Friday, 31 May 2013

TOS - 1.11 - The Menagerie - Part 1

Star Trek - The Menagerie - Part 1
I see that you look stressful and tense, let me
help you relax with a shoulder massage.

Oh, is my massage too relaxing?
Ok, you can rest on the floor now...
This is the 1st 2-part cliff-hanger episodes that started the tradition in future Star Trek series. Again, the 'tradition' is invented out of necessity because the show was running behind time because of its many demanding visual effects for such a TV production.

Gene Roddenberry wrote only the 2 pilot episodes. He also wrote episode 1.2 "Charlie X", which is basically the same story as the 2nd pilot episodes, "Where No Man Has Gone Before". At least thematically.

Simply put, the 2nd pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was being reincarnated as episode 1.2 "Charlie X".

And the 1st pilot episode "The Cage" was being slotted into this 2-parts episode. To make this clear, both of these 2 episodes  ("The Cage" and "The Menagerie") have the same titles that synonymous with "animal enclosures".

Jeffry Hunter who played Captain Pike in "The Cage" played an invalid in this episode, who has less movement in his body than the preeminent cosmologist, and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. He moved around in a contraption that's controlled by his mind.

This episode has nothing much to offer but as the setting up of background info and suspense for the next. It shows a lot of flashbacks from the pilot episode "The Cage".

A few things of notes. Several principle characters act out of character. Captain Kirk, who's a friend and trusted colleague of Spock, starts to suspect Spock. The person who comes to Spock defence is McCoy. And Spock actually stages a mutiny for purpose that only reveals in the next episode. All the meat is in part 2.

After all, this is basically 1 part episode that stretches out to 2 parts with the entire "The Cage" footage filled in to solve production delay problem. This isn't too bad, most hadn't watched "The Cage", which is a solid episode with many great ideas that I outlined in my review of "The Cage". Bear in mind that this is the pilot episode that Roddenberry used to launch the whole Star Trek franchise. It was his showcase.

If this part 1 doesn't hook you for the part 2 of "The Menagerie", I don't know what will.

1.12 "The Menagerie" - Part 2

I won't write a separate review for part 2 as it has even less meat than part 1 to chew on. That is, if you have already seen "The Cage". If you haven't, part 2 contains the bulk of "The Cage" episode (about 1/3 in part 1, and 2/3 in part 2).

Of course, after watching part 1, you must watch part 2 to find out why does Spock risk mutiny charges (and Captain Kirk's career) to get to Talos IV.

And the 2-parts of "The Menagerie" is basically about Spock on trial for the mutiny charges while watching video footage of "The Cage". This is for the benefits of the audience who missed the pilot episode back in 1965 when this episode was originally aired in 1967, when the show was still an unknown when the pilot was aired.

Bear in mind that TV is the only source where the Star Trek fan could watch the series. Unlike lucky us today when we could hire it from video rental stores, buy the DVD sets, watch them on the internet or the reruns on sci-fi cable channel like what I'm doing now.

Under the circumstances, for audience who had missed the pilot episode "The Cage" back in the 1960s, putting it in this episode (as there were burgeoning Star Trek fan by mow) is one of the very few feasible ways Roddenberry could give the audience a taste of his pioneering work. And at the same time, solving production delay problem. 2 birds with 1 stone. Good move!

For today's audience, skip the 2 hours of "The Menagerie", if you can get your hands on the 1 hour long "The Cage". Save yourself an extra hour to watch another good episode of TOS.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

TOS - 1.16 - Galileo Seven

Start Trek - Galileo Seven
Mathematically speaking, your death equals 1/3 reduction
in the critical load for the shuttle-craft to achieve
escape velocity
This episode has 2 firsts.

Spock leads a scientific team on a shuttle that's forced to crash land on a planet. As the communication is cut off from the Enterprise, Spock has to assume command. This gives the Trek writer the opportunity to put Spock in the spot light for more examination of this alien who lives and works among human.

This is the 1st episode that Spock assumes such role. Because of this commanding role (pun not intended), Spock finds himself in constant conflicts with his human subordinates because of his Vulcan way (or Vulcanian way, for the purpose of this episode).

His logical insensitivity infuriates the crew members to no end. Would you believe that there's some crew members who are more frustrated by Spock's stickler for logic than Dr. McCoy?

The episode highlights both the strength and the failing of Spock logical approaches. It also shows that his logic sometimes seems quite illogical to the rest of the human crew. And in the end, Spock has to desperately resort to an 'illogical' move to save the day. But he'll never admit it's an 'illogical' decision.

Well, you could say Spock is very much misunderstood by human, and vice versa. To put it in an oversimplification, Spock and McCoy represent the contrast of dichotomy of left-brained scientists of cold analysis and right-brained artists of heated passion. But then McCoy is a very passionate scientist, and Spock is no artist (even though he plays the harp of some kind).

In these early episodes, Spock is rather condescending to the human way, referring human emotions as a failing or weakness. He often remarks that, "it pleases me to no end that my anatomy is different from human's". Is this an emotional response? Spock would vehemently deny it.

While the Romulan Empire is based on the Roman Empire as I discussed in episode 1.14 "Balance of Terror" above, the Vulcan race is based on the (Greek, Hindu or Buddhist) Ascetic who deny themselves of emotion and pleasure of the flesh to achieve their transcendental level of spiritual attainments (so they believe). In essence, he's the antithesis of a sensualist.

While the Vulcan offshoot Romulan pursues power and pleasure of the senses. The Roman decadence is well documented with their vino and food binging, orgy party, and their enjoyment of blood sport.

Spock's personal quest reminds me of the story of the Buddha's path to enlightenment. When Siddhartha Gautama begun his spiritual quest, he took the path of the Ascetic. It was at the end when he switched course to the Middle Path that he achieved enlightenment.

Spock too took that Ascetic Path in the onset, and in due course, he too achieves his enlightenment (or epiphany) of the sort by taking the Middle Way - the Path between Vulcan and Human. After all, he's 1/2 Vulcan, 1/2 Human. It's logical that he embraces both. It's illogical that he only follows the Vulcan Way. Very illogical, Spock! He's just being stubborn. That's what Captain Kirk says to Spock at the end of this episode, and everyone laughs.

To his defence, Spock grows up in Vulcan, looks like a Vulcanian, and has green blood coursing through his veins (according to him). Biologically, he's 50/50 split of Vulcan/Homo Sapiens. Culturally, he's more like 85% Vulcan, and 15% Human, + or - 5% variance. I'm suggesting that he picks up the 15% human traits from his study in the Starfleet Academy, and his mother's influence (which is obviously quite limited).

As he works and lives in close quarters with the earthlings, he has no choice but let the earth culture rubbing off, growing on him gradually. He will eventually be acculturated by the human's way (no matter how stubborn he's) having lived so close to human for so long in the Enterprise.

Of course, Spock (and B'Elanna Torres) are speaking to audience who are alien living in another culture via their on-screen's struggles of living among human. Like Latino migrants living in USA (in Kentucky, not LA), or me - an Asian - living in Australia (in SA, not Sydney). Of course, Spock is just very well speaking to gays, or any minority outsider living in a majority group. If you can't beat them, join them, eventually.

Yep, Star Trek has something for everyone, and has created an inclusive universe for all. I guess the Enterprise of the future is larger than the earth of today. Most of the time. We're getting there (I'm an optimist).

As far as I could remember, I had never seen Spock bleeds his green corpuscles despite the many dangerous Close Encounters of hostile Alien races in Star Wars. I suspect Trek directors may think green blood oozing out of Spock is too much for the Trekkie.

It's good thing that Spock is somewhat illogical. Otherwise, he would be a 2D character. Although at this point in time, he still somewhat a cartoon character (relatively speaking), but he continues to evolve with the Star Trek saga to become a more complicated and more well rounded 3D character. In this episode, he's a 2.35D character at the start, and ends with 2.4D. (And please, don't go all Spock on me by saying there's only 2D or 3D, and there can't be anything in between. And I'll say you're 200% wrong).

One day in the future episode, a movie in fact, Spock would say, "logic is the beginning of all wisdom, not the end" (if memory serves). That's logical.

Another 1st for the episode is the appearance of a shuttle-craft, which is essential for the story. In most episodes, the crew are beamed down directly by the transporter (much cheaper to film than the shuttle-craft). So it was invented (like Spock mindmeld) for the need, and lives on as part of the Trek lore.

Remember when watching Star Trek, it's never about aliens, ever. It's about humans. The aliens in Star Trek are groups of humans we call 'them', and human are groups we call 'us'.

Similarly, Star Trek is never about the future. It's about the past and present. Think Roman Empire, Greek Ascetics, etc.

In the optimistic future, we embrace ET more readily than we embrace people of other races or cultures today. From the social changes that we have witnessed since this episode was written, we have been moving in that promising trajectory. If we could extrapolate from that trajectory, we might not even have to wait that long to get there.

TOS - 1.14 - Balance of Terror

Star Trek - Balance of Terror
Does this Romulan Praetor look like
Vulcan?  Pray tell...
This is not Sarek, father of Spock
This episode introduces 2 new exciting additions to the Trek lore: the Romulan Empire and the cloaking device. This is note-worthy.

The Romulan Empire is obviously based on the Roman Empire with its military salute and terms like 'centurion', 'praetor', and last but not least, 'Romulus'. Romulus is of course one of the twin brothers that is made up the foundation myth for the Roman (many civilisations have such foundation myths).

I've little doubt that Gene Roddenberry was a history fan, especially Roman history. Even Captain Kirk middle name 'Tiberius' is Latin.

No Enterprise crew, including Spock, has seen the Romulan until this episode. While the warbird is cloaked, the Enterprise manages to get a visual of the crew member inside the Romulan warbird. Imagine the surprise the Enterprise crew get when they see the Romulan crew members all have pointed ears (and up-turned  eyebrows). Some Enterprise crew turns to Spock, and Spock gives them a 'surprise' reaction (as 'surprise' a look as a Vulcan can manage). "Don't look at me! I'm as shock as you're" would be his reply if he's a human. For Spock, it's his usual raising of the eyebrows. No, he didn't say "Fascinating". This time. He's speechless. Everyone is. You could hear a Star Trek badge drops. Well, it's not that quiet).

This episode explores the important psychology of personal prejudice, and how it's coloured judgement. A crew member who has a personal grudge against the Romulan is understandably suspicious of Spock is a Romulan spy. Like they say, in war, the truth is the 1st victim. Let's include sound and fair judgement as well.

This is the 1st episode showing galactic battles (the kind that Star Wars is well known for, but Star Trek had done it light years ahead), the clashing of civilisations.

Much of the plot revolves around of a game of Cat and Mouse. The Mouse is invisible. In fact, the Mouse is a Bird of Prey. And Kirk is the Cat.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

TOS - 1.13 - The Conscience of the King

1.13 "The Conscience of the King"

Star Trek - Conscience of the King
Not the King in the Iron Mask

This is one of the more depressing, sombre episode to reflect the heavy subject matter.

 As I pointed out in the review for episode 1.2 "Charlie X", WW2 and in this case its post WW2 issues weren't far from the mind of the audience or the Trek writers. You have to remember that at this point in time, the writers (if they're older than 35) would be somebody who lived through WW2.

Many former Nazi officers escaped war crime trial and lived the rest of their days in another countries. They took on new identities just as our villain Kotus does in this episode.

It's understandable then that many Nazi hunters, who were usually Jews who survived the Holocaust, tried to bring the murderers to justice. This historical circumstances set the basic framework for the story of this episode.

The title "Conscience of the King" makes allusion to the Shakespearean play of Hamlet where Kotus performs in the art troupe. Hamlet is a play that deals with revenge, treachery and moral corruption, which this episode is about.

I told you it's heavy, didn't i?

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

How Important is a Good Blog Post Title in Google Search

If you're a SEO expert, you might  not want to read further. Or you might read in order to give me some pointers. I'm just learning the ropes, and thought I share it.

I feel that coming up with a good title for a blog post is a very neglected aspect of SEO (if you could call it that).

Instead of talking about the nitty gritty of the complicated inner workings of how google determines search results (which is a 6 million dollar question that everyone wants to know and subject of endless speculation), let's use an  example to illustrate how important and relevant post title is.

I have a post titled "Paris Day 4 - Axe Historique, Champs Elysee & Arc de Triomphe" (without any quotes of course). This is the link to this post. It's my diary regarding a trip to Paris. In particularly, it focuses on an architectural analysis of the Axe Historique.

When I google "axe historique" (without quotes), my post title appears on page 2.

When I google "axe historique champs elysee" (without quotes), my post title appears on page 1. The only pages above me are 4 Wikipedia pages. I'm not even trying to compete with them.

When I google "axe historique champs elysee paris" (without quotes), my post title appears on page 1. In fact on a 3rd position; only English and French wikipedia is ahead of my post.

When I google "axe historique champs elysee paris day 4" (without quotes), my post title appears on the top spot; ahead of wikipedia!

Just a few points I like to make regarding to the little experiment that sheds some light into one aspect of the mysterious process of how google ranks search result in regard to the matching of post titles to search queries.

1. The ranking of search result is applicable at the time of writing this post. It might change in the future, but it probably remain so for a little while (the web is a very fast changing place). In short, the further it's in the future, the more likely this search results will change as more and more people write about this topics. Not to mention that google might, I should say likely, to change their ranking algorithm, and it would affect these search results. An example of this google change is Panda. Also, my ranking might improve as well, which will change the relative position of my post in the search results. Still, the same principles apply, regardless of the relative location of my post in the search results.

2. With everything being equal (no change in backlinks, domain name, content, etc), this little experiment shows that how important the matching of the post title and the google search words is. The only thing that has changed is my search query. By adding "day 4" to the end, which is hardly anything significant would effect the ranking dramatically. In fact, it propels my post to the top spot.

3. So somebody might say, all I have to do is to come up with a title for a post in a smart way and I'm on the way to the top spot. Let's think about this for a minute.

The addition of "day 4" has made my post risen to the top. The reason it moves to the top is because no post title has the whole string including "day 4". The question is, who would do a search with the inclusion of "day 4"? Nobody! That's who!

The point is if somebody googles an string that matches your post title better than anyone else, chances are nobody would type in that string.

For example, if your post title is "TV repair cucumber".

If somebody googles that exact string, your post goes to the top instantly because you could be sure nobody has a post with a title like that. However, google also ties the words in your title to the content of your post. If your post has nothing to do with cucumber, I doubt it's much use. I've no proof of that. It will be another search query experiment for another post. One of these days if I'm up to it.

To put it another way, if you write a post with obscure topic, and has obscure post tile, you would rank number 1 in the search if somebody also looks for that obscure topic.

In short, write obscure, or at least unique topics that few people write. But then, few people would do a search for it. It's all boils down to the economics of supply and demand like everything else. So, just write what you like and know best. If it happens to be something obscure, even better! It's called a niche.

4. While a good post title can have a dramatic effect on google search, but it's somewhat ad-hoc. Unlike pagerank, for example, which applies to all posts, regardless of post titles. But these 2 things aren't mutually exclusive. You could work on coming up with a good post title as well as other areas of SEO.

Let me just do another experiment to illustrate about the obscure title or topic I mentioned in point 3 by searching for another of my blog post titled "Edinburgh Day 2 - Rosslyn Chapel" Remember not to include any quotes in the following queries.

When I google "rosslyn chapel", after looking through 14 pages of serps, I gave up. I couldn't find my blog post.

When I google "rosslyn chapel edinburgh", I finally found it on page 9.

When I google "rosslyn chapel Edinburgh day", its ranking unexpectedly drops further. Much further.  I couldn't find it after page 15, and gave up. This is likely because by adding "day", I bring in even more pages with higher ranking than mine. These are probably posts about "day trip tours to rosslyn chapel". So the word "day" appears in the post title.

When I google "rosslyn chapel Edinburgh day 2", it pops to the top spot from nowhere (at least beyond page 15).

This is very dramatic illustration of an exact post title match. It goes from zero to hero by adding an extra "2" at the end...

Let me make the follow observation with the above queries.

1. "Rosslyn Chapel" is a far more popular topic than "Axe Historique". This is understandable because "axe historique" is in French, and not all tourists know about it even it's a tourist sights in Paris. On the other hand, you don't have to be a tourist to know about "rosslyn chapel". Many many many articles on "rosslyn chapel" has nothing to do with tourism. It has to do with a hundred other things. In short, "rosslyn chapel" is an extremely popular topic. Trust me, I'm a blogger.

Because of the relative obscurity (meaning lower popularity) of "axe historique" as a topic, fewer posts would be written about this topics, and so my blog post get a far higher rank in the google query of "Axe Historique" than that of "Rosslyn Chapel".

Let me just throw a spanner into the works, and contradict somewhat what I just implied. My "rosslyn chapel" post is like a small fish in a big pond, while my "axe historique" post is a big fish in a small pond. Despite being a big fish, my page views for the small fish is actually higher than my big fish. Just check my "Popular Posts" on the sidebar, "rosslyn chapel" ranks higher than "axe historique".  (The relative ranking of these 2 posts have been maintained this way for awhile).  Sometimes, it's better to be in a small fish in a big pond than a big fish in a small pond. Because the big pond is more popular. Usually. Despite being a small fish, you will get noticed more in a more popular (meaning bigger) pond.

2. As low as my ranking in the google query of "Rosslyn Chapel", as soon as the query is exact match of my blog title, it rockets to the top from page 100 (I exaggerate) of google results. The dramatic increase in search results is only possible with a right matching of blog post title, and not through any other means (SEO or otherwise). So construct post title wisely. Give it the respect it deserves.

Happy Posting!

Monday, 20 May 2013

TOS - 1.10 - The Corbomite Maneuver

Star Trek  - The Corbomite Maneuver
How about this for a poker face?
Who are you calling me a dummy?
There's nothing much that's interesting I could say about this episode except that the moral of the story is, don't judge a book by its cover. Or don't judge the might of a ship by its size (and bubble balls). Some people looks huge and mean, but they're just gentle pussy cats (but don't make them angry, you may not like them when they're angry).

The seat on the front left of Captain is occupied by Sulu while the one on the front right is occupied by a nobody (this was before Chekhov joined the rank). He's usually not given any dialogue. You won't remember him the seconds you finished watching the episode.

In this episode, this nobody crew sitting on Captain's front right has a lot to say. I got the feeling that he might be gone (as in dead) at the end of the episode. Well, I was half right.

The plot revolves around an intergalactic game of poker. And the strategy that both poker players - the Enterprise and the alien ship - employ is the same, bluffing.

It's a light hearted episode (with some tensed suspense). Well, you can't be serious all the time.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

TOS - 1.9 - Dagger of the Mind

Star Trek - Dagger of the Mind
Your thoughts to my thoughts,
your mind to my mind,
your bank account number please
you like my head massage?
This is the 1st episode where the Vulcan mindmeld was introduced.

We use the term 'brainwash' to mean everything from indoctrination to mind control. The term originally came from Maoist regime. The Chinese term 洗腦 is literally mean 'wash brain'. The term was of course used in a positive sense (so is 'propaganda') under Mao.

This episode makes use of that idea, and as usual, gives it a technological spin to it. And the brainwash of an individual is done using a revolutionary neurological device. In fact, the term 'brainwash' is much more correctly termed in this episode than when it was invented originally. The mind is literally wiped clean, or cleansed (as it was intended originally) with the device before putting new thoughts in. This is the whole goal of brainwashing.

In the episode, it's suggested that hypnosis isn't possible on patient who had been brainwashed this way. And so Spock suggests he should read what in the patient's mind using his Vulcan mindmeld technique.

I suspect this mindmeld was introduced in this episode for the purpose of the plot. And yet, the Star Trek writers liked it so much, it becomes part of the Trek lore. Vulcan mindmeld has added to Vulcan Grip (or Vulcan nerve Pinch or Neck Pinch) as Spock bag of tricks. The Vulcan Grip was first introduced in episode 1.5 "Enemy Within".

Since Richard Matheson wrote episode 1.5, I supposed he was the one who come up with the idea.

Where did he (or whoever) get the idea from? In Chinese wuxia - an old literature genre - martial artists could affect their opponents with the application of various acupressure points on the body. Press one acupoint would render their opponents motionless, another would make them laugh involuntarily, another would make them faint (just like Vulcan Grip), etc. It wouldn't be a quantum leap to go from here to Vulcan Grip. Anyway, that's purely my speculation.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

TOS - 1.8 - Miri

Star Trek - Miri
Look kids! Look at my arms!
This is what happens when tattoo gone
horribly wrong.

Bones, make me some new skins!
When the audience - at least me - watching a movie about a group of marooned children, it's quite impossible not to be reminded of Lord of the Flies. This novel by William Golding was published in 1954, and the movie of the same title was made in 1963. Both are therefore predated this episode.

This novel is so influential and considered so important, it's in the compulsory reading list across schools in countries like UK and Australia.

So it's quite hard to convince anyone that the writer of this episode wrote this episode without drawing inspiration from this well known modern classic Lord of the Flies. One is thus quite certain that this episode is an adaptation of that said classic with Star Trek setting (Ok, maybe adaptation is a stretch). In this case, the earth's twin that's 'trapped' in the 1960s represent the island in the novel.

While the novel has 2 rival group of kids that represents savages and civilisations, there's no rival groups within the kids in this episodes. Instead, the marooned kids represent the savages while the Enterprise crew, especially Kirk, represents, need I say, civilisation. This is the twist. As usual, the Trek writer needed to apply their own twists to the classics before 'adapting' it for the Trek series. Otherwise, it would be a carbon copy like this earth's twin.

Miri, the title role, acts as a bridge (not a ship's bridge) between the 2 groups.

Like the classics, the marooned children, because of isolation, have come up with their own terminologies. They call themselves 'Onlies' and the adults 'Grups' (portmanteau for 'grown-ups' I supposed).

The writer (Adrian Spies) didn't seem to bother to explain why there's another earth hundreds of light years from earth (don't like that loose end. I need closure!).

Of course, this writer wasn't the only one who was inspired by this classic. I believe the TV series  Lost that considered a cult classic also borrowed some elements from this modern classic.

Friday, 17 May 2013

TOS - 1.7 - What are Little Girls Made Of ?

Star Trek - What are Little Girls Made of
I'm not an animal!
I'm not a human! I'm not a man!
The 'villain' in this episode is the much maligned 'mad scientist'. It was Mary Shelley who gave scientist the bad wrap (if not the first, the most well known). Shelley creates Frankenstein, who in turn creates the 'monster'. At the end, the readers know who the real monster is.

While the writer (Richard Matheson) of episode 1.5 "The Enemy Within" was inspired by "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", the writer of this episode (Robert Bloch) was inspired by "Frankenstein". The writers of both episodes put these 2 classics into the Star Trek context. Both are shining adaptations of the 2 immortal classics.

Well, the giant actor in the photo is a dead giveaway that he's playing the Frankenstein's monster. He's only the 1st prototype of many to come.

Just as Matheson added a clever twist to the Jekyll/Hyde dual characters by having 2 physical body Kirks (instead of a single physical body), Bloch also added his smart twist to the Frankenstein character by having machine replacement of human (instead of human body replacement).

Like Frankenstein, Roger Korby the renown exobiologist wants to perfect human with its android replacement, as misguided the nobility as it might be.

You could say this is the 1st Trek episode where the idea of android was born, and gave rise to Lieutenant commander Data in the next Trek series. Well, they don't call this series Original for no reason.

Yet another comparison with episode 1.5 could be made. Both episodes require the appearance of 2 identical Kirks (well they aren't really identical at all. Only on the physical surface, especially if you ask the original Kirk). In episode 1.5, in most scenes where both Kirks appear, one of them always has his back facing us, clearly played by a body double. In this episode, there's a scene where 2 Kirks talk to each other at a table while both are facing the camera.

I believe this is done through chroma key technique (or more commonly known as green screen technique. You could read that in my diary about my own chroma key shooting in an amateur film production). I'm surprise that this technology was already available as early as the 1960s (or maybe even earlier).

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

TOS - 1.5 - The Enemy Within

Star Trek - The Enemy WIthin
Captain Kirk embracing his wild side
after coming out
Captain Kirk is split into 2 halves due to a transporter malfunction. One his wild, selfish, aggressive side; the other his gentle, noble, compassionate side.

The transporter malfunction not only creates lots of trouble for Captain Kirk to solve, but it also creates many stories for the writers.

This episode is essentially inspired by the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that takes place in the Star Trek context with one important twist: the 2 personalities exist in 2 separate bodies of Captain Kirk. My compliment to the writer.

The 'good' side is in charge of the Enterprise and finds that he's losing his ability to command the ship. Spock explains that he needs the 'evil' side to make a good leader when it's kept under the control of the good side.

You could say Kirk's wild side is coming out, literally.

The episode examines our wild and unbridled side as well as the gentle, compassionate side, and concludes both sides are important. It's a matter of striking the right balance between the 2 to get best results.

Of course, it's interesting to watch this episode, and think about the dichotomy of Spock. After all, he also battles with containing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of a sort into a single body. With human, these 2 sides are to be finely balanced, like a dance between 2 partners, learning to perfect it throughout our lives. While with Spock, the wild, emotional side is to be totally denied, kept under his total control. To Spock, his emotional side is "The Enemy Within".

Monday, 13 May 2013

TOS - 1.4 - The Naked Time

Star Trek - The Naked Time
Time to get half naked and fence,
get my point?
These few early episodes have a recurrent similar theme in the broad stroke(even though they were written by different writers).

In this episode, the writer (John D. F. Black) posed the question of what if we lose our social inhibitions? Anarchy reigns of course.

That's exactly what happened to the Enterprise after they have infected an alien bug that lowers their inhibitions. Everyone becomes "themselves". After the infection, Sulu decides simply to leave his post and go to the gym, and annoys the rest of the crew to no end with his fencing. Apparently, fencing is what Sulu likes to do more than his job.

So the recurring theme seems to be that we have these different sides, and for a smooth functional society, we need to suppress, control, moderate or inhibit our wild, fun, selfish sides for the sake of conformity. This is of course desirable in a society at large, and absolute crucial on a ship in particular. The Enterprise is a society in microcosm, and thus higher level of mental discipline is demanded.

Of course, nobody is more upset by this loss of mental discipline than the one who takes pride above all else the ability of to reign in his emotion. Yes, Spock isn't immune to this discipline loosening bug that he starts to snivel like a little girl lost. He's very upset by it, and upset is something he would avoid at all cost. He's upset about being upset. Fun to watch.

Because of the lowering of emotional control, we also find out Spock's secret admirer, who keeps it bottled up quite well is now surfaced under the influence of this alien drunken bug.

You could say this movie has an anti-drinking message (not that I think the writer has that intention. But I'll never know). This is essentially what alcohol does, it lowers our inhibitions. In fact, this is the reason we drink. The effects of the alien bug - just like alcohol - on the crew are different for different individual. Some becomes depressed (I know of people cry after a few drinks), some become joyous (much like me or the jolly Irish crew member Riley), some becomes hyperactive (much like Sulu).

The hidden massage of the story is - if there's one - don't drink and operate a space ship. Or don't drink and fly. Or even shorter, don't drink flying. I bet you never see that community ads on TV any time soon.

I guess these sorts of anarchy affected ships at sea as much as ships in space, and the Captain's ability to handle these crisis is the mark of his/her leadership. I suspect these writers drew umpteen inspirations from the old naval literature (nothing wrong with that).

This recurring theme of trials and tribulations of we humble human to reconcile our different selves into a balanced healthy whole. This topic are explored in this and episodes 1.2 and 1.5. Examination of the struggle of the human condition, that's very much the central theme of the Star Trek franchise.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

TOS - 1.2 - Charlie X

Charlie X - Star Trek Original
Charlie X unleashes his ungodly
power with this constipated look.
He doesn't see eye to eye with anyone
There's a lot more to this episode than meets the eyes.

This episode asks the eternal question, or I should say the eternal fear of what happens when an unstable or immature individual is given too much power. This is why we don't let persons under certain age to drive or own a gun, or anything in the position of holding power.

It explores this what-if scenario. What if an immature 17 year old who's too desperate for love and attention, and is basically a brat who wants everything his way, posses unimaginably terrifying power? Whenever he pleases, he can simply make people vanish, or turns them into something else.

This is a popular theme, and I've seen a episode of the Twilight Zone (if my memory serves) with similar story of a boy who has too much power, but with little self control.

The irrationality or emotional instability leads to unpredictability. We don't like uncertainty. And in the 1960s, people were lived in uncertain time.

Both this Star Trek and the Twilight Zone episode was made in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War as well as not long after WW2. A mushroom cloud of uncertainty hung over people's lives. The scenario of an emotionally unstable leader of the Soviet Russia or USA, who would press the button to launch a nuclear device was all too real, and terrifying. This seemed especially plausible when the memories of a crazed, emotionally unstable Nazis party leader with too much power was still quite fresh. Even more recently the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. We had such a close shave - of a hair breadth - of somebody pressed the button to launch a thermal nuclear warhead to start WW3, and the end of our civilisation.

The brilliant satirical comedy Dr. Stangelove (1964), which predated the Star Trek, was directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick during this period of the Cold War to address the anxiety of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

There's yet another angle to look at this episode; a more profound interpretation of "Charlie X".

From the evolution or even civilisation point of view, we're still quite young and immature as a species. Our mind is powerful because it let us apply science to build deadly weapon of mass destruction. Our technology has advanced far above our society to handle such technology. Our technical mind is far more ahead of our emotional mind. We are in effect an immature boy given a mind powerful enough to create weapon that wreak huge destruction.

We are "Charlie X". (Have a good look at that face. Frightening, isn't it?)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is a less subtle and less allegorical way of addressing that nuclear issue. It's pretty in your face. (Of course, today the fear of nuclear race has lessened (the Cold War is over, and we have lived with it since WW2), but the global warming - a more recent phenomenon - had replaced that preoccupation, and so in the remake of the same film The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), the alien make complains to us earthling about our global warming, instead. One day, we concern something else, and that this same remake would be about that.

All these nuclear weapon development would have tremendous resonance with the audience (and writers) of the 1960s at a time where they preoccupied with such things as WW2, Cuban Missile Crisis, Cold War, and new technology. I imagine they watched this episode on the edges of their seats.

I'm an optimist for the future (much like Gene Roddenberry. Well, I wouldn't like his creation if I don't share his visions of the future). I believe we had progressed a great deal since the 1960s. Of course, we still have terrorism. We have a long way to go. Well, one baby step at a time. We have great leaps in technology, but in the social sphere we have no technology to help us. In fact, technology is a mixed blessing for us. We have to cope with technology. We may even be enslaved by it. Those are the central theme that exists firmly in the cyberpunk domain - a subgenre of sci-fi. Cyberpunk concerns with dystopia where technology rules over human. Blade Runner (1982) and The Matrix (1999) are the most well known examples.

So how's Captain Kirk faces the challenge with such a powerful foe? Well, I won't spoil it for you.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

TOS - P2 - Where No Man Has Gone Before

Star TRek - Where no man has gone before
These foggy contact lenses are really cool.
It even makes me feel like god
But it makes you look like fairy to me
Captain Kirk has replaced Captain Pike in the Enterprise in the 1st pilot episode. Scotty and Sulu had came on board the show. But Sulu was part of the science team working down below. He wasn't being seen much after reporting at the bridge.

It's a good thing that the USS Enterprise looks like a combo of a rocket and a flying saucer. It's actually something of a flying saucer powered by a pair of rockets. In the early days before Star Trek, many of the sci-fi movies showed mankind travelling to outer space in rockets.

 If it's a spaceship, then the command structure should resemble naval command. With the idea of rocket, the command structure would probably link to an airforce instead. And it's not just any ship, but an aircraft carrier. The name USS Enterprise is taken from an aircraft carrier.

The similarities of the names of Captain James Kirk and the famous English Captain James Cook are more than coincidental. Like Captain Kirk, Captain Cook was an explorer rather than military officer, who discovered Australia, a new continent (for the European). That's the kind of role Captain Kirk would be playing in TOS - discovering new frontiers and new civilisations, and to boldly go "where no men has gone before". Captain Cook commanded the ship that bore the name HMS Endeavour, and Captain Kirk USS Enterprise. Bear in mind that  "endeavour" is another word for "enterprise". Another coincidence?

I can think of why the name "Enterprise" was chosen over "Endeavour" for 2 reasons. First, using "Endeavour" would be too obvious, and second, there's an actual US aircraft carrier named USS Enterprise.

Please read episode 1.2 "Charlie X" before reading review for this episode. This is because I watched, and wrote the review for episode 1.2 before watching this pilot episode.

These 2 episodes in questions (this and episode 1.2) deal with the same topic of the danger when an individual is given too much power. In fact, there aren't much different at all between the 2 episodes, thematically.

Bear in mind that most audience missed out the pilot episode. So this was a way to revisit this all too important and most concerned topic in the 1960s in episode 1.2.

As I discussed in episode 1.2, in a climate of the recent aftermath of WW2, followed by Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, the anxiety of nuclear Holocaust shrouded the minds of the 1960s. That arsenal of nuclear warheads could literally bring an apocalyptic end to planet earth.

We lived in a world with destructive power that could almost equal to gods (represented by the mighty power possessed by Gary Mitchell in this episode), yet we (represented by Gary Mitchell himself) hadn't the maturity to control such power. He's egotistical and arrogant.  We're still hampered by human emotions (we're no Vulcan). This power has gone over Mitchell's head, and thought of himself as infallible, in fact, as god. He makes Captain Kirk kneels before him.

"Power corrupts, absolute power corrupt absolutely", Captain Kirk cites the famous quote. This lies the very crux of the crisis. It's an allusion to the recent dictators of the 3 Axis Powers in WW2, as well as the contemporary dictators of the 1960s of the Eastern Bloc, especially former Soviet, and to the lesser extent, Mao.

The only military doctrine to ensure peace is MAD - mutually Assured Destruction, which is a pretty mad strategy. And indeed the 2 characters in this episode - Mitchell and Dr. Dehner - have a different view in dealing with the power, and locks themselves in mutual destruction. The Cuban Missile Crisis came very close to this mutual destruction scenario between Uncle Sam and the Polar Bear in real life.

The title of the episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before" refers to the attainment of power that no man has achieved before, and that's also the case of mankind's present possession of this nuclear arsenal. We have never given so much power before.

It was this episode that won NBC over, and agreed to sign up to air the Star Trek series. Few people lived in the 1960s didn't understand or concern about the message of this episode.

Friday, 10 May 2013

TOS - P1 - The Cage

Star Trek - The Cage
These fashionable goggles are perfect for skiing, swimming,
working in the labs, or in away mission in alien planet.

They're available in all Star Trek
conventions. Grab one while stock lasts.

Star Trek Goggles, the only ones you need.
In this Star Trek pilot episode, it's Captain Pike, not Kirk, who's at the helm of the Enterprise. Spock is there, but not as 1st officer. Number One was played by Majel Barrett (in the left photo. Gene Roddenberry's 1st wife). Sulu was nowhere to be seen. Neither was McCoy. The ship's doctor was played by John Hoyt (in the left photo of what looks like a goggle ads poster).

There's a lot of hardcopy (i.e. paper) being used on the Enterprise. Hardly futuristic or green. And the communicator is large (albeit quite a nice piece of craftsmanship). And no stardate.

What's forever lodged/locked into the Star Trek - and my - memory bank is the image of green seductive belly-dancer (played by Susan Oliver), and the large bulbous crania of the Talosians. Well, the original production of this episode is in black and white. It was just as easy to make body green, or and leaves blue as having natural skin colour or green leaves in colouring the B&W film.

The Talosian must have given the American public in the 1960s a more 'credible' source what aliens should look like: humanoid with bulbous heads. They look uncanny like the aliens described by real life alien abductee cases. "Take me to your leader, the one called Gene Roddenberry". For all we know, an alien might looking like the merging of an elephant, a mosquito, and Paris Hilton during a transporter malfunction. To be on the safe side, it was already hard to swallow the idea of a humanoid alien abduction. Who's capable of sketching a composite identity picture of a mosquitos, an elephant, and Paris Hilton?

Spock's makeup is somewhat different too. His hair resembled the Beatles less. The introductory sequence that contains the Enterprise's mission statement with the split infinitive " boldly go where no man has gone before" hadn't arrived for another 2 episodes.

H.G. Wells is one of the 3 writers that are considered the Father of Science Fiction (the other 2 are Jules Verne, and Hugo Gernsback). Of the 3, I like the works of H.G. Wells the most. I imagine Gene Roddenberry shared that view too. At least for this episode.

He wrote the script for this episode, which borrowed ideas from The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, in my humble opinion.

Ever since The War of the Worlds was published in 1898, the idea of the existence of alien races whose intelligence that are light years more advanced than ours took root. In Wells' novel, the superior race lives in our neighbouring planet Mars. They constantly study us, and probe us - much like scientists study lab rats - for the purpose of invasion, conquest, followed by enslavement.

This is in fact how the title of the episode came to be. The human are captured and placed in enclosure with glass screens so that the Talosian could observe and study them. This is essentially an animal cage.

The Talosian, much like the Morlocks in the H.G. Wells' Time Machine, live underground because of the war that renders the planet surface not habitable for life, in both cases. They have diabolical plans for their captured human who live above ground (like the Eloi). The Morlocks are far more intelligent than the Eloi, just as the Talosians are far more cerebral than the Human. And the Morlocks are the overlord of the planet due to their intellects.

While Gene Roddenberry may have inspired by H.G. Wells, The Matrix (1999) has much in common with the story of "the Cage". Both stories are about the enslavement of the human race by a far more intelligent, but callous being with the help of illusion to blind them of the true reality. Give people an allusion of happiness, and they would oblivious to the reality of their enslavement.

The human are captured by the Talosian for breeding. The word Matrix could be understood as the illusion or virtual reality created by the robots. The word 'matrix' is much older than that. It has its roots in Latin, which means a cattle that's bred for the purpose of extracting certain produce. For example, sheep could be bred for wool, cow for milk, and human for bioenergy. In other word, in The Matrix, human are being milked or fleeced for bio-energy by "cyborgs".

Is this an allusion to the Maoist China (and DPRK of today)? Keep the citizen in their own countries (the Cage) so they don't know the reality outside their borders, brainwashing them - to give them the illusion - continually that they're the luckiest people in the world (the illusion or the matrix), and they won't revolt.

For the non sci-fi viewers, The Matrix movie is refreshingly original. For the Trekkies, "The Cage" is  lights years ahead of the Matrix. Well, at least 3 decades ahead.

Let indulge me with a little digression.

I believe H.G. Wells got the idea for The War of the Worlds not from another fiction, but from history (The War of the Worlds is totally an original work of a genius). Specifically the history of Spanish conquest and enslavement of the Inca people afterwards. The Spaniards weren't just technologically far superior than the Incas with their possession of guns, horses, ships and steel blades, while Incas fought with spears and slings. Even worse, the Inca population was dealt with a devastating blow by the germs carried by the Spaniards. Germs that the Inca people had no immunity to because they had lived in isolation from the rest of the world.

I guess H.G. Wells looked at this history and appalled by the injustice. So I imagine he decided to rewrite history with artistic license the way he could. And so he embarked on to write a more ideal version of history in fiction where the invaders gets what they deserved by the destruction of germs. In The War of the Worlds, it was the humans (who play the Incas) who give the Martians (who play the Spanish Conquistadors) the deadly germs, instead.

In real life, you don't always get poetic justice.

My speculation of Wells' inspiration for The War of the Worlds isn't just based on the mere coincidences or parallels between the Spanish Empire and Incas on the one hand, and Martians and Human on the other. HG Wells was well known for his anti-colonial, and anti-imperial stance. European world's imperialism, colonialism started from the Spanish Conquistadors in the 15th century, and ended in WW2 in 20th century.

Wells argued that one solution of preventing any one nation or empire having too much power over another would be for the world to form a world/galactic empire. Ok, that sounds like a contradiction. Perhaps, Wells couldn't escape the language of his day. Perhaps what he meant was a world body that something similar to United Nation of today.

This shows a further influence of HG Wells on Roddenberry. Roddenberry's vision of the future of such organ would be The United Federation of Planets. Growing up in the States, The Federation is a more appropriate language than those used by HG Wells.

The stories of The War of the Worlds is the story of the First Contact. It's a favourite subject for the Star Trek writers. After all, the mission of the Enterprise is to make contacts. But sometimes, ok quite often, such contacts often result in violent confrontations because of the clash of civilisations with different value systems, beliefs, and so forth, which inevitably leads to conflicts . This was seen in the many First Contacts between human civilisations, and we witnessed how bloody they were.

Like I said, H.G. Wells must have been Roddenberry's (and mine) fave sci-fi writer.

Star Trek Series Episode Reviews

Star Trek Bage  Probing Deeply into Star Trek Series
And To Boldly Go Where No Reviewer Has Gone Before
Alternatively, What are the Trek Writers Thinking?

The Original Series (TOS) (1964 - 1969)


      ––––––  Pilots  –––––––
1.0   "The Cage"
2.0   "Where No Man Has Gone Before"

      ––––––  Season 1  –––––––
1.2    "Charlie X"
1.4    "The Naked Time"
1.5    "The Enemy Within"
1.7    "What are Little Girls Made Of?"
1.8    "Miri"
1.9    "Dagger of the Mind"
1.10  "The Corbomite Maneuver"
1.11  "The Menagerie" Part 1
1.13  "The Conscience of the King"

1.14  "Balance of Terror"
1.16  "Galileo Seven"
1.17  "The Squire of Gothos"
1.19  "Tomorrow is Yesterday"
1.21  "The Return of the Archons"
1.22  "Space Seed"
1.23  "A Taste of Armageddon"
1.26  "Errand of Mercy"

       ––––––   Season 2   –––––––
2.1    "Amok Time"
2.2    "Who Mourns for Adonais?"
2.5    "The Apple"
2.9    "Metamorphosis"
2.10  "Journey to Babel"
2.11  "Friday's Child"
2.15  "The Trouble with Tribbles"
2.17  "A Piece of the Action"
2.19  "A Private Little War"
2.21  "Patterns of Force"
2.22  "By Any Other Name"
2.24  "The Ultimate Computer"

       –––––– Season 3   –––––––
3.1    "Spock's Brain"

TOS - Prologue

The 'reviews' aren't written for the purpose of viewers who hasn't seen these episodes, and read them to decide if they're going to watch it. This is the typical functions of movie reviews.

In fact, you should read my 'reviews' after you watched the relevant episodes.

I guess it's best if you call my 'reviews' as 'studies', 'in-depth analyses', 'post-mortem analyses', or 'demystifications' of Star Trek episodes to more accurate reflect its aims, which is to gain a deeper understanding of Star Trek venture via its explorations, both literally and artistically. I still use the term 'reviews' to refer to my articles in the broadest sense of the word.

USS Enterprise Crew, Star Trek TOS

In my reviews, more than anything else, the Trek writers' minds are dissected, and examined under a microscope. I'll attempt to answer where the writers got their ideas, why they wrote what they wrote, what are thet really trying to tell us, and how Star Trek came to be via their writings during these Trek formative years (and beyond, if I decide to continue this enterprise (pun not intended)). Please drop in for future additions of reviews (or even easier, subscribe to be notified of new posts or articles).

Because of these reasons, I don't write reviews for all episodes, just the significant and note-worthy ones from a philosophical, cultural, historical, artistic, social, and political point of views. So far, most episodes fall into the significant category. This is the reasons why these Star Trek TOS are classics, because the topics they dealt with stood the test of time (at least for a 1/2 century or more than 2 generations). Some of the props and set designs might look dated, but not the ideas. They were as relevant today as they were first written. As you will see in my reviews, many of the ideas for later Star Trek series originates here. They call this series Original for more good reasons than one.

I use this Wikipedia link as a reference for the episode numbering. Having said that you should read it after watching the episode, I won't give away plot spoilers regardless. By that, I meant I don't give away anymore than the brief summaries given in this Wikipedia page. I agree that the Wikipedia page does give away some spoilers (not the ending, however). You've been warned.

(the Wikipedia folks have decided to remove the summaries less than 2 weeks after I wrote what's in the strikethrough. I do like the brief summaries. I hope they bring it back).

Because I won't give away major plot twists or endings, in fact, I hardly ever mention plots in general, I guess it's safe to read them before watching.

Happy reading! (for you)
Tally ho! (for me)

Sunday, 5 May 2013

London Day 7 - Bath, Lacock & Stonehenge

For the Namesake. Not a Pole in Sight. Heavy Lifting for Posterity.

16 °C

The Premium Tour offers several packages to Stonehenge, we joined one called "Stonehenge private viewing at Sunset".

Instead of taking a long trip from London just to see Stonehenge, the Premium Tour offers a combination of different destinations in between to break up the monotony of a long coach trip. In this case, there're 3 desinations in all with Stonehenge being the last stop.

We waited for the bus at a place not far from the Gloucester Road station, which is not far away from where we stayed at around 10:30am.

This tour have made me conclude that UK tour guides are the funniest.

As we driving away from London, we were pointed out various points of interests such as Daniel Ratcliff's (of Harry Potter fame) place in Fullham. We also drove past Box where Wilbert Awdry - the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine - lived. There's a Tank Engine in his front yard. So there's no mistaken about it that this was his residence.

We stopped at Bath, Somerset about 2pm. We were only given 2 hours there, which is hardly done the City of Bath any justice. Including waiting to get inside, it took nearly 30 mins just on the Roman Bath. So we just grabbed a quick hotdog for lunch, and literally run around to cover as many places as possible. The hotdog didn't last us very long.

Pulteney Bridge, Bath, Somerset, UK
Looks like a street lines with shop.
This is a well known Pulteney Bridge

Pulteney Bridge, Bath, Somerset, UK
This Pulteney Bridge is inspired by another even better known
bridge Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

The 1st time I heard of the name Bath, I couldn't believe because it has a Roman Bath there. It makes too much sense. I'm convinced now as I saw it with my own eyes. I even have photographic evidence to back it up.
Roman Bath, Bath, Somerset, UK
Roman Bath

Jane Austen lived there once, hence the Jan Austen Museum. Of course, we didn't have time to visit it. A couple of her novels also set in this city.

We stopped at Lacock for dinner. It was about 5pm when we got there.

Lacock (pronouce 'lay-cock', not 'lah-cock') is a Saxon Village (call it Gregorian Village if you must. I won't argue with you). The National Trust tries to preserve its original state by hiding all the ugly modern infrastructure like telegraph and lamp posts from this village, making it a very attractive backdrop for film studios who want to film period pieces.

Lacock village, Wiltshire, UK
Nice not to have all the poles get in the way of the photo

 This place provided settings for the British Pride and Prejudice mini TV series, as well as several Harry Potter movies.

Elizabethan building, Lacock village, Wiltshire, UK
A nice Elizabethan building
After dinner, we headed for our last destination Stonehenge.

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK
Since the Stonehenge was built before the invention of writing, it means it would keep archaeologists employed in the business of guessing the purpose of this elegant Neolithic Age structure. "From that little groove on the tooth, we could deduce that this society is very much interested in the playing of Game Boy". Ok, I'm making it up. The archaeologists too are making things up, it's just their guesses are a bit more educated than the educated laymen.

Stonehenge with sun shining through the gap, Whiltshire, UK
Nat Geo made a doco titled Stonehenge: Decoded (2008), where prof. Mike Parker Pearson offered his latest theory, which is probably not the last.

He theorised that Stonehenge is a Temple of the Death to honour their ancestors, as supposed to the prevailing theory that it was a Temple of the Sun as part of the sun worshipping religion (Aussies are also Sun Worshipers, but in a more down to earth manner). Before that, it was suggested that the structure was served as an observatory of the Moon.

Regardless of which theory you subscribe to, one couldn't help but admire how these Neolithic Age villagers managed to haul these some as heavy as 50 tonne giant Sarsen monoliths from a distance of some 40 kms away. It probably took them months, maybe years to pull each stones before the invention of wheels. I guess the tree logs on the ground where the monoliths being dragged along were functioned as wheels.

There are 2 layers or levels of admission to the Stonehenge. The Stonehenge is surrounded by a metal lattice fencing some 30 - 50 metres away. You can look at Stonehenge from outside this fence at a distance.

If you join a tour group, some will let you into the metal fencing, but there's one more barricade a few metres from the structure. This barricade looks like the one of those velvet rope dividers that you see outside a discotheque or in a bank branch for people to queue up. We joined the "private viewing" tour, this means we could get inside the Stonehenge, and walked among the structure, and touch the stones and achieved immortality (well, will see about that in a 100 years or so, won't we?).