Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Assignment: Earth”

“Assignment: Earth”
Written by Gene Roddenberry & Art Wallace
Directed by Marc Daniels
Season 2, Episode 26
Production episode 60355
Original air date: March 29, 1968
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. The Enterprise has gone back in time to do historical research to see how humanity survived the year 1968. While orbiting and monitoring communications, the Enterprise intercepts an incredibly powerful transporter beam, one that comes from another solar system. In the beam is a human from this time period named Gary Seven, who has been trained on another world by aliens who want humanity to survive. (He’s holding a cat named Isis, with whom he can apparently communicate.) Seven insists that he must beam down to Earth or the entire human race will be in danger. But Kirk has no proof of that, and so has him confined to the brig. (Seven tries to break free of confinement and beam down, with help from Isis, but fails, getting shot and stunned by Kirk for his trouble.)

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Seven wakes up in the brig and manages to break out of using an all-purpose weapon called a servo, which looks just like an ordinary pen. He stuns several security guards and beams down to Earth, overriding the override on the transporter. Seven and Isis materialize in an office in New York City. We find out that Seven’s mission, along with other agents—including two who have been missing for three days—is to guide humanity. The race of aliens who sent Seven took several humans from Earth six thousand years ago, and genetically developed their descendants into perfect specimens of humanity. Given that humanity’s technology has progressed faster than their social and political acumen, Seven and his cohorts are trying to keep humanity from destroying itself.

The missing agents were to sabotage an orbital platform launch at McKinley Rocket Base. But the mission has not been accomplished, and so Seven must complete it himself.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Roberta Lincoln shows up. She is a secretary hired by the missing agents to do research (she thinks it’s for an encyclopedia). Seven thinks she’s one of the missing agents, and then realizes that he’s screwed up. He tells her that he’s with the CIA (using one of many fake IDs he has) and that he’s on a mission to save the country. Playing on Lincoln’s patriotism works, and she agrees to stay and keep working.

Seven’s computer, the Beta 5, determines that the agents were killed in a car accident while en route to McKinley.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Kirk and Spock beam down and are able to track Seven’s transporter signal to the office. Lincoln delays them long enough for Seven to escape through a transporter of his own that takes him and Isis directly from the office to McKinley. Kirk and Spock find plans for McKinley—but then the cops show up. The captain and first officer beam up with the cops and then they’re sent back down, completely bumfuzzled—as is Lincoln when she sees the officers beam back.

Scotty is able to get images of McKinley, but they can’t find Seven visually—and he’s probably hiding if he plans to sabotage the launch. Kirk and Spock beam down to McKinley. (In a nice touch, they’re wearing lighter clothes this time, as it’s generally warmer in Florida than it is in New York.)

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Seven is stopped by Sergeant Lipton, to whom he shows his NSA ID, then stuns him when he tries to call security to verify his totally bogus ID. Then he stows away in the car of Cromwell, the launch director, when he goes to do a final inspection of the gantry. After the inspection, the elevator is sent all the way up—with Seven and Isis in it.

Lipton wakes up just as Kirk and Spock materialize, and he captures them. They’re brought to Mission Control, but there’s no other issues, so they decide not to delay the countdown. Meanwhile, Seven is working hard to sabotage the launch.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Back in New York, Lincoln accidentally discovers the vault with Seven’s transporter in it. (It is as yet unclear how she got rid of the cops, though one suspects that they left quickly of their own volition and headed straight to the nearest bar.)

Scotty manages to find Seven in mid-sabotage and beam him to the Enterprise. However, Lincoln playing with Seven’s transporter enables him to reappear back in New York. Uncaring of the consequences, Seven activates the Beta 5, which freaks Lincoln out even further.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Seven and Lincoln in New York and Kirk and Spock in custody in Mission Control stand by helplessly and watch the launch. Seven tries to finish his sabotage with the Beta 5. A frazzled Lincoln tries to call the police again, but Seven uses his servo to break the phone. While he can’t destroy it, he does send the rocket off course. The warhead is now armed and going to crash in Asia somewhere and explode. Mission Control’s destruct signal isn’t working.

Worried about what he’s doing, Lincoln clubs Seven on the head before he can finish his work, as she’s sure he’s trying to start World War III—but Seven insists that he’s trying to stop it.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Kirk and Spock manage to overpower Lipton while everyone’s distracted by the launch going pear-shaped and have Scotty beam them to Seven’s office. Reluctantly, Kirk agrees to let Seven finish his work. The rocket detonates 104 miles over land, which is high enough so that no one is hurt.

Spock does a bit of research, and learns that the rocket exploding 104 miles over Earth is exactly what happened in history. While they talk, Lincoln sees Isis change into a woman in a funky black outfit, but changes back to a black cat before anyone notices.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Scotty expresses shock that there is a transporter that can transport people across solar systems. This is highly amusing, given that such a transporter is a major plot point of the 2009 Star Trek

Also part of Seven’s “high tech” equipment is a typewriter that responds to voice. By typing. With a ribbon. On a piece of paper. Yeah.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Fascinating. Seven is immune to the Vulcan neck pinch, which really sucks for Spock.

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy confirms that Seven is human. It’s a very exciting episode for him.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu confirms that the rocket will explode. It’s a very exciting episode for him.

It’s a Russian invention. Chekov confirms that the transporter came from far away from an area of space that’s empty. It’s a very exciting episode for him.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura contacts the surface once. It’s a very exciting episode for her.

I cannot change the laws of physics! It really is a very exciting episode for Scotty, as he tracks down Seven twice, first in his office, then at McKinley. Because he’s just that awesome. 

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Go put on a red shirt. One of the security guards is taken down by a small black cat. And several are stunned by Seven’s servo. Poor bastards. 

Channel open. “I know this world needs help. That’s why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know? We wonder if we’re gonna be alive when we’re thirty.”

Lincoln’s supremely awkward explanation of the hippie movement.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Welcome aboard. Don Keefer plays Cromwell, Lincoln Demyan plays Lipton, Morgan Jones plays Nesvig, Bruce Mars (last seen as Finnegan in “Shore Leave“) and Ted Gehring play the two cops, and regular stunt person Paul Baxley plays the security chief. Plus Barbara Babcock (who also voiced Trelane’s mother in “The Squire of Gothos” and played Mea 3 in “A Taste of Armageddon“) does the voices of both Isis and the Beta 5 computer, while Isis’s feline form is played by Sambo the cat. The identity of the woman who plays Isis in human form remains a mystery. (Rumor had it that Playboy Playmate Victoria Vetri played her, but Vetri herself denies it. The role was uncredited, and has apparently been lost to history.) EDITED TO ADD THREE YEARS LATER: I don’t normally edit posts this far in the future, but this is worth it: Trek historian Larry Nemecek has identified April Tatro as the woman who played Isis in human form.

Plus we’ve got recurring regulars George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and James Doohan (who also provides the voice of the Mission Control announcer).

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

But the big guests are the great Robert Lansing as Seven and Teri Garr (credited as Terri Garr) in one of her earliest roles as Lincoln.

Trivial matters: The episode was intended as a backdoor pilot to a series featuring Seven and Lincoln fighting against contemporary alien threats to Earth, but it wasn’t picked up. Having said that, Seven and Lincoln have appeared in enough pieces of tie-in fiction to fill out a TV series: Assignment: Eternity and the two-book The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, all by Greg Cox; “The Aliens are Coming!” (in Strange New Worlds), From History’s Shadow, and Elusive Salvation, all by Dayton Ward; “Seven and Seven” by Kevin Hosey (in Strange New Worlds VI); “Assignment: One” by Kevin Lauderdale (in Strange New Worlds 8); “Rocket Man” by Kenneth E. Carper (in Strange New Worlds 9); issues #49-50 of DC’s second monthly Star Trek series by Howard Weinstein & Rod Whigham; DC’s “Convergence” crossover in Star Trek Annual #6 and Star Trek: The Next Generation Annual #6 by Weinstein, Michael Jan Friedman, & Ken Save; and IDW’s Assignment: Earth comic book series by John Byrne.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

In issue #49 of the Trek comic, Weinstein coined the term “the Aegis” to refer to Seven’s mysterious masters, and that term was used in pretty much all the tie-in fiction going forward.

This episode was scarily predictive, as Spock mentions a major assassination and a rocket launch on the same day that they’re there. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and Apollo 6 had a messed-up launch on 4 April 1968, six days after the episode first aired. (Apollo 6’s mishap was nothing like what happened here, of course, but that could all be part of Seven’s coverup…) In his Department of Temporal Investigations novel Forgotten History, Christopher L. Bennett explicitly dated this episode as taking place on that fateful day.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

Teri Garr has refused to discuss the role of Lincoln or her involvement with Star Trek in any interviews, nor has she participated in any way in any of the (many many many) retrospectives and documentaries about the franchise over the past five decades. Her experience was not a pleasant one, apparently, and rumor has it that she was displeased with Gene Roddenberry’s messing with her wardrobe, insisting that her hemline be higher (something that also put Roddenberry in conflict with costumer William Ware Theiss, according to Herbert F. Solow & Robert H. Justman’s Inside Star Trek: The Real Story).

This is the first time a Trek episode has taken place entirely in the 20th century. It will only happen one more time, on the Enterprise episode “Storm Front.”

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

The method used by the Enterprise to travel back in time is the same one used to get home from “Tomorrow is Yesterday.”

To boldly go. “Well, how do you expect me to type, with my nose?” As a pilot for the Assignment: Earth TV show that never happened, and as the episode that inspired several excellent novels and comic books, this is a fun little hour. Robert Lansing is a solid lead, projecting a solid professionalism that is truly a façade, as he screws up more than once (mostly by not looking before he leaps), but makes it there in the end. And Teri Garr is a delight, adding a humanistic counterpart to Lansing’s stolidness.

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth

But as an episode of Star Trek it leaves a lot to be desired. The Enterprise‘s reasons for being in 1968 are specious to say the least. Why not just ask the Guardian of Forever to play Earth’s history and slow the recording down the way Spock did in “The City on the Edge of Forever“? Why take the enormous risk of sending an entire ship back in time to risk polluting the timelines? It just doesn’t make sense to take the risk, especially since things go into the toilet pretty much from jump.

Still, it’s fun to watch, and any episode that results in the brilliance of Assignment: Eternity and The Eugenics Wars duology is worth the price of admission…

Star Trek, season 2, Assignment: Earth


Warp factor rating: 5

Next week: Season 2 overview

Keith R.A. DeCandido apologizes for this rewatch being late, but it was his birthday on Monday and also the funeral for his grandmother, which made for a most bizarre birthday, all things considered…


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