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Posts Tagged ‘Miri’

Those Star Trek stock plots in full (as of mid-season one):

1. Strange influence causes the crew to wildly overact.

2. Transporter undergoes bizarre metaphysical breakdown with peculiar consequences for transportee.

3. Someone who has god-like powers behaves like a bit of a tool.

These are the ones which seem to have firmly taken in the Trek genome – certainly as late on as episodes of Voyager, stock plot #s 2 and 3 were still in fairly heavy rotation. The original series also has a few which, while common, never made it into the spin-offs to anything like the same degree:

4. A parallel or alternate version of Earth is discovered.

5. Scientist working on remote outpost has hit upon scheme to improve humanity using immoral new or alien technology and interferes with Captain Kirk in order to do so.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that #5 really qualifies as a stock plot, even though it seems to me to cover What Are Little Girls Made Of? and Dagger of the Mind with equal accuracy. These episodes have an odd structural similarity in other ways, too: both are heavily Kirk-centric with Spock sidelined and McCoy in an equally reduced role (or not appearing at all). In both episodes Kirk is mainly accompanied by a lone woman assistant – a guest character in Dagger, Christine Chapel in Girls. On the other hand, I don’t think only two instances really qualify as a stock plot.

This early on in the show, none of the plot patterns have really lost any of their freshness or potential and there’s still a very real sense of the programme still discovering what it is and mapping out the borders of its fictional space – even the identity of the organisation the Enterprise represents hasn’t been finalised yet, with references to ‘Space Central’ in Miri, for example.

Miri is a stock-plot episode, but a curious one. The Enterprise discovers an exact duplicate of Earth in a remote region of space – now, you would have expected the mystery of this alternate world to be central to the plot, but it’s actually barely commented upon (one almost gets the impression this detail is only there to give the pre-titles scene some wallop). Even while watching the episode I found myself thinking ‘That’s an awkward detail the Trek continuity cops will have had a go at’ and apparently this is the case.

Anyway, this week’s counter-Earth is in a pretty poor state, civilisation apparently having collapsed around the year 1960 (which is pretty convenient as it means the episode can shoot on the Paramount back-lot without too much set-dressing being required). Kirk beams down with Spock (science specialist), McCoy (medical expertise), Rand (hair-care expert) and some redshirts (who miraculously survive the episode, for once) to check the place out.

There is, of course, another mystery beyond the one of the duplicate Earth that never gets addressed: if everyone’s been dead for three hundred years, why are there still children living in the ruins? It turns out that the collapse of the other Earth was the result of the release of a virus which massively slows ageing in pre-pubescent children, but causes rapid mutation, madness, and death in anyone older…

The episode starts strongly – the series’ first major excursion into the realm of location filming helps – and it’s well-directed. However, the main problem is that the main plot driver – the need to find a cure for the virus before everyone but Spock drops dead – largely results in scenes of Spock and McCoy hunched over microscopes while Kirk paces tensely back and forth. To liven things up a bit, the episode has to build in a plot complication about Kirk’s relationship with Miri, a local girl just on the verge of young womanhood: the other feral kids on the planet (led by a 27-year-old Michael J Pollard) steal the landing party’s communicators and it’s up to Miri to help get them back, but she’s jealous of what’s going on between Kirk and Rand (even though there isn’t much going on beyond another roll-your-eyes scene where the yeoman talks about how she hopes Kirk has noticed her legs). This is a pretty eggy melodrama, and that’s even before we get to the fact that this episode is built around a quasi-romance between a teenaged girl and a man in his thirties.

Ewww.

Ewww.

There’s also the problem that the fact this is set on a counter-Earth inevitably leads one to expect an element of social or political comment – that’s basically the function of the parallel world concept in SF, after all, to provide a dark mirror to either the normal world of the series or that of the viewers themselves. But there’s no element of a cautionary tale here, in that the other Earth has been destroyed as a result of antigeronic research which doesn’t have a real-world parallel. A bit of an oddball episode.

Putting stock plots to one side, we can still usefully generalise about early Star Trek: it’s very much the Kirk show (although the writers seem to be aware that Spock is a character with bags of potential), and it’s making a concerted effort to be high-minded, adult-oriented SF rather than pulp SF. As I’ve mentioned before, aliens are very thin on the ground, and there’s no sense of a wider political reality in terms of there being other civilisations the Enterprise is in touch with (this is a round-the-houses way of saying the Romulans and Klingons haven’t even been mentioned yet).

Inevitably, contrasting with all of the above is The Menagerie, in which Kirk takes a very secondary role – first to Spock, then to his predecessor Captain Pike – and which does feature a proper alien civilisation (albeit a moribund one). The Menagerie plainly exists only as a way of amortising the cost of the original Trek pilot and has to be considered in that light: in terms of the wider narrative, it’s rather implausible, even if it does give us our first hints of the wider structure of what would eventually become Starfleet.

'Please go back to your own series at once, Space Commander Travis.'

‘Please go back to your own series at once, Space Commander Travis.’

Back the other way we find The Conscience of the King, which is only marginally SF in the truest sense. Again, it is not without its startling aspects – we learn, for example, that as a teenager Kirk was nearly a victim what nowadays we’d call crimes against humanity on a vast scale. In a modern show this would be the entire basis of his character, but in 60s Star Trek it’s a plot point whipped up to facilitate this episode and never be mentioned or even alluded to again. The despot responsible disappeared at the time, but Kirk is led to believe he may still be around in the person of distinguished actor Anton Karidian, whose daughter Kirk inevitably has a bit of a thing for (she is nineteen, which if you ask me is still pushing it for a man of Kirk’s age). Another slightly eggy melodrama ensues, in which Kirk’s own feelings and ambivalencies are not articulated as well as they really need to be in order for the thing to work. It’s a very atypical sort of episode, and striking (for me at least) in the way that the central theme seems to anticipate the Vincent Price movie Theatre of Blood (the relationship between a Shakespearean actor and his utterly devoted daughter is central, there is a string of murders, and so on). But it’s a lot less involving, not to mention fun, than Theatre of Blood. Then again, so are most things!

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