In what I can only describe as a bit of synergy, following in the footsteps of Julie Newmar’s season two appearance, three out of four of these episodes also feature some prominent Batman alumni.
S03E13 – “Wink of an Eye”
The Enterprise is invaded by superspeed intruders who accelerate Kirk to their level, out of phase with the rest of his ship and crew.
Just as I’ve grown up on Star Trek, I’ve also grown up with superhero comics, specifically those from DC. Between Superman and especially The Flash, I tend to appreciate a good superspeed story. In the 50s, science fiction took such powers and forced writers to get really creative with them. By the late 60s, it was practically a fine art. Such an idea as superspeed offered a good way to demonstrate great power with simple effects. I’ve seen such effects progress over the decades, but the story elements themselves have remained fairly consistent. Interesting, no? There are all manner of variations that have been played with. When a story offers a unique spin on things, I always appreciate that little extra flair. For this episode, the idea that hyper-acceleration makes cellular structures fragile and susceptible to rapid aging isn’t necessarily new, but it adds a new level of threat for Kirk to deal with. We’re not used to seeing him hide behind chairs during hand-to-hand combat.
The likability of this episode comes down to Kathie Browne’s character Deela. She’s most definitely a young queen, confident of her power in spite of the fact that she rules only four others of a dying race, and she more than a bit smug in light of that fact. Clearly, she had fun with the role. But the way she fawns over Kirk tends to be the dividing line for most fans I’ve talked with. Either she’s a worthy opponent, or she’s an irritant. I find her to be a bit of both, and I think that’s why she works so well from a story perspective. Of course, Kirk turns on the swagger and plays her like a harp as he figures out how to communicate with Spock. What seems particularly cruel to my mind is that he lets Deela and her people believe there is no cure to their state of being, lets them beam down, and then he takes the antidote. Really, Jim? Really? High marks, though, for Spock staying in hyperspeed state to affect rapid repairs to the ship. Why not, right?
I probably should have noticed it before now, but I’m just realizing how empty the corridors of the ship are. Seasons 1 and 2, you never forgot that the ship had a good sized crew aboard. Now it’s bridge crew, a couple of redshirts, and our alien intruders. I suppose that’s one way to save production money…
S03E14 – “That Which Survives”
The Enterprise discovers a planet where the atmosphere and biology are inconsistent with its young age… a planet Spock can’t explain. As the landing party beams down, a mysterious woman appears who can kill by touch, and the ship is flung 990 light years away from the planet.
An impossible planet, a beautiful threat, and Scotty trying to explain to Spock that “the ship feels wrong.” What’s not to love here? Ok, so it’s not the most exciting episode, but most mysteries are a bit slow while characters ask questions. Nature of the beast. What’s fun is how there are little references to previous episodes as the landing party tries to figure things out. Keep in mind, continuity wasn’t such a concern in those days for most series, so callbacks like these help to pull things together. In any case, this episode takes the scenic route before revealing that — surprise! — it’s another “Kirk vs. the computer” story.
The biggest draw for this episode is award-winning actress Lee Meriwether, beloved to sci-fi fans for (among a great many other roles) this episode of Star Trek, the short-lived series Time Tunnel, a handful of Mission: Impossible episodes, and, of course, Batman, having stepped into the role of Catwoman for the pregnant Julie Newmar. Meriwether’s performance here is surprisingly tragic and sympathetic considering she’s essentially a reaper. Or perhaps it’d be more accurate to say she’s a kind of banshee, seeing as how she identifies her victims first, and given that she doesn’t want to kill. She’s not given much to work with at all, and yet it says so much that she’s the part that stands out. Maybe it’s the purple…?
S03E15 – “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”
I just have to get this off my chest real fast. The “stolen shuttle” from Starbase IV at the top of the episode bears Enterprise markings, and number marks it as the Galileo. At the very least could we just temporarily cover these up to help with the suspension of disbelief? Also, our aliens of the week are from the planet Cheron, in the “southernmost” part of the galaxy, in the uncharted regions. If it’s uncharted, how does Kirk know where this planet is, exactly? *giggle* And then we get an invisible ship, but the sensors know exactly where it is, meaning it’s not really invisible, they just didn’t want to spend the extra money… hence the use of an Enterprise shuttle earlier. The side effect of expecting audiences to be smarter than network standards is that the audiences become smart enough to spot stuff like this.
Ok, enough of that. In spite of the sheer number of gaffs in the first 12 minutes, what we have here is one of the more iconic episodes, wherein Star Trek takes on racism head-to-head… and takes it to its logical conclusion: total annihilation. For superficial differences, a race of people destroyed one another while the last two survivors were blinded to this by their own hatred and pursuit of one by the other. It’s sad and empty. That’s the entire point.
Kudos where they’re due, Lou Antonio and Frank Gorshin are in top form in this episode, as unrelenting in their oratories as their characters are in their hatred. For me, it comes across as rather Shakespearean, all things considered, never crossing that line into camp. It’s weird though, because once I was old enough to realize Gorshin was also the Riddler, I wondered if he only performed in unitards. Random, I know, but that’s how my mind worked when I was younger.
A last bit of geek trivia. This is the first appearance of the Federation starship self-destruct sequence. The codes specific to Enterprise will be used again in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. I admit, I’m more than a bit surprised that the codes never got updated during the post five-year mission refit, seeing as how everything else got rebuilt from the ground up, including the computers. The only change is Admiral Kirk got 30 more seconds out of it later when the countdown was initiated. Then year old me saw the movie first, so when I finally got to see this episode, I had a bit of a geek squee moment.
S03E16 – “Whom Gods Destroy”
Kirk and Spock are prisoners in an asylum run by the inmates, the leader of whom is a legendary starship captain and one of Kirk’s personal heroes.
So much to say about this one, I hardly know where to start. This is one of those episodes that, as with the previous one, could be misinterpreted as camp, and would be by most modern television audiences. But when you look at it closely as a stage play, it’s quite Shakespearean. With few exceptions, I’m not a huge fan of portrayals of insanity. I was spoiled at a very young age by the likes of Ricardo Montalban’s Khan in Star Trek II and various comic book versions of the Joker, of which few screen versions can compete. Most times, it just seems disingenuous. This episode, however, I think does it rather well, especially Yvonne Craig (TV’s Batgirl) as Marta. There are a great many subtle things she does with her body language that confer not only her insanity, but also her animistic nature as an Orion. Craig’s superb dancing skills are on display here, not just in the dance sequence, but pretty much throughout if you know what to look for. As a reminder, we’ve not actually seen a portrayal of a “normal” Orion woman in Star Trek at this point. Susan Oliver’s Vina was a mere illusion, and Marta is, well, not in her right mind. Steve Ihnat’s Garth of Izar is a little over the top in the Shakespearean sense, really toeing that line into camp without truly crossing it. At least, I think so. It’s a fun performance.
While they don’t get to do much beyond act as Garth’s thugs, it is nice to see an Andorian and a Tellarite. I’m a fan of seeing the alien diversity out there, and since these two races are as important to the Federation as humans and Vulcans, it’s only right.
The real highlight for me are the touchstones into Trek lore, the story behind the story. Captain Garth is a personal hero of Kirk’s, his exploits legendary and required reading at the Academy. In the tale we’re given, we can sense the transition from Garth’s victory at Axanar during a time of war and cadet Kirk’s visit there shortly after in a time of peace. This is where modern Federation history is made, the result being the peace that made Kirk and Spock brothers. It’s the reminder that, even in the future, there were fights to be won before the peace could happen. Combined with other, similar touchstones into the lore, such as those early season one episodes where they’d read off Kirk’s accolades, we can establish a timeline. And believe me, it’s been done.
In fact, I’m going to use this opportunity to push something that I feel every Star Trek fan needs to see. I’m not big on fan films. But every now and again, something comes forward that smacks of sheer genius, and it makes waves for the right reason.
If you’ve not see the professional level fan film Prelude to Axanar, you have no idea what you’re missing. This short film gathered some of the popular character actors in sci-fi together in what was hoped to be a relaunch for the Star Trek brand in canon, in the wake of the big screen Kelvin-verse films. Ambitious, no? CBS was so threatened by how good this actually was, they tried to shut it down instead of embracing it for what it could have been, and the wake of it, we got what became Star Trek: Discovery… which takes place roughly in the same era, and season one of which covers the exact same war between the Klingons and the Federation. Here are the two points I wish to stress. First, I still believe Discovery to be what I lovingly call “E-canon,” noting that First Contact split the timeline, resulting in Star Trek: Enterprise to be in a slightly changed parallel timeline. Not quite Prime as they claim, but not nearly as skewed (or screwed up) as the Kelvin-verse either. Why is this important? Because I’ve studied Prelude to Axanar with a fine-toothed comb, and I hold it up as one of those champion level examples of what really can be accomplished by storytellers who care. You see, Axanar sticks to all previously established canon and to supplementary materials that helped to flesh it out a bit. Zero flaws, on the story level, and in the visual cues. Believe me, I poked at this for days when it was first released, and it holds up perfectly. Ok, nearly perfectly. There is actually one tiny little flaw, which I challenge anyone to spot. But aside from that… wow. I still geek out over it. The powers that be, claiming Discovery to be Prime timeline canon (which it clearly isn’t, but it does keep inching closer) would also claim that their new series overwrites Axanar, if they bothered to acknowledge it at all (which they won’t). That was one of Discovery‘s secondary purposes, to help bury the fan fervor over the Axanar project. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m extraordinarily happy to have Discovery and to see the Star Trek brand going forward. But much like with what the late Richard Hatch was trying to do to revive and continue the original Battlestar Galactica, both in print and in film, his attempts there vs. what we ultimately got from the reboot series were night and day, and the fan attempt was just better at every conceivable level. The proof of concept is there. Once you see it for yourself, I think you’ll agree: it’s rather difficult to forget. The potential it might have had should CBS have picked it up would have been astounding.
But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. Personally, I recommend clicking over to the YouTube page itself from the video below and blowing it up full screen. Your eyes will thank you.
So what happened?