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Friday, July 30, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"The Way to Eden"
In the run of any television series there are the fondly remembered episodes and then there are the infamous episodes. "The Way to Eden" definitely falls into the category of the infamous ones.

All of the Star Trek series are products of their era, so the fact that there's an episode from the late 60's featuring space hippies isn't really all that much of a surprise. After all, we did get yuppies thawed out in the future during Next Generation's first season. In both cases, the results are less than thrilling.

The Enterprise is pursuing a stolen space cruiser that is headed toward Romulan space. On board is the son of an ambassador to the Federation who has asked that his son and his companions not be harmed. Apparently, the relations between the Federation and this group are at delicate stage and Kirk is ordered not to rock the boat.

When the ship is destroyed trying to escape from the tractor beam, Kirk has the six members of the party beam on-board. Among them is Dr. Sevrin and Irina Galliulin, an old acquaintance of Chekov's from the Academy who dropped out to join Sevrin's group. The group rejects the technology of the Federation and wants to go back to a simpler life. They believe they can find the planet of Eden where life will be tranquil and they can get back to a better way of living. Unfortunately, Sevrin isn't allowed to travel there since the Federation's technology has created a new disease and he's a carrier. He can't catch it, but he's a walking Typhoid Mary.

Sevrin isn't happy, nor is the group pleased that Kirk is taking them back to a starbase. Spock is better able to communicate with the group that Kirk, who is constantly mocked for being too rigid in his thinking and for his devotion to Starfleet and orders. The group pretends to go along while they infiltrate the crew, finding out enough to take over the ship. During a jam session that's broadcast throughout the ship, Sevrin is freed and the group takes over the ship from auxiliary control. Thanks to Spock making a promise to use the Enterprise's star charts to help them find Eden, they are able to plot a course for the planet.

Just to add tension, it's inside Romulan space. Anyway, Sevrin and his group hijack the ship by using high frequency sound to debilitate the crew. They turn if off long enough to steal a shuttlecraft and head down. Kirk is able to switch the sound off and get the ship back. They beam down to find Eden looks pretty but ain't such a paradise. Turns out the plants and soil have a high acid content that burns to the touch and is deadly if consumed. Two members of the group are killed trying to eat the fruit, including Sevrin. The other four and the crew head back to Federation space and all is well.

In case you're wondering, yes it is every bit as tedious as it sounds. There are some potentially interesting ideas buried in here, but you've got to look really hard to find them. The concept of a virus creating by the technological perfection of the Federation is intriguing but it's really just something for this episode to muster up some conflict and tension. It's one of those plots that could have been developed a bit more or explored in a future Trek, but as far as I recall, it never really is. (It may be that many producers of modern Trek, like me, try to deny this episode even exists).

The story also is a glaring one of the lack of continuity from episode to episode for classic Trek. Earlier this season, we are told the Federation has developed a cure for mental illness. And yet here, Sevrin is diagnosed as insane and no one thinks to try the cure on him or offer it to him. (Yes, McCoy could assume that given how Sevrin reacts to anything offered by the Federation that it would be rejected out of hand, I guess....)

It's also an episode that takes long breaks to break out into jams by Sevrin's crew. It even becomes a bit harder to swallow when Spock joins them for a jam session.

Speaking of Spock, it's been well documented that Leonard Nimoy was very unhappy with the turns Spock took in season three. I discussed it earlier in "Whom Gods Destroy" and it's on display to a lesser extent here. It's not hard to see how Spock could agree with the ideals spouted by Sevrin and that he would be the one to be a liaison between Kirk and this crew. But the jam session is just incredibly out of character. Also, the way the Enterprise crew seems to fall under the spell of Sevrin's crew is a bit quick. It's almost sad that so many other better adversaries or threats failed to wrest control of the ship from Kirk and yet this group is able to do it--and do it fairly easily.

The story also inserts tidbits to drive up the tension for no good reason. I've discussed the disease Sevrin suffers from but the whole Romulan space thing seems just thrown in for no good reason. Given that the Enterprise is in Romulan space for several hours, it's hard to believe not one ship shows up. (Remember that earlier this season, the Enterprise is in Romulan space for a lot less time and is quickly surrounded by three ships). Were they just taking that day off?

They say that every episode is someone's favorite, though you'd be hard pressed to find many--or any--Trek fans that embrace "The Way to Eden." Watching it, I wondered if I'd ever meet someone who would declare this their favorite episode--or even in their top ten. I'm doubtful.

It's one of the more regrettable episodes of the entire franchise. At this point, I think the cast and crew knew the show was doomed to no fourth season and it appears like the show is coasting on fumes.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/30/2010 08:50:00 AM | |
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Doctor Who
"The Green Death"
Outside of "The Daemons," "The Green Death" is one of the most iconic and best remembered stories from Jon Pertwee's era as the Doctor.

It's got just about all the elements of a typical third Doctor adventure--set on Earth, the UNIT cast and a story that deals with a threat of humanity's own creation rather than just an alien invasion. One of the consistent themes from the Pertwee era is that while we do face horrific threats from outer space, it's often times humanity's own short-sightedness that presents the biggest threat. That's especially true of "The Green Death," one of the few stories in the history of the classic run that sprang forth from an agenda rather than the agenda springing forth from the story.

Concerned by stories about the destruction of the environment, producer Barry Letts decided to use Doctor Who as a platform to make a statement about conservation and the need for alternative fuels. To the end, he contacted his writing partner for "The Daemons," Robert Sloman and the two hatched this plotline involving the Doctor and UNIT doing battle against an evil corporate body that used a new process to get more energy from oil but was hiding the toxic by-product from the government and the world by sending the green goo down the local mineshaft. The goo is deadly, transforming and destroying cells of the humans who come into contact with it and mutating a bunch of maggots into giant, deadly maggots who can spread the disease by contact.

The story takes places in Wales (ironic that the new Who is filmed there now) and features a lot of stereotypical Welsh characters. Also on site is the new conversation group, led by Professor Clifford Jones. His group wants to revolutionize the world, finding new sources of food and energy that don't involve animals or oil. Jo is inspired by news coverage of Jones to head up to Wales and join the fight while the Brigadier is called in to look into the mysterious deaths taking place and to protect the interests of Global Chemicals.

Both encourage the Doctor to join them, but he's got to pop off to Metabilis III first, something he's been trying to do all season. He hardwires the coordinates into the TARDIS and finally arrives, picking up a blue crystal from the planet and barely escaping a variety of hostile flora and animal life. (It's interesting that the Doctor is so obsessed with visiting the planet during the season since his two trips there lead us to believe this is not exactly a tourist spot....the planet must have some great marketing people). The crystal is important because it will be used as a plot device later.

Once he gets back to Earth, the Doctor heads up to Wales and things start to pick up a bit. Global Chemicals and its head man Stephens consistently stand in the way of UNIT and the Doctor's investigations and attempts to delve into the truth. The company is run by the BOSS, which for the first couple of episodes only appears as a mysterious voice on a monitor screen. At times, the voice sounds enough like Roger Delgado as the Master that if we didn't know he had tragically passed away earlier, you could see the Master being behind the plot. Instead, BOSS is a giant computer, bent on world domination. One thing in the story's favor is that the script at least gives us an explanation for the computer's megalomania--it was programmed by linking to Stephen's mind and has enhanced his own aspirations for profit and domination in the corporate world into something more. The computer can also brainwash people by use of headphones, thus ensuring that most of the Global Chemicals people all become good little minions.

Of course, the way to counteract the brainwashing--the blue crystal. Looking into its center reboots the brain and gets rid of BOSS's influence.

But all of that isn't what this one is remembered most for. That would be the giant green maggots, which are pretty well realized on the budget of the time. One of the DVD extras delves into how the maggots were made and it's fairly interesting to see how it doesn't quite add up with the popular myth that the maggots were made using inflated prophylactics.

The story is also the final one for Jo Grant, who falls in love with Cliff and decides to marry him at story's end. The story spends a lot of time setting up Cliff as a younger version of the Doctor and seeing Jo slowly fall in love with him. At least the story spends a few days in Wales so it's not quite as abrupt as Leela's departure in "The Invasion of Time." It also shows that a romantic attraction between the Doctor and a companion wasn't just a new idea of Russel T. Davies since the story and era strongly implies that the Doctor is half in love with Jo and she half in love with him. The story also highlights the "aloneness" the Doctor feels and the final scene of the Doctor leaving Jo's engagement party and driving off into the sunset is an effective one. "The Green Death" is a nice coda for Jo and it actually allows for some character development and an arc for her. She's moved beyond the girl whose uncle pulled strings for her to get a job as a spy with UNIT in "Terror of the Autons" and grown up during her three years on-screen. There's a reason certain companions farewells are held up as the most effective and least "out of left field" ones of the original run. Jo's feels like that and it feels like the production team actually planned for it and then executed that plan to near perfection.

Alas, I can't say "The Green Death" is one of my favorite stories from the original run or even the Pertwee era a whole. It comes from the second half of the Pertwee years, where the stories were beginning to lose their edge and we were getting more duds than winners. "The Green Death" isn't a dud, per se, but memorable visuals aside, the story itself if a bit lacking. It feels like a collection of greatest hits moments at times and there are times when it feels a bit padded (most Pertwee six parters do). It's also about as subtle as a two by four in its agenda. It too clearly makes Cliff and his crew the good guys and Global Chemicals the bad guys. It may be a necessity for the script, but it also makes the story work too hard to make Global Chemicals and Stephens appear melodramatically evil. The late addition of BOSS's desire to take over computers around the world feels like it's thrown in just to show how evil the computer really is and to lend some tension to episode six.

It's not necessarily a bad story. It's just not quite equal to the sum of its parts.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/27/2010 04:31:00 PM | |
Monday, July 26, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
Requiem for Methuselah
One of the cliches of the classic series was Kirk's reputation as a ladies man. It certainly seemed like the intrepid captain had a different, beautiful woman in every port of call and was willing to kiss any attractive female--alien or otherwise--in the immediate vicinity. And while Kirk did have his various flings in seasons one and two, it doesn't quite feel as prevalent as it does here in season three. And they're romantic liasons that don't end well--even for Captain Kirk.

Two of them die as a direct result of being romantically involved with Kirk. In "The Paradise Syndrome," Miramanee dies after getting stoned by her tribe and here Rayna dies when the emotions Kirk awakens in her cause her android mind to overload and she self destructs.

When I first started watching Star Trek, I felt like I saw bits and pieces of this episode a lot. And that led to my getting rapidly tired of it, wishing I could instead see "Space Seed" or the one with the war fought by computers (as I thought of it at the time). It seems like the station I was watching loved this episode and played it in heavy rotation. Or maybe it was just me. Either way, the episode had some odds stacked against it when it came to making it into my cycle to re-watch. It's not one I avoided because I didn't care for it, but I avoided it because I felt like I'd seen it a lot.

It was also a particular favorite of a buddy of mine in high school. His mom had allowed him to tape a couple of episodes off the air, one of which was "Methuselah." So he was always commenting on it, saying how great it was and how cool it was that he could watch it whenever he wanted.

It's also an episode where you can see some of the props used in it at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. The smaller model of the Enterprise that Flint shrinks to torment Kirk is on display there, if I recall correctly.

As I approached it this time, I tried to set all of that aside and approach the episode fresh.

The Enterprise has an outbreak of Rigellian fever and heads to a seemingly deserted planet to gather Ritalin, which can cure the plague and save the crew. There's only a limited amount of time to gather, process and administer the antidote and save the crew. Beaming down, Kirk, Spock and McCoy meet a man named Flint and his robot M4. Flint reveals he lives on the planet and, at first, tells them to go elsewhere. Kirk stands up to him and Flint backs down when he finds out what the crew needs.

While M4 gathers the Ritalin, Flint entertains the trio at his home. In his private collection are undiscovered works by DaVinci, Brahms and a Gutenberg Bible. Also living with him is his ward Rayna, whose parents died when their ship crashed on the planet. Kirk is, of course, immediately smitten.

M4 returns and processes the Ritalin, which contains an impurity. Flint sends it out after more and continues to entertain the trio with Kirk wooing Rayna. Flint is clearly in love with Rayna, but an early scene between the two shows them kissing but she doesn't respond. Kirk eventually busts his move and after two kisses, Rayna is returning the kiss.

M4 returns with more Ritalin, processes it and it passes the test. Flint then hides it inside a room that he has forbidden Rayna to enter. She tells Kirk at one point that she feels strange about what could be inside. The landing party goes in and finds other Raynas. Turns out Flint is immortal and after living hundreds of lives, marrying and then having to slip away before they find out his secret, has headed off into space to create the perfect immortal mate. That mate would be Rayna. And while she's his intellectual equal, her emotions haven't come on-line...at least that is until Kirk awakens them.

Flint suddenly decides he can't let them leave or else risk revealing who he is and his secret. But then when Rayna enter the room (why they leave the door open is beyond me), he and Kirk fight it out over her. Rayna is confused by her new found emotions and can't reconcile the love she has for Flint as a father figure and her new found romantic love for Kirk. She overloads and dies. Flint allows them to leave, taking the cure with them and Kirk promises secrecy.

Back on the ship, everyone is cured except Kirk can't forget Rayna. Spock performs a mind-meld to make Kirk forget.

"Methuselah" is a lot stronger than I recall it being even if it is riddled with plot holes you could drive a bus through. One of the problems is the time scale. The episode makes a big deal about there being four or so hours before the point of no return for the crew. And yet, at times, there isn't an urgency to the finding and processing of the Ritalin. In fact, the landing party beams down 4 kilometers from the Ritalin. It seems to me that if it's so urgent, they'd want to beam in closer. Unless the Ritalin does something to the transporter signal. It's one of those things that you easily solve with a line or two of dialogue.

The time frame in which events unfold also works both for and against the episode in terms of Rayna. It works for it in the ending in which her mind implodes from the new emotions. It doesn't quite work for it when she and Kirk are quickly falling in love in the course of about two hours. At least "Elaan of Troius" had the excuse of the tears of the Dohlman to explain Kirk's quick fall. Here Kirk has to be constantly reminded by Spock to keep his eyes on the prize (aka the Ritalin). Which considering how often in previous stories Kirk's devotion to duty takes priority over his relationships and his love of the ship helped him get over Elaan, the whole falling for Rayna seems to happen too quickly and blinds him a bit too much.

And while the "Forget" moment is one of the strongest reflections of the friendship of Kirk and Spock, it does raise some other questions. How much did Spock erase? And, if so, do he and McCoy have to walk on egg shells if Kirk brings it up in the future? I recall one of the tie-in novels scratched the surface of this a bit when Flint comes back on board, but it's an issue that could have used a lot more exploration.

All of that aside, it's still a solid middle of the pack episode. Unlike a lot of third season episodes, it has a fully formed arc to the story (all time frame considerations aside) and it's almost ironic that the way in which Kirk has defeated numerous computers in previous episodes (present it with a seemingly unsolvable dilemma, watch the computer fry itself trying to find an answer) comes back to bite him here. Watching it for the first time in a while, I'm sorry I neglected it.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/26/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Movie Thoughts: Inception (SPOILERS!!)
Going in to the summer, there were a couple of movies I was interested in seeing, but if could only see one, my choice would have been Inception.

Ever since Memento, I've been intrigued by the path director Christopher Nolan has taken--offering up films that assume the audience can and will follow the story and concepts he's putting up on screen and that he doesn't have to necessarily spell out every tiny little detail in order for audiences to watch and appreciate his films. He also puts in a lot of value in re-watching his movies in a way that some directors these days (Michael Bay) just don't.

Inception is no exception.

And it's impossible to talk about the movie without SPOILERS. I avoided them like the plague until I saw it and suggest you do also. So if you haven't seen it, this is a good place to pause, go see the movie and then come back.

At it's core, it's a heist movie, but instead of stealing a physical object, what's being stolen are secrets. From inside the minds of people. Cobb and his crew have the ability to enter people's dreams, when the mental defenses are lower, and steal out secrets from people. One of the interesting pieces of the world is how time passes at different speeds within various dream levels and how those who enter into the dreams will have a real-world object that is used to help them make sure they've come back to reality.

Cobb used to work with his wife, Mol, in exploring the world of dreams. But the two of them got stuck in a kind of limbo dream state, building the world together from memories and dreams of their past. The two eventually discovered it wasn't real, but Cobb accidentally planted the idea that his wasn't their real life, something that carried over into her thoughts when she came back to reality. Mol's doubt led her to a type of insanity and she eventually killed herself, convinced it would bring her back to reality. Cobb is linked to the crime thanks to a letter Mol left, certifying her sanity and saying that Cobb pushed her to this.

In the movie, there are two ways out of a dream--dying in it or falling.

Cobb is hired to go inside a dream and not take out information, but plant an idea. Cobb takes the job because the business man involved can get the charges against Cobb taken away and he'll be able to go home and see his kids again. Before he went on the run, he desperately wanted to see them turn around for a last memory of their faces, but it didn't happen.

Cobb takes the job and he and his crew enter the dreamworld to plant an idea, otherwise known as inception.

It sounds a bit complicated when you write it all down and any description of the film isn't doing it justice. It all makes sense within the world Nolan creates on screen. Visually, the film is a delight to watch as Nolan explores the dreamworld and how the rules of our world don't necessarily apply there. Watching Ellen Page as a new dream world builder come to grips with what she can do in the world of dreams is fun and if you've seen the trailers, you've seen some of the various set pieces that Nolan created for the dream universe.

Interestingly, the concept of dreams within dreams is explored. In order to plant the idea, Cobb and company have to go to a third level of dreaming inside the mind of their target. But Cobb is hiding the fact that things can and will get more complicated because of what he's done with his memory of Mol and that she lurks inside his subconscious waiting to confront him. Watching how time passes at different rates within each level of the dream and how one dream affects the physical laws of the next dream down is a lot of fun.

And the ending...I think it might have been better had there not been such a conversation surrounding the film (it was all in the headlines to stories and so I couldn't avoid it) that there was a twist and that the movie would reward multiple viewings (it would, but I'm going to wait for DVD). The ending implies that Cobb hasn't escaped and is still dreaming. But then as I thought about it, I wondered if it could be possible that he's been dreaming the whole time. The whole ending is very neat and far too happy, signaling that something more is going on. I think Nolan is playing with audiences and using our expectations against us....something I like. It's an interesting ending and the lingering questions have stayed with him and I've thought about them--something you can't say after having seen something like Avatar, for example.

In short, it's the best movie of the summer and one of the best movies I've seen this year. If you haven't seen it, go and see it. It's worth the time and money.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/25/2010 06:42:00 AM | |
Friday, July 23, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"The Lights of Zetar"
Every show has its ups and downs. It's just unfortunate for classic Star Trek that the downs more than outweighed the ups when we got to the third and final season. Whether it's because of budget cuts, the departure of Gene Coon as producer or the more hands-off approach taken by Gene Roddenberry in season three, there were just more memorable for all the wrong reasons episodes in the third season.

And now as we enter into the final stretch of the season, we're getting to a portion of the season where they've all seemed to cluster together.

As I said earlier with "The Mark of Gideon" there are some episodes from season three I haven't seen in a decade or so. Some of those (like "Gideon") weren't a conscious choice. Others, like "The Lights of Zetar" were.

And yet, as I started up the episode, I found myself wondering why I'd avoided watching it--at least for the first few minutes.

The Enterprise is ferrying Lt. Mira Romaine to her now post on Memory Alpha. The post is a library of sorts that will serve as a storehouse for all the accumulate knowledge of various races in the Federation. It's being built as open for all and doesn't include any weapons or much shielding. This will turn out to be a mistake later in the episode. Mira also shares a special bond with Scotty, who is head over heels for her.

Along the way, the ship runs across a flashing light field. It invades the ship and attacks various crew members in different ways, turning off certain sections of their brain. It also bonds with Romaine who gets all multi-colored glow eyes and can now see a few minutes into the future. She comes to, speaking in a garbled low voice. McCoy checks her out but can't find anything wrong with her. Scotty chalks it up to space sickness and she returns to duty.

Meanwhile, the flashy lights are headed toward Memory Alpha. They hover over it and then leave. The Enterprise warps in and Mira sees visions of the crew of the station dead. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty beam down and find out that everyone is dead, except one female crew member who is glowing and talking in the same scary voice Mira used earlier. Kirk orders Mira to beam down and she confirms that she saw this in her mind moments before it happened.

Up until this point, "Zetar" is actually working on some level. It's not terribly exciting and the budget cuts to season three are painful apparent (especially as we watch a viewscreen map graphic of the flashy lights attacking Memory Alpha...it has all the excitement of an early PC strategy game in terms of visual presentation), but at least there's something interesting going on here, even if it's a bit of a retread of "Where No Man Has Gone Before. " (This isn't helped by the fact that the episode borrows heavily from the incidental music from the second pilot for the show).

It's at this point that things go a bit off the rails and the episode takes a turn for the less interesting. The flashy lights turn and come back toward the ship and Scotty begins to fail to report Mira's having other symptoms to McCoy and Kirk. Eventually, he does and by comparing Mira's brainwaves to the brainwaves of the entities in the flashy lights, we figure out they've bonded. They show back up, take over Mira and we learn they are the members of the Zetar civilization. They died and became these lights. They're now intent on...well, that's not exactly made clear. We do know they're a threat to the ship and Mira. The crew figures if we put Mira in a hyperbolic chamber and turn up the pressure, the Zetars will leave her.

They do and apparently are killed, though it's not quite clear. We are talking about a group of entities that pass through the ships hull earlier in the story. The idea that they were uncomfortable and ran off to regroup isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility here. But at this point, we're out of time and the episode has to end. Scotty and Mira presumably will make the most of the time they have left before Mira beams down to begin work on recovering Memory Alpha. (Yeah, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense....would Starfleet really leave her on a base whose memory is wiped and the crew is all dead?)

"Zetar" has the distinction of being co-written by Sheri Lewis, aka the creator of Lambchop. She co-wrote the story with her husband because she was a huge fan of the show. Apparently, she wrote the part of Romaine for herself, but she wasn't cast. It's one of those interesting what might have been type of things.

As a character Romaine works fairly well and is likeable enough--at least when Scotty's not doting on her. Classic Trek has been accused of sexism and its pretty apparent here in how Scotty treats Romaine. However, there are moments when you get the attraction between the two and feel like the romance between them is working. James Doohan wasn't often given a lot to do besides worry about the ship during the classic run, so it's nice to see him get a bit of a chance to stretch here. That said, Scotty doesn't fare well in the romance department in the original 79. He's jealous and overprotective both times we see him romantically liked to a female crewmember and his portrayals in both aren't exactly the most flattering.

Part of the problem with "Zetar" is the middle third of the story isn't terribly exciting or interesting. It feels like a lot of conversations to fill time and while it's nice to see the big three working together to figure out what's up with Romaine, showing us every step of the deductive process is a bit tedious.

Watching the updated version of the show, the effects of the lights attacking the ship are nicely upgraded. And the shot of Memory Alpha on the planet is superbly done. That said, the conceit of staying true to the original effects intent kind of backfires here. (And I can't believe I'm saying this). The attack on Memory Alpha could have been helped a bit by being more than just a graphic showing a dot for the lights getting closer to the target. I'm not one for pushing the effects too far, but this might be one of the few scenes where it would have actually improved things. Or at least made them a bit more visually interesting.

And while I came out of "Zetar" not quite disliking it as much as I did the first few times I saw it, it hasn't necessarily made a huge jump either. I have a feeling it may be a while before I return to watch this one again....

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/23/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Doctor Who
"Planet of the Daleks"
Somewhere on this planet, there are ten thousand, Daleks

The problem with making a statement like that (as a cliffhanger no less) is that eventually, you've got to make good on the promise and give the audience 10,000 Daleks on-screen. Or at least a room full of enough Daleks to feel like 10,000 could be lurking out there somewhere.

In the modern age of CG, it's not that hard to pull off. In the day and age "Planet of the Daleks" was made, it means a promise of seeing lots of tiny models of the Doctor's greatest foe. It's not necessarily disappointing, but the scenes when we see the cave full of Daleks in hibernation mode just aren't quite as awe-inspiring as the script would like us to believe they are or could be.

Of course, that disappointment would be a lot easier to get over if the script surrounding them were good. Unfortunately, that's not the case with "Planet of the Daleks."

Pursuing the Daleks across time and space, the TARDIS arrives on the planet Spiridon. The Doctor is injured from his wounds at the end of "Frontier in Space" and so Jo heads out into the jungle to try and find help. She is infected by some strange planets that spit out a venom that causes a potentially fatal fungus to grow on whoever and whatever it contacts. Jo stumbles across a group of Thals who have come to Spiridon to stop a gathering army of Daleks. Though how exactly three Thals is expected to take on 10,000 Daleks is never made quite clear.

The Doctor eventually comes around, escapes the TARDIS (the fungus apparently drains all the oxygen from the ship, though it's not really explained) and meets up with the Thals. We then spend a lot of time chasing around Spiridon, hiding from the Daleks and the enslaved (and invisible) Spiridon workers and trying to find a way to put a monkey wrench into the pepperpots' latest scheme to conquer the universe.

Terry Nation returns to write for his most famous creations for the first time since the William Hartnell era and fills his script with every Dalek story cliche he can find. There's not one but two deadly viruses (the one from the plants and then one the Daleks hatch to try and kill all life on the planet), the Daleks coveting a new technology and the threat of the Daleks conquering all life in the universe. Oh yeah, and there's lots of being caught, locked up, escaping and running down corridors (though some are cleverly disguised as a jungle).

And, of course, Nation comes up with two or three more weaknesses for his creations in the course of the story. This time we learn they have an SOS alarm that sounds when their casing is opened and that they don't like extreme cold. I watched all the Dalek stories in order a few years ago and it's interesting to keep track of all the ways Nation comes up with to weaken his famous creations from story to story. It's almost as bad as the weaknesses dreamed up for the Cybermen...

And that's all before the Supreme Dalek shows up in episode six to take charge of things.

Pertwee was famous for not caring much for the Daleks and given his three encounters with them, it's easy to see why. While "Day of the Daleks" is a solid enough story and fondly remembered, his next two encounters with the Doctor's most ruthless enemies aren't much to write home about. It's hard to decide which story is the lesser--"Planet of" or "Death to." Honestly, "Planet" may come out a bit ahead because it doesn't have the blasted musical score that grates in the same way "Death to the Daleks" does.

One of the biggest criticisms lodged as classic Who and its six part stories is that they're often too long and overpadded. That's the case with "Planet." It might have been better served as a four-part story.

"Planet of the Daleks" is infamous in Doctor Who circles for being syndicated for years with episode three missing. In fact, the first time I saw it, the story jumped from the end of part two to the fourth episode. This is because the original color version of part three was lost and only a black and white copy remained. Rather than show the black and white version, the story just skipped episode three entirely. And here's the sad part--outside of wondering how the Doctor got out of his cell, the jump isn't really all that noticeable.

Bootlegs of episode three were swapped for years and the BBC eventually released the black and white version on the VHS release. Many of us assumed it would be the same way when the story hit DVD. However, thanks to new technology, the color has been restored to episode three. No, the episode hasn't been colorized, but instead information from the black and white film version was used to decode the color and restore it. The episode looks fantastic and if you didn't know it wasn't originally in color, you'd never be able to tell. A whole extra about how the color was restored is on the DVD and it gives me hope that we may see all of the Pertwee era in color again someday soon. (Hopefully the sales of this DVD will justify the expense of using the technique on "Mind of Evil" and "Ambassadors of Death.")

The story is also part of a 12-part storyline from the tenth anniversary season. The show does make quick mention of the events of "Frontier in Space" but you don't necessarily have to have seen "Frontier" to figure out what's going on here. It's an interesting but in the end not as successful as it could be experiment.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/22/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"That Which Survives"
For many shows, it's easy to create a checklist of certain elements that will crop up in a majority of the episodes. Some will have more, some will have less. If you were to sit down and create a check list of things that happen in a typical episode of classic Star Trek, "That Which Survives" would be able to check off a good number of them.

And yet, it's still able to be a fairly entertaining episode that while it's not exactly top tier Trek, it's not exactly the bottom of the barrel. It's certainly more watchable than "And The Children Shall Lead," for example.

While exploring space, the Enterprise encounters a planet the size of Earth's moon but with the mass and atmosphere of our planet. Kirk orders the ship into orbit and he, McCoy, Sulu and Lt. D'Amato beam down to investigate. D'Amoto is a geologist whom we've not seen before and since we don't get any red shirts beaming down, we expect his life expectancy to not extend beyond the first act.

During the beaming process, a beautiful woman appears in the transporter room, killing the transporter tech. Kirk calls the ship to discuss this, but the planet is rocked by a violent earthquake and the Enterprise disappears from orbit. This leaves the landing party stranded and they begin to work on ways to survive on the planet, hoping the Enterprise hasn't been destroyed and will come back for them.

As you guessed, the ship hasn't been destroyed, but merely flung through space 990 light years away. Spock orders a full diagnostic of ship's systems and when it comes back green, heads back toward the planet at warp 8. Scotty calls up to say the ship doesn't feel right, but Spock initially says that the engineer is being too emotional since all the instruments say everything is working perfectly. That is until the mysterious woman appears back in engineering, killing another guy and fusing one of the vital ship components. The Enterprise begins hurtling through space, beyond the tolerance limits of the ship and the engines.

Spock is eventually able to figure out that the ship was beamed there and not put back together right. He and Scotty devise a plan to use a device to reverse the polarity in the anti-matter/matter regulators. They've got 14 minutes to do it before the ship is space dust. Of course, they succeed at the last second. (About the only part of this plotline I don't like is that Spock calculates how long they have left only to see the deadline pass with no destruction. It's done for dramatic purpose, obviously, but there is a large chunk of time that Scotty's sitting in an access vent, just twiddling his thumbs apparently...)

Meanwhile, back on the planetoid, the landing party is trying to find food, water and shelter to survive. That is until the woman, named Losira shows up and wants to touch D'Amato. She does and he dies. She then vanishes again before showing up for Sulu, then Kirk and another copy for McCoy. The three figure out that she can only harm the one she's sent for and intend to stand between Losira and her intended target, but this plan goes awry when the computer running the planet sends three copies. Thankfully, Spock shows up in time to shoot the computer, shutting it down and we find out what really happened. Losira was a leader of her people, waiting on colony ships to arrive. But her people were overcome by a great plague and died, leaving the computer to carry out the final orders.

As I said, there's a lot of classic Trek threads in there from a computer run amok to Scotty worried about the ship. Thankfully, no one takes over the ship and there aren't any red shirt deaths, but D'Amoto quickly bites the bullet in act one. Sadly, the poor guy doesn't even get a first name as his headstone is carved out to only say Lt. D'Amoto. (Interestingly, the engineering tech gets a first name).

"Survives" features the second appearance of McCoy's back-up, Dr. M'Benga. He first appeared in "A Private Little War" and was well versed in Vulcan medicine. Here he's a fill-in for McCoy whose stuck on the planet. M'Benga has been expanded in several of the tie-in novels and he's an interesting recurring character. His banter with Spock is nice and it's different from McCoy's. I've said it before, but if there were a modern Trek, I have a feeling we'd see more of M'Benga as a recurring character (kind of the way O'Brien started out on TNG possibly).

As for the story itself, it's a fairly straightforward one, but it's well told. There's a couple of mysteries here and the show addresses them fairly well, solving them in an interesting, credible way. No great leaps are required to get to a resolution, though it does end up being little more than blasting the computer. I know we've seen Kirk talk a lot of computers into self-destruction in his time and maybe I was expecting to see that here.

"Survives" is a nice little gem in the midst of the final run of episodes and looking at this disc of the set, may be the last story I truly enjoy on the disc. The next two are "Lights of Zetar" and one of my least favorites, "The Way to Eden." But I've not seen either of those in years and am trying to approach them with an open mind...

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/21/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
Monday, July 19, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"The Mark of Gideon"
As we come toward the end of Star Trek's third season, we come to a run of episodes that I've seen at one time or another but that I don't necessarily recall all the details about. One of the first is "The Mark of Gideon," a story that I hadn't sat down to watch all the way through in at least a decade.

The planet Gideon is a seeming paradise of health for its inhabitants but is rabidly xenophobic, allowing no one to beam down to the planet and no scans to be made. The inhabitants are all healthy and have extremely long life spans due to a complete lack of disease. For years they've rejected overtures by the Federation for membership, but now they want to meet and discuss it. They've decided they'll allow one representative to beam down and discuss things. Yep, you guessed it--it's Captain James T. Kirk.

Kirk beams down only to find himself materializing on what appears to be the same transporter pad. He is on board the Enterprise, but it's empty except for a woman named Odana. Kirk also has some soreness from bruising on his arm and can't account for nine minutes between leaving the ship and appearing on the deserted one.

Turns out that Gideon is hugely overpopulated due to the lack of fatal diseases around. Kirk is carrying a strain of one in his blood that the Gideons want. During the nine minutes he can't account for, he was knocked out and his blood removed. It's been injected into Odana who will become a Typhoid Mary for the planet, allowing for people to get sick and die as a form of population control. The Gideons also thinks Kirk will fall in love with Odana and stick around to give them a ton of other great diseases they call all die from. To fool him, they've built a replica of the Enterprise on the planet.

Meanwhile, Spock debates with the Gideons and argues with Starfleet about what he can and should do. He determines the transporter is working when Scotty beams up one of the council members of the planet, though it's from different coordinates than those given Kirk. Spock beams down to the original coordinates, finds Kirk and the two beam up with to the ship with Odana where she's cured.

Just as we had with "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," "Gideon" serves as a morality tale on the topic of overpopulation. Of course, the only statement it makes is "overpopulation is bad" and not much more than that. The central issue facing the Gideons is addressed (they don't believe in birth control), but there's not any resolution to it once Kirk decides he's not staying and they cure Odana. It does bring up some questions such as whether or not the Prime Directive would be in play here--by curing Odana, is Kirk violating the Prime Directive.

And while you have to respect that the Gideons' entire plan hinges on Kirk being an intergalactic Romeo, you also have to wonder how on a planet plagued with overpopulation they found the time, space and resources to build a replica of the Enterprise. Do they expect Kirk to live on it after he's decided to stay? And why is it that when we see Kirk explore the entire ship early on, why doesn't he stumble across the council chamber, which is implied to be attached to the ship.

If this were a modern Trek episode, you could see how Gideon might use a holodeck to trick Kirk since that wouldn't take up as much space. Also when he beams down, Kirk goes without a communicator, which makes no sense. How does he expect the ship to lock on to him to beam him back up when the mission is done? Of course, if he takes a communicator with him the entire episode is over in about fifteen minutes when Kirk calls up the Enterprise and they realize something is up.

Interestingly, I was flipping around the other day and came across "Unification, Part 2" on the TNG repeat and heard Spock talk about Kirk's use of "cowboy diplomacy" during the original five year mission. It's interesting to hear him discuss how he was on the front lines of it with Kirk back in the day and even more interesting to see him use it here. Yes, he consults with Starfleet about things, but when push comes to shove, Spock violates order to beam down and rescue Kirk. Of course, given that Kirk will often fudge log entries to cover up the sins of various people he's found or that have gone crazy in the line of duty, imagine he did something similar with Spock here. Again, the episodic nature of classic Trek means that we won't see or hear any long term implications to what Spock's done here, though if the story were told today we might see a short story arc dealing with Spock being in trouble with Starfleet.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/19/2010 01:30:00 PM | |
Friday, July 16, 2010
Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman: Quebe Sisters Band and Daily & Vincent
This year, my parents and I decided we'd take a year off from the Bluegrass summer series at the Ryman. We've attended together all six shows the past couple of years, only missing one last year due to a trip to the beach. It was one of my new favorites, Daily and Vincent.

Not getting season tickets meant I had a chance to get a birthday present for my parents they weren't expecting--tickets to the show featuring Daily and Vincent. Again, a new favorite of mine and theirs. Since we first heard them together two years ago, I've become a huge fan, snapping up every new CD this duo puts out. Before last night, I would have said they were a close second to Cherryholmes as my favorite bluegrass group.

That was before last night.

Last night, Daily and Vincent were at the Ryman and they put on a showcase. For an hour and a half, they entertained the audience with a selection of songs from all their CDs, including a number from their Cracker Barrel release of Statler Brothers songs. They did four-part gospel acapella as well, some of the old favorites and many of their selections. I knew I was in for a treat when they started the show with a four-part, stirring rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" that gave me goosebumps.
Since I last saw them, the band has expanded and they've got some great new additions. The show was high energy, with the group having a great time and playing well off each other. (In many ways, it reminded me of Nothin' Fancy a few years ago.) Their new bass singer is incredible and I hope he's part of the group for years to come. (In a strange moment, his going low reminded me of the classic Ray Stevens song, "The Doright Family" (Go for another octive, Virgil!)) The group even came down off the stage and mingled with the audience. And they took requests. I could have sat and listened to them for another hour and a half. Easily.


Opening for the group was a band I'd never heard of--the Quebe Sisters band. It's a group of three sisters who all play the fiddle and have incredible harmonies. Their show was also high energy as well and a great prelude to a great concert. I was impressed enough to buy a CD and to get it signed by the group. The good part is the CD didn't include all their songs and I'm hopeful that means a new release is coming soon with some of the other selections. Like Daily and Vincent, you could tell they had a deep love for the traditions of the genre and that they were putting their own unique touch on some classic songs. A CD of covers of classic songs by this group would definitely be welcome by this new fan.

Both groups gave Cherryholmes a strong run for my money as some of the best bluegrass I've heard. The show was one of the best concerts I've ever been to and I'm looking forward to hearing more from both groups in the future.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/16/2010 05:46:00 PM | |
Monday, July 12, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"
During the celebration of Star Trek's 25th anniversary, I manged to talk several sets of my friends into attending an exhibit celebrating that honor at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. (I lived near D.C. at the time and it was easy enough to commute up to the exhibit.) The tour was full of a number of memorable things, including a replica of Kirk's chair from the bridge, actual props used on the show and a script from "The Enemy Within" with the original dialogue scratched out and revised dialogue penciled in by Leonard Nimoy and company (I'll admit it--that was pretty darn cool to see).

One aspect of Star Trek that the exhibit also delved into was how the series commented on the social and political situations of the time. And one of the prime examples of the social commentary the show exhibited was "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." It even included a clip from the episode as Kirk and Spock sit at a conference table debating why Lokai's people are "inferior" with Bele. Basically, the argument is that Lokai and his people are black on the right and white on the left while Bele's people are white on the right and black on the left. The scene is meant to underscore (and with all the subtlety of a two by four to the head) that racism is silly and there's no logical reason for it.



That's the point of the entire episode and it's one of the more obvious metaphors the classic series ever did.

It's just too bad that's as far out as the episode is willing to think about the metaphor or even delve into the background of the issue on the alien world of Charon. The only information about Charon that we're given is that it's located in the "southern most part of the galaxy" and that this particular conflict has been going on for 50,000 years. Lokai is some kind of political dissident who fled when he was accused certain crimes, which are never quite spelled out. Bele has been chasing him for 50,000 years across the universe, but Lokai keeps eluding him. Part of this is that Lokai is a very persuasive speaker, swaying over people to his point of view and helping him to escape. Either that or he'll take what he needs for his cause, which is why he stole a shuttlecraft from Starbase 4 and how the Enterprise first comes across him.

The problem is that the script is all about telling us these things but not showing them to us. There are some potential avenues the script could explore, but it really drops the ball time and again. A lot of it comes down to the basic argument of "I'm right, the other guy is wrong" as shouted repeatedly by both men to whomever will listen. Interestingly, Kirk isn't swayed by either side in the argument, though he does attempt to listen to both sides. We have the conversation I mentioned before between Kirk and Bele, but we also see Lokai become quickly entrenched and argumentative if anyone questions what he says or disagrees with him. One scene that had potential is when Lokai is hanging out in the recreation lounge and attempting to sway members of the crew to his point of view. The episode could explore people being brought over to his side and how that impacts the crew, but it doesn't.

A lot of this comes from the pacing of the story, which is start and stop. There are several sequences that feel padded out to meet the running time, especially the early moments when the Enterprise is pursuing Lokai's invisible space ship (budget cuts for the third season, of course). There's also the memorable moment when Kirk tells Bele that the Enterprise will complete its mission first and the ship is under his and only his command. And if Bele doesn't return control of the ship, Kirk will activate the self-destruct instead. And he does. I'm guessing losing control of the ship to those kids earlier this season really put him in a foul mood because he carries through to having the ship within five seconds of destruction. It's a cool sequence and the destruct codes are later used in The Search for Spock when the Enterprise really is destroyed.

The ending of the episode also feels a bit hasty. When the episode begins, the Enterprise is headed over to Ariannus on a decontamination mission. Then they pick up Lokai and Bele and Bele tries to send the ship off course back to Charon. At this point, it sounds like Charon is pretty far out since Bele pushes the ship to warp 10 and the script indicates it could take a while to get there, even going this fast. But once we finish our mission at Ariannus, it's just a hop-skip-and-a-jump over to Charon.

Of course, once we get to Charon, the planet has been destroyed by the conflict and if left a smoldering, burning heap of a world. Lokai and Bele battle on the bridge, which could destroy the ship. Then they engage in a corridor chase through the shape, narrated by Spock. We see the two running along as images of flaming buildings are super-imposed over them. It's not the proudest moment in classic Trek, nor is the fact that Kirk lets run around the ship without sending a security team or two after them. Or that no one is guarding the transporter, allowing them to beam down to the planet and...I guess continue their pursuit for another 50,000 years. It's just meant to further emphasize how pointless the conflict really is but it ends up feeling more like the writers couldn't figure out how to end the story and this is what we came up with.

The episode is the last concept or idea to come from Gene Coon, who as I've said before is the guy responsible for Trek when it was at its best--end of season one, most of season two. He's listed as the story contributor and the episode is credited to another writer, leading me to believe that Coon didn't do much beyond the initial idea and story outline. It would have been interesting to see how different it might have been had Coon been around to do a few more passes on the script and maybe explore some of the ideas a bit further.

The story is also famous for its guest star--Frank Gorshin as Bele. Gorshin is best-known for his role as the Riddler on Batman and he does solid work here. It's interesting to see Gorshin in something different than his usual over the top role as the Riddler and while Bele isn't the deepest role, it's still solid work. The episode also features an homage to the campy classic when the red alert light goes off...the camera zooms in and out of the red alert light as the alarm sounds. Yes, it's just as disconcerting as it sounds and it makes this one an episode not to be viewed if you're feeling sea-sick.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/12/2010 01:45:00 PM | |
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Sports Thoughts
Kiffin Wants to Play Vols
News "broke" yesterday that former UT coach and all-around general jack-ass Lane Kiffin approached the UT athletic department about the Vols playing USC in 2011. Kiffin wanted it the game to be on a neutral field in Atlanta (he's smart enough to know that he'd be lynched if he came into Rocky Top) as the Chick-Fil-A kick-off classic.

Mike Hamilton said that UT has declined for the reason that we've got our schedule set for 2011, but said the Vols would be interested in the future. This all happened a month ago.

Kiffin "leaked" the news because one of USC's top guys transferred to UT because, in case you missed it, karma worked as it should and USC is under NCAA sanctions for cheating while Kiffin was there.

Of course, no one from UT mentioned this a month ago. Because we have something Kiffin doesn't--class. Once again, I'm reminded of just why I'm glad this jackass is gone from Knoxville. Outside of beating the stuffing out Georgia, he really didn't do much to distinguish himself as a coach during his tenure in Knoxville. All this jackass distinguished himself in was running his mouth and writing checks the players had to cash on the field.

Don't get me wrong--I'd love to see the Vols play a series against USC. It'd be great for us to beat the stuffing out of them on national TV (because you know ESPN would be slobbering on themselves for the chance to show USC) in a neutral site. It would also be some kind of redemption for the Vols to face the coach who shafted them so. Of course, this all assumes the jack-ass stays around USC for more than a year or two....

The LeBron Show

Tonight at 9 p.m EST, LeBron James wastes an hour of prime-time television to tell us where he's decided to play basketball next season. Of course, it's on ESPN, who is being a facilitator in feeding the overinflated ego of this guy. They've been doing that since the day his team lost in the playoffs with nearly second-by-second speculation on where he'd play next. Never mind that it's summer and even though I'm not a huge baseball fan, I'd like to see some highlights occasionally on SportsCenter. Instead we get at least 20 minutes a day of blowharding on where LeBron might go next.

And then we get this special tonight, which will be the biggest waste of 59 minutes and 50 seconds since the season finale of "American Idol."

Of course, that doesn't take into account the three-hour SportsCenter leading up to the hour....

Seriously, anything that makes me wish they were showing soccer instead is a terrible, terrible idea.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/08/2010 11:50:00 AM | |
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"Whom Gods Destroy"
Years ago, when I discovered that the commercially released episodes of Star Trek contained footage that was cut from the syndicated versions, I began to wonder if there were any episodes that might be enhanced or make more sense with the cuts restored.

One of the biggest candidates was "Whom Gods Destroy," where I assumed we were missing a section from the teaser or first act after Kirk and Spock beam down to the insane asylum on Elba II.

Kirk and Spock beam down with a supply of a new drug that will could help cure the last fifteen people to suffer from insanity in the known universe. One of them is Garth of Ixar, a famous captain from Kirk studied at the Academy, who later went mad and tried to destroy an entire planet. His crew mutinied and now Garth is being held at the asylum. However, his file failed to include that he's learned the art of shape-shifting in his travels and that he's used it to escape and take over the colony. The teaser ends with Kirk and Spock held at phaser point by Garth and then the first act picks up with Kirk in a cell and Spock knocked out.

Yeah, kind of a huge jump there, but it's not the worst affront this episode will present.

Garth has decided he'll take over the Enterprise, posing as Kirk. However, we can't get Scotty to beam him aboard because he can't give the proper counter-sign to signal things are OK. Garth is upset and becomes obsessed with getting this information from Kirk. Garth tries to sweet talk Kirk, threaten him, wine and dine him and even pose as Spock to be allowed access to the ship. Kirk manages to see through all of this and keep Garth at bay while Scotty and McCoy worry about how to get down and help Kirk and Spock. The colony and planet are protected by a forcefield that can only be raised or lowered from the surface.

"Whom Gods Destroy" has some interesting ideas, but it's too bad the story is such a mess, wasting just about all of them.

Leonard Nimoy was also famously unhappy about this episode--and it's easy to see why. Spock is not well served as a character here, most famously in the final battle between Kirk and Garth. Garth disguises himself as Kirk and the two try to have Spock figure out who the real Kirk is. Don't forget that Spock is holding a phaser here and that it's set to stun. The easiest thing to do is stun both of them and allow Garth to return to his natural state. Surely Kirk would understand. Instead, we see the two fight it out and Spock is only convinced when Kirk suggests the stunning them both to save the Enterprise.


It's easy to see why the scene wasn't a favorite for Nimoy since it makes Spock look pretty dense. Of course, this was during a time when the behind-the-scenes struggle as to who the real star of the show was going on, so that could explain a lot. Nimoy is off-stage for much of the action with Spock apparently locked up. He is, however, trotted out for the dinner party thrown by Garth to celebrate his succession as King Garth. It's almost as if Nimoy called in sick a few days and they decided to work around it and keep going forward. (By the way, the argument ended with Roddenberry told Shatner and Nimoy that Shatner was the star of the show....yeah, it was getting a bit dicey.)



But that's not it in terms of the episode really dropping the ball. I refer again to the opening that jumps from Kirk and Spock discovering the inmates are running the asylum to Spock knocked out and Kirk in a cell. OK, if the episode were packed full of plot developments, I could possibly understand why we skipped this scene. But later in act two, we get a full dance number by Yvonne DiCarlo (better known as TV's Batgirl) as Marta. It's nice but surely you can cut 30 seconds from it for the sake of the plot. Also, there's a lot of the Doctor Who standard of wandering down corridors and being locked up time and again on display here.

"Whom Gods Destroy" is a prime example of exactly where and how the third season dropped the ball so badly. It's recycling a lot of things from other seasons, its dumbing down the characters and its sloppily constructed. Not a solid outing for the series.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/06/2010 09:32:00 AM | |
Friday, July 02, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"Elaan of Troyius"
Written and directed by producer John Meredith Lucas, "Elaan of Troius" is Star Trek's attempts at adapting Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Except, I'm pretty sure "The Tempest" doesn't end with an on-screen space battle with the Klingons.

The Enterprise is ordered to transport the Dohlman of Elaas to her wedding on Troyius. The marriage will bring peace and stability to the region, though the Dohlman is less than pleased. During the trip, she is to be taught manners and the customs of Troyius. In order to do this, Kirk orders the ship to go at sub-light speed and leads to an amusing scene in which Scotty practically weeps that Kirk is barely using the engines.

The Dohlman objects to her tutor and stabs him. Kirk is forced to step up and try to pick up the training course. Unfortunately, this drives the Dohlman to tears and when Kirk wipes them away, he is instantly in love. Sees the women of her planet have a chemical in their tears that makes men instantly fall in love. Before you know it, she and Kirk are smooching away.

Meanwhile, the ship is being trailed by a Klingon warbird and one of the Dohlman's guards sabotages the engines. If the Enterprise goes to warp, she'll blow up. He also manages to overload the dilithium crystals so the ship can't maneuver, has low shields and no phasers. We eventually learn that the Klingons are trying to destabalize the system and take over because Troyius is full of dilithium crystals. The Dohlman is given some on a necklace which Kirk and Spock recognizes and get to Scotty in the nick of time.

Kirk is forced to put aside his feelings for the Dohlman and let her marry another. But it's OK because he's been cured of her by his first love--the Enterprise.

"Elaan" has its moments, but, alas, is less than the sum of its parts. In the fourth act as the Klingons are coming around and attacking, trying to destroy the Enterprise, Kirk forgets they have the ability to still fire photon torpedoes. Or does he?

The introduction of the Dohlman's tears and their affect on men is also particularly obvious. Chapel asks how the men of Elaas can stand the women and vice versa and we get a quick info dump. Unfortunately, even though he's in sick bay, Kirk misses it because he's talking to someone else.

There are also times when charges of sexism are leveled at classic Trek and "Elaan" is a prime example. Scotty doesn't come off well when the Dohlman shows up in Engineering for a look at the engines and Kirk's attitude toward the Dohlman until he falls passionately in love with her is another example.

This doesn't even bring into consideration that the Dohlman goes from hating Kirk to "choosing him" (or so she claims). It's hard to buy the transition...unless the power of a Kirk kiss is just that amazing. Between "Wink of an Eye" and this, there are a lot of women out there pining for some Kirk love.

I watched this one in the remastered edition for the first time, forgetting that it's a fairly effects intensive episode. The results are mixed, mainly because the Klingon ship model used for the new CG effects looks like something hastily thrown in from a video game. I went back and looked at the original version and I've got to admit that I liked it better. Yes, it's more limited but the Klingon ship just looks better.

Interestingly, Next Generation will attempt a variation of the falling in love with someone destined for another with "The Perfect Mate." It's slightly more successful than what we get here because it allows time for the relationship to develop and feels less forced.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/02/2010 07:03:00 PM | |
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