Thursday, January 3, 2013

Friday's Child

The poem says that Friday's child is loving and giving, although when naming this episode D. C. Fontana seems to have been referring back to an earlier version in which Friday's child was full of woe. The unfortunate woe filled child Fontana refers to is the (soon to be named) Leonard James Akaar rather than Star Trek itself which also became Friday's child when it started broadcasting on that night at the beginning of season two.

A briefing from Doctor McCoy gets the audience up to speed on the planet Capella and establishes McCoy as the local expert on its inhabitants. A nasty bunch who McCoy describes as, “totally uninterested in medical aid or hospitals. They believe only the strong should survive.” The few months McCoy spent on Capella offering unwanted medical advice to the locals must have been incredibly frustrating. The Federation is interested in Capella because the planet is rich in the essential mineral topaline but the Capellans put the Federation in an awkward position because all their standard negotiating strategies are interpreted by the Capellans as signs of weakness. Even the Federation's most impressive offer, planetary independence, makes the Federation look pathetic. By the Capellans' logic the best way for the Federation to prove it is worthy of the topaline is to invade and take what they want.

To complicate Kirk's day the Klingons are also interested in Capella, and already have an agent in place who has made good progress negotiating with Maab, a rival to the current leader Akaar. The Klingons, back for the first time since Errand Of Mercy, are obviously in a much stronger negotiating position since they have no hesitation in offering fun things like weapons and tactical knowledge for the topaline. That the Klingons are prepared to negotiate at all is an interesting development. Within the series this is presumably the influence of the Organian peace treaty. The Klingons must feel that simply invading Capella and taking what they want would not be tolerated by the Organians. Plus, negotiating a treaty with the Capellans will allow the Klingons to beat the Federation at their own game. It's not long before the Enterprise landing party are caught in the middle of Maab's coup against Akaar and have to go on the run along with Akaar's heavily pregnant wife Eleen.

This is McCoy's episode. Eleen is as unwilling a patient as the rest of her race. Much of the episode involves McCoy trying to treat Eleen and persuade her to see the baby as something other than a burden. Fontana uses Friday's Child to examine Doctor McCoy, in the same way her previous scripts This Side Of Paradise, and Journey To Babel illuminated Spock's character. After Eleen burns her arm on a brazier McCoy is determined to treat her even at the cost of his own life (it's a death sentence to touch the leader's, or even an ex-leader's, wife). “They can only kill me once for touching her,” McCoy says demonstrating his commitment to medicine and compassion. Then later he shows he's the sort of Doctor who wants to treat the cause, not the symptom, working to convince Eleen she wants the baby when the birth becomes difficult. While Fontana deserves praise for this approach and for focusing a script on someone other than Kirk or Spock the downside is that McCoy simply isn't as interesting a character. He's a dedicated doctor, if slightly grumpy, and that's essentially the limits of his personality. Imagine writing a short character sketch of Spock before seeing This Side Of Paradise, or Journey To Babel. It wouldn't be possible to write the same description afterwards because both episodes give the viewer new information and change the way the audience sees Spock. In the case of McCoy the same character sketch would suffice before and after Friday's Child. This is not a criticism of Deforest Kelly, who makes McCoy engaging and likeable and papers over the more clich├ęd parts of his character with charm, it's just a recognition that McCoy is one of those characters who never really changes. From Charlie X to his cameo appearance in the first Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Encounter At Farpoint he's always the same. Even the big revelation of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, that McCoy deliberately switched off his father's life support, demonstrates the compassion we already knew the character possessed.

Joesph Pevney is back in the director's chair, and he makes Friday's Child visually interesting. D. C. Fontana's characterisation of the Capellans as nasty, brutish, and tall is used as a springboard to imagine them as a tent-living society, presumably nomadic like Genghis Khan's Mongols. Jerry Finnerman lights the interiors with a flame effect and the result is atmospheric, and claustrophobic. The tent interiors of Capella feel more solid and real than some of Star Trek's other sets. Friday's Child must have been an expensive episode because in addition to studio interiors, and exteriors, there is location filming at Vasquez Rocks. Plus a lot of actors. One long shot reveals 11 Capellans, the Klingon, Kirk and Spock, plus out of shot McCoy and Eleen. That's 15 actors to take on location, plus technical crew.

There are a few production oddities in Friday's Child. These could be a result of budget pressure, or time constraints caused by trying to keep production costs under control. During some of the tent interiors film editor Fabien Tordjmann cuts between two pieces of film shot from very similar angles. This is noticeable just after Eleen's line, “to live is always desirable.” As Kirk says, “alright, let's go,” he turns and the film cuts to a slightly wider shot. The result is a visual glitch, a sort of double-edit, which would normally be covered by cutting to a completely different shot, for example a close-up. Here that additional material doesn't seem to be available to cover the join. Something similar can be seen earlier during Kirk's fight just after he stops Eleen from being killed. As Kirk punches a Capellan in orange fur the film cuts to an almost identical angle. Then moments later a few frames are cut from Kirk's movement as he crouches, this makes the fight move faster, but again the result is a visible jump and the overall effect is of a film editor struggling with a lack of coverage.

Later, when Kirk and Spock are improvising their communicators as sonic grenades, Shatner and Nimoy stand in front of a photographic blow-up of sky (there are what look like pencil marks, or scratches on the sky itself). Finally in a long shot of the Capellan hunting party Tige Andrews, playing Kras the Klingon, takes a tumble. It's covered in the next shot by having Andrews on his hands and knees but he's largely blocked from the camera by a foreground tree and the other actors until he stumbles into shot and dusts himself down; it looks like something improvised on the spur of the moment to cover Andrews' fall. In all three cases, the lack of coverage, photographic blowups, not reshooting the longshot to remove Andews' fall, the impression is of a production which is pressed for time which given the ambitious production requirements is not really a surprise.

William Theiss dresses the male Capellans in a bizarre creation, even by his standards. Over a bottom layer of a cowl, made of what looks like the same material as the crew uniforms, is worn a lurid coloured fur cloak which wraps around the front like a bikini. It's a difficult look to pull off, but a distinctive one. Overall the Capellans are one of the best realised races in Star Trek. They are solidly characterised, and visually distinctive; or to put it another way, they look silly but who's going to tell them?

Crew deaths: 1, Grant, who wasn't at the briefing. That's what you get for missing the staff meeting.
Running total: 36

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