Rewatching... Star Trek: Operation -- Annihilate!

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...

Thursday 13 April 1967

Here in 1967...actually let me recap. For those of you who've just joined (hello!), my 'gimmick' is that I'm trapped 50 years in the past, writing about all the tv I'm watching, occasionally browsing through contemporary newspapers and magazines, seeing the odd film, and looking at how it all fits together. A lot of it I've actually seen before, but some I'm genuinely watching for the first time. Sometimes (as in tonight's episode) I'm not even sure if I've seen it before or not. "Rewatching" is not always strictly true but it's a good umbrella title anyway. I'm not always accurate regarding plot minutiae, nor do I strive to be. I'm just telling it as I see it. When I feel like it I'll be able to jump forward 50 years so I can make observations about 'modern' things, or reviewing 21st century television. Don't question this, don't look for logic, just go with it.

Here in 1967 we don't yet have the Big Season Finale. No 'story arcs', not even the first half of a season spanning two-parter. In fact, we don't use the word 'season' unless we're talking about the weather or climate. People often refer to 'tv channels' as 'tv programmes' and they mix up 'series' and 'serials'. In short, we're not television industry savvy like you lot, we don't know the jargon, if it even exists yet, and tv programmes come and go - we watch, we enjoy, we forget. Well, many of us forget...

So we're at the end of the first series of Star Trek, and quite honestly the episode could have fit anywhere in transmission order, as each episode so far has been completely self contained (like pretty much everything I'm watching at the moment).

There's an unusually long prologue this week. Spock is talking about mass insanity having destroyed whole civilisations in this part of the Galaxy, a wave of destruction moving in a straight line and reaching the planet below them, with which the Enterprise are unable to make contact. Then suddenly they detect a ship which flies directly into the sun, and they hear the pilot shouting triumphantly about being free at last. A rather drastic way of achieving freedom I'd have thought.

McCoy takes Kirk aside and points out that the captain's brother Sam and his family are stationed on the planet. Roll credits...

The Enterprise receives a distress call from a woman on the planet. Kirk's reply "this is Jim on the Enterprise" is hilariously informal! But it turns out that the woman is Kirk's sister-in-law. What are the chances eh? A whole planet full of people in distress and the first one he hears from is her!

They beam down to the capital city, and it looks pleasingly sci-fi modern. I'm a bit tired of crumbling rocky exteriors or caves, so this makes a nice change. Kirk obligingly allows those playing Star Trek drinking games the chance of a swig with the line "set phasers to stun."

No sooner have they set foot on the planet than they are approached by a small gang of rowdy shouting loonies armed with sticks. The Enterprise crew stun them with their phasers. Then they hear a scream and run to find a hysterical woman in a house, shouting "they're here!" Two other figures lie on the floor near her, one is dead. The woman is Kirk's sister-in-law Aurelan (another astronomical coincidence), the dead man is his brother Sam (looks like Shatner with a moustache - that's a tv rule: siblings and parents are always played by the same actor, but with a slight difference), and the third his nephew Peter. Spock tries to offer Kirk sympathym bless him, but Kirk cuts him short because he's a big tough captain man and has no time for wallowing in self pity.

They take Aurelan and the unconscious Peter back to the sickbay aboard the Enterprise. Peter doesn't get any lines, we barely even see him. Aurelan wakes up, slightly delirious, raging about "them" coming eight months ago, the "horrible things". As is usually the way in these scenarios, delirious shouting people have heaps to say but always fail to answer the most important key questions that are asked of them. So of course Kirk doesn't get to find out who "they" are. Bones tranquillises her but it wears off quickly, and after some more ranting she screams...and then suddenly dies mid scream.

So they beam back down to the planet to find out just what the hell is going on down there. This time phasers are set to KILL. They notice this buzzing sound and soon find the source. It looks like flying raw chicken breasts. Phasers don't work on them so they decide to leave again. As they're walking out one of the flying meat things slaps against Spock's back and he collapses. I can't believe they turned their backs on those things! You'd back out of the room slowly wouldn't you? Never ever turn your back on flying raw meat.

Spock is not a well man. He's unconscious in the sick bay where McCoy gets cross with Nurse Chapel when she questions his decision to close the wound in Spock's back. I don't really understand all this if I'm honest. But McCoy certainly has a temper. It seems there is something growing inside Spock now, so alien tissue has infected him. It's likened to a wasp sting. Spock wakes up and is tormented and ranting like the others from the planet. He pushes the nurse aside and runs to the bridge where he causes mayhem and fights everyone. Last week it was Bones who went deranged, this week it's Spock's turn. I'm sure these scenes must be the most fun to play.

He's captured and returned to the sickbay where he's restrained, despite assuring Kirk that he's got it under control now and will behave himself. There's a little interlude where Kirk voices his concern to McCoy about his nephew, and Bones reminds him there are whole colonies in trouble, let alone one boy. Yeah, it's not all about you and your family, Captain!

Spock escapes again - they really should do something about those restraining straps, they don't seem to be able to hold anyone! This time he gets to the transporter room where he's confronted by Mr Scott. Scotty proves himself to be a loyal professional and holds the Vulcan at gunpoint despite threats about disobeying orders. Kirk and McCoy arrive and Spock convinces them he needs to beam down to the planet and get a sample of the creatures. Once again Spock wins his argument with Kirk using logic.

Later after having picked up his specimen rather easily, they debate how to kill these creatures. They realise the creatures are actually one creature, acting like a group mind, as one. Kirk guesses that light might destroy it (because of the victim at the beginning who flew into the sun to be free). They try an experiment to prove this and of course it works. You never get five different failed theories before they reach the correct one, it always works the first time.

So Spock volunteers to be a guinea pig. Why doesn't he even cover his eyes? Bones suggests sunglasses but it's pointed out that if they did this to the whole planet the people below wouldn't have sunglasses. Fair enough, but everyone can put their hands over their eyes at least!

The plan works and Spock is cured...but at a cost: he's blind. Who didn't 'see' that coming? A couple of minutes later McCoy realises he blinded Spock for nothing as he didn't need the full spectrum of light, just the UV part! Oops, sorry! Nice timing working that one out. Kirk doesn't seem impressed with his ship's doctor.

They use satellites to bathe the whole planet in light and it's a success, all the meat creatures burn up. It must have smelled like barbecue on that planet. In the epilogue, Spock walks onto the bridge acting as if nothing's happened. Of course he can see again, did you think he'd be blind forever? Apparently it's because he's an alien and has an "inner eyelid". Something he just forgot about until now.

It ends with some classic Star Trek Spock / Bones interplay where the doctor regrets an earlier comment where he'd described the Vulcan as Starfleet's best science officer, and Spock overhears him. They love each other really.

So that's it, the end of the first series. Aside from a few false starts with different crew members, opening credits, uniforms etc, it felt fairly consistent throughout. I didn't get a sense of any character development, they all seemed to arrive fully formed really so any personality tweaks were made in the very early episodes. Women aren't very well served at all, there's sexism all over the place. The look of the series improved markedly from the early episodes with the wise move away from garishly coloured studio sets to real world locations.

Speaking of colour, I notice that television manufacturers are using Star Trek as the best example to try to lure the public into purchasing colour TV sets. It's not hard to see why. Both Star Trek and Batman are making the most of the new system for sure.

On the whole I've really enjoyed Star Trek and hopefully it'll return soon. 

Nick Brown
Nick Brown

I've embarked upon an open ended mission, pretending to travel back in time and watch classic television on (or close to) the fiftieth anniversary of original broadcast date; getting a sense of the context, the magic of that first viewing.

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Rewatching... Star Trek: Operation -- Annihilate!