Monday, January 12, 2015

Short Treks Season 1.1

“The Man Trap”
Air Date: September 8, 1966
Mom Title:  “Salt Vampire”

After years of planning and two pilots, a Science Fiction series sold as “Wagon Train in Space” hits the airwaves.  The first story is not a classic space opera, or a transplanted western.  It’s set up to look like a murder mystery, except for the early and somewhat obvious revelation of the monstrous culprit.  In other words, it’s a straight out horror story, typical of what would be seen in old EC Comics. 

There’s a couple items established right out of the space dock that become Trek clichés. For example, Sulu mentions what would become Gene Roddenberry’s nickname of honor, “The Great Bird of the Galaxy” almost immediately.  However, there are just as many, if not more events that buck the trend of not yet established Trek rules.

McCoy says, “He’s dead, Jim,” in this very first episode, though not over the expected Red Shirt.  In fact, the first three crewmen killed are two Blue Shirts, and a Gold Shirt.

The M113 creature is established as the last of its kind.  The environmental fable occurs in some of the classic series episodes, but not this one.  Quite the contrary, its ecological plight does nothing at all to dissuade Kirk from deciding to kill it once it threatens his crew.  Come to think of it, that attitude is a hallmark of the classic series.  Take that, Environmentally Conscious later Trek!

The creature is also established as taking on a form highly seductive to whoever views it.  This happens to McCoy with Impossibly Young Nancy (and presumably happened to Doctor Crater with Nancy as well.) It’s also seen with the other crewman in the landing party, and Uhura up on the ship.  The only one it fails in kicking their libido into warp drive is Captain James T. Kirk.  Jim’s ladies’ man engines will rev later on, with an interesting trigger – to hint at one of many lunatic theories I intend to track through the episodes.

Another crazy idea will be following the relationship between Spock and Uhura.  It may be cannon in the new films (2009 on) but there’s plenty of evidence early on for it in the “real” version as well.  Some obvious flirting between the two happens in the opening scene as yet another trend that wasn’t established gets countered:  Spock is the first one seen in the Command Chair when the show begins.

“Charlie X”
Air Date: September 15, 1966
Mom Title:  “Teenager with Mental Powers Hits on Rand”

The second episode and it’s another EC Horror Comic type story. Or a Twilight Zone story if you prefer – same thing really.  Did Charlie send those crew members to the Cornfield?

The senior officer romance is at the most visible level here.  Spock smiles openly at Uhura’s singing about him and leaning on him. He appears a little embarrassed at her sultry glances and lyrics, but keeps on playing and keeps on grinning.

Expected Trek establishes some footholds in this one. Kirk gets his first shirtless scene, while teaching Charlie to do his patented combat shoulder roll.  Jim also dons his wraparound green tunic for the first time.  Based on the aforementioned shirtless scene, it isn’t being used to cover Shatner’s need to slack off on daily exercises as the season progresses for its first appearance.

The Captain and his two closest advisors pass the buck when trying to teach Charlie, which leads to their downfall.  The story shows he needs something from all of them, pointing out at this early stage what the series itself will embrace as time passes:
It takes all three of Kirk, Spock and Bones to be a complete man.

The awesomeness that is the Captain of the Enterprise gets its first chance to shine here.  Kirk stares down a being with godlike power, and takes the opportunity to smack him around a bit once he’s overtaxed his powers.  He still shows desire to help the lad, but has no resistance to pummeling the brat a bit first.  Starfleet diplomacy at its finest.

Technology note: Past versions of the future are always fun to look at.  Here we have a society where computers are nearly sentient, matter transference, faster than light travel, and energy weapons are a given and almost all medical conditions are curable.  Yet the ability to electronically transmit text eludes them completely.  Yeomen still scurry from department to department carrying pads of information on paper that need manual signatures.  The pads have little lights and switches on them because after all, this is the future, but they are pads of paper none the less.  Not only that, but their existence actually drives the plot in some later episodes.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before”
Air Date: September 22, 1966
Mom Title: “Silver Eyes”

Everyone is wearing velour, most of the bridge crew isn’t there, and the ones that are (Scotty and Sulu) act different and perform other functions than the episodes seen already.  Spock in particular isn’t himself, sticking closer to the Data like “I pretend I don’t have emotions but I obviously do” than his real “I have emotions but I choose to control them.”

Basically, this is a pilot. People have created reams of fan fiction and guide book entries written to explain how this episode fits into the main timeline, and they should stop that.  The whole plot is highly similar to the previously aired and better executed “Charlie X.”  I know pilots are expensive, but they should have been happy to have saved “The Cage” and written this one off.  Doctor Who was smart enough to reshoot its pilot for broadcast; this one simply shouldn’t be considered part of the main universe.

Character note:  “The Cage” didn’t sell the series, but gave them another chance, this pilot did sell the series, but without most of the cast.  The actors that were there didn’t behave the way they do in the final product with one exception.  Sure, Spock became at least as popular, and arguably more, after he evolved with much input from Nimoy.  However, Shatner is pure rough and tumble, torn shirt, full command, stare the invincible down Captain Kirk.  Awesomeness cannot be denied.

Technology note:  Gary reads a book on the computer, which is done by having photographs of printed pages appear on his screen…Star Trek invented the Kindle.

“The Naked Time”
Air Date: September 29, 1966
Mom Title: “Kathleen”
The story defines the command crew. This near “bottle” episode takes place almost entirely on the Enterprise letting us meet them all in detail as their inner selves are revealed. In some cases who isn’t affected by the PSI 2000 virus teaches us more about them than if they were.  Scotty, Uhura and McCoy all remain unaffected throughout, and those are the three to who their professions  and duty are the most important.

The Enterprise also gets its first showcase as we’re treated to a tour of the sets that will become a second home to geeks everywhere, myself included.

The episode continues to not establish the expected trend with the casualty of Joey the Blue Shirt.  His death is due to the near nonexistent safety and quarantine protocols of Star Fleet.

First, the hazmat suits (which are made of bubble wrap, but I’ll let that go) aren’t sealed, allowing (the poorly trained in blood borne pathogen protocols) Lieutenant Dinkus to remove his glove and reach under his headgear to scratch his nose on a planet filled with mysteriously dead people.

Second, Joey is beamed up to the ship using a process that scans him, reduces him to energy, and reassembles him.  One might think, with a charter to “explore strange new worlds,” there would be some analysis in that scanning process to detect strange new diseases, or at least an additional scan after the fact.  Nope, it’s take off the bubble wrap and go play with your friends.

Luckily their protocols are atrocious, because the character moments were phenomenal.  We get to see Janice Rand alongside Uhura on the helm and navigation stations for a brief moment, highlighting that EVERYONE on this ship is a highly trained member of the Star Fleet military organization.  (Lt. Leslie gets called Rand earlier in the show, maybe Kirk is psychic?)

George Takei establishes some awesomeness here, well before he became known for doing it regularly on the internet.  It is documented that Shatner was on the receiving end of the first Vulcan neck pinch filmed, and his selling of the move made it believable. However, the episodes were not shown in the order shot, and the first neck pinch SEEN BY VIEWERS was Sulu.  Takei’s acting is what sold the fans on it first.  Additional awesome comes from his request to change the cliché Asian samurai fantasy scripted for Sulu into a Three Musketeers one, adding greatly to the depth of the character.

The only thing that out awesomes Sulu’s swashbuckling was Uhura’s reaction to it.  Nichelle Nichols ad libbed the “Neither, thank you,” reply to being called a “fair maiden.”

Nimoy’s work on his infected scenes was similarly amazing, leading into the first “Jim” moment between him and Kirk.  Both actors laid some impressive groundwork to show how their two characters are able to overcome any hardship by building inner strength off of each other.

In the “just imagine” column:  They had a mixed geographical origin cast from the beginning and brought in Chekov for Season Two as “the young guy.”  What if instead of a Russian, they went with the Irishman they already had, and made Kevin Riley a regular beyond his two brief but stellar appearances.  Wouldn’t him playing the drunken Irishman during the bar fight with the Klingons on space station K-7 have been glorious.
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longbow said...

I got the Kathleen reference immediately. FYI, they added a "bio-filter" thing to the transporter in ST:TNG. It then proceeded to be defeated like, every episode.

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx for the info.

See, Next Generation- More complicated, less effective!