TV Review – The Best of Star Trek Part Three

Amok Time (S02E01)
Original air date: September 15, 1967
Written by Theodore Sturgeon
Directed by Joseph Pevney

By the end of Star Trek Season One, the audience had come to a realization: Spock was fucking cool. Another person also realized this, Leonard Nimoy. The actor realized his role as Spock held just as much importance in each episode as William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and demanded a pay increase. He got it. Desilu Studios, who produced Star Trek, did hire a backup actor just in case Nimoy walked. Amok Time features that actor Lawrence Montaigne as Stonn. This is also the season two premiere and the first & only episode of the original series to bring the crew to Vulcan. We dig deep into their culture as Spock experiences a critical time in every Vulcan’s life: Pon farr.

Pon farr is basically when Vulcans go into heat and Spock “be horny.” At first, the science officer is reluctant to share what is happening with Kirk and McCoy, but when it gets to be too much, he relents. Spock must be brought to Vulcan to go about a ritual that allows him sexual congress with his pre-chosen mate. Kirk and McCoy beam down with Spock to witness the strange ceremony (don’t worry, the dirty part is done behind closed doors). However, there’s a wrinkle when T’pring (Arlene Martel), Spock’s mate, says she wants him and Kirk to engage in kal-if-fee, a fight to the death between the men. Spock kills Kirk…well, sort of. And we get a brief scene in the final act where Leonard Nimoy smiles, which is so strange to see.

I loved this episode for its 1960s camp. The ornate Vulcan procession and ceremony are so wonderfully over the top. Plus, we get classic battle music when Spock and Kirk tussle. The episode also introduces the Vulcan salute and Chekov’s first time on the bridge. This is the second-best episode of the original series, right behind “The City on the Edge of Forever,” in my opinion. It knows just how to tease out its story and gives us a big focus on the show’s most interesting character. We also get some fantastic character work between Spock and Kirk, developing their friendship. I also want to note that the show’s writers really were teasing fans with the sexual tension between these two. It is absolutely apparent watching it now, the dreamlike fog over the camera and the lighting reminiscent of a romantic scene when the camera cuts back and forth between the two. It’s no wonder fans would be writing slash fic about the pair.

Mirror Mirror (S02E04)
Original air date: October 6, 1967
Written by Jerome Bixby
Directed by Marc Daniels

Another classic, this episode has been so influential it created a trope that has crossed all forms of media: the evil twin with a goatee. Suspiciously similar to “The Enemy Within,” a transporter malfunction is responsible for exploring the dark side of the Star Trek characters. Kirk, Uhura, Scotty, and Dr. McCoy end up in a parallel universe where the Federation is a brutal imperialistic force in the galaxy. However, the Spock of this world (wearing that goatee) still ends up being the most reasonable person despite doing evil with every choice. Kirk has to dodge assassination attempts from this crew while trying to figure out a way back to the correct reality. And he also has to try and keep this Enterprise from wiping out a civilization they are attempting to colonize. 

One of the standouts in this episode is actress Barbara Luna playing Lt. Moreau, the evil Kirk’s consort. She delivers a fantastic performance as a woman who has given into the system around her. She has no choice and would be killed if she fought back. So, Moreau has decided to play the game of deceit and double-crossing like everyone else. The entire supporting cast gets some great moments here, playing against type. George Takei as the lusty, evil Sulu is fantastic, as is Walter Koenig as the duplicitous evil Chekov. The crew members trapped with Kirk get much more time than previous episodes on this list have included, especially Uhura. That is one thing I noted while watching these episodes, that for as iconic as Uhura is, they really didn’t give her much to do, especially in season one. I understand why, treading lightly and pushing a little bit at a time, but I kept wishing we had gotten more spotlights on characters outside the central three. 

Mirror, Mirror is one of those ideas I don’t think works too well in modern Trek because it is a very camp concept. The production design for this episode is stellar, with the changed-up symbols and emphasis on imperialism conquering displayed through the decoration of crew members’ quarters. The visuals work because of the bold, comic book-y colors ever-present in Star Trek, and I don’t think the modern take on Starfleet makes it so that the evil twin concept could ever be taken seriously. That said, I do wish they had done more with this idea. I will always wonder what a Mirror universe-centered plot for a Star Trek feature film would have been like. 

The Doomsday Machine (S02E06)
Original air date: October 20, 1967
Written by Norman Spinrad
Directed by Marc Daniels

Of all the episodes I watched for this series, this one could have easily been expanded into a feature film. The Enterprise discovers the USS Constellation damaged & adrift in space. The only survivor is Commodore Matthew Decker (Wiliam Windom), who explains that he beamed the entire crew down to a nearby planet for safety. Kirk notes there’s no planet there, and Decker elaborates that a massive weapon devoured the planet; it was the reason he beamed them there in the first place as it had been targeting the Constellation. Decker is taken to the Enterprise for medical examination while Kirk, Scotty, and a few other crew attempt to get the Constellation operational. However, the doomsday machine returns and goes after Kirk’s ship. Decker assumes command of the Enterprise and goes about an insane, Captain Ahab-like mission of revenge to try and destroy this enormous weapon. 

Much of the tactical combat here would be expanded upon in The Wrath of Khan, which makes this such a satisfying entry into the series. I chose to watch the original versions, not the modern digitally enhanced episodes, and I am glad I did. The special effects are still very impressive, and the long, cylindrical planet eater is a terrifying foe despite its simple design. The scale of it in comparison to the Starfleet ships and its relentlessness makes for some frightening moments. Of course, we know Kirk, Spock, and everyone will make it out alive, but that doesn’t lessen the dramatic impact.

William Windom kills it as Decker, probably the show’s best guest star ever. His emotions are big but not hammy. His distress over watching every crew member be mass murdered has genuine pathos. The tension when he takes control, with McCoy speaking out and Spock forced to submit to Starfleet regulations, are so good. I can imagine fans shouting at their television screens when this originally aired, watching the Enterprise and its crew be endangered by this madman. The show is also making commentary on nuclear annihilation without being hamfisted. The weapon is posited to have been invented by some ancient alien race outside the galaxy who were likely destroyed by it; one of the pressing fears of the Cold War era was that we would escalate the construction of nuclear arms until something horrible happened.

Journey to Babel (S02E10)
Original air date: November 17, 1967
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Another focus on Spock introduces us to his father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), and his mother, Amanda (Jane Wyatt). As someone who came along when Star Trek and its lore were well-established, I assumed Sarek was a recurring character, only to discover this was his only appearance in the original series. My first encounter with Sarek was in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, so it was interesting to go back and see his introduction in the series. The show couldn’t have picked a better actor to act as a foil to Nimoy’s Spock. Lenard perfectly captures the Vulcan stoicism that Nimoy had developed for the species. 

The episode is a murder mystery set-up when a member of an alien species onboard who is transported to a Federation conference is found dead after a heated confrontation with Sarek. The Vulcan ambassador is the prime suspect. There’s also a medical emergency subplot happening simultaneously where Sarek needs a blood transfusion, and well, his estranged son Spock is the only Vulcan available. Spock ends up in a tug of war, having to assume command when Kirk is injured by one of the alien dignitaries involved in the murder conspiracy. 

I honestly think the murder mystery angle could have been cut, and this could have been more about the medical emergency. Having both in the episode makes it feel packed and confused about what type of story we are telling here. This episode was conceived and written by D.C. Fontana, the story editor for the series and one of only a tiny number of female writers to have worked on the show. She would often rewrite entire episodes but not get credit for it due to Writers Guild rules. Fontana is one of the unsung architects of the franchise and is right up there with Rodenberry in creating what we now know as Star Trek.

The Trouble With Tribbles (S02E15)
Original air date: December 29, 1967
Written by David Gerrold
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Not the most incredible episode of Star Trek but an enjoyable, light-hearted one. The Enterprise is summoned to Deep Space Station K7 to help guard the transport of a shipment of grain to be delivered at a burgeoning colony. Kirk is annoyed at the “small job,” but grants his crew shore leave as the details are worked out. Unfortunately, a Klingon ship is also on shore leave here, leading to some tense moments between the rival crews. Uhura is gifted a cute furball as a pet, called a tribble, by its own Cyrano Jones. Jones is attempting to sell the creature to a bartender on the station as a novelty he can get customers to purchase. The Klingons and humans eventually clash while the tribbles are more reproductive than your average rabbit and spread everywhere. However, this turns out to be serendipitous as it helps reveal a secret about the colony’s grain. 

We get many fun moments here, including Scotty’s barroom brawl with Klingons. It’s a great sequence that leads to an amusing exchange between the engineer and Kirk. Like Mirror, Mirror, this is another excellent supporting cast showcase. Uhura, Chekov, and Scotty get great scenes, and episodes like this caused fans to find favorites outside the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triad. The actors have great chemistry and give an authentic feeling that they are a crew of people who have been serving together for years.

There aren’t many funny Star Trek episodes, and I don’t count them among my favorites, but I had fun revisiting this one. The character actor William Schallert is one performer from this episode that rarely gets mentioned. He showed up everywhere, mostly known for his work on The Patty Duke Show. Here he plays Nilz Baris, the stuffy bureaucrat that demands a lot from Kirk against the captain’s wishes. Aside from the Klingons, he’s the story’s main antagonist, and it is very entertaining to see him get his comeuppance in the finale. 


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