Rob Watches Star Trek: Kirk the Jerk?

***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.”***

TITLE: Star Trek: The Motion Picture
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Stephen Collins, Persis Khambatta
DIRECTOR: Robert Wise
WRITERS: Alan Dean Foster (Story), Harold Livingston (Screenplay)
STUDIOS: Paramount Pictures, Century Associates
RATED: G
RUN-TIME: 132 min
RELEASED: December 7, 1979

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

I came into Star Trek: The Motion Picture ready to be bored. This is, after all, the film infamously called the “Slow Motion Picture.”

But boring isn’t what I got out of it. There are slow portions, obviously. But I wasn’t bored at any point. To yours truly, the story of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is one of a charmingly odd sci-fi flick that missed out on some of its potential.

Eighteen months after the end of the five-year mission, Kirk has been promoted to admiral. But when a mysterious and destructive energy cloud is discovered to be on a collision course with Earth, Kirk takes it upon himself to investigate the mysterious entity aboard a refitted Enterprise. But while there are many familiar faces aboard, this is not the Enterprise Kirk remembers, and he hasn’t been a starship captain in quite some time. Meanwhile, Spock feels a telepathic connection with the entity that will serve to guide the Enterprise on its mission.

Watching the film for the first time in 2020 means there’s a giant elephant in the room whenever Stephen Collins is on screen as Decker. Not because of 7th Heaven, but because of what we’d later learn about him. Years ago, I made the mistake of listening to the recording that came out of him talking about what he’d done. I now desperately wish I hadn’t.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture reportedly had a very rushed production schedule. So much so that director Robert Wise once said he felt the final film was only a rough cut of the one he wanted to make. I can only assumed this rush to the finish line is the reason much of the movie seems to be not very well thought out.

For instance, the main thing I took away from the movie was just how wrong Kirk is. When he decides to investigate what we later learn is the V’Ger entity, he uses his authority as an admiral to forcefully replace Decker as captain of the Enterprise. The two then proceed to clash over how to advance the mission, with Decker ultimately being vindicated. We see that, despite his noble intentions, Kirk is out of practice when it comes to captaining a starship.

This tension between Kirk and Decker is there by design, and is the most interesting part of the movie. The problem I have with it is that it only gets a half-hearted resolution about midway through the film. We don’t really get to savor the meat of the issue. It eventually becomes a moot point. But beforehand, why not throw in some kind of sequence where Kirk admits to Decker that he was wrong and restores his rank, only to have Decker turn him down? That way, we get a satisfactory conclusion to the arc, and Kirk doesn’t look like such a jerk…

If you’d asked me to guess before hand who would get the film’s best entrance, my guess wouldn’t have been Bones. But low and behold, there he is. Beamed in with his space disco suit and medallion, griping about how he’s been drafted back into service. Moments later, he’s part of get of the best character moments in the film when Kirk, in a moment of vulnerability, tells Bones he needs him. In that moment Bones’ demeanor changes, and albeit still somewhat begrudgingly, he once again becomes the Enterprise‘s resident doctor.

The character who undergoes the biggest, and yet surprisingly understated, transformation is Spock. At the start of the movie, he’s on Vulcan taking part in a ceremony signifying the purging of all emotion. When he returns to the Enterprise, he’s as cold and stoic as ever. But after journeying into space and mind-melding with the V’Ger entity, he’s a changed man. In an exchange with Kirk in sick bay, Spock says…

“…with all its pure logic, V’Ger is barren. Cold. No mystery. No Beauty. Should’ve known. … [Spock takes Kirk’s hand.] This simple feeling is beyond V’Ger’s comprehension. No meaning. No hope. Jim, no answers. It’s asking questions. ‘Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?'”

In asking those questions, the V’Ger entity thereby prompts Spock to ask himself those very same questions. Thus, to an extent, his character arc is complete. He realizes the value of emotion and feeling as opposed to pure logic. I like this. I just wish it had been given a little more emphasis outside of that one scene. After all, Spock’s relationship with his own feelings is one of the tentpole subjects the original series revolved around.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was developed from what was to have been an episode of a new series, Star Trek: Phase II. Complete with new characters Decker and Ilia. If you look at the plot without the elements needed to put Kirk, Spock, and the gang back together, it does indeed look like something they’d have done on the original series. The Enterprise comes into contact with a mysterious entity in space, it possesses Ilia, hijinks ensue and things are back to business as usual at the end.

But while the movie does feel reminiscent of the show in that sense, something on this scale that’s meant for both Star Trek fans and general audiences would likely have benefited from a conventional villain. Obviously, The Wrath of Khan would go on to justify that sentiment. That’s not to say Kirk needed a bad guy to punch. But a big sentient energy cloud isn’t necessarily who I’d have picked to match up against the Enterprise crew in their cinematic debut.

What’s more, the interior of the Enterprise doesn’t look or feel as fun as it did on the TV show. All the bright colors, campy as they were, are missed. The “refitted” Enterprise looks more like a refurbished dentist’s office.

Imagine my surprise at hearing what I thought was the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme. Star Trek: The Motion Picture marked the first time that classic score by Jerry Goldsmith was heard. Apparently, Goldsmith was Gene Roddenberry’s first choice as composer for the original Star Trek pilot. How fitting that he came back to create what to this day is the franchise’s most recognizable theme.

There’s a famous klunker of a line in this movie that I’d hoped wasn’t as bad as legend tells. Sadly, it’s everything I’d heard it was. During Ilia’s introduction, out of the clear blue sky, she says, “My oath of celibacy is on record, captain.” The movie seems to try and justify this line by having Sulu and Chekov gawk at her when she walks on to the bridge. But it clearly wasn’t enough. Over 40 years later, it still comes off creepy and weird.

But for my money, an even bigger klunker comes from Kirk about midway through the film. His line is, “Stop competing with me, Decker.” But for whatever reason it comes out, “Stop…….com…petingwithmeDecker.”

In some circles, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is considered the worst of the six films based on the original series. Perhaps the worst in the franchise overall. Certainly the film is deeply flawed, and perhaps even ill-conceived. But even as someone fairly new to Star Trek, I still found it enjoyable. It’s not worthy of being the franchise’s big-screen debut. But it has its merits. Mostly in the smaller, quieter moments between the characters we know and love from the show.

For more “Rob Watches Star Trek,” check out the archives.

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

Rob Watches Star Trek: Intergalactic Species Osmosis

***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: S3.E23. “All Our Yesterdays”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
GUEST-STARRING: Mariette Hartley, Ian Wolfe
WRITER: Jean Lisette Aroeste
DIRECTOR: Marvin Chomsky
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: March 14, 1969
SYNOPSIS: Kirk, Spock, and Bones are trapped in the past on an alien world. Spock finds an unlikely romance.

I’m calling BS on “All Our Yesterdays.” This episode has been cited by some as one of the best for the Spock character. Don’t be fooled. It’s not.

The episode brings Kirk, Spock, and Bones to the planet Sarpeidon. There they find a strange library containing time portals to different points in Sarpeidon’s history. Shenanigans ensue and Kirk more or less winds up in 17th century England. Meanwhile, Spock and Bones are stuck in an arctic wilderness 5,000 years in the past.

It’s there they are rescued by Zarabeth, a woman marooned alone in this time period. A woman Spock suddenly and inexplicably becomes attracted to. We later learn that because they’ve traveled back to a time before the Vulcan race purged themselves of emotion, Spock is reverting to match the Vulcans of this era.

Nope. Sorry. Doesn’t work for me.

Giving Spock a love interest, even for just one episode, isn’t a bad idea. But his stoic demeanor is integrally woven into the fabric of the series. So if you’re going to do that story, you’d better make it good. They didn’t do that here. In addition, the mechanics of it are, as Spock would deem them, most illogical.

So the idea is that Spock is suddenly emotional and amorous because that’s how the other Vulcans in this time period are. But what kinda sense does that make? If I travel to Mars, then hop in a time machine and go 2.5 million years into the past, do I gradually become a caveman by intergalactic species osmosis? Probably not. Hell, the notion wouldn’t have even occurred to Spock if Bones, of all people, hadn’t brought it up.

Question: Why not give Bones the love interest? My understanding is the show had done a similar “Spock in love” plot like this before. Whereas the last time we saw Bones have romantic inclinations was way back in “The Man Trap.”

Obviously, they wanted Spock and Bones together in this episode so their conflicting personalities could rub up against each other, even as Spock becomes prone to the human emotion he so often frowns upon in people like Bones. But wouldn’t it work better the other way around? It would certainly seem more natural for Spock to be the cold (no pun intended), emotionless one thinking of ways to get back home, while Bones pines for they’re rescuer. Then in the end, Bones is forced to adhere to Spock’s logical methodology in order to survive.

The episode tries to give the two a poignant moment at the end, where Bones checks on Spock after they’ve returned and left Zarabeth in the past. It doesn’t necessarily work, as Spock has returned to his normal, emotionless self. But if the roles are reversed, Bones would be able to tell Spock he’s not okay. Spock, in a rare moment of human compassion, could then tell Bones he’s sorry for his loss. Thus, creating a special moment between the two.

Sadly, “All Our Yesterdays” is an episode ripe with missed opportunities. Even sadder is the fact that it’s the penultimate episode of the show. I couldn’t help but wonder if by this point, the Star Trek showrunners knew the show was likely to be cancelled and had themselves a case of Senioritis.

In actuality, the last day of filming on season three of Star Trek was January 9, 1969. The show was officially canceled the following month. It had hung on for three seasons. But despite the devotion of its fans, who’d launched numerous letter-writing campaigns in support of the series, Star Trek was finally gone…

Or so they thought.

For more “Rob Watches Star Trek,” check out the archives.

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

Rob Watches Star Trek: Kirk as a Horse?

***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: S3.E10. “Plato’s Stepchildren”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols
GUEST-STARRING: Michael Dunn, Liam Sullivan
WRITER: Meyer Dolinsky
DIRECTOR: David Alexander
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: November 1, 1968
SYNOPSIS: Kirk, Spock, and Bones are taken captive by a group with telekinetic abilities, who take inspiration from the Greek philosopher Plato.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

This episode is, of course, famous for containing television’s first interracial kiss. That moment between William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols is rightfully iconic.

That being said, not only has the kiss been discussed to death, but I’m hardly qualified to talk in depth about it. Plus, while I give it all the respect it deserves, it’s not what I came away from “Plato’s Stepchildren” thinking about.

The episode is about Kirk, Spock, and Bones becoming trapped on a planet that houses a group of very powerful telekinetics. So powerful they can manipulate people’s bodies against their will. When they want Bones to stay on world and be their resident doctor, he refuses. Thus their leader Parmen proceeds to use Kirk and Spock as his personal playthings until Bones acquiesces.

Naturally, this episode calls for Kirk and Spock to perform a bunch of demeaning tasks at the behest of Parmen. Initially, it comes off as the typical brand of camp you’d see from a classic Star Trek episode. Kirk hits himself in the face several times. Parmen forces Spock to laugh and sob uncontrollably. Later, Uhura and Nurse Chapel are brought in and forced to passionately kiss Kirk and Spock respectively. That’s obviously where we get our famous interracial kiss. It’s all territory you’d expect to venture through in a story like this.

But there’s also a moment that I’ll call “the horse sequence.” In the more than 25 episodes of Star Trek I’ve now seen, the horse sequence is the only point I’ve actually been made to feel uncomfortable. And I’m not even sure I should be uncomfortable.

Among the titular “stepchildren” is a little person named Alexander, who lacks the powers his taller brethren have. The horse sequence in question happens when Alexander climbs on Kirk’s back, and as Kirk is on all fours, proceeds to ride him like a horse. Quite literally, as Kirk actually whinnies (shown below).

It’s not that the act in itself is hugely offensive, though I’m sure little people aren’t overjoyed at it. But when I saw it, I went from laughing and enjoying a performance to feeling sorry for the performers.

And yet, that’s what the sequence is designed to do, isn’t it? We’re supposed to be aghast and hate the villain as we feel remorse for our hero. So what is it about this moment that breaks the illusion of the show? It’s tough to put your finger on…

My best guess? They got too silly. This might have looked right on paper. But on screen? Pass.

Here’s my question: Why not have Parmen force Kirk and Spock to fight like a child playing with toys? Yes, we’ve seen them fight before. But there’s a helplessness here that’s obviously very different.

I’ve got to hand it to William Shatner, though. They told him to be a horse, and he went for it. He turned into a by God horse. Maybe that’s why it was so uncomfortable. He believed. So I believed.

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

Rob Watches Star Trek: A Broken Triad

***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: S3.E9. “The Tholian Web”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols
WRITERS: Judy Burns, Chet Richards
DIRECTOR: Herb Wallerstein
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: November 15, 1968
SYNOPSIS:
Kirk is presumed dead as an alien race builds a destructive web around the Enterprise.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

“It’s the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.”

Those are the exact words that came out of my mouth when I saw Kirk, Spock, and the others wearing those space suits in “The Tholian Web” (shown above). And in my head, they came out in Dan Aykroyd’s voice.

I couldn’t help it. It just popped in there.

I jest, but “The Tholian Web” is actually a really good episode. It tells a story that, in hindsight, it’s surprising we didn’t get much sooner. Kirk is presumed dead after slipping through a dimensional rift. Thus, the Enterprise crew must now accept that their captain is gone, while at the same time adjusting to Spock being in command. All the while, the random crew members, including Chekov, are going insane thanks to a condition spread to them from a doomed starship. As if that weren’t enough, the ship is facing hostility from the Tholians, an alien race that lays claim to this region of the galaxy. They are constructing a destructive energy web around the Enterprise. Oh, and by the way, Kirk might just be alive. The stakes are high and the pressure is on. This is good storytelling.

The core of Star Trek lays in the dynamic between Kirk, Spock, and Bones. Kirk is the centerpiece, with the other two essentially acting as conflicting voices in his ear. Spock offers cold, hard logic and facts. While Bones, in many ways, embodies the human emotion that Spock claims to reject. He’s the everyman (despite his impossible ability to reattach a human brain). With Kirk gone, those two voices are left to argue unchecked, and must learn to coexist peacefully.

The episode manages to serve all three characters well. None more so than Kirk, who is absent for most of the episode. Look no further than the scene where Spock and Bones view the recording Kirk left for them in the event of his death. He knows the two will be butt heads in his absence. But he urges them to lean on each other, listen to one another, and seek guidance from one another. 

While “Balance of Terror” showed us the the burden Jim Kirk bears as a starship captain, “The Tholian Web” illustrates the importance of Jim Kirk the human being. Why he is the best person to command the Enterprise.

One character this episode does not serve well? Chekov. Granted, it doesn’t help that I viewed this episode after “Day of the Dove,” another episode where he loses his mind temporarily. But every time I see him on screen, his face seems to get more and more smackable.

Chekov falls into that dreaded category of characters that were added so a show could appeal to a younger audience. Usually kids. Though in this case, teenagers. Legend has it Walter Koenig, who played Chekov, was cast because he looked like Davy Jones of the Monkees. (The resemblance is quite uncanny.) At one point, Gene Roddenberry apparently wrote in a memo that Kirk, Spock, and the others seemed “middle aged” compared to Chekov.

The reason that’s hilarious? Koenig is only about five years younger than William Shatner. As of this writing, Shatner is 89. Koenig is 84, and would have been in his early 30s when this show aired in 1968. Davy Jones, meanwhile, was about 10 years younger than Koenig.

Hey, wait…I’m in my 30s. Does that mean I can still appeal to teen audiences?!?

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

Rob Watches Star Trek Archive

The following represents the full archives of “Rob Watches <i>Star Trek</i>,” thus far, presented in the order the episodes originally aired….

Star Trek, Season One

Series Pilot: “The Cage”

“The Man Trap”

“Where No Man Has Gone Before”

“The Naked Time”

“Dagger of the Mind”

“The Menagerie”

“Balance of Terror”

“The Galileo Seven”

“Arena”

“Return of the Archons”

“Space Seed”

“Errand of Mercy”

“The Alternative Factor”

“The City on the Edge of Forever”

Star Trek, Season Two

“Amok Time”

“Mirror, Mirror”

“Journey to Babel”

“Friday’s Child”

“The Trouble With Tribbles”

“Private Little War”

“Bread and Circuses”

“Assignment: Earth”

Star Trek, Season Three

“Spock’s Brain”

“The Enterprise Incident”

“Day of the Dove”

“The Tholian Web”

“Plato’s Stepchildren”

“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”

“All Our Yesterdays”

Star Trek Movies:

Star Trek The Motion Picture (Coming Soon)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Coming Soon)

Star Trek: Lower Decks

“Second Contact”

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

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Rob Watches Star Trek: The Devotion of Leonard Nimoy

***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: S3.E2. “The Enterprise Incident”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
GUEST-STARRING: Joanne Linville
WRITER: D.C. Fontana
DIRECTOR: John Meredyth Lucas
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: September 20, 1968
SYNOPSIS: Kirk and Spock embark on a secret mission to steal a Romulan cloaking device.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

One of the plotlines in “The Enterprise Incident” involves a female Romulan commander trying to seduce Spock. Both over to the side of the Romulans, and on a more…personal basis. It seems to nearly work, as passions erupt between the two.

Supposedly, Gene Roddenberry had added a moment to D.C. Fontana’s original script where Spock takes the commander in his arms and is “raining kisses on every square inch above the shoulder.” At the insistence of Leonard Nimoy and his guest co-star Joanne Linville, this was changed to something more befitting of the Spock character. At the presumed moment where the “raining” would have began, the two instead touch hands, with Spock’s fingers caressing hers. Subsequently, their fingers gently trace each other. His index and middle finger hover near her lips, as her left hand ventures around his right shoulder. Their dialogue, meanwhile, maintains they are indeed in some form of intimate embrace.

The more I see Nimoy perform as Spock, and the more I hear of how much he respected the Spock character, the more I come to respect him as an actor. Realistically, he didn’t have to put that kind of care into his performance. He could have simply followed the script. It was a Roddenberry addition after all. Instead, he pushed back, and even wrote Roddenberry a long letter of complaint.

I was soon delighted to find this was hardly Leonard Nimoy’s only creative contribution to the character, and by extension the Star Trek Universe at large. I went on something of a Nimoy kick after seeing this episode. I even sought out For The Love of Spock, the documentary produced by his son Adam Nimoy, which is available on Netflix.

A similar character-related assertion by Nimoy resulted in the creation of the Vulcan nerve pinch. In the early season one episode, “The Enemy Within,” Spock was to have punched out a evil version of Captain Kirk. Feeling that would be too violent for a Vulcan, Nimoy instead suggested the nerve pinch, attributing it to a combination of telepathic powers and the Vulcans’ knowledge of human physiology. He would credit William Shatner for “selling” the maneuver exactly as he wanted.

Nimoy is also responsible for the iconic Vulcan hand salute, which first appeared in “Amok Time.” Nimoy, who was Jewish, was inspired by a gesture he’d seen performed during priestly blessing in a Synagogue. In 1968, Nimoy told the New York Times the Vulcans were a “hand-oriented people.” A notion that certainly lines up with what we see in “The Enterprise Incident.”

As icing on this very Nimoy-flavored episode, we get to see Kirk made up with Spock-like features (shown above) to infiltrate the Romulans. Hilariously, they actually have Bones perform plastic surgery on Kirk to give him the pointy ears. That ship doctor position is pretty all-encompassing, isn’t it? Last week, the man literally had to reattach Spock’s brain. This week? The captain needs cosmetic surgery. No wonder DeForest Kelley was added to the opening title sequence…

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

Rob Watches Star Trek: A Brainless Episode?

***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: S3.E1. “Spock’s Brain”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan
GUEST-STARRING: Marj Dusay
WRITER: Gene L. Coon (as Lee Cronin)
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: September 20, 1968
SYNOPSIS: A mysterious alien woman beams aboard the Enterprise and surgically removes Spock’s brain.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

We now move into troubled waters with the third season of Star Trek

Star Trek consistently struggled with declining ratings, and was reportedly on the chopping block numerous times at NBC. To make matters worse, beginning with this episode, NBC began airing Star Trek Fridays at 10 p.m. Most certainly an undesirable time slot, particularly for the show’s younger fans. Fridays are a famously difficult night for television. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry would tell the Toledo Blade in 1968, “People who watch our show don’t stay home on Friday nights. They’re out to ball games and the like.”

Roddenberry would scale back his involvement in the day-to-day production of Star Trek as a result.  He added that if the network wanted to kill Star Trek, “it couldn’t make a better move.”

An unfavorable time slot, along with a significantly reduced budget, put a significant damper on the show, both in terms of writing and general production. This cutback on quality is, for many, exemplified with “Spock’s Brain.” Generally, it is considered one of the worst, if not the worst episode of the original series.

“Spock’s Brain” wasn’t originally on my list of episodes for “Rob Watches Star Trek.” But when I saw the title and synopsis, I couldn’t help myself. It sounded like the stuff of B movie glory. Something I could love in the same vein as Kirk’s fight with the Gorn. And indeed, I got excited early on when Bones starts saying things like, “Jim, where are you going to look in this whole galaxy? Where are you going to look for Spock’s brain?”

Then the episode progressed, and I got it. “Spock’s Brain” feels spread thin in a way that previous episodes don’t. There’s a decent amount of padding, along with dialogue that’s often repetitive and stupid. That initial exchange between our heroes and the women of Sigma Draconis, for instance, made me wish someone would surgically remove my brain.

As if that weren’t enough, the episode has so many plotholes it may as well be Swiss cheese. We also have plot conveniences that are almost laughable. Cast in point, a magic device (shown below) that can teach anyone how to remove, then later restore, a brain with no lasting damage to the individual. Then at the episode’s climax, Spock is suddenly and magically able to talk Bones through said restoration process.

In another, better written episode? All this might have worked. But in this one? Nope. Not even close.

Still, the episode has some guilty pleasure moments. Our genius machine that can apparently teach a child how to safely detach a human brain? It’s essentially a big fish bowl with needles sticking out of it, and I love it. William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and James Doohan all seem to know they’re in a bad B movie, as they’re chewing the hell out of the scenery. Shatner especially. We even get to see Sulu take command of the Enterprise for a bit! Can’t say I expected that.

So does “Spock’s Brain” deserve the hate it gets? Does it deserve to be looked back on as one of the worst episodes of Star Trek? Yeah. It kinda does. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed for the sheer over-the-top lunacy that it is. When even your bad episodes are enjoyable. That’s truly how you know you’ve made something that will endure.

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

Rob Watches Star Trek – Throw a Hat on Him!

***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.E26. “Assignment: Earth”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
GUEST-STARRING: Robert Lansing
WRITERS: Art Wallace, Gene Roddeberry
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: March 29, 1968
SYNOPSIS: The Enterprise travels back to the year 1968 and encounters a mysterious interstellar agent.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

Less than two minutes into “Assignment: Earth,” a man beams aboard the Enterprise without warning or authorization. He’s a dapper man and a business suit, who also happens to be carrying a cat.

I haven’t even been watching Star Trek that long. But even I know that’s one of the most Star Trek things that could possibly happen. Bravo to this episode for sheer campy brilliance.

Apparently this concept of Gary Seven, interstellar secret agent, was meant to be turned into its own TV series. One way or another it didn’t happen, but I’d say things worked out. Obviously, people still are still talking about “Assignment: Earth” more than 50 years later. In contrast, there’s a chance Agent Seven’s show could have come and gone with barely a notice.

Mere seconds into the episode, “Assignment: Earth” asks us to take a pretty big leap even by Star Trek standards. We’re told the Enterprise has traveled back in time to observe Earth in the year 1968 via something called the “Light-Speed Breakaway Factor.” We aren’t told what that is, or how it works. We simply start the episode in 1968, and it’s given to us as a bit of exposition.

From a story mechanics standpoint, I understand this. “Assignment: Earth” is less a time-travel story, and more about exposing us to Agent Seven and his world. But it all seems so abrupt. In two seasons it had never been established that the Enterprise was capable of time-travel. That certainly would have been a helpful detail in, say, “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

Apparently in the Star Trek Universe, all you need to do in order to time travel is pick up enough speed to artificially create a time warp. You also need to be moving toward a large enough gravitational body, such as a star, so that its pull serves to help you pick up enough speed.

So it’s that classic sci-fi theory: “If I drive fast enough and have fancy technology, I can travel through time.” Sure, why not? I just wish they’d have taken an extra minute or two to explain that in the episode.

I’ve consistently found it amusing how, when necessary, they always throw a big hat on Spock to hide his ears. These characters have technology that allows them to bend the laws of space and time to their will. But making a Vulcan look human?

“Uhhh…throw a hat on him!”

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

 

Rob Watches Star Trek: What We Forgive

***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.E25. “Bread and Circuses”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley


GUEST-STARRING: William Smithers, Logan Ramsey
WRITERS: Gene Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon


DIRECTOR: Ralph Senesky
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: March 15, 1968

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

It’s always interesting to see what we forgive for a good story.

“Bread and Circuses” is an episode that wonders what lengths humanity might go to in the name of entertainment. It does this by presenting us with what is essentially an alternate Earth where the Roman Empire never ended, and now has the all benefits of 20th century tech.

But what we’re presented doesn’t look much like a modernized version of ancient Rome. We’ve got a handful of costumes from what must have been a production set in that time frame. We’ve got a few sets that look very vaguely like what they’re supposed to be. And the peaceful faction of slaves that our heroes fall in with? They’re wearing gray sweatsuits. Which means before long, that’s what our heroes are wearing as well.

This is about as clear an example as you’ll find of sci-fi on a budget. Objectively, “Bread and Circuses” just doesn’t look very good…

And yet, it works. “Bread and Circuses” is better than a lot of sci-fi flicks made 50 years later with state-of-the-art CGI. Why is that?

Because everything starts with story, and “Bread and Circuses” is a good story. It’s a little weird, and perhaps even a bit contrived. But at its core, it’s an editorial about television and entertainment that asks viewers important questions that are still relevant after all this time. And because it’s such a good story, we’re willing to forgive the tacky packaging it’s delivered in. That theory doesn’t work in reverse.

Case in point, the Star Wars prequels. When they came out, they were filled with top-line CGI depicting some amazingly creative environments. We had a big robot factory complete with big smelting pots, a planet that was also a giant city, and a humongous hive filled with space bugs, just to name a few. But the story was largely hollow. So all the special effects were hollow as well.

I’m a huge Star Wars geek. But I don’t have a problem saying “Bread and Circuses” is better than any of the three Star Wars prequels. It’s better than Rogue One, that’s for damn sure…

The episode explains the existence of an alternate 20th Century Earth on another world across the galaxy with something called “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development.” That sounds precisely like the kind of BS a writer would make up off the top of their head. Yet it’s such wildly fantastical BS that it feels like it just has to be true. And in the end, isn’t that the best kind of BS?

Not according to Gene L. Coon. Reportedly, a disagreement with Gene Roddenberry over the tone of this episode was what led to Coon’s departure as the Star Trek showrunner. (Though he would submit scripts for season three under the pseudonym Lee Cronin.) Apparently Coon wanted the episode to have more of a comedic touch, while Roddenberry wanted a more serious tone. Ultimately, however, we’re better off for what we got.

The best thing in the entire episode? The exchange in the jail cell between Spock and Bones. After dancing around it for two seasons, Bones finally starts to shoot straight with Spock. It’s clear the two are opposites in almost every sense of the word, and would not be friends outside the bounds of the Enterprise. But they’re united two things: Their sense of duty, and their loyalty to Kirk in particular.

And of course, we love them for it.

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

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.