Thursday, July 7, 2011

Star Trek TOS S1 Ep8: Miri

"Miri was a great love story with beautiful performances, and it's definitely my favorite episode."
-Director Vincent McEveety (Starlog Magazine #144, p.90)-

The fearless Captain James T. Kirk leads members of his crew into the great unknowns and the always stunning set productions found in Star Trek: The Original Series. Welcome to Miri, an eerie instant classic.

The Enterprise receives a distress signal, an Earth-style signal. It's not Earth, but "another Earth." We beam down to this Blue Planet's exciting offerings in the form of Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, Episode 8, Miri. Captain's Log 2713.5.

The Enterprise has arrived at a planet that is an exact duplicate of Earth. It is mid-1900s approximately, 1960 according to Spock. Spock, Yeoman Janice Rand, Leonard "Bones" McCoy and Captain James T. Kirk have beamed down to the planet complete with two unsuspecting Red Shirts.

A deformed, mentally deficient, child-like man attacks Bones. Kirk introduces the fellow to the classic Original Series five-finger fist sandwich. Before you know it Bones reports, "it's dead." Bones pulls up just shy of the immortal "He's Dead Jim." It hasn't happened just yet. It was interesting how Bones placed down a broken child's bike almost respectfully, gingerly and with genuine affection almost sensing a loss of innocence in the air and establishing the mood of the story the creators have planned.

The set designs of the old American town are brilliant, replete with details like broken, warped tricycles and old pianos. It's really a sight to behold. Kirk and company find a young teenage girl terrified and hiding inside a closet. They attempt to calm her and ease her fears. Miri, as she will be called, refers to people called the "Grups." "What are Grups?" inquires Kirk. Grown-ups infers Rand. The Grups got sick and died after "the awful things." Bones suspects it was a "plague." The Onlies [or children] were unaffected, but why?

Spock and the guards are searching for others when they are bombarded and pelted by stones and the sounds of impudent children. Spock reports back and the crew hopes Miri will take them to their infirmary. Kirk implements the Kirk charm factor with Miri so she will trust him. No one can resist Kirk's charm. He was doing the Jedi mind trick long before the Jedi bringing the ladies to their knees. An infected piece of skin appears on Kirk's hand and Miri is visibly fearful of his fate.

The "blue splotches" begin appearing on everyone, but Spock. Bones requests additional equipment. Kirk orders that under no circumstances should anyone else beam down. Kirk is intrigued by Spock's immunity. Bones explains the "bugs" don't care for the "Green bloods." The unaffected Spock comes across a lab project dubbed Life Prolongation. The project began 300 years ago. All of the adults are dead, but the children live inevitably becoming adults. Spock is putting it together. He points out "glandular changes" that occur during puberty.







Though certainly not intended, Kirk's way with the ladies does leave one to wonder if he might make a play on Miri. Update: Good news, the Red Shirts are still alive.

The Life Prolongation Plan was implemented to achieve the equivalent of one month in the aging process naturally over the span of 100 years. Spock surmises the kids could be "immensely old." Bones suspects a child entering puberty on this planet could be a "death sentence." Although horrible when the end comes, one might argue the trade off isn't half bad. Immensely old or not, Kirk knows these people are still children. Kirk continues to play on Miri's fondness for him to get whatever information he needs. That Kirk is a shrewd operator and perhaps a little inappropriate in his efforts.

We eventually meet the head of the child gang, John, played with eerie, creepy ease by Michael J. Pollard. Together, the kids and John remember "the way it was" in the "before time." John puts the fear of the Grups into them. They peer out the window and see Kirk approaching closer with Miri. The kids scatter and hide. The score is terrific throughout the series pumping in just the right amount of suspense and tension along the way. Kirk is attacked by an aging, dying girl. He is forced to stun her. She dies just the same and he cannot understand why she has died. His phaser was not set to kill.

Back in the makeshift lab our heroes continue to study the gravity of their situation, which grows more dire with each passing day ravaging the away team. There is a fear of growing mad from the virus. The older the victim the more rapid the progress of the disease. Spock is a carrier and cannot return to the ship either. The team is uncertain about what it is they are fighting. Affected systems will signal the end through pain and dizziness. The team has come to the conclusion they have seven days of life remaining.

Those pesky, ill-mannered, parentless children of the corn types have returned with their taunting noises, the kind of noises that could drive one to madness. The men run out and John, the weird child leader, slips into the lab and grabs the communicators escaping back into the vent. The crew need their communicators to survive. They have three days left. They will need them to acquire information.

Tempers are rising as a result of the strain of the virus. The team is growing short with one another. Miri is concerned for her new found friends. Here's one of those unforgettably classic scenes.




Bones, making headway, is onto something and it appears they have a chance. Miri slips away and returns to John. Miri convinces the kids to lure Yeoman Rand away, seemingly out of jealousy. Her feelings for Kirk are crush-like, like a student on a teacher. "Mr. Lovey Dovey" as the Captain is called will get a "bonk bonk on the head." Do you remember that classic line. Star Trek TOS is one of those series where not only are titles of the episodes instantly recognizable, but lines of dialogue are iconic. I remember being terribly annoyed by those strange children, but those lines remain burned within my crystallized faculties of intellect.

Bones and Spock work diligently to ascertain what the proper dosage of vaccination will be required to survive. Kirk asks Miri where Rand has gone. They need the communicators. Bones needs verification on the vaccine without verification it could be "a beaker full of death." Kirk knew how to amp up the tension. The crew of the Enterprise knew how to bring stakes to the brink. A frustrated Kirk makes one last play on Miri.



Intense stuff on Star Trek TOS. This was an episode to adore for many of the reasons I have noted. Oh and here is a glimpse of those crazy kiddies helmed by the wonderfully weird performance by Pollard. It's a fantastically bizarre character portrait for sci-fi fans to enjoy and one that mirrors his appearance one year earlier in Lost In Space, Season One, The Magic Mirror.



Meanwhile in this ghost-like town that fuses '60s era cars with a wild west feel, somewhere, the kids are playing games with Rand as their hostage. Miri arrives with Kirk to find Rand tied up. It's tough dealing with this incessant bunch of mini-rabblerousers. Kirk makes every effort to reason with the unreasonable. He needs those communicators. Grups and Onlies will both be history. He is attacked by one of the kids. John is rallying his little band of idiots as he smiles from afar. You have to admit, Star Trek really captures the unnerving, unsettling quality of a band of child kooks. Outside of a rampaging army of toy clown dolls, I'm not sure there's anything much scarier than obnoxious, dirty children. This is just one example of Star Trek's ability to capture a true sense of alienness within its stories. This one in particular is dripping with threat and menace. You always felt transported to some place foreign and bizarre in some way and life was hanging in the balance.

It gets worse, the kids attack. The kids begin to beat Kirk who is bloodied, but still standing. Kirk warns them they are next. They will get the disease too. The food is gone. Miri pleads with them all. Kirk serves up a bit of reverse psychology bringing to their attention the blood on their hands. They are hurting the Grups. It is the Onlies that are harming Grups now.
Bones looks at the serum and makes a command decision risking it all and injects it into his bloodstream untested. He yells for Spock and falls unconscious. Three hours remaining. Kirk succeeds and obtains his communicators from the children. In an emotionally resonant moment, Spock informs the Captain that Bones has taken a chance for everyone. He has risked it all. He is a hero. The blue splotches fade from his face. This has all of the appeal of the Kirk, Spock and Bones triumvirate we would come to love.
William Shatner holds his daughter, Lisabeth Shatner, in Miri. Leslie Shatner also appeared among the rabble in the episode. Grace Lee Whitney and Gene Roddenberry's children were also included. John is a little punk ass whipper-snapper. The crew returns to the Enterprise. Space Central is contacted and teachers and others will go to the planet to help the children. Bones suggests truant officers. Such decisions would no doubt be in violation of the Prime Directive. Rand indicates Miri really loved Kirk. "I never get involved with older women." Very clever James. Miri is a classic if for the sheer fact alone that I remember it so vividly and for the infamous "bonk bonk on the head." Further, as I mentioned, it is the finest Kirk, Spock and Bones collective entry to date. Perfection. One more thing - those two Red Shirts - still alive!

Miri: A
Writer: Adrian Spies. Director: Vincent McEveety.
Dead Crewman: 0.
Dead Crewman To Date: 10.
Babe Alert: 0.
Babe Alert To Date: 9.

Actor footnote: Kim Darby [Miri] [1947-present]. American. Miri features one of Darby's most memorable performances. She also featured in True Grit [1969] with John Wayne, Norwood [1970], The One And Only [1978] with Henry Winkler, Better Off Dead [1985] starring John Cusack, Teen Wolf Too [1987] with Jason Bateman and Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers [1995]. These are just some of the highlights. She also featured in The X-Files, Season Seven, Episode 10, Sein und Zeit.

Actor footnote: Michael J. Pollard [John] [1939-]. American. He appeared one year earlier on Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 21, The Magic Mirror, a terrific entry in that series with an equally enjoyable, if similar, performance.

Director footnote: Vincent McEveety [1929-present]. American. McEveety directed six episodes of Star Trek TOS. He directed three classics from Season One: Miri, Dagger Of The Mind, and Balance Of Terror. He handled Season Two's Patterns Of Force and The Omega Glory. Finally, he delivered the classic Season Three entry Spectre Of The Gun. It's safe to say McEveety helmed and delivered some of the most memorable entries in the Star Trek cannon.

14 comments:

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I read your review of the episode of Star Trek “Miri” and I honestly could not remember the episode at all. I’ve seen every episode at least twice and still I could not recall this episode. This is not a good sign as I usually don’t remember things that I dislike; yet remember things I do like very clearly. Being the dedicated Genre Guardian, science fiction and Star Trek fan that I am, I watched “Miri’ just now on Netflix.

Like many of the classic Trek episodes, this is not very good science fiction and as fans we do tend to overlook the little implausibilities of the “science” in Star Trek. Still, why did the writer make the planet that the colonists live on to be an exact duplicate of Earth? Why not just make it an Earth-like planet as in so many other episodes of Trek? Also, why make the level of technology and environment exactly at the 1960’s Earth? The simple answer is that the producers of the show could use existing sets and props to save money on the episode. Still, a better writer could have made a better reason for why the setting was so similar to 20th Century Earth: aka “A Piece of the Action”.

I now know why I didn’t/don’t like “Miri”. I don’t like stories about creepy kids. The writer clearly was going for a Peter Pan vibe, with the 300 year old kids refusing to become “Grups” for fear of becoming homicidal maniacs! Wow! Puberty sucks bad enough without adding the fear of madness and death to it. Another problem I have with the idea of these children living for hundreds of years and still behaving like children is that it implies that only our biological changes makes us behave as mature adults. I think that with so much time, their minds would have matured regardless of their lack of physical maturation.

Still, there are some nice Kirk, Spock and Bones moments in this episode, but they are outnumbered by some of the worst aspects of Star Trek. Kirk using his manly charms on a prepubescent girl is just nasty! The line where Yeoman Rand tells Kirk that she tried to get him to look at her legs on the ship and then tells him to look at her now horribly disfigured blue legs is just too silly to take as real drama. The Spock’s green blood line once again uttered by Bones is meant to be humorous, but given their situation, it just seems out of place.

I’m sorry, Sci-Fi Fanatic, but I just can’t share your enthusiasm for this episode of Star Trek with you.

John Kenneth Muir said...

Hi SFF:

A very detailed and welcome look back at "Miri," a classic Star Trek episode that isn't remembered very often today, in 2011.

I always enjoy when the Enterprise encounters these "dead" planets that are, in essence, laboratories for the TV audience to learn about the mistakes of another people much like humans.

That's the inherent value, I think, of the 1960, "Another Earth" setting. At home, the TV audience realizes, quite clearly...this could happen to us. Is this the path we're on, right now?

When you consider how turbulent the 1960s were, and how there were fears regarding reproductive rights (the official release of the the birth control pill came in -- surprise -- 1960!), then it is clear how this "life prolongation" experiment fits in with the cultural context of Star Trek.

The ill-fated experiment of "Miri" plays on then-rampant fears of tampering with the human life cycle, with unforseen results.

Today, it may seem quaint, but scientists on a regular basis are discussing life prolongation. I read an article this week that insisted the first 150 year old human has already been born, and that in 20 years, the first 1000 year old will be born. It boggles the mind!

Though "Miri" talks explicitly of the issue in 1960s terms, the issues it debates are still with us; and will be so long as we yearn to escape the grip of death.

On my blog this week, I looked at "Bad Kids" and included the children of "Miri." They remind me not so much of Peter Pan (though that certainly fits too...) but of Lord of the Flies.

A surprising number of sci-fi programs (Andromeda among them...) postulate "what might be" if children become the dominant demographic in a culture. What is missing in such a culture, of course, is wisdom and experience. This is also an element of Logan's Run. The idea that youth, innocent and naive, can also be...extremely callow.

I can see why the episode isn't a favorite of some folks There are definitely some moments, I think, that feel a little overtly melodramatic, in terms of performance and music. But these are symptoms, I believe, of TV at the time. Dramas were more artificial and less naturalistic, in some very dramatic ways.

What I appreciate so much about the episode are the views of urban decay and blight you note (again, a signifier of what could happen to us...) and the nasty nature of that disease. I remember seeing this episode as a child and being incredibly fearful of the Grups and those grotesque blotches.

Anyway, I really enjoyed your review of "Miri." Terrific way to begin a Friday: a cup of tea (I'm off the caffeine...) and a Sci-Fi Fanatic Star Trek retrospective.

le0pard13 said...

Another great and detailed look at a classic ST:TOS episode. You know, when this one first arrived on TV (yes, I'm ancient) I didn't like it at all. Perhaps, it was because it was so Earth-bound. But, your examination shows that is its strength, plus the outdoor scenes would be some of the few in the series (the later season eps would be more stage-bound). Great look at this one, SFF. Thanks.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Doc.

As always you never hold back. Thank you for your input.

Your point about Kirk with Miri is a great point. That is a bit of an uneasy component of the episode admittedly.

Further, some of the writing isn't perfect in spots, but they are still incredibly memorable in their own way. There's also a mood and atmosphere here that works beyond some of the imperfections.

By the way, I've tried to write at your site and have beeen unsuccessful from a variety of computers for whatever reason.

But yes, we clearly agree to disagree on Miri. It's a personal favorite and I do see Star Trek, despite its problems at times, through a nostalgic lens. Truthfully, I just have such an affection for the series.

Thanks again Doc for your guardianship pov
sff

------

John,

Thank you for your alternate take and view on Miri.

Once again, you always place these things in historical context and as we know Star Trek was always so clever at inserting current events [most of the time] like Vietnam (speaking of ... Great Aliens post once again!)

But yes, these themes, like the life prolongation, continue to remain timely and have an impact, which si why, for me, Star Trek continues to have a profound influence on television and science fiction.

Loved your Lord Of The Flies analogy and when I meantioned Children Of The Corn in my post I nearly typed Logan's Run too, which tells you how we are on the same wavelength on this one.

But again I remember this entry so clearly because it was so frightening as a kid. As you said, the Grups, the disease. It all added up to a troubling experience.

Thanks for your additional insights on this one.
Best, sff

--------

L13!

Excellent point. I love the outdoor location vibe of this one.

The production effort may be unappealing to some, but I did thoroughly enjoy the approach taken with Miri.

All the best,
sff.

Thanks all for stopping.

PDXWiz said...

Good review of a good episode. There's high tragedy in this episode, both with what happened to the adults and what happened to all their friends.

I can't recall if one line that was in Blish's adaptation was in the episode or not, but the fact that they were about to run out of food is interesting. However, they should have run out of food a long time ago, unless these kids were the ONLY (pun not intended) survivors in the world and they were migrating from town to city to town to city. The other alternative (I think) is that whatever happened to them , slowed their metabolism in a way so that they hardly needed to eat at all. When puberty hit, whammo! Their growth spurt used up ALL of the energy in their bodies at once, essentially draining them of the energy the way a vampire drains a human of their blood. Maybe the growth spurt is reflected in the growth of their um reproductive organs? So when the first egg goes to the woman, whammo, a girl hits puberty? Or maybe upon her first menstruation? That would be even scarier.

I also wondered, if it was an Earth duplicate, was there a space program? Did somebody die in space, perhaps, because of the plague? Or weren't able to come back down?

I really thought that the blue rubber makeup pieces were credible. They always reminded me of scabs, which I associate with healing wounds; here, they associate with the opposite, death.

The Trek wiki states that director McEveety's son was the red-haired boy who liked to wear masks, and that they shot on the Mayberry set from the Andy Griffith show. Fascinating...

Thanks for the great, detailed review! I have always liked this episode.

Gordon Long

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

@ JKM – As always, John, you make some excellent points on this episode of Star Trek. Putting it in historical perspective, “Miri” has much more of a significant resonance to it. Life prolongation has long been a fertile subject for science fiction, but in the case of “Miri” it feels more like the writer of the episode just tossed this term into the dialogue to make it sound more science fictional. “Miri” is much more interested in the melodrama of Kirk’s manipulation of Miri in order to get their communicators back from the other kids and the race against time to find a cure for the virus infecting them. Unfortunately, you’re comparing “Miri” to “Lord of the Flies” is very accurate and another reason I didn’t like this episode. I’ve never liked the idea that if children are left bereft of adult supervision that they suddenly revert to wild animals… or worse.

@ Sci-Fi Fanatic – I wasn’t trying to be overly critical of “Miri” and I hope my comments on it didn’t come off that way. I love Star Trek the original series and will defend even some of the weaker entries in the series! I was just trying point out specifics of why I didn’t like this particular episode. I agree with you that the mood that this episode created at the beginning with the desolate setting is effective, but it is almost immediately ruined by the overuse of the laboratory and school sets.

I am perplexed as to why you’ve been unable to leave comments on my blog, Sci-Fi Fanatic. I have not altered the settings for posting them since I started the blog. I get so few comments anyway, it difficult for me to say if this is only a problem for you or for others as well. I can only speculate that it may have something to do with the new user interface that Blogger introduced to a “lucky few” a few months back. I have been using it and haven’t noticed any significant changes or problems from my end, but it may be causing problems for users still using the older software. Do you use Blogger in Draft as your default and if so are you using the old or new interface? This Blogger Buzz post explains some of the changes: http://buzz.blogger.com/2011/03/whats-new-with-blogger.html

I hope to you’ll be able to post comments on Guardians of the Genre soon, Sci-Fi Fanatic, because you always offer fair and insightful observations on my various posts; especially the sci-fi posts!

le0pard13 said...

@Doc @SFF: sorry for jumping in, but when SFF mentioned he had problems leaving comments on your blog, that always raises my interest. SFF, what browser are you using for this? I ask because many of the blogging platforms are dropping support for IE 6, which could be at the core of your problem if you still use it. If you read/comment at work, for instance, many business still deploy IE 6 for specific web applications and keep it going. Our friend Will ran into this and couldn't leave comments at my old blog (when I used JS-Kit's Echo system with it) from his job. Just a thought. HTH

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hello Gordon,

I've been enjoying your thoughtful commentaries elsewhere in the science fiction blogosphere. I'm pleased to see you return.

Your additional thoughts were fantastic and I loved your additional behind the scenes information.

Look forward to your input in the future. Thanks Gordon- sff

--------------------

Doc-

You may have strong opinions, but no one can question your passion or
discount your perspective.

I do enjoy your thoughts even if we see things a little differently sometimes.

I did like the interpersonal relationships as well as the prlongation aspect of the story. I think there's a nice balance going on in here, but again I know I appreciated this one more.

Perhaps it was a triumph of direction over story for me.... well... actually, I did like both quite a lot.

-------

Doc & L13

IE6 has been long gone for a long time, but I did purchase a new laptop yesterday to replace my antiques and hope to remedy this in the coming days ahead.

We'll know soon.

Best to you all,
sff

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

L13

One more thing about your Earthbound point.

Perhaps it feels so refreshing to me because so many productions today take place in the forests of Vancouver.

That's another reason to embrace it! : )

Sean Gill said...

I enjoyed this one quite a bit– 50's and 60's sci-fi TV sure knew how to depict a mob for the sake of social commentary, and you're right, the BONK BONK scene is certainly a highlight!

I thought Kim Darby was great, too– I've been a fan since DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK.

Thanks for another great write-up!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hey Sean.

Darby is awesome and she's cute. I couldn't quite place her in the Red Hot Babe category.

She was classic in John Cusack's Better Off Dead.

Yes, I really enjoyed this one as you know.

Thnaks for stopping my friend.

dmappin said...

Kim Darby and William Shatner worked together again in a sci-fi/fantasy TV movie of the week called "The People." The movie is based on a series of fantasy books by famed author Zenna Henderson.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this review, your love for the episode just came through. Having watched the episode recently, I have been reading some of the reviews and they seem to focus only on two things: How can the planet be like earth? And, secondly, how creepy Kirk is with Miri.

I am so glad to have found your review because you focussed on
small but revealing moments in the episode like the way Bones handles the trike, or the way the pressure-cooker situation is handled, or how McCoy injects himself with the vaccine (or a 'beaker full of death') which reveals so much about the man. I love the last scene where Kirk looks heart-broken and then starts looking hopeful and even the usually stoic Spock is forced to complement the medical mind. For some surprising reason, this powerful scene where Bones might well be injecting himself with death is not really discussed by the other reviewers. So thank you for pointing out to the dynamics of the situation.

I don't know whether you'll read this comment or not (it is years since you posted this)but I just wanted to say a big Thank You.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thank you. I mean it. I always read the terrific commentaries, like yours, no matter how old the topic.

Miri is such a terrific episode. And I thank you for your reflections on this.

I cannot for the life of me understand why people continue to harp on some sort of strange relationship between Kirk and Miri especially.

That is actually really disturbing. I will break it down this way and with some understanding. Perhaps that over reaction or sensitivity to the age discrepancy is a reflection of our culture today.

Certainly relationships between teenagers and adults today are generally kept at arm's length and it's unfortunate that people have lost that healthy relationship that no one thought anything about decades ago. It wasn't uncommon to see a young person have a crush on someone older. I suppose the difference today is a matter of responsibility.

We see so many stories today where adults act on that relationship irresponsibly. We take these stories and internalize them and project them on pop culture of yesterday.

But, no, I am with you, the relationship isn't creepy. Kirk may have his way with women but he is of sound and wise mind when it comes to caring for Miri here and the young. There is nothing twisted about it.

I'm glad you bring focus on the issue because it seems to be entirely twisted because of today's culture.

As I mentioned in my look at the episode, it's near perfect with so many wonderful character moments going on.

I need to get back to the original Trek soon. Thanks again.