This is not going to be a recurring category, I think, unless you guys and girls want me to write more of these.
For reasons that now seem opaque to me, I found myself watching a random Star Trek episode from 1966. Despite its heavy handed themes, I thought it was quite hilarious and fascinating to see how a typical Star Trek episode was built up, back then. Also, it struck me how different this show was from the later ST series like Deep Space Nine, and especially compared to today’s films.
The episode in question was “Return to Tomorrow”, season 2, episode 20.
What happens is that the Enterprise is drawn by an emergency signal to a dead, lifeless planet. The ship is suddenly taken over by a disembodied voice who instructs captain Kirk to beam down to a chamber, hidden deep underneath the surface of the planet. There, they find the electronic minds of long-dead aliens, who wish to live again.
One major difference with the later shows is that in the 90s, Star Trek was often about politics in space. Especially in Deep Space Nine, the storylines were about political powers such as the Federation, the Klingons and the Romulans, and their squabbles. But many episodes of the Original Series dared to dream bigger than that. In this episode, Kirk meets Sargon, who claims that his people lived 500,000 years ago and populated the Milky Way. They were probably the common ancestors of many aliens, like the Vulcans and Romulans.
The Original Series dared to dream about big time scales, about deep space and deep time, and technology so advanced that it indeed seemed like magic. In contrast, the political squabbles between aliens in the later series seem rather parochial. I guess, big timescales create a sense of wonder. A sense of wonder that the first Star Trek thrived on, and disappeared as the franchise grinded to a halt with the Voyager and Enterprise series.
It also makes you wonder what happened to all those godlike aliens a hundred years later, when the later series took place. In the days of Kirk, every second planet seemed to host some super-advanced alien with psychic powers. Of course, Captain Kirk destroyed quite a few of them.
What’s hilarious is how the episode constructs a love interest for Kirk. A new young, pretty female scientist (Dr. Ann Mulhall) joins the away team. But then the alien, Sargon, wants to inhabit the body of Kirk to feel alive again. Of course, he also has a wife, Thalassa, for whom the female scientist is an excellent… host to inhabit. Once Sargon and Thalassa inhabit Kirk and Dr. Mulhall, they can’t help but try out the physical sensations that they missed all those thousands of years.
There are a couple of basic ideas that this episode conveys. If something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t. The aliens promise technological wonders, but they are lead astray. They are “tempted by the flesh”. No matter how advanced or noble an alien seems, it always has some common human flaw.
All in all, a nicely balanced and well-plotted episode that showcases all the common Star Trek tropes.