Thursday, 26 April 2012

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TOS 1.3-1.5

Welcome to the latest Captain's Blog, kicking off what should be a nice little run as the Tessier household works its way through season one of Star Trek. In repsonse to anyone asking: yes, I have been watching the remastered episodes. Purists may disagree, but I think they've done a great job polishing these episodes up. It's been very respectfully done, merely enhancing the colour and sound, correcting a handful of obvious errors and adding some very effective visual effects for the space sequences that fit nicely with the original visuals of the show. It's a world apart from the Star Wars trilogy's endless tweaks and additions, or the Red Dwarf remastered episodes which cut jokes in order to add unnecessary effects scenes. Plus, it allows the viewer to truly appreciate Shatner's level of make-up.

So get ready for three more episodes of histrionics, overly dramatic music, catty comments and pretty girls in soft focus, as we watch 'Mudd's Women,' 'The Enemy Within' and 'The Man Trap.'





TOS 1.3: Mudd’s Women

or

Captain Kirk vs Harry Mudd

The Mission:

Planets visited:
Rigel 12, a remote, arid planet home to nothing but a three-man mining station. Endless dust storms ravage the surface, although they can’t be that harsh, seeing that the rocks appear to be made from polystyrene.

Mudd was originally on his way to the colony on Ophiuchus III.

Captain James T: Immediately throws the book at Mudd for endangering both their vessels. Despite his continued criminal behaviour, Kirk doesn’t keep Mudd locked up, merely confined to quarters for a short time before allowing him a surprising amount of free movement. There’s a sneaking suspicion there that Kirk secretly rather likes the cheeky crim. Kirk isn’t above letting his pride put the Enterprise in dire straights, since he refuses to allow Mudd to do his dirty deal with the miners in return for lithium.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: Mudd notes that he’s “part Vulcanian,” and Spock agrees. Vulcanian is a rarely used term that doesn’t survive long into the series, being replaced by Vulcan very rapidly. More interesting is that Mudd can recognise that Spock is only part Vulcan, despite the fact that he looks completely Vulcan to any of our eyes (were full-blooded Vulcan’s originally intended to look more alien?) Spock admires the beauty of a burnt-out lithium crystal.

The Real McCoy: McCoy goes vacantly gooey when he sees Mudd’s women. When Ruth asks him if he’d liked to examine her, he almost admits that he wouldn’t trust himself.


Who, me?
Mudd, Glorious Mudd:
Harcout Fenton Mudd, one of the original Trek’s most loveable characters. An irredeemable rogue peddling in wives for colonists, comfortable in forging credentials, thieving, smuggling, breaking space laws and using illegal drugs. He puts on an appalling Irish accent at first, pretending to be his late pilot, Leo Walsh. When he drops this he has a wonderfully rich brogue. He also has the Galaxy’s finest moustache. It’s impossible not to like the bastard.

Funny bits: Any part with Mudd in it.

Sexy Trek: Mudd’s cargo consists of three ravishing women, Ruth, Eve and Magda. They turn the heads of every man on the ship - even Spock, although he hides it well. Mudd’s using them like mail-order brides for lonely colonists. He treats them well enough, although he’s not above ordering Eve to ingratiate herself with Captain Kirk for the benefit of his scheme. When he learns they’re stopping at Rigel, he immediately decides to sell them to the three miners; the women don’t seem to have much choice in this, although they all seem very eager to be married off.

Future Treknology:
But no - they’re not beautiful at all! They’re plain! Homely! The horror! They’ve been taking the illegal Venus drug, which endows women with elaborate hairdos, excessive make-up and a heavy dose of soft-focus photography. It turns out though, that they don’t need the drug at all, when Kirk swaps it with coloured gelatine. All it took was self-confidence. Aw.

The Enterprise is, very specifically, described as a starship, as if this were a particular type of vessel, not just any craft capable of interstellar travel. Indeed, the ship’s dedication plaque calls it ‘Starship-class.’ It’s engines channel their power through fragile lithium crystals; these will spaced up a bit later on to become dilithium instead. Mudd is rescued/captured from a J-class cargo ship, for which he has no Masters license.

Space Bilge: Do women not have jobs in the 23rd century? Are sophisticated, qualified females such as Uhura, Chapel and Number One a rare exception? Eve and her friends talk as if there is nothing more to their life beyond cooking and cleaning for their men. It doesn’t sound like a very progressive view of the future.

Verdict: Hopelessly sexist, but nonetheless very enjoyable. It’s saved by Roger Carmel’s joyous performance as Harry Mudd, although Karen Steele brings a dignity to the role of Eve that the episode is lucky to have. It does seem terribly old-fashioned, even offensive now, to look at a supposedly enlightened future in which the trade in wives is considered acceptable, if not widely condoned. That said, my sister Becca, who has been studying feminism in art, pointed out something interesting: for all the Sixties chauvinism, there’s a refreshing lack of ageism here. The three women are mature and attractive, rather than the nubile near-teens we might expect if this episode were to be remade today. Perhaps we haven’t come as far as we like to think.

TOS 1.4: The Enemy Within

or

Captain Kirk vs Captain Kirk

The Mission:
Fix the transporter that’s torn Kirk in two so that Sulu can be rescued - he’s trapped on a frozen planet with three men and no access to facebook!

Planets visited: Alfa 177. Nighttime temperatures can drop to 120 degrees below zero. It seems to have one single native life form (see below). A magnetic ore that exists on the surface plays havoc with the transporter.

I'M CAPTAIN KIRK!
Captain James T:
Split into two by the malfunctioning transporter. One version is violent, lustful and cowardly, but strong-willed and physcially powerful. The other version is noble and compassionate, but rapidly loses his strength of will and is unable to make command decisions. It’s a fascinating idea that suggests that it is Kirk’s more aggressive, animal side that makes him an effective commander. This is illustrated on screen by some truly world-class campery by Shatner. The evil Kirk in particular is incredibly OTT. Apart from the fact that they conveniently change shirts, the evil Kirk can be identified from the scratches Rand gives his face, and by the fact that he wears even more eyeliner than usual.

Shirtless Kirk Alert: After his work out in ‘The Corbomite Maneuver,’ that’s two out of four episodes.

(Not) Sexy Trek: In an extremely uncomfortable scene, the evil version of Kirk, enters Yeoman Rand’s quarters, comes on to her and then attempts to rape her when she resists. It’s a brave and brutal scene for what is generally a family-friendly show.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: Openly theorises about Kirk’s need for his animal half. He comapres Kirk’s condition to his human and alien sides, constantly at war within him. He’s incredibly insensitive to Rand, making a snide comment to her about the Captain at the end of the episode, not long after he almost raped her.

Alien life forms:
Woof.
Ladies and gentlemen - the space dog! Alfa 177’s on and only life form, a poor mutt that’s been kitted out with peach fur, a lizard’s tail, antennae and a single huge horn. The poor sod is then split in two by the transporter, just like Kirk, and killed when they try to put it back together again.

Future Treknology/Cliché Count: The transporter undergoes the first of its many malfunctions, duplicating those who go through it. Where does the extra matter for the duplicate individual come from?

Space Bilge: OK, I know the writers hadn’t come up with the shuttlecraft yet, but in retrospect, it’s hard to accept that they can’t just send a pod down to the planet to collect Sulu and his team.

Author, Author: This episode was scripted by Richard Matheson, a prolific author most famous for his novel I Am Legend. He also wrote the Twilight Zone episode in which Kirk is menaced by a gremlin, ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.’

Verdict: Fabulous. It’s a straightforward episode with a good central dilemma, easy to grasp but significant in its implications for Kirk’s character. Shatner’s OTT performance is a joy to watch.

TOS 1.5: The Man Trap

or

Captain Kirk vs the Salt Sucker

The Mission:
Complete annual physical check-up on Professor and Mrs Crater; discover what has been killing crewmen down on their planet.

Planets visited: Planet M-113 (sounds like a Messier number, but the catalogue only goes up to M110). A hot, arid but mostly Earthlike planet, M-113 was once home to a civilisation, but ruins are all that now remain… or so it seems. Professor Crater and his wife began their solitary researches their five years ago.

Alien life forms:
Get this poor creature a packet of crisps!
The Creature, commonly known to fans as the ‘salt sucker’ or ‘salt vampire,’ is a shaggy green humanoid with a wide sucker-like mouth and sad, drooping eyes. It requires vast amounts of sodium chloride to survive, which it absorbs through its prey’s skin using a series of squid-like suckers on its hands. The Creature is highly intelligent, and is the sole surviving member of its species. It also has telepathic abilities, able to make people believe they are seeing anyone from their memory or imagination. These abilities extend to being able to immobilise its victims in order to feed from them once it gets close enough. Despite its predatory ways, the Creature seems to need companionship.

Beauregard, or Gertrude, is an alien plant in the ship’s botany section. It has a pink, flowery had (evidently a glove puppet) and responds to the crew’s emotions. It likes to be petted and chirps when content. It really doesn’t like the Creature.

Future History: The buffalo is extinct by this time, it would seem.

Captain James T: Acting like a bit of a wanker in this episode, winding McCoy up about his history with Nancy Crater. He’s a bit casual on the bridge, too.

The Real McCoy: Still has a thing for his old flame Nancy, which makes him particularly easy for the Creature to manipulate (it’s also gotten used to using this guise for Prof. Crater). Kirk’s log describes Nancy as “the one woman in McCoy’s life;” yeah, like there’s only one woman…

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: Seems quick to judge the Creature, and is surprised when the McCoy-Creature defends it. He has a cracking violent outburst at the Creature when it attacks Kirk. Uhura blatantly fancies him in this episode, properly coming onto him on the bridge (so that relationship in the movie wasn’t so out of the blue). He tells her that Vulcan has no moon - we’ll come back to this point in the future.

Cliché Count: We almost get a “He’s dead, Jim,” from Bones, plus another mention of the crew’s favorite tipple, Saurian brandy.

Sexy Trek: Everyone’s got the horn this episode. McCoy longs for his lost love, Uhura flirts with Spock and the Creature in the guise of an African man, the poor blueshirt (not quite onto the disposable redshirts yet) at the beginning falls right into the Creature’s trap as it pretends to be a girl from ‘Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet.’ All the men on baord seem to pass the time checking out Yeoman Rand. “Why don’t you go chase an asteroid?” she says - they’ve been chasing you’re asteroid all over the ship, love…

Kirk tells McCoy to “stop thinking with your glands!” He can talk. At least, I think he says glands… it could be glans and that would make as much sense in this context.

Crater has been getting the Creature to appear to him as Nancy, for “companionship,” although he can now see through the disguise. Does that mean he’s been sleeping with the big, green hairy monster?

Funny bits: Kirk promises to get a consignment of hot chillis to another captain. Later, he says that mysteries give him bellyache, and that he’s “got a beauty right now.” Although that could just be the chillis.

Space Bilge: Why doesn’t Crater just tell Kirk and McCoy about the Creature? They could have given it all the salt it needed and let it live in peace. Still, it does sound like they’ve both gone a bit soft in the head during their time together on the planet.
Why don’t McCoy, Spock and Kirk just start scanning everyone with the tricorder when they discover the Creature is onboard the ship, disguised as a member of the crew?

Trivia: A working title for this episode, and the title used for James Blish’s novelisation in Star Trek 1, was ‘The Unreal McCoy,’ which is brilliant. The planet was changed to Regulus VIII in the novelisation.

Verdict: A cracking episode. It’s easy to see why this was chosen as the first episode to be broadcast, although going with the pilot would have been stronger in my opinion. Nonetheless, this is classic Trek, a straightforward space adventure with some neat ideas and a memorable monster.

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