Fifty years ago, Gene Roddenberry’s first “wagon train to the stars” began airing on NBC. Star Trek featured a cast of many nationalities, had people of color in important roles, it commented on the social problems of the day disguised in science fiction, and it was the first time we’d seen humanity out in the stars in a ship meant to not only get us to them, but to explore. It was a show about hope for the future, a future that we continue to ape from today with our cellphones, video conferencing communications, and even equipment you can carry around that will tell you the current and future weather conditions.
Was Star Trek perfect? No. Between all the series that they put out from the ’60s, to the reintroduction of the show again with Next Generation in the ’80s, and up through Star Trek Enterprise, there were some episodes that didn’t work, weren’t necessarily poignant, and some that were just not good sci-fi. I’ve seen a number of articles out there listing the great episodes. There are several guides on how to get through the shows as quickly as possible so you get the most for your streaming buck. These guides don’t necessarily go into much detail, though. They list them, but they don’t rate them or give you much info on them. Star Trek Essentials aims to be a little different. I’m going to go over two episodes each week, review them, and talk about what makes them special.
Our next two episodes deal with the first of many transporter incidents throughout the run of all of Star Trek, with a bit of Jekyll and Hyde mixed in. There is also one of the more comedy-driven episodes, with some serious undertones as a disease makes the crew act intoxicated. As a note, I’m not going with broadcast order on these, but rather production order, although for simplicity’s sake I’ve got the episode number as they appear on Netflix for those that want to watch these.
The Enemy Within (Season 1, Episode 5)
Having the distinction right off the bat of being the fifth produced and fifth aired episode amused the hell out of me. This is also the first of a number of times we get to deal with a duplicate Kirk. A transporter malfunction splits Captain Kirk in two halves, one good and one evil, neither capable of surviving without the other. While the crew races to figure out what’s making the transporter do this and fix it, Evil Kirk wreaks havoc on board while crew stranded on the planet begin to freeze to death.
While this one isn’t necessarily great, it deals with some great concepts, like what parts of us are tied with our morality and leanings. That, coupled with Shatner’s acting, leads to some classic Trek memes as well. It’s easy to sit back now and wonder why they didn’t use shuttles to get them, but they hadn’t introduced the shuttles into the show just yet, so the transporter was the only option. They deal with things pretty well, and it’s one of the first times we get to see Engineering and the film crew using the forced perspective of the engine room properly.
The Naked Time (Season 1, Episode 4)
The Enterprise arrives at planet Psi 2000, a world that was much like Earth in its past, however there’s a Starfleet outpost there monitoring the world’s impending disintegration. Spock and a Lt. beam down in environmental suits to find the lab frozen over and all the scientists dead. Lt. Tormolen removes his glove to better scratch his nose and gets infected with whatever caused the scientists to lose all sense of reality and end up dead. He brings this back to the ship and begins infecting other crew members who begin acting without inhibitions, turning off key systems of the ship just when the Enterprise needs them most to get out of orbit of the planet as it falls apart.
This is a fun episode as we get to see our usually reserved Starfleet officers acting, well, rather outside their norm and unreservedly. There is a bit of that ’60s silliness to this with Sulu running around shirtless with a rapier, but it gets more reserved with Spock having an emotional breakdown. It’s out of the norm, but at the same time, it’s very character building and driven, which is great out of an episodic show. Hell, this episode was so well done, they tried to emulate it in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and not very well. It’s also one of the first “bottle” episodes as almost the entirety of it takes place on the ship. These were generally cheaper to make but also can be some of the better episodes.