Archive for the ‘Star Trek’ Category

Star Trek 3.9: The Tholian Web

Saturday, 16 July, 2011

The Tholian Web“The Tholian Web” begins with the Enterprise searching for the USS Defiant, missing for three weeks. It shows up adrift and Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Chekov beam over to investigate. For some unexplained reason they all wear bulky environmental suits – something nobody has ever done before when beaming into a hazardous situation (or even down to an alien planet). Of course the suits still allow you to see the actors’ faces. The Defiant crew are all dead, apparently having killed one another. In fact, they are sprawled in incredibly unlikely poses across consoles and furniture, more like they’ve been artfully arranged. Chekov asks if there’s ever been a mutiny in Starfleet before, and Spock declares there is “absolutely no record of mutiny on a starship before”. I guess he forgot about Gary Mitchell, or even himself telling Captain Pike, “I know it is treachery and it is mutiny, but I must do this.”.

The Defiant begins to fade out like some futuristic Brigadoon, and of course there’s a transporter malfunction, meaning someone has to stay behind. Spock volunteers but Kirk, being the captain and therefore less important, orders Spock back to the Enterprise while he stays himself. When the others beam back, they immediately take their suits off, without any sort of decontamination procedure. Bad idea, as soon Chekov begins to go nuts, attacking fellow crew members, until confined to quarters. Meanwhile, the Defiant disappears, taking Kirk with it.

Some aliens appear to complicate matters, the Tholians, who warn the Enterprise to leave their territory immediately. They don’t take Spock’s “rescue mission” answer kindly and start wrapping the Enterprise in the most intriguing thing in the episode – some sort of space web made of energy. McCoy uses the time to mix bright primary coloured solutions in the med lab, searching for a cure for the plague of aggression running through the ship. He says it’s caused by the region of space, which is unstable and should bring the Defiant back so they can rescue Kirk some time in the near future.

Alas things go poorly and everyone decides Kirk must be dead. Spock gives a perfunctory eulogy, then he and McCoy open Kirk’s sealed message, only to be played when he is dead. Kirk basically tells them to get along better. Uhura sees a ghostly image of Kirk and is confined to sickbay on the assumption that she’s going nuts, but when others see it, they take it as evidence that Kirk is still alive and ready to be rescued when the Defiant reappears. They do so, and beaming Kirk back aboard somehow causes the Enterprise to be thrown several parsecs clear of the Tholian web (which was of course seconds from being completed), thus completely circumventing the only thing that really had us wondering how they’d get out of this one. The amusing ending consists of Kirk asking Spock and McCoy if his last orders were helpful, and both of them sincerely replying that they didn’t have time to view them (marking an occasion when Spock tells a bald-faced lie for no apparent logical reason).

The most intriguing thing about this episode is the energy web the Tholians are weaving about the Enterprise, and the dramatic tension as it approaches its completion. What will happen then?! And this is completely defused in a deus ex machina escape. But overall it’s not terrible, and does hold interest throughout, even if it’s defused lamely at the end. Slightly below par.

Tropes: Ghost Ship, In Space Everyone Can See Your Face, Brigadoon, Phlebotinum Breakdown, Russian Guy Suffers Most, Space Madness, Door Jam, Beehive Barrier, Technicolour Science, Hate Plague, Video Wills, Just In Time, Deus Ex Machina.
Body count: Entire crew of the USS Defiant (pre-credits).

Star Trek 3.8: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

Monday, 11 July, 2011

For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the SkyFor the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” is distinguished by having the longest title of any Star Trek episode. And that’s about the only thing that distinguishes it. I know I’ve seen this episode several times before, yet at no stage during it did I recall any of what was happening. The ending was a genuine surprise to me. It’s not a terrible episode, it’s just… boring.

It begins melodramatically, with McCoy telling Kirk that in a routine medical check-up, he’s discovered he (McCoy) has xenopolycythemia, which will kill him within a year. This is overshadowed by a “primitive” nuclear missile attack on the Enterprise. The attacker turns out to be an asteroid vessel – a generation ship in which the inhabitants live inside the hollowed out body. The twist is that the inhabitants don’t know they’re on a spaceship, and assume they live on a real planet. They discover this by Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beaming over and immediately getting captured. The beautiful high priestess Natira in a flimsy costume takes them below the “surface” to where the people live in tunnels.

Natira takes them to the Oracle, which is a strange idol that lives in a room. It zaps the heroes with some sort of electric knockout beam. Coming to, they meet an old man, who is amazed to learn that they are from the stars. The old man says he doesn’t believe they are on a planet, because he climbed a forbidden mountain and knows the Oracle lies, “For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky“. The Oracle immediately strikes the old man dead with a slave implant in the man’s temple. Natira falls in love at first sight with McCoy, who tells her he only has a year to live, but she doesn’t mind.

Meanwhile Spock and Kirk snoop around and discover the Oracle is a computer and the people on the asteroid are descendants of the Fabrini – a civilisation destroyed by a nova 10,000 years ago. Oddly, Spock can read their writing. They get into trouble, but Natira agrees to let them go when McCoy says he’ll stay with her. McCoy needs to get a slave device implanted, which he acquiesces to surprisingly meekly. Kirk and Spock decide they need to break the Prime Directive and tell the inhabitants that they are on a space ship, not a planet, because it’s about to collide with a populated planet. Natira doesn’t believe them, preferring to believe the Oracle’s pronouncements to the contrary. The Oracle goes nuts, raising the temperature in the Oracle room in an apparent attempt to sweat Kirk and Spock to death (lucky Spock is a Vulcan) – rather than using its demonstrated electrical shock ability to simply kill them on the spot. Some Fabrini guards stand by wearing lurid space pyjamas.

In the end they disable the Oracle, convince Natira they are telling the truth, and then raid the Fabrini medical database for a cure for McCoy’s life-threatening condition. McCoy decides to leave with the Enterprise and Natira is heartbroken, but promises to lead them to a new world for them to colonise. Gosh, it sounds more exciting than it was when actually watching the episode. There was so much potential with the storyline and the fact that the inhabitants didn’t know they were on a spaceship, but it isn’t developed in any interesting way and the story plays out so slowly and predictably that it completely fails to hold any interest. A complete non-event.

Tropes: Long Title, Your Days Are Numbered, That’s No Moon, Generation Ships, Hollow World, City In A Bottle, Theiss Titillation Theory, Title Drop, Shock Collar, Love At First Sight, Deus Est Machina, Alien Non-Interference Clause, Colony Drop, Religion Is Wrong, AI Is A Crapshoot, Space Clothes.
Body count: The Old Man (zorched by the Oracle).

Star Trek 3.7: Day of the Dove

Sunday, 3 July, 2011

Day of the DoveDay of the Dove” begins with the Enterprise responding to a distress all from a Federation colony, which says they are under attack by an unknown starship. A landing party beams down and finds no colonists, and no evidence of there ever having been a colony at all. Meanwhile, in orbit, a Klingon vessel approaches, but it is already disabled. Commander Kang and some of his crew beam down to confront Kirk, showing the complete ineffectiveness of the Enterprise landing party’s security guards as they disarm and capture Kirk’s team without a fight. Kang accuses Kirk of having attacked his ship and killed 400 Klingons. The Klingons apply an agony device to Chekov to force Kirk to beam them up to the Enterprise, which Kang will take over. In the background we see a sinister lurking alien energy being

Kirk plays a trick and captures the Klingons in the transporter room, but of course they soon escape and run riot over the ship. An accident seals most of the Enterprise crew in lower decks, resulting in exactly balanced numbers of Klingons and Enterprise crew battling it out for control of the ship. Strangely, all the phasers disappear and are replaced by swords! The Klingons and humans engage in running sword fights, involving lots of Flynning. The humans are surprisingly good, despite swordsmanship probably never being on the Starfleet Academy training program (contrast the previous episode, “Spectre of the Gun“, in which Kirk decides to not even bother trying to use six-shooters because of unfamiliarity with such primitive weapons). Oddly enough, the only person on the Enterprise who we know can handle a sword – Sulu – is shown using karate against Klingon sword wielders, and never once wielding a sword! McCoy reports that wounded crew are miraculously recovering and going off to fight more. And in the background, the energy being has snuck on board the Enterprise

Chekov goes wild, rampaging against the Klingon bastards who killed his brother Piotr, and ignoring orders from Kirk. Sulu is puzzled, since he knows Chekov is an only child. Sulu helps Scotty take down a bunch of Klingons near engineering, but then for some reason they leave the unconscious Klingons without tying them up or anything. Kang turns off power and life support to the bridge. Apparently turning off power to the bridge means the lights dim, but all the consoles keep working, flashing their blinking lights. Kang tells Kirk his crew will die in “the icy cold of space“, foreshadowing a more famous line by Khan in The Wrath of Khan. In response to the crisis of running out of air, Kirk records a log entry detailing the situation, and then tells Sulu to go below decks and fix the life support system. Sulu goes to fix it, but life support comes back on mysteriously by itself. Meanwhile, the energy being lurks unseen, giving a very good impression of chuckling…

Spock and Kirk figure out that there is an alien intruder on board, and that it must be causing everyone to behave violently because it feeds off violence. It is also causing the Enterprise to speed out of the Galaxy (again) at warp 9. Kirk convinces Kang’s wife Mara that the alien is the real threat. Things approach a climax as Kirk and Kang are thrown into mortal sword combat, with Kirk arguing passionately that they need to settle their differences to defeat the energy being. A battle of overacting ensues, with Mara watching completely silently in the background. Spock reports that the engines are draining the dilithium crystals and the ship only has 7.9 seconds of power left. Kirk appeals to Kang, pointing out that if they keep fighting the energy being will keep healing them and making them fight for all eternity. Kang drops his weapon, stating that Klingons fight for their own purposes, not for others. Spock says to get rid of the energy being they need to show positive emotions, so Kirk starts laughing. Kang joins in, and the energy being leaves the ship. And that’s where the episode ends abruptly, leaving us to wonder how they resolve the situation of 38 Klingons on board the Enterprise.

A tough episode to rate. The plot itself is decent and could have been the basis of something really compelling, but the way it’s executed is so cheesy and hammy that it descends almost into farce. Not great, but there are definitely worse episodes.

Tropes: Agony Beam, Russian Guy Suffers Most, Energy Beings, Sword Fight, Flynning, Forgot About His Powers, Roaring Rampage Of Revenge,Something They Would Never Say, Space Is Cold, Hate Plague, Emotion Eater, Ham-to-Ham Combat, Neutral Female, Ludicrous Precision, Enemy Mine, Hell Is War, Weaksauce Weakness, Everybody Laughs Ending, Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion.
Body count: 100 Federation colonists (probably not real), 400 Klingon starship crew.

Star Trek 3.6: Spectre of the Gun

Saturday, 2 July, 2011

Spectre of the GunSpectre of the Gun” is a memorable episode for placing Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov into a recreation of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in the roles of the Clanton gang (the losers of the gunfight). They end up there because Kirk blatantly defies a request by the alien Melkotians to stay away from their planet. Kirk reasons that his orders are to make contact with the Melkotians, whether they like it or not. This pre-credits sequence takes place with the Enterprise encountering a remote space buoy, which delivers the message. Sulu isn’t on the bridge, and apparently in this case Chekov handles the ship’s helm from his usual station on Kirk’s right, rather than Sulu’s helm position on the left – despite the helm being manned by the perennial no-dialogue extra Hadley.

Beaming down to Melkot, they land in a creepy fog, in which their tricorders and communicators fail to work. A Melkotian approaches, tells them off for violating their request to be left alone, and sentences them to death. The fog vanishes and the landing party find themselves in an obviously incomplete set reproduction of Tombstone, Arizona on the day of the famous gunfight, armed with six shooters instead of phasers (though still in their Starfleet uniforms). The buildings are very obviously only facades, and the sky is an eerie red colour. They lampshade this by pointing out that the town is only a set. Exploring, they find the set inhabited by locals who fully believe they are in a real town, and that Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov are members of the Clanton gang. The lovely Sylvia even kisses Chekov, calling him “Billy” (Claiborne), and starts planning a wedding with him.

Kirk and Spock realise that they are destined to play out the gunfight and end up dead. Spock declares authoritatively that “history cannot be changed” – in direct contradiction to their concern about time travel in such episodes as “Tomorrow is Yesterday“, “The City on the Edge of Forever“, and “Assignment Earth“. They try to leave the town, but find themselves hemmed in by a force field. Soon after, Chekov gets into an argument with Morgan Earp, who shoots him dead. Kirk then realises history can be changed, because Billy Claiborne actually survived the real gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Spock gets to work making tranquiliser grenades, using drugs McCoy acquires from Doc Holliday’s dental surgery. They realise they can’t win with six-guns (presumably having no training whatsoever in their use – although remember this for the next episode I will review…), so the plan is to knock the Earps unconscious. Except when they test the knockout gas on Scotty, it doesn’t work! They decide to avoid the gunfight by staying in the saloon, but they are suddenly teleported into the O.K. Corral, where the Earps are waiting, casting their shadows with the shadows of nearby trees – on the sky – and accompanied by dramatic thunder. Spock realises this is all an illusion and the bullets can’t really kill unless you believe in them. But Kirk points out that humans can’t be as certain as Spock’s Vulcan logic, so he mind melds with them to convince them all that the bullets can’t hurt them. The Earps open fire and the bullets have no effect, triggering a fistfight in which naturally the Enterprise crew win. Kirk gets Wyatt Earp’s gun and is about to shoot him, but shows mercy at the last minute. Suddenly the crew find themselves back on the Enterprise bridge, where Chekov is alive. The Melkotians contact them and say they are impressed with the Federation’s peaceful attitude, and they are now happy to open diplomatic relations.

A bit cheesy and with an obvious non-violence moral, but it’s a suspenseful episode. If you ignore the hokey Tombstone town set, it’s actually not such a bad episode. I’d call it middling to average, overall.

Tropes: Space Western, The Voiceless, Ominous Fog, Newspaper Dating, Alien Sky, Lampshade Hanging, Lie To The Beholder, Some Kind Of Force Field, Chekov’s Gun, Russian Guy Suffers Most, Gilligan Cut, Dramatic Thunder, I’m Not Afraid Of You, Your Mind Makes It Real, Good Old Fisticuffs.
Body count: None!

Star Trek 3.5: Is There In Truth No Beauty?

Tuesday, 28 June, 2011

Is There In Truth No Beauty?Is There In Truth No Beauty?” is an episode I remember seeing when I was young, for the shocking premise of an alien being so ugly that the very sight of it will drive you insane. Said alien being is the ambassador Kollos of the Medusans (a name ripe with symbology), a species which is in fact a supremely peaceful and gentle. The Enterprise has the job of carrying Kollos back to his homeworld. The problem is, no human can safely look at him.

He beams aboard the Enterprise with only Spock in the transporter room, wearing a protective red visor. It turns out Kollos is inside a box, so there’s no real danger. He is accompanied by a human, the attractive Dr Miranda Jones (played by Diana Muldaur, who would later play Dr Pulaski in The Next Generation), who has spent the past 4 years on Vulcan learning the mental discipline necessary to be in Kollos’s presence without going insane. She has psychic powers, but also harbours a raging jealousy towards anyone else who interacts with Kollos, which in this case includes Spock, who wants to (gasp!) say hello to Kollos.

Also on board is Larry Marvick, one of the designer’s of the Enterprise engines, now with the job of adapting starships to allow Medusan navigators, since they are expert at celestial navigation. There is a tension between Larry and Miranda, with her rejecting his advances and his imploring that she leave Kollos to be with him. Soon after, Miranda psychically detects “murderous intent” in someone. Despite mentioning this to Kirk and Spock, they immediately dismiss and ignore it. Larry then enters Kollos’s quarters armed, but Kollos defends himself by opening his box, letting Larry see him, and thus driving Larry insane. Larry runs to engineering and sends the Enterprise flying off at incredible warp speed. Kirk arrives with a bunch of security guards – but instead of ordering the guards to stun Larry with phasers, Kirk launches himself at Larry, tackling him and initiating a fistfight. Kirk eventually prevails, but by this time they are outside the Galaxy! Larry promptly drops dead, eliciting a, “He’s dead, Jim,” from McCoy.

Now faced with the problem of how to return to the Galaxy, Kirk and Spock decide only Kollos’s navigation skills can help them. Spock says he must mind meld with Kollos to allow Kollos to navigate and steer the ship through Spock’s body. Miranda objects jealously, saying she should do it. McCoy steps in, saying she can’t pilot the ship because… she’s blind! He’s deduced her secret – how she can be around Kollos constantly and go mad. Miranda keeps this from everyone because she doesn’t want pity, and uses a sensor web built into her dress to visualise her surroundings. She reluctantly allows Spock to meld with Kollos, which he does on the bridge, behind a screen shielding everyone else, and with his protective visor on. They navigate the ship back to where they started, then Spock goes to break the meld and forgets his visor! How on Earth does Spock forget such a basic safety precaution?

Miranda uses her psychic powers to fix Spock, and all ends well. There is a blatant moral to the tale, that the ugly Kollos was in fact a beautiful being, while the beautiful Miranda harboured an ugly jealousy – although that is turned around by her experiences. The episode ends with Spock and Kirk in the transporter room beaming Kollos and Miranda down to the Medusan homeworld. At this point Spock wears the safety visor, but Kirk, standing right next to him, doesn’t bother!

Overall, this is an intriguing and refreshingly different episode. It has a decent story, which keeps you guessing, and some dramatic twists and turns. I rate it above average.

Tropes: Literary Allusion Title, Go Mad From The Revelation, Take Our Word For It, Girl Of The Week, Psychic Powers, Love Makes You Evil, Death By Despair, He’s Dead Jim, Psychic Link, Dream-Crushing Handicap, Idiot Ball.
Body count: Larry Marvick (dies of… insanity?).

Star Trek 3.4: And The Children Shall Lead

Wednesday, 22 June, 2011

And The Children Shall LeadNext up is “And The Children Shall Lead“. It’s another permutation of the omnipotent alien and creepy kids themes, but this time combined into one for something different… oh wait, just like in “Charlie X“.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to answer a distress call from a scientific colony on Triacus, only to find the adults dead and the surviving five kids oblivious to the loss of their parents. They gather around the Enterprise trio and sing “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” – adding to the creepiness if you know the (discredited) theory about the nursery rhyme referring to the black plague. The crew bury the bodies, complete with a cheesy “UFP” (United Federation of Planets) banner on a stick – that the kids knock over in their eagerness to play games and ignore the sombre mood.

Kirk checks out a creepy cave nearby, and expresses a strange feeling of anxiety, which Spock dismisses casually, despite the last records of the scientists being that they were overcome with fear. Spock’s logic circuits have apparently been short circuited. Back on board, the kids turn out to have psychic powers activated by shaking a fist in the air at their victims and making them see things they fear. Their victims include Sulu – who they get to pilot the ship to a populated planet, Uhura, and Scotty. They don’t bother controlling Kirk or Spock for some inexplicable reason, which would pretty much ensure their success – instead they leave them to figure out how to stop the kids.

Spock recalls a detailed thousand-year-old old legend about Triacus – which is weird because they said the science expedition was the first time anyone had ever been there. This legend apparently tells of a mysterious malevolent force on the planet. Kirk decides to relieve the security detail on the planet and beams down two guards, not realising that the Enterprise has left orbit, meaning they get beamed into empty space. Kirk storms to the bridge and the kids turn him into a hammy simpering pile of anxiety. Spock drags him away and they regroup to try again, this time summoning the mysterious alien entity that directs the children by playing back a tape of their summoning chant. The alien stands by as Kirk then disempowers him by playing back videos of the kids playing with their parents, which results in the kids regaining their emotions and rejecting the alien, who simply fades away into nothingness.

Well, it’s not a terrible story. There’s some intrigue and drama in how Kirk and Spock can possibly prevail, but the trouble is we’ve seen it all before (multiple times) and the omnipotent psychic kids fall prey to their own lack of planning more than any cleverness by the heroes. Ho hum. Slightly below average.

Tropes: Sufficiently Advanced Alien, Creepy Child, Freudian Trio, He’s Dead Jim, Forgot About His Powers, Psychic Powers, I Know What You Fear, Kids Versus Adults, Thrown Out The Airlock, Large Ham, Summoning Ritual, Happier Home Movie.
Body count: At least 7 science expeditionists, 2 redshirts beamed into space, the alien entity Gorgan.

Star Trek 3.3: The Paradise Syndrome

Tuesday, 21 June, 2011

The Paradise SyndromeBleah. “The Paradise Syndrome” is one of those episodes that really shouldn’t have been made. It’s just all-round horrible.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are on an Earth-like planet – not just a bit Earth-like, but so Earth-like that it has pine trees. And “American Indians“. Not merely analogues, but “a mixture of Navajo, Mohican, and Delaware” as Spock declares. Breaking this astonishing recreation of ancient Earth, a weird metallic obelisk rears phallicly from the wilderness, inscribed with alien runes that fascinate Spock. In the closest thing the episode has to a plot, they reveal that their mission is to deflect an asteroid that will smash into this planet, and that they better leave within half an hour to go intercept it in time. The obvious question here is why are they even on the planet in the first place rather than out there intercepting the asteroid and then maybe later, when it’s safe, coming down to have a look around?

Naturally, they split up to look around. Out of sight of the others, Kirk opens his communicator to talk to the Enterprise, and the obelisk opens up and he falls inside. Spock and McCoy don’t know where he’s gone, and Spock orders them back to the Enterprise to go deflect the asteroid, above McCoy’s protests that they need to stay and look for Kirk. Neither of them thinks to leave a search party on the planet while the ships goes to deal with the asteroid.

Inside the obelisk, Kirk has his mind selectively erased, then emerges later to the wonder of some of the natives, who naturally assume the white man in their midst is a god. Kirk does not dispute this. He is led to the village, where the sceptical medicine man Salish expresses his scepticism. On cue, a drowned boy is brought in for Salish to heal, but he declares the boy dead. Kirk applies mouth-to-mouth and revives the boy, cementing his role as a god, and new medicine man. As medicine man, Kirk also gains the hand of the chief’s daughter and high priestess Miramanee, who was previously assigned to Salish. Salish is understandably disgruntled.

Meanwhile, Spock destroys the Enterprise engines in a failed attempt to deflect the asteroid. The asteroid, by the way, is the size of Earth’s moon, but is all lumpy rather than spherical as any body that size should be. They limp back to the planet – at exactly the same speed as the asteroid, but just 4 hours ahead of it. It takes them 59 days to get there. In that time, Kirk goes totally native, marrying Miramanee, getting into a fight with Salish, and fathering Miramanee’s child!

Back on the Enterprise, Spock forgoes eating in order to decode the alien symbols on the obelisk, saying they are musical notes, representing a sort of musical language, that tells about an ancient race called the Preservers, who seeded life forms all over the Galaxy – thus explaining why they keep coming across so many humanoids. He figures out (somehow) that the obelisk is an asteroid deflector! The natives somehow know doom is imminent and implore Kirk to save them by opening the obelisk (which is weird, because they never had to open it before for any reason). Kirk has no clue however, and everyone in the village turns on him and Miramanee, throwing styrofoam rocks at them. Kirk and Miramanee collapse, just as Spock and McCoy beam down. Spock mind melds with Kirk to bring his memories back. Kirk signals the Enterprise again – which for some bizarre reason happens to be the vocal key that opens the obelisk. Spock goes inside and turns it on, deflecting the asteroid. McCoy declares Miramanee too far gone to live, and the episode ends with Kirk sobbing over her body.

Blah! An episode full of gaping plot holes, annoying stupidity, ridiculous science, and patronising attitudes. Take it away!

Tropes: Mad Lib Thriller Title, All Planets Are Earth-Like, Braids, Beads, And Buckskins, Easy Amnesia, Mighty Whitey, God Guise, Amnesia Danger, CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable, Chief’s Daughter, Nubile Savage, The Native Rival, Space Does Not Work That Way, Going Native, Forgot The Call, Forgets To Eat, Boldly Coming, Precursors, Transplanted Humans, Disco Tech, Songs In The Key Of Lock.
Body count: Miramanee, stoned to death.

Star Trek 3.2: The Enterprise Incident

Monday, 13 June, 2011

The Enterprise IncidentThe Enterprise Incident” is a spy thriller that begins with a mystery: Why is Captain Kirk acting so strangely, snapping at his crew and giving reckless orders that would ordinarily see him relieved of command on psychiatric grounds? McCoy begins the episode with a medical log observing Kirk’s irrational behaviour, immediately opening the question of why McCoy doesn’t act on it.

Kirk orders the Enterprise across the Romulan Neutral Zone and into Romulan space, where it is quickly “surrounded” by 3 Romulan ships. How exactly 3 ships can “surround” another ship in 3-dimensional space is not explained. Furthermore the Romulans are now using Klingon-designed ships, for no readily apparent reason other than the Klingon ships look cooler. (Apparently there was a dispute with the builder of the original Romulan ship model, and the producers wanted to show off the Klingon ships more.) This implies things between the Romulans and Klingons that are never explored again as far as I know.

Romulan Subcommander Tal orders Kirk and Spock to beam over for surrender negotiations, offering two Romulans as a hostage exchange. They meet the Romulan commander, who is shockingly a female. She throws Kirk in the brig, where he throws himself against the force door and injures himself, watched by a Romulan guard who is wearing incredibly amusing knee-length blue shorts. Meanwhile Spock engages in some weird alien seduction/courtship with the Romulan commander, after he assures her that Kirk is mad and acted without Starfleet authority, and she offers Spock the chance to be a starship commander in the Romulan Empire. Spock appears to consider this offer favourably.

McCoy beams over to treat Kirk. When Spock and the unnamed Romulan commander arrive, Kirk calls Spock a traitor and leaps at him. Spock reflexively gives Kirk the “Vulcan Death Grip” and McCoy declares him dead! This is the climax of the building mystery in the episode around why everyone is acting so strangely, and it makes the first half of the episode compellingly watchable. Apart form the sneaking suspicion that something must be up, the viewer is left in the dark, and the mystery is deliciously tantalising.

Back on the Enterprise, we learn that there is no such thing as a “Vulcan Death Grip” – Spock gave Kirk a variant of the nerve pinch to render him apparently dead. McCoy lets Nurse Chapel in on the secret – Kirk and Spock have been acting on Federation orders to sneak into Romulan space and steal a cloaking device, while planting false logs to give the Federation deniability and lay the blame entirely on Kirk if the mission goes belly up. This is the Federation we are supposed to see as the holder of impeccable moral standards in the Star Trek universe – one wonders what other black ops they are running without the knowledge of the citizens. This also means Spock has been lying through his teeth to the Romulan commander, despite him confirming to her that Vulcans are incapable of lying. This was also a bit odd to me, until I confirmed that canonically Vulcans can tell lies, if logic dictates that is an appropriate course of action. Spock’s duty to Starfleet outweighs his personal sense of honesty. But was it all a lie, or did he have feelings for the commander? This question is left dangling tantalisingly.

McCoy performs plastic surgery on Kirk to give him the appearance of a Romulan – apparently prosthetic technology in the 23rd century has devolved so far that they can’t mimic 1960s TV show special effects except by using plastic surgery. He beams back to the Romulan vessel and pretends to be one of the exchange hostages when a Romulan guard questions him – a ploy which works surprisingly well, demonstrating that the Romulans take their security about as seriously as Starfleet does. Kirk finds the Romulan cloaking device in a room, guarded by a single guard who he takes out with an amateurish kung fu move (again demonstrating the tissue-thin Romulan security). He unscrews the device and beams back to the Enterprise with it, where he asks Scotty if he can hook it into the Enterprise to cloak the ship. Scotty is justifiably dubious about the very possibility of this; Kirk gives him 15 minutes.

Kirk then beams Spock back, after Chekov identifies him from the Romulans with a sensor scan. Spock was, unfortunately, in the middle of recording a complete confession of Starfleet’s secret orders for the Romulan commander, as part of his last statement before being executed. In a wrinkle, the Romulan commander grabs Spock as he is being beamed away, and is now on the Enterprise. When Kirk opens communication with Tal, she orders him to destroy the Enterprise (with her on it). Kirk orders Warp 9 (the fastest the ship has gone under normal engine power so far, I think)! The Romulans pursue and are about to destroy the Enterprise (“in 12.7 seconds“), but 15 minutes have now passed and Scotty has soldered the device into the ship, and miraculously it works, apparently without requiring any sort of modification to the Enterprise itself, such as, say, cloaking field generators around the hull, or anything.

And so they make off with a grand prize – a Romulan cloaking device, which can now demonstrably be used in Federation starships. Except the Federation never uses this technology, in this or any other incarnation of Star Trek. So what was the point of the whole mission? And violating the Neutral Zone is an act of war – how did this mission not trigger all-out warfare between the Federation and the Romulans? These two gaping plotholes aside, this is not a bad episode. It’s very watchable and keeps you hooked throughout. Above average.

Tropes: Mad Lib Thriller Title, Chair Reveal, Samus Is A Girl, Force Field Door, Space Clothes, Duel Of Seduction, No Name Given, Face Palm Of Doom, Faking The Dead, Sealed Orders, Super Dickery, Cannot Tell A Lie, Was It All A Lie?, Dressing As The Enemy, We Will Not Use Stage Makeup In The Future, Ludicrous Precision, Plug N Play Technology, Impossible Task Instantly Accomplished, Forgotten Phlebotinum.
Body count: None! Two episodes in a row! Is Season 3 going to be less lethal than 1 and 2?…

Star Trek 3.1: Spock’s Brain

Monday, 6 June, 2011

Spock's BrainAnd so we move into season 3, which opens with “Spock’s Brain“, perhaps the single most infamously bad episode of Star Trek. As such, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to rewatching it. But undaunted, I plunged in headlong for the sake of completeness.

The episode opens with a noticeably long period of silence – the timer on my DVD player hit 47 seconds before anybody said anything. During this time, we see a strange vessel closing on the Enterprise. Scotty announces it has “ion drive”, which sends everyone into raptures of wonder at what is apparently a technology far in advance of what the Federation commands. Which is interesting, as we launched our first ion drive equipped test mission in 1964… oops, 4 years before this episode was released. Suddenly a woman appears on the bridge and everyone falls unconscious. When they come to, Spock is in sickbay, with his brain missing!

Miraculously, Spock’s body is still operational, as McCoy explains that all the nerves have been sealed off with astonishing precision beyond his medical abilities. Interestingly, the diagnostic readout above Spock’s bed shows a non-zero value on the “brain” reading. McCoy states they have 24 hours to find and restore Spock’s brain before his body dies – apparently an exact time limit because later in the episode they count it down by the minute. Kirk resolves to find the woman who evidently took Spock’s brain and follows an ion trail to a planet in the grip of an ice age.

Kirk, Scotty, Chekov, and two guards beam down to the icy surface and Kirk tells them, “Set temperature to 72.” They twiddle a knob on their wrists and stop shivering! So apparently they have some sort of personal heat fields to avoid freezing on cold planets – if only they’d given one to Sulu back in “The Enemy Within“. The landing party spreads out, with absolutely no semblance of a plan of action, or idea of where to look for the woman or Spock’s brain. A bunch of cavemen attack them and they capture one in the ensuing fist fight (naturally their phasers get knocked away first thing). He speaks English, but he has no word for “woman” – which is naturally the first thing Kirk asks him about. The native seems scared of ones he refers to as “the others”, and urges Kirk not to go looking for them. Kirk immediately does so, and finds a cave rigged as a trap.

Kirk calls McCoy down to the planet, with Spock’s body wired to be operated by a remote control device. They trigger the trap and descend with Scotty in a lift to a subterranean city populated by women. The woman from the bridge incident captures them and they come to with belts on them that can be triggered to cause excruciating pain. Kirk questions the woman Kara about Spock’s brain, demanding it be returned. Kara however has a childlike mind and doesn’t even know what a brain is. She speaks of the “Controller”, which Kirk figures out must be Spock’s brain running the city. As Scotty puts it, with excellent non-sexist tact, “There’s no way these women could have built this.”

They escape, there’s a fist fight with some enslaved males form the surface… ho hum… They find Spock’s brain in a machine that is running the city. They argue with Kara about returning Spock’s brain. Kirk wonders how Kara could have removed the brain so expertly, when she evidently doesn’t know anything about science or technology. Kara reveals that the Controller must be replaced every thousand years or so, and then one of the women dons a teaching helmet that infuses them with virtual omniscience temporarily. Shades of the Krell educator from Forbidden Planet. Kara watches mutely as McCoy dons the teacher and gains enough medical knowledge to re-implant Spock’s brain, which occurs in a comedic sequence in which he reconnects Spock’s speech centres first and then Spock makes amusing comments for the remainder of the operation. Kirk proposes that the Federation help Kara’s people to reunite male and female and develop as a more normal society without a Controller. Spock starts going into the fascinating history of the planet and Kirk tries to turn him off with the remote control device, prompting everyone to laugh.

Annoyingly, the subject of how the males and females of the planet have survived for thousands of years without interacting is never even raised, let alone explained. There’s the blackboard-scrapingly painful sexism of the dialogue. And there’s the absurdity of Spock’s brain being removed (why didn’t Kara simply kill Spock? That would have sidestepped any attempt to restore him.). But you know, despite all of this, this is not the worst episode. In this series of reviews I’ve already been exposed to worse episodes, and I know there’s at least one more to come in series 3 that outshines this one for offensiveness. And the plot of this one is actually kind of interesting. If you ignore the absurdity of the brain thing, it’s not a terrible mystery plot, with a tense chase across the Galaxy, a mysterious civilisation to investigate, and an interesting moral decision to be made about the well-beings of Spock and an entire civilisation. It’s still well below par, but honestly I don’t think this episode is as bad as its reputation.

Tropes: Who Even Needs A Brain?, It’s A Small World After All, Good Old Fisticuffs, Handy Remote Control, Elaborate Underground Base, Shock Collar, Agony Beam, Wetware CPU, Brain In A Jar, Terminally Dependent Society, Cool Helmet, Neutral Female, Everybody Laughs Ending.
Body count: None!

Star Trek 2.26: Assignment: Earth

Monday, 30 May, 2011

Assignment: EarthAh, “Assignment: Earth” – the episode most famous as being a backdoor pilot for a new series that Gene Roddenberry was planning, to be called, oddly enough, Assignment: Earth. Only that series never got the go ahead, so we’re left with this as the only chronicle of the adventures of Gary Seven and his secretary Roberta Lincoln (barring some half-hearted comics and mentions in a few Trek novels, apparently).

The episode begins with the Enterprise in orbit about Earth – in 1968 thanks to a slingshot time travel manoeuvre (which seems to be second nature now after its discovery in “The Naked Time“. They’ve gone back to observe Earth in this “historically significant time period” for some ill-defined “historical mission“. Really, is this the sort of thing starships are assigned to do? They don’t have historians to do this, while Starfleet, I dunno… explores strange new worlds or protects the Federation from Klingons or something?

Anyway, while observing, Scotty intercepts a transporter beam from the mind-boggling distance of over 1000 light years away. A well-dressed man with a black cat materialises in the transporter room, introduces himself as Gary Seven, and explains he is a human being sent home to Earth from a distant planet of benevolent aliens on a mission to save humanity from its nuclear excesses. In a brief fight scene we see that Seven is immune to Spock’s Vulcan nerve pinch, which makes Kirk suspicious. Kirk is rightly sceptical and dithers about whether to hold Seven prisoner or let him go. Seven quickly makes this a moot issue by escaping and beaming down to a groovy 1960s pad in New York, despite having a security guard posted right outside his cell. Fortunately for Seven, the guard stands with his back to the cell, allowing Seven to use an electronic gadget that they should have found when they frisked him – unless of course the security on board the Enterprise is so lax that they let prisoners keep all their gadgets and sit in cells with nobody actually watching them…

Seven activates an ultra-modern computer system in the pad. You can tell it’s ultra-modern because it has voice command, not because it’s small – in fact it almost fills an entire room with consoles and flashing lights. The computer reports that Agents 201 and 347, who he is checking up on, apparently died in a car crash on their way to preventing an American orbital nuclear platform launch. Apparently in 1968 everybody had a bunch of orbiting nuclear warheads and World War III was only averted by a balance of terror in space. While determining this, the deceased agents’ secretary, one Roberta Lincoln, arrives and is boggled at Seven’s displays of technological wizardry. He tells her he works for the CIA, then runs off to sabotage the rocket launch. Spock and Kirk meanwhile have beamed down and found him, and race to follow.

Seven fiddles with the rocket while Kirk and Spock are captured by security guards and detained. Kirk ponders the situation, still not sure if Seven needs to succeed or be thwarted in order for history to be preserved. He says, “I’ve never felt so helpless,” – which fits nicely because the plot is really about Gary Seven. The rocket takes off, Scotty beams Spock and Kirk to Seven’s groovy pad, and there’s a showdown between them as Roberta manages to do what Spock couldn’t and knocks Seven out by whacking him on the head with a briefcase. Kirk now controls the computer, but must decide whether or not to trust Seven and self-detonate the rocket, or allow it to crash. Spock tells him there is no data to make a decision, so it cannot be made logically, and Kirk should trust his human intuition. He does so, trusting Gary, and the rocket is blown up before it can start World War III. Fortunately, Spock later confirms this is what was supposed to have happened all along.

In the denouement, Roberta sees Gary’s cat as a slinky woman and inquires jealously, but when she looks back it’s just a cat again. Kirk and Spock leave, assuring Roberta (and the audience) that they will have more memorable adventures. Of which we never get to see any, since the pilot was never picked up. It’s actually not a bad story, and makes a decent episode… of Assignment: Earth. It’s not a great episode of Star Trek, though, because Kirk and Spock never really do anything. As such, it sticks out a bit and fits oddly within the series.

Tropes: Poorly Disguised Pilot, Dolled Up Installment, Twenty Minutes Into The Future, Excellent Adventure, You Are Number Six, Ultraterrestrials, Big Applesauce, Force Field Door, Magic Tool, Sword Of Damocles, Cool Gate, Mistaken For Spies, Time Travellers Are Spies, Self-Destruct Mechanism, You Already Changed The Past.
Body count: Agent 201 and Agent 347, killed in a car accident off-screen.