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Star Trek – The Tholian Web (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Who hath seen the Phantom Ship,
Her lordly rise and lowly dip,
Careering o’er the lonesome main,
No port shall know her keel again…
Ah, woe is in the awful sight,
The sailor finds there eternal night,
‘Neath the waters he shall ever sleep,
And Ocean will the secret keep

– Albert Pinkham Ryder, 1897

Here there be ghosts...

Here there be ghosts…

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Star Trek – Is There in Truth No Beauty? (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

The third season of Star Trek is very odd. It stands quite apart from the previous two seasons.

There are a lot of reasons for this; a new executive producer, the loss of veterans from the first two seasons, production limitations imposed by a slashed budget. Star Trek was never a lavish show, and it always faced production challenges, but those challenges were never more acute than during the third season. In a lot of cases, that oddness is not a good thing. And the Children Shall Lead and Spock’s Brain are very strange pieces of television, but not in a good way. They are clumsy, cheap, ill-judged and ill-advised.

Healthy green glow.

Healthy green glow.

At the same time, that strange vibe of the third season is not inherently bad. There are a number of episodes produced during the third season (particularly during this stretch of the third season) that feel weird and odd, but also refreshing and exciting. Episodes like Is There in Truth No Beauty?, The Empath and The Tholian Web have an eccentric and ethereal quality to them that feels quite removed from the first two seasons of the show. They are also three of the strongest episodes of the season, feeling adventurous and playful.

After all, for all that the third season is maligned, it is surprisingly influential. The third season of Star Trek contributes a great deal to the language and iconography of the franchise, perhaps as a result of the unusual constraints and production realities that inform it. Is There in Truth No Beauty? is an odd little tale, but it is also a clever and effective metaphor that explores grand ideas in the classic Star Trek tradition.

Jonesing for for some Diane Muldaur.

Jonesing for for some Diane Muldaur.

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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 – 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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