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.
Captain Kirk hogs the spotlight for the most part this week as he’s put on trial for getting a fellow officer killed as his account of events differs from the ship’s computer, and Kirk’s past comes back to haunt him on a planet where your fantasies and memories seem to come out of nowhere. 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.
Court Martial (Season 1, Episode 20)
After surviving a severe ion storm that damaged the ship and cost the life of a crew member, the Enterprise puts in to Starbase 11 for repairs. When it comes down to recounting Kirk’s account that led to the crewman getting killed, and what the actual computer records show, however, a discrepancy leads to Kirk facing criminal charges or taking a desk job. Knowing he didn’t do anything wrong and believing the computer records to be wrong, Kirk fights for it all and demands a court martial take place, getting a quirky attorney to represent him in the process.
We get a little bit of Kirk’s past again here with where he served right out fo the Academy, as well as past friends and love interests. We also get a look at some of the inner workings of Starfleet, and what they go through as far as checks and procedures before going after someone legally, and options to get out of that. I do love the rather ingenious way they figure out how to prove something is wrong with the computer in this. Ultimately they wanted to show a courtroom drama in space, which is why we got this episode, and it does end up being pretty good.
Shore Leave (Season 1, Episode 15)
After a grueling three months, the Enterprise crew is looking forward to some well deserved shore leave, even a reluctant Kirk, who needed convincing from Spock. While orbiting an uninhabited planet that seems like a paradise, several away teams are beamed down to look at its suitability, but when their imaginations and memories start showing up on the planet, Kirk realizes there’s something else going on, and it might not exactly be safe, as he’s tormented from a former classmate and lover.
While this one doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as some of the other episodes that have made the cut here, much like The Naked Time, we get some insight into the crew of the ship, while at the same time we get a fun-filled episode with a few jolts thrown in to keep it interesting. This is definitely more of a comedic episode, but after going through a bunch of really heavy episodes, it’s good to have something light in the mix. While it is a bit Kirk-centric, there’s some McCoy and Sulu development here as well, and Finnegan, the upper classman who used to taunt and beat up Kirk at the Academy, ends up being the perfect foil for our Captain in an almost fantasy-based episode.