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Star Trek – A Piece of the Action (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

A Piece of the Action is the last script credited to Gene L. Coon.

Of course, Coon would write two episodes for (and contributed two more stories to) the show’s troubled final season under the alias Lee Cronin. However, A Piece of the Action could be seen as the last hurrah for Gene L. Coon’s vision of Star Trek. The writer and producer had helped to shape and define many of the ideas that Star Trek fans take for granted. A lot of the core Star Trek ideas that have permeated into popular culture – the Federation, the Klingons – originated with Coon.

Dey call his Boss Koik...

Dey call him Boss Koik…

While Coon is often overlooked when it comes to crediting those responsible for creating Star Trek as fans have come to know it, history has tended to gloss over his wry subversive streak. In many ways, Coon could be said to be the godfather of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Had he not passed away at the tragically young age of forty-nine, Coon might have been coaxed back to write a first season episode of Deep Space Nine alongside Dorothy Fontana. Coon was, after all, the first Star Trek writer to shrewdly and knowingly problematicise the Federation.

So it feels appropriate that the last Star Trek script credited to Coon should have Kirk proposes the Federation as an intergalactic racket.

Top gun...

Top gun…

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Star Trek – A Private Little War (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Star Trek is a pop culture relic of the sixties. It’s possible to see the decade reflected in just about every facet of the production. The show’s costume and set design speak to the decade, as do the series’ sexual politics. The Cold War colours a significant portion of the series, reflected in the Klingons and elsewhere. The Second World War is treated as the beginning of the future, while much emphasis is put on mankind’s expansion to the stars.

Even outside of these general parallels, there are episodes that speak to particular facets of the sixties. The Naked Time, This Side of Paradise and The Way to Eden all play with the idea of social liberation. The Ultimate Computer, Return of the Archons, The Apple and The Changeling all speak to concerns and insecurities about the rapid advance of technology and the people left behind. Journey to Babel touches on the gap felt between conservative parents and liberal children ready to embrace life’s possibilities.

Make war, not love...

Make war, not love…

And then there’s the Vietnam episodes. Shows like Errand of Mercy and A Taste of Armageddon reflect the conflict in a number of ways that were not possible in the scripted dramas of the time. However, A Private Little War is perhaps the definitive Vietnam episode. Part of this is due to the script and the production, which makes explicit reference to “the twentieth century brush wars on the Asian continent.” With the Klingons and the Federation meddling directly in the conflict on a small backwater planet, comparisons invite themselves.

However, there were factors at play outside the control of the production team. A Private Little War was produced in late 1967. It aired on February 2, 1968. However, North Vietnamese forces had launched the Tet Offensive only a few days earlier – the campaign would land through the end of March. The Tet Offensive would end with the North Vietnamese suffering heavier losses than the American or South Vietnamese forces, but the attacks would have a devastating affect on public opinion.

"Got your nose! And, soon, your planet!"

“Got your nose! And, soon, your planet!”

A Private Little War is placed terribly. It is a reluctant justification of the Vietnam War, presenting interference in a foreign war as a terrible (but necessary) burden weighing on Kirk’s conscience. The episode closes with Kirk committing to arm the natives, even if the show doesn’t have the courage of its conviction to follow the idea to its logical consequences. For all that Star Trek is described as a liberal and pacifistic vision of the future, A Private Little War endorses American interference in Vietnam.

The broadcast of A Private Little War only a couple of days following the turning point of the public perception of the war is an absolutely fascinating pop cultural synergy – a demonstration of how Star Trek was inevitably and inexorably of its time in a way that even a few months delay between filming and broadcast could change the context of the episode so dramatically.

I wouldn't look so happy with myself...

I wouldn’t look so happy with myself…

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Star Trek – Bread and Circuses (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Bread and Circuses is not subtle. Then again, that is the point.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in Bread and Circuses, the fourteenth episode produced for the second season, but the last to air. There’s the idea of a world dominated by “a twentieth century Rome”, a rogue captain, a Prime Directive dilemma and a scathing indictment of modern television. Not only is it one of the last episodes with a “produced by Gene L. Coon” credit, it is also an episode co-written by Roddenberry and Coon. It is also the episode of Star Trek that endorses Christianity most explicitly and heavily.

"Wait, we're only getting it in black and white?"

“Wait, we’re only getting it in black and white?”

Bread and Circuses is a bold and audacious piece of television, full of venom and righteous anger, rich in satire and cynicism. It’s a plot so ridiculously over-stuffed with good ideas that viewers are liable to forgive the show’s somewhat cop-out ending where Kirk and his away team beam back to the Enterprise and continue on their merry way as though little has actually happened. Bread and Circuses feels like it uses every minute of its fifty-minute runtime wisely, balancing character with world-building.

It is probably a little bit too messy and disjointed to be labelled a dyed-in-the-wool classic, particularly when compared to the shows produced around it. Nevertheless, it is a decidedly ambitious piece of work, and one that demonstrates what Star Trek could do when it sets its mind to something.

When in Rome...

When in Rome…

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Star Trek – The Trouble With Tribbles (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

This is a classic.

The Trouble With Tribbles is an episode that can make a legitimate claim to being the best episode of Star Trek, if not the best episode of the entire franchise. It is a genuine classic in countless ways, perfectly embodying so much of what makes Star Trek classic and iconic and loved. David Gerrold’s script, polished by Gene Coon, is easily the best comedy episode that the franchise has ever produced, but never at the expense of the show’s credibility. The Trouble With Tribbles may be silly, but it is also very clever and insightful.

Nobody knows the Tribbles I've seen...

Nobody knows the Tribbles I’ve seen…

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Star Trek – The Apple (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s amazing how iconic Star Trek could be, even when it was terrible. There’s something quite ironic about how much of the franchise’s truly memorable iconography is rooted in some of the show’s weakest episodes. The Apple is one of the most iconic and memorable Star Trek episodes, featuring a giant evil dragon head sculpture, David Soul in orange body paint, lots of speechifying from Kirk, and a strong atheistic message with Kirk casting himself as Satan in the Garden of Eden.

It is also just terrible.

"VAAAAAAAL!!!"

“VAAAAAAAL!!!”

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Star Trek – The Changeling (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Changeling, an episode so good that they made it twice.

Sarcasm aside, The Changeling is mostly interesting for reasons outside the episode itself. It is the first contribution from John Meredyth Lucas, who would become the show’s producer towards the end of the season. Lucas took over from Gene L. Coon and is notable for being the first production staff member on Star Trek to direct an episode from his own script, with Elaan of Troyius in the show’s troubled third season. The Changeling arguably had an even bigger influence on the franchise, serving as a template for the first feature film.

Probing problems...

Probing problems…

Okay, “template” may be a slight exaggeration. However, you can definitely feel the influence of The Changeling on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, that may simply be because the script to The Changeling hits quite heavily on some of Gene Roddenberry’s pet themes. It has a villainous robot outwitted by emotional humans, Kirk besting a god-like entity, and larger philosophical questions about religion and theology.

Even outside of the themes that resonate specifically with Roddenberry, The Changeling hits on a variety of other classic Star Trek tropes – from a threat leaving nothing but dead star systems in its wake through to an abundance of dead red shirts. There’s an argument to be made that The Changeling is one of the most archetypal Star Trek episode. If you were to bake a Star Trek episode from a stock list of ingredients, it would look a lot like this. For better or worse.

Melding metal...

Melding metal…

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Star Trek – Wolf in the Fold (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Wolf in the Fold is Robert Bloch’s third and final contribution to Star Trek.

In keeping with What Are Little Girls Made Of? and Catspaw, the result is intriguing, bizarre and more than a little bit dysfunctional. More than any of the other writers drafted in to write for the science fiction show, Bloch’s fingerprints remain all over his script. Writers like Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana generally do a good job reconciling the work of science-fiction writers like Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad or Harlan Ellison to make their stories fit within the frame work of Star Trek. However, even after re-writes, Bloch’s voice remains his own.

Knife to see you...

Knife to see you…

Of course, it’s quite clear that Wolf in the Fold has been through the standard re-write process. The script is a mess, struggling to tie together two basic plots (Scotty is accused of murder; the Enterprise is possessed by Jack the Ripper) in ways that don’t always work. There’s a really long and awkward expositional scene in the middle of the episode that consists primarily of Majel Barrett reading off weird-sounding words in order to assure viewers that Jack the Ripper really could be an immortal hate-fueled killing machine, given the rules of the Star Trek universe.

The are very serious problems with Wolf in the Fold. On a storytelling level, the pacing is a mess and the tone is all over the place. Bloch’s scripts continue to be even more problematic than usual when it comes to issue of gender – “Star Trek does slasher horror” is as borderline misogynistic as you might fear. However, there is something endearingly bizarre about the whole thing, as Bloch once again forces Kirk and his crew to confront an irrational universe that doesn’t necessarily conform to their understanding of it.

Flame on...

Flame on…

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