Thursday, September 20, 2012

Top Ten

Before getting started on Star Trek's second year, this is how my top ten list of episodes currently shapes up.

The Corbomite Manouver
Balance Of Terror
This Side Of Paradise
The Naked Time
The Devil In The Dark
The Galileo Seven
City On The Edge Of Forever
The Squire Of Gothos
Errand Of Mercy

The top three are unchanged from last time but This Side Of Paradise sneaks in at number four. I've completely revised my opinion of the episode and so far that has been the biggest surprise of my rewatch. I don't think there can be any doubt I prefer Gene L. Coon's flavour of Star Trek. Arena, The Devil In The Dark, and Errand Of Mercy were all written by him. This Side Of Paradise, The Galileo Seven, City On The Edge Of Forever, and The Squire Of Gothos were all produced by him.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Raumschiff Enterprise

When German television bought Star Trek, the series was dubbed and retitled Raumschiff Enterprise (Spaceship Enterprise). It's easy to find a list of the German episode titles but there doesn't seem to a list of the titles translated back into English for us dunces who spent school German lessons defacing the textbooks and sniggering at the pronouncation of Vater.  With this in mind I contacted Jeremy Phillips who speaks German to a level far beyond my feeble, "ein bier bitte" level and he translated all 79 episode titles.

Season 1
Episode German Title Translation Premier
The Man Trap Das Letzte seiner Art The Last Of It's Kind 28/9/87
Charlie X Der Fall Charly The Charly Case 9/2/74
Where No Man Has Gone Before Die Spitze des Eisberges The Tip Of The Iceberg 6/10/73
The Naked Time Implosion in der Spirale Implosion In The Helix 5/10/87
The Enemy Within Kirk : 2 = ? Kirk : 2 = ? 22/7/72
Mudd's Women Die Frauen des Mr Mudd The Women Of Mr Mudd 21/9/87
What Are Little Girls Made Of? Der alte Traum The Old Dream 19/10/87
Miri Miri, ein Kleinling Miri, A Little One 2/11/87
Dagger Of The Mind Der Zentralnervensystemmanipulator The Central Nervous System Manipulator 26/10/87
The Corbomite Maneuver Pokerspiele Gamble 7/10/72
The Menagerie Part 1 Talos IV – Tabu, Teil I Talos IV – Taboo, Part I 16/11/87
The Menagerie Part 2 Talos IV – Tabu, Teil II Talos IV – Taboo, Part II 23/11/87
The Conscience Of The King Kodos der Henker Kodos The Executioner 9/11/87
Balance Of Terror Spock unter Verdacht Spock Under Suspicion 12/10/87
Shore Leave Landeurlaub Shore Leave 30/11/87
The Galileo Seven Notlandung auf Galileo 7 Emergency Landing On Galileo 7 14/10/72
The Squire Of Gothos Tödliche Spiele auf Gothos Deadly Games On Gothos 23/3/74
Arena Ganz neue Dimensionen All New Dimensions 14/12/87
Tomorrow Is Yesterday Morgan ist Gestern Tomorrow Is Yesterday 27/5/72
Court Martial Kirk unter Anklage Kirk On Trial 10/6/72
The Return Of The Archons Landru und die Ewigkeit Landru And Eternity 21/12/87
A Taste Of Armageddon Krieg der Computer War Of The Computer 28/12/87
Space Seed Der schlafende Tiger The Sleeping Tiger 21/10/72
This Side Of Paradise Falsche Paradiese False Eden 4/1/88
The Devil In The Dark Horta rettet ihre Kinder Horta Rescues It's Children 11/1/88
Errand Of Mercy Kampf um Organia Battle For Organia 15/12/73
The Alternative Factor Auf Messers Schneide On A Knife Edge 14/12/87
The City On The Edge Of Forever Griff in die Geschichte A Grasp Of History 18/1/88
Operation -- Annihilate! Spock außer Kontrolle Spock Out Of Control 25/1/88

Season 2
Episode German Title Translation Premier
Amok Time Weltraumfieber Space Fever 12/1/74
Who Mourns for Adonais? Der Tempel des Apoll The Temple Of Apollo 4/11/72
The Changeling Ich heiße Nomad My Name Is Nomad 1/7/72
Mirror, Mirror Ein Parallel-Universum A Parallel Universe 22/2/88
The Apple Die Stunde der Erkenntnis The Hour Of Insight 15/2/88
The Doomsday Machine Planeten-Killer Planet Killer 24/6/72
Catspaw Das Spukschloss im Weltall The Haunted Castle In Space 1/12/73
I, Mudd Der dressierte Herrscher The Trained Master 26/8/72
Metamorphosis Metamorphose Metamorphosis 17/1/73
Journey To Babel Reise nach Babel Journey To Babel 16/9/72
Friday's Child Im Namen des jungen Tiru In The Name Of Young Tiru 1/2/88
The Deadly Years Wie schnell die Zeit vergeht How Time Flies 29/2/88
Obsession Tödliche Wolken Deadly Clouds 29/7/72
Wolf In The Fold Der Wolf im Schafspelz Wolf In Sheep's Clothing 8/2/88
The Trouble With Tribbles Kennen Sie Tribbles? Have You Heard Of Tribbles? 23/9/72
The Gamesters Of Triskelion Meister der Sklaven Masters Of Slaves 14/3/88
A Piece Of The Action Epigonen Epigones 8/7/72
The Immunity Syndrome Das Loch im Weltraum The Hole In Space 3/6/72
A Private Little War Der erste Krieg The First War 7/3/88
Return To Tomorrow Geist sucht Körper Spirit Seeks Body 29/12/73
Patterns Of Force Schablonen der Gewalt Patterns Of Force 25/7/99
By Any Other Name Stein und Staub Stone And Dust 11/11/72
The Omega Glory Das Jahr des roten Vogels The Year Of The Red Bird 21/3/88
The Ultimate Computer Computer M5 Computer M5 15/7/72
Bread And Circuses Brot und Spiele Bread And Circuses 26/1/74
Assignment: Earth Ein Planet genannt Erde A Planet Called Earth 2/9/72

Season 3
Episode German Title Translation Premier
Spock's Brain Spock's Gehirn Spock's Brain 4/4/88
The Enterprise Incident Die unsichtbare Falle The Invisible Trap 12/8/72
The Paradise Syndrome Der Obelisk The Obelisk 18/11/72
And The Children Shall Lead Kurs auf Marcus 12 On Course For Marcus 12 23/2/74
Is There In Truth No Beauty? Die fremde Materie The Alien Matter 9/9/72
Spectre Of The Gun Wild West im Weltraum Wild West In Space 23/8/88
The Day Of The Dove Das Gleichgewicht der Kräfte Balance Of Power 12/1/74
For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky Der verirrte Planet The Lost Planet 18/4/88
The Tholian Web Das Spinnennetz The Spider's Web 17/6/72
Plato's Stepchildren Platons Stiefkinder Plato's Stepchildren 25/4/88
Wink Of An Eye Was summt denn da? What's That Humming? 3/1/73
The Empath Der Plan der Vianer The Plan Of The Vians 11/4/88
Elaan Of Troyius Brautschiff Enterprise Brideship Enterprise 20/10/73
Whom Gods Destroy Wen die Götter zerstören Whom Gods Destroy 9/5/88
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield Bele jagt Lokai Bele Hunts Lokai 2/5/88
The Mark Of Gideon Fast unsterblich Almost Immortal 26/5/88
That Which Survives Gefährliche Planetengirls Dangerous Planet Girls 19/8/72
The Lights Of Zetar Strahlen greifen an Rays Attack 5/8/72
Requiem for Methuselah Planet der Unsterblichen Planet Of The Immortals 9/3/74
The Way To Eden Die Reise nach Eden Journey To Eden 30/5/88
The Cloud Minders Die Wolkenstadt The Cloud City 23/5/88
The Savage Curtain Seit es Menschen gibt Since There Were Humans 25/11/72
All Our Yesterdays Portal in die Vergangenheit Portal To The Past 6/6/88
Turnabout Intruder Gefährlicher Tausch Dangerous Exchange 13/6/88

Jeremy also offers some notes:

A Piece Of The Action: An “epigone” is an inferior follower of an artist and his work.
The Lights Of Zetar: “Rays Attack” is the actual title. Not a description.
That Which Survives: “Dangerous Planet Girls” – a lost Ed Wood film.
The Galileo Seven: “Emergency Landing on Galileo 7” – yes, on. This was changed to “by” for the DVD.
Space Seed: “The Sleeping Tiger” is such a brilliant title for "Space Seed”, I’m only going to call it that now. It was also an Avengers episode with Ronnie Barker.
Elaan Of Troyius: “Bride-Ship Enterprise” doesn’t translate well, since it’s a riff on the series title “Raumschiff (Spaceship) Enterprise”.
Wink Of An Eye: “What’s that Humming?” is the best title of anything ever.
Dagger Of The Mind: “The Central Nervous System Manipulator” is the clunkiest.
The Devil In The Dark: “Horta Rescues its Children” is the stupidest.
Arena: “All New Dimensions” comes from the same translator as “Rays Attack”
The City On The Edge Of Forever: The double meaning of “A Grasp of History” translates rather nicely.
Operation -- Annihilate!
: “Spock Out of Control” – 23rd century version of “Girls Gone Wild”.
The Apple: “The Hour of Insight” – no, me neither.
Mirror, Mirror: “A Parallel Universe” – “Rays Attack Some More”
The Omega Glory: “The Year of the Red Bird” – someone’s been at the schnapps.
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield: “Bele Hunts Lokai” – “Rays Continue to Attack”

Having a look at German Wikipedia, the transmission dates are a bit weird. Half the episodes, apparently selected and sequenced at random and covering all three seasons, were screened 1972-4. All but two of the remainder were then not shown until 1987-8. The Cage was shown in 1993 and Patterns of Force (the Nazi episode, in case you’d forgotten) in 1999.
Incredibly, the first episode of Star Trek shown in Germany was Tomorrow is Yesterday.

Picture from
Thanks, Jeremy (Theremy). Some final thoughts
German television channel ZDF showed I, Mudd the second Harry Mudd story in 1972, 15 years later in 1988 it showed Mudd's Women, the first story.
On three occasions when stuck for inspiration the translator goes down the Doctor Who route of naming an episode Something... In Space. Catspaw (The Haunted Castle In Space), The Immunity Syndrome (The Hole In Space) and Spectre Of The Gun (Wild West In Space).
When channel SAT.1 showed The Cage on 25/10/93 it was called Der Käfig 
which disappointingly translates back as The Cage.
Der Zentralnervensystemmanipulator
does terrible things to HTML tables in Blogger.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Operation - - Annihilate!

Writer Steven W. Carabatsos is something of a mystery man. He is credited as Star Trek's story editor from The Conscience Of The King to A Taste Of Armageddon, and yet unlike the story editor who followed him, D. C. Fontana, he never seems to have given any substantial interviews* and searching the internet reveals very little information. The third Star Trek story editor Arthur H. Singer is equally elusive so perhaps this just reflects the relative anonymity of a job which focuses on scripts, compared to D. C. Fontana's more significant role across Star Trek, and seems to share blurred boundaries with John D. F. Black and Robert Justman's more senior position of associate producer. Still, considering how the production side of Star Trek has been mined for anecdotes, his absence from the series history seems odd.

With Operation - - Annihilate! the first season finishes as it started, with a monster show, and provides an opportunity to compare and contrast. Star Trek is now a visibly more confident programme. At the most basic level the scale of the stories has increased. The Man Trap, the first story broadcast, was about a single monster loose on the Enterprise. Operation - - Annihilate! is about a planetary invasion. And the show is more confident about the audience's ability to fill in gaps for themselves. Operation - - Annihilate! has a handful of extras standing in for a planetary population, and location filming and a few sets representing a capital city. This might not sound like a big deal but look at the first few stories made, they either take place on the Enterprise or on planets where we see the entire population; an automated lithium cracking station, a lithium mining planet with three miners, an archaeological dig of two people, and so on. The first planet with a potentially substantial off-screen population is Dagger Of The Mind, the tenth episode filmed, where presumably there are guards and inmates in addition to the ones we see. The next episode after that is Miri where backlot location footage is justified with a line about Miri's world looking exactly like Earth, Spock even dates the city to the 1960s, and although there must be other cities and more children none are ever mentioned. Planet Q, from The Conscience Of The King, is the first world Star Trek shows us which definitely has an off-screen population, the view from the Leighton's window shows a city in the distance.

On other levels the series hasn't moved forwards at all. We're never given any explanation for what the space parasites want, in the same way we're never told why the salt vampire is unable to resist munching four Enterprise crew in the space of a few hours. Five episodes after The Devil In The Dark and we're back to monsters being bad because they are monsters. It's frustrating because the space parasites are not just spreading randomly from world to world, they are travelling in one direction, which implies a destination. And if not then it's sure nice of the things to move through three dimensional space in a straight line, an idea Futurama, joked about in The Day The Earth Stood Stupid.

HERMES: This is mighty strange. First, the civilisation Space Rome collapsed, then Don Martin 3 went caflooie and now Tweenis 12.
FRY: Looks like this planet is next in line.
LEELA: That's Earth. The planet we live on.
FRY: I'd hate to be those guys.

Something else which hasn't changed is the need to give the Enterprise crew personal involvement. In The Man Trap the salt vampire impersonated McCoy's ex Nancy Crater. Here, Kirk's brother Sam is already dead, a victim of the space parasites, Sam's wife Aurelan lasts a little longer, and Kirk's nephew Peter survives but is only ever seen unconscious; probably to comply with NBC's Standards and Practices Department, a child in excruciating pain is exactly the sort of thing they would flag as having the potential to distress viewers (Peter did appear in a deleted scene but only a photo of that exists now). There's nothing wrong with giving Kirk a personal stake in events but in Operation - - Annihilate! it seems unnecessary. Kirk already has to deal with potentially wiping out a planet of one million people to stop the space parasites spreading further. Kirk also has to deal with Spock being infected. Adding the fate of Kirk's brother and his family to the mix feels like overkill. Kirk's minimal reaction to Sam's death is one of the things which pushes the feel of the script into monster movie territory. It certainly doesn't have much effect on events beyond confusing the timeline of the story. The Enterprise landing party are brought to Sam's laboratory by Aurelan's screams. When they burst in she is trying to block the airvent. “They're here! They're here! Please keep them away!” she sobs, but Sam is already dead and both Aurelan and Peter are infected. What is she trying to keep out?

That small moment aside, Steven Carabatsos' script is pretty enjoyable. It's not too deep but it does the job. The only real disappointment is the solution to Spock's blindness. Obviously he's not going to be blind forever but playing the he's-an-alien-with-alien-biology card seems arbitrary at best. It reminds me of A Taste Of Amageddon where the solution to being locked in a room is to have Spock suddenly develop the ability to project telepathic impressions through a door.

At the start of the episode Nichelle Nichols has a nice moment when Kirk snaps at her.

UHURA: Contact broken, sir.
KIRK: Re-establish.
UHURA: Sorry, sir.
KIRK: I'm not interested in your excuses, Lieutenant. Re-establish contact with that transmitter.
UHURA: I'm afraid that's impossible at the moment, Captain. They stopped broadcasting immediately. They do not acknowledge my contact signal.

After Kirk orders her to re-establish contact she leaves a small pause before delivering her final line in a deliberately level tone. It suggests she's controlling her temper. She knows Kirk is being unreasonable but she also understands why. William Shatner plays Kirk as realising he's gone too far, without actually apologising directly. And the whole moment gains a little bit of extra life from the unspoken communication between the two.

Like the writing, Herschel Daugherty's direction is functional. He's at his best in the location scenes. Especially the sequence right after the landing party beam down where whoever dubbed the music (probably Robert Justman) uses it to great effect. It's one of those pieces of music which crops up in the series on a semi-regular basis, it turns up first in Charlie X as Charlie explores the Enterprise, but here it works really well. The score brings to life the shots of the landing party walking through the modernist architecture of the location. There's also some interesting sound mixing as the landing party are attacked by four men controlled by the space parasites. As the men run towards the landing party it sounds as if they are ranting incoherently, their dialogue overlaps and it's difficult to pick out individual lines. It's not till they get much closer that individual lines of dialogue can be heard, and it turns out the men are not raging they are yelling at the Enterprise team to leave. The space parasites themselves look plasticy, but they also have a weird greasy quality to them which leaves them looking slightly unpleasant. They also make a buzzing/farting noise which was probably fun to dub. Their reveal is very well handled. The landing party walks into an enclosed area and, as the buzzing noise gets louder, the camera pans further back under a low beam on which the parasites are stuck. When they fly it is obviously on a wire but someone has tried to make even this simple effect look different and the parasites tumble end over end. 

If someone requested to see a typical episode of Star Trek this is one I'd recommend. Hopefully describing Operation - - Annihilate! as typical doesn't sound dismissive. It's certainly not meant to be read that way. It simply reflects how far the series has come in the first 29 episodes that I can describe this story as average.

Enterprise crew deaths: None, again.
Running total: 26

Friday, September 7, 2012

The City On The Edge Of Forever

It's very good, but is it the best Star Trek episode ever? No. Although your opinion may differ. (For what it's worth I'm aware of the complicated background to the episode and the arguments down the years about the rewriting of Harlan Ellison's script by then story editor Steven W. Carabatsos, Gene L. Coon, D.C. Fontana, and Gene Roddenberry. I'm just not going there. As with The Alternative Factor what counts is what appears on screen; and hopefully that's the only time The Alternative Factor gets grouped with The City On The Edge Of Forever)

The central weakness of the episode is Edith Keeler. There's frequently a heavy handedness to the way her character is written as if whoever put the final draft together felt that the woman Captain Kirk fell in love with had to be more than extraordinary. It's not enough for her to run a soup-kitchen and be be kind and generous and compassionate. Edith is also written as if she had a direct line to the future. At the Twenty-First Street Mission she gives a speech after the evening meal. “Now I don't pretend to tell you how to find happiness and love when every day is just a struggle to survive, but I do insist that you do survive because the days and the years ahead are worth living for. One day soon man is going to be able to harness incredible energies, maybe even the atom. Energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and to cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way to give each man hope and a common future, and those are the days worth living for. Our deserts will bloom.”

When Spock and Leila fall in love in This Side Of Paradise the relationship works precisely because it is not presented to us as The Romance Of The Century. They are simply two people who make each other happy. By contrast Edith's speech above is just unsubtle, and obvious. It's the same problem which affects The Corbomite Maneuver and Court Martial the need to compress maximum information into the minimum amount of time. In those two episodes the result was Navigator Bailey the universe's most incompetent bridge officer, and rambling madman Ben Finney. In The City On The Edge Of Forever the script beats the audience over the head with Edith's qualities. The audience is supposed to be surprised Kirk falls in love with Keeler, after that speech it would be more surprising if he didn't.

Another weakness with the speech is the way it is played. Either Joan Collins, or Joseph Pevney the director, has decided the speech should be played with hesitancy. A literal transcription of the speech would look like this. “One day.. soon... man.. is going to be able to harness.. incredible energies... maybe even the atom.... Energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in... in.. some sort of spaceship... And the men that reach out into space will be able to find WAYS! to feed the hungry millions of the world and to cure their diseases.” The effect of playing that speech with pauses is to make it sound as if she is making it up on the spur of the moment. Yet one of the other people using the mission tells Kirk, and the audience, that listening to Edith talk is how they always pay for their meal. The intent of the speech, that Kirk should be captivated by Edith's rock-solid belief in a better future, and the delivery, hesitant and uncertain, undercut each other. It looks like Kirk falls in love with her because she talks about atomic power and spaceships. It gives the impression he'd have fallen in love with any science-fiction writer.

To be fair, the writing for Keeler is a lot sharper elsewhere in the script, such as the exchange when she first meets Kirk, and Spock, who have snuck into the mission basement.

KIRK: Excuse us, miss. We didn't mean to trespass. It's cold outside.
EDITH: A lie is a poor way to say hello. It isn't that cold.

That's how you write a character who is intelligent and not afraid to stand up for themselves. That's a believable character for Kirk to fall in love with, someone who isn't afraid to challenge his poor behaviour when they first meet. The same is true later in the episode when it's made clear Kirk and Edith share a core philosophy.

EDITH:... I think that one day they'll take all the money they spend now on war and death
KIRK: And make them spend it on life?
EDITH: Yes. You see the same things that I do. We speak the same language.

Unfortunately for William Shatner and Joan Collins This Side Of Paradise has already set the bar for romance in Star Trek. Both Shatner and Collins are charismatic and likeable, but neither of them are able to act at the same level as Leonard Nimoy and Jill Ireland. The City On The Edge Of Forever has no equivalent of the transporter room scene where Leila realises she has lost Spock for a second time. When Shatner and Collins have the screen to themselves they never capture that same intensity. The friendship between Kirk and Spock, and the joy when Kirk and Spock are reunited with McCoy, are more convincing and better played. However, having said that, there is a lovely moment, both scripted and acted, as Spock and Kirk review Edith's potential future.

KIRK: The President and Edith Keeler.
SPOCK: It would seem unlikely, Jim. A few moments ago, I read a 1930 newspaper article.
KIRK: We know her future. Within six years from now, she'll become very important. Nationally famous

Shatner perfectly captures Kirk's pride at the idea of Edith meeting FDR. As if he believes history itself is giving her a stamp of approval and validating all those qualities he sees in her.

There's also a pleasing attention to detail with the other characters. Just before using the Guardian Kirk orders Scotty, “when you think you've waited long enough. Each of you will have to try it. Even if you fail, at least you'll be alive in some past world somewhere.” It's a small moment but by showing us Kirk thinking about his crew it brings the characters to life. As do exchanges like this one.

MCCOY: Some heart flutter. Better risk a few drops of cordrazine.
KIRK: Tricky stuff. Are you sure you want to risk [The hypo hisses and Sulu opens his eyes.]
MCCOY: You were about to make a medical comment, Jim?
KIRK: Who, me, Doctor?

And for a script which is so unsubtle about Edith Keeler, there's a delicacy to the way it introduces the audience to the idea of using the Guardian to travel in time, and alter the past. Right before McCoy escapes into history Kirk asks Spock if they could take McCoy back to the day before and avoid the accidental overdoes of cordrazine. That one line, and Spock's reply about the difficulty of stepping through on a specific day seeds the audience with the idea that the Guardian can be used to travel in time, and alter history, and that it is a difficult and dangerous process.

What also surprises about the script is the pacing. Edith Keeler's big introductory speech takes place 22 minutes into a 48 minute episode. This is a story packed with incident and yet the episode never feels rushed. McCoy accidentally overdoses on cordrazine and goes insane. A mysterious artefact allows travel into the past (and presumably the future). History must be restored to the correct path. Adventures in 1930s New York. Kirk falls in love. Another writer could have built an entire script just from the idea of a race against time manhunt for a temporarily insane McCoy on the surface of a dead planet. There is almost enough material in here for two or three separate episodes. This is a common factor with several of the better episodes of Star Trek: The Corbomite Manouver, Arena, This Side Of Paradise, The Devil In The Dark. It's not exclusively true. Some good stories are quite spartan in comparison, Balance Of Terror for example, but it often does seem to be a common factor that good stories pack in material. By contrast disappointing stories like The Alternative Factor or The Return Of The Archons tend to overextend a single idea. The Alternative Factor mainly involves Kirk getting more and more annoyed with Lazarus, until he realises Lazarus is two separate people, and blows up their spaceship trapping the pair forever.

Once again Joseph Peveny puts in solid work as director. Location filming on the Desilu backlot, seen in Miri and The Return Of The Archons, uses tight camera angles, clever use of extras, and period vehicles to bring the streets to life. All this background detail came at a cost, the total budget for this episode was $245,316, compared to the series average of around $190,000. Look at the tracking shot as Kirk and Spock run away from the Policeman, there are a lot of extras on set. Plus, some simple but effective use of sound effects with the noise of a dog barking. Edith's death is well staged. It's filmed at night and nicely foreshadowed when Kirk and Edith head off to the cinema. As they step into the road a car screeches to a halt and Kirk pulls Edith back.

Film editor James D. Ballas puts together an effective sequence for Edith's date with destiny. An unusual optical zoom is used to pull sharply into Kirk's shocked face, and Edith's as she walks across the road. The choice of shots is also interesting. The obvious way to play the sequence would be to concentrate on Shatner's face, and have him react to off screen noises; a squeal of breaks, a thump, and maybe shouts of alarm. Instead Peveny, or Ballas, goes for the opposite approach. As Kirk holds McCoy he faces away from the camera, it's McCoy's reactions which tell us what is happening, and then we cut to a wider shot showing Edith dead in the road with people running to help. We don't see Kirk's face until the accident is completely over, when the enormity of what he has done has sunk in. Even when he releases McCoy, Kirk never looks round at Edith's body. Kirk walks towards a wall and leans on it, still not looking round, and we fade to the Guardian's planet, and then Kirk, Spock, and McCoy returning. There is lovely passage of time in those three shots. The audience never finds out how long it has been since the accident, although Kirk and Spock have had time to change out of the civilian clothes they wore in 1930s New York. There's very little dialogue, there doesn't need to be. Kirk's silence, and final line, tells us all we need to know.

Enterprise crew deaths: None, again.
Running total: 26

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Alternative Factor

The Alternative Factor was a troubled production. Contracted guest star John Drew Barrymore failed to turn up for the first day of filming causing delays while Robert Brown was cast in his place. Before that the script had an entire sub-plot removed, a romance between Lazarus and Lieutenant Charlene Masters. It's been speculated the sub-plot was cut at a late stage because Janet MacLachlan, the actress cast, was African American and John Drew Barrymore was Caucasian, and there was concern television stations in the American south would simply refuse to air the episode. Frankly, it's more likely the sub-plot was cut because it contains risible dialogue.

LAZARUS: I have moved through eternity to find you. You know that, don't you? When we first saw each other... you must have felt it.
CHARLENE: were like a wounded eagle...
LAZARUS: An eagle looks a long time for his mate... and once he finds her, he never leaves her. I have looked a long time...

It's a cheap shot but given the dialogue above it's no surprise John Drew Barrymore was a no show. Using less eagle references Space Seed would cover the same territory more effectively with the relationship between Khan and Lieutenant McGivers.

How much does this background detail matter? Should we excuse an episode's faults by pointing to production chaos? When Star Trek started running out of usable scripts Gene L. Coon wrote the first draft script of Arena in a weekend. William Shatner's father died during filming of The Devil In The Dark and production eventually had to close down for a day. Jill Ireland was ill during filming of This Side Of Paradise and all her location scenes had to be filmed elsewhere. Chaos doesn't automatically produce a bad episode. The strange thing about The Alternative Factor is that everybody concerned seems to have given up simultaneously. As if all the accumulated stress of making the whole Star Trek series was dumped on this one episode.

As always a bad episode starts with a poor script. The setup of The Alternative Factor is reasonably straightforward. There are two universes. The Star Trek universe, let's call it universe A, and a second, opposite universe, which we'll call universe 1 in a tribute to Futurama. Connecting the two is a corridor which acts as a safety valve. The people of universe 1 discovered the corridor and popped into universe A (by now it should be clear these names are being used in an attempt to generate the same confusion as the episode). The knowledge that an identical version of himself existed was too much, Lazarus A went mad and vowed to destroy Lazarus 1. If the two should ever meet outside of the safety valve corridor then both universes will be destroyed. This much is clear. The rest of The Alternative Factor is lost under terrible scripting, poor characterisation, and a general contempt for narrative.

Take the protagonist(s) Lazarus. In a process which seems to be random and beyond the control of either version of the character they swap between universes. No reason is given for this extraordinary ability. It just happens. What's missing is not Star Trek: Voyager style made-up science, “friction between elecromagnetic waves and luminiferous Ether led to a build-up of Vril on the sector gears of the higher-order columns,” but a simple explanation. Is the transfer related to the expedition the people from universe 1 took to universe A? Did Lazarus 1 cause it? Was it an accident? Is it what drove Lazarus A mad? It's as if The Enemy Within started with Kirk already split in two and no reason given for how this occurred. The audience is simply expected to accept Lazarus has this ability, and that the timing, and effects caused by the switch are dependant on the scripts requirements at that moment.

The first time the episode shows the effect of the switch is in the teaser. The Enterprise shakes, there is the sound of an explosion, and on screen a photograph of a starfield and nebula is overlaid to convey the galactic effect of the event we are being shown. Spock describes what the Enterprise sensors recorded. “For a split second each time, everything within range of our instruments seemed on the verge of winking out.... the entire magnetic field in this solar system simply blinked. The planet below, the mass of which we're measuring, attained zero gravity.... non-existence.” The second time is, if anything, even more dramatic. This time as well as the overlaid photograph and sound effects there is dialogue with added echo. “No! You've come back in, is it? Well, don't stop. Here I am. Come at me again. We'll finish it!” Plus the picture flares to white, like lightning, there's a blurring effect as if vaseline has been smeared on the camera lens, and it looks as if a wind machine was taken on location to blow foliage around. The third time. Nothing.

When the third transfer takes place the writer has a series of script problems to resolve. Kirk and Spock have another 20 minutes of script before they realise the link between the transfer process and the cosmic winking out. However, the writer also needs to get Lazarus 1 onto the Enterprise so he can learn about dilithium crystals. Kirk and Spock also need to think Lazarus A and Lazarus 1 are the same person, but the writer would like to generate some tension by cuing the audience in on this so they can know something the characters do not. The writer's solution to these multiple problems is the laziest one possible, while Lazarus A is treated in sickbay by Doctor McCoy he swaps places with Lazarus 1, and the effect previously described by Starfleet as reported, “in every quadrant of the galaxy and far beyond,” suddenly become unnoticeable to Doctor McCoy who has stepped into a different room.

This scene also contains the first of many examples of truly terrible characterisation. Lazarus A's treatment by McCoy, and switch with Lazarus 1, is not shown, it is reported to us when Kirk and McCoy have a scene in sickbay. The scene ends with this exchange.

KIRK: Where is he?
MCCOY: I don't know, Jim. This is a big ship. I'm just a country doctor.

McCoy let Lazarus wander off. His patient instantly went from injured to healthy and McCoy just let him leave sickbay. This is the writers solution to the problem of keeping Kirk and Spock ignorant of Lazarus' true nature, while also getting Lazarus 1 to where he can learn about dilithium crystals. First the cosmic effects of the transfer process are dialled back, then McCoy shows no professional interest or intellectual curiosity in a patient who heals in seconds, and finally McCoy allows Lazarus to walk out of sickbay. Show, don't tell is the adage of scripting but it is clear the reason this scene is reported to the audience is because any attempt to show it directly would look laughable.

Kirk also has to act stupid for the plot to work. Kirk allows Lazarus to roam the Enterprise corridors even though he believes Lazarus to be a ranting madman. Then, after two dilithium crystals have been stolen Kirk, Spock, Lazarus, and three security guards beam down to the planet to look for them. Lazarus walks away from the group by himself, and no one does anything to stop him. Later when Lazarus is back in sickbay (he fell off a cliff, the second time he does this in one episode) under guard and being interrogated by Kirk we get this immortal dialogue.

MCCOY: He's got to get some rest, Jim. And would you get that muscleman out of my Sickbay. [gestures at the security guard]
KIRK: Dismissed. [The guard leaves]

Unbelievably McCoy requests Lazarus be left unguarded. Despite Lazarus being a proved lair who, rants madly about nothing getting in the way of his vengeance, who is also prime suspect in the theft of two dilithium crystals and an attack on two of the Enterprise crew, and who has also already walked out of sickbay once in this episode. Naturally Kirk agrees. Lazarus promptly walks out of sickbay, rewires the energising circuit to start a diversionary fire, and steals two more dilithium crystals.

So far this review has only discussed the awful script. For the sake of balance the bizarre directing and editing decisions should also be mentioned. When Lazarus A and Lazarus 1 exchange places they meet in the corridor between universes. While there they fight, or at least slowly wrestle. To show this corridor is outside the normal universe the footage is shown in negative (the closing titles to The Squire Of Gothos show a still of Kirk in the corridor before it has been processed to look like an inverted image) and the camera is tilted from side to side. By any standards this is a dull fight. It's slow, and filmed with a single camera so the usual tricks to make fights more exciting, fast edits and closeups and different angles, are not available here. The first time the fight is shown it takes up almost a minute of screen time, subsequent repeats of the footage are shorter but as it is shown for the fourth time it's hard not to believe the audience is expected to find this interesting not because the images are fascinating in their own right, but just because it's a different colour to normal.

It's also worth keeping an eye on the two security guards in the background of the final fight between Kirk and Lazarus A. For some reason the director wants them in the back of shot but has apparently instructed the pair not to move at all. “Stand back,” Kirk orders them, as the pair make no move to get involved. As Shatner manfully struggles with Robert Brown the one on the right keeps smirking, as if he is trying not to blow the take by laughing out loud.

Lastly, Kirk's reaction shot at the end of McCoy's, “this is a big ship. I'm just a country doctor,” line is held just a fraction too long. As a result it looks as if Kirk is about to give McCoy a mouthful of abuse for his lax attitude towards patient care and sickbay security.

What it comes down to is this, This Side Of Paradise is an episode where a good script fires the enthusiasm of the production team, and the cast respond to that enthusiasm and put in good work, which enthuses the production team even more, which makes the cast work better, and so on. The whole episode is lifted by a feedback loop of enthusiasm. The Alternative Factor is the opposite. A stupid and drab script, and a production team apparently depressed by additional problems, results in the cast putting in workmanlike performances. No one really seems to care and the end result is the worst episode of Star Trek's first season.

But having said that, there's the ending. Not Kirk's feeble attempt at profundity. “But what of Lazarus? What of Lazarus?” Just the concept itself. Spending eternity locked in a corridor between universes being attacked by a lunatic. It has an odd way of gripping the imagination. Certainly on the few occasions I've watched this episode it's been something I've thought about afterwards. What would it be like to be in that situation? Can either of the pair die? Can they be hurt or injured? The simple fact I've tried to imagine what it would be like shows I've engaged with the ending. Even the worst episode of Star Trek, so far, works on at least one level.

Enterprise crew deaths: None. 
Running total: 26