Friday, September 09, 2016

Let This Be The Last List

There have been a lot of tributes to Star Trek, this being its fiftieth anniversary and all.  As part of the celebration, the Hollywood Reporter lists the top hundred episodes of all Star Trek shows.

Quite an undertaking, but I don't have much to say about it, since I only truly know the original series.  I've watched a fair amount of Next Generation, but missed as many episodes as I've seen.  And I've only caught a few stray hours from Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.  The only thing I can judge on the list is how it ranks episodes of the original.  And here I was surprised.

The #1 episode of all time--for all the shows--is "City On The Edge Of Forever." No surprise. In fact, it would be a surprise if it weren't there--it'd be like a top movie list without Citizen Kane.  The next two choices from the original series, at #3 and #5, are "Balance Of Terror" and "Space Seed." I don't know if they'd be my picks, but as expected.  Then #8 is "Mirror, Mirror"--another likely title to show up on the list.

Then we get to #11: "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." Come again?  If you're a Trek fan you know which one I'm talking about, but if not, it's the one where two aliens fight each other because they have black and white faces, but the black and white are on different sides.

It turns out this is Shatner's favorite, but I don't know anyone else who agrees*.  This heavy-handed allegory on race relations has usually been considered an embarrassment, even among the weak episodes of the third season.

The list soon follows with mainstays like "A Piece Of The Action" and "The Trouble With Tribbles," but it's hard to read any further.  Putting "Battlefield" up so high--or on the list at all--sort of makes the whole project pointless.

*I just read this article in Variety where people connected to Star Trek pick their favorites, and to my surprise, two of them listed this episode, including Jonathan Frakes.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I will have to study the list more closely, but I agree with your comment. The earlier episodes, perhaps my favorite, Balance of Terror, comes in at 3 and deals with "racial" discrimination much, much more intelligently. This is the one where Humans see Romulans for the first time, and at least one crew member begins bad-mouthig Spock because it is obvious that Romulans are an off-shoot of vulcans.

Another episode, the Corbomite Maneuver, ranked too low at 45, also does a great job tackling the xenophobia that one would expect from humans upon encountering new species (the allegory for races).

I would not have picked City on the Edge of Forever as the best, even though I love almost all the Star Trek time travel episodes. The problem with it is not futuristic - it takes place in 1930. It could have been an episode of Quantum Leap. It also suffers from lazy writing - in particular the unexplained "cure" of Dr. McCoy simply as a result of traveling to the past. Would have been more interesting if he had been a raving lunatic in 1930.

6:35 AM, September 09, 2016  
Blogger New England Guy said...

I like any Star trek episode with the universal translator because it sets off the umm....enthused.

I remember these original series episodes as much for the background of when I watched them as anything. Lazy weekend afternoons when I was younger and then the prime viewing option for week night study breaks in the TV lounge during college (pre-Letterman era) and the way the hokey staccato Kirkian phrases will emerge from the back of your mind ("You've forgotten all about ...[stop].. love and.. [stop].. compassion!" which I think he said to any number of alien races and computers and bureaucrats. Betting qatloos on stupid things was great fun too.

Jonathan Frakes' opinions shouldn't count for anything. He's a TV western character transplanted into the future.

The other series were fun too but I watched them alone. My son born in the middle of DS9 (he turns 20 tomorrow!-crazy about Star Wars but Star Trek though) so never got to see the later seasons until recently when they were available on Amazon Prime. Worthy of a binge I will recommend.

7:48 AM, September 09, 2016  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I agree with LAG that "LTBYLB" is not only ranked too high, it's a positively poor episode. It's beyond heavy-handed. One of the most ridiculous aspects of it, beyond the ones mentioned by everyone else, is that the skin colors are jet-black and bleach-white, with a perfect line of demarcation travelling down the middle of their faces. What living beings anywhere have a truly invariant skin-tones? I guess the director felt it would have been too "dangerous" for their faces to be half Caucasian and half African in hue. And insofar as there's a moral, the moral is that "the ultimate result of racism within a species is the complete annihilation of both races, to the very last man." Doesn't this seem really unlikely?

I would rank DS9 as the best of the spinoffs, although it has its flaws: derivative of Babylon 5 in its early seasons, and then giving Worf too much to do when he was added to the cast. It certainly doesn't have the best acting: probably TNG has that. But TNG's other weaknesses are legion.

So overall, TOS is still the incomparable version. But that doesn't mean we should pretend its duds were actually good.

2:11 PM, September 09, 2016  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I wouldn't rank "The Corbomite Manuever" anywhere near as high as DG does. It's true that if and when we encounter aliens, there will be many humans who are irrationally xenophobic.* But it simply isn't believable that such people would be serving as officers on a starship whose crew is assembled from many different planets and whose mission is to "seek out new life and new civiliation".

* At the same time, there will be others who, presented with evidence of hostile warlike aliens, are irrationally anti-xenophobic.

2:15 PM, September 09, 2016  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

LK, if I recall, the navigator was new to the ship (this was pre-Checkov). I always assumed that his uncontrolled fear was unleashing his nativist bigotry. He showed himself unfit for his duties (Kirk said as much), and maybe Starfleet wasn't quite the ordeal it was when Picard graduated.

But on the subject of xenophobia, Balance of Terror is definitely a superior episode. And on the subject of Race/Species bias, the Galileo 7 was a better episode, with Dr. McCoy switching from the guy throwing racial epithets to the guy defending Spock.

I just saw Star Trek Beyond. Meh - it wasn't as good as either of the first two in the new series. But I read a review that pointed out how incongruous it seems to have McCoy tossing out racial slurs, especially considering he's a doctor who treats all manner of aliens. I guess it's because he's from the country ;-)

12:56 PM, September 10, 2016  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, although I suppose I ought to.

You're right that Bailey was new, both within the show (McCoy criticizes Kirk for promoting him so quickly) and outside of it ("CM" was the very first episode filmed after the pilots). So I suppose that could justify a navigator having such views.

And I agree with you that "Balance of Terror" is a great episode, even though the racism in that show is much more overt, and not just from newbies. What always bugged me was that 90% of all the aliens in the show are indistinguishable from Earth humans, and nobody ever comments on that fact. So why does everyone freak out when they find an alien race who are indistinguishable from Vulcans? I guess it's a suspension-of-disbelief thing.

I strongly believe that ST:TOS should be seen in production order, because then the changing crew is (mostly) systematic. The first half of season one gives a lot of screen time to the junior officers (Sulu, Riley, Rand, Uhura); halfway through the season Riley and Rand are written out and the show becomes about Kirk and Spock. Then in Season Two the show centers on the Kirk, Spock, and McCoy trio (pace LAGuy). Chekov appears at the beginning of season two and acts like a newbie. And Sulu takes a vacation in the middle of season two (to film the Green Berets, although no in-universe explanation is given).

2:40 PM, September 10, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I will discuss this year's Star Trek movie in my 2016 film wrap-up. I can say, however, that I liked it better than the second ST film, which I found despicable.

As for racial slurs and the like, I always say nothing dates faster than science fiction, since it can't help but rely on the assumptions of its time, even if it's fighting against them. So in a decade or two when either technology or mores have changed, it often seems weird.

It's too bad Sulu left since I've heard Roddenberry was planning to do more with the character. I believe some of his material was given to Chekov.

I seem to recall some early episode they do discuss how it is that so many aliens are humanoid, but eventually just dropped that angle as being more trouble than it was worth. (Same for how everyone speaks English.)

2:55 PM, September 10, 2016  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

Despicable? Seems a bit strong. Did you blog on that?

4:01 PM, September 10, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I realize it was a strong word, and I meant it. It was a hateful version of Trek I want nothing to do with.

My only particular discussion of it in that year's film wrap-up is this:

Movie Most Like A Very Expensive Episode of Star Trek: Elysium (certainly not Star Trek Into Darkness, which didn't feel like Star Trek at all)

http://pajamaguy.blogspot.com/2014/01/film-year-in-review-2013.html

Also, I wrote about what I feared it might be in

http://pajamaguy.blogspot.com/2013/05/i-dont-care-if-you-dont-get-it.html

If you check the comments, you'll note that I mention "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."

4:53 PM, September 10, 2016  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

On the bright side, the upcoming Star Trek TV series is going to be set in the same universe as all the earlier TV series -- NOT in the Abrams Trek universe.

So even if you don't watch the new series, it's nice to know that the Abrams universe has been officially discarded.

8:24 PM, September 13, 2016  
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11:48 PM, December 22, 2016  

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