Star Trek Third Season
Original air dates: October 1968 – June 1969
Executive Producer: Gene Roddenberry
Producer: Fred Freiberger
Captain’s log. 1968 saw Star Trek at a crossroads: unpopular enough to justify being cancelled, but popular enough to prompt a massive letter-writing campaign begging NBC to keep it on the air. It’s not entirely clear how much of NBC’s decision to renew was actually affected by the flood of letters—spearheaded by the mighty Bjo Trimble—but it certainly didn’t hurt in showing the network that there was an audience.
Unfortunately, most of the people who made the show what it was were no longer on staff, though all of them continued to contribute to the show. The three previous show-runners, Gene Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon, and John Meredyth Lucas, were all out, replaced by Fred Freiberger. D.C. Fontana was no longer story editor, and many of her contributions to the season were sufficiently heavily rewritten against her wishes that she went with a pseudonym.
In addition, Freiberger’s mandate from the network was obviously to save money wherever possible. There’s a feeling of emptiness about the Enterprise in this season, as even the number of extras wandering the corridors was reduced. (When Kirk is beamed aboard an empty replica in “The Mark of Gideon,” the place doesn’t even look all that different.) In fact, the only time the place seems crowded is when old footage is used, which is constant—establishing shots from each of the prior two seasons are reused endlessly.
Having said that, the season also established many many bits of Trek lore: Vulcans being vegetarians and their mating cycle (established in “Amok Time”) being seven years, the Romulan-Klingon alliance, the Tholians, IDIC, “Queen to queen’s level three,” Surak, Kahless, Scotty referring to his engines as “m’bairns,” the Romulan commander, Kang, McCoy saying, “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” and so on.
Highest-rated episode: “Day of the Dove,” the only 9 this season. In fact, only five other episodes got a 6 or higher…
Lowest-rated episode: “Plato’s Stepchildren,” with a gleefully given 0 for the worst hour in Trek history.
Most comments (as of this writing): “The Savage Curtain,” with 134 and still going, at least in part due to my comments in the rewatch itself about Genghis Khan, which prompted a major debate.
Fewest comments (as of this writing): “Wink of an Eye” and “Whom Gods Destroy,” which both have 43, which is a pretty high fewest comments total. Again, you guys rock.
Favorite Can’t we just reverse the polarity? From “Is There In Truth No Beauty?”: Somehow Marvick manages to send the Enterprise so far away that they have no reference points for navigation—except in intergalactic space, there are tons of reference points, to wit, all the galaxies that you’re sitting in between. If you just need to get back to your own galaxy, you can just look for it and head toward it. It’s not like there’s anything in the way to block your view…
Favorite Fascinating. From “The Paradise Syndrome”: Spock manages to decipher the obelisk all by himself, despite also being in charge of the ship. Because this ship with 400+ people on it whose mission statement is to seek out new life and new civilizations apparently doesn’t have a linguist on board.
Favorite I’m a doctor not an escalator. From “The Enterprise Incident”: McCoy is magnificently snotty throughout the episode, from “I don’t make house calls” to “Do you want to go through life looking like your first officer?”
Favorite Ahead warp one, aye. From “Turnabout Intruder”: Sulu has a crowning moment of awesome in this episode when he and Chekov are discussing what to do in light of “Kirk” declaring a death sentence on Spock, McCoy, and Scotty. When Chekov questions how they can fight the captain with security on his side, Sulu speaks with impressive verve and intent: “I’ll fight them every way and any way I can.”
Favorite Hailing frequencies open. From “Elaan of Troyius”: Uhura has lots of pretty things in her quarters. Elaan throws a lot of them against a wall, and also throws a knife at one of her paintings. (That’s the last time she makes her place into an Air B&B, I can tell you that…)
Favorite I cannot change the laws of physics! From “The Way to Eden”: Scotty is disapproving of the space hippies from jump, bitching and moaning about these kids today with their music and their hair, and pretty much doing every stereotypical old-fart bit short of shaking his fist at them and telling them to get off his lawn. His plaintive query as to why being young means being irresponsible is met with an amused rejoinder by Kirk, reminding him that he did some crazy stuff when he was young, and didn’t Scotty, also? (We saw him do a drunken pub crawl in “Wolf in the Fold,” so we don’t even have to go back to his youth…)
Favorite It’s a Russian invention. From “The Tholian Web”: Walter Koenig gets to do what he does best: scream. He screams on the bridge and he screams in sickbay.
Favorite Go put on a red shirt. From “And the Children Shall Lead”: Kirk orders two security guards beamed down to the planet, but they’re in interstellar space, so they’re beamed nowhere and killed. Kirk barely even notices, more grumpy about the fact that his ship isn’t where it should be than the fact that two of his crew are dead. And he seems to have totally forgotten that there are two guys on Triacus, whom he doesn’t even go back for or make any attempt to contact in the end.
Favorite No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: From “Turnabout Intruder”: Lester claims that she and Kirk broke up because “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women.” This has often been interpreted to mean that the Starfleet of the 23rd century didn’t allow women captains (at least not until the movie era, when we finally saw a female shipmaster in Madge Sinclair’s Saratoga captain in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), which probably sounded perfectly reasonable in a 1969 TV show in which the women all wore miniskirts, but which future iterations will try to either justify or ignore, but which mostly can be dismissed as the ravings of a person who was not entirely sane. (Amazingly, there was actually a segment of the fanbase that was outraged when Enterprise established Captain Erika Hernandez of the Columbia, because this episode said there were no female ship captains as of the 23rd century, which is just idiotic on every possible level.)
Favorite Channel open. From “Wink of an Eye”: “You’re married to your career, and you never look at another woman.”
“Well, if she’s pretty enough, I’ll look.”
Deela being only half right about Kirk and Kirk being overly modest.
Favorite Welcome aboard. Some powerhouse guests in this season, including some very impressive women: France Nuyen (“Elaan of Troyius”), Sabrina Scharf (“The Paradise Syndrome”), Marj Dusay (“Spock’s Brain”), Diana Muldaur (“Is There In Truth No Beauty?”), Kathryn Hays (“The Empath”), Barbara Babcock (“The Tholian Web,” “Plato’s Stepchildren”), Katherine Woodville (“For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”), Susan Howard (“Day of the Dove”), Kathie Browne (“Wink of an Eye”), Lee Meriwether (“That Which Survives”), Yvonne Craig (“Whom Gods Destroy”), Sharon Acker (“The Mark of Gideon”), Charlene Polite (“The Cloud Minders”), Mary-Linda Rapelye (“The Way to Eden”), and Mariette Hartley (“All Our Yesterdays”).
On the male side, we’ve got Jack Donner (“The Enterprise Incident”), Michael Dunn (“Plato’s Stepchildren”), Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”), Steve Ihnat and Keye Luke (“Whom Gods Destroy”), David Hurst (“The Mark of Gideon”), Skip Homeier, Charles Napier, and Victor Brandt (“The Way to Eden”), Lee Bergere and Barry Atwater (“The Savage Curtain”), and Ian Wolfe (“All Our Yesterdays”).
Then we’ve got the kids, who did a good job despite an awful script in “And the Children Shall Lead”: Craig Hundley, Pamelyn Ferdin, Caesar Belli, Brian Tochi, and especially Mark Robert Brown.
There are two actual Robert Knepper moments (a rarity for the TOS Rewatch) in Fred Williamson in “The Cloud Minders” and Johnny Haymer in “All Our Yesterdays.”
There’s the usual recurring regulars, with James Doohan not only playing Scotty but also doing a ton of voiceover work, plus George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett, John Winston, and Booker Bradshaw.
But the major awesome guest this season has to be Michael Ansara, magnificently creating the role of Kang in “Day of the Dove.” Besides appearing in tons of tie-in fiction over the past five decades, Kang is the only character who originally appeared in the original series who later appeared on two spinoffs (DS9‘s “Blood Oath” and Voyager‘s “Flashback”). Plenty appeared in one spinoff (McCoy, Sarek, Spock, Scotty, and Kahless on TNG, Kor, Koloth, and Darvin on DS9, Sulu and Rand on Voyager, Cochrane, Surak, and Green on Enterprise), but Kang is the only one who did it twice. And deservedly so, as Kang is great.
Favorite Trivial matters: The one for “Day of the Dove.” Did I mention Kang is great?
To boldly go. “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” There are times when you gotta wonder if Bjo Trimble should, perhaps, have kept her enthusiasm to herself.
That’s not entirely fair, but man, you gotta wonder how much better a world it would be if Star Trek had only the two seasons. Might it have been even more well regarded when it took off in reruns if those daily strip syndication packages didn’t include “Spock’s Brain” and “Plato’s Stepchildren” and “And the Children Shall Lead” and “Turnabout Intruder” and all the other dross from this season?
Not that the season is a total loss. For starters, in a show that generally succumbed to the worst sexist stereotypes of its era, the third season gives us an amazing collection of very strong and vibrant and fascinating female characters, particularly Miranda Jones, Mara, Vanna, Natira, and Zarabeth. (Of course, the final episode almost managed to singlehandedly undo all this work with its appallingly sexist twaddle…)
In addition, this season gave us several wonderfully alien aliens rather than people in makeup: the Tholians, the Medusans, the Excalbians, the Melkots, two different swirly things. A lot of that was also budgetary (particularly the Medusans), but it still succeeded in making the galaxy a more interesting place.
Plus, in Kang and the Romulan commander, we have two of Trek‘s most iconic characters (for all that I’m less fond of the latter than most).
Having said that, this season mostly deserves its poor reputation. Too many good ideas spoiled by piss-poor execution, too many romances-in-an-hour, only some of which are even remotely convincing, too many times believing that banging your head against a brick wall would be preferable to sitting through this garbage.
But perhaps the worst thing about this season, and the main reason why I postulate the notion that the parallel timeline in which the show was cancelled after “Assignment: Earth” might be a better one for all concerned, is that the absolute worst excesses of William Shatner are on display here. The actor’s outsized reputation for overacting is primarily borne of performances in this season, particularly “The Paradise Syndrome,” “And the Children Shall Lead,” “Plato’s Stepchildren,” “The Cloud Minders,” and “Turnabout Intruder” (though there, at least, it was on purpose).
And so the live-action series ends with a whimper. On to the animated adventures…
Warp factor rating for the season: 3
Next week: “Beyond the Farthest Star”
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at Philcon 2016 this weekend in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, along with C.J. Cherryh, Dave Seeley, L.E. Modesitt Jr., and many more. He’ll be doing a bit of programming and also hanging out at the eSpec Books table. His schedule can be found here.