Friday, March 29, 2013

Patterns Of Force

Patterns Of Force was made between 29th November and 6th December 1967, and broadcast on 16th February 1968. A Piece Of The Action was made between 2nd November and 9th November 1967, and broadcast on 12th January 1968. As Patterns Of Force is broadly A Piece Of The Action with Nazis it's easy to assume Patterns Of Force is an attempt to repeat the formula of A Piece Of The Action, but the genealogy of both stories is more complicated.

The concept for A Piece Of The Action first crops up as a suggested outline in Gene Roddenberry's original pitch document Star Trek Is...There a three line description reads, “PRESIDENT CAPONE. A parallel world, Chicago ten years after Al Capone won and imposed gangland statutes upon the nation.” Based on this George Clayton Johnson wrote an outline for an episode called The Syndicate which was refined into a treatment called Chicago II before being put to one side and forgotten while The Man Trap was developed. Separately writer Paul Schneider submitted an early outline for Patterns Of Force in December 1966 which was developed into a teleplay in early 1967. For some reason John Meredyth Lucas then wrote a new outline in June which was further developed through June and July 1967.

In the wake of The Trouble With Tribbles Gene L. Coon rediscovered George Clayton Johnson's treatment and decided it would make a good premise for another comedy episode. It's quite possible another factor in Gene L. Coon's decision to resurrect Chicago II was that the then in development script for Patterns Of Force, and Bread And Circuses, demonstrated stories about planets based on Earth history were practical. Then, for whatever reason Bread And Circuses was made and held back, Patterns Of Force slipped back in the production order, and A Piece Of The Action was broadcast first and looks like the story which originated the idea of doing planets based on historical periods.

So, it's time to raid the Desilu Studios' costume store again. There's no more depth to the use of Nazis in Patterns Of Force, than there is gangsters in A Piece Of The Action. They are just there to allow their costumes and iconography to act as an eye catching visual and grab the attention of any viewer flicking between channels. It works, Patterns Of Force looks great. It has visual appeal and freshness because it looks completely unlike any other Star Trek episode except A Piece Of The Action. The plot of both episodes is a simple adventure tale of capture and escape. There is no depth to the story, no analogy, or moral; beyond possibly the blindingly obvious one that totalitarian governments are bad, and peace is better than war. The subplot involving Federation observer John Gill and his daft plan to unite the anarchic planet of Ekos under a benign Nazi system, because it is “efficient” is as spurious a justification for the costumes as A Piece Of The Action's backstory involving the book Chicago Mobs Of The Twenties. Both are just there to force Kirk's hand in taking action. The situation on Ekos/Sigma Iotia II is the Federation's fault, so Kirk must attempt a repair.

The similarities between Patterns Of Force and A Piece Of The Action are strong enough that it's even possible to imagine a Nazi version of A Piece Of The Action in which the careless crew of the starship Horizon leave behind a book about the Nazi Party. Sigma Iotia II would have been broken up into a territories run by mini-Fhurers with each competing to be top dog. Comedy Gestapo officers would run around shouting at each other and the unnamed women who complain about Oxmyx and the “crummy street lights around here,” and lack of laundry pickup would have instead grumbled about the trains not running on time. The only question is whether NBC would have accepted a comedy Nazi episode? It's unlikely but not impossible. Hogan's Heroes had been running on CBS since 1965, but having said that Mel Brooks' The Producers was released to widespread accusations of bad taste roughly a month after Patterns Of Force aired. By 1968 comedy German soldiers were okay, but comedy Nazis were still a step too far.

In fact humour is the main difference between A Piece Of The Action and Patterns Of Force. A Piece Of The Action is unique because it was commissioned with the specific intention of making a deliberately funny story, whereas the humour in The Trouble With Tribbles appears to have evolved naturally as the script was developed. By contrast the tone of Patterns Of Force is all over the place. There are jokes in there, and some of them are good jokes. As might be expected Spock gets all the best moments. His, “you should make a very convincing Nazi,” to Kirk, and his perfectly timed raised eyebrow when deputy Melakon describes Spock's, “low forehead, denoting stupidity”. These moments sit awkwardly alongside attempts to emphasise the evil of the Ekotian regime.

ABROM: Isak, Uletta is dead. Shot down in the streets.
ISAK: She would've been my wife.
ABROM: She lived for five hours while they walked past her and spat on her. Our own people were unable to help her. Now you ask me to help strangers.
ISAK: If we adopt the ways of the Nazis, we're as bad as the Nazis.

Notice the names Abrom/Abraham Isak/Isaac, and the name of the twin planet Zeon/Zion. In the broadcast version there is no need for these disguised names. They add no depth to the story because what's on screen is literally about the Nazis and their treatment of the Jews. If the Nazi uniforms, symbols, and terminology were stripped out to leave a story about Kirk struggling to avert war between twin planets, then the disguised Hebrew names would add a little depth and point to an analogy. As it is their presence is just gilding the lily. It would be like making the planet killer from The Doomsday Machine, an analogy for nuclear weapons, look exactly the same as a Minuteman ICBM.

It's the realisation that all the Nazi imagery could be stripped from Patterns Of Force, and still leave a workable story which points to the biggest weakness of the episode. The element which makes Patterns Of Force so distinctive, the uniforms and symbols, is also the story's most redundant feature.

Enterprise crew deaths: None again. Seven whole weeks without anyone dying.
Running total: 43

More distinctive than the episode itself is the Next Voyage trailer broadcast at the end of Return To Tomorrow. Next Time trailers normally open with a Captain's log voiceover and a shot of the Enterprise. Patterns Of Force begins stylishly with the Enterprise but the soundtrack is Isak's, “hide! They're right behind me. Hide! Hide!” The next image is the reveal of the Ekotians wearing SS Brownshirt uniforms from the episode teaser. Through the entire trailer there is no indication Patterns Of Force takes place on another planet. With the exception of a line from Kirk, “she captured a Zeon spy that was attempting to assassinate the Fuhrer,” the trailer is carefully edited to suggest Kirk and Spock are somehow fighting real Nazis. It would be really interesting to know what viewers at the time made of this. Did they think they were going to get another time travel episode?

No comments:

Post a Comment