Comments: Also, Notice the Subtle Yet Virulent Anti-Federationism

the chomsky name is saved! i'm just now rewatching them, fairly critically, and i claim the worst is 'by any other name,' which has the honor of being the first television episode the 23rd century ever phoned in.

Posted by hapa at April 13, 2010 10:26 PM

The worst episode of Star Trek is the one where Kirk loses his memory and falls in love with an Indian...um...alien woman, if only because the hour feels like seven. And The Children Shall Lead is a close one. But I like By Any Other Name...

I like to watch Star Trek, particularly the first and third seasons but the second as well, as the story of the "pretty yeomans" rather than of the main characters. God their lives sucked.

Posted by ethan at April 13, 2010 10:37 PM

Any time people talk about the supposed quality of the original Star Trek I am reminded of Harlan Ellison's explanation that the reason the set for his "City on the Edge of Forever" had a lot of broken Doric columns strewn about was because the art director thought that when Ellison's stage direction referred to "runes" he was asking for ruins.

Posted by weaver at April 14, 2010 12:43 AM

weaver, that's hilarious, but come on, The Trouble With Tribbles was great! And it was great civics training, what with The Prime Directive always meaning that the Federation had to interfere just as much as those commie Romulans and Klingons. (Were the Romulans the Chinese and the Klingons the Russians?)--I can't remember!)

After going to the link, I noticed that not only was Marvin Chomsky the Director, but Jack Ruby's lawyer Melvin Belli was the Gorgon, so the episode clearly was part of a monstruous plot. Astonishing. I never would have believed it.

Posted by N E at April 14, 2010 01:08 AM

weaver: Yes, Harlan Ellison is (was?) a great writer, and yes, his original script for 'The City on the Edge of Forever' would have been awesome. But, really, the episode as filmed was as near flawless as one could want, and it won a Hugo award.

Ellison is well-known for his perpetual bitching. When [i]Star Trek[/i] was bad, it was pretty bad (though not as bad as some); but when it was good, it was great.

Posted by NomadUK at April 14, 2010 02:29 AM

weaver: Yes, Harlan Ellison is (was?) a great writer, and yes, his original script for 'The City on the Edge of Forever' would have been awesome. But, really, the episode as filmed was as near flawless as one could want, and it won a Hugo award.

Ellison is well-known for his perpetual bitching. When [i]Star Trek[/i] was bad, it was pretty bad (though not as bad as some); but when it was good, it was great.

Posted by NomadUK at April 14, 2010 02:29 AM

Sorry for the double post, and the inadvertant use of bbcode.

And, by the way, the worst episode was, without a doubt, a two-way tie between 'Spock's Brain' and 'That Which Survives', though, to be sure, there were a few to choose from at the bottom of that barrel.

Posted by NomadUK at April 14, 2010 02:32 AM

And it was great civics training, what with The Prime Directive always meaning that the Federation had to interfere just as much as those commie Romulans and Klingons. (Were the Romulans the Chinese and the Klingons the Russians?--I can't remember!)

Too true, especially with the JJ-style reboot feeling a little too close to Starship Troopers for my comfort.

But in the series which Roddenberry had full creative control on, The Next Generation, the view was a little different. They even make a point of dissing 20th-century American militarism in the pilot.

So yeah ... I generally like the IDEA of Star Trek, the utopian socialism where technology serves mankind and not vice-verse. Though I find much of it to be unwatchable.

Posted by Cloud at April 14, 2010 09:56 AM

Spock Brain gets my vote for the worst Trek episode ever...Just awful.

I grew up on the original series...friends of mine use to come over and watch re-runs on Channel 11(NYC) in the early 1970's because my family had a color television!! I really didn't want to like the Next Generation when it first came on and the first season or so was really not that good, but I think it eventually turned into the best Trek on TV that was ever done. Data and Spock are my two favorite characters ever.-Tony

Posted by tony at April 14, 2010 11:56 AM

Yes, Spock's Brain...that's what i meant to say!-Tony

Posted by tony at April 14, 2010 12:12 PM

whatever episode that was w/the yangs vs. the congs...
worst
ever

Posted by anonymous at April 14, 2010 04:28 PM

I find Spock's Brain delightful and in fact when I record music by myself I credit it to "Brain and Brain" because of it.

I recently rewatched City on the Edge of Forever and man oh man how did I never notice how shitty it is to create an hour-long lecture on why pacifism is a stupid and misguided idea (and pacifists must DIE) in 1967? Or, you know, ever, but 1967?!?

Posted by ethan at April 14, 2010 08:09 PM

That's not what City is about. Ellison simply understood the necessity of upping the ante on the components of a moral dilemma. If Spock and Kirk don't re-establish the timeline, the Nazis win. But they discover, to their horror, that the problem with the timeline is that a moral innocent, a genuinely good person, has failed to die. Many of the people arguing against US involvement in the war were Nazi-sympathisers, but if Ellison had made the character one of those the audience, due to bien pensant moral confusion, wouldn't care that they have to die to fix the timeline. One could conceive of a cause-and-effect cascade that might lead from her non-death to a Nazi victory that doesn't hinge on pacifist activism, but the pacifism is the most obvious and most likely to be discoverable through Spock's investigation of the alternative history than some "for want of a nail the kingdom was lost" thang. Consequently, making her a pacifist is simply something dictated by the mechanics of the story, and Ellison's concern to make it a difficult choice for the characters and the audience, not by an ideological position.

The character's goodness also explains the rather weak deus ex machina ending. Ellison knew, and I agree, that the audience could not possibly have forgiven Spock and Kirk for deliberately killing this saintly woman, even in order to prevent the Nazi victory. But die she must, so a convenient road accident is a necessity.

If I were to complain about the "pacifist causes Nazi victory" trope I would be more likely to do so on the grounds that it's bad history than that it's bad ideology. Capitalists, not pacifists, were the source of the cozy relationship the US and other governments had with the Nazis, and the resulting "appeasement". But Ellison's writing a story, not a history lecture.

Posted by weaver at April 14, 2010 09:18 PM

Actually, now I think of it, the thing that annoyed me at the time I first watched the ep, which wasn't so long ago, was the implication that it was the US that had beaten the Nazis. As opposed to, y'know, the Russians. If the alternative history created by the pacifist woman's non-death had been remotely likely, it would have been based on a Soviet dominated Europe, not a Nazi dominated one.

I suppose Ellison's timeline could have factored in the Japanese somehow, which would have still ended up with the Enterprize ceasing to exist. (More likely becoming smaller and better designed, ho ho.) But, from memory, it was mostly about the Germans. Who woulda lost anyway, US neutrality or no US neutrality.

Posted by Weaver at April 14, 2010 09:28 PM

weaver

My reaction is the same as ethan's to city, and I can't believe that ellison is unaware of how heavily that plot smacks down those foolish pacifists who would have let the nazis win.

Your theory that the Germans would have lost with or without US neutrality is provocative, and it has some merit because the soviets played a crucial role in the war, but it goes too far. The US military at the time certainly didn't agree. They, and the Brits too, predicted that the USSR would be quickly routed. That's why we started making such dramatic moves to force our way into the war--we couldn't just let Hitler have all of Europe to the Black Sea. (See the book published in 1941, You Can't Do Business With Hitler, written by the US commercial attache to the embassy in Berlin). Even Churchill thought the Russians would be beaten, but he knew it would weaken Germany enormously and give the US time to get into the war, which would again make all the difference.

The USSR made far and away the greatest sacrifices in europe, and it surprised everyone by dramatically increasing its armaments production throughout the war as well as by fighting a brilliant defensive war, but in a one-front war, the USSR couldn't have won against Germany. They barely survived as it was.

Posted by N E at April 15, 2010 12:25 AM

The worst TOS ep by far is "Turnabout Intruder," where Kirk's body is possessed by the mind of a jilted ex-girlfriend who wants to be a starship captain, but just isn't man enough to handle the pressure, and whose hysterical womanhood proves her undoing, the poor thing.

"And the Children Shall Lead," on the other hand, is an underrated classic with a cool, creepy villain and great evil kids - you can't beat chanting children for creep factor.

Posted by stras at April 15, 2010 09:12 AM

As for "City on the Edge of Forever," it's a great episode, but man, does its politics suck. The lesson really is that pacifism is not just foolish and naive, but actively destructive, and yes, against the background of 1967, that's pretty fucking creepy. Next to episodes like "A Private Little War" and the jingoism of "The Omega Glory," it's clear that there was plenty of pro-war sentiment floating around the original Trek, even though the same series produced stuff like "Errand of Mercy."

Posted by stras at April 15, 2010 09:26 AM

weaver, I agree with your analysis, but my view can be summed up by saying that if your story requires implying that pacifism is misguided and that pacifists must die for the safety of all of history, and that is not what you're trying to say, then you need to rethink your story.

And yeah, US-centric to the maxxx.

stras, I actually really love Turnabout Intruder--in many ways it might be my favorite ep of the original series. But that's because I tend to view almost all of TOS as a meditation on the oppression of women, much like I view a lot of TNG as the adventures of a bunch of ideologically indoctrinated members of the military of a repressive totalitarian empire. Intentions be damned.

Posted by ethan at April 15, 2010 10:23 AM

I meant to add that it's very appropriate that Turnabout Intruder is the last episode of TOS, because as I see it it's the culmination of all of the shows major themes.

Posted by ethan at April 15, 2010 10:24 AM

These mentions of Harlan Ellison has landed me squarely in the abyss that is "The Oscar." Highly recommended crap, for those who like to stare at car wrecks. (Though apparently his script was reduced to but a faint echo of the original by the director/producer -- he disavowed the thing before it was even released I believe.)

Posted by john at April 15, 2010 10:59 AM

Come on, Gamesters of Triskelion must be the worst one. Enterprise Incident, Omega Glory, Who Mourns for Adonais, The Way to Eden, Day of the Dove, Whom Gods Destroy, Mark of Gideon, Lights of Zetar, That Which Survives, and The Savage Curtain were remarkably awful. There were lots to choose from. I must have missed a bunch of equally awful ones.

Posted by Nathan Myers at April 15, 2010 08:31 PM

the abyss that is "The Oscar."

I think in Dreams with Sharp Teeth Ellison says he never saw it until the premiere - writers weren't allowed to see rushes. He says as he sat there watching Tony Bennett mangle his lines he thought "Well, so much for my career in the movies."

I must have missed a bunch of equally awful ones.

I didn't have access to Star Trek as a kid so I have the benefit/drawback of having only ever watched any of it with a jaded adult eye, unclouded by nostalgia, thus being able to see its obvious failings (speaking of imperialism, do these starship captains ever NOT violate the Prime Directive?). Unlike with Dr Who, which was totally TEH AWESOME.

Posted by Weaver at April 15, 2010 10:40 PM

Unlike with Dr Who, which was totally TEH AWESOME.

I love Doctor Who as much as any other five-year-old raised on Tom Baker-era PBS reruns, but man, does that show objectively suck.

Posted by stras at April 16, 2010 12:19 AM

"I didn't have access to Star Trek as a kid"

--That's about ALL I had access to, because cable channels didn't exist yet in the 60s and early 70s, and almost as soon as it was cancelled star trek reruns went into syndication and came on every afternoon on one of the only three available channels (the local ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates) where I grew up out in the real Indian country. All that yapping about the Prime Directive influenced a whole lot of boys.

Posted by N E at April 16, 2010 09:16 AM

Kirk makes a cannon from bamboo, and shoots at a giant lizard man ?

Posted by Colorado Bob at April 16, 2010 09:41 AM

Kirk makes a cannon from bamboo, and shoots at a giant lizard man ?

Yes. You have a problem with that?

Posted by NomadUK at April 16, 2010 01:22 PM

I love Doctor Who as much as any other five-year-old raised on Tom Baker-era PBS reruns, but man, does that show objectively suck.

Well, yeah, which is kinda my point.

As for the Baker years, I give you Exhibit 1: Giant Space Vampires.

Posted by weaver at April 16, 2010 10:46 PM