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Friday, June 18, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"Day of the Dove"
It may be hard to recall, but there was once a time when owning the entire original series of video tape, much less DVD was an expensive proposition. For a long time, catching up on Star Trek meant either reading one of the 12 photonovels produced about the series or reading the short story adaptations by author James Blish. This was, of course, in addition to catching the repeats each night on your local station.

When I first began my journey into Star Trek, the photonovels and the Blish adaptations were readily available at the library. This was in the early days of the Trek publishing phenomenon and I clearly recall there were two publishers with the rights to Trek stories--Pocket Books and Bantam Spectra. Bantam had an interesting habit of re-releasing older books with new titles and new covers and one of them was for "Day of the Dove." It featured a cover drawing of Kirk, Spock and Scotty backed up against a bulkhead, all with swords in their hand. I hadn't seen "Dove" yet but that cover made me not only want the book right then and there, but also to see the episode as soon as possible.

Years later, I still get a bit of a thrill out of watching "Day of the Dove." It's one of those episodes that's just outside the pantheon of great episodes for me.
The Enterprise arrives at Beta XII-A in response to a distress call, only to find upon beaming down the entire colony has been wiped clean from the face of the planet. Soon after, a Klingon ship shows up and displays signs of distress. A landing party beams down from that ship, lead by Kang. Kang accuses Kirk of opening fire on the ship, killing most of his crew and starting an interstellar war. Kang says the Enterprise is his by conquest and orders Kirk to beam them up. Kirk complies after Kang tortures Checkov for a time, but not before he tricks Kang. Kirk signals Spock of the distress and leaves the Klingons on the transporter buffer until he can summon security to take them prisoner.

After beaming over the rest of the surviving Klingons and destroying their ship, Kirk orders the Enterprise back to a Federation starbase to turn over their prisoners. Unknown to anyone, a mysterious alien entity has come on-board--one that feeds on hatred and negative feelings. It pulls the ship off course and sends it hurtling out of the galaxy at warp nine. It then traps much of the Enterprise crew behind a bulkhead, creating a balance of 40 Starfleet officers and 40 Klingons. The alien's intention is to enjoy the two crews fighting it out as it hurtles through the universe, gorging itself.

Just to keep things fair, it replaces phasers with swords and will heal wounds inflicted in the conflict. It also helps stir up a bit of racial hatred among everyone, which spills over into hard feelings toward and from Spock. Kirk and Spock track down the entity and figure out what it's up to, convincing Kang's wife Mara to help them realize that peace is the only way to defeat the alien.
In the end, a temporary peace breaks out and the two crews mock the alien into leaving. This is done in time to prevent the dilithium crystals from shattering and trapping the Enterprise out in space forever.

In many ways, "Day of the Dove" looks like a fun excuse to have Kirk and company running around fighting with swords--and on some level it is. The opening scene with Kor beaming down, punching Kirk and saying that Kirk has committed a wanton act of war was one that was included in a lot of previews for Trek back in the days. And I can see why--it's a compelling hook to the episode.

It's also an episode that clearly reflects an ideology that war isn't always the best solution to things. The series and episode seem to say that war is a necessary evil, but only if done for the right reasons. And clearly just because you hate the other guy isn't a good enough reason. It's also interesting to note that despite the temporary truce, there are still some tensions that won't go away any time soon--Kang states as much saying he needs no artificial reason to hate humans, even as he slaps Kirk on the back and laughs with him. The episode may bury the hatchet for a bit, but it never really solves the issue of the tensions between the Klingons and Starfleet. In many ways, it makes an interesting counter-point to Star Trek VI and Kirk's expressed hatred of Klingons.

The show also gives us one of the better Klingons with Michael Ansara's Kang. Originally the script was set to bring back the original Klingon, Kor, but the actor proved unavailable. It would have been interesting to see a long-running nemesis for Kirk in the series (besides Harry Mudd, who is good but not exactly a mirror of Kirk) but Kang works well. Seeing how he inspires the same loyalty and command style as Kirk is compelling. The biggest difference between the two is that Kang is married, while we all know how Kirk was....
And the script does have one of the most interesting moments in Trek and one that I'm surprised the censors of the time let get through. At one point, Mara and her guards are attacked by Chekov. Chekov is under the influence of the alien, even creating a brother killed by the Klingons to really stir things up. After knocking out the Klingons, Chekov turns his attention on Mara and clearly intends to have his way with her.

Of course, Kirk and Spock walk around the corner before things go too far, but it's an interesting darker moment in the original run of the show.

It may not be a classic, but it's still an enjoyable episode of classic Star Trek and one that shows why the show has endured. It's also reason enough for the third season to exist in my mind and it shows that despite the budget cuts, the series could still tell a solid, entertaining and thought-provoking story.

As for the re-mastering work, the one thing that jumped out was the new shot of the Enterprise coming into orbit around the colony. It's just a gorgeous shot of the ship and while it lacks some of the weight of the original model shots, it's still a visual treat.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/18/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
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