Battle of the Trek Geniuses II – The Second Day

I started off with good intentions a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Wait, wrong franchise.

It all began long before your sun burned hot in space…

Damn!  Right franchise, but Frank used this one last time.


A couple months back, Frank and I finally decided to get off our collective center seats and write the follow up to the wildly popular “Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses.” I diligently went through the episode list writing down the guest stars that I remember liking from The Original Series.  Then I went through the episodes in chronological order to refresh my memory. 

Good thing I found that list this morning.  That and the meme to the right of this opening is all I am going to say about that.

Anyway, as you may have already guessed, today is my day to present my five favorite guest stars from Star Trek: The Original Series which I actually did get to watch when they first aired.  That makes me older than the Guardian of Forever, but hopefully with that age comes experience and good choices in guest stars.  The ones I remembered without being reminded are weighted a little more heavily in my decision making.  To be remembered among the plethora of available guest stars is noteworthy in itself.

Off we go!

5.  Frank Gorshin as Commissioner Bele.

I’m not a fan of this third-season episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”  Even as a twelve-year-old in 1969, I thought this episode’s message about racism was rather ham-fisted.  But having entertained us with memorable performances as The Riddler on the sixties “Batman” TV series, Frank Gorshin was an actor who at the time I recognized immediately.

I remember his Trek performance being energetic, loud and combative — not unlike his Riddler character.  But like all of the actors on this list, he owned the screen when he was on it and I always enjoyed watching him work.

Sidebar:  Back in 2000-ish, I was working as a video tape operator at Empire Burbank Studios in California doing freelance work.  I got a call to come record an introduction that would be used at the start of a promotional program selling financial management services.  Imagine my surprise when in walks Frank Gorshin to do the on-camera intro.  He brought the same intensity to that presentation that he did in this episode.  He was terrific.

Bottom line: I loved his performance even though I didn’t care for the episode.  In fact, this is one of the episodes I’ve not seen in a very long time, so my memory of it remains a long time one.

4.  Celia Lovsky as T’Pau.

“All of Vulcan in one package.”  – Capt. Kirk to Dr. McCoy, describing T’Pau in “Amok Time”

Speaking candidly, I’m not sure why I picked this performance.  Upon multiple viewing of this second season episode over the years, I find her performance in this role less and less compelling than I did when I first saw this episode back in the sixties.  She gets on this list because even though I have become slightly less enamored with T’Pau over the years, I still love seeing her on screen in this episode and her performance made enough of an impression on me to have been one of the first guest stars that I wrote down on my list. 

The character she brings to life advances the Star Trek universe, opening up Vulcan mystery and culture in ways that impact the rest of the Trek franchise even into J. J. Abrams’ Kelvin universe.  She really does deliver “all of Vulcan in one package.”  So perhaps I am more enamored with the character than the performance.

Regardless, I love watching her on screen.  She’s compelling, and creates a character that exudes power, demands respect and gets it. 

What I didn’t know until researching this post is that the character of T’Pau appears in both “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Enterprise.”  I didn’t watch either of those series as religiously as I did TOS and TNG.  I need to go back and seek out those episodes. 

3.  Susan Oliver as Vina. 

Part of the original pilot episode, “The Cage,” on which NBC passed, Susan Oliver’s performance later made it to air in TOS’s only two-part episode, “The Menagerie.”  It’s the story of the Enterprise’s captain before Captain Kirk, Captain Christopher Pike. Pike and the earlier Enterprise crew discover the Talosians, a race of beings with the power of illusion.  Susan Oliver plays Vina, appearing throughout the episode to Pike as a number of characters all of whom are desperate to entice Pike to remain in the illusion for self-serving, but very understandable reasons. 

She appears as a green Orion slave woman, a damsel in distress and his wife at a romantic picnic for two on Earth.  Every time, she tries to make the illusion and herself so appealing that Pike would want to stay with her in the illusion.  If you’ve never seen it, I won’t tell you here how the story ends for two reasons.  One: it’s a really, really good story and two: “The Cage” and “The Menagerie” have two different endings.  I personally like the one in “The Menagerie” better. 

Either way, Oliver’s performance is superb, moving easily among the various versions of Vina in the illusions back to the Vina in the cage/menagerie trying to convince Pike to stay with her.  She is astoundingly beautiful and just completely owns the screen whenever she’s on it.  Her fantastic performance brings so much to this very moving episode.  

By the way, Vina and Capt. Pike make an appearance in CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Discovery.”  Anson Mount’s Chris Pike is probably the most memorable thing to come out of “Discovery,” but it was a wonderful callback to see Vina as well.

2.  Morgan Woodward as Dr. Simon Van Gelder and Capt. Ronald Tracey.

Morgan Woodward appeared twice in Star Trek.  Once as Capt. Tracy in “The Omega Glory” and again in “Dagger of the Mind” as Dr. Simon Van Gelder.  But it’s his performance as Capt. Tracy that makes him my number two favorite. 

Similarly, “The Omega Glory” made it to number two on my list of favorite episodes, in no small measure because of Woodward’s performance.  Here’s what I said last time:

“What makes this episode for me is Morgan Woodward’s performance as Captain Tracey. He plays the best homicidal maniac in the business and no actor sweats better than he does – and I mean that as a compliment. He’s a delight in this role and I absolutely love watching him work. I should really hit YouTube and see if I can find other things in which Woodward appeared. I suspect he’s got serious acting chops.

“I’ve often wondered if he was considered for the part of Captain Kirk when Roddenberry was casting TOS. He was probably too old to play Kirk, but he would have been a terrific admiral or some such character. I think he would have been a good choice for another starship-based spinoff series had Trek taken off back then.”

I never did hit YouTube to see what I could find more of his performances.  Without his performance, “The Omega Glory” would have been far less interesting and fun to watch. 

1.  William Windom as Commodore Matt Decker.

Without having read Frank’s essay, I can pretty much guess that this is also his favorite guest performance.  When we’re discussing Trek, the conversation nearly always comes around to this episode, “The Doomsday Machine,” and how wonderful William Windom’s performance is.  In fact, Frank and I both had this episode on our respective favorite episodes list, numbered two and one respectively.  I’ll be surprised if Windom isn’t his number one choice.  [Turns out I was wrong!]

The episode has so much going for it and you can read about it on the original posts.  It has a nail-biter of a story, a terrific score that was used over and over in subsequent episodes, and of course Windom.

Windom was a well-known TV actor and had a long career.  As a youngster in the sixties, I remember him being in everything.  I swear, he popped up on every TV show that existed back then.  His list of IMDB credits is pretty remarkable with 225 credits to his name.  With that broad of a body of work, there’s no question that he is an actor that could deliver.

In “The Doomsday Machine,” that’s exactly what he does, creating a very sympathetic character in Commodore Decker.  When we first see Decker, he’s manning the emergency bridge of the USS Constellation which has been nearly destroyed.  The lone survivor, Commodore Decker is in shock having just watched helplessly as the doomsday machine killed over 400 members of his crew.  Once back aboard the Enterprise, he assumes command and tries to use the same tactics that got his crew on the Constellation killed. 

Windom’s performance is both wonderfully subtle and over the top, normally a mix that can’t be easily pulled off, but Windom’s every screen moment is absolutely authentic.  His characterization is compelling, and his fate at the end of the episode is…  No spoilers if you’ve not seen it. 

[And Frank, if you consider non-canon works, Decker doesn’t really die in the end.]

Regardless of where Decker ultimately ends up, his performance in this role is the most memorable one in my experience.  He’s my favorite TOS guest star in my favorite TOS episode. 

Honorable Mention: 
(in no particular order)

Ricardo Montalban, Khan, “Space Seed”

Ok, this one really is #6,

I never really liked this episode because in my mind, a Starfleet officer would never betray her ship because of a man she’d only just met – regardless of charisma.  But that’s exactly what Lt. Marla McGivers does, and Montalban’s Khan is the reason.  But that doesn’t diminish Montalban’s performance one bit.  Of course, his Khan would wind up saving Star Trek, reprising the role in the movie “Wrath of Khan” pictured here.  It is his performance in this movie that I really, really, REALLY love.  He is without question Trek’s best villain.

William Campbell as Trelane and Koloth, “The Squire of Gothos” and “The Trouble with Tribbles”

Campbell is so delightful in both of these episodes and his broad style fits these two characters like a glove.  In “Squire,” Campbell looks like he’s having a blast playing Trelane, a being who seems to have ultimate power and relishes misusing it.  In later years, fan theories believe him to be a young Q.  Of course, that’s just a theory, but it surely fits, and he makes a good Q, in my opinion.

In “Tribbles,” Campbell plays Klingon Capt. Koloth, and antagonist to Capt. Kirk.  It’s one of TOS’s comedies and such a wonderful episode that it was revisited in “Star Trek: Deep Space 9,” though Campbell’s Koloth didn’t appear.  He did reprise the role of Koloth in “DS:9” episode “Blood Oath.”

William Marshall as Dr. Daystrom, “The Ultimate Computer”

I’m cheating here again quoting my previous blog post:

“William Marshall was a highly respected Broadway and Shakespearean actor who didn’t become a name, so to speak, until “Blacula” and its sequel. I enjoy Marshall’s Dr. Daystrom in this episode and later in the episode, Marshall gives what I consider to be the best reaction ever to a Vulcan nerve pinch.”

Nancy Kovack as Nona, “A Private Little War”

Well, I can’t justify this any other way than to say it:  She’s gorgeous.  That’s why she makes honorable mention.  (See Frank’s photo from yesterday.) Not that her performance is sub-par or anything. On the contrary, it’s a compelling performance. It’s just that I recall being completely smitten whenever she was on screen.  Her character is complex, manipulative and smart and Kovack’s Nona is compelling for those reasons alone. 

Another sidebar:  When this show originally aired, my mom saw a quick glimpse of Nona as she’s walking away from a waterfall partially disrobed, showing a little bit more than you’d expect, but certainly nothing explicit by any standards even those of network television in the 1960’s.  Nona is only on screen like this for a second at most, and mom says “Hmmm, so this is a girly show now.” 

Nona’s presence throughout the episode was, as Frank put it, “bewitching.”  He’s absolutely right.

Vic Tayback, Krako, “A Piece of the Action”

You’ll probably remember Vic Tayback from the TV series “Alice.”  That’s what most people know him from.  As for me, I admit ignorance about his body of work so I can’t really speak to his depth as an actor.  All I know is he’s terrific in this episode.  With my limited exposure to his work, it seems like Vic Tayback is at his best with this kind of gruff, loud character. 

This is another TOS comedy and I suspect for the series regulars, it was a welcome relief from the regular dramatic performances they had to deliver week after week. 

Computer Guest Star:

I gotta go with the M-5 computer in the episode “The Ultimate Computer.”  While Nomad from “The Changeling” is a very close second, M-5 gets the edge because it’s in a favorite episode.  “Changeling” is not one of my go-to episodes, and “The Ultimate Computer” is. 

Of course, everyone’s favorite computer is REALLY Commander Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but since we’re not talking about TNG, M-5 wins the day.

So that’s the list.  While yes, I missed my deadline, I always love writing about Trek and in particular, discussing it with Frank who really knows more about it than anyone I know including me.    Thank you, sir, for participating!  Always a pleasure to have you on this blog.

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