Monday, April 28, 2014

Star Trek 1x22 "Space Seed"

rating: ****
Memory Alpha summary

I think if Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, or Star Trek Into Darkness, had never happened, "Space Seed" might eventually have been forgotten.  In its own right, it's not really that memorable an episode.  There are plenty of examples of other episodes where a random individual temporarily takes control of this or any other Enterprise/starship/space station.  But Khan's enduring legacy easily elevates "Space Seed" to a kind of Star Trek immortality.

Just keep in mind that even given its historic importance, this is the rare essential adventure that you could also just as easily skip if you so chose.  The original series has aged poorly in a lot of respects.  It is very clearly a product of its time, and in its own merits "Space Seed" has not proven to leave anything lasting other than Khan's first appearance, and the first of two instances where Ricardo Montalban portrayed him (Wrath of Khan being the other).

And for the record, in case this has somehow escaped you, Chekov does not appear in this episode.  He doesn't join the series until the second season.  Strictly speaking, Khan shouldn't really recognize him, then, in Wrath, but given the questionable sense of continuity of the series in its early episodes, it doesn't really matter.  Chekov's first appearance isn't anymore distinguished than any other character's.  They appear in the first episodes they appear in.  Circular logic, yes, but the rules of storytelling are far different in this era than they would be in ones that followed.

That's just one of the reasons you shouldn't take "Space Seed" too seriously.  It's fun.  But it's also the first of Khan's first two appearances that doesn't necessarily consider all aspects of its own logic, one of many reasons why Khan's legacy for so long was as obscure as it was iconic.  The Eugenics War in the late 20th century, which seems to not have overlapped with the early 21st century WWIII that led to Cochran's warp flight, always had extremely tenuous definition (think the Clone Wars in Star Wars lore until the prequels).  This was the point where Khan originally derived his notoriety.  But he was forgotten by history all the same.  Fortunately Starfleet employs historians (later confirmed in Next Generation), and so someone was still able to figure out who was onboard that Botany Bay sleeper ship.

But too late, naturally.  Khan catches up to speed with everything that came after him, and then decides to take over the Enterprise, which he does easily, and seems to succeed in killing Kirk (in a scenario similar to the old James Bond cliche of giving him ample room to escape certain death).  So this genetic superman is defeated and exiled on Ceti Alpha V.  (Only to be completely forgotten.  Once again.)

It's iconic but also weak storytelling.  The fact that Khan returns makes everything about him infinitely more significant, especially since his movie appearance is much better storytelling, what makes him a true icon.  It was serendipitous for movie producer Harve Bennett to have randomly selected him from the episodes he sampled preparing for the second film.

The idea of genetic manipulation was brought up again in the late development of Dr. Bashir in Deep Space Nine, and Khan's own kind showed up in Enterprise, which led to a link to the creation of Data.  Taken with Khan's two movies, that's a considerable legacy for what is essentially just one of a whole series of standalone episodes where the events of one week didn't really have an impact on the next.  That's the kind of inspiration that led to a much richer Star Trek landscape that at one time seemed entirely played out.  But now, once again, appears to have unlimited potential.  Sort of like Khan and "Space Seed."

The benefit of this episode existing is that it's possible to view the later Khan as a tragic figure.  Almost.

franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
Ricardo Montalban

Friday, April 18, 2014

Star Trek 1x21 "The Return of the Archons"

rating: *
Memory Alpha summary

"Return of the Archons" is the original Prime Directive episode, somewhat comparable to the earlier "Miri," in which the crew discovers a civilization that has been considerably warped bu a given set of circumstances, a trope that would be repeated throughout the series and indeed franchise.

As with some later episodes ("The Tholian Web," "Friendship One" from Voyager), the impetus for the story stems from the recovery of a missing Starfleet vessel.  Also like later episodes (such as "The Communicator" from Enterprise, plus from this one, such as "Patterns of Force"), Starfleet has inadvertently affected the course of evolution on a planet, although in this case (as with several other episodes, of course!) it certainly doesn't help that a meddling machine has swooped in to "perfect" the resulting society.

All of which means that our crew finds itself unwitting new victims to the status quo, and must grapple with how to get themselves out of the situation, and wondering for the first time if they have a right to interfere.  As such, the Prime Directive, which forbids Starfleet officers from knowingly affecting the course of change in an alien culture.

Overall, "Return of the Archons" is itself an episode you can forget easily enough, enough to celebrate for fans just watching the series through, but its effect is pretty strong all the same.

franchise * series * essential * character

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Star Trek 1x20 "Court Martial"

rating: *
Memory Alpha summary

There are so many franchise episodes with a main character on trial, it's kind of funny when you think about it.  Most of them work pretty well.  I mean, there's a reason Perry Mason and all its descendants have been such a reliable TV tradition.  Law makes good drama.

"Court Martial" might almost be said to be a slightly more original version of "The Menagerie," which was the earlier two-part episode that put Spock on trial while regurgitating the otherwise unaired original series pilot, "The Cage."  Spock's trial was kind of beside the point in that story.  Certainly anyone who watches that one now won't really think of it in that way.

So it makes sense that the series didn't really find it unnecessarily duplicative to put another main character on trial only about ten episodes later.  The subject this time is Kirk.  Kirk on trial became its own trope, thanks to the movies Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (which itself was later echoed in the Enterprise episode "Judgment") and Star Trek.

I'm recommending this one most for Kirk.  Since "Menagerie" technically got to the trial trope before "Court Martial," I'll keep that one as the key precedent.  The story features more of Kirk's past coming back to haunt him, old colleagues with scores to settle, this time an old Academy instructor whom Kirk later caught in a mistake (so a little like Next Generation's "The First Duty," too) and ended up serving under him, of all indignities.  The truth of what happened is revealed in the end to be that there was no death after all, just the guy trying to screw Kirk over like he feels he was.  Same thing happens in later trial episodes.

But if there's any doubt that it's Kirk who is the lead character of the series, it's an episode like this one that comes along to make it clear.

franchise * series * essential * character

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Star Trek 1x19 "Tomorrow is Yesterday"

rating: **
Memory Alpha summary

Chances are the episode title "Tomorrow is Yesterday" doesn't sound too familiar, unless you're a true Star Trek geek.  But the episode itself has a couple of franchise milestones attached to it.

The first is that it's the first time travel episode, and not only that, but the first time our characters from the future end up in our contemporary times.  For a series trying to save a few bucks, it's a little surprising this didn't happen sooner.

The second is that the method of time travel is the "slingshot effect," the very maneuver later and more famously featured in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the one with the whales).

So a lot of history being made.  The episode itself becomes a little like some more familiar stories, a primitive civilization that is not at all prepared to deal with Kirk and crew's existence.  (All these are a little like the reverse of the "god box" scenario; since I'm writing these reviews in groups, there's good reason why there are a lot of "god box" references in them lately.)  Voyager's "Blink of an Eye" also serves as a nice callback, among other examples.  That's the one where Janeway's ship becomes lodged in orbit of a planet whose rotation is faster than normal.  The whole history of that world plays out in moments.  "Tomorrow is Yesterday" is like that, but the B-movie version, the bare bones, more forgettable one, unless you're truly partisan to the series (as a lot of Star Trek fans remain).

franchise * series * essential * character

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Star Trek 1x18 "Arena"

rating: **
Memory Alpha summary

"Arena" is a minor classic, essential mostly for the iconic fight between Kirk and the Gorn, one of the few truly alien-looking aliens from the series.  The Gorn; you know, the man-sized lizard (obviously made of rubber...with a zipper an' everything!).

It's one of the key memories any fan has of the series, actually.  The episode around it was duplicated a number of times, probably most successfully by Next Generation's "Darmok."  It's actually a little like the classic "god box" template, beings of greater power than mere humanity interfering and judging and things of that nature.  So there's that going on, and that's how and why Kirk ends up fighting the Gorn.

The image of the Gorn was so iconic that even though these particular aliens didn't show up again until Enterprise ("In a Mirror Darkly, Part 2"), they were among the most famous aliens in the whole franchise.  Pop culture remembered it well enough, too:
There's one more element that needs to be addressed, too, the planet Cestus III.  This is the colony world Kasidy Yates's brother lives on and where baseball still exists, which thrills Deep Space Nine's Sisko to no end.  One way or another, this one just keeps being memorable!

franchise * series * essential * character

Monday, April 14, 2014

Star Trek 1x17 "The Squire of Gothos"

rating: ***
Memory Alpha summary

In the first visit to Gene Roddenberry's "god box" since some of the earliest episodes of the series ("Where No Man Has Gone Before," "Charlie X"), Kirk matches wits with a being of considerable power, whom later fans equated with Next Generation's Q.

Although similar to the earlier and later "god box" episodes, "Squire of Gothos" is probably more comparable to "Shore Leave" in that Trelane's activities are a lot more fanciful than outright menacing, except for the character's vast abilities.  Just as famous as the character himself is what he's ultimately revealed to be, a l'enfant terrible, a child who at the end of the episode is reprimanded by his parents.  A true twist ending!

The parallels with the later Q character are so obvious that Peter David incorporated the connection into his novel Q Squared.  Another quasi-sequel was actually the semi-complete original cast reunion in the Futurama episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before," which borrows the twist ending.

Probably an episode best kept to fans of the series, although its importance should be stressed.  Even if it were mere coincidence, there's much more of Trelane in Q than all the androids of the series combined in relation to Data.  Still, it easily stands out from the pack and comfortably distances itself from similar episodes.  Roddenberry's obsession with god-like beings is certainly apparent enough.  Once in a while he just had fun with it.  And thank goodness!

franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
William Campbell

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Star Trek 1x16 "The Galileo Seven"

rating: ****
Memory Alpha summary

Say you want a Spock episode?  I say that episode finally arrive, halfway through the season!

Sure, "The Menagerie" two-parter featured everyone's favorite Vulcan, but more or less by default.  Even "Balance of Terror" put considerable focus on him.  But these were incidental.  "The Galileo Seven" is the first time he's truly on his own, having to defend himself with no more help than Dr. McCoy.  Who can hardly be considered Spock's most objective observer.

The rest of the away team, stranded on an alien planet after an away mission gone awry, looks to Spock to either save or finally reveal his true colors and fail to live up to his lofty ideals.  Be the devil NBC executives considered him in the original pilot, "The Cage," when they announced he was the one element they found most objectionable.  Yet not only did Spock survive while everything else around him changed, he became the true breakout character of the series.

Eventually, arguably and quite definitively eclipsing even his good friend Kirk, in fact.  Go ahead.  Just try to imagine the franchise without Spock.  It's impossible.  No one would remember it.  It certainly wouldn't have gotten so many movies, additional series, a whole new incarnation.

So this is the first time the series really gets to acknowledge that.  It's a defense of the character, really.  And a darn good one, a spectacular one.  A story so good it would be echoed many times over (Voyager's resident Vulcan, Tuvok, had at least two such episodes, "Innocence" and "Rise!").

When the chips are down, Spock delivers.  He's easily good enough to be the captain.  Yet he constantly faces the bigotry of his crewmates.  In Gene Roddenberry's perfect future, humanity has finally found peace with itself.  But not exactly with other species.  Spock is the embodiment of that, and this is the episode you need to see to fully understand that.

For a series that very rarely put a direct focus on any character besides Kirk, "Galileo Seven" is a powerful reminder, too, that Spock could easily hold his own.  Logical.


franchise * series * essential * character

Monday, April 7, 2014

Star Trek 1x15 "Shore Leave"

rating: ****
Memory Alpha summary

Here's another classic that needs little introduction, the "pleasure planet" episode that helped give birth to the concept of the holodeck and Risa, which itself was memorably featured in "Captain's Holiday" (Next Generation) and "Two Days and Two Nights" (Enterprise), to name a few.

"Shore Leave" is the earliest episode to just let the series have a little fun, perhaps playing off a little from the "Naked Time" effect of seeing the characters in situations that are wildly beyond the norm.  There's a lot of Alice in Wonderland to the events, and even one of the earliest fake-outs (He's not dead, Jim!).  This lighthearted tone showed the true variety of material available in the setting.

There's also some of the requisite Kirk's-former-associates-were-shmucks material (seriously, it seems the guy didn't catch a break until taking command of the Enterprise!), with Academy classmate Finnegan this time.  I'm sure McCoy gained a few more fans from the episode, too.  It's a rare opportunity to see him just relax (usually he's just working off of Kirk or Spock).  Of course, he's also the one who "dies" so fans were probably just relieved to see him make it out the other side of the story!

There's nothing to much to say except "Shore Leave" is enjoyable as a relaxing experience.  Once you've seen it you enjoy it more the next time, that kind of episode, just a generally happy memory.

franchise * series * essential * character
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