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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 – 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 – 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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Star Trek – The Doomsday Machine (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 Doomsday Machine is another Star Trek classic.

Much like Amok Time directly before it, The Doomsday Machine is a piece of Star Trek that works both as powerful drama and clever allegory. It is an episode that has had a tremendous influence on the franchise. The “planet killer” has become a staple of Star Trek tie-in fiction, and even the franchise itself has kept the episode’s legacy alive, with the son of Commodore Decker originally planned as a regular in Star Trek: Phase II and eventually appearing in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

All hands on Decker...

All hands on Decker…

The Doomsday Machine is at once a beautifully tragic character study and a potent cautionary tale for the atomic age. The episode the first example of “Star Trek does Moby Dick”, a story template that would become popular enough to sustain another episode in the same season, quite a few later Star Trek episodes across the franchise and no fewer than two of the franchise’s trips to the big screen. In many ways, The Doomsday Machine sets the template for Star Trek engaging with classic literature, building off The Conscience of a King.

It’s also beautifully produced, right down to the creature that Spinrad himself described as “a windsock dipped in cement.”

A commandeering presence...

A commandeering presence…

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Star Trek – The Ashes of Eden by William Shatner et al (DC Comics) (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

The Ashes of Eden is effectively professionally published Star Trek fan fiction, written by William Shatner. The actor gets some assistance from veteran Star Trek writers Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, but it’s clear that Shatner is the driving force behind The Ashes of Eden. Indeed, an astute reader will spot quite a few thematic overlaps with Shatner’s much-maligned directorial effort, only without the rest of the cast around to temper his efforts to make this a story about Kirk and Kirk alone.

Still, The Ashes of Eden isn’t as bad as it might be. After all, just because something is fan fiction – professionally published or otherwise – says nothing of its quality. The story is probably best read as an exploration between Shatner and his alter ego, but it holds together quite well, providing a much more solid (if still far from perfect) exploration of the themes hinted at in Shatner’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

The dusk of an era...

The dusk of an era…

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Star Trek – The Enemy Within (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

One thing that I don’t think the original Star Trek gets nearly enough credit for is the quality of the writers that Gene Roddenberry recruited to contribute scripts. Television obviously operated under a different model at the time, but there’s an impressive selection of science-fiction literary giants who contributed scripts to the show. More than that, it’s impressive how many of those stories became truly iconic Star Trek stories.

The Enemy Within is the work of author Richard Matheson, best known for stories like I Am Legend or What Dreams May Come. It’s very much a high-concept science-fiction story, but it’s also notable because it establishes two of what would become the show’s favourite tropes: transporter accidents and evil duplicates. Indeed, the two devices would be reunited in the following season’s Mirror, Mirror. These narrative elements even featured in the last season of Star Trek: Enterprise to air, in episodes like Daedalus and In a Mirror, Darkly.

Perhaps it’s a demonstration of how important these outside writers were to the development of Star Trek as a franchise that Matheson would effectively codify two stock narrative devices that would still be in use four decades later.

Mirror, mirror...

Mirror, mirror…

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