Thursday, May 2, 2013

TOS Rewind #55: "The Enterprise Incident"

The podcast we recorded for this one can be listened to right here:

Up today:  The Enterprise Incident (9/27/1968).

After the last episode, pretty much anything would be an improvement but this one is actually decent.

I have to wonder why they wouldn't have led the season with this one instead of "Spock's Brain". "Incident" would have been a strong, action and intrigue-filled opening as opposed to the camp and just plain awfulness of "Brain". But hey, they don't pay me the big bucks to make network television programming choices so what do I know?

One of the notable things about this one is the way that it references earlier parts of the show: the Romulans are already known to the characters and even the fact that they are using a Klingon-looking ship is noted. On the other hand, the fact that Kirk and co. act like the cloaking technology is new seems like something that the writers could have easily fixed; it comes off as just lazy today. To be fair, I do have to wonder if you went back and scrutinized other TV shows of the era, say the entire run of Bonanza, whether you'd also find as many or more continuity flaws. I don't think the people who produced television then thought the audiences paid that much attention or slavishly watched every episode. TV seemed like more of a disposable product back then.

There are some implied connections to the first season episode, "Balance of Terror" where once again, we're reminded that Vulcans and Romulans share a common ancestry. These two episodes form the foundation of all the Romulan-filled episode and movie plot. All in all, the Romulans were the more interesting of the two villain races that were introduced in the original series.

Of course it needs to be said how great it is to see a female adversary in the old show. Sure, the Romulan commander (never given a name by the writers) is snookered by Kirk and Spock but she is an authority figure who (mostly) retains her dignity throughout and is a refreshing change from the usual characters our heroes go up against. The commander is also totally NOT interested in Kirk...again! That's two in a row where the lead woman character of the episode is not remotely charmed by Kirk. Now we know things are gettin' weird! However, Spock really puts on what we have to assume is a Vulcan-style seduction act and sells it to us and the object of his deception. The commander may let her guard down a bit too quickly for real credibility but it's easy to see how she falls for Spock; she acts like she's been waiting to run into Spock and has a thing for Vulcans. Heh. So don't examine this part too closely but this part of the plot, which is given ample time to develop, certainly adds to the entertainment value of this episode.

Kirk is less of a focus in this episode, especially after he's done playing crazy. Shatner does the right amount of scenery-chewing to make the story work and is actually a bit of a jerk in the opening act. I found it amusing that he was the one qualified to sneak back aboard the Romulan ship, locate the cloaking device (with its light bulb-esque socket), and remove it but heroes have gotta do their thing. McCoy has a few good moments and now, we have Sulu AND Chekov together on the bridge.

The feel of the story definitely goes along with the Cold War time; the story could have been between two naval vessels. Once again I find myself wishing for just a bit of background and exposition that we got in abundance Next Gen: obviously there's some Starfleet Intelligence intrigue going on here that would be fun to see further explored. The scenes where Kirk has been made up to look like a Romulan have always been fun even if it reminds me a bit of how they used to make up white actors to look like Asians in the old movies. The pacing is good and there's the right combination of suspense and humor to make this episode memorable.

Like Eric, I liked this episode when I was growing up. We were always wanting to see more of the Klingons and the Romulans back then and this episode always stood out for upping the threat factor of the earlier seasons. Sure, the "romance" scenes weren't that cool for us but it was all for King and Country so go Spock!

The new effects add to the episode. Being able to more clearly see the other ships is great and the attention to detail is appreciated, such as the bird logos visible along the bottom of the hulls.


And now Eric's take:

In our podcast, we talk about how infinitely better it would have been to start the third season of original Star Trek with "The Enterprise Incident" rather than "Spock's Brain." There's no doubt that "The Enterprise Incident" is a better episode by at least an order of magnitude, but I'm not sure if beginning the season with a strong episode like this and then following up with a festering turd like "Spock's Brain" would have been more or less disappointing.

In any case, I recall enjoying "The Enterprise Incident" growing up, and on seeing it again, I was pleased to find that for the most part, it held up. There are, however, some interesting facts about this episode that I didn't know until very recently. For example, the story is loosely based on the Pueblo Incident, where on January 23, 1968, the USS Pueblo, a Naval intelligence vessel, was captured by North Korean forces while conducting spying operations in the Sea of Japan. Also, in D. C. Fontana's original script, the premise is that the Romulans have improved their cloaking device since it was first introduced in the excellent first season episode "Balance of Terror." In this draft, however, the device is stored in a laboratory instead of being installed on an active duty ship. This brings me to my main criticisms:

It is clearly established in the aforementioned "Balance of Terror" that the Romulans have a cloaking device, but when Kirk and company discuss the matter in "The Enterprise Incident," they seem to have completely forgotten that fact, as if the Romulan cloaking device is entirely new. At best, this is a jarring continuity error.

My other primary complaint is that the security around the cloaking device on the Romulan ship is pathetically lax. First, Kirk beams aboard the Romulan ship undetected and then knocks out the only guard in what Spock describes as a heavily guarded area. He then proceeds to enter the top-secret, restricted cloaking device room where there is only one Romulan whom he knocks out as easily as the first guard. Now we discover that the cloaking device, an amazing piece of highly advanced technology, is a gadget the size of a table lamp that bears a remarkable resemblance to Nomad from "The Changeling." And the coup de grace is that Kirk simply lifts it out of its receptacle and carries it off. Apparently, we're supposed to believe that it functions without any physical connection to the ship. That being said, the Romulans did detect the the transmissions between Kirk and Spock's communicators, but still...

Despite these flaws, "The Enterprise Incident" is a well-paced, interesting story that keeps you guessing. The lead-in with Kirk feigning a mental breakdown is particularly well done, and I always enjoy the interaction between Spock and the Romulan commander. And what self-respecting Trek fan doesn't dig getting to see Kirk sporting upswept eyebrows and pointed ears? (Although I tend to agree with Spock that it isn't aesthetically pleasing.)

Next time: "The Paradise Syndrome"

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