Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 9, 2004)
With Season Three of Star Trek, the Original Series comes to the end of its road - at least as a broadcast program. Of course, everyone knows its legacy via movies and spin-offs, but the 24 episodes of Season Three act as its last televised gasp.
Paramount’s repackaging of the original Star Trek continues with this set. It includes all 24 episodes for the 1968-69 season plus two versions of “The Cage”, the series pilot. These appear in the order broadcast, which differs from the old two-episode DVDs; those ran the shows in the order shot. I’ll include the production number to indicate which show was filmed at what time.
Of all 79 episodes of Trek, Spock’s Brain (production number 61) probably stands as the most infamous. I suppose it was a bad omen that NBC chose to lead off the third season with this show, as it set the tone for that year’s decreased quality. “Brain” starts when the crew of the Enterprise encounters an unusual ship that transports a sexy babe on board. (Did they ever meet any women who weren’t hot?) Once she arrives, she disables everyone with some form of device, and she - gasp! - steals Spock’s brain.
After that, the chase is on to find the missing organ. Happily, Spock’s stern anatomy means that he can live for a while even without his brain, and McCoy hooks up some funky remote control gizmo that allows Spock to wander about and communicate with him as well. Following a ship pursuit, the crew locates the mystery woman’s apparent residence, and Kirk, McCoy and others beam down to get her and Spock’s brain.
When they find the women, they’re outfitted with nasty belts that can’t be removed and will cause the crew pain if they misbehave. Despite the sophistication of their technology, the women - led by Kara (Marj Dusay) - lack much intelligence. Other forces guide their actions, and they stole Spock’s brain to operate as their “controller”. It turns out something called the “teacher” tells them what to do; when melded to it, they gain advanced knowledge and can do cool stuff like remove brains. Eventually McCoy figures out how to use the device - though not without risk - and Spock’s brain returns from whence it came.
The main flaws of “Spock’s Brain” probably seem obvious just from this synopsis. It offered a terribly silly story that strongly echoed goofy sci-fi “B” movies of the Fifties. Nowhere did we find the intelligence for which Trek was known; this was nothing more than a tacky and dopey tale.
However, it wasn’t a total loss, for the show provided some of the most entertaining barbs thrown at McCoy by Spock. Even outside his body, Spock still got some good lines, and it was fun to hear him disparage McCoy’s skills, even though it seemed a little out of character; Spock displayed virtually no professional respect for the doctor, and that appeared odd. Nonetheless, the comments were witty, and they made sure that some parts of “Spock’s Brain” seemed interesting. Otherwise, it really was a pretty dreadful episode. I don’t think it was the worst of the series, but it was far down the list.
By the time we got to The Enterprise Incident (production number 59), clearly the personae of the regular characters had been set. As such, occasionally the show liked to mess with them and show them in different ways. Spock’s the usual subject of this, since his stoic ways most easily open up for unusual expressions.
When we found Kirk in altered states, usually they revolved around behaviors that didn’t seem to be in the best interest of the Enterprise’s crew. After all, this man appeared totally devoted to the craft and its personnel, so how better to mess with things than to make him behave in seemingly irrational ways that might harm the vessel and its inhabitants?
That theme comes to prominence during “Enterprise”, a show that depicts Kirk as he appears to teeter on the brink of madness. For no obvious reason, an edgy and wired Kirk steers the Enterprise into the Romulan Neutral Zone. Unsurprisingly, the Romulans don’t appreciate this course of events, and they come a-calling. They capture the vessel, and Kirk and Spock beam over to the Romulan flagship. On board, Spock acknowledges that Kirk doesn’t seem fit for command. Angered, the captain lunges at his right-hand man, who reflexively nails Kirk with the old “Vulcan Death Grip”.
The Vulcans beam Kirk’s corpse back to the Enterprise, while Spock warms up to the Romulans. The two races are quite similar, and the sexy Romulan commander (Joanna Linville) tries to convince Spock that he should be a leader, not a follower. She attempts to recruit him to the Romulan side.
Back home on the Enterprise, we find that the reports of Kirk’s death have been exaggerated. All his irrational behavior was part of a plot to trick the Romulans, and after he returns, they imprison the Romulan hostages on board; that side sent over two of its own to ensure the safe return of Kirk and Spock. Kirk gets a Romulan makeover and returns to that ship in this disguise, all with the aim of capturing cloaking technology.
“Enterprise” suffers somewhat from its inevitability. Not for one second did I believe that a) Kirk was nuts, or b) Spock would turn on his captain. It always seemed ridiculously clear that their actions were a ruse, and I also knew where it would go. It also provided some additional serious stretches of logic. Even a bonehead like Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett) knows that there’s no such thing as a “Vulcan Death Grip”, so why are none of the Romulans - close cousins to the Vulcans - aware of this?
Despite these concerns, the show was generally interesting, if just because it is fun to watch Kirk and Spock play against type. Spock got one of his rare opportunities to be a ladies’ man, and the show seemed entertaining and provocative. “Enterprise” didn’t qualify as a great episode, but it was generally positive.
I’d heard that the third season of Trek marked a significant decline in the show’s quality, and it seems possible that The Paradise Syndrome (production number 58) may be a harbinger of more woes yet to come.
At the start of the show, Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy beam down to a planet to warn its inhabitants that an asteroid will soon collide with it. They discover a civilization that strongly resembles that of the early American Indians. They marvel at this, since they feel it seems unlikely there’d be a planet that so strongly echoes Earth. This confused me - haven’t they encountered about a billion other worlds that resembled past Earth societies?
In any case, after they find an odd obelisk, Kirk falls inside when some tones from his communicator open a trap door. Inside, a device erases his memory, and after he leaves, he becomes integrated with the native society. There he rises to prominence as a medicine man, which includes a nice fringe benefit: he marries sexy Miramanee (Sabrina Scharf) and settles into the clan.
With the captain missing, Spock takes command of the Enterprise and sets about the normal routine. In this instance, he needs to deflect the asteroid from its crash course; after that, they can return and locate Kirk. Of course, McCoy disagrees with this plan, but Spock executes it anyway, as he spends his every waking minute in attempts to locate the captain.
Both “Paradise” and “Elaan” attempt poignancy of the sort achieved by Season One’s “City on the Edge of Forever”, but they fail. For one, we know that Kirk won’t end up with either of the women involved, so it became tough to fall for the story. However, that was also the case with “City”, but it worked. These episodes don’t succeed simply because they’re not as effectively told as the earlier one; they’re much more predictable and pedestrian.
Actually, the story to “Paradise” wasn’t bad; hey, it even predicted both Armageddon and Deep Impact!
So what’s the main problem with “Paradise”? Shatner. Many mock his acting, but his style usually worked well for the series; his larger-than-life dramatics seemed appropriate. However, he went way over the top during this episode, and he wasn’t remotely up to the task at hand. His campy histrionics were painful to watch, and they directly harmed the episode. “The Paradise Syndrome” wouldn’t have been very good anyway, but that element made it a total clunker.
I can’t say the same for the next episode, And the Children Shall Lead (production number 60). As the crew of the Enterprise visit a scientific colony occupied by families - shades of Aliens! - they find that other than the kids, all inhabitants have died. Oddly, the young ‘uns don’t seem bothered by the absence of their parents or the corpses strewn about them. Instead, they just wanna party like it’s 2399, as they play, play, play despite admonitions from Kirk.
Nonetheless, these kids are taken back to the Enterprise, where the crew tries to figure out what happened. All the while, the children resist attempts to behave in responsible ways, and they display spooky mind-control powers that eventually give them control of much of the ship. Apparently a “friendly angel” called the Gorgon awarded them these powers to spread his influence. The kids don’t understand that they’re being used, so it’s up to Kirk to work his magic and set things right.
All of that might be fine were it not for the clumsy story-telling on display. Throughout virtually the entire episode, the viewer walks many steps ahead of Kirk and company. As such, the shows offered almost no tension or suspense, and the crewmembers simply seemed dense. Even when they discovered that the kids were causing problems, they made no attempt to firmly stop them. Why didn’t they round up the brats and lock them in a room?
Because then there’d be no story, so the plot kept going anyway. The kids were all genuinely annoying, as they reminded me of the obnoxious tots seen in another weak episode of Trek, “Miri” from Season One. These child actors appeared equally grating, and the show’s lack of logic became a serious hindrance. For example, at one point Sulu freezes up due to terror; he sees daggers fly at him on the viewscreen. Wouldn’t these have seemed more terrifying if the blades pointed at him, not away from him?
While the universe of Trek was never the most logical, error-free place, it does appear that these concerns started to escalate during the third - and final - season. With quite a few DVDs left in the roster, I hope that “Children” will represent the exception, not the rule. It was a silly and uncompelling piece of Trek.
Bit player alert: if young Pamelyn Ferdin looks familiar, that’s because she’d eventually play Felix’s daughter Edna on a few episodes of The Odd Couple. If she sounds familiar, that’s because she performed the voice of Lucy for a few Peanuts programs.
Is There In Truth No Beauty? (production number 62) rebounded somewhat from the prior episode’s lows. Here the crew of the Enterprise needs to transport Medusan ambassador Kollos. Although very mentally advanced and skilled, the Medusans are so hideous that one glance of them renders the human observer insane. Due to his Vulcan heritage, Spock can look at Kollos, so he gets the job to deal with him along with the counselor Dr. Miranda Jones (Diana Muldaur); though human, apparently she trained on Vulcan, so she can tolerate the sight of the Medusan, albeit through the use of a funky red visor. Spock has to wear the latter as well. Jones is a telepath, so she can read the thoughts of many, though this isn’t a perfect technique.
In addition to Jones and Kollos, Larry Marvick (David Frankham), an engineer who helped design the Enterprise, also boards the ship. Apparently he loves Miranda and feels jealous of Kollos’ close relationship with her. During a dinner, she senses that someone wants to murder the ambassador, and when Miranda rebuffs Larry’s moves, she figures that he’s the one behind the potential attack. Unfortunately for him, he gets a gander of Kollos while he goes after, which renders Larry insane. He commandeers the ship, sends it horribly off-course, and drops dead for little known reason.
By happy coincidence, Medusans really know how to fly starships, but Kollos can’t do so on his own; hey, the dude’s nothing more than a ball of energy, at least as represented by the show’s special effects. As such, someone has to mind meld with him, and Spock gets the job, much to the jealous dismay of Miranda. Some additional conflicts ensue before Spock takes the task, and all goes well as Kollos/Spock returns the ship to its appropriate course. Unfortunately, Kollos/Spock forgets to don his visor before separation occurs
Naturally, this sends Spock insane, and the bitter Miranda - who turns out to be blind, by the way - states that she can’t help him. That’s a lie, and eventually Kirk convinces her to use her powers to restore Spock to good health. She does so, and all parties part in a reasonably harmonious manner now that lessons have been learned.
That’s one of “Truth”’s weakest aspects; at times it felt like I was watching an afterschool special about tolerance. Between Miranda’s blindness and Kollos’ ugliness, the show offered a surfeit of poorly-judged folks, but I didn’t feel that the program helped further any sort of acceptance dialogue. No one seemed to think less of Miranda due to her blindness; she was the one who appeared sensitive to the issue, not the others. As for the human reaction to Kollos, that looked like it was totally beyond their control. It’s not like Kirk and the others were intolerant of different species; frankly, the concept of something so hideous it would drive the observer insane seemed silly, and it felt like little more than a dopey plot device.
Some parts of the show worked fairly well. Despite some of the story’s flaws, it still moved at an acceptable pace, and elements seemed to be mildly compelling. Nonetheless, as a whole I found it to be a pretty weak offering. While not overtly bad like “Spock’s Brain”, “Truth” just felt uninspired and bland.
Spectre of the Gun (production number 56) sticks with a standard Trek plotline. The Enterprise intercepts an alien buoy, which they unintentionally destroy. Its owners, the Melkotians, are one of Trek’s many seemingly-omnipotent groups. Since they figure that the Starfleet folks are just another batch of trigger-happy jerks, they decide to punish some of them. As such, a few officers - Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Chekov and Scott - get trapped in an odd predicament: they’re put into a past Earth situation and placed into the personalities of ill-fated western figures the Clanton gang. Since they can’t change the past, they’re left to figure out a way to escape their fate.
Yes, we’ve seen this kind of show before, but thought that “Spectre” provided enough twists to make this episode worthwhile. It took a more surreal viewpoint than usual, especially since all of the participants believed our heroes were different people; this meant that things were more of a struggle than usual. The final plot twist seemed to be a bit silly and simple, but overall, “Spectre” was enjoyable.
Day of the Dove (production number 66) brings back our old friends the Klingons, characters we hadn’t seen since “A Private Little War”. Frankly, I was glad to see them - perhaps they’d help maintain the modest resurgence in quality found with “Hollow”.
Following detection of a distress signal, the crew of the Enterprise heads to rescue colonists who state they are under attack. However, they find no signs of inhabitants, and concerns arise when a Klingon ship approaches. This vessel has been badly damaged, though.
Klingon Commander Kang (Michael Ansara) and a small crew beam to the planet surface and capture the Starfleet personnel after a brief scuffle. Kang blames the Enterprise for the damage to his ship and the death of most of his group. Kirk, of course, thinks Kang’s off his rocker and is trying to cover up their obvious involvement in the murder of the planet’s inhabitants. Although captured, Kirk uses a trick to beam his own party aboard the Enterprise while the Klingons are subdued.
Weird things start to happen on the Enterprise. The ship mysteriously speeds to warp nine and locks most of the vehicle’s crew below deck. All of their advanced weapons are transformed into swords and other primitive implements. Chekov accuses the Klingons of killing a non-existent brother and screams for revenge, while other crewmembers act in similarly irrational and bloodthirsty ways.
Eventually Spock figures that there’s a hidden being on board, and that entity is behind all of the shenanigans. This critter feeds off of hatred and negative emotions, so Kirk and the others need to convince the Klingons of this and get them to refuse to give the creature what it wants.
Many episodes of Trek feature omniscient beings who toy with Kirk and the others for their own amusement, and “Dove” doesn’t stray far from that formula. We know that despite the strength of their powers, the Starfleet personnel will find a way to outsmart them; the question simply remains “how”. “Dove” offers a nice twist on that theme, mainly due to the presence of the Klingons. They always add extra spice to the proceedings, and the characters of Kang and his wife Mara (Susan Howard) were deeper than usual.
“Day of the Dove” doesn’t reinvent the Trek wheel, and I didn’t like the fact that the viewer was always one or two steps ahead of the crew. Still, it offered a fairly sharp and engaging experience, and it seemed like one of the more compelling episodes of Season Three.
For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky (production number 65) wins the award for most long-winded - and possibly silliest - Trek title, but once you get past that pretentiousness, you’ll find a reasonably good episode. In this adventure, the crew of the Enterprise discovers that an asteroid is on a collision course with an inhabited planet. However, the space rock is more than it seems; actually, it’s a ship with its own residents. They don’t realize they’re on a vehicle, though; instead, they believe they live on the planet Yonada and they’ll soon get to a new home that doesn’t suck; I lived inside an artificial asteroid for a while, so believe me when I tell you it does suck!
In addition, at the very start of the show, Dr. McCoy discovers that he suffers from an incurable and terminal disease. Nonetheless, he accompanies Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock as they beam down to the “planet’s” surface. There the natives immediately attack them, but they soon gain the trust of the Yonadan leader Natira (Kate Woodville), primarily because she takes an immediate shine to the dying doctor.
Unfortunately, the Oracle, a powerful pseudo-religious entity that punishes any heretical thoughts, controls the Yonadans. The show works on a dual path. McCoy comes to terms with his illness as he decides to marry Natira, while Kirk and Spock try to alter the destructive path of Yonada.
While the episode seemed like less than the sum of its parts, it still offered a fairly good piece, especially for one from the dog days of the third season. On the positive side, I enjoyed the opportunity to see McCoy spread his wings, so to speak. How odd is it that emotionless Spock encountered a number of romantic dalliances, but McCoy - the most passionate member of the crew - got so few chances? Granted, it seems more entertaining to watch Spock deal with his feelings, but it still feels strange, so I liked the focus on McCoy found here.
I also thought the premise of the asteroid that’s a ship that its inhabitants think is a planet appeared intriguing, as was the illness suffered by McCoy. Granted, we all know that a) he’s not going to end up with Natira, and b) he won’t die, but it remained interesting to see how the events unfolded.
At least it should have been compelling, but the results were somewhat underwhelming. While “Hollow” stayed generally interesting through most of the show, I felt it didn’t live up to its potential, mainly because the climax seemed anti-climactic. Events became resolved a little too quickly, easily and neatly; the entire conclusion seemed forced and rushed. “Hollow” still was a solid episode, but I think it could have been better.
The Tholian Web (production number 64) moves ahead with a moderately entertaining show. At the start, the Enterprise tries to locate the Defiant, another ship that mysteriously disappeared three weeks prior. Oddly, they see the ship, but their sensors indicate that it isn’t there. After Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam aboard, they discover the entire crew of the Defiant has died, apparently due to a violent mutiny.
As they examine the place, they discover that their hands pass through the dead crewmembers; it appears that the Defiant has started to disintegrate into some sort of funky alternate time continuum. Problems aboard the Enterprise only allow Spock and McCoy to be beamed back; Kirk and the ship become stuck in that spooky parallel universe.
Spock determines the next time they’ll have the chance to recover the captain, but matters worsen due to two factors. For one, the weakening space fabric starts to send crewmembers around the bend mentally, and also some Tholians come a-knocking and regard the Enterprise in a hostile manner.
The Tholians think the Enterprise harmed their own fleet, but Spock convinces them to at least wait until after their next potential attempt to regain the captain before they escalate the hostilities. Unfortunately, their entrance into the scene disrupted the process, and they’re unable to beam back Kirk. The Tholians and the Enterprise exchange fire, and the former then join ships to create an energy web around the latter - there’s your title!
This sets up a ticking time bomb for the Enterprise. They need to regain Kirk and hightail it out of there before the web completes and they’re sitting ducks. Spock and McCoy don’t totally agree on the appropriate path, and they go at each other, a situation exacerbated by some sightings of a ghostly Kirk by various crewmembers. Ultimately, all works out well, of course, but not until matters become graver.
“Tholian” had some potential, but it should have been a lot better. Considering the variety of elements combined in the program, it possessed a great deal of natural drama and tension. The production exploited those possibilities to a degree, but the results still felt somewhat flat.
Take the conflicts between Spock and McCoy, for example. These should have generated some serious sparks, but instead they seemed oddly restrained and forced. The normal dynamics between the characters lacked the usual depth, and it appeared as though they bickered just because the script wanted them to do so; there was little natural antagonism at play.
Overall, I thought “The Tholian Web” had enough going for it to become a reasonably good episode of Trek. However, it suffered from the ennui that dragged down a number of Season Three programs. While it had little overtly wrong with it, the old spirit simply wasn’t there, and the results appeared less than inspiring.
The producers of Trek must have gotten a good price on omniscient beings, for we find more of them in Plato’s Stepchildren (production number 67). For this episode, the crew of the Enterprise head to a mysterious planet due to a medical emergency. Once there they discover the Platonians, a people who based their society on the teachings of Greek philosophers like - duh! - Plato. We soon learn that the Platonians have developed extremely strong psychokinetic powers that require almost no physical movement; they use their minds to do all the work.
We also discover that they’re pretty sadistic. They get their kicks through the nasty manipulation of a dwarf named Alexander (Michael Dunn); though a native of the planet, he never developed the same skills. Due to their lack of physical movement, the Platonians can be injured easily, and a small scratch has endangered the life of leader Parmen (Liam Sullivan). He decides to keep McCoy around in case other incidents like this occur, but the doctor’s understandably reluctant to remain.
The Platonians don’t take “no” for an answer easily, so they take out their anger on McCoy’s shipmates. Parmen puts Kirk, Spock and others through humiliating and painful exercises until Spock and McCoy can discover the cause of the Platonians’ powers. After that, they’re able to replicate the abilities in themselves, which allows them to put the Platonians in their place.
As noted, this was another example of the omniscient being series of Trek episodes, and a pretty average one at that. I think these shows hammered home their points too strongly. They all feature rather fascistic characters who harm and humiliate others for their own enjoyment, and it’s inevitable that their arrogance will provide their downfall.
Actually, the conclusion of “Stepchildren” was unusual for this Trek genre. Almost always, Kirk or the others defeat the much-more-powerful beings through ingenuity, but that wasn’t really the case here. Granted, they figured out what caused the psychokinetic powers, but after that, Kirk won simply because he was able to use his skills to top those of Parmen. No real Achilles heel was involved; it was might over might.
Overall, the episode felt like an amalgamation of the other shows in this vein. It didn’t bring much new to the table. Yes, we know that absolute power turns one into a bastard; no new insight took place, and the only novelty stemmed from the unusual conclusion.
Okay, one other new thing occurred as well: we saw what was allegedly TV’s first interracial kiss. At one point Parmen forces Uhura and Kirk to smooch. While this seems to be a progressive move on the part of Trek, the presentation left something to be desired. Since Uhura and Kirk had no choice in the matter, this made the interaction almost retrogressive, for it depicted the kiss as a negative. Granted, Nurse Chapel and Spock also smooched, and their lip-lock was shown in an equally harsh light; it’s clear that the show wanted to highlight the dehumanizing aspect of the forced behavior. Still, it would’ve been nice for such a seminal moment to take place during a more positive scene.
In Wink of an Eye (production number 68), we find – would you believe it? - even more omniscient beings who toy with the crewmembers of the Enterprise for their own amusement/profit. Nonetheless, despite the lack of inspiration behind the conceit, “Wink” offered a reasonably entertaining episode that succeeded where “Stepchildren” faltered.
At the start of the show, the Enterprise receives a distress signal from the planet Scalos. Five Scalosians report that they’re all that’s left of a civilization that once numbered almost a million, and they beg for assistance. However, when some ship personnel beam to the planet surface, they find no one, but some funky things occur, such as the weird disappearance of crewmember Compton (Geoffrey Binney) and an annoying, insect-like buzzing noise.
Once back on the Enterprise, oddities continue to take place, as malfunctions befall the ship for no apparent reason, and a mysterious device pops up out of nowhere. Before long, Kirk disappears, and we discover the cause behind these issues. The Scalosians have extremely accelerated metabolisms and can move much faster than normal humans can detect – there’s your “wink of an eye”! It turns out that sexy Deela (Kathie Browne) snagged Kirk. Apparently the developments that led the Scalosians to lead such fast lives also left their males impotent, so Deela has chosen Kirk for her new boy-toy.
Though Deela’s quite a babe – highlighted by one of the sexiest outfits ever worn by a Trek female alien – and Kirk indeed has some fun with her, it remains his intention to bring things back to normal. The rest of the episode depicts Kirk’s attempts to do so.
And it shows these actions in a satisfying manner. As noted, one of my problems with “Stepchildren” was that our heroes solved their problem in a somewhat bullying manner and it lacked the fun ingenuity we expect from Kirk. Happily, that wasn’t the case with “Wink”, during which Kirk and Spock both have to outwit the aliens, and they do so in a compelling way. It’s not one of the series’ best, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
One thing I’ve noticed as Season Three has progressed: Shatner’s acting really took a dive that year. No, he was never Olivier, by it wasn’t until the third and final term of the show that he embraced the broadness and hamminess that has haunted him since that time. If… you want to… hear… Shatner… in all his glory… then skip straight to Season Three.
Inhumane, omniscient beings make up a lot of Trek episodes, and
The Empath (production number 63) works along the usual lines. As the crew of the Enterprise tries to pick up scientific staff from the planet Menarian 2 - which orbits a star that will soon explode - the subjects vanish, and before long, Kirk, Spock and McCoy also disappear from the surface. There they meet a wimpy chick (Kathryn Hays) who can’t communicate with them. As they attempt to do so, two dudes from the Vion species appear and trap our heroes in a force field. After a brief encounter, they leave, and the woman - named “Gem” by McCoy - uses her powers to heal a wound suffered by Kirk. This reveals her to be an empath, which is good, since that’s the title of the episode.
Soon after this the crew finds what’s left of the other staff; they’re apparently dead and put into clear cylinders. They also see tubes reserved for themselves. A Vion comes back and seems to be disabled by Spock’s nerve pinch, but he faked this. Some additional tests of the Enterprise staff occur, but they’re actually meant to try Gem’s abilities and attitude.
Eventually we discover the root of the Vions’ sadism. Apparently they can save some of the planets endangered by the pending supernova, so they used Gem to test her willingness to sacrifice herself for the good of others. Unfortunately, their definition means that she actually has to die in the process, and they use the Enterprise crewmembers as bait. This leads to a long bout of selflessness among Kirk, Spock and McCoy - all of whom try to take the position as the one to be tortured so their mates can go free - but ultimately Kirk uses reason to solve the situation.
By this point in the series, the whole omniscient being concept had grown fairly stale, and “Empath” offered little to enliven the proceedings. Part of the problem stemmed from Hays’ performance as Gem. Since she couldn’t speak, she proceeded to blow up her other reactions to an absurd level; it looked like Hays badly wanted to make the most of some half-assed mime training as she gesticulates and emotes wildly. Gem became a really annoying character who openly detracted from the episode’s story.
Although some of the best Trek shows and movies deal with sacrifice done for others - like at the conclusion of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - the use of this theme in “Empath” felt forced. It seemed as though they did this mainly to generate cheap emotion about the characters. The torture enacted by the Vions appeared to exist not as a realistic device to determine their actions but as something to endanger our heroes and test them.
Still, my main complaint about “The Empath” relates to its guest actress. Without Hays, the show would have been acceptably interesting, but her presence really irritated me. Ultimately, “The Empath” wasn’t terrible Trek, but it definitely seemed like a very below-average outing.
Right off the bat, Elaan of Troyius (production number 57) suffers from the bad pun that creates its title. However, once I got past that aspect of the show, I found it to offer a reasonably good episode of Trek, albeit one that was fairly predictable most of the way.
At the start of “Elaan”, the Enterprise needs to escort Ambassador Petri (Jay Robinson) and Elaan (Frances Nuyen), the dohlman of Elas, to Petri’s planet, Troyius. There she is to marry a bigwig in an attempt to calm relations between the two opposing worlds. Unfortunately, the Troyians are feisty, militaristic folks, and Elaan demonstrates a lot of rude, arrogant and combative behavior. Petri’s task is to train her in his planet’s more civilized ways, but she doesn’t cotton to this activity and eventually stabs Petri.
Captain Kirk takes it upon himself to tame Elaan. Anyone who’s seen more than two prior episodes of Trek knows that it’s inevitable Kirk will hook up with the Troyian hottie, but the plot does take one unusual twist. The tears of Troyian women can “infect” men and make them passionately love the female in question. Unknowingly, Kirk touches one of Elaan’s tears, and he’s soon hopelessly devoted to her.
This clouds his judgment at a critical time. Abetted by a mole on board the Enterprise, the Klingons arrive on the scene and threaten our heroes. Will Kirk regain his senses in time? You figure it out - the series continued after this show, didn’t it?
I won’t call “Elaan” a great episode, but it seemed modestly compelling. A lot of the reason for this came from Nuyen’s fiery performance as Elaan. Her European attitude aptly fit the character, and she brought a nicely bratty and nasty tone to the role. The show occasionally struggles to rise its Taming of the Shrew roots, but I thought it was generally entertaining.
For Whom Gods Destroy (production number 71), the writers of Trek go back to the well for an oft-recycled basic plot: madman traps Kirk, who then has to outwit his captor. In this case, however, the identity of the villain makes things a little more interesting. The Enterprise visits the planet Elba II, where they need to deliver a drug that will cure the violently insane inhabitants of its mental hospital.
However, Kirk and Spock - the only crew who beam to the surface - quickly learn that the inmates control the asylum. In charge of this group stands Garth (Steve Ihnat), a legendary Starfleet commander widely regarded as the only tactician greater than Kirk. However, he’s off his nut; instead of allowing folks to call him Captain Garth, he demands they refer to him as Lord Garth, and with a small band of fellow nutbags - including sexy green Marta (Yvonne Craig) - he plans to take control of the Enterprise and conquer the galaxy.
Unfortunately for him, Kirk makes this more difficult, largely due to a security procedure put in place: before Scotty will beam up the party, he must receive the correct answer to a chess problem. Of course, Kirk refuses to offer this information, so Garth must resort to various methods to extract the material. Miraculously, Garth has developed the power to change forms at will, which makes it even harder for Kirk to know who to trust.
As I alluded in my opening statement, “Gods” doesn’t exactly reinvent the Trek wheel, and it offers a decent diversion at best. One of the main problems stems from Garth himself. Not only is he poorly acted - as are most of the roles in this episode, including an even hammier than normal performance from Shatner - but also he lacks much development. Considering Garth’s fame, the character possessed the potential to be a rich and interesting personality, but the show plays up his goofball side and fails to delve much into his history and legacy. This qualifies as a major missed opportunity that harms the program.
In addition, “Gods” suffers from lazy pacing and directing and illogical attitudes. The former appears in ways such as the fact that major elements of the story took place off-screen. For example, prior to the opening credits, the threat to Spock and Kirk is revealed, but when we return, Spock’s already been stunned with a phaser and taken captive! Perhaps they couldn’t afford the phaser blast effect that week.
As for the aspects of the show that didn’t make sense, I thought it seemed weird that during this mission - and apparently this mission alone - Kirk required the password to come back on the ship. Out of all the dangerous excursions, he just happens to decide this the one time he really needs it? That’s terribly convenient, and such a coincidence makes the program less effective.
Probably the show’s greatest flaw stemmed from the fact that I always felt much smarter than the characters. It seemed very obvious where things would go, and that made the participants look dumb when they couldn’t anticipate the turns. In addition, I disliked the inactivity on board the Enterprise. Faced with a dilemma, Scotty and McCoy spend much of the show simply standing around looking puzzled; I refuse to believe they’d take this threat with so little action.
Despite all my complaints, “Gods” really isn’t a bad episode of Trek. Trust me - I’ve seen some genuinely crummy programs in the series, and this one may be closer to the bottom than to the top, but it’s not an unpleasant experience. Nonetheless, some notable flaws mean that it never rises above the level of being moderately interesting at best.
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (production number 70) provides a lesson in racial attitudes. Obviously influenced by the civil rights movement of the time, “Battlefield” brings two residents of the planet Cheron onto the Enterprise. Neither of them has been on their homeworld for tens of thousands of years; the first arrival, Lokai (Lou Antonia), has been on the run from Bele (Frank Gorshin), for all that time. To aid his escape, Lokai “borrowed” a Starfleet shuttlecraft; he enters the Enterprise when they recover it.
On board the ship, Bele insists that they head straight to Cheron so he can finally bring Lokai to justice. Kirk refuses, as they’re on an important medical mission. As a result, Bele demonstrates some amazing powers that allow him to wrest control of the Enterprise; Kirk has to threaten to blow up the vessel to get back on course.
Essentially, the show examines the roots of the animosity between the two parties as Kirk and crew attempt to discover what could motivate such an extended and hateful crusade. Basically the concerns break down to the fact that Bele and his people - the leaders of Cheron - are white on their left sides and black on the right, whereas Lokai and his kind - the subjugated masses - are black on the left and white on the right. Kirk tries to convince the two dudes that these are nothing more than cosmetic differences and they should unite, but this argument goes nowhere.
My synopsis of “Battlefield” probably makes it sound preachier than it is. To be certain, this show is an attempt to educate us about the silliness of racial prejudices, and from that point of view, it could be fairly obvious and forced; the program worked overtime to make its points. Nonetheless, I didn’t feel it shoved the themes down my throat, as it delivered its message in a reasonably easy to swallow manner.
However, the program suffers somewhat from a dearth of story. The episode really revolves around its racial elements, and the rest of the action seems somewhat superfluous. As such, the fights between Kirk and Bele serve little purpose in regard to the story, and they appear tacked on simply to extend a short tale into full-length programming. The crew seems to understand this; the inactivity displayed by the extras when the ship goes to red alert is amusing. There’s simply not enough plot to flesh out “Battlefield” into a totally compelling 60-minute piece.
Nonetheless, “Battlefield” is a reasonably compelling Trek experience. It’s interesting to see the show tackle then-hot issues, and this program does so in a fairly positive manner.
Trivia alert: when Kirk threatens to blow up the Enterprise, he and some crewmembers go through an extended destruct sequence. This procedure would be duplicated 16 years later in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, and done so with nice attention to detail, as the two seem identical. On the less positive side, one funny technical goof appears in the show. Whenever we see the viewscreen framed by crewmembers, they almost always use stock footage; they filmed a few generic shots of Sulu and slap them up when necessary. Unfortunately, the vintage of those went back too far, so when we cut to these common pieces, Chekov disappears and is replaced by a different dude!
As with “Gods”, The Mark of Gideon (production number 72) also has some intriguing moments but suffers from a plot that seems rather obvious at times. At the start, Kirk beams down to meet with Hodin (David Hurst) and the other leaders of the planet Gideon. All reports indicate this place is a virtual paradise, and its rulers strongly refuse to allow visitors to come there; it took much negotiation for them to let Kirk pop among them for a brief period.
Unfortunately, an apparent mishap means that Kirk doesn’t make it to the conference room specified in the coordinates sent to the Enterprise. While the ship’s crew has no idea where he’s gone, we find that Kirk seems to be in an alternate universe, as he wanders a totally empty Enterprise. Eventually, he meets another lone traveler, a sexy babe named Odona (Sharon Acker). In true Trek tradition, they strike up a romance while Kirk tries to find a way back to reality. In the meanwhile, Spock tries to negotiate with the insufferably stubborn Hodin and also deals with some stubborn parties at Starfleet who seem less than interested in Spock’s quest to locate his missing captain.
“Gideon” offers some moderately compelling twists and turns along the way as we find the true nature of Gideon and the reason why the rulers are so territorial. Overall, the story has some clever and interesting moments, and it’s a decent tale as a whole. However, as in “Gods”, “Gideon” falls short of its goals because too much of the show appeared evident to me far in advance of the characters’ realizations. It felt obvious where things would go, and this made the whole experience less compelling.
Nonetheless, I thought “Gideon” was a fairly good Season Three episode and I liked certain aspects of it. Probably the most interesting elements came from Spock’s interplay with Hodin. The latter’s double-talk and attempts to addle Spock’s natural logic were quite entertaining to see, and they added much needed spark to a show that dragged at times. In addition, “Gideon” provided a twist on the usual “perfect society” theme that allowed for some provocative notions.
As a whole, “Gideon” felt like good but not special Trek. The show had some solid aspects that made it worthwhile, but it never threatened to become something truly memorable. I liked the program but won’t count it among my favorites.
That Which Survives (production number 69) goes with a fairly standard Trek concept: the mysterious, deadly, and potentially unstoppable force. While Captain Kirk and crew attempt to beam down to do a geological survey of a planet, a woman pops up in the transporter room and quickly kills a crewman solely via touch. Bizarrely, her appearance knocks the Enterprise way out of place, as it ends up many lightyears away from its original orbit. This strands Kirk, Sulu, McCoy and D’Amato (Arthur Batanides), who need to search for the means to survive on this planet that looks like Earth but seems to lack the normal rudiments such as water. In the meantime, Mr. Spock works with Mr. Scott to find away to quickly get back to their old location so they can rescue the stranded crew.
While Spock and the others try to figure out what happened, Kirk and company still need to contend with the mystery women, who they eventually find is named Losira (Lee Meriweather). She continues to threaten the Starfleet personnel, though her attacks are oddly personal; she focuses on one crewmember at a time and won’t attempt to do anything to the others. Eventually, Kirk and the rest figure out how to deal with this problem as they learn the secret of Losira and her planet.
For the most part, “Survives” offers a reasonably entertaining program, as the plot is a little worn but it seems compelling and interesting. Meriweather provides a reasonably good performance as Losira; she seems haunted and detached without being hammy. I wasn’t able to see where the story was going two steps ahead of the characters, which meant that it kept me involved and interested.
However, “Survives” suffers from one terrible flaw: the characterization of Spock. The script forces Nimoy to engage in ridiculous self-parody. Spock comes across as condescending and smarmy, as he consistently chastises others for the lack of logic. He reprimands Scotty, Uhura, and pretty much everybody else for talking of “feelings” and not working strictly from factual means. This gets old very quickly, and Spock seems absolutely insufferable.
The overemphasis on Spock’s lack of emotion has a point; it connects to the attitudes of Losira. However, it’s badly out of character, and Spock is so incredibly unlikable during “Survives” that it really hurts the show. Overall, the show has some moments, but the annoyances offered by Spock make it tough to take much of the time.
The Lights of Zetar (production number 73) demonstrated a mini-staple of the Season Three episodes. In this show, one of the supporting characters received some extra dimension and exploration absent from prior shows. However, this came too little, too late, and it felt more like a result of an absence of ideas than something that stemmed from any genuine desire to better flesh out the participants.
In this case, we start the program with Mr. Scott in love. The Enterprise is chaperoning sexy Lt. Mira Romaine (Jan Shutan) to an assignment on Memory Alpha, the home to the Federation’s database with facts about pretty much everything. Scotty’s become quite smitten with the lass, and she seems to feel similarly about him.
However, there’s trouble in paradise as the crew encounters a mysterious cloud that runs into the ship and briefly messes with the staff members. Mira appears to be especially connected to this strange entity, and she can actually see things that will soon occur due to its influence on her. The cloud eventually wipes out everyone and everything on Memory Alpha and comes back after the Enterprise. It seems that the ship’s phasers will harm it, but they also cause injury to Mira, so Captain Kirk and the others need to figure out how to rid themselves of this nasty force without also killing Lt. Romaine.
Admittedly, it was fun to see Scotty get a girlfriend, but as I already alluded, the show didn’t do much with this concept. Instead, it felt like little more than a plot device, a thought reinforced by the fact that we never heard from Mira again; she and Scotty departed on warm terms, but that was the last appearance she’d make on the show.
“Zetar” appeared to be little more than another episode with another apparently omnipotent force. It was somewhat dull and plodding for the most part, and it never really became very compelling. Overall, it was a watchable program, but it seemed pretty lackluster and forgettable.
Bizarre trivia note: the credits for “Zetar” mention one Shari Lewis as a writer. From what I’ve been able to discover, this indeed is the same Shari Lewis who made a sock puppet named Lambchop famous. Freaky!
Though not a classic, Requiem For Methuselah (production number 76) rebounds somewhat. “Methuselah” finds the Enterprise on an urgent mission to obtain a material that can be used to manufacture a drug. That medicine will then cure a nasty illness that threatens many lives on the ship. Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to an obscure planet that has this substance, but they’re soon stopped by a floating robot.
In short order, they meet its maker, Flint (James Daly), apparently the sole inhabitant of the world. He causes some problems with the crew, for he doesn’t want to allow them access to his planet. Eventually he agrees to give them quantities of the material, but under his own terms, which causes concerns.
Along the way, Kirk and the rest discover that another being lives with Flint: sexy Rayna (Louise Sorel). She and Kirk start to go for each other, and more problems with Flint ensue. It turns out that both Flint and Rayna have secrets, and a variety of issues need to be resolved before the Enterprise can be made healthy again.
I don’t feel that “Methuselah” provides great Trek, but it was a reasonably solid episode. Actually, it starts illogically; though time is very important, Kirk, Spock and McCoy plan to walk four kilometers to get the needed materials. After that odd misstep, however, the show picks up and becomes more compelling.
Where it falters, however, relates partly to the title. Even before the program starts, we know that somebody old will be involved, and when we find that Flint possesses recently created works that look absolutely identical to those of some old Earth masters, this makes the events seem even more inevitable. I thought the title gave away too many of the potential surprises. I won’t reveal Rayna’s secret, but I also felt the program telegraphed those points too strongly.
In addition to a somewhat silly final act, the main problems with “Methuselah” related to the fact it seemed so predictable. I also didn’t believe the fact that Kirk fell in love with Rayna so quickly. Admittedly, he mooned over a lot of babes throughout the series, but few were shown as legitimate love, and in those rare instances, at least it usually took him a little longer. Kirk’s deep emotions came across as little more than another plot device used to serve the illogical story.
Still, “Methuselah” seemed more thoughtful and introspective than the other shows on these DVDs, and it offered a somewhat poignant ending. Interestingly, the finale featured a cheap device that actually presaged events in Star Trek II. During that film, Spock transfers over his personality to McCoy with a touch and the command “Remember”. Here, he apparently obliterates all of Kirk’s memories of his love for Rayna with additional contact and the word “Forget”.
By the way, I thought facets of “Methuselah” foreshadowed Highlander. As with Flint, that film’s characters constantly experienced loss because of their immortal status; love always equaled pain because they’d watch so many partners die over the years. I have no idea if the creators of Highlander actually got any ideas from “Methuselah”, but the similarities appeared nonetheless.
While I don’t know if The Way to Eden (production number 75) is the worst episode during Trek’s three seasons, it may qualify as the most dated and embarrassing. In this show, the Enterprise chases the USS Aurora, which has been stolen by an unknown group. Despite the Enterprise’s overwhelming forces, these folks won’t give up the fight; the pursuit overtaxes the Aurora’s engines and blows up the vessel. However, the thieves are transported aboard the Enterprise just before they would have gone down with the ship.
Kirk and the others discover a ragtag group of space hippies. Led by brilliant scientist Dr. Sevrin (Skip Homeier), a baldy with freaky ears, this gang seeks the mythical planet of Eden, where they plan to engage in their whacked-out desires until the cows come home. Unfortunately, one of the hippies is the son of a Federation notable, so Kirk needs to treat the group with kid gloves.
As such, the gang roams the ship freely and try to sway the crewmembers to their side. Mainly they do this with some music. Oddly, their folk songs sound an awful lot like the same crap that was popular in the Sixties; I guess hippies won’t change much over the centuries.
In addition, Chekov meets a past love named Irina (Mary-Linda Rapelye). The two knew each other in their cadet days, but she gave up on The Man’s ways to take part in this quest for paradise. Chekov becomes awfully tempted to join her, and who can blame him? Irina’s yet another in the show’s long roster of serious babes!
Using their hypnotic folk tunes, the hippies distract some crewmembers and eventually take charge of the ship. From there they aim the Enterprise toward their destination, and we eventually get to Eden. Along the way, Kirk tries to convince the hippies that Sevrin’s gone nuts, which is true, and will eventually have dire consequences.
Oh boy - what a terrible episode! Actually, the plot itself was interesting; indeed, it would get recycled more than two decades later for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Unfortunately, the potential inherent in “Eden” became totally squandered through the inane Sixties attitudes. The whole hippie theme was badly overplayed and seemed hilariously ridiculous. Where else can one see noted character actor Charles Napier - best known for tough roles in films like The Silence of the Lambs and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me - portray a crooning hippie?
Happily, nowhere else, and I’m sure Napier would love to remove this blotch from his record. I liked the fact that Chekov got a little more screen time than usual, but just as with Scotty’s girlfriend during “Zetar”, the subplot went absolutely nowhere. Again, it felt like little more than a gimmick, and it did nothing to alleviate the stupidity of the rest of the show.
“Eden” really could have been a good show, and it seems amazing that the Trek personnel would botch the story a second time with Frontier; while I’ll defend that movie to a degree, I can’t deny it has some definite weaknesses. Still, it strongly improved upon its space hippie origins; any show that makes Uhura’s fan dance in Frontier look good just has to be a terrible show.
Speaking of whom, what the heck happened to Uhura during “Eden”? Some white chick named Lt. Palmer ran her usual station in this show. I don’t know why this was, but her absence seemed jarring; while we’ve seen many others in the traditional spots manned by Sulu and Chekov, I don’t recall observing an Uhura substitute at any point.
Continue to Disc 6-7 and the technical ratings...