The Enterprise takes aboard Charlie Evans, a seventeen year old boy who spent fourteen years alone on a deserted planet, but the boy begins to have social problems reintegrating with the crew. Charlie eventually reveals himself to have supernatural powers that threaten the ship and crew.
Charlie X is yet another attempt to deal with a god-like being, and it’s one of the worst episode this far into the first season. The tragedy of Charlie, a boy with tremendous powers but also tremendous personality issues, is undone by a wretchedly directed episode (so many quick, pointless cuts to talking head back and forths). The premise here is fine on face value, but Charlie is unfortunately obnoxious. It doesn’t help that when he uses his powers it looks like he’s bearing down to take a giant poo.
The plot itself is no great shakes. Why does the first ship not warn Kirk about Charlie? And then later, why do they have a change of heart and try to contact the ship? Why can’t Charlie use his powers to grant himself a perfect understanding of humanity? Why can’t Kirk keep his shirt on? It all resolves in the usual take over of the ship, and Kirk realizes that he can stretch Charlies powers to exhaustion. Aliens appear and reveal that they provided Charlie with these powers to survive on his lonesome, and they realize that he can’t be allowed to live among humans. Despite Charlies sincere pleas for help, the crew watches as he’s abducted and taken away by the aliens.
Charlie X is a tedious episode that takes a very blunt approach to social outsiders. It’s curiously lacking in empathy and relies too heavily on yet another ultra-powerful character to generate the story.
The Naked Time
The Enterprise crew is intoxicated by an inhibition-stripping contagion that causes mayhem throughout the ship.
Although this is considered to be an iconic episode, I found myself mostly bored by it. I do give the show credit regarding the fact that this is the first episode to focus largely on the crew; there are no monsters or guest stars of the week to get in the way. The conflict is limited to exposing the repressed personalities of the crew, and this structure does a good job of adding depth to the relatively shallow characterization we’ve had so far.
The examinations of the characters is a bit hit or miss. While I found Riley and Sulu to be be over the top and odd (Riley considers himself to be a scion of Irish nobility? Sulu fancies himself a sword fighter?), Kirk is saddened by the fact that he considers himself “married” to the Enterprise – a theme that will return again and again.
The best turn, however, is handled by Nimoy as Spock. After being infected, his usual control over his emotions crumbles. Nurse Chapel picks that time to declare her love for Spock, and the usually stoic science officer runs off and collapses into a heap of tears. It’s a really excellent reveal for the character of Spock: his deep regret at carrying the burden of Vulcan non-emotionality comes through wonderfully. It’s very much shades of the TNG episode “Sarek”. While the logical Vulcans are in many ways superior to humanity’s rash emotionality, it comes at a tremendous price.
The episode ends with a truly weird conclusion, as the ships engines “implode” and the Enterprise and crew go back in time a few days. It has nothing to do with curing the disease, and has no impact on the story whatsoever. I had previously thought that TNG’s “Firstborn” featured the most pointless time travel in the series. I guess I was wrong!
The Enemy Within
A transporter malfunction splits Captain Kirk into two people – one good and one evil, and neither capable of functioning well separately.
I’m happy to discover that the technological weirdness of the transporter was apparent right out of the gate! While this episode doesn’t touch on the “is the person who rematerializes the same person who was dematerialized?” issue, it does use the transporter to good effect in giving us a philosophical issue to examine in the context of the show.
Several items caught my attention in this one: the attempted rape of Rand might be the darkest moment in the entire series, Sulu handles imminent death with a certain charm, and the dog in an alien costume is pretty ridiculous. The biggest positive, however, was the idea of splitting Kirk into two version (essentially good and evil), but with the divisions trickling down to a split between compassion (“don’t hurt the dog!”) and executive direction (“I’M CAPTAIN KIRK!!!!).
Shatner is at his best as Good Kirk. Shatner is wonderfully restrained as GK, who is essentially an indecisive wimp. The show arguing that the Evil Kirk personality is the only one strong enough to issue commands and make decisions. to me, this is an interesting line of division and something I give the show great credit in using. It would have been simple to just have a more stereotypical take on good versus evil, but the episode does a terrific job of explaining why both parts can combine to make a complete person. Without each other, neither personality can thrive or function.
Unfortunately, the worst part of the episode might be Evil Kirk. Left to his own devices, EK is a bit too broad and Shatner devours entire sets in his portrayal. EK is so animalistic and crazed that I had a hard time buying his ability to remain undiscovered aboard the Enterprise. While I didn’t need more of the “which is the real version” narrative that happens in act 3, I would have enjoyed a bit more nuance in the EK that we get. Maybe have his successfully issue orders (beyond “give me a phaser”) at some point?
On a plot level, I would have removed the first scene where Scotty shows GK that he’s learned that the transporter makes an evil double of things. It would have been more mysterious and satisfying to have the rape scene investigation happen without Kirk being aware of the possibility of a doppleganger.
For our “Hey, it was the ’60s!” segment, I’d like to submit Rand apologizing to Kirk for being so hot that she’s responsible for bringing about EK’s sexual assault. Sure, the attack wasn’t committed by “our” Kirk, but at the same time a more cautious resolution might be more appropriate and make for a more interesting narrative.
The Enterprise rescues a con man named Harry Mudd who is trafficking in mail order brides.
I watched this episode, and as it ended I muttered, “huh”. And then the credits rolled and I saw that Gene Roddenberry had the story credit and said, “oh.”
This was a captivating mess of an episode. To really buy into this one, I think that you have to enjoy the hirsute character of Harry Mudd (or really enjoy almost comical sexism, which I’ll get to shortly). I do not enjoy this character, as he’s the type that is written so broadly that it becomes annoying when the crew largely ignores his overt scheming. I also don’t understand why he faked his name, since they figured that mystery out in about 30 seconds and it provided absolutely zero drama. It gave the actor a chance to do a terrible Irish accent, I suppose.
On a narrative level, this episode is patched together for the first two acts, but the third is a total disaster. What is this episode trying to say? That a woman’s greatest goal in life is to be able to cook and clean (and cry?) for a man? That beauty is a placebo effect of the mind? Collapsing into a heap of sexist clichés and deus ex machina, and completely abandoning the Mudd character, the ending makes almost no sense considering what we’ve seen to that point.
And why are there only three miners on this mining planet?
Lastly, do Mudd’s mail order brides actually have some kind of power? Or do they just think that they’re so hot that men can’t keep their shit together while in their presence? If the Venus pill is a fraud, exactly what the hell was going on with the male members of the crew this entire show? At least Sulu got a chance to clutch his helmsman buddy close.
What Are Little Girls Made Of?
The Enterprise finds scientist Dr. Roger Korby, who has been missing for five years, living underground on a deserted ice planet with a group of sophisticated androids.
I enjoyed this one while watching it quite a bit, but it fell off ever so slightly when I stopped to think about it. I got a strong James Bond vibe from this episode: Kirk is imprisoned and frequently battles a giant henchman, the mad scientist villain has galaxy changing plans, Kirk and the villain discuss the plan and motives behind it, and there is a scantily clad women running around. While it sidelines most of the supporting cast, I think it does a good enough of a job with Kirk to support that change.
I mostly enjoyed the attempt at exploring what is means to be human. It was a weird choice to have two “Double Kirk” episodes so close to each other (this one right after The Enemy Within), but I think that both episodes have different strengths and approach the topic of humanity in different ways. While Enemy Within is about the make-up of a personality, WALGMO explores the idea of what makes us human and what would make us something else. They’re also sufficiently different from a structure standpoint that they don’t feel redundant.
While I enjoyed the idea, that philosophical battle comes across mostly as filler. I’m not even sure Kirk and Korby are consistent in their beliefs. The glue that holds these philosophical plot points together are a bunch of scenes where Kirk fights a giant android henchman and gets captured, which gives a fairly repetitive feeling to the hour. And while I like the idea of Kirk planting a clue to Spock into his android clone, the way it’s done feels clumsy and I feel that it could have been cleverer. And, in something that’s becoming a theme, Kirk uses his innate sexiness to solve the problem. His smooch is so passionate that he overloads an android’s circuitry!
On the positive side, the examination into humanity, while not super detailed, is a step in the right direction for the series. We also get more details about Nurse Chapel, we get to watch an attractive lady walk around in a revealing outfit, and we get a hilarious scene where Kirk holds a giant pink rock that is quite phallic.
The Enterprise discovers an Earth-like planet that was devastated by a horrific degenerative disease and is now populated entirely by impossibly old children.
OK, the cold open is almost terrific. The Enterprise discovers an ancient version of an old Earth style SOS and arrives at a planet that is an exact copy… of Earth! And then the episode simply drops the whole thing and it’s left in the dustbin as some kind of weird coincidence.
Outside of this weird and pointless setup, I think “Miri” is a wonderful episode, certainly one of the best this far into season one. While we have another version of Kirk stuck on a planet (a la What Are Little Girls Made Of?), this time he’s with Spock and McCoy (and Rand, and two entirely useless red shirts) so the scenes on the planet have a familiar life to them, one which was missing in Little Girls. The pacing throughout the episode is excellent, and felt the most modern of any of the episodes so far. The discovery of the aging disease, and the breakdown of normal manners between our lead characters as their impending madness develops, is well structured and follows a delightfully logical story path. Structurally, this one has it all: a great central concept, several scenes featuring the main characters, and a great resolution that matches the personalities of McCoy and Spock to the narrative.
In my opinion, however, the best part of Miri is the use of children as the antagonists. Ignoring the fact that the script asks the viewer to not question how it’s possible for children to never learn anything or develop mentally over the course of hundreds of years, the fact that Kirk is forced to try to reason with small children is a really clever story beat. The idea of a band of children, essentially wildlings, running amok across the planet and using nursery rhymes as tribal songs, is an extremely neat idea that I think the episode does just enough to explore. It’s really cool sci-fi.
On the other hand, there are a few niggling issues. Other reviews mentioned that Kirk is subtly manipulating Miri by pretending to like her, in order to eventually use her for their escape. If this is mentioned in the episode, I completely missed it. To me, Shatner fails at conveying this (if he’s trying to convey it at all), so his scenes with the “almost a woman” Miri come across as extremely creepy and sometimes unsettling. I can appreciate that Kirk is trying to play this game with her, but Shatner, as an actor, can’t seem to distinguish between duplicitous flirting and the real thing. The end result is an uncomfortable number of scenes where Kirk appears to be trying to sleep with a young girl.
One last issue is the fact that the resolution happens off screen: Kirk is arguing with the children, we cut to Spock and Bones, and then Kirk appears again, having somehow convinced the children to follow his wishes?
Despite these issues, I very much enjoyed watching this episode. It felt like a complete narrative, and the central idea about ageless children building their own twisted society (a la Lord of the Flies) is really great.
Dagger of the Mind
A routine visit to the Tantalus Penal Colony proves dangerous for Kirk and an Enterprise psychiatrist.
The first Vulcan mind meld!
Really great tension in this one. The story is yet another in the “brilliant doctor has gone crazy” genre, with yet another episode isolating a few crewmembers (sexy Kirk and sexy Dr. Noel), but the tension is very well maintained through the entire run time.
There is a palpable sense of terror in Dagger of the Mind that really got under my skin. The slow realization that the escaped prisoner at the start is not actually a prisoner, the creepy vibe you get from Dr Adams’ staff on the planet, and the spooky effect of the mind wiping machine, all lead to an episode that holds your attention and reminds you of a successful Twilight Zone episodes. The tone and tension are the strongest parts of the episode, and they feel well constructed enough to give this one a strong rating.
That said, there are a few weird wrinkles that hold this back from being great (I’m starting to learn that you might need to ignore things like this in TOS, but anyway). Dr Adams has gone crazy for seemingly no reason. At least Korby in What Are Little Girls Made Of? had a reason for his actions. Adams is given no explanation for his actions, which is all the more strange since he seems to be so highly regarded and has apparently revolutionized the prison system in the future.
The relationship between Noel and Kirk, and the Noel character as a whole, is very odd. They apparently boned during the last Christmas party (!), and now they have a strangely combative relationship. I might be confusing my millennial micro aggression terms, but is everyone mansplaining to Noel the entire episode? At best, no man in the show allows her to complete a sentence before interrupting her. And why is she so combative to Kirk, when her job is to help him figure out what’s going on planetside? To the shows credit, though, Noel does kick some ass at the end.
Lastly, Kirk deciding to use the neural neutralizer on himself is insane. Great way to move the plot forward, but a really dumb decision on its face.
The Menagerie I & II
Spock fakes a message from the Enterprise’s former commander, Christopher Pike, steals the vessel, and sets it on a locked course for the forbidden planet Talos IV.
The first season of Star Trek ran into budget problems fairly quickly. The show had under estimated the production costs and needed a way to stretch a few dollars in order to get back on track. Roddenberry decided to use the filmed but never aired “The Cage” as a backdrop for a story, which would allow the show to use old clips from that failed pilot and would therefore save some cash.
The Menagerie is the only two parter from TOS. It’s remarkable for this fact, and it’s also remarkable that the show managed to get two episodes out of this clip show concept. The “real” episode is simply a trial where Spock uses footage from The Cage to make his case as to why the Enterprise should return to Talos IV. The script for The Menagerie came in at 60 pages, which is less than some single hour episodes the show did.
The Menagerie probably works better if you’ve never seen The Cage. Huge swaths of these two episodes are simply large chunks of footage from The Cage, and it’s a bit tedious to watch if you’re already familiar with that pilot. The plot itself is also terribly obvious if you know what previously happened to Pike on Talos. This makes it very frustrating that Spock simply won’t come out and say what he’s trying to accomplish(lots of “Please, Captain: watch the footage!” dialogue). If you fast forward through the clips, the show is maybe only 25 minutes of a “real” episode.
The Menagerie is iconic for the injured Pike and his futuristic wheelchair, but I don’t think I’d ever rewatch this one. It’s not a total failure, as it might very well be the “best” clip show that has ever been aired. It’s a clever way to reuse footage, but it’s also fairly dull and simplistic. On a narrative level, Spock gets off pretty easy here: he forged communications, attacked people, hijacked a starship, and ignored travel bans to Talos IV, but he somehow escapes any and all punishment? I’d at least think he’d need a slap on the wrist at the end of this whole adventure.
The Enterprise crew take shore leave on a planet where their imaginations become reality.
A proto-holodeck episode! And one where the crew actually uses a “holodeck” to do things that normal people would do! Namely, fight and fuck.
This is a pretty goofy episode that I enjoyed on a baser level. It’s the closest that the show has come to matching the general caricature that I think a lot of people associate with the show. Fist fights, scantily clad women, Spock being above it all, a magical being pulling the strings, no real dangers, etc. It’s also the first outright comedic episode in the series.
It suffers from very slow plot development and a script that intends to make the crew members as dumb as bricks. After we are shown countless vignettes where characters say something out loud, only to have that something immediately appears before them, we still have to watch the characters have difficulty putting two and two together. The fact that it takes Spock and Kirk almost 40 minutes to determine what is happening is laughable, but getting to that point is enjoyable enough so that it ultimately might not matter. We get many scenes of Sulu firing pistols, McCoy getting flirty with the new sexpot yeoman, and Kirk doing his first (IMO) “Shatner-esque” speech pattern when he meets the love that got away.
Not a great episode, but not a bad one. I’m not sure if the tone is the right way for the show to go, but having one or two of these episodes a season is perfectly fine. If anything, it’s intriguing that we learn that Kirk’s ultimate fantasy is beating another man to death with his bare fists.
The Galileo Seven
Spock faces difficult command decisions when his shuttle crashes on a hostile world populated by barbarous giants.
Our first big foray into Spock ends up with mixed results. The show attempts to grapple with what it sees as an eternal conflict between logic and emotion (even though the two don’t seem to be in opposition all the time) by having Spock placed into command during a dangerous mission goes off the rails and a shuttlecraft crew of seven are stuck on a planet filled with giant, unfriendly cavemen.
While I like the set-up and central concept here, the script can’t seem to support its own argument. I appreciate moments like the one where Spock is more concerned with the type of weapon used to kill a crewmember than he is with the fact that a person has died, but other scenes seem silly or even damaging to the message of the story. The fact that Difficult Crewman of the Week Boma gets upset that Spock won’t allow a funeral procession while the shuttle is under attack is absurd. There are reasons for the crew to be annoyed by Spock’s logical approach (his indifference to death mentioned above), but in order for the story to work their reasons have to be, well… reasonable.
The storyline where Kirk constantly asks for updates while a bureaucrat breathes down his neck is also simply filler, another in the line of episodes where someone is trapped somewhere and the rest of the crew can’t do anything because it would end the narrative. However, it is interesting to see how the modern perception of Kirk as a rules breaking cowboy is not accurate: Kirk opens the episode by delaying a delivery of medicine to a plague ravaged planet because regulations dictate that the Enterprise study any quasars that it discovers(!).
And how come the Enterprise doesn’t just deliver the medicine and then return to find the crew? Early on, Kirk has no knowledge at all of the unfriendly cavemen, so there’s no ticking clock for him. One would have to imagine he’d hope that the shuttle could last for a few days while he saves a planet?
An interesting episode that couldn’t quite deliver on what it was trying to say.
The Squire of Gothos
The Enterprise is captured by Trelane, the childish ruler of Gothos.
The majority of the run time here could be interpreted by many people as padding and too much fluff on a fairly simple story. I would agree with that, but I also think that the performances in this episode manage to hold the viewers attention.
William Campbell is terrific as Trelane. Campbell manages to subtly imply Trelane’s childish nature without being overt, and his marveling, wide eyed look at everything Kirk throws his way is wonderful acting. The character had a strong chance of being obnoxious (a la Q at his worst), but the tone and performance are kept in check throughout the hour.
The ending reveal of Trelane’s true nature is the best twist that the show has done so far, in my opinion it’s superior to the also excellent reveal in The Corbomite Maneuver. The Trelane reveal changes your entire perception of the episode. You might have thought Trelane was acting childish at the beginning, but to explain that he actually is a child changes everything. It’s an episode that might play even better on a second viewing.
The cast is also extremely strong here, from Sulu’s deadpan “no” when asked about the decor, to Spock’s terrific line about objecting to power without constructive purpose, to Kirk’s tree fighting abilities.
Not a top tier episode, but one that showcases the playful nature of TOS quite well.
Tomorrow is Yesterday
The Enterprise is hurled back in time to the year 1969, where the US Air Force sights it as a UFO. The crew must find a way to erase evidence of their visit before trying to get back to their future home.
Ah, time travel. A staple of Trek, and science fiction in general, it makes its first major appearance in Tomorrow is Yesterday (ignoring the pointless ending to Where No Man Has Gone Before). The first mention of “polluting the timeline”, and the first time someone can gravely describe the butterfly effect to other similarly grave people.
Honestly, my favorite part of this episode is the fight scene where Kirk takes on three Air Force officers. Using a variety of jumps, rolls, and full dive body checks, Shatner almost single handedly manages to save the entire hour.
Outside of that, however, I find this one to be frustratingly lacking in a greater conflict. The time travel aspect is in its infancy in terms of development. The big idea of changing the timeline is mentioned, but it never seems to land in any emotionally meaningful way. The script has a weird bit where Spock decides that Captain Christopher is unimportant enough to keep onboard, only to return a few scenes later and say he made a mistake and he has to go back. The scenes on Earth (outside of the aforementioned fight scene) are curiously dull. Earth itself is a long, grey hallway made up of grey rooms.
The solution here is also silly. The Enterprise slingshots around the sun to go back to the future, and then beams Captain Christopher back to Earth. This somehow erases his memory and prevents any timeline contamination?
A neat concept that is undone by a dull script and almost no sense of stakes.
Kirk is accused of criminal negligence causing the death of one of his subordinates, Lt. Commander Benjamin Finney, and is put on trial for his murder.
What is it about court room narratives that makes Star Trek fall apart? TNG had The Measure of a Man (which many people praise and love), and we’ve discussed on the podcast the issues with that episode. Enter Court Martial, an episode that focuses more on the mystery aspect of the courts but still fails spectacularly in creating a story that works.
Much like Measure of a Man, the story beats here are completely absurd and exist mostly to create false drama. The conflict of interest between Kirk and the prosecutor? Not examined. The fact that Kirk is given the out of being under “extreme stress”, when the video tapes show the ion storm to be one of the most low energy experiences we’ve seen on the show? The luddite lawyer that Kirk hires? His anti-computer zeal brings nothing to the table. Kirk calls the ships computer as a witness? This makes as much sense as someone calling a microscope to the stand in the OJ Simpson trial. Absolutely none of the threads of the episode amount to anything, nor do they make sense under even the slightest examination.
Of course, the episode ends with a truly insane revelatory scene (this heart beat thing is the best way to determine people on board the ship?), and then a fist fight between Kirk and a vaguely Joker-esque Finney. And then Kirk pulls some high voltage wires with his bare hands and saves the day and gets the girl.
One weird thing that held my attention was the scripts extreme interest in demonstrating how competent and accomplished the crew were. Kirk is told that only “one of millions” has the fortitude to be a starship captain, and Kirk, Spock and McCoy all have scenes where their awards and accomplishments are listed. TNG also pushed this idea of the Enterprise having the best crew in Starfleet, but it was never this obvious or extreme. In TNG it felt more like an assumption as opposed to a hard fact. When TOS flaunts it this way, it feels silly and unconvincing.
The Return of the Archons
The Enterprise discovers a planet where the population act like zombies and obey the will of their unseen ruler, Landru.
This episode starts out wonderfully weird and disturbing. The Enterprise encounters a planet with creepy people wandering around, mumbling platitudes to themselves, asking about The Body, and asking if the crew are visiting for the Festival. Suddenly, the “red hour” starts and the natives all lose their minds and start rioting for 12 hours.
It’s downright creepy. The set up is excellent, with the episode laying down mystery after mystery. The weird vibe of the natives is unsettling (especially when they walk like zombies towards the away team), and the hooded “lawgivers” are frightening. The brainwashed crew, including McCoy, are suitably weird.
Then the away team gets knocked out and put into a cave-like cell and the episode just falls apart.
Everything that happens after that point feels interminable. Natives and lawgivers keep appearing and spouting the talking points and mentioning Landru. No additional information is revealed until the end, however, so this repetition just kills you as a viewer. It’s TOS at its worst in terms of plotting. Far too often, the show lingers on scenes as they kill time trying to fill up the entire hour.
Eventually, Kirk and Spock discover that a computer is controlling the planet and causing the weird behavior of the natives. Kirk pulls his patented move of talking a computer to death (with an argument that has no logic to it) and then the Landru-PC melts down and sets the world free.
All the interesting parts from the beginning of the episode are abandoned. I don’t need these questions to be answered, but all the aspects that made the episode interesting at the outset are simply forgotten by the end of the show. It’s immensely frustrating, and disappointing that an episode with such promise degrades into nothing.
The Deneva colony is attacked by neural parasites that cause mass insanity while the crew of Enterprise search for a way to stop them.
The end of the first season of Star Trek goes out with a whimper.
This is one of the episodes that feels like they took an unfinished bunch of different story ideas and mixed them together to get a full length show. The subplot of Kirk’s family being killed by the neural aliens is pointless and offers no drama to the situation (on in which we’re already debating the necessity of murdering a million people). Spock being infected, while required for the end game, really doesn’t amount to anything because Spock can simply ignore the pain that has driven thousands of others insane. And lastly, resolving Spock’s blindness with a deus ex machina in the last 2 minutes is cheap writing.
I didn’t really enjoy this episode, despite its neat idea of a spreading space madness. The central idea has that great creepy vibe that TOS will frequently try to utilize. It might also be the worst day of McCoy’s career as he watches numerous patients die, he allows a patient to escape sickbay, and he needlessly blinds Spock when he could have waited 2 minutes for some lab results to tell him not to do it.
Other than that, this episode will most likely be remembered for the terrible alien design (“They don’t even look real!”), which gives us an alien threat that resembles a flying jellyfish pancake. And what is the deal with the title? What operation? Who is being annihilated? Why the exclamation point?