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: “Shatner Moments” and Nancy Kovack

***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.E19. “A Private Little War”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
GUEST-STARRING: Nancy Kovack, Michael Witney
WRITERS: Jud Crucis (Story), Gene Roddenberry (Teleplay)
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: February 2, 1968
SYNOPSIS: Kirk and Bones reluctantly become involved in an arms race among primitives on a once peaceful planet.

There’s a scene in “A Private Little War” where Kirk gets bitten and thus poisoned by a gloriously cheesy-looking monster. The scene calls for him to suffer and shiver as he struggles to tell Bones on how to save him. Given how William Shatner performs the scene, I felt compelled to type “chewing the scenery” into Urban Dictionary.

Fittingly enough, part of the definition you get is, “In reference to actors (William Shatner comes immediately to mind) …”

What I’ve found in watching these select episodes of Star Trek is the longer the series goes, the more of those infamous “Shatner Moments” we see. And having seen clips of the first two Trek movies, I know there are more to come.

I talked about this not long ago, but it bears repeating: I don’t think he was or is a bad performer. Heck, the he’s a trained Shakespearean actor. Does he have his “Shatner Moments?” Sure. But what he turned in works well in service of the show. “Rob Watches Star Trek” has brought me a newfound respect for him. Not just for what he turned in with Star Trek, but what he went through after Star Trek. He went from being a bona fide television star to losing his home and living in a trailer after the show was cancelled. And yet now, at the age of 89, he’s still chugging away. Imagine the life this guy has lead.

At the very least, Shatner’s performances as Kirk are still memorable after 50 years. There’s something to be said for that. Hell, you fight the Gorn and see what you turn in.

A Private Little War is a great episode, all the atrocious wigs notwithstanding. Nancy Kovack’s smoldering performance as Nona (shown below) is almost worth the price of admission on its own…

The only thing I found a little bit disappointing was that Bones didn’t get the spotlight I thought he would. He’s a perpetual fish-out-of-water. He’s constantly going on these field missions which, in theory, he’s not supposed to be on. That’s why one of his famous catchphrases from the show is, “Damn it, man! I’m a doctor, not a [whatever they’re asking him to be in that episode]!”

So when Kirk gets poisoned, Bones goes back to the encampment with the natives. Kirk is unconscious, and Spock is injured on the Enterprise. The big conflict in the episode is whether or not to give these primitives guns to combat an opposing tribe armed thusly. Instead of waking Kirk up, why not have Bones be the moral center of it all? As a healer, he’s obviously against the idea of introducing firearms even as a defensive response. Maybe some of the carnage he sees causes him to switch sides? But alas, instead we go back to Kirk.

That’s another thing about Shatner. We love the guy, but he tends to pull focus.

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

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: 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: Deja Vu, Parts I and II

***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.E11 and S1.E12, “The Menagerie,” Parts I and II
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy
GUEST-STARRING: Jeffrey Hunter, Malachi Throne, Susan Oliver
WRITER: Gene Roddenberry
DIRECTORS: Marc Daniels (Part I), Robert Butler (Part II)
ORIGINAL AIR DATES: November 17 and 24, 1966
SYNOPSIS: Spock abducts Christopher Pike, former captain of the Enterprise, over events that transpired 13 years ago on the forbidden planet of Talos IV. In Spock’s subsequent trial, Kirk must decide if his friend is still trustworthy.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

What the hell is a menagerie, anyway? I’ve heard that word before. But it’s not used often in common speak…

These two episodes have a unique distinction. Not do they make up what’s basically a two-part clip show, but they’re a clip show that’s not really a clip show.

By this point in the show, the financial requirements for Star Trek’s special effects were starting to take their toll. Thus, the decision was made to take the footage from the show’s unaired pilot “The Cage,” and use them in what ended up being a sort of “found footage” format. Thus they not only saved money and time, but created some nice continuity for the show.

Despite taking considerably less time to make than a standard single episode of Trek, “The Menagerie” is generally regarded as one of the best stories to come from the original series. I don’t know that I agree in that regard. But as someone who got to watch the original pilot beforehand, I admit my opinion may be slanted. But I can certainly appreciate that they didn’t discard “The Cage” altogether. They put it to good use and grew Spock’s backstory in the process.

If it’s not obvious, the guy that plays present-day catatonic Pike is not the guy who plays flashback Pike. Jeffrey Hunter, who was the lead in the pilot, did not come back for “The Menagerie.” Tragically, in 1969 he passed away due to a brain hemorrhage at the age of 42. A damn shame. Clearly he was a talented actor with a great “old Hollywood” sort of look. Also, given what Star Trek became, you’ve got to believe he would have reprised the Pike role at some point.

On the subject of actors, Malachi Throne plays Commodore Jose Mendez. But he also provided the voice for the Keeper, i.e. the lead alien whose head looks like a nut sack. So they used him to tie the “Cage” footage with the new footage. Incidentally, Throne also played False Face on the Adam West Batman show. His first appearance on the show was in March of 1966. Over 30 years later he’d do some voiceover work for The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond.

MEANWHILE IN NOVEMBER 1966: On November 8, Edward R. Brooke becomes the first African American to be popularly elected to the U.S. Senate.

I haven’t had a lot of story critique for Star Trek at this point. But the end of this episode feels like a missed opportunity.

So at the end of the episode we see the Keeper on the communications screen (using recycled footage from “The Cage,” of course) wishing Kirk well. They don’t have to change the central idea. But instead of simply saying goodbye, why not have Keeper say something like, “You’re always welcome here, Captain Kirk.” Then close with a pause and a close-up on Kirk. Yes, I understand Talos IV was portrayed as a good place for Pike to end up. But a line like that plants a seed for a future story as opposed to simply ending one.

Alright, Dictionary.com refers to a menagerie as “a collection of wild or unusual animals, especially for exhibition.” I’d say that checks out for our purposes.

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 – Uhura is THIRSTY!

***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.E1, “The Man Trap”

STARRING: William Shatner, Deforest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nicols, George Takei
GUEST-STARRING: Jeanne Bal, Alfred Ryder
WRITER: George Clayton Johnson
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: September 6, 1966
SYNOPSIS: A shape-shifter gets on to the ship under the guise of Nancy Crater, one of McCoy’s former loves.

By Rob Siebert

May or May Not Be Thirsty

During the climax of “The Man Trap,” there’s a fight sequence involving the villain, a shape-shifter played by Jeanne Bal. In an attempt to prove she’s not who she says she is, Spock clasps his hands together and axe handles her across the face. Bal’s character counters with a backhand straight out of the community theater handbook. Spock goes flying.

Moments later, we learn she is in fact a hairy scary monster (shown below) capable of killing human beings by draining the salt from their bodies. Kirk is nearly successful in luring her into defeat with a handful of salt pellets.

This show is weird and random as f#$%, and I love it.

There’s a lot to unpack here, outside of this being the first episode of Star Trek to make air. (Oddly enough it was broadcast in Canada two days before it’s American premiere.) Having watched the unaired pilot, followed by the actual pilot, and now the premiere episode, this is my first exposure to DeForest Kelley playing McCoy. And here he is, the focus of the very first show. I must say, I was impressed. He had quite the presence about him. Very “old Hollywood.” I’m excited to see more from him.

Then we’ve got Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura. The kids (Read: Early twenties) I work with have recently taught me what “thirsty” means in modern slang. So all I could think of when I watched her scenes was, “Damn, Uhura is THIRSTY!”

When I watched “The Cage,” I talked about sexism and certain scenes that didn’t age well. I would suggest that none of Uhura’s scenes in this first episode age well. Along those same lines, some of the dialogue in general doesn’t age well. But they’re a little better when placed in proper context.

A little over 10 minutes into the episode we get a scene between Spock and Uhura. It serves two purposes: To put over Spock’s logical thought process, and more importantly to introduce us to this new character. When Uhura tries to have a conversation with Spock and he fails, she says among other things…

“Why don’t you tell me I’m an attractive young lady, or ask me if I’ve ever been in love? Tell me how your planet, Vulcan, looks on a lazy evening when the moon is full.”

Later on, when the shape-shifter is on board the Enterprise, it disguises itself as a handsome crew member. He makes a pass at Uhura, giving her a smoldering look and saying she seems a little lonely. She’s then charmed beyond belief when he speaks to her in Swahili. Stunned and enamored, Uhura is seemingly unable to hear a call to the bridge.

Is there anything wrong with wanting to be attractive or being attracted to someone? Of course not. But it’s when you put these scenes in the context of where we were in American History at the time that you really cringe.

It’s not so much what she’s saying as why these lines were written for her. How the writer, and the world at large, viewed women and their role in society. In this episode, Uhura is seemingly only there to titillate male viewers as a lonely hopeless romantic who’s somehow incomplete without a man in her life. You’d never be able to get away with something like this today.

But it wasn’t just Uhura. Nancy Crater, or at least the shape-shifter disguised as Nancy, gets it too. Only it’s from comments made by the other characters, which may actually be worse.

When Robert Crater, Nancy’s husband, talks to Kirk about them being alone on the planet for so long, he says…

“It’s different for me, I enjoy solitude. But for a woman, you understand, of course.”

When Kirk and McCoy arrive on the planet, they both see different versions of Nancy. Kirk sees her as the age she should be, and McCoy sees the same Nancy he remembers from years ago. When they discuss this, Kirk says…

“She’s a handsome woman, yes. But hardly 25.”

*shudders* Those lines aged like milk.

“The Man Trap” is entertaining. But in 2020, it’s unintentionally thought-provoking as a cultural time capsule.

On a side note, during this episode, a place called “Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet” is mentioned.  I’m guessing that’s a planet that’s just one big strip club, which also has a baseball team that only wins the World Series every 100 years or so.

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