Less concerned with who’s first up against the wall than with how to decorate it

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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.


  1. Flex
    August 19, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

    I remember being pretty disappointed when I first saw this episode. Especially as a kid (I must have been under 10 when I first saw it), the idea of having years of your life ripped away freaked me out. The world was already changing pretty rapidly, as it does at that age, and the idea that you'd just skip whole chunks of your own growth was unsettling. Plus, the makeup effects seemed appropriately disturbing.

    A disappointment, then, that the episode doesn't really go anywhere in that direction. Or play into a proto-Cronenberg kind of body horror that would have been interesting. It just sort of… sits there.

    It's not like the story of most of the original series isn't kernels of ideas that don't succeed in practice, but at least in most episodes you have some absurdly good performances from the lead cast as well as the generally garish and delightful visual aesthetic of the show. But you don't even really have that here. Everything is flat and listless.


  2. Adam Riggio
    August 19, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    Increasingly I get the feeling that television production in the USA in the 1960s had a dearth of writers who fully understood what science-fiction could do. The novelists understood, which is why they were producing genre-forging and epochal works of literature. But the novelists, if we can take Harlan Ellison's this-time-deserved wrath over City on the Edge of Forever as an example, didn't fit well with the demands of television writing at the time. Or at least, there was no guarantee that once a script would be delivered, the rest of the production team would understand any of its themes and ideas.

    Star Trek has editors in Coon and Fontana who are doing their best, but the best is only as good as your source material. There almost needed to be a generational shift so that the old hands who were writing television could be replaced by a cohort of professional writers who also grew up with good, purposefully thoughtful science-fiction, and could write their own works that could equal the Golden Age masters.


  3. Josh Marsfelder
    August 19, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

    That's about it in a nutshell, and under 2000 words to boot!


  4. Josh Marsfelder
    August 19, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

    I think you're on to something. Off the top of my head I can count on my one hand people who wrote for the Original Series (apart from Coon and Fontana) who seemed to actually understand not just what the show was capable of doing, but what the genre of science fiction itself was capable of.

    Of those people, one was already a novelist (Robert Bloch), some had their work totally mangled in some form before it made it to air at least once (Bloch and Theodore Sturgeon), three we've already seen their entire (maddeningly brief) contributions to Star Trek (Bloch again, Sturgeon and Paul Schneider) and one we haven't actually met yet (but will very, very soon).

    The other is Jerome Bixby (who wrote "Mirror, Mirror"), but I'm reserving judgement on his Star Trek portfolio until I see all his episodes as his first drift was by all accounts kind of batshit (though he did write "It's a Good Life" for The Twiligth Zone, so he gets props for that).


  5. BerserkRL
    December 14, 2013 @ 8:48 pm

    If we were to read a book that had entire chapters or sections that really contributed nothing towards the advancement of the story

    I think contributing to the advancement of the story is overrated: http://aaeblog.com/2007/11/03/the-plot-thickens/


  6. Josh Marsfelder
    December 15, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

    As do I. Actually, I think "story" is overrated. But I was just trying to provide context for explaining how filler episodes work, or are seen to work.


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