Frank Simons and the Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses – Part Two

As Dan pointed out in his intro, we’ve known each other “since before your sun burned hot in space.”  Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, 1990-ish.  We hit it off right away, discovering there were a number of interests we shared, but perhaps none as passionate as our mutual love  of Star Trek, especially what has become known as “TOS,” – the original series.

Me (left) and Dan Wolfe at Vasquez Rocks near Los Angeles.  "Arena" was filmed here.

Me (left) and Dan Wolfe at Vasquez Rocks near Los Angeles. “Arena” was filmed here.

Now as anyone who knows Dan will tell you, he’s smart.  He’s somewhat modest about it, but Dan is a card carrying member of that super brains only club – MENSA.  If you’re having a discussion with Dan on just about any topic – but especially one he’s interested in – well, you had better know your stuff.  Having met or interviewed many of TOS actors, having written about Trek 5 or 6 times over the last 5 or 6 years for a major news wire, I can say with some confidence Dan and I “reach,”  on Star Trek, but more about that “reach” reference later.     

Last week, in yet another non-planned but just can’t help it discussion of Trekology, Dan suggested it might be fun as a part his always interesting blog, we pick our ten favorite TOS episodes. Not the 10 most culturally significant – not the ones that casual fans might know – “the one with the tribbles,” or “the one with that famous kiss,” or “the one where Spock did that one thing” but our favorites. The episodes we love. A countdown from 10 to 1, with one guilty pleasure episode – one we love, but hate admitting in public because most of the Trek universe would ask us if we were out of our Vulcan minds to like.

So 10 to 1.

10: Arena.

Gorn captain.

Gorn captain.

The Gorn episode. I love this episode because it has my favorite Trek space race sequence. After the Gorns have destroyed an Earth outpost and flee the planet, Kirk orders the Enterprise in hot pursuit. The Gorns are at warp 5, so Kirk and crew go to warp 6, the Gorns go to warp 6, the Enterprise goes to warp 7, and so on – two species comparing the size of their warp drives.  As the ships race by a certain solar system, a superior race, the Metron’s, step in to put an end to this caveman fight by staging a caveman fight between the 2 ship captains – win and you and your crew survive, lose, you, your ship, and crew are destroyed. High stakes for our Captain. Kirk makes a cannon, brain beats brawn. Kirk displays mercy. Metrons think our species might be worth talking to in several thousand years. And it’s always fun to hiss and talk like a Gorn.

9: Bread and Circuses.

trekbreadandcircuses5The Roman Empire episode. How can you not be fascinated by the concept of what an Earth would be like if the Roman Empire never fell.  A planet wide Empire, in the 20th Century, having ruled for 400 years without war. A boast our planet cannot make. The evolution of slavery as an institution with benefits, televised Gladiator games – just love the idea of this episode!  Bring down TV ratings in this empire and you get killed.  Just like on our planet. Well, not yet. Kirk gets one last night to be “a man.” Spock and McCoy have a breakthrough in their love/hate relationship.  Our hero’s barely escape with their lives just as “the Son” is dawning on a new day for this Rome.

8: Mirror, Mirror.

Spock_(mirror)The Spock has a beard episode. Opposites attract in this one, and Bad Guys Rule.  Our good guys, courtesy of a magnetic storm are transported to an opposite universe where the Federation is an Empire, Kirk is a bad guy with ambitions of Cesar-hood, and Spock has that famous goatee – and couldn’t look cooler. Uhura gets to go full sexy.  Sulu full villain. Chekov tries to assassinate Kirk, and we are introduced to “The Agonizer.”  We get to briefly see our hero’s play the bad-guy versions of themselves – could this be more fun?  In this bad-guys-rule universe, Kirk makes Spock invincible, if he’ll only seize the day – to end this reign of terror. Spock as a leader of a revolution? He’ll consider it.  And yeah, I’ve got that cool Sword through the Earth logo, as a pin, doesn’t everyone?


7: The Changeling.

The episode that is the better version of Star Trek – The Motion Picture.  There are a number of Kirk vs. the computer episodes, but this one is my favorite.  Nomad, the probe that’s on a mission to destroy any life form it doesn’t think is perfect (because its brain is broken and it kept all the wrong lessons it learned in life), is all set to destroy the Enterprise first and ask questions later, you know, kind of our first taste of a resistance is futile fate.  But Nomad, in its broken brain state – thinks Kirk is its mother. Whew. Mom buys some time. Spock mind-melds with this messed up computer (could it be love), Scotty is killed, Uhura sings, and Kirk gives us a dazzlingly display of logic that even impresses Spock.  How often did that happen. 

6: Errand of Mercy.

TV Trek audiences meet the Soviets, I mean the Russians, I mean the Klingons, for the first time.  Wow. We get a big sense of the geo-political and military reality of this universe that Roddenberry created, and goodness, it looks a lot like our own.  Fascinating. There are political rivals, with the military means to challenge our happy Universal Order even in the future.  The Klingon’s hate us for our freedoms, and aren’t afraid to take what they think they can get – so war, with a determined foe of equal military prowess, is upon us. Armenia, Belgium, and now Organia – innocents on the natural invasion routes. But a funny thing happens on the road to Universal Armageddon.  Don’t you hate it when the sheep won’t let the wolves fight.  

5: The Naked Time.

So, there are communicable space viruses, who knew, and  if you get this bug, you are stripped naked, emotionally and otherwise. Catch this off a handshake and you get all the worst parts of drunk – and when that happens, people can and will die, because as Scotty tells us, you can’t change the laws of physics.  naked_timeOur leads get a chance to act – and we get to see some of the core traits that will make us love Kirk and Spock forever – a glimpse of their insecurities and what makes them tick at their core. Spock’s emotion is there, controlled, but we learn at an apparent huge cost to his psyche. And when Captain Kirk looks up at his ship, as he’s leaving the conference room and says “Never lose you. Never”  – you forever fall in male-bonding like love of the commander that will do whatever it takes to save his ship, his people – you know, true blue medal of honor to the mat mode of existence.  This episode will make a little boy want to grow-up and be Captain Kirk. Not to worry parents, he’ll get over it in 70 or 80 years.

4: The Omega Glory.

The American Patriotic episode.  Lets face it, Star Trek is the projection of American ideals into the future, period. The Federation is a functioning UN in space, united in concepts of democratic principles, individual liberty, inclusion, tolerance, and rule of law – and lead by America, I mean Earth.   “In a world (spoken in best movie promo voice-over voice), where Earth fought THE war with the communists, America lost – the Chinese Communists prevailed.  

Kirk reads the Constitution to Cloud William.

Kirk reads the Constitution to Cloud William.

But did that war give us the key to immortality? Is that worth destroying a civilization for?” – End movie promo voice-over voice.  If you’re an American patriot you love this episode. Kirk reads the preamble to the constitution, and says the pledge of allegiance to the flag – yeah, Kirk gets all “E-ed Plebnista” on us.  An American gives back to future Americans the meaning of Americas past, as a way to find America’s future. Did I note that this is the patriotic episode? Sooner or later, America always wins. E-ed Plebnista – Hell Yeah!

3: A Taste of Armageddon.

A taste of Mutually Assured Destruction?  War is messy, so why wouldn’t the future of war be all logical and cleaned up. Kind of what the neutron bomb is supposed to be – a society’s culture, civilization, even its buildings, survive – it’s people, well, wrong place at the wrong time, and you head off to the suicide chambers. My favorite war movies are Anti-War movies, and that’s the message of this episode. Let’s not make the “cost” of war so easy to pay that we never bother to stop paying it. With the technology and tactics we use now, this question is more relevant today than ever before.  This is a message episode, and I love this message – let’s keep war messy, so that we have an incentive to NOT wage it.  We learn that the Federation has a “destroy the planet” order – General Order 24 – Capital Punishment on a world wide scale.  And Kirk reminds us of our truth – we’re killers, but we can choose not to kill, today.   This episode is one of the finest moment in all of Trek.

2: The Doomsday Machine.


The Doomsday Machine

This episode isn’t a taste of mutually assured destruction – it’s a huge helping of it, with seconds.  Star Trek loves Melville, versions of Captain Ahab pop up all the time – including into the feature films. But Commodore Decker might be my favorite. And this is one of the few episodes where the lead guest star’s (William Windom) performance stands toe to toe with our regulars.  A past civilization, from a neighboring galaxy, used its “H Bomb,” and it did what any Doomsday Machine would do – it not only killed the enemy, but also, the beings that used it.  Only this civilizations weapon, as long as it has planets to destroy and consume, has no off switch –and now it has wandered into our galaxy burning a path through the Milky Way’s most densely populated section. Thanks neighbors. A broken transporter, a ticking clock, Spock relieved of command, Kirk defies his superior officer.  Wonderful acting, great story, tension, suspense – this episode still works on every level.

1: The City on the Edge of Forever.

Star Trek City on the edge of foreverBefore the Guardians of the Galaxy, there was The Guardian of Forever.  Machine or Being?  Both and Neither. To this day, one of the most fascinating characters in the entire Trek Universe – and on screen, we only see him/it here, and in the animated series episode “Yesteryear.”

This episode regularly ranks as the fans favorite. And yes, for me too.  “City” has every element of what makes Star Trek great. A big story – a story that effects all human-kind, the course of Earth’s history, the history of the universe.  Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?  

Edith Keeler and Jim Kirk in "City on the Edge of Forever"

Edith Keeler and Jim Kirk in “City on the Edge of Forever”

The first time Star Trek, in so many words, gives us this quandary.   FDR, Hitler, WW2, depression era New York, how to explain a Vulcan’s ears to someone that has never seen them before – it’s all here.  A love interest for Kirk that is lost in time.  It is the best of all the time change episodes, period.  Kirk, Spock, and McCoy all have their moments, all true to character, but Shatner in all his wonder, delivers here – yes, I mean on the acting part.  Does Kirk know what he just did? Yeah, he knows. The City on the Edge of Forever is quite simply Star Trek at its finest.

Guilty Pleasure: The Way to Eden.

waytoeden_275This is the Space Hippies episode. Yes, I admit, this is a bad episode, but like watching an act in a French circus, you’re kind of disgusted at what they look like and appear to be doing but you can’t look away.  Lots to not like here – including some of the weirdest looking alien ears in all of Trek – and that’s saying something.  We do see Spock rock out, a pretty girl play the spokes of bicycle wheel, a flipped screen shot that for a brief second puts Kirk’s insignia on the wrong side of his chest,  and of course we find out that to be called a “Herbert” is a bad thing.  Idealistic youth corrupted and mislead by an evil man, in pursuit of a crazy idea  – find Eden. The one take away I have for this episode, and why it’s still pops up in my mind is the idea of “reach.” I mentioned this at the top of this far too long list, as to the fact that Dan and I “reach” on Star Trek.  The Space Hippies use this as a kind of bonding phrase, if you and someone else understand a subject, a thing, an idea, in the same way – a way that is deeper than just logically, but goes to who you are – then you “reach.” 

Dan and I, and millions of people all around the world, “reach” on Star Trek.

Frank Simons

Dan writing here:  Frank’s too modest to post his work for Reuters here, so I will since I can.  In my opinion, Frank’s the definitive authority on TOS and I should publicly thank him for correcting an error in fact on my post yesterday.  Well played, sir!  Well played!


Frank Simons and the Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses – Part Two — 18 Comments

  1. You’re right Michael – but of all his voices, my favorite is still The Guardian of Forever. Don’t know why they didn’t get him to do it for the animated episode where the Guardian showed up – probably money – even though they did spend a lot on the animated series. At the time, it was the most expensive Saturday morning animated series ever produced.

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