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Friday, July 23, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"The Lights of Zetar"
Every show has its ups and downs. It's just unfortunate for classic Star Trek that the downs more than outweighed the ups when we got to the third and final season. Whether it's because of budget cuts, the departure of Gene Coon as producer or the more hands-off approach taken by Gene Roddenberry in season three, there were just more memorable for all the wrong reasons episodes in the third season.

And now as we enter into the final stretch of the season, we're getting to a portion of the season where they've all seemed to cluster together.

As I said earlier with "The Mark of Gideon" there are some episodes from season three I haven't seen in a decade or so. Some of those (like "Gideon") weren't a conscious choice. Others, like "The Lights of Zetar" were.

And yet, as I started up the episode, I found myself wondering why I'd avoided watching it--at least for the first few minutes.

The Enterprise is ferrying Lt. Mira Romaine to her now post on Memory Alpha. The post is a library of sorts that will serve as a storehouse for all the accumulate knowledge of various races in the Federation. It's being built as open for all and doesn't include any weapons or much shielding. This will turn out to be a mistake later in the episode. Mira also shares a special bond with Scotty, who is head over heels for her.

Along the way, the ship runs across a flashing light field. It invades the ship and attacks various crew members in different ways, turning off certain sections of their brain. It also bonds with Romaine who gets all multi-colored glow eyes and can now see a few minutes into the future. She comes to, speaking in a garbled low voice. McCoy checks her out but can't find anything wrong with her. Scotty chalks it up to space sickness and she returns to duty.

Meanwhile, the flashy lights are headed toward Memory Alpha. They hover over it and then leave. The Enterprise warps in and Mira sees visions of the crew of the station dead. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty beam down and find out that everyone is dead, except one female crew member who is glowing and talking in the same scary voice Mira used earlier. Kirk orders Mira to beam down and she confirms that she saw this in her mind moments before it happened.

Up until this point, "Zetar" is actually working on some level. It's not terribly exciting and the budget cuts to season three are painful apparent (especially as we watch a viewscreen map graphic of the flashy lights attacking Memory Alpha...it has all the excitement of an early PC strategy game in terms of visual presentation), but at least there's something interesting going on here, even if it's a bit of a retread of "Where No Man Has Gone Before. " (This isn't helped by the fact that the episode borrows heavily from the incidental music from the second pilot for the show).

It's at this point that things go a bit off the rails and the episode takes a turn for the less interesting. The flashy lights turn and come back toward the ship and Scotty begins to fail to report Mira's having other symptoms to McCoy and Kirk. Eventually, he does and by comparing Mira's brainwaves to the brainwaves of the entities in the flashy lights, we figure out they've bonded. They show back up, take over Mira and we learn they are the members of the Zetar civilization. They died and became these lights. They're now intent on...well, that's not exactly made clear. We do know they're a threat to the ship and Mira. The crew figures if we put Mira in a hyperbolic chamber and turn up the pressure, the Zetars will leave her.

They do and apparently are killed, though it's not quite clear. We are talking about a group of entities that pass through the ships hull earlier in the story. The idea that they were uncomfortable and ran off to regroup isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility here. But at this point, we're out of time and the episode has to end. Scotty and Mira presumably will make the most of the time they have left before Mira beams down to begin work on recovering Memory Alpha. (Yeah, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense....would Starfleet really leave her on a base whose memory is wiped and the crew is all dead?)

"Zetar" has the distinction of being co-written by Sheri Lewis, aka the creator of Lambchop. She co-wrote the story with her husband because she was a huge fan of the show. Apparently, she wrote the part of Romaine for herself, but she wasn't cast. It's one of those interesting what might have been type of things.

As a character Romaine works fairly well and is likeable enough--at least when Scotty's not doting on her. Classic Trek has been accused of sexism and its pretty apparent here in how Scotty treats Romaine. However, there are moments when you get the attraction between the two and feel like the romance between them is working. James Doohan wasn't often given a lot to do besides worry about the ship during the classic run, so it's nice to see him get a bit of a chance to stretch here. That said, Scotty doesn't fare well in the romance department in the original 79. He's jealous and overprotective both times we see him romantically liked to a female crewmember and his portrayals in both aren't exactly the most flattering.

Part of the problem with "Zetar" is the middle third of the story isn't terribly exciting or interesting. It feels like a lot of conversations to fill time and while it's nice to see the big three working together to figure out what's up with Romaine, showing us every step of the deductive process is a bit tedious.

Watching the updated version of the show, the effects of the lights attacking the ship are nicely upgraded. And the shot of Memory Alpha on the planet is superbly done. That said, the conceit of staying true to the original effects intent kind of backfires here. (And I can't believe I'm saying this). The attack on Memory Alpha could have been helped a bit by being more than just a graphic showing a dot for the lights getting closer to the target. I'm not one for pushing the effects too far, but this might be one of the few scenes where it would have actually improved things. Or at least made them a bit more visually interesting.

And while I came out of "Zetar" not quite disliking it as much as I did the first few times I saw it, it hasn't necessarily made a huge jump either. I have a feeling it may be a while before I return to watch this one again....

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/23/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
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