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Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"The Empath"
Cited by DeForest Kelly as his favorite episode of the classic run, "The Empath" is a story with an interesting premise that is, unfortunately, stretched fairly thin over 52 minutes of screen time.

Beaming down to a research station studying a star going nova, Kirk, Spock and McCoy discover the team missing and the station covered in dust. After the Enterprise is forced to evacuate due to solar flares, the trio find that the crew was hearing a mysterious noise before they vanished. The same noise begins and all three are taken below the surface of the planet.

There, they meet a woman that McCoy names Gem, who is an empath. By touching another person, she can connect to their nervous system and remove any pain and wounds. She can then heal herself of them quickly. As they explore the area they're being held, they discover plastic cylinders holding the deceased research team and find three more, ready for Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

Kirk is taken and tortured by the alien inhabitants of the world, but not told the reason. They want no information from him. Kirk is returned and Gem heals him, at a great cost to herself. She nearly dies in the process.

The aliens inform Kirk, Spock and McCoy that one of them will stay and suffer under their hands while the other two can go. The trio argue about who it should be with Kirk ordering Spock and McCoy to save themselves. McCoy drugs Kirk under the guise of giving him a vitamin supplement and then hypos Spock. He surrenders himself and is tortured, again for no reason. The aliens keep saying that if he survives, he will understand.

Kirk and Spock wake up and go looking for McCoy. Gem goes with them and they find McCoy, near death from the wounds inflicted. Kirk realizes that Gem could take some of the pain and wounds from McCoy to stabilize him long enough to get back to the ship, but the aliens appear again. They say the test has been about Gem and her people. With the sun going nova, they only have the power to save one of several inhabited worlds in its wake. If Gem can demonstrate the principles of self-sacrifice, the will to survive, the passion to know, and the love of life that she's learned from Kirk, Spock and McCoy, her civilization will be saved. Gem partially heals McCoy but stops short of taking all his wounds.

Kirk eventually makes the aliens realize that Gem and her people are worthy and that their test is too driven by logic. He makes an impassioned plea to save her people and McCoy. The aliens are convinced and McCoy is healed. Gem's people are also saved.

On paper, it all sounds like a pretty good idea for an episode--and it is an intriguing little morality play. The problem is that the premise is one that might work for a half-hour episode of a show, but stretched out to 52 minutes, it becomes a bit thin. This becomes abundantly clear in the fourth act when the aliens show up and state the premise of the experiment several times over. While it lets Kirk and Spock in on exactly what's going on, it also tells Gem of the stakes of the experiment and, I think, makes her decision to partially heal McCoy a bit easier. At least from a dramatic standpoint. If she heals McCoy, she saves her people and planet.

I'm guessing we're supposed to infer that her people are a bit more self-centered given that they can't speak and are empathic. (It's not really said whether Gem is the exception or the rule to her planet. It feels like more the exception since you'd think that a planet of mute people might find some way to communicate and we see no evidence of Gem trying to reach out to the landing party). I may be overthinking the episode a lot here (and I probably am) but with a premise that is this thin, you have time to maybe address these things. Even having Spock infodump some information from the tricorder would be helpful.

The sets for this one are minimalist with lots of dark backgrounds and a few forcefield effects. The acting by all the principles is solid enough and it's easy to see why this was a favorite of Kelly's. He gets a lot to do here and it's a far better McCoy showcase than "For the World Is Hollow and I Touched the Sky."

The most memorable part of the story is the original music. Star Trek recycled a lot of its incidental music so when you get new incidental music, it stands out. And the music for "The Empath" is a lyrical score that really helps the episode and underscores what's happening on-screen. It's also one of the rare instances of new music composed for season three--again due to the budget cuts.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/30/2010 12:31:00 PM | |
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Doctor Who
"Frontier in Space"
One of the big criticisms of the Pertwee era is that a lot of the stories are just too long. There are a lot of six and seven part stories during the third Doctor's era and while some of them take advantage of the longer running time when it comes to the storytelling ("Mind of Evil") or find creative ways to hide the padding ("Inferno"), there are still a lot of them end up spinning the wheels in the middle episodes as we wait for the next development and the Doctor to solve whatever crisis is currently unfolding.

But yet it's a handful of these six-part stories that are among the more fondly remembered and respect from the third Doctor's era.

Of course, part of that could be that the memory cheats a bit. You can overlook the padding if you only see one installment per week. In the day and age of video and then DVD, watching a six-part story in one sitting isn't the way these Doctor Who stories were meant to viewed. With a week or even a day's gap between installments, the necessity of a bit of recap and reminder work well and isn't quite as obvious. It also helps you forget that certain things are happened over and over again.

For example, the Doctor and Jo spending a lot of time escaping only to be locked up again in the first two installments of "Frontier in Space."

"Space" is one of the classic series few attempts at doing a genuine space-opera and the results are a pretty mixed bag. The ideas here are interesting and the story attempts to have a bit more epic scale that most Doctor Who stories. Instead of feeling like we've only spent a few hours in the future setting, this one could take place over several weeks or even months. The Doctor and Jo arrive in the far future to find the Ogrons are working to start a conflict between the empires of Earth and Draconia. Using a device that feeds on the fear centers of the mind, the Ogrons appear to either side as the other side in the attacks, thus heightening the paranoia and distrust between the two empires and sending the galaxy headed slowly toward war.

The episode does a nice job of setting this up for the first two episodes, though it doesn't give the Doctor and Jo much to do besides be mistaken for spies and protest that they aren't the ones behind it all. Things finally get rolling around episode three when the Master shows up, revealing that he is pulling strings and using the Ogrons. But it's clear he's working for someone else, which if you've read the DVD box-set name, you'll know who it is long before they show up in episode six for a glorified cameo.

For once, it's nice to see the Pertwee years tweak the convention of your typical Master story a bit. The usual pattern was for the Master to become involved with some alien group in some kind of scheme to either take over Earth or the universe and to have it all go a bit wrong by the final episode. This left the Doctor to have to come in and form an alliance with the Master to defeat said monster or alien when it was clear the Master hadn't thought this through all the way. Then, the Master would turn on the Doctor and escape to fight another day.

With "Space" there's none of that, though there clearly could have been. Once the Daleks show up, it's clear the Master and the Daleks could have had a banner of a story with each side betraying and one-upping each other as they pursue their plan to bring Earth and Draconia into conflict. By the end of episode six, both sides know they're being manipulated, but it's only known to a handful of people, thus leaving open the possibility that there could be greater heights of tension to come. Unfortunately, the story doesn't follow this path, instead spinning off into "Planet of the Daleks."

It's interesting that after the relatively moderate pace of the first three episodes, the final episode is one that feels jammed with revelations and a rushed urgency to wrap it all up so we can go after the Daleks. It's almost as if once the Daleks come on the scene and everyone figures out the Ogrons are behind the attacks, that should be enough to offer resolution to things. After spending five episodes showing how the two sides distrust each other so and reluctantly have to be worn down and convinced by the Doctor about what's really going on, an episode with some fallout or follow-through might have been welcome. Instead, the story barrels forward toward a cliffhanger to tie into the next installment.

It's a shame really because it ends of making "Space" feel like less than the sum of its parts. Or to put it more succinctly, six episodes of set-up for a Dalek story. Given that it's got some nice model work for the time and that it's got two of the better realized alien-make up jobs from classic Who (the Ogrons and the Draconians), it's a shame that the elements introduced over the course of six episodes couldn't have all added up to something more.

As I was watching it again this time, for the first five episodes (even in the redundancy of the Doctor and Jo being locked up again and again early on), I kept wondering why this one wasn't more fondly remembered by myself and other fans. Then we get to episode six and I's not a bad story. It just doesn't have the resolution it should (and it won't because while the two stories are intended to tie together, "Planet of the Daleks" quickly evolves its own set of tangents and storylines and never addresses some of the fallout and implications raised here).

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/29/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Monday, June 28, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"Wink of an Eye"
In high school, I had a good friend whose last name was Compton. He and I share an interest in both Star Trek and Doctor Who and he always told me this was one of his favorite episodes since he shared the last name with a red-shirt.

He and I both agreed that it was a shame that his red-shirt name-sake wasn't featured in a better episode.

It's not that "Wink of an Eye" is necessarily a bad episode, but coming off "Plato's Stepchildren" and "The Tholian Web" doesn't necessarily help things for it. The story not really having a solid resolution and internal continuity errors doesn't help things either.

Answer a distress call to the planet Scalos, Kirk and company beam down to find the planet devoid of life. There's a strange buzzing sound but Spock and McCoy can find no evidence of insect life. While examining the water from a fountain, red-shirt Compton tastes some on his fingers and vanishes. The landing party heads back to the ship to analyze things and suddenly the ship seems to be under attack. There's a strange new device in the life support engineering section that they can see but not touch. They also hear the strange buzzing sounds on the ship.

Back on the bridge, Kirk decides to let the invisible aggressors make the next move and drinks a cup of coffee. He doesn't know the coffee has been spiked with Scaolsian water and he's quickly hyper-accelerated. There he meets the queen of Scalos Deela and the five other Scolians from the distress call. They were all accelerated when a volcano erupted on the planet and there's no way back to normal speed. The Scalosians instead will lure a ship into orbit, speed up a few individuals and use them for breeding stock since said acceleration has rendered the men sterile. Of course, Deela has chosen Captain Kirk for this because, well, he's Captain Kirk. They've also decided that they'll deep freeze the crew of the Enterprise for future breeding purposes.

Kirk tries to fight them, but discovers that if you're just hyper-accelerated and suffer cell damage, you age quickly and die. This happens to Compton. Kirk sabotages the transporter to delay the plan and then seduces Deela in his quarters. He also leaves a message for Spock on a computer chip, telling him what's happen.

Spock and McCoy find a cure for the hyper-acceleration and Spock speeds himself up, helps Kirk destroy the cryogenic freezing device and repairs the ship. The Scolsians all leave the ship and Kirk says he'll make sure the Federation warns future ships not to come by and fall into the same trap. Kirk and Spock use the cure and all is well, once again.

Elsewhere on-line, I've read an interesting and valid criticism that one of the big problems with season three of classic Trek is that many of the episodes lack a third act or a resolution. That's the biggest problem here. Follow me here....Kirk and Spock have a cure that works for them, but at no point do they offer to try it on the Scolasians. Surely the Federation wouldn't just quarantine the world and leave them to their fate of dying off (though Kirk could have a son or daughter there for all we know). Couldn't we use the antidote to help them and then find a way to purify the water or move the five survivors to another world or part of a colony? Why do we have to leave them on their world like that? If it's the Prime Directive coming in, there's no mention of it.

Kirk just seems kind of miffed that he's been accelerated to be the king to Deela's queen. It's interesting to watch Kirk resist her advances at first, before eventually seducing her in his quarters. (And he does in one of those scenes that you can't believe they snuck past the censors of the day. Kirk is seen pulling on his boots while Deela brushes her hair....this comes after a scene that ended with she and Kirk in heavy liplock.) Of course, it all appears to be a ruse by Kirk to make Deela think he's come around to her way of thinking and, possibly to arose the jealousy of Rael, an engineer who loves Deela, but obviously can't help her with the ultimate goal of producing children.

That doesn't even get into the issue of the script has no clue how time is passing in each section of the story. Kirk and Deela are hyper-accelerated so while they run about doing things, only a few moments should pass for the crew in normal speed. But the script keeps forgetting this and it makes the whole internal continuity of the storyline a bit suspect.

And the story seems to dwell on certain aspects of the story while underdeveloping others. The feelings of Rael and Deela for each other are spelled out, but not much else is made of it. At least until Rael comes to Kirk's quarters for a bit of a jealous fight and an act out. It feels more like this is inserted to give a suspenseful act out than because it was actually necessary for the story. There's also the idea that Compton seems to be going along with things because he's been given the other female member of the Scalosian delegation. Interesting given that it's a happy coincidence that he is accelerated. Kirk, at least, was chosen for it.

Also, why put the ship into deep freeze but leave no one on board to run it. How do they plan to beam back up for more breeding stock once Kirk has outlived his usefulness or got a scratch of some kind?

The idea here is an intriguing one, but it's execution that lets the story down. And that's odd since the concept comes from Gene Coon, the great producer who helped oversee many of the best installments of Trek in seasons one and two. Again, I think the culprit is that the script clearly doesn't follow-through on any of the implications of things that occur here and doesn't have a satisfying resolution--or really much of one for that matter.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/28/2010 01:22:00 PM | |
Friday, June 25, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"Plato's Stepchildren"
It's a shame really that the biggest claim to fame that "Plato's Stepchildren" has is that it supposedly features the first inter-racial kiss between a white man and an African-American woman on U.S. network television.

I say supposedly because according to both William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols, the production team shot two version of the famous kiss--one in which Uhura and Kirk kiss and one where it looks like they kiss. According to both actors, the second version was what was used for the final edit of the episode, though apparently a few stations across the country still pulled the episode when it was first broadcast.

It's interesting that all of the hype and the conversation of did they or didn't they overshadows what is, at its core, one of the more solid episodes of not only the third season but also the entire series run.

The Enterprise answers a distress call by a group of powerful beings who have modeled their society on the tenants of Plato. Their leader, Parman, is dying of a simple infection because even though they live long lives and have incredible mental powers from their environment, they are also incredibly frail. McCoy cures Parman, leading Parman to decide that the good doctor needs to stay in case his services are ever needed again.

Kirk refuses and orders that McCoy return to the Enterprise and be allowed to leave with them. Parman puts Kirk and Spock through several humiliating trials to try and break McCoy. Parman also has decided that if the crew leaves the planet, Starfleet will come back in force so once McCoy agrees and he lefts Kirk and Spock go, he'll destroy the ship. Parman is held back from destroying the ship until they leave for fear of alienating the good doctor.

Also on the planet is a little person named Alexander who doesn't have the powers and is a plaything for the Platonians. McCoy discovers a certain element in the food of the planet isn't being absorbed by Alexander as it is the others. McCoy pumps Kirk and Spock full of the ingredient to help them combat Parman, but the effects take time to build up. Just then, Uhura and Nurse Chapel are forced down and Parman makes the Kirk, Spock, Uhura and Chapel all perform for their amusement.

It's during this sequence that Kirk and Uhura are forced to kiss and we get the famous sequence that the episode is most known for.

Again, it's a shame that the episode is most recalled for this moment, because there's a lot of other interesting stuff going on here. Parman and company have clearly lost their way from Plato's ideal society and democracy. This is especially evident when Parman refuses to allow McCoy to leave and in his humiliation of Kirk and Spock. Spock gets put through the wringer in this one as well--forced to display emotions and later to kiss Chapel. In the pivotal sequence of the story, Spock admits to feeling hatred and anger toward Parman and that he must master it. It's one of those cases of Leonard Nimoy showing and not telling between Spock's inflection, body language and when he later destroys a cup with his bare hands.

Kirk doesn't exactly have it easy either, forced to slap himself when he first defies Parman and later forced to prance about for Parman's amusement. Watching the cast all be drug about as the playthings of the Platonians is interesting, if only to see how each actor portrays it.

But inside all of that, there's still a lot of interesting questions, including the one of does absolute power corrupt absolutely (it does in Parman's case) and what happens to the bully when a bigger bully comes along? In this case, it's Kirk gaining powers just in time to stop Parman from having him use a whip on Uhura and Spock use a branding iron on Chapel. The episode also looks at the question of whether or not virtual immortality would be a good thing if you lose touch with ability to feel things for yourself. The Parmans are emotional vampires of sorts, feeding off the energy and emotions of the crew. It also raises the question of how far they are willing to go to feel again with the forcing of the smooching between various crew members and then forcing Kirk and Spock to potentially inflict pain on Uhura and Chapel.

This one may not be a classic on the level of "The Doomsday Machine" or "Amok Time," but it's inside the twenty or so best episodes the original series produced.

Interestingly, the remastered version seems to have had little to do with shots of the Enterprise (it's only in three scenes total), but it does seem to have cleaned up some of the obvious wired used for when things fly about the room when Parman is out of his mind early in the story. I figured the remastering might make them a bit more obvious, but I didn't see them. Of course, I don't have the Blu-Rays in all their HD glory, so it's possible they're visible there.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/25/2010 12:04:00 AM | |
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"The Tholian Web"

When I did my countdown of the ten best episodes of Star Trek a few years ago, "The Tholian Web" kicked-off the list in a tie for the tenth spot.

Yes, I like this episode, a lot.

It's interesting that of the best regarded episodes in classic Trek's run, many of them are ship-in-a-bottle episodes. A lot of this comes down to the fact that without a strange new world to explore and create, the scripts had time to build and examine the characters. And no where is that more true than "The Tholian Web," which is a showcase for the Spock/McCoy conflict in a way few other episodes are.

The two have bickered in the past and we saw them butt heads in "The Paradise Syndrome." But here with Kirk gone and apparently dead, the conflict reaches a full boil. How much of it can be chalked up to the region of space messing with their heads as it drives much of the rest of the crew into madness or stress is up to interpretation. One particular scene stands out with McCoy grabbing the captain's chair and spinning Spock to face him in a fit on anger. It's far more compelling that the debates in "Paradise."

Even given the budget cuts of the third season, "The Tholian Web" looks good. The new space-suits are among the most effective of any genre show out there and the Tholian's web is visually stunning, even before they remastered it. Watching the remastered release, I found myself equally happy and displeased with some of the effects showing the Tholian ships creating their famous web. Updating the Tholian ships was nice, but some of the camera angles we got were a bit off-putting. The digital team seems to be far too obsessed with a shot of the Enterprise from behind the nacelles for my just keeps cropping up and it doesn't always look that great. It's trying to replicate the oft-used shot from the original effects, but it never quite looks right.

If you fast forward to about two minutes into this comparison video, you can see what I mean:

The rest of the episode looks good with a new look for the Defiant in all its sparkly green glory. And I'm still not sure why they didn't up the Tholians a bit since they only appear on the view-screen. We can put in an eyelid for the Gorn so it can blink.

A well done, effective piece of Trek, "The Tholian Web" alone makes the third-season worthwhile. Even if we do have to later suffer through "The Way to Eden."

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/23/2010 12:02:00 AM | |
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The Waiting List
I wandered by my favorite library branch yesterday to pick up a book I had on reserve and to pay a fine.

While there, a young woman came up to the desk and asked if the librarian could help her find a couple of books that weren't on the shelves.

The conversation that took place next reminded me of this cartoon:

I was amused but kept it to myself. I know how frustrating it can be a times to hear about a book and want to read it right away, only to discover the waiting list is a mile long. I don't know why I think I'm the only person in the library system who will want to read a particular book or watch a particular movie...but I do.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/22/2010 11:45:00 AM | |
Monday, June 21, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky"

One of the problems with the self-contained, episodic nature of Star Trek is it means the reset button has to be firmly pushed by episode's end. So, you know going in that despite being given a diagnosis of only a year to live, McCoy will be fine by episode's end. You also know he's not going to leave the Enterprise for a sustained period of time.

With one of the longest titles in all of Trek history, I'm often curious to see if a story like "For the World is Hollow..." would be more successful today when it could be given a multi-episode arc. Because there are some interesting character ideas here--the biggest being McCoy's diagnosis and only having a year to live. It clearly has an impact on not only McCoy but also Kirk, Spock and Nurse Chapel. Unfortunately, the episode also has to tell the story of Yonada, a ship inside an asteroid that's on a collision course with an inhabited Federation world. It's not exactly a dire threat given that it will be least a year before Yonada hits the planet, but it's still there to give the episode some sense of conflict and a driving narrative.

In many ways, the whole Yonada plot is a greatest hits of some of the big themes of classic Trek. There's some debate over the Prime Directive and there's also the Kirk vs a computer plot. In this case, the computer controlling the world has gone a bit amok, creating a cult of worship around it as well as being Big Brother with thought-monitoring and punishment for lack of obedience.

The problem with the story is that it's gone enough ideas for three scripts, but only 50 minutes to tell it all. McCoy beams over with the crew and in a matter of hours is falling in love and deciding to stay behind. It might work given his condition but the whole love plot comes out of left field and then goes back there too quickly. The fact that Natira never learns his first name makes the whole thing seem a bit forced. I know we're pressed for time here, but surely before she chooses him as her mate and he gets the obedience device inserted into his skull, he might volunteer his first name. I'm just saying....

Then once the computer is defeated, McCoy decides to head back to the ship. He's decided life is worth living and that he can pursue a cure for his disease. Natira can go along, but she says her life is on Yonada. So, the two part and all is back to as it was.

Except for the disease. Oh but there's a magical cure that the Fabrini people (they live inside Yonada) have in their databanks. Yes, they happen to have a cure and all is well again. Of course, there's the whole thing with Kirk saying in a log entry that he's asked for a new medical officer (this despite McCoy saying he can stay on the job for a while and he doesn't want anyone else to know), but it's easily forgotten.

All of it makes the episode seem pretty inconsequential and light. At least "The Paradise Syndrome" tried to make it feel like more than a day or two had passed in Kirok's going native. Not so the case here.

But there are some decent elements here. A scene of Kirk getting dressed down by Admiral Komack for wanting to stay near Yonada is nicely done. Again, it makes you wish this was produced today where we could see Kirk and the Enterprise warp off, leaving McCoy for an episode or two on Yonada. Unfortunately, the script mandates that McCoy discovers the secret of the world just as Kirk is getting ordered to leave. That way he and Spock can beam back and fix everything.

The problem is a huge lack of focus. DeForest Kelly is so good as McCoy in the show, it would have been nice to see him get a better showcase for Dr. McCoy than what we get here.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/21/2010 01:30:00 PM | |
Sunday, June 20, 2010
RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival
For the past couple of years, it seems I've always found out about the RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival either the day before or the day after it happened. And I always said the same thing, "Next year, I'm going."

This year, I found out the date and circled it on my calendar, well in advance.

Yesterday, I attended my first RC Cola and Moon Pie festival in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.

And had a lot of fun.

Walking in to town and toward the festival, I realized that I've got some kind of craziness going on in my head now that wasn't there a couple of years ago. Seeing people coming out from finishing up the 10K run, I kept thinking, "Man, I should have planned ahead better and participated." Chalk that one up to something I will shoot for next year.

I probably needed to because the highlight of the trip was two treats that I'm sure are high in calories and low in nutrition. I had some fried Oreos and a fried Moon Pie. about good. Pure heaven and so good. I know I'll spend a good portion of this week, working to burn off those calories, but sometimes there are things in life that are just worth it.

And, of course, I also bought some Moon Pies to enjoy at home. I found a box of the elusive orange flavored Moon Pies. The Vols really need to win a national title again so they can be made readily available throughout the state.

All I know is I'm planning to attend again next year. I didn't get to see the world's largest Moon Pie, which I think would be cool. And let's face it, I'm already hankering for another fried Moon Pie.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/20/2010 07:01:00 AM | |
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 | |
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Doctor Who
Carnival of Monsters
It's always interesting to note how for a number of years, the BBC didn't really show many repeats of older Doctor Who stories. It's also interesting that when the time came to show a story to represent its era for the 20th anniversary of the show, the BBC and John Nathan-Turner decided that "Carnival of Monsters" would be the representative from the Pertwee era.

Set in the fourth season of Pertwee's work on the show, "Monsters" has some of the hallmarks that defined the third Doctor's era but it's missing a few crucial ones. It's the first story in which the Doctor is once again given the freedom to wander in time and space, thus eliminating the Earth-bound and exile stories that many fans associated with the Pertwee era. It does have some segments that take place on Earth, but those are confined within the mini-scope itself and they take place in the recent past, not the "present day" of the UNIT stories. The script also doesn't include an alien race bent on world domination or the Master behind the scenes, pulling strings.

It does, however, feature Pertwee and the production team in full command of the series and the show running on all cylinder. "Monsters" is the highlight of the tenth season because it's imaginative little story by one of the series' best writers. It's got tension, alien drama and some rather chilling monsters in the form of the Drashigs. Of course, much of the horror and novelity of the Drashigs is quickly stripped away from the show when later stories began to rely on them too much as the most terrifying thing in the universe.

The concept of the Doctor and Jo caught up inside a miniaturized, electronic zoo is an interesting one and visually, the show does a nice job of having the two crawl around inside the mini-scope. Yes, you'll notice they're crawling through the same set four or five times, but given that its the inside of a circuit, you won't mind as much.

Where the script really excels is the events going on outside the mini-scope. It's the alien world of Inter Minor and it's one of the more fascinatingly glimpses alien worlds in all of Doctor Who. We never venture outside the space port, but the story still gives us glimpses and clues about the world, its inhabitants and the overall society that help make it feel more robust than your standard Doctor Who planet. There are two distinct classes in the world and there is some kind of on-going tension between them. The story doesn't seek to break them down so much as it plays on them for some of the story's tension. There's also one of the first appearances of the famous Robert Holmes double-acts with certain aliens plotting to use the mini-scope to overthrow the government and seize power.

It's one of the more deceptively classic stories in all of "Doctor Who." It's not one that many list in their top ten of all time, but it's still one that is well regarded by fans.

It's clearly undergone a re-assessment in recent years given that it was one of the middle third Doctor stories to hit VHS release but was the second third Doctor story to come out on DVD. It could have been the first had "Spearhead from Space" not recently been remastered and made virtually ready for DVD release as the line was getting started.

It's a fascinating little story that not only is visually well done but also delivers in the storyline. It may not have all the elements we associate with the Pertwee era, but that doesn't make it any less a classic of that era.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/17/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"Spectre of the Gun"
A few months into my original journey through the classic series, my local station aired a month or so of "best of" episodes hosted by George Takai and Walter Koenig. One evening, Koenig introduced us to "Gun," citing it as one of his favorites because Chekov gets the girl.

That's it. Nothing more. Just simply that instead of Kirk getting to make out with the girl in the episode, it was Chekov.

Nothing made about the minimalist sets or the attempted homage to the popular Westerns of the day.

"Spectre of the Gun" was the first episode produced for the third season and one of the first victims of the budget cuts. The budget was slashed when NBC moved the show to Fridays at ten and then Roddenberry threatened to step down as day-to-day producer if they wouldn't move it to a different time slot. Neither side blinked and the writing was on the wall. Trek was a dead show walking, so the studio and network slashed the budget. It's why you see a lot of studio-bound stories in season three and little, if any location shooting. (We don't even visit the famous Star Trek rocks during the season).

Interestingly, "Spectre" is one of the few episodes that decides to take the limitation and try to stretch the budget as far as it will go. The minimalist Western town is visually more interesting that various sand and rock planets we'll see throughout the season and at least we get some new snippets of incidental music to help build the atmosphere.

The script is another by Gene Coon, written under his pseudonym of Lee Cronin. In many ways, it feels like a greatest hits of other shows he wrote and it also feels like he left it behind before he'd had a chance to do enough revisions to it.

The Enterprise is on their way to the Malkotians homeworld under orders to make contact with the people there no matter what the cost. The ship comes across a buoy in space that warns them to stay away, but Kirk ignores it. They arrive and a landing party beams down to a planet of mist. A Melkotian confronts them and says that since they've ignored their wishes and are a violent group, that they will be destroyed by the pattern of their own past. The Melkotians reaches into Kirk's mind and pulls out a scenario of the gunfight at the O.K. Coral and casts the crew members in the roles of the Clantons.

This leaves our heroes in a dilemma since the Clantons are all killed, except for Chekov's role as Billy Clanton. (At least in Kirk's recollection). They try to leave town, create a tranquilizer and reason with the Earps. None of it works but before they get to the battle, Chekov is killed in a fight over the girl. Spock reasons that the physical laws the crew is used to operating under only work if various people believe they will. He mind melds with Scotty, Kirk and McCoy to convince them that the bullets aren't real and can't kill them. They go to the shootout, aren't harmed and Kirk does his famous flying kick to Wyatt Earp. Kirk is tempted to kill, but doesn't.

This impresses the Melkotians who send them back to the ship and agree to let the crew come by for negotiations.

There are a lot of similarities to other Trek entries in this one, including the crew being enlightened enough to overcome the urge to kill and a society that really, really doesn't want to be bothered. It's interesting to hear that Kirk is pretty much going to have to go in and visit the planet, whether they want to be visited or not under orders. No explanation is given of why this is. At least in "A Taste of Armageddon" we could understand that the Federation lost two ships and the two planets were at war last time we heard anything. A line of dialogue saying this was near a border and it might make more sense and fit in with the Western theme.

And while the minimalist sets are nice at first, "Spectre" really drags once its established the setting and waits for the inevitable gun fight to occur.

It's got some good ideas, but the script feels like it needs another revision or two to be a really great one.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/16/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Monday, June 14, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
Is There In Truth No Beauty?
In the day and age of entire seasons and series being available to own and watch on DVD, it's easy to gravitate toward your favorite episodes and skip over others that didn't make quite as much of a positive impression the first time around.

That's the case with "Is There In Truth No Beauty?" It's not that I didn't like it, but it's not that I necessarily loved it either. So, it felt like I was re-discovering it to see it this time around.

The Enterprise is assigned transportation of the Medusan ambassador, Kollos, back to his homeworld. The Medusans are so an alien race so unattractive to human eyes that looking on them in their true form will drive humans over the edge. Kollos is accompanied by Miranda Jones, an telepathic woman who has spent year on Vulcan learning the mental disciplines. She is set to bond with the ambassador due to her telepathic abilities and her Vulcan discipline. Also coming on board is Larry Marvick, who helped design the ship's engine.

It's revealed that Vulcans can also look upon the Medusans without any ill-effects, again thanks to the mental disciplines.

In an interesting scene, the big three and Scotty have dinner with Miranda and Marvick. It's fascinating to watch Kirk, McCoy and Scotty all working to one-up each other in their attempted flirting with Miranda. It's interesting to watch the three men falling all over each other to get her attention and watching as she responds but only to a certain point. On some level, you get the impression she might be into Spock, but that's not the case. Instead, it's revealed she and Larry had some kind of thing, but Miranda has chosen to work with Kollos over Larry. Larry doesn't take this well and tries to kill Kollos. Thankfully, the ambassador has that whole being so ugly he drives people mad if they look at him, so Larry doesn't succeed and goes a bit wonky. He heads down to engineering and sends the ship careening out control beyond the galactic barrier we saw in "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Larry then dies from the insanity.

After subduing him and taking back the ship, we find out the Enterprise is so far out they can't get any readings to get back. Thankfully Kollos' people are super navigators and Spock offers to bond with Kollos to get them back. Turns out the reason Miranda isn't driven crazy is she's blind. Spock bonds, gets them home and then make the mistake of not using his special visor to put the ambassador back in his box. Spock's human half goes a bit crazy but is subdued. Spock is able to get over it with help from Miranda and the Vulcan mind fusion.

Of course, there are a zillion little nitpicks in this one, the biggest being why there isn't security stationed outside the ambassadors door to guard him or why they didn't lock the door so Marvick can't get in.

The episode is infamous because it introduced the Vulcan concept of IDIC to the canon. The backstory is almost more interesting than the concept of IDIC. Gene Roddenberry was approached by a company about wanting to sell the IDIC symbols and asked Roddenberry to work them into an episode. Shatner and Nimoy were not pleased--especially Nimoy. And you can tell the portions that were inserted because the two clearly don't like being advertising slogans for Gene to make money and they're a bit stilted and awkward. Nimoy was becomingly increasingly unhappy with certain things being done with the show and Spock in particular during season three and this is just the first symptom of many more to come. It's also interesting that this won't be the first clash Roddenberry and Nimoy have about which party is profiting most from Trek. Nimoy is said to have been very unhappy that Roddenberry went to cons with the now infamous blooper reels.

But controversy aside, the episode is a solid one with some interesting ideas. It's not as lost as "Paradise Syndrome" or "Children" and it feels like a classic Trek episode, all the way down to Kirk trying to distract Miranda by courting her while Spock arranges the mind sharing with the Medusan ambassador. The twist that Miranda is blind is one that is foreshadowed well enough by Diana Muldaur's portrayal of the character and doesn't come totally out of left field.

Outside of "The Enterprise Incident," this has been the episode that felt most like an episode of classic Trek in this third season. It's not a classic, but it's still a solid entry and one that I've overlooked.

Oh and the remastered effects of the Enterprise going out of control though space and then beyond the barrier are really, really good. A good example of how to upgrade the effects and still keep the spirit of the originals.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/14/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Friday, June 11, 2010
Football Thoughts
  • Like it or not, re-alignment in college sports is happening. As usual, the arrogance of Notre Dame is playing a part of it. Notre Dame has barely been part of the national title or the BCS conversation for twenty years and yet they act like we should all feel honored that they'd consider thinking about joining a conference when, quite frankly, they should have done it ten years ago. Or else be left out of the BCS. Yeah, you heard that right Notre Dame fans...your team has become irrelevant as an independent and if you don't see that, you're blind. I don't care two cents for your pride, tradition, etc. We've got all that here in the SEC and we've got most of the BCS national titles as well. Get with the program!
  • I think the one big victim of the re-alignment could be the tradition that some teams have. If the PAC-10 expands to 16 teams, its will be so geographically huge that building up a healthy hatred for a team in Texas when you're in Oregon and play once every four years isn't going to happen. But then again, it's all about a money-grab.
  • And the arrogance of the PAC 10 in claiming that should they go super conference means they get two BCS bids is absurd. If there's a conference that should automatically get two BCS bids its the SEC since we've shown on the field the past decade or so who the real power conference is. And with USC going on probation (couldn't happen to a better school), that conference will really be down for the next two to three years.
  • Speaking of USC, I feel somehow that karma is biting Lane Kiffin and company in the ass and I love it. LOVE IT! I can't wait to see Kiffin fired from his dream job in two years. I'm also thankful he left Knoxville since some of these violations happened while he was there and given his track record, had he stayed, I'm betting Tennessee would have been under investigation and hit by sanctions. Karma is a bitch, huh, Lane! Sucks to be you! Of course, this does set up my dream scenario....two years from now, Vols play USC in a bowl game and Kiffin is on thin ice anyway. We whip USC up and down the field and Kiffin is fired the next day.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/11/2010 10:52:00 AM | |

Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"And the Children Shall Lead"

This was one of the last episodes of TOS I saw when I first began watching many, many years ago. I'm not sure exactly how I kept missing it--maybe some sixth-sense protecting me from bad episode of Star Trek.

Make no mistake. This is a bad episode of classic Trek.

But yet after viewing "The Paradise Syndrome," it didn't seem quite as bad as I recall. Of course, the fact that it's included on the same DVD with "Spock's Brain" and "Syndrome" makes the first disc of season three an early contender for worst disc of episodes ever.

I'm not sure exactly who attorney Melvin Belli is nor am I sure why he was cast as Gorgon the friendly angel in this episode. Watching his work in this one, I have to hope he was a much better lawyer than he was an actor. I keep thinking that someone on the production team owed Belli a favor and somehow got him included in the episode. Whatever the reason, his performance isn't exactly setting the episode on fire.

On the surface, the episode has a lot of isolated pieces that don't add up to a coherent whole. The Enterprise arrives at the planet Triacus after the colonists there sent out a request for a starship. Kirk and company beam down to find that the entire adult population have taken their own lives, but the children are remarkable unaffected. Kirk decides to hang out around the planet to find out what went wrong, but the children under the influence of Gorgon have other ideas. Seems that the planet was the home to some evil spirit in the form of Gorgon that preys upon innocence and belief. He's got the children under his power and wants to use them to head out into the universe and take over.

The children, thanks to a bit of help by Gorgon, are able to take over the ship by preying up various fears of the crew and tricking them into seeing things that aren't there. Kirk and Spock eventually break their control and wrestle back control of the ship by showing the children tapes of their parents playing with them and loving them before cutting to scenes of the dead bodies. The children grieve and see Gorgon as he really is, thus destroying his hold over them. He then vanishes and Kirk regains control of the ship.

There were any number of people over the course of the 79 original episodes that tried to seize control of the Enterprise away from Kirk. Khan comes the closest and actually takes over the ship before Kirk seizes control back in "Space Seed," but it's easy to forget that a group of kids take over the ship here. It's probably that I'm repressing any memories of this one much like the children do their grief.

As I said ,there are a lot of interesting ideas here. The whole plot about how the children have driven their parents to suicide is an intriguing one and one that should have a bigger emotional impact than it does. Kirk's use of the memory tapes to show them the horror of what they've done under Gorgon's influence is interesting and if the show were made today, I imagine we'd have a lot more about the psychological impact this would have on the children long-term.

Also, when the children trick the crew into warping the ship out of orbit for a Federation colony, we get one of more the more chilling red shirt deaths in the series. Kirk sends down two red shirts to the planet not knowing the ship is out of orbit. He realizes moments later when he tries to beam up the two red shirts the first two were relieving, only to discover he's beamed two guys to their death. Kind of a creepy moment for the show.

It's also interesting to see the fears the children play on to take over the ship. Kirk, of course, fears losing command of the ship. Uhura, interestingly enough, fears become old and wrinkly. Sulu fears a giant corridor of knives in space. Yeah, that last one doesn't make much sense to me either and it really doesn't when you see how it unfolds.

The episode has some clear parallels to the first season episode "This Side of Paradise" with the crew going over the edge and Kirk having to fight to win them back. But whereas that was an interesting character study of not just Spock but several other crew members, this one is largely an ill-conceived story that doesn't hold up well.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/11/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Doctor Who
"The Three Doctors"

Like it or not, "The Three Doctors" is the template for all other multi-Doctor stories during the classic series run. The basic plot is we've got some colossal threat to the universe that requires the First Law of Time to be set aside and the Doctor to encounter his various other selves in an attempt to join forces and thwart the foe.

I recently listened to the audio version of the Target novelization for "The Three Doctors" and I think I finally figured out why a lot of fans loved the story so much back in the day. In the hands of Terrance Dicks, the story becomes a sweeping epic, full of planets with purple skies and UNIT headquarters under attack from jelly blob creatures made of anti-matter. There are sequences where the jelly blob men stalk through the sewers underneath UNIT headquarters, multiplying rapidly and there are others when the universe Omega creates inside the singularity dims, lightens and shakes based on his moods. Dicks is working with the limitless budget of the imagination as well as the ability to not have to pad out certain moments in the story with lots of endless chasing down corridors. It still tells the same basic story, but it tightens it up a good deal and makes it seem like an epic celebration of a decade of "Doctor Who."

If only that had carried over to what we get on-screen.

It's not that "The Three Doctors" is a bad story. But I have to imagine a huge chunk of fans who grew up only on the novelization were sorely disappointed when it was repeated in 1983 and later released on VHS.

The story finds the Time Lords forced to reunite the Doctor with his former selves because a mysterious black hole is draining away the energy of the universe. Due to his failing health, William Hartnell only appears in limited, pre-filmed inserts on the TARDIS scanner, offering advice and encouragement when the second and third Doctor can't stop bickering long enough to do what needs to be done. Both Doctors, along with Jo Grant, the Brigadier and Benton, are transported inside the black hole along with UNIT HQ, Bessie and a few other random stragglers who have the misfortune to cross paths with the blob monsters (who look wholly unconvincing in the upgraded DVD picture).

In the black hole, they meet Omega, the man who gave the Time Lords the power to travel through time. Omega was presumed dead and has lived inside the black hole all these millenia and isn't too happy about it. He targeted the Doctor due to his exile on Earth, thinking his fellow Time Lord would join forces with him to escape and rule the Time Lords.

As an anniversary story, "The Three Doctors" is full of the greatest hits from the era it was produced as well as the series as a whole. UNIT is in full force, ineffectively taking on the blob monsters with every weapon they can find. Omega's domain is clearly a quarry and there's lots of chasing up and down corridors in Omega's domain. At one point the DVD commentary becomes almost un-listenable as Katy Manning decides she's bored with the sound effects used for the blob men in the serial and decides to insert her own as they run and up and down corridors. It's pretty embarrassing, not just for Manning but also for those of us at home.

It's reported that Pertwee was concerned that by having a reunion of the previous Doctors, the emphasis would shift away from his Doctor. Producer Barry Letts assured him this wouldn't happen and while the third Doctor does have the most lines and is the focus of the story, it's Patrick Troughton who steals the show. He shines in every scene he's in for the entire story, easily slipping back into his Time Lord persona with ease. It's easy to see why so many fans still love Troughton and why he's such an influence on every Doctor whose played the role in the past thirty years, despite a significant number of his stories missing from the BBC archives.

At this point in the Pertwee era, the production team is running like an well oiled machine and while that's good, it doesn't necessarily mean they're pushing the envelope like they did in earlier season. The slow descent of UNIT from a crack military team to comic relief is painfully evident. (It's not as bad as "Planet of the Spiders," but compare the Brigadier here to the one we see in "The Silurians" and you'll see what I mean).

All that said, it's still a fun story if only to see Patrick Troughton. It's a greatest hits for an era and a show and it's easily the better of the two multi-Doctor anniversary stories.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/10/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"The Paradise Syndrome"
For the second episode in a row, the pressures of command seem to be catching up to Captain Kirk. Last time out, it was a ruse to steal the Romulan cloaking device. This time out, Kirk suffers from "Tahiti syndrome" and goes native on a planet inhabited by transplanted Native Americans.

One of the few third season episodes to be filmed on location due to the budget cuts, "The Paradise Syndrome" has never been one of my favorite Trek episodes. The first time I saw it, I found myself bored by it and unlike other episodes that have grown on me over time, this is one that has, if anything, backslid in my estimation.

The Enterprise visits a nameless planet where a tribe of transplanted native Americans live and which is currently in the cross-hairs of a giant asteroid that is bearing down on the planet. Rather than completing their mission to stop the asteroid before it gets past the point of no return, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beams down to check the place out. This is the first of many questionable decisions the episode will require various characters to make in order to facilitate the plot, such as it is. The surface of the planet has some odd obelisk that the crew can't figure out what it's for. (Mayhaps this is why they beamed down...but again, we're never really told that for sure).

Kirk wanders off from the landing party and when he calls the ship, the obelisk opens and he falls inside. He's zapped and knocked unconscious leading to another moment when things get wonky. As the show comes back from the opening credits, Spock indicates that search parties have scoured the area looking for Kirk and it's implied this has taken longer than the few minutes available to crew to high tail it out to said asteroid. I can sort of buy that Spock recalculated how long the point of no return was because he later pushes the Enterprise at warp nine to the asteroid, much to Scotty's chagrin.

So, after not finding Kirk, we head out to stop the asteroid. Kirk wakes up, emerges from the obelisk just as two women from the tribe come by with a tribute. And they quickly add two plus two, get five and determine Kirk is a god. Kirk is suffering amnesia, heads back to the village and by using mouth to mouth resuscitation, saves the life of a boy who fell into the river. Kirk is immediately appointed the medicine chief, something that ticks off the previous medicine chief, Salish no end. It's a high honor and was passed down from father to son. It also includes getting to marry the High Chief's daughter Miramanee. Salish is not having a good day and is immediately resentful and suspicious of Kirk.

Salish will later attack Kirk in the woods, making him bleed and seemingly outing Kirk as not a god. Unfortunately, this seems to only be thrown in because we couldn't think of another act break since Salish doesn't make anything of it to anyone else. When it comes to adversaries or threats, Salish is a pretty weak one, only seeming to pop up at random moments to accuse Kirk of not being god, but not actually following through on the threats to prove it and discredit him. Maybe he doesn't really love Miramanee as much as he says.

Which brings us to Miramanee, a woman who apparently hasn't read the manual on Kirk romances. Sure, he's lost his memory and is calling himself Kirok. Yes, he can remember how to create lamps and irrigation and he has strange dreams of the hut in the sky. But she should know that by kissing him, she's gone by episode's end. She makes the tragic mistake of falling hard for him, marrying him and conceiving a child with him. And that means that by episode's end she must die. It's a cruel fate, if it weren't for the fact that it feels like the script has to push the reset button in the final moments. Miramanee dies after being stoned by the tribe....more on that later.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise ain't having a lot of success stopping the asteroid. Several attempts fail and the engines are blown all to hell. So, we limp back to the planet and it takes months to get there. All the while Spock is consumed with understanding markings on the obelisk since it clearly holds the secret to stopping the asteroid.

Which it does. The native American group was put on this planet by the Preservers. Apparently it's a nice place to visit, but every once in a while asteroids slam into it. Hence the Obelisk as some kind of defense system. The Medicine Chief knows how to get in, but ironically that knowledge has been lost since Salish's dad was greedy and didn't share that with him. It brings up the question of why would anyone want to seed a group of people on this planet if asteroids slam into in on a regular basis, given that there seem to be a lot of other potential candidates out there that aren't regularly hit by asteroids. But if you do that, we don't have an episode....

So, the asteroid is coming, Kirk is proven to be false and he and Miramanee are stoned. She bears a greater brunt of injury since Kirk comes out of it pretty much unscathed. McCoy and Spock beam down in time to save them, a quick mind meld restores Kirk's memory and they find the way into the obelisk and deflect the asteroid.

And then, Miramanee dies.

Of course, the ship is still screwed with no warp engines and it seems the tribe is willing to let Kirk back in for a few quiet moments alone with Miramanee before she dies. But these aren't addressed and frankly that's not a bad thing. The episode thankfully ends. I know I'm supposed to be touched by the death of Miramanee, but I'm more relieved this episode is over...and not just for the reasons I discussed.

There's always been the accusation against Shatner that he's a bit of a ham as Kirk. There are episodes from the original series run that discredit that argument ("Enemy Within," "City on the Edge of Forever") and then there are episodes that back that accusation up. This is one of them. At one point, Shatner hams it up while pondering his love for Miramanee and that he's found paradise that I almost wanted to turn off the episode. I'd repressed that portion of the episode from my mind. It's right there with most of the Kirk as Kirok stuff.

What's a shame is the portions on the Enterprise, while a bit on the cliched side, work fairly well. Scotty lamenting the engines, the argument between Spock and McCoy, the dire situation of not stopping the's all fairly well done. Yes, it's a collection of Trek's greatest hits and it doesn't quite reach the same depth that "The Tholian Web" will later this season, but I'd still rather see it than Kirok celebrating his love for Miramanee.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/09/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Monday, June 07, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
The Enterprise Incident
After a stumble to start the season, Trek's third season gets on a bit of a better track with "The Enterprise Incident."

The first half in particular is a strong one, especially the first time you see it. You can't ever really replicate the sense of "what the hell is going on here?!?" that you feel the first time you see this one, wondering just what is wrong with Captain Kirk and why exactly Spock would betray his long-time friend to the Romulans.

The story starts with a log entry by Dr. McCoy, stating that Kirk has been acting erratically the past few weeks and speculating it may due to stress and a lack of downtime. We then see Kirk barking at the bridge crew and sending the Enterprise into Romulan space where it's quickly captured. Kirk and Spock go aboard the lead Romulan vessel to meet the female Romulan commander and there Kirk is betrayed by Spock. Spock spills the beans that the Federation had nothing to do with the incursion but it was all Kirk. Kirk seems to go a bit unhinged at this point at William Shatner channels his best "evil Kirk" persona from "The Enemy Within" in season one. Spock and the Romulan commander strike up a bit of a friendship based on their shared heritage and Kirk is injured throwing himself against a force field in the Romulan brig.

McCoy beams over to help him, at which point Kirk attacks Spock and is apparently killed by the Vulcan death grip.

This is the first half of the story and it's quite a head scratcher the first time you see it. You know something is not right, but you can't figure out just what.

Well, it turns out its all an elaborate set-up along the lines of Mission: Impossible, which appears to be one of the inspirations for the episode. Under orders from Starfleet, Kirk and Spock are on a secret mission to infiltrate the Romulan ship and steal their new cloaking device. Hence why Kirk has gone off the deep end and Spock has betrayed everyone. Spock stalls for time as Kirk disguises himself as a Romulan, beams back on board and gets the device.

Unfortunately, the second half of the episode isn't quite as solid as the first. The Romulan commander seems a bit naive given that she seems to know a lot about the Enterprise, her crew and Spock in particular, but she never really questions why he's betraying his friends and the crew. If this episode were made today, we might see an episode or two that sewed some kind of a conflict between Kirk and Spock over the course of a couple of stories, building up to this story. Instead, it's a stand-alone and I think the story suffers a bit for it.

Writer D.C. Fontana scripted the story and says it was based on the Pueblo incident. Fontana says she was unhappy with the apparent love story between the Romulan commander and Spock and she says that the cloaking device itself was too big and amounts to little more than Kirk hauling around a lamp for large portions of the fourth act. I can see her point in both cases, but the show was cutting the budget at this point and recycling Nomad from season two is just part of it.

All of that said, it's one of the more solid third season installments and might have made a better season premiere than "Spock's Brain." The atmosphere of the first half alone, along with the performances by Shatner and Leonard Nimoy make it worth the ride, even if things do get bogged down a bit in act two. (Scotty once again earns his stripes as a miracle worker, connecting the device at the last possible second to save the ship).

It's one of only two time we see the Romulans on-screen in the original show and it does give us the largest glimpse of their culture from classic Trek. One thing I find interesting is that when TNG rolls around, the Romulans and the Klingons have switched places in terms of how their cultures are portrayed. In TOS, the Romulans are the culture more driven by honor than that of the Klingons.

The storyline also led to one of the most infamous Trek novels, "Killing Time." Written by a slash fan-fic writer, someone over at Pocket Books missed large chunks of slash scenes in an alternate universe with Kirk and Spock, as well as the return of the original Romulan commander. They eventually found out and the book was recalled and edited. But there are still copies of the original floating around on e-Bay and the used book market that are, well, interesting.

Also, seeing this one as the re-mastered release, I like how they use at least one original Romulan bird of prey in the space shots.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/07/2010 04:00:00 PM | |
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 | |
Thursday, June 03, 2010
Funny and Sad
During the first round of the hockey playoffs, I know a lot of Nashville sports fans were upset when channel 4 interrupted the Preds game for weather updates about a tornado.

They were no where as upset as this caller in Texas who had the season finale of "Criminal Minds" interrupted by tornado warnings.

Doesn't she know about Hulu to catch up on missed episodes? And it's not like it she was missing something like the series finale of "Lost" or "24..."

On another level, I find the whole message an indictment of the self-centered nature we've all taken these days. Or the whole attitude that the rules apply to everyone but me.

In a way, the message is both funny and sad....

posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/03/2010 12:20:00 PM | |

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