Charlie X

I’m sure Charlie X is supposed to be about teen angst, or growing up, or something. There’s probably a coming-of-age story behind Charlie Evans’ awkward, slightly creepy vibe. His story is a sad one- he has never know the touch of another human; he was raised by incorporeal beings, so he has no concept of humanity. Charlie’s situation is Kirk’s first encounter with a no-win scenario.

I could talk about how desperate Charlie’s escape from the life he hates is, or how heart-wrenching it is to hear him sob about not wanting to go back to live with the bodyless beings that raised him, or how this is the first (but not last) time that Star Trek deals with starship captains being unwilling father figures to rebellious teenagers, or any number of nice little moments of Kirk/Charlie interplay.

But I just keep getting stuck on

Charlie face 1

That Face

Charlie Face 2

That Face some more

Seriously, I’m sure this episode has some poignant moments, but I just can’t get past the ridiculousness. Spock’s playing this weird harp thing and Uhura’s kinda flirting with Spock. And that’s kinda weird.

Spock and Uhura

Spock and Uhura – Didn’t come out of nowhere after all!

Oh yeah, and we see Spock smiling again. Don’t get used to it.

Spock smiling

Hello, ladies

 

I’ll leave you with this absurd, out-of-context quote:

“There’s no right way to hit a woman!”
– Captain Kirk

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The Man Trap

McCoy and Nancy Crater

McCoy and Nancy Crater

Though it was not the second pilot, nor even the first episode filmed, The Man Trap was the first episode of Star Trek ever shown on TV. This has confused some people over the years, as it is not your typical episode. Katie Mae and I watched this episode with my parents, and we discussed why this would have been the network’s choice to introduce the public to Star Trek.

We theorize that since The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits were popular shows around this time, the format of a one-shot “monster” story might be better-received by their viewers than the first few that were filmed. Certainly, it has the feel of an Outer Limits episode, with eerie music, atmospheric captain’s logs, and of course, the salt vampire killing off the crew.

This episode, being the first one aired, contains a few Star Trek firsts besides the obvious. For one thing, this is the first appearance of Nichelle Nichols as Uhura. It’s also the first time Dr. McCoy delivers his iconic “He’s dead, Jim” line. There are also already a few depictions of the crew’s personal lives, as McCoy’s love life is discussed, Spock and Uhura are as close to playful as Spock can get, and we see Sulu’s interest in plants. Also notable in an episode full of both firsts and deaths is the absence of the iconic “red shirt death”.

Salt Vampire

Salt Vampire

But as we have alluded to a couple of times, one of Star Trek’s strengths is its ability to embed a morality tale or other theme within the story. And if you look even a little bit past the horror story of The Man Trap, you will find a rather sad undercurrent of loneliness. The salt vampire is the last of its race, and it is lonely. Sure, you could say that Professor Crater is spared because he provides salt tablets, but there are several moments that indicate that the salt vampire wants him around for more than his salt. It doesn’t want to be alone. And of course, Professor Crater himself is lonely since the death of his wife. Rather than avenge her death, he continues to feed the salt vampire so that he won’t be alone on the planet. There’s even a hint of loneliness in Uhura when she is confronted by the salt vampire disguised as a fellow crewman. It tells her that she was thinking of someone like him, and that she looked lonely.

So while it may not have been the most representative episode of TOS, The Man Trap was actually a good choice to introduce new viewers to the show, and if you can get past the salt vampire’s appearance (let’s face it, not the scariest monster makeup), you will find a very interesting take on loneliness.

The Cage

Katie Mae: So…The Cage.

Ando: Yup. The first pilot of Star Trek. It’s also our only exception to the air-date-order rule, as this wasn’t technically aired until later. But hey, if Kirk can break the Prime Directive, we can too, right?

KM: Right [laughs].

A: Of course, here it’s Pike, not Kirk. But anyway…what are some of the early impressions you had of this episode?

Number One

Majel Barrett, Star Trek’s First Lady

KM: I think it would’ve been interesting if they’d kept the original cast. I would’ve like to have seen Majel Barrett as Number One.

A: I agree. And I also think it’s interesting to see that the captain and chief medical officer were always intended to be close friends and confidants. Even though here it’s not Kirk and McCoy (it’s Pike and Dr. Boyce), they were just as close as Kirk and McCoy would end up.

KM: It’s interesting to see what changed and what stayed the same. We lost a woman as second-in-command, but we gained a black woman as communications officer, so that’s kinda cool and groundbreaking, in a different way.

A: It was also pretty daring for a pilot to drop the viewers right in the middle of a plot. After all, rather than showing the ship as shiny and new and the crew fresh, they’re two weeks out from a difficult battle where crew were injured and killed. Captain Pike is exhibiting signs of depression and even PTSD. That’s not where you expect to find the first episode of a brand-new series going.

KM: Even modern shows tend to give more of an intro. Maybe they wanted to skip past all the scientific explanation technobabble and get right to the story. And I think they succeeded.

A: I do too, absolutely!

KM: Pike is pretty easy to relate to, especially at the time. This was right in the middle of the Vietnam War. He seems like the strong, soldier type, but he’s also showing his vulnerability- his trauma at what he experienced.

Captain Pike

Captain Christopher Pike

A: And that he felt personally guilty for the deaths of his crew.

KM: So he’s both soldier and cowboy. I think he’s exactly the starship captain America needed at that point.

A: Interesting how they downplayed the soldier role when the character was changed to Kirk. He was definitely more a cowboy than a soldier.

KM: I kinda thought the ladies’ man aspect of Kirk outshone everything else, though. Back to The Cage, though. How groundbreaking were those special effects in the opening? I mean, it’s not terribly impressive by today’s standards, but I’m sure back then it was pretty amazing, especially for television.

A: Oh, yeah. When you consider how the shot of the Enterprise model had to be composited with the crane shot into the bridge set, on what had to have been a small budget since this was just a pilot, that was incredible. It definitely could have looked a lot worse. I think it holds up.

KM: I wonder if it was like The Matrix of its time. That “bullet time” effect is arguably the most groundbreaking cinematic technique of my lifetime. You see it a lot more now, but the first time you saw it…wasn’t it the first time you’d been surprised by a movie in a while?

A: When it comes to special effects, yes it was. That brings up an interesting point. Star Trek is well-known for “predicting” technological advances, with things like touch screens and cell phones and so on. That wasn’t so much the case in this pilot, however.

KM: Yeah, you gotta love how Pike gets a printed piece of paper to sign instead of just bringing it up on screen. I mean, even right now, we have online signatures, and it’s not even the 23rd century!

A: OK, OK, well, I want us to go back for a minute to the topic of women on starships.

KM: I wonder whether it was a network decision or an interpretation of what this time period was supposed to be like that women had the positions they did. It was really nice that they have a woman as second-in-command. I like to think that was Roddenberry intentionally doing something daring. But she was the only one. The only other woman shown on board was an obviously airheaded yeoman.

A: Can’t argue there – even the Talosians said she was most useful for her high libido.

KM: Thinking about this makes me feel like a total feminist film critic. Aside from Number One, the women are literally sexual objects. That is all they’re for: breeding stock.

A: Bearing in mind only the pilot, I concur. That did change throughout the rest of the series, but since we’re focusing on The Cage, I can’t deny it.

KM: I just think it’s a little disappointing that, despite the daring decision of having a woman as second-in-command, they couldn’t just let it be. They had to draw attention to it by having Pike say, “I’m not used to having a woman on the bridge.”  I wonder if that was Roddenberry being in-your-face or being apologetic.

A: I’m not sure. It’s definitely a good topic of discussion, though. And I think that’s part of the beauty of Star Trek- that it can spark these kinds of discussions.

KM: So how ’bout them aliens?

Talosians

The Talosians

A: So we’ve got one with pointy ears and a bunch with big, veiny heads. Both are considered superior in intellect to humans.

KM: I wonder why humans feel that aliens must be smarter than us.

A: Probably because if we’re the smarter ones, it’s not that different from just a bunch of scientists studying off-world specimens. Later episodes in other incarnations deal with this idea a bit. I think it gets even more interesting when you consider that the writers (Roddenberry at first, but this continues all throughout Star Trek) often put “morality tales” in the episodes. If they portrayed these lessons as humans going around teaching inferior aliens how to be moral, it might come off as pretty preachy and heavy-handed, and easy to dismiss. But by having humanity learning from wiser species, it’s jarring and puts us in the position of still having a lot to learn about life.

KM: Gives “Five-year mission” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? [laughs] Of course, despite their “vast intellect”, why did the Talosians overlook the simple need for genetic diversity when populating a species? Is in-breeding not a thing on their planet?

A: Well, from what we found out in the episode, breeding itself wasn’t really a thing at this point. But you’re right, they should have gotten more “specimens”.

KM: Genetics is a science. It’s something that they could easily have been studying. But I guess this is just an example of the necessity of suspension of disbelief.

A: Really, more of plot overriding science. After all, it takes these vastly intelligent aliens the entirety of the episode to finally get access to the Enterprise’s computers and recognize that humanity hates being enslaved. Honestly, after everything we know about them, why did it take that long? Because they moved at the speed of plot.

KM: Honestly, that covers everything I wanted to cover about this episode, aside from-

A: Favorite moments?

KM: THAT FACE!

Vina "that face"

THAT FACE!

KM: It gets me every time. What is with her?

A: [laughs] I have no idea, but I agree, that’s a good one. For mine, I just have two words: “THE WOMEN!

KM: [facepalm] Oh, Spock…

A: Thanks for reading! More episodes coming soon!

Star Trek (The Original Series) Introduction

In 1964, visionary Gene Roddenberry pitched a new TV series to Desilu Studios.

Gene Roddenberry

Gene Roddenberry

OK, let’s back up for a moment. There are a lot of us who either weren’t around or weren’t old enough to understand the significance of this, especially considering what Star Trek was and what it became.

In 1964, America was still reeling from the assassination of JFK. In 1964, the first Ford Mustang rolled off the assembly lines. In 1964, Sean Connery started filming the first James Bond movie, Goldfinger. In 1964, “Louie Louie” was almost banned in the US for suspected obscene lyrics, the Beatles were still deeply immersed in their early pop roots, and the Rolling Stones released their first, eponymous album. And of course, the Civil Rights movement was still one of the hottest buttons you could push.

That’s just a taste of the social environment at the time Roddenberry was developing the Star Trek pilot. TV at the time was a completely different animal from what you find now. Not only was there no cable, the VCR was not available to the average consumer home. TV shows of the time ranged from soap operas to game shows to Westerns and episodic horror shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

And if you think about it, it’s those last couple of items that helped pave the way for Star Trek. You can find many similarities between TOS episodes and Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, and Roddenberry himself stated that he was inspired by Westerns. He even pitched Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the stars” (Wagon Train being a popular Western TV show of the time).

So where was Science Fiction on TV? Aside from a few episodes of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, not really anywhere.

The Cage

The Cage, the original Star Trek pilot

Even Lost In Space didn’t air until 1965. So when Gene Roddenberry pitched Star Trek in 1964, there really wasn’t anything quite like it. And that’s probably one reason that Desilu Studios balked at the pitch and turned it down.

For most TV shows, especially with only a few networks to go to, that would be the end of it. But that was not to be the case for Star Trek. Though the original pilot was shot down, NBC executives liked the concept and, astoundingly, asked for a second pilot. Roddenberry obliged, and this second pilot was picked up. And so it was that in September of 1966, Star Trek made its debut on American TV.

The rest is history.