Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Star Trek at 50: Operation:Annihilate!

Season 1
Episode 29: Operation: Annihilate!
Filmed:  February 1967
First Air Date: April 13, 1967

Karen: We made it! This is the last episode of the first season of the original Star Trek. The show closes out its maiden voyage with an action-adventure yarn with creepy alien parasites that can control their human hosts. When an entire planet is taken over by the creatures (as well as his nephew and Mr. Spock), Captain Kirk is faced with the dilemma of how to defeat the things without killing the hosts.

Karen: This episode owes quite a lot to the book "The Puppet Masters" by science fiction legend Robert Heinlein. Heinlein's book, written in 1951,  is about alien  parasites who infiltrate the US, controlling people by attaching themselves to their backs. Sounds familiar? I read it as a teen and immediately said, "Hey, Star Trek ripped off Heinlein!" Well, so did The Outer Limits! In the episode "The Invisibles," a government agent infiltrates a secret group that is using alien parasites that attach to people's backs to control their minds in order to take over society. As far as I can tell, Heinlein didn't raise an issue with either TV show, although he did sue the makers of an earlier film, The Brain Eaters, for plagiarism and won. This Trek episode was the product of many hands (again) but the story idea is credited to Steven Carabatsos, who started the first season as story editor. Once again, D.C. Fontana, Gene Coon, and Gene Roddenberry would all pitch in on the script.

Karen: On first blush, this one feels like your typical action episode. But it has a real dark side to it -we have Kirk's brother dead right at the start (played by a mustached Shatner), his sister-in-law dying soon after, his nephew in jeopardy, the people on Deneva at risk of all dying, and then Spock in extreme pain and finally being blinded (he got better). That's a lot of suffering for an episode! 

Karen: The parasites were made by prop man Wah Chang, who had also worked on The Outer Limits, although the two parasites look nothing alike. On Trek they are like blobs of jelly - "flying omelettes" is how James Doohan (Scotty) described them. And fly they do, a bizarre, wobbling flight, obviously on strings, which tends to lessen their believability in my opinion. Let me say it straight: they look goofy. But once plastered on someone's back, like our dear Mr. Spock, the threat seemed quite real.

Karen: I could never understand why Spock and McCoy could not wait for the test results to come back before they decide to blast him with the super-bright light. It seemed so unnecessary -and it was, a plot contrivance to make Spock blind, and we all knew that wouldn't last.  But there are some good moments in this episode, primarily between the three leads once Spock's been infected. McCoy's guilt over blinding the Vulcan  is well done. Nimoy keeps a stiff upper lip as Spock, despite the incredible pain he's going through. But all in all, I'd say it's just an average, or even slightly below average, episode. Not the strongest way to end the season. It would have been better to go out with "City on the Edge of Forever."

Karen: Seen only in this episode is "Yeoman Zahra," played by Maurishka Taliaferro, a model, who I can only conclude must have been dating someone in the production crew. Also in this episode was Craig Hundley as Kirk's nephew, Peter. A scene was filmed but cut from the episode, for the ending, where Peter is dressed in a gold command tunic and sitting in the Captain's chair on the bridge. Hundley claims Roddenberry would have liked to have made him a regular (shades of Wesley Crusher!) but his schedule wouldn't permit it. Nothing against Hundley but I think that was probably for the best. I don't think Kirk would have handled a kid on the ship too well.

Karen: And that's a wrap! Season one is in the can. This reviewer is going to take a little break, and then we'll warp into Season Two. Thanks for joining me on the voyage.


Edo Bosnar said...

I like this episode well enough; not one of the best, but still quite solid. But yes, those parasites look hilariously bad. They were the subject of endless jokes between my older brother and me when we would watch the episode back in the day, usually comparing them to roadkill, barf or, at best, pudding splatted onto the floor.

By the way, Karen, thanks again for taking the time to do these episode reviews. I've really been enjoying this feature, and I'm glad you've decided to do season 2.

david_b said...

All in all this was a solid episode. It a huge credit to the post-production staff (and actors of course..), to take what looks like insipid splats of vomit and, with music and cutting/editing (and some effective wire effects to boot), and suddenly they become creepy, hideous and realistic threats.

(Case in point, the 'giant space doobie' in Year 2's 'The Doomsday Machine', as some have called it, where it was apparently designed in all honesty from someone looking at a windsock..)

Great humor especially at the end with McCoy's comments about Spock being the 'best first officer in the fleet', you don't witness anything new, but a reminded comfort to the audience of how the relationships have now matured and settled into a very relaxed and credible dynamic, which thanks to Gene Coon, we'll see much more of (sometimes a bit TOO much of..) in Season 2.

Onward, and thanks for the great reviews, Karen.

Pat Henry said...

I got the sense the pressure was on McCoy and Spock to take the risk because deaths were mounting, the risk of further contamination was great, a little boy was suffering in the medical bay, and their captain was kicking them hard in the keister for alternatives. I think the episode made those pressures clear. In the end, you'd have a Planet of the Blind, but it would not be sterilized as in Kirk's other option.

It's funny they would introduce Kirk having an older brother and then never, never, never, and I mean NEVER referencing that again. Seems a rather important thing to throw away. And it really doesn't add much to the drama or the stakes. They made an orphan out of Kirk's nephew, and that was never mentioned again.

In syndication, they almost always cut the scene where Spock attempts to take the bridge in a frenzy. Always seemed a rather important scene to cut. The way Nimoy depicts Spock working through the pain is excellent, really highlights Spock's discipline and ultimately his determination not to project his inner self. It contrasts really sharply to Spock in the new movies, who cries out in pain, explodes with exasperation, macks on his girlfriend, etc. Nimoy was the one and the only Spock, he understood the character intimately and played him with a subtlety and bearing that can't be duplicated.

Anonymous said...

I never really cared for this episode. I don't know if it's the "rubber-vomit" aliens, or the heavy-handed stuff about Kirk's family, but it just never grabbed me like some other episodes do. At least we learn a new "superpower" from Spock, with the inner eyelid thing.

Mike Wilson

Martinex1 said...

I enjoyed this episiode. David mentioned the music and it stood out to me here. I just haven't noticed it as much in other episodes, but felt it was put to good use here. The acting was quite good just in the fact that they are reacting to fake vomit and expressing shock, pain and despair. I never read the story that Karen referenced so I went into it fairly clean but I again wondered ( like with the Devil In the Dark episode) if this influenced the movie Aliens at all. A colony destroyed, people not responding, attacked by truly alien creatures that attach to you, etc. I'm sure there is a lot of overlap in any sci-fi but I keep being reminded of Aliens as I watch this series.

I'm new to Star Trek, but I swear Kirk's brother was mentioned at some point somewhere else. Or the planet was. Or something. Was that in a movie? Am I imagining it?

Anonymous said...

@Martinex1: Kirk's brother was mentioned in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" when Kirk was testing his doppleganger. The doppleganger knew that Sam and his wife had seen Kirk off when he took command of the Enterprise and that Sam was hoping to move to Earth Colony II. Maybe that's what you were thinking of?

Mike Wilson

Martinex1 said...

Thanks Mike. I bet that is what I recalled.

Anonymous said...

Flying omelettes/rubber vomit indeed!

Yeah, this was one of those take-it-or-leave it episodes, once you got past the obviously rubber-looking parasites. You have to give credit to the actors whose reactions sold the audience on the drama. I also agree that they should have incorporated more of Kirk's brother and other family members in future stories, in much the same way that we got to see Spock's parents later on in the series.

- Mike 'glad they didn't use rubber poop' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Karen said...

Howdy folks. I wasn't sure how this season-long experiment would be received when we started back in February (!) but it's turned out to be a fun experience every week. I enjoy hearing everyone's take on each episode. David, agreed on a little Gene Coon going a long way. He truly helped flesh out the relationships and brought humor to the show, but by the second season it felt like every episode ended with everyone on the bridge laughing. It was a bit much. Then in the third season, without Coon, or D.C. Fontana (or for that matter, Roddenberry) the pendulum shifted to the other extreme, and the atmosphere on the Enterprise grew very chilly.

Pat, I suppose my problem with the whole situation with how McCoy and Spock ran their tests is that I worked in a lab for years and it was just too unrealistic to me that these trained men of science would through safety and precaution to the wind, but of course, this is drama, not reality. Wholly agree with you about the movie Spock. While I like Zachary Quinto, the actor who portrays Spock, the writers just have him emoting constantly and it really makes it meaningless. We should be surprised when Spock gets angry, or cries, or smiles. But when he is doing it in every's just worthless. I was initially willing to give the whole "Spock/Uhura" thing a chance but after three films I feel it was a mistake. It takes away Spock's lonely outsider status, and completely undermines Uhura as a strong character of her own.

Martinex, I hadn't thought about the "Aliens" analogy but now it seems obvious! Well, nothing is original I suppose -by now, every story is just a variation on something else. It's all in the telling. And Trek certainly borrowed from enough classic science fiction sources.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, on the NuTrek movies, I have to say that when I saw the first one I was still willing to give the whole reboot a chance, but the one thing that bothered me and which I could not accept a bit was the "Spock/Uhura thing" as you so aptly phrased it. The whole idea just screams (bad) fan-fiction to me, and it particularly bugged me that it basically relegates Uhura to the status of love interest for one of the manly leading man characters. Somehow, way back in the still macho and sexist 1960s they managed to avoid that, but here in the early 21st century that's apparently cutting-edge characterization. And yeah, don't get me started on Spock blowing his top every 10 minutes, or just things in general exploding...

JJ said...

I haven't commented on this feature but I've been enjoying it all the while. So, many thanks Karen. Nice work. I've enjoyed other Star Trek series but my heart lies with the original and its incomparable cast. I have fond memories of this episode, perhaps because I was a kid when I first watched it. Yes, when the parasites flew it was a bit hokey, but it was enough to fire my imagination back then, so much so that when they attached themselves to the characters I really got the creeps. Overall it was effective, at least for me. I'll need to revisit this one on Netflix. Bring on Season Two!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your work on this Karen. I agree on the points made above regarding the affect Gene Coon had on the series. To me the best Trek is still the episodes filmed during the first half of the first season. That was Roddenberry's best work.

As for the current Trek movies, the handling of Uhura and Spock has ruined what made the characters. They are supposed to be military officers - the cream of the crop in Star Fleet - not the love struck, emotionally unstable characters we now have.


Related Posts with Thumbnails