Star Trek (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Review refers to the first two seasons and scattered later episodes.

Categorization

Episodic science fiction with minimal science content.

Subject

According to the eighth feature film in the franchise (First Contact, 1996), there was a devastating war on Earth around 2053. Ten years later, the first human travelling faster than light was detected by a friendly intelligent species. This inspired all of humankind to end “poverty, disease, war” over the next 50 years. A couple of centuries later, humankind is united under some vague archist/US-libertarian utopian democracy, living mostly in a post-scarcity economy and interacting with huge numbers of other sapient races, the majority of these apparently being humanoid.

In this first iteration of the franchise, that back story is not prominent. There is little consistency in things like stellar cartography, “stardate” chronology or uniform colour, but there are references to a future history starting in the 1990s.

Commentary

On the whole, this particular series has aged into a decent flavour of kitsch. There is a better reason to watch it though: The grain of truth in the myth that Roddenberry benevolently tried to improve the standing of the genre while promoting gender equality and ethnic diversity in a clever and reasonably effective way. From the start, the series had Uhura, an intelligent black woman working as a hero on American television in 1966. Her role was reduced due to racist viewer complaints. The second-season opener added a Russian. The third season had a somewhat early interracial kiss.

Superficially, Captain Markary’s log entry in Planet of the Vampires (1965) prefigures Kirk. On a much deeper level, there are traces of Way Station (1963): Teleportation enabling cosmopolitan understanding, fear of the looming Cold War. The ideological foundation is otherwise insipid: In this utopia, the “best” people want to join the navy and live like soldiers. There is a bit of Heinlein in that. It is essentially Thorby’s ambition in Citizen of the Galaxy (1957). Thorby’s Hegemonic Guard is vaguely similar to Starfleet. While the Federation is bright compared to horror-imbalanced 1950s SF, there is no shortage of monsters, oppression or physical violence. Fistfights in particular are weirdly common.

Each episode of the series strives to be unsustainably self-contained so that the franchise can continue to appeal to casual viewers and kids. This results in a small fraction of interesting thought experiments and a lot of duds.

It was 9 years after Twin Peaks (1990) that Star Trek TV finally broke the chains of status quo ante in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1999). The chains are ugly. The ontology is messy. For instance, teleporters as explained later annihilate matter in one place and perfectly replicate the object elsewhere, in a world where FTL is easy. What passes for science here is a plastic backdrop for poorly scripted anthropomorph drama and fuzzy thinking. In a since disregarded episode of Star Trek: Voyager (1995) for instance, the main ship went so fast that it was everywhere in the universe at once and the crew evolved into lizards. The original series isn’t smarter.

References here: Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979), Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Hidden (1987), Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1988), Trekkies (1997), Battlestar Galactica (2004), The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010), Iron Sky (2012), Pacific Rim (2013), Ex Machina (2014).

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Episode:

“The Man Trap” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Most notable for the alien plant played by a human actor’s hand.

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Episode:

“Charlie X” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

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Episode:

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” (1966) IMDb

Commentary

Rewatching this in 2017 I found that my strongest memories of it from childhood were the ebook reader and the matt-painted terrain. Just three regular episodes into the series, the instrument panels are already inexplicably catching fire.

References here: “2036: Nexus Dawn” (2017).

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Episode:

“The Naked Time” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

This is where the formula comes together. The Cartesian reason-emotion dichotomy is painfully foregrounded, there is thankfully no villain or monster, Scotty “cannae change the laws of physics” but it’s fine to bet everything on a never-before-attempted cold matter-anti-matter fusion technology, with the side effect that time travel is discovered and filed away for a future use forbidden by the episodic nature of the series. It’s fine kitsch. This is also Spock’s first Vulcan sleep touch or “nerve pinch”, invented by Nimoy, who is also starting to associate his real-world Jewish heritage with the character’s Vulcan heritage.

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Episode:

“The Enemy Within” (1966) IMDb

Creators

Richard Matheson (writer).

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

The first “He’s dead, Jim” and a Mathesonian teleporter malfunction ominously in line with the idea that the teleporter is copying and destroying matter, not moving it. This malfunction is tied both to the emotion-reason false dichotomy and a moral false dichotomy: remarkably thoughtless writing. The small dog playing an extraterrestrial creature adds levity.

References here: “Mirror, Mirror” (1967).

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Episode:

“Mudd’s Women” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

TOS had a decent track record on sexism for its time, but it is far from clean. Throughout the show there are constant “sexy” audio cues, gender-biased soft-focus close-ups and other authorial attempts to objectify women. There it not a whole lot else going on here.

References here: “I, Mudd” (1967).

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Episode:

“What Are Little Girls Made Of?” (1966) IMDb

Creators

Robert Bloch (writer).

Extent

Seen in 2018.

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Episode:

“Miri” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

A bad case of writing for the backlot. The idea of a planet almost exactly like 1960s Earth is dropped on the floor: No hypotheses, no tests, no conclusions, no follow-up, not science fiction.

References here: “A Piece of the Action” (1968), “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968).

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Episode:

“Dagger of the Mind” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A techno-pessimist look at the rehabilitation of criminals.

Commentary

The first Vulcan mind meld. The idea of a planet effectively devoted to a lunatic asylum seems utterly anachronistic for 1966. The blank slate theory of mental development was less dated at the time.

References here: “Whom Gods Destroy” (1969).

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Episode:

“The Corbomite Maneuver” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

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Episode:

“The Menagerie: Part I” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

Given the plot as revealed in part 2, the kidnapping and hijacking don’t make sense. It is a weak cliffhanger conceit. I find poor Pike’s wheelchair an amusing bit of kitsch: It is vastly less capable than Stephen Hawking’s chair, so much less so that it can only be explained as a necessity for the plot to hold.

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Episode:

“The Menagerie: Part II” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

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Episode:

“The Conscience of the King” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

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Episode:

“Balance of Terror” (1966) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

The Milky Way is approximately 10000 light years thick. A two-dimensional DMZ in it does not work.

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Episode:

“Shore Leave” (1966) IMDb

Creators

Theodore Sturgeon (writer).

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

It starts out as a campy supernatural sitcom and ends up in far more bizarre territory. The human chauvinism of the show goes so far here that the entire crew of the Enterprise uses a pleasure planet designed for some unknown species identical to humanity, with no apparent cost or drawbacks. They take advantage of various sex kittens and other artificial people manufactured by this planet without ever considering how complicated those people might be or how they might feel about being destroyed when the crew leaves. Even McCoy’s death in this episode is simply undone. It doesn’t turn out to be faked; it’s actually undone. Conclusion: Take what you can, do not look beneath the surface, lives don’t matter in Star Trek.

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Episode:

“The Galileo Seven” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

Spock’s breakdown, flawed in its foundations, leads only to sitcom laugh-track shenanigans. Painful. The imperious commissioner won’t ever leave the bridge, making him representative of the negative portrayal of all authority figures above Kirk.

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Episode:

“The Squire of Gothos” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

References here: “Who Mourns for Adonais?” (1967).

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Episode:

“Arena” (1967) IMDb

Commentary

Iconically shitty writing and special effects.

References here: Starship Troopers (1997).

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Episode:

“Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Completely at random, the Enterprise is thrown back to Earth around the time the show was shot—what are the odds–and is observed as a UFO, which the writer thinks is a synonym for “extraterrestrial craft”.

Commentary

Inane. Christopher’s interceptor has nuclear-tipped air-to-air missiles for some reason; I can’t tell whether it’s supposed to be the really late 1960s, or an alternate reality, or whether the writer simply did not care about anything. The final restoration is bullshit.

References here: “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967), “Assignment: Earth” (1968).

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Episode:

“Court Martial” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

The gloves come off. Here it’s simply stated outright that Kirk is no ordinary human being. Apparently he’s a man of destiny like Hitler or Lawrence of Arabia (1962) but you know, good or something. That is some offhanded contempt for ordinary human beings like Gene Roddenberry.

References here: “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967), “Obsession” (1967).

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Episode:

“The Return of the Archons” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

Another one that could easily have been very good. In fact, any kind of wardrobe budget would have been very helpful here. This is both the first time the “prime directive” is mentioned and the first time its usefully vague concept of “living and growing” is contrasted against AI. The conclusion is technophobic: Since the machine can see that it has failed, after 6000 years of running a stable civilization, it must also be possible for the machine to correct itself, but it does not. Kirk, by author fiat, is smarter than this machine. By author fiat, it simply destroys itself.

As in Eric Greene’s interpretation, this all seems to be a metaphor for the Vietnam War. The entire society with its massive sexual violence, its lifeless thought police, its weird communal sentiments touching Sulu, and its computer cult, is a hypertechnological caricature of communism. It has not aged well.

References here: “The Changeling” (1967), “The Apple” (1967).

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Episode:

“Space Seed” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Khan.

Commentary

Montalban is fun here but the big point of interest is how the heroes of the show all admire the psychopathic tyrant and give him massive leeway. The writers seem to do this with a wink and a nod, but it’s still great-man-theory bullshit.

References here: “Whom Gods Destroy” (1969), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).

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Episode:

“A Taste of Armageddon” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

I see this as a comment both on the Pentagon’s obsession with body count in Vietnam (because they couldn’t hold territory) and on the mental disconnect that still existed between US daily life and the war, roughly until the mass protests in ‘68. It doesn’t come off the ground.

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Episode:

“This Side of Paradise” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

The franchise’s clearest attack–among many–on Homer’s lotus eaters. The point of interest here is the writers’ Lutheran disgust with contentment. Also, DeForest Kelley always seems to do well playing warped versions of McCoy. This is the first time he does it, suddenly transforming into a Southern good old boy with a mint julep.

References here: “The Apple” (1967), Star Trek: Generations (1994).

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Episode:

“The Devil in the Dark” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018. Previously rated a 3.

Commentary

Pleasant kitsch, with McCoy’s first “I’m a doctor, not a «whatever»!” In this case he’s not a bricklayer. He should have said xenobiologist. The Enterprise should obviously have a good dozen xenobiologists beaming down in place of the usual too-important bozos. If the deadly attacks had been believable, the special effects decent, the ecology sane, the pump MacGuffinery less idiotic and the conclusion even a little less mindlessly procapitalist this would have been the best episode. It does actually try to deal naturalistically with alien endoliths.

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Episode:

“Errand of Mercy” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

The original Mongol-horde human Klingons, before they got the bumps. I wonder whether the fantasy grass-roots pacifism here is another reaction to Vietnam.

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Episode:

“The Alternative Factor” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

Quantum woo. Easily the worst episode of season 1, but I rather like the facile idea that the dilithium MacGuffins are safe to handle without special precautions. Given that the Federation crews are nearly always wearing their pajama uniforms, it makes sense that they would favour chemically stable, mechanically robust and radiologically safe technologies like that. Compare Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) where ship’s-drive engineers are prohibited from having children because they will get irradiated sooner or later.

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Episode:

“The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967) IMDb

Creators

Harlan Ellison (writer).

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Joan Collins’ character, Edith Keeler, is a would-be great woman of history: A techno-optimist utopian pacifist of indomitable willpower and unimpeachable morals, very much like Kirk in “Court Martial” (1967). Unless killed in a completely mundane traffic accident, Keeler will come to influence US politics, possibly leading to an Axis victory in WW2 because Nazis and time travel go hand in hand. She is doomed either way: Left alive, her ideals are crushed. Dead, she is unremembered, though others have taken up her cause without any connection to her.

Commentary

At the 50th anniversary convention in Las Vegas in August 2016, fans voted this the best episode of the franchise. It’s certainly one of the better episodes, but it is ironic just how much the fans love it given that it contradicts the tenets of the show. Specifically, Keeler’s apparently hopeless situation realistically contradicts Thomas Carlyle’s improductive great man theory, the form of hero worship that underpins Kirk’s central position.

The realistic disappearance of the Enterprise when McCoy enters the portal is an important part of that contradiction. In Ellison’s original version of the script, the Enterprise is replaced with a pirate ship, and in “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (1967) history is perfectly restored by conservative magic, but in this episode, the (re)writers unexpectedly take the logical and dramaturgically correct approach of the butterfly effect: Given that history has changed in the loss of a relative nobody, there is no reason why any spaceship would be in orbit around the planet. Only the transtemporal “Guardian” keeps the people around it insulated from the ripple effects.

I suppose the fans love this because they know the tenets of the show are critically flawed. Here they got a brief taste of the future: The relative pragmatism, realism and dramatic stakes that would make serialized SF shows so much better than Star Trek. Reinforcing the irony, the dissatisfied Ellison wanted to be credited under a pseudonym, but—according to an unsourced IMDb trivia entry—Roddenberry forbade it because “It would have meant that Star Trek (1966) was no different than all the other ‘science fiction’ shows in mistreating quality writers, and could have resulted in prose science fiction writers avoiding contributing to the program.” In other words, Roddenberry mistreated a serious writer like other producers did and he refused to take responsibility for it. Instead, he later lied about the contents of Ellison’s version. A bit of an asshole, that Roddenberry.

DeForest Kelley playing a psychotic is delicious and the unusually high budget is very nice. Alas, the sexism is pretty bad and Spock’s miraculous reader of possible futures, as if on microfilm, is equally silly.

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Episode:

“Operation - Annihilate!” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

Another bad communist metaphor with bad special effects.

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Episode:

“Amok Time” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Spock in male estrus.

Commentary

A complete waste of the idea that the Vulcans would have to fall temporarily from their Cartesian reason to get interested in their own reproduction.

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Episode:

“Who Mourns for Adonais?” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

The plot of “The Squire of Gothos” (1967) polished up.

Commentary

Quoth Apollo, “Look upon my muffin top, ye mighty, and despair!” This is the first time the series comes close to genuinely good writing on its usual turf. Although the writer lands on the side of (mono)theism and condescension to women, he does at least come out against polytheism and shows some ambiguous support for second-wave feminism. It would have taken very little work to correct his mistakes: Showing Scotty for a lecher, not having Carolyn warm up so easily to sexist insults, not having Kirk tutor Carolyn on how to reject Apollo, and spilling white-out all over Kirk’s line that he’s got one god.

References here: “Plato's Stepchildren” (1968).

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Episode:

“The Changeling” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

An old space probe, launched from Earth in the 21st century, has changed into a genocidal AI in colliding and combining with an alien soil sample collector.

Commentary

Good kitsch, including Uhura’s dark fate (she loses all of her memories in this episode and it is implied she never gets them back; this is discussed with reference to her being a woman, as if that could reasonably matter), the Jewish Shatner’s Kirk’s Jewish-mother-stereotype line about “My son, the doctor”, the dumb redshirts acting according to the later misconception that they had very high mortality rates, and the crappy practical effects work. Another “He’s dead, Jim”, another core-cast crewman sadly resurrected. This mixes seamlessly with relatively good ideas. It is unfortunate that the resolution is copied from “The Return of the Archons” (1967). I wonder if perhaps the name “Nomad” came from The Stars My Destination (1956).

References here: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).

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Episode:

“Mirror, Mirror” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

The “mirror universe” where Spock has a beard.

Commentary

Filed under “transporter malfunctions”, extending the moral polarization of “The Enemy Within” (1966) to the polity. For this purpose the writers make up a parallel universe–later confirmed to be persistent and special as opposed to one of quantum physics’ hypothetical infinitely many worlds–where the Federation (“Empire”) behaves like the Romulan and Klingon empires with more backstabbing, but waste this idea on a love story and a series of fist fights. I like evil Sulu, but it is distractingly absurd to think that the entire crew of the Enterprise would still exist and have basically the same jobs on the same ship in the same place at the same time if the culture had been radically different for centuries.

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Episode:

“The Apple” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A tribe of ignorant immortals serving a serpentine machine god, Vaal, in a jungle “paradise” reminiscent of the Gaia hypothesis.

Commentary

A mashup of “The Return of the Archons” (1967) with “This Side of Paradise” (1967), but the lotus is innocence rather than a drug, and the computer controlling a human society doesn’t get to talk to Kirk before he kills it.

The theological parallel has a curious aspect to it. The name Vaal alludes to Baal. There are several gods named Baal in the Old Testament (ca. 164 BCE). The Baal closest to the writers’ intentions with Vaal is probably Hadad, a god of storms and fertility. Its “access point” temple is snake-shaped, yet its worshippers are forbidden–not lured–by Vaal to eat “the apple”. The apple consists of blank-slate psychology bullshit. Apparently these immortals have no sexual impulses whatsoever until they see Chekhov cop a feel. This means that Vaal, in line with the gradual reversal of the word “baal”’s meaning in the Hebrew Bible, represents both the god who created Adam and Eve as innocents in the second Genesis creation myth, and a false god, as in the Jewish authors’ opinion of Hadad. That’s the Baal of the heresy of Peor in Numbers, or the plain Baal of Judges. This is more likely to be an accident than a deliberate satire.

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Episode:

“The Doomsday Machine” (1967) IMDb

Creators

Norman Spinrad (writer).

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A titanic machine, hypothetically from another galaxy, whose only activity is to eat solar systems one planet at a time. Around it, “subspace” communications are suppressed, preventing the Federation from getting any direct reports.

Commentary

Star Trek pays tribute to Moby-Dick (1851). Surprisingly, the end result is one of the least risible episodes in the original series, which is itself quite an achievement. Spock’s scenes with Commodore Decker are actually good. The ending, where Decker is killed and status quo ante is restored, is a letdown, but Spinrad’s twist to Decker’s madness is welcome.

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Episode:

“Catspaw” (1967) IMDb

Creators

Robert Bloch (writer).

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

A typical bottle episode; hard to believe it was Bloch.

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Episode:

“I, Mudd” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A sequel to “Mudd’s Women” (1966).

Commentary

The first direct plot serialization in all of Trek and they blow it on that vile idiot, Mudd. This is the campiest, most wilfully stupid episode in the series, but it’s too theatrical to be funny.

As usual, the Enterprise is easily overpowered by the threat of the week. The writers again demonstrate that they don’t actually know the difference between a galaxy and a multiplanetary system; the 100% humanoid threat springs from Andromeda for no reason. Most foolishly, Spock assumes that every computer system has a bottlenecked centralized architecture and the humans disable the threat by simply contradicting themselves within earshot of the server. So apparently, these androids have existed with hyperintelligence and cornucopia machines–more lotus eaters—for tens of thousands of years, observing decentralized biological networks, without encountering or predicting contradictory language or implementing a decentralized network.

References here: “Metamorphosis” (1967).

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Episode:

“Metamorphosis” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018. Previously rated a 3.

Categorization

Romance.

Subject

The captivity of Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive.

Commentary

It bears the marks of bad writing: A cloud of “ionized hydrogen” would not be called by that name; it is false that anything that can generate a difference in electrical potential can be short-circuited; it is ridiculous to suppose, as Kirk does, that “male and female are universal constants” with universal attraction; the reference to a “maker of all things” takes the place of critical thinking; the way Sulu describes asteroids by size as “types A to M” instead of stating their mass is typical of SF writing in ignorance of the subject matter; etc. Though such flaws are normal in Star Trek, I was surprised to see the episode was written by Gene L. Coon, a formative regular on the show. It is his best work, comparable to the episodes written by recognized SF authors, though perhaps the quality is mainly down to execution. I do not refer to the poor special effects.

In place of the lotus eater motif, the plot comes from Odysseus in the arms of Calypso, an interesting love story greatly aided by Glenn Corbett as Cochrane and by the purple-lit asteroid with artificial Earth-like gravity. The mood is radically more somber and appealing than in the preceding “I, Mudd” (1967). The usual Trek pitfall of getting what you want without paying a price is rejected, as are the usual Trek fears of satisfaction and the unknown.

References here: Star Trek: First Contact (1996).

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Episode:

“Journey to Babel” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

More of the sitcom that is Vulcan culture.

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Episode:

“Friday’s Child” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

More Klingons and a new low for the costume department.

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Episode:

“The Deadly Years” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A radiation, against which adrenaline is both protection and retroactive instant miracle cure, has the effects of extreme ageing. Stupidly, the three most senior officers on the Enterprise all expose themselves to this radiation and learn no lessons about risk management from the incident.

Commentary

I assume the hearing scene, where Kirk’s command is challenged on the grounds of senility, was intended to be the emotional core of the episode. It is dull in the extreme because it requires an investment in the idea of Kirk as a special man of destiny who effectively owns the ship. The science fiction aspects of the episode are the thinnest possible veneer needed to sell the challenge to his command. As usual, a commodore fucks up. Unusually, there are plot callbacks both to Romulans and to corbomite.

References here: “Obsession” (1967).

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Episode:

“Obsession” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Kirk delays delivery of a perishable vaccine to hunt a vampiric fog.

Commentary

A sharp contrast: Here, Kirk is moody. He suddenly has depth, shadow and history, with a mild hint of Moby-Dick (1851). This radical inconsistency of character is used quite intelligently to build dramatic tension. His command is questioned yet again and this challenge finally has the emotional weight missing from “Court Martial” (1967) and “The Deadly Years” (1967). It is not predicated on some ridiculous notion that Kirk is born to rule. Briefly, he’s human.

Antimatter in portable electromagnetic containment is used as a bomb, which is a cut above the usual level of science fiction on the show, and there is some doubt over whether the villain is sentient (hence moral), which is likewise a welcome change of pace and an actual thought experiment. Star Trek could have been like this if it had been planned as a serial drama from the beginning. “Obsession” was written by Art Wallace, best known for working on the contemporary soap opera Dark Shadows (1966), which was both Gothic and serialized. Alas the episode is merely a flash in the pan.

References here: “The Enterprise Incident” (1968).

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Episode:

“Wolf in the Fold” (1967) IMDb

Creators

Robert Bloch (writer).

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Jack the Ripper on the planet of belly dancers.

Commentary

A risible mixture of Bloch’s Freudian preoccupations—misogyny, serial killers, a “psychotricorder” and “regressive” memory scanning technology—with a sleezy, sexually charged orientalism and a trial scene where the crew makes unusually heavy use of computers to negotiate a path between Occam’s-razor realism and a scenario of inelegant fantasy with “precedent” standing in for a priori worldbuilding plausibility.

Given that Star Trek was pitched as Wagon Train (1957) “to the stars”, it bears noting that Jack the Ripper similarly appeared in Cimarron Strip (1967), an actual Western of the same year. Having been reimagined as a personification of some elemental evil close to 80 years after the real murders, the random London serial killer became eligible to appear anywhere.

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Episode:

“The Trouble with Tribbles” (1967) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Klingon fisticuffs intersect a furry macroscopic organism that procreates at a rate of 1000% per 12 hours.

Commentary

The Klingons are more Caucasian-looking for some reason, and the word is sometimes pronounced “klin gon”. They go on shore leave on a Federation space station, notably softening their image.

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Episode:

“The Gamesters of Triskelion” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Slavery.

Commentary

Chekov’s “drill thrall” is ambiguously gendered and therefore portrayed as a clown.

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Episode:

“A Piece of the Action” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

100 years earlier, a Federation ship without an FTL communicator contacted a barely-industrial civilization, apparently one of the most distant settlements. The ship reported its visit via radio. Upon receiving it, using modern FTL communications, the Federation sends the Enterprise and finds that the local civilization has evolved to emulate, in great detail, the technology, language and social structure of 1920s gangland Chicago, on the basis of a historical treatise left behind in the earlier visit. There is no sign of any authorities on the planet, other than mob bosses: A moral inversion unlike anything the Federation has seen before.

Commentary

Better than “Miri” (1966) but based on the same economic impetus to write for the backlot. Beyond establishing that the mobs handle laundry services there is no thinking about how society would work. Indeed, when pressured, one mobster claims he’s “got rights”, implying there is a system of law and order that permits mob violence. This would be a kleptocracy more like early colonial America than 1920s Chicago. The intended attraction is the comical cosplay, not the thought experiment. The best bits are the very beginning, talking about communication speed, and the very end, making first mention of the “transtator” as an essential technology.

References here: “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968).

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Episode:

“The Immunity Syndrome” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A Vulcan ship with a crew of 400 was instantly destroyed by an 11000-mile amoeba inside a field of negative energy.

Commentary

Slow decline in the face of an impersonal, largely incomprehensible enemy, with Kirk taking heavy doses of a stimulant to cope; a relatively good premise undermined by third-act heroics.

References here: Gunbuster: Aim for the Top! (1988).

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Episode:

“A Private Little War” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Klingons in a proxy war over a world of primitives, accelerating one tribe’s development by arming them.

Commentary

More Vietnam allegory.

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Episode:

“Return to Tomorrow” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

Gaping plot holes. On the other hand, it does have the show’s first astrobiologist, a shockingly late arrival.

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Episode:

“Patterns of Force” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Nazis or, as Kirk insists, ”Nazzies”.

Commentary

For an episode of shouting “Heil Führer”, the sudden lack of fist fights is conspicuous. In a dungeon, a half-naked Spock climbs on top of a half-naked Kirk, feeding slash-fiction fantasies. In the end, Kirk accurately concludes that the main problem with Nazi Germany was not some “evil” but “the leader principle”, i.e. the concentration of power, which McCoy agrees will corrupt a leader “even with the best intentions”. They stop just short of lampshading Star Trek’s constant fawning over its charismatic, superhuman captains. Instead, they all agree that the interwar recovery of Germany was a windfall of the ideology, which brought people together so wonderfully. It appears nobody thought this one through.

References here: “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968), Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), Castle in the Sky (1986).

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Episode:

“By Any Other Name” (1968) IMDb

Subject

Invaders of the galaxy force the crew of the Enterprise to bring them back to Andromeda through a barrier at the edge of the Milky Way.

Commentary

Kitsch. The plot would not have been out of place in a 1940s serial. It is predicated upon and chafes against mind-body dualism, reaching no insights. As part of the crew’s plot to seduce the Kelvans with sensations, we get the first good look at the “food synthesizers”, later to be termed replicators. Spock can suddenly mind-meld through a cave wall. Absurdly, the Kelvans come to the conclusion that the most senior officers are the most suited to maintaining the basic functions of the ship on a 300-year journey. The Kelvans themselves teleport with special effects as primitive as the work of Georges Méliès.

References here: “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” (1968).

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Episode:

“The Omega Glory” (1968) IMDb

Commentary

A nanar which posits that an early human colony contained both US citizens and Asian communists who, like their compatriots on Earth, fought a biological war around the 1990s. This resulted in a society of barbarous “Yangs” who idolize the US Constitution and the flag. They exterminate the “Kohms”, long-lived but sedentary descendants of the communists. Kirk gets to lecture these people on the meaning of freedom. Another blunt Cold War allegory with far too many fist fights.

The mood is unusually serious, perhaps because Gene Roddenberry wrote it himself. Notice the purple lighting in the Kohms’ beige dungeon, presumably intended mainly to make the Western set appear suitably alien; it’s quite pretty. It seems at first that this seriousness and uncommonly tasteful design work might be devoted to the idea of buying a long life at the cost of the Prime Directive, but that turns out to be a melodramatic chimaera. Actual transhumanist progress is not possible.

References here: “Spectre of the Gun” (1968).

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Episode:

“The Ultimate Computer” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

The inventor of Starfleet’s computer architecture oversees a test run of its intended successor.

Commentary

As usual, Kirk’s superiors are all assholes, anything is evil when it threatens Kirk’s job and any computer can be destroyed by sophistry, even a computer patterned after a human mind. It follows that this story is only interesting if you believe Kirk has a divine right to command hundreds of people on the excuse of teething troubles in a remarkably careless early test of a revolutionary technology with obvious merits. Indeed, even the computer itself makes a reference to divine right, indicating it is a theist. That would be a real bug! Needless to say, it is not explored. I was more amused by the show’s second reference to John W. Campbell’s old idol, Finagle: When they’re out of a job, Kirk and McCoy drink “Finagle's Folly”.

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Episode:

“Bread and Circuses” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Kirk fucks a sex slave assigned to him on a world which, under “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development”, is so similar to Earth that it is dominated by the Roman Empire into the age of live television despite the existence of Christianity.

Commentary

For once, the errant, traitorous Starfleet captain is neither Kirk’s superior nor the main villain, and the satirical use of the television medium is quite clever. Hodgkin’s law enshrines painfully lazy writing.

References here: “Wink of an Eye” (1968).

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Episode:

“Assignment: Earth” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Purposely travelling through time to 1968, the Enterprise runs into a human superagent of a competing police force, an archetypally ditzy 1960s secretary, and a US program to put a nuclear weapon in orbit. The launch is sabotaged to trigger a nuclear detonation.

Commentary

A remarkably bold effort. The opening scene alone, which paints time travel as routine in the absence of a yet-to-be-added “Temporal Prime Directive”, suggests a world of intricate plots resembling The End of Eternity (1955), an impossibly high standard for this episodic TV series. The script continues in this vein, predicting one of the assassinations of 1968, using the as-yet unacknowledged NSA and Saturn V footage, alluding to the Soviet Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, and sticking in a bare-bellied Playboy Playmate catgirl complete with 猫耳 at the last minute.

A fractional-orbit nuke had in fact been demonstrated in 1967, and the 8K69 entered service in 1968. However, fully orbital weapons of mass destruction had already been banned by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Positing a US plan to escalate, and a spectactular failure, the writers show a rare and remarkable willingness to date themselves in Bond-like territory. Compare “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (1967), which nonsensically had nukes in AA missiles, but no nuclear detonation. Alas, it is easy for the crew to determine how events in history are “supposed to” play out; a conservative vision.

Strangely, all of these daring choices apparently served only to launch a pirate copy of Doctor Who (1963) with a sonic screwdriver, a concealed storage closet with a teleporter, and a young female human companion to a man from an advanced alien race, albeit a man merely bred for the purpose, as opposed to being an alien himself. Fortuitously the launch of this spin-off failed. We learned only that Spock likes cats.

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Episode:

“Spock's Brain” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A temporarily hyperintelligent traveller boards the Enterprise and surgically removes Spock’s brain. He’s fine.

Commentary

Some strong Kirk/Spock vibes in this bizarre commentary on sexual politics. For once, the writers do a relatively good job dodging mind-body dualism.

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Episode:

“The Enterprise Incident” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Spy shit. At one point, Kirk has his ears surgically altered to look Romulan so he can beam aboard a Romulan ship. The ship is one of three that “surround” the Enterprise, something three ships can’t really do in three-dimensional space. At best, they might encircle her. Also, none of these three ships are in firing range, they all have their shields down and they can’t be bothered to detect teleportation or a human presence or the use of a Starfleet communicator on board.

Commentary

For a few scenes, it looks like a second “Obsession” (1967). The acting is a notch above the norm because the usual sitcom crap is cut. As expected, Kirk’s fitness for command is questioned yet again, this time on the basis of seeking glory, which must be perfectly accurate. Alas, it’s all a ruse of idiotic proportions. There is no reason why Kirk is selected to undergo the hasty surgery or perform this teleportation himself. His mission is predicated upon the foolish notion that the Romulans’ most prized military technology is both portable and totally insecure against immediate hostile use. As soon as the cloaking device is activated, Kirk orders red alert cancelled, as if there’s no possibility that the Romulans could think of a countermeasure to their own technology. The plot is thin, as if the audience is expected to care primarily about Spock’s threat to defect from Starfleet and cheat on Kirk.

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Episode:

“The Paradise Syndrome” (1968) IMDb

Subject

Ancient aliens apparently left a number of North American tribes on a distant world to save them from colonial genocide. Kirk is stranded among them with amnesia while the Enterprise heads off to divert an asteroid.

Commentary

The idea that aliens have sampled various civilizations on old Earth to preserve some cultural diversity is interesting. If the writers had sense, they would have used this single premise to account for all the isolated human societies the crew meets, or at least the ones that seem to have split off from civilization more than 250 years ago: “Miri” (1966), “A Piece of the Action” (1968), “Patterns of Force” (1968) and more. This is far more useful and less lazy than Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development. Instead of aiming for such elegance, they go straight for the ethnic stereotypes: Generic Hollywood Indians, unchanging in their isolation, stuck in a generic primitive paradise. Noble savages. Wagon Train (1957) to the fucking stars.

From seeing this in childhood, I remembered the mysterious monument with its glyphs, its hidden room and hidden protective power.

References here: “Spectre of the Gun” (1968).

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Episode:

“And the Children Shall Lead” (1968) IMDb

Commentary

Melodrama with creepy-child stereotypes. Notice Kirk and Spock’s intimacy in the elevator, inviting slash fiction, and Kirk’s greatest fear: No longer being in command.

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Episode:

“Is There in Truth No Beauty?” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A telepath accompanies a Medusa(n) in a box and jilts a murderous designer of the Enterprise. Scotty gets to wear a kilt.

Commentary

Dense with weirdness. For example, as in “By Any Other Name” (1968) there is a barrier at the edge of the galaxy, and if you hit it fast enough you end up in limbo, unable even to see the galaxy behind you. The only fun part is the temporary merging of Spock with Kollos, where Nimoy gets to break character and throw some poetry around. Spock’s medallion was intended as product placement by Roddenberry himself, but to his credit, Nimoy refused to give the scripted spiel. The directorial style is unusual: Lots of subjective camera work and unusually wide angles on the interiors of the ship, including the left side of the bridge set.

References here: “Day of the Dove” (1968).

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Episode:

“Spectre of the Gun” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Aliens test the crew of the Enterprise by recreating the gunfight at the OK Corral.

Commentary

This finally goes all out with the Western genre crossover, where “The Omega Glory” (1968) and “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968) merely teased it. As expected, it’s no good. I do like the French-New-Wave/arthouse quality in the choice to show partial sets, but it’s a cost-cutting measure because it’s a bottle episode for the studio floor. The script thus anticipates the hated holodeck episodes of future series, and yet again, one of the main members of the bridge crew is killed and then brought back. This time, the excuse is telepathic manipulation. It could have been a neat trick to have the entire episode take place in a split second, but it is nonsensical for this to involve only the usual higher officers, and such a bizarre scenario instead of more direct probing.

References here: “The Empath” (1968).

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Episode:

“Day of the Dove” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

An impersonal alien force manipulates humans and Klingons to fight.

Commentary

Aside from the nonsensical careening through space, which repeats “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” (1968) and adds a dull ticking clock, this is good stuff. Easily TOS’s finest Vietnam allegory, down to the ending, with its taste of “The Colour Out of Space” (1927).

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Episode:

“For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A generational ship where the necessary social stability is maintained by a surgically implanted thought police.

Commentary

Though the treatment is superficial, the thought experiment shows unusal promise, and there is only one fist fight.

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Episode:

“The Tholian Web” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Categorization

A ghost story.

Commentary

Crowbarred into the series. The space suits are ugly, but at least the boarding party is wearing space suits for once.

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Episode:

“Plato's Stepchildren” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Ostensibly Plato’s Republic. Actually a court fool in a society of 38 psychic “academicians” ruled by a sadist.

Commentary

Best known for Kirk and Uhura kissing under mind control. The first documented specifically African/Caucasian pairing in a kiss on American TV as of 2018 was Movin' With Nancy (1967), predating the Uhura/Kirk kiss, in which his head blocks their faces. There is some controversy over whether the actors kissed at all. Anyway, British TV was a decade ahead.

Alexander’s awakening to his circumstances is a lot more interesting than anything else that goes on in this episode. Apart from cruel slavery and sexism, which do make sense, the writers fail to extrapolate anything interesting from the idea of millennia-old psychic genius supermen inspired by ancient Greece. Tellingly, they mention Hippocrates in an episode where Bones violates the hippocratic oath by violently shaking a seriously ill patient, but there is no comment on the connection. I presume the writers weren’t familiar with any of the source material, having made no advances since “Who Mourns for Adonais?” (1967).

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Episode:

“Wink of an Eye” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

One man disappears on a planet seemingly abandoned by its advanced urban civilization. On the Enterprise, random systems begin to malfunction.

Commentary

The premise that the Scalosians (no relation to scallops) are simply moving quickly is treated very poorly. Under this premise, the accelerated would be able to communicate with a pencil. Several unnecessary secondary premises are added in a failed effort to control for this and add greater tension: “cell damage”, rapid aging, docility. Better writers would have used “From Beyond” (1934), not The New Accelerator (1901), or not so poorly. Aside from this central weakness, the episode is very good by the standards of the show. The Scalosians are varied and morally grey, Kirk is entertainingly objectified, the sex scene is a little more daring than “Bread and Circuses” (1968), and the coffee scene, simple as it is, provides a tantalizing glimpse of what the show could have been with genuine attention to human behaviour: habits, flaws and comforts.

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Episode:

“The Empath” (1968) IMDb

Commentary

For some reason, of all the Star Trek episodes I saw in childhood, this is the one I remembered best, especially the scene of Kirk’s head injury disappearing from his own head, appearing on the mute empath, and then disappearing altogether. It’s an appealing form of fantasy healing, sharing its basic logic and emotional underpinnings with the Christ myth. Hence both Kirk and McCoy are suspended in the air as if crucified. It’s not the usual consequence-free miracle cure.

The bare and dark studio setting is a better experiment in Brechtian modernism than the half-finished sets of “Spectre of the Gun” (1968). The Vians are ultimately shown as largely rational, working on a scientific experiment that will condemn their own planet in favour of Gem’s. Thus, in picking her species to survive, they demonstrate that they have the selflessness they are trying to build in her, and so their sacrifice is noble. It’s clever, even if Kirk’s last monologue reasserts the silly emotion-reason dichotomy.

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Episode:

“Elaan of Troyius” (1968) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

Good potential: Diplomatic mission, alien cultures attempting to come to terms peacefully (another Cold War metaphor), subterfuge on established technological premises, and the title of “Dohlman” applied to a woman. Alas, the combination is wasted on sexism (women literally using their tears as a love potion to mind-control men, with very little cultural reaction) and a terrible Klingon battle sequence where the Enterprise cannot even pivot on its axis without using its warp drive. The ending is especially poor: Cure in hand, McCoy chooses not to apply it, letting Kirk mourn another lost love forever, for no sane reason.

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Episode:

“Whom Gods Destroy” (1969) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

The crew seeks to deliver a cure for insanity to a prison.

Commentary

This is the ultimate TOS episode. It’s got a purportedly positive social vision, undermined by the existence of an entire planet devoted to a lunatic asylum. It is the second such planet, after the one in “Dagger of the Mind” (1966). This new asylum is also a prison—a penal colony—and its inmates are goddamn supervillains, representing a variety of species, all of them humanoid. There is only one woman, and of course she’s green, with rouge on top of her green cheeks. Being a woman, she is sexually objectified, her murderousness hooks right into sex, and she herself is stuffed in the fridge (by being blown up!) to illustrate the evil of Captain/Lord Garth, a version and hero of Kirk who can physically transform into Kirk. The necessary outcome is a prolonged Kirk-on-Kirk fist fight, the apotheosis of gratuitous violence and archism in Trek.

This is topped off with Shakespeare, a reference to the mythical Solomon from 1 Kings (ca. 620–530 BCE), and surprisingly sane philosophical debate, more mature than “Space Seed” (1967), which had the better premise. The whole episode is excellent kitsch.

Clearly the script doesn’t work. Garth’s metamorphosis is just magic, the usual mind over matter. McCoy, who should be present to deliver the cure, is stuck on the ship with Scotty, getting a few scenes doing nothing just because he’s a starring actor. The cure, inexplicably delivered by the two most senior officers in McCoy’s place, is principally a MacGuffin. Its consequences for society are unexplored and that’s probably a good thing, since the writers tip their hand and imply that insanity in all species is caused by vascular and brain damage! The whole driving force of the script is the same as always: Gene Roddenberry’s obsession with admiration, control and power. Garth is not a Shakespearean father figure, not a Lear but a simple straw-man caricature of Kirk, defeated by the true superman to assert the validity of great personal power.

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Episode:

“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Two-colour supermen, contemptuous of “monotone” humankind, hate eachother even more. One of them has spent 50,000 years chasing the other through space.

Commentary

The concept is not terrible, but the script is too thin and the director tries some new tricks, notably cyclical rapid zooming, without success. It’s just a heavy-handed metaphor for race hatred, foolishly implying that both sides in any ethnic conflict are equally at fault. In particular, the closing scenes blend images of burning buildings with a frantic chase through the corridors of the ship. These buildings nominally represent the apocalypse of the alien home world but were surely meant to suggest the Washington, D.C. riots of 1968.

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Sequel:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) IMDb

Extent

Previously rated a 2.

Commentary

The movies have two advantages: Budget, and an exception to the franchise’s aversion to serialization.

This one has good Mead, an unusual amount of interior greeblies and easily the best plot seed in Star Trek movies, remaking “The Changeling” (1967) with a better ending. Its qualities are illustrated by fan Patrick Collins’ 22-minute recut with the music of TRON: Legacy (2010), entitled “Star Trek: Legacy” (2017), not to be confused with the 2006 video game of that title.

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Sequel:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) IMDb

Subject

Khan?

Commentary

A sequel primarily to “Space Seed” (1967), but it does not deal with the interesting parts of its premise. No attraction but the kitsch.

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Sequel:

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2013.

Commentary

The anti-scientific mysticism reaches intolerable levels. The mere fact that a space station is built as a giant greebled garage makes my brain burn. (This is even dumber than Trumbull’s “dry dock” in the first film. It is rectified in Generations.) Still, I appreciate the somewhat nuanced portrayal of the Federation, the fact that plot threads are carried over and resolved in a sometimes sane manner, and Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon captain.

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Sequel:

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2013.

Commentary

A more pure and honest form of kitsch than the earlier films. A comedy, as befits the premisses.

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Sequel:

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2013.

Commentary

The script has two distinct phases: It’s a somewhat competent Star Wars (1977) imitation up to the point where Sybok’s vision is revealed. Then the film becomes a travesty of intellectual and philosophical science fiction, to its end. Themes usually left in the background and best left entirely by the wayside are foregrounded as plot points, particularly the leap of faith. Do not trust a charismatic fanatic whose rousing speech includes the falsehood that Columbus proved the Earth is round. On the plus side, Spock is not constantly stating the obvious: things are illogical.

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Sequel:

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2014.

Commentary

Interesting production history. A pleasant attempt to re-examine some of the previous idealism in a sober light, but it is not entirely successful. The ending shows just how much stupidity is being dragged along: The old crew endures a martyr’s torpedoing without injury, before abruptly saving themselves with hand-waved “innovation”, beaming down to rescue everyone through physical force and say a few incoherent words.

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Sequel:

Star Trek: Generations (1994) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2014.

Commentary

Without having counted at all, I would say this is the record-holder in number of cuts where people on bridges are thrown about like rag dolls while sparks fly inexplicably from their instruments. Star Trek is frequently at its most interesting exploring its own creepy ideology of personal “improvement”, where Ayn Rand meets L. Ron Hubbard. In this ideology, the “Nexus”, where people are happy without having to clean the hallways of the Enterprise with a toothbrush every three hours must be shown as flawed and consequently rejected. Utterly predictable since “This Side of Paradise” (1967), but it’s pretty well done here.

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Sequel:

Star Trek: First Contact (1996) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2014.

Subject

A prequel to “Metamorphosis” (1967).

Commentary

The interesting story here is the “Blue Marble” moment where a scientific achievement puts a dent in human narcissism. That is a science fiction story. Unfortunately, the grime and grit of this story feel completely fake on the cheap sets, the humour of it is childish, and the consequences are examined only at a 300-year remove. Much more annoying than this, the interesting story is purposely overshadowed by the glib overachievers of the Enterprise enhancing their glory by directing the historic moment and fighting an irrelevant war with the Borg. The first corridor warfare scenes are unusually suspenseful, but there is no getting around the silliness of the enemy: all drones are humanoid(!), never move faster than a walk, are never armed, and are easy to kill with hands and bullets, unlike the comparatively primitive android member of the crew. There is no thought process behind the Borg as a faction, and it shows. I think the writers just wanted the emotional reaction displayed here by Lily: mindless disgust.

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Sequel:

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2014.

Commentary

About average for the series, despite the negative reception. As usual the crew of the Enterprise is forced to rescue the Federation by rebelling against it. It is interesting how the writers keep returning to that motif, evidently unsatisfied with the way that Star Trek is held up as a positive and hopeful vision of the future. Another interesting point here is the technophobia, greatly generalized from the phobia of the Borg exhibited in the previous film.

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Sequel:

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) IMDb

Commentary

Forgettable.

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Fan film:

Really Bad Star Trek (2004)

Fan film:

“The Final Frontier Revisited” (2004) IMDb

Commentary

Sweet camp; who cares about camera shadows anyway?

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Sequel:

Star Trek (2009) IMDb

Commentary

There is nothing in it, not even a thought experiment. How curious that it would be remade with so little concern for the highlights of the original and so much action in its place.

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