Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Star Trek: Boldly Going Into History . . . Or Syndication – Star Trek Season Three Flounders.

The Good: Moments of great character development, good acting, some interesting stories
The Bad: Some of the weakest plots in the Star Trek franchise
The Basics: As the series wound down, Star Trek became more camp than genuinely original science fiction.

Star Trek is one of the weirdest phenomenon in television history. First, the show appears on television after having two pilot episodes being made and the majority of people did not know what to make of it. However, it picked up a small but loyal audience and it lasted two seasons on NBC. Then, NBC wanted to cancel the show and fans got into an uproar and launched a letter-writing campaign that kept the show on the air an extra year. This third season is a result of the determined fans' love for the series.

It is also, almost inarguably, the worst season of the original Star Trek. It is almost unfathomable, then, how it retained so many fans as to keep the interest in the show so strong as to spawn an animated series and movies within a decade of being canceled. After the first or second season, that would have been understandable, but after the third season it is nothing short of a miracle that Star Trek became the cultural phenomenon it did.

In the third season of Star Trek, the intrepid crew of the USS Enterprise goes on a covert mission into Romulan territory to steal a cloaking device, they are plagued by a creature that feeds off violent energy and pits them into battle with the Klingons, Dr. McCoy leaves the ship after being stricken with a terrible disease and he joins a colony living in an asteroid-shaped space ship, and the ship encounters a disease that makes its victims move so fast they no longer register to the human eye.

This is also, rather unfortunately, the season that finds Spock's brain stolen by a matriarchal society, a bratty female leader who cries a lot and thus makes men fall in love with her, a noncorporeal life form that takes over a Scotty's love interest and a truly awful encounter between the crew of the Enterprise and a group of space hippies.

The real advantage - and the aspect that put the set over the top for recommending - of this DVD boxed set is that it includes two different versions of the very first pilot for Star Trek. Being able to see "The Cage" is wonderful and it justifies the expense of the set by balancing out the truly awful episodes that plague the third season. Indeed, without "The Cage" in the set, we are left with the series ending as it did in 1969, with the disappointing body-swapping episode "Turnabout Intruder."

Star Trek, unlike its spin-offs, is truly the Captain's show, in this case the stories almost universally revolve around Captain James T. Kirk. In this season, Kirk is the ultimate leader, when he is around. He leads a daring mission in "The Enterprise Incident" and displays great courage in "The Empath." But he spends a good amount of time away from the Enterprise in this season as well, lost in interdimensional space in "The Tholian Web" and living as an Indian without any memory in "The Paradise Syndrome."

Spock, the half-Vulcan, half-human first officer (and cultural icon, for those not familiar with Star Trek or pop culture), gets his fair share of adventures, starting the season off by having his brain forcibly removed in "Spock's Brain." He gains real leadership experience in "The Tholian Web" and is used as a tool for psychokinetic beings in "Plato's Stepchildren."

It is Dr. McCoy who makes out best in the third season compared to all of the previous ones. He leaves the Enterprise and gets married in "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky," illustrates great medical prowess on multiple occasions ("Plato's Stepchildren," "Wink of an Eye," and "The Tholian Web," just to name a few), and even makes the ultimate sacrifice in "The Empath." He has more airtime in the third season than ever before and it's nice to see.

Now, many people will point to the third season of Star Trek as an important historical milestone. In "Plato's Stepchildren," Uhura and Kirk are forced by telekinetic beings to kiss and that becomes the first interethnic kiss shown on television. The problem is, in every piece of artwork for the event, it shows the alternate take, a side view with the two very clearly kissing. The take that made it into the final cut has a zoom in on Shatner and him looking right at the camera. In short, it almost belittles the milestone by almost completely cutting it out.

The real enduring strength is in the acting. Watching the boxed set on DVD, it becomes apparent how much was lost to the acting world when DeForest Kelley died. It is a shame, but it is wonderful to see him here on the DVD set, being vibrant and entertaining. He displays a wonderful range of emotion and it is nice to see.

Leonard Nimoy, by contrast, has a tougher acting task in the third season of Star Trek by letting his facade slip less. Unlike the prior two seasons where Spock is tormented by all sorts of excuses to show emotions ranging from neural parasites to spores to his mating fever, the third season has Spock as a Vulcan in control of his emotions. Nimoy is up to the task and it is his performances here that define the stoic Vulcan facade that most know him for.

It is, however, William Shatner that much of the show hinges on and he appears in the third season as a master of his craft. In fact, the only redeeming aspect of "Turnabout Intruder" (the series finale) is Shatner's impressive performance. In that episode, Shatner is forced to play Kirk as inhabited by a female personality and Shatner sells it quite convincingly.

Are there worthwhile episodes in the third season of Star Trek? Absolutely. But not as many as in the first two Star Trek DVD sets. Still, this is a must own for any Star Trek enthusiast as it finishes establishing the history of the universe so many people have become invested in. An intriguing collection for anyone who likes campy science fiction.

Given that the DVD case is completely lacking in insight as to what is actually inside, I am reviewing the episodes so buyers may make as informed a decision as possible. The episodes in the Season Three DVD set include:

Spectre Of The Gun
Elaan Of Troyius
The Paradise Syndrome
The Enterprise Incident
And The Children Shall Lead
Spock's Brain
Is There In Truth No Beauty?
The Empath
The Tholian Web
For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky
Day Of The Dove
Plato's Stepchildren
Wink Of An Eye
That Which Survives
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield
Whom Gods Destroy
Mark Of Gideon
The Lights Of Zetar
The Cloud Minders
The Way To Eden
Requiem For Methusalah
The Savage Curtain
All Our Yesterdays
Turnabout Intruder
*Bonus - The Cage - The original Star Trek pilot!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010, 2008, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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