Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Neglected Trek; "The Cloud Minders" Showcases The Best And Worst Of Star Trek

The Good: Good social message, Clever idea, Interesting characters, Plot
The Bad: Inconsistent acting and characterization, Science of the dilemma
The Basics: Deliciously campy and wonderfully socially conscious, "The Cloud Minders" exhibits the best (strong messages) and worst (campy acting, names) of Star Trek.

Every now and again, Star Trek" did an episode very right and still managed to create something that was campy. As a fan of Star Trek, it's a rare thing to be able to admit that the strengths of Star Trek are often mixed with a huge dollop of camp. Star Trek is an eclectic mix of extraordinarily dated and forever clever, astonishingly intelligent and evocative of wincing. Late in the third season of Star Trek, the series became dramatically inconsistent episode to episode. Perhaps one of the best examples of Star Trek being a contradicting mass of greatness and disappointing is "The Cloudminders."

The U.S.S. Enterprise arrives at the planet Ardana to pick up some ore and the landing party is attacked on the surface of the planet. Kirk and Spock are soon brought from the surface up to a floating city called Stratos City, where the aristocratic Stratos dwellers live. They meet with Plasus to get more of the ore (zienite) and soon it becomes apparent that the surface dwellers, the miners known as Troglytes, are kept as an underclass to service the Stratos dwellers. McCoy determines that the development of the Troglytes is retarded by a gas from the zienite and Captain Kirk decides he must intervene.

Right off the bat, "The Cloud Minders" is obvious in almost every way. The social message here is not even being hidden. There is an overclass, living above the planet, in a city called Stratos. The workers, living below, are called Troglytes (to the credit of the writers, they didn't just call them "troglodytes"). This is an obvious class struggle episode and Captain Kirk's position is equally obvious; there must be equality between workers and those who control the mines.

It always amuses me when I hear that someone like Rush Limbaugh likes Star Trek.

Yes, "The Cloudminders" comes down pretty firmly on the side of worker's rights in the form of rigorous health and safety standards. When the crew of the Enterprise realizes that the zienite emits a gas that makes those who inhale it more prone to violence, irrationality and anger, Kirk forces the leader of Stratos City, Plasus, to work in the mines and inhale the gas until he basically goes insane. Way to go, Captain Kirk.

The message of the episode is honorable and well - if obviously - presented. Conversely, this is one of the few episodes where the guest stars trump the regular actors. Actor Jeff Corey plays Plasus and he is forced to deliver all of the stereotypical classist lines about how the Troglytes are inferior, etc. Corey has the bearing and dignity that instantly establishes him as a credible leader of Stratos City. No matter the terribly prejudiced ideas that Plasus vocalizes, we never doubt his place in the hierarchy; Corey so instantly sells the viewer on the idea that he is the man in charge.

Similarly, Charlene Polite as the Troglyte Vanna is pretty wonderful. She is convincingly angry as an worker who has been subjugated. Her performance uses a lot of body language - particularly seething with her eyes - and she does that quite well.

Conversely, this episode has one of the most over-the-top crazy performances by William Shatner. Even before his character is supposed to be effected by the invisible gas, Shatner is bugging his eyes out and talking in the broken speech pattern that is so readily parodied these days. And when it comes time for him to play crazy, he's ridiculous.

Leonard Nimoy's performance in "The Cloud Minders" is hard to judge; Spock's character is remarkably inconsistent in this episode. Logical one moment, flirting with Plasus's daughter (thank you, 1960s costume designs!) the next, Spock is very much out of character here. At least, they don't try to disguise his talking sweet to Droxine as some spatial phenomenon or disease. Nope, here Spock is just getting amorous.

Of course, that's completely out of character for Spock. That that returns to the concept of how "The Cloudminders" works as the best and worst of Star Trek; because the show sometimes made the message of an episode the priority, it sacrificed continuity and character development in order to make a statement. In "The Cloud Minders," writers Margaret Armen, Oliver Crawford, and David Gerrold prioritize making a statement about workplace safety above the continuity of the series.

Good thing it's a good message. It's all that saves this inconsistent episode. Probably stronger for the non-fan than those who religiously followed Star Trek.

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


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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