Thursday, April 19, 2012


"Captain's log, stardate 2713.5. In the distant reaches of our galaxy, we have made an astonishing discovery: Earth-type radio signals coming from a planet which apparently is an exact duplicate of the Earth. It seems impossible, but there it is."

An exact duplicate of Earth. Not just in size, atmosphere, and topography but apparently socially and also technologically; someone is even broadcasting a morse code SOS message. How could this have happened? Was someone, or something, responsible for making this world? Was an alien force guiding the planet's inhabitants to ensure every development on Earth was echoed on this distant planet? We'll never know because that's a story Miri isn't interested in telling. Instead Kirk beams down, catches a disease which kills all adults, and meets a bunch of kids gone wild. The mystery is apparently so impossible no one on the Enterprise can even be bothered to do any research and at the end of the episode the Enterprise warps out of orbit without anyone even looking back. Kirk's line, “It seems impossible, but there it is” ends up sounding more like a glib payoff than an expression of wonder. Something more suitable for pictures of cats that look like Hitler.
By the end of act two the script has given up on the 'just like Earth' opening. Which is unfortunate because the viewers are reminded of it each time the director cuts to the Enterprise in orbit, and we see the ship flying over familiar landmasses. It's not unreasonable to expect a resolution and the lack of one is baffling. It damages the episode because it's so much the focus of the teaser and the first act the viewer becomes primed for this story to be an allegory; in the same way The Doomsday Machine ends as an allegory for the cold war nuclear stand-off.

Maybe the aim of the 'just like Earth' sub-plot is to cover Star Trek's first major location work on the Desilu studio backlot. A site which once belonged to RKO pictures and passed through different owners until it was bought by Desilu who used it themselves and leased it to other television shows. It's easy to forget this is only the tenth Star Trek episode made and a lot of the decisions a modern audience takes for granted could have been a source of considerable behind the scenes debate. If you are filming in what is unmistakably a terrestrial city do you try and cover yourself with an explanation or do you just brazen it out and hope the audience won't notice or care? In this case they decided to try and cover the similarity with an explanation, by the time they film The Return of the Archons on the same lot they won't bother. Lack of explanation aside, the location filming is a real strength of Miri. It looks great and frankly it's just nice to get outside. As good as Star Trek's studio planet sets can be they are no substitute for proper location footage and act one of Miri has a scale and atmosphere you could never achieve indoors.

Once the landing party are infected by the disease, and meet the abandoned children, the story gets dull. The most memorable elements are the weird rubber scabs made by make-up artist Fred Phillips to show the progress of the disease. Coloured a lurid blue, and surrounded by red patches, it makes the disease look weird and unpleasant; a good combination. But the plot elements never gel. An episode about a mysterious double of planet Earth could work. Or a story about a landing party trapped by a disease. Or a story about Kirk having to deal with a colony of feral children. But somehow all not all three mixed together.

Miri is Spock's episode. Being immune to the virus is a simple idea which establishes his alien nature more effectively than those moments in other episodes where the plot briefly stops to allow a conversation about Spock's lack of emotions. It's also right that he's the one to quickly notice the communicators have been stolen. He also gets the best lines such as when talking about his immunity, “I am a carrier. Whatever happens I can't go back to the ship. And I do want to go back to the ship.” And with his description of McCoy's untested cure as “a beaker full of death” he's developing a nice line in melodrama.

One oddity comes towards the end of the episode when Spock and McCoy need a communicator to contact the Enterprise and verify the cure is safe. Spock says to McCoy “bickering is pointless I'll check on the captains progress” and leaves the room. Now, Spock's a logical guy, and he knows McCoy can get worked up and over-emotional. Does he deliberately leave the room knowing McCoy will decide to test the vaccine on himself? Despite what he said, Spock doesn't go and check on the Captains progress, he stands outside the room chatting to one of the security guards so he can burst in quickly when McCoy cries out in pain after taking the vaccine. Obviously it's not scripted that Spock acts in this manipulative way but for a moment it's as if we have a new character, meta-Spock, a lot more pragmatic than regular-Spock, who recognises the need to test the vaccine quickly before he is stranded on this planet for the rest of his life.

Enterprise crew deaths: None. Six landing party members beam down, and six beam back up at the end.
Running total: 19

Retroweb has a fascinating section about the history of the Desilu "40 acres" backlot. A huge number of films and televison programmes used it. Gone With The Wind is probably the most famous and some of its' sets still existed when Star Trek was filmed. In the picture below, the large building at the end of the street is the Atlanta railroad depot.
Most interesting are the aerial photographs which reveal how small the site was. The junction in the picture above is, more or less, in the centre of the photo below. In the top view the building just visible behind the Atlanta railroad depot actually seems to be off the lot, one of the Desilu Culver City soundstages (not where Star Trek was filmed that was Desilu's other site on Gower Street, now part of Paramount)

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