Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Star Trek: The Original Series. Season Two.

Bored one evening last winter, I plunged into Star Trek: The Original Series. All three seasons are free on Amazon at the moment, and as my knowledge of the show was patchy it seemed foolish not to take advantage.

I began viewing with the second season (I don’t know why, it made sense at the time) and worked through all 26 episodes over Christmas and New Year.

The experience has been, in the most part, a wonderful surprise. Presented here, for what my latecomer perspective is worth, are a few thoughts.


Each episode fair hums with the most brilliant, zesty energy. I guess it’s because TV was still in its infancy, prone to mistakes but with a capacity for wonder. It had no expectations to meet and it was feeling its way, enthusiastic but tripping up occasionally. That quality makes the show easy to forgive.

Another endearing characteristic is its wonderful optimism about technology. Even living under the spectre of thermonuclear war, TOS has faith: in our ability to leap beyond nation and race, to be unified by access to the stars, to find more meaning in life than the accumulation of property. And despite all that, to keep our sense of humour.


Still, most of that remarkable energy derives from a conscious choice made by writers, cast and crew: to make their show cool.

This, I think, was forgotten on the TNG Enterprise. That ship was too often a sort of traveling debate society, where beige alien ambassadors exchanged speeches with Picard’s Lycra-stiff crew.

Kirk’s ship still tries to ask difficult questions, but it never forfeits its commitment to adventure and, most importantly, to its characters. People on the Enterprise are humourous, brave, and importantly, flawed. Spock is a ticking bomb. McCoy teases him for sport. Kirk thinks any problem can be solved with his fist or his dick.


That triumvirate is given colour by great casting. They had real charisma, these guys, and amazing faces to match (Spock’s granite sneer and McCoy’s wild, wet eyes). In fact probably the nicest surprise of the show was Shatner.

I expected horrible, screen-quaking camp from Kirk, so it was a real stun-at-close-range to find that in most situations, his performance is actually pretty understated. When he flips up that communicator and grumbles “Kirk to Enterprise” it’s generally a laid back sort of hail, like McQueen or Connery might deliver it - not the stentorian stuff of Picard.

Oh he’s a strange screen presence all right, with his (often exposed/ ripped-shirt) barrel chest, his curious spread gait and occasional explosion of madness. But generally speaking any embarrassment is outweighed by entertainment value. There's no denying that the man is extremely watchable.

Some of the other characters are less successful. Chekov’s mop-top comedy routine can get a bit tiresome, the ‘everything was invented by Russians’ gag wearing thin fast.

Scotty, a character I’ve never gotten along with, is painted as a bit of a creepy idiot: In Who Mourns for Addonais? he’s obsessive about an Ensign, in Friday’s Child he falls for a trick Mr. Ed would have spotted, and he’s Jack the Ripper in Wolf at the Door. I almost felt sorry for James Doohan as the series went on. He never had a good story.

Uhura doesn't have a picnic either: I can’t remember her having a good line in the entire series (although to be fair she does have a few in Season 1). Mostly she’s made to look sort of ridiculous, which bothered me after a while. Still, you have to credit it for putting a black woman on that bridge in the first place. Nichelle Nichols certainly does.

What else is there to say? Well, the budget limitations don’t bother me. I like the way they never lose gravity on the Enterprise. I like the way so much is shot in close up, to obscure the same old sets. I like that Spock pulls away a panel on the bridge to fiddle with wires ripped from an old radio. 

Yes, occasionally the cheapness provokes a cheap laugh (Snake head!) or rattles the nerves (that damn computer voice) but overall I had no trouble suspending my disbelief.  I was just having too much damn fun.

Snake Head!

Best Lines:


On imminent peril:
“To the logical mind the outlook is somewhat gloomy”

On the Vulcan coma:
“We find it more restful for the body than your ‘vacation.’”

To McCoy:
“I find your arguments drilled with gaping defects in logic.”

To McCoy again, on volunteering for a dangerous mission:
“You have a martyr complex that disqualifies you.”


To Kirk, on starting an arms race:
“It’s not bad enough there’s one serpent in Eden teaching gun-powder, you’re gonna make sure they all know about it!”


On humans and sex:
“Yes, we do think a great deal about it.”

Best Episodes:

The Doomsday Machine: Planet eating worm!

Friday’s Child: Klingons!

A Piece Of The Action: Kirk and Spock as mobsters!

The Immunity Syndrome: Space amoeba!

Poorest Episodes:

Wolf in The Fold: Sit and listen to the computer episode

The Deadly Years: Hilarious elderly crew make-up

Cat’s Paw: Worst. Episode. Ever.

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