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: The Racism 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
EPISODES:
S3.E15 “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols
GUEST-STARRING: Frank Gorshin, Lou Antonio
WRITER: Oliver Crawford, based on a story by Lee Cronin
DIRECTOR: Jud Taylor
ORIGINAL AIR DATES: January 10, 1969
SYNOPSIS: Captain Kirk and the Enterprise are caught in the middle of a racially charged conflict between a planet’s government and a race subservient beings.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

We weren’t supposed to get to this episode for several more months. But in light of recent events it seems rather apropos.

My understanding is this is generally regarded as the “racism episode” of the original Star Trek series. Obviously it’s a little heavy-handed, as you might guess from the half-black and half-white look of the aliens. Nonetheless its message is noble. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent racially charged protests, it’s one we need now more than we have in a long time.

“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” introduces is to Lokai of the planet Cheron, the leader of a planetary rebellion seeking to liberate his race of over 100,000 beings. Soon, the Enterprise is joined by Commissioner Bele (pronounced like “real”), who refers to Lokai as a political prisoner.

Instead of summarizing the events of the episode, I’ll refer you to dialogue in a specific scene that perfectly encapsulates the conflict.

The following takes place while Captain Kirk and Bele are all in sick bay checking on the condition of Lokai. Bele wants to take Lokai back to Cheron, as he’s considered a political prisoner. Naturally, Lokai wants nothing to do with him…

Lokai: “He raided our homes, tore us from our families, herded us together like cattle,  and then sold us as slaves!
Bele: “They were savages, Captain. We took them into our hearts,  our homes, we educated them.”
L: “Yes. Just education enough to serve the master race!”
B: “You were the product of our love. And you repaid us with murder.”
L:
“Why should a slave show mercy to the enslaver?”
B:
“Slaves? That was changed thousands of years ago. You were freed.”
L:
“Freed? Were we free to be men? Free to be husbands and fathers? Free to live our lives in equality and dignity?”
B: “Yes you were free. If you knew how to use your freedom. You were free enough to slaughter and to burn all the things that had been built!”
L: [To Kirk] “I tried to break the chains of a hundred million people. My only crime is that I failed. …”
B: There is an order in things. He asks for utopia in a day. It can’t be done.
L: “… To you we are a loathsome breed who will never be ready. Genocide for my people is the plan for your utopia!”
B: “You insane, filthy little plotter of ruin! You vicious subverter of every decent thought. …”

Later, Spock asks Bele about the nature of the conflict. He responds with, “It is obvious to the most simple-minded that Lokai is of an inferior breed. … Are you blind, Commander Spock? … I am black on the right side. Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side.”

In a truly wonderful moment of television, Kirk and Spock tell Bele they see no significant difference between the two “breeds.”

MEANWHILE, IN JANUARY 1969: Richard Nixon is sworn in as the 37th President of the United States on January 20.

Near the end of the episode, the Enterprise discovers the entire population of Cheron has been wiped out from war. Lokai and Bele, now the last of their kind, beam themselves back down to the planet to continue waging war on one another. Their hate is all they have left.

While admittedly hokey-looking and filled with expository dialogue, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” is a picture-perfect example of how you can still make great television on a slim budget. They didn’t need fancy alien costumes or elaborate special effects to make this work. All they needed was some simple face paint and two gray bodysuits.

In hindsight, I wonder what happened when Lokai and his people started to rise up. How much did it look like what we’re seeing on the news right now? Were there riots? Looting? Were there any who looked like Bele that stood by the rebels?

To think, until a week or so ago I only knew this episode as “the one with Frank Gorshin.” Gorshin, of course, played the Riddler on the 1960s Batman show.

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