Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 1, 2004)
Despite that concern, I still enjoyed “Return to Tomorrow” and found it to be a generally satisfying show. A bigger decline comes from Patterns of Force (production number 52), which takes a potentially powerful concept but it mucks it up with muddled execution and a tame story line.
As occurred during “A Piece of the Action”, the Enterprise have come to check on another humanoid planet. However, things have become even more problematic on Ekos than they were on Iotia; the society has come to almost perfectly replicate Nazi Germany. Oddly, their Führer seems to be a Federation advisor named John Gill (David Brian). Kirk needs to get through to this leader to find out how the apparently kind and gentle man became a latter-day Hitler. He also must straighten things out because the Ekosians have pursued a slaughter of the residents of their neighboring planet called Zeon.
Although the episode contained some potential to be a powerful and moving piece, it completely squandered it. While not as comic as “A Piece of the Action”, I thought “Patterns” didn’t utilize a radically different tone, and this was its fatal flaw. Perhaps in the period of Hogan’s Heroes it seemed okay to translate Nazis into comedy, but I thought “Patterns” delved too deeply into the core of the movement to feature any attempted humor.
Really, the show’s greatest problem stemmed from this trivialization of the Nazis. They aren’t treated much differently than were the Twenties gangsters, and the tone remains too light. The episode was nothing more than another Trek caper, and while it had a few entertaining moments, I thought the piece failed to deliver the depth it needed to succeed.
I also disliked the show’s gross misinterpretation of Nazi society. During the episode, peace-loving Gill believed he could unify Ekos and Zeon via the strength and organization of the Nazis and he could make it work without the negative aspects of the culture. Unless I misread the story’s message, it seemed to relate that Nazi Germany could have been a solid place to live but absolute power corrupted its leaders and led them to do bad things.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Absolute power allowed Hitler and the others to do all of the bad things they’d wanted to do for years. Their ascension didn’t create inappropriate desires and actions; it enabled their dreams to be realized. To be certain, some aspects of Nazi Germany were well-executed, as their leadership rebounded remarkably from the depths of the Depression and their humiliation after World War I.
However, to believe that Hitler and the others ever had any noble intentions for their creation is to misread history to a ridiculous extent. I don’t mind the liberties the show occasionally take with real-life cultures, but Nazis remain a very touchy subject, and this episode’s story was too far off-base to succeed.
By Any Other Name (production number 50) works from some standard Trek conventions but it manages to create an interesting an enjoyable program. I didn’t think it was quite as much fun as Action, but the result was above average Trek nonetheless.
At the start of this show, the Enterprise responds to a distress call from the Kelvans, a group from the Andromeda galaxy. Apparently these folks need a new planet because theirs will become uninhabitable within a few millennia, and they need the Enterprise to take over the Milky Way for their own use. When Kirk asks why they don’t just cooperate with the Federation and find a similar planet, head Kelvan Rojan (Warren Stevens) declares that this is simply the way they do things. They possess strong powers and quickly turn the ship’s crew to matter cubes, with only a skeleton crew of Spock, Kirk, McCoy and Scott left in their normal form to operate the ship.
Although they’re really huge tentacled beasties, the Kelvans have adopted human form for this journey. Kirk and the others learn to capitalize on this modification, for it opens the Kelvans to a variety of problems. Not only do they look like humans, but they also take on some of our characteristics, and these stuffy critters start to enjoy their new surroundings. Scotty gets one of them drunk, and - inevitably - Kirk makes out with the sole Kelvan hottie, which inspires negative feelings in Rojan.
Eventually all of this leads to a successful resolution by Kirk and company. (Hey, that’s not a spoiler - it’s not like we don’t already know they’ll prevent the Kelvans from destroying all life in our galaxy!) “By Any Other Name” didn’t tread any new territory for the series, and some aspects of the show seemed to stretch credibility even beyond the normal limits.
Nonetheless, after a somewhat dry start, I thought the episode offered a fairly compelling experience. The crew’s attempts to get under the skin of the Kelvans became a lot of fun, and I felt the show proceeded at a nice pace. It reminded me a fair amount of “I, Mudd” in that human emotions were used to subvert an unstoppable but painfully logical group, but “By Any Other Name” differed from that prior episode enough to be engaging in its own right.
The Omega Glory (production number 54) took a rocky road to the small screen. Written by Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, “Omega” was actually one of the three scripts considered for the show’s pilot episode way back in 1965. It didn’t get very far, and the screenplay languished until it was finally filmed as one of the last episodes of the show’s second season.
This was done for good reason, as “Omega” offered a pretty weak Trek experience. At the start of the show, the crew of the Enterprise located a missing ship called the Exeter. When Spock, Kirk and McCoy board it, they discover that a mysterious disease wiped out the ship’s personnel. Apparently our heroes also now have contracted it, and the plot thickens as they beam down to the surface of the planet below. There they find Captain Tracey (Morgan Woodward), the commander of the Exeter. The planet’s atmosphere seems to be fairly miraculous, as it suppresses elements of the disease and also seems to keep its inhabitants alive for ridiculous periods of time.
Tracey ignores the Starfleet’s Prime Directive, which is not to become involved in other cultures, mainly because he thinks he’s found an amazing medical breakthrough. As the show progresses, we learn more about this possibility, and we also discover the ways in which this planet has Earth-bound roots.
This was a mediocre episode at best. We just experienced a Prime Directive-related show recently with “Patterns of Force”, and while the two weren’t all that similar otherwise, it still seemed like too soon to deal with another apparently corrupted member of Starfleet. It didn’t help that the show seemed to be serviceable at best. The story moved along at an acceptable clip, but it never really appeared to go much of anywhere, and the episode’s plot twists that come at the end felt silly. I didn’t really dislike “The Omega Glory”, but it was a less-than-memorable piece of Trek.
The Ultimate Computer (production number 53) provides a fairly average example of the typical Trek “man vs. machine” theme. Actually, it starts in a very promising manner, but the episode progresses in a less-than-compelling way.
During “Ultimate”, we learn of the “M-5” computer and its genius inventor, Dr. Daystrom (William Marshall). Apparently this supercomputer will make all ship personnel irrelevant; it can perform all of the crew’s duties with superior timing and precision. The Enterprise is selected as the test ship on which the M-5 will get its first practical experience.
To no one’s surprise, Captain Kirk is less than enthusiastic about this decision, though he worries about the reasons for his qualms. If the M-5 really is as good as advertised, this would represent significant progress for Starfleet, so Kirk frets that he’s simply showing selfish fears that he’ll be out of a job.
Since we’ve experienced many years of Trek since 1968, we all know that computers never supplanted humans as ship commanders. After the M-5 initially runs its tests flawlessly, the question becomes one of timing and circumstance: when will matters deteriorate, and what will happen? Once the M-5 starts to malfunction, we learn more about the career of Dr. Daystrom and his apparently inappropriate attachment to his machine.
When the show dealt with Kirk’s issues, it worked very well. I thought those scenes were reflective and rich with psychological meaning, especially as other crewmembers became involved. Not surprisingly, rabid humanist Dr. McCoy sides against the machine, but Mr. Spock’s stance wasn’t quite what we might have expected. The episode had the potential to deal with Kirk’s less rational - and apparently more flawed - side, as did “Obsession”.
Unfortunately, this plot line quickly gets tossed aside as the M-5 acts up and we learn more about Dr. Daystrom’s issues. These had some potential themselves, but they were presented in a rather bland manner, and they lacked depth. Ultimately, the same went for “The Ultimate Computer” itself; this was a reasonably interesting but generally average episode of Trek.
Bread and Circuses (production number 43) settles into a dramatic tale. Actually, the show’s basic premise echoes “I, Mudd”. Here parts of the crew - namely Kirk, Spock and McCoy - are imprisoned on an alien planet, and their simple goal is to escape. Interestingly, the Federation’s Prime Directive complicates that notion: Starfleet personnel are not permitted to interfere with the future development of a society unaware of space travel and other developments. Since the folks of Planet 892-IV strongly resemble the residents of mid-20th century Earth, this means that the rest of the Enterprise crew can’t use their technology to help their friends.
“Bread” works from a very interesting premise: what if Rome never fell? On this planet, they have 20th century technology but still work within a Roman system. As such, gladiatorial games are televised, and Kirk, et al, soon are stuck within that arena. They also connect with some “sun worshippers” who rebel against the imperials.
Although “Bread” somewhat squanders its cool premise, I still thought it was compelling. I thought the true nature of the rebel’s religious beliefs was painfully predictable and have trouble accepting that bright folk like Kirk, McCoy and Spock couldn’t figure it out for themselves, but the rest of the episode was quite interesting. I most enjoyed some good bonding moments between Spock and McCoy; their cantankerous relationship has always provided a nice dynamic, and this show added depth to their experiences. Ultimately, “Bread and Circuses” was flawed but effective Trek.
Assignment: Earth (production number 55) marked one of the oddest Trek episodes to hit the air. As you watch it, you may feel that it ignores Kirk and the others to a surprising degree, and it looks like an attempt to create new characters for a potential spin-off program. If you get that impression, run with it, for it is correct; “Earth” functioned as little more than a pilot for a prospective new series.
That status led to something unique among Trek episodes to date: the program’s main guest actor - Robert Lansing as Gary Seven - received his credit right after the show’s opening. Previously guests only received citation during the end credits, so this clearly indicated that something unusual was afoot with “Earth”.
Too bad the episode itself was a bit of a dud. Basically the show establishes Gary as a time-traveler who attempts to influence the Earth’s history. By happy coincidence, he sets himself up in then-modern day 1968. After they warp back in time to observe the Earth, the Enterprise accidentally intercepts Gary’s beaming, which causes the paths to cross. From there, Kirk and company need to decide whether to allow Gary’s work to proceed or to stop him.
For the most part, this episode simply set up the character of Gary plus a couple of cohorts; Earth-woman Roberta (Teri Garr) and Gary’s cat, who’s more than she seems. The story revolves around a rocket launch that may cause terrible havoc with the planet. Ultimately, the show tries to serve two masters. As such, it offers neither a strong pilot for the prospective program nor a solid episode of Trek. It was fun to see a very young Garr, but otherwise this was a pretty bland show.