I last reviewed Trek in the summer and took a long break after season 3 broke my spirits. The third season of Trek is something that people really shouldn’t watch. Normal persons would not like it. Nerdy persons will be disappointed, and will question their faith in things nerdy. I know I did. I watched Friday Night Lights and Star Trek season 3 at the same time and there was no question which I was enjoying more. But we’re back ’round to season one and redemption. My friends, redemption.
1. The Man Trap. I watched a lot of Trek growing up. And in my twenties and thirties I’ve periodically rediscovered the show, getting really excited and watching like four episodes before the feeling wore off and I forgot about it again. But the point is I’ve seen most or all of them by now, only sometimes it’s been a year, or twenty years, since my last viewing of a particular episode. When I was watching “The Man Trap” I had the distinct feeling I’d seen one where an alien looks like different people to different members of the crew. But it was probably, in fact, this episode. Or maybe it wasn’t, because if Trek has no qualms about recycling its plots. Anyway, like a lot of original Trek, it starts out with a really promising premise but just kind of ends up being a lot of running around and time fill. Though a marked improvement from what I’d grown accustomed to with Season 3 is that the characters are still being thoughtfully developed, so there’s some nice time devoted to getting to know them. Though this unfortunately includes a lot of Yeoman Rand, whose lone character trait is that she is supposed to be cute (and has an elaborate hairstyle modeled after a big woven basket). I don’t know how long she’s featured on the show but I know we’ll be glad when she’s gone. Killer Spock line: I have to confess it’s now been a month or so since I watched the show and I didn’t write anything down, so I’ll steal one from Memory Alpha: “Fortunately, my ancestors spawned in another ocean than yours did. My blood cells are quite different.” Overall: a decent episode though clearly a purposefully neutral start to the series. 3 out of 5.
- Anonymous redshirt killed. Actually lots of them. It was a tough episode on the ol’ redshirts.
2. Charlie X. Usually I watch these shows in a basement, where all good Trek watching is done in the world. But this episode was watched on a laptop with headphones. It might have contributed to my enjoyment of it. I remember it being sort of a weird episode, but it’s actually quite good. The ship takes aboard a suspiciously nice teenager named Charlie, and then weird things start going down. Of course Charlie is responsible, and eventually they figure out that he’s pretty much a space god or something and can imagine whatever he wants to happen to make it so. Downside is that means he can just vaporize people who tick him off. The production is really well done here, and quite tense. Kirk knows he has a huge disadvantage and really can’t stop Charlie in any way, except for the simple fact that Charlie respects him as a sort of father figure. So he has a manage a really fine line of being stern and compelling Charlie to not, you know, kill anyone else, but not without getting him all surly and teen-agey. Definitely works better than the show’s other attempts and scary godlike children. Killer Spock line: “Your illogical approach to chess does have its advantages.” Overall: good sci-fi and suspenseful. 4 out of 5.
- Badger alien until you get what you want
- Only Kirk can truly make command decisions
- Invisible Space Powers
3. Where No Man Has Gone Before. A weird one and kind of hard to review. It was the first episode produced after the pilot and there are characters and protocols we see only in this episode, and the pacing is really uneven. Also I watched it months ago at this point and took no notes. I’ll call it 3 out of 5 and move on because I can’t wait to get to the next one.
4. The Naked Time. Actually features no “naked time.” Though it’s not far off: it IS the one with Sulu’s famous crazed shirtless fencing spree around the Enterprise. That’s probably a good metaphor for it, in general. It’s insane and ludicrous but thoroughly entertaining. It’s a classic that shows the blueprint of what TOS would strive for throughout its run. Starting with the standard Trek plot. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: people beam down to a strange planet, and pick up some weird space disease, and pretty soon the whole crew’s got it and everyone acts crazy for a while. It’s even sillier here. Everyone on the planet is dead for unknown reasons and the landing party guy is apparently so unfazed by it that he doesn’t think twice about taking off his glove to scratch his nose and touch stuff around the base before putting it back on. They even make a show of decontaminating him when he gets back, though there is a stab at explanation for why that fails. When things start getting weird Spock theorizes it could be a new form of space madness (and as much as I loved THAT, it STILL wasn’t my favorite of the show) and later spouts another good line about how instruments can only scan for what they are designed to scan for (i.e., no as-yet-undiscovered space madnesses). We then have the standard Trek Act II of Sixties TV-Style Madness as everyone on the ship gets crazy while Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty stay normal and start to grasp the fix they’ve gotten into. Then, the standard Trek Act III of Glory as everything works out against all odds on account of either Kirk’s overwhelming charisma or some longshot science thing. And there’s even a doozy of a bonus here: they accidentally discover time travel!
No, really. All events considered, for all the Federation’s storied successes and history, they’d have to regard the incidents that took place on the Enterprise on Stardates 1704.2-.4 as a shamefully embarrassing example of failure to follow protocol, right up until the crew made one of the most amazing fortuitous discoveries in the history of civilization. Some Admiral somewhere had to have reviewed Kirk’s logs and thought someone was playing a joke on him as he tried to comprehend the chain of events that led to the Enterprise, again, accidentally discovering time travel. Because they do! Let’s review the ridiculous coincidences and breakdowns of Federation protocol:
- Despite overwhelming evidence of contagious disease, member of landing party removes glove, immediately contracts new form of space madness.
- Decontamination protocols fail to detect bug, so no one bothers to report crewman’s insane ranting. Majority of crew soon succumbs to disease.
- One infected crew member infiltrates engineering, and despite being untrained as an engineer and suffering from space madness, manages to lock out all personnel and disable all ship systems.
- Chief Engineer can only regain access by painstakingly cutting through an extraordinarily delicate circuit system with a phaser.
- By this time, orbit and planetary conditions have deteriorated to the point that warp drive must be engaged immediately, but the engines require a 30-minute restart time, well past the point when the ship will be destroyed in the planetary atmosphere. Chief Engineer reports that they can attempt an experimental mix of matter and antimatter to cold-start the engines but there is only a 1-in-10,000 chance of success (the other 9,999 times, they can expect to be obliterated).
- Captain and Engineer need Science Officer’s help finding the right formula, only they can’t immediately locate him. He is eventually found crying to himself in Briefing Room 2, as a result of space madness. Note that the Science Officer is a Vulcan. Science Officer pulls himself together enough in just a few minutes to develop an experimental antimatter formula to cold-start warp engines utilizing an obscure, untested theory of the relationship between antimatter and time.
- Formula applied and engines engaged, the Enterprise escapes. They realize they are traveling backwards in time, though. Note that time travel has the side effect of producing a somewhat irritating noise.
Based on later Treks, Federation brass evidently decide not to change anything and to continue let crazy stuff go down going forward. We see this throughout the series. Engineering never becomes difficult to access. Diseases will continue to be brought aboard. I guess the goal is scientific discovery, and if that’s what it takes, so be it. Killer Spock line: “Take D’Artagnan here to sickbay.” Overall: Ridiculous Trek at its best. The only answer is 5 out of 5.
- Only Kirk can truly make command decisions
- We make fun of the Irish because we love those drunken rabblerousers
- “Doctor” McCoy admits he has no idea how Vulcan physiology works
- Invisible Space Powers
- Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
- Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway