Guest actors on Star Trek who saved the day (part 2)

This post is a continuation of part 1. In short: The 1960’s television series Star Trek made excellent use of guest actors, sometimes to the point of being the saving grace of the episodes they were cast in.

Journey to Babel, by D.C. Fontana

Mark Lenard, a ship filled with aliens, and an alien spacecraft trying to destroy the Enterprise. What more could you ask for? Well, a fully believable plot, for one.

The Enterprise is ferrying alien dignitaries to a diplomatic conference, and the ship is attacked by a mysterious spacecraft. The aliens are bickering about the admission of planet Coridan to the Faderation, and Sarek, Spock’s father, is the prime suspect in the murder of the Andorian ambassador. Spock will not relinquish command in order to save his father’s life. (Apparently he feels he’s indispensable.) Sarek collapses, and his only chance involves Doctor McCoy committing surgery on his Vulcan heart. Kirk is only able to get Spock to leave the bridge to donate the required blood by using trickery that would have made Lucy Ricardo proud.

For a major surgery requiring lots of green Vulcan blood, the operation in sickbay is, as all surgery is in the future, completely bloodless, with Mark Lenard’s open chest hidden from the viewer. (Perhaps in the future all surgery is laparoscopic as a matter of course.) This probably had more to do with the NBC censors than anything else, but to my 2011 eyes, it drains the scenes of the operation of any feeling of jeopardy they might have had, despite being intercut with scenes of the intruder ship attacking the Enterprise.

While Mark Lenard’s dignified performance as Sarek is quite good (he would do even better acting work as Sarek later), the performances of Reggie Nalder and Jane Wyatt are what make Journey to Babel exceptional television.

Shras is the ambassador from Andoria, and his only short, but exceptional scene comes near the end of the story. When his blue-skinned character is speculating on the reasons his colleague would have been in communication with the alien ship, Reggie Nalder, who’d worked with Alfred Hitchcock and, briefly, Federico Fellini, delivers perhaps the most well-delivered line in the script. Sadly, Shras is, in the entire series, sadly our only view of any Andorian on a personal level.

Jane Wyatt as Amanda Grayson is the standout and saving grace of this episode. She demonstrates a serene, accepting understanding of Vulcans and Vulcan culture to the Captain, but reacts to Spock’s refusal to leave the bridge and donate blood to save his father’s life with disbelief and rage. In this scene, Amanda represents the viewer, showing that we’re not alone in finding this behavior inexplicable, and the story would probably collapse completely were it to be removed.

A Piece of the Action, by David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon, story by David P. Harmon

The Prime Directive may be unique to Star Trek in all of space opera. It’s a noble rule that the Federation uses in situations where they encounter less-advanced civilizations, preventing them from interfering with the development of a civilization. Several classic Star Trek stories were drawn from the difficulties this creates.

In this installment, the Enterprise’s planet of the week is Sigma Iotia II, where the Horizon, the last starship to visit, predated the Prime Directive. The influence on the local culture is dramatic and fun: The Iotian culture imitates 1920’s mob-dominated Chicago, following “the book”, a volume left behind by the crew of the Horizon.

Anthony Caroso, Vic Tayback, Lee Delano, and John Harmon all play convincing gangsters, but there’s no single standout here; it’s seeing the Enterprise crewmembers in this culture that I loved. Sheldon Collins of Andy Griffith fame has a memorable scene as a street kid, and Kirk making up a card game on the spot to bluff his way past several guards is my favorite scene in the episode.

That said, Anthony Caruso as Bela Okmyx and Vic Tayback as Jojo Krako, both major mob “bosses”, are great fun to watch. Of course, seeing Kirk and Spock in pinstriped suits asking for the Federation’s “cut” of the planet’s “action” is hilarious fun.

The Mark of Gideon, by George F. Slavin and Stanley Adams

The Captain beams down to the planet Gideon, a candidate for admission to the United Federation of Planets. Instead of appearing in the council room, he finds he hasn’t moved from the Enterprise transporter chamber; instead, he is now alone on the ship. While Sharon Acker does a good job as Odana, a woman who is the only other inhabitant of the ship, this episode’s standout guest performer is David Hurst as Ambassador Hodin, her father. He is a seemingly fussy and secretive man who is also leader of the planet Gideon.

In actuality, the Ambassador has kidnapped Kirk, and he is on a duplicate but non-functioning Enterprise, as part of a desperate plot that will help alleviate the planet of it’s crushing overpopulation. Creepy scenes of crowds of people looking into the “spacecraft” from outside set the viewer up for Hodin’s desperation. He’s prepared to sacrifice his own daughter in an attempt to spread disease among the planet’s nearly immortal inhabitants, and it’s to Hust’s credit that he’s able to convince the viewer of their urgent need for a solution, any solution.

This veteran of Mission Impossible was an excellent choice for a role that needed to convince the viewer that he was first a bumbling bureaucrat, then a straightforward but desperate and clever leader of a planet on the edge of collapse.


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