Star Trek Review

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by Chris McEneany Dec 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

    Star Trek Review

    See Captain Kirk as a Native Indian god, or as a Romulan, see him inhabited by the transferred soul of a spurned ex-lover, see him forced (forced, yeah, right) to kiss Uhura for the delectation of a mock Romano crowd of mental manipulators in TV's historic first inter-racial snog, see him imprisoned in a bygone time and condemned as a witch or maddened by the gas emitted by some crumbly rocks - oh, it's all here, as well as Scotty going ga-ga for a wee lassie in a short blue skirt and Spock tap-dancing around a bare-chested Jim lying prostrate on a marble floor, in the gloriously loopy third and final season of Star Trek: The Original Series. Largely derided for its wallowing in camp scenarios, populated by some of the most risible characters ever to pester the Federation (and most of them stuffed into truly awful costumes) and perhaps taking planetary polystyrene towards, hitherto, uncharted new dimensions of alien landscaping, the third batch of adventures for the crew of the Starship Enterprise suffered from something that should really have been its greatest asset - the comfort with which the cast now inhabited their iconic alter-egos. Although hardly lapsing into lethargic apathy (quite the opposite, in fact, given Kirk's predilection for fisticuffs, two-footed drop-kicks and bedding galactic wenches) there is a tangible sense that Shatner, Nimoy, Kelly, Doohan, Takei, Nicholls, Koenig (who gets a lot more airtime for this leg of the ongoing mission) et al are now just going through the motions. There may be a lot of that delicious verbal sparring going on - Spock and Bones, Kirk with virtually everyone he meets - but the impact is far less cutting, and nowhere near as incisive as the previous shows with regard for character exploration, socio-political conflict, cerebral warfare and cat-and-mouse negotiating. The messages, the metaphors and the allegory, barely masked, as-ever, but still bedecked with alien settings and space-jargon to fool the TV censors, are still just as important, yet their appeal and genre-transcending impact is now in earnest. The writers all clutch for contemporary parallels, and seem only to fling the most overt into their scenarios. They maintain a high level of SF ideology, though much of their striking concepts come adrift in the execution of what the shows' directors erroneously believe to be a carnival atmosphere, dampening down some potential classics with cowboy haste and an over-reliance on tried-and-trusted formula and some of the most woeful dialogue imaginable.

    Instead of pushing boundaries and bolstering the ideas that had transfixed the chosen few who had stayed with the show's first two seasons, the third series seemed too content to just play it safe with fun yarns on distant moons and to merely reinforce the characterisations that had been built up so intuitively since 1966. Thus, Star Trek stagnated into alien-of-the-week status with the proviso that Kirk would get entangled with as many space-babes as possible.

    Mind you, there's little wrong with that in my book, folks!

    Having barely won over the executives and the small-minded TV tyrants in their suits with the crucial aid of a fan-instigated letter campaign to keep the show on the air, Gene Roddenberry's “Wagon Train in space” now found itself saddled-up and riding the lonely trail of the Friday night at 10pm slot - the absolute dead zone for success as the majority of those interested in the show would either be in bed, or out having Kirk-inspired liaisons of their own. Thus, as history broadly chronicles, Star Trek bowed-out on a lacklustre whimper. Though, of course, as we all know, the story didn't end there and, in fact, it is hard to imagine a greater cult phenomenon than that which wrapped itself around the show, the characters and, above all, the concept of what Roddenberry sought to achieve, and the fact that it still enjoys mass adoration even today, what with innumerable television spin-offs, a massive movie series and, beyond all of that, a smart, hip and exultantly fitting reboot that has indoctrinated new members to the ever-swelling ranks of Trek-fans, it pure testament to its never-ending appeal.

    But, watching Season 3, it can often be difficult to see just how all this celebratory raving came about. The famous cast, led by the indomitable William Shatner were now so comfortable in their roles that you got the impression they were performing more from muscle memory than any scripted situation. The Shat's mannerisms were magnetic, but they also seemed to run like clockwork - the speech-pattern, the expressions, the strut and poise, and the surly confidence were at their most rigid and emblazoned. Nimoy's once proud scientific elegance and noble heroism now appeared a little more relaxed and conversational, barring a couple of spectacular instances of emotional aberration. Kelly seemed to allow Bones to be less prone to the doctor's normal acidic sarcasm and Takei, Nicholls and Koenig may have enjoyed more dialogue, but a lot of it felt shoehorned-in. Doohan, now with his hair slicked-back was even more comical than ever before which, in a neat irony, makes Simon Pegg's assuming of the character a bit smoother and more palatable. But then, if the cast are enjoying themselves - which they evidently are - then so are we.

    This season was much more akin to Irwin Allen's cult fave curio, Lost In Space. With the cast encountering historical figures (Abraham Lincoln, the Wrath of Genghis Khan, the residents of the Western frontier town of Tombstone dislocated in time and space, and a gaggle of wacky Romans) and a vast number of rather ridiculous alien oddballs, every episode is guaranteed some sort of camp effervescence, the series becoming an endless riot of colour and theatricality - that “carnival” that the makers seemed so keen to create. Seasons 1 and 2 both had their downsides, their daft and comical diversionary stories, but the third spin around the galaxy was, by far, outweighed by excessive scriptwriting tomfoolery. All of a sudden, Kirk's verbal wranglings with belligerent, or misguided aliens, became more grotesquely heavy-handed. He also seemed quicker to use his fists in order to persuade them to come around to the Federation's way of thinking, although this results him in often taking a beating from some much older guys, as seen in The Requiem For Methuselah and The Cloud Minders. The ethic of pulling-together and adapting to unravel life and death puzzles is still there, but much of this involves Spock and Bones agonising over solutions whilst Kirk has been whisked off somewhere unreachable to fall in love with a pretty extraterrestrial damsel he will, ultimately, be forced to leave.

    Hugely mocked, Spock's Brain, still ranks as one of the show's most lamentable stories which, considering that this was the Season's first episode, was hardly a good start. With the Vulcan's actual brain stolen from inside his skull and hotfooted off to a strange little planetoid - one of three potentials that an exasperated Kirk and co agonise over, but which is painfully obvious to us - his comrades must race against time, with his lumbering, remote-controlled body in-tow, to wrestle it back from the luscious ladies who blithely, yet unwittingly pilfered it. Featuring the infamous sequence when Bones, his mind temporarily expanded Forbidden Planet-style, attempts to stitch the green-blooded organ back into his head and having to connect the vocal chords first so that Spock can actually direct him when his new-found intelligence runs low on battery power, the episode is daft all the way through. Yet, somehow, it still gets by with an innate sense of colourful idiocy and that typical charm that Star Trek possessed so much of even when at its most spectacularly farcical.

    Yet it is completely wrong to assume that the entire season was comprised of such cack-handedness, for there are still some gems amongst this motley, and occasionally ill-conceived smorgasbord of cosmic mirth and mayhem. Things such as The Enterprise Incident, with its nifty dissection of the Federation's MI6-style tactics at espionage. Kirk goes mad, first of all, and then dons a Romulan disguise that would shame even Inspector Clouseau, in the effort to gain the secrets of the new cloaking device that the aggressive alien race has perfected. Political ramifications abound and, during the Cold War and America's tragic involvement in Vietnam, this was a pre-emptive strike at her unpopular foreign policy.

    The episode Is There In Truth No Beauty? may have the patently obvious conceit of having an alien ambassador from a race who, though entirely benevolent, are so horrifically ugly that they can turn a man insane when looked upon, but it ends up making some nice, though antiquated sentiments about tolerance. Bolting on the allegory with a neon sign, these creatures just happen to be called Medusans, after the mythical she-beast who could turn you to stone if your eyes befell her hideous visage. But, compounding the juxtaposition, the Medusan ambassador is aided by an attractive human aid who has been schooled in forms of Vulcan mind-control so that she can withstand the shock of his appearance. Kept in a cannister, the Medusan becomes a sort of Pandora's Box or, if you like, the boot of the car in Repo-Man, and insanity and murder soon have an impact on the decks of the Enterprise. Various twists and reveals keep this story alive and quite witty. Spectre Of The Gun is a neat and amusing Western riff that places Kirk and his chums into a partial frontier town to face their own high noon at the business end of some blazing six-guns. The theme of aliens' hauling imagery from human minds with which to create a false environment is a common one from films, The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, but somehow it is Star Trek that managed to make this more engrossing and humorous. It is also nice to see that Kirk doesn't always get the girl - this time he is forced to watch as Chekov makes the winning moves.

    The Tholian Web is often cited as good, solid entry and it does, indeed, have some fine moments, not least the eerie search of the USS Defiant, adrift in space and with her crew having apparently murdered one another. Terrific scoring from Fred Steiner evokes spine-tingling Bernard Herrmann, and the weird loss of Kirk to another dimension whilst the trespasser-hating Tholians weave a bizarre energy web around the Enterprise, provide a nice sense of both mystery and menace. But there are one or two strained elements in the Spock/Bones exchanges that feel a little too obvious in the screenplay's intentions to have them forced to find common ground without their jovial buffer of the Captain to quell their differences. And those space-suits make the search party look too much like intergalactic bee-keepers! Let This Be Your Last Battlefield very thinly masks the racial conflicts that were raging in the States at the time, though it is hard to imagine anyone not picking up on the emotive theme even without the two alien protagonists who are constantly and illogically at war with one another being painted black-and-white and, wait for it, white-and-black! But this is a good, strong entry that perfectly captures the topics that Roddenberry wanted to address all along.

    The Lights Of Zetar may not immediately spring to the minds of Trek-fans, but this fairly run-of-the-mill story actually has a couple of things going for it. This is Scotty's love-in episode, in which the bluff engineer finds a dilemma of the heart that he can'a fix with a wrench when the sultry and curvaceous object of his desires is taken over by the mysterious glowing orbs of the title and death awaits the crew if they fail to cast them out of the ship - even if that means killing the girl in the process. Once again, it is refreshing to see that Jim Kirk is not the one who is swooning over a bit of skirt. You've just got to love his exasperation when he can't get hold of Scotty on the comm because he is watching over his little lady in sickbay. “And where's Dr. McCoy ... in Engineering, I suppose?”

    The Savage Curtain runs the risk of pure stupidity, but comes through by the skin of its teeth and by its illustrious heritage of the likes of Arena and The Gamesters of Triskelion. Kirk and Spock find themselves trapped by rock-based sentient beings on a planet that becomes an experimental battleground to explore the relative powers of morality. Allied, somewhat ridiculously, by Abraham Lincoln and Vulcan legend Surak - together, the four form the epitome of “Good” - they are pitched against a group of devout scumbags in the form of a hulking Genghis Khan, a sadistic human rebel from Earth's future (well, strictly speaking, its “past” from Kirk's point of view), an infamous Klingon warlord and a Romulan warrior-woman who can kill a man just by glaring at him - all of whom, naturally, form the “Evil” side of this little skirmishing test of wills. Once you get over the daft inclusion of period characters wrenched out of their time-zones and forced to do-battle, the scenario plays out quite well. Hefting spears at each other and brawling about the set is one thing, but the image of the alien rock-being that is acting as an aloof referee to these surprisingly dark proceedings, is a particularly naff special effect that wouldn't look out of place kicking about in one of Jim Henson's cast-off bins.

    All Our Yesterdays is great stuff, though. Catapulted through time by a nefarious librarian, Spock and McCoy wind up in an Ice Age cave with only a beautiful, fur-wrapped girl for company, whilst Jim is imprisoned for witchcraft in some Cromwellian milieu. Told in exciting and pacey fashion, this episode manages to mix an unlikely romance between Spock, who has reverted to a sort of Vulcan barbaric frame of mind, and the girl, Zarabeth, and Kirk's dilemma at the hands of an occult-fearing society and his encounter with another suspected time-traveller who may, or may not provide him with the solution he needs to escape and reunite with his companions before a sun goes supernova and seals their fate for eternity. Colourful and intriguing, this also has the added benefit of the sight of Spock's pointy ears covered with frost!

    Wink Of An Eye contains a nice premise. When the last members of a dying civilisation lure the Enterprise with a phony distress signal, the Starship is infiltrated by them and Kirk's existence is speeded-up to an almost impossible degree, so that he appears to be roaming through a ship full of stationary figures - and with none of his crew actually able to see him, he is moving that fast, Kirk is, as usual, trapped beyond any help. Now existing in the alien Scalosian dimension and finding himself the target for the seductive Deela (ain't it always the way, Jim?), their true plans for him and the crew are revealed. Kirk must try to communicate with Spock and McCoy in order to warn them of the danger they are in whilst attempting to outwit the wily Scalosians. Shatner does well in this story, his aggressive and devious traits shining through and his strutting about a ship that he is determined to reclaim is full of macho posturing. I love the casual way that he greets his First Officer once the tables have been turned and Spock has managed to move into the Scalosian frame-rate - it epitomises the all-round confidence that the main cast and, by extension, the main crew have in one another.

    And then there is own my personal favourite of the season, the battle-hungry Day Of The Dove, in which Michael Ansara richly embodies the Klingon warlord Kang as an evil alien entity pits him and his men against Kirk and a similar number of Federation officers, armed only with primitive swords aboard an uncontrollable Enterprise heading across the cosmos at locked Warp Speed, for nothing more than its own carnage-loving pleasure. With the added frisson that anyone felled in combat will only be rejuvenated by the typically shimmering, non-corporeal being to fight another day, and each man's inner prejudices and hostilities brought to the surface, the episode is an action-heavy pressure-cooker of rage. The sight of a young Chekov, thirsting for blood over the loss of a brother that he doesn't even have (the alien orchestrates many mock grievances to help spice things up aboard the spaceborne battlefield) and happening upon Kang's helpless wife is actually one of Trek's more potent and controversial scenes. The dialogue is ripe and volatile too, mingling Shakespearean anger with ominous warmongering.

    Another terrific feather in Season Three's cap, as far as I am concerned, is the sheer amount of delectable ladies on offer. This voyage saw to it that as well as the ever-flirty Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty and even Chekov would get a little action here and there ... and the women certainly boast that which today's sexy beanpoles seem to find almost impossible to cultivate ... real curves. Check out Kirk's Redskin squaw, Miramanee, in The Paradise Syndrome, played with gorgeous Californian sex appeal by Sabrina Scharf. And then there's the bunch of skull-emptying nymphs in Spock's Brain, blithely ignorant of their acts of mental desecration but hardly unaware of their irresistibly naïve alien allure. The primitive men-folks beyond their domain even refer to them as the “bringers of pain and delight” - how amazingly prescient. In the exquisitely titled Is There In Truth No Beauty, Diana Muldaur, much better here than in her stint in Season 2 of TNG, conveys a beautific vulnerability along with a poignant confidence that allows the twists and turns of this tale about visual prejudice some weight, and she possesses that sort of regal sensuality that was the province of many leading ladies of the era. Sharon Acker looks like a good enough reason to me for a confused Kirk to loiter on the decks of a deserted Enterprise in The Mark Of Gideon, and Lee Meriwether (one-time Catwoman in the 1966 film version of Batman) makes it a tempting proposition to yield to her cell-decimating touch as Losira, the seductively destructive presence in That Which Survives. It may be hard to take seriously Kirk's undying love for Louise Sorel's artificial, but adorable Rayna, in Requiem For Methuselah, after he's only known her for a couple of hours, but you can clearly see why her creator, Flint, would opt to hide her and his planet away from prying eyes. Then there is the pinch-faced Diana Ewing bringing a dainty, porcelain-like charm to her unsuspecting slave-mistress, Droxine, in The Cloud Minders. But, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the two Trek goddesses of this season must be Mariette Hartley as the ice-cave-dwelling, Spock-smitten Marabeth in All Our Yesterdays, who does for Ice Age fashions what Raquel Welch did for furry bikinis, and, be still my beating heart, Jan Shutan as Lt. Mira Romaine, the unfortunate target for the Lights Of Zetar and, possibly worse yet, the affections of Scotty. Sporting simply the most “to-die-for” thighs in the galaxy, Shutan is possibly the only reason to watch this episode again. And again. Mostly only seen on TV shows, she also appeared in Albert Band's daft Zoltan, Hound Of Dracula (1978), but this one-off Star Trek adventure very ably showed off her major attributes with some surprisingly risqué lingering perusals of her legs as she lies on McCoy's sickbed.

    All episodes now have now been gloriously remastered and enhanced with much more effective visuals. By now, even the purists must admit that the tweaking adds some delicious pizazz to the show. Nothing looks glaringly out of place and the long-shot landscapes - ice plateaus, mountain ranges, cities in the clouds - as well as the infinitely more detailed vistas of new worlds spinning delightfully beneath the now more realistic and workmanlike Enterprise gel unexpectedly well with the older material. Phaser-beams are now more precise and pinpoint. Alien entities - predominantly those out floating in space and, essentially, bobbing about on the main view-screen have more intricacy, sharper delineation and much brighter vibrancy. Vintage Star Trek has aged well with the help of some digital surgery and certainly proves that there is life in the old space dog yet. So, whilst Season 3 may lack the bite of its older pack-mates, it is still tremendously good fun to have around and fiercely loyal to Roddenberry's dream of exploration, adventure and the study of the human condition.

    Dafter than it had any right to be, Season 3 remains a classic collection of charm-filled 60's SF indulgence.

    Not to recommend it would be illogical, Captain.

    6-Disc breakdown as follows -

    DISC ONE - Episodes: Spock's Brain, The Enterprise Incident, The Paradise Syndrome, And the Children Shall Lead and Is There in Truth No Beauty?. Additional extras: Original broadcast previews for each episode (SD), BD-Live and Mobile Blu enhanced.

    DISC TWO - Episodes: Spectre of the Gun, Day of the Dove, For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, The Tholian Web and Plato's Stepchildren. Additional extras: Original broadcast previews for each episode (SD), BD-Live and Mobile Blu enhanced.

    DISC THREE - Episodes: Wink of An Eye, The Empath, Elaan of Troyius, Whom Gods Destroy and Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Additional extras: Original broadcast previews for each episode (SD), BD-Live and Mobile Blu enhanced.

    DISC FOUR - Episodes: The Mark of Gideon, That Which Survives, The Lights of Zetar, Requiem for Methuselah and The Way to Eden . Additional extras: Original broadcast previews for each episode (SD), BD-Live and Mobile Blu enhanced.

    DISC FIVE - Episodes: The Cloud Minders, The Savage Curtain, All Our Yesterdays and Turnabout Intruder. Additional extras: Original broadcast previews for each episode (SD), Life Beyond Trek: Walter Koenig, Chief Engineer's Log, Memoir from Mr. Sulu and Captain's Log: Bob Justman featurettes (SD), BD-Live and Mobile Blu enhanced.

    DISC SIX - Episodes: The Cage, The Cage (Extended Version) and Where No Man Has Gone Before (Unaired, Alternate Version). Additional extras: To Boldly Go... Season Three, Collectible Trek and Star Trek's Impact featurettes (SD), David Gerrold Hosts 2009 Convention Coverage, The Anthropology of Star Trek Comic-Con Panel 2009, The World of Rod Roddenberry Comic-Con Panel 2009 and Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories, Part 3 featurettes (HD), BD-Live and Mobile Blu enhanced.

    The Rundown

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