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Thursday, August 04, 2011
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
The Naked Time
Produced seventh but shown fourth in the original run, "The Naked Time" is an episode that works better if you have some understanding of who the characters are. It's also the clearest indication that classic Trek is really finding its storytelling footing and that most of the elements are coming together.

Written by John D.F. Black, who also served as an early script editor for the show, "Time" finds the Enterprise crew dropping by Psi 2000 to pick up the research team stationed there and observe the collapse of the planetary system's star. Spock and Lt. Tormolen beam over and find the crew all dead, frozen in various position including one showering while fully clothed. The episode features one of two time we'll see environmental suits in the original run of Trek and I've got to admit they're a lot less cool that what we see in "The Tholian Web." Suffice it to say, Tormolen doesn't follow regulations and takes off a glove at one point, allowing himself to become infected by something.

Beaming back to the ship, he and Spock check out OK but that's only because the scanners look for what's known. Tormolen starts showing signs of deep depression over what happened on the station and is full of self doubt. It all culminates in the rec room where Tormolen becomes suicidal and tries to kill himself with a butter knife. Sulu and Lt. Kevin Riley stop him, but in doing so they contract the disease.

As the episode progresses, the infection spreads among the crew. It slowly lowers inhibitions and allows things hidden under the surface to come to the top. Sulu imagines himself a swashbuckler and spends some of the episode running about the ship, brandishing a foil. Riley takes over engineering and turns off the engines just as the ship is spiraling down toward Psi 2000. Chapel is infected and professes her deep feelings for Spock. Spock is infected and his emotions rise to the surface and Kirk is forced to face the loneliness of command. For the most part, all of the scenes with characters losing control work extremely well. In fact, they work better if you're familiar with the characters and you watch this one seventh instead of fourth in the rotation.

The episode was one of the first of many battles Leonard Nimoy would wage over the character of Spock. As originally written, Spock was supposed to become emotional over a prank pulled by an unnamed infected crewmember. Nimoy argued (and rightly so) that even losing control of himself as Spock was, he'd still find a way to get out of the public eye before his breakdown. Spock's breakdown is one of the more compelling early moments for the character and the confrontation between Kirk and Spock in the briefing room is one of the best scenes in the original run of 79 episodes. I know I end up sound like a William Shatner apologist a lot here (and just wait until we get to the next episode...) but watching him chew scenery here shows you exactly why he was cast as the lead role in the series. Despite his penchant to go hammy, there are times when the guy is really effective and this is one of them. (I recall that when SciFi ran the Trek special editions back in the day, Shatner ruined this by hamming it up when he thanked everyone for the kudos about this particular scene).

Produced as one of the first dozen or so episodes, "The Naked Time" still finds Trek trying to decide what to do about Janice Rand. It's clear that the show wanted them to have a lot of unresolved sexual tension along the lines of what we'd get with Riker and Troi in TNG and Kirk spends a bit of his losing control moments lamenting that he's not allowed to notice Rand and that he has "no beach to walk on." While Rand has potential as a character, it's probably for the best that NBC asked Gene Roddenberry to write her out of the show.

And while I said earlier that it's better to see this one seventh in the run, watching this one followed by the next aired episode "The Enemy Within" will reveal a bit about Kirk's character and have some things actually make a bit more sense.

Of course, it wouldn't be an everyone goes crazy episode without the ship in peril. And it is between a decaying orbits, a star going nova and the engines being turned off. Each of the classic Trek characters is given a bit of a moment to shine--none more than Scotty who gets to lament that you can't change the laws of physics for the first time in this episode. Of course, after the commercial break, he manages to find a way to bend them a great deal...but that's not the point here.

Interestingly, Next Generation would pretty much remake this episode for their second episode. If you watch both in close succession, it's easy to see how this episode was re-written and tweaked a bit for the Next Gen crew. I'll admit that it was that episode and its preview that had me worried about Next Generation early on its run. I wondered just how many rehashes of familiar stories were on the horizon.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 8/04/2011 01:28:00 PM | |
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