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.
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.
Arena (Season 1, Episode 18)
Kirk is invited with a few select landing party members, to a gathering on Cestus III at a Federation outpost there. When they arrive, they find the base destroyed and still under attack by an unknown alien force. The aliens leave and Kirk has the Enterprise pursue at high warp. Before they can battle it out, both ships are disabled by a species in the system they were traveling through: the Metrons. The Metrons have decided that the two commanding officers of both ships should have to battle this out and that the loser will have their ship destroyed. Kirk and the alien commander, who we find out is a Gorn, are dropped alone with no weapons on an alien planet to fight to the death.
Ok, I’m going to come right out and say it: the Gorn make-up and rubber suit isn’t all that great. Ok, for a low budget sci-fi show in the ’60s, it’s fine, but it hasn’t held up at all. What works in this episode is the ingenuity that Krik shows in defeating this absurdly strong, but slow, Gorn leader. The fight scenes that are hand to hand are a bit ridiculous, and the cheese is high, but overall it’s a really well done episode that works despite its effects flaws.
Tomorrow Is Yesterday (Season 1, Episode 19)
After encountering a black star, what would later be labeled as a Black Hole by scientists a few years after the episode aired, the Enterprise is shot back in time to 1969, just days before the launch of the first moon landing, only they’ve been seen by the Air Force and had to beam the pilot that saw them aboard the ship. Kirk and company need to erase all records of their arrival and get back to their own time, but complications keep popping up, like the fact the pilot’s non-existent son is important to Earth history so they’ll have to figure out how to get him back.
Honestly, watching this now it feels very much like a dry run on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. There’s quite a bit of funny moments to this, the formula they use to return to the future is the same one that Spock uses to get the Klingon ship back and forth in time in Star Trek IV, we have Kirk and crew getting inextricably involved with a native from the time period, and a momentous event surrounding it. It’s actually a fun episode with quite a bit going on, including correctly predicting the launch day of the first moon landing in 1969 being on a Wednesday. Considering this episode aired two years before the launch, and NASA at the time was predicting 1970 for the first landing and not 1969, that’s pretty amazing. I did find it sad that the day after this aired we lost the crew of Apollo 1 in the fire.