Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Star Trek TOS S1 Ep1: The Man Trap

Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.


These images seared my memory as a child. The shape-shifting creature of The Man Trap was by The Time Machine [1960] designer Wah Ming Chang similar in appearance to his work on The Morlocks. Chang would be the man behind the design of both the communicator and the tricorder.

Captain's Log Stardate 1513.1. Planet M113.

Friends, I have finally broken the seal on my now famously extinct HD DVD Box Set for Season One of Star Trek: The Original Series [ST:TOS] [1966-1969]. I was inspired to watch the originals upon reading the biographies of DeForest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy and James Doohan and to a lesser extent as a result of seeing the newly energized Star Trek [2009] film. While the reimagined film version of Star Trek was terrific fun as summer blockbuster entertainment goes, it was no Star Trek: TOS my friends. Nothing will ever replace Star Trek: TOS in the pantheon of science fiction greats, but as a film I liked it as much as any of the Star Trek franchise films. When it comes to ST:TOS there were just too many variables timed at just the right moment to ever generate that kind of magic for three straight seasons again. Certainly, this assessment comes with years of hindsight. When ST:TOS arrived it was never conceived to be the giant it is today and its immense success was never anticipated. Given this, I suppose there is hope for other fallen series. But ST:TOS remains the most important science fiction series in science fiction history. Is there an argument to be made for an alternative as much as we might like to make it?

The greatest duo in science fiction history?

So, after seeing the Star Trek film reboot, kids from far and wide [actually the Boy Wonder and his little buddy], just had to have more Star Trek. What better way to induct them, subject them, bombard them, than to generally overexpose them to the brainwashing techniques of the end-all, be-all of science fiction television classics, ST:TOS. I suppose in many ways ST:TOS did as much damage to science fiction as it did good. Just look at the effect it had on my personal favorite, Space:1999. I mean, talk about whipping boys. Everything that has followed is forever held up to bask in the brutally blinding light that is ST:TOS. It just doesn't seem fair. I had been wanting to break open my, now nostalgic, HD DVD to check out those gorgeous remastered special effects in all their glory so I thought no better time than the present. It was wonderful revisiting the cast that inspired and made the new film possible. The original principals had a special chemistry. It remains forever captured on film for generations to discover. I know these aged eyes were not disappointed and neither were the eyes of the young who were seeing this vibrant series from the 1960s for the very first time who joined me. Rest assured, classics like this never die, never tire and never grow old. They simply get better with the passage of time. The producers of this newly remastered and revisited set lovingly recreate environments and worlds with simple computer enhancements. None of it is overdone and it really reinvigorates some of the images for a whole new generation. Welcome to the always, and now more than ever, cinematic world of ST:TOS.

The newly applied special effects. Are you agape too?

I must admit, I faced the sheer task of writing about ST:TOS with a combination of both excitement, intimidation and trepidation. The weight of history bears down upon you and your pen like some spear-throwing, rock-chucking gargantuan out of The Galileo Seven. I mean, that's pressure. Whoever tackles such remarkable, now historic material bears a great deal of responsibility to do it justice it seems in my opinion. There has to be some level of respect here. Perhaps I shouldn't be so precious, but this is ST:TOS. This is near science fiction perfection and achieves a certain god-like status to some. There are certainly fans out there that know far more than I would ever pretend. Let's face it, ST:TOS is not just a show for some, but a way of life. Trekkers or Trekkies or what have you- they live it! If ST:TOS isn't given some sort of reverence, well, set phasers for kill, because your days may be numbered. Still, undaunted I stand before you in delight of the challenge before me. Warp Factor 5.

Behold the vibrancy of those colors. The palette of colors is sharp and bright. The red, yellow and blue cloth just explodes off the screen. The remastering is backed by some amazing additional special effects that quite simply look amazing and hold up against the stuff you'd see in theatres today. These are coupled with the original effects which hold up remarkable well with only slight enhancements where needed. Stay with me and I'll provide my best to do this remastered series justice, not that it needs much help.

We are about to revisit ST:TOS in all of its unforgettable glory, but with a newly applied, deftly handled wax job of a sort. The visuals are jaw-dropping for a show from the mid-60s. They will leave you in awe.

The adventure begins with Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, Episode 1, The Man Trap. What struck me when it was all said and done was the length of each episode. Rather than your standard 42 minute episode, these Star Trek classics were a whopping 50 minutes, much like the show length of Space:1999. Furthermore, Season One is not your ordinary first season. Season One is comprised of a splendid 29 episodes. Space:1999 ranks with 24 installments. Today's television you're lucky to see 20, maybe 22 entries. This will be a journey indeed. For me, and hopefully you, it is going to be a warm and nostalgic stroll down memory lane taking a look at ST:TOS for the first time in some twenty years. The last time I watched it was with grandmother. She was a self-respecting Trekkie and just didn't know it, but she loved seeing the show in syndication. She wouldn't know a Trekkie if she saw one, but she was kind of an honorary member of the group. My grandmother is very educated and delights in being learned. She has a voracious appetite for reading. There isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't have a book in hand. As far as ST:TOS she thoroughly absorbed the thoughtful, conceptual and ambitious philosophical and ideological core of the series. She just loved Star Trek. It was an event when we watched. She would make hot dogs, homemade baked beans and brown bread and we would sit together and enjoy the adventures of Kirk, Spock and Bones with great glee. Despite the passage of time then and now, the stories, ideas and morality plays remain as relevant today. I'm happy to report she continues to live long and prosper at the ripe old age of 91.

Our story begins with Spock in command of the Enterprise while Captain James T. Kirk and Leonard "Bones" McCoy beam down with a nameless third party [presumed to be the victim of the week, but he is a blue shirt]. They are looking into an ancient, long dead civilization. They are expected to meet with archaeologist Robert Crater and his wife Nancy Crater. Nancy was a former lover of Dr. Bones McCoy. Bones hasn't seen Nancy in ten years. Nancy hasn't aged a day in Bones' eyes, but Kirk notes she is older with greying hair [note the differing images of Nancy]. Something is amiss. Nancy isn't actually Nancy, but an alien lifeform. The creature can present itself in any form that you wish. It really has a number of striking abilities.

Let it be noted that Nancy Crater, apart from a glimpse of Uhura is the first female to grace the screen of ST:TOS according to the episode order on my now extinct HD DVD Box Set.

Interestingly, the young blue shirt, crewman Darnell, sees a completely different woman. He stumbles for words, tongue-tied, and Bones tells him "a little less mouth Darnell." Pretty funny. Bones is great. It's hard to say which character I actually loved most on ST:TOS, because it's a toss up between Kirk, Spock and Bones on any given day. Scotty, too, was always a wonderful supporting character. Crewman Darnell steps outside and when Nancy follows he is lured away.

As the credits roll on The Man Trap the sounds escalates indicating the score has clearly been remastered and enhanced for the opening. I believe an orchestra has redone some of the music. I could be mistaken, but it sounds splendid. Did I mention those spectacular new effects? Here is the theme in all its stirring glory.

Kirk narrates by recording into his Captain's Log. Mysteriously each crewman is depicting a wholly unique Nancy Crater. A request is made for salt, but otherwise Robert Crater would prefer to be left alone. McCoy does a physical on the good archaeologist. Kirk and Bones discuss Nancy's physical beauty to be that of a woman who hasn't aged. Bones says she looks 25, but lady-killer Kirk would beg to differ with that assessment.

A scream is heard outside their planetary location and, you guessed it, it's dead crewman Darnell with red spots across his skin. A dead blue shirt is the first to go on ST:TOS. Bones and Kirk pull a plant piece from Darnell's mouth. It's a red herring to throw Bones and Kirk off the trail or scent of the true assailant. Despite the crocodile tears Nancy gets real serious real quick and requests salt. I have to admit, I'm a big fan of salt too. I love salt on french fries, scrambled eggs, turkey, you name it, but I wouldn't kill anyone for salt.

On the Enterprise, may I say, Uhura, played with zest by Nichelle Nichols, is an absolutely scrumptious taste treat. She is a gorgeous woman. On the bridge, it's interesting to see Uhura place her hand on Spock's arm in an attempt to make conversation. She, like anyone, finds it difficult to reach the mostly stoic Spock. "Why don't you tell me I'm an attractive young lady?" Uhura is annoyed that Spock is unmoved when Bones and Kirk return to the ship with the dead crewman. She is incensed he shows no emotion. What if the dead man was a friend?

Spock does a full work up on the alleged Borgia plant culprit the crewman ate and comes up with absolutely no reference to symptoms baring red spotted circles. Bones can't make heads or tails of it. The dead crewman is just not making sense. He simply didn't ingest any plant of the sort. They can't figure it out. Bones waxes nostalgic for a moment over his old flame and Kirk snaps him from his romantic stupor.

Later, Bones hails Kirk and Spock. An analysis of the man's body finds no sodium, not a single drop of salt. This gives new meaning to sodium-free. Kirk recalls requests for salt. Nothing gets by him. They prepare to beam down with questions.

One of the many iconic images of ST:TOS: the Transporter.

This time Bones and Kirk beam down to M113 with a blue shirt and a yellow shirt as potential fodder for this still unknown killer. Robert Crater attempts to register his complaints of the officers presence and Kirk in so many words is like, 'give it a rest.' Kirk requests the professors return to the Enterprise for safety. I love when Spock communicates to Kirk. Kirk gets his info and just hangs up on Spock. He doesn't even tell him "Kirk out."

Oddly, this is not the cliched "red shirt" victim.Outside in the ruins Nancy is busy sucking up salt from our latest nameless rabble of victims. Two more down and still no red shirt. You see, there were exceptions to the rule. We'll try and keep a running count of deaths and hot babes throughout the series run. That should be fun. Bones finds one of the men and reports "he's dead." Nancy is able to take the form of the dead crewman. Kirk wants everyone beamed aboard and tells Bones to "stop thinking with your glands." Hell, that's the pot calling the kettle black. Kirk is a hypocrite of the highest order reagrding that remark. So Nancy is beamed aboard with Bones and Kirk in the form of the dead yellow shirt. With an insatiable appetite for salt, the creature could have a veritable feast aboard the Enterprise. The creature bumps into Yeoman Rand and tries grabbing a little taste of her salt shaker. She almost becomes a salt dog, but is saved by an opening elevator door in a nick of time.
Meanwhile Spock does a planetary surface scan and picks up just one lifesign, because of course the real dead crewman is really dead and Nancy is no longer on the planet's surface.

Referring to Yeomand Rand, one of the crewman comments, "how would you like to have her as your own personal yeoman." Yea, uh-huh. She is a sweet thing. The show is so incredibly sexist toward women, but I'm not complaining. It's hard not to enjoy. I love that it's not politically correct when it comes to sexual politics. It's deliciously retro in that way and kind of fun. Loads of sexual overtones and overtures and undertures. Anyway, Janice Rand only appeared in Season One of ST:TOS and she really has one smoking hot body that just doesn't quit. I'm loving her up just the same. So, Janice delivers some food to Sulu. He doesn't seem as interested in her as some of the other other crewman, but George Takei [Sulu] I think we understand why. She spends a little time talking to one of his alien plants, which if you look closely is merely a man's hand inside a flower-like glove. Great stuff!

Moments later an odd, little crewman named Green enters, who is actually Nancy or rather the fugitive salt creature. The five-fingered hand plant senses something isn't right with Green and begins howling and making all kinds of ugly. There aren't too many plants out there that can talk, but 'ol Gertrude can and does she ever. She makes the Venus Fly Trap look positively tame.

An interesting racial element enters the fray when Nancy spots Uhura and alters her appearance once again, this time into the form of a black man. Yes, that will get Uhura's attention, because she's black too. I definitely don't care if you're black, green, white. I definitely subscribe to the Kirk school. If you're hot and sexy or have something sexy or hot about you, then you're hot and sexy! Case closed!

Uhura flirts with the man and they speak Swahili together. Uhura joins Rand and Sulu and escapes from the creatures' clutches in a nick of time.

The salt creature has reverted back to Nancy form and visits Dr. McCoy. Bones is a little uncomfortable. Nancy makes a play for Bones and his inner salt mines. He's not entirely happy with it given she's married.

I love those legs. Nylons, or leotards as we called them, were big when I was a kid. They always looked babe-o-matic!

Sulu and Rand discover a fourth victim. Kirk is certain he is dealing with a "strange lifeform." Anyway, the shape-shifting Nancy calms Bones, but she's not offering hot sex, but rather a steaming hot heap of death via salt consumption. She exits and leaves Bones alone. Masquerading as McCoy, Nancy or the salt creature is on the move again.

Meanwhile, Kirk and Spock attempt to find out more on the planet below through Mr. Crater. They also discover crewman Green who is now very dead whom they thought they had transported back aboard the Enterprise. Mr. Crater takes a shot at Kirk and Spock. Seeing Kirk and Spock rolling through ruins and crawling through dirt reminded me of my childhood. That is what it's all about. We rolled around the backyard crawling with phasers drawn and took those ST:TOS adventures to new heights. Kirk gets an open shot and stuns Crater. Crater tells Kirk and Spock the creature that is Nancy is the "last of her kind." He implements a terrific analogy to that of the American buffalo and how its numbers perished. Crater informs the men of Nancy's demise. Sadly, she died over a year ago. He calls the salt creature a buffalo, the last one. Crater has a kind of affectionate loyalty to the lifeform's endangered, near extinct status.

'Can you hear me now?' I'm digging the ear piece for Spock. FAB!

All are back aboard the Enterprise and the crew holds a meeting with the salt creature appearing as Bones in attendance. Phony Bones argues the creature is attempting to survive and use its chameleon-like ability to do so. Robert Crater recalls almost killing the creature that once killed Nancy. But he indicates it needs love as much as it needs salt. Kirk finds it all a bit twisted, but somehow I believe he's a tad sympathetic. Spock escorts Phony Bones and Mr. Crater off to have truth serum administered in the hopes of finding the creature. Spock is blindsided and knocked out as a result, and he gets a big bloody green gash across his forehead. Mr. Crater buys the farm finally. His empathy for the creature wasn't enough to save his life, and the salt creature finally takes out his caretaker.

The green-blooded Vulcan.

Kirk tracks the creature back to Bones' room. The creature has now morphed back into Nancy and Bones is defensive of her. As Kirk struggles with Bones, Bones is cast aside and the creature reveals another ability. It is able to freeze its victim for salt assimilation. Transformation, paralysis and mind scanning are impressive credentials. The alien has an arsenal of stock powers helpful in its quest as the last remaining salt licker. Spock enters and tells Bones to shoot but he refuses. This scene absolutely kills me, but it's still good.

Spock lays into Nancy with his signature double-fisted arm swipes. The amusing moment is classic Spock. The first official appearance of the move is noted right here in The Man Trap. The signature Spock maneuver arrives before the Vulcan neck pinch and the Vulcan mind meld. Don DeBrandt wrote in Boarding The Enterprise article, What Have You Done With Spock's Brain?!?, of the "giant single fist" that the maneuver was "taught to all first-year students at Starfleet Academy in the course Hand-to-Hand 101: How to Kirk Someone Effectively."

By and large this is sound science fiction storytelling that is really a sight to behold. The alien creature transforms from Nancy into its actual physical appearance. The fade between images is about the most antiquated thing here in the newly remastered series. The transitions aren't smooth at all compared to the many great new and old effects, but it still effectively tells the story. And so concludes one of the most famous sequences from The Man Trap. How about that Enterprise orbiting the planet effect? It's really something.

That is a really poignant moment between Spock, Kirk and Bones. This is the beauty of ST:TOS. This is what the film world often lacks including the new one. Star Trek is about ideas and questions and when Kirk considers the American Buffalo and pondres what they in turn have done to the last of the salt creatures. He questions the morality of their actions. They essentially analogize their actions to human history and the treatment of the buffalo. Did the unfortunate demise of this salt creature have to happen? We never fully understand its history or what happened to bring it to this point, but did Kirk and companmy have an alternative? Still, it was merely about survival for the creature and in this story it joins the ranks of the Dodo Bird. Certainly in this instance, although final, it would seem killing the salt creature may have been their only option. Would stunning it and abandoning it to its undeniable fate have been a better option? Would it merely have prolonged the inevitable? It's these simple truths and questions that populate the world of Star Trek by folding these genuine realities into strange new worlds and civilizations dressed in nothing more than science fiction clothing. It's a terrific way to tell a tale. The American Bison was nearly eradicated and hunted to extinction in the 18th Century. They are still very much an endangered creature. Kirk and company raise these questions about creatures outside of the human race and our impact as well as our continued impact on them today.

An American beauty, tantamount to the symbol of extinction that is the salt creature.

So some real highlights abound here to introduce one of the greatest science fiction adventures of all time kicked off by that sweeping, beautiful, classic score by the late Alexander Courage. This is a powerful start to a show that had it all, chemistry, ideas, excitement, terrific designs and now a superb remaster. They rarely make television or film of this caliber anymore. It is a pleasure to watch thoughtful serial television of this quality when, like the American Bison, it too is nearly extinct today. Star Trek has probably been covered to death and receives far more attention than half of what is covered on this blog, but hey, it's Star Trek: The Original Series.

The Man Trap: B.
Writer: George Clayton Johnson (1929-2015). Director: Marc Daniels.

The Cast:

William Shatner [Captain James T. Kirk]/ Leonard Nimoy [Spock]/ DeForest Kelley [Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy]/ James Doohan [Montgomery "Scotty" Scott]/ Nichelle Nichols [Nyota Uhura]/ George Takei [Hikaru Sulu]/ Walter Koenig [Pavel Chekov]/ Grace Lee Whitney [Janice Rand]/ Majel Barrett [Christine Chapel]

Dead Crewman: 4

Babe Alert: 1

Babe Alert: Jeanne Bal [1928-1996]: American born. Actress Jeanne Bal passed away following a career in television.

Composer Footnote: Alexander Courage [1919-2008]. American born. Courage is best remembered for his Star Trek: The Original Series compositions. He also provided music for Lost In Space [1965-1968], Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea [1964-1968] and The Waltons [1972-1981] to name just a few.


Anonymous said...

AWESOME !!!, Star Trek,LOVED IT !!! :)

SFF said...

It's very hard to top Star Trek.

Some of the final moments in The Man Trap are a little over the top, looking at those clips, but the cast definitely settles in going forward. Loved it too.


Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

Stellar work on your synopsis and opinions on the first episode of Star Trek: The Original Series -- which I like to refer to as simply Star Trek Classic! I recently watched several of the re-mastered first season episodes in high definition on Netflix; including Man Trap. I agree with you that the visual look of the show -- costumes, sets and even the original efx -- hold up well to modern SF television. Still, even for the time, Star Trek's budget was not very large and made it difficult to create realistic off-world settings. This episode is good in that it establishes the Kirk-Spock-Bones troika very early in the series. Although, as you probably know, Man Trap was not the first episode completed, but was chosen to be aired first by the NBC because it featured a "monster". You make a few comparisons between the new reboot Star Trek film and the original series. The original will always be better at character, because as a TV series, with many hours of programming to fill and not many dollars of budget to spend, was forced out of necessity to focus on character and allow the actors to carry the majority of the dramatic impact of the story. The new film, because of its [relative] limited running time, had to focus on plot and visual action to carry the dramatic impact. Neither is better -- just different. Being just old enough to remember watching some of the original Star Trek TV shows with my Dad in the 60's (in black and white, no less), I'll always regard them with affection and will never be able to believe anyone as Kirk, Spock and Bones other than Shatner, Nimoy and Kelly. Having said all that, I'm still looking forward to J. J. Abrams' next Star Trek movie. Keep up the wicked good Star Trek posts!

SFF said...


Points well taken and well articualted.
You are correct. I was aware The Man Trap was NOT filmed first, but I am viewing them in DVD order. I'll probably reflect your points in one of the next entries.

I love the Kirk-Spock-Bones troika and almost mentioned it. Apart from Kirk and Spock being the greatest sci-fi duo, the aforementioned characters were easily the greatest triad.

Even with their limited budget, ST:TOS designed some vivid, unusual realities that created a sense of alienness to the show's adventures. Still, as you mentioned, I'm grateful the character drama had to be the focus. Star Trek: TOS is a great case for character and script over and above anything else.

Like yourself, I did enjoy the new Star Trek film [I have a review up for it- I should have linked it] and look forward to the next as well. Still, it's an entirely different beast and as you mentioned, television is to thank for the quality that was allowed to develop between the cast and creative team.

Thanks for the vote of support Doc. I still feel ST:TOS, while different, is better, but that's me being precious about the old timers. Cheers Doc!

Anonymous said...

an intelligent creature murdering other intelligent creatures is a sociopath and psychopath it's homicidal maniac. Its not just an innocent animal looking for its supper. That's the one problem I've always had with this episode-That Crater cared more about a sociopath than his own kind, and that the appropriate solution- charging the creature with murder and putting it in prison where Crater could have studied it all he wants wasn't pursued.

SFF said...

Sorry for the delay in posting. Your comment wa sin moderation and I was apparently sleeping.

Great point anonymous.

Your insightful thought on this one makes me realize two things:

a. ... why Star Trek was always so good, because despite its flaws or ocassionally illogical motivations it always made you think. There was always something compelling you to consider the episode you just watched. Great obseravtion.

b. your point and the issue you have here could easily apply sociologically and behaviorally today. I can't tell you how many things I see today that leave me scratching my head regarding the human race.

so, one final unexpected point based on your very interesting point, perhaps Crater's logic isn't all that strange considering how often I see illogical decisions made by government and individuals in our own society.

Fascinating indeed.
Thank you.