Star Trek and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Tribble Episodes

Once upon a time, there was a Star Trek fan club in Atlanta that did not have enough members, and it did not have enough rules. So they had an idea: they were going to organize every other fan club in Atlanta with their rules and give them each a planet. So there would be a Doctor Who planet and a LARP planet and an RPG planet and an anime planet and so on.

And each of these planets would appoint ambassadors to visit the other planets and report back to their own planet, and to the Star Trek planet, which was the most important planet, what every other planet was doing. Because that’s exactly what you want to do before you spend your afternoon in the game shop playing BattleMech: stop for half an hour to listen to your planet’s ambassadors report what episodes of Forever Knight they watched at the vampire planet’s last meeting.

But in the interest of goodwill, some friends of some friends put an anime music video together for the Star Trek fan club to show at their table at some con. This was the early ’90s, when Akira was hot and people were saying things like “that Japanimation is totally bitchin’.” I don’t remember what song the editors originally chose, but the Star Trek fan club decided that it needed to be a much more totally bitchin’ song and so they overdubbed it with MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”

I’m not making any of this up, I swear.

Word got back, and we were aggrieved and offended and amused, and so I decided to retaliate. I phoned a friend who had some Star Trek on video and a couple of us got together and edited, deliberately, the worst fan video ever made. You thought that songtape of Kirk and Spock exchanging meaningful glances to the tune of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was bad?

Okay, that one I made up.

Well, this was worse. It didn’t have a storyline, I dumped video effects into it just because one of my decks could do that, and once I finished the master, I recopied it back and forth twice more with the tracking screwed up to make it look like the work of an enthusiastic idiot.

The scenes were picked almost entirely at random from six episodes of the original show and Next Generation, plus the movie where Spock gives a nerve pinch to the guy on the bus with the boom box. It was four minutes of shots of people in hallways, except I made sure to include Denise Crosby in a sexy costume, and when all the Tribbles got dumped on Kirk’s head, I fast forwarded and rewound and fast forwarded and rewound. And then the finishing touch, delivered with a chef’s kiss: the soundtrack to this eyeball-punching monstrosity was a song by the then-popular boy band New Kids on the Block.

The people who were in on the joke chuckled for maybe thirty seconds before it lost any charm. People who were not in on the joke were annoyed just being in the same room. The video was made to aggravate anybody who saw it, like going to a comedy club to see Andy Kaufman, that funny man from TV, and all he does is read a book at you until his voice gives out. Some joke, huh?

But the joke was on me, because when you spend half an hour making your Tribbles dump and jump, up and down, back and forth, as terribly as two VHS players can make them hop, you have, forever, associated the Tribbles with “You Got The Right Stuff” by New Kids on the Block. And David Gerrold, who wrote this episode, is such a nice man and such a good writer that even though I don’t care for Star Trek, I feel terrible that I did this to his script. And the original episode has those fine actors William Schallert and Stanley Adams in it. The guest stars and series regulars all deserved better than the New Kids on the Block. David, if you’re out there, I’m really sorry. We should have used Harlan’s episode.

Of course the kid loved it to pieces. “The Trouble With Tribbles,” I mean, not that terrible video. And that bit where Scotty asks Kirk whether his answer is on the record really is funny. But he howled throughout as the situation escalated, especially because it wrong-footed him completely. I successfully kept this one a complete secret, and when Cyrano Jones is selling Uhura on the wonder of Tribbles, one goes and munches on Chekov’s grain. Our kid said “It’s going to grow into a giant!” And boy, was he wrong. We’ve seen this kid lose it completely laughing, and I’ve reported to you good readers that he was in stitches, but this was next-level. Every subsequent revelation that the Tribbles are getting everywhere had him on the floor choking with laughter. Watch old shows with kids, friends. You might just have a really good time.

And then I seriously wrong-footed him by sending him out of the room and setting up the 1996 sequel episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, telling him that what happened next on Sherman’s Planet was resolved in this show. What actually happened was they made a thirtieth anniversary special and had a Klingon villain jump back in time a century to the events of “The Trouble With Tribbles,” planning to change history somehow. So Avery Brooks and Terry Farrell and their gang dig deep in the closet for some old Star Fleet uniforms and tech.

Honestly, the “gee-gosh-wow that’s really the Mister Spock!” business gets a little tired, but the production is remarkable and the visual effects to insert the 1990s actors into 1960s footage makes for some great little jokes. Say, that guy wasn’t there when we watched this scene half an hour ago! The time travel stuff is the really amusing part. Avery Brooks’ character is being grilled by two bureaucrats from the Federation’s time travel division, who really don’t want to have to clean up another mess involving that blasted Captain Kirk again, and one poor fellow thinks he may be caught in a Grandfather Paradox and is obliged to meet up with a lady on the Enterprise to ensure his own existence. And of course there are Tribbles. Tribbles everywhere.

That’s all the Star Trek I’m going to watch, but the kid enjoyed the heck out of it and he’ll probably want to start getting spaceship ornaments for our Christmas tree just like his uncle. He can get his own Blu-rays though. We’ll watch one more thing on the CBS streaming service before they bill me, so stick around for Saturday to see what that might be.

Star Trek 3.15 – Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

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.

Star Trek 3.9 – The Tholian Web

I don’t remember “The Tholian Web” very well from my youth, but I definitely remember my pal Trey enjoying it. One of the characters that he made for an ongoing comic that we made in middle school was “Interphase,” plundered from this story. I was guilty of the same pilfering. I needed some aliens for some other story I was doing and came up with “Thoimmulans,” which sounds like something from a variety show parody of Trek hosted by Jerry Lewis.

With Kirk out of the action for most of the story, Spock takes command of the Enterprise once the landing party returns. Spock says there are no records of any Federation starship suffering a mutiny. Give him a month, there’d be one. Leonard Nimoy, of course, walked away with the show every week, but Spock wouldn’t be a captain I’d like to have as my boss. Dude can’t even manage to conduct a memorial service worth a darn. Chief Engineer Scott doesn’t see the big picture, but I think he wouldn’t piss off the entire crew, either. He, Sulu, and Uhura would get the job done.

Our son enjoyed this episode. Before it settles on the interphasing shifts of space itself being the cause of madness among space travelers, he really wanted to deduce what was happening. “I think it’s the life support systems!” he hissed at one point. He wasn’t right, but it’s not like anybody else was going to guess “interphasing shifts of space itself,” really.

Star Trek 3.6 – Spectre of the Gun

I’ve got better things to do with my life than recount disappointments, but I promise you good readers that I spent something like a decade making a good faith effort to enjoy Star Trek. From middle school into college, I knew good people who liked and loved this show and its sequel, and I really wanted to like it as well. I just didn’t. I’m certain I watched more than a hundred hours of various Star Treks, which is a lot of freaking work to put into something you’re not enjoying, before giving up and telling people to quit preaching at me. There’s exactly one of those hundred hours that I love: “Spectre of the Gun.” This one is magnificent.

I’m not entirely sure why it works for me. On paper, it’s Trek by the numbers: a super-powerful race of celestial know-it-alls decides to punish Captain Kirk for his arrogance, and decides in the end that perhaps humanity is not as violent and arrogant as they thought. And it’s another trip to the Paramount costume and prop department for something from Earth’s past, and they’d done Nazis and gangsters and Depression-era New York already.

But something clicks with this and they worked magic in the studio. I freaking love the half-finished sets, and the eerie effect of using that red background. I love the clock that hangs in midair. They didn’t rent a western backlot; they created an unreal fever dream in a studio instead. And most of all, I love the actors who play the Earps and Doc Holliday. These aren’t the heroic Earps from classic Westerns. These are unblinking, gaunt zombies, their skin almost sliding off their skulls. That’s Rex Holman, who I singled out in this blog several years ago, before our son showed any interest in Trek, in the middle as Morgan Earp, with Ron Soble and Charles Maxwell as his hideous, demonic brothers.

Everything about this works for me. This is Trek done as experimental theater, a hallucination, a nightmare that could only have been made in 1968. Nothing else on television then looked so confident in its strangeness as this, but it also couldn’t have been made at any other time. It’s excellent and I love it, and while it certainly couldn’t have been like this every week – I once told a Trekkie this was the only one I liked and he said, disbelieving, that it’s “the worst one” – I’m incredibly glad they did it.

Our son was completely amazed by the gunfight at the OK Corral, in which the Earps and Holliday fire at our heroes, whose backs are to the camera, only to have the bullets pass harmlessly through their bodies to blast holes in the fence behind them. He asked to know how they did that, I guess because his school library doesn’t have any books about special effects, because he figured that since he saw the “impact” shots of the bullets in the fence, they must have fired real bullets into it. That’s great that he’s asking how the visual effects departments of the past pulled off the illusions that they did in the days before computers did it all. I hope he’ll always appreciate the work of the technicians who were behind shows like this.

Star Trek 2.11 – Friday’s Child

So naturally I picked the episode with Julie Newmar to watch, and naturally it was another disappointment. D.C. Fontana wrote this one, and it’s centered around a tribe of colorfully-dressed warriors. Both the Federation and the Klingon Empire want to negotiate for exclusive mining rights on their planet.

By far the most interesting part to me was the location filming, which it turns out was at Vasquez Rocks Natural Park. It’s absolutely glorious; I’ve probably seen it in the background of all sorts of television shows over the years (Shazam! and The Fugitive come to mind, maybe Route 66), but the great remastering job that they’ve done to these episodes – coupled, in no small part, by a desire to get out of isolation – makes me want to drive to California and spend all day hiking there.

As for the episode itself, while our son enjoyed the showdown with the tribe and the turncoat Klingon, he also got a buzz out of the B-plot. Scotty’s left in charge and the Enterprise has to leave the planet’s orbit to look into a distant distress call. To nobody’s surprise, it’s a trick, and when they get back, a Klingon ship has drawn a line in the sand, and the kid sat up ready for some special effects. Sadly, what happens next is resolved offscreen. I imagine the budget was probably pretty thin after several days of location filming and it didn’t even stretch to a good model of the Klingon ship, much less a space battle. Since I find Doohan, Takei, Nichols, and Koenig more watchable than Shatner and Kelley, I’d have liked to have seen more of this plot, honestly.

Oh, and this is the first episode we’ve seen with Walter Koenig’s character of Chekhov. Happily, he introduced himself to our son with a bit where he claims Russian credit of an old saying. Like McCoy and his “I’m a doctor, not a–” bits – an “escalator” this time – I think that’s something the younger members of the audience can enjoy. Our son thought his name was funny.

Star Trek 1.28 – The City on the Edge of Forever

“The City on the Edge of Forever” is the celebrated episode credited to Harlan Ellison, who spent the next forty years complaining about what those Hollywood finks did to his beautiful screenplay. It guest stars Joan Collins, and I enjoyed her performance more than anything that was in the script, whoever wrote the final draft. Our son liked it because there was time travel, but says that he liked “The Devil in the Dark” more. The grownups agree. Fifty minutes of Ellison ranting about what they did wrong would have been more entertaining.

Credit the Federation for at least being more civilized than Stargate Command and quietly leaving the planet after their mission to New York, 1930. If word got back to Cheyenne Mountain about what was living on that planet, Colonel Maybourne’s goons would have put the Guardian of Forever in a crate and shipped it to Area 51.

Star Trek 1.25 – The Devil in the Dark

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.

Star Trek 1.21 – The Return of the Archons

So it turns out that an evil supercomputer is behind the international communist conspiracy! Who’d’a thunk it?

I picked tonight’s episode of Star Trek because the mighty Sid Haig is in it. Alas, it’s just a henchman role. He plays one of the hooded lawgivers on a Paramount Backlot Planet (see comment). This one’s Small Town Main Street USA. All six of the main season one characters are in this story, even though Scotty and Sulu have very small parts. Since I’ve forgotten many of the details of this show and know more of its folk memory and stereotype, I was interested to see that the main three characters are accompanied to the planet by three other officers instead of the traditional one. None of them get eaten by a space monster behind a rock and one of them, Lindstrom, gets to have several lines.

The evil supercomputer in this one is called Landru and it represses individual thought, creativity, and free will, stamping all of that out for the good of society. It just leaves its brainwashed population mindless, happy, pointless drones until an occasional twelve-hour festival which is a curious antecedent of the much later Purge films, and all the young people go wild in the streets. It’s paced like a glacier and runs in place with about fifteen solid minutes of padding between the halfway point and the inevitable reveal of the computer. Naturally, Captain Kirk and Mister Spock talk the evil supercomputer into self-destructing, because that’s what happened in the sixties and seventies. We’ve seen this happen before, haven’t we, readers?

The kid says that he liked it. I have no idea why.

Jason of Star Command – Chapters 15 and 16

Chapter 15 of Jason of Star Command ends with one of those classic cliffhangers where the heroes think that they’ve won, but the villains have one last trick. And our son, smiling from ear to ear, instantly despaired as three clones of the evil Dragos appeared to mock Jason and Nicole. The fiend!

All was well in the end, of course, and the climactic space battle, which looks pretty darn impressive for a 1978 Saturday morning show, had him cheering, and the final destruction of the Death Sta– I mean, Dragonship, was the greatest thing ever. “That was rockin’, bro!” he announced. Then it was our turn to despair at his awful slang. I think this kid’s really going to enjoy Star Wars when we introduce him to it in a few months.

Jason would have a few cast changes when the show returned for the second season, so this would be the final appearances of Nicole and Commander Canarvin. Susan Pratt, who acted under her married name of O’Hanlon for this series, has appeared in a few guest star roles in soap operas and dramas. James Doohan was not available for the second season because he was working on the first of the Star Trek feature films in 1978-79. He appeared in six of those movies along with some Trek video games and TV episodes, while working in some guest star parts for other dramas and appearing at quite a few fan conventions around the world every year. He largely retired in 1999 and passed away in 2005.

Jason of Star Command – Chapters 13 and 14

Len Janson and Chuck Menville continue script duties as the serial gets closer to its climax. The big moment in chapter 13 is a return of the big alien beast from the fifth part of the story. Once you shell out for animation that good, it makes sense to use a little more of it.

Both the alien monster and Sid Haig’s Dragos had our son more worried than he usually is. He says that he doesn’t like Dragos because he’s so mean and – surprisingly – “always wins.” We had to have a little chat in between the episodes to discuss the reality that Dragos has not actually accomplished much of anything, and that his bonehead spaghetti aliens are totally incompetent. But I think that because he keeps capturing Jason and his friends, even though they escape almost immediately, and because he always acts like he has the upper hand, that’s enough to convince a kid.

Plus, you know, it’s Sid Haig. Dude scares plenty of grown-ups.

Jason of Star Command – Chapters 11 and 12

There’s just a hint that there may not actually be enough plot to fill sixteen chapters of this story. Some guest writers, among them kidvid vet Chuck Menville, come aboard for a two-part detour. Chapter ten had ended with our heroes helplessly about to crash on a planet, and chapter twelve ended with them helplessly about to land on the Death Sta– I mean Dragonship, which is where they were heading in the first place. In other words, you could safely excise these two chapters and lose nothing of the plot. Such was the way of the classic Saturday matinee serials that this program emulates.

The guest villains this time out are the gorgeous Julie Newmar, vamping it up as Dragos’s moll Queen Vanessa, and her associate Bork, played by Angelo Rossitto. We’ve seen Rossitto buried under foam and fur in some of Sid and Marty Krofft’s earlier shows. He was the original Seymour – and Clang, the smaller one – in H.R. Pufnstuf, and Mr. Big, the gangster hat in Lidsville. He’d been working in Hollywood since the late 1920s.

Bork controls a deeply silly monster with the head of a sheepdog and a costume that says “we can’t afford Julie Newmar and a monster costume at the same time.” Nevertheless, our son thought the beast was remarkably mean, with “claws like saws!” We mistakenly thought he was very excited when Jason was trying to activate a heavy switch before Queen Vanessa and Bork returned. He clarified that he was very nervous and worried. As ever, I’m pleased that when I find the shows a little wearying and see-through, he’s having a ball, loving the action completely.