Friday, May 20, 2011

STAR TREK THROUGH FRESH EYES, PART THREE

Well, we're done. After working our way through Season One and Season Two of the original Star Trek television series, my 8-year-old daughter Maddie and I spent the last couple of months watching Season Three in its entirety. Maddie, of course, was being exposed to it all for the very first time. I'd seen all of the third-season episodes before, of course, but I had not watched quite a few of them in many, many years. As such, there was much I did not remember about these installments, so it was really like watching them for the first time (but with some background knowledge going in).


I would say that the most notable thing about the third season is how much the quality varies from episode to episode. Many fans—and even some people who actually worked on Star Trek, including, it's been suggested, creator Gene Roddenberry himself—pretty much wrote off Season Three as a hopeless mess best left forgotten, or at least barely acknowledged.

I wouldn't go that far. There are certainly some colossal stinkers in Season Three—among the very worst the series ever produced. There are some episodes that are frustratingly mediocre. Some have great ideas at their cores but are just not executed well. Others are good but flawed. But, in my humble opinion, there are some real gems sprinkled throughout. It's just too bad there weren't a few more of those in that final year.

What happened? How did so much substandard material get produced? Some of you may already know all this. But for those who don't, it all started when Gene Roddenberry left Star Trek after Season Two for what he thought would be greener pastures.


Star Trek was never a ratings blockbuster in its original broadcast run. The show barely escaped cancellation at the end of the second season. The general consensus among Star Trek historians and the people who were there at the time is that Roddenberry knew a sinking ship when he saw one and abandoned the show—the cast, the crew, and the loyal fans—to pursue more promising and more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. Instead of staying with his creation and making sure it maintained its quality and the high standards he had set for it, even in the face of final cancellation, he bailed out on it.

To be fair to Roddenberry, he always maintained that he left Star Trek because NBC had broken its promise to him—that he had agreed to go back to being the hands-on line producer, something he hadn't been since the first half of the first season, based on assurances from network executives that the show would get a great time slot in Season Three. But when the show was instead relegated to the "Time Slot of Death" (Friday nights at 10, a time when most of Star Trek's core audience—kids, teens, and young adults—were either asleep or out socializing, but certainly not sitting on the couch watching TV), Roddenberry felt that the only way he could save face was to walk away.

Roddenberry retained his Executive Producer title and kept getting paid, but the reality of the situation was that he turned himself into nothing more than a figurehead (or an "absentee landlord," as some have put it) and made sure that he had as little to do with the show as possible—all the while carefully maintaining the illusion that he was still actively involved (and taking credit for whatever actually worked or was praised).

The new show runner, Fred Freiberger, was hobbled from the very start, as the show's budget was substantially cut and he had to make do with less. Despite this, there were actually some innovations and advancements in the special effects. For example, in the previous seasons, whenever a character walked in front of the main viewscreen on the bridge of the Enterprise, the screen was either blank or there was a still picture of outer space pasted on to it. But in the third season, if a character walked in front of the main viewscreen, you could see the stars moving across the screen, conveying the forward motion of the Enterprise as it cruised through the cosmos at top speed. Not a quantum leap in terms of visual effects, but certainly a noticeable improvement.

There were also quite a few efforts to shoot the scenes on the bridge from new, more innovative angles. In many cases, these efforts were successful, making the bridge seem bigger, more expansive, and more interesting. Plus, it was just nice to see the familiar set from different points of view.

Fred Freiberger can't be blamed for the budget cuts, or the cost-cutting measures he had to take to address them (such as very little shooting on location, more and more episodes shot on the standing Enterprise sets or on simple sets that could be thrown together very quickly and cheaply). What he can be blamed for, however, is his failure to fully grasp Star Trek, and his apparent unwillingness to do his homework once he took over the show. Walter Koenig has told about how his character, Ensign Chekov, was written out of character in a particular episode, and how he tried to explain this—and to make suggestions on how to fix it—in a written memo to Freiberger. The new show runner's response? "I read your memo. Forget it."

D.C. Fontana, who had written many of the show's most beloved episodes, who had served for a time as the story editor, and who knew almost as much about Star Trek as Gene Roddenberry, saw her script about Dr. McCoy's daughter Joanna be completely rewritten—and the character of Joanna dropped from it entirely—because, as Freiberger told her, McCoy couldn't have a 21-year-old daughter because he was Captain Kirk's contemporary. Freiberger apparently had never even bothered to read the writer's guide for the series, which established clearly that McCoy was about 10 years older than Kirk. (Incidentally, Fontana's script was turned into "The Way to Eden," the one with the space hippies, which is generally considered one of the worst episodes of all.)

Freiberger also allowed scripts to go into production in which Spock said and did things that were wildly out of character, prompting Leonard Nimoy to go over Freiberger's head on more than one occasion to try to get changes made that would preserve the character's integrity. It's clear, based on the filmed episodes, that Nimoy was not always successful.

It was under these conditions that the third and final season of Star Trek was produced.

As before, Maddie and I will focus on the most notable episodes of Season Three. But this time, we'll discuss the particularly bad ones as well as the particularly good ones, since many of the stinkers are just as interesting—and in some cases, just as entertaining—as the gems. Episodes that Maddie alone considered worthy of comment are noted with an "MG," my picks are noted with a "GG," and ones that we both felt warranted discussion are noted with an "MG/GG."

"Spectre of the Gun" (GG)


A solid premise—an alien race called the Melkotians are angered when the Enterprise, seeking to establish contact with them, trespasses on their territory. So the aliens force Captain Kirk and his landing party to re-enact the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, with our heroes on the losing side. By creating a surreal, unfinished, slapdash-looking version of Tombstone, Arizona—and making that a story point—the production team came up with a clever way to get around the fact that the show couldn't afford to build a full set of a town in the American West of the 1880s. The weakest element in this episode is the characterization of Kirk—he knows the people in the town are basically illusions, created and controlled by the Melkotians, and yet, as the gunfight approaches and his efforts to avoid it are met with failure, he flies off the handle and desperately tries to reason with these constructs, even using physical intimidation, as if they're real people and capable of free will. It certainly gave William Shatner a chance to cut loose, but from a character standpoint, it kind of made Kirk seem a bit like a cement head.

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"Elaan of Troyius" (GG)


Never liked this one when I was a kid—probably because I found guest star France Nuyen so unappealing, and her character so unlikable—but having now watched it again for the first time in many years, I found it to be quite enjoyable. It's basically a retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, with a little bit of Helen of Troy thrown in, and it's definitely a lot better than I had remembered. It's well written, well acted, and well directed, with a particularly fun performance by Shatner and interesting character dynamics between Kirk and Elaan (Nuyen). I wouldn't exactly say that I've warmed to Ms. Nuyen, but I've certainly warmed to this episode and I consider it of the stronger ones of Star Trek's third season. Historical note: This was the first episode to show a Klingon battle cruiser, the design of which would carry over years later to the movie series and the various spin-off TV shows.


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"The Paradise Syndrome" (MG/GG)


The Enterprise is trying to protect a world that will soon be devastated by a giant asteroid. Kirk and crew discover that the planet is inhabited by a tribe of American Indians, apparently placed there many centuries ago by a mysterious alien race called the Preservers. As the ship departs to intercept the asteroid, Kirk ends up stranded on the planet with severe amnesia and is mistaken by the Indians for a god. They embrace him, worship him, and present him with a lovely bride, Miramanee (much to the dismay of Salish, a male member of the tribe who was supposed to marry her). As the months pass, Kirk—called "Kirok" by the tribe—is filled with happiness and love for his wife Miramanee, who becomes pregnant. However, he is haunted by dreams of a "lodge that moves through the sky"—the Enterprise, of course. As the threat of the asteroid grows, with the Enterprise racing against time to stop it, the increasingly jealous Salish discovers that Kirk is not a god after all—which means he can be killed.

Probably the best looking episode of Season Three, thanks to it being the only one that was partially shot on location instead of entirely on a soundstage. That adds a much more realistic flavor and a greater scope to the proceedings.


This episode is also one of my favorites—not just of the third season, but of the series as a whole. Kirk's relationship with Miramanee (played by the charming Sabrina Scharf) is very touching and sweet. It doesn't feel forced or contrived at all. Most fans consider Edith Keeler from Season One's "The City On the Edge of Forever" to be the love of Kirk's life, but I'd place Miramanee right up there with Edith.


He spent far more time with Miramanee, having lived with her for several months. She was his wife, and she became pregnant with his child. They were very happy together. It was a real marriage. Kirk may have had amnesia, but his personality and his core essence were still intact—and he genuinely loved her. No, he wouldn't have stayed with her once the Enterprise returned for him and his memory was restored, but that doesn't mean he didn't love her deeply. The ending is quite emotional, helped greatly by a strong, nuanced performance by William Shatner.

MADDIE: "This is one of my favorites of the third season. I liked that Salish figured out that Kirk wasn't a god. And Salish looked a lot like Khan!"


MADDIE (continued): "This episode was very adventurous, because Kirk got married and was going to have a baby. There were happy parts and sad parts. I really liked when Kirk saved the little boy's life and that's why the Indians believed he was a god."

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"The Enterprise Incident" (MG/GG)


This is a fun, exciting episode that brings back the Romulans—and establishes that they're now using Klingon designs for their ships. The Enterprise is on a mission to steal the Romulans' new cloaking device technology, which renders their vessels completely invisible. As part of the operation, Spock cozies up to the female commander of the Romulan fleet (played quite memorably by Joanna Linville), and manages to convince her that he's interested in defecting. That's the one thing in this episode that's really tough to swallow—how gullible the Romulan commander is. As a hardnosed, capable, and highly competent officer, she falls for Spock's cover story—and his romantic moves—way too quickly and easily. But I can buy Spock trying to seduce her. He's on a spy mission, after all, and is simply playing a role. The neat twist—for him and for the audience—is that by the end, he realizes that he really has developed feelings for her. Other highlights: Kirk's apparent death at the hands of Spock and his resurrection as a Romulan officer, which leads to some very amusing moments.


MADDIE: "I really liked how Kirk tricked the Romulans and even McCoy into thinking that he was crazy, and that Spock had killed him. I really thought that Kirk died!"

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"And the Children Shall Lead" (GG)


This is considered one of the very worst episodes of the original series, and rightfully so. It's sort of a sideways retread of Season One's "Miri," but far less successful. Noted attorney (and non-actor) Melvin Belli plays Gorgan, a malevolent, power-hungry energy being that has corrupted a group of recently orphaned children at a Federation outpost. Together, they take over the Enterprise so that Gorgan can spread his evil influence across the galaxy. To say that Belli is not good in the part is a colossal understatement. I'm not sure why he was hired—I've heard that he was a popular public figure at the time and it was felt that his appearance could boost the show's ratings. But I've also heard that it was simply because he was buddies with show runner Fred Freiberger. Either way, he was totally and laughably ineffective. Yes, this episode is bad. But I'll also make the case that it's so bad it's absolutely watchable.

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"Spock's Brain" (MG/GG)


The all-time dumbest, most ridiculous episode of Star Trek. Aliens surgically remove Spock's brain—without even messing up his hairand bring it back to their planet so that it can be used to power their central computer. The Enterprise sets off in pursuit, but time is running out for Spock's body. Spock is written totally out of character at the end, for the sole purpose of having McCoy fire off a humorous comment at the Vulcan's expense. Believe it or not, this turkey was chosen to be the season premiere. The only real entertainment value is to watch the cast members play the substandard material with their usual gusto, dedication, and professionalism. Shatner and company are in there giving their all, but they're riding one of their very worst scripts.

MADDIE: "I liked the helmet that McCoy had to wear to get the knowledge to put Spock's brain back in his body."


MADDIE (continued): "What I really liked was when McCoy was losing the knowledge, and Spock had to tell him how to finish."

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"The Empath" (MG)


Kirk, Spock, and McCoy become trapped on a dying world and are subjected to cruel, brutal experiments by powerful and mysterious aliens. Our heroes' only hope: a young, sensitive mute woman with amazing empathic healing powers—but only if she can overcome her fear and discover her compassion.

MADDIE: "This is one of my favorites of the third season. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were all willing to die for one another and they were trying to help the empath. And she was taking all the pain for whoever got hurt. I cried when Dr. McCoy was being tortured by the aliens."

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"The Tholian Web" (MG/GG)


A well done "bottle episode" that takes place entirely aboard the Enterprise and its sister starship, the U.S.S. Defiant (no need for additional sets or location shooting!). Investigating the mysterious loss of the Defiant, the Enterprise is attacked by the Tholians, who claim sovereignty over that region of space. When Kirk becomes trapped in an inter-dimensional void, Spock keeps the Enterprise in the area in the hopes that he'll be able to rescue the captain. But he needs time. The Tholians lose their patience with Spock and begin to build a giant energy web around the Enterprise, trapping it within and preventing it from carrying out any rescue attempts.

This had very good special effects, a nice role for Uhura, and the scenes between Spock and McCoy are among their best interactions—but I'm still not sure why, when they're reunited with Kirk at the end, they pretend not to have watched the tape of him delivering his final orders to them. Maybe they didn't want Kirk to think that they'd given up on him? I dunno. The big mystery, though, is how the production team managed to convince Shatner to let the rest of the cast have the spotlight for the bulk of an episode. Considering how Shatner would supposedly throw a fit if Nimoy ever had more lines than him in a script, this was quite an accomplishment.

MADDIE: "I liked seeing the Enterprise trapped in the web. I felt sorry for Uhura because she saw the captain and no one believed her. They took a big chance when they tried to break through the web to get out and save the captain. They got Kirk just in time—he was running out of air."

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"Day of the Dove" (MG/GG)


The last Klingon episode of the original series, and it's a good one, with Michael Ansara making a strong impression as Commander Kang. (Interesting note: It was originally supposed to be Commander Kor, from Season One's "Errand of Mercy," but actor John Colicos apparently wasn't available.) An alien entity that thrives on negative emotions pits the crews of the Enterprise and Kang's battleship against each other, stoking their mutual animosities and feeding off of the resulting anger and violence. Only by working together can Kirk and Kang drive the entity away. Ansara is very cool as Kang—proud, imposing, and formidable. Susan Howard, who would later star in Dallas, plays Kang's wife Mara. She's a bit more soft and delicate than the female Klingons of the movies and the later TV series, but she's also intelligent, shrewd, and sensible—the perfect mate for a warrior like Kang. The ending, in which a laughing Kang slaps Kirk on the back and sends him stumbling forward, has never failed to put a smile on my face.


MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites of the third season. I liked how the Enterprise crew and the Klingons had to work together. When the alien turned red, you knew it was feeding on everyone's anger. Only Captain Kirk knew how to stop the alien and the Klingons wouldn't listen to him. I liked Kang's wife Mara because she trusted Kirk and tried to get her husband to believe him."

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"Plato's Stepchildren" (MG)


The Platonians, an arrogant race of aliens with psychokinetic powers, demand that Dr. McCoy become their personal physician. When McCoy refuses, the aliens use their mind-over-matter abilities to put Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and Nurse Chapel through a series of cruel and humiliating experiences for their own amusement. This episode is best remembered for Michael Dunn's sensitive performance as the anguished, powerless dwarf Alexander, and for Kirk and Uhura taking part in what has long been long hailed as TV's first interracial kiss (though it must be noted that we never quite get to see their lips meet).


MADDIE: "I liked when Kirk was made to act like a horse and Alexander was riding on his back. I was half laughing and half sad for them. I didn't like when Kirk and Uhura were forced to kiss because they're not in love with each other."

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"That Which Survives" (MG/GG)


As far as I'm concerned, THIS is the absolute worst episode of the third season, and ranks with "The Alternative Factor" as the very worst of the entire series, because it is just plain unwatchable. Boring, tedious, lifeless, and thoroughly uninteresting. Of all the episodes that I've watched with Maddie, this is the only one that literally put me to sleep. I remember hating this episode when I was a kid, but I wanted to give it another chance. Well, my opinion has not changed—in fact, my dislike of it has probably intensified. I can't even tell you what it's about—the plot made absolutely no impression on me! All I know is Lee Meriwether keeps showing up and touching Enterprise crewmembers to death. Avoid at all costs.

MADDIE: "This was so boring! It was going so slowly! It was very weak. Not a good Star Trek."

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"Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (MG/GG)


A somewhat heavy-handed but nonetheless compelling allegory about the pointlessness and the destructive costs of racism. Guest-starring Frank Gorshin as Bele, an obsessed law enforcement officer from the planet Cheron, and Lou Antonio as Lokai, the escaped political prisoner that Bele has been pursuing for 50,000 Earth years. The root of their conflict: Bele and Lokai are both white on one side of their bodies and black on the other—but not on the same sides. Gorshin brings the same kind of manic energy and intensity to this role that he brought to the Riddler on the Batman TV series. He goes a bit over the top at times during the more dramatic moments, but it's definitely a memorable performance. Antonio is effective too—both characters come off as totally committed to their respective points of view and as blindly self-righteous. A particular highlight: Bele seizing control of the Enterprise and Kirk retaliating by activating the ship's self-destruct sequence. (I told Maddie to remember this self-destruct sequence, but I didn't tell her why. I want her to be surprised when she sees it again...)

MADDIE: "I really liked this one. I liked seeing how they would blow up the Enterprise if they had to. Bele was very stuck-up about himself—he even took over the ship! I didn't like the way Bele thought he was better than Lokai because he was black and white on the opposite sides. They were both the same!"

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"Whom Gods Destroy" (GG)


Very dumb episode set in an insane asylum where the inmates, led by a legendary former Starfleet captain, have taken over. Spock comes off as an ineffectual moron during the big climax—Leonard Nimoy protested mightily about this, but Fred Freiberger dismissed his concerns for the most part. Despite that, the late Steve Ihnat (who died of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 37—yeeeeesh!) is excellent as former Fleet Captain Garth, a truly tragic figure. It's really a shame that the episode was not better plotted. Despite that, and thanks to Ihnat's performance, the self-proclaimed Lord Garth is one of Star Trek's more memorable antagonists. And speaking of memorable, I give you this episode's other significant guest star, Miss Yvonne Craig:


You're welcome, fellas.

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"The Cloud Minders" (GG)


A real stinker about class warfare on a world with a cloud city that predates Bespin from The Empire Strikes Back by about 10 years. Spock is totally out of character in this episode—Freiberger must have put a gun to Nimoy's head to get him to perform his part as written. There's a bizarre voice-over from Spock in which he fixates on an utterly vapid and shallow blond who's got the hots for him. Within moments of meeting her, Spock tells her all about the Vulcan mating cycle—something he could barely bring himself to discuss with Kirk, his closest friend and commanding officer, even when his very life depended on it (in Season Two's "Amok Time"). Best thing I can say about this one is that it isn't quite as bad as "That Which Survives."

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"The Way to Eden" (GG)


Infamously bad—and absolutely watchable. Space hippies led by Dr. Sevrin, an insane scientist/guru, hijack the Enterprise to find a mythical paradise world called Eden, apparently located in Romulan space. This is the episode that was conceived by writer D.C. Fontana and would have introduced McCoy's daughter Joanna. But after extensive rewriting by Freiberger and his team, Joanna was dropped and replaced by Ensign Chekov's ex-girlfriend Irina (giving us two—TWO!—bad Russian accents for the price of one).


The basic storyline remained more or less intact, but not enough for Fontana to want to retain a proper writing credit—she used a pseudonym. There's so much that's wrong about this episode, but you can't take your eyes off of it: the ease with which the hippies take over an entire starship supposedly manned by Starfleet's finest crew; the sonic weapon used by Sevrin to take out the crew, which is set to kill them, but Kirk somehow manages to fight off its fatal effects by sheer will; the degree to which Chekov is written out-of-character as a stiff, rule-quoting bore; Charles Napier's costume and the four—FOUR!—songs he gets to sing; the utterly cliché portrayal of the hippies, which just comes off as middle-aged white guys in business suits trying desperately to tap into the youth culture of that moment—or they were just displaying genuine contempt for the counterculture; oh, I could go on and on. Believe it or not, and this definitely puts me in the minority, I actually don't mind Spock relating to the hippies and jamming with them on a musical number. As a scientist and a man of peace, Spock would be curious to know if Eden actually exists. And we'd seen him jam with other people before—specifically Uhura, in the first-season episode "Charlie X." And here's something else about the episode that I don't mind:


I do have to wonder if William Shatner ever realized that he was basically just doing a retread of "The Way to Eden" when he developed the story for—and directed—Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Of all the episodes to gravitate towards, consciously or not, he picked this one?!?!?!?!?

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"Requiem For Methuselah" (MG/GG)


The Enterprise arrives at a remote planet to obtain a rare mineral needed to manufacture a cure for a deadly disease spreading throughout the ship. On the planet's surface, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy encounter Flint, a mysterious man who, as it turns out, was born an immortal and lived on Earth for thousands of years under many names—including Alexander the Great, Leonardo daVinci, and Methuselah. Kirk falls deeply in love with Flint's "ward," a beautiful young woman named Rayna, who turns out to be a highly advanced android created by Flint to be his eternal mate. Kirk's presence awakens Rayna's emotions, but she finds herself torn between her beloved creator/father figure and the young man with whom she's just fallen in love. The stress is too much for her and she ceases to function. Back on the Enterprise, Kirk is so heartbroken that Spock performs a mind meld on him while he's asleep, compelling Kirk to "forget."

I liked this episode a LOT when I first saw it in my teens, and I still think it has some really great ideas and tries to do some interesting things with the characters. It's a very frustrating episode, though, because while there's a lot to like about it, it has also has some major flaws. My first big problem is that Kirk and Rayna's entire relationship takes place literally over the course of about three hours. He falls for her way too hard, and he seems far more devastated over losing her than he was over losing Edith Keeler or Miramanee. I just don't buy it. Do I believe in love at first sight? Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time. But this is too much to accept. And then there's Spock's mind meld at the end. What exactly is he making Kirk forget—the love he felt for Rayna? The pain he felt upon her "death?" That he met her at all? Any way you look at it, it's a total violation of Kirk's mind, performed on him when he's not in a position to say no. And it sets a dangerous precedent—what's to stop Spock from doing this again whenever Kirk experiences a terrible tragedy? And wouldn't there be a regulation against a Starfleet officer tampering with his captain's mind and memories? Plus, how will Kirk be able to reconcile his compromised memory with the log entries he undoubtedly made during this adventure? Seeing this episode again made me think of the scene in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier in which Kirk declares in the presence of Spock and McCoy, "Pain and guilt can't be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They're the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain!" I envision Spock at that moment recalling the end of "Requiem for Methuselah" and thinking, "Uh-oh..."

On the plus side, I have to praise the strong, compelling, and touching performances by James Daly as Flint and Louise Sorel as Rayna.

MADDIE: "I liked how Flint was all those different people throughout history. I really enjoyed this episode because, for most of it, it was a mystery and I like mysteries. Flint had all these new pieces of music and all these paintings by people who were supposed to be long dead. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were wondering how that was possible. And it was a love story too. Flint was jealous of Kirk, because he wanted Rayna for himself, but she fell in love with Kirk. I thought it was very interesting at the end—Spock made Kirk forget to make him feel better."

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"The Savage Curtain" (MG/GG)




The Excalbians, a race of rocklike alien creatures with the power to reshape matter, attract the Enterprise to their world to conduct an experiment to determine which is stronger, good or evil. Representing goodness, Kirk and Spock are teamed with very convincing recreations of Abraham Lincoln and the legendary Vulcan philosopher Surak to battle some of the most notorious figures in galactic history, including Genghis Khan, a 21st century Earth warlord known as Colonel Green, and Kahless, a notorious Klingon who lived centuries ago.


If memory serves, this is one of the very first episodes of Star Trek I ever saw. Until I watched it again with Maddie, I had not seen it in many years—and I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it is. Despite the limited production values, I found this to be a solid, engaging action-adventure story with interesting characters and even some substance. It gives voice to different points of view: pacifism, as represented by Surak; the need for a strong defense and an effective offense, as expressed by Kirk; and the acknowledgement that sometimes, war is a necessary evil and there's nothing good about it except for its ending, as voiced by Lincoln. Speaking of whom, Lee Bergere does a wonderful job bringing our 16th President to life in the 23rd century—he's totally believable and, like Captain Kirk, you find yourself liking him immediately even though you know he can't be the real deal.


Likewise, Barry Atwater is very effective as Surak—his performance as a Vulcan is consistent with Leonard Nimoy's, but Atwater brings his own distinctive flavor.


And I have to mention Phillip Pine, who's just terrific as Colonel Green—intelligent, charming, slimy, cunning, and thoroughly devious. It's not a particularly big part, but Pine definitely makes the most of it.


"The Savage Curtain" actually would have worked quite well as the final episode of the series. With Kirk doing a variation of his "risk is our business" speech (from Season Two's "Return to Tomorrow") before he and Spock beam into what surely has to be a trap, and noting at the end that there's still so much of Lincoln and Surak's work left to be done in the galaxy, the captain reaffirms what Star Trek is really all about. Would have been a nice way to go out.

MADDIE: "This was a very interesting episode. You don't know who's going to live and die. Abraham Lincoln seems so real to everyone, even though they all know that Lincoln died hundreds of years ago. I really liked Surak—we learned more about Vulcan's past and what Surak did in Vulcan's history, how he made the Vulcans become logical. And Colonel Green was very sneaky. The actor who played him was very good!"

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"All Our Yesterdays" (MG/GG)


With the star Beta Niobe about to go supernova, the Enterprise visits the nearby planet Sarpeidon so that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy can try to solve a mystery: where did all of the planet's inhabitants disappear to? Our heroes soon discover that to escape Sarpeidon's coming destruction, everyone fled into different eras of the planet's past, using a time machine called the Atavachron. Due to a mishap, Spock and McCoy get trapped 5,000 years in the past, in Sarpeidon's ice age, while Kirk finds himself in the planet's medieval era, where he is arrested on suspicion of being a witch. Spock and McCoy encounter Zarabeth, a beautiful woman forced to live in the frozen wasteland all alone. Having not been properly "prepared" biologically by the Atavachron for this trip into the past, Spock starts to take on the primitive characteristics of the Vulcans of 5,000 years ago—leading him to fall in love with Zarabeth. Meanwhile, Kirk discovers that because he and his friends were not "prepared" by the Atavachron, they will die very soon if they don't return to their proper time. But Beta Niobe is about to explode, and when it goes, it will take with it any hope our heroes have of getting home.

I first encountered this episode not on television, but in a Star Trek Fotonovel published in the late 1970s, which I bought at a used bookstore a few years later. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. A short time after that, during the summer of 1983, came the publication of the novel Yesterday's Son by A.C. Crispin, which was a direct sequel to "All Our Yesterdays." I bought that novel when it first came out and read the whole thing within 24 hours—I couldn't put it down, and it remains my absolute favorite Star Trek novel to this day. It was only after reading the Fotonovel and Yesterday's Son that I finally got to see the actual television episode. So I guess you could say that I was predisposed to liking it. I did then, and I still do now. Without question, there are plot holes and some lapses in story logic, but the character stuff truly shines and makes you willing to overlook those kinds of flaws. The Spock/McCoy stuff is great—their devotion to each other and their mutual animosity laid bare.


Mariette Hartley makes an indelible mark as Zarabeth (she would do the same thing a decade later on The Incredible Hulk). She has great chemistry with Nimoy. It's hard to think of Mariette Hartley as ever having been sexy—attractive, definitely, but sexy? Not so much. But she really pulls it off here and turns in a sensitive, memorable performance that makes you like her and really feel for her, especially at the end when the inevitable happens.


It's funny—Spock's entire relationship with Zarabeth is about as long as Kirk's relationship with Rayna in "Requiem For Methuselah," but I can buy Spock/Zarabeth a lot more easily. Their circumstances (Zarabeth's profound loneliness and longing for companionship, Spock's sudden lack of control over his emotions) make their love story far more believable and powerful. This is one of the very best episodes of the third season, and a pretty darned good episode of Star Trek in its own right.

MADDIE: "This was very good. But I wish there had been more danger for Captain Kirk. The man who helped Kirk escape from jail should have been more of a bad guy and should have tricked Kirk and gotten the townspeople against him—it would have been more exciting and you'd wonder, 'How is Kirk going to fight all these people?' Otherwise, this was a very good episode. You wonder how Spock and McCoy are going to get back to their lives. All Zarabeth wanted was someone to love and to talk to, and she lied to keep Spock with her. I felt bad for her. At the end, Spock wanted to stay with Zarabeth and he wanted McCoy to leave without him, but McCoy couldn't get back without Spock. So Spock had to leave Zarabeth so that McCoy could get back home. That was very sad."

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"Turnabout Intruder" (MG/GG)


The final episode of the original series. One of Kirk's old girlfriends, the now insane Dr. Janice Lester, finds a way to take over Kirk's body and trap him in hers. Posing as Kirk, Janice intends to carry on as the captain of the Enterprise, thus fulfilling her lifelong ambition of commanding a starship, while making plans for Kirk, in her body, to end up either dead or in an insane asylum.

Hard to believe that Gene Roddenberry, who wrote the story for this episode, apparently felt that Starfleet did not yet allow women to command starships. According to "Turnabout Intruder," Janice Lester couldn't get a command of her own not because she wasn't qualified, but because Kirk's "world of starship captains doesn't admit women." (Granted, these are the ravings of a madwoman, but it's not like Kirk ever contradicts her. But what about Number One, the female second-in-command of Captain Pike's Enterprise, seen in "The Menagerie?" As capable and as qualified as she seemed to be, are we supposed to believe that she was never going to at least get a shot at her own ship?)

What's truly bizarre—and hilarious—about this episode is that once Janice takes over Kirk's body, she never once tries to act like Kirk. Sure, she's pretending to be him, but her mannerisms, the way she carries herself, her behavior, her decisions... none of it is consistent with Kirk. She's almost advertising the fact that something is very wrong with the captain, and anyone who's spent any time with him couldn't help but pick up on it. It gives William Shatner the opportunity to deliver one of his most unforgettable performances, one that'll have you dropping your jaw and laughing out loud in spots, but from a story standpoint, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Janice Lester is crazy, but she's not stupid. Guest star Sandra Smith, however, is actually pretty good, certainly believable, as Captain Kirk in Janice Lester's body. It's interesting to note that until Chris Pine in the most recent Star Trek movie, Ms. Smith was the only person other than Shatner to ever play Captain Kirk. I also have to mention George Takei, who in this episode has one of his finest, most impressive moments as Sulu when, finally convinced that the captain is somehow possessed, he tells Chekov that he'll fight Kirk "every way and any way I can." "Turnabout Intruder" was not a great way for Star Trek to end its voyages, but at least it wasn't "That Which Survives" (which, come to think of it, actually would have been a pretty ironic title for the last episode...).

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorite episodes! It surprised me when the woman wasn't really sick and she trapped Kirk in the machine to take over his body. I didn't know how Kirk was going to get his body back! I thought it was very funny when Kirk was filing his nails like a girl!"


MADDIE (continued): "It was also funny how Kirk was walking—like a girl, swishing his hips! I liked how the actress who was playing Kirk was able to act like Kirk and was making faces like he would. I liked that everyone knew that something was wrong with Kirk because he was acting all crazy and threatening to kill anyone he thought was trying to overthrow him. It was great when Scotty and McCoy were going to overthrow Kirk because they knew that Spock was so logical and that meant that Spock had to be right about Kirk's body being taken over."

And there you have it. Maddie and I have now reached the end of this particular voyage. Thanks for joining us!

And coming soon: Maddie and I look at Star Trek: The Animated Series!

13 comments:

  1. Great stuff, Glenn. I pretty much agree across the board—except that I think "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" is an overacted, underdirected mess...with more dead air than just about any other episode: it's like a half hour script painfully dragged out to an hour. And, despite its flaws (and you're right about the absurdity of the love story, in terms of the time Kirk and Rayna spend together), "Requiem for Methuselah" is one of my favorite Trek episodes. And, again despite your logical objections, I love the "forget" moment because, however boneheaded, it's a genuine act of love on Spock's part. And McCoy's soliloquy at the end, just before the "forget," is one of DeForest Kelley's best moments. And I love Shatner's performance in this one.

    The third season's definitely the weakest, with some truly wretched stinkers, but it has quite a few episodes I love, which means, all things considered, it's really not that bad at all.

    And those are my thoughts, one nerd to another!

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  2. Glenn, it looks like you are having a blast re-watching these old shows through the new eyes of your daughter. She must be very mature for her age. I didn't start watching STAR TREK for the first time till I ws 12 or 13. I still have never seenm the ANIAMTED SERIES. Looking foward to more reviews!

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  3. Thanks for sharing all your (and Maddie's) comments and insights, Glenn. I don't remember the episodes as well as some others, but I do agree with J.M.--that "forget" line stands out as one of the most emotional moments in Star Trek history, at least for me.
    Once my son and I finish the James Bond series (we're 2/3 of the way through "Licence to Kill"), maybe we'll move on to Star Trek next. I'll see if he's interested.

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  4. Thanks for posting, guys!

    Don't get me wrong, I found the "forget" moment to be very powerful, daring, and touching when I first saw it, and I still think it makes for a cool moment--but only if you turn off your brain completely and don't take into consideration its somewhat troubling implications. I have a feeling that moment never would have made it into the finished episode had Roddenberry still been at the helm.

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  5. Okay, here's what I tried to post yesterday:

    1. "Elaan of Troyius" was not a favorite of mine either during the show's days of reruns on Channel 11, but it has grown on me since I was "of an age," if you know what I mean. It's of special note for being the vehicle that reunited Shatner and France Nuyen, both of whom were the stars of the original Broadway production of THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG in 1958. I have no idea why the movie version replaced them with William Holden and Nancy "Pearl Cream" Kwan, but the re-casting completely blew the dynamic between the characters.

    2. "The Paradise Syndrome" nauseates the hell out me for a number of reasons, but I did buy Kirk's relationship with Miramanee for exactly the reasons you cite, unlike the Edith Keeler thing. "City on the Edge of Forever" is good television, but I have always found it vastly overrated. I can think of at least five TOS episodes that are much better for various reasons. But back to "Paradise." My main gripe about it, other than the narrative's inherent eighteen-wheeler load of corn, is a flock of white folks running around in redface. It always looks incredibly phony and its an aspect of TV and movies that has driven me batshit since childhood, with the lone exception being the Hekawi on F TROOP, where they were intended to be humorous.

    3. "The Enterprise Incident" comes in at #2 in my personal ranking of favorite episodes (right behind "The Devil in the Dark") and could have worked just as well if it employed characters whom we were totally unfamiliar with. But there is one thing that I never liked about it, and it's that the Romulan commander did not have a name, which also bothered me about the also-excellent "Balance of Terror." A name always helps one to connect more readily with a character, and by not giving her a name, the commander is remembered solely as "female Romulan commander." Not that she wasn't memorable, but I think you get what I mean.

    4. It is in no way a great episode and I do not defend its boring ass, but I'm genuinely shocked by your burning hatred for "That Which Survives." There are far worse episodes in the series, and worse in Season Three alone. And regardless of its faults, the visual and sound effect when Losira "folds" is pretty cool and very weird.

    5. "And the Children Shall Lead" has been on my list of the very worst of TOS since I was in the single digits and there is nothing good that can be said about it. Defeating the alien by getting the kids to cry...Aw, go fuck yourself. Only of interest for the presence of a young Pamelyn Ferdin, who voiced Lucy in the early Charlie Brown specials and in the feature film A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN, as well as later returning to sci-fi in the late-70's on SPACE ACADEMY.

    TO BE CONTINUED (because comments have a stated limit of 4,096 characters)

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  6. CONTINUED

    6. "Spock's Brain" is too often unfairly singled out as the very worst episode of TOS and, yes, it is howlingly awful. However, it is TOS' answer to PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE in terms of sheer entertainment by virtue of its unintentional hilarity, so it cannot be deemed a total failure. That's what episodes like "The Alternative Factor" and "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" are for.

    7. Speaking of which, "Let That Be your Last Battlefield" has also resided ignobly in my top five worst list since I was ten. I know it was the sixties and everybody wanted to do and see "relevant" and "message" stories, but this one could not have been less subtle if it had thrown you into a maximum security prison cell and allowed you to be repeatedly tag-team jailhoused by both Lokai and Bele. And approaching it from a black person's perspective, the message is enough to make one fully expectorate all over one's brand new Nikes. I hate, hate, HATE this one, a stance compounded by the fact that it seemed as though Channel 11 ran it every chance they got. "Let That Be Your Last Bag of Shit," more like.

    8. I will always give "Whom Gods Destroy" a free pass due to the obvious excellence of a scantily-clad and shamelessly writhing Yvonne Craig (writhing is always good) and for Captain Garth, perhaps the most unfairly underrated of TOS' antagonists (I don't consider him a villain because he clearly was not in his right mind). His personality and ability were fascinating and I wish we could have seen more of him.

    9. "The Cloud Minders" bites the big one and has the unique distinction of being the one episode I remember seeing during its original airing (my mother never missed an episode because she thought Spock was hot).

    10. Ah, "The Way to Eden"...What more can possibly be said about this so-terrible-it's-genius episode. And I'm with you on Spock's rockin' with the space-hippies/shitheads because it's totally in character for him. And you know it's a bad story when I, at age eight, first saw it and was actually glad when we found out that Severin and his idiot followers died on that toxic planet. I think Severin was one of the first characters who annoyed/infuriated me enough to wish he was real and right in front of me so I could punch him in the fucking face. That ot kock him to the floor. stand firmly on his face, grab him by both ears and lean backward with all of my weight.

    11. "Requiem for Methuselah" is one of the handful of episodes that I have avoided ever since last seeing it during my second year of college. I'll eventually check it out again just to refresh my memory, but...

    12. I don't care what you say, "The Savage Curtain" is a colossal suck-fest and is worth it solely for space-Lincoln and the "charming Negress" line.

    13. "All Our Yesterdays" and "Plato's Stepchildren" have been among my top ten or twenty (depending on my mood) since I was a kid. Both have very rich and emotionally-engaging narratives, especially the Spock/Zarabeth thing in "Yesterdays." And Hartley displays an unaffected all-natural sexiness that is simply perfect for the character. And her sad, lonely fate...Jesus...So cruel.

    14. "Turnabout Intruder," simultaneously ridiculous and completely great because of its ridiculousness. And I'd never clicked it before, but you are absolutely right Sandra Smith nailing the Kirk persona. A gem aspect in what is otherwise the ultimate example of Outright Shatnerism.

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  7. The obvious typos in entry #10 should read "or knock."

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  8. And while my offer regarding LOST IN SPACE still stands, I also have THE OUTER LIMITS, 1960's original version. Good stuff, both of which were religiously absorbed by me at the same time that I was soaking up TOS.

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  9. Thanks for posting, Bunche. Well worth the wait.

    Keep in mind, I rate Star Trek episodes based primarily on their watchability factor. The less watchable episode, the worse I rate it. Even lousy episodes like "Spock's Brain," "And the Children Shall Lead," and "The Way to Eden" are very watchable, for a variety of reasons.

    "That Which Survives," by virtue of the fact that IT LITERALLY PUT ME TO SLEEP, is, by my estimation, an unwatchable episode. I place "The Alternative Factor" in the same category, not because it's a sleep-inducer, but because it's an incomprehensible mess that's not worth trying to decipher.

    We'll just have to agree to disagree on "The Paradise Syndrome" and "The Savage Curtain."

    And I'm surprised you like "Plato's Stepchildren" so much. I don't consider it a standout episode (though Michael Dunn is wonderful in it). The only reason it made the list above is because of Maddie.

    Definitely give "Requiem For Methuselah" another viewing and let me know what you think.

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  10. I'd like to see Cheron's continuation,,,, let that be your last Battlefield,,, and maybe even on TV that would be nice up to date with this particular episode,,,,Let that be your last battlefield Star Trek

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  11. A few thoughts..:

    1) I hated the 'Elaan' episode growing up. Now I see her a lot more 'hotter' and sexier.

    2) 'Spocks Brain' is actually one of the 'top 10' for me. Silly and over-the-top? Yes, but still a fun episode. So is 'Spectre of the Gun'..

    3) 'Paradise Syndrome'..? Still hard to watch with the extra hair on Kirk and loss-of-memory. It's those episodes (also like 'That Which Survives') where the Enterprise sequences are the only bits I watch..., usually far more interesting than what's happening on the planet.

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  12. Glenn, you have to remember, the best parts of 3rd Season when you have a 'snore episode' is watching what's going on on the Enterprise. Cases in point..:

    1) 'That Which Snores, umm.. Survives', the interplay with Spock and Scotty, then Spock with that female helmsman is priceless.. I know some of it seems like filler, but on even on those 'bad episodes', Nimoy and Doohan seem to tweek out some fun scenes.

    2) 'Paradise Syndrome', I love the bridge scenes and scenes with Kelly and Nimoy in Spock's quarters, arguing about rest.

    I can probably rattle off a few others, but I'm the one who still loves 'Spocks Brain' for it's silliness, and actually 'Savage Curtain'.

    'And the Children Shall Lead', 'Requirem' and 'Plato'..? Eh, ok, they're plain painful to watch.

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  13. Oh, by the way, love your reviews. DEFINITELY looking forward to the Animated Series.., which at times was much more fun to watch than this 3rd Season. Just some splendid writing.., by actual sci-fi writers like Niven, Gerrold and a few others.

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