OK, time to wrap this thing up. First off, here are composite ratings for each season for me and Tor.com, who had two reviewers for each episode. They also use a 0-6 scale, where I used 0-5, so I scaled their ratings back to mine. I was going to include the AV Club ratings but they use a completely different grading system like report cards, giving out A, A-, B, etc. Only they never seem to give out anything worse than a B, at least for TOS. Seemed hard to figure out what meant what in comparison, so forget them. How much time am I really willing to put into this? Too much already. Anyway:

(Note: they used a different pair of reviewers in season 3.)

Some takeaways:

  • I am the most generous rater, giving higher ratings per season then the Tor reviewers.
  • We all agree that the show was best in its first season, OK in its second, and just bad in the third.
  • We even all pretty much agree as to the rate at which the series declined:

Josh’s Bottom 6

Here are the episodes I gave either 1 or 0 out of five.

Episode Name Rating
1×21 (21) The Return of the Archons 1
1×26 (26) Errand of Mercy 1
2×17 (46) A Piece of the Action 1
2×23 (52) The Omega Glory 1
3×18 (73) The Lights of Zetar 1
3×01 (56) Spock’s Brain 0

Maybe I was a little hard on “Return of the Archons”. It’s got a decent reputation. I just fell right asleep. And it’s typical of the kind of episode I don’t like, so, too bad, “Return of the Archons.” The other 1s are simply too boring, ridiculous, or irritating.

“Spock’s Brain” is easily the worst episode in the series. But you don’t need me to tell you that, INTERNET. The title was won as soon as Spock began narrating his own brain surgery.

Josh’s Top 17

And the 5 out of 5s:

Episode Name Rating
1×04 The Naked Time 5
1×11/12 The Menagerie, parts 1-2 5
1×13 The Conscience of the King 5
1×14 Balance of Terror 5
1×18 Arena 5
1×22 Space Seed 5
1×25 The Devil in the Dark 5
1×28 The City on the Edge of Forever 5
2×01 (30) Amok Time 5
2×03 (32) The Changeling 5
2×04 (33) Mirror, Mirror 5
2×10 (39) Journey to Babel 5
2×15 (44) The Trouble With Tribbles 5
2×20 (49) Return to Tomorrow 5
3×02 (57) The Enterprise Incident 5
3×11 (66) Wink of an Eye 5
3×19 (74) Requiem for Methuselah 5

These are all terrific, but the real top three are “The Trouble With Tribbles”, “Arena”, and “Amok Time”. Most people might swap out “Mirror, Mirror” with “Arena”, but I’m an “Arena” person.

Final Bits

I probably saw TOS for the first time when I was like ten. I watched them on TV and with my Dad here and there growing up. Then once in a while as an adult I’d catch a few and remember how great it was. Well, I think the lesson is, it IS a great show when you don’t watch it too much. When it’s fresh, it seems inconceivably original, fun, and stylish. But for sustained viewing in 2013-ish, frankly, it really doesn’t hold up. There are too many shaky or boring episodes. In some ways I don’t think it’s Trek’s fault, it can never escape its time. And in its time, you could have a boring TV show as long as there was some fightin’. There’s probably a lot of the same on now, only it’d be a lot better paced.

Anyway, overall there’s no real question I’d give TNG the nod as a better show. The characters aren’t as classic, but there aren’t so many throwaway episodes, and it’s generally a much smarter show: better writing, less reliance on tropes and conventions. There are some bad TNG episodes, of course, but nothing like TOS season three’s sustained putridity.

Down the road I’ll watch DS9. K is watching TNG right now and liking it, so I’ll probably save DS9 for us to watch together in a year or two.

The visor is a long story. Please try to disregard it.

The last four! I’ll have one more wrap-up post, then you’re free of Trek.

34. The Apple. If you live in the Trek universe and find yourself on a beautiful garden paradise planet that somehow no one has discovered before–and I may not need to tell you this–but you are in some pretty serious danger. You should also look down. Are you wearing a red shirt? You will be definitely be dead soon. Thank you for your service to the United Federation of Planets! “The Apple” may be exhibit A in the Security Persons United lawsuit against the UFP, if it ever comes to that. Redshirts get darted by poisonous spores, disintegrated by lightning, obliterated by explosive rocks, and attacked by natives. It’s only when Spock gets zapped by lightning (and simply shakes if off, by the way) does Kirk decide to actually bail on the mission, too. Kirk’s varying feelings on redshirt death are a fascinating study. Sometimes he can’t hold back the grief, other times he doesn’t so much as blink. Spock has to console him after one nasty death, but Vulcans aren’t very sympathetic I suppose. Spock offers condolences but looks more like he’s thinking, “What’s the big deal? We’ve got like 200 more on the ship.”

Anyway, “The Apple” as a whole isn’t a terribly remarkable episode. Pretty standard native-encounter stuff covered elsewhere in the series. The people are very peaceful, and quite naive about their circumstances. When Kirk first encounters one he thought was about to attack, he punches the guy in the face, which makes him start to cry. (Kirk then feels bad and says, “I won’t hurt you” [guy I just punched in the face].) Turns out they’re all slaves to Vaal, a giant snake-headed machine. McCoy in particular gets antsy about the whole situation, feeling like the natives are slaves and lack free will, which turns the episode into an interesting Prime Directive discussion. You’re not supposed to mess with native cultures, but maybe this is yet another exception? McCoy is all about violating it, he’s furious that the culture isn’t growing, just tending to some machine. But the debate is solved for them when Vaal immobilizes the ship and they’re forced to take action. Lucky for them, Vaal can only go a few hours without eating so they’re easily able to drain its power. (I have the same weakness, so I will not plan to enslave any civilizations.) Killer Spock line, after some natives wrap festive flowers around his arm and Kirk asks if that does anything for him. “Yes, indeed it does. It makes me uncomfortable.” Overall: some interesting stuff, nothing too outstanding. 3 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Anonymous redshirt killed
  • Violation of Prime Directive
  • Spock displays Vulcan superpower never really seen again

35. Doomsday Machine. Generally I believe that war movies were better in the past than they are today. I don’t watch a lot of modern movies at all but when I watch anything about war it’s either (a) an action movie, in a war context, so like, just an excuse for Vin Diesel to throw a knife into somebody, or (b) nauseatingly and shamelessly patriotic in tone. The best war movies I can think of off the top of my head are Paths of Glory or Patton. Maybe The Seven Samurai or its American remake, The Magnificent Seven, while not technically war movies, tackle a lot of the same themes. (Note: I have not seen a lot of war movies. Arguments against these choices are likely correct.) Anyway, I’d suggest that movies made a generation ago understand war a lot better, simply because society as a whole understood it better. Most of the cast and crew were probably veterans, in fact, or their fathers or older brothers were. Today there is an utter disconnect between people who make movies and write stories, and actual soldiers, and a thick level of patriotic propaganda between the two. (Most modern military action being political or economical, I suppose.) Or maybe the teenage males that make up the core film audience simply expect movies to not get any emotionally deeper than a fervent afternoon of Cheetos and “Call of Duty.” Anyway, old Trek can slap together some fine military drama when it feels so inclined, and “The Doomsday Machine” is a good example.

Maybe the most surprising takeaway here is how it covers ground that several other episodes do, only it’s way better. Three things:

  1. The politics of command. There are a few episodes about this, and they always go way out of their way to worship the absolute power of command. And it’s usually highly ridiculous. I’ve made a point before about how it falls flat today because as a whole, society is much more inclined to question authority. But this time, how the crew reacts when the shellshocked Commodore takes over control of the ship is actually really interesting. Dude IS a higher rank AND fought the bloody thing already. SHOULDN’T he be in charge? Even if he evidently hasn’t shaved, bathed, or slept in like a week?
  2. Effects!  Here they serve the story, not the other way around. We’ve had some where I feel like I’m supposed to be so blown away by the effects that I won’t care that the concept is stupid (e.g., “The Tholian Web”). It’s worth mentioning that this might be another one of those where I don’t get the true experience because I watched the remastered version with updated, modern effects. But I don’t know that that matters, because the themes are handled so well.
  3. Crazy plans that actually work. It finally made sense to do something insane! Decker goes about it wrong, hurling his stolen shuttlecraft into its core, which is probably like attacking an active volcano by jumping into it with a spear. But the Enterprise’s nutty plan actually makes the most logical sense. I love how Kirk asks Scotty if he can let the impulse engines overload to create the desired effect, and given that the ship has been damaged pretty badly already, he says something like, “Of course I can. I can barely keep them from overloading the way it is.”

Killer Spock line: Two of ’em. “Vulcans never bluff.” Or this exchange: Spock: “Random chance seems to have operated in our favor.” McCoy: “In plain, non-Vulcan English, we’ve been lucky.” Spock: “I believe I said that.” Overall: really successful execution of well-trod ground. 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • All security officers are susceptible to simple ruses
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant

36. Catspaw. I looked up the writer of this episode, Robert Bloch, and found that he’s quite famous. He wrote Psycho and lots of other creepy stuff. He also wrote a couple of other Treks, “What are Little Girls made of?” which is a bit creepy but I liked it, and “Wolf in the Fold” which was creepy and bad. On the whole I’ve done a bad job paying attention to the writers, given that’s what I am actually caring about here. (I should review who wrote the best and worst episodes. Perhaps I’ll do that for my series wrap-up.) Anyway, none of that matters here because this is a bad episode. It’s yet another “crazy planet ruler traps the crew and torments and annoys them until they find a way to escape” episode. Offers refreshments? Check. Blustery yet ineffective? Check. Not actually the one in charge? Check. So while I mostly care about writing with these shows, I suspect the initial scripts always get diluted in production or there wouldn’t be so many with the same formula. Since I didn’t get a ton out of this one, I don’t have a unifying thing to talk about, so, bullets it is:

  • I knew going in there was some kind of cat creature in this one, and it was a black cat. We have a black cat, her name is Bea. This has evolved into the nickname of “Beastie.” So all I really wanted out of this episode was for Scotty to see the black cat as refer to it as a beastie, as he seemed likely to do. He did not do this, though, so I will deduct at least one point from my evaluation.
  • The first quarter of the episode has Kirk & Co. milling around the planet encountering various manner of haunted house effects. These initially seemed creepy, then became no more scary than an actual neighborhood haunted house, only we aren’t blindly reaching our hands into something icky for effect. The net result is that even the actors are smirking at everything. This…is not effective.
  • Mr. LaSalle, some dude we’ve never seen before ever, is running the Enterprise. So he’s like, fifth captain, after Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Sulu? When the heck to Chekhov or Uhura get a shot? Haha, just kidding, of course. A Russian or a woman. Imagine.
  • Apparently they can just manufacture precious gems on the ship. So, in the future, the jewelry industry must be in tatters. Good.
  • The mystery element is also a mess in this one. The alien cat leaves the room. Then the woman enters it. COULD SHE BE THE CAT
  • She’s also relentlessly fidgeting with the jewel on her necklace, which looks eerily like what the cat was wearing. COULD THAT BE IMPORTANT
  • As per standard “we’re trapped on the planet and want to leave” episode, the antagonists have created some kind of forcefield around the Enterprise. There are multiple scenes of Mr. LaSalle and crew attempting to break out of it. Naturally, all of this time amounts to nothing, as the forcefield eventually goes away anyway when the folks on the surface resolve things. Meaning, all of those scenes were wasted time, or simply padding. Do the producers feel that they need to show us that the crew is taking a shot at doing something? That they are not simply huddled together sobbing?
  • Ultimately this episode relies a lot on effects, which are terrible. The haunted house effects are silly, and when they get serious with the cat, they don’t have the budget or technology to pull it off. We’re left to see a really big shadow of a housecat, with some kind of menacing growl. Basically, if you are relying on technology instead of a story, you’re going to be in trouble anyway. If you don’t even have the technology, you get Trek Filler.

Killer Spock line, in response to a vision of witches on the planet: “Very bad poetry, Captain.” Overall: 2 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant
  • Kirk hits it off with alien babe
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists

37. I, Mudd. Harry Mudd gets to be the first recurring guest in the show, and why not bring back the sleazy interplanetary pimp? I’m not sure what makes Mudd the choice, but then, I think I dislike the original Mudd episode more than most. This one ups the sleaze (because, that’s what was missing the first time around, I guess) by revisiting him among a planet of robots, one of which is a replication of his terrible wife held in silent stasis. He takes the occasional moment to power her up and let her yell at him merely so he can derive the satisfaction of telling her to shut up and turn her back off. So anyway, as is protocol of all Trek, the antagonist traps Kirk and fellows on the planet’s surface and proceeds to work through the standard checklist: Offers refreshments? Check. Blustery yet ineffective? Check. Not actually the one in charge? Check Wait: here’s a good twist on this type of Trek, which is probably the episode’s saving. Turns out Mudd wants to trap them there so he can leave. Only the androids won’t let him leave either, forcing them all to team up. Probably any story where foes have to team up is a good setup, right? (Well, maybe not the Space Lincoln one.) I guess with Mudd, it sets up a goofy final act of the crew acting as zany as possible to blow all the androids’ minds.

“I, Mudd” is a precursor to Next Generation in a couple of ways. (We’re nowhere near the actual end of the show, but it is for me.) First, there’s a Borg-like aspect to it. The androids live as a big hive mind and can only be defeated by taking out the leader. Not quite like the Borg, and obviously the idea gets fleshed out a lot more in TNG, but the seed is here. More interesting to me was this idea about being offered paradise. Mudd’s planet isn’t a shabby situation at all. It’s a holodeck-like environment, actually. All of their needs and fantasies are attended to. To the point where some of the crew actually don’t really want to leave. Of course, Kirk is always the spoilsport in these situations. Anything where a human can’t be a real human, what with the pain and yearning and filth, is not something he’s going to be down with.

  • Androids take over ship’s engineering, and in the end they get control of course, but not as easily as usual. Perhaps a part of space engineer training is a boxing or judo track, because this batch of engineers is feisty and puts up a fight.
  • Best scene is the first encounter with Mudd. As he relates the story of how he arrived on this planet, which is essentially a string of lies and boasts, Kirk actively translates to English, e.g., Mudd: “I borrowed a ship–” Kirk: “He stole a ship.” Only really snappy, and it goes on and on. Outstanding.
  • The actor who plays Mudd is a giant, seriously. He towers over everyone. His head is like the size of McCoy’s torso.

Killer Spock line: “Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans.” Overall: better than the last Mudd episode. I can still do without the sexist humor, but there’s a lot else to like here: 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • They’ve gone to the trouble to develop an override but it doesn’t work
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • Computers can be buggered by logical traps
  • The indomitable human spirit conquers all

The visor is a long story. Please try to disregard it.

Just two more sets of episodes and I’m done. Starting season two.

30. Amok Time.  Maybe my favorite all-time episode. Just a great character set for Spock, very ambitious for a single episode, and really what Trek is all about when it’s at its best. With the new season, some new things are introduced. Chekhov, for one. (His principle characteristic being: he’s the Russian Guy.) Nurse Chapel is infatuated with Spock. (Is this actually new? I’m confused on the Chapel-Spock crush timeline at this point.) But mostly, it’s a Vulcan overdose after only hints and bits in season one. Nimoy’s great. I think furiously clenching a knife behind your back is a good stress-reliever. I’m doing it at work all the time now.

Anyway, I’ve seen this particular episode so many times I can’t rightly judge its suspenseful elements anymore. It has a Kirk-alien babe possibility that I think works, but the stakes go up really fast. I can still appreciate how good a sport Kirk is about the whole challenge thing. He’s game to let Spock whale on him some just for appearances. Until he finds out it’s a fight to the death. Then it’s legitimately nerve-wracking, I think. It seems to be a genuine Kobayashi Maru, perhaps made more effective by McCoy not even revealing to Kirk how he was going to get him out of it. Though why he wouldn’t makes no sense. “Thought it’d be fun to let you really think you were going to die, Jim.”

Notes:

  • For some reason, this is the episode that I finally noticed that no one has pockets, and they have to awkwardly figure out what to do with their hands all the time.
  • One nitpick is that the drama surrounding their need to make an ambassadorial appearance seems pretty tacked on, and ultimately doesn’t even matter. I guess it gives Spock an excuse to do extra weird things like disobey Kirk and not even remember. Or at least, it ups his desperation. But it doesn’t really make sense that Kirk can’t tell Starfleet how important it is to get Spock to Vulcan. Even McCoy agrees his health is in serious danger. Anyway, it’s just sort of a needless diversion.
  • The soundtrack takes a big leap forward in this one. Spock’s tension is played out on a single bassline. And of course, this.

Killer Spock line: “The birds and the bees are not Vulcans.” He also compares himself to a salmon. Overall: One of my favorites. 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • The Enterprise is the only ship within range
  • “Doctor” McCoy admits he has no idea how Vulcan physiology works
  • Spock displays Vulcan superpower never really seen again
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

31. Who Mourns for Adonis? Pretty standard Trek filler for the most part. I think sometimes they just sort of flipped through a history text until they found an interesting era, and shoehorned a Trek into it. So this is just another of so very many episodes where a powerful alien traps them on a planet and barks idle threats until they figure out its weakness and escape. And its culture is basically some historical Earth remnant. Space is dangerous, though oddly familiar, is really the number one theme of Trek. You will get captured by malevolent races that want you to live in comfort on their world, except you have to worship them. The other theme, of course, being occasional sexism. Sheesh, this episode. I really don’t know what it’s trying to do on that front. Scotty is shamelessly drooling all over this week’s pretty girl, Lt. Palamas, and Kirk and McCoy can only look on helplessly and sigh, noting that she’s bound to meet some guy, and get married and leave the service. Because, what else could she do? End up as hopeless spinsters like Uhura? But then there’s another scene where Uhura is fixing some communication circuits and Spock respects her expertise. And Lt. Palamas’ own expertise on history is brought into focus when they meet Apollo. So, the show will make sure to mention these things, but then it can’t get out of its own way, because as soon as Apollo magically replaces her uniform with a pretty pink shimmery thing, she goes all goofy. Though in the end, the old “Crewmember leaves the ship for a new life with the alien of the week” trope didn’t end up happening. So, that’s a plus.

Miscellany:

  • They need some chairs or consoles or something in the back of the bridge so that the random dudes standing around back there behind Kirk (usually McCoy) have something to do. I guess they fix this in TNG because Worf indeed has his own console. But no chair. Thanks, Captain. Love standing all day even though I’m a lieutenant.
  • Chekhov in a rare moment of not just being the Russian Guy: his bit about providing way too much detail to Kirk. After a major info-dump, he defends himself: “The Captain requires complete information.” McCoy retorts: “Spock’s contaminating this boy, Jim.” Nice.
  • Scotty’s “A god is hitting on my girlfriend” face.
  • Kirk’s retort to Apollo at one point: “Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate.” Holy christian-centrism, guys.
  • One of their early plans to defeat Apollo was just to taunt him until he got so angry he’d zap one of them, then the others were supposed to jump him while he was weakened. Lt. Palamas stopped them, which was too bad, because this is officially The Greatest Plan Ever.

Killer Spock line: “Insult’s only effective where emotion is present.” Overall: I like the idea that maybe this guy brought ideas of Greek and Roman gods to Earth, and not the other way around. That’s about it, though. 2 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant. (I guess not really recent, but still…)
  • Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway

32. The Changeling. There are certain groundbreaking episodes of Trek that were absorbed into popular culture so thoroughly as to neuter their original impact. This might be the single greatest example. It’s a victim of its own success. A pushy probe gets aboard the ship, called Nomad. You know that’s what it’s called because it announces this information at every opportunity. “I AM NOMAD*.” Nomad proceeds to berate the crew for being imperfect, threatening to exterminate them as biologic infestation. “I AM NOMAD. I AM PERFECT. YOU ARE IN ERROR.” The cultural viewpoint towards killer alien robots bedeviling you with their terrifying logic in 1967 was very different than it is today, of course. For one thing, the crew spends of a bit of time being puzzled about what Nomad actually is. They don’t assume it’s a robot. They assume it’s a tiny ship, with a tiny crew. (Which actually doesn’t make sense either, because how often in Trek do they actually encounter a tiny ship with a tiny crew? Like, never. Nearly all aliens are human sized and shaped.) The whole line of thought seems terribly quaint. Sci-fi robots are absolutely part of popular culture now. I don’t think anyone watching this show for the first time today would think Nomad is anything but a robot. A past-future space crew is astounded that it’s an automaton, and has the wherewithal to take itself around the ship. (Scotty refers to it as a “mechanical beastie.”) Anyway, Nomad is certainly still threatening. It vaporizes a couple of redshirts and generally makes a nuisance of itself until Kirk and Spock figure out how to get rid of it, of course, by confounding it with logical traps. Here’s another point where “The Changeling” loses its impact in the last 45 years. The idea that you can defeat a robot with logical traps is just a thing that we all understand now. It’s part of their mythology. But in the past’s future, this is a thing you have to discover. I feel certain I’ve read some old Asimov stories with this theme, but it’s treated like a fresh idea here. Killer Spock line moment: his thoroughly satisfied expression when Nomad scans him and reports that, unlike all the humans aboard, “THIS UNIT IS DIFFERENT. IT IS WELL-ORDERED.” Overall: Still a great episode, a cornerstone Trek. 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Strange probe encountered in space
  • Anonymous redshirt killed
  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

33. Mirror, Mirror. This is The One With Parallel Evil Enterprise. We’re on quite a classic run at the moment. (Note: it ends next episode.) I think three of the four episodes in this batch are top-ten all-timers. (I will actually compile this list and see if that holds up once I’m done.) Like “The Changeling” I suppose this episode is so famous its surprise elements completely fail to work anymore. It doesn’t really even seem to surprise Kirk all that much to find himself on board an evil version of the ship after a transporter malfunction. He deduces what has happened pretty much immediately. (This, from the same guy that thought Nomad was a very tiny ship.) Perhaps they’ve learned the important lesson from “The Alternative Factor” that radical changes in facial hair indicate something serious is up. Well, what they don’t learn is any lesson about Engineering security. It’s one of the great ironies of this episode that in Evil Universe, the crew goes to great pains to secure and monitor engineering, because it makes their return scheme a whole lot harder. They still get past the initial guard with a comically stupid ruse but have all sorts of trouble avoiding the other security systems on the ship. I could probably dwell on Evil Kirk’s unbelievably fortunate possession of a machine that can kill any enemy at any time, but the episode ends up being more about how ill-fitting the Good crew is on the Evil ship, and I didn’t end up caring about it that much. In the end, they win over Evil Spock, purely out of a logical realization that he’s going to better off with his actual captain, not this milquetoasty version, and order is restored.  Killer Spock line: “They were brutal, savage, unprincipled, uncivilized, treacherous. In every way, spending examples of Homo Sapiens. The very flower of humanity. I found it quite refreshing.” Overall: a really fun hour of exploring good and evil and the significance of beards. 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • In the future, computers are magic, but still make teletype sounds
  • Shatner showcase
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

*I had the passing thought that “Nomad” would be a good name for a cat. I mentioned it to K, then immediately retracted it, because I realized it would lead to years of me saying “I AM NOMAD. I AM PERFECT” every time Nomad came in the room, eventually ending our marriage.

The visor is a long story. Please try to disregard it.26. Errand of Mercy. This is a suspense episode with no suspense, about an important planet that has no apparent actual value, featuring a villain who poses no particular threat. I didn’t get this one at all. Kirk and Spock pose as locals to subvert a Klingon takeover of a peaceful planet. But things just really go nowhere. Like 45 of its 50 minutes are just milling around posturing. There are all manner of idle threats by the sneering, uninteresting villain and some unknown factor that keeps the locals from caring what happens one way or another. Which means, there are no stakes. Then they further subtract suspense by simply not revealing whatever the mysterious unknown is until things have been padded out enough. At which time nothing changes. This is like, the opposite of drama. Killer Spock line: I think there was a good one but I can’t find my note about it, and I’m not going back to watch this again. Overall: Unadulterated Trek filler. Contains less than 10% Trek product. 1 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Spock displays Vulcan superpower never really seen again
  • Badger alien until you get what you want
  • I’m not going to bother adding a new trope at this point, but I ought to go back and catalog all the times Spock provides ridiculously precise odds for something that could not possibly be predicted with any accuracy.

27. The Alternative FactorIf I had to pinpoint a single fatal flaw in TOS, it’s that they are absolutely willing to sacrifice storytelling for action. If the plot needs something to happen to keep it moving, well then, let’s do that, even if it really makes no sense at all and weakens the overall production. I suspect that, at the time, TV writing was just sort of a “churn it out and let’s get on with things” sort of process (not that it isn’t exactly that quite often today, too; it’s just that for a show like TOS that was so influential, when you really look at it objectively, the writing is regularly pretty bad). Or at least, the real sweat was put into the main characters’ soliloquies, rather than a comprehensible plot. TOS plots aren’t really about ideas so much as action, and an episode that doesn’t really fit the mold will get hammered into it anyway. I think “The Alternative Factor” could’ve been a great TNG episode: there’s certainly some potential in the story, which is brimming with SF ideas. But on TOS’ terms, it gets thoroughly wrecked.

So the setup is that the Enterprise is about to break orbit from a really boring planet when suddenly all their instruments go haywire for no explainable reason. Some bizarre magnetic field disturbance happened all over the galaxy at the same time, per a priority transmission from Starfleet. The only possible clue is the presence of a random crazy guy with a laughably bad beard named Lazarus running around on the planet’s surface. He claims to be fighting something but doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense. So while they try to figure out his deal and what exactly is going on, naturally they just let him wander around the ship.

This might be the quintessential “enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship” TOS episode. Lazarus isn’t an enemy for certain, but he’s outwardly and obviously a nut. Yet, Kirk apparently sees no reason to restrict his access to highly volatile areas, or even bother to put a redshirt on escort detail. So to the detriment of the viewing experience, in a sequence of actions that simply could not have been more predictable or telegraphed, Lazarus breaks into Engineering (although “breaks into” implies it was difficult–“saunters into”?). The instant he’s shown lounging around in the cafeteria I knew he was going to do something naughty. The second time they have him in custody there’s actual dialogue to resolve that he doesn’t need any guards, for no reason whatsoever, despite his pleading earlier with Kirk about how much he really really wants some dilithium, and that he’s already broken into Engineering once. So of course the second they leave him alone he gets right up, easily sabotages the ship’s electrical system, and goes into Engineering to make off with the Enterprise’s lone power source, which was of course, not guarded or protected in any fashion. Door locks being forgotten technology in the future, one supposes. Contrast this with another episode somewhere along the line where an enemy got into engineering and locked the door so effectively that Scotty had to carve into the wall with a phaser to get access. What the hell, Engineering door.

I hate to dwell on plot holes, but, yeah, that, AND the ridiculous issue with them not being able to tell there were two Lazaruses. The dude has different identifying wounds and a completely different attitude at different times. Not to mention: a different beard! But it’s not until like 40 minutes in that Spock submits the possibility that the two very different appearances and behaviors may mean there are two people. (And then, just to really beat the other plot problem into the ground, do they then rush to capture Lazarus? No, Kirk spends another few minutes speculating on all the trouble that could be caused by not capturing him. Arrgh.)

Now here’s the really crazy thing: I still actually mostly liked this episode. It can’t help but be interesting, and as ridiculous as things are, they move along pretty fast. There’s a lot of crazy dudes in TOS but Lazarus is pretty memorable, even if he behaves pretty much exactly like the evil brothers in Myst. (His begging Kirk to let him have some dilithium is practically the exact same wording as Sirrus haranguing you to find all the red pages.) Two leftover thoughts:

  • I like that the effect of a galaxy-wide magnetic field disruption is portrayed as a superimposed picture of a pulsating nebular while the actors flail around.
  • Weird future oversight: when people aren’t busy (like when an officer gets left in the cafeteria by herself) they just do nothing. Stare at the wall and zone out. No one anticipated that people of the future would always keep their tricorder or whatever handy for entertainment in even the briefest moments of boredom.

Killer Spock line: “I fail to comprehend your indignation, sir. I’ve simply made the logical deduction that you are a liar.” Overall: Memorable episode weighed down by its inescapable TOS-ness. 3 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • Even in interstellar interdimensional space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists

28. The City on the Edge of Forever. K and I watched Star Trek IV fairly recently. I’ve seen it a billion times but not for several years. Man, it’s awesome. Completely goofy. It’s got an intangible 80s-ness to it now, too, that only makes it better. This movie never ever gets made today. There’s no real villain. Nobody’s all that cool in a conventional movie sense. It openly pushes a politically liberal agenda. The reboot Trek franchise has little in common with its ancestors other than having a bunch of characters with the same names. (This bit on Tor.com gets right at the problems with all the big movie franchises now: everything’s long, dark, gritty, and somehow simultaneously both epic and boring. I hate today’s movies.) Anyway, the seeds of Trek IV are sown in “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Kirk and Spock end up on the streets of 1930s New York, thanks to a time gate, in pursuit of an accidentally drugged and crazed Dr. McCoy who has somehow erased the future through some past actions. They have a few difficulties fitting in, naturally, as they try to figure out what sort of trouble McCoy caused. Kirk falls for a local social worker while Spock builds an incredibly advanced computer interface for his tricorder using only the tools and materials of the time. (Kirk gets some inspired leadership credit, as he motivates Spock to do this largely through taunts.)

The whole thing works terrifically. It’s funny, intriguing, and inspired. The only real problem is that they don’t have time to really flesh out the ideas, leaving the ending feeling very rushed. There’s a lot to cover in the last few minutes but we have to settle for some pained Shatner expressions and even a little 1960s-TV-sanctioned cursing. (“Let’s get the hell out of here,” he says to his waiting crew, rather than explain anything about what’s happened the last few weeks of his life in real time.) It’s too bad, because this episode must have been mind-blowing at the time. I give TOS’s storytelling some amount of objective grief during retrospective viewing 45 years later, but some of these shows were totally groundbreaking. In particular, it would have been interesting to consider the reason Kirk’s new love must die: because if she lives, her influence will lead to widespread pacifism, which it turn will delay the U.S. entrance into WWII, resulting in German victory and ruining the entire future of civilization. That’s quite a clear message for the late 1960s, when Vietnam was ramping up and some folks had the gall to protest U.S. involvement. History obviously shows those were two very different conflicts, but they were just guessing in 1967. Still, it makes a confusing impression. (Apparently that comes from the fact that Harlan Ellison’s script went through a lot of changes in production. Ellison is a notorious jerk but probably had his work distorted in this case.) Killer Spock line: “I am endeavoring to build a pneumonic memory circuit with stone knives and bearskins.” Overall: A classic. 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant
  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • Spock’s suspicious Vulcan nature can be disguised with a good hat
  • Kirk hits it off with alien babe

29. Operation: Annihilate! A quintessential “crew battles rubber space creatures” episode. This one somehow manages to be unique, even if it leans on Trek staples like space madness and scientific explanations using exceptionally dubious science. I sort of like the creatures, though. Something about them is charming, even if they are pretty much ridiculous. At one point, when examining one, Sulu says, “It doesn’t even look real!” Heh-heh, it sure doesn’t. It looks like a rubber space pancake or some fake vomit. Nevertheless, we are told they are blossoming throughout the galaxy spreading some sort of new space madness. Frankly, at this point in the series, I’m surprised when there’s an episode where there isn’t a scene with a sweaty guy ranting from a bed in sick bay. Somehow they determine that the individual creatures are like single brain cells, information which Kirk says “answers a lot of questions.” I submit that it actually raises a lot of questions, but OK. Eventually they stumble onto a solution for disposing of them: extremely intense light. Blindingly intense, actually, and before they spend five minutes remembering that light comes in a lot of wavelengths, including non-blinding ones, they go ahead and zap Spock in an effort to rid him of the creatures’ effect. It’s all good, though, because later on Spock recovers, remembering only then that he has an extra eyelid. So yeah, on the surface it’s pretty ridiculous but I couldn’t help but be entertained. I suspect this is an episode that appeals to fans of “Arena” or “The Devil in the Dark” (like myself) who can overlook terrible effects for a memorable hour of TV. If this was the first classic Trek you’d watched, you’d probably laugh off the series, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Killer Spock line: Didn’t note one. Spock spent a lot of the episode stifling his burgeoning space madness. Overall: I like it for some reason. 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Only Kirk can truly make command decisions (I liked in this episode how he spent a lot of time barking semi-unreasonable orders at people, then storming out of the room to avoid any questions)
  • “Doctor” McCoy admits he has no idea how Vulcan physiology works
  • Spock displays Vulcan superpower never really seen again
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

The visor is a long story. Please try to disregard it.22. Space Seed. The classic Khan episode more appreciated today as a prequel to Star Trek II. (Though season one pre-dates Chekhov’s arrival on the ship and raises the question of how Khan would recognize him later on.) This one’s puzzling. It’s great but I have trouble with it. Good news first. It’s a well-structured episode and makes for great sci-fi, it’s tense and suspenseful, it has a spectacular guest character and good moments between the regulars. There’s a really interesting introduction to the apparently amok 1990s, which Trek writers predicted to be a time of eugenics and warfare, rather than the time of pogs and big round glasses that would actually come to pass. Shatner and Montalban provide take turns milking their lines, particularly when sharing scenes. The problem is that the whole McGivers-Khan relationship is so weird it’s almost too uncomfortable to watch. She’s a well-educated historian who immediately falls for Khan so thoroughly that she’s willing to betray the Enterprise and give up her entire life. (Not that she’s the first or the last Trek character to do either of those things.) Khan bullies and intimidates her, which she puts up with, introducing a creepy abusive relationship angle. It’s implied that Khan is irresistible, and obviously he’s a bad guy and she’s scared, but it largely comes across as him being the bad boy she can’t help but like. I guess when they got around to STII they made a point to ensure he was really sad about her passing, like they had a good situation after all. But sheesh. Anyway I should probably also pick on the way Khan takes over the ship. McGivers’ betrayal helps but it certainly relies on the Enterprise’s usual lax security: easy access to engineering, sensitive technical documents readily available on the ship’s computer, incompetent security guards. But it’s all set up well, too. Montalban’s performance is awesome, so Khan is very believable as a kind of unstoppable superman. Killer Spock line: “I don’t understand why it always gives you pleasure to see me proven wrong.” Overall: probably a 5 out of 5 except for the creepy stuff, depending on how your reaction to that.

Trek tropes:

  • Strange probe encountered in space
  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • Guest star abandons life for new existence

23. A Taste of Armageddon. Straightforward Kirk-says-humanity-rules episode. The crew comes in contact with a civilization engaging in an endless war, only it’s not a real man’s war, like Kirk would endorse, what with the trenches and dying in the mud, but something with computers or some crap. The two combatants have agreed that they’ll just simulate the war, and whomever the computer says died has to report to a disintegration chamber. That way, the war doesn’t take the whole culture out with it. I guess it adheres to a sort of bizarre logic. Spock even kind of admires it. But you wonder why the heck they’re bothering to fight. If you respect the other culture that much, why are you fighting? They step over the actual cause and nature of the dispute, and what it’s bothering to accomplish anymore, which is kind of an important detail, you know? Basically the episode is Kirk being pretty angry about the whole idea and working to subvert it. And I guess…we’re not doing the Prime Directive anymore? Later maybe? OK. Killer Spock line/ruse: “Sir, there’s a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder.” Overall: 3 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • In the future, computers are magic, but still make teletype sounds
  • Spock displays Vulcan superpower never really seen again
  • Invisible Space Powers
  • Violation of Prime Directive

24. This Side of Paradise. (AKA The one with the spores.) The Enterprise visits a colony planet where they fear everyone will be dead on account of its exposure to deadly space rays. Instead they find a surprisingly functioning colony with perfectly healthy people. Only they are all a little too healthy–no one has even the slightest malady and things like removed appendixes have grown back. Kirk ponders, “How could they be alive?” Sulu chimes in uselessly, “Is it possible that they’re not?” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN. The secret is discovered soon enough, as crew members start running into some native spores, which gives them each a case of the sillies. McCoy is particularly affected, as he becomes a gross caricature of a southern doc who wants only to be lazing about under a tree downing mint juleps. But Spock gets the worst of it. He ends up frolicking with the colony’s only woman and hanging upside down from a tree branch, giggling. So everyone under the influence decides the slow farming life is perfection, and they start donning green jumpsuits and skipping out on their Federationly duties. Of course Kirk is the last to succumb to being spored, so he ends up being the one lonely guy back on the ship who just doesn’t feel like partying. He rants that perfection isn’t all that perfect, because what is man good for without challenges, without ambition? This angry resistance turns out to be the seed uh, root? SOURCE of his ability to fight off the spores, as he discovers that strong emotions counteract the effect, because of course they do. He tries to get Spock back first, resulting in a glorious scene of Kirk hurling all manner of insult at Spock for a good cause, until he’s riled up enough to take a swing and Kirk and break the spores’ spell. Then they concoct a plan to bathe the colony is some kind of subspace emotion beam to break everyone else. It works great: everyone gets all mad for a few minutes (Sulu and another guy get into a shovel fight, like, immediately) until their heads clear and everything resolves. All in all, it’s a fun, silly episode, though not terribly new territory for the series. Maybe the most common plot in the show is: everyone gets some kind of space madness for a while, only Kirk and/or Spock can resist because they’re so darn awesome, then they fix things.

A few observations:

  • Not a banner episode for female characters. There is evidently only one woman in the entire colony, and even after she’s de-spored she acts basically the same. Which is to say, the spores make you all girly and lovey, so if you’re already a girl, well, it doesn’t really matter if you’ve got spores or not.
  • Spock trivia: (1) He reveals he has an unpronounceable other name. (2) The “Vulcanian” Watch continues, as this is still the preferred term for his race. Not sure when they become simply “Vulcans” but I think it’s pretty soon.
  • I was sure this would be a “lighthearted banter ending” episode but it ended on a surprisingly morose tone with Spock’s “For the first time, I was happy” line. I don’t think that even makes sense. Usually Spock is deeply embarrassed by emotions. I guess that’s not established yet. Or it’s a “Vulcanian” thing.

Killer Spock line: “Emotions are alien to me. I’m a scientist.” Because…scientists are actually a non-emotive alien species? Better than any line might be his goofy smile when he first encounters Kirk after being spored. Overall: a nice mix of science mystery and silly. 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Kirk Spock old flame
  • Only Kirk can truly make command decisions
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • The indomitable human spirit conquers all

25. The Devil in the Dark. I haven’t been too conscious of each episode’s setting, but it’s hard to ignore the environmental transition this time. After the last nice sunny outside episode, we spend this whole hour in a cave. The dreary atmosphere matches the set. It starts with a security guy taking over his shift, seriously concerned that he won’t even live through it because a “monster” is on the loose. His boss assures him he should be OK, but of course he’s killed before Boss Man even gets out of the cave. The Enterprise arrives to help, and the deaths are gruesome enough by description–guys get “burned to a crisp”–but McCoy piles on the horror by discovering that’s it’s more like they’re hurled into acid and corroded. So yeah, the whole situation is pretty terrifyingly icky, but the setup helps shape what turns out to be an outstanding episode. Regular Trek viewers can probably guess the gist of the plot, as Kirk and Spock eventually corner the creature and gain an understanding of it to resolve the situation. But the execution is the real strength here. Similar to “Arena,” this is an episode I really dig but I wonder if it works for a modern audience. I don’t really care about TOS’s cheesy effects, but to buy into this episode you need to get past the horta’s appearance, because it looks like a gross rubbery blanket spackled with charcoal and frosting. It’s undeniably weird but it actually works, I think. It makes it seem seriously foreign. The latter half of the episode, where they actually communicate with it, becomes interesting for its weirdness, because you really don’t know what to expect. I’m tired of episodes like “The Squire of Gothos” where they’re trying to deal with some spacey nutball of marginal sanity. This is just good sci-fi.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Spock really likes this silicon ball that the head miner is keeping in his office. Of course, part of the reason he’s fascinated with it is because he correctly guesses what it really is, but the guy can’t keep his hands off it.
  • Love this incredibly scary scene with Kirk lining up six redshirts to send them into the monster’s cave and telling them that 50 men have died and he doesn’t want any more death. “Don’t die, redshirts! That’s an order!”
  • Fantastic conversation between Kirk and Spock to set up their motivations as they venture into the caves. Spock believes the creature is the last of its kind, so he’s itching to capture it rather than kill it, even though he acknowledges that the most logical action is to kill this mind-bogglingly dangerous menace. So Kirk starts trying to give him different jobs to keep him out of the way, but he can’t win a logical argument with Spock, who even goes so far as to cite the (what he claims to be) accurate (and very long) odds of them both being killed at once.
  • And as they venture into the deadly caves where 50 men have been burned to crisps, I can’t help but realize that this episode really, really challenges the accepted fiction that it’s necessary for the Captain and First Officer to be on away missions.
  • Lately I’ve just been watching the show on Netflix rather than get out the DVDs. It saves a bit of hassle and the picture’s a bit better. But Netflix has the restored versions, in which some of the special effects are updated. They tend to be hands-off with the updates, only tinkering with scenes without actors, such as the scene transitions where it’s just the ship orbiting a planet. They certainly could have gone all-out and changed rubber-suited creatures to CGI or something. I’m sure there was little monetary reason to go to the trouble, but even if it was just an aesthetic decision, it was the right call, to my thinking. But I’m a Muppet Yoda guy, too.
  • It’s not really clear why the horta doesn’t immediately kill Kirk when they first encounter each other, but a lot of the believability of the episode hinges on this. Kirk is seriously not alarmed by the thing being ten feet from him even though it has instantly killed every other person it’s come in contact with. The positive way to interpret things is that this particular horta has the same Captain’s intuition that Kirk does, and can sense that working out a resolution is the right thing to do.
  • The space miners turn out to be very understanding guys in the end. They are totally fine with letting the horta live in peace when they could easily just kill it. Because let’s face it: at least in modern times, mining and similar industries are not exactly open-minded when it comes to environmental concerns standing in the way of their business. Although certainly the huge profit potential of the horta helping them out sways them. I guess if endangered owls sawed down trees and after nesting in them, the lumber industry would like to partner with them, too.

Killer Spock line: “I have already given Dr. McCoy sufficient cause for amusement. I would prefer to cogitate the possibilities for a time.” Overall: Good suspenseful skiffy episode with some surprisingly advanced ideas, even if they do take a back seat to the suspense and horror bits. 5 out of 5 from me but an open question whether a non-Trek fan would find it interesting or just too weird.

Trek tropes:

  • Anonymous redshirt killed
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

18. Arena. I'm the captain of a whole starship. I don't NEED to close my mouth.Arena asks you to reflect on your feelings about vengeance. Arena asks what justice is worth. Arena asks if you’re a proponent of ironic punishments. Arena asks if you will continue to watch, and genuinely like, an old TV show that features a creature with a truly ridiculous mask, costume, and roar. Arena asks, “Who would win in a fight between a really strong thing that’s super slow, and a relatively weak thing that’s much faster?” Arena asks if you can recognize white powders merely by glancing at them on a monitor. Arena asks if you know the chemical composition of gunpowder. But mostly, Arena is a test of whether or not you will like classic Trek. Universally accessible themes and iconic characters BUT a reliance on special effects that are cheesy but still highlighted as though they are not, highly questionable science (but at least an attempt at it), and lots of fightin’/scrappin’. This is what Trek IS. You like all of those things unironically or you do not like the show.

Me, I LOVE Arena. To me, it’s one of the Three Classic Iconic Episodes of the show, with Amok Time and The Trouble With Tribbles. But I know it’s got some problems. The Gorn is really laughable. The puzzle element to it is terrific, but the “clues” for it are pointless.

My main question about Arena is: does it belong in the category of things that you cannot begin to like as an adult? You either experience them growing up, and earn a soft spot for them, or you don’t, and by the time you’re old you’re not going to be able to appreciate them. I think Monty Python and the Holy Grail and video games are things like this. I suspect Arena is, too.

Killer Spock line: none. But I love when he’s watching Kirk’s battle on the monitor and sees the scattering of white powder, and instantly knows how to win the fight. What? I don’t know a lot about chemistry, but I know there are an awful lot of things that come in the form of white powder. Plus we better gloss over that if everything was a test of ingenuity, Vulcans would completely destroy humanity. Overall: 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Anonymous redshirt killed

19. Tomorrow is Yesterday. A memorable time travel-story, and pretty fun, but chock full of logical flaws that derail it. Classic Trek has a way of doing stuff like this that drives me crazy. They acknowledge the moral dilemmas and spend lots of dramatic time debating things, then go right ahead and mess everything up anyway. See: every episode that deals with the prime directive. Also see: this episode, and any discussion related to not letting the 20th-century dudes know about their futures. For instance, Spock, after venting all kinds of concerns about letting Capt. Christopher know anything about the future, goes ahead and lets him know they need to get him back to Earth because he’ll be having a son down the road. Kirk & Co. realize it’d be better to just keep the next guy they accidentally beam up in the transporter room. Eventually they realize they can just Vulcan neck pinch everyone and save themselves a lot of hassle. I don’t even want to get into the crazy getting-back-to-the-present physics. But then again, they have laid the groundwork for how easy it is to accidentally time travel if you have a starship. Killer Spock line–McCoy: “Shouldn’t you be working on your time warp calculations, Mr. Spock?” Spock (apparently just standing around): “I am.” Overall: 3 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant
  • In the future, computers are magic, but still make teletype sounds
  • Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

20. Court Martial. A very strong entry for Trek: unusually tightly plotted, and a good character piece for most of the principals. Mostly I just have notes for this one.

Fun stuff:

  • The Lawyer (Elisha Cook) is awesome. He goes on this great rant about how great books are, because it’s the only way you can really find anything and computers are terrible. His skill at digging the context and meaning out of books has made him the lawyer he is. I couldn’t agree more*.
  • Kirk has a Starfleet Citation for Conspicuous Gallantry. That is just the best.
  • I like how Spock proves the computer is malfunctioning by defeating it multiple times at space chess. (There’s an editing snafu there, for fun, or which contributes to his victory–he makes two moves in a row.)
  • Uhura takes over piloting the ship during an emergency. This is a pretty huge deal, and it’s too bad they don’t do more with this. I mean, if she’s capable of piloting the ship, that implies that her position as communications officer is a choice, right? All too often they portray Sulu or Spock as being mega awesome and Uhura as a glorified secretary, so this was good to see.

Weird stuff:

  • Everyone’s really upset about the death of some crewman, which is odd because a redshirt dies in like every episode.
  • Kirk has a special button on his Captain’s chair, right where his hand rests, specifically for jettisoning an important pod. Don’t accidentally hit the “jettison pod” button that’s located right at your fingertips! It will lead to a court martial! And sure enough, it sure does cause him some trouble! (This should be the plot for a Red Dwarf episode rather than Trek, I think.)
  • Kirk boasts that the computer can boost audio by “One to the fourth power.” One to the fourth power is, uh, one, Mr. Conspicuous Gallantry.
  • Finney is supposedly Kirk’s classmate but is like 20 years older than Kirk.

I particularly like the Killer Spock Line this time around because they still haven’t established whether Spock is a “Vulcan” or a “Vulcanian”: “I am half Vulcanian. Vulcanians do not speculate. I speak from pure logic. If I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has in fact fallen.” Overall: 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Anonymous redshirt killed
  • Kirk meets up with an old flame
  • In the future, computers are magic, but still make teletype sounds
  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

21. The Return of the Archons.

I briefly got K to watch Trek with me a few years ago, but she inevitably fell asleep whenever we watched. (60s TV pacing: she is no fan.) I have fallen asleep to my share of these, but “The Return of the Archons” did the trick quicker than usual. All I remember is that the crew runs around this Earth-like place just about forever trying to get a meeting with the alien leader. I was sort of dreading getting back to this episode, knowing it was pretty boring. So I’m not going to bother, and I’m moving on. Deal with it, Return of the Archons.

*Maybe relevant: I’m a professional librarian.

The visor is a long story. Please try to disregard it.14. Balance of Terror. Something I don’t like about TOS is that many of the episodes don’t really make any attempts to write a new story. There might be a twist ending of a sort, the usual fashion being when we learn that the driving force behind an antagonist is actually an evil computer, or a child, or whatever. Quite often that’s intentional, though. There aren’t surprises. The plots are very straightforward. Trek owes a lot to other popular genres of the time, namely Westerns. A problem is encountered, and because they’re the best, they push through and right the wrong. That’s not necessarily bad, I’m saying. It’s just that once it’s set up, you know how this one is going to go, more or less. Because you’ve seen it already–if you’ve seen any WWII submarine thriller ever. There will be a lot of military tactics, and the two commanders will mutter lots of things about how much respect they have for their opponent in this chess match slash cat-and-mouse game slash battle of wills. The episode is quite good anyway, tense and absorbing and well-acted, if ultimately an homage. Though it doesn’t help matters that there’s a terrible cliche in the very first scene. Kirk is about to marry a young happy couple and just as he starts, there’s an emergency. They have to put things on hold to sort out the extremely dangerous thing that’s about to happen in which hopefully neither of the betrothed will be ironically killed. Spoiler: one of them is ironically killed. Killer Spock Spock’s Dad line (from Mark Lenard, who is better known as Spock’s father Sarek, as the Romulan Captain): “He’s a sorcerer, that one! He reads the thoughts in my brain!” Overall: blah blah above, but still a classic episode in the series. 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Really nothing, but I’m going to lump Mr. Groom’s death into the ‘Anonymous redshirt killed’ category just because the death could not be less surprising

15. Shore Leave. Deeply flawed but thoroughly entertaining. This one starts off with a tremendously awkward scene where Kirk is fidgeting on account of a sore back. He’s also having a conversation with Spock, but he’s so twitchy that Yeoman Barrows dives right in and starts massaging him in his chair. Kirk doesn’t bat an eye but for some reason assumes Spock is doing the massaging. Why would ANYONE be doing the massaging, much less the coldly dispassionate Vulcan? I guess the idea is just to introduce Yeoman Barrows as a slightly less annoying Yeoman Rand, though only because that’s such an easy competition. We get to spend the rest of the episode rolling our eyes at this terrible character, whose highest dream is apparently to be dragged off by Don Juan while wearing Princess clothing. (We miss you, Helen Noel.) In her defense, all the characters have their deepest wishes become known, though, as the Enterprise visits a planet where every thought becomes reality. Sulu, as we already know from The Naked Time, is a warrior at heart who finds a loaded gun and battles a samurai. McCoy gets to go along with Yeoman Barrows’ princess fantasy, and he later materializes with a cabaret dancer on each arm. Kirk gets to whale on an old Academy nemesis, a character astoundingly Even More Irish than Lt. Riley. (I wonder why a show that made such strides towards racial equality let itself have so much fun insulting the Irish. Was this the socially acceptable outlet for ’60s white guys?) And seriously, their fight (actually their SECOND fight) might go on longer than the Rowdy Roddy Piper/Keith David fracas. Anyway, as a whole, “Shore Leave” is a wild one. It doesn’t really have a story so much as a bunch crazy bunch of stuff that happens until time’s up and the proprietor reveals himself and everyone has a good laugh. Killer Spock line: “To me it is quite illogical to run up and down on green grass using energy instead of saving it.” Overall: 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • We make fun of the Irish because we love those drunken rabblerousers
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • Kirk meets up with an old flame
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

16. The Galileo Seven. It’s important to remember that Trek isn’t really a sci-fi show. It’s really just a western set in space. The plots and themes line up much better. I guess the Enterprise is like a traveling band of vigilantes or a law enforcement posse or something. U.S. Marshals? I risk overdoing this analogy. Anyway, they go about solving problems and righting injustices, whether it’s on the 19th century United States frontier or the edge of explored space, it’s the same deal, ‘cept with lasers. I believe this because unlike it’s later-generation brethren, science and logic are generally glossed over in favor of action. “The Galileo Seven” displays another symptom, its lousy treatment of nerds. Spock commands a small shuttle crew which ends up stranded on a dangerous world, and Spock finds himself in his first crisis of command. (Worth noting that the shuttle has a crew of seven–hence the episode title–which is like, the same number of regulars that seem to be needed to run the Enterprise. I’m always happy when we see more Federation working stiffs other than security guards.) Of course he wants to do all the logical things to get the shuttle operational again and save the most possible lives. But while his actions look good on paper, his dispassionate approach rubs the crew the wrong way, even to the point of mutiny. Of course, logic doesn’t really work when trying to control the actions of illogical humans (and caveman monsters, or whatever the heck the bad guys are in this one), and he just ends up pissing everyone off without really solving all the problems. It’s a well-written episode, genuinely suspenseful, and hits right at the logic/passion theme of the series, although the difference here is that for better or worse it picks a clear winner and really hammers it home. (The AV Club review nails it, calling the episode a “fixed fight”.) Generally these things are much more ambiguous. Not this time. Kirk’s human stubbornness totally pays off, completely glossing over his delay delivering medicine to a plague-ridden colony. Worth repeating: he dragged his feet delivering medicine to a diseased colony in favor of hoping a few members of his crew would somehow, against all odds, not be dead. Meanwhile Spock’s Vulcan logic gets thrown right back in his face. At the end, he even gets hounded by the entire bridge crew about showing some emotion, like the smartest but most socially inept kid in class. As a bonus, we learn later in the series that any emotional displays are deeply embarrassing to him. Kirk even defends Spock over the matter. So basically, we are seeing Spock get humiliated by a bunch of jocks. Nice. Killer Spock line: “It is more rational to sacrifice one life than six, doctor.” Bones: “I’m not talking about rationality.” Spock: “You might be wise to start. ” Overall: a very good episode tainted a bit by some logical flaws (that’s right, LOGICAL flaws) 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Anonymous redshirt yellowshirt killed (eh, close enough)
  • Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway. Actually two of them! Although only one ends up working, I guess. Scotty wants to fly a shuttle using phaser batteries and Kirk wants to randomly beam down to a planet in hopes of landing near the stranded crew.
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

17. The Squire of Gothos. I feel like I’ve seen this episode a million times. The crew gets trapped by a brash but bored alien that demands entertainment and stimulation. Kirk feels like there’s some danger because he can’t quite know what the antagonist is capable of, but ultimately he just sort of stalls by appealing to the bad guy’s base nature. Eventually Kirk wins. Worse, the reveal here turns out to be the same thing they just pulled in The Corbomite Maneuver: the villain is but a child. I’m really bored by these kinds of episodes. This is a quintessential “Badger the alien until you get what you want.” Meanwhile, we are subjected to forty minutes of boasting and threats. On the other hand it DOES faithfully re-create the experience of getting trapped in a conversation you can’t escape from. Some highlights:

  • At one point Spock sends some crew members to the planet, but says that neither he nor Scotty can be spared. What? Since when do essential crew NOT beam down to a planet?
  • Once in a while I read something about stories that couldn’t have happened in the modern era of cell phone ubiquity. But in Star Trek, where they have communicators, they go dead or are jammed pretty much every episode. If Trek is any indication, I don’t think we’re going to lose drama in the future, even with cell phones. There is always an easy way to negate this problem.
  • I like one line when Trelane gets mad and yells, “You’re all dead men!” Then, to Kirk, “You especially!” Especially…dead? Like, extra dead?

Killer Spock line: “I object to you. I object to intellect  without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.” Overall: I really couldn’t wait for this one to be over. It’s not bad like third-season bad, but, 2 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Badger alien until you get what you want
  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

The visor is a long story. Please try to disregard it.9. Dagger of the Mind. The best reason to apply a sci-fi theme to your dirt-cheap 1960s TV show? INVISIBLE SPACE POWERS. Things that happen in space are mysterious! Telepathy. Psychokinesis. Space madness. TOS excels at all of these things. You kinda never even think about it, until you read about a given show’s production or listen to a commentary track and there are about a million instances of “The producers decided to have [character] do [some weird thing requiring no special effects] because the actors could just pretend it was happening and it was cheap.” “Dagger of the Mind” is all about Invisible Space Powers. The whole thing is space crazy time. But it’s fine, really. It just continues to establish some of the Trek conventions we will get very used to over time. The bigger issue is that this is a mystery episode with no mystery. TOS doesn’t really do the mystery thing well like TNG did. You know the main guy they meet is going to turn out bad, no matter how nice he seems. You know the mysterious machine that has never malfunctioned before is going to malfunction. It’s all good though: where TNG was about ideas, TOS is about execution. Anyway, pretty familiar Trek fare on the dangers of technology. The nice Doctor has a weird machine that could be used for therapy, but he explains that they really don’t use it because his assistant fried his own brain with it, so never mind that, let’s move on with the tour! Of course, Kirk wouldn’t be Kirk if he just let stuff like that slide. So they figure out the danger pretty quick, because the time for talk is through and we’re ready for some action, like climbing through access vents and a whole lot of Space Madness. Listen, if you don’t want to see people go space crazy then this is not the show for you, but “Dagger of the Mind” is a little thick with it. There’s just really a whole lot of ranting (especially from Morgan Woodward, who would come back in ep. 52 to be another crazy guy) here. That aside, there are a lot of good ideas and it’s fairly well-paced. Spock does his first ever Vulcan mind-meld (he doesn’t have the technique down yet). Dr. Noel might be the best female character in the series so far. Don’t worry though, we’ll never see her again and there’s lots more Vacantly Staring Yeoman Rand on tap. Killer Spock line: “Interesting. You Earth People glorified violence for forty centuries. But you imprison those who employ it privately.” Zing, Earth People, zing. Overall: 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Kirk meets up with an old flame
  • Spock displays Vulcan superpower never really seen again
  • Invisible Space Powers

10. The Corbomite Maneuver. Certainly the best TV episode ever about a maneuver. But the ceiling has not been set all that high, so if you have other maneuver-based fiction, do not lose hope. Ultimately this episode is just weird. It was only the third one produced so they hadn’t really ironed everything out yet, maybe. Let’s start there. They spend a lot of time establishing some of the routines on the ship – we learn lots about Kirk’s physical health and his dietary needs, for example. This must have been before the producers realized that’s pretty boring. A salad is still a salad, even if you’re eating it in space and Kirk calls them “green leaves.” It’s also a classic Dangerous Encounter in Space episode. This time, they encounter a cube. Yes, a cube. Thought it does rotate and has its own music. (I love how when Spock pipes the video feed of it to Kirk’s quarters, he also gets to hear its music.) Then they destroy it. And a much bigger ship shows up to tell them it was his probe and now he thinks humans are terrible and is going to blow them up. Kirk pulls a brave gambit…a maneuver, if you will…and gets away. And learns the truth behind the aliens’ facade, which is Clint Howard as the creepiest child ever. I kind of felt like most of this show just didn’t really work. They tried to fit in a lot of character moments, but they seemed flat, save for the McCoy-Kirk stuff. The “Lt. Bailey can’t handle this stuff” was a bit of a dead end, to me. All that said, the episode certainly wasn’t boring. The Corbomite Maneuver is actually a pretty clever maneuver. And there’s a lot that’s memorable: the horribly fake-looking alien that we learn actually is horribly fake, Clint Howard’s frightening performance and offering of tranya, and the line, “You have ten Earth Periods, known as minutes…” (“We better make it sound science fictiony! Call them Earth Periods! But so it’s not confusing, note that they mean minutes, and not femtoseconds or decades.”) Killer Spock line: “[Adrenaline] sounds most inconvenient however. I’d consider having it removed.” Overall: 3 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Strange probe encountered in space
  • Only Kirk can truly make command decisions

11/12. The Menagerie. Since it’s such an unusual entry I’m not really going to provide a full-on review of this one short of saying it might be the best clip show ever. Just a ridiculously clever re-use of the otherwise useless original pilot. It doesn’t actually have the best reputation but I totally dig it. Overall: 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • In the future, computers are magic, but still make teletype sounds

13. The Conscience of the King. Another really good one. TOS season one is SO MUCH BETTER than season three. Man. Even the worst episode of these four is better than almost everything in that miserable final season. “The Conscience of the King” is a terrifically written and acted bit of Shakespeare homage. It got a little heavy-handed with the Shakespeare at the end just to remind us all that it was being really, really literary, but that can be forgiven with the more reasonable application everywhere else. Star Trek VI definitely owes some of itself to this one. I’ll be lazy and not bother developing any kind of theme for this one. Instead I’ll just point out some highlights:

  • The Star Trek lounge music playing during the party season. It’s the Trek them, just lounged up. Awesome. I’ll also note that this is the second episode of the last three that I’d love to link to a clip of the music but the only Trek allowed on YouTube, apparently, is some annoying guy narrating short versions of the episodes.
  • The first really top-notch Spock/McCoy “Humans rule/Vulcans drool” scene.
  • Extremely Proud of His Irish Heritage Lt. Riley in an extremely rare secondary character re-appearance. Then he dies.
  • The never-used-again call for “Double Red Alert”. OMG DANGER!!!!

Killer Spock line: None, but highly enjoyable facial expressions as he overhears Kirk hitting on Lenore. Overall: 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • In the future, computers are magic, but still make teletype sounds
  • Kirk hits it off with alien babe (let’s take a moment to clarify this doesn’t mean a woman of some weird gross space race, it just means, some girl who isn’t a part of the crew)
  • We make fun of the Irish because we love those drunken rabblerousers
  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship

The visor is a long story. Please try to disregard it.5. The Enemy Within. This is: the one where a transporter malfunction splits Kirk into Good Kirk and Evil Kirk. Generally it’s a winner but two things in particular about this episode mark Trek’s age. (I mean, there’s a lot about every episode that’s dated, but most of that stuff I’m fine with.) The first and foremost is pacing. Most every episode suffers from slow pacing, at least measured in 2012 TV time, when we simply expect quick pacing and multi-threaded storylines. Trek usually has one storyline and takes its time with it. Not to mention that that shows have a 50-minute running time, and us modern kids are conditioned to like 45 minutes max. I knew I was in trouble with this one when they knew that there was a good an evil Kirk running around at we were only 12 minutes in. “What are they going to DO for the next 38 minutes?” I thought. Turns out, about 20 minutes’ worth of stuff. It’s one thing to be slow, it’s another when it doesn’t even service the story. There was a serious time crisis going down with dudes freezing on a planet’s surface but they kept having measured conversations about how they might resolve it at some point. Sulu was had to be furious if he ever read the ship’s logs later on. Moving on, the second sign of age is something that’s cropped up in a few other episodes, namely “The Deadly Years” (the one where they all get old), the absolute respect of Captain Kirk’s authority. Sure, he’s the Captain and you’re supposed to obey him at all times, even if his motivations don’t immediately make sense. But another thing the modern era has ruined in us kids is such an absolute respect. Way fewer of us ever served in the armed forces, and we’ve all seen way too many movies about corrupt authority or mutinies. It doesn’t make any sense to me that Kirk would remain in charge when he’s clearly enfeebled or split into two separate humans, one of which is evil. But the clear message is that even then, crossing the line of thinking he’s incapable of command is forbidden and rather scandalous. “The Deadly Years” wasted a huge chunk of time holding a hearing about it. They don’t spend that kind of time here, but there are still a lot of wasted words spent trying to get everyone to feel that maybe, you know, it’s OK if Kirk steps down for a little while during the time when his brain doesn’t work. Maybe another sign of age here, though again it’s just sort of the way TV was I guess, is that it’s yet another episode with kinda OK sexual harassment. This is, what, the third episode out of five so far where Yeoman Rand is relentlessly harangued? Evil Kirk is responsible this time around, assaulting her in her own quarters. She fights him off but is obviously rattled by it, of course. Only the show has no idea how to resolve things. Maybe a conversation between Rand and Kirk where she makes it clear it was very upsetting and she knows it wasn’t really Kirk, but all the same, if he could steer clear for a while, that would be polite. No, we don’t get that. Instead we get a weird line from Spock after all is settled: “The imposter had some very interesting qualities, wouldn’t you say, Yeoman?” What? Is this conversation? Is this even legal? Is he suggesting that Kirk’s crazed animal-man side is something girls should dig? That line is baffling. (Memory Alpha has a bit about how the actress who played Rand agrees.) Killer Spock line:”If I seem insensitive to what you’re going through, understand, it’s the way I am.” Overall: obviously some flaws but a solid story that covers a lot of ground. 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Shatner Showcase
  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway

6. Mudd’s Women. Well, that last episode had some sexist overtones, hopefully this next one will have a more progressive attitude…aw, hell. TOS, for all your progressive views on race and multiculturalism and peace, you just really don’t know what to do with yourself in the realm of sexual equality. Sure, women can have real jobs on starships (not captain though!) if they’re into that sort of thing but otherwise they’re pretty cool with being sold as wives to miners on desolate wasteland planets. Somehow this episode has a pretty positive reputation, but I didn’t like it much. There’s one good sci-fi idea of a youth-preserving drug, but the direction they take it is very odd, and mostly I see this one as wasted potential. It should be kind of funny, but it isn’t. It should be kind of character-driven surrounding Mudd and the women, but it isn’t that either. Mudd is memorable but feels like he should be more of a lovable rapscallion (a la Cyrano Jones from “The Trouble With Tribbles”) but instead he’s just kind of a sleazebag. I think this is one that people can remember like The One Where They All Get Old or The One Where They Are 1920s Chicago Gangsters, where the fact that it’s memorable must mean it’s good, but that’s really not the case. I do like one bit of trivia about it–it was one of the very first episodes produced and was under consideration as the “second” pilot. But NBC postponed airing it because they were concerned about its central theme of (per Memory Alpha and Inside Star Trek) “selling women throughout the galaxy” and the guest stars being “an intergalactic pimp” and “three space hookers”. But by the sixth episode I guess that was fine. Killer Spock line: “I’m happy the affair is over. A most annoying emotional episode.” Overall: 2 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Kirk hits it off with alien babe
  • “Doctor” McCoy admits he has no idea how Vulcan physiology works
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

7. What are Little Girls Made Of? Watching the third season before this one again gets weird because I’ve seen the main theme presented here before in “Requiem for Methuselah,” only it actually came much later in the series. I thought it was more or less fresh then, and stale now, but I’m backwards. I’m not really worried about spoilers here, so to get it out in the open, there’s a genius whose secret (!!!) is that all his companions are robots he built. Though it is handled differently. In “Methuselah” it’s a big reveal that the cute companion girl is a robot – only after Kirk is in love with her! Oh no! No man should be in love with a machine! Here, we learn what’s up really early on so Kirk can rhapsodize about human superiority over machines, etc., and then he smooches on the robot girl anyway retroactively undercutting every theme and plot point of both episodes. Well anyway, I liked “Methuselah” and I liked this episode. Both are fertile ground for Trek’s overarching theme of humans being totally the best life ever. This one had some extra humor, good pacing, and generally a well-told story, thought it had its wacky moments. For example, of all the sci-fi ways to make android copies of humans, surely having the human lay on a spinning table until the android is generated is the oddest. Maybe, like, angular momentum distills out one’s genetics, if it’s done right, or something. I also liked how the way to distinguish which of the Kirk copies was the real one was for the android girl to offer him a kiss. When turned down, she instantly knows she’s talking to a lifeless android (Real Kirk never turns down a kiss) and vaporizes it. I’ll note there was one major flaw in the whole scheme. Korby loves his whole android-building scheme because he claims you become immortal. Duplication isn’t immortality, guy. That’s great for my duplicate if it lives on forever, but it’s not like that does anything for me. A guy who was clever enough to make clones using a giant merry-go-round never thought of this? Killer Spock line: “Frankly I was rather dismayed by your use of the term ‘half-breed,’ Captain. You must admit it was an unsophisticated expression.” Overall: 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Anonymous redshirt killed
  • Kirk hits it off with alien babe
  • Computers can be buggered by logical traps
  • The indomitable human spirit conquers all

8. Miri. I’m not really calling some of the common setups in Trek “tropes.” Even though they probably are. Here we have feral space kids. The last one we had androids. I think they’re more like themes, though. Especially in the sixties, maybe. Everyone was scared about creeping technology and the crazy younger generation. (Not like today! Those fears are totally in the past now!) And AGAIN, a recycled plot from the third season emerges. “Miri” parallels “And the Children Shall Lead.” This time I think the original is much better, as does most of the internet, I think. Though still, the whole idea of crazy space kids is never all that good. At least this time they have a leader in swell character actor Michael J. Pollard, and a pretty well-developed character in Miri. The show is very effective an conveying the crew’s frustration in trying to solve a medical mystery, under deadline, while also having to babysit. It really actually works quite well, and succeeds where ATCSL fails. I can’t find the exact quote or information anymore, but I recall from when I watched ATCSL that third-season producer Fred Freiberger thought his kid episode was good and “Miri” was terrible, and it gave me something to think about as I watched the two seasons. I’ve already ripped on Fred enough in third-season reviews, but man was he wrong, and man did he make some lousy Trek. Killer Spock line: “It could be a beakerful of death.” Overall: 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Anonymous redshirt killed No wait! They didn’t die! These were the luckiest redshirts ever, they avoided disease and killer children for weeks
  • Badger alien until you get what you want

The visor is a long story. Please try to disregard it.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.

Trek tropes:

  • 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.

Trek tropes:

  • 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:

  1. Despite overwhelming evidence of contagious disease, member of landing party removes glove, immediately contracts new form of space madness.
  2. Decontamination protocols fail to detect bug, so no one bothers to report crewman’s insane ranting. Majority of crew soon succumbs to disease.
  3. 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.
  4. Chief Engineer can only regain access by painstakingly cutting through an extraordinarily delicate circuit system with a phaser.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Trek tropes:

  • 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