Up now is The Apple (10/13/1967)
Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast. As Kirk might say in this episode, "Podcasts...IN PARADISE!"
Eric gets the first shot:
This apple has a worm in it. Where the previous episode, "Mirror Mirror," is a great example of Star Trek at its best, "The Apple" is a great example of the dregs of the series. It's odd, actually, because the next episode, "The Doomsday Machine," is another classic. I guess the producers, and/or network, decided a sub-par episode might not be noticeable if it aired between two that are superb.
I'm not going to spend a great deal of time repeating the critique we did in our podcast, however. (Go listen to it!) By way of a quick recap, this episode fails in pretty much every category: the acting is wooden, the special effects (especially the paper mache model that was used for Vaal) are pathetic, and worst of all, the story is derivative and devoid of anything resembling a compelling plot. On the plus side (very narrow), there are some good character moments, particularly for Scotty. And the idea underlying the story isn't bad, the problem is that it's an underdeveloped rehash of "The Return of the Archons" from the first season. If the writer and producers has bothered to explain, or at least hint at, how and why Vaal came to be, the episode might have been okay. But they didn't...
All this being said, as I pointed out in the 'cast, original Trek was produced at a breakneck pace on a frayed shoestring budget, so it's amazing a much higher percentage of episodes weren't of the low caliber of "The Apple." And as I mentioned earlier, the next episode is a classic!
This episode is a bit of a stinker. I don't think it's one of the worst, but it really stands out within the second season as the rest of the episodes are generally quite good. The ideas expressed here might be more interesting if we hadn't seen them before in the far-superior "Archons." Landru, the society-guiding cyber intelligence of "Archons" at least had a back story and was a much more interesting adversary to the crude and poorly defined Vaal in this episode. Of course, having a planet with a stagnant computer-managed human society where Kirk has to decide whether or not to violate the Prime Directive is a good idea for an episode. Unfortunately, very little time is devoted to it. Much of the running time of the episode is spent killing off Red Shirts (this episode really establishes the tradition with four of them getting knocked off), Kirk repeatedly throwing paradise-lost-themed lines out, and bad "love" scenes between Chekov and Yeoman Landon. In its defense, the Red Shirt sequences are actually pretty funny and can be fully appreciated in the episode's trailer: it stitches together many of the bad/funny scenes in this episode.
Without the subplot of the Enterprise being attacked, perhaps there would have been time to actually explore the implications of Kirk interfering with the society, something that's only really given lip service here. Like the spore-shooting plants and exploding rocks ("Garden of Eden, with land mines." tee hee), the action in orbit is just there to juice up the tension. Of course one could argue that plenty of Next Generation episodes went in the other direction: all character/ideas with too little action. In the end, for this episode, it all comes off as silly and we find it hard to take any of the ideas seriously.
As Rob pointed out in the podcast, Shatner seemed to have dramatic difficulty doing tense scenes without a real villain to play of off. His performance if definitely off. Nimoy goes between overreaction and blandness much of the time here. Not that there aren't points of fun with the characters. I've always liked the back/forth between Kirk and Scotty in this episode and Spock/McCoy get some of their usual sparring in. There's also a very amusing scene between Spock and Chekov where they create a distraction.
As Eric pointed out, the facade of Vaal looks pretty shabby, though I remember it being somewhat more impressive when I saw it growing up. Another victim of large, high resolution screens. The planet sets look like rejects from Gilligan's Island, pretty sad. It's a good thing that the next episode brings the level back up...
Next time: "The Doomsday Machine"