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Star Trek – The Omega Glory (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.

Gene Roddenberry is a controversial figure who casts a fairly large shadow. It is very hard to talk about Star Trek – particularly the classic Star Trek – without talking about Roddenberry’s influence and vision. Roddenberry was fond of myth-making when he was alive, of playing up his own contributions to Star Trek while marginalising or dismissing the other people who shaped or defined the franchise.

Roddenberry is a polarising figure among fans and critics, insiders and outsiders. To some, Roddenberry was the man who created Star Trek. While this doesn’t immunise him against criticism, it does provide a sense of context – whatever sins he may have committed and whatever faults he may have had must be offset against that. To others, Roddenberry was prone to exaggerate his accomplishments at the expense of people like David Gerrold or Gene L. Coon who shaped the franchise just as much as (if not more than) he did.

Flagging trouble ahead...

Flagging trouble ahead…

While those are two extremes, they are not the only possible views of Roddenberry. There are a broad range of opinions that might be offered, and not all of them are mutually exclusive. Ask a dozen people who know their Star Trek about Roddenberry, and are likely to come up with a dozen nuanced and defensible positions on the man and his legacy. Nobody seems entirely what to make of Roddenberry and his creative contributions to the franchise.

The Omega Glory is an interesting episode, one that invites as much debate as any of Roddenberry’s contributions to the franchise.

A strong constitution to make it through this one...

A strong constitution to make it through this one…

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Star Trek – The Ultimate Computer (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 Ultimate Computer is the second classic produced by John Meredyth Lucas, following on from The Immunity Syndrome. (Although it is credited to him, Journey to Babel was actually overseen by Gene L. Coon.) Like The Immunity Syndrome before it, The Ultimate Computer is a bottle show, filmed on the show’s standing set. It features a relatively small guest cast, even trimming the number of extras appearing on the Enterprise sets.

It seems that these sorts of constraints and pressures brought out the best in Lucas. Lucas steps behind the camera on The Ultimate Computer, and helps to bring the show to life. Although he is using familiar sets, he often figures out ways to shoot them that feel original and fresh – no mean accomplishment two years into the show’s run. The guest cast that Lucas has assembled is superb – with William Marshall turning in one of the best one-shot guest appearances in the history of Star Trek.

Does not compute...

Does not compute…

However, what is most notable about The Ultimate Computer is the funereal atmosphere that haunts the episode. There is a solemn and reflective tone to the episode, particularly during the early tests of the M-5 computer. The Enterprise is dark, abandoned, empty. Kirk is reflective. As with Bread and Circuses at the end of Gene L. Coon’ tenure, Spock offers McCoy an olive branch. In many respects, The Ultimate Computer seems to hark forward to the film series, with Kirk wondering how he might define himself if he is not a starship captain.

Appropriately enough for a series staring down the barrel at cancellation, The Ultimate Computer would have made for a pretty great finalé.

"Dammit, I told you we should have used a surge protector..."

“Dammit, I told you we should have used a surge protector…”

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Star Trek – Return to Tomorrow (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.

Return to Tomorrow is similar to By Any Other Name in a number of ways.

Most superficially, it’s an episode about aliens in human bodies, who find themselves learning (or, in this case, remembering) how to appreciate all that mankind has to offer. The plot similarity is rather broad, but it seems strange that By Any Other Name and Return to Tomorrow would be produced right after one another, and that no significant effort would be made to space them apart on initial broadcast. (Both aired in February of 1968.)

Leonard Nimoy only gets to smile once a year, so the show makes the most of it...

Leonard Nimoy only gets to smile once a year, so the show makes the most of it…

However, there are more fundamental and underlying similarities between Return to Tomorrow and By Any Other Name. Both are episodes that are very much engaged with the underlying philosophy of the franchise, particularly concerning humanity’s place in the universe. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that Return to Tomorrow and By Any Other Name both work much better as statements of philosophical intent than they do as stories in their own right.

Co-written by Gene Roddenberry, Return to Tomorrow is a rather generic piece of television, but one that feels like a considered statement of the franchise’s central themes.

"Things are going to be a little different around here..."

“Things are going to be a little different around here…”

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Star Trek – By Any Other Name (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.

By Any Other Name is very much a stock episode of Star Trek. It hits on all manner of familiar themes and ideas. It’s a story about powerful aliens who seem to overpower the crew, only to be outmanoeuvred themselves. It is about the Enterprise literally going where no human has gone before. It is about how humans are undeniably and incomparably special – about how becoming human opens up the aliens to a world of sense and experience.

However, By Any Other Name never really has anything particularly insightful to say about any of this stuff. The script to the episode is a mess, despite the best efforts of D.C. Fontana to develop the character beats. For a show based around such core Star Trek concepts and storytelling devices, By Any Other Name is surprisingly all over the place, with a wildly dissonant tone and a sense that the script was desperately padded in order to extend it out to the requisite fifty minutes.

"No dice, Captain..."

“No dice, Captain…”

By Any Other Name is not a terrible episode of Star Trek, but it’s not a particularly good one either. It is just “there.” In many ways, it feels like an example of an episode designed to fill a gap in twenty-odd-episodes-a-year schedule. After all, the last eight episodes of the season were pushed into production at short notice when NBC opted to pick up the show for the rest of the season during the production of The Gamesters of Triskelion. It makes sense that the episodes in this final stretch of the third season are somewhat rough.

By Any Other Name is a familiar Star Trek plot with a somewhat bloated script and a sense that the show is just trying to eat up minutes between here and the end of the season.

"It appears the rock knows as little as we do, sir..."

“It appears the rock knows as little as we do, sir…”

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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 – Obsession (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 Star Trek franchise really does like Moby Dick, doesn’t it?

The show had done its first appropriation of Herman Melville’s iconic story of obsession and revenge earlier in the second season with The Doomsday Machine. In that episode, Commodore Decker sought to avenge the loss of his crew upon an unstoppable planet-killing machine. However, the basic formula quickly worked its way into the franchise’s blood. Obsession casts Kirk in the role of Ahab, albeit with a radically different ending and tone. After all, it is very cast Ahab as the heroic lead of a weekly television show.

"It's behind you!"

“It’s behind you!”

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would return to Moby Dick for inspiration. Khan would even paraphrase from the book, without a hint of self-awareness or irony. After that point, it seemed like the franchise was more interested in mimicking the themes of The Wrath of Khan , which inevitably meant carrying over the themes of Moby Dick as well. Nevertheless, Star Trek: Voyager did its own variant of Moby Dick in Bliss and Star Trek: First Contact would reference the book directly.

Obsession is a competent if unspectacular episode, one that suffers from the fact that it has been done better and more compellingly in recent memory. However, given all the changes taking place behind the scenes, Obsession flows surprisingly well.

It really sucks to be a red shirt, eh?

It really sucks to be a red shirt, eh?

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Star Trek – The Gamesters of Triskelion (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 Gamesters of Triskelion is not a great episode of Star Trek. Although filmed after Obsession, even if the production order lists it before that episode, The Gamesters of Triskelion feels like we’re watching producer John Meredyth Lucas finding his feet. It’s an episode that feels light and looks relatively cheap, formed from a collection of clichés that would already be familiar to Star Trek fans or fans of pulp science-fiction.

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about The Gamesters of Triskelion is that it has a decidedly pulpy charm to it. The entire episode looks like it was lifted from the cover to some trashy paperback, and the plot is recycled from stock science-fiction concepts and themes. While this isn’t enough to sustain an entire fifty minutes of television, it does allow the episode to feel a little distinctive and memorable… if not necessarily in a good way.

Shat happens...

Shat happens…

It is amazing how much of the franchise’s memorable iconography and imagery comes from weaker episodes of the classic Star Trek. It’s a testament to the show’s production design team, that could always find a way to make Star Trek look impressive, even on a tight budget and a short schedule. There’s also something enduring about the bizarre images that Star Trek could throw up on screen, even when the scripts were lacking; from space!Lincoln in The Savage Curtain to half-black/half-white racism in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.

Of course, there are episodes that are both great and iconic at at the same time, like Mirror, Mirror. Still, rewatching the show, it is hard to believe just how much of the popular perception of Star Trek comes from episodes that are of… questionable quality. After all, The Gamesters of Triskelion seems to have made an impression. It seems to be a go-to reference for Matt Groening’s television shows.

Throwing a bit of stick about...

Throwing a bit of stick about…

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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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