Many lists of favorite Star Trek episodes feature stories such as The Enemy Within, The City on the Edge of Forever, and Mirror, Mirror. These are all excellent stories, but this 1960’s in-full-color show told many other excellent tales that don’t get the same attention these do.
Star Trek is filled with silly moments that didn’t quite work, but there are also many times that things came together and everything worked well. Sometimes this happened because they cast the right actor.
What Are Little Girls Made Of? by Robert Bloch
The Enterprise rescues a noted archaeologist, lost for five years. Dr. Korby, Nurse Chapel’s fiance, is living on a desolate planet circling a fading star, with androids left over from a dead civilization. This disturbing story by the writer of Psycho is enormously effective, due in large part to Ted Cassidy’s performance as the tragic android Ruk.
Ruk’s skin seems to have been almost formed from the same rock as the cave walls; this claustrophobic episode takes place almost entirely underground. While Ruk isn’t on the screen all that much, the android’s few scenes are very effective.
All of the guest cast together — notably, Michael Strong as the hesitant, oddly zealous Korby and Sherry Jackson as the revealingly curious android Andrea — make up a believable world that works in spite of the ludicrous turntable android making machine.
The Conscience of the King by Barry Trivers
The theatrical nature of this episode is clearly established from the very first shot in the teaser, where an actor playing Macbeth has just murdered King Duncan. This episode is far and away the most memorable of the many occasions that Star Trek has appropriated Shakespeare.
Kirk manipulates events to strand a company of Shakespeare players, with his ship their only passage to their next engagement. He is determined to keep an eye on them, hoping to determine whether a most unorthodox theory is correct: That actor Anton Karidian is really mass murderer Kodos the Executioner, who he met twenty years ago.
It’s a difficult thing to pull off, to have characters react to a name from history with horror, an invented name the audience has never heard. Despite a clumsy, expository scene where Kirk broods as the Enterprise computer reads him Kodos’s history, William Shatner plays an excellent obsessed ship’s captain determined to bring Kodos to justice. Or is he determined to revenge the dead? It’s to Kirk’s credit that he’s not certain which, and won’t act without ironclad proof.
The performances of Arnold Moss as Karidian and Barbara Anderson as his single-minded daughter make the situation not only believable, but as if it were the inevitable conclusion to events set in place long ago. The character of Lenore plays a player who has turned her life into a play. She nearly worships her father, the famed actor admired across the stars.
Star Trek never had much of a budget, but the show made up for it with artful lighting and theatrical camera angles; this episode is a good example of both. Anderson’s performance as the theatrical Lenore is an excellent fit with this environment, with its play within a play.
Elaan of Troyius, by John Meredyth Lucas
The Enterprise must transport Elaan, royalty of Elas, to her wedding on Troyius. It’s hoped that this arranged marriage will end the perpetual state of war between the two planets, but Elaan has no desire to marry a Troyan, who she (rudely) considers beneath her. When Elaan stabs the Troyan ambassador who is attempting to civilize this barbaric woman, he’s stabbed for his trouble and Captain Kirk must take his place.
Just as modern audiences will react badly to the sexist elements in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, we, three decades later, will see much of this story as (to be kind) dated. Kirk spends much of this episode treating Elaan as a spoiled brat; Admittedly, she is one, spouting lines like “Courtesy is not for inferiors”, and, to proud Scotty the engineer: “Engines are for mechanics and menials.” Shatner manages to pull off his domination of Elaan without seeming ludicrous, including threatening her with a spanking.
Jay Robinson’s performance is very good as Ambassador Petri, despite his terrible, fake-looking green-skinned makeup. It’s to this character actor’s credit that I don’t really notice it much after the first scene in the transporter room. Petri’s concern for his planet is clear. He is obviously afraid that the two planets will destroy each other if peace is not made.
As the title character, France Nuyen, who is currently a counselor for abused women and children, conveys her character well. We overlook the obvious oversight that her character would never have boarded the Enterprise in the first place, despite her handwaving line “I will never forgive the council for putting me through this torture.” Her transformation from shrew to an accepting, beaten-down political pawn is, if I may, fascinating and disturbing. The script repeatedly compares her duty to marry the enemy leader to Kirk’s duty to… let Elaan go. Hmm. I think Kirk has slightly more experience letting people go than she does.
John Meredyth Lucas, the director and scriptwriter, did an excellent job coordinating the performances of the regular and guest actors.
Metamorphosis, by Gene L. Coon
Many of the best Star Trek episodes are tragedies, but very few are love stories; this story by one of the producers of the show is both. It’s also refreshing to see a love story not involving Captain Kirk.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are ferrying the civilian Nancy Hedford, a Federation commissioner to medical treatment, when the shuttle is thrown off-course and forced to land on a small planetoid. They meet a man claiming to be Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of Warp Drive and reported missing well over a century ago.
Cochrane has been held on this planet all that time by an alien entity he calls the Companion. As a result, he’s somewhat flat and unprepossessing; Commissioner Hedford, however, starts the story as a demanding, unreasonable, entitled woman, who fades over the course of the episode. Played by Elinor Donahue, she loses some of her haughtiness on her deathbed. The Companion (who essentially kills her by not letting the humans leave to seek medical treatment) possesses her body when she dies. That the Companion gains any sympathy from the viewer whatsoever despite this morally ambiguous act is to the credit of Elinor Donahue and Glenn Corbett, who played the out-of-time, isolated inventor as simply a common man in strange circumstances.
Next in part 2: Journey to Babel, A Piece of the Action, and The Mark of Gideon.