Monday, July 27, 2009

TOS Rewind #30: "Who Mourns for Adonais" and "The Changeling"

Wow, aren't we the efficient bunch:  two episodes in one post!

We did a double-header podcast for this one as well.

Our episodes this time are Who Mourns for Adonais (09/22/1967) and
The Changeling (09/29/1967)

Eric will be starting us out:

"Who Mourns for Adonais" is another episode that was good, but not great. There were some good points, but there were glaring flaws too. John, Rob, and I covered it pretty thoroughly in our podcat, so I'll just recap. Rob pointed out, quite correctly, that this episode has a strong anti-feminist vibe. In fact, it strongly resembles "Space Seed" (from the first season) in this respect. Lt. Carolyn Palamas is overwhelmed by Apollo and rushes headlong into a romance much like Lt. Marla McGivers and Khan in "Space Seed." And in another parallel to that episode, Lt. Palamas betrays her new found love in order to save the crew. To my mind, this redeems her to a certain degree and also mitigates the anti-feminism, but it's still certainly there. Of course, as we note in the podcast, we have to remember that this episode was written and produced in 1967 and naturally reflects the attitudes toward women at that time.

Another aspect of this episode I don't like is that Scotty is portrayed as a hot-headed, testosterone-charged dolt intent on getting himself killed. I mean seriously, Apollo demonstrates quite clearly (early on) that he controls considerable power and Scotty is an expert engineer and a grown man. Regardless of his outrage, he has to know that attacking Apollo with a piece of statuary is ridiculous, pointless, and highly dangerous. Scotty is a great character and deserves better treatment.

What I like about this episode is the speculation that the ancient Greek gods were actually humanoid aliens who settled on Earth and influenced the flourishing of the Bronze Age Greek civilization. It's a well-used (perhaps hackneyed) theme in SF these days, but it was still relatively fresh in 1967. I also like the fact that Chekov gets some development, but what I enjoy most is the poignancy of Apollo's remorse that he (and gods in general) are no longer needed by humanity. This, however, brings up a contradiction. At one point, Kirk says: "Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate." This is, in itself, a contradiction--either humanity needs gods (or one god, as the case may be) or we don't. Which is it? The line is all the more peculiar given that Gene Roddenberry was a staunch secular humanist. And with one notable exception, references to god(s) and religion were either vague and equivocal or nonexistent in the rest of the series. If I were a betting man (and actually, I am), I'd wager that "We find the one quite adequate" was inserted at the insistence of the network censors.

Another interesting deletion that was apparently made due to the censors, was a closing scene aboard the Enterprise where McCoy informs Kirk that Lt. Palamas is pregnant by Apollo. It makes me wonder how different (controversial?) original Trek would've been if Roddenberry hadn't been hobbled by network censors...


Rob, who sadly doesn't join the written part of the blog, made the quip, "it's Misogynist Week" on the blog/podcast.  This episode surely qualifies, though there are examples sprinkled throughout the series.  This, admittedly normal for the time, attitude is established right off the bat where Kirk and McCoy are commenting on women Starfleet officers leaving the service upon meeting the right men.  This is of course being aimed at the Lt. Palamas character, who Eric skewered, who is being lusted after by Scotty.  Like Eric, I was annoyed at the way Scotty was written in this episode; he really comes off poorly.

So yes, the lovely and (perhaps) talented Palamas (OK, that was bad!) finally sees that shagging Apollo long-term might not be the best thing for the rest of the Enterprise crew.  Of course she has to be lectured by Kirk before considering this.  The idea that Palamas was pregnant at the end of the episode is pretty interesting, but I really can't imagine the network censors touching that one.  Trek was an envelope-pusher, but 1967 NBC was not ready for something like this.  The other characters also have their moments.  Spock, who after being dissed by Apollo for looking like Pan, stays behind on board to find a way out of Apollo's giant energy hand (aka Bigby's Groping Fist).  Spock really seems more at ease being in command, much more so than he was in "The Galileo Seven."  He even gives Uhura some positive reinforcement.  The landing party seems to spend a lot of time sitting around on the temple set, waiting for their next confrontation with Apollo.  This waiting time is obviously needed so big A has time to put the moves on Palamas, complete with stock "paradise" footage.  Ooo la la!  The guy playing Apollo does have the chops to out-scenery-chew Shatner (WELCOME TO OLYMPUS, CAPTAIN KIRK!!!).  Shatner seems to play this episode with a clear sense of Kirk's machismo being eclipsed:  he looks really annoyed!

I'm also in agreement with Eric about the good aspect of this episode:  the concept of advance alien visitors being worshipped as gods in ancient Greece.  Cliched, yes, but still a good topic for Trek at that time.

I was mixed on this one, growing up.  It had some cool phaser fire and Scotty being struck by lightning bolts, but had sections that were a bit of a bore. 

On the enhanced version I watched, the new effects did improve one part.  When the hand comes out to grab the Enterprise, it reaches out from the planet they're orbiting.  The old effect, IIRC just appears in space.  So, some upgrade on this part.

Now, Eric takes a look at "The Changeling."

I've always liked "The Changeling." It's an imaginative, interesting story and a well-done episode. (There is vigorous disagreement about this in our podcast, but I'll let that speak for itself.) There are numerous elements of this episode that are recycled in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, most notably, the idea of a probe from 20th century Earth meeting and merging with a much more advanced alien probe. But an in-depth discussion of this will have to wait until we get to reviewing the Star Trek movies.

In "the Changeling" I like that we get to see Spock use the mind meld again, particularly because this is the only time he does so with an artificial intelligence. It should be noted that Nomad is an extremely sophisticated artificial intelligence, which is why Spock is able to form the mind meld. This brings up a subtle and interesting point about artificial intelligence: when does it become so sophisticated that it can be considered to have a mind? And when this happens, does it become a life form?

Anyway, another aspect of this episode that I enjoy is the way Nomad is portrayed. It's voice and appearance, combined with the way it is shot, gives a convincing air of menace. What I like most, however, is the idea of a primitive probe from Earth coming into contact with an alien probe somewhere in deep space and combining. It makes me wonder if the alien probe it met could've been a Borg probe. Given the immense power Nomad demonstrates, it's at least possible. It also makes sense given the Borg directive to assimilate other entities.

And while it has much to be commended, this episode certainly has its share of flaws. As with "Who Mourns for Adonais," I really object to portraying Scotty as a stupidly impulsive hothead who feels the need to physically attack beings or machines that have clearly demonstrated their ability and willingness to kill humans. But the worst flaw is the idea that Nomad could wipe Uhura's memory, or some selected portion of it, and that McCoy and his staff could "re-educate" her in a matter of days so that it was as if nothing at all had happened. Ridiculous.

But we take the good with the bad. I still enjoy this episode every time I watch it. And next time we get to review one of the best original Trek episodes!


Here we are with what turned out to be almost a prototype for The Motion Picture (I am looking forward to discussing that one of these days).  Eric summed up the concept very well and I am totally on the same page, as far as that goes.

The scene where Spock mind melds with Nomad.  I am mixed on that one.  On one hand, the idea that Nomad is an artificial form of intelligence that Spock can connect with is interesting and thought-provoking.  On the other hand, the scene borders on silliness with Nimoy's robotic "Coneheads" voice.  He sounds even more robotic than the actual robot!

Security nitpick.  I understand that Red Shirts are there to be vaporized, but it gets absurd when a second set of guards fires on Nomad minutes after another set were fried after doing the same thing.  Plus, after knowing that Nomad has extinguished entire civilizations, why would a simple force field contain it?  Points for effort I suppose.

Kirk is fun to watch in this episode as he learns to deal with this mechanical menace he's brought aboard his ship.  The fact that he seems to wait until the last possible moment to beam Nomad into space seems silly, but is certainly dramatic.  I love Spock's line after Kirk has successfully talked Nomad into its own destruction:  "Your logic was impeccable, Captain - we are in grave danger."  Nomad itself was actually well done for the capabilities of the time.  The camera angles and other effects gave the relatively simple robot model a certain amount of life as well as adequate menace.

Of course the thing we all agreed on was how stupid the "Uhura re-education" bit was.  Of course the choice line about Uhura (after she'd had her brain wiped) was:

Nomad:  "That unit is defective. Its thinking is chaotic. Absorbing it unsettled me."
Spock:  "That 'unit' is a woman."
Nomad:  "A mass of conflicting impulses."

Wow.  But not to worry, she'll be back on the job in a week (complete with her memories?)!  I realize that this was done to portray how Nomad had no experience with things like music and singing, but they really should have found a less laughable way to get it across.  And what the hell is up with Scotty?  Two in a row where he physically challenges powerful alien things and gets zapped.

Growing up, I liked this one about as much as I do today.  The idea seemed cool and there was a fun space fight at the beginning. And hey, four Red Shirts get offed!

The remastered version had slick energy weapon effects during the opening scenes, but otherwise didn't really add much.  After all, the main action happens on the ship.

One thing that bothered me that I don't remember focusing on before.  At the end of the show, after Nomad has dispatched itself, there's this jokey scene on the bridge between Kirk and Spock.  "It's not easy to lose a bright and promising son."  This seems like an odd place for a "going out of orbit joke."  After all, Nomad had killed billions of people and could very well have made it to Earth. 

But, all in all this one was pretty good.

So the next episode we cover will be what I am sure are personal favorites for all of us:  "Mirror Mirror."  It may not be the absolute best of the series, but is certainly one of the most fun.  Beards Ahoy!

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