The Enterprise Incident (S03E02)
Original air date: September 27, 1968
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas
The paradox of making good television: You need to make the episodes as high quality to attract viewers, but you have to make sure you can cut costs at the drop of a hat when the studio executives demand it, but if you lose viewers as a result, you will need to make more cuts as advertisers go, but if you can’t do that your show gets moved around the schedule which means you lose more viewers because they cannot find you. This curse plagued Star Trek going into its third season, relegated to the “death slot” of 10 pm Eastern on Fridays. As a result, Season Three has fewer great episodes than Season Two, and even this season’s strongest episodes don’t match up. However, there are some worth watching.
Captain Kirk orders the Enterprise to illegally cross into Romulan Space without giving a good reason. The crew complies, and the ship is intercepted by Romulans. The Romulans demand Kirk is surrendered to them, and Spock & McCoy go onboard the Romulan warbird with him. The female Romulan commander (she never gets a name) has Kirk tossed in the brig and goes about attempting to seduce Spock. She argues that Starfleet cannot appreciate the complexity and talent of a Vulcan mind and that he would be far more appreciated in the Romulan Empire. When questioned about Kirk’s decision to breach the border, Spock concludes that the captain was mentally unfit. Kirk lunges at Spock, who catches the man in the “Vulcan death grip,” which McCoy confirms has killed the captain. Where have we seen this before?
In terms of great Star Trek episodes, this one is near the bottom of that list, but what redeems it is the performances of Leonard Nimoy and Joanne Linville (as the Romulan commander). Linville was a student of the Stella Adler school in the 1950s, which was revolutionizing their own approach to acting. Linville would spend a large portion of her life as a teacher of this method and writing a book on the techniques. Mark Ruffalo was one of her students in the 1980s and has said that Linville “is Acting,” The nature of this episode is of a very steamy (for 1960s network television) romance novel and paired with Spock’s status as an unexpected sex symbol I can see why fans hold this one in high regard. The Kirk fake death plot feels a bit worn now, though.
Spectre of the Gun (S03E06)
Original air date: October 25, 1968
Written by Lee Cronin
Directed by Vincent McEveety
The Enterprise has been ordered to contact the elusive Meltokians, but as they get closer to their homeworld, they are warned by a probe to stay away. The warnings come telepathically, meaning crew members hear them in their native languages, something typically overridden by the internal universal translator implants. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov beam down to the planet, where a Meltokian emissary declares they have been sentenced to death for trespassing. The quintet finds themselves in an abstract landscape resembling an American Old West town. Their phasers have been turned into six-shooters, and all contact with the Enterprise is cut off.
Exploring the town, the men discover they are in Tombstone, Arizona, days before the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral. Even worse, every townsperson they meet sees them as the men who will go up against the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. Kirk begins to think about how they can subvert how this piece of history played out and realizes it is possible when Chekov is shot and killed after getting close to one of the Earps’ favorite barmaids. Kirk also begins to see ways this false reality doesn’t follow all the rules of the actual reality and begins to exploit them.
The crux of this episode centers on the Meltokians’ conception of humans based on their knowledge of the violent history behind the species. Kirk can save himself and his fellow crew members by refusing to deal with lethality and trying to subdue his enemies instead. I have always enjoyed these more hopeful stories about future humans where they comment on our own times by speaking to how the species grew and see past the need to kill anyone that stood in opposition. We’re nowhere close to that being a reality, but it is a nice thing to imagine will be possible one day.
The Tholian Web (S03E09)
Original air date: November 15, 1968
Written by Judy Burns & Chet Richards
Directed by Herb Wallerstein and Ralph Senensky (uncredited)
While exploring an uncharted region of space, the Enterprise searches for the USS Defiant, which went missing somewhere nearby. They find the vessel adrift, and an away team discovers the crew all dead, apparently having turned on each other. They also detect that the Defiant is phasing itself in and out of the universe, hindering transporter functions. Kirk orders his crew to beam back to the Enterprise, leaving himself the last to go. As Scotty locks onto Kirk, the captain and the Defiant vanish. Spock figures out that this anomaly results from two dimensions interfacing with each other and that Kirk will reappear given time. Unfortunately, the crew of the Enterprise begins to become more irritable and aggressive with each other due to this space-time rift.
As the Enterprise waits, they are approached by a Tholian ship and told that this species holds this region as their territory. Spock can convince the Tholians to wait and see after he relays the situation, but Kirk and Defiant fail to reappear when the Vulcan predicted. Spock concludes the Tholian presence disrupted the anomaly. A second Tholian ship arrives, and the two begin weaving an energy web around the Enterprise, prohibiting its retreat. Of course, we know Kirk will be saved, and the anger virus will be overcome.
I don’t know why people often list this as one of the best episodes because I didn’t find that it did anything exceptional compared to any other original series episode. The Tholians aren’t that interesting of an adversary, and the scenario felt very generic. On the other hand, the production quality is high as the series had become a fine-tuned machine, so nothing about the episode looks terrible. I didn’t find myself all that intrigued with the story.
All Our Yesterdays (S03E23)
Original air date: March 14, 1969
Written by Jean Lisette Aroeste
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
The penultimate episode of Star Trek, All Our Yesterdays, would air at the end of March 1969. The next new episode of Trek, and the final one, wouldn’t be aired until early June. For many viewers, this would serve as a finale. It would also spawn a bizarre-sounding novel series that partially filled the gap between the original series and the 1979 movie. The Enterprise arrives at Sarpeidon, a planet whose sun is about to go nova. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down and find only one resident, a librarian named Mr. Atoz. Atoz shows them the Atavachron, a device constructed to help his people evacuate not through space but through time. The people of Sarpeidon are now dispersed across their planet’s history, living incognito. A woman’s scream on the other side of the device causes Kirk to run through, followed moments later by his officers.
Kirk finds he is in a period resembling Earth’s 17th-century England. McCoy and Spock, however, end up in the equivalent of Earth’s ice age. Kirk gets accused of being a witch and has to argue his way out of that situation. Meanwhile, McCoy and Spock meet Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley). Spock begins displaying an uncharacteristic level of emotions, and McCoy realizes that moving through time has devolved the Vulcan to a pre-stoic era of his species. Nevertheless, Spock can maintain his composure despite having intense feelings for Zarabeth. Eventually, everyone makes it back and leaves the planet before the nova.
In 1983, Yesterday’s Son by A.C. Crispin was published. It was the only Trek book outside movie novelizations to have made the New York Times best-seller list and was a direct sequel to this episode. Archaeological ruins from Sarpeidon reveal the presence of a being that resembled a Vulcan in the planet’s ancient past. Spock admits he had sex with Zarabeth, and this is likely his own son. Spock and Kirk use the Guardian of Forever to go back with the idea of rescuing her and Spock’s child. However, they overshoot slightly and find Zarabeth long dead and Zar, the son of Spock, at age twenty-eight. The book apparently has Zar exploring the future but deciding to return to the past with a sequel novel that came out in 1988. Reviews of the book point to it being a reasonably campy premise but a lot of fun to read.
And so we end our time with Kirk, Spock, and the others. I really enjoyed watching and rewatching these episodes. I definitely think “City on the Edge of Forever,” “Amok Time,” and “The Doomsday Machine” are my three favorites. They each showcase an aspect of Star Trek that drew me to it as a kid. I also walked away, realizing just how damn cool Spock was, so the fervor around him that continued for decades makes complete sense. You could do Star Trek without Kirk, but I can’t imagine the show without Spock.