To boldly go where no man has gone before…
As I’ve lamented in several other reviews of Star Trek‘s second season episodes, the creators of the show had a habit of mining Earth’s historical periods for situations and societies to transplant to other planets. In the case of “Patterns of Force” on this volume, that society was Nazi Germany. A controversial choice, to be sure, but one that makes for a very interesting episode. The other episode on this disc, “Return to Tomorrow,” gives Leonard Nimoy a chance to show off his acting chops by freeing him from the constrains of Spock’s limited personality.
In “Return to Tomorrow” (what significance that title has, I’m not entirely sure), an omniscient being summons the Enterprise to its dead planet. The being, named Sargon, invites the crew to the planet, giving their transporters the boost needed to beam down the landing party under 100 miles of rock. Strangely, Sargon insists that Spock and Dr. Ann Mulhall (Diana Muldaur) be part of the landing team. On arrival, Sargon takes possession of Kirk’s body, and explains that his race died and their “essences” have been stored for later use in other bodies. They need to “borrow” Kirk, Spock, and Dr. Mulhall in order to build these android bodies. However, the being inhabiting Spock’s body has dreamt of challenging Sargon’s authority, and now in possession of a body, does his darndest to kill Sargon…by killing Kirk’s body.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Enterprise is dispatched to find a long-lost Starfleet officer, only to find that they’ve been on a planet and have significantly affected its social development. This time, the planet has been shaped similarly to the Third Reich. These Nazis are on a quest to purify themselves of the peaceful inhabitants of a nearby planet. Kirk and Spock, upon landing, find themselves branded as that impure race, and must find a way to get to the Fuhrer, who is that missing Starfleet officer. Along the way they team up with an underground, which operatives at all levels of the Nazi government.
With these episodes, we are nearing the end of the second broadcast season of Star Trek. However, Paramount is releasing the episodes in their production order, which do not necessarily coincide with the broadcast order, and in fact vary quite widely. For several more episodes following these, the writers would continue the “alternate Earth” episode cliché. In the early part of season three, this would manifest itself as “The Paradise Syndrome” (with Native Americans) and “Spectre of the Gun” (in the Old West!). I think these were produced in the off-season; the last episode of season two, “Assignment: Earth!” (with a plot based on one of the other Trek mainstays, time travel) was production number 55, while the first episode aired in season three was “Spock’s Brain,” which was production number 61. The remaining episodes, 56 through 60, aired early in the season and contained the last two alternate Earth episodes. But I digress.
“Return to Tomorrow” was Diana Muldaur’s Trek debut, but it would not be her last. In season three of the original series, she played a telepathic alien doctor in “Is There No Truth in Beauty?” Several years later, she played Dr. Kate Pulaski during the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation when Gates McFadden, who played Dr. Beverly Crusher, was asked to leave. The producers thought the fans wanted more characters who were similar to the original series’s cast, so they created Dr. Pulaski as almost a mirror image of Dr. McCoy. Fans universally hated her, and McFadden was brought back for the third season.
“Return to Tomorrow” baffles me, mostly because there seems to be no point to it. A new, fairly well developed character is introduced (Dr. Mulhall), but she is never used again. Sargon seems intent on regaining a corporeal body, but is satisfied living as a spirit at the end of the episode. The Federation has no android technology, yet the Enterprise’s engineers are nonplussed by these beings building them onboard the ship. Sargon is supposedly killed when Kirk dies, but he doesn’t die…and yet the being inside Spock bites the big one when Spock dies. Oh, and that brings me to the most puzzling thing of all. When the beings are inside their human hosts, it causes the human’s metabolism to rise and be in imminent danger of causing harm…yet the beings can raise humans from the dead. You can resurrect someone, but you can’t control their metabolism? It’s like the adage, “They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t cure the common cold.” Hey, this is Star Trek. It doesn’t have to make sense.
“Patterns of Force” may fall into the “alternate Earth” writing trap, but it nonetheless makes for an interesting episode. I was not alive in 1968, so I don’t know how Nazis were portrayed on television or in films. In any era, it does seem like it would be anathema to depict arguably the most hated government of our modern age on an alternate version of our world. I have to give them credit for their daring. However, it doesn’t take the analogy far enough. With the small budget and limited extras, you see maybe one citizen hauled off. You don’t really get a feeling that the show condemns genocide; perhaps that’s just a given for a racially integrated, progressive show. It’s an agreeable episode, but not as satisfying an alternate Earth story as “A Piece of the Action,” the Chicago gangster story.
The Star Trek discs are all alike, features and quality wise, so my Standard Trek Disc Description paragraph follows.
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.
Did you know that the budget for each episode of the original series was around $120,000? Most sitcom actors make more than that per episode now. The problems with “Patterns of Force,” like I remarked, may have been due to its small guest cast and their inability to show a large-scale purging of another race.
I would rank Volume 26 as a middle tier disc — it’s not a must purchase, but it’s not one that should be ignored by fans. It’s a good holdover until Volume 31 arrives with “Spock’s Brain.”
My thanks to the nerds on the TrekBBS discussion forums. After searching the Internet for over an hour trying to find why Gates McFadden left The Next Generation for one season, I was able to turn there and find the answer in a matter of minutes.