Saturday, January 10, 2015

TOS Rewind #69: "The Mark of Gideon"

Today we tackle The Mark of Gideon (01/17/1969)

We recorded podcast reviews for this episode and the following episode on one recording.

I am going to add this episode to the pile of ones that worked better when I was 12 than it does today. Well, perhaps a little better. I chalk this up to the somewhat effective first act where Kirk has to figure out why he's on an empty Enterprise and that the weird people in body stockings were showing up on the view screen. That and the weird sounds, supposedly of all those people pushing against the walls of the "ship", added up to some decently spooky atmosphere. It's a shame that the rest of the episode doesn't hold up.

The basic idea being explored here is of course quite legitimate. Overpopulation and the sanctity of life are debates we are still having today and I would normally welcome an episode of Trek that addressed this within its universe. Alas, the way this episode plays out is so ridiculous that it's hard to take the concept very seriously. There are far too many plot holes to list here; the main aim of the situation seems to have been to get Kirk alone with Odona mess with his mind. The fact that the planet is advanced enough to recreate the Enterprise enough to fool Kirk makes the whole thing seem even more goofy.

Despite this, I did somewhat enjoy the interactions between Spock and the Gideon leader. The verbal sparring and Spock's obvious irritation at the leader's stonewalling was entertaining. Unfortunately this is somewhat undone by the fact that Spock and the crew come off as somewhat dim when they are so easily fooled by those transporter coordinates. Wait, they don't match!!!!

As Rob has mentioned on our podcasts, this show often loses its way when Kirk and Spock are separated. This episode is a good example of this problem. The usual energy of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy interaction is sorely missing for 90% of the episode's running time. This seemed to happen far too often during this disappointing season. The Odona character doesn't come off as very convincing, partially due to the way she's played. She is so hippy-dippy that we don't really see what Kirk would see in her other than a one night stand...or something like that. We never really get the impression that Kirk would even entertain the idea of staying with her while she takes one for the team.

In the end this episode is pretty dumb even if we see glimmers of something that could have been good if not great. The Season 3 curse continues.


Eric's turn:

Ah, the first Trek review of 2015. Too bad it has to be for such an awful episode. I never appreciated how stupidly absurd “The Mark of Gideon” is until we did our podcast. Like many other third season episodes, it has a worthwhile message: overpopulation is bad and must be controlled, but the multitude of glaring, ludicrous plot bunders makes it impossible to appreciate that message. It seems like the producers must have been incredibly stupid and/or lazy to let so many blatant errors get through, but Fred Freiberger (third season Executive Producer) is reported to have been satisfied with the end result. I find this incomprehensible. And sad. But I'm not going to waste time pondering the imponderable, so here are what I consider the worst blunders:
  • At one point, Ambassador Hodin tells Kirk that the Gideonite sent to negotiate with the Federation learned of Kirk having had Vegan Choriomeningitis. (As opposed to Carnivorous Choriomeningitis?) Seriously? Are we to believe that Starfleet Medical would share the confidential medical files of a starship captain with an applicant for Federation membership?

  • Similarly, the Gideonites would need the construction plans for a Constitution Class starship in order to build an exact replica of the Enterprise. How would they get those plans? It seems like Starfleet would be a bit touchy about keeping such things classified.

  • Assuming the Gideonites could get the plans for a Constitution Class starship, how would they build a convincing replica? They would need the tools, specialized technology, and materials available to the Federation. Given Gideon's plight with overpopulation and extreme lack of space, it seems wildly improbable.

  • Kirk knows every inch of the Enterprise. There is no way the Gideonites could accurately replicate it in the minute, excruciating detail it would take to fool Kirk. He would instantly spot it as a fake.

  • The Gideonites have the scientific expertise to create a detailed replica of the Enterprise, but they can't solve their overpopulation problems?

  • What's with trying to get Kirk and Odonna together. Once they had the pathogen from Kirk's blood, he wasn't needed. What the Kirk-Odonna tryst smacks of is filler. They didn't have enough real story to fill 52 minutes, so they contrived a pathetic sub-plot.

  • Regardless of whether “every organ renews itself” in all Gideonites, they still would have to have food (protein, fats, carbohydrates) as the raw materials for that renewal to happen. If, as Odonna says, every square inch of dry land is occupied, how did they grow and raise food? The oceans? Maybe, but it wouldn't last long. Here on Earth, we're well on our way to depleting the food available from the ocean, and our overpopulation isn't even close to the severity depicted on Gideon.

  • Finally, what may be the worst offense is that the plot (such as it is) hinges on no one noticing the discrepancy between the two sets of coordinates. To begin with, this is the only time in the entire series that coordinates are transmitted verbally, so it's a glaring error in consistency. But what is beyond ludicrous is that nobody (not even Scotty or Spock) notices that there is a difference! 
Anyway, I did find an interesting blurb on the Memory Alpha wiki about Stanley Adams, the actor who co-wrote this episode and played Cyrano Jones in “The Trouble with Tribbles:”

Reportedly, Adams was deeply concerned about the issue of overpopulation and had some casual discussions with Gene Roddenberry, during the production of “The Trouble with Tribbles,” in which he suggested that Star Trek do an episode reflecting that subject matter. This episode is the evident result of those conversations. Adams' writing this episode was influenced by advice from his son. Explained the writer, “My son says, 'Dad, you're in a position to really say something about the overpopulation problem.' He stood over my shoulder while I wrote around the beehive society.”

Both Adams and his son were not, however, pleased with the episode's final form. In hindsight, Adams commented, “[My son] sees the TV version. He says, 'What did they do?!' But they do it to you. When you write for TV, there's an old expression: 'Take the money and run.'”

So there we are. His is probably more commentary than “The Mark of Gideon” deserves.

Next time: “That Which Survives”

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