To boldly go where no man has gone before…
The sun rises in the east. McDonalds burgers taste the same bland, boring way. And Paramount releases yet another volume of Star Trek episodes. It’s predictability, baby.
In Volume 23, we’re still in Season Two of the original series’s three season run. These episodes, “A Private Little War” and “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” aired early in 1968. Paramount is ordering them according to their production order (episodes 45 and 46, respectively), though these two episodes aired in reverse order and a month apart and before one of the episodes, “Bread and Circuses,” on the last disc I reviewed. In what is a common refrain in my reviews of these discs, these episodes are for completists only…and please let me know if I don’t stress that strenuously enough.
In “A Private Little War,” Kirk and the rest of the merry Enterprise gang visit a planet where Kirk had spent some time some years back on an anthropological visit (which for Kirk no doubt means he bedded some native honeys and made a complete report of their “habits”). Their mission is to check the society’s progress, but when they arrive, they ascertain that one tribe of the primitive society now possesses the technology to make firearms…and that the know-how has been supplied by those dastardly Klingons (the Federation’s enemy at this point in Trek history, but sans the forehead ridges that would mark them in later Trek outings). Compounding the problems are a gunshot wound to Spock (“He’s lucky his heart’s where his liver should be, or he’d be dead!”) and Kirk’s goring by a dejected, horned, white-furred extra from a Godzilla flick. The witchy wife of Kirk’s buddy from his “anthropological” mission cures Kirk using some quivering root, and then claims that he has to do whatever she wants, namely, that Kirk supply her tribe with phasers so that they’ll be more powerful than the tribe backed by the Klingons, who only have lowly flintlock rifles. What’s a captain to do? Especially when a native woman in skimpy clothes has the hots for him?
“The Gamesters of Triskelion” is quite possibly one of the cheesiest episodes of Trek…ever. Kirk, Uhuru, and Chekov (how did they pick that trio?) magically disappear off a transporter platform and reappear on a crazy, upside-down world where apes are intelligent…sorry. I’ve been reading too many articles about Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. They appear on a world where slaves are kept to fight in an arena. At first they are resistant, but gradually give in when they are caused intense pain from the collars they wear around their necks. Kirk seduces the tin foil clad babe who is supposed to be his training instructor while Spock, now in command of the Enterprise, goes on what McCoy dubs a “wild goose chase” to find the missing triptych. Add to that lots of rip-roarin’ fight scenes and one of the most quotable lines in the entire series, and you have…a really lame episode.
I usually welcome these Trek discs because, after all, I’m a self-admitted Trekkie. These episodes were just painful. The original series, as a whole, tends to be cheesy when looked at thirty years after its original airing, but at times it could rise to the level of good science fiction and could carry important social messages. These episodes do have messages, but they’re buried under so much ’60s television action series hokum that they are difficult to find and are rendered almost meaningless.
“A Private Little War” seems to be a commentary on the Vietnam War, which was still raging in 1968. The Communist aggressors, personified by the Klingons, supplied arms to the Viet Cong. Of course the forces of good and capitalism, here embodied by Kirk and the Federation, absolutely must help the downtrodden, oppressed natives who don’t have guns of their own. Kirk’s reasoning is that, if both sides have the same level of technology, they’ll be even and eventually they’ll seek a peaceful end to the conflict. Yeah, like that will work. What really happens once the episode concludes with its trite little ending is that the Klingons replace the flintlocks with Uzis, and the Federation ups the ante. Then the Klingons bring in disruptors and the Federation supplies phasers. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s a cycle that doesn’t end until one side has either wiped out the other, or the level of technology on one side outstrips the other’s sophistication or economy, or they finally give up. Kirk solved nothing, and doomed the planet to decades, if not centuries, of war. Thank you, Mr. Lovestruck Captain.
“The Gamesters of Triskelion” has a message about slavery buried in there somewhere, but come on. Slavery in the United States ended over 100 years before the episode aired. The civil rights movement was still trying to ensure equal rights for all citizens, but that has little to do with this mixed-up episode with its hokey action and gambling overlords. What was the point?
Paramount’s DVDs of the Star Trek episodes are much like the McDonalds burgers I referred to earlier: they’re all the same. If you’ve read one of my reviews of these discs, you’ve read the exact same comments because all I do is cut and paste the following paragraph. Go ahead and skip it if you want.
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.
Even the guys who wear pointy ears to conventions might want to give this volume a pass. There’s really no point to it whatsoever, and the episodes have little or no rewatchability. Like I’ve said before, wait for Volume 31 with “Spock’s Brain.”
One guest star of dubious note is Angelique Pettyjohn, who plays Kirk’s “drill thrall” in “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” In the mid 1960s she had guest spots in several TV series, like Get Smart and Batman. From there, her career went downhill into exploitative horror (The Touch of Her Flesh), porn (G.I. Executioner, with the farcical tagline “The wildest nude shootout in film history!”), and background roles in B-level flicks (in Repo Man, she’s credited as “Repo Wife #2”). She passed away from cancer in 1992; her last film was Sorority Girls and the Creature From Hell.