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Sci-Fi Saturday #13


Welcome to Sci-Fi Saturday, a column that is devoted to all things science fiction: film, television, comics, novels, video games, and local Metro Detroit events. If there is a topic you'd like to see covered in an upcoming column,

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This week I watched 4 episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series season 1, so at this rate I'll finish the first season somewhere between 6 months to 2 years from now:

In "Tomorrow is Yesterday" (Season 1, Episode 19) the USS Enterprise is sent back in time to the 1960's due to mumbleSCIENCEmumble. The United States military sends up a fighter pilot to check out the mysterious flying object in their atmosphere, and Kirk decides to beam the pilot aboard. Once there, Spock advises Kirk that they cannot return the pilot (Captain John Christopher) to Earth, because he may talk about what he's seen on the Enterprise, thus changing the course of human history. Paradoxically, if they do *not* return Christopher to Earth, his yet-to-be-conceived son - who will play an important role in a mission to Saturn - will never be born, which will *also* alter the course of human history. Stuck between a proverbial rock and hard place, Spock devises a "slingshot around the sun" maneuver that will both send the Enterprise back to its own time while also beaming Captain Christopher back to his fighter jet the moment before he encountered the spaceship, effectively erasing his memory of the entire incident. There is also a subplot involving Kirk and Sulu beaming down to a military base to destroy evidence of Christopher spotting the Enterprise, which is great because it gives Kirk the opportunity to karate chop some nerds.

How shall I chop thee? Let me count the ways.

Overall, this was a pretty solid episode. It wraps up the time travel paradox neatly and introduces a form of time travel that I'm sure will come back at some point. I mean, the point at which you establish that the Enterprise crew can travel through time, you basically *have* to do something with that, right? 8/10, would trek again.

In "Court Martial" (Season 1, Episode 20), Kirk is put on trial for his alleged role in the accidental death of crewman Benjamin Finney. When the ship encounters a deadly ion storm, Finney is sent out in a research pod. When the storm threatens to destroy the entire ship, Kirk puts out the red alert and orders Finney to return. But there isn't enough time, so Kirk is forced to jettison the research pod in order to save the rest of the crew. The entire trial boils down to Kirk versus the ship's computer - Kirk claims he sent out the red alert first, waited, then jettisoned the pod (the proper procedure), but the ship's logs show that the pod was jettisoned during the yellow alert. When it is revealed that Kirk and Finney had a long and contentious past, almost everyone sides against Kirk - assuming he took the ion storm as an excuse to rid himself of a former rival. In a Shocking Twist™, it is revealed that Finney faked his own death and then altered the computer's memory banks to make it seem like Kirk was culpable. The episode ends with Kirk and Finney fighting it out, the ship being saved from total destruction in the nick of time, the court dismissing charges against Kirk, and (of course) the captain receiving a kiss from the beautiful prosecuting attorney, who just happens to be his former lover.

If Kirk's shirt didn't rip, did the fight ever even happen?

I'd give this episode a 7/10. I enjoyed Elisha Cook's portrayal of Kirk's luddite lawyer, Samuel T. Cogley, and was actually surprised by the twist ending. I had been figuring that Finney's daughter had somehow altered the computer records, but she ends up actually falling on Kirk's side (for reasons I still don't fully understand...?). The most disappointing thing is that until the end of the episode I had totally confused "Finney" for "Finnegan" (Kirk's bully from the academy, and a character that I loathe entirely). If Kirk had jettisoned Finnegan into an ion storm, that would be a far kinder death than that prattling twat deserves.

Ugh, this guy.

"The Return of the Archons" (Season 1, Episode 21) centers around the society of planet Beta III, which closely resembles 19th century America - except, you know, that it's controlled by a holographic dictator called Landru and his cloaked lackeys, the Lawgivers. When the Enterprise crew arrives, it is the "red hour" - the start of a "festival" of violence and mayhem. Outside of this limited time frame, the inhabitants of Beta III are entirely docile and passionless, controlled entirely by Landru. They refer to themselves as "of the Body" - a collective that rejects and excises any outsiders (in this case, Kirk and the other crew-members). When Kirk and Spock discover that Landru is actually a computer, they present it with a logical fallacy and it self-destructs. Good thing programmers worked out that bug before we all started carrying computers around in our pockets daily, I guess.

I think this episode had the potential to be far more interesting, but suffers from some pretty major plot holes and inconsistent writing. At the beginning of the episode it seems like the purging "festival" will be an important piece of the puzzle, but that thread is almost immediately dropped in favor of spooky holograms and dictatorial computers. I figured there would at least be some explanation of how the "festival" fits into their overall societal structure, but instead most of the dialogue focuses on how Landru has created a "paradise" free of violence and conflict. Like, did y'all forget that literally a few hours ago the townspeople were committing arson and beating the shit out of each other? Am I missing something here? Either way, the episode was okay, but nothing to beam home about - 6/10.

This literally JUST happened...??!?!?

"Space Seed" (Season 1, Episode 22) is the episode that introduces Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) and probably has the coolest title of any Trek episode thus far. Khan, along with around 70 other humans, were found aboard a seemingly derelict space vessel, still living through the science of suspended animation. It is revealed that Khan and his people were genetically engineered humans from the 1990's who, during the "Eugenics Wars," became warlords and conquered large swaths of Earth. Khan plots to take over the Enterprise, enlisting several crewmembers to his side through sheer force of charisma. In the end, Kirk captures Khan and his conspirators. Rather than prosecuting them, though, he sends them off to "tame" an uninhabited planet. The episode ends with Spock musing that it would be interesting to return to that planet in 100 years and see what has grown from the "seed" Kirk has planted there (hence the episode's title).

I've never been so attracted to a man with a bob haircut.

Plot-wise, this episode follows a pretty simple formula: stranger boards the ship, stranger tries to take control of the ship, Kirk bests them and devises a reasonable punishment for their insubordination, Kirk regains control of the ship, things are back to normal. I think the thing that makes the episode really noteworthy is A) it's rumination on genetically engineering humans (and the dangers inherent to such an eugenics program), and B) Khan as a formidable foe - as charismatic as Khan, as smart as Spock, and far more ruthless than either of them. It helps that Montalbán has some weird sexual energy going on. Idle suggestion - if anyone wants to recast Khan in future Trek projects, I present your obvious replacement, Jason Mantzoukas. 10/10.

Sorry not sorry, Cumberbitches.

[Where I share upcoming and ongoing SF-centric events in the Metro Detroit area]

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