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The Original Series (TOS) Season 2

Season 1 - Season 2 - Season 3

Catspaw - Metamorphosis - Friday's Child - Who Mourns for Adonais? - Amok Time
The Doomsday Machine
- Wolf in the Fold - The Changeling - The Apple - Mirror, Mirror - The Deadly Years
I, Mudd
- The Trouble with Tribbles - Bread and Circuses - Journey to Babel - A Private Little War
The Gamesters of Triskelion
- Obsession - The Immunity Syndrome - A Piece of the Action - By Any Other Name
Return to Tomorrow
- Patterns of Force - The Ultimate Computer - The Omega Glory - Assignment: Earth

 

Catspaw

Synopsis

Stardate 3018.2: Two alien beings kill a crewman and hold Scott and Sulu captive on a planet. When Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down, they enter a castle of horrors created to scare the human crew members. They soon become hostages likewise, guarded by Scotty and Sulu, whose minds are being controlled by the aliens. The aliens even threaten to destroy the ship. However, when their matter transmuter, a technological version of a magic wand, is destroyed, they turn out to be two tiny creatures not able to survive in the planet's atmosphere.

Commentary

Curses, witches, black cats, castles, dungeons, voodoo, magic wands, screams and mist. "Catspaw" does not seem to leave out a single horror stereotype. The episode was obviously intended to serve as Star Trek's contribution to Halloween (the only time such a holiday special was ever made). Moreover, after the still mostly original first season the episode marks the beginning of a series of plot pillaging. Its setting is essentially a rehash of "The Squire of Gothos". In both episodes we have powerful aliens play with the Enterprise for no apparent reason, in both cases they wind up as measly creatures, and both times the story takes place in a castle built to look like those on Earth. And perhaps most importantly, Trelane as well as Korob and Sylvia have been missing a few hundred years of human development. The idea of the mind-controlled crew is similar to "Return of the Archons", especially since it's Sulu yet again.

Although Crewman Jackson's death is supposed to create some suspense, the first ten minutes of the episode, with Kirk, Spock and McCoy investigating the planet and the castle are quite boring. Spock surmises that the castle of horrors was purposely created with everything that scares man most. But who was afraid of black magic in the late 20th century, and who would still be in the 23rd century? Kirk, McCoy and Spock are impressed just by the mere fact that someone took the pain of building all this. They could have been held captive in a high-tech prison just as well, with all kinds of gadgets that would intimidate them rather than a dungeon. Spock's later explanation that it may help Korob and Sylvia tap human minds through the subconsciousness is not conclusive either. Only his theory that the two must be extragalactic aliens who pose as humans makes sense in the following.

The only interesting conversation of the episode takes place between Korob and Sylvia, who have a disagreement about their new sensations as human beings. I would have liked to see that explored more consequentially. So rather than this episode, "By Any Other Name" will be remembered for its extragalactic aliens who struggle with their existence in human bodies, although "Catspaw" is the original. Well, at least it is a nice twist that Kirk's art of seduction fails on Sylvia, and that Korob is the one who eventually helps the crew, rather than her.

Overall, focusing on the superficial effects (although they are not very good anyway), science fiction elements are largely missing. Especially the final ten minutes of the episode are silly. Sylvia mutates to a giant black cat who chases the crew through the corridors of the castle? Come on! In the end, the transmuter's broken, the magic is over, the creatures are dead, that's it. We will never know who they really were and what they actually wanted besides the usual motive of conquering the galaxy. I only liked that, for once, a dead member was commemorated in the end instead of the usual inappropriate humorous remarks from Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

Annotations

Rating: 1

 

Metamorphosis

Synopsis

Stardate 3219.4: Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the Federation official Nancy Hedford, who suffers from Sakuro's disease, are on a shuttle, when they encounter a phenomenon in space that forces them to land on a planetoid. There they meet a man who has apparently been living there all alone, and who is reluctant to tell the whole truth. This man turns out to be Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive who should have died a long time ago. The other inhabitant of the planet is the "Companion", a strange energy being, who lives in a sort of symbiosis with Cochrane. Kirk and Spock first attempt to fight against the Companion in vain, but then they manage to establish a communication using a modified universal translator. The Companion, who does not understand human emotions and desires, eventually takes over the body of Nancy Hedford, who was going to die. Since the Companion is unable to leave the planet, Cochrane decides to stay behind with her. Kirk promises that he will keep the whole story secret.

Commentary

I like how this story unfolds, in which Kirk and Spock first choose the wrong way and fight the Companion in vain. Then McCoy suggests to "try a carrot instead of a stick", which will prove successful with the help of the universal translator. This is the spirit of Star Trek. Also, it is interesting to see how the Companion fails to understand human emotions and motivations before she can actually experience them. Well, this is a frequently recurring theme especially in the second season, but it is shown here with the due profundity for the first time. Finally, the episode has a certain weight because it introduces Zefram Cochrane, although the story could work just as well without him being the inventor of warp drive. Although it is both delightful and touching in essence, I have a lot of issues with this episode. There are badly conceived characters, huge plot holes and serious ethical problems that are more than just oversights.

The character of Nancy Hedford is unsympathetic right from the start, and all she can do is complaining and lamenting. We may give her the credit of being very ill, but ultimately her whole annoying conduct is too obviously supposed to make her character easily disposable, to justify that the person is killed and only the body survives. Hedford has just one scene that shows her in a better light, when she regrets that she has never been loved ("I've been good at my job, but I've never been loved.") But even this is an insidious preparation for the death of her character, as if being killed and replaced with the loving and loved Companion would give her that fulfillment.

Zefram Cochrane was an old man when he arrived, but his body has been rejuvenated by the Companion. It almost seems that the Companion rejuvenated his mind even further, because at first he is naive as a little boy. Well, he seems to have lost his sense of reality during the 150 years with the Companion, which is no surprise, since he didn't have anything useful to do. The Companion provided him with everything he needed, but obviously nothing more, nothing that could have extended his mind. Kirk offers him the opportunity to escape, and after some pondering he grasps it. So far his character is consistent. Only when it is revealed that the Companion is female, something strange happens. As Spock predicts, "The matter of gender could change the entire situation." For one and a half century Cochrane has been quite content with the mysterious supernatural Companion taking care of him, but now that he can speak to it like to a human being and that he learns a possible reason he suddenly feels abused as "fodder for an inhuman monster". This is paradoxical, it just doesn't make sense.

The question is posed in the episode but is never really answered how an entity without substance such as the Companion can possibly be female. Only because the universal translator has been programmed to select an appropriate voice and has decided in favor of a female one? Perhaps this was not even based on real facts but only happened with just a probability of 1:2. "The idea of male and female are universal constants, Cochrane. There's no doubt about it. The Companion is female," as Kirk says. It is almost as if he talked to the viewers, rather than to Cochrane, giving a lame excuse to carry on with an absolutely implausible idea that the plot is built upon.

But the most problematic part of the episode is still to come. It is quite clearly Hedford's body and not her consciousness that is dying from Sakuro's disease. The Companion says that she can't help her, which may be the truth. Still, after removing Hedford's consciousness from the body, the latter is suddenly perfectly healthy again. Well, the Companion says that Nancy Hedford is still alive in some fashion (she refers to herself as "we"), but the facts disprove her, as the entity in Nancy's body suddenly speaks with the Companion's voice and does not behave at all like Nancy Hedford. In my opinion Nancy Hedford's consciousness is gone. In any case McCoy accepts this odd development without any protest, as if it were perfectly okay for alien entities to let human beings die and take over their bodies. Even if we explain Sakuro's disease as an incurable neural damage that may have left an otherwise curable body to be taken over by the Companion, it is the final step in the hypocritical scheme to introduce and then kill off an unpleasant character for the benefit of a more sympathetic one. Also, there is the huge problem for Kirk and McCoy to explain why Nancy Hedford wouldn't return with them. It should have been addressed in some fashion, but the way everything is fine in the end and the disrespectful statement that "another woman somewhere" could do her work it only adds insult to injury.

There are still more questions pertaining to the actual nature of the metamorphosis that takes place in the end. So the Companion controls Hedford's body now. Is she all human? It seems so, because now the Companion begins to understand Cochrane, and the two are subjected to normal aging from now. But then why is it still impossible for her to leave the planet, because her "life emanates from this place"? And why is she still speaking with her reverberant voice instead of Nancy Hedford's? It all doesn't fit together.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

Friday's Child

Synopsis

Stardate 3497.2: Kirk, Spock, McCoy and a security officer beam down to the planet Capella IV to obtain the mining rights for the mineral topaline from the indigenous antiquated warrior civilization. Upon their arrival, the security officer spots a Klingon among the Capellans, pulls his phaser and is promptly killed by a Capellan. Nevertheless the landing party hand out their weapons to the Capellans. In the following it becomes clear that, while Teer Akaar, the leader of the Ten Tribes of Capella, welcomes the offer of the Federation, his opponent Maab favors the Klingons. When a riot breaks out in the warrior camp, Maab kills Akaar. Akaar's pregnant wife Eleen has to die too according to the Capellan laws, but Kirk prevents her execution and is now condemned to die too for touching her. There is no help from the Enterprise that has been lured away from the planet with a false distress call. The three officers escape together with Eleen, who delivers a son in a shelter in the hills. But she runs away to her people, not willing to accept her baby. During another skirmish Kras, the Klingon, gets hold of a phaser and disintegrates Maab, whereupon he is killed by the Capellans. The Capellans now accept Eleen's new-born son, Leonard James Akaar, as their new teer and also sign a mining agreement with the Federation.

Commentary

Although it's a tad too much reminiscent of "Errand of Mercy", the basic idea of this episode isn't all that bad. The Federation needs the valuable mineral topaline that can be found on Capella IV. And since the Klingons have the same intentions, Starfleet may have bent some rules, perhaps even the Prime Directive, to obtain the mining license from the Capellans, although these people are obviously not ready to deal with technologically and culturally advanced aliens. I like the idea of the many taboos that govern the lives of the Capellans and that are in strong contrast to what is deemed rightful and common sense in the Federation, although the aspects of their culture could have been worked out still better. And while the three officers' escape with the pregnant Eleen winds up as occasionally rather clownish, the good deal of action, some nice cunning ruses and the shooting on location at Vasquez Rocks make up for this weakness to some extent. 

I have major qualms with the guest characters, however. They strike me as being clichéd, purposefully weak and easy to elude. So Kirk takes an inexperienced security officer to a planet where it is clear that he would run into experienced warriors. The redshirt spots Kras, unwisely pulls his phaser and is promptly killed. Kras makes a good point with his snide remark, "I am unaware of any state of war between our peoples, Captain. Or is it your policy to kill Klingons on sight?" Maab is still the most convincing guest character, with his desire to keep up the traditions of his people by dealing with the aliens who he thinks understand his culture, while still trying to make the best bargain. But his role should have been bigger, and at some point he should have recognized that he has been pushed around by Kras all the time. And it is a letdown that he, like everyone else in the episode, is killed almost casually and without an emotional impact. Kras is a dishonest, sneaky and cowardly Klingon and is miserable enough as such. But he doesn't even fulfill a real purpose in the plot aside from erratically grasping opportunities to stir up trouble, with his words or with a phaser. Whether his function is rather that of a diplomat, a spy or a warrior, he totally fails in any of these. I think the episode would have worked better without him and with a conflict between Kirk and a stronger Maab on the planet, and between the Enterprise and a Klingon ship in space. With her naive obstinacy Eleen could have been quite entertaining but comes off as rather annoying. She is just a dead weight that the three Starfleet officers have to drag along (almost literally in the case of McCoy who is the only one allowed to touch her). And every situation involving her that starts off as serious winds up as inappropriately comical or cutesy.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

Who Mourns for Adonais?

Synopsis

Stardate 3468.1: While approaching the planet Pollux IV, the Enterprise is stopped by a forcefield shaped like a giant human hand. The face of a humanoid appears on screen and invites a landing party to beam down. The man identifies himself as Apollo, member of a race that came to Earth thousands of years ago and was worshipped as gods in ancient Greece. He demands just that from the crew of the Enterprise too, which Kirk naturally refuses. Soon Apollo's interest focuses on the attractive Lt. Palamas, who reciprocates his feelings. Kirk puts straight that it is her duty to repel Apollo, while on the ship Spock has found a way to penetrate the forcefield and fire on the power source in Apollo's "temple". The desperate Apollo recognizes that his time is over and vanishes.

Commentary

"Who Mourns for Adonais" attempts to be visually powerful, as we have the hand-shaped forcefield and an alien whose body can grow to a huge size. But plot-wise there isn't much special about it. It is another incidence of the common TOS trope in which a supernatural being holds our crew as pets for their mere enjoyment but winds up as a pitiful creature in the end. In addition, the episode starts something like a "mini-arc" in the second season with gratuitous references to Earth's history on alien planets. Well, the worse installments of this kind are still to come, and the idea that Apollo's people, an unnamed alien species, once ruled as Gods over ancient Greece was not as hackneyed in the 1960s as it unquestionably is today. But ultimately it hardly matters whether it's really the god Apollo, someone who pretends to be Apollo or just any other supernatural being, perhaps one related to Trelane from "The Squire of Gothos". And speaking of a mini-arc, this episode marks the beginning of Scotty's streak of bad luck with women, which will continue in "Wolf in the Fold" and in "The Lights of Zetar" (as Mira Romaine will leave the ship without him).

I absolutely hate that Lt. Palamas almost becomes a second Marla McGivers ("Space Seed") - a woman who, in a stereotypically sexist notion, has a romantic desire to abandon her job to be with the next best macho that comes along. Dr. McCoy even sort of foreshadows this development in the beginning when he sees that Scotty feels attracted to her and notes: "And he thinks he's the right man for her, but I'm not sure she thinks he's the right man. On the other hand, she's a woman. All woman. One day she'll find the right man and off she'll go, out of the service." Even if he is not exactly talking of Palamas leaving and betraying Starfleet for an alien tyrant, isn't that a quite antiquated stance? At least Palamas creates an unexpected plot twist when she soothes Apollo and thereby foils Kirk's plan to provoke him and exhaust his energy. The actual resolution, that it's as easy as destroying the power source to disable the alien and bring the whole mumbo-jumbo to an end, isn't very original though.

What I like is the convincingly unhappy ending when Apollo has to admit that his time is over and vanishes into thin air. While I don't feel too sorry for the lost love of Lt. Palamas, I can understand Kirk when he regrets the destruction of important evidence of Earth's history.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

Amok Time

Synopsis

Stardate 3372.7: Spock is in a state of mental unrest and requests a shore leave on his home planet Vulcan to recover. Kirk, however, has orders to set course for Altair VI to participate in the inauguration ceremony of the planet's president. Spock eventually lets Kirk in on his condition. It is the pon farr, a phase of irrational sexual desire, that manifests itself as the plak tow, the blood fever. It requires him to return to Vulcan to be with his future wife. Otherwise Spock would die. Kirk decides to act against his orders and set course for Vulcan. He and McCoy beam down with Spock to an ancient ritual place. They are welcomed by T'Pau, an influential political figure on Vulcan and by T'Pring, Spock's fiancée. T'Pring, however, demands that Spock fight for her to the death according to the old koon-ut-kal-if-fee ritual - against Kirk. When Spock, still in the plak tow, is on the verge of killing Kirk, McCoy gives Kirk an injection that he says is a tri-ox compound to compensate for the thin air on the planet. But Spock wins the duel and apparently kills Kirk, who is beamed up together with McCoy. Correctly assuming that Spock wouldn't want her now that Kirk is dead, T'Pring is free to be with her new love, Stonn. Spock returns to the Enterprise, ready to resign his commission and be arrested, but is more than lucky to see Kirk alive. McCoy actually gave him a neural paralyzer that simulated the captain's death.

Commentary

"Amok Time" ranks among the most memorable Star Trek episodes. It leaves a lasting impression on fans and on casual viewers alike, if they were happy enough not to miss this central episode of the series. Most importantly, "Amok Time" provides profound insight into Spock's character and the Vulcan culture. The combination of logic on one hand and the completely irrational plak tow and koon-ut-kal-if-fee on the other hand, is hard to understand. However, after all Vulcan is supposed to be an alien civilization, and exactly this is impressively demonstrated here, as opposed to the many carbon copies of Earth that will still appear especially in this second season. Only Spock's shameful secrecy about his condition has been overdone in my view. At some point earlier in the episode, he should have let in either Kirk or McCoy on the pon farr, and if only to avoid the impression that he has become insubordinate or insane or both. But in a figurative sense Spock is just as embarrassed to speak about his condition as the television networks of the 1960s were to have someone on screen talk about sex.

The episode is certainly among the most exciting of TOS. Yet it starts off quite slowly, and overall the first half of the episode does not build as much tension as may have been possible. The see-saw with the frequent course changes to and away from Vulcan in the first 20 minutes and Spock's increasingly incomprehensible secrecy are even becoming tedious. And so this episode scores only 8 instead of 9 or perhaps even 10 points.

T'Pau, as a figurehead of this culture, somewhat xenophobic and the only person who ever turned down a seat in the Federation Council, is a truly impressive guest character. Celia Lovsky's Austro-German accent ("Dis is de Volcan heart, dis is de Volcan soul. Dis is our vay.") together with the antiquated "thee" and "thy" turns out a fitting contribution to Vulcan's being alien and her being distinguished.

Annotations

Rating: 8

 

The Doomsday Machine

Synopsis

Stardate 4202.9: The Enterprise picks up a garbled distress call from the USS Constellation. After investigating the system L-370 that is completely gone, the missing ship is found adrift in the system L-374, of which only the two innermost planets are left. An enormous weapon has destroyed the planets and converted their matter to fuel. After a desperate fight against that machine only Commodore Decker is still on the crippled Constellation. He tragically beamed his crew down to the third planet that is now destroyed. Kirk, Scott and a repair team stay on the Constellation. Decker, however, is obsessed with taking revenge, takes over command and orders the Enterprise to attack the planet killer. Kirk watches helplessly from the damaged Constellation how his ship is almost drawn into the maw of the machine. As soon as communication is re-established, he orders Spock to relieve Decker of command. Decker is supposed to report to sickbay, but he hijacks a shuttle and steers it right into the planet killer where it blows up. When Sulu notices a drop in the planet killer's energy output right after the shuttle's explosion, Kirk sees a chance to destroy the weapon from inside by overloading the Constellation's impulse engines there. Scott sets up an explosive device with a delay of thirty seconds, and Kirk stays behind on the Constellation to arm it. As the Enterprise's transporter has a malfunction, he is beamed out just a second before the explosion successfully destroys the planet killer.

Commentary

Wow! This is still one of the most exciting thrillers in Star Trek's history. In particular the scene when Kirk waits for his beam-out from the Constellation that Scotty has turned into a flying bomb is breath-taking, emphasized by the most powerful and perhaps most memorable background music of the series. The plot is credible from the first to the last minute, the dialogues are appropriately brief and to the point in this tense situation, and the directing skillfully weaves together the events in the different locations on the Enterprise and the Constellation. It is also good to see a real space battle after far too many and often rather gratuitous boxing matches in the previous episodes, because of which Star Trek was on the verge of becoming some sort of Western imitation. "The Doomsday Machine" reassures us that Star Trek is science fiction, and this without a parallel Earth or a non-corporeal entity of the week and without a medical or a technical miracle. It stands out from a second season that has a few more great episodes, but will otherwise wind up as being full of such clichés.

Only one negative note: Although there are worse examples of high-ranking officers that go mad in TOS, Matt Decker is extremely irrational and unpredictable in his obsession to take revenge on the planet killer. I don't think that it would have been necessary, just to make Kirk look like a better captain. I think Decker would have been better conceived as someone who is eager to fulfill his duty and accept the ultimate consequences. But within the boundaries of how the character has been written, William Windom does a great job portraying Decker's borderline insanity. And I find it quite fitting that he retroactively redeems himself by showing up a possibility to destroy the planet killer. It is a worthy farewell to a truly tragic character..

Annotations

Rating: 9

 

Wolf in the Fold

Synopsis

Stardate 3614.9: Scotty is found beside a brutally knifed woman on the hedonistic world of Argelius, but he can't remember anything. Kirk orders Lt. Karen Tracy to examine him with a psychotricorder, but she too is killed when the two are alone. The Argelian official Jaris proposes to find the truth in an ancient empathic ceremony, in the course of which the medium, his wife, is stabbed just as well. Kirk decides that the trial should be continued on the Enterprise. The computer-assisted interrogation and databank research comes to the conclusion that the actual murderer is named "Redjac" aka "Jack the Ripper", an alien entity that subsists on fear and that is traveling from planet to planet. It was hiding in the body of the local administrator Hengist, and now takes control of the ship's computer. With the the help of an unsolvable puzzle and tranquilizers for the crew Redjac can be finally expelled from the computer. It returns to Hengist's body and is beamed out into space.

Commentary

I like the basic idea of the murder mystery, but not what the episode makes of it. Already the premise is awfully contrived. So Scotty has a problem with women since an accident in which he was hurt because of the fault of a female crew member. The result is a "total resentment toward women", as McCoy puts it. Definitely a horrible trauma that warrants the best possible therapy! So Dr. Kirk and his assistant McCoy take Scotty to a brothel planet hedonistic world and get him a hooker open-minded native woman so he can fuck his frustration away be healed through the power of love. And now guess what happens. Scotty, the man who purportedly holds a grudge against women kills one of them as soon as he is alone with one. And another one. And yet another one. Fortunately, before there are no women left on the planet and/or the ship, it is revealed that Scotty is as innocent as he looks and that everything is the work of an entity named "Redjac" that has a strange predilection for hearing always the same scream from different women.

There is a great deal of sexism in the episode anyway. Spock states that the "sensitivity of certain Argelian women is a documented fact", explicitly excluding the men from possibly having mental powers. He also says that Redjac probably "preys on women because women are more easily and more deeply terrified, generating more sheer horror than the male of the species." While he may be factually right on both accounts, his statements reflect clichés of the 1960s. Just as the women's hysterical screams too.

Another thing that bugs me is that Scotty is seemingly in the focus of attention, but he is incapacitated all the time, and except for one or two level-headed statements he appears like a total jerk. What a waste. Overall the script rather seeks to advance the plot instead of working with the characters anyway. Kirk is the positive exception, as he is trying to defend his friend while heeding the local laws for diplomatic reasons. McCoy provides little more than medical advice, and Spock just some facts that he more or less reads directly from the computer. Among the guest characters Hengist, who is possessed by Redjac, is ironically the most credible one. The attempt to sidetrack the investigation with the conflict between the father and the ex-lover of the first victim fails because it remains on the surface. And regarding Jaris, his wife has just been killed, and there is not the slightest sign of mourning or rage in his role.

Well, initially the idea of Scotty being subject to alien justice is still enthralling. But subsequently the episode hits one low point after the other. While we have seen stranger alien rituals, the séance is anything but convincing and it fails in being as scary as it was probably intended to be. The revelation that actually an alien entity that came from Earth is responsible for the murders is not only corny, as we have already had many stories along these lines. It also replaces the murder mystery with a yet another lame story about an alien lifeform that takes control of the ship. In the end, when Redjac's devilish laughter could be heard all over the ship, while the crew (under the influence of McCoy's tranquilizer) was only giggling, I was not really willing to watch this farce any longer.

Three points for the good idea of doing a detective story, for a convincing Kirk and for some nifty details.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

The Changeling

Synopsis

Stardate 3451.9: Contact with the Maluriuan system is lost, and it turns out that all life in that system has been wiped out, a population of four billion. Soon the Enterprise comes under attack too. Only when Kirk sends a hailing, the attacker, a small space probe, stands down and agrees to be beamed aboard. The probe named "Nomad" calls the human crew "primitive" but is of the opinion that Kirk created it. Spock looks up that Nomad was built by a scientist named Jackson Roykirk and was launched from Earth on a mission to seek out new lifeforms in the early 21st century. The probe was declared lost, but obviously survived with damaged memory banks, so it now mistakes "Kirk" for "Roykirk". In the meantime Nomad enters the bridge and erases Uhura's memory when it attempts to read her mind. It kills Scott, who comes to help her, but later successfully "repairs" the "Unit Scott". In a mind-meld Spock finds out that the damaged Nomad actually encountered a powerful alien probe called Tan Ru, built to sterilize soil samples, and somehow merged with it, and it gave itself the new programming to "sterilize imperfect lifeforms". The probe escapes from the holding cell, kills the security personnel and heads for the engine room where it boosts the power of the engines until Kirk tells Nomad to stop it. Kirk reveals to Nomad that he himself, the alleged "Creator", is a primitive lifeform too, which Spock labels as a "foolish mistake". But then Kirk goes even one step further and accuses Nomad of being flawed, for the probe mistook him for its creator. Using antigrav units, Kirk and Spock carry the probe to the transporter room and beam it into deep space, where Nomad carries out its mission to "sterilize imperfection" and destroys itself.

Commentary

Two damaged probes repair one another and thereby form a new, much more advanced device than either of them, with practically unlimited power supplies and practically unlimited abilities to manipulate technological and biological systems. And there are two somewhat awkward wordplays, that Nomad thinks that Kirk is its creator only because of a coincidence of name fragments, and that the missions to find new life (Nomad) and to sterilize samples (Tan Ru) merge literally to a new task to "sterilize imperfect life". I would have liked the plot to have a more credible basis, such as the one that would be used for "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", that the probe was upgraded by alien machines on purpose. But that really is my only complaint about this episode.

Anyway, "The Changeling" manages to create an uneasy atmosphere that already fascinated me as a child. Actually, it is my first definite memory of Star Trek how Nomad is hovering through the ship's corridors and everyone is afraid of it. This truly scared me and still does - quite unlike "Catspaw" earlier in this season, which attempted to be creepy with hackneyed "castle of horrors" effects. "The Changeling", in contrast, only needs a metal box to accomplish a lot more. It is like the Enterprise has the "Doomsday Machine" on board, a powerful device that could kill anyone who makes the slightest mistake and that could find out about its alleged creator's "imperfection" any time. The situation alone is frightening enough, but the suspense is gradually increased even after the preliminary culmination point when Scott is killed by Nomad and Uhura's memory is wiped out.

One might object that it is becoming tiresome how Kirk discusses a computer to death once again. But this time it really makes sense, as Nomad fails to fulfill its own criterion of perfection, unlike the computer's implausible "death" scene in "Return of the Archons", for instance. And although Kirk isn't the "Creator", it is some sort of personal matter for him to deal with Nomad his way, even against Spock's advice.

Annotations

Rating: 8

 

The Apple

Synopsis

Stardate 3715.0: A landing party beams down to a planet with a rich nature, only to find that there are poisonous plants, sudden thunderstorms and explosive rocks that each kill one crewman as if the planet was defending itself. As the Enterprise is caught in a tractor beam, the landing party heads for a village, whose inhabitants worship and feed a creature named Vaal, obviously the machine that controls the planet. Because of Vaal there has been no progress in thousands of years, and the natives have no concept of love or sex either. While McCoy wants to end Vaal's rule to free those people, Spock objects that they are quite happy the way it is. But Vaal tells his people to kill the strangers, and they slay one more of the landing party. When the Enterprise does not manage to break free, Kirk tells Scotty to fire on Vaal's power source. Vaal is dead, and the people on the planet are free to develop their society on their own.

Commentary

Star Trek gets terribly repetitive with "The Apple", whose plot is essentially the same as "The Return of the Archons", with the motive of the poisonous paradise taken from "This Side of the Paradise" and the resolution of simply firing at Vaal being a carbon copy of the destruction of the temple in "Who Mourns for Adonais". A landing party is trapped on the planet while an alien force threatens to destroy the ship in orbit, we've all had it several times before. And even worse, redshirts keep dying all the time, while Spock survives the spores, the attack of the natives as well as the lightning, each of which killed one crewman. There is certainly some merit in the discussions between Spock and McCoy whether Vaal's people should be conceded the right to develop or rather the right to maintain their culture. But since this decision is ultimately governed by the primary goal to save the Enterprise, it remains largely pointless. The outcome is overly rushed and simplified, and all doubts about destroying a paradise are swiftly cast away. In many TNG episodes the interference into other cultures will entail bad side effects as well as, aside from the violation of the Prime Directive, a bad conscience for the crew. In contrast, everything seems fine at the end of this TOS episode, although the inhabitants of the former paradise will have a hard time coping with the consequences.

The impression is created that primitive cultures are only waiting to be granted the benefits of Federation lifestyle, in this case after a due time. But quite paradoxically computers and machines once again appear as evil things that hold back people and need to be destroyed. In this particular episode the computer in its role as a "false god" may have been an attempt by the atheist Gene Roddenberry to incorporate implicit criticism of religion without openly offending religious people or institutions. But if that was the intention, it comes out rather as technophobia, while the references to the biblical paradise are indeed rather conciliatory, as the end of the paradise was meant to happen in both cases and even for similar reasons. Kirk also makes clear in his glorifying speech towards the end that freedom is the highest good, which may have to do with the time of the Cold War when Star Trek was produced, rather than with criticism of religion.

I'm not sure if I should be really glad for the natives, but honestly I really don't care that much about them. The dumb na(t)ive people are merely used by both Vaal and the Enterprise crew as instruments. They are running around in silly costumes, make-up and hair, not able to do anything but what they are told. Luckily the actors have white skin color underneath their thick make-up, otherwise the episode would have had a racist undertone.

Annotations

Rating: 1

 

Mirror, Mirror

Synopsis

Stardate not given: After fruitless negotiations with the peaceful Halkans on dilithium mining rights on their planet, Kirk, Uhura, Scott and McCoy are beaming back to the USS Enterprise. But due to an ion storm they materialize in a parallel universe on the I.S.S. Enterprise, a nearly identical ship that is governed by brutality. Vice versa, their counterparts from this Mirror Universe find themselves aboard the USS Enterprise of our universe, where Spock quickly puts them under arrest. In the Mirror Universe, the four officers try to fit into their unusual roles on a ship where murder of superiors is an appropriate means to attain a promotion, as Mirror Chekov's attempted assassination of Kirk demonstrates. When Kirk refuses to destroy the planet Halkan, Mirror Spock warns Kirk that he has received orders to eliminate him. While Scott and McCoy are working in engineering on a procedure to return to their universe and Uhura distracts the ship's security officer Sulu, Marlena, obviously Kirk's mistress in this universe, shows Kirk how to get rid of his enemies using a device in his quarters called the Tantalus field. Mirror Spock learns the truth about the landing party through a mind meld with McCoy, and he decides to help them get back to their universe. Marlena, who prefers Kirk over his Mirror counterpart, has to stay behind. Kirk leaves with a plea that Mirror Spock should change something about his universe and points him to the Tantalus field that could allow him to achieve that goal. Back on his Enterprise Kirk meets a newly assigned lieutenant, who is no one else but the counterpart of Marlena in our universe.

Commentary

"Mirror, Mirror" is an episode with an intelligent story, brilliant directing and mostly exquisite acting. I love how everyone in the landing party contributes a great deal to the success of the mission to return to their own universe - even Uhura whose role is too often limited to delivering a few lines, leaving all the action to the three principal characters. I also like how Kirk, McCoy, Uhura and Scotty don't abandon their humanity and camaraderie and don't simply put up with the cruel ways of the Mirror Universe. This spirit of our, of the "better universe" can be found in the scenes when Kirk refuses to kill the Halkans or Chekov, but also in many smaller good deeds. For instance, when Uhura hesitates to go to the bridge of the Mirror Enterprise, Kirk encourages her and promises he would follow her soon. Kirk does not appreciate the strange idea of "loyalty" in the Mirror Universe, and so he shows his "gratitude" for the crewman who first mutinied with Chekov and then switched sides by punching him. When everyone else is only thinking of going to the transporter room to escape from the hostile universe, McCoy insists on treating the injured Mirror Spock.

I am willing to forgive this episode the problems that lie already in its very premise. It is anything but plausible that almost the same ship with essentially the same people could be at the same place in the same time in two different universes. For the premise to make any sense, we have to accept that there are strange ties between the universes that don't allow them to diverge too much and that defy even the second law of thermodynamics. 

Once we look beyond the premise, "Mirror, Mirror" establishes a credible parallel world though, quite unlike in the trash episode "The Alternative Factor" where this idea was utterly wasted. In "Mirror, Mirror" the minimal dissimilarities in the looks and technology are in a strong contrast to the behavior of the characters, which couldn't be more different on the two sides. Again, this is anything but plausible, but this is exactly what the thrill is about. It is familiar, and at the same time it's not. I can understand that our Mr. Spock finds the experience of meeting the savage Mirror Universe counterparts of the crew "fascinating". And while Star Trek as a whole had a strong impact on pop culture, particularly "Mirror, Mirror" set the tone for countless parodies as well as half-way serious takes on the idea of a parallel universe where everyone and everything is slightly different, such as characters who suddenly have goatees.

Considering how much potential the parallel universe has, I only wonder why it took so long to revive it in DS9: "Crossover". In the DS9 episode we learn that Mirror Spock has indeed risen to power as Kirk suggested, but not to the Terran Empire's advantage. This way, more than 25 years later "Mirror, Mirror" has gained a new ironical twist in hindsight.

Annotations

Rating: 8

 

The Deadly Years

Synopsis

Stardate 3478.2: A landing party consisting of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Chekov and Lt. Galway beams down for a routine visit to an outpost on Gamma Hydra IV. They find that the scientists there are dying of rapid aging. After their return to the ship the landing party soon shows symptoms of the disease too. Only Chekov is unaffected. Lt. Galway dies. Commodore Stocker, who is aboard to be transferred to Starbase 10, urges Spock to hold a hearing to investigate Kirk's ability to command the ship. It is found that Kirk, due to his senility, is unable to stay in command, which falls to Stocker. But Stocker makes an almost fatal mistake when he orders Sulu to set course for the Neutral Zone. In the meantime Dr. McCoy has an idea that adrenalin could help the aging crew members, as it probably saved Chekov, who was terrified when he stumbled across a dead body on Gamma Hydra. Spock and Dr. Wallace, an old flame of Kirk, develop a cure, which helps Kirk to save the ship that has been surrounded by the Romulans, repeating his "corbomite maneuver".

Commentary

"The Deadly Years" is certainly a classic that shouldn't be blamed for the many times that Trek would hark back to the theme of rapid aging or similar conditions that need to be cured with a medical miracle in a race against time. It is a fundamental weakness of any such story that the effect is not only stopped but even reversed in the end. In Star Trek there is a traditional "reset button" - the characters have to return to their original state each time, and all "hope" that a change might be permanent is disappointed.

In my view the episode could have been better, had it focused on the development of the cure, rather than on the melodramatic depiction of particularly Kirk's aging process. His senility comes across as a tad too artificial, when he repeatedly forgets his own commands and everyone is embarrassed about it. To add insult to injury, everything is reiterated ad nauseam in the hearing. I don't like the idea of the hearing anyway - it only wastes time, which is especially precious in this case. 

The greatest weakness of the episode, however, is the involvement of two blatantly clichéd guest characters. Dr. Wallace is yet another of Kirk's countless former love affairs that keep cropping up out of the blue during TOS. And besides her assistance in developing the cure her more obvious purpose in the story is to pity the aging Kirk. Commodore Stocker is yet another high-ranking officer who proves to be totally incompetent and breaks down as soon as he has brought the ship into trouble. At least this failing enables a quite thrilling finale of the episode, but the same could have been accomplished in more decent fashion, without making the good commodore look like a total idiot.

There is one instance of clever writing in this episode that I am fond of. When the ship is surrounded by the Romulans, Kirk orders Uhura to send a message to Starfleet Command with Code 2, the one he knows has been deciphered by the Romulans, so he can make sure they would listen. In his senility he previously asked her to use this same code in error. He then mentions the corbomite device that has allegedly been installed on the ship, in reference to TOS: "The Corbomite Maneuver". This is one of the few instances of inter-episode continuity.

Finally, I just have to praise the great make-up work in this episode that is still impressive today.

Annotations

Rating: 4

 

I, Mudd

Synopsis

Stardate 4513.3: A new crew member named Mr. Norman turns out to be an android. He sabotages the Enterprise and alters the ship's course to an uncharted planet. After beaming down the landing party find themselves among thousands of androids, who are led by the only human denizen, Harry Mudd. It is Mudd's intention to leave the planet, and he has brought the Enterprise crew there as a replacement, because it is the androids' desire to serve. The androids, however, have other plans. They suddenly refuse to obey Mudd and plan to take over the human civilization, which would gradually become totally dependent on their services. The humanoids work together to disable them, using their best weapon, absence of logic. After they have found out that Norman is the control center, they focus their efforts on confusing him, playing absurd theater until he is finally disabled. Kirk allows Mudd to stay on the planet, but not before creating at least 500 new androids modeled after Mudd's wife, who keep nagging Harry.

Commentary

This may be the silliest episode of TOS, but besides the unattainable "The Trouble with Tribbles" it is also one of the funniest. It only needs a bit more than the usual suspension of disbelief to be enjoyable. We have to accept that the whole setting, a captivity of the Enterprise crew that would be unbearable under somewhat different circumstances, is designed to be farcical, as a platform for a plethora of jokes. And although it probably wasn't the intention, it may be regarded as some sort of parody that Kirk discusses a computer to death once again and we see androids crave power once again.

The episode jumps straight into action, as McCoy complains about Norman being strange right at the beginning, and Norman completes his takeover of the ship and reveals his true nature already in the teaser. It could have been subtly foreshadowed what would happen, to build up suspense. The way it is done is appropriate, however, since the takeover of the ship is not what the episode is really about. While the teaser was still dead serious, it becomes clear that we are watching a comedy as soon as we see Harry Fenton Mudd on his throne. Kirk and his people never take his threats really seriously because despite his strange ambitions Mudd is not the type of guy who would harm them. The only time that Kirk really gets mad at Mudd and grabs his throat (which he may have done much earlier had it been any other captor) is when he learns that his whole crew has been beamed down, leaving the Enterprise to the androids. But after this escalation the comical nature of the situation gains the upper hand again. Once again, as the androids suddenly refuse to obey Mudd any longer and Kirk recognizes "that threat the androids made about taking over all the humans in the galaxy is not very funny", it almost seems like the fun part is over. But the climax is still to come, in the form of the absurd stage play. And I admit that I enjoy it every time although it is totally over the top, such as Chekov's "Cossack" jumping on Kirk's order to stand still. And I like the reference to the good old Epimenides paradox that is apparently still powerful enough to confuse a highly advanced android mind.

Annotations

Rating: 6

 

The Trouble with Tribbles

Synopsis

Stardate 4523.3: The Enterprise is summoned to Deep Space K-7 by Federation Undersecretary Baris to protect a shipment of quadrotriticale, the only Earth grain that would grow on Sherman's Planet. This planet is disputed between the Federation and the Klingons, and the Federation needs to hurry to develop it. A Klingon battlecruiser under Captain Koloth arrives, requesting shore leave on the station, whereupon a scuffle with the Enterprise crew ensues. In the meantime, intergalactic trader Cyrano Jones has brought small furry animals called Tribbles to the station. Uhura takes one Tribble to the Enterprise, not knowing that it would breed rapidly. And so do the Tribbles on the station, thanks to the supply of quadrotriticale. When Kirk opens the storage compartment, the grain is gone, and it is swarming with Tribbles. Many Tribbles, however, are dead, as the grain has been poisoned. Kirk discovers that the Tribbles squeak in the presence of Baris' assistant Darvin just the way they do when they encounter Klingons. McCoy examines the man, who turns out to be a Klingon. A freighter is dispatched to deliver a new shipment of grain to the planet, and Scotty solves the Tribble problem on the Enterprise by beaming them over to the Klingon ship.

Commentary

"The Trouble with Tribbles" is an absolute favorite of avid fans and of casual viewers alike, and as such the probably best known Star Trek episode ever made. One reason for this overwhelming popularity is that the episode combines humor and suspense in an unprecedented fashion. There is not a single boring minute. "The Trouble with Tribbles" strikes a chord with the viewers, if they are ready to take the whole story with a small grain of quadrotriticale. Well, it could have been overall a tad more serious to comply with the general tone of the series. But most other TOS installments take themselves already too seriously, and in such a case it appears contrived or even inappropriate whenever a funny line is included. 

Also, for the first time in the history of the series two plots (the proliferation of the Tribbles on one hand and the conflict with the Klingons on the other hand) are woven together, as it is customary in most modern TV series. Likewise, it benefits the story that it is not told solely from Kirk's or Spock's perspective, who are focusing on just one opponent. It is one of the few occasions with manifold character interactions and conflicts. Besides the usual mutual teasing of McCoy and Spock we have Kirk with his refreshing disregard for Baris, Scott with his fondness of the ship and the technical journals (but not necessarily of the captain), Chekov with his Russian trivia, Uhura in defense of the Tribbles, to name only a few. Although the episode is very complex for its time and involves an unusual number of places and characters, the story is largely free of inconsistencies. Furthermore, probably no other TOS episode is so full of neat details and trivia. I think I could watch it a hundred times and I would still discover something new. And speaking of trivia, it is clear that the cute Tribbles with all their remarkable abilities have contributed a lot to the success of the episode.

Annotations

Rating: 9

 

Bread and Circuses

Synopsis

Stardate 4040.7: The Enterprise locates wreckage of the S.S. Beagle, a ship that disappeared six years earlier. Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the nearby planet 892-IV with its astonishing 20th century version of a Roman Empire, where they hope to find survivors. They ally themselves with former slaves, the "Children of the Sun", who are hiding in the hills. But they are captured by the police and meet the First Citizen, who is no one else but Captain Merik of the S.S. Beagle, who now calls himself Merikus. When Kirk refuses to beam down his entire crew, Merik and Proconsul Claudius force Kirk to watch Spock and McCoy in a gladiator match on TV. Flavius, the "Child of the Sun" who was with them, is killed. Some time later the landing party are going to be executed too in a live show, but Scotty interrupts the planet's power supply. Merikus still attempts to switch sides and contacts the ship, but while Kirk, Spock and McCoy are beamed up, Claudius kills Merikus. Meanwhile on the ship, Uhura has found out that it is actually the "Children of the Son", the planet's version of Christians.

Commentary

"Bread and Circuses" is only the second episode set on a parallel Earth after "Miri". However, it is the first produced of a whole series from Gene Roddenberry's cost-saving pool of parallel Earth stories that dominate the rest of the second season. The other episodes are "A Piece of the Action", "Patterns of Force" and "The Omega Glory". All these episodes have in common that planets, which were remarkably Earth-like already before the arrival of any starships, were culturally or technologically contaminated by citizens of the Federation.

In contrast to "Miri", where it remained totally unexplained how an exact duplicate of Earth could possibly exist, the four episodes of season 2 all attempt to explain the phenomenon of a parallel Earth in some fashion. The reference to "Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planet Development" in "Bread and Circuses" is the perhaps most notable approach. But it doesn't really help to make the existence of a 20th century Roman Empire any more plausible. On the contrary. The mystery of an exact duplicate of Earth in "Miri" should have been explored in detail and it is arguably more astonishing than a Roman Empire on an alien planet in "Bread and Circuses". But the latter is frequently referred to and hence becomes an essential part of the story. 

In addition to the existence of a Roman Empire on that planet, more parallels to Earth's history are either discovered or swiftly postulated. Two of them are particularly detrimental to the story's credibility. The first is when Spock listens to the slaves and states: "Complete Earth parallel. The language here is English." The idea of explicitly mentioning that aliens speak English is a problem, as it breaks with a fundamental rule of the series. Because all aliens on all planets always talk English in TOS, and no one of the crew has ever any difficulties in understanding them. Only communication with non-corporeal aliens requires a universal translator or a mind meld. However, the worse failing is why the denizens of the Roman Empire should speak English at all, rather than Latin! Everyone of the crew makes a big deal of everything on the planet being as in Earth's history. McCoy, for instance, says about the religion of the "Children of the Sun": "Rome had no sun worshipers. Why should they parallel Rome in every way except one?" So it is unthinkable that these people could be sun worshippers, but absolutely plausible that they speak English?! This is so idiotic it hurts. Oh well, the aliens of 892-IV have to speak English to allow the misunderstanding that arises from the the phonetic similarity of "sun" and "son". But this simple play on words merely serves to keep the existence of "Christians" on that planet a secret until the very end of the episode. And this fact, or rather that Christianity was bound to prevail some time, is the second implausible parallel to the development on Earth, and is utterly lame and gratuitous no less. I also wonder how Gene Roddenberry could possibly come up with a story that would be so supportive of a religion he condemns.

The discovery of the "Christians" does not manage to conceal that otherwise the story leaves plenty of open questions. We never learn anything about Merik's real motive to stay on 892-IV, which must have been so strong that he condemned his crew to death. Certainly it wasn't Claudius' kind request that the crew should not be allowed to reveal the existence of the planet to the outside world. Vice versa, what could Claudius gain by allying himself with an alien intruder? If he was really so concerned with saving his homeworld, he should have killed "Merikus" just as well. The two have an uneasy alliance, whose beginning, intermediate development and end never become clear. In addition, I would have wished for the landing party to commemorate Flavius in some fashion and to return to his people instead of the self-complacent prediction that they would prevail some day. Finally, were there really other survivors as Merik claimed, and what would become of them?

This episode is rife with all the usual clichés, in addition to mad captains and parallel Earths. For instance, Kirk knows Merik. We wouldn't have expected otherwise. He seems to know every human being who's out in space. Also, the landing party is apprehended immediately after beaming down and once again when they are approaching the city. And once again there is a beautiful scantily clad woman, who tries to infatuate our good captain, and only the captain.

The only thing I really like about this story is how it ironically comments on the practices in the TV industry on Earth. I especially like the sound generator for applause and boos. In particular the episode targets Star Trek's own struggle with dropping ratings. As the slave master tells the now too peaceful Flavius, "You bring this network's ratings down, Flavius, and we'll do a special on you." Well, and we may want to keep in mind that the even worse (slight) variations of the same theme "mislead Federation official violates Prime Directive on a parallel Earth" are still to come in "Patterns of Force" and "The Omega Glory".

Annotations

Rating: 2

 

Journey to Babel

Synopsis

Stardate 3842.3: The Enterprise ferries delegates from several planets to a conference on the planetoid Babel, where they intend to decide about Coridan's admission to the Federation. The delegates include Spock's parents Amanda and Ambassador Sarek. Spock had a falling out with his father when he joined Starfleet instead of the Vulcan Science Academy. The Tellarite Gav is found murdered just after he has had an argument with Sarek. But Sarek himself suffers a heart attack, and only a complicated operation can save his life. To make things worse, Kirk is stabbed by the aide to the Andorian ambassador, and Spock must choose between donating blood for Sarek or taking command of the Enterprise in the emergency. Kirk, hardly able to command again, has just sent Spock down to sickbay to save his father's life, when an alien ship attacks the Enterprise. It turns out that this ship, as well as the assassin, who is a Rigelian in Andorian disguise, were sent on a suicide mission to make the conference a failure, which would benefit the Rigelians. After the successful surgery Spock and Sarek talk to one another for the first time in years. 

Commentary

Here is a second episode with a focus on Spock besides "Amok Time". If we neglect for a moment that it may have had a greater impact if it had been mentioned before and that it doesn't make much sense in relation to "Amok Time", the father-son conflict of Sarek and Spock is worked out quite nicely. They don't talk with each other. They just do everything that is necessary at any time because they see it as logical. But neither of them notices that in their father-son relationship logic fails. As Kirk puts it quite early in the episode, they are stubborn, which Amanda promptly labels as a "human emotion". So it is only fitting that an emotional experience, when Spock helps saving Sarek's life, brings the two together again, though neither of them admits it.

"Journey to Babel" is an episode well above TOS average. Most importantly it is a great enrichment of the Star Trek Universe, because it gives Spock as well as the Federation as a whole a thorough background. But it is a bit overfreighted with plot complications: Spock's quarrel with his father, the disagreement among the diplomats, the spy/murder story, Sarek's heart attack.

The episode is very thrilling, with a fast but occasionally quite bumpy pace. For instance, just after Ambassador Gav has left the room after an argument with Sarek, we can see the dead Tellarite in a Jefferies tube. It would have been much better to insert another scene, and then cut to a crewman who walks through a corridor and stumbles across the body. Likewise, there is a cut from sickbay to Kirk suddenly fighting with the alleged Andorian Thelev.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

A Private Little War

Synopsis

Stardate 4211.4: Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to a primitive planet that Kirk visited years ago. Suddenly villagers with flintlocks show up, although they shouldn't possess that technology, and attack members of the peaceful Hill People. Spock is hit by a bullet. With Dr. M'Benga taking care of Spock's severe injury, McCoy and Kirk beam down again, in order to find proof that the Klingons supplied the villagers with those weapons. But while the Enterprise is hiding from a nearby Klingon ship and out of reach, Kirk is attacked by an indigenous mugato. In his effort to save Kirk's life McCoy receives help from Kirk's old friend Tyree of the Hill People and his wife Nona, a kahn-ut-tu who knows to heal using herbs and also how to infatuate men. After Kirk's recovery, he, McCoy and Tyree find evidence for the Klingon involvement in the village. Kirk decides that the Federation has to supply the Hill People with the same type of weapons in order to maintain the balance of power. Tyree is reluctant and wants to avoid the confrontation. After another mugato attack, however, Nona steals Kirk's phaser and offers it to the villagers. When Kirk, McCoy, Tyree and his mean appear, the villagers kill Nona. Tyree is filled with hatred and ready for the fight now. In the meantime, Spock has recovered thanks to his Vulcan self-healing capabilities.

Commentary

Overall, for "A Private Little War" to be really interesting, its theme is too similar to the previous "destroyed paradise" episodes, such as "Return of the Archons", "This Side of the Paradise" or "The Apple". There are also several parallels to "Friday's Child" where the Klingon way of infiltrating a primitive culture was shown before. There are a few unique qualities about "A Private Little War", however.

Kirk already has an impressive record of paradises that he destroyed or of planets that he left behind in disorder or disillusionment just because he felt it was the right thing to do. So far he always acted without much deliberation and without remorse. This time Kirk hesitates. He is familiar with the political and social situation on this world, and well aware that his efforts to save its people may destroy them. Even more importantly, he has a friend in Tyree. And now he condemns the peaceful Tyree to go to war against his conviction. Kirk is personally involved, which becomes obvious in his discussions with Tyree and McCoy, although especially in the latter he tries to justify his decision with objective reasons. In any case it is quite palpable that Kirk feels sorry about what he thinks he has to do.

But is there really no alternative? Two wrongs don't make a right. And just because McCoy doesn't know a better solution to the dilemma, it doesn't mean that Kirk's way is the only one. Kirk may have his orders how to deal with Klingon invasions of neutral worlds, but I doubt that there are instructions for a particular case like on Tyree's planet. It is Kirk's own idea to arm the Hill People to maintain the balance of power, and I tend to believe him that he wants to save them from extinction in the first place, rather than win new allies who would die for the cause of the Federation. Unfortunately the historical precedent of the Vietnam War that he cites insinuates also the latter.

"A Private Little War" is a diverse episode. It is full of action and it even has a nice B-plot dealing with Spock's recovery on the Enterprise. On the other hand, this all leaves relatively little time for the discussion of the key issue of whether supplying the Hill People with weapons to save them is ethical. And just as the episode reaches a point when Tyree and his people may have to reconsider their views and grudgingly accept their new situation, it is overshadowed by Tyree's jealousy, Nona's eagerness for power, her betrayal and her death on the hands of sex-starved villagers. This series of twists is a major letdown and clearly lowers the impact of the story, because it leaves the impression that the conflict is not imposed on the people by the two alien powers but has its actual roots on the planet itself. Ultimately the Klingons and even the Federation could claim to have just supplied better weapons for a conflict that may have broken out any time because of the social disparities on the planet and other self-destructive tendencies.

Annotations

Rating: 4

 

The Gamesters of Triskelion

Synopsis

Stardate 3211.7: When they are just going to beam down to the planetoid Gamma II, Kirk, Uhura and Chekov suddenly vanish from the transporter platform. They find themselves as prisoners on the planet Triskelion. In the meantime, Spock has decided to follow an ion trail in order to retrieve the three officers, against the advice of McCoy and Scott. Kirk, Uhura and Chekov are supposed to fight against gladiators for the entertainment of the planet's rules, who place bets on their thralls. When the Enterprise arrives at Triskelion, the Providers disable the ship. Kirk, however, challenges the Providers, who are actually three brains that claim to be superior to humanoid beings. Winning a fight against three other thralls, Kirk regains the freedom of his crew and of all other slaves.

Commentary

We already know this cookie-cutter plot well: Our heroes are kept like pets for the mere enjoyment of their allegedly superior kidnappers, they are supposed to fight in an arena and when the Enterprise arrives to help them the ship is threatened with destruction. The development story is predictable, and the revelation that the planet is ruled by three brains is too familiar; they could have been computers as well, in which case Kirk would have discussed them to death. The only remarkable fact is that it isn't Kirk, Spock and McCoy this time who are captured, but Kirk and the two minor characters Uhura and "fresh face" Chekov. Uhura and Chekov don't play much of a role though, for the focus is once again on Kirk and his interaction with the charming drill thrall Shana (while Chekov gets the unattractive Tamoon). I like Kirk's discussions first with with Shana and then with the Providers about compassion, sense of responsibility and longing for freedom - virtues that the denizens of Triskelion seem to have abandoned or underestimated. Kirk has quite an enlightening debate with the three brains about their alleged superiority that has made them totally unproductive (much like already in "The Cage"). Alas, it comes as a disappointment that it all boils down to yet another fight. A fight in which Kirk gains his and everyone's freedom but which is sort of pointless because the Providers would have had the power to enslave or kill anyone of Kirk's crew anyway.

The perhaps more interesting part of the story takes place on the Enterprise, where Spock, McCoy and Scott are constantly discussing the right course of action to rescue the missing crew members. Their arguments are well-grounded, and overall their interaction comes across as quite realistic.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

Obsession

Synopsis

Stardate 3619.2: During the investigation of an alien planet Kirk smells what appears to be a familiar odor to him. He warns his men of a strange cloud that my show up. Briefly later, two of his landing party are dead and one is dying after something has drained all the red corpuscles from their bodies. Kirk orders the young Ensign Garrovick to beam down with another team, but again two men are killed. Kirk confines Garrovick to his quarters because of the ensign's failure. It turns out that eleven years ago Kirk encountered the cloud himself and did not fire on it in time, which he thinks cost the lives of 200 of the crew of the Farragut, including Captain Garrovick, the ensign's father. The cloud now heads out into space at warp and attacks the Enterprise, once gain killing someone. While Spock is talking with the young officer, it enters Garrovick's quarters through the ventilation. Spock shoves Garrovick away and is attacked but not harmed thanks to his blood's composition. The cloud leaves the ship. After it turns out that the creature can be destroyed with antimatter, rather than with phasers, Kirk orders to pursue it to its home planet Tycho IV, the place where Kirk once encountered it. He and Garrovick place an antimatter bomb on the surface and are beamed back just before the detonation that kills the creature.

Commentary

"Obsession" is the second episode after "The Doomsday Machine" to borrow motives from Herman Melville's Moby Dick. It takes elements from the other TOS episode too, such as the beam-out in the nick of time while the bomb is ticking, as well as the score of that scene. While "Obsession" is overall somewhat less exciting, Captain Kirk's personal involvement in the role of Captain Ahab makes the story more relevant than if it were another dispensable character such as Matt Decker. And so "Obsession" becomes a bit less of an action thriller and more of a tale about morality and about friendship. My favorite character in this episode is McCoy, as a medical officer and as a friend who is worried that something is wrong with Kirk.

I like how Kirk's obsession to hunt down the creature is developed in the episode and how the whole truth is gradually revealed. At first we only get subtle cues that Kirk has been in a similar situation before, when he literally smells the danger. He still cares a great deal about his crew at that time, and safety comes first in his actions and orders. Only when Garrovick fails to destroy the cloud, Kirk becomes increasingly agitated, up to the point when he counters the justified criticism of his crew, claiming they are conspiring against him. Garrovick must have reminded Kirk of his own alleged failure. A failure that he can't accept, neither with himself nor with Garrovick.

Kirk's conduct in the crisis is much the same as already in "The Conscience of the King" and totally in character as such. I would have expected Kirk to have learned a bit though. However, he repeats all his mistakes from the first-season episode when he does not let in anyone of the crew on his past encounter with the strange cloud, and when he relies rather on his feelings than on facts. Well, his intuition that the creature is heading "home" to Tycho IV finally helps him find and destroy it. But that is more rehabilitation for him than I think he deserves. McCoy is damn right to question his ability to command the ship based on the facts about the cloud and on the captain's behavior. But he already apologizes to Kirk when it turns out that the creature is alive and consciously attacks the ship. It is an overkill that in the end Kirk can even feel what the cloud is up to.

Unfortunately some other parts of the plot are quite contrived too. The most obvious one is that Garrovick's son is coincidentally a member of Kirk's crew. While Ensign Garrovick's presence makes it an even more personal matter for Kirk and hence fulfills its purpose, Kirk should at least have known that the man was aboard. It is the same problem as already in "The Conscience of the King", where Kirk was not aware that Kevin Riley was a fellow survivor of the Tarsus massacre. Also, like so many of Kirk's crew members Garrovick is rather touchy compared to the overconfident Kirk. Why can't there ever be a tough guy (or girl) among the lower ranks? The redshirt ensigns appear to be incompetent anyway, and some of them are killed too easily, which may not have been necessary. A possible yet insufficient excuse for their hesitation is that they are not simply frightened but rather stunned by the cloud, so they cannot pull the trigger in time. The fact that the cloud is out of time sync may explain why it is impossible to hit, but it does not absolve the scared redshirts. Finally, it is a rather lame idea that the Enterprise's actual mission would be delivering urgently needed medicine, as in so many other episodes.

Annotations

Rating: 6

 

The Immunity Syndrome

Synopsis

Stardate 4307.1: Starfleet loses contact with the USS Intrepid, and Spock senses that everyone on this all-Vulcan ship has been killed. Briefly later it is discovered that there is no life in the star system Gamma 7A any more. The Enterprise investigates and runs into a giant void, where energy is being drained from the ship's systems as well as from the crew's bodies. The origin of the phenomenon turns out to be a giant single-celled organism. When probes turn out to be inefficient, Spock volunteers to take a shuttle into the "amoeba", which would be a suicide mission. Spock suggests that the creature may be destroyed from within before the contact breaks off. Kirk takes the Enterprise into the amoeba and launches an antimatter probe. He orders to secure Spock's shuttle with a tractor beam, but suddenly there is no power left to escape. However, the probe explodes and ruptures the amoeba's cell membrane, thereby freeing the Enterprise and Spock's shuttle.

Commentary

The plot of "The Immunity Syndrome" certainly isn't the most original one, considering that the Enterprise has encountered various strange and dangerous machines or lifeforms before, of the kind that customarily needs to be blown up to save the lives of everyone on board and perhaps everyone in the galaxy. The episode always reminded me a lot of the unequaled thriller "The Doomsday Machine", and perhaps that was my chief reason to underrate "The Immunity Syndrome" so far. Only recently I discovered its special qualities.

Above all the episode is very thrilling. It draws suspense from a solid story, one that isn't sidetracked with something like unpleasant guest stars or missions to deliver some medicine in time. The story is a plain and simple race against the clock. But even more importantly, the episode draws suspense from excellent directing and good acting. Few episodes have such a smooth flow of the story, it is a pleasure to watch from the first to the last minute.

What I like too is the debate whether Spock or rather McCoy should take the shuttle on a suicide mission. Only superficially their argument is about vanity, about the questionable honor to be the person who dies investigating a scientific phenomenon. The more important driving force, as becomes clear between the lines, is their comradeship and friendship. They both want to save the ship above all, even if it means the ultimate sacrifice. The interaction between McCoy, Spock and Kirk in this episode is among the best of the whole series.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

A Piece of the Action

Synopsis

Stardate 4598.0: The Enterprise follows a distress call that was sent out by the starship Horizon a century earlier. When Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet Sigma Iotia II, the last stop before the Horizon was destroyed, the planet's society is entirely based on a book called Chicago Mobs of the 20's that was left behind by the crew. Bela Okmyx, the biggest "boss" of the planet, captures the landing party and demands that Kirk delivers "heaters" (=phasers) so he can overpower his rivals. The three men manage to escape but are soon confronted with Krako, another boss, whose goal is to defeat Okmyx in the same fashion. Kirk then decides that it is time to play with rules that the Iotians understand. Scotty beams all the bosses to Okmyx' headquarters on Kirk's order, and when Krako's men "hit" the place, he demonstrates his power by stunning all the attackers with the ship's phasers. The bosses have no other choice but to agree with the Federation's takeover of their planet.

Commentary

This is clearly the best of the four "parallel Earth" episodes of the second season, although it makes essentially the same mistakes and perpetuates all the old clichés. "A Piece of the Action" can compensate for that with a good deal of humor. It is never gratuitous, however always on the verge of becoming inappropriately silly. We have to keep in mind that the goal is to save the planet from self-destruction and to save the lives of the landing party just as well. But what would this episode be without the famous fizzbin game or without Kirk's attempts to drive with the clutch? Another highlight is how Kirk gradually adopts the customs and the slang of the Iotians, and Spock follows suit when he puts his feet on the desk. I also like the cue Kirk gives to Scotty when he wants Krako to be beamed up is : "He's standing about twelve feet in front of me, all ready to be our pal. Of course, Scotty, I'd like to show him the ship, just to show him that we're, er, we're on the level."

In this regard we may may forgive Kirk and Spock that they are quite careless in the beginning. Although there is no need at all to rush into action, they simply beam down without first investigating the planet from orbit. They have no strategy at all, and Spock does not care about McCoy's reservations that they could continue to contaminate the culture on Sigma Iotia. No one is concerned about the safety of the landing party either. The episode may have worked better if it had been less obvious from the start that the landing party would run into one trap after another, and that they would rather cause trouble on the planet than prevent it. Likewise, "A Piece of the Action" would have deserved a more considerate ending than a rushed truce that is very unlikely to persist more than a few days.

I quite like the refreshingly anachronistic guest characters. Especially Okmyx and Krako are proactive and also surprisingly versatile characters, although their backwardness and the slang they speak could have easily degraded them to mere comic relief. I have mixed feelings about that boy who is apparently keen on becoming a gangster with a machine gun and who helps Kirk and Spock to get access to Krako's headquarters. I think that a kid in the midst of a war wouldn't have been depicted in such a humorous fashion in modern Trek. I also wonder, does the boy get his promised "piece of the action"? A better screenplay would have shown him again and would have answered that question.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

By Any Other Name

Synopsis

Stardate 4657.5: A small group of Kelvans capture an Enterprise landing party. They reduce two junior officers to small mineral packets, of which they crush one to demonstrate their power, thereby killing a female crew member. After capturing the ship the Kelvans transform most of the now unnecessary Starfleet crew to such mineral packets and head for their home in the Andromeda Galaxy. The aliens are not accustomed to their human bodies and emotions, a weakness that the remaining crew members Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty successfully exploit. In control of the ship again, Kirk offers the Kelvans to settle down on an uninhabited planet.

Commentary

This is one of the better alien takeover plots. It somehow consists of two parts, one being dead serious and one rather light-hearted. In the serious part I like how the first attempt of the landing party to escape utterly fails, how Kirk wants to take the responsibility himself and how he mourns the death of the young yeoman. Several other TOS episodes are too easy-going from the start in similar situations, and here is a pleasant exception. 

Nevertheless, this installment lightens up in the usual fashion as well, and not really to its advantage. Sure, the idea that hostile aliens are not used to human emotions in all their variations bears a lot of comical potential, which is successfully exploited here. Especially Kirk has the opportunity to combine business and pleasure. But although I enjoyed it, the circumstances are simply too grave for a fun episode. After all, the Kelvans have incapacitated almost the whole crew and are controlling the ship. They did kill one crew member and would do it again any time. Their goal is to conquer the whole Milky Way Galaxy some day. On the bright side, Star Trek shows once again that a conflict need not be solved with violence, however, it is not very credible that the aliens change their minds so quickly and so substantially. Understanding an opponent is the key to peace, but it is a tad too much simplified here.

On a side note, it is remarkable that back in the 60s no network official took offense by the naive and harmless depiction of Scotty's drinking orgy, something that may not have found the censors' blessing in more recent days.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

Return to Tomorrow

Synopsis

Stardate 4768.3: A voice speaks to the crew of the Enterprise and leads the ship to a planet. Deep beneath the surface the consciousnesses of Sargon, Thalassa and Henoch have survived the end of their civilization some 500,000 years ago. In order to be able to construct android bodies for themselves, the three occupy the bodies of Kirk, Dr. Ann Mulhall and Spock. Henoch, however, does not intend to leave Spock's body. He plots to kill Sargon, and Kirk with him. Spock's consciousness seems to be lost when Kirk destroys the globe in which it was stored, attempting to get rid of Henoch. While Sargon and Thalassa are hiding in the ship's computer, Henoch's consciousness is still in Spock's body. But Nurse Chapel administers him an injection that expels Henoch, who now has no place to go to and dissolves. Spock can be recovered, since his mind has been transferred to Nurse Chapel in time. Sargon and Thalassa recognize that they could not live among humanoids and decide to fade into oblivion.

Commentary

I don't care much for this episode. It certainly isn't a bad one. It does have its moments. However, for one thing, it consists of just too many well-known motives or even clichés. It tackles some interesting issues, but none that wouldn't have been discussed in more detail in previous episodes. Overall, "Return to Tomorrow" is much like an amalgam of "Space Seed", "Metamorphosis" and "By Any Other Name". Well, at least the idea that Sargon, Thalassa and Henoch transfer their minds into robotic bodies is only a side aspect here, otherwise I could probably add two more previous episodes that were pillaged to the list. Actually, I like how the story is being sidetracked by Thalassa and Sargon working on the robots.

Anyway, especially the depiction of aliens that experience human bodies is not very convincing. I think even the semi-comical take on this issue in "By Any Other Name" was more decent. "Return to Tomorrow", in contrast, is dominated by grandiose mumbo-jumbo. The three aliens that occupy the bodies of Starfleet officers are overdone and overacted. The many phrases about their superiority that only occasionally make way for serious talking (but then rather sentimental pondering). The overbearing tone of most of what they are saying. The echoes in the their voices that they keep even as they are in Kirk's, Spock's and Mulhall's bodies. The quivering as the mind transfer takes place.

One thing I like is the extensive discussion about the benefits and the risks of the mind transfer, as well as Kirk's stance that the decision has to be unanimous. Unfortunately he closes the consultation with a speech that is overblown, like so much else in the episode.

Other than that the episode was obviously seen as an opportunity to show unusual behavior of Spock, or more precisely, Henoch in Spock's body. It is amusing to watch him at first, but it takes only a minute before we see how Henoch plots to kill Sargon/Kirk.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

Patterns of Force

Synopsis

Stardate 2534.0: The Enterprise attempts in vain to contact John Gill, a cultural observer on the planet Ekos. When the ship approaches the planet, it is attacked with a rocket, a technology that the Ekosians shouldn't possess. Kirk and Spock beam down, to find that the planet is ruled by an exact copy of the Nazi regime that oppresses especially the immigrants from the neighboring planet Zeon. The "Fuhrer" is no one else but Gill! Kirk and Spock are imprisoned, but they manage to escape together with a Zeon named Isak. The Zeons have allied themselves with Ekosians who are opposed to the Nazi regime. With the help of an Ekosian women named Daras, Spock and Kirk gain access to the "Fuhrer Headquarters", from where Gill is making an important announcement. But Gill is on drugs. The true power lies with Deputy Fuhrer Melakon, who declares an open war against Zeon. With the help of a medication from McCoy and a mind meld with Spock, Gilll confesses that he had the good intention to improve the Ekosian society but that he made a big mistake by bringing the seeds of the Nazi ideology to them. Gill can still publicly denounce the traitor, whereupon Melakon kills him with a machine gun. Isak shoots Melakon. Daras and Eneg, another Ekosian official who was secretly working against the Nazis, pledge to build a new Ekos, for both Zeons and Ekosians.

Commentary

It is a questionable tradition of several American TV series to do one story with a Nazi motive, no matter how unsuitable or even absurd it is in the show's setting. Unfortunately Star Trek is no exception. Any appearance of Nazis in fiction that is out of the historical context, such as in a wrong era, in a wrong place or even on an alien planet, is utterly gratuitous. The inherent cruelty of Nazis, together with their terminology, uniforms and symbols that are hateful like nothing else on Earth, appeals to the lowest instincts of the viewers as it gives them someone to focus their hatred on. So it distracts from other issues that may be raised in the story, and in the case of "Patterns of Force" it sort of disqualifies it as a science fiction episode. As Kirk and Spock are fighting Nazis in this episode, we are only infrequently reminded of the fact that this is the future on an alien planet. Fortunately Star Trek's takes on Earth history are otherwise much more decent, but the comparison with other Trek episodes along similar lines only reinforces my objections to "Patterns of Force".

The depiction of the Ekosian Nazis is exactly the same as the stereotypes of German Nazis established in hundreds of WWII movies and series. One reason for the almost total analogy is the cost-saving potential of re-using as much as possible from Paramount's immense stock of Nazi uniforms and props. Still it should have been attempted to establish at least *some* visual difference, or alter the terminology. Most importantly it would have been more respectful of the victims of the Holocaust not to refer to the extermination of the Zeons as the "Final Solution". The horribly gratuitous "Jewish" names of the Zeons (=Zions) are already bad enough. Well, the Ekosians speak English instead of German, also in the written language we can see. And they shout "Hail Victory" instead "Sieg Heil" (the latter is only heard in the unmodified stock footage of real Nazi Germany). But other aliens speak and write English as well in TOS, so it is nothing that could set apart Ekosian from German Nazis.

Regarding the historical parallels, there is one particularly objectionable point. Right at the beginning, before it is even known that a Nazi regime exists on Ekos, Spock establishes the racist stereotypes that the Ekosians are rated as "warlike" as opposed to the "peaceful" and generally more civilized Zeons. Isak later reiterates Spock's statement with much the same words. On other occasions we may generously overlook such an assessment, and in case of the Klingons the classification of being "warlike" is even correct for all we are shown of them. In Isak's case it is only understandable that he wouldn't exactly defend the people who mistreat him for no reason (although he even sympathizes with them as we learn later). But since Earth's history is tied in, it gains a whole new significance. The fact that the Ekosians were classified as "warlike" from the outset calls Gill's later statement into question that any people, under certain circumstances, could be ready for or susceptive to the Nazi ideology. And even worse, it insinuates that Germans are intrinsically warlike just as well and caters to the anti-German sentiment in addition to the mere sight of Nazis. At least Daras and Eneg, who both work in the Ekosian resistance movement, shed a different light on their people.

Another thing that annoys me is how the episode upholds the old myth of Nazi Germany being a most efficient state. No half-way reputable historian or economist still claims something like that. The Nazi regime was built on terror, and no such regime in human history has ever survived more than a couple of years. Efficiency is nothing without a long-term perspective. Likewise, Nazi Germany's economy worked on the basis of total exploitation. It used forced labor on an unprecedented scale. It wasted the retirement pays and other savings of the citizens, it confiscated Jewish property, and when this still wasn't enough there were other countries that could be plundered. Unfortunately the existence of advanced weapons on the once backward planet only corroborates the notion that the Nazi regime benefits the Ekos, at least in certain areas such as research and production.

There is yet another assessment of history that episode doesn't get right. Kirk says: "The problem with the Nazis wasn't simply that their leaders were evil, psychotic men. They were, but the main problem, I think, was the leader principle." But the leader principle doesn't really set apart the Nazi regime from other dictatorships. As Spock correctly notes, it was the same with "Ramses, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Lee Kuan". (Could the latter be the leader of the Eastern Coalition?) I would like to add Stalin as the arguably most paranoid leader of all times. Anyway, the fundamental failing of the Nazi ideology is that it classifies people as more or less valuable based on their "racial purity". The topic is tackled especially when Melakon calls Spock a member of an "inferior race". But on other occasions the true origin and nature of the Nazi ideology is watered down. In the end it appears that a Nazi regime can be installed anywhere and any time, without paying attention to the history of the place, and by just one person who poses as a "Fuhrer".

Racial hatred and oppression of minorities were the basis of the Nazi ideology, not its unfortunate outcome! In this regard we have to wonder what Gill possibly wanted to accomplish in the first place, how much of the Nazi ideology he himself imposed on the people of Ekos, and how much of it was Melakon's work. This question better remains unanswered. Realistically there can be no "benign" Nazi regime with the aspired "efficiency", because threats and violence were the essential driving forces of all its apparent efficiency.

Story-wise the only distinguishing mark of "Patterns of Force" is the Nazi theme, because the plot is much the same as in "A Piece of the Action" and "Bread and Circuses". I enjoy only a few minor aspects, such as Kirk and Spock's jail break, using a rubidium crystal to build a crude laser. This is one of the more intelligent makeshift uses of technology. I also like the clever idea of Kirk, Spock and Isak posing as a camera team with the "Hero of the Fatherland", to get access to the "Fuhrer Headquarters". Finally, the ending is quite conciliatory, and yet not too contrived, since it has become clear in the course of the episode that many Ekosians and Zeons give a damn on the Nazi ideology and that there may be well a common future for them. One point for the few things I like about it.

But one thing that I will always hate about "Patterns of Force" is how much obvious fun Kirk and Spock are having when they dress as Nazis, and how they are making inappropriate jokes all the time. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are both of Jewish descent, and it almost seems as if they are downplaying the bizarre roles they have to play here. It makes me shudder.

Annotations

Rating: 1

 

The Ultimate Computer

Synopsis

Stardate 4729.4: The Enterprise is summoned to a space station where Dr. Richard Daystrom installs his revolutionary computer M-5, to take control of all systems of the ship. The computer soon turns out to be superior to a human crew, in normal ship operations as well as in a simulated battle against another starship. Then, however, M-5 destroys an unmanned ore freighter, and a crewman is killed when he attempts to cut off the computer's power. Unbeknownst of the situation on the Enterprise, as M-5 has disabled any communication, a task force of four starships under Commodore Wesley continues the simulated attacks. M-5 takes the battle seriously, cripples the fleet and kills hundreds of crewmen. Daystrom has programmed M-5 with with his own engrams, and Kirk uses this knowledge to convince the computer that it is guilty of murder and has to shut down. Wesley is authorized by Starfleet to destroy the Enterprise but he breaks off the attack when he notices that the ship is dead in the water.

Commentary

It is the perhaps most remarkable technological vision of Star Trek that a computer manages many functions of the Enterprise from the beginning. The ship's conventional computer is seen as an every-day tool and is used without much pondering about it, rather than being an outlandish technology that would be extremely complicated to operate. The idea of computer automation was quite revolutionary in the 1960s, when computers were only known as simple data processing machines operating on tapes or punch cards! "The Ultimate Computer" takes this vision one step further and shows us the dangers of becoming totally dependent on computer technology. M-5 not only aids but first outperforms, then patronizes and ultimately makes the human crew totally expendable.

The menace that lies in the idea of giving a computer total control over a ship with deadly weapons is worked out quite well in the episode. Kirk's suspicion that something is wrong with M-5 should prove right in a tragical way. Even Spock has his doubts about Daystrom's brainchild, and as McCoy keeps teasing him, he makes it clear that he would never want to serve under M-5. On the other hand, Kirk, Spock's and everyone else's skepticism or, in the case of Scotty and McCoy, open defiance, seem to arise chiefly from the prospect of losing their jobs to M-5, ahead of safety considerations or moral concerns regarding the new technology. The discussion about M-5 in the first half of the episode suffers a bit from the crew's lamentation that it is taking away their jobs. It is odd anyway that everyone silently expects the starships of the future to have no human commander any longer and perhaps no crew at all. This would be absurd and can't be honestly Starfleet's goal, considering that humanity has a desire to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Starfleet would not leave that to unmanned probes, because it is not a simple question of efficiency. Or, as someone said 300 years earlier, new worlds are being explored "not because it is easy, but because it is hard". Daystrom is the only one who doesn't acknowledge that. Whatever his motivation is, in his opinion mankind should stay on Earth, he has developed M-5 so "men no longer need die in space". And everyone is a tad too much afraid of this one man's personal vision, which is ultimately the abolishment of a vision. Well, in some way Daystrom's stance anticipates the massive criticism that manned space travel would be facing since the 1970s, with reasoning such as "We can't spend billions on risky space programs while people are starving" that sounds a bit like Daystrom's objections.

It is a pity that the computer M-5 is a mysterious and menacing box with unknown functions that can't even be switched off. Computers will never behave like that. The outstanding movie "2001: A Space Odyssey", which was coincidentally produced at about the same time, is facing a similar problem. Yet, while there is at least an explanation for the malfunction of M-5, HAL's functions and capabilities are overall more credible than M-5's. While this technical issue is a minor flaw in the story, it is tiresome how Kirk manages to discuss the computer to death, for the fourth time or so, in much the same fashion as he already did with Nomad, and with way too much ease this time (with just two sentences!). I also don't like the depiction of Daystrom as a genius that winds up as a stereotypical "mad scientist", one who would rather protect his invention than the human life threatened by it. 

The idea behind this installment is so attractive and was so brilliant at the time that it should have gone without the usual clichés. But aside from the few above issues "The Ultimate Computer" is one of the best TOS thrillers and a true classic.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

The Omega Glory

Synopsis

Stardate not given: Kirk beams over to the starship Exeter with Spock, McCoy and Lt. Galloway. They find that the whole crew has been reduced to crystals. Only Capt. Tracey has survived by staying on the planet Omega IV. The population of the planet is extremely long-lived and consists of peaceful villagers, the Kohms, and aggressive savages, the Yangs. Tracey sees the planet as a fountain of youth. Kirk, however, discovers that Tracey has interfered with the natural development on the planet and has killed many Yangs with his phaser, whereupon Tracey vaporizes Galloway and arrests the rest of the landing party. Kirk is imprisoned together with a Yang couple, who don't normally talk but who value freedom above all. He helps them remove the bars from the window of their cell, but the man, Cloud William, knocks Kirk unconscious and escapes alone with the woman. In the meantime McCoy has found out that there is no cure necessary because substances in the air and water have already accomplished an immunization. The Yangs and Kohms, on the other hand, live very long because it is part of their evolution after a war wiped out the civilizations that once existed on their planet. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are apprehended by the Yangs together with Tracey. It becomes clear that the Yangs ("Yankees") are descendants of an "American" civilization on the planet, while the Kohms are the former "Communists". Cloud William demands that Kirk speak the "holy words" of their people. He is unable to comply, so he has to fight against Tracey to bring about a decision which one of them is good and which one is evil. In the end Kirk prevails, and he gives the Yangs a lesson how to correctly interpret their "holy words", actually the United States Constitution.

Commentary

This episode is the last and worst one of the "parallel Earths" arc of the second season. "Patterns of Force" suffered from the dreadful Nazi theme, from historical fallacies and from loads of inappropriate humor, but at least it included some nice plot twists and a rather plausible ending. There is hardly anything original and absolutely nothing intelligent in "The Omega Glory". The episode merely rehashes ad nauseam what has been shown in the previous three "parallel Earth" installments of the season. Nearly all other motives are shamelessly recycled from "Miri" (crew stranded because they carry a disease that McCoy attempts to cure), "The Doomsday Machine" (the ship's reckless captain as the only survivor), "By Any Other Name" (human body reduced to minerals) and "A Private Little War" (villagers are being equipped with modern weapons to fight against "savages"), to name only some obvious examples.

The Prime Directive is made a big deal in this episode, but only because Tracey violated it so obviously. Since he is an insane criminal anyway and since Omega IV is incredibly Earth-like even without interference, the discussion never has as much weight as it could have had. The whole episode could have been so much better, had it shown a controversy between Kirk and a half-way decent other officer about the question whether the Federation should bend the Prime Directive for the benefit of millions (much like it would be done much later in "Insurrection"). Or whether the Federation shouldn't help the people on Omega IV to preserve what little is left of their civilization. But it just had to be yet another insane Federation officer and yet another series of fist fights for Kirk. Tracey's only good scene in the whole episode is when he points out to the Yangs that Spock looks like their idea of the devil and that he has no heart (at least none whose beating Cloud William could hear).

There is almost no need to comment on the utter rubbish that is being produced in the final third of the episode, after Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Tracey have been captured by the Yangs. We see several Yangs, and their looks and rituals are much like those of Native Americans. So far the planet was still rather alien, at least by TOS standards, and it should better have remained alien. But the unfortunate trend of gratuitously tying in Earth's history continues vigorously. And so the true meaning of "Yangs" and "Kohms" is revealed in much the same fashion as it was done with the "Sun" and "Son" in "Bread and Circuses". The whole episode is built upon a lame play on words! As the Yangs solemnly carry a US flag that is in tatters, and everyone rises from their seats in reverence, this absurd form of "patriotism" is almost unbearable. When Kirk is supposed to speak the "holy words", he fails to say exactly what they want to hear, and so we're left with yet another fight of Kirk with Tracey (who has always won so far). This goes on for several minutes. I only like how Spock telepathically influences the Yang woman to contact the ship while everyone else is distracted. The encounter with the Yangs closes with Kirk's incredibly long monologue about how to interpret the US Constitution correctly. I admit I wasn't really listening to him any longer.

We better don't even try to explain how "Yankees" and "Commies" could possibly evolve on that alien planet. Any attempt to make any sense of it would be as futile as already with "Bread and Circuses". Still, one thing that bugs me is why the Kohms, as opposed to the allegedly freedom-loving Yangs, shouldn't be free. They appear to lead quite pleasant and peaceful lives, while the Yangs, in a way, are slaves of their own rituals and superstition and react on the word "freedom" more like a trained dog than someone who embraces the idea. What we see and hear of the two groups does not comply with the play on words that is intended to determine the roles the Kohms and Yangs in this story. And the racial composition of the Kohms, who are obviously all of Asian descent, while the Yangs are Caucasians, gives the whole story a racist undertone, rather than it would support the idea of (Chinese) "Communists" and "Yankees", respectively.

Annotations

Rating: 0

 

Assignment: Earth

Synopsis

Stardate not given: The Enterprise is in Earth's orbit in the year 1968 for historical research, when the ship intercepts a transporter beam and a man named Gary Seven materializes on the ship. He claims to be a human being, sent by powerful aliens on a mission to save Earth from nuclear destruction. Gary Seven is taken into custody but escapes to his office on Earth, located in a building in New York. Kirk and Spock find his office, but Seven is already on his way to the McKinley base to sabotage the launch of a nuclear weapons platform. Kirk and Spock follow him but are arrested by the base's security. Scotty almost succeeds in beaming him up again before he can finish his work, but thanks to the unsuspecting secretary Roberta Lincoln, who activates his transporting device, Seven materializes in his office again. When Lincoln realizes that Seven has brought the rocket off course and activated its warhead, she tries to stop the agent. Kirk and Spock escape from McKinley and materialize in the office again. They have to trust Gary Seven that he is going to detonate the warhead in time before it can do any damage, but not without being a warning to humanity. The weapon goes off 104 miles above the ground, exactly as it was meant to happen according to historical records.

Commentary

While Star Trek was on the brink of cancellation in its second season, Gene Roddenberry devised the season finale "Assignment: Earth" as a pilot episode for a possible spin-off series of the same name. Fortunately Star Trek was prolonged for another season, and unfortunately the new series was never made. I would have liked to see it, because the idea proves to have a lot of potential. 

Despite its double function or just because of it "Assignment: Earth" ranks among the best TOS episodes. It combines an interesting story, strong characters, suspense and a good dose of humor like few others. Especially the mutual mistrust between the Enterprise crew and Gary Seven is worked out well. Gary Seven (played by Robert Lansing) is conceded far more dialogue time than any other TOS guest star, and the story is partially being told from his perspective. In some fashion he has switched roles with the main cast. He is always one step ahead until the very end and Kirk never gains the upper hand. Seven's motivation gradually becomes clear, while the mission of the Enterprise remains mysterious. Also, his interaction with the wonderfully naive Roberta Lincoln (Teri Garr), who would probably have become a series regular, benefits this episode.

Annotations

Rating: 8

 


Proceed to TOS Season 3

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Last modified: 10.02.15  
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