Thursday, September 23, 2010

Star Trek Presents a Crucible Episode With The Lackluster "The Galileo Seven."

The Good: Interesting dilemma, Moments of character, Some of the acting
The Bad: VERY repetitive, Effects, Much of the acting
The Basics: When Spock is put in charge of a doomed shuttlecraft, he becomes strangely paralyzed with indecision, a condition which will cost some their lives

It's always interesting to me to see what people latch onto for their standards in classic television shows. I was reading a review about the first season DVD release of Star Trek and the reviewer cited some "great" episodes. One of the ones that was included was "The Galileo Seven," an episode I recalled as being mediocre at best. When I sat down to rewatch the episode, I found that was largely the case. "The Galileo Seven" is a very focused episode that has an essentially good idea, but is incredibly campy in its execution.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like small, focused episodes. Indeed, the best hour of television ever produced by the Star Trek franchise was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Duet" and that episode is mostly a conversation between two characters. Small is fine, but the execution is everything. "The Galileo Seven" has a decent idea, but the execution of it undermines the reality.

When the U.S.S. Enterprise is exploring Murasaki 312 - because it has standing orders to investigate all quasar-like stellar formations - Kirk sends out the shuttlecraft Galileo with Spock, McCoy, Scotty and four other officers to perform scans inside the phenomenon. Unfortunately, the shuttlecraft crashes on a barren planet and Scotty finds that it will be near impossible to liftoff, at least with all of the crew aboard. While Spock tries to figure out who will be left behind, giant aliens who live on the planet begin picking the crew off one by one. While Spock tries to keep the rest of his people alive and work with Scotty to get them off the planet, Captain Kirk finds himself annoyed by Galactic High Commissioner Ferris who is eager to deliver medical supplies to a colony in need.

First off, "The Galileo Seven" exists on a pretty ridiculous premise. Now, I understand that Star Trek is all about exploration and discovery and that sort of thing, but Captain Kirk's first decision is to follow a standing order to investigate a quasar-like formation . . . instead of delivering medical supplies. Life vs. exploration, life vs. exploration, yes, Kirk chooses making a pit stop in dangerous territory. The viewer is being asked to believe that the Federation's standing order for (snicker) quasar study is not overridden by medical emergencies?! What, did the U.S. Congress make these orders?! Is the Murasaki 312 phenomenon going somewhere in a hurry that the Enterprise can't come back for it? Please!

Once the Galileo is away, the proverbial die is cast and then the episode has to sink or swim based on plot, character, acting and effects. The problem is, the plot of the episode is pretty simple: people get killed while Scotty repairs the shuttle and Kirk gets badgered. The character aspects are pretty light, mostly focusing on Spock making a decision and dealing with being in command and being badgered by one of his crew who thinks its inhuman to have to try to figure out who might be left on the surface. But it is the other two aspect that sink this episode.

Now, I'm not big into effects (in my ten point scale, effect is only 1 point), but "The Galileo Seven" strikes out in remarkable ways with the special effects, most notably in the design of the aliens. The aliens are giants who the viewer never clearly sees. I'm fine with that. What I buy less is the massive spears they throw. Actually, they are so incredibly large that most of them menace the feet of our heroes more than their heads, but when we see one embedded in one of the officers from the Galileo, it's pretty huge. The thing is, it's so comically large that when we see the giants who are throwing them, the spears are disproportionately large even to the massive creatures. In other words, the reality of the villains is actually undermined (not enhanced) by the effects.

The real problem is the acting. Woah nelly is the acting bad in this one! Aboard the Enterprise, John Crawford is a real nag as High Commissioner Ferris. One assumes if one were to get to the position of Galactic High Commissioner (we have no idea how this fits into the political structure of the Star Trek pantheon) they might have had to use some charisma and people skills to get there. Crawford plays Ferris like a man who was raised in a hostility-inducing Skinnerbox.

But the lameness of acting is amplified on the surface of the planet. Phyllis Douglas, who plays Yeoman Mears, is mostly quiet and stupefied and the three non-regular actors, Don Marshall, Peter Marko, and Grant Woods are each either over-the-top or such nonentities that the viewer is simply waiting for them to be killed off! The result is a number of performances that are hammy at best, hokey at worst.

And between Lt. Boma on the surface and Ferris on the Enterprise, the viewer is forced to wonder how the Enterprise suddenly was stocked with self-important people who have no problem mouthing off and getting in the face of the command staff. It's bad enough that the acting is over-the-top, at least as bad as the characters are written with few redeeming qualities to them.

The emphasis of the episode, of course, is supposed to be on Spock and Kirk and the difficult decisions they each have to make. In his first command situation, Spock discovers logic does not always win the day, a fact it will take him until Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country for him to remember and apply. We get that he has trouble working outside logic and reason, but he does seem particularly crippled in making his decision in this episode. It strikes the viewer that if he truly were as logical and methodical as he always claims to be, he would rattle off the lowest priority officers, tell them to get out and launch the ship (being a semi-military organization, those left behind would seem compelled to follow such orders and be used to it) and come back for whomever survived after they were rescued themselves.

Sadly, Kirk's dilemma seems a lot more forced because it was a ridiculous first choice to make. And, as little as we the viewers might like it, one suspects that balancing the lives of an entire planet against seven lives (even his friends) was a poor position to put himself in. As a result, Kirk's devotion to his friends is laudable, but his willingness to sacrifice a planet for them is far less heroic than we might like.

As a result, the episode seems largely contrived and with so many people yelling at Kirk and Spock, the execution gets tired quickly. Viewers are more likely to be tired by the whining in the episode than entertained. Star Trek has the potential to do better and this one just does not live up, even though it might have its moments when the themes make it worthwhile. I suppose it's possible that the professional whose review I had been reading was appreciating the concept, while overlooking the execution. I cannot.

"The Galileo Seven" might be enjoyable to those who like general drama and have a serious tolerance for camp, but it's a hard sell (especially now) for fans of science fiction or real character studies.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!


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© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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  1. As far as people's favorite Star Trek episodes goes, I have decided that "good Star Trek is in the eye of the beholder." I have seen multiple lists of best and worst episodes, and there are almost always episodes on these lists that I would reverse for my list.

    I enjoyed "The Galileo Seven". It's been a while since I saw it, but, I recalled the focus of the episode being more on Spock's command: how his purely logical approach to command worked when put to the test in a critical situation, and especially how it worked (or failed to work) with the emotional qualities of his crew and the aliens. I thought this was an excellent commentary on leadership, and the neccesity of a commander tailoring his leadership to his situation and surroundigs.

    I would have to re-watch the episode to comment on Kirk's dillema. I don't seem to recall that Kirk felt he was in danger of not reaching the destination planet in time to save it.

    The spears were a little goofy, but that is something I expect to an extent in original Star Trek. If it wasn't a little campy, it wouldn't be Star Trek. Remember, this was the '60s.