Sunday, August 30, 2009

TOS Season 1

As a lifelong fan of Star Trek, the original series (TOS), I had already seen every single episode - and, as a teenager, memorized their titles and everything else about them in production order - before I got hold of Season One on DVD. Nevertheless it has been like coming back to an old friend from a very, very long time away. I hardly recognized some of the episodes, and it wasn't just because of the special-effects upgrade put on them in the mid-2000s. Most of all, seeing them in the order in which they originally aired enabled me to look differently at the series - almost like one seeing it for the first time.

The series premiere, broadcast on September 8, 1966, was "The Man Trap." Several other episodes had been filmed before this, including two pilot episodes (!). Nevertheless, NBC seemed to think this was the best episode then completed to introduce the unique Trek concept to their viewers. It's a melancholy episode, with both Dr. McCoy and a prickly scientist (memorably played by Alfred Ryder) in love with the same woman who, alas, is actually dead. Taking her place is a shape-changing alien who uses the suction cups on its fingers to suck the salt out of men's bodies. She is the last of her kind, so it's a pity she must be destroyed, but the creature knows no moderation. Driven by an irrational appetite that presents a fair portrait of sociopathy, the alien goes on a deadly binge on the decks of the Enterprise. And, wouldn't you know it, McCoy has to be the one who puts her down. It's tough love, a poignantly tragic theme later dealt with in far better style; but it's also a rare example of the paranoid type of sci-fi in the Trek universe. Alternatives to exterminating the last member of this misunderstood race might have been explored... and would be, in later episodes. The series had a lot of growing up to do.

"Charlie X," aired on my negative-sixth birthday (September 15, 1966), presents another portrait of a sociopath - one with a much prettier face. The face belonged to then-26-year-old Robert Walker Jr., a dead ringer for his father who played the bad guy in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train just before his untimely death in 1951. As young Charlie, Walker Jr. convincingly portrays a baby-faced boy who, as the sole survivor of a shuttle crash, grew up without any human contact whatsoever. Now on board the Enterprise, he shows signs of going through those difficult teenage years while also having difficulty socializing. Rage, selfishness, lust, innocent awkwardness, and confusion make a dangerous enough combination without adding the super-powers granted him by the aliens who had saved his life. Eventually, and one tends to think sadly, those aliens have to come back and take him away from humanity for their own good. Again, it's a theme Trek visited again, even within this season. But this episode holds a special glee for Kirk fans, as he is forced to explain the "facts of life" in his reluctant role of Charlie's surrogate-father.

"Where No Man Has Gone Before" first aired on September 22, 1966. Before Dr. McCoy was a sparkle in Gene Roddenberry's eye came this episode, actually the second and more successful of Trek's two pilots. Here special guests Sally Kellerman (late of M*A*S*H) and Gary Lockwood (late of 2001: A Space Odyssey) played two Enterprise crewmen whose high levels of ESP make them susceptible to some mumbo-jumbo happening on the fringes of the galaxy. As they quickly develop godlike powers, Captain Kirk is forced to consider marooning them on an uninhabited mining planet. Later on, events (such as his sparkly-eyed friend getting his middle initial wrong on the pictured tombstone) force Kirk to change his strategy to killing them. It's a pity. Somehow, the fact that his colored contact-lenses gave Lockwood the heebie-jeebies works; his little tic of looking down his nose at everything (in reality, owing to the position of the tiny holes through which he was able to see) give him a weirdly alien and exalted look, like somebody who has begun to view the whole universe from a different angle. My only regret about this episode is the horrible way Spock's yellow-green shirt clashes with his skin, which (in the early episodes) was a brighter shade of green than usual.

The producers originally wanted "The Naked Time" to be the series premiere, because this episode reveals the inner drives and secret heartaches of so many recurring characters. Instead, it was pushed down the schedule to September 29, 1966. (The sequel to this episode, titled "The Naked Now," aired 21 years later as the first regular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation after the pilot.) This is the episode where the Enterprise's orbit over an imploding planet begins to decay while the crew is helpless to control the ship. The reason for their helplessness has to do with a mysterious virus that makes people act like they're drunk, except without losing motor control. Freed of their inhibitions, Sulu, Nurse Chapel, Spock, and a couple minor characters show what's happening under the lid - including suicide, bare-chested swashbuckling, lovemaking, rampant emotionalism, and one case of mischievous charm in the person of Lt. Kevin O'Reilly, played here and in only one other episode by Bruce Hyde.

Another psychoanalytical episode, "The Enemy Within," aired on October 6, 1966. Its main guest star, besides a rather cute dog in alien makeup, was "Evil Captain Kirk." Now think about this from the original audience's point of view. In only the fifth episode since we were first asked to believe in transporter beams converting people into pure energy and back again, we see a major mishap caused by a little dusting of magnetic ore. Both Kirk and the alien dog get split into two versions of themselves - one gentle, the other savage. Would you trust this method of transport? Analyzing this as a study of good and evil can only lead to absurdity. Nevertheless, this rather talky episode involves a lot of character analysis of the traits that make Kirk a great commander - and some of the characters' findings are quite interesting. Plus, we get to see William Shatner hugging himself. It's the very acme of campiness. But it's classic Trek!

"Mudd's Women" (October 13, 1966), one of the original Trek stories formulated by Gene Roddenberry, is a charming, funny, politically incorrect episode about a flamboyant rogue known at first as Leo Walsh and later (with his accent changing from Irish to English) as Harry Mudd. Played with splendid hamminess by Roger C. Carmel, Mudd maneuvers the Enterprise into ferrying his cargo of mysteriously beautiful women to a colony of miners who are willing to trade valuable ore for wives. There is a bit of romance, several scenes from the points of view of characters outside the show's regular cast, a little surprise twist, and a lot of humor - especially from DeForest Kelley, who as Dr. McCoy nailed several of the episode's funniest lines.

On October 20, 1966, Nurse Chapel played her biggest role in the episode titled "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" Played by the same Majel Barrett who portrayed "Number One" in the series' rejected, first pilot, and the recurring character "Lwaxana Troi" in subsequent Trek series, Christine gets a love interest (besides Spock) in an ill-fated medical archaeologist who turns up, after going missing for several years, on an extinct world. Doctor Roger Korby has discovered a lost, alien technique for making totally convincing android copies of people. Natch, one of the androids is the Doc himself, but before he can carry out his sinister plan of seeding the universe with android ringers, Kirk cleverly convinces the androids to destroy each other. One of several episodes featuring scenes with two Kirks side by side, it also has a tremendous cast of classic-TV talent, including Sherry Jackson of "Make Room for Daddy," Ted Cassidy of "The Addams Family," and Harry Basch of "Falcon Crest." My favorite moment is the one where Ted Cassidy grabs Kirk and crows, "That was the equation!" For a moment we see a flash of charisma and passion break through his brooding, Lurch-like veneer.

"Miri" (aired on October 27, 1966) is another children-from-hell episode. It begins with the laughably improbable discovery of a planet identical to Earth, except that its history went awry. Its adult population wiped out by a virus they created on purpose to halt the aging process, the planet is now inhabited only by gangs of wild children. Like modern-day Peter Pans and Wendies, the "onlies" never seem to grow up. Rather, by aging very slowly, they have survived for centuries - except that, when they hit puberty, they rapidly succumb to the maddening, disfiguring, and ultimately fatal disease that afflicts all adults on their world. A landing party of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, a couple of guys in red shirts, and that Janice Rand chick who played a key role in several early episodes, have to work around the clock to find a cure for the disease before it gets them too. Their efforts are hampered by the children's pranks, though the kids won't last much longer the way their food supply is going. The episode was notable for Kirk's vaguely disturbing relationship with an adolescent girl named Miri, played by Kim Darby (late of True Grit), and for the casting of character actor Michael J. Pollard as the "Peter Pan"-like leader of the onlies.

In "Dagger of the Mind," aired November 3, 1966, we get the first of a couple TOS glimpses into the penal system of the future. Together with third season's inmates-running-the-asylum episode "Whom Gods Destroy," this outing shows that the treatment of the criminally insane will still be a problem far into the future. Perhaps as disturbing as the story that here unfolds is the concept behind it, the concept that crime may be eliminated by meddling with the minds of its perpetrators. In this episode, an escaped inmate goes on a rampage on the Enterprise, leading to an investigation in which a seemingly humane prison director is exposed as a monster who controls his charges by means of mental torture. Again, this episode's guest cast is something special, including the charming James Gregory (late of The Manchurian Candidate and TV's "Barney Miller"), whose character dies of loneliness; and the tormented Morgan Woodward (late of Cool Hand Luke, TV's "Dallas," and a record 19 guest appearances on "Gunsmoke"), who here submits to the first Vulcan Mind-Meld in TV history.

The "teaser" for the next episode is remarkable for the fact that Captain Kirk never appears in it. Though it was the first Trek episode filmed in regular production, "The Corbomite Maneuver" aired tenth in broadcast order on November 10, 1966. Ron Howard's brother Clint, then only seven years old, never looked cuter (and I do mean never) than in his appearance as a diminutive alien who engages Kirk in a cosmic game of poker. I love the moment when Kirk realizes it isn't chess but poker. The titular maneuver (later reused in the second-season episode "The Deadly Years") is a bluff on Kirk's side of the game, following a standoff in which a gigantic alien ship, crewed by an imposing alien (who turns out to be a puppet), threatens to destroy the Enterprise. A major subplot is the development of a young crewman, never seen again, who gets Peter-Principled off to the alien ship in a sort of cultural exchange at the end of the episode. KIRK: Would anyone like to volunteer for the job? Anyone? Mr. Bailey? Anyone? BAILEY: Gee whiz, Captain, I'd sure like to go. KIRK: Thank God! I won't have you hanging around my neck for a while! I mean, this'll look terrific on your C.V., kid. Have some more tranya?

The original, failed pilot was reworked into a two-parter titled "The Menagerie," which first aired on November 10 and 17, 1966. Apparently the decision to do this was only partly based on a desire to salvage as much as possible of the 1964 pilot, featuring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike. The immediate impetus was a shortage of scripts. Framed by a Kirk-era story in which aliens transmit footage of the Pike-era pilot as exculpatory evidence at Spock's court-martial, the episode filmed cheaply and was completed just in time to keep the series from missing its airdate. Malachi Throne plays the president of the court while Kirk and a much-reduced Pike (played by another actor under heavy makeup) review the aliens' roundabout explanation of why Spock shouldn't receive the death penalty for hijacking the Enterprise, abducting Pike, and taking him to their forbidden planet. Of the story within a story, much more could be said: much regarding telepathic aliens using illusions to stimulate Captain Pike to mate with a captive human female, for reasons only vaguely explained at the end. It's fascinating to imagine what Star Trek might have become if the first pilot had sold. Perhaps it's a good thing it didn't, given the series' revival in feature films throughout the 1980s. Jeffrey Hunter, who also memorably played Jesus in King of Kings, met his untimely death in 1969. Without its captain, that big-screen revival might never have happened.

Shakespeare achieves orbit in December 8, 1966's episode, "The Conscience of the King." Between scenes from Hamlet and Macbeth, performed by a troupe of actors gallivanting across the galaxy, unfolds a tale of murder, memory, and vengeance. First an old friend lures Kirk to his planet to see an actor whom he suspects of being Kodos the Executioner, a tyrant responsible for the deaths of 4,000 colonists, long missing and presumed dead. Then said friend turns up dead. Kirk maneuvers the acting troupe onto his ship, where he and young crewman Kevin O'Reilly turn out to be the last surviving eyewitnesses of Kodos' reign of terror. Predictably, they both become targets for murder while Kirk tries to make up his mind whether the softspoken, evasive old actor is the real Kodos or not. In the concluding act of the tragedy, life imitates art - complete with a character who combines aspects of Lady MacBeth, Ophelia, and Cordelia. Once again, the cast is just right: the elder actor played by Arnold Moss, who played "Prospero" on Broadway for a record 124 performances; his daughter played by Barbara Anderson, late of TV's "Ironside."

In my opinion one of TOS's best first-season episodes, "Balance of Terror" (first aired December 15, 1966) is also notable for introducing the recurring menace of the Romulans. With a plot borrowed from The Enemy Below, a guest cast including Mark Lenard (later famous for playing Spock's father Sarek), and a subplot summed up in one line in which Kirk admonishes a crewman to leave racial bigotry at the door, it is an episode rich in character, taut with suspense, mature in its philosophy, and... well, it introduces the Romulans, for goodness' sake! Complex, mysterious, strangely admirable, palpably menacing, the Romulans are one race of recurring bad guys who didn't get overused - perhaps because their prosthetic ears were so expensive and time-consuming to apply. They also opened up vast areas of potential story for Spock, whose Vulcan race is apparently related to the Romulans somehow. I love, love, love this episode. Its praises cannot be sung enough!

"Shore Leave" (December 29, 1966) is a charming, funny, action-packed romp on a pleasure-planet that conjures adventure, romance, and danger out of visitors' minds. So Kirk ends up duking it out with the upperclassman who tormented him at the Academy, and making gooey-eyes with the girl he loved at (by my calculations) the age of 18. Other crewmen get chased by samurai, accosted by giant white rabbits, strafed by World War II aircraft, ravished by Don Juan, menaced by tigers, and skewered by lance-wielding knights on horseback. Eventually it turns out that the danger isn't real, it's all in fun, and the planet is safe for shore leave after all. This is a very refreshing episode for fans suffering from over-immersion in Trek: light, frothy, full of comic relief, and revealing of various characters' private thoughts and idle preoccupations.

In contrast, "The Galileo Seven" (January 5, 1967) is a straight-faced episode that is hard to take as seriously as it takes itself. Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and four unknown crewmen crash-land their shuttle on a planet ruled by giant hairy savages. Why these seven people had to be on this particular mission is never adequately explained. How this can be Spock's first command (though he is second-in-command of the Enterprise), how the crewmen under him can get away with being so insubordinate, and how this scenario can be taken seriously as a test of whether logic or instinct is a better basis for command, are equally hard to grasp. I did not mourn Crewman Gaetano's death, and though Mr. Boma lives, he makes me want to smack him around. This episode has always been infamous for its cheap, unconvincing artistic direction (including a shuttlecraft whose exterior is strangely at variance with its interior, and an apelike alien who looks exactly like an actor in a fur coat). Contributing to the suspense is the presence of a Federation official on board, whose mission supercedes Kirk's rescue attempts. Unfortunately the actor playing that official was one of TOS's most forgettable guest stars. When he appeared in the transporter room on the DVD's main menu (along with representatives of other episodes on the disk) my immediate reaction was: "Who the heck is that?"

Another great episode featuring an alien who could be a forerunner of TNG's "Q," "The Squire of Gothos" was first broadcast on January 12, 1967. It triumphed in its against-type casting of William Campbell as Trelane, a playful alien with unimaginable powers who has a fascination with Earth - albeit tinted by his observations of our 18th century. To Trelane, Kirk and his crew are so primitive that they hardly merit consideration as individuals, with personal rights, dignity, etc. Ironically, Trelane himself turns out to be a child among his own kind, and the danger ends when his parents decide that he isn't mature enough to play with such "pets" as the crew of the Enterprise. Campbell's performance is joyous, boyish, vibrant, and breathtakingly funny. In one of the DVD set's featurettes, the actor claims that if he could keep only one role from his whole career, it would be Trelane. Watch this episode and you'll enjoy finding out why.

One of the first season's most flawed episodes is "Arena," originally aired on January 19, 1967. For starters, its story is a big, sprawling, shapeless mess. The "teaser" (before the opening credits) mostly consists of an exchange of quips and pleasantries in the transporter room, before Kirk and his party beam down to a dinner party on an Earth colony. Only at the last moment is it revealed that the dinner invitation was a trick, luring them to a settlement that has been destroyed. Act I (between the first two commercial breaks) takes place on the planet, complete with the incredible vaporizing crewman (red-shirted, no less), an artillery barrage by an unseen and unidentified enemy, and the launching of a grenade (foreshadowing here) whose effect appears to be similar to a neutron bomb. Act II is a chase through outerspace, the Enterprise pursuing a still-unnamed enemy whose ship is never seen. The chase abruptly ends as it goes past a solar system inhabited by the Metrons, who loathe violence and consider the humans and their Gorn enemies (oh! That's who they are!) equally primitive. The Metrons decide to settle the conflict by whisking Kirk and the Gorn captain to an uninhabited planet, to engage in single combat until one of them is dead. The ship belonging to the winner will be allowed to go its way. So it's only in Act III that we meet the Gorn captain - a huge, lumbering, silly lizard-man in clunky full-body prosthetics that even a few digitally-added eyeblinks cannot save from terminal hokiness. I'll admit that I squirmed with delight at the sound of the Gorn's hissing giggle, a sound it made as it laid diabolical traps for Captain Kirk. But the combat between Kirk and the Gorn is some of the lamest fake fighting ever filmed; when Kirk uses materials at hand to construct a weapon, it seems ludicrously contrived; and the Metrons' "come back in a thousand years" dig at the human race - even in its Trek-era state of advancement - is kind of a let-down for a series that usually plays up the potentiality that lies within humanity. But mainly, the episode doesn't work because it takes so long getting around to what it's basically about. It tries to be too many things and doesn't succeed at being much of anything.

The first shot of "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" (aired January 26, 1967) comes from stock footage of a U.S. Air Force jet. A gravitational anomaly has somehow shot the Enterprise back in time to the 1960s where, before the crew has its act together, it is spotted by an American pilot. The incident snowballs when the pilot gets beamed aboard. Will it change history to send him back knowing what he knows? Or will the damage be worse if he doesn't go back at all? Before Kirk can come to terms with this conundrum, the mission gets mired in further mishaps. A military policeman gets accidentally beamed aboard. Kirk gets caught and questioned while trying to recover evidence of the Enterprise's appearance in Earth orbit. And the computer has developed a flirtatious, feminine personality. All these troubles make for a humorous adventure full of twists, turns, and a tantalizing glimpse of how a 20th-century man would view the starship Enterprise. Plus, the enhanced effects of the ship's slingshot ride around the sun are really cool.

"Court-Martial" (aired February 2, 1967) picks up on a concept mentioned in passing during Spock's trial in "The Menagerie" and runs with it all the way. That concept is the possibility of damning computer evidence being falsified, in order to hurt someone's career. This time the career in question is Captain Kirk's. Now, if I were designing the captain's chair on the bridge of the Enterprise, I might think twice about putting the "Jettison Pod" button right next to the "Red Alert" button. It would be asking for the kind of trouble Kirk gets into in this episode, trouble from which he can be delivered only the talents of a lawyer played by Elisha Cook, Jr. (late of such hardboiled classics as The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep). Here Cook breaks out of his type as a spineless weasel, giving an impassioned and humane defense on the basis of man's precedence over machine. In the end, however, the case is won by Spock, whose chance discovery during a game of chess leads to the revelation that the crewman supposedly killed by Kirk's negligence is alive, well, and hiding out below decks. Neither the first nor the last courtroom thriller in Trek, it's another episode that thrives on being sci-fi-light and drama-heavy.

One of the all-time weirdest episodes of any Trek series is "The Return of the Archons," originally shown on February 9, 1967. I'm sure I saw this episode many times as a kid, but when I reviewed it last week I was surprised at how little I remembered it. It features a planet whose citizens are held in thrall to a mind-controlling cult. Everyone who is "not of the body" gets absorbed, including the crew of an earlier starship. Now it's the Enterprise's turn to be absorbed, but they're not having any of it. Once Sulu and Dr. McCoy become true believers, you know this religion is too creepy to be allowed to survive. Luckily, Kirk falls in with members of a resistance movement, eventually discovering that a 6,000-year-old computer is running the whole show behind the scenes. Created with the aim of bringing peace and stability to a troubled world, the god-machine called Landru has stripped the planet's culture of individuality, creativity, and humanity. When the phasers fail to break through Landru's protective shields, Kirk discovers his innate talent for talking artificial intelligences into committing suicide - a talent he would go on to use in many subsequent adventures.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the motion-picture sequel to the episode "Space Seed," first aired on February 16, 1967. According to this episode, Earth went through its last World War in the 1990s (whoops!), namely the "Eugenics Wars," in which the human race shook off the shackles of a group of genetically-engineered despots. History does not record what become of said despots in the aftermath of the Eugenics Wars, so it's up to the Enterprise to find out. Find out it does, beginning with the discovery of a drifting earth vessel called the Botany Bay. Inside that ship are suspended-animation chambers containing the bodies of physically and mentally enhanced humans, led by one Khan (played with master-race zest by Ricardo Montalban). Khan seduces a female crewman and uses her to take over the Enterprise, the first step in his plan to rule mankind in this more powerful and enlightened century. But the girl balks at Khan's cruelty, and the tables are turned again. The episode ended on a hopeful note, which would eventually be destroyed when Star Trek II revealed the fate of Khan's colony. Oh, well. Big-screen Trek wouldn't have gone very far without the "wrath of Khan," and there had to be something for him to be wroth about.

"A Taste of Armageddon" (February 23, 1967) was one of Trek's most incisive anti-war stories. Guest-starring David Opatoshu (Exodus, The Naked City) and Barbara Babcock (TV's "Hill Street Blues"), it depicts a society where war has been stripped of its horrors. The war goes on, but its victims are selected by mathematically random strikes and report voluntarily to disintegration chambers, where their deaths are recorded without pain, mess, or commotion. Kirk, whose ship has been earmarked as a casualty of war, realizes that the only way to end this bloodless war is to make it good and bloody. So we are treated to the amazing spectacle of the Enterprise threatening to wipe out an entire planet. In a way, the episode's message backfires on itself. With the fear of a real war, using real weapons of mass destruction, serving as a deterrent against continuing a long-running conflict, the parable seems to justify the arms race that kept the US and its communist enemies at an uneasy truce throughout the 1960s. Not the arrow you would expect out of Gene Roddenberry's ideological quiver.

On March 2, 1967, the world saw Spock smile for the first time in "This Side of Paradise." How did it happen? Well, you see, there were these flowers that shoot spores all over people, spores that fill them with contentment and happy feelings. Spock gets a snootful of these spores and loses his mastery over his emotions. At first, all he experiences is the joy of love with Jill Ireland, Charles Bronson's real-life wife. Pretty soon, the whole crew is infected with the plants, except Kirk - who finds himself alone on a deserted Enterprise. Then the captain realizes that anger breaks one's addiction to the spores, freeing them from a life of pleasant, pointless idleness. It almost seems cruel to snap Spock out of it... but Kirk is well paid for his cruelty when his super-strong Vulcan mate belts him around the transporter deck. Besides, even the colonists - previously reluctant to leave - come to and realize that, under the spores' influence, they haven't accomplished much. Sort of like life hooked up to the internet, eh?

"The Devil in the Dark" (March 9, 1967) corrects the error of "The Man Trap." This time, when Kirk has the last-of-its-species, man-killing monster in his phaser sights, he doesn't pull the trigger. Instead, he takes the revolutionary step of lowering his weapon and working toward mutual understanding with an utterly different, alien creature. It was a landmark move in the philosophy of Trek, and the monster that made it possible was a shaggy, silicon-based creature, shaped exactly like an actor crawling on all fours under a fringed carpet. This creature, known as the Horta, had developed a nasty habit of spraying incredibly corrosive acid at human miners, stealing vital components of their nuclear reactor, and moving like the wind... through solid rock. Happily, it turns out the creature was only trying to protect its eggs, which the miners were thoughtlessly damaging. By the end of the episode, humans and Horta are living and working in harmony. It's a beautiful thing - in spite of the cut-rate production values that give the episode its sound-stagy look.

Another episode whose greatness is inestimable aired on March 23, 1967: "Errand of Mercy," in which the Klingons made their first public appearance. They looked and behaved quite different from the Klingons exhibited in later Trek series. Nevertheless, there is no use denying that, as the first Klingon commander ever, John Colicos hit the ball out of the park. It is a role he reprised years later in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, only with forehead bumps added. His Kor oozes magnetism and pragmatism in equal amounts, at one time both cultured and brutal, both shrewd and gullible. After all, he mistakes Kirk for a member of the Organian society, and appoints the latter as his liaison with the subjugated population. Kirk and Spock, meanwhile, do all that they can to stir up Organia's resistance to the Klingons, but to no avail. Both the humans and the Klingons end up with egg on their face, in a somewhat more successful riff on the "come back in a thousand years" theme from "Arena." But even though the Organians have put a stop to open war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, you can be sure there will be more trouble with those pesky Klingons in Season Two.

The weakest episode of Season One is a tragic case. Fans will always wonder what might have been. As it is, "The Alternative Factor" (March 30, 1967) is a dull, plodding, repetitive, confusing episode. It achieved its final shape (so I hear) when the network censor required the producers to delete a romantic subplot involving a white man and a black woman. Since principal photography had already finished, the editor had to make do with footage that had already been shot - stretching it to the limit to fill all those lost minutes. Nothing, however, could replace the lost opportunity presented by the romance between Lazarus and Lt. Masters, a factor that might have enriched this episode and deepened its emotional impact. In its final form, if you can follow it, it has something to do with a man who controls a doorway into a parallel universe. On one side of the doorway, everything is made of matter; on the other side, antimatter. If identical particles from the two sides meet, BANG goes the universe - both universes. We eventually learn that there are two Lazaruses, one from each universe, and one of them is a madman bent on utter annihilation. The other one serves as a Christ figure, voluntarily condemning himself to an eternal struggle with his enemy on the threshold between two dimensions. It's sad, all right, but please! Enough with the slow-motion, negative-exposure wrestling matches!

On the other hand, many fans consider Season One's next-to-last episode the series' finest. "The City on the Edge of Forever" first aired on April 6, 1967, guest starring Joan Collins as an idealistic social worker in 1930. Kirk and Spock travel back in time through an alien portal called the Guardian of Forever, chasing McCoy who has been driven temporarily insane by an accidental overdose of his own medicine. Something McCoy has done in the past changes history, wiping out the Enterprise and everything that goes with it. In order to set things back to rights, his friends have to prevent him from doing whatever it was that changed history. As soon as Kirk realizes that he has fallen in love with Collins' character, it becomes evident that her death in a traffic accident is pivotal to history. McCoy prevented her death. Kirk must now stop him from saving the life of the woman he loves. Choke, sob. It's real science fiction, and it's a class act, written by Harlan Ellison and everything.

Season One ends with "Operation--Annihilate!" First aired on April 13, 1967, it boasted some of the series' most interesting location shots, with futuristic planet exteriors played by a corporate headquarters in Redondo Beach (now home of Northrop Grumman's Space Technology division). I like this scenery. It reminds me of a school I once attended. Fortunately, that school was not plagued by flying boogers that attach themselves to people's backs, infiltrating their nervous system and inflicting horrible pain. A plague of these creatures has been spreading across the galaxy, wiping out one civilization after another. Kirk decides to put a stop to it when it kills his brother and sister-in-law, infects his nephew, and then gets Spock. At first controlled by the parasite to the extent of trying to hijack the Enterprise (again!), Spock eventually asserts his self-control and helps develop a cure for the disease. It's a high-stakes medical drama in which Kirk is responsible for the lives of millions - lives he must end if he cannot find a cure before the parasite spreads to the next planet. It's a cool episode, even if the giant brain-cell creatures are a bit cheesy. The solution ends up being ridiculously obvioius, but hey... it's the last episode of a twenty-nine-episode season. You can't expect genius on the eve of summer vacation.

On the other hand, what a huge season of television that was! Long in episodes, rich in content, phenomenal in quality given the show's limited budget and the comparative neglect of NBC. While Season Three has many frankly lousy episodes, Season One has only two or three. The first season of TOS is full of intelligent stories, gripping performances, and beautiful art work (e.g. the matte painting in "A Taste of Armageddon," which unfortunately bears no relation to the sets in which most of the episode takes place). It strongly established the themes, characters, and conceits on which the subsequent two seasons were built. I think the franchise's success in syndication, followed by feature films and spinoffs, may be mostly down to the strength of this first season, even as the series slowly found its tone. Think on it: from these 29 episodes, and the mere two seasons that followed - seasons that did poorly in the ratings when they first aired - sprang a body of art and entertainment that now encompasses 28 seasons of live-action television, 11 theatrical films, an animated series, countless novels, and other media. Not bad for a ship that took two pilots to get under way!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I grew up watching "The Next Generation" and the Star Trek movies, and despite (or because?) of that have always found TOS a little... well, strange. I'm enjoying these tongue-in-cheek reviews, though, and am going to have to sit down and watch the whole series sometime.

Incidentally, CBS has made these episosdes available on the web for those of us following along at home.