Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Star Trek at 50: What Are Little Girls Made Of?

Season 1
Episode 9: What Are Little Girls Made Of?
Filmed: July/August 1966
First Air Date: October 20, 1966 (7th episode aired)

Karen: The Enterprise's search for a missing scientist, Dr. Roger Korby,  leads them to a frozen world, where they discover that Korby has used ancient alien technology to create near-perfect android replicas of human beings -but at what cost? This is our first real exposure to 'technology gone amok' on Trek, and there is a strong component of morality to it, as we are also left wondering what is it that really makes one human? 

Karen: This episode came from a story from writer Robert Bloch, well-known in the horror genre. He  had written Psycho, which brought him to the attention of Alfred Hitchcock. He wrote scripts for Hitchcock's television show and others, and soon came to Star Trek. As Mark Cushman points out in These are the Voyages vol.1, the story Bloch submitted to Trek was similar in some ways to an H.P. Lovecraft novella, At The Mountains of Madness. Bloch was a Lovecraft fan and undoubtedly it had an influence on him. Instead of discovering an ancient frozen city in the Antarctic, Federation scientist Roger Korby discovers an ancient alien city on an icy planet. In the place of Lovecraft's 'Great Old Ones,' Bloch had substituted long-dead aliens known only as 'The Old Ones.' And instead of mysterious creatures called 'Shoggoths' roaming the caves, we now had the huge android Ruk, played by the towering Ted Cassidy, perhaps better known as Lurch from The Addams Family

Karen: De Forest Research, the firm which read over every story outline and script for Star Trek and checked them for scientific  accuracy and any legal issues, discovered that not only was Bloch's story similar to a Lovecraft tale, but it also had similarities to three of Bloch's own previously published short stories!This caused a stir, and efforts were made to incorporate changes to distance the material from previous efforts, including the twist ending, which I'll avoid mentioning here, since somebody (cough* Martinex *cough) may not have seen it yet.

Karen: I have to admit, before watching it again, I held this episode in rather low regard, mainly because I don't care much for Nurse Chapel. I always felt she was such a sad sack, just pining away for Spock and having no real life of her own. Here, she is Korby's fiancee, pining away for him. Back in the review of  "The Naked Time" I mentioned how Roddenberry essentially forced the character on the show so that his girlfriend (later, his wife), Majel Barrett, would have a role, and also to tick off NBC. Well, maybe that's why the character never felt truly developed. It wasn't created organically.

Karen: But I have changed my opinion on this episode. I find it very relevant in this age where people are talking about cyber enhancements to the brain, when some people want to download their consciousness into a computer to achieve immortality. What it is it that defines us as human beings? That core question is good science fiction.

Karen: Ted Cassidy is a joy as the menacing, alien android Ruk. Sure, he's in a weird puffy costume, but he's still scary as Heck. And he throws Shatner around like a toy. Really, watch the scenes with the two of them fighting -I don't see any wires! I'm sure that Sherry Jackson as Andrea, 'the mechanical geisha,' turned a lot of heads in her revealing outfit. I'm still amazed with the costumes they got away with!

Karen: Not that there aren't some rough patches here. We don't get much time on the ship, there's no McCoy at all, and little Spock - although the scene where Kirk's android doppelganger repeats the phrase the Captain memorized to try to cue Spock in to the problem -"I'm sick of your half-breed interference!" - is pretty awesome. Also, there's that infamous still photo of Kirk holding a rather questionably-shaped stalagmite...All in all though, a solid episode.


Humanbelly said...

Oh man-- that one moment in their fight scene, where Ted Cassidy just picks Shatner right up, like a child? I've tried to figure out if there was some simple visual trickery at work (like, even a stool below the shot?), but I swear it looks like Ted is really. . . just that big and strong!

Set always caught my eye with episode, too. That's a whole lotta caverns we seem to be occupying-- but knowing the budget AND time constraints, they really could not have fabricated nearly as many chambers as are indicated. But they do succeed in creating a sense of "vast network". . . much like Devil in the Dark.

Boy, yeah, and Andrea's costume. Cripes. I'll just bet there was some semantic loophole being exploited, here-- like, "breasts may not be exposed (nor navels), and a minimum of 50% of skin must be clothed"-- something like that. Soooo, voila, a naked-top pants-suit!


Edo Bosnar said...

Yay, another weekly dose of TOS!
I think I've always been fond of this episode, although I do recall finding it a bit scary at places when I was a kid. Karen, you're definitely right about the core concept being the essence of good science fiction. If you really sit back and think about it, this episode can be downright disturbing.
Otherwise, I have to say I don't share your dislike of Nurse Chapel, or Majel Barrett in general (I rather liked her as No. 1 in the unaired pilot as well).

david_b said...

Andrea's costume was extravagant as it was simple..., but it was Ms. Jackson's alluring smile that pulled it all off. (sorry, Freudian slip there..).

Just a very well done early episode, both smart and cost-effective (in terms of sets..). You get another fine glimpse of Shatner playing slightly against himself perhaps not as interactively as in 'Enemy Within' (nor as sexist as 'Turnabout Intruder'..), but it worked well.

These early episodes really resonate because once we usher in the reviews of Trek's third season (which we know Karen's not looking forward to..), we'll see a bit of tired-smugness about the wonders of the universe creep into Shatner's acting. Here we see him 'acting with his eyes' as to the hidden mysteries and wonders Corby had amassed.

(Gawwwd, on a side-note, I just watched "The Alternate Factor" the other night on MeTV.., whaaaat a mess. Looking forward to that review.)

Other than providing some occasional comical quips in Season 2 and providing someone for McCoy to correspond with, this is probably Majel's best episode of the original series.

Humanbelly said...

Y'know, even though Majel Barrett was cast for kinda the wrong reasons, I rather did always like what she presented as Nurse Chapel. Like Janice Rand, here was a female professional, well into her adult years-- not a fresh-from-the-academy cute young thing. And while Barrett was certainly an attractive woman, she wasn't the photogenic/telegenic bombshell that was already the norm for 1960's casting. She came across as an extremely competent, capable, and compassionate medical professional. A bit detached and dispassionate, perhaps-- but that certainly plays into the array of human personalities on the show. . . and is a nice bit of extra foil for the volatile McCoy (when Spock's not around).

As has been mentioned here before, what really brought the range of her acting chops to light was her delightful turn as Lxaw. . .Wlax. . . Laxysptlk Troi (*ahem*) on Next Generation. Never realized it was the same actress until years later-- truly-!

The other conspicuous thing about poor Nurse Chapel, though, is that she seems to be the only humanoid female within 5 parsecs that Kirk somehow never made a play for (or even ogled, for that matter. . . ). Man, I think there's a whole Nurse Chapel diary entry to be uncovered regarding such a painful snub. . .

"How much shorter does my uniform skirt have to get?? Why, I'm TWICE the woman that that hussy Janice 'Randy' Rand is-! Well, twice as tall, at any rate. . . "


Anonymous said...

Holy android follies Batman!

Yes we come to this episode. I remember being really scared of ted Cassidy's Ruk when I watched it as a kid - he really looked like he could put the hurt on Shatner! Sherry Jackson was smokin' hot in this ep too.

The reveal about a human consciousness being downloaded into an android body was a real eye opener, and it's been a point of discussion up to this day with all the talk of virtual reality, robotics and artificial intelligence. Stuff like this flies over your head when you're 10 years old watching these episodes; at that age you watch it for the action and adventure, but rewatching these makes you really think about what message and concepts the writers were trying to put across back then.

To me, this was the best part of Star Trek. Forgetting the cardboard sets, men in monster rubber suits, or the cheesy outfits, ST at its best really reflected serious topics which made the audience sit up and think. Guess that's why it's lasted 50 years plus now.

- Mike 'this boy is made up of cheetos and fried chicken' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Marrinex1 said...

the good news is that during some recent business trips I had some late evenings to binge watch some StarTrek. And I have to say it has been enjoyable for me. This episode is one that I have now seen.

Like others have mentioned I really enjoy the philosophical aspects of the show, and in this one the questions of what is the soul, what is love, what makes us human is imtriguing. I liked that in retrospect the tragic and doomed androids did express emotion and feelings, just not ones that would have been beneficial to humans. They felt passion and anger and betrayal and despair. It was fascinating to me that there was not a mutual resolution here. Surely there is room enough in space for two "species". Regarding the suicide, I found it rather sad.

I continue to be most interested by Kirk's depth. In other episodes perhaps more so than here. But I liked seeing him be wrong in very subtle ways. For instance, his fan like acceptance of Dr Corby, the great Dr. Corby, leads him to forego some basic caution and security. He grows suspicious but there was a part of him that continually wanted to trust, even when he knew he was in grave danger. I actually am surprised to find the acting quite good; as he becomes suspicious of the first accidental death and the rather cold assistant, he is losing trust but he is not quite there yet. That is very subtle.

And I really liked the trick he played in the creation of the android to implant the "half breed" comment about Spock. That was clever. And in very brief form established a clear bond between Kirk and Spock. For a new viewer that was nice shorthand, and the follow up at the end of the show when Spock discusses it with Kirk was really great.

On a production note, they really did a nice job with the set. I am sure those caverns and walkways were just shot from different angles and with some stalactites moved around but it did create the illusion of tunnels. This show. or at least what I have watched so far, seems to employ a lot of extras. There are new faces on the bridge and as security constantly. I had to laugh because in this episode one couple in the background as Chapel hears Corby's voice particularly hams it up. And I found myself watching them more than Chapel.

david_b said...

Actually HB brings up some great points about Majel that certainly invites further comment.

Despite the off-screen rationale, Chapel was used very well in the original series, in a very low-key manner. She did indeed bring a second professional/mature female presence to the series, besides Uhura. Some of the most entertaining exchanges never seen (or conceived at that time) would have been her interactions with Bones in Sickbay, stern professionalism against McCoy's more colorful rants.

When her Christine appearances weren't used for the lovelorn affections for Spock, writers typically wrote her relatively-understated scenes very cleverly and intuitively, the best example I can recall is her in 'Obsession' when she uses 'psychology' to make Ensign Garrovick eat his meal, then her priceless exchange with McCoy afterwards on using the tape.

Not meant at all to hijaak, but certainly a nice side-topic.

Russ said...

Majel Barrett seemed to appear in some form in every Roddenberry production. A favorite of mine is her role as a kind of mystic seer in the bizarre pilot for "Spectre"(1977) with Robert Culp.

Garett said...

Great episode-- loved this one! Ruk and Korby were great. Andrea looks great. All great!! I do like how they made the crisscross pattern on both Andrea and Korby's outfits-- simple and stylish idea.

Nurse Chapel-- she seemed ok as McCoy's assistant. Not my favorite character, but she didn't bother me.

The theme of lovers from the past came up a fair bit on Star Trek, mostly with Kirk. I did like the theme of love coming up on the show, so that it wasn't all action, or all cerebral sci-fi either.

Garett said...

Here's something interesting: the original intro to Star Trek, from the second pilot.
Different words, images and music!

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for that link, Garett. I'd never seen that before; I like that bit of dialogue between Kirk and Spock over the chess game.

Anyway, I totally agree with HB and David about the Nurse Chapel character...

Karen said...

OK, OK, maybe I was too hard on Nurse Chapel! You guys have got me feeling badly about my criticisms of her. Although I still feel that she was a little too much of a 'girlfriend' character -by that I mean she was created to be a window into somebody else's character, primarily Spock's - there's no denying that most of the time she was portrayed as a professional and capable crew member. I actually liked Majel Barrett more as Number One in the original pilot, who seemed rather enigmatic and coolly intellectual -traits which were transferred to Spock.

Martinex, I'm pleased you were able to see this episode -that you have continued to watch! -and that you enjoyed it. The final scene, with the reveal of Korby's transformation, is still powerful. Is he Korby? Or a machine that thinks it is Korby? Can we ever know the answer to that question? This is still relevant, maybe more relevant than ever, when you have people talking about The Singularity ( and our technology is becoming so advanced that human-machine interfaces of extreme sophistication are right around the corner. What will we gain -and what will we lose? While I love Trek for its characters and action-adventure, when it combines solid science fiction with it, that's when it's really at its best.

You guys also got me thinking about the set design. They really did do a lot with that limited budget. The one thing they couldn't do here, nor with 'Devil in the Dark,' was make the floors rocky. I know they would have liked to, but it was just too darn expensive and time consuming. Still, considering they had only a few days to get everything together, incredible! In the first season, each episode was cranked out in about 6-7 days. Those days might have been 12 hours long some times, but still, amazing how they put together these shows in that amount of time. Of course, that's not counting optical effects. Those took considerably longer and delayed the broadcast date of some shows (like 'The Corbomite Maneuver').

Garrett -thanks for posting that alternate intro. I had seen that some time ago. Thank goodness we got the music and "Space...the final frontier" that we all know and love!

Anonymous said...

This has always been one of my favorite episodes - and not just because of Sherry Jackson ... mmm ... well... maybe. Ted Cassidy was awesome as Ruk - I'm surprised they didn't bring him back in the animated series. His over the top look would have been ideal for animation.

I have read that some people thought Korby's firing of the phaser was an accident - I always interpreted it as a deliberate action on his part.


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