Star Trek

What I’d Like To See From the New Star Trek

TOSopeninglogoWhen news broke yesterday that Star Trek was returning to our television screens, I was positively giddy. It’s been over a decade since we had new Star Trek on our television screens and I was delighted to see it would be back.

That euphoria lasted about an hour as details broke on the new series.

Putting aside that Alex Kurtzman is in charge of this and that he helped script the last big-screen installment Star Trek Into Darkness, I felt like someone let the air out of the balloon when news broke that this new series wouldn’t air on a broadcast or cable outlet but instead of CBS’s Digital streaming app.   Suddenly much of my enthusiasm for the show was gone — most of it related to the way in which CBS is choosing to allow fans to access the show. (more…)


Star Trek: The Animated Series Round-Up: Episodes Five Through Ten

startrekheaderSix more episodes down in my quest to watch all of the animated episodes of Star Trek.  And it feels like this half-dozen episodes contain a lot of sequels and call backs to classic Star Trek.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does lead to a bit of an exposition dump in certain installments.

One thing I’ve noticed in watching these episodes is that they’re lean and mean when it comes to the storyline.  With half the running time of original series installments, there is no time for side tangents, filler or padding.   This set also includes an episode I have vague memories of watching on a  Saturday morning growing up and thinking it was interesting.  At this time, my awareness of Star Trek came mostly from ads on the back of comic books for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and from the series of Power Records that were out at the time.*

* I think a whole post on the Power Records series could be coming in the near future since those really helped cement my early interest in all things Trek.

And so, here are my thoughts on the next six installments of animated Trek.


Star Trek: The Animated Series Round-Up: The First Four Episodes

startrekheaderThese days there’s a lot of Star Trek out there.   At last count, there were over 700 episodes from the various series plus a dozen movies.*

*If you add in the fan-made productions, it only increases the number.

I guess you could say that if you’re a Star Trek fan, you have a lot to choose from.   Given the size of the buffet, it’s easy to get caught up in only going back for your favorite course again and again — in my case, this would be the original (and still the best) Star Trek.   Even within the original three year run, there are  certain runs that I’m more familiar with or re-visit more often than others.**  And as with an smorguboard, there are going to be some areas that you neglect, don’t visit or maybe overlook.

**To combat this, I did a re-watch of the third season a few years ago and found I enjoyed it.

One of those blind spots in my Star Trek fandom is the Animated Series.   I’ve seen a sampling of episodes in repeats and from picking up the commercial VHS releases on clearance back in the day.  And like the completist that I am, I’ve purchased the DVD set and have it sitting on my shelf with the rest of episodic Trek.   When it first came out, I had every intention of watching the entire run, though that quickly got sidetracked.

I’ve read a smattering of the Alan Dean Foster adaptations of the episodes and found them a bit more satisfying than than the actual episodes themselves.

And so, I’ve had this gap in my Trek fandom for a while now.

Enter the Mission Log Podcast, which for the past year and a half has been turning a critical eye to every episode of the original series and determining the morals, messages and meanings as well as looking at whether or not the episodes stand the test of time.    With the original series in the books, the podcast has turned to looking at the animated series and it’s given me a good excuse to sit down and finally take in the animated series.

So far, we’re two Mission Logs into the lookback at animated Trek and four episodes into the animated run.

And, of course, I’ve got a few thoughts on things.


>Retro Movie Round-Up: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

>I can still recall how excited I was to see Star Trek V: The Final Frontier when it opened in theaters 22 years ago. I’d been to a couple of local Star Trek conventions where the film was hyped up in every possible detail. I’d read the tie-in novelization for the film.

So it was that I eagerly lined up on opening day to see the film at a super-saver matinee price with a group of fellow Star Trek fans.

And ended up walking out of the theater the only one of us who semi-enjoyed the experience.

The merits of the film soon became something of great debate among us, with one friend using the logic that is the film “won” a Razzie award, it must be pretty terrible. And don’t get me wrong here–there are a lot of flaws in Star Trek V. But close to 22 years later, I still don’t think it’s the worst movie ever made nor is it necessarily the weakest of all the Star Trek movie installments.

So, it was interesting to read recently that best-selling Trek author Keith R.A. DeCandido had taken a few moments to look at and reassess the film, making a couple of interesting points about the film. Chief among them was that the movie really felt like a third-season episode of classic Trek. After spending last summer re-watching season three on DVD, I have to admit I agree. While certain moments of the scenes around the campfire may be wince-inducing, there’s still the sense of friendship and camaraderie between Kirk, Spock and McCoy that drove much of the original series. (OK, sure the whole marshmellon thing is absurd, but the novel explained it pretty well. McCoy basically pulled a Wikipedia edit on the Enterprise’s computers to get Spock’s goat…if they’d put a line of dialogue into the film along those lines it might not have been as terrible).

The film does have some fairly large ideas at its core, even if they’re not all that well served (again, just like season three). Ever since The Motion Picture was enough of a hit to earn a second Trek film, Gene Roddenberry had wanted to explore the concept of the Enterprise crew going to find god. (It was either that or going back in time to the JFK assignation). However, other people were brought in and other plotlines pursued. So I can only imagine that when Gene heard that Shatner wanted to finally do his “let’s go meet god” concept, he did backflips across the Paramount lot.

Into the search for god, we bring in a tie-in to one of the big three–namely Spock. The introduction of a Vulcan who embraces his emotional side and has the power to help people confront and release their inner pain who happens to be Spock’s half brother is intriguing. And had the movie got their first choice of Sean Connery to play the role of Sybok, the film might have been more interesting. It’s certainly possible that Connery could have come on board since this was the point of his career that he was accepting just about any role offered to him on the off chance that one out of every four projects might be good. I will say we ended up with Connery in a better role as Indy’s dad in The Last Crusade, but I still can’t help but wonder how me might have worked here as Sybok.

Instead, we get Laurence Luckinbill, who does a fairly good job with Sybok for most of the film. The story really glosses over exactly how Sybok has the power to connect with his patients and get them to release their pain. But given that Vulcans have semi-telepathic abilities, it’s not hard to accept what happens. What is harder to accept is how easily everyone gives themselves over to Sybok and his leadership once said pain is released. Is part of the healing Sybok offers a mental command to follow him blindly and into the breach? Is it intended or it it unintended? And why does it seem to wear off so quickly in the last third of the film? And why are Spock and McCoy able to resist the lure to join the cause when so many of the Enterprise crew are not? (It also brings up the question of just how does Sybok convert the whole crew to his side? Surely there had to be someone besides Scotty who wasn’t under his influence).

In many ways, the story is a standard Trek device of some leader comes along and tries to take over the ship coupled with Kirk debunking some myth of a god-like creature ruling over a society absolutely. Again, it fits in well with late second season Trek and all of season three. Kirk’s question of “What does god need with a starship” fits in with his views on any number of other god-like creatures, beings or computers run amok that he encountered over the course of the original five year mission.

Of course, as a long time Trek fan I had to wonder if the Great Barrier we see in the film is the same one we saw twice in classic Trek or just something new. Somehow, I think it’s more the latter.

Watching the movie again over the weekend, I was struck by how there was a lot of potential for the movie. And how the film falls short in a lot of places. Shatner has made no bones about the fact that Paramount slashed the film’s budget and he was forced to heavily alter the final confrontation in Shak-a-ree. But I still don’t see how having a half dozen rock monsters will help the final moments of the film, where it becomes little more than a rehash of “The Apple” with Kirk beating a god by using the ship’s weapons on it. If this being was powerful enough that whoever imprisoned it there created the Great Barrier around it, surely it would take more than a photon torpedo or two to take it out. If the Enterprise had left the area, that might make more sense.

And then there’s the whole Klingon subplot that does nothing to advance anything. It’s all set-up to have a Warbird there for the final moments. There’s a two-hour chase across space and yet no real battle. Again, if you don’t need the Warbird there for the final moments, you could just drop all of this plotline and the movie wouldn’t suffer much.

Also, I have to address the effects. ILM didn’t do them and it shows. I recall sitting in the theater on opening day and thinking how terrible one particular shot of the Klingon ship at warp looked compared to previous Trek films and what was being down on TV with Next Generation. Blu-Ray and hi-def haven’t made these flaws any less obvious.

I was reminded again of how good the Jerry Goldsmith score is, in spots. The music as Kirk climbs El Cap is a real highlight musically as is some of the music as the shuttle heads down to Sha-Ka-Ree. Unfortunately, at other moments it also recycles too much from other scores.

Star Trek V isn’t a perfect movie. It’s not the best of the Trek films. It wants to be something more than it is and it’s a film that had potential. A lot of it goes unrealized and that’s probably the most disappointing thing about the movie (well, beyond the special effects).

>Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek

>“The Man Trap”
After spending last summer enjoying the re-discovery of classic Star Trek‘s third season on DVD, I’d intended to circle back to where it all began and look at seasons one and two of one of my favorite shows of all time this coming summer. But then, a friend showed me the new Blu-Ray transfers of the episodes and I knew my life wouldn’t be complete until I, once again, threw down a large sum of cash to own the original series (yet again). Thanks to the generosity of family, I have upgraded my viewing experience with a new HD set, a Blu-Ray player and the first two seasons of classic Trek on Blu-Ray.

But while I’d skimmed through the discs, changing between original effects and the remastered effects, I still hadn’t necessarily intended to jump back into the Retro TV Round-Ups just yet. But then a stomach bug attacked me over the weekend and instead of checking out the multitude of new shows I had saved on the DVR, I decided to go for my comfort show. And so, I decided I’d start my look back at classic Trek, starting with the first season and the very first episode to ever air, “The Man Trap.”

After going through the third season of the show last summer, I have to admit part of me was really looking forward to getting back into the show when it’s humming along and clicking on all cylinders. And while classic Trek is pretty good out of the gate, it’s still not until about the sixth or seventh episode produced that things really get kicked up a notch and start humming. It’s about the time that Gene Coon shows up and really takes things to another level.

Before that, there are a half dozen or so good stories. One of those is “The Man Trap.”

Now, I’ll admit that when it comes to classic Trek, I’ve tended to watch the episodes in syndication order. For those of you who don’t spend your life following these things, that was the production order of the stories and not the original air order. So this is the first time I’ve cycled back from “Turnabout Intruder” to “The Man Trap” in watching the original series. And watching the episodes in that order this time around something struck me–in many ways “The Man Trap” feels a bit more like it would be at home in season three than it does in season one.

It’s an interesting choice for a first episode to air. As I said back in my review of “Spock’s Brain” I often wonder how audiences greeted the start of season three. With “The Man Trap” I often wonder if I’d tuned in for the first time in September of 1966 how I might have reacted. Would I have been hooked right away? Would the series become appointment TV for me? Looking at “The Man Trap” again, I can’t necessarily say whether I would or not. It’s not a bad episode, but it’s just very different from much of the original series canon.

As an introductory episode, I suppose it works well. There’s not a lot of heavy backstory and we meet just about all of the main characters. It’s not like a modern Trek pilot where we throw in a scene or two for every main character and give them a moment to shine. This one clearly focuses on Kirk and Spock with McCoy thrown in to a lesser extent.

The Enterprise arrives at planet M-113 so McCoy can give yearly physicals to Professor Robert Crater and his wife Nancy. Nancy is the woman who got away in McCoy’s past and he’s a bit nervous about seeing her again. Rushing the landing party down ten minutes early, Kirk, McCoy and crewman (aka red-shirt) Darnell, all see a different woman. For Kirk and McCoy it’s different versions of Nancy and for Darnell it’s a woman he met on Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet.

Turns out that they’re all right–they’re all seeing a different person. They just don’t know it yet. Darnell is killed, allegedly by ingesting a poisoned plant. However, medical tests say otherwise and show that all the salt has been removed from the dead crewman (who if you watch closely you can see breathing under the sheet at certain points). Nancy and Crater both made overtures about needing more salt and Kirk becomes suspicious.

He heads back down with a new landing party and two more crewmen are killed by the creature. But the creature quickly changes into one of them and is beamed on board the ship. Crater goes off searching for the creature and Kirk decides to beam back to the ship and use the sensors to find Nancy and Crater and demand some answers.

On the ship, the creature wanders the ship, interacting with various crew members as it searches for salt. It eventually finds McCoy’s quarters and after drugging him with a sleeping pill, takes on his identity and begins to stalk the ship. Kirk and Spock find Crater as the only human life form in the radius and beam down for answer. After stunning Crater, they learn that the creature killed Nancy a year ago and is the last of its kind. It needs salt to survive and feeds off the memories and thoughts of those around it. The stronger the memories and thoughts you feel, the more likely you’ll see the creature as that person. It uses this and a bit of hypnosis to lure in its prey and feed.

Beamed back to the ship, Crater reveals he can recognize the creature (with the fake McCoy in the room) but refuses to do so. Kirk recommends truth serum and sends McCoy off to administer it. The creature kills Crater, attacks Spock and then heads back to McCoy’s quarters. Appearing again as Nancy, the creature tries to get McCoy to protect it as Kirk comes in with a phaser. Kirk is attacked and McCoy eventually forced to shoot and kill the creature to save Kirk.

There’s a lot to enjoy about the episode and you can see the building blocks for what will eventually become Star Trek all in play here. The interaction of Kirk, Spock and McCoy works well, with a lot of jabbing and verbal barring between Kirk and McCoy. We see very early the concern Kirk has for the safety of his ship and crew and how he won’t let anything else come before that. We also get mention of Spock’s alien nature and his planet of Vulcan (in a scene I’m pretty sure set up all of the Spock/Uhura romance in the latest Trek film). We also get some of the philosophical questions that make Trek unique, including whether the creature is really evil or just trying to survive. It’s being the last of its kind also add a bit to the final decision of whether or not it has to be killed in order to stop its killing rampage.

The concept of a creature that feeds on salt isn’t nearly as intriguing as the concept that it needs love and memories to sustain itself. Whether this is a defensive mechanism or something deeper isn’t delved into as much as it could be and the question of just why it let Crater live for so long (even as it seems to be hungry from lack of salt due to a lower stock of it) isn’t really addressed. The concept of creating a fantasy for yourself while in isolation on a seemingly deserted world is one that Trek will come back to an examine again a couple of times in season one (most notably “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”).

But for all that, the episode still feels different from a lot of other Trek. For one thing, there are long stretches that seem to be little more than looking at life on the Enterprise. There’s the old question of just where does Captain Kirk go to the bathroom and while it’s not answered here, we do spend a lot of time examining various characters going about daily routines as part of their shipboard duties. Janice Rand is seen wandering the halls with her dinner tray and we see Kirk eating dinner at one point while on bridge duty. McCoy is advised to take sleeping pills by Kirk in order to rest and we hear how McCoy gave them to Kirk last week. (The fact that McCoy has a full bottle of them in his quarters is only a bit eyebrow raising). We see Sulu working in the botany section and we’ve got a conversation between Spock and Uhura about the moon on Vulcan and Kirk possibly being the closest thing Spock has to a friend. The last scene feels like one jammed in for the first episode of a new show, really.

And yet there’s a slower pace to things as they develop on screen. Once the audience is tipped into the creature and that it can change shapes, the tension comes more from seeing the regular crew in peril at it stalks the halls. Interestingly, the creature gets a large chunk of screen time in the second and third acts as it stalks the ships. Again, it all leads to the questions in the end and the somber note on which this one ends.

It’s not a terrible episode. It’s not a great one. It’s a solid enough one. It just feels different from a lot of other Trek episodes.

>Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek

>“Turnabout Intruder”
And so, we arrive at the final episode of classic Star Trek ever produced or aired, “Turnabout Intruder.”

The Enterprise answers a distress call from a research team on Camus II. Leading the team is a former girlfriend of Kirk’s, Dr. Janice Lester. Seems Janice didn’t take the break-up very well and has really been nursing a grudge against Kirk. And boy howdy, can she hold a grudge. After Spock and McCoy head off to look for survivors, Janice uses a strange device on the planet to switch bodie with Kirk. She then tries to kill Kirk in her old body, but can’t before Spock and McCoy arrive back on the scene.

They beam back to the ship and Lester/Kirk orders that only Doctor Coleman, who’s in on the plan, can take care of Kirk/Janice. Lester/Kirk orders the ship to head to the Venicia colony where they can leave Kirk/Janice and Dr. Coleman behind or possibly have Kirk/Janice killed. Seems that in order to maintain the transference, Kirk/Janice has to die.

Well it’s not long before Lester/Kirk is making quite a few blunders and the crew begins to think something is up. Spock quickly figures out that something ain’t right and mind melds with Kirk/Janice to discover the truth. But Lester/Kirk catches wind of it, has Spock arrested and court martialed . During the trial, Lester/Kirk acts oddly, even leaving the briefing room where there is no door! (It’s an error by the director, but it’s still funny. One of those gaffs that stayed in the show along the lines of Nimoy breaking character in “Amok Time” wide shots or the phaser hitting the ground in “Space Seed.) McCoy and Scotty are taken aback by this and plot to remove Lester/Kirk from command. Unfortunately, Lester/Kirk catches this on audio and has them arrested as well and summarily decides on the death penalty for all of Spock, McCoy and Scotty.

Sulu and Chekov protest by not following orders and Lester/Kirk convinces Coleman to head down to security and kill Kirk/Janice. At this point, the transference reverses for no good reason other than the hour is almost up. Janice breaks down and is upset that she’s been one upped by Kirk yet again (apparently he left the relationship when it got “too real”). Coleman says he sure would like to take care of her and Kirk agrees.

The idea of Kirk losing control of the Enterprise and the crew mutinying against what is perceived as the captain all sounds like an interesting story, doesn’t it? Too bad “Turnabout Intruder” doesn’t really deliver on that promise. In some ways, it feels like it’s trying to mine the comic absurdity of body switching, but when you have episodes like “A Piece of the Action,” “I, Mudd” and “The Trouble With Tribbles” as a standard of how you can do a humorous episode of Star Trek, “Intruder” is a pale imitation. (It’s better than “Spock’s Brain” which I’m still not was intended as a comedy).

The script comes from Gene Roddenberry, who apparently wrote in the margins that this was going to be a tour-de-force acting opportunity for William Shatner. One site I read indicates the Roddenberry was extremely convinced that this was one of the best Trek scripts ever written, further proving my theory that he was far better at creating the universe and characters for Trek than he was at working in them on a day to day basis (see all of season one of TNG for more proof).

And it possibly could have been a tour-de-force for Shatner, if he hadn’t gone so over the top so quickly. We’ve seen in the past that Shatner can deliver solid performances that have nuance and subtlety (“The Enemy Within” for example) but this isn’t one of them. Early on, the story makes some nice small differences so that we know it’s not really Kirk but Lester trying to pretend to be Kirk. The most obvious is that she will answer any hail as “Captain Kirk here,” which goes against the grain of the previous 78 episodes.

Unfortunately, as the episode progresses, the histrionics ramp into overdrive and the performance goes out the window. I find it amusing that the week this aired in 1969, TV Guide highlighted the story in a “Close Up” box and talked about this being a showcase for William Shatner’s talents and that “only subtle changes” show the differences. I keep looking at the description and thinking, “Did they see the same episode I did?!?”

The episode also seems a bit short sighted in some other areas. For example, Dr. Coleman and Lester seem to be romantically involved. He’s killed a whole lot of people for her (he helps her wipe out the scientific team to lure the Enterprise to the planet and is prepared to kill Kirk/Janice), but have they considered the implications of the body switch on their relationship? It appears that Janice wants this to be a permanent switch, but I’m not sure Coleman is on board with that. The story could have been a fascinating exploration of the nature of love along the lines of TNG‘s “The Host.” But the question isn’t even raised.

Nor is the reaction to everything in the end. OK, so Lester and Coleman have killed a whole bunch of people to carry out this plan. Yes, Lester is bat-dookie crazy but that doesn’t excuse Coleman’s actions. Maybe there’s a scene or two that take place later where they’re both hauled to the brig on murder charges. But in the end, Kirk lets Coleman take Lester back to sickbay and seems to shrug it off as just another odd day at the office.

It’s not a great end to the series. One good thing it always signaled when watching these stories in syndication was that the next episode would likely be “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and that we were cycling back to season one, when the episodes were a bit more solid. Sure we could see the growing pains, but at least you knew it was all going somewhere.

That said, I do like what the remastered edition did for the final shot of the Enterprise in the original series. We see the ship sailing off into a cluster of stars and it feels like we’re saying farewell as the crew sails into the sunset.

>Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek

>“All Our Yesterdays”
As many of you know, I’m a big Captain James T. Kirk fan. Always has been and always will be my favorite captain when it comes to Star Trek. So, you know that when an episode comes along in which I find myself bored by large chunks of the story surrounding Kirk, there must be something terribly, terribly wrong.

“All Our Yesterdays” find the Kirk, Spock and McCoy beaming down to the planet Sarpedion, which has about three hours to live before its sun goes nova. The planet was once fairly well populated but is now apparently deserted. Of course, the whole decision to warp in and beam down three hours before their sun goes nova brings up the question of why? The captain’s log and the dialogue indicate that the planet hasn’t made a call for help. So, why put the ship and crew in peril?

Because it’d be a really short episode if we didn’t.

Anyway, the trio beams down into a library and finds the mysterious Mr. Atoz as its attendant. Actually, there are several copies of Atoz running around, saying that Kirk, Spock and McCoy need to get ready and leave immediately or else face destruction. Atoz shows them discs that contain the history of the world, though there’s no information on the recent history or where everyone went. Kirk is viewing one of an age in the planet’s history that looks like colonial times while McCoy looks at one of an ice age. Kirk hears a woman cry out and runs through a doorway only to be transported back in time to the age he was viewing. McCoy and Spock go after him but find themselves in an icy wilderness.

Turns out the door was a time machine and that people from Sarpedion went back into the past to escape the nova. Kirk is in a colonial looking era where he is suspected of being a thief and a witch. He eventually finds a fellow time traveler and works his way back to where he originally time traveled. Since a computer in the future didn’t prepare him, he can jump back to the library and hopefully try to find Spock and McCoy. It’s this part of the Kirk plotline that does nothing of interest, beyond having the captain locked up for a good chunk of it and then escaping.

Meanwhile, McCoy and Spock are trapped in the ice age of Sarpedion and meet Zarabeth, a political exile from the future. Seems that she and her family opposed someone in power and got shuttled off to the past as punishment. She’s got a nice warm cave where McCoy recovers from frostbite and Spock goes all ancient Vulcan on her, putting the moves on Zarabeth and eating meat (and enjoying it). There’s a bit of a rivalry developing between McCoy and Spock for the affections of Zarabeth, though Spock quickly puts the kibosh on that, emotionally confronting McCoy and threatening to kill him. Because he’s in the past, Spock is regressing to how Vulcans acted five thousand years before. Yeah, the explanation doesn’t make much sense to me either, though the story does sort of try to come up with a reason for Spock to act this way.

McCoy eventually convinces Spock to go back and find the way home. Zarabeth can’t go, which leads to some conflicted feelings for Spock. They find the portal and hear Kirk calling to them. Spock is tempted to stay, but he can’t. If he doesn’t go through, neither can McCoy. He has a fond farewell with Zarabeth and they both step through, back into the current time frame.

They beam up to the ship just in time as the sun goes nova and we all warp away.

“All Our Yesterdays” is by the same writer who gave us “Is There in Truth No Beauty” and you can kind of tell she’s a fan of Spock. Both episodes are showcases for Spock and Leonard Nimoy to really strut his stuff. And there are some isolated moments that showcase Spock and Nimoy. The ever growing regression by Spock is well played as is the coda in which Spock laments that the events did occur, he did love Zarabeth and she’s long since dead. In a season that’s not been as kind to Spock as the first two, these scenes work fairly well and at least try to come up with a reason for Spock to act the way he does.

That said, there are still large chunks that just don’t add up. I’ve said before how the Kirk portions of the back in time plot aren’t much to write home about. There’s also the issue of Zarabeth and her clothing choice. I get that this is classic Trek where the costume designers used showing female skin as part of the costume design. But for Zarabeth to wear what is essentially a fur bikini under her coat of skins makes no sense. For one thing, it’s too well styled and form-fitting for her to have made it herself and for another, it’s not exactly going to keep her warm in the ice age. Considering that she’s trapped there and has been, it doesn’t make much sense that she’d have only this. Maybe she knew Spock was coming by and wanted to look hot for him.

Anyway, it all adds up to a bit of mixed bag of an episode. It also feels a bit like classic Trek is starting to coast and is on fumes.