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.
Our second season romp continues with the better portion of the show’s second season. It was around the middle of the season that one of the show’s more involved producers would leave, and while it would mostly hold together, the shine starts to wear a bit. This week’s pair of episodes covers what would amount to the first outing for the entire plot of Star Trek The Motion Picture without any credit to the original episode, and finding out that Eden may be beautiful, but is also extremely hostile.
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 Changeling (Season 2, Episode 3)
En route to the Malurian star system investigating a distress call, the Enterprise finds all four billion Malurians have been wiped out before getting attacked by a probe of intense power. After their attacks are absorbed by the probe, Kirk tries hailing it and it ceases attacking the Enterprise. The probe is Nomad, a probe launched and gone missing 265 years ago from Earth, but vastly changed and far more powerful than it should be. It wants to know its creator and comes aboard the Enterprise to determine that. While it begins interacting with the ship and crew with disastrous results, Kirk and Spock need to figure out how to stop it before it decides to wipe them out and look for its real creator on Earth.
This episode has some interesting hallmarks to it. For starters, this episode is almost the entirety of the plot for Star Trek The Motion Picture, only the probe is a helluva lot bigger and with flashier special effects. I’d rather watch this episode than the film. Far more going on here and it feels more personal. This is another of those episodes where Kirk goes toe to toe with a programmed computer, we get some neat camera tricks to show the mechanical probe floating through the ship, and in the HD version, you can see a string holding it up on one of the bridge scenes, but other than that the effects work is well done. There’s also a plausible explanation here for why Uhura might have known Klingon out of the Academy but didn’t know it when Star Trek VI happened. Just my own theory tying some things from the Trek reboot in 2009 to the original Trek timeline.
The Apple (Season 2, Episode 5)
The Enterprise arrives at Trianguli VI and discover what appears to be an Eden-like planet. Things go wrong when the landing party starts dying off due to the environmental hazards hidden in this Eden. When the ship starts to lose power and the landing party meets some natives, they realize there is more to this Eden and that something else is going on when they go to make sacrifices to their god, Vaal. Vaal is no god and Kirk sees no alternative other than to violate the Prime Directive to save the ship and the people of Trianguli VI.
While this episode can feel a little ’60s campish at points, especially with the natives and the design of Vaal’s exterior, there are some great moments here, fun dialogue, and we get the red shirt phenomenon in full force. The revamped episode in HD has some better effects, but a lot of this is sparse as most of the action happens on planet on what looks like a sound stage most of the time. There are some real tense moments, though, and it builds up nicely as it goes along. Tag it with a mention of the Prime Directive that would be a lot more involved in Star Trek: The Next Generation than it is here, and you get some decent camp wrapped up in a Trek story akin to being kicked out of Eden.