Thursday, October 5, 2017

Where No Man Has Gone Before by: Samuel A. Peeples and directed by: James Goldstone: Mercury Eyes

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” was written by Samuel A. Peeples, was directed by James Goldstone, was produced by Gene Roddenberry, held production code 2, was the 3rd episode of Star Trek Season 1, and was originally broadcast on 22 September 1966.

The third episode of Star Trek is interesting to note that it was the second pilot, so it is apparent from what was filmed to be working with a lower budget than the other two episodes we have seen thus far.  This only becomes apparent with the final act of the episode containing sets that wouldn’t look out of place in a low budget 1980s Doctor Who serial.  The episode also only includes three cast members to appear in the other two episodes, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Sulu (George Takei), which all culminate to make this episode feel like it’s a prequel to the series proper, shown three weeks into the show.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” begins with the Enterprise bringing on a capsule from a ship that went missing 200 years previous.  It is a memory bank warning the crew of a magnetic energy storm which then appears and destroys half the ship’s components, keeping them traveling at the rate of a car, in space.  Two members of the crew, Gary Mitchell played by Gary Lockwood, and Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, played by Sally Kellerman, are affected by the storm.  Mitchell’s eyes turn silver and he begins to develop extra-sensory powers, much like Charlie Evans in “Charlie X”.  The episode resists becoming an accidental rehash of “Charlie X”, focusing not on a teenager who doesn’t know how to act around others, but a good man corrupted by power and changing into something that he is not.  The plot is nothing short of a standard science fiction trope of a man with a god complex in the form of Mitchell, which is pulled off by the writing well.  Samuel A. Peeples writes a script that uses classic tropes to get across a character piece showing the breakdown of the relationship between Captain Kirk and Mitchell.

Shatner plays Kirk with subtlety for the first half of the episode, before hamming up the second half of the episode, where it begins to fall apart.  The writing makes Mitchell begin to create things out of nothing and become the god of his own planet and it is Dr. Dehner who is slowly becoming a god herself, and Mitchell creating a world is what the focus shifts to.  The writing feels like the show is trying to find its feet, feeling not confident in what it wants to focus on for the show.  The episode introduces the character of Scotty played by James Doohan, who has one line and is mainly in the background.  If it wasn’t for the Wikipedia page for this episode pointing out he will become an important character, I would have thought he was just an extra with a few lines to himself.  This is really the extent of the development for the characters outside of Kirk and it really doesn’t feel like the other two episodes.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” is an episode that feels like it is a pilot.  The writing uses stock tropes to give the show somewhere to go and has a solid enough plot with William Shatner just being the only hook with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock being there to have dialogue bounced off.  It is a good episode, but has definite room for improvement.  70/100

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Charlie X by: Dorothy C. Fontanta, from a story by: Gene Roddenberry and directed by: Lawrence Dobkin: The Power of the Mind

“Charlie X” was written by Dorothy C. Fontana, from a story by Gene Roddenberry, was directed by Lawrence Dobkin, was produced by Gene Roddenberry, held production code 8, was the 2nd episode of Star Trek Season 1, and was originally broadcast on 15 September 1966.

If “The Man Trap” served as an episode to introduce the characters of Star Trek than “Charlie X” is an episode to show what types of stories the series can do, when written well that is.  The first thing that struck me about the episode is how much better the story was at direction and pacing were improved by miles above the first episode.  This is down to setting the episode on the ship, which saved money on sets, and allowed the director to use creativity to tighten shots.  This tightening of shots creates tension and this tension rises until the conclusion of the story itself leaves the viewer wanting to experience more.

The episode begins with the Enterprise beaming over men from the Antares to transfer a passenger.  Charlie Evans, played by Robert Walker Jr., was the sole survivor of a ship crashing on the planet Thasus where he has lived for 14 years.  The Enterprise is tasked with taking Charlie to his nearest living relatives on Alpha V.  The initial conflict of the episode comes from Charlie’s inexperience with social interaction so he is unsure of how to conduct himself.  Walker plays the character almost like a bad actor would act, never knowing quite where to put his eyes, not speaking in the most natural of patterns, and his biggest faux pas, slapping Janice Rand, played by Grace Lee Whitney, on the ass.  This section of the episode, while good, has the most problems, mainly in the dialogue.  The characters don’t really know how to deal with Charlie, but it feels a bit more like poor writing than natural.  Captain Kirk (William Shatner) has the worst luck here as the captain at the very least should have enough preparation for situations like this.  The sexual assault of Janice, however, while not the best portrayal, is done well with Janice not taking any of Charlie’s shit, but still is accommodating as he never really understood the social niceties.

The second act of the episode ramps up the tension by having Kirk attempt to bond with Charlie, but things begin to go sour.  It starts simply enough with Charlie using impossible magic tricks to impress Janice and other crew members, but the episode quickly turns to a darker tone.  Kirk attempts to teach Charlie to fight, but when his training partner laughs at the boy, Charlie displays a power of the mind, making him disappear.  Charlie is the villain of the episode and making a child the villain creates an insane amount of tension as none of the crew wish to hurt the boy, but he leaves them no choice in doing so as he takes over the ship.  This leads into a sequence of horror as he makes people disappear, turns people into lizards, and deletes their faces.  This is a highlight of the episode and uses simple effects and camera trickery to achieve something that still holds up.

The third act introduces the dynamic between Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Bones (DeForest Kelley) as they use their wit to play Charlie in a game of three-dimensional chess (an idea originated earlier in the episode).  The way they take him down is to overload his mind by forcing him to take control of too much which is a clever way of ending the episode.  Once he is defeated the episode wraps up with the aliens he was raised by taking him back where he won’t be able to hurt anyone, which is a little bit of a deus ex machina.

Outside of the main story, the episode takes a bit of time to develop more of the supporting cast, particularly Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Spock.  Spock plays an instrument while Uhura sings, and the way it is acted gives a lot to what Spock thinks of Uhura and vice versa, mainly their equal respect for each other.  Uhura is extremely flirtatious as she was in “The Man Trap”, but this feels extremely natural.  She also gets a scene or two later to expand on her role as communications officer, which reveals she is an accomplished engineer (all through one throwaway line no less).

“Charlie X” is an excellent example of good writing, meeting good direction, and good characters to create a science fiction experience that uses its allotted runtime to the fullest.  The few flaws come from scenes being not in the most logical order and some dialogue that doesn’t feel nearly as natural as it initially should be for a show set in the future.  80/100

The Man Trap by: George Clayton Johnson and directed by Marc Daniels: Attack of the Face Suckers

“The Man Trap” was written by George Clayton Johnson, was directed by Marc Daniels, was produced by Gene Roddenberry, held production code 6, was the 1st episode of Star Trek Season 1, and was originally broadcast on 8 September 1966.

Perhaps a little introduction is necessary before this review begins.  I have never seen an episode of Star Trek.  The closest I got to seeing and episode was the film Galaxy Quest, but the concept has intrigued me, at least more than the other franchise with the word star in the title does so I’ve decided I would watch the show and type up reviews for this blog with my 500-word minimum in effect.

“The Man Trap” is the first episode of Star Trek aired in September 1966.  Unlike many television shows, the episode opens without any real introduction to the characters and lets the audience glean what they can from their interactions.  This characterization without exposition is a double-edged sword for the show as we get many characters who only get minor characterization as the focus of this episode is on Dr. Leonard ‘Bones” McCoy, played by DeForest Kelley.  The plot focuses on routine medical examinations on planet M-113 provided by the Enterprise.  The planet is currently being used for research by Professor Robert Crater, played by Alfred Ryder, and his wife Nancy, played by Jeanne Bal.  Our first glimpse into the idea that something is wrong is when Bones sees Nancy Crater in the same light as the day they broke up, while Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner, sees her as she would be today and a crewman sees her as a completely different woman.  This trope of a monster disguising itself as a familiar love interest, or potential love interest is nothing new, but the trope is used well to give insight into the characters in the first half.

The creature kills the crewman and the episode turns into a mystery to figure out how the crewman dies, until about 15 minutes in we get the creature on the ship, reveal that it is looking for salt to consume, stalks several crew members including Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, killing many of them, and then impersonating Bones to try and survive.  This middle sequence of the episode is the most problematic of the story.  It’s 20 minutes of a 50-minute episode that doesn’t know how to focus, attempting to give us some characters (we are introduced to Spock, Uhura, Janice, and Sulu in a short period of time with each getting different levels of characterization).  The best characterization of Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy, who feels like an alien as he doesn’t flirt back with Uhura and has a less than normal reaction when a crewman dies, and Uhura, who is portrayed as a confident, flirtatious woman.

The pacing is only one problem of the middle of the episode as we have the creature inconsistently transform into other crew members as well as lovers (real and fictional) for the crew.  The biggest flaw is that the creature seems to wish to sexually assault the crewmembers due to the direction of shots keeping the creature almost as an oppressive force looking down on its prey.  I believe the direction wished to convey an almost hypnotic aspect, supported by the way the creature seduces Bones, but the director could have portrayed that much better

The episode improves with a conclusion where both Spock and Kirk must pull Bones out of his hypnosis and force him to shoot the woman he obviously loves.  It is an excellent climax for the episode and the episode has a nice coda allowing Bones to express his emotions.  The creature does reveal its true form, and while it isn’t the worst design for a creature, it does have a clever enough design and the idea of being a man in a suit and is only really shown in one or two shots so it doesn’t take you out of the viewing experience as much as it could.

“The Man Trap” is a decent enough start for a science fiction show with positives being focused on the ideas it plays around with, and some of the characters it introduces, but has missteps in pacing and a lack of characterization in many of its characters creating problems in serving as an introduction to a show.  It’s good, just not great.  60/100.