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.
This time around, we get our first real episode dealing with artificially created life forms, and a trip to a penal colony where mental mind control is the in thing. 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.
What Are Little Girls Made Of? (Season 1, Episode 7)
The Enterprise is sent to Exo III to find out the fate of archaeologist Dr. Roger Korby. Korby has been missing for five years, living in underground caves and areas left behind by the planet’s previous occupants. Nurse Chapel has a history with Korby and beams down with Kirk to meet with Korby, but two of the security team members that come down with Kirk meet with unfortunate ends before they even meet Korby, only to find out Korby has figured out a way to make Androids that are so well done they can even replace human beings. His first test subject, James Kirk.
While the make-up effects aren’t necessarily great in this episode, they do have some decent touches. We also get a little bit of Nurse Chapel in this one, along with Kirk, which is nice. It’s one of the first episodes where Kirk uses logic to outsmart some machines as well, which becomes a running staple of the show as it goes on. Kirk does actually try to physically outdo the androids at first, which ends in disaster for him as he’s carried around like a rag doll. The cave is also questionable in its texturing, but overall it’s a pretty well-scripted episode, and Kirk’s idea to clue Spock in that there’s a problem is rather ingenious.
Dagger of the Mind (Season 1, Episode 8)
A routine stop at the Tantalus Penal Colony to drop off supplies and pick up a shipment provides the perfect opportunity for one of the prisoners there to escape. It doesn’t take long for the Colony to realize he’s gone, and after a lengthy hunt through the Enterprise, the crew finds out he’s not a prisoner, but one of the Doctors that worked there, Simon Van Gelder. Something has gone horribly wrong with him, though, as he’s anxious and violent and can’t talk about what’s happened to him without inducing crippling pain in him. Kirk beams down with one of the ship’s psychiatrist’s, Doctor Helen Noel, someone he got a little more involved with at last year’s Christmas party, to try and figure out what’s going on. Things take a dangerous turn when the colony administrator decides to try out the techniques that drove Van Gelder out of his mind on Kirk.
There are a number of good performances in this one. Without Morgan Woodward as the pained and crazed Van Gelder, the episode would kind of fall apart. It’s interesting to see that Kirk does kind of move through the women on board a bit as well instead of just the “alien of the week”. This is one of the first episodes to give us some more on Vulcans with the mind meld. There are some good questions raised on how to deal with the mentally ill, or even what lengths we should be going to cure them. While this one isn’t necessarily great, it did stand out for me going through these again far more than it did in the past.