Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Dodgy Premise Rocks "The Changeling"

The Good: Interesting idea, Moments of decent acting
The Bad: Nothing impressive or notable on the character front, Plot wears itself out quick
The Basics: With one simple idea, stretched out into an hour program, "The Changeling" pits Kirk and Spock against a robot bent on destroying imperfect people.

Every now and then, there was a Star Trek episode that was basically a very simple idea that was stretched out into a full hour and often those episodes stand apart, somewhat obvious as a simple idea that was pulled for all it was worth. Many of the episodes that are like that are the weaker ones of the series and "The Changeling" definitely fits that category.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is cruising through space toward a heavily populated solar system that is now lifeless. There they discover Nomad, a small floating robotic device that boards the ship and becomes convinced that Captain Kirk is its creator. It's mission, it declares, is to sterilize all imperfect life forms. As Nomad travels through the ship, it begins to eliminate imperfections and the silly little floating robot becomes deadly to all aboard.

This is one of those "simple problem, simple solution" episodes that is bothersome because the essential idea of it is clear and not bad, but also not enough to sustain an entire hour episode with. No, this is a simple idea by writer John Meredyth Lucas, who apparently sat down one day and said, "It would be neat if there was one robot that had a mission to seek out life and another robot that was sent out to sterilize problems it found and the two collided and their missions merged. Gosh that would be clever. I'll write it as a Star Trek episode." The problem, of course, being that that's it. That's the ballgame. That's all he wrote. Everything else in the episode is built around servicing that concept and it's not enough to build an episode around.

Certainly, there are moments that are intriguing enough. Nomad is a cool enough looking robot and the idea is pretty cool. It's fun to watch Nomad float around the ship and erase Uhura's memory and kill Scotty, but that's pretty much it. Once the note is sung, the episode is simply waiting to end. And the solution is simple as well.

In fact, the solution is so simple, it was repeated four episodes later in "I, Mudd." Yes, writer John Meredyth Lucas creates a simple, direct way to take out a robot that it becomes the standard used by Kirk and company later in the season. Sigh. That's not a good sigh.

The problem with an episode like "The Changeling" is that it does not give the cast and crew much to work with, much less the articulate reviewer. The episode largely consists of Nomad floating around the Enterprise zapping people and things and Kirk and Spock desperately trying to foil it. It's not honestly more than that and it's a stretch to call the episode anything remotely entertaining after the first appearance of Nomad and Spock's exposition as to what exactly the probe robot is.

There is no character development whatsoever in "The Changeling." This is a villain of the week episode and Kirk and Spock develop no new skills, attitudes or abilities in learning how to foil Nomad. Instead, this is just a waiting for the pair to figure things out and in the meantime, it's all about Nomad. There are no real ethical dilemmas in this episode, no social commentary, it's a simple episode.

Leonard Nimoy portrays Spock well in "The Changeling" and this is one of the few episodes where Spock is logical, emotionless and very Vulcan. Nimoy pulls it off and he is distinctive for his performance only in that it is very different from Nimoy as a person. there is nothing here we have not seen before in his performance.

Even William Shatner is somewhat muted in "The Changeling." His acting is subdued, as if the actor realized he was working with a shaky premise that was being stretched well beyond even his ability to stretch.

The only person who does anything even remotely interesting with acting is Nichelle Nichols, who plays Uhura. Uhura sings and has her memory erased by Nomad. Nichelle Nichols is given the opportunity to do something other than say "Hailing frequencies open" and she delivers quite well, given the chance. When Uhura's memory is wiped, Nichols plays without affect and later with childlike simplicity as Uhura is forced to relearn everything. Her performance is interesting and different, but she has a very small part in this episode.

Ironically, "The Changeling" was one of the episodes ripped off to create Star Trek The Motion Picture and the longer version did no better at making the basic idea interesting or engaging. I cannot think of who would enjoy this episode, it's certainly not for anyone who does not like science fiction, though!

And if there were anything more I could say about this episode, I would. But truly, this is a one-trick pony and nothing extraordinary or even interesting to watch.

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


For other reviews of Star Trek episodes and movies, please visit my index page!

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

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