Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Star Trek at 50: Shore Leave

Season 1
Episode 17: Shore Leave
Filmed: October 1966 
First Air Date: December 29, 1966

Karen: One of the more fanciful episodes of original Trek, 'Shore Leave' makes an impression. Our crew is bewildered by encounters that simply cannot be occurring, but are. Some of these are funny, some are melancholic, and some are outright lethal. Even our good Captain finds himself overcome by the phantoms of his past. The pace is quick and there's never a dull moment. The episode is greatly enhanced by being shot on location -something that would become a rarity in later seasons.

Karen: Surprisingly, it takes quite some time before the Enterprise crew begins to understand the nature of the planet  and what's going on around them. Kirk still can't resist giving his old adversary Finnegan a good beating, even though he knows it's not really him.  Well, after he had already gotten the tar knocked out of him earlier, I guess Kirk had earned it.

Karen: Kirk also encounters Ruth, an old flame. Shatner portrays this well, with mixed emotions: confusion, longing, can tell that whoever Ruth was, she was no one night stand. The music by composer Gerald Fried in these scenes also highlights these feelings. My one complaint is that I always thought Ruth (played by actress Shirley Bonne) looked a bit too old for the presumably Academy-aged Kirk. But then again, Kirk never seemed to discriminate. 

Karen: In the book Star Trek Memories, Shatner recounts how filming this episode was a bit tricky. NBC had wanted major revisions done to the story by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, so Gene Roddenberry, who was about to go on a vacation to Hawaii, left behind notes for Gene Coon. For some reason, Coon never received the notes. So Roddenberry went off on his vacation, and when he returned, the crew was ready to film "Shore Leave" the next day -without any of the changes NBC requested! Roddenberry rewrote the script on location (both Africa USA and Vasquez Rocks were utilized). However, Shatner notes that Roddenberry couldn't finish everything, and there was quite a bit of ad-libbing by the actors in this episode. Roddenberry and the actors were  coming up with all sorts of ideas to fill out the story. One that didn't make it into the finished episode: Captain Kirk wrestling a tiger. There is a tiger seen in the show, and Shatner at one point thought it would be a terrific idea for Kirk to wrestle the big cat. Shatner, always enthusiastic, was a little too pumped up that day, as he explains:

"Now the words 'stuntman' and 'phony tiger' are probably already buzzing about your cerebellum, but I can assure you that strangely enough, I wasn't the least bit interested in such precautions. Even stranger, I can remember being really excited about the whole thing. I mean, here I was, this middle-aged actor, caught up in the adrenaline of the moment, and I stood there, like a dope, actually contemplating hopping on top of Shere Khan. Roddenberry, who had about a hundred thousand other things to worry about, came over and tried to talk me out of this unarguably stupid idea, but I was, for some reason, determined to go through with it.

"Then Roddenberry did something brilliant. With his arm around my shoulder, we strolled through the park as he tried to convince me I was far too important to the show to risk wrestling some man-eater. He really wasn't getting far, but then, and in retrospect I'm sure it was premeditated, we 'stumbled' upon the tigers' habitat at precisely feeding time. There sat the tiger I would be battling, enormous, majestic,  and gnawing away at a bone full of red meat.

"Immediately my testicles rose up into my Adam's apple, and the ignorant machismo that had been pulsing so heartily through my veins was now replaced by sheer abject terror. I stood there trying not to look too horrified as I now gracefully backed down, 'for the good of the show.'"

Karen: Despite not getting to see Kirk battle a tiger, this is an exciting, action-packed episode. The knock-down, drag-out fight with Finnegan is a heck of a brawl. This episode also sees Dr. McCoy killed - not almost killed, but d-e-a-d, dead. The advanced technology of the planet is used to bring him back to life, as if nothing had happened. Trek seems at times to treat death lightly. Scotty was also killed in "The Changeling" and brought back to life with no adverse reactions. I think there may have been a few other deaths and resurrections, I just can't think of them at the moment. You can make the argument (as some people have) that every time someone steps into the transporter, they actually die and are reconstructed -a copy of the original person. So I wonder where the concept of the soul or the afterlife comes in to Trek? Is a person just a machine you can restart? Is there no element to us greater than our biochemistry? The fact that Star Trek makes me think about things like this makes me love it even more. 

Karen: All in all this is a very enjoyable, if atypical, episode of Trek.


Edo Bosnar said...

This is an episode I didn't like as much when I was a kid (i.e., elementary school-age) but grew to appreciation in my teens and later. As you noted, even though much of it seems fanciful and outlandish on its surface (like Alice and the guy in the rabbit suit, etc.), it does have its thought-provoking moments that tended to go over the head of my pre-teen self.
Otherwise, I can't help but think that this episode very likely inspired whoever it was that came up with the idea of the holodeck on TNG...

Humanbelly said...

IIRC, when originally broadcast, Bones gets killed (by that robot knight, yes?), is pronounced dead-- and then we cut to a commercial break, of course(!). I mean, what sticks with me is REEEEEALLY being traumatized at that moment, and then having no way to put it in context or deal with it, etc, while some inane Benson&Hedges or Alpo commercial is winding on and on. Pretty sure I was in tears (I would have been 5 or 6, I think). Momentary emotional trauma aside, though, I did love this episode even as a tyke. It was certainly too scary for someone my age: Bones getting killed; threat of a real tiger; this obnoxious snot that Kirk inexplicably couldn't out-fight; and the particularly creepy white rabbit-- but boy it was a grabber.

Also, I think I liked the one-time Nurse/Assistant that McCoy had-- who surely seemed destined for further consideration (nice chemistry with the rest of the cast), but she just retreated into the Enterprise's greater gene pool after this, I suppose. . .

Karen, have you been keeping track of Kirk's romantic time-line at all? I'd mentioned in an earlier post that it doesn't seem possible for him to have had as many "deeply significant" relationships as we're led to believe-- at least not for him to still be in his early 30's, y'know? IMMEDIATELY off the top of my head? There's Ruth, here; there's the prosecutor lady from Kirk's court-martial; the young woman from the episode where they all get very old; there's the mother of his son in Wrath of Khan--- and haven't there been one or two more even in this first season that you've touched on? Of ALL the aspects of this show that seemed most contrived to me, this endless supply of "more than just special"-ish/could-have-been romances from Kirk's past was possibly the hardest for me to swallow. Heh.


Anonymous said...

It hadn't occurred to me that somebody dies every time they use the transporter but of course it must be true. The problem of the soul and the afterlife don't bother me because I don't believe in such things but what about consciousness ? How could somebody's consciousness be preserved when their brain had been deconstructed atom by atom ? Would the same consciousness be created when the atoms were re-assembled ? (What is consciousness anyway ?)

Humanbelly said...

Annnnnd Colin, while innocently strolling along Memory Lane, is brutally accosted by the Big Questions--- ;-)


Garett said...

Fantastic episode! Very entertaining. I like hearing how Roddenberry rewrote at the last minute, and the actors improvised. Great fight with Finnegan, and it adds more to Kirk's character. Nice twist where Bones thinks all he has to do is not believe in this fantasy, and it kills him-- in another Trek story in the Old West, that trick worked. They balanced whimsy and danger well in this episode.

I find myself looking forward to Wednesday's Trek posts, Karen! Thanks!

david_b said...

Yes.., perhaps the first of many 'fanciful episodes' to come our way.., but again (as my viewpoints of recent weeks have shown...) this was the first episode of the more lighter sides of Trek. Not to say there wasn't action and suspense.., but it allowed for a bit more humor than the wry remarks we've seen up until now.

Again, I'm disciplining my views as one observing this as a 'first-seen, brand new series' circa 1966, not 50some years of endless reruns and analysis, sequels, what have you.

Having said that, this certainly is a dynamic episode, opening first-time areas of humor and humanizing between the principles, such as Spock's verbal trickery to get Kirk to relax on the planet, the yeoman's jealousy of women on McCoy's arm, Sulu's excitement of finding old pistols, you name it.

In addition, you now are treated to Trek's lighter-fare background music, which will mark every humorous scene in both first and second years (disappointingly missing from the third year with Coon gone and Fred took over, reportedly complaining that Trek was not a 'comedy-in-space' to folks like David Gerrold who came to him with Tribble sequel ideas..).

And even more so in this episode, you truly see the dynamics of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy relationship further defined and maturing here as well.

One of the best early episodes.

david_b said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yeah, this one's kinda goofy, but it's so much fun, so who cares? The Finnegan/Kirk fight is over the top!

Mike Wilson

david_b said...

One tidbit of analysis to add for my earlier comments on the broadening of humor and humanizing.., when this episode was being written (and rewritten, and rewritten..), one has to remember that Yeoman Rand had just left the series a few weeks previous.

Pontificating on that idea, one wonders how the scenes I mentioned earlier could have been originally written...:

1) The Kirk-Spock exchange I mentioned (getting the Captain down to the planet) may have been a Kirk-Rand exchange. This now expands Spock more as the '2nd in Command' briefing the Captain on the overall health posture of the crew, instead of just the Science Officer.

2) The Yeoman Barrows bits could have been Rand as well. Again, who knows..?

The imagination stirs....

Karen said...

David, very perceptive about the absence of Yeoman Rand. Looking at Marc Cushman's comments in his These are the Voyages Volume 1 about Shore Leave, he notes that early drafts of this episode were written before Grace Lee Whitney departed the show. Yeoman Barrows replaced her. This opened up the interplay between her and McCoy. Justman and others really liked the idea of keeping her around, but Coon apparently nixed the idea, not liking the thought of a steady relationship for Bones (or having to work around that, I suppose).

HB, I have no idea how Kirk managed all these relationships, but he was a man of action after all!

Garrett, thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you are enjoying the reviews. I'm having fun watching the shows again and then talking about them with all of you!

Anonymous said...

Ah, Kirk intergalactic man about town! Yeah, this episode was fanciful but it did raise some questions about mortality and the difference between reality versus fantasy. Some of the best episodes made you think even when funny looking aliens were walking around (OK,OK we all know they had a limited budget for special effects and makeup/costumes).

- Mike 'the Devil in the Dark' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Martinex1 said...

At first the giant Wonderland rabbit threw me a bit. I was thinking this was going to be some kind of 60s head trip ( and perhaps it was a little of that) but I ended up liking the episode. I thought the Finnegan interaction said a lot about James T. Kirk and some of his insecurities.

I found it kind of funny at the end when the ship's leaders approve the site for shore leave - like a madcap space Fantasy Island where tigers and WWII warplanes can rip you apart. All in fun for everyone! Not the best decision by Kirk, but then again he was overtaxed!

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