Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses – Part One Redux

This is a repost from precisely two years ago. Since Star Trek is now fifty years old as of last week, I thought I’d revisit this essay today and Frank’s essay tomorrow.   

Frank Simons, Trek Genius

Frank Simons, Trek Genius

Frank Simons and I can never spend more than five minutes in conversation without talking about Star Trek. Once we start, it doesn’t stop. We can and have discussed in the finest detail pretty much everything there is to talk about and then we discussed it again. Multiple times.

Dodger Spock? Ask Frank about it.

This has gone on between us since 1990-ish.

Frank and I watched the debut of ST:DS9 together at our mutual friend, Casey’s house. I don’t remember but we HAD to have watched ST:Voyager’s debut, though I may have been working. I was on the prime-time shift at E! Entertainment Television at the time, so that’s probably where I was when it debuted on the United Paramount Network. (Remember UPN? It’s ok. No one does.) Regardless, Frank and I have enjoyed each other’s company during countless TV airings of the different series and movies. And I couldn’t be more delighted each and every time we get to talk about Trek. *

So a few days back, I wrote a blog post entitled “Random Thoughts” in which I made a Star Trek reference. Naturally, Frank responded and well, see paragraph one. We were off to the races.

We decided that it would be fun to compare our ten most favorite episodes of the original series. Not the ones we thought were best, most socially significant or well written, just the top ten of those we LIKED the most. So we’re putting them in this blog.

So there too.

If you’re not a Star Trek fan, if you don’t know a Denebian slime devil from a Wookie, then these may not be the blog posts for you. Please DO come back when the regularly scheduled nonsense returns. However, if you recognize the words “Denebian slime devil” and can tell me who might have said it, then I recommend you read on.

My Ten Most Favorite Star Trek: The Original Series Episodes

10. “A Taste of Armageddon”

To this day, I don’t know why I like this one except to say that as a youngster, I totally understood the point of this episode. It made me feel smart that I got it. It also had cool, flashy computers in it. It was easy for a little kid like me to understand why Kirk and Spock would want to stop a computer-managed war in which people so designated by the computers “voluntarily” walked to their disintegration. By simulating the “war” and calculating “casualties” from simulated attacks, the computers saved their society’s infrastructure and survivors from the horrors of a REAL war. By destroying their warring computers, Kirk gambles that they’ll avoid the real horrors of war by actually embracing peace and ending the unnecessary loss of life once and for all:

“Death, destruction, disease, horror. That’s what war is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided.”   – Kirk

Of course, he’s right and the warring factions go to the negotiating table with the assistance of the Federation.

Highlight of this episode: Scotty in command of the Enterprise while Kirk, et. al. are being held on Eminiar VII against their will. It’s one of the few times we see Scotty’s competency beyond engineering. Good performance by Jimmy Doohan. Unfortunately, much of the time, Scotty was written over the top and occasionally downright goofy. (“The Lights of Zetar”)   I like the professional, iron-willed Scotty much better.

9.  “Tomorrow is Yesterday”

“That ought to be… just about right.”

Ep21_ent_above_midwestTime travel episodes always get my attention but this one was particularly fun. Especially so since the re-mastered version makes the Enterprise’s presence in Earth’s atmosphere look remarkably real when compared to the original graphics. The unintended presence of a twentieth-century fighter pilot aboard the Enterprise makes for a difficult moral and technical problem which, of course, they solve quite readily.

Most time travel stories break down with even limited scrutiny. (A rare exception: ST:TNG’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise” which gets time travel about as right as you can.)   Causality is often cast to the wind in favor of story and in this case, the story is strong enough to overshadow any cause/effect paradoxes which arise from the crew’s arrival in 1967.

And that quote? Shatner delivers it perfectly and memorably.

8.  “A Piece of the Action”

This is ST:TOS’s comedy. It’s a “planet of the week” story which by and large I really hate. But some great comedic performances by the guest cast (especially Vic Tayback) make this a really fun episode. Leonard Nimoy’s Spock is really at his best here when trying to fit in with the Iotains. He plays it perfectly.

Of course, in this episode, we’re introduced to the game of Fizzbin:

How can you NOT like that?

7.  “Amok Time”

Another “Nimoy gets to act” episode. I like those because they’re different and because the actors get to act. Yeah, it’s kinda what they’re supposed to do, but when actors get to do something different from what you expect of a character, it automatically gets my attention.

Of course, this episode has it all: tested loyalties, sacrifice, a hot Vulcan woman, an uncontrollably horny Spock, a twenty-third century fragging, sorta.

TPringBottom line: Vulcans must mate every seven years and half-human Spock is not spared this ordeal during which intense, often violent emotions take over the eminently logical Star Fleet officer. In the process, we meet T’Pring, his betrothed, who has grown up since childhood to be supermodel hot. Drama and intrigue ensue and Spock kills Kirk in his Vulcan-hormone-induced rage.

Except that he really doesn’t because Dr. McCoy is a freakin’ genius. Three words: Tri. Ox. Compound.

Best moment: When Spock discovers that he hasn’t killed his captain after all.   The look on his face reveals so much about Spock and his half-human side. It’s a pure Trek moment and one of my favorites in the franchise.

6.  “Balance of Terror”

Romulans.

I love Romulans. They’re like Vulcans but with emotion, intrigue and too many hidden conspiratorial agendas to count. But they are interesting. Cool. Calculating. You always wonder what they’re REALLY up to. I always thought the Romulans were far better, subtler villains than the Klingons.

Klingons? I’m not a fan.

But Romulans? They’re crafty, manipulative, smart, sneaky, political bastards and I love ‘em all. If I could be another species other than Q, I’d be a Romulan. They’re badass and they don’t have to eat gagh. (In the interest of accuracy, I’d be a Gene Roddenberry Romulan not a J.J. Abrams Romulan. They’re just dicks.)

This is basically like every submarine movie you’ve ever seen except it’s in space. And it’s the first appearance of the Romulans who go on to do nasty things in some time line or another later/earlier on. (Another damnable time travel thingy.)

MarkLenardThe Romulan commander, played by Mark Lenard, who also played Spock’s Vulcan father, Sarek throughout the franchise, is compelling and his respect for his adversary in Kirk is admirable.

Romulans.

Yeah, that says it all.

5.  “The Enterprise Incident”

More Romulans. (See “Balance of Terror.”)

Scott_recognizes_Kirk_as_RomulanKirk as a Romulan. Another horny Spock, but this time, he doesn’t really mean it. (He’s doing it for the Federation.) A cloaking device. A Romulan raised in Brooklyn. (Seriously.) The Vulcan Death Grip.

Intrigue, espionage and great performances all around make this a really exciting episode.

Sidebar: The Vulcan Death Grip has become a staple around our house. Nate and Garrett will often come up to me, place their fingers on the sides of my face and expect me to scream. (I know, Kirk doesn’t scream when he gets the Vulcan Death Grip like he does when Nancy Crater does something similar in “The Man Trap.” But that’s how they learned it from me, and I regret the error on my part.)

4.  “The Ultimate Computer”

daystromHard to believe that the actor who played genius Dr. Richard Daystrom in this episode of TOS is also the actor who starred in the title role in 1972’s “Blacula!” 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.

In “The Ultimate Computer,” Marshall plays the computer genius who, decades before, invented duotronics, the Treknology behind computers of the Star Trek universe. Now, many years later, Daystrom has upgraded and his new computer, M-5, uses multitronic technology modeled after his own human brain. Problem is: Daystrom’s nuts. Turns out, so is M-5.

The Enterprise under the control of M-5 is pitted against four other Constitution-class starships in war games that M-5 doesn’t know are games. Believing it to be under a real attack, M5 kills the entire crew of one starship and many others are injured and killed before Kirk and Spock get it figured out. This is one of four episodes in which Kirk talks a computer to death.

This one’s a fav because of the starship battle scenes and it takes Kirk’s human intuition and experience to save himself and the rest of the crew aboard Enterprise. Oh, and this line’s a winner:

“Compassion. That’s the one thing no machine ever had. Maybe it’s the one thing that keeps men ahead of them.” – Dr. McCoy, on why Commodore Wesley did not attack the Enterprise

3.  “The Menagerie” (Parts 1 and 2)

ST:TOS’s only two-part episode and their epic. As a cost saving measure, Roddenberry et. Al. wrote this around the original Star Trek pilot that was rejected by NBC and turned it into a genuinely beautiful, thoughtful story.

It’s the story of the Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike played by Jeffrey Hunter. It’s noticeably different in many ways but similar enough to be believable as a flashback. It establishes much about the Trek universe but is occasionally contradictory. It’s fun to see Spock as a slightly different character, Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett) as Number One, a TOTALLY different character, and a whole starship of different faces. And the crew of Jim Kirk’s Enterprise was far more diverse than that of Chris Pike.Susan Oliver 'Star Trek' (1966) 1.0

Did I mention guest star Susan Oliver is beautiful? Stunningly beautiful? And occasionally green? It’s enough to make a man want to head to Orion at first opportunity.

I count this as one episode ‘cause it’s one story. If you think I’m wrong, feel free to let me know how that works out for you, k?

2.  “The Omega Glory”

I’ve always liked seeing and hearing about other ships and crews of the fleet. This episode is no exception.

The USS Exeter is found abandoned around planet Omega IV. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and a couple of red shirts head down to investigate. (Don’t know what a “red shirt” is? Google is your friend.)

The sole survivor is Exeter Captain Ronald Tracey whose survival is a mystery. Bottom line: he thinks he’s found the fountain of youth.

He hasn’t. And now he’s nuts. (Kinda like Daystrom, but with serious homicidal tendencies.)

Drama ensues and the ending is satisfying yet surprisingly hokey. However, Kirk’s speech at the end I believe to be just as valid today and it was/will be in the twenty-third century:

“Hear me! Hear this! Among my people, we carry many such words as this from many lands, many worlds. Many are equally good and are as well respected, but wherever we have gone, no words have said this thing of importance in quite this way. Look at these three words written larger than the rest, with a special pride never written before or since. Tall words proudly saying We the People. That which you call Ee’d Plebnista was not written for the chiefs or the kings or the warriors or the rich and powerful, but for all the people! Down the centuries, you have slurred the meaning of the words, ‘We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution.’ These words and the words that follow were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well!”

Ronald_Tracey

Morgan Woodward as Capt. Ronald Tracey

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.

Before I get to number one…

Guilty Pleasure Episode: “Spock’s Brain”

Universally accepted as the worst of all the TOS episodes, “Spock’s Brain” is so bad from beginning to end that you can’t stop watching it even though you know you’re going to lose ten IQ points just for having it on the TV in the first place.

Aliens steal Spock’s brain – literally. Remove that sucker from his Vulcan cranium and use it as a sort of a central operating computer for their planet or ship or whatever. His brain is running heating, air conditioning for the society. Hell, it’s probably doing the laundry too, but that’s not the worst of it.

McCoy hooks up some sort of device around Spock’s head so he can walk around by remote control. (Even as kid, I thought this was the dumbest thing ever. So far, I have yet to find anything worse.) Later on, of course, they find Spock’s brain and McCoy has to reattach it. But he forgets how in the middle of surgery and Spock, brain half in and half out, talks him through it.

Awful. Just plain ridiculous. But if it’s on, I’ll watch it.

 

And finally…

1.  “The Doomsday Machine”

Reread the first sentence of #2 above. I’ll wait.

ConstellationThis is another one where we see another ship of the line, in this case, the USS Constellation, severely damaged and adrift near the remains of a star system. The lone survivor is Commodore Matt Decker played expertly by William Windom. Decker’s beamed his crew down to the third planet of the system in the hope of saving them from death from a gigantic robotic planet killer. By the time Kirk and the Enterprise arrive on board Constellation after receiving its automated distress call, there is no third planet anymore and no crew. And Decker is just sick about it. Literally.

USS_Enterprise_tractored_into_planet_killer,_remastered

Decker is beamed aboard the Enterprise and as senior line officer, assumes command there against Spock’s wishes. Decker proceeds to put the Enterprise in harm’s way in the hope of destroying the planet killer, as he was unable to do with his ship.

This is the one episode that I watch all the way though from beginning to end every time. It’s got everything: another starship, an unbeatable enemy, ship-to-ship combat, Kirk and the away team in grave danger. When Kirk flips the switch giving him 30 seconds to beam away from the Constellation before it explodes inside the Doomsday Machine, it’s nail-biting action as the transporter fails while the clock literally ticks down the last seconds until the Constellation is destroyed with Kirk still aboard.

Matt_decker

William Windom as Commodore Matt Decker

Windom’s Matt Decker is completely over the top and huge at times, but it is spot on for the circumstance and he is a compelling presence. He owns the screen whenever he’s on it. This is probably why he was such a big part of 60’s and 70’s television. William Windom had a long and distinguished career and even reprised his role as Commodore Decker in 2004 for “Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II.”

This is to my knowledge, the only episode of the original series in which pay for service in Star Fleet is mentioned:

“If I only had some phasers.”
“Phasers? You got ’em. I have one bank recharged.”
“Scotty, you’ve just earned your pay for the week.”
– Kirk and Scott, as the Enterprise is pulled closer to the doomsday machine

This may not be the best Star Trek episode from the original network run, but it is unquestionably my favorite and always has been.   Toledo, Ohio only had two TV stations in the mid 60’s (WSPD and WTOL) and they shared the NBC affiliation. Star Trek was not one of the NBC shows that made it on the air in Toledo back then so I wasn’t able to see very many of the original NBC episodes unless I went to my grandparents’ house. (They had cable TV that carried Cleveland and Detroit stations.) This is one of the episodes I remember seeing on NBC during its original run. I remember this line from the trailer and from the episode as well:

“Gentlemen, I suggest you beam me aboard.” – Kirk at about T minus 5 seconds

Well, there you have it! My ten favorite episodes from the original 79 of Star Trek. Comments? Leave ‘em here. I’d love to hear about your ten favorites.

Tomorrow the aforementioned Frank Simons, actor, occasional Reuters journalist and Star Trek Genius, will be guest blogging his top ten.   Read it. That’s an order.

*  I would be remiss were I to fail to acknowledge the hospitality of one Thunder Levin, also a HUGE Trek fan who hosted me and my then spousal unit at his Santa Monica abode for the debut of Star Trek: Enterprise. Thunder is an accomplished writer and director who recently wrote a couple of things, movies, actually, involving sharks in tornadoes – something like that – you may have heard about it. At the time, Anthony Montgomery, who played Ensign Travis Mayweather on Enterprise, lived in my apartment building in Los Angeles. Good guy!

 


Comments

Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses – Part One Redux — 2 Comments

  1. Pretty much in agreement on many of these with you, Dan. I have better memories of watching Star Trek in re-runs after school every day and, even in b&w, “The Doomsday Machine” was compelling and one of my all time favs. “Tomorrow is Yesterday” was right up there, too.

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