The most recent Star Trek Discovery series has been very entertaining, with a major aesthetic reboot of the pre-TOS era, and a dizzying blast of relentless fast paced action and non stop twists. I suppose it’s somewhat of a masterpiece of its kind. I liked it. But I can’t shake this nagging feeling, that for as much as it has added to the franchise, I have a sense that something is missing.
Today I thought I’d revisit a memorable episode of TOS to refresh my sense of the Trek that I knew as a kid.
This image of Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell, after the “ESPer” transformation begins to take ahold of him, is burned into my memory since the first time I saw it back in the early seventies. Mitchell has become a deeply ominous threat who sees you from afar with those eyes.
I remember this episode being thick with tension, and floating by at a dreamlike pace.
Watching with a fresh eye today, I notice many things about it that I don’t remember at all. For example, there was an awkward scene, near the beginning, where all of the department heads are standing in a group at the rear of the bridge to personally report the status of Engineering, Medical, Security, and the other departments. Long after making their verbal status reports they continued to stand there, in an awkward group at the rear of the bridge, as the story was playing out. It was also weird that Spock was shouting out status updates as he monitored the instruments, as if he was shouting above the noise which wasn’t there. It also bothered me that this distress beacon that they beamed aboard contained data that only Spock could extract, audibly with an earpiece, which was apparently too garbled to be very informative. By the way, what kind of Captain orders a probe beamed aboard without first thoroughly verifying what it is and being completely certain that it is harmless?
A lot of things were awkward because this was only the third episode of the first season. Spock was a little weird because Leonard Nimoy was still finding his way with this role. Some of the sets and props were unfamiliar, as they would be refined in later seasons. I have to admit, to be honest, this production is not the surreal, mesmerizing, piece that I remember it to be.
Considering my lasting impression of TOS Trek, and using that as a point of reference for evaluating DISCO Trek, I think this sheds some light on the disconnect. What I might believe the old TOS tradition to be — ethereal and dreamlike — is not how the current generation of writers and producers view it. They may be looking at TOS with the “fresh eye” of the present, lacking the lasting childhood impression, and coming to the logical conclusion that there is very little to be salvaged!
Despite all of the shortcomings of TOS, I still find the all seeing eyes of Gary Mitchell to be very haunting. And it was a pleasure to rediscover it on Amazon Prime Video. The digitally remastered version is very impressive. The richness and clarity of the detail, and the improved CGI space scenes, almost make TOS new again. I’m looking forward to going back to rediscover some other old favorites like “The Man Trap”, “Charlie X”, and perhaps even all of the rest.
Watch the Remastered TOS on Amazon Prime Video.
See the episode summary on Memory Alpha.