Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 9, 2004)
If nothing else, The Cloud Minders (production number 74) deserves a place in history since it may have influenced The Empire Strikes Back. In this program, the Enterprise ventures to the planet Ardana, which houses Stratos, a cloud city that floats above its surface. Sound familiar? The land-based inhabitants of Ardana - not-so-bright folks known as Troglytes - mine for a substance called zenite, and that’s what the Starfleet personnel are there to get.
However, all is not well, for the Troglytes aim some terrorist activity at the residents of Stratos. Early in the show, Kirk and the others are attacked by some Troglytes until snooty Stratosian bigwig Plasus (Jeff Corey) disrupts the incident. The Troglytes won’t fork over the needed zenite, and who can blame them? They’re kept hard at work in the mines while the allegedly-smarter Stratosians live the life of ease; some social unrest seems inevitable, and gorgeous Vanna (Charlene Polite) - who used to serve on Stratos - has taken the lead.
Plasus seems absolutely convinced that there are crucial differences between the Stratosians and the Troglytes, despite indications from Dr. McCoy that the two races are virtually identical. It turns out the intellectual variations result from prolonged exposure to the zenite; once removed from its effects, subjects regain their cognitive skills, and that’s why Vanna seems so much brighter than her mine-bound coworkers.
Plasus refuses to acknowledge this possibility, and Kirk has an uphill battle to placate both sides of the battle and get the needed mineral. Meanwhile, Plasus’ sexy daughter Droxine (Diana Ewing) appears smitten by Mr. Spock, and he returns the thoughts in his own asexual way.
That latter element was the main gimmicky aspect of “Minders”, and it remained ill explored. Droxine showed interest in Spock, and he also related curiosity about her, but this area went nowhere.
Instead, the show largely focused on the eternal battle between the haves and the have-nots, and it featured some basic social commentary. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately, Trek had just dealt with a similar issue during “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”. Granted, that episode worked more from a racial point of view, but the message was the same, and “Minders” suffered from this sense of the overly familiar.
Overall, this seemed like another decent but unspectacular episode. “Minders” generally was a bit bland and flat. If it weren’t for the two - count ‘em, two! - babes introduced during the show, I’d probably have forgotten it already.
The Savage Curtain (production number 77) finds the Enterprise above the planet Excalbia. There the floating image of Abe Lincoln (Lee Bergere) beckons to them, and since the normally inhospitable planet surface suddenly sprouts a habitable spot, Kirk and Spock visit the surface. There they hang out with this apparent-Lincoln and others like noted Vulcan leader Suark (Barry Atwater).
As the two try to figure out from whence these seemingly-flawless doppelgangers came, a freaky rock monster named Yarnek introduces additional historical figures like Genghis Khan (Nathan Jung) and Kahless the Unforgettable, the Klingon who inspired their bloodthirsty ways. Rocky forces Kirk and the forces of peace to duke it for its own amusement. When Kirk declines interest, the creature threatens the lives of all aboard the Enterprise, and their continued survival depends on the success of this crew.
Despite the novelty of "real-life" Lincoln and the others, "Savage" felt like a "been there, done that" episode. How frequently did the series present these seemingly omnipotent beings who toyed with Kirk and crew for their own amusement? Many times, as it happened, and the storyline got a bit old after a while. Frankly, the innovation of the historical figures seemed pretty cheesy, and the gimmick came across as nothing more than a dopey device.
While it remained watchable, "Savage" still appeared to be a fairly tedious rehash of that generic plot. Gene Roddenberry's script suffered from his usual preachy tendencies; while I respect some of the man's utopian ideals, these often translated into insufferable and heavy-handed shows. "Savage" seemed moderately entertaining but lackluster and stale.
(By the way, I guess the afterlife's been good to Lincoln: check out the killer tan on Abe!)
In All Our Yesterdays (production number 78), the Enterprise travels to the moon of Sarpedon. It orbits a planet destined to explode in a few hours. They discover the remnants of ian advanced society, though only a librarian named Mr. Atoz (Ian Wolfe) remains along with some clones who assist him.
After a while, Kirk, Spock and McCoy discover that the inhabitants of the planet escaped by going into its past. By accident, they slip through the time portals into the olden days as well. Kirk visits an era similar to Earth's 19th century, where he gets hailed as a sorcerer, while Spock and McCoy go back to the Ice Age. There they meet a babe named Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley), for whom Spock actually falls. It seems that the move back in time affects his inner equilibrium, as Spock starts to behave like his Vulcan ancestors who were ruled by their emotions.
As with "Savage", "Yesterdays" also packs in a mix of Trek clichés: the ticking-clock due to the impending explosion, time travel, and Spock behaving emotionally. As such, the episode offers little in the form of originality, but it still provides a reasonably entertaining experience. This version of "emotional Spock" has a few twists, and the show features a fairly intriguing storyline. It even manages some touching moments via the relationship between Spock and Zarabeth. Overall, "Yesterdays" isn't great Trek, but it seems to be above average, especially for Season Three.
One part I didn't understand: why in the world would Zarabeth run around her frozen confines in such a skimpy outfit? Oh yeah - because it looks sexy! Gene Roddenberry surely loved his scantily clad guest females.
Had "Yesterdays" been the final episode of Trek, it would have seemed like a somewhat appropriate closing note, what with its bittersweet ending. Unfortunately, they still had one more program in the hopper. Turnabout Intruder (production number 79) formally concluded the series' three-year run with more of a whimper than a bang. Though not a bad episode, "Intruder" was far from the best the show had to offer.
At the start of the show, Kirk falls for a trap set by Dr. Coleman (Harry Landers) and the mentally ill Dr. Lester (Sandra Smith). Kirk had a fling with Lester back at the Starfleet Academy, but she got booted due to her instability. She still feels bitter about that experience and resents men because she can't enter the same ranks of Starfleet advanced personnel. Of course, she especially dislikes Kirk, since he represents the best of the best within the world she can't enter.
Anyway, as part of this trap, Kirk and Lester swap bodies. She takes over his form and plans to kill her old body with Kirk in it. This goes awry, so she has to take Kirk back on board the Enterprise. While there, the fake captain performs a slew of inappropriate and atypical actions, which stirs suspicion from Spock. Trapped in the female body, Kirk has to find a way to convince others of what's happened and eventually restore his mind to his manly form.
Though clearly a silly episode, "Intruder" had some potential due to the intriguing theme. However, some poor acting and surprisingly non-progressive attitudes made it less than terrific. In regard to the former, Smith actually did a pretty nice job as Kirk in Lester's body. She brought positive authority to the role and seemed convincing. Honestly, in some ways she appeared superior to Shatner, as she lacked his emotive tendencies.
On the other hand, Shatner's turn as Lester in Kirk's body could not have been more absurd. He strongly played up the stereotypically female aspects of the role and made it a tremendously camp experience. Shatner's wispy and eccentric performance made it difficult to believe that so few suspected anything was up with the captain.
As I mentioned, the show treated women in a particularly stereotypical manner that I didn't expect given the series' generally forward-looking attitudes. Granted, Trek did better in that regard when it came to different races; the program never could figure out what it thought of women. Still, the bitter and psychotic Dr. Lester seemed like a poor representation of the female attitude, and this element hurt the show.
In addition to these shows, we find the series' original pilot. Actually, Trek had two pilots. The second - which eventually aired as "Where No Man Has Gone Before" - was created after NBC declined to pursue the first. In an unprecedented move, the network told Roddenberry and company to recast the show and redo some elements, and the result made TV history.
Since they spent so much money on the first pilot - entitled The Cage - the show's honchos didn't let it go to waste. As such, it was chopped up for inclusion as part of the series' only two-part episode, Season One’s "The Menagerie".
After Trek demonstrated such remarkable life following its 1969 cancellation, Roddenberry eventually went back and reconstructed "The Cage" so fans could see the entire original episode. When this occurred in 1986, however, the full color elements had disappeared. As such, the version of "The Cage" that came out back then combined color pieces from "The Menagerie" with some very rough black and white material.
Apparently the original color elements weren't as lost as previously believed. They eventually came back and were issued as the full-color version of "The Cage" found on this DVD. After many decades, it's nice that fans can see the first pilot as it originally looked.
"The Cage" (not broadcast during the show's original run) offers a look at a Trek that could have been. Only one familiar crewmember remains: Spock. Otherwise, we find a totally different roster. Instead of Kirk, we get Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), and Dr. Boyce (John Hoyt) replaces Bones. Roddenberry squeeze Majel Barrett would later play the recurring role of Nurse Chapel on Trek but here she possesses a much stronger part as Number One, the second-in-command to Pike.
Females played a greater part in this prototypical Trek; in addition to Number One, young Yeoman Colt (Laurel Goodwin) had a substantial role. That was part of the reason NBC didn't go for the first incarnation of Trek; they didn't care for the heavy female presence in leadership parts. It seems odd that the pilot is more progressive than the final episode!
Anyway, "The Cage" introduces all of these characters as the Enterprise encounters an old distress signal. They head to Talos IV to find the survivors of a lost Earth vessel. When Pike and the others meet these folks, they seem too healthy, and they quickly learn the whole thing is a ruse led by the Talosians. These super-intelligent beings run their own little zoo and want a strapping human to go with their sexy female named Vina (Susan Oliver). However, they didn't count on the captain's refusal to go quietly, and he plots with the others to escape from their clutches, all while the Talosians use their mighty brain powers to create powerful illusions that trap the prisoners.
While most interesting as a piece of history, "The Cage" actually offers a pretty compelling episode of Trek. It's somewhat hard to place it among the others since so much about it is different; though the overall plot and theme match that of later shows and Pike doesn't vary much from the Kirk archetype, the inclusion of the two prominent female roles makes it stand out from the crowd.
Otherwise, "The Cage" is a pretty typical program that works well. Of course, it lacks the character development and general confidence seen when the series had been on the air for a while, but it still seems provocative and entertaining. Would Trek have become so memorable if this crew remained in charge? I don't know, but it's interesting to get a glimpse of this alternate universe.
Actually, some of the ideas found in "The Cage" would reappear in 1987 when Star Trek: The Next Generation hit the air. That program still failed to provide a female leader; we wouldn't get a non-male captain until Voyager's Janeway, though Next Generation at least escalated the roles for women with two important female crewmembers. I thought it was interesting to note, however, that Picard often refers to his first mate as "Number One", and we also heard Pike use the phrase "engage" during "The Cage". In addition, parts of that episode foreshadowed 1994's Generations, the first Next Generation film.