Friday, December 6, 2013

The Tholian Web

There's been a significant departure from the Star Trek production team. This is the first episode filmed without Jerry Finnerman as director of photography. The complications of production order versus broadcast order mean we've already seen a couple of episodes shot by Jerry Finnerman's replacement Al Francis, Day Of The Dove and ForThe World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky, and Finnerman's last story The Empath is still to come. Jerry Finnerman's loss is significant because he was responsible for the look of the show. The bright slabs of colour, the use of lenses to add depth to sets, and the use of lighting to help tell the story. Go back and watch This Side Of Paradise and the scene where Kirk fights the effect of the spores. The lighting in the transporter room is used to represent Kirk's internal emotional struggle as Kirk goes from being lit normally, to silhouetted, and then, when he leans forward, his face is lit a harsh electric blue. No disrespect to Al Francis but his lighting on Day Of The Dove and For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky and of course here on The Tholian Web is flatter and less interesting.

The Tholian Web also sees the departure from Star Trek of Ralph Senensky who was replaced after the third day of shooting by Herb Wallerstein who takes the directing credit on this episode. Ralph Senensky's input is obvious. Most notably in the use of a 9mm lens to show Chekov's distorted point of view when he is driven mad by this strange area of space. Ralph Senensky used the same visual trick in his other third season episode Is There In Truth No Beauty? The script's suggestion that the dimensional structure of the overlapping universe can drive people insane because it is utterly alien is reminiscent of H. P. Lovecraft's stories about monstrous geometries which cause everything from a sense of dread to full blown madness.

Judy Burns and Chet Richards' script is unusually structured. Instead of a big central crisis there are several little problems. Kirk is lost in the other universe and will not reappear for two hours. The area of overlap is fragile and any energy use from the Enterprise could damage it, resulting in Kirk being lost forever. The overlapping universe is gradually driving the Enterprise crew insane. Then the Tholians arrive. Individually any one of these problems would be simple to resolve, but they start coming one immediately after another and the crisis keeps building as the episode progresses. Compare this to For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky, a story with two main strands; McCoy's terminal illness and the badly off course asteroid/world Yonada. Both these plots are set up in act one and everything which occurs is just filler until Yonada's course is corrected in act four, and Spock finds the cure to McCoy's disease and the episode ends.

The other unusual aspect of Judy Burns and Chet Richards' script is that it is largely Kirk free. Although it is a credit to the writers that his presence hangs over the story even when the character is apparently lost. According to Judy Burns in the original story outline, called In Essence – Nothing, it was Spock who was lost but this was changed following a memo from Robert Justman. It was a smart change to make. Losing Kirk strengthens the story. McCoy would never challenge Kirk in the way he does Spock. Unfortunately it turns out that McCoy goes a little too overboard when he challenges Spock's decision making.

MCCOY: ... I really came here to find out why you stayed and fought.
SPOCK: The Captain would have remained to recover a crew member at the risk of his own life or even his own ship.
MCCOY: Yes, he would, Mister Spock, but you didn't have that decision to make. What would you gain by fighting the Tholians? You could have assured yourself of a captaincy by leaving the area. But you chose to stay. Why?
SPOCK: I need not explain my rationale to you or any other member of this crew. There is a margin of variation in any experiment. While there was a chance, I was bound legally and morally to ascertain the Captain's status.
MCCOY: You mean to be sure if he was dead. Well, you made certain of that.

That's McCoy virtually accusing Spock of murdering Kirk. Granted McCoy is grieving the loss of his friend and he doesn't understand that Spock feels the same pain, he's just better at concealing it. Yes, he backs down later and apologises after hearing Kirk's last message. And, yes the moment is very well played by both Deforest Kelly and Leonard Nimoy, but it feels like a step too far for the character. There are moments in The Tholian Web when Doctor McCoy feels like a new character who has just joined the Enterprise crew, rather than someone who has served with Spock for almost three years.

Enterprise crew deaths: Despite the mass outbreak of insanity nobody dies.
Running total: 48


The closing credits feature a make-up shot of an aged Uhura from And The Children Shall Lead, when this was used in the episode the image was cropped and inserted into a mirror.

No comments:

Post a Comment