Friday, May 09, 2008

Star Trek: Vol. 6

Over at No Fear of the Future I'm occasionally reviewing all the Twilight Zone episodes on DVD as I Netflix my way through the lot of 'em, and the thought has occurred to me that I ought to do the same with Star Trek. This is the original Trek, mind you, which I watched a lot of back in the day but haven't seen in some years. I've actually been watching these for a couple of months, but will jump in with the disc I just returned, vol. 6.

The first episode is "Miri," written by Gene Roddenberry and Adrian Spies, originally airing October 27, 1966. I know season 3 catches a lot of flack for having awful episodes, but boy, this season 1 offering is a real stinker. It starts off with the Enterprise coming across a planet that's identical to Earth, right down to the continents (does Magrathea exist in the Trek universe?). Only it's deserted. Mostly. The 1960s-era culture is dead except for surviving, pre-pubescent children. Who happen to be 300 years old. While pursuing longevity research using viral vectors, scientists on the planet released a disease that wiped out all adults while at the same time slowing the children's aging process. Naturally, Kirk and the away team come down with the disease--except for Mr. Spock--and have to convince the wary children to help lest they die from the disease as well. The kids, although they age slowly, do age, and each in turn will come down with the affliction and die. It's one of the patented Trek "alien disease of the week" episodes, an episode type introduced to much better effect in "The Naked Time." The whole hunt for a cure is by-the-numbers, Spock's immunity is noted then ignored the rest of the way, and as for the planet being an exact copy of Earth? Not only does it have absolutely no bearing on the story, but it's never mentioned again. The only thing that's kinda cool about his episode is the whole Lord of the Flies vibe going on with the child-only society. That's a nifty take that would've made much more interesting television, had they only developed that angle more.

The other episode, "The Conscience of the King," is more interesting. It's essentially a war crimes whodunit, with Kirk on the trail of an actor who may have at one time committed atrocities while governor of a colony planet that underwent a major catastrophe. It's obvious to the viewer that the actor--Arnold Moss--is indeed the wanted criminal. And the tension deepens when the few remaining witnesses that could identify him turn up dead. The twist comes when it's revealed his daughter is the one knocking off the unfortunate victims in order to "protect" her father. Pops and Kirk confront her, and Pops ends up shielding Kirk from daughter's killing phaser blast so that he'll have "no more blood on his hands." As an effort to translate Shapespearean tragedy to the SFnal setting of Star Trek, it's fairly effective. The traveling company of actors have several of Shakespeare's plays in their repertoire, just in case slower viewers miss the symbolism. The pseudo-happy ending, where the crazy daughter is taken off for "treatment" and duped into thinking Pops is alive and well, acting his heart out halfway across the galaxy, feels tacked on and is, once you get right down to it, pretty damn cruel and duplicitous. "Just a little harmless brain alteration..." Sometimes you wish the writers would think the implications through just a little more thoroughly.

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