Start Trek (Original Series)

So I saw an episode of the original series on G4 today. Probably only about the 4th or 5th I’ve ever seen, and the first in many years.

I’m sure this is old hat to Star Trek geeks, but…

The show is REALLY bad. Bad writing, bad acting, reeally bad (cheap) sets, and the special effects for when the ship gets hit (everybody on the bridge set, jump back… NOW!!!) I don’t understand the loyalty to this series among the hard core…

It’s amazing that we got from this to Star Wars in less than a decade.

Next post - I discover that water is wet and Richard Simmons… may not like girls (in THAT way…)

[edit - bummer you can fix a typo anywhere in your post except the title - oh well…]

Yeah. Whenever anyone says they prefer TOS to TNG, I look at them the same way I look at people who prefer the original BSG to the new BSG.

I still like TOS. Television was just different back then.

Think of it as a stage play. At least the lighting will make sense.

The show is REALLY bad. Bad writing, bad acting, reeally bad (cheap) sets,

There is a wide range of quality in the show. Episodes like “Spock’s Brain” or “The Lights of Zetar” or “Catspaw” or “The Omega Glory” or “Way to Eden” are pretty terrible and function only as camp now. Episodes like “A Taste of Armageddon” or “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” or “The Enemy Within” are like old sci-fi short stories, dramatizing a single interesting concept. The writing really takes off in the upper-tier episodes, though. “Mirror Mirror” is brilliant in the way it inverts the crewmembers’ characters and keeps anti-Spock as the logical focal point, the fulcrom between the two worlds. “The Trouble with Tribbles” is a model of tight plot construction, combining farcical humor with a light thriller plot. “The Doomsday Machine” is another tightly constructed piece of suspense, improved by the wonderful character of Commodore Decker, traumatized by the loss of his ship, butting heads with the cool-and-collected Spock. The scene where Kirk first questions Decker about the fate of his crew is one of the most dramatically gripping scenes I’ve ever seen in television. “Amok Time” is, again, elegantly plotted, bringing Kirk by logical steps into the position of fighting to the death against his best friend. It also provides a great deal of “anthropological” material, filling in background on the Vulcans and coming up with the great paradox that this most logical and scientific of races still has a passionate and violent core encrusted with ancient ritual. Amok Time also features what is maybe my favorite dialogue passage in television, when Spock (thinking he has killed Kirk) confronts his erstwhile fiancee T’Pring (from memory, so paraphrased):

Spock: “T’Pring. Explain.”
T’Pring: “Specify.”
Spock: “Why the challenge? And why choose my captain?”
T’Pring: “I wanted Stonn. He wanted me.”
Spock: “I see no logic in preferring Stonn to me.”
T’Pring: “Over the years you have become much known among our people. Almost a legend. And as time went on I came to know that I did not wish to be the consort of a legend. If the Captain defeated you, he would release me from my vow, and I would have Stonn. If you defeated him, you would release me for having dared to challenge you, and again I would have Stonn. But if you did not release me, it would be the same; for you would be gone, and I would have your name, and your property, and Stonn would still be there.”
Spock: “Logical. Flawlessly logical.”
T’Pring: “I am honored.”
Spock: “Stonn, she is yours. After a time you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

“I am honored” – fantastic line. With her monologue T’Pring becomes a wonderful femme fatale.

The sets are cheap I suppose, but I have always liked the production design in Star Trek. I like the bold primary colors on the uniforms, the spaceship model designs, and I think some of the sets (the bridge, the transporter room) are nicely laid out despite an element of cheesiness.

The acting is generally good, if sometimes broad. Nimoy is fantastic as Spock; Shatner and Kelley work well as foils for him. Koenig and Doohan, I grant, turn in ethnic-cliche performances, but they bring a certain gusto to them. Takei is cool personified. There are some magnificent supporting performances – T’Pau in Amok Time, Decker in Doomsday Machine, Dr. Daystrom in The Ultimate Computer, Ricardo Montalban/Khan in Space Seed.

It’s amazing that we got from this to Star Wars in less than a decade.

Obviously Star Wars is far better in terms of special effects. However, 2001: A Space Odyssey had fantastic effects and that came out in 1968. The technology was there or was beginning to be there already. Star Trek was working on a TV budget and there was a certain amount of cheesiness. On the other hand, plenty of the effects shots (particularly shots of the Enterprise in orbit) hold up all right.

As far as writing, I think much of the writing in, say, “Amok Time” or “Space Seed” or “Mirror, Mirror” or “The Doomsday Machine” is as good as anything in Star Wars, allowing for the structural differences between a feature film and a 1 hour TV format. Even the biggest fans of Star Wars have conceded that its dialogue isn’t that good (there’s certainly nothing in it on the level of the T’Pring/Spock conversation from “Amok Time”). Star Wars is written well on a structural level, and it has the robustness of that “heroic journey” stuff under the hood, and Lucas constructed a compelling backstory/fantasy world. On the other hand I think a big chunk of the success of that movie must be attributed to its magnificent production design and its musical score. (Incidentally, Star Trek itself has a wonderful musical score, though it is more melodic and bombastic than we are used to in modern shows.)

I also consider Nimoy, Kelley, and Shatner to be at least as good actors as Mark Hamill (Nimoy is almost certainly much better). Carrie Fisher is no great shakes either, in my opinion; she’s cute and spunky and can’t decide what her accent is. Harrison Ford, James Earl Jones, Alec Guiness, and Peter Cushing are all wonderful, of course.

At its best, Star Trek is in the Serling tradition of being about ideas and moral questions. Shows don’t tend to be written that way anymore, but I don’t consider all writing in that mode to be “bad,” though it is sometimes obvious in its allegorical style. It’s a great twist in The Enemy Within to have the “evil” Kirk be an essential part of his personality. The Ultimate Computer examines Captain Kirk confronting his own obsolescence. Where No Man Has Gone Before shows a man losing his humanity as he gains superhuman power (a more sophisticated treatment of the subject than, say, Superman, IMO). “Galileo Seven” shows a talented officer confronted with his own weaknesses when command is suddenly thrust on his shoulders. A Taste of Armageddon comes up with a clever solution to the problem of mutually assured destruction and asks the question of whether war is inherent to human nature. (I still think Kirk’s solution – “We can admit that we’re killers, but we’re not going to kill today” is a pretty wise one.) And so on.

I will grant that perhaps 1/3 of the TOS episodes are crap, and another third are mediocre-to-fair. That still leaves 25-odd episodes that are good, very good, or (in the case of the very best – Doomsday, Amok, Mirror) downright brilliant.

I prefer TOS to TNG.

/imagines look

TNG was a good show too, though I think its cast was more uneven. Stewart and Spiner are brilliant, but their relationship isn’t as close as the Shatner/Nimoy/Kelley “trinity” so you don’t get as much dramatic meat from their interactions. Frakes was okay, Burton was good; McFadden and Sirtis annoyed me; the less said of Wheaton the better. TNG didn’t feel as “meaty” to me overall, in the dramatic intensity of the character interactions. Over 178 episodes it did come up with some gems, though. Best of Both Worlds part 1 is great (part 2 is a letdown). All Good Things is great; De Lancie’s Q is a great recurring character; Lower Decks is a conceptual twist that never would have occurred to the writers of the old Trek – etc.

But there isn’t a single TNG episode I have seen that comes up to the very best TOS episodes (Tribbles, Mirror, Amok, and Doomsday). Maybe Darmok (though I would have to rewatch it), and I confess I never saw Chain of Command.

Put it another way – TOS’s lows were damn low, but I think its highs were higher than I have seen in TNG. Plus it has Spock. Spock for chrissakes. That buys a lot of forgiveness.

The episode I saw today had Kirk on trial for prematurely ejecting a capsule and thus causing the death of a crew member, who he may have had a prior grudge against. So it wasn’t only cheezy 40 year old sci fi, it was cheezy 40 year old sci fi doing a ‘futuristic’ trial. Bad plot, dialog, etc. I grant you that Nimoy and Bones are reasonable actors - not so sure about Kirk. But the supporting actor (the person Kirk allegedly killed) was a high-school level actor. And some of the sets (excepting the ‘bridge’) were virtually high-school level as well.

The whole 1960s vision of computers 400 years from now as a bunch of blinking lights and a badly synthesized voice seems like it would have been dated even in 1968. I think 2001 did HAL reasonably well - certainly in comparison to Star Trek’s vision of future tech.

“balance of terror” is a nicely done ‘submarine movie in space’ episode. kirk and the romulan captain’s move/countermove is well done. the ep with that con man stuck on a planet full of androids is really funny.

they predicted a few things:

cell phones snap open like the star trek communicators.

or were they the cause of it???


Court Martial. I actually like that episode (mainly for Samuel T. Cogley) though it’s certainly not one of the best. I don’t know what particularly is bad about the dialogue – maybe the lines where Kirk is hitting on his old flame are kinda cheesy. Cogley’s trial dialogue is certainly bombastic but I think the actor sells it. The surprise twist reveal at the end (that Finney is still alive) is pretty weak. I’d put Court Martial in the “medicre-to-fair” section.

edit: Yeah, you are probably right about Finney’s acting. I haven’t seen that episode in a long time. I don’t always disparage over the top acting, though – sometimes it can be done very well (see Branagh in his Hamlet). I think the guy who plays Decker in “Doomsday” definitely pulls out all the stops, but the effect to me is incandescent.

As for blinking lights… okay, sure. The conception of what a computer would be like in the future hasn’t held up (except for the voice-recognition software, which may yet hold true). That’s sort of perpendicular to the things I like about the show, though.

I do actually think Shatner is a good actor. I think he brings 100% conviction to some really bizarre material, as is required of any actor in sci-fi. His speech mannerisms have been exaggerated endlessly by Kevin Pollak et al., but in fact they are not that severe at all. He has charisma, presence, embodies the “60s man of action” perfectly well IMO.

I read somewhere that the designers of compact discs were inspired in part by the episode “All Our Yesterdays” in which different periods of history are stored on shiny metallic discs by Mr. Atoz the librarian. I don’t know whether this is apocryphal… it was mentioned in an old book about the top sci-fi shows.

I love those raking colored lights on the walls of Kirk’s groovy cabin.

Selected elements of each series:

TOS: space hippies, Ricardo Montalban, space Nazis, green space vixens, rich Corinthian leather

TNG: Wesley Crusher, Riker, Troi, Troi’s mother

'nuff said.

Television’s advanced a long way since the 60’s… consider the fact that the original Star Trek was nominated for a Best Drama Emmy back in the day.

I don’t really get this sense of TV “advancing.” Acting, writing, basic cinematic direction – these things were well established by the '60s. Okay, special effects have advanced, and when you are talking about sci-fi that takes on some importance; but the Hitchhiker’s Guide BBC series was a hell of a lot better than its contemporary show Battlestar Galactica, despite the latter having much better FX. The old things – the acting, the writing, the direction – still take precedence regardless of genre. The Twilight Zone and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, both shows of the '60s or near that time, continue to be acknowledged classics that at their best can stand up with anything today. I think I Love Lucy, the Honeymooners, Fawlty Towers and the Dick Van Dyke show are as funny as any sitcoms of subsequent decades. TOS stands or falls without making allowances for the time in which it was made, and IMO at its best it still stands,* granting that certain physical production aspects have dated and that the quality of the show varies widely from episode to episode.

*but it is, as I said, an uneven show. Its “classic” status owes to the large pop culture impact it has made, not to its intrinsic quality episode-by-episode. Taken for all in all it is merely a good show – sometimes great, sometimes awful. Amok Time and Doomsday Machine are as good or almost as good as any hours of television I know, but the show doesn’t maintain that level of quality consistently.

Setting aside the TOS/TNG comparison, there’s no question in my mind that TOS is a terrific show. I agree w/ Gordon that it goes roughly 1/3 clunkers, 1/3 fine, and 1/3 really good. The best shows (I’d say “City on the Edge of Forever” is one of my favorites) are some really compelling sci-fi. As with TNG, the show does best when it examines philosophical questions and uses the characters and universe as a way of exploring those questions the way a “normal” show can’t.

I must post some love here for “A Wolf in the Fold,” my favorite Trek episode ever. They go to a pleasure planet, and Scotty can’t help himself from killing all the whores. It’s brilliant.

No mention of “City on the Edge of Forever” yet?

Nope. Unless you count two posts above yours where Rywill talked about it less than an hour and a half before you.

If you never watched it when you were younger, then I guess that explains why you can’t stomach it now, but I tuned into it last weekend and was enthralled. It wasn’t even one of the best episodes (the one where they find “another Earth” where experiments of immortality made it so you basically died when you hit puberty but lived for hundreds of years barely aging before reaching it), but the plot was more than good enough to keep my attention.

Phil, you sound like Tom Chick does when he goes off on how you can’t play PSX games because of how “bad” they look, blah blah. I guess I just flick a switch in my head that says, “This was made in the 60’s” when I watch Star Trek and I have no problem accepting the effects, the slower pace compared to today’s mile-a-minute TV plotting and performances that are more forcefully dramatized than the “gritty realism” every one of today’s shows have.

I sat down and watched Superman: The Movie with my kids last night. They had never seen it before. Not a single one of them said anything about the effects being poor compared to today’s movies and TV or had any problem with the slower pace of that film compared to a typical Pixar movie to name something more modern. They were totally wrapped up in the mythos of Superman and SO WAS I all over again. Some of the performances had the same feel of Star Trek even though the Superman film is ten years newer, but it’s all still great to watch.

Anyway… if all you do is compare TOS to TNG, there are a lot of crappy TNG episodes and it’s got some wooden performances and problems too. Nothing is perfect. Even the effects being newer are really not all that great sometimes.

Some of the older TNG episodes have awful effects. Notice how low res all the CG textures are? That’s why every planet they visit is, inexplicably, a gas giant (I guess in the future, everyone lives on gas giants)–because that lets them get away with blurry, featureless planet textures. And even then, you can still see big-ass texture pixels in some of the early episodes.

Of course, f/x were never Star Trek’s main draw in the first place.