To boldly go where no man has gone before…
Once again, I get to fulfill the promise of the Internet, at least according to Homer Simpson — I get to be a nerd telling the world what I think of “Star Trek.”
Thanks to the snail’s pace at which Paramount is releasing episodes of the Original Series, we have finally made it to the second season of the show’s three-season run. Paramount is releasing and ordering the episodes according to their production numbers, rather than the order in which they aired. Volume 16 actually contained two episodes from the second season, but they aired several months later than the episodes on Volume 17. These episodes, “Who Mourns for Adonais?” and “Amok Time,” were the first two episodes of the season, though they were broadcast in reverse order. The episodes could not be more different. One is an example of Trek at its most serious, one other of the depths of cheesiness to which it could sink.
I’m at a loss how to describe “Who Mourns for Adonais?” It’s bad. It’s pathetic. If it weren’t for “Spock’s Brain,” I’d call it the worst episode of the entire series. Let’s see if I can describe it with a straight face.
The Enterprise runs across a giant hand in space that grabs the ship and holds it stationary over a planet. They are contacted by a man who claims to be the Greek god Apollo, who requests that the officers beam down to the planet for a face to face. They do so, and Apollo demands that the rest of the crew be brought down to the planet to worship him. In exchange, he will allow them to herd goats. Kirk, not the goat-loving sort, refuses. Apollo proceeds to act petulant and hurl lightning bolts at Scotty, ostensibly because he doesn’t like his fake Scottish accent. He woos the anthropology chick who Kirk had brought along, dressing her in perhaps the most revealing outfit ever allowed on TV during the prudish ’60s. The episode groans along for most of its running length before Spock (left on board the Enterprise because Apollo didn’t like his ears) finally figures out how to use the ship’s phasers to destroy Apollo’s source of power.
The series’ principal actors are their usual hammy selves, but the real low spot of the episode is Michael Forest, who played Apollo. Back in the day, he guest-starred on just about every television western shot between 1955 and 1970 — “The Virginian,” “Wagon Train,” “Gunsmoke,” etcetera. One of his last big-screen roles was in 1993 in the Madonna movie, Body Of Evidence. He was the old coot who died while having sex with her.
“Amok Time,” as I previously mentioned, was the season premiere for “Star Trek”‘s second season. It’s a good thing they aired it first, because after the laughable “Who Mourns for Adonais,” I’m surprised anyone continued to watch. The episode begins with the crew worried about Spock’s emotional health. The regularly sedate Vulcan has been quick-tempered and given to emotional outbursts, like when he throws a tray of soup across the room (“I specifically requested no parsley garnish!” may or may not have been heard). When Dr. McCoy can finally get him to stand still long enough to undergo a physical exam, he declares that Spock must be taken to his homeworld of Vulcan within a week or he will die. Spock is undergoing pon farr — a part of the Vulcan reproductive cycle. (Hmm, maybe the next time my wife isn’t “in the mood,” I should tell her I’m in my pon farr and need a roll in the sack immediately.) Defying Starfleet orders, Kirk takes the Enterprise to Vulcan so Spock can enjoy some conjugal bliss with his arranged wife. However, she wants another guy, and beguiles Spock into a match to the death to win her hand. The catch? She chooses Kirk as her “champion.”
“Amok Time” gave us a glimpse into the bizarre Vulcan culture, and some insight into the series’ most interesting character, Spock. Leonard Nimoy stretches quite well, showing emotional colors he never had used before on the series, nor would be given a chance to use again.
Each of the Star Trek episodes have been digitally remastered, and they look as good as a television show from the 1960s can hope to look. The image is sharp and detailed with excellent color fidelity and no bleeding. The only problems with the image are inherent to the source material. The picture overall is a little grainy, particularly noticeable in special effect model shots, and can have a few blips caused by dust on the negative. The audio has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Keeping with its mono roots, sound is mostly restricted to the center channel. Directional effects are used for starship fly-bys during the opening credits, and infrequently throughout the episodes. The purist in me would rather have seen the mono tracks cleaned up and utilized, rather than an unnecessary remix. The only extra is the “preview trailer” for each episode.
The second season of The Original Series was rife with stories like “Who Mourns for Adonais” that took something familiar from Earth and transposed it to another part of the galaxy. There was the Roman Gladiator planet (“Bread and Circuses”), the 1930s gangster planet (“A Piece of the Action”), the Nazi planet (“Patterns of Force”), and the Communist Chinese planet (“The Omega Glory”). I can only guess at the reasons why these stories abounded. Science fiction was somewhat new to television, so perhaps the writers thought the stories with things familiar from Earth would connect with the audience. Or, maybe it was easier to borrow costumes from period dramas that were filming nearby. Whatever the reason, it led to a lack of creativity, but once it was out of their system, they moved on to more sci-fi like stories in the final season.
Star Trek: The Original Series, Volume 17 is a purchase for die-hard fans only. The episodes offer little that is compelling enough for repeat viewings.