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.E10 and S1.E11, “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.

Alex Ross Spotlight: Star Wars and Star Trek Collide

By Rob Siebert
Space Pacifist…who just happens to be right.

Happy May the 4th, everybody!

As a kid, I never understood the whole Star Wars vs. Star Trek thing. Mind you, I’d never seen Star Trek. But I understood how the two universes were different. It’s apples and oranges.

Star Trek, when it’s done right, is designed to ask us questions. Most good science fiction is. Ideally, you’re supposed to come away asking questions about yourself and your world, i.e. “Who are we as a people, really?”, “What would you do in this situation?”, etc.

Star Wars on the other hand, is more about the thrill of the adventure. Yes, all that stuff that’s been written about George Lucas, Joseph Campbell, and the hero’s journey are true. And I love all of it. But at the end of the day, we want to be along for the ride.

But as I got older, it started to make a little more sense. For my money it’s not about pitting the two franchises against each other. It’s about how you like your science fiction. Are you an intellectual or an adventurer? Both worlds have a certain amount of each, but there’s nothing at all wrong with leaning in one direction over another.

This is all a really long-winded introduction to this painting by Alex Ross.

Ross has depicted the two worlds separately (shown above). But obviously this is his first time mixing them. I admit, I have no idea why this piece exists. But I ain’t complaining.

Note that the Enterprise crew members have beamed in alongside the rebels. Han Solo isn’t pointing a blaster at Spock, and Obi-Wan Kenobi isn’t swinging a lightsaber at Kirk. All our heroes are standing together against evil.

That says it all, right there.

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.

Rob Watches Star Trek – Series Pilot: “The Cage”

***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy who’s never seen a full episode of Star Trek, decides to take a look at the franchise with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***

SERIES: Star Trek
TITLE: “The Cage”
STARRING: Jeffrey Hunter, Susan Oliver, Georgia Schmidt, Serena Sande, Leonard Nimoy
WRITER: Gene Roddenberry
DIRECTOR:
Robert Butler
ORIGINAL AIR DATE:
October 4, 1988,
First screened in February 1965
SYNOPSIS:
The Enterprise picks up a near-20-year-old radio signal from Talos IV. But upon investigation, the Talosians subject Captain Pike to a series of bizarre experiments.

By Rob Siebert
The same Rob from up top.

If you’ve watched television for any significant amount of time, you know it’s not uncommon for shows to evolve or change between when a pilot episode is picked up to become a series, and when the series actually begins. For instance, in the pilot for Seinfield was titled The Seinfeld Chronicles, and the Michael Richards character was called Kessler instead of Kramer. The Elaine character, who would eventually be played by Julia Louis Dreyfus, was absent entirely.

“The Cage” is the first pilot episode of Star Trek originally shown to CBS executives in February of 1965. It was rejected by the network, and another pilot was ordered. Ultimately, that was for the better. But that’s not to say this episode isn’t unenjoyable…

Mere seconds into very first interior shot of “The Cage,” the original pilot episode of Star Trek, it’s evident this is not yet the iconic show we’re familiar with. The only person on screen we recognize is Leonard Nimoy. He’s still playing Spock (shown left), but it’s clearly not the Spock we know. His hair is a little bit longer, his uniform (like everyone else’s) looks a little too sweatshirt-ish. He’s also got an emotional side to him. It doesn’t get much focus, but it’s there.

But the only person on the Enterprise bridge that we really need to know is Captain Christopher Pike, played by Jeffrey Hunter. The episode revolves entirely around him. He’s obviously the main character, so that’s not altogether uncalled for. But as we’ll see, he also gets a certain…uncomfortable focus. It’s because of that focus that the entire pilot doesn’t age very well.

So the Enterprise receives this 18-year-old radio signal from Talos IV, and the crew realizes there may be survivors. Pike takes a search party down to the planet, and is lured into a trap by Vina, a beautiful woman and supposedly one such survivor. The distress call was a ploy by the Talosians to lure the Enterprise on to the planet, so that they might capture a human to mate with Vina. Eventually, their offspring would be made into human slaves. The episode makes numerous Biblical references to the story of Adam and Eve.

So here’s the thing about these Talosians: Their heads really look like nut sacks. I’m sure I’m not the first to make that brilliant observation. But once I saw the shot on the right, that visual was all I could think about. I mean, what do they even need a male for? They’ve got testicles on their heads. They can just mate with Vina themselves!

MEANWHILE, IN FEBRUARY OF 1965: Malcolm X is assassinated during a speech on February 21. The iconic red and white Maple Leaf design is officially designated as the Canadian flag. 

Master illusionists, the Talosians and Vina desperately try to tempt Pike into giving in and accepting numerous false yet extremely enticing realities. When that doesn’t work, they abduct two women from the Enterprise, and attempt to place them in Vina’s role. They are Pike’s second in command known only as Number One, played by Majel Barrett, and a young lady known only by her Yeoman rank played by Laurel Goodwin (both shown below).

So from the Talosians’ perspective, because Vina was somehow deemed unattractive, two female crew members are brought into the story. We don’t know their names (though apparently Yeoman had one in the series proposal), and they are promptly judged by how they might be attractive to Pike.

See what I mean about  how this doesn’t age well?

What’s more, near the end of the episode, Yeoman has either the temerity or the stupidity to ask Pike, “Who would have been Eve?” As in, who would Pike have chosen between she and Number One? Number One quickly shuts the interaction down, and Yeoman walks off. Somebody’s jealous…

And what of Vina? Once the Talosians are defeated, it’s revealed she was the sole survivor of the ship that sent the radio transmission, and ultimately crashed on Talos IV. When the Talosians found her, they tried to heal her. But as they’d never seen a human, they had no frame of reference. As such, without the Talosians using their illusionary powers, she is old, hunchbacked, and gruesomely re-assembled. Instead of returning to the Enterprise with Pike and the others, she opts to stay with the Talosians and keep her illusion of beauty. As a consolation prize of sorts, the Talosians grant her an illusion of Pike to be with.

If you discount all the stuff I just ran down with Vina, Number One, and Yeoman, “The Cage” is actually a pretty fun watch. It’s got cheesy ’60s sci-fi aliens and monsters. Oddly enough, there’s also a viking. Many of the known and loved elements from Star Trek are there.

The Captain Pike character, judged strictly by his own merits, is fine. The problem is all the female characters in the episode are obviously drawn to him. Thus, their worth becomes largely based not on their merits as individuals, but on how attractive they are. Vina even decides to live inside a lie just so she can remain attractive.

Sadly, this pilot wasn’t turned down based on its sexist writing. Rather, it was deemed “too cerebral,” “too intellectual,” “too slow,” and without enough action. When NBC got to look at it, however, they made the unorthodox decision to pay for a second pilot. This one had William Shatner in what would become the iconic Captain Kirk role. It would eventually air as the third episode of the first season, entitled “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

One thing I want to note in closing: As I’ve indicated, the writing of the female characters in this episode really rubbed me the wrong way. Especially as the father of a young girl. But I can’t bring myself to be overly angry with series creator and the writer of this episode, Gene Roddenberry. In 1965, we had yet to really get into the heart of the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Like all of us Roddenberry was a product of the times he lived in. Considering he’s largely responsible for what at the time was one of the most diversely cast television shows in history, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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