What Are Little Treks Made Of? Unsolicited Space Seeding On “Star Trek: The Orig Series”

Captain’s log: supplemental. I have made my way through two seasons of the very first “Star Trek” tv series, re-discovering a world I was unprepared to immerse myself in at earlier stages in my life. What follows are my thoughts on this strange but intoxicating landscape where Ted Cassidy is prevalent and sometimes you see Teri Garr.

– “Star Trek: The Original Series” (1966-69) takes place in the future in space and yet it is three thousand times more believable and grounded than many other enduring programs of its era; the credit must go to the cast, who sell the space mumbo jumbo lifestyle like they’re just fishin’ down at the crik, and the writers, whose dialogue and plots are nuanced, thought-provoking affairs even when they’re flat out repeating themselves (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy sure do end up on a lot of planets populated by historical Earth fetishists who force them into some kind of degrading slavery)

– the episodes currently on Netflix are the remastered versions from ’06, wherein all the space effects have been enhanced via CGI; when I say “enhanced” I mean exactly that—they’ve mostly made colors brighter or details sharper, and even when the ships have been re-animated they remain looking very ’60s; I wasn’t even sure when I began if this was the remastered set, which speaks to the talents of the 2006 artists; what a shame George Lucas never figured out subtle non-intrusive computer graphic effects that blend in this seamlessly for his Star Wars follies

– it’s not that I disbelieve George Takei when he says Shatner often stole Kirk’s best lines from Sulu, it’s just that Takei still dominates plenty of the scenes with simple knowing glances and tiny utterances; it’s not the size of the Sulu, it’s what you do with it

– in one of the first episodes, Lt. Uhura sings a torch song about a feral child the Enterprise takes aboard and I was unprepared for this sultry dynamic; I do not believe this particular haunting tune is on either of Nichelle Nichols’s albums (1967’s Down To Earth and 1991’s Star Trek: Out Of This World)

– we remember Spock as a mostly benevolent and calming presence, but in the earliest “Treks” he’s very irritable, barking orders and sometimes making very pointed sarcastic remarks; eventually we learn Spock has been on the Enterprise twice as long as Kirk et al, which seems like a legit reason to be grumpy (can you imagine how many navigators and cooks and yeoman and nurses he’s seen come and go?); also, you’d be annoyed too if you had to spend most of your years crouched over a weird glowing thing that yips at you like a small dog

– making Spock half-human was a deft move on the writers’ part because they could swing the character so many ways and blame it on his “internal struggle”; many times it seems his pals conveniently forget Spock’s heritage when it serves the plot, but I guess I don’t always remember McCoy has a daughter or that Khan is actually from Earth

– there’s more brilliance in how “Star Trek” often manages to subvert its low budget; to wit, an alien creature looks like a terrible puppet, and then it turns out to be a terrible puppet being used by a much better looking puppet; also, in the “Menagerie” eps about Captain Pike, they’re watching huge stretches of the unaired series pilot in a court room, and before you can even think it some character says, “Okay, you know what, it doesn’t seem possible that all this stuff was recorded, and p.s., why can’t you just tell us what happened? Why do we have to watch this goddamn thing?”

– my favorite ep of these seasons is “Balance of Terror,” in part because it breaks free from the few clichés that sometimes bog “Trek” down; instead of Kirk going on about the 400 people aboard he must protect at all costs, this one starts with him straight up announcing, “Look, we’re about to get in that Neutral Zone, and if the shit goes down, which you know it will, this bucket a turds is expendable”; a taught thriller unfolds, with twists, turns, and tension like you wouldn’t believe (you’re not even distracted by the fact the main Romulan is played by the guy who later played Spock’s dad)

– sometimes the uniforms these Trekkos wear look like one piece with a black collar and sometimes they look like two garments, one of which is a black undershirt; trying to spot the differing instances is giving me space madness

– if you ask me these dopes sorta got what they deserved in Wrath Of Khan based on the first appearance here of that famed villain; Khan was Earth’s last major dictator, and when he reemerges aboard the Enterprise he tries to take it over with violence and intimidation…but instead of throwing him in space jail, in the end the Federation give him an empty planet to play with; like, come on, he slapped that lady, at least give him a stiff fine

– if you thought there was only one way to travel through time in “Star Trek,” guess again—in addition to rocketing around the sun, you can randomly fly through a time warp (which is sort of like a black hole?) or you can find this talking gate on some barren planet, a gate McCoy jumps through to mess up ’30s America in “City On The Edge Of Forever” (a pretty disturbing ep most of the time but the emotional payoff at the end is worth it)

– maybe the funniest moment is when Kirk is talking into his communicator between altercations with the Gorn; he says something like, “This Gorn is strong, but he’s also stubborn and stupid,” then they cut to the Gorn, who is overhearing the transmission, and they manage to make this motionless lizard mask look shocked, hurt, and taken aback by what it is hearing

– scariest moment: a tie between the first few minutes of Evil Spock in “Mirror, Mirror” and the reveal of the conniving aliens’ true form in “Catspaw” (disgusting Gumby-ish lumps that flail about silently); various parts of my body clenched up in both instances

– when Chekov wears his Monkees wig he looks like Eartha Kitt, which is confusing for me sexually

– Chekov is a real ball buster in the sense that every time someone else is talking about something he butts in to say, “Yeah, Russia did that first”; I can see now why they wrote him into so much peril in the movies

– interesting to learn Captain Kirk’s preferred snack is coffee and a chicken sandwich; he sure throws a fit when those dang tribbles help themselves to said nosh (I guess any animal is gross if it touches your food)

– my only complaint with this show is they don’t give Yeoman Rand and Nurse Chapel enough to do; one of them could have fenced Sulu when he got the space madness or been the woman that fake-ass Apollo alien was after in “Who Mourns For Adonais?” (or gone down with the fellas to that 1920s planet and thrown on some flapper duds)

– force me to grade “Star Trek: The Orig Series” so far and I’ll give it an A

– yes, the guest spot in “The Ultimate Computer” by William Marshall is amazing (six feet of Shakespearean thunder in a purple jumpsuit!)

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