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New Podcast! Standard Orbit #196 – “Star Trek Origins: Season 3”

I was thrilled to be invited to join the great Zach Moore on Standard Orbit, a Star Trek: The Original Series podcast hosted over at Trek FM.

Zach very kindly asked me on to talk about an aspect of the original Star Trek that I thought was overlooked, so I suggested the rather unlikely shadow that the third season of Star Trek casts over the rest of the Star Trek franchise. These episodes have developed a reputation as the worst episodes of the original run, coming at a point when the production team was exhausted, the budget had been cut, and the series was in its death throes. With all of that in mind, it is interesting how many core attributes of the Star Trek franchise can be traced back to these twenty-four (relatively) unloved episodes.

Kirk as a lothario, Klingons as honourable, the Federation as a utopia, the Romulans and the Klingons as entities that have lives outside of the Federation.

Zach was, as ever, a very gracious host. You can hear the full discussion below or visit the episode page here.

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Star Trek – Whom Gods Destroy (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.

Whom Gods Destroy is a mess.

In a lot of ways, Whom Gods Destroy is shoddy and lazy. In many ways, the episode plays like a collection of familiar Star Trek elements blended together to pad out forty-odd minutes of television with no regard for internal logic or plotting and with minimal regard for the characters caught in the middle of it all. There are very few ideas in Whom Gods Destroy that have not been done before, and done better. The episode is not only a rehash of familiar concepts, but it is an exercise in diminishing returns.

Dance with destiny.

Dance with destiny.

This is to say nothing of the chaos unfolding behind the scenes during the production of the episode. It seemed only appropriate that Kirk’s latest mission would take him to what is effectively a gothic asylum in outer space, because it seemed more and more that Star Trek was turning into a madhouse. Veteran staffers were leaving the show in droves, while tensions were mounting on the set, and Fred Freiberger was struggling to keep the budget under control. More than that, there was a clear sense that the series was over, and this was the end of the line.

Whom Gods Destroy really sounds like a disaster. It is certainly not a good episode of television. However, this is the third season. Whom Gods Destroy is interesting enough that it works much better than the season’s weaker episodes. It is elevated by a manic energy that goes some way towards covering for the more illogical elements of the plot, and three central performances that play into the high camp of the premise. Whom Gods Destroy is far from classic Star Trek, but it is much better than it has any right to be.

Absolute madness.

Absolute madness.

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Star Trek – Season 2 (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 first season of Star Trek was quite remarkable. The cult television show opened with a reasonably solid run of episodes that gradually built momentum over the course of the season. The first season seemed to build towards a crescendo, climaxing with a run of episodes including all-time classics like A Taste of Armageddon, Space Seed, The Devil in the Dark, Errand of Mercy and The City on the Edge of Forever. Sure, Operation — Annihilate! ended the first season on a whimper rather than a bang, but the quality of the show only seemed to improve as the season went along.

In contrast, the second season was a bit more uneven. It probably contains as many truly classic hours of television, but the quality is a lot more variable on an episode-to-episode basis. The Apple leads in to Mirror, Mirror, which leads into The Deadly Years. Metamorphosis leads into Friday’s Child. The Immunity Syndrome and A Piece of the Action follow The Gamesters of Triskelion and Obsession. Watching the season blind is a roller-coaster, with episodes varying radically in quality from one week to the next. Some of the franchise’s best and worst episodes sit back-to-back here.

tos-returntotomorrow25

The second season of Star Trek can be incredibly hard to get a handle on. It is, in many respects, the season that defined a lot of what the franchise could and would become. Episodes like Amok Time and Journey to Babel really built up a universe around the Enterprise and her crew, expanding on late first season episodes like Arena or Errand of Mercy. The show also demonstrated incredible range, with the occult sensibilities of Catspaw and Wolf in the Fold existing alongside the broad comedy of I, Mudd and The Trouble With Tribbles.

However, the season also demonstrated some of the worst tendencies of sixties Star Trek. Episodes like Friday’s Child, A Private Little War and The Omega Glory engaged in precisely the sort of sabre-rattling jingoism against which Balance of Terror and Errand of Mercy had cautioned. The Changeling, By Any Other Name and Return to Tomorrow felt like generic science-fiction retreads. The show brutally (and casually) massacred red shirts in episodes like The Changeling, The Apple and Obsession.

tos-theapple

This variable quality is a feature of episodic television. After all, different writers working on different stories featuring the same characters will inevitably produce a wide variety of results. Some writers “get” the show more than others, and some scripts are subject to more work and attention than others. Such is the nature of the industry, particularly when the production team is cranking out more two dozen hours of television in a year – under intense pressure, both in terms of time and money.

Nevertheless, it is quite difficult to distill the second season of Star Trek into a cohesive or singular whole. It is diverse and multifaceted, capable of being almost anything from one episode (or, perhaps, one moment) to the next. Perhaps that is the greatest legacy of this second season; demonstrating that there is very little Star Trek cannot be.

tos-thetroublewithtribbles2

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Star Trek – Assignment: Earth (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.

Assignment: Earth was almost the last episode of Star Trek ever produced.

It was also possibly (although nowhere near “almost”) the pilot for a spin-off television show.

Seventh heaven?

Seventh heaven?

At the last minute, following a very high-profile fan campaign, Star Trek was renewed for a third season.

Fans would have to wait decades to see an actual Star Trek finalé that reduced the main cast to guest stars.

"Wait, who just hijacked my show?"

“Wait, who just hijacked my show?”

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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 his 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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