Star Trek (TOS; 1966-1969) review

Rated: 4 / 5

The original Star Trek series. The one that made sci-fi a popular genre (before 2001: A Space Odyssey came about in 1968). Not only that, but made cerebral sci-fi a thing. Though to be fair, given budget and technology constraints, cerebral was probably the best thing the series has going for it. And it was at its best demonstrating this was an unaired pilot episode titled The Cage, that was later re-released under the one and only 2-parter episode The Menagerie.

An episode of Spock smiling before later on realizing he’s a Vulcan who shouldn’t be showing any emotion.

Focusing on just “The Cage” aspect, this episode is as cerebral as the series ever got. About how one is imprisoned against their will, and subjected to mind games from a far advanced and intelligent alien race. Only to learn that their state of intelligence is what caused their downfall. A race that made many technological advancements, only to fall prey to their own worst enemy, themselves. Unlike the film Forbidden Planet where they fell prey to their own technology (albeit for similar reasons), they fell prey to their own evolutionary state of being entirely reliant on their mental capacity (and psychic powers). They fell into their own state of bringing dreams/imaginations into a somewhat physical reality. But in so becoming completely reliant on this state, their physical capabilities faltered considerably. They could no longer build, no longer repair what had been built, no longer create something physical. So instead they rely on taking others prisoner in the hopes of using them and their minds to do their bidding. It is summed up perfectly with this quote:

“Because when dreams become more important than reality you give up on travel, building, creating. You even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit, living and reliving other lives left behind in the thought record.”

Only with a combination of quick reflexes, physical strength, and astute observations and creative thinking were the humans able to overcome the adversaries. But the aliens are shown not to be evil, but desperate. There are many thought-provoking elements in this episode.

Unfortunately, most of the other episodes wouldn’t quite reach this level of cerebral thinking. They opted to make it more action/adventure style than critical thinking style. That being said, they often inject a good lesson in each episode that makes the whole thing worthwhile.

This is one of those shows where I expected it to age poorly. And in some respects, it has. The acting can be a bit goofy at times, but that only serves to make it more entertaining for someone like me; plus there are some episodes where the acting is rock solid. The special effects, well, let’s just say there’s an episode where you can see the strings on puppets. Probably wouldn’t be an issue if watching this on an old 70s television set, or a non-HD version. But then there’s that blu-ray release which offers “special edition” versions of the show where they use CG in place of some of the old special effects. Have to admit, it’s a solid way to watch the series with these new effects, but the puritan in me prefers the original effects, warts and all.

The show focuses on a crew that any respectable sci-fi aficionado will be familiar with. Captain Kirk played by Willaim Shatner, Spock played by Leonard Nemoy, and “Bones” McCoy played by DeForest Kelley, round out the main trio featured in every episode. There are others who are memorable, of course. Scotty, the Scotsman who is the primary engineer who operates the teleporters. Sulu, the asian guy. Uhura, the black chick. And Checkov, the Russian. Checkov doesn’t show up until season 2, and Scotty is the only other interesting character of the cast. The rest are there just to look and act unique. They’re memorable in their own way, but aren’t in the same league as the others. Make no mistake, this is Kirk’s, Spock’s, and McCoy’s show, with Scotty and Checkov occasionally being good support characters. Everyone else mine as well as be a red shirt (though that wouldn’t really be a thing until the 2nd Star Trek movie).

And this show does that one thing that tends to annoy the ever-loving shit out of me with shows like these. The 3 main guys, the top tier in the chain of command, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy; are always the first to get beamed down for a mission where they’re unsure of what dangers they will face. Hell, half the time they’d be more than happy to be the first to beam down if the mission is a treacherous one. Now in Kirk’s case, I can understand it. He’s the brave bold adrenaline-junkie chick-banging guy who always wants in on the action (like the commander of Babylon 5). McCoy though, well, I guess they need their one and only good doctor on each mission just in case; as opposed to waiting on the ship for emergency situations. And Spock, it’s just not fucking logical! Considering the time period, and how fun it is to be with these three and how they grew on me, I gave it a pass on that. The show just wouldn’t be as interesting.

Well anyway, like any series from back then, this series is full of stand-alone episodes, where you don’t to watch the show in any particular order. Though it does help with regard to the Romulans and Klingons to watch the first episode they show up in. The episodes are hit and miss (but when the miss for the first 2 seasons, it’s usually not too far from the mark). And when they hit, they are some of the best stuff ever produced in the sci-fi genre, transcending the budget and the time period. So I’ll just point out what I think are the best noteworthy episodes of the series:

Season 1

The Man Trap: Oh man, what a way to start the series. This is probably the most entertaining so-bad-it’s-good episode I’ve ever seen. McCoy’s denialism. The phaser effects. The hand flower. Spock sledgehammer-fisting the alien chick. The stance the alien chick makes. How Kirk lures her out with salt. I was fucking dying. There’s so many hilarious cheesy moments in this episode, I only hoped there would be more like it. And just in case you’re wondering, no, this isn’t an episode where a woman gets seduced by a guy only to find out it’s actually a woman. It’s also the episode that starts up the famous line, “He’s dead Jim.”

The Naked Time: Just seeing Spock act emotional and crying (because it’s hilarious), among a few other things.

The Enemy Within: Another hilarious cheesy episode, where William Shatner goes all-out with his acting, dialing everything up to 11, and puts on one of the most hilarious over-the-top acting performances I’ve ever seen. Other than that, it’s a Jekyll and Hyde sort of story, about how one half of a personality can’t live without the other, and how two extremes combined together make a happy medium. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, women want to be violated.

The Corbonite Maneuver: This was the episode that finally got me to take the show seriously. Tense as hell the entire way through until the ending that is very fitting. An interesting story about bluffing, calling one’s bluff, and other stuff that I won’t spoil. Let’s just say this is a legit good episode that is one of the most famous done.

The Menagerie parts I and II: It’s The Cage, but expanded to include the new crew with the old. Another very solid episode.

Balance of Terror: Honestly, this might be the best episode in the entire series. Tense as hell space battle where the Enterpise comes into contact with the Romulans, entering into a conflict that threatens to start an intergalactic war. Submarine battle in space, with some Wrath of Khan vibes.

Shore Leave: I enjoyed this episode more than I should have, mainly because of this line of dialogue regarding why one of the most complex and intelligent civilizations would create a planet that operates as a glorified theme park: “The more complex the mind, the greater the need for simplicity of play.”

Arena: Alright, you all should know why this episode is mentioned. Show those karate chops!

Court Martial: This episode was almost great, but the finale makes it settle for just being good instead. Kirk being court-martialed over an incident.

Space Seed: Honestly, I prefer watching the film The Wrath of Khan without acknowledging this episode. Just because I take issue with how emotional he was over the death of his wife, when his wife was, well, this.

A Taste of Armageddon: A fantastic episode regarding the theme of warfare, simulation, and how progress can only be made when the stakes are real and less about simulation. Why war shouldn’t be “neat and painless”.

The Devil in the Dark: I don’t care how goofy this walking carpet rag looks, I like this episode. Corporate mining operations learning to co-exist with the native life. As opposed to just being a flat-out anti-corporate themed episode.

Errand of Mercy: The introduction to the Klingons. They don’t look as good as they will later become in the movies and Next Generation, but it’s a solid episodic introduction to them.

The Alternative Factor: This episode sucks. It’s only worth a watch for this hilarious moment where this guy yells: “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!”

The City on the Edge of Forever: Surprising emotional gut-punch episode.

Season 2

Amok Time: We learn a bit about Vulcan culture, and biology. And it’s got that famous Star Trek fight music.

The Changeling: Interesting episode that seems to act as inspiration for the Motion Picture, kind of. Winning an argument against a computer by demonstrating that it’s “logical” thought process is illogical.

Mirror Mirror: Fun little alternate reality situation where the Enterprise crew are the villains. Little subtle commentary about how easy it is for good-intentioned people to blend in easier in a wicked society than it is for wicked people to blend in to a good society.

The Doomsday Machine: Dealing with a threat that’s a literal planet eater. The tension building up to the conflict is fantastic. Despite it’s anti-H-bomb message, it also acknowledges that such weaponry/power could also be used for good.

Catspaw: A tongue-in-cheek Halloween episode. One of the few times where the humor works intentionally. Especially with reference to “Bones”.

Journey to Babel: Interesting enough episode trying to track down an assassin. But the main laugh comes at the end of the episode, which is something you can only appreciate if you’ve been watching this show for a while now (or just splurged on them).

The Deadly Years: Surprisingly emotional episode about aging. Just seeing how the main crew are still trying to do their jobs, but are gaining dementia and Alzheimer’s, and are angered that they can no longer do what they had been able to do with ease only a few days earlier.

Obsession: An episode that tried to be critical of Kirk when he becomes obsessed with killing this monster from his past. An episode that tried to show his faults as a person, but ended up not having the balls to do so as he is proven justified in his obsession. Still though, it’s an solid captivating episode regardless (plus we would get Wrath of Khan, eventually).

Wolf in the Fold: Interesting premise regarding a timeless killer. And trying to prove that Scotty is innocent of murder.

The Trouble with Tribbles: The famous comedy episode.

The Gamesters of Triskelion: I’m not sure if this is a guilty pleasure at this point. But having Kirk fight with hot babes, his reaction to being choked, and a hilarious pro-male-chauvinist moment where Kirk kisses this chick right before punching her and knocking her out. This was a fun episode. It’s even more fun when you remember his kiss-punch when he says this line in another episode (By Any Other Name): “I don’t usually go around beating up beautiful women.”

The Immunity Syndrome: Now this is one hell of an episode, with a highly original idea that I haven’t seen done since. The Enterprise trapped within an organism threatening to destroy the entire galaxy, and maybe even the universe. Concepts of multiple dimensions are also thrown in for good measure. An episode that reminds us of how small and fragile/vulnerable we are in the universe.

The Ultimate Computer: One of those episodes warning about the dangers of having an AI controlling too much (in this case, controlling an entire starship that normally takes at least 240 men to operate), and the dangers that can be caused. On the surface, a warning against replacing humans with machines. But there is this nice quote to sum it all up: “Computers make excellent and efficient servants; but I have no wish to serve under them. Captain, a starship also runs on loyalty to one man, and nothing can replace it, or him.”

Season 3

The Enterprise Incident: Interesting double agent episode, with Kirk as the double agent. Granted, while this episode was going for a bit of shock value at the outset, this one is predictable. Still fun.

Day of the Dove: Resolution might be too tidy, but I do enjoy the theme of an external force growing strong the more it causes others to fight each other. Relevant theme.

The Tholian Web: Interesting episode without a unique form of countdown. And the one episode where Kirk isn’t the epicenter of the cast. This is the episode where Bones and Spock are the focus.

The Mark of Gideon: A decent change of pace episode. Starts out very interesting, but then goes down a more predictable route as it goes on (which in hindsight makes aspects of this more stupid). But considering this was a series that was setting these sorts of standards, I’m more lenient towards it.

Yeah, not as many good episodes in season 3 compared to the first two (they had budget cuts, and less quality writing). But overall, I see why this series is so endearing. It’s every bit as cheesy as it is intriguing. And as one who has also seen The Next Generation, I find this show to be superior on average, because there are a LOT more shitty episodes in TNG then there are in TOS. Some will say the best of the best of TNG are better than the best of the best of TOS, and they may be right. And there are a couple TOS episodes that are worse than a good portion of less than average TOS episodes. But the average episode of TOS (even season 3) is something I find to be better than the average episode of TNG (especially in seasons not numbered 4, 5, or 6). Despite the dated effects (then again, that’s all part of the charm), this show holds up quite well in my opinion.

Oh, and one other thing. Watching the original series… it makes me realize just how fucking shitty the J.J. Abrams movies are.

Fuck you John Oliver!

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