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Aug 18, 2012

Star Trek: The Original Series; 10 Episodes

Kara and T’Ling
I recently saw the Star Trek: Aurora video which provides a nice demonstration of how far the technology for at-home CGI movie making has come. (Compare it to what was possible a few years ago.)

The plot of Star Trek: Aurora reminded me of how much I dislike Star Trek episodes with parallel universes (The Alternative Factor, Mirror, Mirror, The Tholian Web). As a hard science fiction fan, I've struggled and come a long way towards being able to suspend disbelief when scientific nonsense is hoisted as a plot device within a Sci Fi story.
I've found ways to accommodate myself to faster-than-light space travel, telepathy and time travel, but parallel universes remain just beyond my grasp....particularly when I'm told that the "quantum flux structure" of one's RNA is involved in how the protagonist has moved between universes. My inability to suspend disbelief in such situations in no way detracts from how wonderful it is that one Sci Fi fan (Tim Vining) can now create a lovely CGI Star Trek-inspired episode.
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POS TOS
Lazarus and anti-Lazarus
mirror-Spock
web
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Below, I look back at ten interesting episodes from the original Star Trek. What do I define as an interesting episode?

"Evil" Kirk working on crew morale.
In some cases it is easiest to describe the types of stories that did not interest me. As mentioned above, I have a personal problem with stories that involve "parallel universes", particularly when they drift into explorations of "good vs. evil". The Enemy Within, which pretended that the transporter could split animals into two near duplicate individuals, one "good" and meek and the other "evil" and aggressive, was, along with Mirror, Mirror, the answer to this question: What do you expect from a Hollywood script writer who is told to use a technological plot device to explore "good vs. evil"?  

Monster of the week
The Man Trap is an example of a Star Trek episode where we are subjected to a "monster of the week". I can accept that while out exploring the galaxy one might come across all kinds of strange creatures, but as a biologist I have a particularly hard time accepting the sorts of biologically-implausible creatures that Hollywood script writers invent. The fundamental problem is that I am not interested in horror as a genre. No surprise that I do not like The Enemy Within (by horror story author Richard Matheson)

Balance of Terror is an example of an episode where we must suffer through a war with Romulans or Klingons or some other proxy for "the bad guy". Endless space wars....going "where no man has gone before"? No, going where we always are forced to go by script writers who "cleverly" translate tired old Earthly conflicts into a new science fiction setting. Yawn. Sadly, the entire Star Trek: Aurora story is built on a mindless attack upon a defenseless cargo ship by a Romulan war ship. I enjoy Sci Fi for adventure, exploration and the fun of imagined science, not clanking plots extracted from Earth history and forced into the future.

Ten Interesting Episodes
Why go through this exercise of looking back at Star Trek episodes? I want to explore the extent to which my Exodemic stories have been influenced by watching Star Trek. Asimov suspected that most of his stories could be traced back to the work of other writers, particular the Sci Fi stories that he read in the "pulps" as a child. How much was I influenced by watching Star Trek as a child?
Teri Garr and Victoria Vetri


1. Assignment: Earth
This is one of several Star Trek episodes that involved time travel. However, what I like about Assignment: Earth has nothing to do with time travel. As discussed below, one of my favorite types of Star Trek story involves human interaction with aliens who have advanced technology.

We must ask: if the galaxy is full of planets where humanoid aliens long ago developed advanced technology (see #9, below), then did some of those aliens visit Earth long ago? If so, then Gary Seven can easily be imagined to be a human who was born on a distant planet and who functions as an Interventionist agent on Earth.

Isis and Gary Seven
What should we make of the "Isis" character who can shapeshift between human (Victoria Vetri) and cat forms? It is fun to imagine that advanced artificial lifeforms might be composed of nanorobotic components (nanites) that can assemble themselves into any convenient form. So I imagine that Isis makes use of advanced alien technology and acts as a kind of supervisor for Gary Seven. It is not clear that Gary is aware of this.

By the Rules of Intervention, any changes to the historical course of events on Earth must be initiated by a human, but by stretching the rules a bit, Isis can travel to Earth with Gary...as long as she does not get caught. She disguises herself as a cat, except during a moment of weakness when she befuddles Earthling Roberta Lincoln (Teri Garr) by briefly taking on the form of a woman.

Maybe some day Assignment: Earth will finally be made into a television series. Related reading: X-Seven, Star Trek and X-Files crossover fanfiction.


2. All Our Yesterdays.
Zarabeth and Spock
Speaking of fanfiction, this is one of the Star Trek episodes that was written by Jean Lisette Aroeste. It is wonderful that a Star Trek fan could contribute to the series as a story author.

Also, speaking of time travel, this was one of the least offensive episodes of Star Trek that involved going back in time. However, if you insist on making this a time travel story, I'd make one change to this episode.

Drop the idea that when Spock goes back in time he starts acting like a "primitive" Vulcan of past ages.

Spock is half human... alone and stranded with Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley). If you want to have a Spock romance then just do it; don't introduce a lame time travel plot device that implied some sort of temporal panpsychism.

In The End of Eternity, Asimov imagined that it might be possible to focus a world's technological development on either time travel or space travel. If All Our Yesterdays was written today, a third option would be to imagine that the people of Sarpeidon developed some sort of computer-based advanced virtual reality technology. Rather than travel back in time, we can just as easily imagine that they upload their minds to a computerized virtual reality world.

Mr. Atoz
If you insist on the idea that Sarpeidon's star is about to explode and the Enterprise drops by at the last moment in order to rescue the inhabitants, then you could accomplish the mission, assuming that Zarabeth and Mr. Atoz and the entire population of the planet has been encoded on some fantastic sort of computer memory.

In Exode, I imagine that the Prelands devote significant effort to the design and perfection of mythical lives that they try to live out. In Exode, they do this with a minimum of technology (mostly nanites), but the people of Sarpeidon could easily be humans who were long ago taken to a world near the galactic center and given computer technology that allows for mind uploading to virtual realities.

Why is our galaxy full of planets that are populated by humans and humanoids? In Star Trek: The Next Generation it is discovered that our galaxy was "seeded" by an ancient humanoid species. In that episode it is concluded that those "ancient humanoids" are long gone, but it is more fun to imagine that their influence remains active and accounts for the presence of humans on ice worlds such as Sarpeidon and mysterious visitors to Earth like Gary Seven (#1, above). Related reading

3. The Menagerie.
Pike and Vina experience Rigel.
Hugo Winner
Imagine that the humanoid inhabitants of Talos IV can trace their origins back to Earth, possibly 100,000 years in the past. The Talosians have been genetically modified and they look "alien", but it is fun to assume that they are descended from Earthlings.

Early in Earth's exploration of the galaxy, a crippled SS Columbia reaches Talos IV and Vina (played by Susan Oliver) is the only survivor of the ship's crew.

Vina is very ill and horribly disfigured by the time Columbia reaches Talos IV, but the people of Talos allow her to grow up happily within a virtual reality where she appears to be healthy.

Later, the Enterprise, at this time commanded by Christopher Pike, visits Talos IV. Pike is "invited" to stay as a companion with Vina, but he declines the invitation. Later, after Pike is injured and confined to a wheel chair, Spock takes him back to Talos IV so that he can live out his life with Vina, both of them seemingly free of their deformities within a happy virtual reality existence.

Talosians
Susan Oliver
I don't think that Gene Roddenberry had the concept of a computer-generated virtual reality in 1966. He imagined that the Talosians had some sort of telepathic ability to make humans imagine that they were in locations that actually only existed only in their memories of past experiences.

I wish we could get in a time machine, go back to the 1960s and get Roddenberry to drop the idea of slave girls and adopt the concept of computerized virtual reality. There were a few science fiction authors such as Stanslaw Lem who had already written about virtual reality. Unfortunately, it is not clear that Roddenberry's knowledge of science fiction was much deeper than Hollywood fluff like Buck Rogers.


4.  What Are Little Girls Made Of?
Andrea and Ruk
In All Our Yesterdays (#2, above), Mr. Atoz had robotic assistants. What Are Little Girls Made of? was another Star Trek episode with human-like robots. This was the first of three Star Trek episodes by Robert Bloch, two of which are discussed on this page (see #7 Catspaw, below).

This episode has similarities to the film Forbidden Planet. Imagine an ancient off-shoot of humanity that developed a sophisticated technology for creating robotic bodies that they could transfer their minds into. Those humans became extinct, but they left behind their technology.

It would be interesting to know how Roddenberry made casting decisions. Like Victoria Vetri (#1, above) Sherry Jackson was a likely candidate for Playboy magazine. The plot device of Kirk's ability to evoke emotional responses from robots was also included in Requiem for Methuselah (#10, below).

5. The Corbomite Maneuver
Enterprise and Fesarius
This is one of the Star Trek episodes that could have been cut to half the typical episode duration, but it was fun in how it depicted a humanoid starship captain (Balok) who seemingly just enjoyed cruising around the galaxy.  

Kirk and Rand
There was so much time to kill in this episode that we even get to "enjoy" Dr. McCoy and Yeoman Rand trying to put Captain Kirk on a diet.

First, the tranya.
The image to the left shows Captain Kirk and Yeoman Rand in an early Star Trek publicity photo.
Kirk: "When I get my hands on the person who gave me a female yeoman..."
McCoy: "What's the matter, don't you trust yourself?"

After a tedious and long-drawn-out test of the intentions of the Enterprise crew, we finally meet the alien, Balok, and get a tour of the Fesarius. I like to imagine that there are actually millions of aliens living within the giant spaceship that initially confronts the Enterprise. In most Star Trek episodes we go and visit a distant planet, but it was strange when the Enterprise came across a generation ship that was transporting people between the stars. Look how easy it was for humans to develop warp drive. Why would anyone spend thousands of years traveling on a generation ship? In contrast, it was very satisfying to see the advanced technology of the Fesarius. Related reading



6. The Squire of Gothos
Yeoman Teresa Ross, Kirk, Trelane
This is the last episode from Season One that is discussed here. This episode has similarities to the "Q" episodes that would come later in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In keeping with Roddenberry's formula for Hollywood success, Yeoman Ross (Venita Wolf) was yet another Playboy playmate (see also Victoria Vetri (#1) and Sherry Jackson (#4), above).

This episode is interesting because it depicts advanced and apparently disembodied aliens who give their young offspring, Trelane, a planet to play with. Trelane brings some of the Enterprise crew down to the planet to play, but eventually his parents notice the mischief he gets into.


7. Catspaw
Korob (left) and Sylvia (right)
This is the second episode by Robert Bloch that is discussed here (see #4, What Are Little Girls Made of?, above). This was the seventh episode of the second season and featured an iconic redshirt crew member, Jackson, who dies quickly at the beginning of the show. Actually, Jackson wears a yellow shirt :(

Korob and Sylvia are alien visitors from a distant galaxy. Playing out Clarke's 3rd Law, the aliens make use of an advanced device that allows them to seemingly have magical powers. However, while our galaxy swarms with humanoids, these creatures are fundamentally different and their telepathic powers give them the false impression that human nightmares and Hollywood horror movie tropes define human thought.

Korob eventually can't tolerate the tricks that Sylvia plays on the hapless humans and he tries to help them escape. Sylvia enjoys the experience of using a human body form, although she also temporarily takes the form of a cat.

Kirk on alien probe duty
Sylvia
In keeping with Star Trek tradition, Kirk is ready and able to indulge in some human-alien sex, particularly if it will allow Kirk to defeat the evil alien. Kirk enthusiastically volunteers to probe Sylvia (Antoinette Bower) ... at least before he gets a glimpse of her true physical form.

The image to the right shows the pipe cleaner model of Sylvia's true alien form. Ah, the glory days of pre-CGI special effects! I spent many years being puzzled over the lame animation of the death of Korob and Sylvia, it being a meaningless blur when seen in fuzzy black and white on a small television screen.

The Catspaw episode has similarities to By Any Other Name. By Any Other Name was built upon an alien invasion plot, while in Catspaw the aliens are simply explorers. I'll take inept exploration over a lame invasion.


8. The Trouble With Tribbles

This episode is just plain fun and it is interesting because of what it can tell us about the art of creating a good television show. The story of how this episode was created by Jerrold Friedman is almost as entertaining as the show itself.

McCoy: "The nearest thing I can figure out is they're born pregnant, which seems to be real time saver."

This is the only Star Trek episode with Klingons that I can tolerate, mainly because we do not have to try to take the Klingons seriously....all the fake political hand-wringing does not appear on the screen during this episode.


9. Return to Tomorrow
"Try to smile."
This is the last episode from season two that I discuss here. Sargon and his wife, Thalassa, have been disembodied minds for the past million years. Sargon suggests that in the distant past his people might have visited worlds like Earth, long before there was a modern human species.

I wish they could have come up with a better reason for why Sargon et al were trapped in their bottles, but it was apparently impossible, in the middle of the Cold War, to do other than say there had been a catastrophic war.

Sargon
In this episode, two aliens transfer their minds into the bodies of Kirk and astrobiologist Dr. Ann Mulhall (played by Diana Muldaur).

Director's instructions to Diana Muldaur: "Try to smile."

This is one of the Star Trek episodes where Spock (Leonard Nimoy) had to play a very nasty character (the evil alien, Henoch). Nimoy was very good at being a dick. Related reading


10. Requiem for Methuselah
Along with All Our Yesterdays (#2, above), this was a third season Episode. This episode strikes me as the most interesting of those written by Jerome Bixby. Flint, born on Earth thousands of years in the past, was a seemingly immortal human. Some of the great historical figures from Earth's past were actually Flint, who would live in various locations, pretend to age, and then move on.

In the Space Age, after leaving Earth, Flint settled on the planet Holberg 917-G where he began the task of creating a robotic woman (Rayna) who could be his eternal mate.
Rayna and Flint

Kirk arrives and falls in love with Rayna, triggering a jealous conflict with Flint. Worse still, Kirk's romantic intentions have caused Rayna to develop powerful but confused emotions. Unable to accommodate her new feelings for Kirk and Flint, her artificial mind disintegrates.

At the end of this episode, McCoy reports that Flint is now dying. McCoy: "You see, Flint, in leaving Earth with all of its complex fields within which he was formed, sacrificed immortality." How might we accommodate out thinking to this mumbo jumbo? Imagine that various advanced alien species have been visiting Earth in the distant path. Might an Earthling become inadvertently infected by life-extending alien nanites, possibly nanites intended for an interventionist agent like Gary Seven (#1, above)?
Related Reading: The Man from Earth

 Conclusions.
Fun. Good Sci Fi plays with ideas. The Trouble With Tribbles (#8, above) is good fun, but it did not deal with an interesting Sci Fi topic.

It's green
Extragalactic Aliens. Most Star Trek stories play out among the stars of our galaxy. Two episodes explored visitors from another galaxy; Catspaw (#7, above) and By Any Other Name. In both stories, the aliens took on human form, which was their downfall. I enjoyed Catspaw more because it did not try to introduce a lame alien invasion plot. Both of these episodes had good doses of fun. How many alien invasions are stopped by drinking the aliens under the table? The silly Halloween theme of Catspaw is about as close to horror as I like to be. For my own stories, I've never been able to buy into the idea that our galaxy is full of humans and humanoids but other galaxies have different forms of life.

Humanoid Galaxy. Assignment: Earth and Requiem for Methuselah (#s 1 and 10, above) are easy for me to relate to my interest in stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe. If aliens visited Earth long ago, why don't we have evidence of those visits? Or are we, unknowingly, the handiwork of alien visitors?

I can imagine that the other six episodes on my list are all stories about humanoids who originated on Earth long ago.
The Squire of Gothos- 2,000,000
Return to Tomorrow - 1,000,000
What Are Little Girls Made Of? - 500,000
All Our Yesterdays - 250,000
The Menagerie - 125,000
The Corbonite Maneuver - 50,000
It is fun to imagine that Balok's ancestors were taken off of Earth 50,000 years ago: maybe they were related to Homo floresiensis. In Exode, the Buld clan members mostly live on space ships, not planets. Imagine the surprise of Earthlings if we eventually learn how to travel between the stars, only to find that there are hundreds of human-variants out there, humans having long ago been taken off of Earth then genetically and culturally modified.

To what extent can my interest in the Exodemic solution to the Fermi Paradox be traced back to watching Star Trek when I was young? I'm sure that I latched onto the suggestion from Return to Tomorrow that an older humanoid species could have spread humans around the galaxy. I was never a great fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but when I saw The Chase I was put off by the idea that a holographic message could be encoded in DNA molecules that had evolved over billions of years. According to this page, The Chase was inspired by Sagan's novel, Contact. When I started writing Exodemic I was certainly thinking a lot about the reasonableness of "ancient aliens" as depicted in Sagan's novel. However, Sagan never adequately explained how it might be possible for technologically advanced aliens to keep their hands off of worlds like Earth. Certainly the Huaoshy were not willing to take a hands-off policy towards Earth.

Warp to the Star Trek 50 years celebration!
Youtube's automated captions feature converts "retired" to "retard".


1967
We did not have a color TV!
 

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