Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - A Couple of Star Trek Episodes

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly look at one of the many DVDs I own.  Something different this week, as we take a look at a couple of individual Star Trek episodes that I've accumulated over the years.   This entry was originally written on September 8, 2012.

I pen this entry on September 8.  This is a very auspicious day for geeks for, it was on this day in 1966, that Star Trek first premiered on TV and a cult following was born.  In the grand history of home entertainment formats, Paramount has always capitalized on its most famous franchise by releasing individual episodes of the original series.  As I'm sure you can imagine, I've picked up a few of those episodes across the spectrum of formats.  And, to celebrate the 46 anniversary of the franchise, I decided to dig through my library and watch a couple of the individual episodes I've acquired. 

Let's start with VHS, which was having its heyday during my junior high years.  Junior high was when I first got into Star Trek and I got it bad.  The Next Generation was in the midst of its run, and I obsess over new episodes.  My school had this thing called USSR, where we'd sit and read every day for 15 minutes, and my nose was always buried in either the latest Star Trek Pocket Book or some book about the making of the original series.  (The Internet wasn't a thing yet, so I got all my knowledge about the Star Trek from my local library.)

Perhaps my favourite memory of Grade 9.  For about a week, we had this substitute teacher in English, and all the 14-year old girls in my class, with their developing bodies and what not, had declared him to be the perfect specimen of a man and were fawning over him.  That Friday afternoon, as USSR came around and a pulled out my Star Trek book and I started reading, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I looked over, and it was the sub, who had this big goofy grin on his face.  He flashed the Vulcan salute.  I returned it.  "Oh my God, are you a Trekkie, too?" he excitedly exclaimed.  I responded with a yes.  "Tonight's part 2 of the Spock episode!  Is that gonna rock or what?"  I agreed, and we chatted Star Trek for a bit before he remembered that one of the S's in USSR stands for "silent" and he went back to his desk.  Before putting my nose back in that book, I took a look around the class.  And those young ladies who were fawning over him?  The look of horror on their faces was priceless.  Their dreamboat was a geek like me.

Around that time, my Dad came home for work one night and told me of one of his discoveries.  On a recent business trip to Edmonton, he found a video rental place in West Edmonton Mall that had every Star Trek episode ever.  Needless to say, a couple weeks later, on the next family trip to the city, that place was high on my list of places to visit.  At that time, most of the literature I was reading was declaring The Trouble With Tribbles to be one of the best episodes of the original series.  While CBC Edmonton was good to show it in reruns at the time, I lacked the patience for it to come up in rotation.  So when I reached that video store and saw every episode of the original series, I knew I'd be buying myself The Trouble With Tribbles.

Gene Roddenberry once wrote that the Star Trek universe is big enough for comedy, and he knew that a lighthearted episode every once in a while was invaluable for breaking up the monotony.  The Trouble With Tribbles is notable in that it is one of the better of the lighthearted episodes.  The Enterprise is off to Deep Space Station K7 to assist in a mission to develop Sherman's Planet.  The planet is under dispute between the Federation and the Klingons, and under the terms of a peace treaty, whoever can develop the planet the best gets it.  Captain Kirk, of course, is incredibly frustrated as he trades barbs with the Klingon captain in charge of the Klingon side of the project, and the Federation diplomat with a stick up his ass who thinks that his wheat - key to the Federation's development of the project - is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE HISTORY OF EVER.  And then a trader by the name of Cyrano Jones shows up with a new little animal he's discovered called a Tribble...and this little critters - who are born pregnant and have a voracious appetite - are soon overrunning the space station and the Enterprise.

No wonder this episode is held with such reverence.  It's full of great pithy one lines, mostly delivered by Captain Kirk.  Having met a few municipal politicians in my line of work very similar to the Federation diplomat, I found Kirk's quips with him somewhat cathartic. 

The fancy wheat is called "quadro-triticale."  Based on a real wheat called triticale.  Apparently, when triticale was first developed in the 1960s, it was a pretty big deal in the agricultural world. 

The fame of this episode made it a natural choice when Deep Space Nine did their 30th anniversary tribute episode Trials and Tribble-ationsin which the crew of Deep Space Nine was digitally inserted into the background to make sure that history happened accordingly.  A few years ago, they did their Star Trek Remastered project where they replaced all the visual effects with new ones.  According to those in charge of the project, when it came to remaster The Trouble With Tribbles, the did briefly consider inserting some DS9 actors into the background of The Trouble With Tribbles as a little wink to the fans, but they said their goal with the project was not to rewrite episodes, and such an act might have come to close to the line.

So now we jump ahead 10 years.  VHS is falling by the wayside, and DVD is becoming the new popular home video format.  In those early days of DVD, the whole "complete season boxed set" concept hadn't really taken off yet, so for the first DVD release of the original series, Paramount released two episodes per DVD and sold them individually.  One day, as I was browsing the DVDs in HMV, I happened to stumble across the DVD for Space Seed, or as I like to call it, "the exciting prequel to Star Trek II."  This is the episode that introduces Khan, and the fact that Paramount doesn't include it as a bonus feature on all the various DVD and Blu-Ray releases of The Wrath of Khan is beyond me.

So the Enterprise is boldly going where no one has gone before when they stumble across a spaceship dating from the 1990s.  The 1990s was a turbulent time on Earth, when The Eugenics Wars broke out...genetically enhanced supermen who set out to conquer the planet.  Yeah...kind of laughably out of date now.  Captain Kirk decides to beam over to the ship and check it out, and he brings along the ship's historian, Lt. Marla McGivers.  When they arrive on the ship, McGivers instantly identifies it as a sleeper ship, containing people in suspended animation.  The leader of this group is revived first, but there's a problem in the reviving, so they have to take him back to sickbay on the Enterprise.  For McGivers, it's lust at first sight.

Once revived, the leader of these humans identifies himself only as Khan, and he starts bringing himself up to speed on what he's missed in his centuries asleep.  The crew begins working to deduce Khan's true identity.  Kirk notices that McGivers' interest in Khan may be crossing the line from professional into personal, but McGivers assured Kirk that her loyalty is to the Enterprise.  That being said, though, the relationship between Khan and McGivers continues to grow, as Khan is equally fascinated with this woman of the future.  McGivers reveals that she does know who Khan really is, and that he won't like living in this era.  Taking advantage of McGivers feelings for him, Khan soon gets her to help him take over the ship.

Around this time, Kirk and the rest have also deduced Khan's true identity:  Khan Noonien Singh.  During the Eugenics Wars, he ruled about 25% of the Earth.  Historians regard him as "the best of tyrants," mainly because he committed the fewest war crimes.  As Kirk points out, under his rule, there were no massacres, no slaughters, but then as Spock points out, no freedom either.  It kind of baffles me how Kirk and company hold Khan in such high regard.  Granted, they portray it as how a historian of our time might show admiration for Alexander the Great, but something about it just doesn't sit right with me. 

So, Khan's revived his crew of genetically engineered superhumans and they take over the Enterprise.  They're going to execute the crew one-by-one until they agree to help Khan find a planet for him to conquer.  McGivers, horrified at what she's done, springs Captain Kirk and he retakes the Enterprise.  Kirk's admiration for Khan kind of gets in the way, though, as he figures it would be a waste to get Khan all readjusted to modern civilization and just put to work in some factory some where.  (Or, maybe, rot in prison for his 300 year old war crimes.)  So, Kirk instead decides to strand Khan and his crew on a deserted planet to colonize.  Khan admits that this is pretty much all he ever wanted:  his own world to conquer.  As for McGivers, Kirk offers her a choice.  Stay behind, and face the crimes she committed against the Enterprise, or join Khan in exile.  She chooses Khan.  As the Enterprise leaves Khan on his planet, Spock remarks that it will be interesting to come back in 100 years and see the crop that has sprung from the seed that Kirk has planted.

And that's the line that made film producer Harve Bennett decide that Khan would be an interesting villain for Star Trek II.  And even though it's never stated in the script, it is usually assumed that McGivers is the "beloved wife" whose death Khan is trying to avenge in Star Trek II.

And I don't get the deal with McGivers, either.  She seems to totally get off on being 100% submissive to Khan.  Makes me wonder if 50 Shades of Grey is among her historical texts. 

And that was Space Seed.  A very intriguing episode, and we're very lucky we got Star Trek II to help flesh out the characters a little more.

That's about all I've got for the original series, until the day comes that I can afford the big boxed sets.

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