Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Strange New Worlds

This'll be the last "Star Trek" post for a while, I swear. However, my friend, cartoonist, and fellow Trek fan Patricia Storms left a comment in my post of September 22 suggesting I list my favorite episodes. She didn't actually specify how many, but since she has three clear favorites I thought I'd try to match her. Interestingly, only my top two sprang instantly to mind:

1. Balance of Terror. If I had to put one "Star Trek" episode in a time capsule to explain to future generations what it was all about, this would be it: The battle of wits and wills between Kirk and his equally matched Romulan opponent, wonderfully and sympathetically played by the late Mark Lenard ("In a different reality, I might have called you friend"). The deliberate evocation of World War II submarine movies, right down to the Enterprise crew whispering as if the sound of their voices could somehow travel through space. Stiles finding a little love for Vulcans in his racist (specist?) little heart. I think this episode is the perfect balance of action, character development, and Roddenberrian idealism.

2. City on the Edge of Forever. Of course. A lot of fans would list it first, but I downgrade it only slightly because it was such an atypical episode; if it were the only "Star Trek" episode anyone ever saw, I suspect they'd find it a gripping story but not come away with a full appreciation of what the series was about. Still, it had Joan Collins in her prime, Spock at his most ingenious and loyal, and Kirk faced with a truly unwinnable dilemma. It was an unusually adult story with a great mix of drama and comedy (and it contains quite a bit arch comedy). I've read Harlan Ellison's book in which he complains about how his original script was bowdlerized by Roddenberry. Comparing the two, with all respect to Mr. Ellison, I think Roddenberry did him a favor.

3. A difficult choice. There are plenty of great episodes left to choose from, but do you go with high-concept sci-fi, drama, comedy? "Where No Man Has Gone Before," "The Corbomite Maneuver," Arena," "Doomsday Machine," "Tomorrow is Yesterday," "Amok Time," "Trouble With Tribbles"? Somewhat to my surprise, one did emerge to stand out in my mind. But I'm gonna have to explain.

"The Savage Curtain." A chubby rock monster captures Kirk and Spock and pairs them up with a fake Abraham Lincoln and Surak of Vulcan to fight four of the most evil characters in history (also fakes). I have no excuse; I just love everything about this episode and watch it with a dumb goofy grin every time.

One reason is that I was around 13 when a local television station began syndicating "Star Trek," which hadn't been on the air since 1969. They made a very big deal about it and kicked off the series with a midnight showing of "The Savage Curtain." I could barely contain my excitement waiting weeks for that midnight to roll around. So there's some personal nostalgia involved.

A better reason is that "The Savage Curtain" has one line of dialog that I think perfectly sums up everything "Star Trek" is about and has stayed with me all these decades later. Surak is the Vulcans' Christ/Buddha/Socrates who led them to the path of pacifism and reason. When Surak meets Kirk, he gives him the Vulcan salute and says, "In my time we knew not of Earthmen. I am pleased to see that we have differences. May we together become greater than the sum of both of us."

"I am pleased to see that we have differences."

That's just about all anyone needs to know about "Star Trek" right there.


patricia said...

Very interesting! And thank you for the detailed reasons. Much appreciated. Hmmmm.... Well, only one on your list matches mine. Here's my top three:

1. 'Turnabout Intruder'
Maybe I like it because I'm a girl, and I was fascinated with the whole switching of sexual roles? I really thought that both actors (Shatner and the woman who played Janet Lester, I can't remember her name) did a fantastic acting performance. I truly believed that their souls, their personalities had switched. Granted that looking at that episode now might make me cringe in regards to the chauvinistic tones (I've read Roddenberry's bio, and I have issues with his attitudes towards women) but for me it still stands as one of the best episodes ever made (wasn't it also the last one?)

2. City On the Edge of Forever

But of course! A beautiful, hear-renching story. And I love that whole 'can't tamper with time' theme.

3. 'The Menagerie'

I can't get enough of this one. I loved the fact that they used elements from the original pilot in order to make what I thought was a very intriguing two-part episode. I was always drawn to episodes when Spock showed his human tendencies, and this was one where he wasn't affected by drugs or time or the seven-year-itch, he just wanted to help his former captain, Captain Pike, live out the rest of his life in relative comfort, even if that comfort was an illusion. That whole theme of 'what is reality' has always appealed to me.

Some honourable mentions:

The Consience of the King
Wolf in the Fold
Mirror, Mirror

And yes, 'Balance of Terror' was an excellent episode as well. But I must confess that I always found the other one with Abe and the guys to be a tad cheezy.... sorry!

Thanks so much for sharing!

BrianFies said...

"The Menagerie" is a fine episode(s), and I like "Conscience of the King." "Mirror Mirror" is fun enough and has become a minor cultural touchstone (e.g., the "South Park" episode with the evil bearded Cartman). I think the subsequent series took a dopey idea and beat it to death with repeated trips to "The Mirror Universe," though I enjoyed the light touch they gave it on "Enterprise."

Personally, I actually like "Turnabout Intruder" very much--largely for Shatner's acting--but I think it's not generally well-regarded. It is an embarrassingly sexist episode but I don't think you can pin it on Roddenberry: by the third season he was pretty hands-off.

And of course "The Savage Curtain" is cheesy. I admitted my affection for it was nearly indefensible. I like cheese.

Thanks for playing, I liked your choices and insights.

Otis Frampton said...

Great post.

I was thrilled to see your LAST post about pitching story ideas . . . I wanted to do the same thing in the 90s, but didn't.

Big Trekkie (yes, "Trekkie", I accept my inner nerd) myself. Love all 6 incarnations and the films, warts and all. But my favorite is Deep Space Nine. I could watch it on a loop, from the pilot to the final ep, and still love it.

I'd love to see your choices for the other shows as well. PLEASE don't let this be your last Trek post.

Here are my picks for my favorite 3 TOS episodes:

1. "Amok Time": reat story, character and an exploration of culture, all things that make Trek great, IMHO.

2. "Space Seed": Prequel to my favorite Trek film and a darn fine episode i and of itself.

3. "The City on the Edge of Forver" for its twisty time travelling, one of my favorite Trek elements.

Honorable Mention: "The Squire of Gothos": The seminal "Q" episode. :) Read Peter David's book "Q Squared" to fully enjoy this one.


ronnie said...

Brian, I think I've mentioned to you before that my mom was a trekkie so I literally grew up watching repeats of TOS every day at her knee.

During my adolescence, we only had two (badly-received) tv stations in Newfoundland; and The Partridge Family and ST:TOS were on at the same time in those pre-VCR days, in syndication, at suppertime. The only tv we got to watch before homework!!!

While all my friends were watching The Partridge Family (and fantasizing about David Cassidy) and discussing it on the school bus the next day, I was watching (and fantasizing about) William Shatner.

So I love these ST posts. I will have to think about my own favourites (or I should say "research them" because I know what they are but don't know most of them by name, except "City on the Edge of Forever" and "The Menangerie"). Will report anon, Captain.


Brian Fies said...

Otis: Nice picks, thanks for joining in. I almost went with "Space Seed" for my third place finish just because "Wrath of Khan" was so darn good. "Squire of Gothos" is a great episode but I think it marked the start of one of Roddenberry's less interesting recurring themes, the "Omnipotent Child-like Alien."

I liked a lot about DS9 but was ultimately disappointed by it. I think it would have been much better if the writers had established an overall arc for the show instead of making it up as they went (which they did). The same criticism applies even more to Voyager: if they'd really tried to realize the promise of their premise and thought out where they wanted to go, it could have been a great series. Curiously, when I happen to catch them in re-runs, I find myself thinking the Voyager episodes are better than I remembered and the DS9's are worse. For what it's worth.

I'll mull over posting my favorite episodes from all the Treks. Several candidates come to mind. However, I feel some sympathy for readers coming to my blog because they're interested in "Mom's Cancer" and despairing to find a big ol' Trekkie (my preferred usage as well) instead. But don't let me stop you; as I recall, you've got a pretty cool blog of your own.

Ronnie, I was privileged to watch both "Star Trek" and "The Partridge Family" (Susan Dey...sigh). Just one more way in which my country is ever so much better than yours. I'd love to see your favorite episode list as well.

patricia said...

FYI, Brian, I just found out that a writer/cartoonist friend of mine has started a blog dedicated to the original Star Trek episodes!

The blog is called, "He's Dead, Jim!"


Brian Fies said...

Patricia, fun blog, thanks for the pointer. I'll check it out from time to time. It's kind of funny that in the past month I've spent more time thinking and writing about Star Trek then I probably have in the past five years. I wonder if that means anything.