Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 1, 2004)
Paramount’s repackaging of the original Star Trek continues with this set. It includes all 26 episodes for the 1967-68 season. 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.
Amok Time (production number 34) provides one of the series' first looks at the personal life of Spock. As the Enterprise heads toward a crucial diplomatic reception, usually calm and rational Spock starts to act like a complete goofball; he becomes edgy and violent. It turns out Spock suffers from a Vulcan version of PMS, and if he doesn't get to his home planet ASAP, the results won't be pretty.
In this episode, we learn quite a lot about Vulcan culture and see Spock within his native environment. The show is full of energy and tension. It creates some very dramatic viewing as Spock works through his nuttiness and Kirk and McCoy become involved. It's a thoroughly solid episode of Trek that stands among the series' best shows.
Trivia notes: "Amok Time" saw the first use of the split-fingered Vulcan salute and offered the initial use of the phrase "live long and prosper". On a sour note, the name of Vulcan high priestess T'Pau (Celia Lovsky, then married to Peter Lorre) would later be used by a lousy Eighties band who scored with a crummy tune called "Heart and Soul" in 1987. Oh, the indignity of it all!
On the surface, Who Mourns for Adonais? (production number 33) looks like yet another Trek show that features a seemingly-omnipotent being who toys with the crew of the Enterprise. However, this episode took that plot to another level and provided a story that was much more effective than most.
While on routine duty, the Enterprise encounters a giant space-hand that holds the ship in place. When a landing party of Kirk, McCoy, Chekov, Scott and historical expert Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas (Leslie Parrish) - on whom Scotty has a crush - finds their oppressor, it turns out to be Greek god Apollo, or at least a reasonable facsimile (played by Michael Forest).
Parts of the show move slowly and seem excessively melodramatic. Frankly, Trek usually didn't handle romantic relationships well, and the problem becomes exacerbated when we find a character we know doesn't last for the long haul. Granted, at the time viewers weren’t aware that Palamas would never be heard from again, but the intervening decades demonstrated this fact to the rest of us. I find it hard to care about these throwaway characters since I know they exist only as plot devices.
Nonetheless, "Mourns" works despite some flaws. I don't want to reveal too many story points, but the show indeed features a neat twist that makes it more compelling than most of this "godlike being" sub-genre of Trek. These complications also mean that “Mourns" packs a greater emotional punch through its fairly melancholy ending.
The Changeling (production number 37) foreshadowed the plot to 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise encounters an entity that apparently eliminated the population of an entire system. Kirk and company soon discover that it’s “Nomad”, a spacecraft from the olden days of Earth. Along the way, its programming was altered to make it a lean, mean killing machine that attempts to slay anything not perfect - that means pretty much everything. (Whew - at least I’m safe!)
This episode took place entirely on board the Enterprise, and it’s mainly a psychological thriller in which Kirk and the crew have to find a way to halt this apparently unstoppable force. Of course, their success is inevitable, but the show provides a compelling experience nonetheless as we watch the clever methods used to attempt to reason with this purely-scientific machine. As a whole, I found it to be a pretty entertaining episode, even though I do blame “Nomad” for the misery that was Motion Picture; that film’s “V’Ger” bears an unmistakable to this episode’s rogue element.
Political incorrectness alert: right around the 22-minute mark, Nomad gets confused when he “absorbs” the thoughts of Uhura. He describes her as “defective”, with “chaotic” thinking and a “mass of conflicting impulses”. Robots say the darnedest things!
Mirror, Mirror (production number 39) offers a fun concept: the alternate universe. After they unsuccessfully attempt to convince the inhabitants of a peaceful planet to sell them some minerals, Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura are sent to an alternate existence through a teleporter mishap. Although they’re on the Enterprise, it ain’t their Enterprise. Here they belong to “the Empire”, a cruel and vicious union that sounds a lot like another Empire featured in some moderately popular films of the late Seventies and early Eighties.
In their reality, the main villain wears no black life-support mask. Instead, he’s one James T. Kirk. The episode shows our good crew as they attempt to stay alive in this cutthroat society and eventually find a way home.
The science here is dodgier than in most Trek episodes, but if you go with the conceits presented, it’s all good fun. Some of the better shows offer unusual depictions of Trek participants, and that’s the case here. Frankly, I wish they’d shown more shots of the Nasty Kirk and company aboard Good Enterprise, but “Mirror” is still a solidly enjoyable episode. If nothing else, it’s worth a look just to see Spock in a goatee.
Part I didn’t get: when the Good and Bad crews switched universes, they also swapped clothes. This makes no sense; nothing else about the four officers changed. I understand that this had to happen as a plot point; otherwise the different garb would have instantly given away their identities. However, I still thought it was inconsistent and nonsensical. Granted, I suppose one shouldn’t argue logic when one discusses a show about alternate universes, but even so, internal consistency is important.
The Apple (production number 38) mainly takes place outside of the Enterprise. Here Kirk and crew beam down to the surface of Eden-like Gamma Trianguli VI. Unfortunately, this rock doesn’t take well to strangers, and the Starfleet personnel are attacked by a variety of natural causes like killer flower spores. Eventually they meet the inhabitants of the planet, all of whom work to serve Vaal, an unspeaking God-like force who keeps them happy but stagnant. When Vaal comes to shove, Kirk and company fight against the apparently-omnipotent force that threatens them.
We’ve seen this one before, but that doesn’t keep “The Apple” from being an enjoyable episode. Primary among this show’s appeal is its philosophical quandaries. The crew are confronted with the Starfleet’s “prime directive”, which orders non-interference with native cultures. Do they sit back and let Vaal keep them subservient and without progress, or do they intervene and make the subjects move on with their culture?
I thought the show reconciled the answer too glibly, but the show still became somewhat more thought provoking than most. Now if only someone could tell me who created those absurd silver wigs worn by the male inhabitants of Vaal.
The Doomsday Machine (production number 35) takes a standard Trek plot about a mysterious force that eradicated the crew of a fellow Federation vehicle called the "Constellation". The sole survivor of this disaster? Commodore Decker (William Windom), the ship's commander, who seems to be pretty darned frazzled by the experience.
As the show progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that Decker is obsessed with getting revenge on the titular killing device, and the tale takes a sci-fi turn on Moby Dick. Ultimately, I thought it was one of the more compelling episodes of Trek I've seen. Windom hams it up too much, but "Machine" features an element often lacking in classic
Trek: genuine excitement and tension. The show boasts one of the most nail-biting climaxes in all Trek history, and I thought the episode as a whole was quite compelling.
Cool note: I thought the name "Decker" sounded familiar in regard to Trek history, and it turns out I was correct. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we discover the son of the vengeful commodore. Will Decker (played by Stephen Collins) played a major role in that film. Although such tie-ins run the risk of becoming cute or excessive, I think Trek managed a fine balance; these connections give long-time viewers a little thrill but they also function appropriately within the context of the stories.
Catspaw (production number 30) once again puts Kirk and crew at the mercy of yet another mysterious power. Unlike the ugly little critters in Season One’s "Operation - Annihilate!", however, these are better-realized beings. Yup - it's another Trek in which they have to combat seemingly-omnipotent powers who toy with them.
It's also another fairly ordinary show. Actually, when it functions in "mystery" mode as the crew attempt to find out what's happening, "Catspaw" is pretty enjoyable; I liked seeing them think their way through the problems.
Unfortunately, "Catspaw" takes off into more "mystical" realms toward the end, and the dopiness of the last act lessens the show's overall impact. We 've seen so many of these powerful beings that each new one needs some kind of unique spark. Korob and Sylvia, the folks in question, provide a minor magical presence but become stock goofballs by the end. "Catspaw" offers a solid episode of Trek but if falls short of exceptional status.
This show's historical footnote: "Catspaw" marked the first appearance of Walter Koenig as Ensign Pavel Chekhov. Actually, it qualifies only as his initial filmed appearance; since "Catspaw" was the seventh episode broadcast that season, he'd already been seen on a couple of shows.
I, Mudd (production number 41) provides the first recurring guest character in the Trek universe: one Harcourt Fenton Mudd (Roger C. Carmel), who originally appeared in Season One’s “Mudd’s Women”. Though he seemed to be imprisoned by the proper authorities at the end of that show, the new episode demonstrates that he’s finagled his way out and set himself up as a demigod on a planet of androids, most of whom have been constructed to Mudd’s standards to resemble rather attractive young women.
Alas, Harry’s not terribly happy, so he traps the crew of the Enterprise on his world and plans to escape. Unfortunately, the androids develop other ideas and it’s up to Kirk and company - as usual - to devise a method to avoid catastrophe.
Although Mudd occasionally got on my nerves - he’s played awfully broadly by Carmel - he remains a largely engaging character who stands out from the usual pack of excessively self-serious Trek partisans. It’s a memorable part that would have worn out its welcome had he appeared more frequently, but two guest bits seem enjoyable.
As a whole, “I, Mudd” provided a consistently fun deviation on a traditional Trek theme: a seemingly-omnipotent power that traps Kirk and the others on a planet. The solution for their problem is unusual, and there’s a lot of fairly effortless humor to spice up the package. Ultimately, this was a very solid and enjoyable program.
Metamorphosis (production number 31) offers yet another mysterious and apparently unstoppable force. Aboard the shuttlecraft "Galileo", Kirk, Spock and McCoy are trucking diplomat Nancy Hedford (Elinor Donahue) back to the Enterprise due to an illness she's acquired. On the way, however, they're sidelined by that unknown power; it maroons them on a desolate planet where they encounter the sole survivor of a crash, one Zefram Cochrane (Glenn Corbett).
Viewers of Star Trek: First Contact may recognize that name, as it belongs to a main character in that film. Yes, the movie's Cochrane and this episode's participant are one in the same, though played by different actors (James Cromwell did the honors in the picture). We learn about his life and importance in both places, though the movie doesn't hint at what will become of him, which we learn in this episode.
In any case, "Metamorphosis" offers a reasonably solid piece of Trek. The whole omnipotent being deal gets old after a while, but the show twists it in some interesting (though mildly predictable) ways. Frankly, there's not a lot to say about it; it's good but not great Trek - no more, no less.
Better was Journey to Babel (production number 44), which fell into the more dramatic side of the Trek universe. It also provided one of the best episodes of the show I’ve yet seen. The crew of the Enterprise acts as escorts for a slew of diplomats en route to a conference on the planet Babel. Among these folks are Sarek (Mark Lenard), the ambassador from Vulcan. To the surprise of Kirk and the others, it turns out that Sarek and his wife Amanda are the parents of Spock.
Multiple plot lines converge during this episode. We witness the estranged relationship between Spock and Sarek and its dimensions, all of which are intensified when Dad takes ill; he needs a transfusion that can only be given by Spock. However, a Tellerite diplomat is murdered, and a mystery ensues. All of that is ratcheted up a notch when it becomes apparent that the Enterprise is being tracked by a mysterious ship, and it’ll be tough to escape them.
The show cranks forward toward a terrific climax; the entire episode seemed to heavily influence 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. That movie was arguably the best of the films, and I thought “Babel” was one of the top Trek episodes. It combined a terrific variety of elements and did so well. The familial elements occasionally seemed a little melodramatic, but they largely remained intriguing and moving without too much excessive emotion. The action scenes are well-executed and exciting, and we see some excellent character development, especially as related to Spock.
Really, the only fault I found with “Babel” - other than its dull title - was the atrocious pig-faced mask used for the Tellerites. Much of the Trek effects work looks poor by modern standards, but I don’t hold the primitive state of the art against it. However, those masks had to be laughable even in the Sixties. The director of the show seemed to realize this, as the camera almost never lingers on the face of a Tellerite; those shots cut away pretty quickly. Happily, the damage wasn’t severe enough to harm this excellent episode.
“Babel” features another returning actor in a new role. Lenard also played a Romulan commander in Balance of Terror”. Sarek was where he really made his name, however, as he went on to play the role many times in the future. He’s quite effective in the part and makes the dynamic between father and son all the more compelling.
Friday's Child (production number 32) actually provides some real action. For once, we find no mysterious forces or unknown powers; all the information is available at the start. Instead, we're treated to some solid thrills as Kirk and company try to wrangle with two forces at once.
In an effort to gain the rights to some mining resources, Kirk, Spock and McCoy travel to Capella IV and attempt to negotiate with that Darwinian planet's leaders. However, it happens that the Klingons arrived first and are working on the same issues. As such, our Starfleet personnel have to work on both sides at the same time, with some violent repercussions.
It's a good show that benefits from an unusual humanoid culture. The Capellans really adhere to the "survival of the fittest" philosophy, and our heroes have trouble adapting their more humanistic ways to those ideas. The manner in which the sides interact and clash is compelling and fun. Plus we get the second appearance ever of Klingons, who were well on their way to becoming the primary Trek foes. "Friday's Child" is quite good.
The Deadly Years (production number 40) is a mainly Enterprise-based episode. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Chekov and token expendable newcomer Yeoman Atkins check out a planet where the inhabitants have experienced rapid aging. After they return, all of the involved crewmembers except Chekov also begin to quickly grow old. What’s up with that? The show progresses as a mystery in which they need to pool their resources to find a cure before they all croak.
The “mysterious virus” is another Trek stand-by, but it’s given new life through the unusual treatment found here. This disease affects the crew in ways other than just its life-threatening capabilities; it reduces their abilities to work. This becomes problematic when Kirk cannot adequately serve the ship and misguided Commodore Stocker has to take charge. When Stocker leads them into conflict with the Romulans, the situation becomes even more critical.
We find more political incorrectness here via the show’s less-than-positive view of the elderly. The episode embraces some crotchety stereotypes, most of which revolve around Kirk’s loss of memory. However, it should be noted that one of Kirk’s mistakes later saves the ship. Granted, he wouldn’t have been able to do this while “old”, but it at least showed one positive side of his experience.
As a whole, “Years” was an exciting and tense episode, but the lack of innovation rendered it a little less than terrific. We’ve seen enough similar plots on other Trek shows that it seemed too familiar. Nonetheless, I thought it worked fairly well and made for an enjoyable viewing experience.
Obsession (production number 47) offers another tale that follows the Moby Dick theme. A mysterious gas cloud attacks a landing party that consists of Kirk, Spock, and some red shirts. This critter sucks all of the red blood cells out of the victim. Two of the red shirts buy it on the rock, but one survives briefly and makes it back to the Enterprise.
There the plot thickens as Kirk comes to confront part of his past. He’s dealt with this entity before, a fact that gets driven home by the dopily-coincidental presence of a new crewmember named Garrovick (Stephen Brooks). It turns out that the ensign’s dad was Kirk’s commander on the “USS Farragut” 11 years earlier, and the elder Garrovick was offed by the gassy beast. Kirk blames himself for his demise because he feels he froze under pressure, a part of history that seems to repeat itself when Garrovick the younger fails to appropriately attack the cloud.
“Obsession” offers a nice psychological subtext that makes it more provocative than most. On the surface, Kirk’s desire to track and eradicate the gas beast makes sense; this thing’s been killing folks for years, so he needs to end it once and for all. However, his fixation appears to veer into the dangerous side of the coin and Kirk seems to endanger the crew to satisfy his own needs. He also threatens the lives of other civilizations; the Enterprise is supposed to rendezvous with another group so they can take some medicine to needy folks. The remedy comes a time limitation, so every second Kirk spends on the gas critter jeopardizes these sick people.
“Obsession” doesn’t provide a stellar episode of Trek, but I thought it was quite enjoyable. Shatner offers some of his better acting here as he has to portray a variety of sides of Kirk. He spends less time in heroic mode and more in a somewhat disjointed vein. Shatner pulls it off well and makes this a solid show.
As noted earlier, the episodes on DVD appear in the order in which they were aired, and I also provide information about when the shows were shot. As a rule, better programs seem to have run earlier than you'd expect; for example, "Amok Time" was shot 34th but appeared 30th. On the other hand, look at the fairly lame "Catspaw"; shot 30th, it wasn't seen until the 36th slot.
By that reasoning, Wolf in the Fold (production number 36) should be a complete dog. It was filmed 36th but ran 43rd. However, while I can't call the episode a success, it was interesting and entertaining enough to be enjoyable.
The story focuses on apparent mental illness suffered by Scotty. He recently suffered a concussion caused by a woman, and there are fears that he may harbor anger towards all females. It doesn't look that way, but when someone starts to murder various babes on party planet Argelius II, Scotty becomes the most likely suspect.
Approximately half of this episode works. Obviously it's a given that Scotty isn't the murderer, so the show functions as a fairly effective mystery; it sure looks like our favorite engineer is responsible, so how will he get out of this mess?
Unfortunately, the solution is less than satisfying. "Wolf" gradually degenerates into a pretty silly ghost story that felt artificial and goofy. Perhaps the only true saving grace for the second half of the show stems from some sublimely over-the-top acting. To make sure that the Enterprise's crew avoids feeling afraid, Kirk orders some happy shots for everyone. As such, even in the face of grave danger, most of the folks are giddy and giggly. Sulu gets the best line of the show when he says "whoever he is, he sure talks gloomy!" (I swear it's a lot funnier if you see the program.)
Possibly the most famous Trek episode of them all, The Trouble With Tribbles (production number 42) continues the comedic tone found in “I, Mudd” but adds a little menace as well through our old friends the Klingons. In this show, the crew of the Enterprise needs to protect an important load of grain. Both the Klingons and the Federation are vying for a certain planet, and the safe delivery of this space wheat will give the Feds the edge.
An unusual complication arises when a trader named Cyrano Jones (Stanley Adams) pawns off a fuzzy critter named a tribble on Uhura. Soon she and the rest of the crew discover that the tribs excel at two activities: eating and breeding. Before long the entire ship is full of furry beings, and their presence creates some unusual complications.
When folks think of the comedic side of Trek, “Tribbles” is the most frequently-cited example, along with 1986’s Star Trek IV. Indeed, it is a good episode, partially because it was different. Ironically, the linking of “Tribbles” with “I, Mudd” makes the humor of the former seem a little less potent; those elements don’t stand out as much when run so close with another comedy. Still, the show featured some unusual plot twists, as the tribbles create a dynamic that was unique for Trek by that point in its run. “Tribbles” wasn’t quite as funny as I thought it was when I was 13, but it still provided a fun and entertaining experience.
While “I, Mudd” offered a recurring character, “Tribbles” provides a more frequent Trek alternative: a returning actor in a different role. William Campbell first appeared as the space-Liberace Tremane in “The Squire of Gothos”. Here he takes on what should be a very different role as Klingon Koloth; after all, those rugged and vicious people seem to be the absolute opposites of foppish playboys like Tremane.
However, his casting appears less odd when one sees the state of Klingons midway through the run of Trek. Their makeup looked very different - no heavy brows or much of anything, really - and though they seemed a little tougher than most Federation foes, they lacked the cruel, warlike nature we associate with Klingons. They don’t even speak a funky guttural language! Deep Space Nine would eventually present a fairly glib explanation for all of this.
The Gamesters of Triskelion (production number 46) was decent, but it didn’t enthrall me. On this episode, Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov attempt to beam down to a planet but some funky dudes called “the Providers” intercept them and take them to their battle zone. There our heroes are meant to become participants in gladiatorial contests. The “Providers” are an intellectually-developed group who get their sole jollies from bets placed on these games.
As one might expect, Kirk and the others aren’t wild about their enslavement, and during the rest of the show, they attempt to escape from this predicament. Also unsurprisingly, Kirk hooks up with the planet’s sole hottie, fellow “thrall” (combatant) Shahna (Angelique Pettyjohn). The green-haired sexpot starts out as Kirk’s assistant, but she soon succumbs to his manly charms, just like pretty much every other attractive woman who appeared on Trek.
While Kirk and company try to escape their prison, the crew of the Enterprise are challenged simply to find their cohorts. They have no idea where the trio went after they vanished from the transporter platform, so it’s up to Spock, McCoy and Scotty to work yet another miracle.
I thought that “Gamesters” was a decent episode but it wasn’t as compelling as the synopsis might make it sound. To some degree, it suffered from a feeling of déjà vu, since we’d seen many of the same elements in other episodes. That said, “Gamesters” worked decently within the confines of the show. Pettyjohn provided one of the program’s sexier guest stars; the green hair looked silly, but that revealing silver outfit made up for any other problems. She wasn’t much of an actress, but at least she managed to avoid excessive campiness.
One interesting element of “Gamesters” revolved around the manner in which Kirk solved the problem. Usually he finds some way to outwit the oppressive beings, and we then learn some lesson about the follies of supposed omnipotence; in this kind of episode, the highly-intellectual beings have some fatal flaw that forces them to miss something. However, in “Gamesters”, Kirk has to use his brawn to win the day. He doesn’t trick the “Providers” - he just says that if he wins a battle, he gets his way.
Ultimately, “The Gamesters of Triskelion” offered a fairly mediocre episode of Trek. The show possessed some tension that never really paid off, so the end result was an interesting but lackluster piece. It’s still decent Trek, but it’s not one of my favorites.
By the way, does anyone else think that Kloog (Mickey Norton) looked an awful lot like Bill Berry, the former drummer for R.E.M.?
A Piece of the Action (production number 49) takes a mildly-worn Trek concept - a planet that functions as an alternate 20th century Earth - but it spices it up with lots of fun and cleverness. The Enterprise takes a visit to planet Iotia a century after the last Federation examination of their culture. Much to the surprise of Captain Kirk and crew, it turns out that their society has changed greatly over that span. Apparently they’re a very imitative folk, and they’ve adapted their culture to meet what they read in a book left behind by their past visitors. The crew of the Horizon failed to retrieve their copy of “Chicago Mobs of the Twenties”, and the Iotians have organized their society around the Prohibition-era gangsters.
When Kirk, Spock and McCoy arrive on the planet, the natives immediately capture them, and they meet the first of many mob bosses, Bela Okmyx (Anthony Caruso). He keeps them prisoner, but they escape via some confusing gameplay by Kirk. Unfortunately, a rival boss named Krako (Vic Tayback) quickly scoops them up, and Kirk soon finds himself attempting to get out of this mess without severely tampering with Iotian society.
Star Trek went down this path in the past, but I thought that “A Piece” was one of the more entertaining iterations of the “alternate Earth” concept. The show became endearing largely because of Shatner’s typically campy acting. He threw himself into a gangster version of Kirk, and though he walked a fine line between funny and silly, he generally stayed on the positive side.
Actually, I thought “A Piece” provided one of the series’ most delightful segments as Kirk teaches the made-up card game of “Fizzbin” to the natives. The banter between Kirk and Spock reaches a fun level.
Most of “A Piece” stayed frisky and amusing, and I really enjoyed it. Hey, even if the rest of the episode had problems, who can resist an appearance from Vic “Mel” Tayback of Alice fame? This show’s broad comedy may make it seem groan-worthy to some, but I liked it.
By the way, there seems to be some disagreement about the spelling of “Okmyx”. Plot summaries from Internet pages call him “Oxmyx”, as do the DVD’s subtitles. Indeed, the name sounds like “Oxmyx”. Unfortunately, the end credits just call him “Bela”. So why did I go with “Okmyx”? Because the only time we see it written occurs in Krako’s office, and there it’s “Okmyx”. That’s the best proof we have of the accurate spelling, so I’m sticking with it!
The Immunity Syndrome (production number 48) deals with another terrible threat to the universe. Some entity destroys a ship of Vulcans and is after a lot more than that. Although the exhausted crew of the Enterprise is on their way for some R&R, they’re put back on duty to intercept this being. It turns out to be a giant amoeba, and its presence slowly starts to infect the crewmembers. They need to squash it before it splits and eventually contaminates the entire galaxy.
“Immunity” offers a fairly personal and cerebral episode of Trek. While apparently omnipotent and unstoppable beings aren’t new to the show, the concept of the enormous single-celled organism was creative, and the methods the crew needs to use to stop it are also more ingenious than usual. The solutions relate more to thought than they do violence - attempts to blast the critter with phasers just add to its energy - and it takes all of the ideas they can muster to put it out of action.
The show also nicely played up the close relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. One of them has to go on an apparent suicide mission to gain necessary information about the organism, and it was somewhat touching to see how this played. Really, the personal interactions we see on Trek are a large part of its success, and this trio provides the most compelling mixture; McCoy stands for humanism and Spock for logic while Kirk stands somewhere in between the two. “The Immunity Syndrome” was a generally interesting episode that worked mainly due to these personal components.
A Private Little War (production number 45) offers a Trek attempt to be timely. At the start of the show, Kirk, Spock and McCoy check out a planet on which Kirk had spent time 13 years earlier. At that time, it had been very primitive, but things have changed during the interim; some of the inhabitants have advanced rather rapidly and they now possess guns, one of which is used to blast Spock early in the show.
It turns out that our old friends the Klingons supplied these, and Kirk has to decide how to react to this development. Does he allow the Klingon-backed people to take the upper hand - which would ultimately lead to the annihilation of the other group - or does he aid their technological development to even out the odds? The latter choice brings its own problems, as it’ll lead to a never-ending battle to maintain the balance of power, and clearly it’ll mean that the inhabitants of the planet will become more war-like than they otherwise might have been.
An additional complication occurs when Kirk is poisoned by a bite from a native creature called a Mugato. McCoy has no antidote for this, so the wife of Kirk’s friend Tyree (Michael Witney) needs to use her magic to cure him. Nona (Nancy Kovack) does so, but with a cost: apparently the technique means that Kirk will easily succumb to Nona’s suggestions.
All of this sounds quite good, but frankly, I thought Private fell a little flat. It seemed as though the show tried to pack in too much information and subplots, and that rendered the overall product a bit muddled. It didn’t help that the message was a bit heavy-handed. The show directly evokes thoughts of Vietnam and makes it clear what a pointless course the parties involved were pursuing there. I’m all for shows that attempt greater depth, and Private indeed sparks some intriguing thoughts about the balance of power, but the discussion of the 20th century war was a bit much.
Probably the main reason I was less than enthralled with “Private”, however, involved its guests. For one, the warring tribes featured some of the silliest hairstyles yet to be found on a Trek episode. No, they don’t quite hit the heights of absurdity we saw with the ‘dos worn by the residents of Vaal on “The Apple”, but I still thought Tyree and his pals looked awfully goofy.
In addition, I found some of the crummiest acting yet seen on a Trek show, and that’s really saying something. As Nona, Kovack maintains a seriously sexy biker chick aura, but her campy and ham-handed performance really undoes the role. She’s so over the top that she makes Shatner look positively reserved. This didn’t ruin the episode, but it detracted from whatever positive elements it may have offered. Ultimately, “A Private Little War” was a decent but unremarkable Trek show.
Minor trivia note one: I believe that this episode offered the first actual look at Spock’s green blood. I know this element had been mentioned previously, but after Spock is shot, we see a small green stain on the front of his shirt.
Minor trivia note two: although the beastie in the show is clearly referred to as a “Mugato”, the show’s credits refer to the “Gumato”. Apparently Shatner mispronounced “Gumato” as “Mugato” and the new name stuck. I guess no one alerted the guys who do the show’s credits.
Return to Tomorrow (production number 51) presented another dip in quality. At the start of the show, the Enterprise receives a distress call from a mysterious planet. There they discover some of the usual semi-omnipotent beings, but these folks have their problems; a cataclysmic war long ago destroyed their planet, and only a few “survivors” have been left in disembodied form. The leader is Sargon, and he’s the one who contacts the Enterprise. These folks can zip into the bodies of living beings, and Kirk agrees to let Sargon give his carcass a whirl.
Though this puts an incredible stress on his system, Kirk decides that he and the others should help the disembodied aliens. Spock and Dr. Ann Mulhall (Diana Muldaur) allow their bodies to be used as well so that Sargon, his wife Filisa, and former foe Hanoc can construct androids to permanently house their “essences”.
Mulhall and Kirk can only stand brief injections of the aliens, but Spock’s stronger constitution allows him to sustain Hanoc for much longer periods. As such, he’s put in charge of creating a formula to lengthen the time during which the humans can maintain them. Unfortunately, Hanoc has other ideas. Although he gives Filisa/Mulhall the booster shot, he tries to kill Kirk/Sargon so he can a) stay in this bitchin’ Spock body, and b) get it on with sexy Filisa, who has become rather accustomed to her new physical surroundings.
Trek episodes during which powerful aliens manipulate the crew of the Enterprise were nothing new, but this show worked fairly well due to a nice emotional aspect. I won’t spoil the ending, but a theme of sacrifice works its way into the show, and the relationship between Sargon and Filisa adds a level of warmth and sadness to the program.
I also love to see Nimoy’s opportunities to loosen up a bit, and the villainous Hanoc gives him the chance to spread his emotional wings. While that aspect of the show was fun, some especially hammy acting from Shatner almost ruined it. He wasn’t able to aptly convey the noble and emotional sides of Sargon, and one particular monologue came across especially poorly. I always thought Shatner’s charisma and charm compensated for his weaknesses as an actor, but this was one episode during which the bad almost outweighed the good.
Continue to Disc 6-7 and the technical ratings...