Archive for March, 2011

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).

Sunrise by the Water

Monday, 28 March, 2011

It's good to be up earlyI got up at 5:30 on Sunday morning and headed out to Collaroy for some dawn photography at the ocean rock pool there. The weather had been overcast and showery on Saturday, with more of the same forecast for Sunday, but you can never really tell what it’ll be like for a shooting session until you get there, so I persevered, despite it looking gloomy and rainy when I got up. It rained the entire way there in the car, and I was fearing we’d have to just sit in the car for an hour before heading off for a breakfast somewhere.

When we got there, it was still dark and the rain had cleared to a very light drizzle, so I braved it with the help of an umbrella to keep the camera dry. There was a swimmer already in the pool, getting some laps in. I got about half a dozen shots in before the rain started getting heavier, forcing me to retreat back to the car. We sat there for about half an hour, watching it tumble down, as the sky slowly lightened from black to dark grey. As we waited, several cars and vans pulled up next to us, with guys getting out to survey the surfing conditions. Some took one look and headed away again. One guy stood staring at the ocean for about 20 minutes, brooding under a golf umbrella, trying to come to a decision. One or two grabbed their boards and headed out into the surf.

Swirl, Water and SKyDupain to the MaxEventually the rain slowed again. I ventured out and it quickly slackened off enough to take more photos, without needing an umbrella. The sunlight was giving some texture to the looming clouds by then, and I think I got some decent shots. The rain held off and the clouds began to break up slightly, allowing glimpses of sky. A dozen or so surfers plied the waves beyond the pool, and a procession of swimmers – almost all of them elderly men – arrived at the pool for their daily constitutional.

The concrete surrounds were slick with puddles of rain, and the surf was up a bit, washing over the seaward side of the pool, and getting my feet wet with seawater as I walked around with my gear. It wasn’t the best sunrise shooting session, but it was well worth it. At 7:30 or so we packed up and headed to a nearby cafe for some breakfast and to continue our early start to the day.

Gibson 2005 Merlot & Royal Tokaji Aszú 2006

Friday, 25 March, 2011

Royal Tokaji Aszú 2006Gibson 2005 Reserve MerlotI haven’t posted any wines for a while. I’ve had several, but just haven’t had the time to photograph and review them. But these two were standouts so I’m back to describe them.

The 2005 Reserve Merlot from Gibson is a blend of two Merlot crops, from the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley, both in South Australia, with a total of 15% of Cabernet Sauvignon added in, also from both locations. Apparently this is little enough that it doesn’t need to be mentioned on the front label. Anyway, we had this wine at a Thai restaurant, with grilled salmon, and a beef pad khee mao – flavourful but neither dish very spicy. From the first sip I knew this was something special. It’s very complex, bursting with layers of different flavours that it took me some time to get to grips with. Wife held the back label of the bottle secret and we tried to list some flavours. I got an aroma of raspberry – it smells very fruity and simple. But the flavour is big and round and fills the mouth, with black cherry dominant to my tongue. There’s no hint of the mint you sometimes get with Merlot, but more of a dark fruit thing, with a subtle hint of cinnamon and maybe nutmeg. A light touch of oak comes through and some light tannin. And then the most extraordinary thing happens – the aftertaste is long and lingering, and both wife and myself picked up a creamy, milky sensation. After this, we referred to the back of the bottle, which listed stone fruits, musk, cinnamon, and almond. The milkiness clicked with the almond – a definite link there. Overall it was very pleasant and interesting, and it matched the food tolerably well, so a definite success.

And ever since I started getting into wine, I’ve been keen on trying some of the more exotic sweet offerings. I’d read about Hungarian Tokaji, but had never seen any in a local shop. Then when I went to San Francisco recently, I happened on a wine shop in Burlingame, and browsed around. When I spotted this bottle of Tokaji, I had to buy it. It survived the trip home in my luggage, and we cracked it the other day after dinner. It’s really different to any other dessert wine I’ve tried. Most are sweet, tending to syrupy, with orange and marmalade notes dominating. This one is much more tropical in outlook, with a bright golden yellow colour, and a thin-ness that is far from syrupy in the glass. It smells fresh and clean, fruity, with perhaps a hint of freshly cut grass. The taste is liquid sunshine, with pineapple coming through strongly, and hints of kiwifruit and lime. There’s a minerally, chemically mid-taste, slightly reminiscent of Riesling. Some dessert wines retain residual fermentation fizz, but there’s absolutely none here. The aftertaste is smooth and lingering, tending towards banana. It’s totally different to any other dessert wine I’ve tried, and very nice. I must keep an eye out for more.

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).


Tuesday, 22 March, 2011
  • 15 April, 2011: Guayaquil, Ecuador
  • 16-18 April: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  • 19 April: Guayaquil, Ecuador
  • 20-22 April: Lima, Peru
  • 23-24 April: Puerto Maldonado, Peru
  • 25-26 April: Cusco, Peru
  • 27 April: Ollantaytambo, Peru
  • 28-29 April: Aguas Calientes, Peru
  • 30 April: Cusco, Peru
  • 1-3 May: Santiago, Chile

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.