David Icke forum post, but the former forum, I believe, so I can’t link it). 

Much of archonic theory is based on ratifying the Nag Hammadi texts as legitimate, which of course, they are not (ideas of the reincarnation trap, and Earth as a prison, derive from this). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some basis for the archonic concept. Correlative to the theory is the concept of “loosh”, this being the food of Carlos Castenada’s “awesome, monstrous” flyers, who are “the means by which the universe tests us”. Out-of-body star explorer Robert Monroe analogised the more advanced alien species who use Earth for a loosh-harvesting garden as a Guernsey cow being milked by its owner (as opposed to the Gnostics’ “demonic prison guards”). His initial distress at the concept was placated somewhat by the entity the INSPEC, who confirmed the loosh farm but put a positive spin on it, leading to Monroe’s realisation “So… loosh is really… love?”, which is very similar sounding to Bashar and his benignly abducting Zeta Greys.

How does any of this relate to The Return of the Archons? Well, it can only do so if we ignore the name being a fit (it refers to the Starship Archon that disappeared a 100 years before). In terms of the control apparatus, though, of a mad AI reducing the populace to the state of NPC hive minds, allowing no dissent and dictating all modes of expression, one might find some degree of commonality. They key failing is that the computer is not, that we know of, feeding off the populace (however, for the reading that Archons are the creation of the individual themselves, Landru is the personification of this, and death being dealt from hollow tubes, well… is it thinking it’s deadly that makes it so?) 

One wonders at the initial bacchanalia, however, since its motivation goes unmentioned subsequently yet fits entirely with an idea of harvesting energy from wanton acts. Those of Beta III who are of a certain age are induced to orgies of sex, violence and general abandon during the “Red Hour” before suffering a terrible comedown the next morning. 

Reger: There was war. Convulsions. The world was destroying itself.

It’s curious too that the zombified populace, offering placidly elated greetings while prey to averring “You’re not of the Body” of those who are not-we, slot in neatly with the Lash characterisation of hive-mind Archons. Albeit, the closer antecedent is the pod people of Invasion of the Body Snatchers a decade earlier, right down to the ability to feign compliance and the McCarthyite accusations those only pretending to go with the flow are subjected to. Landru’s affirmation of the people’s mindset is a virtual lift of the one from Siegel’s movie. Nevertheless, Roddenberry’s concept allows for damnation through good intentions, which may be closer to the Lumanians  – per the Seth Material – artificially limiting their capacities for freewill than an outright malicious, predatory system. What this AI really needed was soul, although there’d doubtless be issues even if it had one.

Spock: A machine. This whole society is a machine’s concept of perfection. Peace, harmony.
Kirk: But no soul.

We’re also presented with a society that has effectively been reset, with no or limited knowledge of its technological past. That too allies itself with an analogy for the actual world, an artificially quelled populace encouraged to indifference about their “sphere” and the truths about its history. We have the first mention of the Prime Directive here, with Kirk seeming to play a little fast and loose with definitions (“That refers to a living, growing culture. Do you think this one is?”) It’s somewhat clumsy too that there’s another definition of the (a) Prime Directive later, this one from Landru (“The good of the Body is the Prime Directive”).

On the curious tics and quirks side, we have yet another case of the petulant crewman who needs reining in (“Maybe he’ll hear this”). I tend to assume they’re put there to make Kirk look reasonable by comparison. Kirk’s later “Snap out of it! Start acting like men” is a bit unfair and unnecessary, but his response to Spock using a punch – “Isn’t that somewhat old-fashioned?” – makes for an amusing rejoinder to Tomorrow is Yesterday. 

Spock’s analysis of a soulless computer then leads to a gag-off whereby he takes being called a computer as a compliment. Apparently, the episode is discussing themes raised by Nam, which rather passed me by as they seem resolutely non-specific (although, a brainwashed populace, unable to remember acts of violence, sounds a little like encountering Spider Troggs). I wasn’t especially persuaded by the idea that it’s a commentary on religious extremism either, although I can see the argument well enough.

It’s undoubtedly true that this is all wrapped up a little to efficiently, à la The Prisoner’s The General – broadcast 9 months and on a different continent later – and that the drone-like population now seems rather rote, but The Return of the Archons nevertheless creates an engaging, tense environment – I particularly like the attention to its own distinctive phraseology and terms – and offers stakes keep it vital throughout.

Space Seed

(1.24/1/22) KHAN!!!! It was a genius move to return to Khan Noonian Singh in The Wrath of Khan. Considerably less so to reboot him in Into Darkness, but let’s not dwell on that. One might expect Space Seed to elevate with the hindsight of Star Trek II, but it doesn’t really substantially change what is, on any level, one of the most accomplished OST episodes. 

Ricardo Montalbán received a lot of press for his “fake” chest in The Wrath of Khan, but it’s clear from this that he’s naturally gifted. He makes the Shat look a wee titch – Kirk has to resort to a lug wrench to get the best of him – and fills out a red shirt formidably. Space Seed emphasises a link between genetic enhancement and psychosis. That is, feelings of superiority predicate against empathy; if there’s a fault here, it’s that Khan could have been allowed to turn on the charm more before realisation sets in that he’s a wannabe (and actual) dictator. But Ricardo’s tremendous throughout, and it’s easy to see why he was considered a no-brainer for a rematch (obviously sooner than 100 years, but it’s cute that such an idea was even mentioned without legitimate foresight). 

Khan’s gang of super soldiers/superhumans fled the aftermath of WWIII and the Eugenics Wars in the SS Botany Bay; access to history seems slightly erratic here. It’s one thing to scrub the record of a spaceship with 80 or 90 unaccounted for supermen and women, but Khan’s legacy is subsequently found to be entirely substantial (“From 1992 through 1996, absolute ruler of more than a quarter of your world. From Asia through the Middle East”). You’d have thought it would take less than 7 scenes – including a formal dinner – to unearth such nuggets.

Khan’s big weakness turns out not to be 23rd-century lug wrenches, but rather the desperate-for-soft-focus Lt McGivers (Madlyn Rhue), hardly a prize catch for Khan, but he’s a practical fellow. She’s all-but straddling him in the animation chamber before he’s revived, so besotted is an understatement, but neither the performance nor character are up to much. 

Khan proudly testifies that “We offered the world order!” and gives Kirk due respect for wheedling information from him, even if he considers him “Quite honestly inferior”. Indeed, hubris seems to be Khan’s biggest weakness, as is the case for all power-mad dictators. Hence, he takes on the challenge of Ceti Alpha V. Surely, anyone who could break a phaser with their bare hands ought to have had no trouble taking over a starship. Even with 5 times Kirk’s strength that phaser incident’s a bit rich. And Vulcan nerve pinches still seem to work on supermen.

Kirk: Can you tame a world?

It’s interesting that the story, which explicitly invokes the superman, transhuman (still alive 2 centuries later) should make reference to the Luciferian cause; Khan quotes Paradise Lost, suggesting it is better to rein in hell than serve in heaven; he’s a precursor to fellow superman and Luciferian fallen angel Roy Batty. Roddenberry (who tried to angle for the main writing credit here) is very clear that the superman – even the comic book one – is not something to aspire to. 

Spock, meanwhile, the nearest equivalent superman, is roundly mocked throughout, be it Kirk’s “pleasure to see me proven wrong”, McCoy comparing the eugenicist’s ethos to the First Officer (“Devoted to logic, completely unemotional”) or the wind up, where they express admiration for Khan (and echo the preceding A Taste of Armageddon, when Kirk tells him “we humans have a streak of barbarism in us”). Spock would never have been stupid enough to give Khan access to the ship’s technical manuals, of course.

The best scene is probably the one between McCoy and Khan, though. The latter holds a knife to the unfazed doctor’s throat, and the irritated Bones responds clinically “It would be most effective if you would cut the carotid artery, just under the left ear”. Obviously, the Eugenics Wars sets Star Trek in an alternative timeline to our own. But we knew that: it has space and spaceships and a globe Earth, after all.

The Naked Time 

(1.7/1.4) The series’ first outright classic episode, with a sinister setup leading to scenarios that are amusing, traumatic and desperate. There’s not only a very solid script from story editor John D Black, but tight direction from frequent TOS director Marc Daniels. It seems bizarre to consider this was in serious contention to be shown first in the season, as you want some grounding for the characters before showing them askew (a criticism TNG sequel The Naked Now received). Even the fourth in the running order is a bit premature; production order is definitely the way to go for this one. We need a baseline before the characters start having fun with variations of themselves. 

The set-up is closer to that of a horror movie – The Thing remake comes to mind, with its frozen base and mysteriously dead crewmen – as a foolish, hazmat-suited crewman takes off his glove to scratch his nose on a potentially infectious site. Perhaps he was unimpressed by the dead shop dummy posing as a victim. Inevitably, when he goes all scratchy hand, he omits to tell Bones. Spock initially ponders “space madness” – clearly, Black was a keen student of Terry Nation’s galactic guidebook – as said crewman Lt Tormolen becomes alarmed (“What are we doing out here in space?”), and Sulu the Gay Blade tears off his top and gets frisky with a rapier (the Shat has to settle for having Bones brutally rip his tunic at the shoulder to administer a shot: damn manly, all the same).

Bones is told “He’s dead, doctor”. Mr O’Riley (Bruce Hyde) goes all Oirish because it’s his fantasy and takes over the engine room, giving congenial orders while the ship’s plight becomes increasingly perilous (the Enterprise is there to observe a planet’s breakup, but now it’s getting too close). Spock’s onto the symptoms pretty quickly (fantasies made real) and nerve pinches Sulu (“I’d like you to teach me that some time”), so it’s a go-to favourite almost immediately (last seen in Enemy Within).

Nimoy also has a chance to emote when the afflicted Nurse Chapel declares her yen for his hard-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside Vulcanity: “I am sorry… Christine”, he tells her, before breaking down in Briefing Room 2 (it’s a nice touch that he regains his composure without Bones’ super inoculation). Let’s hear it for Scotty: “I can’t change the laws of physics”. Someone’s daubing “SINNER REPENT” on the walls. And Kirk realises he has a yen for Rand, but the perils of command must make him resist, resist. Rand, obviously, is receiving unwanted attentions all over the ship.

The Naked Time barely puts a foot wrong. I might quibble over Kirk becoming infected a little rapidly when he and Spock have an altercation; it smacks of “Quick, give the Shat his chance to emote before it’s too late”, although Spock’s regaining of composure in response makes contrasting sense. As for the time-travel element, well, it still seems a little barking to introduce it with 3 minutes to go, even knowing this was planned as the first of a 2-parter (that became Tomorrow is Yesterday). 

Spock’s proposed solution to the engines taking too long to come back online again is “a theoretical relationship between time and antimatter”. What’s that? “The engines imploded”? Some new definition of successful there, I suspect. “My chronometer’s running backwards, sir” You have a chronometer, Sulu? In case of theoretical time-travel incidents? Having gone back in time, Spock concludes they can go “to any planet, any era” and Kirk responds “We may risk it someday”. Why didn’t they use it in The Voyage Home? I’m guessing this has been done since, but I’m not geeky enough on Trek to find out where. 

On the thematic point of fantasies given flight, both positive and negative, it’s notable that these relate to repressions, either of yearnings (Spock, Kirk) or fears (Tormolen) in most cases, with only really the helmsmen having a bit of fun. It  probably doesn’t bear too close analysis. There’s no time to give Uhura, Bones or Scotty any business in this regard and, of course, peeling back Spock’s rigid exterior will be a go-to plot fall back throughout the series.

The City on the Edge of Forever

(1/28/1/28) This is where redundant comment rather comes in (although, inevitably, one can find several grandstanding 1-star reviews on IMDB, reacting specifically to its rep). As in, there’s good reason this is rated as the peak of the OST (and therefore, for some, the peak of Trek). Kirk gets to fall in love, tragically, and it means something because Joan Collins isn’t just totty of the week. And also because the story presents a utilitarian dilemma at its most acute: save one person or irrevocably alter history for (it seems) the worst. Harlan Ellison’s only script for the series is a doozy, even if it typically fudges some of the time-travel logistics.

Spock: Captain, suppose we discover that in order to set things straight again, Edith Keeler must die?

Mostly, that Kirk, Spock and the landing party (bizarrely including Uhura, whom we assumed by this point was spot welded to her coms desk) continue unaffected when history changes (“Earth’s not there. At least not the Earth we know. We’re totally alone”). Theoretically, time ought to have been rewritten to expunge them from this place (since, after all, they are clearly existing in a single, rather than multiple, timeline state here, if the Enterprise vanishing is any evidence. Alternatively, in their “time ripples” centric location on the planet with its forever-donut, they are simply privy to one altered timeline among many that shows they need to go back and prevent McCoy from altering history… but the strictly linear take seems the intent, so they count as an anomaly for the purposes of narrative convenience).

Spock: Save her, do as your heart tells you to do, and millions will die who did not die before.

Given that situation, Ellison’s teleplay – with uncredited input from Fontana and Coon and Roddenberry and Steven W Carabatsos and everyone else on the planet, it seems; its progressive versions and revisions are legendary, and Ellison’s various accounts and repudiations of anyone who got in his way are characteristically crabby – does a bang-up job of making the time-travel technicalities emotionally resonant, not unlike a movie he’d later sue for grifting his short story Soldier (The Terminator). 

It’s a neat touch that he devises the story so Kirk and Spock arrive before mad McCoy (he accidentally dosed himself with cordrazine, rendering him alarmingly blotchy and possessed of the urge to yell “Murders! Killers!” at no one in particular, and then go and jump through the centre of a giant donut). They’re thus required to play the waiting game in 1930, Kirk becoming besotted with early Collins as Edith Keeler while Spock curses the “Stone knives and bear skins” that prevent him from effectively accessing his tricorder; what they glean is enough to discern that Edith will either die that year or will “become very important. Nationally famous”. A peacenik, essentially. No prizes for guessing which is adulterated, particularly given one means the US entry into WWII will be delayed, which Germany has the edge to win, because “all this lets them develop the A-bomb first”.

Kirk: I find her most uncommon, Mr Spock.

In that sense, one might see The City on the Edge of Forever as a counterargument to Errand of Mercy. One has Kirk thoroughly confounded in his attempt to rally a culture to fight a just war against the Klingons and shown to be erroneous in his dedication. The City on the Edge of Forever illustrates that giving peace a chance simply won’t wash in all cases, and could indeed be a severe cramp in the Earth’s style. 

Of course, in the Trek universe, Hitler, however psychotic, isn’t (purely in relative terms) a White Hat fighting Elite control of the Earth, and Edith Keeler, with her uncanny predictive flair, can perceive a NASA-approved universe where the energy derived from the atom “could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in some sort of spaceship  and also a moon that is not made of plasma at all (an answer to the question “What is so funny about man reaching for the Moon?” but also suggesting that, even in 1967, the Moon landings narrative was a fait accompli. It had to be written because it was a paradigmatic given). She fails confoundingly, however, to appreciate that there are already bountiful “ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and to cure their diseases”, since all it takes is overthrowing the satanic money system and indoctrination into Pasteurian virus theory. On the credit side, the story posits portal travel as a means to time travel.

Spock: Really?
Kirk: Annoyed, Spock?

The planet, of course, is decked out with ionic columns, and imagery of Ancient Egyptian and Roman civilisations is shown in the portal (so it must be an alt Earth, if these civilisations are supposed to have existed in the Trek continuum. Alternatively, the time portal is simply showing what it looks like it’s showing: footage from Hollywood epics). The Guardian, intriguingly, professes to be “both and neither” machine or being (“I am my own beginning, my own ending”), before insulting Spock’s perception as “obviously primitive” (as insults go, however, it’s much less problematic than claiming Spock is Chinese and that his ears were messed up in a mechanical rice picker. His solution is an impersonation of Michael Nesmith). The Guardian is advanced but ambivalent – ATM? AI? – since, despite the devastating time hiccup, he still offers “Let me be your gateway”.

Discovery did a sequel, it seems, but I’d given up on that particular abomination by that point. It was also mooted for a plotline to the first movie, in which JFK’s assassination becomes the event to be stopped (or not stopped). Of course, since he wasn’t actually assassinated, it’s further evidence of Trek being in a different universe to ours.

McCoy: Do you know what you just did? 
Spock: He knows, Doctor. He knows.

There isn’t actually a whole lot of Kirk/Edith wooing, but Shat – her “young man”: significantly older than the one currently 30 years Joan’s junior – and Joan sell it in miniature. When McCoy shows up – a compellingly antic performance from Kelly – and is nursed back to health by Edith, he is stunned that Kirk prevents him from saving her. He will likely be even more stunned when informed that this was his doing, as “the random element”, or the human butterfly effect in operation. 

Curious asides include the milk-bottle man who accidentally turns McCoy’s phaser on himself (that could have been another butterfly effect right there); I wondered what happened to the phaser, perhaps now in a lab somewhere. Kirk’s initial suggestion that they “somehow” take Bones back a day in time and, per Spock, “Relive the accident. This time be certain that the hypo accident is avoided” sounds as nonsensical as the logic in Tomorrow is Yesterday. As for Kirk’s terse “Let’s get the hell out of here”, well, he rarely has cause for such oaths subsequently. At least, not until a Klingon bastard kills his son.

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