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.

8 Comments

  1. trekker709
    July 1, 2013 @ 1:41 am

    Like your points about the prime directive, the distinction between idealism and utopia –and the quote anticipating the Borg.
    To me this episode is one of the most dramatic –as you say, it's “very good at building an air of mystery.” So memorable how the Body alternates between the placid daytime and the demonic Red Hour; the Lawgivers’ enigmatic power, the underground resistance, etc. The society can be seen as communism / totalitarian government as you suggest, or as fundamentalist religion – the robes suggest the Catholic church, but it could be any faith institution with Landru appearing as a generic prophet or cult leader.
    I think the story deserves credit for the ambiguity here.
    It must be the writers’ fear of machines/automatons, that has Kirk destroying computers so often – in this episode, and in The Changeling, Ultimate Computer, Taste of Armageddon, That which Survives (and androids in I, Mudd, What are little girls made of).
    One of my favorite lines – Kirk saying “creativity is necessary for the health of the body.”

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  2. Ununnilium
    July 1, 2013 @ 6:22 am

    Excellent point about the Prime Directive. That said, I think it could be a useful storytelling concept with a bit of tweaking – some clause that provides "okay circumstances to interfere in", where the characters could debate whether the current situation fits those circumstances in a more interesting/less problematic way than the "would you torture a baby to stop a nuke"-style over-the-top moral dilemmas that show up in nearly every PD episode.

    Was this the first "Kirk blows up a computer through logic" story? What Are Little Girls Made Of had a different kind of resolution.

    Also, the horror movie "The Purge" seems to be stealing the basic premise of this episode, only without the computer-control aspect that makes it even vaguely make sense.

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  3. Josh Marsfelder
    July 1, 2013 @ 11:41 am

    That's a solid redemptive reading of the episode IMO. For me though, I'd me more willing to err on the side of ambiguity had Roddenberry not had a track record for logical lapses (c.f. "The Menagerie").

    There's definitely a precedent the writers had some skepticism of computers and technology: We've already seen "Court Martial" attempt it as a B-story. "The Ultimate Computer" is probably the best example though.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    July 1, 2013 @ 11:42 am

    It may have been the first: offhand I want to say there was one beforehand and I definitely thought there was when I was writing this. "The Galileo Seven" has a scene where Spock suffers a kind of psychological overflow error at least.

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  5. BerserkRL
    July 9, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

    Fear of evil computers was a staple of 60s sf, from Doctor Who to "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" to 2001: A Space Odyssey to Colossus: The Forbin Project. And don't forget that in The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan gets an evil computer to explode by asking it "Why?"

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  6. BerserkRL
    July 9, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

    The term "utopian" has at least two uses. One use designates a well-nigh perfect, virtually flawless society that has "unrealistic" virtually written into its definition. But another meaning is just the idea of an enormous (and possible) sociopolitical improvement through radical change — which is why proponents of radical change from Emma Goldman to Friedrich Hayek are so proud to call themselves utopian. Defenders of the status quo tend to attack utopia in the second sense by conflating it with utopia in the first sense, but I don't think we should make it easy for them.

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  7. BerserkRL
    July 9, 2013 @ 8:05 pm

    Also, I don't think our use of the term needs to be held hostage to the question of whether Thomas More's intentions were serious or satirical or whatever. The word has slipped out of his hands now.

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  8. Josh Marsfelder
    July 10, 2013 @ 7:07 am

    While I agree, I tend to use "utopia" to refer to the first sense and "idealism" to refer to the second sense. Not always, but otherwise I find it troubling to talk about how a show can be utopian without actually taking place in a utopia and indeed problematizing the concept of a utopia. That just gets confusing as far as I'm concerned.

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