Monday, March 2, 2015

The Best of Star Trek

The best eleven episodes of the original series, in my humble opinion. Actually, I’m surprised I never blogged about this before. So in honor of Leonard Nimoy’s passing a few days ago, I figured I would spend a little bit of time on this.

When I was a kid, probably around nine, ten, eleven, I loved Star Trek. This was the era of its syndication, and I saw all the episodes in the mid-to-late Seventies. I remember watching it ritualistically on my Grandmother’s furniture-sized television set summer Sundays at 6, though it must have been on at other times for me to have seen them all back then. Now, I didn’t have the toys or the dolls, er, action figures, though two of my good friends did, and we played with them often. I had a couple of the novelizations, and stealthily read them at night in the dark with a flashlight in my top bunk bed. Watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the sweltering July heat on Cable TV was the highlight of my twelfth summer.

Aside from the movies, I didn’t really watch any Star Trek for the next ten or fifteen years. I got into the habit of watching The Next Generation on its Sunday late-night run for about a year; it had a good feel to end the weekend on, but I never took to it the way I did the original series. Ten years ago, when my wife was nursing Little One, she found an obscure channel that aired the old episodes at 3 am that made the feedings go by quickly, and we watched a bunch together. I also remember watching some episodes during my workouts while unemployed around the spring of 2001. But that really was it.

Until I noticed, MeTV, a retro station we just got for switching to FIOS, had been running an episode every Saturday night. We DVR them and watch them every now and then. With Leonard’s death, I watched “Arena,” “The Squire of Gothos,” “The Return of the Archons,” and “Amok Time” this past weekend with the girls. Very bittersweet.

So … in a kinda Best-Of order, here are my favorites episodes from the original series:

“Devil in the Dark”

The Horta, a blob-like animal (natch), scared the living daylights off me as a kid. Don’t think I watched it past the teaser the first time around. Once I was courageous enough to watch the whole thing, I thoroughly enjoyed the unfolding mystery of the weird deaths on Janus IV.

“The Galileo Seven”

Mr. Spoke and six others marooned in a shuttle craft on a hostile planet – hostile because giant cavemen are picking them off one by one. My absolute favorite as a kid. For some reason I thought it was a planet of Sasquatches. Recently re-watched it as an adult and saw they were more like very tall, very portly, very angry Neanderthals.


Kirk hand-to-claw combat with the lizard Gorn! My second-favorite episode of all time. Seeing it recently made me appreciate all that much more that strong participatory imagination of the young child. Because now the Gorn looked so fake – and the combat scenes so cornball – I could hardly get into the story. Regardless, the story is, like most of the early episodes, well-written, suspenseful, and thought-provoking.

“Operation: Annihilate!”

Flying pizzas! These things weirded me out as a kid. And when one of them attaches itself to Spock, well, I don’t think I was able to finish watching it way back then. Did so, though, probably as a courageous ten or eleven-year-old. If I remember correctly, the noise those pancakes made my flesh crawl.

“Return of the Archons”

Creeeepy! The Lawgivers with their hoods and hollow tubes, what they do to Sulu, how they keep the population in weird drugged slo-mo happiness, followed quickly by the Red Hour … surprised it didn’t give little me nightmares. It certainly kept me up at nights.

“The Changeling”

Nomad! That robot-probe-whatever thingie simultaneously intrigued and repulsed me. Enjoyed the whole arc of the episode, with Kirk and crew figuring out what it was and then how to foil it. Haven’t seen it in decades, so would be very interested with a contemporary viewing. 

“The Apple”

Pre-tween me loved, loved, loved the Dragon Vaal – and once we saw those radio receivers that look suspiciously like nails driven into the native’s heads, right smack dab behind their ears, well, that just cinched it for me.

“Mirror, Mirror”

This one definitely freaked out little me. This is where a transporter malfunction deposits Kirk and his landing party into a parallel-universe Enterprise where good is evil and evil is good. Spock’s goatee particularly unnerved me, as did Chekhov’s torture scene.

“Spectre of the Gun”

This is the one where Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et. al., are forced to relive the gunfight at O.K. Corral. Like the weird surreality of it, particularly the sweaty Bones going through the Vulcan mind-meld. Need to see this one again as an adult.

“The Cloud Minders”

Liked the city in the clouds concept back then. Remember the worker’s death as he falls off the ledge (or maybe he’s thrown, dunno) and it takes a real long time for him to eventually hit the ground as he slowly shrinks in size. The whole gas-drives-the-workers violent thing was neat, too, if perhaps a bit simplistic to adult minds.

“The Immunity Syndrome”

Amoebas in space! Trying to eat the Enterprise! Fascinated me to no end as a kid – but I haven’t seen it in over 30 years. Waiting for MeTV to show it so I can see what effect it has on adult me.

The original series ran for 79 episodes from September 1966 until June 1969. Then, in syndication, forever. Though some episodes, particularly and notoriously third season episodes (“Spock’s Brain”, we’re talking about you!), are not, shall we say, as masterfully crafted as the better ones, for me there honestly isn’t such a thing as a bad ST:TOS show.

Though it’s quite fun to watch ’em with a bunch of drunken college buddies with the volume off, trying to be as off-color and scatological as humanly possible …

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