Eruditorum Press

Less the heroes of our stories than the villains of some other bastard’s

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

14 Comments

  1. Jack Graham
    October 8, 2013 @ 11:03 pm

    It occurs to me that you could have an HBO drama series following the backstage production of 60s Star Trek. The marginalised women, the sociopathic male executives, the sexism, the politics of the Nixon era as a backdrop. 'Trek Men' perhaps.

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  2. Alex Wilcock
    October 9, 2013 @ 12:46 am

    Thanks for that tale of ‘what might have been’ – and well done to Leonard for the stiff letter! The sending of which reminded me of something very silly, which I’ll come to in a minute.

    I wonder if the best line in it remains one of D.C. Fontana’s, then? “Military secrets are the most fleeting of all.” Which could be a comment on how the whole thing was rather pointless in the end. I still think the journey’s worthwhile, even if it doesn’t end up anywhere special and the backstory you report is a little sad.

    And now for something very silly, brought to mind by stiffly formal communication…

    Some years ago, when my fiancé Richard and I watched the whole series through on DVD (many of them for the first time, and I do remember us being impressed by this story), we came upon Amok Time when I was in the middle of reading a lot of P.G. Wodehouse. And while usually if anyone in Star Trek is the icily efficient Jeeves, obviously it’s Spock, and you’d expect a Wodehousian reading of the show to contrast him with all Kirk’s women that he never quite seems to marry because he prefers just driving around, it was Amok Time that inappropriately pushed my buttons. There, it’s Spock who is clearly cast as the Vulcan Bertie Wooster, complete with fearsome Aunt T’Pau and a scheming fiancée who’s using him as a pawn to get someone else, all surrounded by conventions of social behaviour that feel like a bizarre trap. You see? If any Trek deserves to be played as Wodehouse, that was it – even if it’s weird that McCoy was Jeeves that week, finding a device to extract Bertie and cool his ardour into the bargain.

    After that digression, the eventual point is that I remember Richard and I suggesting that The Enterprise Incident is the more complexly plotted natural sequel, in which Kirk and Spock keep swapping the Bertie and the Spock parts. It went something like this, as I recall: Aunt T’Pau has called in Bertie Spock to steal that cloaking device that his uncle had had his eye on from that bounder Sir Watkyn Tomalak. Which involves Bertie Kirk pretending to go mad (stereotypical Wooster mugging). And so Bertie Spock finds himself accidentally engaged to the Romulan Commander! Can Jeeves get him away from this rather fierce girl? And who’s left to play Jeeves?

    Well, it’s funnier than the Cold War shenanigans.

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  3. Cleofis
    October 9, 2013 @ 6:55 am

    I don't think I can live in a world where Gene Rodenberry becomes a pop culture sex symbol while people have their cake and eat it too with their privilege porn of a culture that of course they don't -really- want to return to, god no, but ooh isn't it sexy?

    That aside, excellent post; I'm disappointed but not surprised to learn how much better this episode could have been without interference, as Linville's Romulan commander is one of the best characters TOS ever produced. I'm surprised they never did anything more with her in the books, she's just begging to have her own series or one-off.

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  4. Theonlyspiral
    October 9, 2013 @ 7:01 am

    This is one of my all time favorite episodes of TOS. I do admit there are problems here…but Shatner is at the top of his game. I saw this when I was about…7 and it was profoundly upsetting to me that Kirk could be going mad. Of course now I see just how much work Shatner is putting in and it shows.

    While we do have Cold War shenanigans and espionage it does come in a package that is enormously enjoyable. It's a fun episode. And here, that's enough for me.

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  5. Adam Riggio
    October 9, 2013 @ 7:39 am

    She's just begging to have her own name.

    I didn't get around to seeing this episode for a while, I think just by sheer luck. I thought it was good, but not great, precisely because the whole story was, in terms of characters, about manipulating the Commander so that she'd destroy her career and life in being captured and humiliated by having the cloaking device stolen on her watch. Balance of Terror did such a good job of depicting a Romulan commander that this just doesn't measure up. The commander in Balance of Terror was defeated, yes, but he went down with dignity. The commander here isn't afforded that.

    And neither commander ever gets names of their own.

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  6. Flex
    October 9, 2013 @ 8:59 am

    Great examination of the problems with this well-regarded story. I personally love it and rank it highly among TOS episodes, but that can be down largely to the performances that you rightly call out as being top notch, Shatner, Nimoy and Linville You're absolutely right we have a breadown of Linville's character in the back half of the story which always troubled me even as a kid, and is largely responsible for keeping it from being truly top shelf beginning to end (I think I could forgive all the rest, but that one hurts the episode from any angle you look at it).

    Still, it's hard not to get caught up in it all, which is more than one can say for the last couple episodes you've covered.

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  7. Josh Marsfelder
    October 9, 2013 @ 9:26 am

    This is a minor spoiler, but as we all clearly love and miss Linville's Commander and wish she could have come back, I'll let this slip:

    René Echevarria wanted her to be the Romulan Commander Deanna Troi interacted with in "Face of the Enemy" but Linville was unavailable to reprise the role, so he created the character of Toreth instead.

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  8. Josh Marsfelder
    October 9, 2013 @ 9:29 am

    I would have loved to see "Star Trek does P.G. Wodehouse", especially this season. That's just about a perfect fit.

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    October 9, 2013 @ 9:32 am

    I mean this is certainly one of the better episodes of the season, but that's not really saying much either. D.C. Fontana is always better than 95% of the other people who write for this show, even D.C. Fontana-lite, and the acting really is tremendous on all fronts: It's probably one of the best productions of the year.

    It's just hard for me (especially given the way I tend to approach reading Star Trek) to not get frustrated that a story like this isn't really all it could have been.

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  10. K. Jones
    October 10, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

    The episode is my favorite because it is the most successful example of Nimoy swapping roles with Kirk. Kirk still does everything Kirk needs to do, with Shatner impressively navigating the transformed narrative, but Nimoy makes the thing, and his chemistry with Linville is impeccable.

    I didn't find her dichotomy between effective commander, and sensual romanticist jarring at all – in fact I found it human as hell, and totally indicative of the logic/emotion collapse that occurred to splinter the Romulans from their Vulcan forbears.

    Not only that, but I've long felt that the greatest problem I have with modern Star Trek is the insufferable way in which Klingon and Romulan societies "swapped roles" in the later shows – the Romulans becoming the duplicitous, sneaky, rival pure enemy figure, the Klingons becoming the different, but noble, culturally fascinating "we could almost be friends". It basically shreds the original premise and strength of their having been Vulcan offshoots in general.

    But then, Vulcans post-Nimoy, though lucking into some solid stories here and there, are largely pretty disappointing.

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  11. Josh Marsfelder
    October 10, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

    "I didn't find her dichotomy between effective commander, and sensual romanticist jarring at all…"

    Nor did I. My problem wasn't that the Commander could be both a strong leader and highly sensual, I thought that was a brilliant example of how multifaceted not just she is, but her whole people. I even tried to single Linville out for praise on that front.

    My problem is the same one as Fontana's: That she was easily manipulated by Spock and remained totally clueless as to what he was up to, eventually turning into a vindictive "scorned woman" flipping out over how "betrayed" she was in the last act.

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  12. K. Jones
    October 11, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

    It's a legitimate grievance to be sure; on one hand I appreciate them giving Spock a suitably Pulp Hero thing to do, on the other it's as tacitly misogynistic once it comes into play as it would be in most Pulp Hero stock scenarios. Linville weathers that trope well, though and spurned or not, she does remain more dignified than a lot of contemporaries would – this isn't a woman who's going to give us "female hysterics" (ohhhh so much more of that is coming). You certainly believe in her performance, and that she's very much someone Spock would really be taken with. In fact we've seen Spock manipulate before and we know he has a degree of mastery. There's certainly a precedent here for his ability, along with the degree of alien schism between the Romulans and the Vulcans, for it to work.

    Which is probably why there's like three different novels that have attempted to pick back up on her story, and why Memory-Beta lists her under three different names.

    It certainly is a dilemma that Fontana's original concept was mussed with so much – the casting of Linville being what it is, the fact that the Commander even in the final script comes across as the love of Spock's logical life, one can only imagine how much more powerful the "From Romulus, With Love" elements should have been. Ditto Kirk's actual maddened frustration over his immoral orders, but apart from lauding the outright "Kirk is basically a Romulan Centurion (and why that's not the worst thing)" subtext, this episode belongs to Nimoy – I attribute my adoration of the whole affair pretty specifically to the scene on the elevator at the end. It's only rival in my eyes for poignancy in TOS comes soon, as another denouement, in Requiem for Methuselah.

    This episode "works". It doesn't work as beautifully as it could have, but we can sing the "this has been edited, for the worse" song endlessly. The actors were firing on full cylinders, and even the ensemble players and Scotty had things to do.

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  13. BerserkRL
    December 20, 2013 @ 10:25 am

    I'm surprised they never did anything more with her in the books

    She was a major character in two of the earliest Trek novels, Price of the Phoenix and Fate of the Phoenix by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath.

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  14. BerserkRL
    December 20, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

    the insufferable way in which Klingon and Romulan societies "swapped roles" in the later shows

    I agree. But a partial defense could be made along the following lines. In the OS the Romulan Empire, explicitly based on the Roman empire, is noble while the Klingon Empire, coded as "Oriental," is duplicitous. Switching them so the Western-referring Empire is duplicitous and the Asian-referring Empire is noble at least redresses that problem. (But, to be sure, there are more complex and interesting ways they could have addressed it.)

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