Trek Review: “Operation: Annihilate!”

So, it’s come to this.  Our favorite crew against these plastic-looking blobs on the planet Deneva that afflict pain and mind control against their victims.  In a nutshell, that sums up the episode “Operation: Annihilate!”

In this episode, we finally get to meet some unfortunate victims of Captain Kirk’s family.  His brother Sam (played by Shatner with a moustache) is DOA in this plot.  Aurelan, his sister-in-law, and Peter, his nephew.  Aurelan dies in a very memorable scene in sickbay.  Peter never really comes out of it, at least in the footage that made the cut.  There was a scene filmed, intended to be at the very end of the episode, in which Peter appears on the bridge and tells his Uncle that he is staying behind on Deneva.

Scene with Peter Kirk that was cut from the episode

Let’s take a moment to talk about the creatures themselves.  Take a look at this image:

“It doesn’t even look real!” You said it, Yeoman!

I know the show was on a tight budget, but could they have made the parasites a little more believable?  It doesn’t take away from the potential of the story line for me if they are 100% realistic or not.  The viewer has to suspend their disbelief to the max on this aspect of the story.  I feel that someone who doesn’t know what they’re watching could flip over to this and instantly think the show is hokey because of these rather fake looking parasites.

What saves this episode for me is the excellent performance, as always, from Leonard Nimoy.  Spock has to go through a lot here to find the solution of how to cure the Denevans of this affliction.  Isn’t it convenient that he has the forgotten inner eyelid?  Those Vulcans, saving the day in unexpected ways!

So, that ends the first season of Star Trek.  I will be writing a post in the next few days of my impressions of the season as a whole.  Of course, the regular weekly reviews will resume on September 15th with “Amok Time.”

Home Cinema Experience

Recently we got tired of the arrangement of our living room.  I felt that the speakers were not configured properly to totally enjoy watching a movie in 5.1 surround sound at home.  So, we reconfigured our living room and arranged the speakers in a more favorable configuration.  It sounded pretty good.  It needs to be said here that we don’t actually have the .1 part.  You see, we never bought a subwoofer.  That got me to thinking, “Gee, I should really do something about that!”

Well, we are going to get one.  But then another problem came up.  Newer Blu-ray movies are in sound formats that our receiver can’t decode.  The standard formats are Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.  Even newer than that are Dolby Atmos and DTS-X, which are more directional sound formats than traditional surround sound.  A favorite YouTube channel of mine, TechMoan, has a great video where he installed some Dolby Atmos speakers in his living room, and explains Dolby Atmos as well, you can watch that at this link.

What spurred this thinking on was when I was watching one of my favorite movies recently, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  Greg noticed that the  Blu-ray had both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.  While we could decode the Dolby sound, when we tried to use the DTS track, it just came back in 2 channels instead of 6.  Our receiver is a 10-year old model.  Here’s a photo in case you’re curious:

That’s a Sony STR DG-810.  It’s actually capable of 6.1 channels, you could add a surround back speaker to the mix.  It’s a good unit, we got it from someone here in Knoxville via Craigslist for only $75, at a time when a very old RCA receiver we had started emitting very bad ground loop noise.  In a very strapped budget mode, it was a good buy at that time.

Now, however, we have a more flexible budget to play with.  After looking around at various websites, we decided to go with the Onkyo TX-NR555.  This amp is a beast, at least as far as we’re concerned.  It’s capable of 7.2 channels, 80W of power per channel, for up to 980W.  Here is a photo of the new receiver in its home:

Let me tell you, this receiver is sweet.  It takes a complicated setup of several devices in our home theater and lets us run it through one unit.  It eliminated a whole bunch of cables from our wiring.  That is a major fringe benefit.  It’s very convenient to be able to do that.  Watching CE3K with the true DTS-HD Master Audio is like night and day.  Particularly when you hear alien ship flybys.  The whooshes in surround sound make it very real, like you are really there.

I am very happy with this purchase.  It was about time that we upgraded!

Maybe someday, the price of 4K will come down enough to where we might consider that purchase.  Probably not for several years, at least.

 

Trek Review: “The City on the Edge of Forever”

It goes without saying that “The City on the Edge of Forever” is and always has been my favorite Star Trek episode.  There has never been any question of that.  But what makes it so great?  My review this week will attempt to explain why *I* think so.

The story is and of itself a great premise.  I say this of the finished episode.  There has been lots of articles and books written about the writing process of this episode.  In case you don’t know, the story idea was being worked on way back before the first season actually began filming.   The story was written, and rewritten, and rewritten again before we ended up with was was telecast 50 years ago on April 6th, 1967.

I must say, it was a true classic on the first viewing.  It remains a classic today for me and many others for one simple reason: it is deep.  The characters are so good in this story.  Kirk in love where he shouldn’t be.  Spock being the voice of reason he always is.  McCoy is the “random element” (as Spock puts it at one point), and Edith Keeler, played by the always dynamic Joan Collins, is a wonderful, fascinating, dynamic character. She is one of the best characters in any Trek episode.

The Guardian of Forever is a character in this too.  This mysterious portal of a long dead civilization that is the catalyst for the problem in this story is so fascinating.  I wish they would have found a way to do another story or two with the Guardian being possibly utilized in a more planned fashion that what happened here.   I know there is an episode of the animated series (“Yesteryear”) and several Trek novels that have explored the possibilities of the Guardian.  Honestly, I never read many Trek novels, although I do own a copy of the novel Imzadi” where the Guardian is used by Riker to travel back in time.

The climax of this episode is so riveting.  I have never watched this episode and have ever felt anything but tense and shocked by the decision that Kirk had to make to restore history to what it should be.  Just watch this clip.

I don’t know if I could have done what Kirk did given that situation.  It’s tough to make a personal sacrifice like that, even when the stakes of Earth’s future is on the line.  William Shatner plays the scene with all of his great talent.

I just can’t say enough good things about how much I have always enjoyed this episode.  It honestly has always deserved the recognition that it has gotten as one of the best episodes of any version of Star Trek there has ever been, before or since.

Next week, the season finale!  Blobs take over people’s minds, and well, Spock almost goes nuts!

Trek Review: “The Alternative Factor”

Where in the world do I begin to analyze this very confusing mess of an episode?

Any attempt by me to try and describe the plot here would probably confuse you even more and might melt your brain.  Suffice it to say that I don’t think anyone could do any better or worse.  If you are curious, just read the entry at Memory Alpha (the Star Trek wiki.)

This show was very troubled at every stage of production.  One of the great blogs out there that I love to read is Star Trek Fact Check by Michael Kmet.  He has done a whole series of articles looking through production documents trying to make some sense of what was going on behind the scenes in the production of this episode.  His blog was started to try and clear up misinformation printed in other books, but on top of that there is lots of great information about what was going on during the development of this disastrous episode.  Here is a link to Part 1 of his look at the production.  He will be writing more on the topic in the future.

It’s well documented that John Drew Barrymore had agreed to guest star in this episode and play Lazarus, only to not show up for work.  Desilu complained to the Screen Actors Guild and he got suspended for 6 months as a result.  Robert Brown had to step in on practically no notice and play this role.  He tried, but I don’t think any actor could have salvaged what was already a watered down, confusing script.

Let’s examine some of the many story points that I have problems with here:

The propensity for Lazarus to continue to fall off of cliffs and ledges is just flooring.  He does this multiple times throughout the episode.

I can understand it happening the first time, but *two* times?  Even the most inexperienced starship Captain would not let him go near a rock formation after the first time.  Maybe Kirk just hated Lazarus.  The galaxy may never know.

The cheapened Engineering set.  A set was already built, why did they go to this crappy setup?

I mean, it’s nothing but a small room with various consoles we’ve seen in previous episodes.  Granted, it was described in earlier drafts as the “Energizing Lab.”  Couldn’t they just have called it the “Dilithium Chamber Room” or something more conducive to it *not* being Engineering?  Another blemishing script detail that was overlooked.

Speaking of which, in that photo, is Lieutenant Masters, played by Janet MacLachlan.  She does as good as she can do here, but her role was to be so much bigger than it actually ended up being.  I refer to of course the fact that Masters and Lazarus #1 (the bad one) was supposed to have some sort of romantic relationship.  As the Fact Check article mentions, “Space Seed” also had a female crew member in love with the antagonist.  One of the stories had to be changed.   As a matter of fact, Stan Robertson, the NBC Standards and Practices representative assigned to Star Trek, suggested that Masters be a civilian instead of a crew member in order to make the plot in this episode make more sense.  That suggestion fell on deaf ears apparently, Gene Coon removed this aspect of the story.  I felt that if Robertson’s idea had been utilized, it might have made the story stronger and more coherent to me.

I get the story.  I get what it was aiming for.  Two beings in parallel universes.  The bad one, the negative one, trying to destroy the positive one and bring down two universes in the process.  Matter and anti-matter.  Like I said, it’s not that I don’t get the story idea at all.  It’s just that the execution of this is very, very sloppy, awful, painful, downright…. I think I’ve ran out of adjectives to describe the debauchery that is going on here.

I don’t think there is an actual soul out there that even likes this episode.  Is it the worst episode of the entire series?  I’m going to go out on a limb and say it very well could be.  If “Spock’s Brain” didn’t exist, I am sure that a lot of people would think that this would be the worst.  If you were to say this was the worst episode of the first season, then you would not be debated for an instant.

Fortunately, next week, we go from what could be the worst, to my absolute favorite episode of the entire Original Series:

Trek Review: “Errand of Mercy”

When this episode first aired, nobody had any idea that the Klingons would become such a formidable race in the Star Trek universe.  I certainly don’t think Gene Coon (the writer of this episode) would have thought that either.

I have always wondered exactly what Coon was drawing on in current events to craft this story of Kirk and Spock trying to win over the pacifist Organians from the militaristic Klingons.  Was he referring to the Vietnam war?  Maybe the Cold War?  It’s probably more an amalgamation of several conflicts.  Suffice it to say that war in any form is certainly not desired, but it happens.  Star Trek was sure at its preachiest in this episode, but that is definitely what the series has come to be known for over the years.  (This will be even more evident in the next season during “A Private Little War.”)

The ending on the other hand, is 100% pure Trek.  Just when you thought there was no turning back, these pacifists are much higher on the evolutionary scale than a mere mortal man.  Their power effectively ended the war before it really began.  Their influence even negotiated a peace treaty!

The 1967 audience would no doubt have thought that we would be seeing the Klingons again at some point in the future.  I admire the acting of John Colicos as Kor, he made a very formidable, very scintillating enemy for Barona…. er, Captain Kirk.

Unfortunately, we have to go from a great tale such as this, to a tale that is so broken, so painful to watch, so…. you get the drift.

Come back for a long rant next week about this:

Aww Man, My Show’s Not On!?

Back before there were a gazillion TV channels, I’m sure you remember the scenario of sitting down to watch your favorite program and being greeted with an announcement like this:

You probably reacted with some form of sadness and despair: “Aww man, my show’s not on!? What am I going to watch now?”  Then you start flipping channels to find out what you would watch.  50 years ago tonight, Star Trek was preempted for the second time in the first season, the program replacing it was highlights of the 1967 show of the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus.  As you have probably heard, that circus is shutting down this year after 146 years in operation.  Here is an ad for the airing of that show on WNBC in New York:

The interesting thing is that, while the Thursday 8:30-9:30pm time period was preempted by WATE for the Rawhide repeats, the powers that be decided not to do that and instead air this program!  Guess they like lions and tigers and bears but not Vulcans! (Oh my!)

The 3/16/1967 TV Schedule

Now, I never really was a circus fan, so I probably would have flipped over to another network and watched something else.

In case you were curious what those programs were:

CBS

8:30pm –  My Three Sons – “Charley O’ The Seven Seas” (not seen in Knoxville on WBIR – instead it would be the final 30 minutes of Theater 10 – “The Gift of Love”)
9:00pm –  Beginning of the CBS Thursday Night Movie – “Major Dundee”

ABC

8:30pm – Bewitched – “The Crone of Cawdor”
9:00pm – That Girl – “The Honeymoon Apartment”

If I were somewhere else, I probably would go with My Three Sons. If I had to choose in Knoxville, it would be “Bewitched.”

By the way, have I ever told you how much I used to love that CBS Special Presentation intro of yesteryear?

I know I’m not the only one that loved that intro!

Trek Review: “The Devil in the Dark”

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoy this episode.  “The Devil in the Dark” has always been in my top 5 for the entire series.  It possesses all of the elements that make a great episode.

I won’t go into plot details here because that would make this post longer than it should be.

What makes this episode stand out is the acting of Leonard Nimoy when he is mind-melding with the Horta.  To give you a small taste, watch this clip:

“PAAAAINNNN!!!” is what I will always remember.  As many fans know, William Shatner’s father died during the production of this episode, and it’s a long told anecdote of his that when he got back to the set and Nimoy did that bit for him, he said “Somebody get that Vulcan an Aspirin!”  Who knows if that is true or not, but it’s hilarious camaraderie on the set.

The moral questions raised by this episode are great ones.  When it is finally revealed that the miners have inadvertently been killing the Horta’s children, everyone takes the right course of realizing what had gone wrong and are truly sorry.  I always appreciated how everyone, while feeling they had to kill the creature to get the mining facility back up and running, that when they find out you have the last of a kind creature instead… you take a different spin.  The crew realizes that such creature had cause for what was going on.

Eventually, coexistence wins out.  That allegory still could teach everyone in this modern world, 50 years later.  A lot of people could learn from the other and coexist together.  At the danger of sounding political, that lesson is still very, very relevant today.

All in all, this is a top tier story of any Star Trek series.

No show next week, as Star Trek was preempted for an NBC special, so we’ll see you back in two weeks for the introduction of some people you might recognize!

Trek Review: “This Side of Paradise”

If you’ve ever wanted to see an episode of Star Trek where Spock comes out of his shell a bit.   You know, let the human half of him hang out…… that sounded gross, didn’t it….

Sorry.

Anyway, thanks to some spores on a planet where nobody is supposed to be alive, all of a sudden, Spock is bouncy and in love!

A truly great episode, “This Side of Paradise” is an examination of a world where the colonists should be dead, but thanks to the effect of some inconspicuous spores, they are alive!

I have always been truly fascinated by the character of Leila Kalomi (played so wonderfully by Jill Ireland.)  I would love to have more on the backstory of when she was interacting with Spock before their meeting here.  That would be an interesting love story to see unfold.  As it turns out here, Spock just simply cannot love her because of the way he is.

I loved the scene in the final act where Spock beams Lelia up and she realizes that he is no longer under the influence of the spores.  Just watch:

Both Leonard Nimoy and Jill Ireland are just so great in this scene.  It is one of the best scenes in the entire first season, and the tracked music from “Shore Leave” really is well used here.

The one problem I have with the plot of this episode is how the spores just all of a sudden take over the whole crew of the Enterprise.  I mean, couldn’t someone just stop it?  Surely there are enough knowledgeable people on board to not let the situation get out of control.  So much as to the whole crew beaming down to the planet against their will and putting Kirk in the highly dramatic situation of being marooned on his ship!

Don’t get me wrong, I like any excuse to see Shatner ham it up to the extreme as much as the next guy, but come on!  The whole crew?  I hear you out there again… “suspend your disbelief!!!”

But the solution is rather ingenious.  Sonic vibrations to drive the effect of the spores out.  Quite clever.

That’s it for this week… coming up next week, one of the top 10 episodes of the whole series!

When “Gunsmoke” Almost Bit the Dust

The saga of network television and the people that make the programming decisions can be a perilous one at times.  Particularly when you decide to put a long running show out to pasture.  “Gunsmoke” starring James Arness was a tried and true success on CBS, first on radio (from 1952-1961) and then on television starting in 1955.  In those 12 seasons, the western enjoyed great success and was really popular among viewers.  But then, the bean counters at CBS looked at the ratings, and made a rather surprising decision:  to cancel the show!  Look at this article from February 1967 in The New York Times.

You will note that “Gilligan’s Island” got renewed at this point.  Here is where the story gets interesting.  CBS reconsidered that move, and in March they reversed that decision.  A network changing their minds was not very common.  Once a decision was made, that was it.  However, since the beginnign of TV that hasn’t been a concrete rule.  In this article on TV Obscurities, several campaigns saved shows before, but they were few and far between.  As a matter of fact, another one was going on at the exact same time.  NBC was mulling over the fate of “Star Trek” as well, but thanks to viewers inundating the network with a deluge of fan mail, that show was renewed.  Much the case here as well.

In addition to that, a Kansas broadcast owner, Thad Sandstrom, harnessed the energy of fan backlash in that state (which is where the mythical Dodge City of Gunsmoke is), that the House of Representatives even urged CBS to think again about what they did.  Read all about this strange development in this March 20th, 1967 article in Broadcasting magazine.

But wait! It gets even better!  Sherwood Schwartz, creator of “Gilligan’s Island”, has told a slightly different tale about how the “Gunsmoke” was renewed.  The following clip is taken from the E! True Hollywood Story of “Gilligan’s Island,” produced in 2000.

I find it amazing that nobody working on the fall schedule had any idea what the President of the network they were working for actually in fact liked!  That to me is NEED TO KNOW information!  I definitely, wholeheartedly, 100% would not want to have been on the receiving end of what happened when he got back from his vacation.

To add one more piece of perspective on this, a few days later, Milburn Stone, who played Doc on “Gunsmoke,” talked about what it was like when the show wrapped filming of its 12th season.  Then a very low key “wrap party” happened.  I couldn’t imagine being in that precarious scenario of suddenly having to admit it was all over so suddenly.

In summary, it is so amazing to me that this situation even happened in the first place.  It would have been just another footnote in history that “Gilligan’s Island” ended its run after three seasons, than to be renewed then be cancelled in spectacular fashion.  At least that’s what I call it anyway.

Addendum to Yesterday’s Review: General Order 24

I failed to mention one thing in last night’s Trek Review of “A Taste of Armageddon.”  Kirk’s move to call for General Order 24 towards the end of the episode.

If you will recall, General Order 24 is described as such according to Memory-Alpha.org:

General Order 24: An order to destroy all life on an entire planet.

Now, was Kirk bluffing, was he making up regulations?   Remember what he did in “The Corbomite Maneuver,”  in his great bluff of Balok to not destroy the ship.  I don’t think he was bluffing here.  While Kirk doesn’t have to go through with it here, the notion of it does come up again in the Third Season episode “Whom Gods Destroy.”  Captain Garth doesn’t go through with it then, either, but still… the notion of this order is frightening!

I don’t think Kirk ever wanted to go through with it, but given the situation of being held hostage by Anan Seven and the high council of Eminiar VII, he had no choice but to do his duty.  If I were in the same scenario, I would probably be a bit hesitant to do it, but ultimately I would do it too.

Does that make me a bad person?  Depends on your point of view, doesn’t it?