Thursday, September 8, 2016

Star Trek: The Fiftieth Anniversary

It was fifty years ago this evening that Star Trek premiered on NBC. Let's pause for a moment to genuflect.

I'm a big fan of the franchise but I'll bet I'm the only one here whose introduction to it was via the printed page.

Back in 1971, at the age of ten, I was tagging along with my father while he stood in a long, long line at some local government office — I want to say his driver's licence had expired while he'd been overseas, but maybe it was his voter registration — and to keep me occupied, he bought me a book by the award-winning science fiction writer, James Blish, a collection of stories based on episodes of a show I'd never heard of, something called Star Trek.

To that point I had always been a devoted Lost in Space man, but I was hooked and when a year or so later Star Trek showed up in syndication on local television, I took the deep dive and never looked back.

In celebration, here are my ten favorite episodes of Star Trek. Not the ten best, just my ten favorite.

10. "The Naked Time" — an alien something or the other infects the crew and forces hidden personality traits to the surface. It's an old story-telling trope but it's handled extremely well here. Also known as "Sulu with a sword."

9. "Journey to Babel" — spies, murder, a sneak attack and a ship full of cranky diplomats, some with antennae. Also known as "the one with Spock's parents."

8. "The Doomsday Machine" — a Captain Ahab story, with William Windom as a half-crazed captain who risks everything to chase his great white whale, a mile-long planet-killing machine that destroyed his ship and killed his crew.

7. "Errand of Mercy" — Kirk and Spock try to save a planet from a Klingon occupation only to discover that the primitive, peaceful inhabitants don't need saving. Like all good science fiction, this one sets your preconceptions on their ear. Introduced the Klingons, Star Trek's greatest villains.

6. "The Corbomite Maneuver" — in an early episode, a giant ship threatens to destroy the Enterprise. Kirk responds not with phasers but with quick wit and fearless compassion, setting the tone for the entire series. Features perhaps the greatest story-telling twist in franchise history.

5. "Mirror, Mirror" — known to one and all as "Spock with a beard," here Kirk and his away crew wind up in an alternate universe where the Federation is an empire and assassination and genocide are just good business practices.

4. "The City on the Edge of Forever" — number one on a lot of lists, Kirk and Spock are thrown back in time and have to make a great sacrifice to save the future of humanity. Had a famously troubled production history: science fiction great Harlan Ellison penned an award-winning script (available here) that Gene Roddenberry heavily rewrote. The best version of this episode, in my humble opinion, was written by the aforementioned James Blish, who combined the best elements of the Ellison and Roddenberry versions (here).

3. "The Devil in the Dark" — a murderous monster has killed fifty men deep in the mines of Janus VI. Featuring another of the series' greatest twists, Kirk proves compromise and compassion can be pretty ballsy choices. Television science fiction at its finest.

2. "Balance of Terror" — a thinly-disguised retelling of The Enemy Below, Kirk matches wits with a Romulan captain threatening interstellar war. One of the best episodes at depicting a crew beyond the bridge, it's exciting, tense and poignant. Introduced the Romulans.

1. "The Trouble with Tribbles" — utterly goofy, utterly brilliant, the delicate peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire is almost brought to an end by a furry ball of fluff with a prolific sex life. The funniest episode of what was often a very funny show.

Did I leave out your favorite? Tell us about it in the comments section below.


mister muleboy said...

Charlie Parker highlights one of MY favourite episodes. . . .

Mythical Monkey said...

Truly my favorite episode!

Yvette said...

A good list. Two of my all time Star Trek faves are on it: DEVIL IN THE DARK and ERRAND OF MERCY. In fact, ERRAND OF MERCY is my very favorite Star Trek episode of all time. With DEVIL IN THE DARK, a close second. But you left out the episode with France Nuyen which I love particularly for her costume and wig. The styrofoam trimmed costumes of her hunky guards are hilarious, but I still loved this episode. Watch out for those tears, Captain!!

I don't remember THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE at all. I would almost think I'd never seen it. The machine in the picture reminds me of one in the Star Trek movie whose title escapes me at the moment. Do you know the one I mean?

I also loved the episode with Jeffrey Hunter and the green Orion dancing girl.

Mythical Monkey said...

France Nuyen

Yes, a good one! That was one was called "Elaan of Troyius" -- she plays a woman served up into a political marriage to ensure peace between two warring planets. A poignant episode, where love and personal desire take a backseat to the needs of the many.

Mythical Monkey said...

Just to drive by a year later and transcribe the bit from James Blish's adaptation of "The City on the Edge of Forever" that I think is clearly superior to what wound up on television, imagine this bit instead of Joan Collins' goofy "some day men in space ships" jabber.

"Good evening," Edith's voice said, on cue. She was already striding toward the dais; now she mounted it. The meagerness of the audience did not seem to discourage her. She was both casual and cheerful. "Now, as I'm sure someone out there has said, you've got to pay for the soup."

There was some laughter. "Not that she's a bad-lookin' broad," the rodent said, sotto voce. "But if she really wanted to give a guy somethin' ..."

"Shut up," Kirk said. Then, noticing Spock's eye on him, he added, "I'd like to hear this."

"Of course," Spock said, noncommittally.

"Let's start as we always do -- by getting something straight," Edith said. "Why do I work, connive, and maybe even cheat a little in order to keep feeding you? I don't know. It's something that I do. But I've got no patience with parasites. If you can't break off with booze, or you've gotten out of the habit of work, or if you like being a bad risk, I don't want you and you're not welcome to the soup."

Kirk listened with astonishment. He did not know what he had expected, but surely not this.

"Of course," she went on, "I know that every day is a fight to survive. That's all you have time for. But I've no use for a man who uses free soup as an excuse to give up fighting. To survive at all, you need more than soup. You need to know that your life is worth living, no matter what.

"Shadow and reality, my friends. That's the secret of getting through these bad times. Know what is, and what only seems to be. Hunger is real, and so is cold. But sadness is not.

"And it is the sadness that will ruin you -- that will kill you. Sadness and hate. We all go to bed a little hungry every night, but it is possible to find peace in sleep, knowing you have lived another day, and hurt no one doing it."

"Bonner the Stochastic," Spock whispered.

"He won't be born for more than two hundred years. Listen."

"It's difficult not to hate a world that treats us all like this," Edith was saying. "I know that. Difficult, but not impossible. Somebody once said that hate is only the absence of love, but that's not a message that a man can absorb on an empty stomach. But there's something else that's true: Love is only the absence of hate. Empty the hatred from your hearts and you are ready for love. If you can go to bed tonight free of hatred, you have already won a major victory.

"And that's all of my sermon for today. Eat hearty, mates."