All posts by Paul

“The Corbomite Maneuver”

“I hope you relish my very weird upcoming acting career as much as I.”

On a routine mapping mission (stand by to photograph!) a strange cube blocks the Enterprise’s path. Forced to destroy the cube, the Enterprise continues on, until it encounters a massive ship and its hostile commander, Balok. Unable to convince him that they’re on a peaceful mission and with the crew facing destruction, Kirk bluffs Balok into thinking the Enterprise has within it a substance called “corbomite,” which would create an equal reaction to any force used against the Enterprise. Balok falls for it and rather than blowing up the Enterprise sends a smaller ship to tow it to a base. But the Enterprise’s engines overpower the smaller ship, leaving it helpless. Kirk tells his surprised crew he plans to render aid to Balok — in one of the benchmark moments of the series, if not the franchise — and encounters an alien no bigger than a small child (Clint Howard). The Balok the Enterprise had seen was a puppet and the whole encounter a test. Balok then welcomes Kirk aboard in a moment of true Trek diplomacy. I hope you relished it as much as I.

“Did you hear the joke I made earlier about being a doctor and not being a moon-shuttle conductor, Jim? It’s this running gag I’m trying to get going.”

Why it’s important

I consider “The Corbomite Maneuver” the third pilot, as it really gets to the core message of Star Trek more than “The Cage” or “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Kirk, after facing apparent death at the hands of Balok, offers him assistance — after making speeches about how the Enterprise is in space to explore and meet new lifeforms. This episode is the pure ethos of Star Trek and why mankind builds starships. Good stuff.

Of course, we also meet Bones (DeForest Kelley) and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) in this episode and the uniforms and set take on the look we see for most of the next three seasons (though Uhura is wearing a gold uniform, for some reason). We also see the ship’s phasers fire for the first time and Sulu at the helm. Other than the absence of Chekov (who shows up in season 2) what we see here is pretty much what TOS was for the next three years.

"I'd really like to get out of this whole First Federation thing and settle down somewhere. Maybe make a little extra cash by showing up in the second-season credits. You know, a cushy retirement gig."
“I’d really like to get out of this whole First Federation thing and settle down somewhere. Maybe make a little extra cash by showing up in the second-season credits. You know, a cushy retirement gig.”

What doesn’t hold up well

Spock’s still not quite right, though the evolution of the character is starting. It’s also odd that we never hear of Balok or his First Federation again. Of course, this episode was during the era when the Enterprise was pretty clearly an Earth vessel and not a Federation ship. The United Federation of Planets wouldn’t be introduced for several more episodes.

Oh, and it’s kind of odd that Kirk leaves Bailey (Anthony D. Call) — his navigator who cracks up during the encounter with Balok — behind on Balok’s ship without really knowing more about Balok. What if Bailey couldn’t eat the foods Balok could provide? Can Bailey live on Tranya alone?

Final thoughts

This isn’t a perfect episode, as the shipboard action gets repetitive and there are some clear editing mistakes. But it is necessary viewing, as it really explains what the hell humans are doing out in space in the first place. It’s really too bad that this episode wasn’t shown in the original broadcast order until much later in the original run.

Even if the Star Trek ethos can be gleaned from other episodes — Kirk tries to render similar assistance to fallen enemies in “Balance of Terror” and even in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” — the introduction of Kelley as McCoy is hugely important. A big part of the popularity of the original series has to do with the Big Three of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. It’s interesting that Shatner and Kelley both were so comfortable in their roles so early in their time on Star Trek. The scene in Kirk’s quarters where they discuss Bailey hardly seems like something that occurred in their first episode together.

We do see some shipboard action in “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” But both of those episodes could have worked (more or less) just as well in more generic science fiction. “The Corbomite Maneuver” is vintage Star Trek, as we learn a lot about what humans (or, at least the humans we see) are all about in Star Trek.

“The Corbomite Maneuver” is the show’s philosophical pilot, rounding out “The Cage” as Star Trek’s aesthetic pilot, and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” as the adventure pilot. Hence the decision to release the reviews of all three on the launch of this site.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before”

“Accuracy when it comes to middle initials is for men, not gods.”

The Enterprise, under the command of James Kirk (William Shatner) attempts to cross the barrier between galaxies with disastrous results. The ship is badly damaged and Kirk’s old friend and navigator Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) starts displaying weird powers (silver eyes, increased reading abilities, telekinesis, love of bad poetry) and a dangerous god complex. Kirk and Spock hatch a plan to cannibalize parts to repair the Enterprise from a nearby unmanned lithium-cracking station and to maroon Mitchell there. With the ship repaired, Mitchell escapes imprisonment on the planet and takes with him Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (Sally Kellerman), who was affected in a similar way to Mitchell but took longer to show symptoms. Kirk follows them and defeats and kills Mitchell, thanks to help from Dehner, who dies after the struggle. Kirk returns to the Enterprise and sets course for the ship’s next assignment.

Why it’s important

As the second pilot, this episode introduces Kirk, Scotty (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei), but it’s foundationalness (if that’s a word) as far as events go is sort of borderline. Few concepts about Earth, the Federation, Starfleet, etc., are introduced here that aren’t in “The Cage”. Most notable is probably talk of Starfleet Academy (where we learn Kirk was an instructor) which sort of underscores the idea of Starfleet as an exploratory/military-like service (along with the dialog about crossing the galactic barrier). There’s a general sense that humans explore the galaxy, but with few specifics — other than name dropping of some random planets and random stories re: alien “rodent things” that attacked Kirk and Mitchell back in the day.

Everyone get in frame, someday some nerds are gonna need this photo for Internet!
Everyone get in frame, someday some nerds are gonna need this photo for Internet!

The episode does introduce Kirk, who is an important person in galactic history (Sulu and Scotty, as well, to a point). It’s also an interesting sort of half-step between “The Cage” and “The Corbomite Maneuver” (the first episode filmed in regular production). We see the original uniforms but the ship looks more like what we see throughout the series (the colors are MUCH less muted).

As noted in our review of “The Cage,” this episode is Trek’s adventure pilot, because it sets up Kirk as the dashing hero (much more than Pike was in “The Cage”). Apparently, that was the goal of the second pilot — to be less cerebral, and this episode does a better job of balancing the cerebral with action. Still, Kirk’s dialog with Dehner about what Mitchell hasn’t learned in his accelerated progression to godhood is interesting stuff.

What doesn’t hold up well

The biggest issue is that this episode appears to take place well into the Enterprise’s five-year mission — which runs counter to established Trek history that says this episode was at the beginning of the five years (which sort of explains the lack of McCoy and less of a buddy-buddy relationship for Kirk and Spock). Also odd is the familiarity among the crew and lines about how some of them have served together for years.

There are also lines of dialog — Mitchell saying a poem written in 1996 is from the “past couple of centuries” — which show the creators hadn’t quite figured out a timeline for Star Trek. This is a problem for a lot of TOS, which seems to take place in the late 22nd century at some points (Kirk telling Khan in “Space Seed” that he’s been asleep for two centuries) and in the late 23rd at others (Kirk’s scenes with Dr. Taylor in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”). It’s always been my theory that this stemmed from a belief, in the 1960s, that space exploration would be a lot farther along by the late 1990s than actually happened in real life — and the creators had to push back events accordingly.

Case in point: As the Enterprise gets close to the barrier, it finds the ship’s recorder from the S.S. Valiant, a vessel that apparently tried to leave the galaxy two centuries earlier (and ran into problems the Enterprise faces when it goes through the barrier). Do the math — this episode takes place in 2264 — meaning we’ll apparently have ships fast enough to get to the galactic barrier sometime in the next 86 years or so. Even if we accept the “Star Trek: First Contact” backstory, that humans travel faster than light in the 2060s, it’s just absurd to think we’d be traveling this far in the subsequent decades (and it certainly runs counter to “Star Trek: Enterprise,” in which humans don’t really leave the solar system until the 2150s).

But, as I said, the creators in 1966 probably thought we’d be a lot farther along with space exploration by now than we are — and probably never figured that, nearly 50 years later, geeks like me would be dissecting stuff at this level.

Of course, the other part of this problem stems from the issue of distance, something TOS really shrugged off most of the time with a wink and a nod. Even if you figure the Valiant somehow got to the galactic barrier in the late 21st century (wormhole, maybe?) the whole idea of the Enterprise making it there doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. This is just bad science, and we see it throughout TOS and in the movies.

Can't get enough of that lithium, baby
I’m not gonna crack! Except on Delta Vega, that’s all anyone does with lithium there.

And let’s say the Enterprise can get to the galactic barrier using conventional warp. How is there an unmanned lithium-cracking station so close — within reach on impulse — to the galactic barrier, which is, put another way, the edge of the galaxy? Are the unmanned ore ships that go there “every 20 years” according to Kirk really fast enough to get there — and for it to be worth it? Earth must really dig that lithium.

The Milky Way sure seems larger (appropriately so) in second-generation Trek.

Now, some of you — if you’re not trying to find a way to retcon this stuff — are saying I’m being too hard on a pilot. But the speed/distance problem is something that occurs throughout TOS and even in the movies (remember how absurdly easy it was to get to the center of the galaxy in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”?). I’m simply pointing it out here to note where this issue started. Heck, it sort of started in dialog in “The Cage”, but it’s far more obvious and a lot more specific here.

Of course, a lot of the characterization is off in this episode. Kirk is pretty much the same guy we see throughout the series, but Spock isn’t Spock quite yet. Besides the smiling we see here and in “The Cage”, he acts more like Worf in TNG than Spock in TOS. The cold, calculating belief that Mitchell should be killed to save the ship runs counter to the Spock we see later in the first season, when he believes killing the Horta in “Devil in the Dark” would be a crime against science. Some of the dialog from Dehner could have come from Spock later in the series. Indeed and some of the dialog from Kirk could have come from McCoy (“Can you take a moment to feel?”).

There are a few other stray items. It’s well-known that Kirk’s middle initial is “T” for “Tiberius.” But his initial appears as “R” on the tombstone Mitchell makes for him (I’ve heard it suggested that Mitchell really wasn’t that infallible). Meanwhile, Sulu’s use of pennies in his analogy for Mitchell’s evolution was odd. I know there are disputes over whether money was still used in the 23rd century, but it’s pretty clear that hard currency was no longer used, Oh, and the medical reports Spock reviews for Mitchell and Dehner look extremely antiquated.

I’d say “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is the adventure pilot, while “The Cage” is Star Trek’s aesthetic pilot, and “The Corbomite Maneuver” is the philosophical pilot. Hence the decision to release the reviews of all three on the launch of this site.

“The Cage”

“I played Jesus one time, you know.”

The U.S.S. Enterprise, under the command of Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) responds to a distress call from an Earth survey vessel in an unexplored system. The initially friendly and grateful survivors turn out to be illusions created by an advanced race of aliens called the Talosians. Their goal is to get Pike to accept a new life and mate with a human female named Vina by way of a series of elaborate fantasies — one including Vina as a very saucy Orion slave girl, another a recreation of the Enterprise’s previous mission, etc. After Pike repeatedly refuses to cooperate, attacks the Talosians and threatens to kill himself and others, the Talosians let him go — deciding humans are too violent and too against captivity to repopulate their battered planet (the inconsistently smart/dumb actions by the Talosians is one of the episode’s weaknesses). Vina, who actually was one of the original humans from the ship that crashed and not an illusion, was left deformed (her beauty throughout the episode was an illusion created by the Talosians) and decides to remain on the planet with a fantasy Pike. The real Pike returns to the ship and sets course for the crew’s next mission, never to return to Talos IV. Oh, wait …

Why it’s important

Our first look at the USS Enterprise
The first Enterprise! No bloody A, B, C or D… or E, or NX.

It goes without saying that “The Cage” is the most foundational episode of all of Trek. We’re introduced to so much that explaining it all would take too long. But, the big items include the Enterprise itself and the general look and feel of starships, a (somewhat) multi-ethnic crew with women (or, at least, a woman) in positions of authority and a main character who’s an alien (Leonard Nimoy, appearing for the first time as Spock). Most importantly might be the idea that Earth is fine and has developed to the point where it has ships exploring and colonizing the galaxy. One of my favorite moments of the episode is the way the creators slipped that idea in — “Same old Earth and you’ll see it very soon” — when Pike and Co. meet the “survivors” who ask if Earth’s all right. Whether intentional or not, the moment sets up the “positive future” idea that’s so core to Star Trek.

Naturally, some of the concepts aren’t fleshed out yet (there’s no mention of Starfleet or the Federation). But they, of course, will come.

What doesn’t hold up well

I’ll treat this one with extreme kid gloves. Use of paper and printers, a television set in Pike’s quarters, etc., can mostly be shrugged off. Talk of printouts 23 years later in “Encounter at Farpoint”, OTOH …

Probably the biggest issue comes from the dialog surrounding the crashed survey vessel’s apparent lack of warp drive. One of Pike’s crew tells the “survivors” on Talos IV that the “time barrier” has been broken — possibly, an allusion to warp. I suppose it could mean something else. Maybe in the previous 18 years, some other advancement happened that negated a “time barrier” that kept ships from going very, very fast at warp? I’m sure there’s some elaborate, expanded universe explanation, but it still doesn’t make much sense if you figure the survey vessel got to Talos IV in the first place. And there’s no dialog to indicate it was a sleeper ship.

This is part of a larger issue that we see in a lot of TOS, where the galaxy seems extremely small and the creators don’t seem to understand (or care about) the difference between warp and impulse. Anyway, the survivors crashed 18 years prior to the events of this episode, and we know that humans had warp about 200 years before “The Cage,” (based on events later in TOS and “Star Trek: First Contact”).

“Captain Pike, you shouldn’t have! They’re lovely. I’ve got a vase I’ll put them. It’s right next to my tenant of no emotion and dedication to pure logic.”

Lastly, Spock is, of course, way off in this episode. He’s the only character we see again — and he’s not quite the Spock we know and love until about the 10th episode produced in the first season — but watching him smile when he and Pike find the blue floating leaves is a really odd moment. It’s sort of a classic moment, too. Sometimes, Star Trek’s mistakes are an interesting part of watching its evolution.

Final thoughts

Of course, many fans have only seen “The Cage” through the two-part “The Menagerie,” where the pilot’s footage was reused in a flashback. Either way, what we see is sort of fascinating (to borrow a phrase).

It’s quite odd that the pilot is so light on why humans are in space in the first place. Most of the character moments revolve around Pike’s internal struggle about whether being a starship (or, spaceship, based on this episode’s dialog) captain is worth it to him after an incident that occurred prior to the episode, leaving some crew members dead and others injured. Once captured, there’s a lot about humanity’s hatred for captivity. It’s not bad stuff, but it’s not particularly introductory to Star Trek. We don’t get a lot of big picture info.

That said, a lot introduced here does become part of what we watched for the next 40 years (50 years, in reruns). The Enterprise design, transporters, weapons, uniforms, the way the ship works, etc., are all generally started here.

I’d say “The Cage” is Star Trek’s aesthetic pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is the adventure pilot and “The Corbomite Maneuver” is the philosophical pilot. Hence the decision to release the reviews of all three on the launch of this site.