Sunday, 23 June 2013

TOS - 2.1 - Amok Time

Star Trek TOS - Amok Time
Stop! In the Name of Logic !
What's Love Got to Do with it ?
For Whom the Bell Tolls ?

For these and many more earth songs, tune in
Radio Starfleet 240.5
First off, Gene L Coon, the lesser known Gene, who wrote a few important episodes in the 2nd half of TOS Season 1, and created some important stuff for the Trek lore took over the producer role.

For the burgeoning Star Trek fans who enjoyed TOS' 1st Season, this must be a very anticipated episode. This 1st episode of a new season brought several significant changes.

I imagine the Trek writers would be thinking hard about what to put in this new season. Another season, another perspectives, so to speak.

Indeed, not only they had thinking about the new perspectives for TOS, I think they have turned everything upside down of their philosophy from the previous Season.

Why do I say that? There're 2 things in this episode that supports my thinking. Indeed more of this trend is to be continued and revealed in future episodes.

A number of episodes in the 1st Season drew inspiration from the Cold War conflicts between Uncle Sam USA and the Polar Bear Soviet Russia. Examples include episode 1.18 "Arena", 1.22 "Space Seed" and 1.26 "Errand of Mercy".

Episode 1.21 "The Return of the Archons" suggests the dystopia of the Soviet Communist model where individualism is destroyed while the people's content is 'unathentic'.

You could say episode 1.21 is very much anti-Soviet. While episodes 1.18, 1.22 and 1.26 aren't purely anti-Soviet, but they definitely ain't painting a flattering picture of the Soviet.

All these episodes are told in allegories. Much like George Orwell's Animal Farm is an allegory of the Communist dystopia. Instead of animal settings, we have futuristic space settings.

The 2 George Orwell's novels, Animal Farm (published 1945), and Nineteen Eighty-Four (published 1949) are still considered very important political works today. But in the Cold War Era of the 1960s, the influence of these 2 books couldn't be overestimated. I would find it very surprising if the Trek writers in this period weren't influenced greatly by Orwell's works.

But all these business is part of the political mentality of TOS 1st Season.

With this episode that marks the beginning of 2nd Season, there's a change of direction with the addition of a Russian crew. While TOS is about the future, but its 1st Season is anything but that. It's in fact very much about the era they lived, the Cold War Era of the 1960s.

With the appearance of Chekov, the Enterprise has trekked into the future. No longer mired in the present time of the 1960s. A Russian crew is now working alongside with the Yanks in the same spaceship. It's like the space program cooperation between USA and the USSR (as they do today. Of course, with the new and less anti-West Russia).

Sure, Chekov was added to attract the younger audience. He looks and has the same haircut as the Monkees. In fact, the first time I saw him, I mistaken him for one of the band member of the Monkees. Ok, I was quite green then.

Still, this character could take on any nationality to attract the young viewers. Gene Roddenberry asked to cast somebody either looks like the Monkees or the Beatles. It would make more sense to achieve that goal if this new character was British. What's Soviet in the 1960's got to do with rock and roll? The Beatles would definitely ring more bells.

When I say British, I should say English. There's already a Scot (like Scotty), and Irish (like Lt. Kevin Thomas Riley) aboard the Enterprise, but no English (like the Beatles that Gene Roddenberry was looking for) that ever shows his/her face on the Enterprise in TOS, so far.

Whether Walter Koenig has Russian root is irrelevant as many Caucasians playing Asian in TOS episodes anyway.

Many of the villains in TOS Season 1 clearly alludes the Soviet Russia. As the audience would soon see that, starting from this episode, the Trek writers had given up on Soviet bashing. This is wise. Because the preoccupation of Soviet bashing is not only tedious and tiresome to watch, but Star Trek would rightly be accused as a propaganda arm of Uncle Sam in the Cold War.

In TOS, many crew members of the Enterprise just pop up out of the blue, without any explanation. For example, Sulu's 1st appearance as helmsman was unannounced. There was no backstory that explains why he just turns from being a science officer into a helmsman (I think it occurs on episode 1.3 from memory).

Another 180° turnaround is regarding our logically higher evolved crew from the planet Vulcan (I think it's in this episode that the word 'Vulcanian' was dropped for 'Vulcan'. Also, this is the 1st time we see the dexterously challenging Vulcan salute. Or what I would like to call the Vulcan 'V' sign). Throughout the TOS 1st Season, he's always being portrayed as more superior in intellect, and more in check of his emotion.

In this episode, this 'myth' is busted, wide open. A glimpse into the Vulcan culture via its wedding ceremony reveals that some aspects of the Vulcan biology and culture is indeed very primitive. Or to be exact, hasn't evolved since the time of antiquity.

This is not the 1st time our Vulcan shipmate loses his cool. In fact, he lost it twice in Season 1: in episode 1.4 "The Naked Time", and 1.24 "This Side of Paradise".

The reason why I wrote a review for episode 1.4 but not 1.24 because except for superficial variations, the 2 stories are essentially identical.

In episode 1.4, an alien viral infection causes the Enterprise crew to act as if they're drunk.
In episode 1.24, an alien plant spores causes the Enterprise crew to act as if they're drugged.

Just substitute "drunk" for "drugged", and "Viral infection" for "Plant spores", you get one new story from another. The only significant difference is the remedy, which I won't go in to avoid spoiling the ending.

Everyone, includes Spock is acting like they're "drunk" or "drugged" in these 2 episodes respectively. But in this episode, Spock loses a grip of his emotion because of his reproductive cycle called "Pon farr" in Vulcan. In other words, Spock is having a period. And he acts like some earthling who's having a period. Oh no...Am I in trouble for saying that? Am I going too far with Pon farr?

On the romantic side, it reveals that nurse Christine Chapel is having a romantic crush for Spock. But it had already been made known in episode 1.4 where everyone is emotionally naked. And so she has no trouble in revealing her unrequitted love for Spock then. Poor nurse Chapel. Love is so very blind. Spock could never reciprocate her love. I feel for thee!

When Spock asks Kirk and McCoy to beam down to Vulcan to accompany him, they didn't know they're attending a wedding ceremony. And so they have no idea that they were going to be Spock's groomsman and best man. If they know it, they probably hold a stag/bachelor party for Spock. Stags in space? Sounds like Xmas...

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Great Singaporean Haze

Hazy day in Singapore, 2013
Hazy view outside my window
This is the most talked about topic in Singapore this week. And you're likely talking about it under your N95 mask.

Singapore is known to the world for being green and clean. For tourists who have heard so much about this must come as a shock when they step off the airport in Singapore this week. The whole place is shrouded in murky haze.

You may ask yourself, Am I in Singapore or Beijing Airport? Have I boarded the wrong plane?

No, you haven't. You just boarded the wrong time.

Singapore isn't Beijing for a number of reason when it comes to the question of pollution. Beijing is prone to have murky sky because of its climate and geography.

The hazy days tends to occur in winter in Beijing while Singapore's temperature never really ever dropped below 25°C. And this photo is taken during noon.

In terms of geography, both Beijing and LA are shaped like a bowl, which shelters the pollution from being dispersed by wind. Singapore, on the other hand, is quite flat.

Having lived here for over 3 years, I had seen some brief period of this hazy days a couple of times before. It usually lasted for a day, and then it's gone. So I didn't pay much attention.

This time, not only it's much worse, but it lasted for more than a few days. A few explanations rushed through my head. A volcano eruption had occured in one of the chain of islands of the Indonesian Archipelago, and the ashes got blown to Singapore. I speculated.

I cast my mind to the historic Krakatoa eruption of 1883. Of course, this one is much smaller in scale. This explains the burnt smell. But I quickly dismissed this fanciful scenario.

The next scenario that runs through my mind is bushfire. Living in Sydney for more than 30 years, I'm all too familiar to Aussie bushfire. In dry years, like those in the 1990s, it happened almost every Summer. The haze and the smell of it was no stranger to me. So my next guess would be bushfire somewhere in Singapore, or across the border in Malaysia. But then, Singapore is anything but dry. Humidity is very high most of the time.

Both of these guesses were wrong. It isn't a volcano eruption in Indonesia or a bushfire in Singapore, but bushfires in Indonesia. I just never expected the kind of scale of bushfire occurred in Indonesia could cause such a massive smog in Singapore. It must have been enormous.

Usually, you see an occasional Singaporean wearing masks on the streets. In the last few days, the number increases to about easily 10 - 20%. I also saw a guy in suites selling facemask in the street for 0.50SGD a pop. I don't know they're n95 masks, which we're advised to use for any effectiveness. They're quite expensive. Most pharmacies/chemists have run out of them. They probably made the biggest sale of masks since the SARS scare.

I found myself for the 1st time in my life wearing a facemask. Something quite unimaginable - at the rarest of cases - in Australia. Even when there was a bushfire, I didn't see people wear masks on he Sydney streets. Not even the during the SARS epidemic.

Actually, what bothers me the most isn't the nose, but my eyes. They've stinging sensation. The same sensation that I got I suffered from hayfever caused by pollen. Somebody told me my eyes were bloodshot. That really doesn't happen often.

Everyone prays for rains. It didn't come. The 1st 3 weeks of June must be quite dry in this region of the world. The people who carry out this scorch earth practice should know about the weather very well.

Understandably, this haze is all over the news. And I just come to realize that this slash-and-burn method of agriculture had been happened for the last few decades without any decrease. Indeed, this year is one of the worst. The PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) reading shot up to a record of 401. Remember that the typical PSI reading for Singapore is around 50 and under. PSI > 100 is considered unhealthy. PSI > 300 is considered hazardous. And PSI > 400 would be called the "Don't leave home without a mask" level.

P.S. Rain comes on 26 Jun. But the PSI level has dropped below 100 in the previous 3 days. Thank you Lah !

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

TOS - 1.26 - Errand of Mercy

Star Trek - Errand of Mercy
Come on guys, we agree we're going to
finish shooting this scene today.
No disappearing act please ! Come back!
This is the 1st episode when the Enterprise has a close encounter with the most beloved alien race among the Trekkies. For those who proudly calling yourself a Trekkie then you would have no problem knowing what the alien race I'm referring.

Which fictional (is there other kind?) ET language do we have a dictionary for?

Ok, I don't need to give any more clues. Some, maybe most, of you already knew the answer after reading my 1st sentence.

Captain Kirk, and his pointed-eared shipmate, tricorder-carrying, single-eyebrow raising, 1st Officer Spock have their very 1st brush with the Klingons in this episode.

It's very obvious in this episode that the Klingons, like Khan Noonien Singh, are oriental. They're swarthy and have long wispy beard that depict East Asian stereotype in Hollywood during this period, i.e. before 1970s. The best known of such example is Fu Manchu. Another good example is dated looking Chinese characters in Genghis Khan (1965), released less than 2 years prior to this episode.

While Khan is, or I should say was, Indian (south Asian), the Klingons are, or I should say were, East Asians.

Gene L. Coon, who was a Trek writer quite busy around this period (2nd half of the 1st Season of TOS), had a hand in both writing "Space Seed", and this episode, where the villains are, or were, Asian. Readers should read my review on episode 1.22 "Space Seed" to get a better perspectives on what I'm talking about.

Maybe Gene L. Coon has a thing for bad-ass Asian.

The creation of these peoples from the East - whether they're ETs or tyrant from earth - is of course to reflect the Cold War ideological conflict between the Democratic West and the Communist East.

Communist East = Eastern Bloc + Communist China.

Indeed, most earlier TOS episodes are understandably preoccupied with various Cold War issues as I pointed out repeatedly in the reviews of these episodes. The Federation is simply the future counterpart of USA, while the Klingons is the future counterpart of the Communist.

In as so far as the Klingons are based on Asians, the Klingon Empire is very much modelled on the Mongol Empire.

It really makes sense. The 1st encounter with the Romulan Empire in episode 1.14 "Balance of Terror" is modelled on the ancient Roman Empire, and the other most well known ancient Empire of the East would be the Mongol Empire.

Chinese Empire doesn't fit the bill very well. Firstly, they've have many dynasties. Secondly, some of these dynasties, like the Tang Dynasty is well know for its flowering in arts and literature, and the Song Dynasty is famous for its advancement in science and technology. So it's simply isn't suitable for the purpose of this episode, which is to create an Empire that's would best embody the idea of the "Evil Soviet Empire".

Mongol Empire is just what Coon needs for this episode. The Mongols are brutal, treacherous, belligerent, but also brilliant warriors, whose culture are built around military lives. And most importantly, they're from the East. Ancient Chinese called them barbarians (but then, ancient Chinese called everyone else barbarians).

Some historians - especially ones from Mongolia - might not like all these negative characterisations of the Mongol Empire, but this is the more widely accepted views. The very name of the Mongol Horde strikes terror into the very hearts of their enemies. In Mongolia - both Mongolias - Genghis Khan is being worshipped as god today.

The Trek production team preferred the Klingons over the Romulans because the makeup for the Klingons was simpler. This is because the forehead ridge of the Klingons didn't appear until Star Trek: the Motion Picture (1979), some 10 years later. In this episode, their foreheads are smooth as babies' bottoms (ok, they did have wrinkles, but not cranial ridges).

You can buy off-the-shelf fake facial hairs from shops, but for some unknown reasons, nobody sell pointed ears. So the production team had to make them. No budget, no time. Remember, there were 29 episodes in this 1st Season where the makeup department was totally inexperienced in making pointy ears. There was no traditional craftsmanship passing from mother to daughter in pointy ears making. Unfortunately, the arts of pointy ears making never catches on. Today, it's considered a lost art and is entered into UNESCO listing as an endangered intangible cultural heritage.

There was no Bird of Prey in this episode, either. No time, no budget.

Like Khan, the Klingons were gradually evolved from its original form, and becoming less and less resembling Asians (too bad, I say). This had happened to both Khan and the Klingons for the same reasons: movies are evolving with the times, and most importantly, it was done for better marketing purposes. Something I've already pointed out in length in my review of 1.22 "Space Seed" (I won't repeat here).

The story of this episode is all too popular for these early TOS episodes. In fact, it had been done so in various forms in different episodes. But episode 1.18 "Arena" is practically identical to this episode in terms of its story and its central message.

In both episodes, the Enterprise fights with another militant alien. At the end, a benevolent alien, whose evolution is so far above that of human or the militant alien enemy, come to intervene. They shake their heads in disbelief in seeing human waging such wars with his enemies like parents' total incomprehensibility in seeing their children's stupidity of fighting over somethings as unimportant as toys.

In Episode 1.18, the highly evolved super being called Metron stands atop of the mountain like a Greco-Roman god Apollo and says to Captain Kirk, "You are still half savage, but there is hope".

In the 1960s, Trek writers have a rather low opinion of the human race. Who can blame them? If the writers were in their, say 50s, they would have lived through 2 world wars, Cuban Missile Crisis, Korean War and the Vietnam War. The last 2 are the proxy wars, or hot wars for the Cold War's rivals (Cold War isn't that cold). Never mind the racial and gender divides. How could we ask the writers who living through all these had too much respect for the human race?

Sure, the earthlings are still savages, but now they're savages with thermonuclear warheads, not spears and stones. The few earliest episodes of TOS are very much focused on this issue like a laser beam. (I call the human "they" because I'm not human. Ok, I'm in self-denial. Nobody's perfect. Especially human!). These concerns of our "primitive" societies possessing weapon of vast destructive powers are especially dealt with by the 2nd pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before", and episode 1.2 "Charlie X".

While the human race is bad, there's still relative "badness". USA is clearly being portrayed as better than the Soviet. In both episode 1.18, and this episode, the Enterprise represents Uncle Sam while the reptilian alien called Gorn in episode 1.18, and the Klingons in this episode represent the Soviet. The Enterprise/USA is just the lesser of the 2 savages.

I guess it's the fact that both the Enterprise and its enemy that being lectured by superior beings like Metrons in episode 1.18, and the Organians in this episode that redeems Star Trek from being thought of as nothing but propaganda for Uncle Sam.

The idea of higher being who intervenes in human affair went back much further than TOS. I guess The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) would be the mother of all the movies/episodes with the theme of earthlings being chastised by superior beings because of our stupid ways, much like parents or teachers punishing their kids. "Earth, you're grounded for a day!". "Stood Still" is just another words for "Grounded". Or as in The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) the remake, the message is, "Earth, clean up that mess or die! Too late, you die!"

Before 1951, we had the good old bearded Christian God who would wipe out the human race or cleanse the earth with the Great Flood. In the 20th century, God is dead (Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out). Alien is doing God's work. Some people say God is alien. And in some TOS episodes, many aliens look like god of a sort.

Of course, the human isn't just constantly lectured by superior being, but also by Spock, who represents our rational side,  has done a fair share of condescending the Enterprise crew. Spock is a superior being than earthling (ok, half-superior being, half-savage. So Spock is only 50% superior than the humans).

If you ask me, I think the earthlings is asking for it.

Like my teacher likes to say, "if you act like a child, I'll treat you like one."

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

TOS - 1.22 - Space Seed

Star Trek - Space Seed
Doc, you'd better hand over your liver and wallet,
or else I'm going to do a tracheostomy on your
throat with this rusty, unsteriled scalpel !

Remember, I don't have a license to operate !
Several interesting points could be said about this episode.

1st thing 1st, drum roll's a young Ricardo Montalbán! Any self-respecting Trekkies/Trekkers should yell out "The Wrath of Khan !"

You're not wrong, this episode is the prequel to The Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Sorry, no prizes for getting it right because it's too easy.

For those who aren't Star Trek fans (why are you reading this? Good on you!), you might yell out "Fantasy Island !". Or as Ricardo Montalbán would say it in his charming Mexican accent, "Funtasy Island". The island is indeed quite funtastic.

Well, he's resurrected (artistically) once again in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Khan, like another enduring and colourful Trek character 'Q', refuses to just go away, and hide.

Khan is a genetically engineering superhuman, or using Friedrich Nietzsche's terminology The Übermensch (German for "Overman", or "Superman"). Captain Kirk describes him as "superman".

In this episode, Ricardo Montalbán is tanned to look more like an Indian. Lt. Marla McGivers, the ship's historian, describes Khan as someone who is  "From the northern India area, I'd guess. Probably a Sikh. They were the most fantastic warriors."

"Singh" is a common Indian name, originated from the ancient Hindu warriors and kings. To put it in another way, the family "Singh" belongs to the Kshatriya caste that associates with warriors and other government adminstration. The name is shared by the current prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh (who's also a Sikh, indicated by his headwear). Of course, in the 1960s, Asians were typically played by whites (not usually Anglo-Saxon, but southern European as they look Asian enough, but not too Asian. Ugly Betty shouldn't be ugly, physically. She should be cute and adorable, while wearing dental braces and glasses).

This very dated looking Genghis Khan (1965) whose title role was played by Omar Shariff.  This movie was made just a year before this episode was made. Don't tell me the writer wasn't aware of that movie and naturally inspired by it? Just a coincident, really?

Let's do a further etymological analysis of his name. The name 'Khan' is common in central Asia, and South Asia (where the Indian subcontinent is part of). In Mongolia, it's a title. As in Genghis Khan. And 'Noonien' sounds Korean (I suspect it's used as a generic East Asian name in Star Trek). In short, all the 3 names is Asiatic - from the central, east, and south Asia (in the order of his 1st, middle, and family names respectively).

In one scene, he does what supposedly Indian yoga moves before prying the door open.

According to the ship's database, relayed by Spock, "From 1992 through 1996, [Khan is an] absolute ruler of more than a quarter of your world. From Asia through the Middle East". This is somewhat an allusion to the Mongol Empire, which extends from Asia to the Eastern Europe. The size of this fictional Empire (1/4 of the world's landmass) and Mongol Empire (1/3 of the world's landmass) is also comparable. The only major difference is that Khan doesn't commit massacre during his reign like Genghis Khan.

Genetic stats show that 0.5% of the world population is descended from Genghis Khan. Higher in Asia. 8% of the population of Central Asia are children of Genghis Khan. Genghis also fathered 1 in 12 Asian. There's very good chance that Khan Noonien Singh is a descendent of the Genghis Khan. That goes for me as well.

Whatever angle you look at it, Khan Noonien Singh is an Asian, specifically Indian, in this episode where the seed of this character is planted originally.

With the rise of political correctness and more importantly markets consideration in the 1980s, Khan in The Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan looks much more like a Nordic Viking than a Indian Sikh warrior. So that Khan looks more like an Aryan than an Asian. Because in the 1980s, it's much less acceptable for a white actor to play an Asian. Today, it's considered absolutely ridiculous for a Caucasian to play an Asian in Hollywood. In the 1960s and earlier, it's preferred - not an iron rule - for a white actor to play a major Asian role. For minor roles, Asian actors can play themselves (what do they think of next?).

However, in the 1980s, Hollywood isn't ready for an Indian actor to play a main lead (villain or not) in a big budget production (Smaller role, like Sulu is acceptable for a long time). There was simply no Indian actor whose name that's big enough at the time to fill the shoes of this role to ensure commercial success of The Wrath of Khan. If the movie is made today, Hollywood might consider Naveen Andrews for the role of Khan. But he wasn't there in the 1980s when the film was made. He couldn't be there. American audience wasn't ready for major Indian stars yet in the 1980s

For all these commercial - not racist - considerations, Khan has to be turned into a white folk from an Indian Sikh. If Naveen Andrews or any Indian actor of similar calibre and profile existed in the 1980s, it's more likely that the film studio would change actor instead of the race of the role. Because changing the race of a role is more drastic than changing actor to play the same role. The latter is much more common practise. Many actors play Superman, Batman, James Bond, etc. What you don't usually do is to change the roles of Superman, and James Bond in order for a actor to play it. Let's change James Bond into a woman so that Angelina Jolie can play it (this won't happen for many more reasons than one).

But that's what happening here with Khan Noonien Singh. Role has to be changed to suit the actors, not the other way around.

Having said that, if they think an Indian villain would hurt sales in, say Indian market, then they wouldn't use an Indian actor. In short, there're barriers after barriers after barriers to consider an Indian actor for the role. Isn't it simpler just change it to a Caucasian actor? All the problems simply disappear instantly.

Hey, movie making is a commercial enterprise, facts has to be yielded to market forces.

I thought all the talks of ethnicity of roles, and actors who playing them is very interesting because Khan Noonien Singh is a tyrant in the fictional Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. Don't you think so?

At the end, Spock poses the question that gives the title of the episode, "It would be interesting, Captain, to return to that world in a hundred years and to learn what crop has sprung from the seed you planted today."

With that comment, Spock has foreshadowed a sequel. "You ain't see the last of Khan yet". We don't have to wait for 100 years to see the crop. Only 15 years at a farm cinema near you. We already knew the obvious answer to Spock's question, "Space crops! Of course!" (Don't you raise your single Spock eyebrow on me...)

To learn more about space crops, go there. Otherwise, do nothing.

Readers who find this article interesting might also interested in finding out the parallel between the character development of Khan and the Klingons in my review of epiosde 1.26 "Errand of Mercy".

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

TOS - 1.21 - The Return of the Archons

star Trek - The Return of the Archons
Behold ! My latest iPad 35!
She's an Apple of my eye.

I camped outside the Apple
store for 3 days to get this baby.

It's better helped me to get absorbed
into the Body !
This episode seems a little 'odd' (or 'off') even for Star Trek series, at first. Most episodes deal with out-of-this-world topics, but its scripts are quite coherent. This plot feels like is somewhat all over the place, leaving the audience somewhat at a lost as much as Spock when it comes to the society depicted in this episode.

Still, it's an important, note-worthy episode for 2 reasons.

While I believe the 'Q' character in TNG is evolved from the Trelane character in episode 1.17 "The Squire of Gothos", I suspect the Borg in TNG is evolved from the idea of Landru in this episode.

The only significant difference between the Borg and Landru is that while human is 'absorbed' into Landru to become a part of the Body only mentally, the human is 'assimilated' into the Borg to become a part of the Collective both physically and mentally.

But then, when your mind is possessed, your body follows. So this isn't a significant difference after all (it isn't like your girl friend says to you that you can have her body but not her mind).

I could be wrong in suggesting that the Borg is born out of Landru, but I think you agree the parallels between the 2 ideas are too numerous, and striking (Landru vs Borg, Body vs Collective, Absorb vs Assimilate).

Like Landru, the core of Borg is an unfeeling machine. And the ultimate goals of both Landru and the Borg is also the same: to create a society that are free of individualism. In both cases, human is the victim. There's no loose ends. Hard to believe that they are all mere coincidences.

This idea of a society that emphasises Collectivism over Individualism is of course Communism.

This episode is an allegory of the very crux of the ideological struggle of the Cold War, between the democratic West and the communist East (as in the Eastern Bloc). The human represents the people while Landru symbolises a communist state.

Of course, the Borg is more complex and sophisticated than Landru because it's a higher evolution of an early concept, and benefited with another 20 years of movie making experience.

The other note-worthy point in this episode is the famous Prime Directive of Non-Interference. Again, this Starfleet General Order Number 1, which is featured quite prominently in TNG has its seed in this episode. This is the very 1st episode where the Prime Directive is ever discussed.

The Prime Directive of Non-Interference is similar to the U.S. foreign policy before WW2. Uncle Sam sits back and watches while the whole world goes up in smoke at the start of WW2. And then, thanks to the Imperial Japanese Navy's biggest military blunder - a blunder of historical proportion - they attack Pearl Harbour. Well, Uncle Sam has no choice but to throw that "Prime Directive" out the window (of the White House) .

Since then, Uncle Sam takes the exact opposite political stance, and put his fingers in every pie, and decides to apply the American ways to every corner of the world (if American Apple Pies or Apple products are so good, everyone should have a slice of it).

I'm wondering what the late Gene Roddenberry's view on the U.S. foreign policy today. My gut feeling says he would disapprove it. By the way, Gene Roddenberry wrote the story for this epiosde.

Landru, a scientist and philosopher, who builds the computer to 'absorb' the human mind doing so out of good intention. The Borg believes they're a higher and a more perfect form of evolution than human. By assimilate human, they're given the human individual a vast identity of the Collective. Karl Marx, a philosopher and economist, who believes he offers an utopia for mankind, freeing the workers from the exploitations of the bourgeois. Yep, it's all for good intentions.

To cite a proverb, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions".

Let me be less extreme and replace "is" with "might be".

Monday, 10 June 2013

TOS - 1.19 - Tomorrow is Yesterday

Star Trek - Tomorrow is Yesterday
"Look, up in the sky!"
"It's a bird."
"It's a plane".
"It's an flying saucer!"
"It's the U.S.S. Enterprise!"
"An aircraft carrier in the sky? Don't be stupid!"
A late 1960 U.S. fighter jet taxes slowly in a military airfield. For a moment, you think either you're watching the wrong channel or the programming time. But in a few minutes, you see The Enterprise appears in the sky. And then you quickly realise. "ah, that's one of those time travel episodes". And many more would be made in the future, which is our past. Or, as the title says, "Tomorrow is Yesterday".

Before Back to the future (1985), way back, some 20 years before, there's "Tomorrow is Yesterday".

The sophisticated - even jaded - viewers of today might not given much thoughts about these brain-twisting time-travel episodes, but this is the 1st episode in Star Trek that features this mind warping idea.  To be precise, time travel had been mentioned in passing in several previous episodes. But it has never had played a central role in TOS until this episode.

In this episode, a pilot from the 1960s is simply being grabbed onto the Enterprise without too much foresight. There's plenty of hindsight once the 20th century pilot has been beamed aboard. And question of how even a smallest change that's made in the past could have devastating consequences in the future reality as the Enterprise crew knows it. This time paradox creates the dilemma for Captain Kirk, should he return the pilot back to his own time or forced to keep him in the Enterprise for good?

I mentioned in my review of the 1st pilot episode "The Cage" that Gene Roddenberry was likely a big fan of H.G. Wells, who popularised the idea of time travel in his seminal work The Time Machine, published in 1895. So it would be logical that time travel would be a popular topic in Star Trek series. Of course, in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine deals with travelling into the future while this episode deals with problems of travelling to the past.

Travelling to the past is much more problematic than travelling to the future due to the unidirectional nature of time. Or the order of cause and effect. I.e. the past events affect future, but not the other way around. Well, not according to some theoretical physicists and their radical interpretation of quantum mechanics. If there's any branch of science that is way weirder than sci-fi flick like Star Trek, quantum mechanics wins them hands down any time.

It might be all too familiar to us today through countless sci-fi movies and TV series (including TOS) that used time travel as a plot device. I don't know if this is the very 1st story on TV that explores time travel extensively, I doubt there were too many before it. I suspect this episode has boldly gone where no man (let's keep that original political incorrectness) has gone before.

And as I pointed out again, and again, Star Trek drew many inspiration from its contemporary social phenomena. UFO mania had reached a fever pitch in the 1950s and 60s, which I suspect is a personification of the anxiety of living in the Cold War by the American collective psyche, as well as the arrival of technology.

Of course, the Soviet is never far away in the episodes in TOS Season 1. Although they usually appear in allegorical form. But in this episode, the immediately suspicion that pops into the U.S. pilot's mind is that the Enterprise is the Soviet military.

And in this episode, the Enterprise is the UFO. For once, the UFO is a flying saucer, but they just ain't ETs. To the audience of the 1960s, this episode would make their heads spin on several levels at Warp 8 (the maximum practical warp speed that the Enterprise could handle at this stage. They could do Warp 9, but not for long, at least not without risking the Enterprise breaking up into pieces. I'm sure, Scotty is working on it, if he's given more Dilithium crystals).

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

TOS - 1.17 - The Squire of Gothos

Star Trek - the Squire of Gothos
Am I doing an impression of Mozart (without the wig of course)?
Or is Liberace doing an impression of me?

Me, me, me, me...doh rei me me me...
It's all about me me me me me...doh rei me me me...
This episode introduces one of the most enduring and endearing character in Star Trek Land (sorry, Space).

On one level, this episode bears a striking resemblance to episode 1.2 "Charlie X", which in turns reincarnated from the 2nd pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before". You could say not only there's an evolution of characters in TOS, but their stories as well.

The parallels between the central character of Charlie X and of this episode Trelane are considerable. Even the endings of these 2 episodes are the same (I couldn't really come up with a better ending either). They're both spoiled kids with unfathomable powers who toy with the Enterprise crew for their own selfish, childish needs.

While Trelane (or the Squire of Gothos) is considerably older than Charlie X, ostensibly, Trelane is very much a juvenile like Charlie X, emotionally . Besides, the physical form that we see of him is for the benefit of the Enterprise crew. 'He' doesn't actually have a form that we could understand, or see, or at least reveals to us in this episode.

Now, those are the similarities. Let's look at their significant differences.

Let me try to recall what Spock says about Trelane, "I reject intellects without discipline; power without constructive purposes".

The 2nd sentence is surely describing both Charlie X and Trelane, but the 1st sentence depicts only Trelane. He, or as he likes to introduce himself as "General Trelane, retired", is an infinitely more sophisticated, intelligent and most importantly, delightful character to watch than Charlie X.

His lively, colourful and eccentric quality brings the very light-hearted and whimsical touch to this episode the only way he could. You got to love him. Bring him back!

They have.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this Trelane character, who exists in a higher dimension than human, is a forerunner, an early model, a TOS prototype for the 'Q' character, who drops into The Enterprise in future episodes of The Next Generation from time to time, playing dress-up, role playing, stirring things up, judging humanity and whatever shenanigans he could come up with.

To put it another way, Micthell (in "Where No Man Has Gone Before") evolves into Charlie X, who evolves into Trelane, who finally evolves into 'Q', who's the finest specimen in the perfection of a long line of evolution of this pedigreed character.

And to William Campbell who played Trelane, encore! Or play it again, Will!