Friday, March 25, 2011


Picking up where I left off last time, I'll now dive in to Season Two of the original Star Trek, which I've been re-watching in its entirety on DVD with my eight-year-old daughter Maddie.

As with Season One, this won't be a review of each and every episode—I'll just be touching upon the ones that Maddie and I thought were the above-and-beyond highlights. Maddie's favorites will be noted with an "MG," mine with a "GG," and ones that we both cited as our favorites will be noted with an "MG/GG."

So here are the real standouts of Season Two, listed in the order in which they were produced. And please keep in mind—Maddie has a lot of "favorites."

"Who Mourns For Adonais?" (MG)

The Enterprise encounters an alien super-being who, thousands of years ago, had visited Earth and was known to the humans of that time as the Greek god Apollo. He demands that Captain Kirk and his crew worship him—and he falls in love with Lt. Carolyn Palamas, who finds herself torn between her captain and the god whose love she returns. (Oh—and this is the first episode to feature Walter Koenig as Ensign Pavel Chekov, complete with "Beatles wig.")

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites! I really liked it because they used Greek mythology and I like to read books about Greek mythology. I thought the man who played Apollo looked really good and I liked that they showed that Apollo played the harp (lyre), because that's in the stories I've read. I also liked that the woman did her duty even though she loved Apollo."


"Amok Time" (GG/MG)

An iconic episode, and a must-see. Spock has to return to his home planet to marry his betrothed—or he'll die. We get our first look at the planet Vulcan, a lesson on Vulcan biology and culture, the first usage of the Vulcan hand salute, a side of Spock we've never seen before, the first instance of Kirk openly defying Starfleet orders, an unexpectedand rip-snortin'fight sequence between Spock and Kirk, and, at the end, one of the most memorable Spock moments in the entire history of the franchise.

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites! I liked how they showed the Vulcan hand salute and we found out a lot of things about Vulcans and I liked the trick that they played to make it look like Captain Kirk died—I really thought he was dead and I was about to start crying! I really liked how at the end, when Spock sees Kirk alive, he smiles. That means he really cares for Captain Kirk."


"The Doomsday Machine" (GG)

This is a great episode! It's got a truly awesome threat, namely the ancient and mysterious Planet Killer that destroys worlds and then uses the vast chunks of debris to refuel itself. Guest star William Windom makes an indelible impression as Commodore Matt Decker, whose obsession with destroying the doomsday machine drives him to the brink of insanity. And the regular castparticularly William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and James Doohanare in top form. Kirk has some terrific moments in this episode, and Shatner performs them marvelously: "You mean you're the lunatic who's responsible for almost destroying my ship?"; "Not with my ship, you don't!"; and one of my all-time favorites, "Gentlemen, I suggest you beam me aboard." And McCoy's priceless response when Commodore Decker tells him he's out of line: "So are yousir!" Sure, the special effects are a little dicey in spots, but the story, the direction, and the acting are so strong that it's hardly a distraction.


"Wolf in the Fold" (MG)

Scotty becomes the prime suspect when several women are brutally murdered in a style eerily reminiscent of the bloody crimes of Jack the Ripper.

MADDIE: "That's one of my favorites. It was a mystery and I love mysteries. I liked how it looked like Scotty was committing all these murders, but it couldn't really be him! You'd never guess who was the real killer because he was someone from long ago."


"The Changeling" (GG)

This was basically the first draft of Star Trek: The Motion Picturebut a lot more fun, with far more characterization and crew involvement. (But don't get me wrong, I like Star Trek: The Motion Picture a lot!)


"Mirror, Mirror" (GG/MG)

Another must-see episode. There's just so much to like about this one: the introduction of the "Mirror Universe," which would be revisited decades later in Star Trek comic books, novels, and the spin-off TV series Deep Space Nine; Spock's cool goatee; Nichelle Nichols getting some much deserved time in the spotlight as Uhura (and her Mirror Universe uniform is a godsend to all red-blooded heterosexual males); a nice nod to continuity by way of the mention of Captain Christopher Pike; Scotty calling Kirk "Jim" for the first and only time; Leonard Nimoy showing off his acting chops by portraying two versions of Spock that are very similar to each other, yet subtly different; and a chance to see George Takei really acting:

MADDIE: "This is one of my favorites! It was about parallel universes and you got to see everything from a different point of view. I liked how Spock had a beard and the crew was evil under the Empire. Everything was different but it still seemed the same."


"I, Mudd" (MG)

Notorious con man Harcourt Fenton Mudd (introduced during the first season in the episode "Mudd's Women" and played by the always fun Roger C. Carmel) returns, this time as the ruler of a world populated by androids. But he desperately wants to escape the planet—and to strand the crew of the Enterprise there in his place.

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites. It was funny! You got to see Harry Mudd again and of course he's with beautiful women again! I liked how Captain Kirk stuck Harry with hundreds of copies of his annoying wife!"


"The Trouble With Tribbles" (GG/MG)

Probably the best known and most popular episode of the original Star Trek. A lighthearted romp that introduced the small furry creatures called tribbles and the less-than-honest business Cyrano Jones (sort of a nicer, more likable Harry Mudd, portrayed by the wonderful Stanley Adams), it also provided Kirk with a new Klingon adversary in Captain Koloth (William Campbell, who had played Trelane in the first season episode "The Squire of Gothos"), some really nice character moments for James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig, and a chance for William Shatner to show off his impressive comedic abilities.

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites. I liked how the tribbles didn't like the Klingons because the Klingons were bad guys. And I loved the part where Kirk opened the bin and all those tribbles fell on to him. I was laughing so hard I was almost crying! And I loved how Scotty beamed the tribbles over to the Klingons."


"Journey to Babel" (GG/MG)

We learn even more about Spock when his parents come aboard the Enterprise for an important diplomatic mission. Mark Lenard, who played the doomed Romulan Commander in the first season's excellent "Balance of Terror," returns in a different role: Spock's Vulcan father, Ambassador Sarek. Jane Wyatt exudes dignity and warmth as Spock's human mother, Amanda. We learn how lonely Spock has been for most of his life, never really fitting in on Vulcan or on Earth, and how his decision to forge his own destiny in Starfleet caused an 18-year rift between him and his father (no wonder his folks weren't at his wedding in "Amok Time!"). There's also a lot of intrigue and suspense when a murder is committed and all signs point to Sarek, a mysterious ship shadows the Enterprise for reasons unknown, Kirk is attacked and hospitalized, and Spock has to choose between his duty to Starfleet and taking part in an operation that will save his ailing father's life. Oh—and McCoy finally gets the last word. Talk about a jam-packed episode!

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites. I loved to see that Spock cared for his father so much that he did a blood transfusion to save his father's life. And I liked when Spock's mommy reminded him that he was half human. I think that's what made him do the blood transfusion. I liked seeing who Spock's mom and dad were."


"The Immunity Syndrome" (GG/MG)

Another episode with a more epic scope than usual, along the same lines as "The Doomsday Machine." As with "The Changeling," certain elements of this episode would find their way into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The Enterprise encounters what can best be described as an enormous energy-draining space amoeba that threatens all life in the galaxy. Very impressive special effects this time out, and the drama and character interactions are extremely well done. There are some great moments between Spock and McCoy.

MADDIE: "I liked how Spock risked his life to save the Enterprise. And I liked how they showed that Spock was alive by having him touch the side of the amoeba with his ship and making the amoeba shake. I got to learn what an amoeba is! And I loved the part where Dr. McCoy said, 'Shut up, Spock! We're rescuing you!" and then Spock said, 'Why, thank you, Captain McCoy.'"


"Return to Tomorrow" (GG)

An effective, gripping, and even touching installment that gets to the heart of what Star Trek is really all about, courtesy of Kirk's "risk is our business" speech (which, incidentally, is quite charming and powerful, despite a slightly hammy delivery by Shatner and a particularly melodramatic musical score playing under him—Maddie actually started giggling during this sequence). My mom, who was most certainly NOT a Star Trek fan, loved this episode. And I can't help but think that writer-producer Harve Bennett had this one in mind when he was working on the script for Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and coming up with an explanation for Spock's "remember" mind meld with McCoy.


"The Ultimate Computer" (GG/MG)

Another exciting episode with a memorable guest star—William Marshall as Dr. Richard Daystrom—and an intriguing dilemma that touches the characters on a personal level. Here, Kirk wonders if he's soon to become obsolete when Daystrom's new invention, the M-5 computer, is installed aboard the Enterprise to show how it can run the whole ship on its own. The new computer is put to the test during routine Starfleet war games and, well, it seems M-5 has some stuff in common with HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Barry Russo makes a memorable appearance as Commodore Bob Wesley, who's tasked with leading the four-ship war-game attack on the Enterprise, and finds that he may have to destroy it for real. (War games, huh? Didn't Gene Roddenberry claim in his later years that Starfleet was not, and had never been, a military organization?)

MADDIE: "I liked that the computer wasn't perfect but the man who created it thought it was. And no one knew how to stop the computer! I liked how the commodore was about to destroy the Enterprise but decided not to."


As far as I'm concerned, Star Trek found its voice fairly quickly, certainly by the latter half of its first season. It maintained that voice throughout the second year, during which some of its most important elements were introduced. First and foremost was the Prime Directive, the cardinal rule establishing that no Starfleet officer may interfere in the natural development of any planet and its inhabitants. (Contrary to popular belief, which seemed to really take hold in the wake of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the ever-rigid, always by-the-book Captain Picard, Kirk was not always violating the Prime Directive and reshaping alien civilizations as he saw fit. It was clear throughout the original series that Kirk valued, respected, and obeyed the Prime Directive, but was not afraid to acknowledge that sometimes there were situations in which it did not apply, or had to be interpreted in a broader or more creative manner.)

There are no real stinkers in Season Two, although "The Omega Glory" comes pretty close. If there's anything really negative to be said about the second season, it's that there was a bit too much recycling of ideas. "The Apple," for example, focused on the corruption and stagnation of an alien society due to it being controlled by a powerful godlike machine called Vaal. This basic premise had already been explored during the first season in such episodes as "Return of the Archons" and "A Taste of Armageddon."

Season Two also had just a few too many stories in which Kirk defeated a troublesome computer or machine by pointing out the fundamental flaws in its own logic ("I, Mudd," "The Changeling," and "The Ultimate Computer").

On the other hand, the show demonstrated just how versatile it was by displaying its willingness—and its ability—to go all-out for laughs, in comedic episodes such as the aforementioned "I, Mudd" and "The Trouble With Tribbles," along with "A Piece of the Action," in which Kirk and Spock have to act like gangsters on a world patterned after Chicago in the 1920s. Even more serious episodes like "Bread and Circuses" and "Patterns of Force" had some great, memorable bits of humor and satire. (In "Patterns of Force," check out Kirk's reaction when Spock tells him, "You should make a very convincing Nazi.")

And with Spock's growing popularity came a number of essential, truly great episodes focusing on him that revealed more about his species, his culture, his family, and his backstory—all of which would be revisited and built upon in numerous ways over the next few decades.

As I mentioned last time, DeForest Kelley's name was added to the opening credits starting with Season Two, as a result of the key contributions he made to the series during the previous year. Dr. McCoy's importance as a character becomes even more evident in the second season, and he often gets the best moments, a couple of which are recounted above. The relationship between McCoy and Spock is now shown to be extremely complex. They don't really get along—in "The Trouble With Tribbles," McCoy tells Spock, "I like (the tribbles). Better than I like you." To which Spock replies, "They do have one redeeming characteristic... they do not talk too much." In "Bread and Circuses," McCoy pulls no punches when assessing Spock: "Do you know why you're not afraid to die, Spock? You're more afraid of living. Each day you stay alive is just one more day you might slip and let your human half peek out... Why, you wouldn't know what to do with a genuine, warm, decent feeling." Their relationship is based on brutal honesty with each other. They're not friends in the way either of them is with Kirk, but they are friends, as evidenced in "Amok Time" when Spock explains that he is permitted to invite to his wedding those closest to him. Of course, he invites Kirk. But then he turns to McCoy and requests his presence, as well. McCoy's reaction is one of genuine surprise and delight-it's clear he wasn't expecting to be invited, and had no idea up to that point just how much he meant to Spock. What rich, wonderful material, beautifully performed.

Coming Soon: Season Three!

Saturday, March 5, 2011


It's a universal truth that you can't experience something for the first time more than once. But you can experience something again with a fresh perspective, especially when you're introducing someone else to it and can view the experience through that person's eyes. A while back, I embarked on a long-term project: to watch the original Star Trek TV series in its entirety, from start to finish.

Of course, I've seen all 79 episodes over the years, and I have all three seasons on DVD. But I've never watched the whole thing in order, from the first episode to the last, so that would be a new element. But more importantly, I decided to watch it all with my eight-year-old daughter Maddie, who didn't know much about Star Trek and who would therefore add a totally fresh and objective perspective.

If she didn't like it after a few episodes, I'd bail on the endeavor. But I loved the idea that she would be exposed to this universe and its characters at roughly the same age I was when I first encountered Star Trek, that she would go into this not knowing how each story would end, not knowing the ultimate fates of the regular characters, and how the series would evolve and grow over time, leading of course into the six movies featuring the original cast. (I was hoping to do the same thing with Star Wars, but that got ruined—long story, maybe for another time.)

Well, all I can say is, after a few episodes, we reached a point where Maddie would come to me on the weekends and ask, "Daddy, can we watch a Star Trek?" Winning!

I'll be devoting a blog entry to each season, and I'll kick things off here with Season One. This won't be a review of each and every episode—I'll just be touching upon the ones that Maddie and I thought were the above-and-beyond highlights. My favorites will be noted with a "GG," Maddie's with an "MG," and ones that we both cited as our favorites will be noted with a "GG/MG." Simple enough, right?

So here are the real standouts of Season One, listed in the order in which they were produced:

"Where No Man Has Gone Before" (GG/MG)

The second pilot, the one that got the show sold to NBC. It still holds up extremely well. A gripping story with a heart-wrenching moral dilemma, personal drama, and a powerful performance by guest star Gary Lockwood as Captain Kirk's best friend, Gary Mitchell. This was Maddie's first real exposure to the series.

MADDIE: "This has a lot of action. The man with the silver eyes (Lockwood) had special powers, so he was a real challenge for Captain Kirk!"


"The Enemy Within" (GG/MG)

A daring look at the darkness that lurks inside Captain Kirk, the negative aspects of himself that he keeps bottled up, under control—and yet give him the strength he needs to command a starship. You can't accuse William Shatner of not giving a totally committed performance.

MADDIE: "You didn't know which Captain Kirk was the real one. But even the bad Captain Kirk had a little good in him. And I thought it was very sweet when the good Captain Kirk was nice to the bad one and told him, 'We're both going to live!'"


"The Naked Time" (GG/MG)

The crew of the Enterprise is exposed to an alien virus that drives them to release all of their inhibitions. Incidentally, this is George Takei's favorite episode. (It was sequelized—very badly—in "The Naked Now," one of the earliest episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

MADDIE: "I really like this one! You learn what's really beneath all the characters, which you don't get to see in every episode."


"Balance of Terror" (GG)

The episode that introduced the Romulans. A gripping battle of wits inspired by the 1957 film The Enemy Below, about an American destroyer locked in conflict with a German submarine during World War II. Mark Lenard made such an impression as the unnamed Romulan Commander that he would return to the series a year later in an even more important role: Spock's father, Sarek. In 1986, noted comic-book writer/artist John Byrne used some key dialogue from this episode in a story depicting Superman's first encounter with the Batman.


"Miri" (GG)

Lot of great moments in this one. "No blah blah blah!" "Captain... look at my legs." "Bonk bonk on the head!" I liked it so much I wrote a sequel to it, which appeared in issue #3 of my Star Trek: Untold Voyages limited series for Marvel Comics.


"The Menagerie, Parts I and II" (GG/MG)

An example of Star Trek at its very best—which is truly remarkable, considering that this two-parter was essentially slapped together at the last minute as a way to get the show back on schedule and on budget. Framing sequences featuring Shatner and the rest of the regular cast were filmed and incorporated into the first Star Trek pilot, which starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike and was rejected by NBC. The footage from the pilot was presented as flashbacks during a court martial of Spock, who faces the death penalty for taking his former captain, the now-crippled Pike, to a forbidden world. I discovered only recently that John D.F. Black wrote the new scenes featuring Kirk and Spock's court martial, while Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry, who wrote the first pilot, got sole credit for the entire two-parter. You learn something new every day!

MADDIE: "This is one of my very favorite ones! You see what the Enterprise was like before Captain Kirk took over, and you learn what happened to Captain Pike, and you find out about some of the big secrets of the Starfleet."


"Tomorrow Is Yesterday" (GG/MG)

The Enterprise is thrust back in time to Earth of the 1960s, where Kirk and crew encounter a U.S. Air Force pilot who accidentally learns too much about the future and therefore can't be allowed to go home—but the history of the future dictates otherwise. An exciting, often funny episode with a strong guest-star in Roger Perry as U.S.A.F. Captain John Christopher.

MADDIE: "This was a great story. Captain Kirk and the crew took so many chances. They had to sneak into the air force base to steal film that showed the Enterprise in the sky over Earth, and they had to find a way to send the pilot back home. There was a lot of suspense!"


"Space Seed" (GG/MG)

You watch this one and you see exactly why it was chosen for sequelization 15 years later for the second Star Trek movie. As 20th-centuty genetic superman/international dictator Khan Noonien Singh, newly freed from centuries of suspended animation, Ricardo Montalban simply dominates this episode with undeniable power and menacing charm. Khan is one of the all-time great Star Trek villains, if the not the greatest—the failed attempts to create a "Khan-level" villain in every single one of the Next Generation movies only attests to this fact.

MADDIE: "I liked that the woman who loved Khan decided to stay with him. I really liked Khan, even though he could be dangerous. He had special strength. I really liked the story. Captain Kirk took a big chance by sending Khan and his people to that planet instead of putting them in jail."

(No, Maddie has NO IDEA what happens with regard to Khan years later. Needless to say, I can't wait to watch Star Trek II with her for the first time.)


"The Devil in the Dark" (MG)

A mysterious monster is killing miners at a Federation outpost. It's up to Kirk and Spock to figure out why—and when they do, they realize that the creature must be protected.

MADDIE: "I really like this one. It's a great mystery. It has a great set-up. The story is great, and the title is perfect. I like the way the whole thing played out, and what the monster was really all about."


"Errand of Mercy" (GG)

The episode that introduced the Klingons. And what an introduction! John Colicos totally rules as Commander Kor. I wish they could have brought him back in a later episode or one of the movies to face off against Kirk again. (Yeah, I know he eventually showed up on Deep Space Nine. I saw it. Feh.)


"The City on the Edge of Forever" (GG/MG)

Hands-down, the best episode of the original series, and it still ranks as one of the greatest hours of all of the Star Trek series ever produced. Harlan Ellison wrote the original version of the script, which went through a series of extensive revisions by several writers (including Ellison himself, Gene Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon, and Dorothy Fontana). Ellison's original version, which has been published in a book of the same name, is undeniably powerful and very well-written—but in reading it, it becomes very clear why Roddenberry felt the script had to be reworked to fit within the context of the Star Trek series. (Sorry, Harlan!)

MADDIE: "This was a desperate love story, like Romeo and Juliet. I liked seeing Captain Kirk fall in love, but this was very sad."


"Operation: Annihilate!" (GG/MG)

Deadly alien parasites invade a planet where Captain Kirk's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew are living, causing mass insanity and ultimately death. The situation becomes even more desperate when Spock is affected. It was always great to learn more details about Kirk's background, and here, we get a glimpse of his family. (We were supposed to get even more in this episode, including the fact that Kirk's mother was alive and living back on Earth, but the final scene, which also featured a touching farewell between Kirk and his young nephew, was edited out.) This episode also shows that even Dr. McCoy isn't perfect, and Spock may have to pay the price for that fact.

MADDIE: "I was very upset about what happened t0 Spock. But I loved when it turned out that it was only temporary."


Confession time. We didn't watch every single episode of the first season. I skipped over one. It is, without a doubt, the very worst episode of Season One, and one of the worst episodes of all time. It's called "The Alternative Factor."

This is a textbook example of everything that can go wrong in the making of a television episode. For a variety of reasons, mostly production problems, the episode turned out to be a thoroughly incoherent, annoying mess. I had no desire to watch it again, nor to try to explain to an eight-year-old that which is unexplainable.


You definitely notice as the first season goes along that Roddenberry and his team were totally making things up as they went along, and it led to some interesting inconsistencies along the way. James R. Kirk? Spock is a Vulcanian? The series is set 700 years in the future? No, 200 years? The planet Vulcan was once conquered? Spock smiles occasionally and can make mischievous, inappropriate, sexually oriented remarks to Yeoman Janice Rand?

But who could really expect everything to be nailed down right from the start? It's fascinating (what an appropriate word!) to see how things started out and how they developed and changed over time, eventually settling in to what has become more or less the "default" version of the show.

You also get to see the increasing importance of Dr. McCoy to the series, due in no small part to DeForest Kelley's wonderful performance and the natural chemistry that he had with Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. No wonder they added his name to the opening credits starting with Season Two.

Many classic TV shows didn't get their act together until after the first season. Star Trek: The Next Generation was infamously disastrous that first year, and things didn't really improve in the second. I'd say that show didn't really start turning itself around until midway through its third season.

It's therefore worth noting that many of the original Star Trek's very best episodes were done in its first season, and that by the second half of that initial year, many of the things that we know and love so much about the series were already in place.

Coming Up: Season Two!