Sunday, November 18, 2012


“Star Trek obviously solicits all-out suspension of disbelief but it won't work. It was an incredible mess of dreary complexities and confusion at the kick-off... By a generous stretch of the imagination it could lure a small coterie of the smallfry, though not happily time slotted in that direction. It's better suited to the Saturday morning kidvid bloc.”

Robert Justman and Herbert Solow quote from the The Weekly Variety's stinker of a review of The Man Trap in their book Inside Star Trek. It never gets any kinder than the section quoted above, also describing Shatner and Nimoy as, “wooden” and wondering, “how this lowercase fantasy broke into the sked.” Frustratingly the complete review doesn't appear online but the sections in Justman and Solow's book suggest the review reserves much of its criticism for surface details (“[Mr Spock] socalled chief science officer whose bizarre hairdo (etc.) is a dilly”) rather than anything much of substance. Having said that, the quoted section is very perceptive about Star Trek's scheduling. It may not have ended up on Saturday mornings but the series only achieved mass popularity in syndication after it was bought by Kaiser Broadcasting who targeted young males by putting Star Trek on at 6pm opposite their competitor's news broadcasts.

The Weekly Variety's review may be off target for The Man Trap but it sums up Catspaw very well because it does look look like, “lowercase fantasy suitable for smallfry”.

There's a lack of depth to Robert Bloch's script. It is very superficial, in a way no other
Star Trek script has been before. Even a flawed episode like The Apple contains a Garden of Eden metaphor; Kirk gets some maudlin reflection about the weight of command; McCoy and Spock have an ongoing debate about the right way to treat the feeders of Vaal; there's some “nudge nudge, wink wink,” talk about sex; and the suggestion that humans stagnate in paradise and need to suffer to achieve their potential (a recurring theme in Star Trek). The Weekly Variety's favourite episode The Man Trap uses the extinct buffalo as a metaphor for the salt vampire; McCoy must kill a creature which looks like the love of his life; there's the disturbing question of Crater's relationship with the salt vampire (he appears to have fallen in love with the creature which killed his wife because it can make itself look like the woman it killed- to quote Homer Simpson “who's gonna pay for that wedding?”); and even the title is a pun, like a real man trap the salt vampire is a snare for the unwary.

Viewers can watch both stories on one of several levels. They can question the motivation of characters and decide who is right and who is wrong. They can pick up hints of themes too risky for network television to talk about in any detail. They can draw parallels with other stories. Or, they can watch them purely as the exciting space adventures of Captain Kirk and his fight against Vaal, or the salt vampire.

However, it's not just lashings of subtext which make a story work. The Apple's discussion of sex among the feeders of Vaal is handled in such a juvenile way (Spock is embarrassed by the subject: why?) the script would probably be marginally better if it was removed. The weakest part of The Doomsday Machine is the planet killer/nuclear weapons parallel; if only because Kirk unambiguously spells out the message to the audience. Mirror, Mirror makes no attempt at allegory and the cast are driven by the desire to escape; one of the most basic motives possible.

Why then do Mirror, Mirror and The Doomsday Machine feel more sophisticated than Catspaw? Both episodes give us something different. The Doomsday Machine works because the threat to the Enterprise is doubled; externally from the planet killer and internally from the obsessed Commodore Decker. Mirror, Mirror shows us a world where friends are enemies and everything familiar seems dangerous and new.

In contrast Catspaw has nothing new to offer except the set dressing. Scrape away the skeletons, black cats, and torch lit dungeons and there's a familiar stew of ideas the audience has already been presented with too many times. In Bloch's earlier script What Are Little Girls Made Of? the android Andrea goes mad after being kissed by Kirk. Here Sylvia is driven insane by the rush of sensations in her new human body. Sylvia mentions a transmuter and we're off on a game of hunt-the-power source as seen in The Squire Of Gothos. As in The Return Of The Archons members of the Enterprise crew become zombie puppets under external control. Kirk attempts to seduce Sylvia as he did with Karidian's daughter Lenore in The Conscience Of The King. Catspaw ends up feeling juvenile because it's problems are threefold. The story has no depth, the setting is just about the only original element, and the motivations of Korob and Sylvia, the two aliens who drive the plot by accidentally tapping into the human collective unconsciousness and creating a planet of witches and haunted castles (another concept done before in The Squire Of Gothos where Trelane accidentally builds his world based on outdated images from Earth), are too vague and undefined to be of any real interest.

One of the few moments of real interest comes when Korob reminds Sylvia, “We have a duty to the old ones.” Bloch was a H.P. Lovecraft fan so it seems likely he intended the reference to refer to Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Lovecraft described Cthulhu as, “a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers,” which does slightly match the otherwise terrible puppets which represent the true forms of Korob and Sylvia at the end of the story. Also, if you are equipped with a dirty sense of humour, there's unintentional comedy in the moment Sylvia declares,I am a woman. I am all women,” before kneeling before Kirk and placing her hands on his hips. It looks as if she is about to commit a most indecorous act. Sylvia may be all women but she's clearly no lady.

Given this script director Joseph Pevney does his best but, as with
The Apple, he's clearly struggling to engage with the material. Korob gets an unusual close-up when he argues with Sylvia. There's a terrific tracking shot as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy search the planet at the beginning of the episode; the trio walk down a shallow gulley which allows rocks to move in the foreground and background. The jump cut from the dungeon to throne room, as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy struggle with Sulu and Scotty, is effective and momentarily disorientating but weirdly the most effective piece of editing isn't in the episode itself. The Next Voyage advert for Catspaw includes the sequence where Sylvia demonstrates her ability to change between different female forms. As she changes someone, probably film editor Bruce Shoengarth, inserts short shots of the cat snarling as a transition between the different forms. It's more creepy and effective than anything in the episode.

Enterprise crew deaths: One, Lieutenant Jackson who does a spectacular belly flop onto the transporter pad after beaming up dead.
Running total: 35

Journey Into Terror a 1965 episode of Doctor Who features the TARDIS crew landing in what appears to be the collective human unconscious while on the run from the Daleks. As in Catspaw, spooky haunted house imagery is the order of the day (along with Dracula and Frankenstein).
There must have been something in the air, or possibly the collective unconscious, during the mid sixties for two series on both sides of the Atlantic to reference Jung's theories in such similar ways, and so close together. Jung died in 1961 but his last book Man And His Symbols was published in 1964.
Possibly it was this which raised awareness of his work.

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