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Friday, June 04, 2010
Summer Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
With the current television season behind us and football not looming for a few more months, I've decided to turn my attention this summer to one of my all-time favorite shows, Star Trek.

I've watched the original episodes multiple times, but it's been a while since I sat down and watched them on a consistent basis and in any kind of order. So, for my summer of Retro TV Round-Ups, I've pulled out the DVDs and intend to watch them in broadcast order. I grew up seeing them in production order because that's how they were syndicated, so the broadcast order is something new for me. Also, since I tend to focus a lot more on seasons one and two in my "pick a random episode to enjoy" and I'd say it's been at least ten years since I watched many episodes from season three, I've decided I'll start with the third season of Trek.

For those of you who don't know, season three is generally the least adored of all three season of classic Trek, though without it we wouldn't have had enough for the show to go into regular syndication. For that alone I'm grateful and while there are some real clunkers in there, there are some gems as well.

Of course, the third season doesn't get off to a great start with our first episode, the infamous....

Spock's Brain

I've often wondered what it would be like to be a fan of the show back in the mid 60's. What if you'd written your letter or letters to NBC, asking for a third season, helping save the series from the brink of cancellation and then tuned in that Friday night in September to witness "Spock's Brain." How mad or upset would you be that you'd worked to save your favorite show and what you got in return was this...

It's interesting that someone over at either the Trek production team or NBC thought this was the entry they wanted to start the season with. It's one of the most scorned episodes in the Trek canon and many would say deservedly so. There are some who call it the worst episode of Trek ever made--not just from the original series but the entire franchise. I can't say I really agree with that (there are some contenders for the worst episode to come in season three and that doesn't even include the horror that is "Imaginary Friend" from the TNG canon).

I tried to approach "Spock's Brain" and put aside my preconceived notions about the episode....which lasted up until about the first commercial break. It's an episode that works if you turn your brain off and just kind of go with it. If you think to much about it, it's only going to make your head hurt and that doesn't even get into the fact that the episode can't keep its own internal continuity straight. The planet is referred to by a different number several times by various characters.

The plot, such as it is, is that a mysterious woman comes on board the Enterprise and steals Spock's brain. The Enterprise traces the ship back to a planet where the surface is in an ice age and everyone quickly beams down to try and find Spock's brain. Oh and McCoy works up some device to keep Spock alive and allow them to lead his body around while on the surface. (Don't ask, it's actually as ridiculous as it sounds). On the surface we find a tribe of men who are close to cavemen. They fear the women, who they say live under the ground and bring both pleasure and pain to the men. (And every guy in the audience goes, "yeah, no kidding).

Anyway, the crew finds their way underground and runs into the women. We then get lots of being zapped and in pain acting before Spock's brain figures out Kirk, McCoy and company are there to rescue him. He leads them to his brain but McCoy may not have the skills to put it back in. That is, until he finds a way to download the medical knowledge into his own mind and is able to restore Spock's brain to his body and everything is good once again.

Except that it's not really. See the women stole the Vulcan's mendula oblaganda to power their underground city. And by putting Spock's brain back, they have no power source no. So, basically Kirk has doomed them to living on the surface with the men. It's a great example of the Kirk theory of cowboy diplomacy on display and the total lack of regard that Kirk had most weeks for the Prime Directive. It's not quite the same as the lengths he went to in "A Taste of Armageddon" but Kirk has, once again, thrown a stagnant society into first gear, basically saying it's time to evolve or perish.

The script was written by out going producer Gene Coon under the pseudonym, Lee Cronin. I'm not sure exactly who the script editor was for season three, but I think there were a lot of re-writes done which may be why Coon took his name off the story. Watching the episode, you have to wonder if the cast didn't think this was some kind of more humorous episode along the lines of "The Trouble With Tribbles" from the season before. The acting is hammy and campy and the story pretty much falls apart if you think too much about it. Again, I wonder if it's better if you're on some kind of substance.

One memory I have of the episode is not necessarily related to Star Trek itself. Footage from this episode was used on an episode of The Wonder Years and if I recall correctly, they even reimagined the scene with the cast from that show in the various roles here. The scene in question is one of the women pushing the buttons on their belts and making the men writhe in pain.

Not a great start to the third season. It can only get better from here...

If you want to watch the whole episode, you can see it for free on YouTube.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/04/2010 10:40:00 AM | |
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