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 twice a week, review them, and talk about what makes them special.
This week we’re covering one of my favorite episodes of the show, and the one that introduces one of the larger Trek mainstays. The first episode takes the creature feature plot and turns it on its head in a way only Star Trek really could. The other episode is the first time we’d get to see one of the long running Federation nemesis, the Klingons.
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 Devil in the Dark (Season 1, Episode 25)
Responding to an emergency at Janus VI, the Enterprise arrives to find that something is lurking in the mines beneath the station there killing the people that live and work on the colony. Whatever it is, it’s burning people alive, burrowing through solid rock, and decidedly hostile. Kirk and Spock set up a security team to track the creature down and after wounding it and discover that it’s based off of silicone and not carbon, an entirely new form of life. It’s also very angry, and thanks to their phasers, hurt. After taking a key piece of machinery to keep the colony reactor from exploding, Kirk and crew are under pressure to get the problem taken care of and quickly.
This is easily one of my top ten Trek episodes, easily. It takes the whole creature feature and turns it on its head about halfway through the story. Gene Coon, who wrote this one, and is also a producer on the series, manages to bring menace to the new creature, but also sympathy. There are a lot of great moments, including one of the first times McCoy utters “I’m a Doctor, not a (blank)” in the series. Considering they came up with the creature costume and then built the episode around it, it’s amazing how well this all comes together. Shatner also earns a lot of respect from me for finishing this episode after finding out about his father’s death.
Errand of Mercy (Season 1, Episode 26)
Tensions have been riding high between the Klingons and the Federation. A border world, Organia, between the two factions looks to be a good staging ground and the Enterprise is sent to secure the planet for the Federation. Arriving just before a fleet of Klingon ships, Kirk and Spock are trapped on the planet when their ship is forced to flee. The Klingons quickly take over the planet and Kirk and Spock go undercover as an Organian and a Vulcan merchant while they try to convince the Organians to fight back against the Klingons, who want no part of it. It looks as if the Federation and the Klingons will be going to war after all and Organia is the center of it.
Our first introduction to the Klingons, but not the last we’ll see of them, this episode manages to include some really interesting outlooks not only on war, but evolution, and it really lays some of the groundwork for what The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine would build off of in leaps and bounds with the Klingons. Kor, the Klingon commander featured here actually shows up in several episodes of Deep Space Nine as well. I’m more including this episode for its introduction of the Klingons and the handling of the Organians. Overall it’s not paced all that well but that might have something to do with following up Devil in the Dark on my watch rotation. Kor was meant to show up again, but the actor wasn’t available. There was a fourth season episode planned with Kor but the show was cancelled before that could happen.