Archive for the ‘Star Trek’ Category

Star Trek 2.25: Bread and Circuses

Tuesday, 24 May, 2011

Bread and CircusesBread and Circuses” is another famous episode along the lines of “Patterns of Force”, a.k.a. “the Nazi episode”. This one is “the Roman episode”, complete with togas, legionaries, slavery, and gladiatorial combats.

The Enterprise stumbles across a drifting ship near the imaginatively named planet of 892-IV. Looking for survivors, Uhura picks up signals from a native civilisation, using a primitive communication system “once called video”. This shows a Roman-styled gladiatorial fight as part of a newscast, mentioning that a barbarian named William Harris was killed in the arena. This is the name of one of the missing crew of the drifting vessel, so Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to investigate. They find a civilisation based on the Roman Empire, but with 20th century level technology. Kirk refers to Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development to explain this. The parallel is so close, they even speak colloquial 20th century English.

There is a series of misadventures as the trio are captured by a resistance group of escaped slaves, who profess a philosophy of peace and worship of the Sun. Kirk learns that the First Citizen of the Empire is named Merikus, eerily similar to Captain Merik of the abandoned ship. He asks for the slaves’ help to talk to Merikus and find out what has happened. The Prime Directive is quoted. Escaped gladiator Flavius Maximus, at first sceptical of them, helps them to find Merikus.

They all get captured and forced to fight in the arena, Spock and McCoy against Flavius and an unnamed gladiator. This gives a sterling opportunity for Spock and McCoy to engage in friendly but intense antagonistic banter as they flail ineffectively with their cardboard swords. Spock uses his Vulcan nerve pinch to win and they are thrown back in cells. Kirk, meanwhile, is wooed by the Proconsul Claudius Marcus, who Merik has informed about the true origins of himself and Kirk. Claudius wants the Enterprise crew to beam down to fight in the games. When Kirk refuses, Claudius leaves him alone with his slave girl Drusilla, in a revealing silver outfit. Back in their cells, McCoy tells Spock he is “worried about Jim too,” followed by a cut to Kirk kissing Drusilla, and then a James-Bond-dissolve to Kirk waking up on a bed.

Despite this, Kirk refuses Claudius’s demand again, and Claudius orders him executed live on TV. Meanwhile, Scotty, on board the Enterprise, chooses this exact moment to disrupt the city’s power supply from orbit, resulting in chaos. Flavius intervenes to save Kirk and is shot for his trouble. Out of the blue and for some unexplained reason, Merik then radios the Enterprise and instructs them to beam up three people, then tosses the communicator to Kirk as Claudius stabs him. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy escape as guards fire machine guns at their fading bodies. Back on board the Enterprise, Spock is mystified by why the slaves worship the Sun, as there were no Sun worshippers in Rome. Uhura says she had been monitoring radio messages which made it clear it wasn’t the “Sun in the sky”, but the “Son of God” they were talking about. This is actually a clever bit of plotting and misdirection, though it is spoilt by the subsequent preachy nature of the end-of-story moral.

Also, there is never any explanation of how Merik managed to become First Citizen of the entire Empire. Even a throwaway line about his superior technology or something would have helped, but the question isn’t even raised. And there’s some notable weird coloured lighting in the prison cells again – the back walls are obviously illuminated by red spotlights for some reason. The season 2 lighting director must have loved coloured spotlights. Overall, a slightly below average episode. It’s a bit hokey, but the plot and action are passable, if you can get over the whole Space Romans thing.

Tropes: Bread And Circuses, Planet Of Hats, Space Romans, Inexplicable Cultural Ties, Alien Non-Interference Clause, Involuntary Battle To The Death, Gladiator Games, Flynning, Grudging Thank You, Think Nothing Of It, Theiss Titillation Theory, Sexy Discretion Shot, Thirty Second Blackout, Shoot Out The Lock.
Body count: William B. Harris (gladiatored to death pre-credits, reported as news), Flavius Maximus (shot by guards), Captain Merik (stabbed by Claudius).

Star Trek 2.24: The Ultimate Computer

Saturday, 14 May, 2011

The Ultimate ComputerThe Ultimate Computer” is your basic Luddite computer-goes-nuts plot. Kirk is upset when computer genius Dr Richard Daystrom is assigned to test his new M-5 computer unit on board the Enterprise. The M-5, according to Daystrom, is capable of taking over all the functions of the ship’s captain and most of the crew. Accordingly, most of the crew disembark on Starbase 6, leaving a skeleton crew of 20 aboard to supervise tests of the M-5, including a war game scenario with other Federation ships.

Kirk spends most of the first half of the episode moping about being replaced by a machine and making speeches about how a computer could never do the job with the same feeling as a human. Meanwhile the M-5 performs admirably, although disconcertingly it cuts power to a couple of decks – but this is explained by Daystrom as efficiency, since those decks contained no personnel. In a bit of foreshadowing, Kirk asks why it is M-5, not M-1. Daystrom replies that versions 1 to 4 were “not entirely successful“. Spock also comments that, lamentably, it is so far not possible to replace the ship’s surgeon with a machine – foreshadowing the later appearance of the holographic doctor in Star Trek: Voyager.

Of course the M-5 goes rogue, treating the war games simulated attack by four Federation vessels as a real attack and firing back with full phasers, severely damaging Commodore Wesley’s USS Lexington and killing everyone on board the USS Excalibur. When Kirk and Scotty try to pull the plug, they discover the M-5 has developed a damaging force field to protect itself and is now sucking unrestrained amounts of power directly from the warp engine reactor. Daystrom is surprised, but also inordinately pleased with his baby, descending by degrees into full blown mad scientist mode as he defends its actions and laments his past glories and how nobody understands him any more.

Wesley contacts Starfleet Command, asking for permission to destroy the Enterprise, a message Kirk hears but cannot respond to because the M-5 has locked communications. Permission is given, and things look hopeless. But then Kirk talks to the M-5, trying to reason with it on its own terms. Daystrom never intended it to kill humans, and in fact loaded his own personality engrams into the M-5 to give it his morals. When Kirk points out that the M-5 has murdered, the M-5 destroys itself in a fit of logic. Kirk is getting really good at talking rogue computers to death – it’s the 4th or 5th time he’s done it in the series so far. However, comms are still down and Wesley is about to attack. Kirk orders shields lowered, leaving the Enterprise completely vulnerable. Wesley interprets this correctly and calls off the attack. There’s a moral about Kirk knowing Wesley would do so, because he was human, not a computer.

One interesting point is that Kirk refers to the M-5 as a mass of “circuits and relays”. I guess relays are back in vogue in the 23rd century. Overall, it’s not a bad plot, just very predictable. An average episode, I’d say.

Tropes: Ludd Was Right, Master Computer, Foreshadowing, Unseen Prototype, AI Is A Crapshoot, Cut The Juice, Mad Scientist, Mama Didn’t Raise No Criminal, Glory Days, Brain Uploading, Logic Bomb, An Aesop.
Body count: Unnamed engineering ensign, at least 53 crew of USS Lexington, entire crew of USS Excalibur (over 400).

Star Trek 2.23: The Omega Glory

Friday, 13 May, 2011

The Omega GloryBack into the reviews after my vacation! Unfortunately, the next episode is “The Omega Glory“…

It starts promisingly enough, with the Enterprise arriving at planet Omega IV to find the USS Exeter in orbit, apparently abandoned. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Lieutenant Galloway beam over to investigate and find the crew apparently dehydrated into crystals within their uniforms. A nice juicy mystery! The fact that the beaming party later discover they have been infected with the agent causing this makes one wonder why beaming over, without protective suits, was the first option – even before so much as a scan of the Exeter. Starfleet has a lot of regulations, but apparently very few of them cover routine crew safety.

Checking the last log recorded on board, they see the Exeter‘s medical officer warning anyone on board to beam down to the planet immediately. The party does so, right into the middle of an execution scene, with Asian-looking natives attempting to behead a belligerent Caucasian-looking man and his fur-bikini-clad partner. Captain Tracey of the Exeter appears to break up the scene (amazingly, with an entire planet to choose from, they beamed down within a few metres of him). Tracey explains that the villagers, known as Kohms, have to deal with the threat of attack by the primitive and savage tribespeople known as Yangs. He also explains that the planet provides a natural immunity to the infection that killed his crew. Although they are now safe, they can never leave the planet.

Tracey is glad to have McCoy, because he thinks the immunity factor on the planet can be isolated and used to cure them, then be marketed to the Federation as a fountain of youth. Kirk objects, pointing out how Tracey is violating the Prime Directive by helping the Kohms defend themselves against the Yangs. After the obligatory fist fight, Tracey kills Galloway and throws Kirk and Spock into prison with the two spared Yangs from earlier. McCoy is assigned to work on a serum.

McCoy discovers there is no fountain of youth – the natives simply have naturally long lives. He also learns that the Kohms and Yangs were great civilisations, but fought a bacteriological war that reduced them to primitive states. When Kirk mentions the word “freedom” while discussing escape with Spock, the Yang male stops attacking him and starts talking, saying that “freedom” is a Yang worship word. Kirk deduces that this is a parallel of Earth, with Yankees (Yangs) and Communists (Kohms). This inverts things, with the peaceful Kohm villagers now revealed to be oppressive, while the primitive Yangs are in fact noble savages. Kirk helps the Yangs escape, but they knock him out.

Kirk and Spock escape later. In a showdown fight with Tracey, Kirk indulges in a couple of needless acrobatic dives over a wall and behind a large jar. Tracey corners him, but when firing the fatal shot discovers his phaser is out of power. Cue more fighting, while in the background the massed Yang forces conquer the Kohm village. The Yangs capture all the Starfleet personnel. The Yangs are now revealed to be the rightful owners of this territory, and bring in a battle standard that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Stars & Stripes, complete with “Star Spangled Banner” musical motif. The Yang leader begins reciting some holy words, which Kirk recognises as a garbled version of the Pledge of Allegiance, and finishes off in a rousing speech.

Tracey counters that Kirk is a devil. The Yangs decide to settle the matter by forcing Kirk and Tracey to fight to the death. Kirk wins, of course, but shows mercy, of course. The Yangs are impressed and declare Kirk a god. Kirk looks at their holy documents – a copy of the US Constitution, and declares that the words and concepts therein should apply to everyone, not just Yangs. The Yangs don’t understand, but say they will heed Kirk’s wise words. In the denouement, Spock raises the extremely pertinent question of whether Kirk himself has violated the Prime Directive. Kirk brushes it off, saying he was doing the right thing.

Wow, what a lousy episode. The set up is intriguing, but it devolves into a reality-suspender-busting mish-mash of ridiculously parallel history, racism, and jingoism. Spock even lampshades the uncanny nature of the parallel history with Earth, stating, “the parallel is almost too close.” But even this trick doesn’t work to make the story believable. And the last few minutes, with Kirk spouting patriotic Americanisms to a bunch of space savages is truly painful. It’s just horrible.

Tropes: Red Shirt, Skeleton Crew, Empty Piles Of Clothing, Fur Bikini, Fountain of Youth, Alien Non-Interference Clause, Training The Peaceful Villagers, All For Nothing, Bat Deduction, Space Romans, Red Scare, Noble Savage, That Sounds Familiar, Involuntary Battle To The Death, God Guise, Screw The Rules, I’m Doing What’s Right, Lampshade Hanging.
Body count: Over 400 crew of the USS Exeter (turned into crystals off-screen, pre-credits), Lieutenant Galloway (phasered by Captain Tracey).

Star Trek 2.22: By Any Other Name

Tuesday, 5 April, 2011

By Any Other NameI was amazed while watching “By Any Other Name” that I didn’t really remember anything about the story unfolding before me. I was racking my brain trying to think how the episode resolved, but couldn’t recall it. And then, 5 minutes before the end, I realised why, when my DVD glitched and refused to play any more. Then I remembered, this happened the first few times I tried to watch this episode on DVD as well – my disk is clearly borked in that spot. Undaunted, I found a copy of the video online and watched the last 5 minutes so I could complete this review.

And it’s a shame I hadn’t been able to watch it to completion on DVD before, because it’s a pretty good episode. It begins with the Enterprise answering a distress call and Kirk, Spock, McCoy, redshirted security officer Shea, and pretty young Yeoman Thompson beaming down to a planet to investigate. They are met by Rojan and Kelinda, who soon reveal themselves to be Kelvans from the Andromeda Galaxy, equipped with paralysis field devices that can stop people motionless. Kelinda is also equipped with a full-back-revealing costume that attracts Kirk’s eye. They also demonstrate the ability to turn people into fist-sized dehydrated cuboctahedrons, which can either be reconstituted into an unharmed person, or crushed, thus killing the person. They demonstrate this on Shea and Thompson, and you just know that black guy Shea will be the one they’ve killed, but when the remaining solid is reconstituted, Shea reappears, meaning that the luckless Yeoman Thompson has been the victim.

Rojan, Kelinda, and their handful of associates capture the landing party. Spock attempts an escape by reusing a trick that Kirk says he used on Eminiar 7 – a reference to the episode “A Taste of Armageddon“. But this time the attempted mind control on Kelinda backfires and Spock is temporarily incapacitated. Later, Kirk asks Spock to use his self-trance ability to feign illness so he and McCoy can beam back to the Enterprise on the pretence of treating Spock. This is pulled out of thin air, as we’ve never previously seen Spock demonstrate such an ability, and frankly they could have avoided it easily because soon after the Kelvans return everyone to the ship which they take over and start heading to Andromeda. Their plan is to report back that our Galaxy is prime for invasion, after 300 years in transit in which only their descendants will arrive.

The rest of the story is about how Kirk and crew solve the problem of dealing with uberpowerful aliens. Scotty sets up a self-destruct to destroy the ship, and any threat of invasion, but Kirk opts for a third option. The breakthrough comes when Spock realises they are higher beings, taking human form only for convenience, meaning they are unused to human sensory inputs. They notice this when one Kelvan expresses first disdain at the primary coloured food cubes they are eating, claiming food pills are better, then delight when he actually tastes them. McCoy starts injecting this Kelvan with stimulants, claiming he needs vitamins, while Scotty starts getting another one drunk. Kirk turns his attention to Kelinda, seducing her in the line of duty, while Spock discusses this development with Rojan and points out that Rojan is getting jealous. Kelinda is initially bluntly straightforward: “Oh, you are trying to seduce me,” but then starts to enjoy it. Spock’s discussion with Rojan takes place over a game of 3D chess, in which we also see in the rec room the 3D checkers set, and a deck of circular playing cards (see above picture).

Rojan and Kirk have a confrontation over Kelinda, resulting in a fight, in which Kirk restrains Rojan, then suggests that Rojan is now more human then Kelvan. Kirk says the Kelvans would hardly recognise Rojan’s people now, and that his mission was to find somewhere for Kelvans to live. Kirk suggests the Kelvans could work with the Federation and plenty of empty planets could be found for them. They agree to send a robotic probe to Andromeda rather than take the Enterprise there, and the episode ends in a chummy new-found friendship after Kelinda declares she wants Rojan, not Kirk. It’s a bit if an abrupt ending, with most of the Enterprise crew still dehydrated into cuboctahedrons (we saw one on Uhura’s chair earlier), but presumably that will be remedied before the next episode. Overall, a pretty satisfying episode, with plenty of action, drama, romance, comedy (Scotty and the drunk Kelvan), and mystery over how the good guys can possibly prevail in the end.

Tropes: Literary Allusion Title, Theiss Titillation Theory, Taken For Granite, Instant People, Just Add Water, Literally Shattered Lives, Black Dude Dies First (shockingly averted), Men Are The Expendable Gender (also shockingly averted), New Powers As The Plot Demands, All Your Base Are Belong To Us, Generation Ships, Self Destruct Mechanism, Take A Third Option, The Mind Is A Plaything Of The Body, Food Pills, Drinking Contest, What Is This Thing You Call Love?.
Body count: Yeoman Thompson (dehydrated into a cuboctahedron and crushed).

Star Trek 2.21: Patterns of Force

Thursday, 31 March, 2011

Patterns of ForcePatterns of Force” is infamous as “the Nazi episode”. I was not looking forward to rewatching this one, remembering it as so over the top that it resembled a pantomime rather than a decent attempt at science fiction. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

It begins with the Enterprise shown against not one, but two planets. We learn these are the planets Ekos and Zeon. They’re heading to Ekos to pick up Earth historian John Gill from a long stint observing the local culture. The Ekosians fire a nuclear missile at the Enterprise – it is harmlessly destroyed, but the Ekosians should not have that level of technology. They were pre-atomic at last report, though the Zeons had primitive interplanetary spaceflight. Kirk fears Gill may have contaminated the Ekosian culture, violating the Prime Directive, and decides to beam down with Spock to investigate. McCoy injects them with subcutaneous tracking devices in case they can’t radio back for some reason – this raises the question of why all landing parties aren’t routinely equipped with such devices.

They discover Ekos has a culture almost identical to Nazi Germany, with Gill himself as the Führer. Zeons who have colonised Ekos are persecuted in a transparent analogy to Nazi persecution of Jews. At this point I realised the fairly obvious mapping of “Zeon” to “Zion”, and this continued with the names of several Zeons being things like Abrom and Isak. We even see footage of the Führer announcing the “Final Decision” to rid Ekos of all Zeons. These parallels all start to strain credulity, making the entire setup seem increasingly hokey, but don’t give up on this episode just yet.

Kirk and Spock steal some Nazi uniforms and try to see Gill, but end up captured, stripped shirtless, and whipped. Their captors say they have standing orders to kill all prisoners immediately after an interrogation attempt, but a senior SS official tells him to let them suffer for a bit to see if they will talk. Kirk and Spock are thrown into a cell, where Isak is also being held – but if they kill all prisoners, why is Isak there? They break out of prison by MacGyvering a laser out of their implanted transponders and a light bulb (involving a comedy scene with Spock standing on Kirk’s raw whipped back) and join up with an underground resistance of Zeons, which also includes Daras, an Ekosian woman decorated as a hero of the Reich with the Iron Cross, but sympathetic to the Zeons. They hatch a plan to sneak into Nazi HQ and see Gill by disguising Kirk, Spock, and some Zeons as reporters filming Daras. This is amusing, as Kirk is constantly taking footage of Daras from about half a metre away.

They meet Melakon, Gill’s second in command, who it turns out is running things, with Gill heavily drugged and manipulated into giving the appearance of giving speeches. McCoy gets invited down, dressed as an SS doctor, to help revive Gill. After some fighting, they reach Gill and McCoy injects him with a stimulant, but it’s not enough to rouse him. McCoy says he doesn’t dare risk another shot, and then has to leave the room, at which point Kirk promptly injects Gill a second time. Gill recovers long enough to mutter an apology – he thought introducing Nazism would make the Ekosians into an efficient developing culture, but Melakon twisted it. It sounds a bit weird when put like that, but Spock backs him up, stating that Nazi Germany, considered without its social and war policies, was economically and technologically advanced. (Apparently this was a popular view in the 1960s, as I discovered with some research, before it was discovered the Nazi economy was in fact built on foundations of sand.) Melakon appears and shoots Gill, but Isak shoots Melakon, and the surviving senior Nazis decide war is silly and they should be friends with the Zeons.

In the denouement, Kirk declares that, “Even historians fail to learn from history and repeat the same mistakes.” It sure sounds like a hokey episode, but watching it carefully it’s surprising how tightly scripted the drama is. There’s no unnecessary padding or filler here – the episode runs to a full 46 minutes when most other episodes are about 42, and very little of that could have been cut. The allusions are certainly in your face, but there is a decent enough in-story justification for this alien planet to look exactly like Nazi Germany, once you get to it. And the moral lesson is also pointed, but again, it makes sense within the story, and the story itself is actually not bad. I’m rating this one a surprisingly above average.

Tropes: Planet Of Hats, A Nazi By Any Other Name, Nazi Germany, Space Jews, Dressing As The Enemy, Shirtless Scene, MacGyvering, Locking MacGyver In The Store Cupboard, Human Ladder, No Delays For The Wicked, An Aesop.
Body count: John Gill (machine gunned), Melakon (shot).

Star Trek 2.20: Return to Tomorrow

Wednesday, 23 March, 2011

Return to TomorrowReturn to Tomorrow” is another in the string of episodes about nigh-omnipotent alien beings made of energy who attempt to hijack the Enterprise and crew for their own devices. However, this one has a twist – the energy beings want to return to physical bodies.

It starts with an omniscient-style simulated distress beacon, luring the Enterprise to a planet which Spock declares is “Class M” – which fans will recognise is normally shorthand for Earth-like, complete with a breathable atmosphere. Only in this case Spock declares that the atmosphere has been ripped away millions of years ago. By my understanding, this should make it no longer class M. At the planet, a mysterious voice identifying itself as Sargon contacts the ship, asking Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and astrobiologist Ann Mulhall to beam down to coordinates deep inside the planet – through “approximately 112.37 miles of rock” as Spock puts it. McCoy, quite rightly in this case, displays his growing fear of the transporter.

They try to beam down with two security guards, but the guards are left behind because Sargon doesn’t want them. It turns out Sargon lives in a glowing ball, one of the last of his kind along with his wife Thalassa and someone from the other side of the final war that destroyed their civilisation, Henoch. Sargon possesses Kirk’s body, placing his consciousness in the glowing sphere, and exults with booming echoey voice in the feeling of having a body again. He explains that they want to build new android bodies to live in, and will need to use Kirk’s, Spock’s, and Mulhall’s bodies temporarily to build them. McCoy complains that the possession is straining Kirk’s metabolism, so Sargon agrees to switch him back. Sargon says the decision is theirs. He also mentions out that their race long ago colonised the Galaxy, and humans and Vulcans may well be their distant descendants – Spock states this may explain some legends from Vulcan prehistory.

The senior officers debate whether to allow Sargon and company to possess Kirk, Spock, and Mulhall, and vote in favour after Kirk gives a Picard-like speech about inalienable rights. Henoch takes Spock, and in his echoey voice delights in the “superior” Vulcan body, which he plans to keep forever. He prepares a formula that will slow down the metabolisms of the bodies to allow them to be possessed for longer periods, but doctors Sargon’s in a sly attempt to kill him. Kirk and Mulhall get to engage in string-free romance thanks to being possessed by Sargon and Thalassa. Alas, the poison takes effect and Kirk drops dead!

Kirk’s body is restored with artificial life support, and Thalassa moves Kirk’s trapped consciousness in Sargon’s glowing ball back to his body. But Henoch in Spock’s body starts taking control of the Enterprise. There’s various fighting and Kirk orders McCoy to inject Spock with a fatal drug to stop Henoch. Spock collapses and Henoch is destroyed, and then Sargon magically reappears as part of Kirk’s secret plan or something and moves Spock’s consciousness from Nurse Chapel where he had temporarily stored it back into his restored body. This gives Chapel and Spock an intimate moment that will probably be the closest they ever get to one another. Sargon possesses Kirk one last time to hold and kiss Thalassa in Mulhall’s body, before they depart, having decided to end their existence together.

There’s more in the details of this story that make it fairly engrossing to watch unfold. The variation on the usual omnipotent alien scenario is different enough to make the formula fresh again, and there are some nice scenes. I call this one definitely above average.

Tropes: Sufficiently Advanced Alien, Energy Beings, Atmosphere Abuse, Girl Of The Week, Ludicrous Precision, Soul Jar, Power Glows, Dying Race, Last Of His Kind, Power Echoes, Precursors, Patrick Stewart Speech, Voices Are Mental, Grand Theft Me, Unspoken Plan Guarantee, Sharing A Body, Together In Death.
Body count: Henoch (destroyed), Sargon and Thalassa (accepted their fate).

Star Trek 2.19: A Private Little War

Sunday, 20 March, 2011

A Private Little WarA Private Little War” is another head-on clash between Captain Kirk and the Prime Directive, this time on a planet with an iron-age culture. We learn that Kirk spent some time on the planet neural 13 years earlier performing a planetary survey, and befriended a native, Tyree. He beams down with Spock and McCoy to find Tyree’s tribe. Kirk says the natives are perfectly peaceful and gentle. They are surprised to find themselves in the middle of a fight between two groups of men, one armed with bows and arrows, and the other with flintlock guns! Kirk expresses his disbelief that the natives could have advanced their technology from basic iron smelting to flintlocks in just 13 years. He aims a phaser in self defence, to be reminded by Spock that Prime Directive implies, meaning they are barred form using phasers (so why carry them to the planet?). Instead, Kirk throws a rock – I guess the Prime Directive allows maiming natives with familiar weapons. Spock ends up shot and the party retreats to the Enterprise.

McCoy calls in Dr M’Benga, who interned on Vulcan. He gives Spock some treatment, and all McCoy can do is tell Kirk, “He’ll either live or die now, Jim. I don’t know which.” That’s pretty impressive doctoring! Kirk discusses the flintlocks on the bridge, saying he doesn’t believe it took the natives just 13 years to go from smelting iron to inventing guns. Uhura says the same development took 12 centuries on Earth – not just a communications expert, but a history expert too! Around this point, a Klingon ship appears in orbit. Through skilful piloting, Chekov keeps the Enterprise hidden from the Klingons. Kirk decides the Klingons must be arming some of the natives, and decides to beam down again to gather evidence.

Kirk and McCoy go native, dressing in skins, and beam down again. Kirk starts leading them towards Tyree’s camp, but they are attacked by a mugato on the way – a carnivorous ape-like being. It bites Kirk, injecting venom, before McCoy kills it with a phaser (okay, so I guess phasers are allowed against the wildlife). McCoy doesn’t know how to treat the bite, and Kirk, becoming delirious, tells McCoy to take him to Tyree, because his people can cure the venom.

Tyree has become leader of his tribe, and is married to Nona, a mystical witch woman in a bright orange fake fur bikini. She has the power to cure Kirk, and does so in a highly suggestive way, clearly taking a shine to Kirk and treating Tyree like garbage because he’s too pacifistic to steal advanced weapons off Kirk. Also, Tyree wears an incredibly bad white wig, like all the men of his tribe. When Kirk recovers, he and McCoy raid the enemy camp, finding a Klingon teaching the natives how to make the guns.

Back on the Enterprise, Spock stirs and instructs Nurse Chapel (who had been holding his hand and talking to him) to hit him. Dr M’Benga warned her to do anything he said, so she does, but Scotty interrupts and restrains her. M’Benga appears and slaps Spock around until he gains full consciousness. Only then does he explain that it is part of a Vulcan’s self-healing response – the pain helps him return to consciousness. He could have saved a lot of hassle by telling Chapel that beforehand.

On the planet, Kirk starts teaching Tyree’s tribe to fire captured flintlocks. McCoy objects to this breach of the Prime Directive, but Kirk says the Klingons have broken it, and now they need to even things up again to allow natural cultural progression, rather than a slaughter. Nona seduces Kirk with some magical herbs, but Tyree is too pacifistic to shoot him. Nona however runs off with his phaser after seeing it kill a mugato that attacks them, and takes it to the enemy camp, saying it is a powerful weapon. When Kirk and the villagers chase her, the enemy think it’s a trap and stab Nona, killing her. Tyree is angered and asks Kirk for weapons and training, losing his innocence and pacifism. Kirk agrees and goes back to the Enterprise to instruct Scotty to make 100 flintlocks. Scotty is confused, and Kirk wistfully reiterates, “Serpents, serpents for the Garden of Eden.”

It’s a real downer ending, particularly for Star Trek. The moral dilemma is clearly painted, and Kirk had to make the best of a no-win scenario. With a bit of work, this could have been made a good episode, but the execution is a bit heavy handed and clumsy, and the characterisations of Nona and Tyree a bit too black and white. Another average episode to add to the pile in the middle.

Tropes: Prime Directive, Perfect Pacifist People, Going Native, Witch Doctor, Fur Bikini, People Of Hair Colour, Giving Radio To The Romans, Converse With The Unconscious, Hit Me, Dammit!, Cruel To Be Kind, Training The Peaceful Villagers, Downer Ending.
Body count: 2 mugatos (disintegrated by phaser), Nona (stabbed).

Star Trek 2.18: The Immunity Syndrome

Thursday, 10 March, 2011

The Immunity SyndromeI couldn’t remember what “The Immunity Syndrome” was about before rewatching this episode, and even halfway in I didn’t remember how the rest of the plot played out. Not a good sign, although it’s not actually a bad episode.

It starts with Kirk entering a log about how worn out the crew are as they head to a starbase for much-needed R&R. They never get there, as they are called to an emergency in the Gamma 7A system, where the ship Intrepid, crewed by 400 Vulcans, is patrolling. The Intrepid suddenly vanishes, which affects Spock through some psychic connection, and a scan of the system shows it to be entirely dead – billions of inhabitants, just dead. The Enterprise cancels shore leave and races to investigate, coming across a mysterious black blob in space that reminded me of a giant black pudding from Dungeons & Dragons. This zone produces mysterious readings which Spock can’t describe – not merely can’t understand, but literally can’t describe except to say that he can’t describe them. It also seems to be sucking the life from everyone on the Enterprise, as most of the crew come down with dizzy spells. McCoy gives everybody massive doses of stimulants to keep them going.

So do they flee and report back to a Starbase what they’ve found, before they have all the life drained from them? No, they go into the dark zone! This turns out to be some sort of Bizarro zone, in which they are getting pulled towards an object in the middle, and the only way they can resist it is to use forward engine thrust, which seems to hold them back. They make a big point out of everything affecting things in a backwards way, yet at no point do they even raise the question of whether McCoy’s stimulants might be making them tired rather than alert. The pressure builds as they can’t escape, and everyone on board starts sweating profusely.

At the centre of the dark zone is a giant space amoeba, which Spock speculates is a hostile organism trying to “infect” the galaxy. They send in an unmanned probe, which Spock counts down with the line, “Probe impact in 7.3 seconds.” Couldn’t he have waited 0.3 seconds and just said, “impact in 7 seconds”? The probe basically tells them they need to send a person in to manually take readings, which precipitates a rivalry between Spock and McCoy to volunteer for the suicide mission. Kirk chooses Spock, who flies into the amoeba in a shuttlecraft, stating on the way, “Contact in 18.3 seconds.” Spock sure likes those 0.3 of a seconds.

Spock sends back data which allows them to figure out how to kill the amoeba, then apparently succumbs to its life-draining force. Kirk tells McCoy, “He knew the odds.” They fire some custom-modded photon torpedoes to inject antimatter into the nucleus and destroy the amoeba. They back out of the amoeba and notice Spock’s shuttleccraft drifting, so grab it with tractor beams, despite Spock’s protests to leave him to save power. Scotty declares the ship to be completely dead, with no power – yet the lights are still on on the bridge. Kirk warns the entire crew to “brace for impact”, which results in everyone on the bridge bracing in their seats, except for McCoy, who simply stands next to Kirk’s chair and grabs hold of the railing behind him. You’d think that bracing for impact would involve something slightly more, I don’t know… braced?

The amoeba blows up, and Spock is alive, yay! And power levels quickly return to normal. And the episode ends, really suddenly. There’s no real denouement or amusing ending or anything. All up, the episode is a bit… average. Nothing actually bad, but then nothing particularly memorable either. It’s like a middle-of-the-road monster-of-the-week thing.

Tropes: My Significance Sense Is Tingling, A Million Is A Statistic, Negative Space Wedgie, Bottled Heroic Resolve, Bizarro Universe, Space X, Ludicrous Precision, Suicide Mission, Sadistic Choice, Deus Ex Nukina, Complaining About Rescues They Don’t Like, Not Quite Dead, Monster Of The Week.
Body count: 400 Vulcan crew of the Intrepid, “billions” of inhabitants of the Gamma 7A system, all in the pre-credits sequence.

Star Trek 2.17: A Piece of the Action

Monday, 7 March, 2011

A Piece of the ActionA Piece of the Action” is a very memorable episode, though not for the good reasons. It stands out as one of the more bizarre episodes, with Kirk and Spock donning 1920s gangster suits, for the very simple reason that they visit a planet whose entire society is based on 1920s Chicago.

The planet Sigma Iotia II had been visited by the Federation ship Horizon 100 years before the Enterprise arrives. The native society was noted as early industrial, and “highly imitative”. The Horizon never made it back home, and its sublight radio messages meant nobody else heard about Sigma Iotia II until recently. As Kirk, Spock, and McCoy quickly discover when they beam down – directly into the middle of a busy street – is that the planet looks exactly like 1920s Earth. Couldn’t they get some better landing coordinates? I suppose not, given their radio contact told them to meet his men near a “yellow fireplug”. The greeting party brandishes Tommy guns and escorts the trio to the hangout of Bela Okmyx, a “boss” of part of the city.

Okmyx is aware enough that the Federation has high technology, and wants to bargain for advanced weapons to enable him to take out the other bosses and rule unchallenged. This takes place over a game of pool, in which Okmyx hits balls other than the cue ball with his cue for no apparent reason. We learn here why the culture is so bizarrely like 1920s Chicago, as Okmyx reveals a book left by the Horizon: “Chicago Mobs of the Twenties”. Spock deduces that they have adapted their entire culture to imitate the information in the book.

Kirk refuses Okmyx’s deal and there ensues some back and forth shenanigans with various Enterprise crew being locked up, kidnapped by rival boss Krako, escaping, dressing up as gangsters, and so forth. In the one truly memorable scene of the episode, Kirk bluffs his way out of captivity by teaching his captors a “man’s game” – the card game Fizzbin, which he invents on the spot, with wacky rules that mystify the gangsters until he and Spock launch a surprise attack and knock them out. In another entrapped situation, Kirk pulls a MacGyver to rig up a booby trap when captors enter his cell. This is not a particularly serious episode, and Kirk soon starts hamming it up, falling into a ridiculous Chicago gangster accent, and playing off the even more sesquipedalianly loquacious than normal Spock (who Kirk calls “Spocko” at one point). There’s even a bad driving gag, with Kirk taking off in reverse when attempting to drive a car, and Spock saying things like, “I think that lever is called a ‘clutch’.”

Eventually things get sorted when Kirk muscles all the bosses into one room and demonstrates the Federation’s power by having the Enterprise stun everyone on the streets in a one block area. Suitably impressed, the bosses agree to Kirk’s plan to unify and begin economic development rather than keep infighting. He takes a 40% “piece of the action” skimmed off the top for the Federation, which he later explains to Spock and McCoy will go into a Federation fund to help the natives develop a more ethical society of their own.

It’s memorable for the Chicago gangsters, so out of place in a science fiction setting, and Fizzbin. But this episode is so tongue-in-cheek that it’s hard to take it seriously, and the story is pretty lame and full of padding. Below par, but amusing enough to not be a complete disaster.

Tropes: Going Native, Planet of Hats, Mundanization, The Don, Mob War, Gray’s Sports Almanac, Calvinball, McGyvering, Cement Shoes, Dartboard Of Hate, Dramatic Gun Cock, Large Ham, Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, Driving Stick, Gunboat Diplomacy.
Body count: 1 native gunned down in a gang hit.

Star Trek 2.16: The Gamesters of Triskelion

Wednesday, 2 March, 2011

The Gamesters of TriskelionThe Gamesters of Triskelion” is what I’d call a turn-key Star Trek episode. It recycles many of the plot elements that can be seen in other episodes, to produce something that certainly feels like Star Trek, but without introducing enough originality to make it memorable.

In a nutshell, Kirk and some others (Chekov and Uhura in this case) mysteriously vanish thanks to the nigh-omnipotent power of some aliens, who then make them fight for their amusement. Meanwhile the remaining crew (Spock, Scotty, and McCoy here) play detective, searching for them and arriving in time to be audience to Kirk fighting to the death against some aliens for the prize of setting himself and the Enterprise free. Anything sound familiar yet?

The hapless crew members are trying to beam down to the creatively named planet Gamma II, where there is an automated communication station. At least this gives Uhura a sensible reason to join a landing party. They never make it, vanishing abruptly from the transporter pad, which allows Spock and Scotty to play off one another when Spock asks if there was a malfunction and Scotty vehemently denies it. Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov appear in a tiny gladiatorial arena. They are immediately attacked by aliens with weapons, two male and two female. Kirk and Chekov take one male each, while Uhura ends up fighting the other two. The females are wearing bizarrely impractical (and shiny) clothing for combat (see the picture), exposing a lot of areas that really should be armoured.

Fight done, we meet the “master thrall” Galt, who assigns each of the crew a “drill thrall” to train them up for combat. Uhura gets the well-proportioned Lars, Kirk gets the severely underdressed Shahna, Chekov gets the homely Tamoon. (Actually Chekov is getting off lightly, since the first thing Lars does is try to force himself on to Uhura. Fortunately she’s had Starfleet combat training.) We learn in some exposition that the thralls are all brought to this planet, Triskelion, by the “Providers”. The thralls train new arrivals, then the Providers bid for and buy them to fight one another as a form of gambling. Discipline is enforced by Collars of Obedience, which can be activated to cause agony.

Kirk naturally resists by seducing Shahna and trying to teach her about love, which she is ignorant of. Meanwhile, Spock and Scotty have completed a scan of the entire Gamma II solar system, within 2 hours. This is an amazing feat, considering that in other episodes we’ve seen the crew racing against time in the impossible task of scanning a single planet with a time limit of several hours or days. They pick up a faint ionisation trail and follow it across 12 light years to Triskelion.

There, Kirk has argued his way into meeting the Providers, who turn out to be a trio of disembodied brains. They express ennui with their near-omnipotence, and their only entertainment is betting on combats between thralls. Kirk challenges them to a more interesting wager, him versus a thrall of their choice for his crew’s freedom. If Kirk loses, he will submit the entire Enterprise crew as thralls, whereas if he wins, the Providers must free all the thralls and then help them to build an enlightened society, which Kirk says will be a fulfilling challenge for them. The Providers agree, but specify Kirk must fight three thralls at once. He kills two, but the injured third is replaced with Shahna. Kirk refuses to kill her, but she surrenders, winning the bet for Kirk. Fortunately the Providers are honest enough to honour it.

Eh, well. It’s not a terrible episode. It’s just a “seen it all before” one.

Tropes: Sufficiently Advanced Alien, Involuntary Battle To The Death, Designated Girl Fight, Space Clothes, Stripperific, Russian Guy Suffers Most, Shock Collar, What Is This Thing You Call Love?, Gladiator Revolt, Brain In A Jar, The Gambling Addict, Duel To The Death, Forced Prize Fight.
Body count: The thralls Kloog and Lars.