Rob Watches Star Trek: Uhura, MLK, and the Power of Storytelling

***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.E4 “Mirror, Mirror”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan
GUEST-STARRING: BarBara Luna
WRITER: Jerome Bixby
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: October 6, 1967
SYNOPSIS: A transporter malfunction sends Kirk, Bones, Uhura, and Scotty to a parallel universe. There, they meet twisted and evil versions of the crew.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

Hindsight being 20/20 (50 years of it, no less), this should have been the episode to introduce the concept of alternate realities into the Star Trek universe. It has a hell of a lot more fun with it than “The Alternative Factor” did.

In that review, I’d pitched having Kirk and the crew meet alternate universe versions of themselves using body doubles and basic over-the-shoulder camera work. As it turned out, they simply had Kirk, Bones, Uhura, and Scotty switch places with their alt-universe counterparts. They didn’t even need to bother with  body doubles.

What I came away from this episode thinking about, outside of Spock’s beard of course, was Uhura. And not just because of her Mirror Universe uniform. That thing can’t be regulation, can it? Then again, it’s not like that leggy uniform she wears in the proper timeline is much better…

I’ve continuously been surprised at how physical Nichelle Nichols has been as Uhura. Whether she’s getting smacked across the face in “Space Seed,” or getting mixed up in the climactic fight in this episode, it’s jarring to see her physically combative with the male characters. Mind you, that’s coming from a 2020 perspective. I can’t imagine how it looked in 1968.

Still, she was a black woman standing her ground against a cast of white male characters. That counts for something. Let that serve as yet another example of the historical significance of the Uhura role. A role that, by her own admission, Nichelle Nichols wanted to leave during the show’s first year.

According to various interviews, Nichols originally had her heart set on broadway. Star Trek was simply meant to pad her resume. Thus, after the first season, Nichols told Star Trek  creator and producer Gene Roddenberry she wanted to leave the show.

Two nights later at an NAACP fundraiser, Nichols was introduced to someone identified to her as a big fan of the show: Martin Luther King Jr.

In a 2010 interview, Nicholls recalled that after mentioning her impending departure from Star Trek to King, he said, “Star Trek was the only show that he and his wife Coretta would allow their three little children to stay up and watch, because while they were marching, every night you could see people who looked like me being hosed down with a fire hose and dogs jumping on them because they wanted to eat in a restaurant. The civil rights marches were going on, and here I was playing an astronaut in the 23rd century.”

King added, “‘You’re part of history, and this is your responsibility, even though it might not be your career choice.’”

Nichols recalled when she told Roddenberry what King had said, he had tears in his eyes.

“I told him if he still wanted me, I would stay,” Nicholls said. “He took out my resignation, and it was all torn up where I had given it to him. And he put it in the drawer. I stayed, and I’ve never looked back. I’m glad I did.”

People have a tendency to overlook the great power characters and storytelling have in any medium. They shouldn’t. Stories can unite us in ways that few other things can. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that.

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

Rob Watches Star Trek: Glory, Thy Name is Gorn

***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.E18 “Arena”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols
WRITERS: Fredric Brown (Story), Gene L. Coon (Teleplay)
DIRECTOR: Joseph Pevney
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: January 19, 1967
SYNOPSIS: Captain Kirk is trapped in a fight for his life against a reptilian creature called a Gorn.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

I picked a disconcerting point in history to be watching Star Trek for the first time. One of the things that’s so great about this show is it’s tackling of cultural and ethical questions, issues of violence and nonviolence, etc.

Star Trek looks at humanity’s future with a hopeful eye. Kirk, Spock, and the others are by nature very pacifistic. And as we saw a few weeks ago, they’ve long since outgrown issues of race like the ones we see on the news nowadays. In “Arena,” Kirk and another creature called a Gorn are placed in a fight-to-the-death conflict resolution scenario. A powerful alien force deems both races uncivilized. Thus they’re placed in a violent situation befitting such a demeanor. Of course, in the end Kirk proves them wrong. About humans at least. So Star Trek predicts humanity will ultimately rise above its more violent tendencies. Cooler heads will prevail. Logic and compassion will win the day.

Keep in mind, this episode aired in 1967. More than 50 years later, are we any closer to being like Kirk? No. Not really. Certainly not if you take to heart all this COVID craziness, and then the fallout from George Floyd’s death…
Oye. Talk about a sobering train of thought.

Keep in mind, this episode aired in 1967. More than 50 years later, are we any closer to being like Kirk? No. Not really. Certainly not if you take to heart all this COVID craziness, and then the fallout from George Floyd’s death…

Oye. Talk about a sobering train of thought.

MEANWHILE, ON JANUARY 19, 1967: Major Bernard F. Fisher of the United States Air Force becomes the first to win the Air Force Medal of Honor. The prior year, Fisher had landed his plane in South Vietnam to prevent a fellow soldier from being captured by North Vietnamese forces.

Not so sobering? The goddamn Gorn!!!! I absolutely love this friggin’ thing. Not since “The Cage” have I seen Star Trek really embrace that campy, ’60s sci-fi glory. It’s not hard to see why that whole sequence with Kirk and the Gorn is so fondly regarded.

Here’s my question: Would it have been better to just have the Gorn be nude, as opposed to putting it in that weird loin-cloth thing? I understand it’s supposed to be a ship captain. But going with the “its okay for animals to be naked” logic works for characters like Chewbacca. Why can’t it work for the Gorn? (Although I’m guessing far less thought was put into the Gorn.)

Apparently our latest Earth-like planet isn’t the only one in the universe that looks like the deserts of Los Angeles County. Apparently Star Trek shot in this area so much that a prominent rock formation has been affectionately named “Kirk’s Rock.”

Frankly, it deserves that distinction for this episode alone. Are you gonna tell me that entertainment gets any better than this? I don’t think so.

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

Rob Watches Star Trek: Khan!!!

***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
EPISODES:
S1.E22 “Space Seed
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols
GUEST-STARRING: Ricardo Montalban, Madlyn Rhue
WRITER: Corey Wilber, Gene L. Coon (Additional Teleplay)
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: February 16, 1967
SYNOPSIS: The Enterprise encounters a ship containing selectively bred super-people from the 1990s. Among them is the villainous Khan.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So this is the famous Khan, eh? As in The Wrath of Khan. I knew what older, white-haired,movie Khan looked like via pop culture osmosis. But I never knew there was a dashing younger model.

The theme of “Space Seed,” as I see it, is about the question of just how far man has evolved. How far have we come from the era of the savage beast toward the peaceful society of our dreams?

Try not to chuckle, or even look out the window as you ponder that.

There’s also a poignant kind of double-irony at play here. Khan tells Kirk that man hasn’t evolved much since his time. But in the end, it’s Khan that ends up trying to take the Enterprise by force. Kirk is the one who ends up showing him mercy, even gives his people their own world to inhabit. So while still not perfect, Kirk, Spock, and the others suggest that humans have in fact become that higher-functioning society.

On the flip side, “Space Seed” clearly knows there’s a good chance this move will come back to bite Kirk. And indeed it would, in movie form..

That was also a hell of a fight between Kirk and Khan. Very reminiscent of…wait for it, because you know I had to mention it…Batman ’66. But this has a great one-on-one factor going for it. Whereas the Batman fights were usually with a bunch of henchmen. Khan himself is pretty formidable. The way that red-shirt sold the shot for him after he pried the door open? Very epic in a campy, ’60s sort of way.

Not a great episode for the ladies, per se. We’ve got Lieutenant McGivers being seduced by the obviously abusive Khan. He uses her feelings to emotionally blackmail her into betraying, for all intents and purposes, her own people. Then we’ve got Uhura getting smacked across the face by a henchman. I can’t say that was easy to watch. But that’s why they’re the bad guys, I suppose.

One person it was a great episode for? Bones. Star Trek, or at least what I’ve seen of Star Trek, hasn’t really been high on “bad ass” moments. That’s not really what the original series was about. But Bones sure as hell gets one when Khan emerges from hyper-sleep in the med bay.

“Either choke me or cut my throat.” God damn. He even tells the guy HOW to cut his throat! No lie, Bones might be my new favorite after that.

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

Rob Watches Star Trek: War and Peace

***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:
S1.21, “Return of the Archons”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei
GUEST-STARRING: Charles Macaulay, Harry Townes, Torin Thatcher
WRITERS: Gene Roddenberry (Story), Boris Sobelman (Teleplay)
DIRECTOR: Joseph Pevney
ORIGINAL AIR DATES: February 6, 1967
SYNOPSIS: The Enterprise discovers a planet on which all beings have been “absorbed” into the mind of a single ruler: Landru.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

What are the odds that an episode where Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Sulu get to dress up in 19th century outfits is actually about free will and humanity’s propensity for war?

Actually, on this show the odds are quite good.

Unfortunately, this is an episode where you have to work a little harder to get past the initial silliness. At first I thought we might have been introducing a new villain in Landru. Maybe a character that keeps trying to create hive mind societies based on “simpler times.” In theory, that’d be a great way to save money by recycling costumes from other productions. You could have Kirk and Spock in Victorian times, the Stone Age, or even the present (the ’60s). Frankly I’m surprised they didn’t go all out for this episode and have them just be cowboys.

Yet strangely this odd world they find themselves on isn’t Earth. Rather, an “Earth-like planet.” Pfft. Yeah, okay…

What we have is a story about a planet where individual minds have been absorbed into a single consciousness, otherwise known as “the Body.” The mind allegedly belongs to a man known only as Landru. But, SPOILER ALERT: We later find out Landru is a machine. This strange place is a computer’s logical, soulless idea of what an optimal human society should be.

MEANWHILE, IN FEBRUARY 1967: Operation Junction City is initiated by US forces in Vietnam on February 22. At 82 days, and it becomes the longest airborne operation conducted by American forces since Operation Market Garden during World War II. It is also the only major airborne operation of the Vietnam War.

As he conveniently tends to do, Kirk hits the nail on the head with these lines to a pair of rebels, who are suddenly too frightened to stand against Landru:

“You said you wanted freedom. It’s time you learned that freedom is never a gift. It has to be earned.”

It kind of makes you wonder, in a depressing sort of way, what Kirk and Spock would think of the world in 2020. Racially charged riots and protests. A pandemic. A president that is…well, what he is.

Not to mention the idea of how appealing such a hive mind might be to said president if he could be in the Landru role. And how humiliating would it be to be represented by him.

But hey! This episode is the first mention of the Prime Directive! So that’s something in the positive column, right?

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

Rob Watches Star Trek: Spock, Sulu, and the Sword

***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.E4, “The Naked Time”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, DeForest Kelley, Nichell Nichols
GUEST-STARRING: Bruce Hyde, Majel Barrett, Stewart Moss
WRITER: John D.F. Black
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: September 29, 1966
SYNOPSIS: Members of the crew find their inhibitions lowered after contracting an infection from a dying world.

By Rob Siebert
Wants a Sword, Doesn’t Have A Sword

“Oh wow. We’re here already?”

That’s one of the first things I said when I did my initial research on this episode. I have no idea why that shot of Sulu and the sword is so iconic. Perhaps it’s the sheer absurdity of it. Perhaps it’s the ludicrous amount of oil on George Takei’s chest. Either way, I wasn’t ready to come upon it so soon. I’m still not ready…

“The Naked Time” is widely considered one of the best Star Trek episodes ever produced. But until the last 20 minutes or so, this one was more annoying than anything else. The previously unseen crew member singing over the ship’s intercom for minutes at a time just didn’t do it for me. Then we got to Spock and Nurse Chapel and everything clicked.

There’s a line early in this episode that initially irked me. Bones is examining Spock after he comes back from what’s essentially a crime scene on that dying world. Moments later, he says:  “Your blood pressure is practically non-existent, assuming you call that green stuff in your veins blood.”

I understand why lines like that are there. They separate Spock from the pack and establish him as one character on the show that’s really different. But in that moment I actually felt indignant for him. We’re only a few episodes in, and already Spock has saved the crew multiple times. Hell, in the very first one he plays a pivotal role in taking down someone they think is Bones’ old girlfriend! Yet the good doctor can’t help but sneak that little remark in there at Spock’s expense.

We’re reminded in this episode that he’s half human, half Vulcan. As is evidenced by Spock’s behavior up to this point, Vulcans operate via logic, as opposed to emotion. Thus, he works hard to purge himself of emotion. But when an illness spreads through the crew that causes their inhibitions to drop, naturally (or unnaturally as it were) that emotion comes out.

For me, that Bones line is volleyed later in the episode when Nurse Chapel, under the influence of the illness, confesses her love for Spock. Came out of left field, mind you. But it’s a really nice, “You’re not alone” moment. But ironically, as of course Spock doesn’t end up with Chapel, in the end it only served to remind us that he is alone. Alone and torturing himself emotionally, yet still cared for.

Then we get to the crying scene., where a now infected Spock suddenly finds himself overcome with emotion. Oye. Poor Leonard Nimoy. Some actors can bawl their hearts out on command. Some simply can’t. It would seem that at this point in his career, Nimoy fell into the latter camp. This was right up there with Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as one of the most cringe-worthy crying performances I’ve ever seen. Not even a hint of wetness or redness on his face. Do Vulcans not cry? Is that it?

Then the poor guy gets smacked around by Kirk for being a wuss. Supposedly it’s to try and snap him out of it. But let’s be honest: Kirk bitch-slapped him.

I wonder how many times this poor pointy-eared bastard said to himself, “What the hell am I doing here? I’ve done nothing but bail these shaved monkeys out of trouble since day one. And I have to do this for five years???”

On an unrelated note, Sulu’s first name is Hikaru. Hikaru Sulu. I mean, it is kinda fun to say…

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

Rob Watches Star Trek – The Real Pilot Episode?

SERIES: Star Trek
EPISODE: S1.E3, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy
GUEST-STARRING:
Gary Lockwood, Sally Kellerman
WRITER: Samuel A. Peeples
DIRECTOR:
James Goldstone
ORIGINAL AIR DATE:
September 22, 1966
SYNOPSIS:
After passing through a mysterious force field in space, two crew members gain Extra Sensory Perception (ESP). They subsequently go mad with power. Kirk and the rest of the crew must save the ship from them.

By Rob Siebert
The same Rob from up top.

While it aired as the third episode of the series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is in fact the episode that got Star Trek green-lit by NBC. It was the second pilot filmed after the first one, “The Cage,” was rejected.

Remember, “The Cage” was deemed too intellectual, too slow, and without enough action. By those standards, it’s easy to see why this pilot got picked up and the other did not. This one’s got a handsome bad guy with ESP, and a big fight with Kirk at the end of the episode.

That’s not to say the episode is dumbed down, per se. My impression of Star Trek has always been that it not only puts the “science” in science fiction, but it’s here to ask us important questions. It’s among the apex of a “thinking man’s” TV shows. This episode shows us that even in the early going, that was the case.

After passing through a mysterious force field in space, various individuals on the Enterprise with a predisposition for ESP are effected. None more so than  Helmsman Gary Mitchell, an old friend of Kirk’s. His eyes even begin to emit a strange glow (shown above).

Also along for the ride is Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, a psychiatrist there to study crew members’ reactions to emergency situations. But the more time she spends with Mitchell the more fascinated, and possibly enamored, she becomes with him. As Mitchell continues to develop powers, so does she.

But unlike Dehner, Mitchell’s personality changes drastically as he becomes more powerful. He even develops a hokey 1960s version of Emperor Palpatine’s Force-lightning powers. As he continues to wreak havoc on the ship, Kirk is faced with a dilemma. Kill his old friend, or maroon him on the nearby planet of Delta Vega. Kirk ultimately tries to do the latter. But a fight breaks out that forces a dramatic conclusion.

MEANWHILE, IN SEPTEMBER OF 1966: The U.S. Department of Defense announces 49,200 men will be drafted into the Vietnam War. This would go down as the highest draft call of the war, and the largest overall since the Korean War.

From a writing standpoint, one thing that impressed me was how, right off the bat, we established the dynamic between our two main characters, Kirk and Spock. Or perhaps it’s the difference between Spock and everyone else. They’re playing a game of…multi-level space chess? (Shown above.) Kirk tells Spock he plays an irritating game of chess. Spock pauses, then realizes he’s talking about “one of your Earth emotions.” This is our first of several indications in this episode that Spock lives logically, with as little emotion as possible. Of course, this would come to be a trademark of his alien species, the Vulcans.

Kirk then checkmates him, defying Spock’s logical approach, and after a beat or two asks, “Are you sure you don’t know what irritation is?”

I absolutely love that. And William Shatner delivers that last line perfectly.

In the heat of the Mitchell conflict, Spock’s logic would butt heads with Dehner’s emotion as she implores Kirk to show the helmsman compassion. I honestly couldn’t tell if Dehner had a thing for Mitchell or if she was just passionate about the argument.

They all should have known Mitchell was going to die. His name is Gary. Ain’t nobody in space named Gary…

At this point in the creative process Kirk and Spock were seemingly the only fully formed characters on the show. But two familiar faces do appear as background players: Scotty, played by James Doohan, and Sulu, played by the one and only George Takei. They don’t say much. But they’re there.

The uniforms still have a bit of that sweater look they had in “The Cage.” In “The Man Trap,” the first episode to actually air, they have the look most of us are familiar with.

“The Man Trap,” huh? This episode was pretty light on that token 1960s sexism. But something tells me we won’t be as lucky when we look at that one next week.

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