So naturally I picked the one with Frank Gorshin, because Gorshin was the Riddler. I see that Gene L. Coon’s “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” gets a little online stick for being heavy-handed with its message about racism, but heck, fifty-one years have passed since its broadcast and we’ve still got uncountable numbers of clods across the planet who clearly need to watch something as heavy-handed as this on a daily basis. On the other hand, our son got the “hatred is bad” message, but he didn’t quite catch the “racism is bad” part. Hopefully we’re raising him right, because he thought that was obvious.
Sadly, I really didn’t enjoy it. It seems very slow and repetitive to me, but full credit to the other guest actor in this one. I think everybody remembers that Frank Gorshin plays one of the aliens, but the other guy is Lou Antonio. He was never a big name or a Batvillain, so pop culture has largely forgotten him, but I’ve seen other actors fold when Gorshin goes full-throttle – just try to watch everybody opposite him in that episode of Charlie’s Angels he did – and Antonio matches him note for note. He’s terrific in the face of a tornado, hurling back every insult with conviction and power in his performance.
Also of note, for those of you who ever chuckled at William Shatner’s strange pronunciation of, er, “sabataage” on that wonderful old collection of celebrities at their worst, he didn’t know how to pronounce it in 1969 either.
The real star of “The Devil in the Dark” is the set designer. I was reminded in a very positive way of how the caves and tunnels in Land of the Lost, while obviously phony and built in a studio, always looked so darn good. The mines on this remote planet are blue and beautiful, with lots of objects and stalagmites in the foreground. Occasionally the illusion slips and you realize a wall is fabric or some vacu-formed material, and it never matters, because they put 100% into this environment, and it looks so good that you want to believe in it.
Marie picked “The Devil in the Dark,” which was written by Gene L. Coon, having remembered it from her childhood. I remember the name of the monster – a Horda – from reading it in some book about sci-fi monsters, but I’d never seen it before. It’s very ahead of its time. I kept coming up with other productions that used elements that this story did, and all of them – “The Sentry” on Kolchak: The Night Stalker, “The Stones of Blood” on Doctor Who – came later. It’s not a bad hour of television, and I liked it a lot more than the other two we’ve seen. I’m glad to report that our kid enjoyed it. Star Trek is really capturing his imagination generally; he’s built a little Lego NCC-1701 and designed some shuttlecrafts for it, just like he builds little pods for his Thunderbird 2.
Looked at from fifty-plus years distance, other than some dated production values and my personal dislike of some of the actors’ styles, the only real flaw in this production is that there’s not a single speaking part for a woman anywhere in it. Uhura doesn’t appear at all; neither does Sulu, for that matter. There are no women among the mining colony, and none among the security force who spread out to hunt the monster. At the end of the episode, everybody meets on the bridge for the requisite gag about Spock’s humanity, and there’s one woman in a red Federation miniskirt onscreen for about two seconds, which really reinforces that the casting director did not do as good a job as that set designer.