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.

Land of the Lost 1.6 – The Stranger

One reason I wanted to be sure and capture some images of Walker Edmiston in other roles without a costume is because, for a generation, this is what he looks like. Enik appears here to be a one-off character, but come on, with all the money troubles that Sid and Marty Krofft had, no way was this costume not coming back to be used again.

Anyway, I’ve mentioned Star Trek several times while discussing Land, and tonight’s episode is by leagues the most Trek-like of this series. It’s written by Walter Koenig, who had played Chekov in that show and had become a screenwriter as well, and had written for Filmation’s Trek cartoon the previous year.

This episode really embodies all the Star Trek aspirations of respect for other lifeforms, and compassion, and keeping anger in check. It’s also got a whammy of a twist that, unsurprisingly, Daniel is too young to appreciate. Enik had told the Marshalls that he is from the future of this land, and that the Sleestak are the barbaric ancestors of his people. But when they go to the Lost City, he realizes that he is actually from the past. The Sleestak are what his people are going to devolve into, and all of the crystal-based scientific knowledge of his universe will be lost as anger and spite wins out.

The script is a little clunky, and Will and Holly are super-annoying as they squabble, all the better to emphasize the pent-up anger issues of the storyline, and Will taking Enik’s pendant, which might hold a key to activating a time doorway. It builds to a genuinely horrifying climax as Enik uses a strange gas, or mist, to make the Marshalls hallucinate and see their worst fears to get back his pendant, and they completely freak out, screaming in terror. It’s downright eye-popping. You cannot imagine anything remotely like this scene on children’s television today, but it also foreshadows some of the wild, hallucinatory things to come in this show.

Technology note: this time out, touching one blue and one green crystal together creates a short-lived forcefield.