Star Trek: The Original Series – season three (1968-69)

SpectreoftheGun

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Original Series. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season three…

Best episode:
* Spectre of the Gun. With viewing figures unimpressive, NBC actually axed Star Trek after its second season. Then, at least in part due to an organised letter-writing campaign by fans, it was given another year – but on a smaller budget and in a less favourable time slot. Creator Gene Roddenberry also stepped away from the production. So season three has long had a crummy reputation, not least because of its lack of ambition. (In 24 episodes, they filmed on location just once.) The lack of money is evident in several episodes, but the one that sidesteps the problem the best is Spectre of the Gun, a brilliant take on the classic Hollywood Western. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) find themselves in an alien reconstruction of the Arizona town of Tombstone in October 1881. The Enterprise crew realise they’re the Clantons. The Earps are nearby and the scene is set for the Gunfight at the OK Corral… As they had to shoot this episode on a soundstage, and save cash, the production team decided to go surreal. The sets contain deliberately missing walls; the barriers between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are blurred; the sky is a vivid, bold red. It’s a brilliant effect, both heightening and supporting the script.

Honourable mentions:
* The Enterprise Incident. A tremendous espionage plot as Kirk and Spock are captured by a female Romulan officer (a watchable turn from guest star Joanna Linville), who then starts to fall for Mr Spock. There are plenty of twists and a spy-story structure.
* The Paradise Syndrome. An intensely odd episode, this. Kirk suffers from amnesia as he’s left behind on a planet populated by Native American types. He falls in love, marries, and grows sideburns in the months it takes for his colleagues to return and pick him up. (Downside: the near-constant incidental music gets irritating, and you also need to excuse a fair amount of naive 1960s racism.)
* Is There in Truth No Beauty? Ultimately a rather silly episode with some naff attitudes, but it contains a good guest appearance from Diane Muldaur (later a regular in Star Trek: The Next Generation) and a nicely disguised plot twist.
* Day of the Dove. A claustrophobic episode that sees the crew trapped on the Enterprise with a group of Klingons and an alien force that exaggerates negative and aggressive tendencies. The end is rather risible, though, as humans and Klingons alike down weapons, call a truce and burst into fake hearty laughter to outfox the alien entity.
* For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. Merits a place on this list just for its amazing, poetic title! It’s an engaging enough story about Dr McCoy falling terminally ill (spoiler: he gets better) and having a romance.
* Wink of an Eye. It’s an intriguing concept for a sci-fi episode (aliens move at a vastly higher speed, so are imperceptible to humans), but the season’s budget restrictions mean it’s another episode that’s dragged out by scenes on familiar sets.
* Whom Gods Destroy. By this point, we’re past the point of boredom with the powerful-yet-loopy-villain cliché, but this episode at least has a fun guest star (Batgirl Yvonne Craig), lots of doppelganger scenes (cue William Shatner acting opposite his body double) and a general air of oddness.
* Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Some rather hamfisted satire of race relations is made enjoyable by interesting guest characters (including one played by Frank Gorshin) and a tense sequence as Kirk threatens to destroy the Enterprise unless its control is returned to him.
* The Mark of Gideon. The meat of the story is a bit rancid – something about an arrogant race on an overpopulated planet – but Kirk being conned into thinking he’s on an abandoned Enterprise works well. (Spoiler: it’s actually a Truman Show-style recreation.) There are some surreal images and a strong subplot for Spock, who gets to act as both diplomat and detective.
* The Savage Curtain. A fun one, as Kirk meets his hero Abraham Lincoln (sort of). It gets a big eggy as the show a) rolls out another ‘war is bad’ metaphor, and b) yet again refuses to leave the soundstage for exterior scenes. But it’s enjoyable tosh.
* All Our Yesterdays. An enjoyable, if convoluted, concept episode. Visiting a strange library on an empty planet, Kirk is accidentally sent back in history – to a time similar to the earth’s 17th century. Spock and McCoy, meanwhile, are sent back even further and end up trapped in a harsh Ice Age wilderness. Being 5,000 years in the past begins to affect Spock’s psychology (somehow) and he becomes emotional…
* Turnabout Intruder. Star Trek’s final episode is one of its more ludicrous. A woman swaps bodies with Kirk, Freaky Friday-style. While playing the nefarious Dr Janice Lester masquerading as Kirk, Shatner overeggs it something rotten, but the gimmick plot works and it keeps the interest (which is more than can be said for many season-three episodes!).

Worst episode:
* The Way to Eden. Hippies. Hippies singing songs. Eugh.

Star Trek: The Original Series – season two (1967-68)

the-trouble-with-tribbles

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Original Series. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season two…

Best episode:
The Trouble with Tribbles. A terrific comedy episode, full of wit and class. Behind the scenes, there were worries the show was going too far into self-parody with this story, but there was no need for concern. The big hitters among Star Trek’s cast – William Shatner (Captain Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock) and DeForest Kelley (Dr McCoy) – were all capable comic actors, able to play funny scenes without undercutting the premise. (Thirty years later, spin-off show Deep Space Nine produced a tribute episode in which that show’s characters travel back in time and interact with the events of The Trouble with Tribbles. It’s an absolute marvel.)

Honorable mentions:
* The Changeling. It seems old-fashioned now, as many Stark Trek ideas do (because they’ve been copied so often), but this is a generally engaging episode about a computer that’s out to destroy all non-perfect life. Our heroes must, essentially, out-logic it to death. The less said the better, however, about the subplot where Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) has her memory wiped so must learn to read again!
* Mirror, Mirror. A fantastic, foot-to-the-throat thriller based on an imaginative idea: the Enterprises crosses into a parallel dimension where they meet their fascistic, sadistic and cynical counterparts (which obviously gives the regular cast a chance to have some fun). The concept has since been rehashed several times in other Star Trek series, but here it still feels fresh and very dangerous.
* The Doomsday Machine. A passable episode with a Moby Dick metaphor. (Rather than a whale, it’s a giant planet-killing entity from another dimension.)
* Catspaw. Another story about an all-powerful figure toying with lesser beings, which Star Trek was very keen on, but this episode has gothic trappings and fun guest characters. It perhaps loses its impact as it becomes more campy and hokey, especially when Kirk and Spock are menaced by a giant cat (ie, a normal cat filmed in such a way that we only see its enormous shadow).
* I, Mudd. Roger C Carmel returns as guest character Harry, who is now king of his own planet populated by androids, and is again an enjoyable presence. The episode contains the now-hoary idea that robots can be turned loopy if you confuse them.
Journey to Babel. There’s some good, meaty drama for Spock as we encounter his parents for the first time. His Vulcan father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), needs a blood transfusion but, with Kirk incapacitated, Spock feels his duty is to command the Enterprise rather than give blood. He should logically stay at his post.
The Deadly Years. A decent one. The key members of the crew are affected by a virus and begin to age artificially, which leads to Kirk having to be relieved of command when his memory starts to fail him. (This is one of several episodes that highlight the stupidity of sending a starship’s captain, first officer and chief medical officer on missions together!)
* Obsession. A simplistic plot, on which an engaging character drama about Kirk’s guilt for a long-ago catastrophe is hung.
* Wolf in the Fold. The famed Scotty-as-Jack-the-Ripper episode. It’s perhaps not as good as its reputation suggests (there are too many scenes of computers explaining the plot) but it whips up to a maniacal climax.
* A Piece of the Action. Near enough a comedy, but played and directed with a light touch. Not for the first time in Star Trek’s run, it’s a let’s-use-the-backlot episode: standing sets are used for an alien planet that has modelled its whole society on Al Capone-era gangsters. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy revel in the gangster idiom and are great at playing their respective characters’ differing reactions to the situation.
* Patterns of Force. Another episode where the Enterprise stumbles across an alien world that’s oddly similar to an era of Earth history (which allows the production to save some money by shooting of pre-existing sets). This time, Kirk and co go looking for a long-missing Starfleet officer and find him as the leader of an ersatz Nazi Party. It’s a gripping episode with something to say and some surprise turns.
* The Ultimate Computer. Kirk feels threatened when an ‘AI captain’ is roadtested on the Enterprise. Not the best, but it contains a wistful scene where Kirk romantically ponders the golden era of sail (quoting John Masefield’s poem Sea-Fever: ‘And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by’). Co-stars Blacula himself, William Marshall.
* Bread and Circuses. *Yet again*, the Enterprise discovers an alien culture modelled on a period of Earth history. This time: Ancient Rome, though an Ancient Rome where people have technology and guns. It’s clunky at times but generally enjoyable and contains – gleefully – a satire of the television industry when we see behind the scenes at the gladiator contests. Also, Spock and McCoy share a lovely heart-to-heart scene.
* Assignment: Earth. Not the most nuanced or fluid piece of television you’ll ever see, but interesting for its minor place in Star Trek history. A back-door pilot for a spin-off show that never happened, this episode spends a lot of time seeding the potential new characters, such as the enigmatic Gary Seven, his secretary, his intelligent cat and his idiosyncratic computer.

Worst episode:
The Apple. A boring, naff episode about the crew wandering around a soundstage jungle set and encountering hippies who don’t know what love or sex are.

Star Trek: The Original Series – season one (1966-67)

james_kirk_embraces_janice_rand

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of the original Star Trek TV series. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season one…

Best episode:
Balance of Terror. The debut of the militaristic Romulans in Star Trek is a terrific episode that plays like a submarine movie. The Starship Enterprise stalks a Romulan ship in the Neutral Zone between the two empires’ territories and the story is tense and exciting. There are also subplots and an interesting villain and telling character moments. Superb.

Honorable mentions:
The Naked Time. A fun, early episode that sees the regular crew go a bit loopy after being affected by a virus. It’s well paced and has good stuff for both Sulu (George Takei), who gets some gleeful scenes where he fences topless, and Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who struggles with his human/Vulcanian psychology.
* The Enemy Within. The central concept has become a sci-fi cliché – due to a transporter accident, an evil doppelgänger of Captain Kirk is let loose on the Enterprise – but it’s very well done here. William Shatner hams it up as the evil Kirk and there’s a ticking-clock element to the plot thanks to some crewmen stranded on a desolate planet below.
* Mudd’s Women. It’s not exactly ‘woke’, being a story about a charlatan selling women to miners, but Roger C Carmel is very entertaining as the lead guest character: the flamboyant and verbose Harcourt Fenton Mudd.
* Miri. The first really great episode. (Balance of Terror wasn’t broadcast until after this one.) A set of enigmas is set up – a planet that looks identical to Earth, a society that seems to be stuck in the 1930s, no adults anywhere to be seen – then a plot with a countdown is kicked into gear. There’s good drama along the way and it’s well directed too. The subtext of the story is that, after puberty, people do ‘bad things’.
* The Menagerie (Parts I & II). An ingenious way to save some production budget by reusing footage from Star Trek’s then-unbroadcast pilot episode, The Cage, as a flashback story. The wraparound scenes have mystery and intrigue because Spock is acting so out of character.
* The Conscience of the King. An effective – if thoroughly prediactable – drama about an actor who may be a mass murderer in hiding. There are plenty of Shakespearean parallels and quotations, such as the title.
* Shore Leave. The regular characters spend some time on a planet but start to hallucinate and undergo personality changes. Fun and surreal, if lightweight.
* The Galileo Seven. A superb showcase for both Mr Spock – the show’s most fascinating character – and the actor who played him. The story sees Spock, Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelly), Scotty (James Doohan) and others stranded on a planet with no way of contacting the Enterprise. There’s a monster nearby, deaths within the group, and dissention in the ranks…
* Tomorrow is Yesterday. A fun time-travel story (Star Trek’s first ever) sees the Enterprise end up above 1960s America and encountering an Air Force test pilot. The script has a good sense of humour.
* Space Seed. An entertaining episode about a megomaniac from the 1990s coming out of suspended animation. (The second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, is a direct sequel.)
* A Taste of Armageddon. A society is killing its own people as part of a deal with its enemy, rather than the two states launching actual attacks. A decent story about the futility of war.
* This Side of Paradise. A good episode for Spock, who’s pacified by a weird spore and then has a romance. (It’s kind of a druggie/hippie metaphor, I guess.) The only way Kirk can shake him out of his ennui is by provoking an emotional response.
* Errand of Mercy. Kirk and Spock are stranded on a planet under Klingon occupation. Engaging stuff. (This is the Klingons’ first appearance in Star Trek.)
* The City on the Edge of Forever. It’s contrived, and needs a lot of sci-fi set-up, but this is a brilliant time-travel tragedy with a good guest performance from Joan Collins. When a disturbed Dr McCoy is flung back into 20th-century America, Kirk and Spock must give chase. There’s lots of future-men-out-of-water stuff as the two men adapt to a more basic lifestyle, then the tragic ending really packs a punch.

Worst episode:
The Squire of Gothos. It’s become such a cliché in science fiction: a capricious, arrogant, sociopathic god-like figure toys with people because he’s bored. And as well as being boring and irritating, this example gets its history wrong and has a dreadful deus ex machina ending.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991, Nicholas Meyer)

UndiscoveredCountry

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A delicate peace negotiation has begun between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The Enterprise is sent to collect the Klingon Chancellor, but when he’s assassinated the blame falls on Captain Kirk…

We don’t get the full “Space, the final frontier…” narration, but Kirk paraphrases it at the end of the film when he says the new Enterprise crew will, “continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man – where no one – has gone before.”

Regulars: At the start, Kirk is called to a secret meeting of Federation bigwigs, while he and his crew are due to stand down in three months. He doesn’t trust the Klingons and can’t forgive them for his son’s death three films earlier. After Gorkon’s murder, Kirk is arrested, put on trial and sent to a Klingon penal colony. At that special meeting, Spock reveals he is the Federation’s envoy and has been seeking peace with the Klingons – Kirk’s not happy about this. During the mission, Spock acts as mentor to Vulcan officer Valeris, grooming her to be his replacement. He gets to play Poirot after the assassination, putting the clues together to work out what happened (or should I say Sherlock, given that he quotes the maxim about eliminating the impossible?). He’s indignant when he realises Valeris is a traitor. When the Klingons are on board, McCoy toasts them during the meal, then later beams aboard their ship to help with casualties (a rare scene of Bones being a doctor) but is arrested and convicted of the assassination. Sulu is not part of the Enterprise crew any more – he’s now a captain and, for three years, has been in command of the USS Excelsior. The ship witnesses the explosion of the Klingon moon that kick-starts the plot, then later Sulu disobeys orders in order to help Kirk. (Janice Rand from the TV show and some early movies is one of the Excelsior’s crewmembers.) Chekov gets a hangover after the meal with the Klingons, then later finds the blood that proves the killers are aboard the Enterprise. Uhura is disgusted by the Klingons’ eating habits, invents static to explain why the crew are ignoring messages from HQ, and suggests using the ship’s new equipment to detect a cloaked ship. Scotty has just bought a boat for his retirement, conspires to pretend the Enterprise is damaged so they can avoid going home, and shoots the assassin at the end before he can kill Valeris.

Guests: The Klingon chancellor, Gorkon, is played by David Warner, who was also in the previous film. Mark Lenard returns briefly as Sarek. Valeris is played by Kim Cattrall – post-Porkies/Police Academy/Mannequin, pre-Sex and the City. The part was originally meant to be Saavik, last seen in The Voyage Home, but then rewritten as another Vulcan. Christopher Plummer hams it up entertainingly as Shakespeare-loving Klingon provocateur Chang. Iman plays shape-changing prisoner Martia. Michael Dorn, who was by now a regular in Star Trek: The Next Generation, appears as a lawyer at Kirk and McCoy’s trial: he’s meant to be his Next Gen character’s ancestor, it seems.

Best bits:

* Sulu’s got his own ship!

* The energy wave hitting the Excelsior.

* Spock vouching for Kirk.

* Valeris denies she’s ‘proud’ that she graduated at the top of her class. “She’s a Vulcan all right,” quips McCoy.

* The dinner scene – the Klingons unsure of etiquette, everyone uneasy, tension constantly under the surface.

* The Klingon ship losing its artificial gravity, and the Klingon blood floating around.

* McCoy passionately trying to save Gorkon’s life.

* The Federation president’s office – which is in Paris, judging by the backdrop visible out of the window – is decorated with some lovely knickknacks: an Art Deco lamp, an ornate desk, etc.

* Valeris’s story about the origin of the word sabotage.

* The harshly lit show trial (and its cinematic trick for getting everyone speaking English).

* During the trial, McCoy is asked what his current medical status is. “Aside from a touch of arthritis, I’d say pretty good,” he jokes, momentarily enjoying the laughter from the galleries.

* Prison planet Rura Penthe has guard dogs with massive saber-toothed mouths (domestic dogs wearing masks, in other words).

* The prison has a huge variety of aliens – an attempt to out-cantina-scene Star Wars’s catina scene?

* Spock: “If I know the captain, by this time he is deep into planning his escape.” Cut to: Kirk being punching during a prison brawl.

* Christian Slater’s cameo as s Starfleet crewmember. (His mum was the movie’s casting director.)

* The look on Kirk’s face when he realises a big, ugly monster is actually Martia.

* Chekov triumphantly announcing that crewman Dax is the murderer… then Spock pointing out that Dax’s webbed feet mean he can’t have wore the incriminating boots. (Has this guy ever been ‘retconned’ as an early incarnation of Dax from Deep Space Nine, I wonder?)

* The locations used for the snow-covered surface of Rura Penthe.

* The crew anxiously searching through Klingon translation guides and dictionaries as they ineptly reply to a listening post’s radio message.

* Martia shape-changes into Kirk, so William Shatner gets to do a scene with himself. “Can’t believe I kissed you!” “Must have been your lifelong ambition!”

* Kirk and McCoy being beamed to safety *just* before the Klingon commander is about to reveal who framed them. (“Son of a –”)

* Valeris is a traitor!

* Spock’s forced mind-meld with Valeris is very nasty (we’re getting into rape-metaphor territory here, right?).

* Kirk and Spock’s quiet discussion about age, regrets, mistakes and what it means to be human.

* When the crew are ordered to return to space dock so the Enterprise can be decommissioned, Spock says, “If I were human, I believe my response would be ‘Go to hell.’” Chekov then asks Kirk for a heading. Smiling, the captain quotes Peter Pan: “Second star to the right and straight on till morning.”

TV tie-in: For Star Trek’s 30th anniversary in 1996, Star Trek: Voyager produced an episode called Flashback. It restaged some of The Undiscovered Country’s scenes aboard the Excelsior and filmed new material around them. Sulu and Rand popped up for cameos. Fun on a fan-boy level, it’s a pretty tatty piece of drama.

Review: We geeks tend to revere The Wrath of Khan, but this is equally as impressive. Both films were directed by Nicholas Meyer, surely no coincidence. The Undiscovered Country has a very smartly structured plot – it zips along and builds to a terrific climax. Along the way, we get a mystery element, plenty of character and lots of action. At the heart of it is a Cold War analogy with the Klingons as the decaying, bankrupt, defeated USSR. It was a brave move, therefore, to make our regulars (representing the USA, in effect) so prejudiced. Early on, Kirk says of the Klingons, “They’re animals… Don’t believe them, don’t trust them… Let them die.” When the diplomatic party is invited aboard the Enterprise, Chekov has the line “Guess who’s coming to dinner…” (racially loaded dialogue originally given to Uhura, but the actress refused to say it). Kirk implies his guests are analogous to the Nazis. And there are crewmembers who say Klingons all look alike. But by being so blunt, the film has an edge – and a dramatic complexity. The regulars have a moral journey, rather than being stuck in their opinions. There’s also a general sense that this is the end (not for the first time in this run of films, it has to be said). There’s talk of retirement for the characters and the ship being decommissioned. The movie ends with a postmodern flourish: the signatures of the seven main regulars unfold on screen one at a time. Next time, we’ll have a whole new crew to get to know.

Ten dogs of war out of 10.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989, William Shatner)

FinalFrontier

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When a mysterious Vulcan called Sybok takes three diplomats hostage, Captain Kirk and his crew are sent to the ‘Planet of Galactic Peace’ to rescue them…

Regulars: Kirk is back to being ‘Captain Kirk’ for the first time since the TV series (or the animated series, I suppose). As the story begins, he’s on a rock-climbing holiday in Yosemite National Park. When Spock asks why he’s scaling a mountain, Kirk gives the standard ‘Because it’s there’ answer. Later on, he misses his old captain’s chair, not liking the new Enterprise’s version, and gets to shout down God. Spock is on the shore-leave holiday too, struggling to understand what the lyrics of Row, Row, Row Your Boat mean (though he later learns how to play the tune on a Vulcan lute). When the plot kicks into gear, he’s shocked to discover that the antagonist is Sybok, who shows Spock a vision of his own birth in an attempt to recruit him to the cause. Dr McCoy is on that holiday too – getting nervous as he watches Kirk traverse a rock face. It’s odd how rarely Bones gets to do any doctoring in these films; he acts more like Kirk’s consigliere. When Sybok tries to turn him, an emotional McCoy is shown a representation of his dying father. Scotty, meanwhile, is worried about the state of the new Enterprise (“She’s got a fine engine, but half the doors won’t open!”). He’s also seemingly developed a relationship with Uhura since the previous movie. At the start of the film, Sulu and Chekov are on a hiking trip, but are feeling embarrassed because they’ve got lost. Later on, Chekov gets to pretend to be the captain in an attempt to stall Sybok, while Uhura performs a bizarre dance routine to distract some bandits on Nimbus III. The two of them and Sulu then fall under Sybok’s spell.

Guests: David Warner – an actor who can do no wrong, if you ask me – plays Federation representative St John Talbot. He smokes, calls his Romulan counterpart ‘my dear’ a lot, and is fantastically louche. Sadly, though, after a few early scenes he spends most of the film standing around and taking no real part in the story. Laurence Luckibill plays Sybok (a ‘passionate Vulcan’, as McCoy describes him). It’s a good, charming performance of an interesting character: a man more deluded than evil. (The part was written with the hope of casting Sean Connery, according to the internet.)

Best bits:

* The atmospheric surface of Nimbus III – a cracked desert, sand in the air, a rotting tree and a bald man drilling for water. All very Mad Max 2. Sybok riding into shot is a lovely image. Paradise City, which we see later, is just as good. It feels like a textured, decaying frontier town.

* Spock, wearing anti-gravity boots, coolly levitating up to Kirk as the latter climbs the mountain.

* Kirk loosing his grip and falling of the mountain, and Spock nose-diving down to catch him.

* Chekov blowing on the communicator to try to trick Uhura into thinking he and Sulu are trapped in a storm.

* Kirk, Spock and McCoy’s fireside chat, meal and singsong.

* There’s a splendid long take as Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Uhura’s shuttle comes to rest in a docking bay, they get off and have a chat with Scotty, and the three men get into a lift to continue the scene.

* The Enterprise’s observation deck with its sailing ship’s wheel.

* “Hold your horse,” Spock says to Kirk when he asks him a question *while they’re riding horses*.

* A triple-breasted nightclub dancer attacks Kirk so he throws her into a liquid pool table.

* The reveal that the hostages are in on the deception.

* Kirk is pleading with Sybok not to force their shuttlecraft onto the Enterprise because some Klingons are nearby and may attack. “In order for this craft to enter the landing bay, Enterprise must lower the shields and activate the tractor beam. To get us inside and re-raise the shields will take…” He looks to Spock, who deadpans, “Exactly 15.5 seconds.” “An eternity,” Kirk says, not missing a beat.

* Emergency landing plan B. (“B, as in barricade.”)

* Spock refusing – or perhaps being unable – to shoot Sybok.

* The revelation that Sybok is Spock’s brother, which comes during a terrific scene between Spock, Kirk and McCoy while they’re locked in a cell. Plot, character, conflict and comedy all happening at the same time.

* Kirk, Spock and McCoy deciphering some Morse code coming through their cell’s wall. Kirk: “That’s an S… a T… A… N… er, D. End of word. New word: B… A… erm…” Spock: “C.K.” McCoy: “Back.” All: “Stand back!” The wall then explodes.

* “I know this ship like the back of my hand…” Even if you’d never seen this film you could probably guess the punchline.

* Kirk and McCoy laboriously climbing a very tall ladder. Spock leaves them to it, then floats into view on his anti-gravity boots.

* “Well, don’t just stand there,” says Kirk, striding off the bridge to head to the planet. “God’s a busy man.”

* “Excuse me, I’d just like to ask a question,” says Kirk when the being they’ve found at the centre of the universe is pontificating. “What does God need with a starship?” (McCoy: “Jim, you don’t ask for the Almighty’s ID!”)

* Kirk is stranded on the planet with ‘God’ closing in on him… when a Klingon Bird-of-Prey shows up to save him.

* Kirk goes to hug Spock. “Please, Captain, not in front of the Klingons.”

TV tie-in: There was no mention of Spock having a brother when his parents, Sarek and Amanda, first appeared in Star Trek. They showed up in an episode of the original TV show called Journey to Babel, which I rewatched alongside The Final Frontier. It includes political intrigue, moral dilemmas and generation-gap drama.

Review: Much maligned, this is more enjoyable than its reputation suggests. There’s great comic chemistry between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, while good fun is mined from the Enterprise being new and untested. William Shatner, directing Star Trek for the only time, also gives us some fantastic images and sequences – the ‘visions’ scene is especially well staged, as is all the stuff filmed on location. But the movie rarely feels ‘epic’, some special effects are on the dodgy side, there’s a lacklustre final act, and the dull Klingon threat feels arbitrarily bolted on to the main story. The most interesting thing about the movie might be its moral complexity. Kirk gets the key line when Sybok attempts to ‘turn’ him by purging him of any negativity. “I don’t want my pain taken away,” he says. “I need my pain.” Sybok and his followers are literally searching for heavenly serenity, but are therefore believing in a lie. Kirk knows the necessity of living in the real (flawed) world. In this way, whether intentionally or not, the film is quietly subversive.

Seven ‘Go climb a rock’ T-shirts out of 10.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986, Leonard Nimoy)

VoyageHome

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The crew head to Earth in a stolen Klingon Bird-of-Prey after the events of the previous film – but the planet is under siege from an alien probe, which demands to speak to a species of whale that is now extinct. So Kirk decides to time-travel in order to find one…

Regulars: Kirk and his crew are in exile on Vulcan as the film begins, but vote unanimously to return home to face trial for mutiny. When they later get to 1986, Kirk and Spock track down some whales – a mission that allows them time to bond again. Spock, meanwhile, has lost his uniform (understandable, given what he’s been through) so spends the film in a white robe. He’s still trying to find his way after his resurrection, and declines to call Kirk ‘Jim’. Dr McCoy has doubts about the Vulcan and voices them privately to Kirk, saying Spock is “not exactly working on all thrusters!” Once in the 80s, McCoy, Scotty and Sulu’s mission is to source and build a tank capable of holding the whales for the trip back to 2286. In a hospital scene later on, Bones dishes out pills to a woman on a gurney and is generally appalled by 20th-century medicine. During the time-travel journey, Sulu gets to dramatically announce the increasing speed (“Warp two! Warp three!”), then in 1986 has fun finding and stealing a helicopter. Chekov and Uhura, meanwhile, are sent off to find a nuclear reactor in order to refuel the Bird-of-Prey. Chekov is arrested by the military after being caught on an aircraft carrier (playfully said to be the real-life USS Enterprise, although another ship was used for the filming). Saavik is again played by Robin Curtis. Before being left behind on Vulcan, she has one short scene with Kirk and Spock: there’s clearly something going on between the three that’s left unsaid (she’s pregnant with Spock’s child, according to the film’s writers). Majel Barrett gets a laughably prominent credit in the opening titles for a tiny role as Christine Chapel, while Janice Rand appears very briefly too.

Guest stars: Mark Lenard returns as Sarek. Jane Wyatt plays Amanda, Sarek’s wife and Spock’s mother; she has a scene with her son where she tries to help him with his post-death confusion. The main guest star is Catherine Hicks, who plays Dr Gillian Taylor, the assistant director of San Francisco’s Cetacean Institute. She’s a bit wet, but there’s chemistry between her and Kirk – even if it’s not romance of the century or anything.

Best bits:

* The ominous, musical sound the probe makes.

* The white-haired dude with the Fu Manchu beard on board the Saratoga.

* For the second film running, characters refresh their memories of the last movie by watching clips from it.

* McCoy has renamed the stolen Klingon ship HMS Bounty. The wag.

* The stuff on Vulcan is a lovely mix of location and studio, matte paintings and sepia lighting.

* Spock’s test, answering quick-fire questions on a range of topics, is brought to a halt by “How did you feel?”

* Oh! I’ve never twigged before that the Federation officer on the screen is Vijay Amritraj off of Octopussy.

* McCoy trying to chit-chat with Spock, who takes his banter literally then is distracted by his earpiece. “Forgive me, Doctor, I’m receiving a number of distress calls.” McCoy, wearily: “I don’t doubt it.”

* There are some great model shots throughout, but the Golden Gate Bridge during the storm is especially brilliant.

* The crew going to maximum warp in order to slingshot around the sun.

* The *bonkers* dreamlike sequence as they time-travel – we get surreal imagery and unsettling snatches of dialogue – which oddly doesn’t happen when they return to their own time later.

* To hide his Vulcan ears, Spock ties his cotton belt round his head, karate-style.

* The cloaked Bird-of-Prey landing in a San Francisco park. First a bin is invisibly squashed, then a section of grass is pushed down by the ship’s leg. Two nearby dustmen run off in fear.

* “Everybody remember where we parked,” quips Kirk as he and the crew leave the ship.

* The scene of the crew on a bustling 1986 San Francisco street. A driver nearly knocks Kirk over and calls him a dumbass. “Double dumbass on you!” replies Kirk.

* Kirk pawns the spectacles McCoy gave him in The Wrath of Khan so the crew can have some cash. When Spock asks, “Weren’t they a present?”, Kirk smiles: “They will be again, that’s the beauty of it.”

* While Spock methodically uses logic, coordinates and a nearby map to track down the whales, Kirk sees them advertised on the side of a passing bus.

* Spock dealing with a rude punk on a bus by using the Vulcan nerve-pinch. The other passengers applaud.

* Spock sneaking into the whales’ tank at the institute and swimming around while an oblivious Gillian talks to a tour group. Kirk’s expression when he spots Spock – shame, embarrassment, worry – is very funny.

* Spock’s attempt at swearing. “The hell they did.”

* Scotty and McCoy bullshitting their way into the Plexiglas plant.

* “Hello, computer!”

* Kirk’s nod of approval after taking his first sip of 1986 beer.

* “No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.”

* Chekov being chased though the huge hanger of the aircraft carrier.

* Sulu flying the helicopter… and accidentally switching on the windscreen wipers.

* The woman who, thanks to Dr McCoy’s futuristic pills, has grown a new kidney in about five minutes.

* Though not accused of any crime, Spock insists on standing alongside his crewmates at their trial.

* The phenomenally predictable reveal of the name of the new ship to which the crew are assigned at the end.

TV tie-in: The crew first time-travelled in a TV episode called Tomorrow is Yesterday. It’s a fun and pacey story about a 1960s US Air Force pilot who’s beamed aboard the Enterprise when our characters are accidentally sent into the past. The slingshot-round-the-sun technique used to get the home was reprised in The Voyage Home.

Review: A probe heading for Earth and demanding a response is the same basic storyline as Star Trek: The Motion Picture – and like that film, The Voyage Home doesn’t have an actual villain – but there’s a galaxy of difference between the two films. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, this is Star Trek as comedy-drama. It’s lighthearted without being flippant, charming without being twee, and is thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining. Once the lead characters have time-travelled to what was then modern-day America, the film is quite leisurely for a while. But then the complications and ticking clocks pile up. Meanwhile, the movie is incredibly light on its feet and is not afraid to poke fun at itself. The fish-out-of-water stuff is generally a hoot – and it’s easy to imagine the cast, now feeling like a real gang, having a blast with the script. The movie is the third part of a continuous trilogy that began with The Wrath of Khan – and is *enormous* fun.

Nine nuclear wessels out of 10.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984, Leonard Nimoy)

SearchForSpock

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After the events of the previous film, the Enterprise crew head home and the ship is decommissioned. But then Kirk learns that Spock’s corpse may be the key to bringing him back to life…

We get the “Space, the final frontier…” narration at the beginning of the movie this time – again voiced by Leonard Nimoy, it has the same wording as the version in The Wrath of Khan.

Regulars: At the start of the film, Kirk is grieving for his old friend then loses his beloved ship. When he’s told there’s a way to resurrect Spock – and cure McCoy of his apparent madness – he mutinies and returns to the Genesis planet. Spock, of course, died at the end of the last film. But because his body was laid to rest on a planet being artificially created from scratch, he’s being regenerated. An accelerated aging process means that the character is played by four young actors before Nimoy takes over. (This plot conveniently allowed Nimoy the time to direct the film.) Dr McCoy is acting very strangely to begin with – he’s found dazed and rambling in Spock’s old quarters, and increasingly speaks like his old sparring partner (a result of the mind-meld seen at the end of film two). Scotty says that repairs to the Enterprise will take eight weeks, but in order to maintain his “reputation as a miracle worker” he’ll do them in two. Sulu gets a fun moment in the limelight, helping Kirk break McCoy out of a holding cell. “Don’t call me Tiny,” he says to a huge guard he’s just beaten up. When a young twatty officer suggests Uhura is over the hill, she gives him the dead-eye then forces him to hide in a cupboard. She doesn’t go on the main mission, instead meeting the others on Vulcan at the end. Chekov is less featured than the others, having had a subplot in The Wrath of Khan, though he does take part in initiating the Enterprise’s self-destruct sequence. Saavik, meanwhile, has been recast. Apparently, Kirstie Alley didn’t have an option for sequels in her contract so was free to ask for more money. I’d have paid up, but Nimoy and the producers instead replaced her with Robin Curtis, who lacks Alley’s bravado and plays Saavik much more straight. Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Rand in the original series) has a mute cameo, but it’s not clear if if’s meant to be Rand or not.

Guest stars: Mark Lenard reprises Sarek, Spock’s ambassador father, who he’d played in the TV show. Merritt Butrick is back from the previous film as Kirk’s son, David. Dame Judith Anderson (credited as such) rotes out some hokum during the Vulcan ritual at the end. Christopher Lloyd (“Marty!”) is the story’s chief villain, an entertaining Klingon called Kruge, though it’s actually the B-plot rather than the movie’s main thrust.

Best bits:

* The Klingon Bird-of-Prey uncloaking right in top of the ship it’s meeting.

* The vast interior of the Starfleet space station.

* Kirk hearing Spock’s voice in his quarters, but finding McCoy sitting there.

* Kirk, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov toasting “Absent friends” – then Sarek showing up unexpectedly.

* Kirk asks for permission to go to the Genesis planet to retrieve Spock. “The word is no,” he later reports to Sulu. “I am therefore going anyway.” (You can clock the moment he decides to disobey orders: it’s highlighted by a slow push-in close-up of Shatner.)

* The scene in the bar – McCoy absentmindedly talking like a Vulcan, the sci-fi waitress, the alien with the big ears and the Yoda-like dialogue…

* “How many fingers am I holding up?” Kirk asks McCoy while making the Vulcan hand gesture.

* “Up your shaft!” Scotty sarcastically mumbles to an automatic voice in a lift.

* The cheesy but lovely moment when Kirk tells Scotty, Sulu and Chekov that they needn’t come on the mission – and they stand firm.

* Everyone being taken aback when McCoy (dubbed by Nimoy) talks like Spock on the bridge.

* That rubbing-each-other’s-fingers-together thing that Saavik and Spock do is just filthy, right?

* When the Enterprise goes to ‘red alert’, the only people on the entire ship are all together on the bridge. It did remind me of that joke in Red Dwarf VI about changing the bulb.

* Kirk collapsing when he learns that his son has been murdered.

* The scuttling of the Enterprise, and the regulars watching its destruction from a cliff top.

* Kirk and Kruge’s fight as the planet disintegrates around them.

* McCoy’s quiet admittance that he couldn’t stand to lose Spock again.

* Spock, now finally played by Nimoy after the ceremony, asks why Kirk went to so much trouble for him. “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many,” he says, wittily referencing the key dialogue of the previous movie.

TV tie-in: Sarek later cropped up in an eponymous episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He’s aboard the Enterprise and, due to a condition that affects 200-year-old Vulcans, everyone nearby is getting angry and tetchy. It takes the crew far too long to twig that something strange is going on.

Review: This is a direct sequel to The Wrath of Khan. We begin with a recap of that film’s climax and then find the characters in mourning. Therefore it’s refreshingly character-driven. Christopher Lloyd’s bad guy is a complication to the plot rather than the focus of it – the story is actually about Kirk’s passionate quest to resurrect Spock. Perhaps the film is directed a tad more orthodoxly than The Wrath of Khan, but it’s still slick and engaging. And it’s often a lot of fun, especially during the jailbreak sequence. This is also the first time that secondary crewmembers Scotty, Uhura and Sulu get proper opportunities to shine: if it weren’t for the TV series, you’d never guess from the first two films that these were meant to be regular characters. This time, everyone feels part of a defined ensemble (even if, obviously, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are more heavily featured). Entertaining stuff.

Eight Pon farrs out of 10.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer)

WrathofKhan

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When Khan Noonien Singh escapes the planet he was marooned on by James T Kirk 15 years earlier, he seeks his revenge…

For the first time in this film series, we hear Star Trek’s famous narration. It’s voiced by Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and appears at the end of the movie. The wording is: “Space, the final frontier. These are the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before…”

Regulars: As the film begins, Kirk is training recruits rather than commanding a starship because “galloping round the cosmos is a game for the young.” It’s also his birthday: another reminder that he’s getting on a bit. Ghosts from his past – his ex, his son, a former foe – dominate the story. Spock gives Kirk a copy of A Tale of Two Cities for his birthday, then counsels him to take command when the crisis begins. We also see Spock meditating in his quarters. At the climax, he risks – and loses – his life to save the Enterprise from a reactor overload. Dr McCoy gives Kirk some reading glasses and a bottle of Romulan ale as presents, and has a classic squabble about morality with Spock (“You green-blooded, inhuman–”). Chekov is now first officer on the starship Reliant, which is searching for a test site for the Genesis project. When they stumble across Khan and his followers, Chekov seems to remember the events of Space Seed (the TV episode that introduced Khan) even though it was made before actor Walter Koenig joined the show. Along with his new captain, Chekov is captured by Khan and forced to help him. During a battle, Scotty is so cut up by the severe injuries to a colleague that he carries the burnt body up to the bridge; he later plays the bagpipes (!) at Spock’s funeral. Sulu and Uhura are still basically just background characters who get the odd line of perfunctory dialogue. The Enterprise has a new crewmember, though – Vulcan officer Saavik, played by Kirstie Alley. She’s uptight, naïve, inexperienced and quotes regulations. (When Alley was in Cheers a few years later, she was an enormous adolescent crush of mine.)

Guest stars: Bibi Besch plays Carol Marcus, a Genesis scientist and old flame of Kirk’s. Their son, David, is played by Merritt Butrick. Carol has some nice scenes with Kirk, but David is very bland. Paul Winfield off of The Terminator appears as Terrell, the captain of the Reliant. The main guest star is Ricardo Montalban, who reprises Khan from the TV series. He’s a raving loon with a giant intellect and superhuman strength who likes showing off his tits.

Best bits:

* James Horner’s music, especially the opening theme.

* The first shot of Saavik: she spins round in the captain’s chair to face the camera. Sex. On. A. Stick.

* The Kobayashi Maru training session, with its apparent injuries/deaths to regular characters. The reveal it’s a simulation comes with an arch, backlit shot of Kirk striding in.

* “Aren’t you dead?” Kirk jokes to Spock early on – a deliberate foreshadowing.

* Kirk’s flat, with its view of San Francisco Bay and maritime antiques on the walls.

* The surface of Ceti Alpha V (Khan’s planet) – disorientating sandstorms, hazy sun, weird rocks: all achieved on a sound stage.

* The little slug thing going inside Chekov’s ear. Urgh. (It’s even more unsettling when it later crawls out.)

* Saavik observes that Kirk is “so… human.” Spock replies: “Nobody’s perfect.”

* A cute circular camera move arcing around the Genesis scientists as the have an argument.

* The fact that Khan puts on a Starfleet jacket when he takes over the Reliant.

* The Genesis demonstration film – some groundbreaking special effects.

* The Reliant attacking the Enterprise, and then Kirk realizing Khan’s on board.

* The horror-movie shock of McCoy bumping into a corpse hanging from the ceiling.

* The twist that Chekov and Terrell are still under Khan’s thrall.

* “KHAAAN! KHAAAN!”

* Kirk admitting he cheated at the Kobayashi Maru test, which is immediately followed by the revelation that he’s done a similar thing with Khan’s trap.

* The two ships in the nebula cloud. Unable to see each other, they stalk silently like submarines. Very tense stuff.

* “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?!”

* Spock’s death scene.

* The shot of Spock’s coffin in a newly grown jungle on the Genesis planet: a teaser for the next movie…

TV tie-in: Space Seed from the original TV show’s opening season is a good little episode. The Enterprise crew find a ship containing cryogenically frozen people. Their leader, Khan Noonien Singh, awakens and attempts to take over with the help of an Enterprise crewmember, Marla, who’s fallen under his spell. Marla goes off with Khan to an empty planet at the end of the episode. By the time of The Wrath of Khan, however, she’s died. Cutely, Space Seed concludes with Spock wondering what the planet would be like if they returned to it many years in the future…

Review: There’s so much more life, energy and depth to this than there was in The Motion Picture. It’s just in a different class. Famously, Spock’s sacrifice at the end packs a real punch (even when you know full well he’s coming back!). William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are both excellent in their characters’ final moment together. And the fact that the key dialogue from this scene – “The needs of the many,” etc – has been seeded earlier in the film is a great example of how smart the script it. For a kick-off, rather than the first film’s simplistic story, this has a great ‘movie’ plot. The Genesis project both ignites Khan’s journey and is vital to his actions, while there are plenty of character insights, which are always integral. There’s the running theme of Kirk’s age, for example. He has a birthday, feels over-the-hill, meets his son, and loses his best friend. The entire film is about his past catching up with him. It might be strange that Kirk and Khan never actually meet, aside from one chat over a vid-screen, but it’s also great to have a proper villain. Meanwhile, the look of the film is simply wonderful. The slick Starfleet sets and costumes, the grotty cargo container on Ceti Alpha V, Khan and his Mad Max-style gang – these designs are always plausible, interesting and full of telling details that imply back-story. This film is engaging, witty, dramatic and never dull.

Ten no-win scenarios out of 10.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979, Robert Wise)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

MotionPicture

A bizarre and dangerous space cloud is heading for Earth, so a recently refitted USS Enterprise – again commanded by its old captain, James T Kirk – is sent to investigate…

Regulars: Kirk is now an admiral, Earthbound, and rather stern. He quickly takes over the Enterprise, the only available ship, when the crisis occurs and clashes with its captain, who he demotes. Spock begins the movie on Vulcan, taking part in a ritual to purge any emotional tendencies or something – when we first see him, he has a haircut like Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead, but he’s changed it by the time he turns up on the Enterprise at the 47-minute mark. Dr McCoy is on fine grumpy form after Kirk drafts him out of retirement for the mission – he gets all the best lines and acts as much as Kirk’s counsellor as a medical doctor. Scotty’s been refitting the ship for 18 months and is worried that it hasn’t had a ‘shakedown’ test run yet. Chekov at least gets a cheeky smile when he first sees Ilia and is later injured; Uhura and Sulu have only functional lines and are, in effect, extras with minimal dialogue. Majel Barrett reprises her TV role of Christine Chapel (and is credited as if part of the main crew), as does Grace Lee Whitney as Yeoman Rand.

Guest stars: Stephen Collins (All the President’s Men, Brewster’s Millions, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, recent news stories about being a paedophile) plays Will Decker, the guy who Kirk pushes aside to assume command. Persis Khambatta shaved her head bald to play Ilia, a Deltan navigator, and was cast when the project was a TV series. Ilia announces her oath of celibacy within seconds of showing up, takes Chekov’s usual place on the bridge (he gets a new station off to the side), and then is essentially killed off. There’s good conflict between Kirk and Decker, but the plethora of crewmembers means that neither Decker nor Ilia, potentially interesting characters, gets enough focus.

Best bits:

* The clanging, electrical-disturbance sound effect given to the cloud.

* The first appearance of the Enterprise’s bridge. It’s a hive of activity, shown off in a slow pan, before Kirk steps in and there’s silence.

* The body horror of a transporter accident. (“Starfleet, do you have them?” “Enterprise, what we got back didn’t live long. Fortunately.”)

* McCoy’s Robinson Crusoe beard, which he soon shaves off.

* The psychedelica – freaky streaks of colour on the film, slow-motion dialogue – as the ship flies through a wormhole.

* Spock arrives – and calmly takes over (Kirk is clearly happy to see his old pal).

* William Shatner gives us a couple of brilliantly idiosyncratic line-readings, such as when he implores Spock to sit down so they can chat.

* Ilya suddenly vanishing from the bridge.

* Spock’s 2001: A Space Odyssey-style journey into the heart of the cloud and the subsequent attempt at a mind-meld. (Special-effects genius Douglas Trumbull worked on both movies.)

* The revelation of what V’Ger actually is.

* Kirk’s final line. Asked for a new course, he says, “Out there… Thatta way.”

TV tie-in: For each movie of this process, I’m also watching an episode of TV Star Trek that somehow relates to it (directly or thematically). Here, I did The Doomsday Machine from the original show’s second season. When The Motion Picture was being written, it was decided that Will Decker was the son of this episode’s main guest character, Matt Decker. It’s a drama chiefly about Starfleet officers relieving other Starfleet officers of command, but it has a good countdown-to-detonation climax.

Review: Cinematic in scope, but televisual in story, this certainly has a lot going for it. The model work, matte shots and other special effects are fantastic and give the movie a real sense of grandeur. The music, by Jerry Goldsmith, does too. The concept of V’Ger – what it is, what it’s doing – is a terrific sci-fi idea. But, as many others have said, the whole thing is just too lethargic to be fully entertaining. Scenes drag on; there’s no drive to the storytelling. The film swoons and pores over model shots, tiresomely showing them off rather than – as in, say, Star Wars or Superman: The Movie – making them seem part of the fiction. The most bizarre example is a four-and-a-half-minute sequence where, with no dialogue at all, Kirk and Scotty take a shuttle ride over to the Enterprise. (“Get on with it!” you scream.) It doesn’t help that the film is almost totally po-faced. Kirk’s relationships with Spock and McCoy give us a few moments of charm, and the film comes alive in a scene between the three men, but mostly it’s earnest and humourless stuff. The physical production design – especially the antiseptic, unflattering costumes – is also really drab. It’s a good job I already know the series gets better than this.

Five friendly messages out of 10.

Thanks to Robert Dick for help with research and planning of these reviews.