Rob Watches Star Trek: A Tale of Two Cities

***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***

SERIES: Star Trek
EPISODE: S1.E28. “The City on the Edge of Forever”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols
GUEST-STARRING: Joan Collins
WRITERS: Harlan Ellison, D.C. Fontana, Gene L. Coon, Gene Roddenberry
DIRECTOR: Joseph Pevney
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: April 6, 1967
SYNOPSIS: A freak accident sends Bones back to 1930s America, where he inadvertantly destroys the future. Kirk and Spock must restore the future, though at a great personal cost to Kirk.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

If you’ve been following along, “Rob Watches Star Trek” was covering episodes far beyond this, the penultimate episode of the first season. But as I continue to learn more and more about the Star Trek franchise, I found out I skipped what many consider to be the best episode of the original series. So naturally, I had to backtrack.

Star Trek was bound to tackle time-travel especially. Specifically, time-travel into Earth’s recent history. The temptation to juxtapose these characters from the future with America’s recent past was simply too great. In fact, by this point in the series, the penultimate episode of the first season, they had already been to that well once before. In “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” saw the crew travel back to the 1960s, the same decade the show was made. I would also count “The Return of the Archons” as a time-travel episode. Even though it doesn’t take place on Earth, for all intents and purposes it takes place in our past.

The comic book science in this episode is a little weird, but via a planet that can send time ripples into space, a drugged Bones is sent back to Great Depression era America. By saving the life of a young woman, he accidentally changes the course of history. Naturally, Kirk and Spock have to stop him via a time portal. And of course, darn his luck, Kirk falls in love with the woman in question. Thus, now Kirk must choose between his own heart and what he knows to be the rightful future of humanity.

The episode is indeed one of the best I’ve seen so far. Show creator Gene Roddenberry, William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy have all cited it among their favorites. But it’s been the subject of much controversy relating to its original writer, renowned science fiction author Harlan Ellison. Due to re-writes and cost prohibits, what wound up on screen was considerably different than what Ellison wrote in numerous drafts over a lengthy amount of time. The changes were a point of contention between Ellison and Roddenberry for decades afterward.

Reportedly, Ellison’s version of “The City on the Edge of Forever” would have introduced a crew member who we learn is involved in an illegal drug trade, and eventually kills another crewman. He’s thus sentenced to die on a nearby world. Said world was to have been the home of nine-foot-tall men, the Guardians of Forever, who are in possession of a time machine. The doomed crewman would steal the time machine and change history, thus necessitating Kirk and Spock’s pursuit. The altered reality would apparently have included an Enterprise manned by renegade space pirates.

But most notably, in Ellison’s version Kirk can’t bring himself to let the Edith Keeler, his love interest played by Joan Collins, die. In the end, Spock makes the choice for him. In the final product, the decision is taken out of both their hands as Edith dies when a truck accidentally runs her down.

This episode underwent re-writes from the likes of D.C. Fontana, Gene L. Coon, and finally Gene Roddenberry himself. I think the ending wound up better for it. Both Ellison and Roddenberry’s endings took the decision out of Kirk’s hands. But the big difference is I think Ellison’s ending makes Spock look needlessly cold. Is he saving a hell of a lot more people than he’s hurting in the process? Yes, absolutely. But intentionally letting someone die is still not a good look for one of your heroes.

In the end, we’re probably better off with the episode we got, as opposed to Ellison’s original vision for it. The only one of his ideas I might have kept in is the one about the space pirates on the Enterprise. But that’s just because I like alternate universe stories. Mechanically, I’m not even sure how you weave that into the episode when it already has so much to accomplish without it.

For those curious, the original teleplay for the episode is available on Amazon. Like City itself, it serves as a nice little peek into what might have been…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Rob Watches Star Trek: Bones Slaps Catwoman!

***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***

SERIES: Star Trek
EPISODE: S2.E11 “Friday’s Child”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols
GUEST-STARRING: Julie Newmar
WRITER: D.C. Fontana
DIRECTOR: Joseph Pevney
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: December 1, 1967
SYNOPSIS: Kirk, Spock, and Bones are caught in the middle of a tribal dispute on Capella IV, and face a moral dilemma when a woman does not want her unborn child.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

As someone who grew up with the ’60s Batman show, it’s difficult in reviewing these old Star Trek episodes to not draw comparisons between the two. As they were made around the same time, they already look and sound quite similar.

It’s even more difficult when familiar faces pop up. Julie Newmar, who for a time played Catwoman, has a central role in “Friday’s Child.” It’s also shockingly physical, given her character is pregnant…

If you’re ever looking for a Star Trek episode that holds up to today’s “woke” culture about as well as a wet paper towel, it’s this one. Look no further than when Bones, in trying to examine Newmar’s character, places his hand on her pregnant belly. Eleen tells him not to “touch me in that manner.”

Bones responds with, “Now you listen to me, young woman. I’ll touch you in any way or manner that my professional judgment indicates.”

An unnerving line by today’s standards. But not so bad when you consider he threw in the bit about professional judgment. He is a doctor, after all.

Far less excusable is, after she slaps him across the face twice, Bones responds with a slap of his own to the heavily pregnant Eleen. Not a good look for the good doctor. Even if his patient is Catwoman.

Then again, maybe Bones had the right idea. Mere moments after the slap, Eleen seems to come around. She later insists that only McCoy is allowed to touch her. As the culture on this alien world is very male-dominated, maybe the slap earned Bones some form of respect from her? Or maybe you just had to be there…

Kirk later proceeds to give the whole thing a borderline rapey vibe by asking, “How’d you arrange to touch her, Bones? Give her a happy pill?”

Bones’ cringe-worthy response?  “No, a right cross.”

None of this is meant to be offensive, of course. The episode even seems to understand that the slap was a big deal. So I credit it for that, while also taking into account when this was written. But that’s not an excuse. Even with the benefit of hindsight, this is bad writing.

So how do you fix it? How do you write this scene by today’s standards? Let’s assume you have to have some version of it in there. Some scene where Bones convinces Eleen that he has to physically examine her…

It’s only a short time later that Eleen actually gives birth. As this was written by a man, I think we can safely assume he wasn’t cognizant of the excruciating pain involved in childbirth. So maybe have Bones offer to see to her, but she only accepts his offer once she’s really in pain?

Of course, they could have avoided a lot of trouble by taking out the whole “men can’t touch Eleen” part of the story. But that’s a separate issue.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Rob Watches Star Trek: Meet the Parents

***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***

SERIES: Star Trek
EPISODE: S2.E10 “Journey to Babel”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
GUEST-STARRING: Mark Lenard, Jane Wyatt
WRITER: D.C. Fontana
DIRECTOR: Joseph Pevney
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: November 17, 1967
SYNOPSIS: As the Enterprise transports planetary delegates to a diplomatic conference, Spock’s father becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s a moment in this episode that I absolutely love. It’s when we cut to a wide open common area and see all the various aliens that have come together on the Enterprise. We’ve got blue people with antennas, we’ve got pig men, we’ve got little people painted gold (shown below). And of course, we have a Vulcan.

For yours truly, this is a sort of gloriously campy predecessor to what we’d see 10 years later in the cantina scene in Star Wars. For a few brief moments, Star Trek does some world-building simply via the visuals. Those glorious ’60s sci-fi visuals.

The only thing missing was a Gorn. Though that particular alien race seemed, shall we say, less inclined toward diplomacy. And hey, maybe Kirk’s got hard feelings. You can’t blame him, can you?

In addition to a Gorn-less alien convention, we’ve got quite a bit else happening in this episode. A family reunion with Spock’s parents, Marek and Amanda. We then go into a murder investigation after one of the pig men is killed. Next we find out Marek is ill and needs a blood transfusion from his son. This leads to Bones having to perform the procedure as the Enterprise is rocked back and forth in a space battle with the Orion crime syndicate. There are so many plates spinning, and yet it somehow all seems to fit. That’s a credit to the writing.

So Marek is Vulcan and Amanda is human. The Vulcan mindset is that humans are emotional, thus irrational. Vulcans, on the other hand, are strictly logical. The idea, which we see played up in this episode, is that Spock gets his rarely seen emotional side from his mother.

I reject this notion.

MEANWHILE, IN NOVEMBER OF 1967: The satellite ATS-3 transmits the first color image of Earth’s entire disk (nearly all of the western hemisphere).

We’ve heard Spock discuss the Vulcans and their history before. As a race, they were once quite volatile even by human standards. Warfare was commonplace, to the point that it threatened their very existence. Their salvation came via the adoption of a philosophy that cast uncontrolled emotion as the root cause of all problems. Thus, the need to rigidly control all emotion, and conduct one’s self via an ethical and logical code.

So the Vulcan mindset is cultural, as opposed to being somehow biological. They are taught to be as cold and emotion-less as they are. This flies in the face of the show’s implication that Spock’s behavior is genetically influenced by either one of his parents. For all intents and purposes, humans and Vulcans are born with the same blank slate. The difference lays in nurture, not nature.

What I’d love to see is a new and budding romance between a human and a Vulcan. I’m sure the franchise has covered that at some point in its 50-year history. But thus far the closest we’ve seen (or at least the closest I’ve seen) is the strange dynamic between Spock and Nurse Chapel. Not exactly Romeo and Juliet, those two…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.