Thursday, September 8, 2011

Star Trek Episode Reviews (in production order): Season 1

    OK, so, a little over a year ago, I decided to watch all of the episodes of the original series of Star Trek, in the order they should be seen in, as opposed to the original on-air order.  Due to various outside issues, I got side tracked on this endeavor during season 3.  However, as today (September 8, 2011) is the 45th anniversary of the debut of Star Trek, I thought I’d share with you my reviews of each episode of season 1.  These were written as I completed each episode, so please pardon any repetitiveness in my vocabulary.

The Cage:  The originally unaired pilot has some interesting differences from the show to come.  Something I really liked, that was missing from the later show was the complexity of the ship’s captain.  Pike was a bitter man, tired of his command, and ready to give it all up.  I also liked that there was both a first officer and a science officer, not just Spock pulling double duty.  The story of a lost expedition and their strange discovery is pretty cool.  There are some aspects I wish had been further explored in the rest of the series.  Overall, a good start, even if viewers weren’t originally allowed to see it.

Where No Man Has Gone Before:  Possibly my favorite single episode, this is an extremely dramatic introduction to Kirk, the now emotionless Spock, and a few series regulars.  The story is really something, with Kirk facing off against his best friend who has gained godlike powers that are driving him mad.  Great guest actors like Gary Lockwood and Sally Kellerman, along with some surprisingly good production values for a TV show make this feel more like a theatrically released movie.  And they crammed a lot of story into less than an hour of runtime.

The Corbomite Maneuver:  Though Clint Howard is extremely creepy, this is a pretty good episode.  One of the seemingly impossible to beat, shockingly powerful enemies that ultimately teach a lesson about living well and humanity’s ability to triumph.  Not genius, but a solid story.

Just got a look at Clint Howard.

Mudd’s Women:  Trek and comedy are not the ingredients for my favorite episodes.  There are some cool ideas in this one, and I think had Mudd been played a little more like Han Solo and a little less like P.T. Barnum, the episode would be less annoying.  It also doesn’t help that the three ‘mysteriously, magically beautiful’ women aren’t especially good looking, no matter how heavy the filter is.  However, I guess that does work with the idea that the drug effected their charisma more than their appearance.

The Enemy Within:  Kirk gets split in two.  His good half and evil half battle for supremacy.  What I like about this episode is that it reminds us that greatness depends not just on being nice and loving, but on being able to do that bad thing when it needs to be done.  None of us is whole if we don’t have both darkness and light, good and evil, violence and gentleness.

The Man Trap:  The crew runs into problems and McCoy’s old flame hides a secret in this pretty cool episode.  I like the mix of mystery and horror as a killer sets its sights on the Enterprise’s crew.  The creature design is quite nice, too.  A good story with plenty of creepy atmosphere.

The Naked Time:  The crew gets Space Madness! and turns upon itself while simultaneously being pulled into a collapsing planet during a science mission.  Darn the luck.  This episode has a lot of cool moments, sets up for some interesting things that happen later in the series, gives actors a chance to break out of their norm, and has some good humor.  Overall a solid episode with lots of character development.

Charlie X:  Possibly my single least favorite episode of the entire series, Charlie X is an exercise in uncomfortable, awkward moments.  From the racist song Uhura sings about Spock, to Charlie’s pouting stupidity, to the creepy sex talk, it’s just not good.  Of all the petulant gods Kirk and crew come across, Charlie has to be the worst.

Balance of Terror:  This introduction to the Romulans, who would go on to become one of the Federation’s major enemies, is beautifully shot and tensely paced.  Mark Leonard (who would return to play Spock’s father in a later episode) is fantastic as the stoic enemy commander who just wants to get his ship home and enjoy a moment’s peace, but is compelled by duty to engage Kirk and the crew in battle.  Many good moments, including themes of paranoia and racism.  Plus, Uhura gets the conn for a moment.  An excellent episode all around.

What are Little Girls Made Of?:  Another Star Trek episode that hints at some interesting, ancient history for the greater galaxy, there are some really cool ideas in this one.  Though, as often happens, especially in science fiction TV, there is an undercurrent of anti-technological sentiment.  Ted Cassidy is especially entertaining as Ruk, the ancient android.  And the extremely comely Sherry Jackson ramps up the sex appeal.  Some good Shatner moments, too.

Holy Cats, I love this show.

Dagger of the Mind:  Kirk and crew come up against a futuristic, ‘humane’ corrections system in this interesting episode.  With stunning guest actress Marianna Hill backing him up, and facing off against always awesome character actor James Gregory, Shatner has plenty to do.  One of the things I noticed about this episode was its excellent used of lighting and color to set mood and tone.  While not as action packed as some popular episodes, this one has some great stuff.

Miri:  Never one of my favorite episodes, Miri does feature some especially good moments for McCoy.  Part of my problem stems from my general dislike of children in science fiction, especially Trek.  But also, I’ve never been a fan of the ‘we found Earth again’ storylines.  Really?  A planet that looks EXACTLY like Earth?  Just doesn’t sit well with me.  There are a bunch of uncomfortably creepy scenes between Kirk and a young girl that make for some good laughs.

The Conscience of the King:  There are some great character moments in this episode, and the production design and costuming are especially good.  Even the storyline is pretty good.  But the execution isn’t.  The way it plays out is just not interesting.

The Galileo Seven:  Not one of my favorite episodes, but Spock and Scotty get some really good scenes.  We’re introduced to the shuttle craft, and of course, it immediately crashes, stranding seven people on a hostile world.  It comes down to ‘everybody hates Spock’ as he tries really hard to keep everyone alive and give them a fighting chance, while they all seem dead-set on getting themselves killed.  Yet at the end, I think we’re supposed to think Spock was wrong.  Though at EVERY turn he made the right choice.

Court Martial:  Another episode I’ve never been particularly fond of, Court Martial does sport some great moments for the characters, especially McCoy, and an awesome guest appearance by Elisha Cook Jr. as a crazy old coot of a lawyer.  Of course, they still manage to throw in a fist fight, torn shirt, and deadly crisis for Kirk to face, too, even though it doesn’t make much sense with the story.

The Menagerie Part 1:  Spock goes rogue in order to help an old friend in this first half of a story that flashes back to the originally unaired pilot episode, The Cage.  Former captain Pike, now confined to a Hawking like chair, while mentally alert, is physically little more than dead.  So, why does Spock abscond with him and plot a course for a planet so taboo it means death to visit?  Perhaps a court martial trial will reveal the answers.  This episode has some good moments for Spock and Kirk, and an interesting view into off-ship life in the Trek universe.

Boop!  Boop!

The Menagerie Part 2:  With a court martial under way, stock footage reveals the story of Captain Pike from some 13 years earlier and his original visit to the now banned world Telos.  Could anything justify Spock’s actions?  Of course, by the end of the episode, we learn the truth and we see that perhaps Pike can finally find some peace in his life.

Shore Leave:  A strange, occasionally goofy episode, Shore Leave also has lots of great bits for the actors to have fun with.  McCoy, especially, is quite the lady’s man.  And a visit from Kirk’s school bully is infuriating and fun.  A good lighthearted episode, especially after the three heavy court based stories that came before.

The Squire of Gothos:   Another in a long list of episodes where Kirk and co. go head to head with a god-like being, this time in the form of an effete, fickle creature obsessed with old Earth warfare.  The so called Squire of Gothos, Trelane, is played to obnoxious perfection by William Campbell.  There are plenty of good comedy gags here, and it’s fun to watch Kirk nearly pulling his hair out while dealing with the spoiled and moody Squire.  This episode is clearly the major inspiration, for better or worse, for the character Q from The Next Generation.

Arena:  Yes, some of the fight choreography in this episode isn’t so good.  Still, there are some awesome scenes, and Kirk pulling a MacGyver on the giant reptile alien was always a favorite moment of mine when I was a lad.  One of the first episodes shot on location, it also features the iconic Vasquez Rocks which would be seen in one way or another on many alien worlds.

The Alternative Factor:  There is a very cool concept buried in this episode.  Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  From the awful fake beard on the central guest actor, to the awful effects used during his time seizures,  it feels like nearly every choice made was a wrong one.  And more difficult to swallow than the poorly done parts, the episode is straight up boring.  Not as bad as Charlie X, but on my list of worst episodes for sure.  I do think the idea could work if handled differently, though.

Tomorrow is Yesterday:  The first major time travel episode (though not the first time the plot device is used), this one finds the crew of the Enterprise stranded in a shaky orbit above the Earth of the late 60s.  Time travel never seems to work quite the same way on Trek, but this time they’ve got to worry about contaminating history, and some comic hijinks ensue.  Lots of great moments for Spock in this episode, as well as Kirk.  A good lighthearted episode.

Return of the Archons:  One of my favorite anti-Communist allegorical episodes, this is also the first major battle between Kirk and a mega-computer.  After landing on a world of total peace, they quickly find that things are not what they appear.  The ‘perfect society’ has something very dark at its heart.  It brings up questions that don’t have easy answers.  Is a society without war or conflict able to be healthy?  Or does a certain level of strife drive us to be more?  Is part of being free the need to face our dark impulses as well as our good?  And if we ever achieve total peace, will we simply fall into a rut our civilization cannot escape?  Who cares?  It’s FESTIVAL!!!

A Taste of Armageddon:  Another interesting moral question in this episode.  Is the horror and brutality of war a good thing?  Would a clean war be easier to wage than a dirty one?  Does pushing a button and killing a lot of people detach a person too much from the reality of gruesome death?  And are we the bloodthirsty savage, fighting against our murderous nature to hold onto civility?  On top of that, there are also some cool scenes for both Scotty and Spock.  And Kirk is at his confident best (subduing about a dozen people in one scenes, unarmed and alone).  Not an action packed episode, but a cool idea interestingly explored.

Space Seed:  A really challenging episode, we’re introduced to the idea that Earth went through a third World War around the end of the 20th century, and that it involved, among other things, a group of genetically engineered ‘supermen’ who tried to take over the world.  Finding some of these men and women floating in space, Kirk and crew are forced to make some difficult decisions.  Kahn and his people represent the best and worst in us.  Our ambition and our hubris.  Are they evil?  Who can say for sure?  Some good moments for the crew as they resist Kahn, especially Spock, McCoy, and Uhura.  Obviously, this episode sets the stage for Star Trek II.  One of the true classics of the series that stands the test of time.

This Side of Paradise:  Not a great episode, but it does feature some cool character moments.  Everyone starts acting high after getting shot in the face with plant spoors, including the normally stoic Mr. Spock.  There is an interesting question posed in the episode which seems to be a common theme.  Do we need struggle to define and drive us?  Is an easy life, without want or suffering a trap that will lead to stagnation?

The Devil in the Dark:  Always one of my favorite episodes, it starts like a classic horror story, but evolved into something much more interesting.  One of the things I like about the original series is its willingness to embrace really interesting and imaginative design.  The creature in this episode is about as far from a human with a bumpy forehead as you can get.  Some great bits for Spock and McCoy near the end of this one, too.

Errand of Mercy:  The introduction to the Klingons sets the stage for Trek’s most iconic villain.  Here we see Kor, played to gleeful perfection by John Colicos, as Kirk’s nemesis.  And we see that even Kirk and Spock can get swept away in the tides of anger and violence, for all their talk of civilized enlightenment.  There is a lot of talk about when it is right to fight, and what is worth dying for.  And there’s a lot of hate from Kirk toward pacifists.  However, the episode does have some interesting lessons to teach about messing with what you don’t understand and underestimating people based upon first impressions.  Not one of my favorite episodes, but it’s a good one.

The City on the Edge of Forever:  Rightly looked at as one of the classics of the series, this one breaks some rules and keeps you guessing.  Though there are some humorous scenes, especially with Kirk and Spock unsuccessfully trying to blend in to 1930s America, there is also some pretty grim darkness.  And the interesting idea that doing the right thing at the wrong time might be the worst thing you could do.  What is the value of a life?  How much can one person’s existence effect the course of history?  Is horror and tragedy ultimately needed to make us better in the long run?  Not many answers, but plenty of questions in this one.  One of the best episodes of the show and I would venture to say one of the best single episodes of television history, it still holds power more than forty later.

Operation---Annihilate!:  The final episode of season one, this is a pretty cool story, featuring some awesome location shooting.  Some complain that the creature in this looks silly, but I’ve always found the little rubber pancake things to be kind of horrifying, sort of like Heinlein’s ‘Puppet Masters.’  There are a lot of good character moments in this one, especially for McCoy and Spock.  We get a little glimpse into Kirk’s family, but it’s brief and not as satisfying as I’d like.  Overall an excellent finale to an excellent season.

    So, what are your thoughts on the original show?  What are some of your favorite episodes?  I love its creativity and ‘go for it’ attitude.  And of course, I love the pro-exploration, pro-vision, pro-advancement mindset.  Where much of modern science fiction TV is ‘dark,’ violent, and cynical, Trek looked to the future not as something to be feared, but as something to be anticipated. 


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