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Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek: "The Enemy Within"
"The Enemy Within" is the first time in the classic series run (both in air order and production order) that we see duplicate versions of some of our familiar characters. (Interestingly, we'll get a copy of Kirk made in just two more episodes). But of all the copies of various character stories that original series created, this one may be the most interesting from a character stand-point.

Oh sure, it's fun to see evil mirror images of the familiar cast and crew in season two, but "The Enemy Within" explores something a bit deeper and more fundamental--what it takes to be a leader and how we need both the positive and negative aspects of our psyche in order to fully function in the world.

The script is by Richard Matheson, who penned a lot of Twilight Zone episodes as well as some great books and short stories. Interestingly, he penned the classic Zone episode "Terror at 20,000 Feet." Both stories gave William Shatner a lot of scenery to chew, though I'd argue that his work here in "Within" is a bit stronger and more scenery chewing. As with many of Matheson's other stories, the exact scientific explanation for how some bizarre situation has come to be isn't the important thing (in this case, it's simply that some yellow dust throws a monkey wrench into the transporter), it's exploring the impact it has on an "everyman" type of character.

In this case, that everyman is Captain James T. Kirk who through a transporter malfunction is split into to two halves--one half that is the positive half and the other a negative one. The first quarter of the episode sees both Kirks roaming the ship, each blissfully unaware the other exists and acting as befits the series of traits each is given. Good Kirk has the compassion and intelligence though he lacks the fire of making a command decision. Dark Kirk is pretty much a horndog, who is ruled by any impulse that comes to him and has virtually no patience or restraint. But for all that, he still has some shame, given that each time he acts on his instinct and it doesn't go well, he retreats and wants to hide from potential punishment.

Eventually, Scotty realizes the transporter has an issue and they have to shut the whole thing down. This creates an additional tension of stranding a landing party on the surface of the planet with the temperature rapidly plummeting. (The episode was filmed fourth and the only thing I can think of is they hadn't decided to include shuttlecraft at this stage of the game. Either that or it makes it too easy a dilemma for Kirk). As the good Kirk struggles with the decision on what to do, dark Kirk has no qualms. At one point, he knocks out good Kirk and then heads to the bridge, deciding that he'll abandon the landing party and move on. (This comes late in the episode and helps serve as a clue to the crew that things aren't on the up and up).

As I said, it's a fascinating examination of leadership and the qualities that make a good leader. I'd seen the episode multiple times before I headed out to UT for freshman English and for one of my first papers, I compared what we see here with Kirk to arguments made in "The Prince." Especially of interest were the comments by Spock that Kirk didn't have the luxury of appearing weak to the crew or letting it slip that he's human. I ended up getting an A on the paper and doing such a good job that I set the bar really high for all other output that semester.

But that's not the only reason I have a fondness for this episode. Another is that during the 25th anniversary of the show, I convinced multiple friends on several occasions to ride into Washington DC with me for the 25th Anniversary Star Trek exhibit at the Air and Space Museum.

To say I ate this exhibit up with a spoon is an understatement. And while seeing props from the show, models of the ships and reading about the impact Trek has had and how it reflected the times it aired, one of the most fascinating parts of the exhibit was an original script for this episode. The script had Matheson's original dialogue for the pivotal scene where McCoy and Spock debate what's happened to Kirk, with much of it crossed out and the familiar dialogue from the episode penciled in.

Both of those aspects just add to the cool factor of this episode for me.

Not that it's a perfect one, mind you. If you watch closely, you can see how certain scenes were moved around in editing (mostly in the first act...watch the scenes with the duplicate dog and the transporter). Also, the third act drags a bit. Once we recapture dark Kirk, a lot of time is spent wondering if and when Scotty will fix things (dark Kirk manages to fire a phaser into a vital circuit board when captured). Of course, we know the show won't let the landing party die and we know Kirk has to be restored to his usual self by episode's end. It's almost like a four-part Doctor Who story in which little happens to advance the plot in the third episode.

That said, it's still a solid, entertaining and fascinating episode. It's also historic in that it features the first use of the Vulcan nerve pinch.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 9/07/2011 12:01:00 PM | |
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