25 September 2016

Sex, Drugs and Strange Weapons (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.1, "Amok Time")

She's just watched "The Alternative Factor"

Spock starts acting very strangely indeed... he's all emotional. It turns out that he's in his 'mating period' and has to return to his native Vulcan to get married or he will die...

Right, let's get the 'saucy' bit out of the way first. "I have to mate or I'm going to die" is the sort of plot one commonly associates with a bad comedy or a porn film. Indeed, it was considered too adult for West German television (which was also easily receivable in East Germany) and the episode got majorly edited in the dub there... Also, 'pon farr' sounds like the sort of thing that immature teenagers would snigger at and "I'm in my 'pon farr' period" sounds like the sort of chat up line you'd use at a convention...

Leonard Nimoy spends most of the episode trying to contain his raging hormones... well, that's something every adult has experienced at some point or the other... as either the giver or the recipient. He does a great job at trying to suppress his emotion and not always succeeding, although we never entirely seem him completely lose it.

It's a credit to the writers of the show that they resist the opportunity to use Spock's predicament as fodder for jokes... or maybe they weren't allowed to by the network. Kirk comes across as a good friend understanding what Spock is going through, especially in an well-played 'awkward' scene in which Spock opens up to him about his biological urges. McCoy isn't the kind of gentleman who makes sex jokes and he has another strong performance in this - Season 2 also marks the promotion of DeForest Kelley into the opening titles of the show.

Speaking of regulars, this episode has the first appearance of Walter Koenig as Ensign Pavel Chekov and it's clear from the start why he became a fan favourite. Brought in to draw younger viewers to the show and made Russian by Roddenberry after he received a complaint from the USSR that the other superpower was being ignored in his vision of the future. He's a charming character who has an enjoyable cyncism - and anticipates changes in orders - although his hair (Koening wore a wig for the first few episodes he filmed) is a bit distracting. He definitely works well with Sulu.

This episode sees the début of two of Trek's most famous bits of iconography, the Vulcan salute and their associated catchphrase, "Live long and prosper". We also get to meet plenty of other Vulcans, most notably T'Pau, who is a pretty big cheese in Vulcan society and the Federation in general. Celia Lovsky, who was born in what was then Austria-Hungary in 1897 had a thick accent that got her cast in 'exotic' dignified old lady roles after her divorce from Peter Lorre, very well known for playing sinister foreigners himself and  with a distinctive accent commonly imitated by Looney Tunes.

The Vulcan ritual is very ornate and is the sort of thing I'm sure some Trekkies have actually employed for their wedding. Mind you, Dothraki weddings are far more violent.


Well known for establishing a good chunk of the Vulcan backstory, this episode is far better than its plot would suggest.


22 September 2016

James Bond: Never Say Never Again

When I saw that this was being aired again on ITV4, I finally decided to record the unofficial James Bond movie from 1983 i.e. the remake of Thunderball that Kevin McClory was allowed to make as part of the deal that allowed EON to make the original Thunderball... which honestly isn't that good a Bond movie to begin with.

This is simply put a dire film. The direction is awful, the music gratingly inappropriate at times and the so-called comedy is very, very forced. Connery is the best thing in it and even he's sub par...

After half an hour, I asked myself whether I wanted to carry on with this. The answer is 'only if accompanied by Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot...' because this turkey is only suitable as material for a Dr. Forrester experiment i.e. Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I hope no-one involved this piece of foulness is proud of this junk.

0/10 (Automatically awarded for any movie I decline to finish)

17 September 2016

Hooten and the Lady on Sky1

Three comments on this:
  • Definitely not in the least bit post-modernist; in many other shows made today, the clichés would have been called out to the audience with a knowing wink. Here, it's like the characters are wearing blinkers and I'm not talking about the horse.
  • Leads aren't that bad, but roguish male meets posh uptight female has been done before and better.
  • This is definitely a post-watershed show in some respects. Was not expecting buttocks that's for sure.
Not great, but I'll stick with it for a while.

11 September 2016

Silent Hunter and the 100mph cupboard (Review of the Caledonian Sleeper and also the Jacobite)

At the beginning of July this year, I took the longest duration train journey that I have taken in my life; while I may well have gone further, that was on a faster train.

It's not as well known as it could be, which is one reason why I'm writing this post, but it's one of the few survivors of a once thriving sector of the rail industry; the sleeper train.

This is the Caledonian Sleeper.

Every evening, except for Saturday, at the 1960s concrete affair of London Euston station (which I actually happen to like, although it would have been nice to have retained the Doric Arch), two sixteen-coach trains leave, hauled by electric locomotives, making their way north. Travelling at up to 100 miles per hour, one train splits at Carstairs, portions ending up at Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley.

The other, designated 1S25 in the working timetable, also goes to Edinburgh Waverley, where it splits into three portions, which are hauled by diesel locomotives to their final destinations; Inverness, Aberdeen and Fort William. These is what used to be known as 'through coaches'; now disappeared with multiple units and semi-permanent train sets.

There used to be a lot more sleepers in the UK. My 1967-68 British Rail Eastern Region timetable (bought from the second hand book store at the Great Central Railway), from the time when Beeching's axe was chopping up lines all over the country and the West Coast Main Line only had wires up as far as Crewe, has sleeper portions going all over the country to places like Holyhead, Milford Haven, Manchester and Penzance. To quote the timetable:

A conductor travels with every sleeping car and personally services each compartment. He will cally you in the morning and bring you tea (or minerals [I am taking that to mean mineral water]) and biscuits at a nominal charge.

Today there is only the sleeper services from Euston to the five destinations in Scotland and vice-versa, as well as GWR's 'Night Riveria' service from London Paddington to Penzance. The rest have gone, many being cut in the early 1980s when the Mark 1 sleepers were replaced by the Mark 3 version (indeed the last planned batch of the Mark 3 was changed from sleepers to day stock); a famous loss was the 'Night Ferry', which ran from London Victoria to Paris. On the continent, it's not much better; SNCF are cutting their services down to only three and Deutsche Bahn are eliminating all their CityNightLine services later this year; the Austrian state operator will take over some of these.

However, the British one does provide dinner and breakfast.

The Euston sleeper services are currently operated by Caledonian Sleeper, an independent train operating company that was split off from Scotrail in 2015 and is currently operated by Serco.

The company operates an array of electric and diesel traction. Primary duty for the electric part of the service is handled by Class 90 locomotives (late 80s built, top speed of 110mph and currently to be found in freight traffic or on Abellio Greater Anglia's London to Norwich expresses) or newer Class 92s. Empty Coaching Stock workings i.e. transporting the coaches back and forth from Euston to the depot at Willesden is typically done by a Class 86 or a Class 87, locomotives of a rather older vintage. Diesel traction is typically handled by hired-in Class 73/9s, re-engineered versions of the Class 73 electro-diesel that is capable of running on both diesel and third rail power; it had much use in the Southern Region on boat trains i.e. trains that were scheduled to connect with ferry services, as well as on the Gatwick Express.

While many of these locomotives are painted in the dark blue Caledonian Sleeper livery, the company has often to hire in locomotives and rolling stock from elsewhere that doesn't feature that livery.

The company does not operate Driving Van Trailers that allow control of a locomotive from the other end of a train without the need to do any uncoupling; therefore you have one of the very rare service train examples of a pre-DVT practice in which one locomotive will pull in a service and another will couple onto the other end to pull it out.


You have to book in advance for a sleeper berth; the entire process can be completed through the Caledonian Sleeper website or you can buy a regular ticket and pay a sleeper supplement. Regular tickets are valid, but will necessitate you travelling in the seating coach, with those going to Fort William having to move coaches at Edinburgh as those coaches are detached and another two added for that section of the journey; there isn't the space at Euston for dedicated stock for the Fort William portion.

Aside from the seating section, you have two basic options; First Class or Standard class. First Class involves having a berth with a single bed, while Standard involves having two beds in a bunk bed style. The berths are in fact easily convertible from First Class to Standard Class. They come with a washbasin, adjustable heating (which I had to twiddle a few times to achieve a comfortable temperature) and some fixed hangars, but the toilet is at the end of the cabin. Disabled toilets are present in some carriages.

The cost varies depending on day and whether you want ticket flexibility; First Class costs more, but in Standard Class you may have to share with a stranger of the same gender. I chose First Class, because that's not my cup of tea. You also get a free breakfast, a complimentary Arran Aromatics amenity kit (body wash) shampoo and priority access to the lounge car.

Both of the sleeping berth types are contained in the aforementioned Mark 3 sleeper cars. These are made up of either twelve or thirteen berths; the former case there will either be a disabled toilet or a room for the attendant. The Mark 3 is a very common sight on British railways in some form due to its use on the High Speed Trains i.e. the InterCity 125; notable features include the need to lower the window and reach outside to push the handle when exiting the train.

As a railway enthusiast, I am well used to working those.

1S25 departs from London Euston at 2115 from Platform 1, but you can get into your cabin 45 minutes before departure. It arrives at Fort William at 0955 the following morning, a journey time of 12 hours and 40 minutes, which is not the longest possible journey in the UK - that is 1V60, the 0820 Aberdeen to Penzance service that takes 13 hours and 23 minutes.

The Fort William portion is at the far end of the train and my carriage (there were three sleeper cars for Fort William) was right next to the locomotive, itself a Class 90 bedecked in Freightliner Grey. The security fence stopped me from getting any better pictures.

You may notice a former '1' there; some of the locomotives were converted to freight working and had their top speed lowered to 75mph becoming Class 90/1; they have since been converted back to their original configuration.
The train departed about a minute late and soon got up to a decent lick of speed as it headed out of London. The service normally runs at 80 miles per hour, but can run at up to 100mph if it needs to make up time and the line speed allows it; this especially applies on the southbound service as it needs to run to time or it will cause delays to rush hour trains. The view from your berth is rather restricted once it gets dark; there's not much to see between towns. There's also a pretty poor mobile signal in many places...

I like to ride in the vestibule (that's the bit at the end of the carriages where the doors are) sometimes, standing by the open window - I don't stick my head out, I'm not stupid - and I can tell that there is quite a bit of wind force when a Pendolino goes past you in the opposite direction at full tilt; so basically at a relative speed of over 200mph.

As you can see below, the corridor at the side of the berths is pretty narrow; only wider enough to fit one person in; moving between the carriages, you frequently have to go into empty compartments to allow other people to pass.

With my gear stashed in my berth, I tried to go to the lounge car, only to find that it was full up and I would have to come back later. If you're not booked for dinner, it's turn up and see if there's room.

About the berth; I was swapped to another one from my originally booked choice and this one had some issues. Namely a faulty blind that took some effort to get to open and difficulty lifting the catch that holds the door open.

Also, it was fairly hard to get the door to close; I had to reach down and flick a catch at the bottom to unhook the door. You can lock the berth door for safety and security; however, you will need to find the attendant to let you back in if you lock it and leave. This person - in my case a lady with a Scottish accent (there are a lot of Scots on the service) - is not always the easiest person to find until you realise where the attendant's cabin actually is.

There is a lot that could be explained for people in a free leaflet. Like that you're not allowed to take photographs in the lounge car for privacy reasons; something there was no sign for, but which I was told by a member of staff.

I would point out that the leather sofas as depicted on the site were only present in the Inverness portion (at least on the journey back) and in my case, I was in an older format of the British Rail Mark 2E buffet car. In the absence of my own photo, this picture from another enthusiast will suffice. They're old, but remain very elegant.

The seats, which I believe are the IC70 design (but I may be wrong on that), can recline back, but are difficult to get comfortable with my proportions.

One area in which the sleeper can be truly recommended is in the quality of the food. Despite the fact that they only actually have a microwave in the 'galley', all of the food itself is of high quality, sourced locally and tastes very nice indeed. Portions are small, but very filling.

I can't, however, say that I got the best night's sleep of my life. The rocking motion of the train, combined with a constant squeaking noise, probably from the coupling to the locomotive ahead of me, made it difficult to drop off properly and I woke up on a number of occasions. Most notably at Edinburgh Waverley, where the locomotive was changed over and we reversed direction - I also had to sort out an issue with my phone. The three Fort William sleeper cars were detached being attached to another lounge car and seated car before heading away as service 1Y11.

Waking up fully the following morning, the scenery outside my window as we wound our way down the (single with passing loops) line from Helensburgh Upper to Fort William was truly spectacular.

It was like Westeros with more telephone wires and fewer battles.

I had breakfast in the lounge car, which is worth remarking on here. Due to problems with their own rolling stock, Serco have hired in two coaches from another company... which look rather old-fashioned. The lounge car was in the old Virgin Trains red and black livery (no longer used by them - image from this blog).

However, the seated car, used by day passengers as well, looks like this:

That's right... that's a British Rail livery.

The Class 73s, however - the train was double-headed - looked brand new-ish:

Fort William itself is a nice looking town with superb scenery but with very little to do for a tourist, not helped by the rather bad weather encountered while I was there.

I visited the West Highland Museum, which is an excellent detailing of the (at times rather bloody) history of the local area, which in the 'recent' past played host to training for the Special Operation Executive.

I also went over to nearby Corpach to visit a mediocre rock museum, which was really just an excuse to 'bash' a couple of Scotrail Class 156 Sprinters, getting off at this particular stop on the line that I was going to be traversing in full on the following day.

Loch Eil Outward Bound isn't a request stop - there are two on the West Highland Line, IIRC - but had only 632 passengers total in the 2014/15 financial year (the latest for which data was available). I added two to the 2016/17 total as I bought tickets to there and back from the guard on the train.

The station only has a single tiny platform; the four-car service could only fit one and a half carriages in it.

This was on the Tuesday. The following Wednesday, I went on this service.

The Jacobite, which is its current name, dates back to 1984, when British Rail introduced a steam-hauled tourist service in the summer months to boost income on what was otherwise a line that required a heavy subsidy; the section of the West Highland Line going from Fort William to Mallaig.

The regular service is patchy to put it mildly; there are three daily return services from Mallaig to Glasgow Queen Street (reversing at Fort William) run by the aforementioned Class 156s. Many of the stations, not just the aforementioned Corpach, see less than 10,000 passengers a year. A thought occurred to me that this is what many lines might have ended up as an alternative to being shut under the Beeching Axe - while Beeching did not in fact propose the closure of this line, he did propose eliminating the stopping service.

(I downloaded a copy of the two-volume report, which also proposed the closure of the Romford-Upminster line and the Gospel Oak-Barking lines in my local area; both survived and have since thrived)

Currently run by West Coast Railways (who have had their own safety issues lately and two network bans, since lifted), the Jacobite consists of one or two return services from Fort William to Mallaig. The morning service, which I went one, is hauled by a 'Black Five', more formally known as a Class 5 4-6-0. Designed by William Stanier for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, 842 of these mixed traffic locomotives were built between 1934 and 1951. 18 of these have survived into preservation; four currently having mainline clearance and being used to haul rail tours - or this service, which has two of them.

The morning service consists of British Rail Mark 1s, that ubiquitous feature of heritage railways (they were what happened to be available when many of them got started up). Developed after the war as a 'standard' coach for British Railways, they combined the features of pre-nationalisation stock and their all steel construction made them considerably safer then their predecessors, although they are not up to modern standards. Indeed many a multiple unit was also based on the design.

The afternoon service uses the 1960s Mark 2; distinguishable by their rounded ends as opposed to the flatter ones of the Mark 1s. West Coast Railways corporate livery is a maroon recreation of the original BR livery... which I think looks rather odd on a Mark 2, as they were nearly all painted Blue/Grey on first build. However, I am informed that the first batch was in maroon or Southern Region green.

It is highly recommended to buy your tickets in advance, which come with a seat reservation - there are limited numbers available on the day. First Class passengers are in compartments and standard class uses open saloons in refurbished form. Some personal pictures from elsewhere:

There is a buffet car, a trolley service and an on-board souvenir shop that sells a fair amount of Harry Potter related stuff, but be aware that it doesn't take credit or debit cards. A guidebook is available.

The journey goes through some truly spectacular landscape, but it is rather difficult to take pictures as there are a large number of trees next to the line; no sooner had I got my camera on to take a picture there was some foliage in the way. Here's the best of the shots.

On the outward leg, the train stops for about 20 minutes at Glenfinnan, partly to let a service train past on the passing loop; having a slight delay before fully pulling in to let the Sprinter come in to the other platform. The station has a camping coach, a small museum (which I didn't have time to visit) and an array of old posters.

The Black 5 gets up to a fair lick of speed; around 50 miles per hour. I really seeing these old locomotives in their native environment, doing what they were meant to do; they're only generally allowed to do 25 on heritage lines.

Mallaig itself is quite frankly a rather dull town.

The museum wasn't worth paying the price of admission to go on, the most exciting thing in town is the ferry out of there or the station and the mobile signal is non-existent. In the end, I found out the outcome of the Iraq War Inquiry via my MP3 player's radio.

The local places to eat filled up very quickly with people from the train and I eventually ended up eating takeaway chips in the station waiting area. I also had a can of Irn-Bru and am now a real fan of the drink, so that's one benefit of the trip.

The journey back is slightly quicker - no stop at Glenfinnan and the views are equally as great, but the weather was getting worse at this point.

Here's a video of the train in action that I recorded on the Tuesday in Corpach.

I caught the sleeper train back that evening, which leaves Fort William at 1950 and is designated 1B01 until it gets to Edinburgh, joining the other portions to become 1M16 arriving at Euston at 0747 the following morning - passengers may stay in their compartments for a further thirteen minutes. There is no First Class lounge in the station at Fort William, but there is free Wi-Fi for passengers in the waiting area.

I'd booked dinner for the train back and I have to say that this was superb. I even paid extra for dessert; the portions are somewhat small, but sumptuous.

The train was running half an hour late on its initial stage of the journey - I found out this was due to a brake issue. The sleeping wasn't particularly better the second time around; this is going to be something of an acquired skill... and I slept through the Great Storm of 1987 as a kid!

Due to a lack of space and time, my cooked breakfast was given to me by the attendant in my compartment - not easy to eat it on the bed, but the meal was again very nice. Next time, ask them to hold the black pudding - I had to scrape it out of the way.

The delay overnight was quickly made up once we switched to electric traction - it also seems that we arrived at Edinburgh second because our portion was in the middle of the train rather than the Scotland end. In fact, we arrived early at Euston!


The Caledonian Sleeper is a nice train fulfilling a necessary and useful function in the British railway system, but at the moment it's not as good as it could be. In particular, more information is needed for first-timers. The Mark 3 carriages are probably past it and while I would go on this again, I am planning to wait until the new CAF carriages are in service in 2018.

Mind you, the pillow spray I got for free has proved very useful, but it also appears to have given me weird dreams...


The Jacobite itself is well worth doing in itself and should definitely be on a rail enthusiast's 'bucket list'.


08 September 2016

Funky Mucus (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.29, "Operation -- Annihilate!")

 Remember folks - catch it, bin it, kill it!
I am posting this on 8 September 2016, the 50th anniversary of the transmission of the first episode of Star Trek, "The Man Trap". It is a testament to the creativity of the late Gene Roddenberry and all else involved that this anniversary is being marked with a cinematic movie currently in theatres and a new TV series in pre-production.

This show has indeed lived long and prospered. Happy Anniversary, Star Trek.


The remote colony world of Deneva has gone out of contact (this sort of thing seems to happen a lot) and the Enterprise finds it is in the path of a group of outbreaks of civilisation-destroying insanity, evidenced by a guy flying his ship into the sun... To make things harder for Kirk, the world is home to his brother and his family.


I'll start with the first thought that came to my head when the away party beamed down onto the planet - "That looks like a university campus". In fact, while there was an establishing shot done at UCLA, the outside filming was done at the TRW Space and Defense Park in Redondo Beach, home to major aerospace research work, including development of US ICBMs. The company was bought by Northrop Grumman in 2002. So, it is a campus, but of a different variety.

Kirk is arguably the weak link in this episode; possibly as some of his material was cut. He could have been hit harder by what was going on in the story (it's not a great day for him), but he goes back to rather high joviality by the end. Spock and McCoy get better material, with a big role (not to mention big hair) for Majel Barrett as Nurse Chapel.

There seems to have been done on the relative cheap; there's only a few non-regulars in the episode and many don't get lines. In particular, we get some rather bad over-acting from Joan Swift as Kirk's sister-in-law.

We had the huge space pizza a few weeks back and now we get flying giant lumps of snot. Unlike "Devil in the Dark", there is no attempt to communicate with this thing, the crew just decide it has to be wiped out, whatever the cost.

The solution to their problem, after some genuine peril involving Spock - attack with a giant hoop thing aside - is one of those things where the science has matched on; doing what they do is likely to cause a lot of cancer later on. Also the units of measurement have changed - McCoy uses 'candles' as a light unit, whereas we now use lumens as standard. That's lumens, not lupins, thank you.

Finally, we have a final scene on the bridge that is actually funny for a change.


A highly enjoyable episode, if it does seem to be done somewhat on the cheaper side and contains some fairly large flaws.


07 September 2016

Mechanical Rice Picker for Sale, One Careless Owner (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.28, "The City at the Edge of Forever")

He's just watched "The Alternative Factor".

The penultimate episode of Season 1 of Star Trek is a lot better than the dog's breakfast of "The Alternative Factor". In fact, it won the show's second Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (the other nominees were all TOS episodes as well!) at a time when there was not a separate category for TV episodes and also a WGA award. Many consider it the best episode of the entire run... in fact of the entire franchise.

It probably has one of the most famous guest stars of the show's history as well.


A series of freak temporal disturbances leads to an Exploding Bridge Console (TM) going off in Sulu's face and McCoy giving himself an accidental overdose, going crazy. He beams down to the planet that is the source of the disturbances and after going through a talking time portal, ends up changing history... so the Enterprise no longer exists. Kirk and Spock have to go after him and reverse the damage...


We get a classic opening, involving the good old "Starship Acting" - with one extra rather out of time to everyone else - and Kelley getting a chance to chew on the scenery that hasn't already been munched by Shatner.

This is the second episode of Star Trek involving time travel and we get the tremendously fun sight of our two leads (DeForest Kelley not being in the title sequence at the time) having to go undercover in 1930 New York to await the arrival of McCoy so they can prevent him from changing history. This allows for a truly hilarious scene in which after stealing some clothes, Kirk and Spock are confronted by a policeman. Kirk passes Spock off as a Chinese man whose ears are the result of a childhood accident with a 'mechanical rice picker'. There are plenty of other great scenes, including one sad scene demonstrating why you shouldn't play with a phaser if you don't know what you're doing and Spock knocking Angus MacGyver into a cocked hat. Nimoy does great sarcasm as well.

Kirk (who brings out his Concerned Face a number of times) discovers the source of the problem, a social worker called Edith Keeler... and you guessed it, he falls in love with her. Keeler is played by Joan Collins (now 83 and Dame Joan Collins) who employs a sort of very clear American diction you don't really see with actresses from the US today.

This episode is another case of using your friendly neighbourhood back-lot - in this case, the final appearance of the 40 Acres set - signs from The Andy Griffith Show are apparently visible. It also had more money spent on it than any other episode of Season 1 and it shows.

The ending is reminiscent of the Doctor Who episode "Father's Day", but I have to admit I wasn't particularly moved by it, probably because it's been often imitated since. Another case of Trek writing the clichés and looking clichéd as a result.


A very strong episode of the show indeed with some vintage comedy, but I wasn't sold on all of it. I would personally consider other episodes better, but I can see the acclaim.


05 September 2016

They Picked The Wrong Alternative (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.27, "The Alternative Factor")

Star Trek can be an uneven affair at times; any show with over 80 episodes is bound to have a few clunkers and sadly, this is definitely one of them.

As such, I am not going to dignify this misbegotten tale with a picture.


While mapping a strange new world, the Enterprise is shaken by a mysterious phenomenon... then a human is spotted on the other wise empty planet. Beaming down, Kirk encounters a gentlemen called Lazarus with a crazy beard and an equally crazy tale to tell...


I got bored during this one, badly bored. There are parts of this story that are, as Spock would put it, illogical. Like not believing McCoy when you've encountered a plethora of strange stuff previously and failing to adequately secure key parts of the ship when dealing with an escaped crazy person.

There's a decent potential plot out there, but it's so badly done that the story completely collapses and you lose all empathy or interest in the character of Lazarus, who sports a completely unconvincing fake beard. Producing a negative emotional reaction in an audience can be a sign of a good character if they're meant to be annoying... but producing next to none at all is a sign of a bad one.

Much of the blame has to fall on Robert Brown, who was a last minute replacement for John Drew Barrymore, father of that Drew Barrymore, who failed to show up to filming, got a six month suspension from the Screen Actor's Guild as a result and whose career never recovered; he also had major substance abuse problems, like his father and two of his children, including Drew. Brown is, if we're being honest, really poor in this. He badly overacts throughout much of the episode.

Before Brown was brought in, this episode was on the verge of being canned. It should have been.


Can't say I like this one at all. It's clear why this isn't particularly well-remembered; it's not very good. Indeed, many consider it among the worst of Star Trek. I'll let you know if any worse come up.


02 September 2016

majQa' tlhInganpu'! (Review: 'Star Trek', 1.26 "Errand of Mercy")

Hey, is that a targ?

 Or "Welcome to the Klingons!" In this, the 26th episode of the first season of Star Trek, the most iconic aliens in the history of the franchise make their debut.

However, their language doesn't, nor do the forehead ridges... more on that later.


When war breaks out between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire, the Enterprise is sent to the peaceful planet of Organia to prevent the latter from getting their hands on a key strategic location. However, the local leadership is completely unwilling to allow Kirk to help them and in due course, the Klingons occupy the planet.


I'll start by pointing out that McCoy isn't in this episode, nor is Scotty. It would have been interesting to see how Bones reacted to the bat'leth brigade here, although those weapons don't turn up until The Next Generation.

It is important to place this story in its historical context. "Errand of Mercy" aired on 23 March 1967. The Cuban crisis was 4 1/2 years previously and there would be a serious set of clashes between the USSR and China in 1969. The Six-Day War would occur that summer. It was a rather tense time in global history, to put it mildly.

So with the Federation cast as the Americans, it becomes a fairly simple case of seeing the Klingons as the Soviet Union or Red China in this series... but a bit less so in their debut.

I've previously mentioned that the Second World War was still very much in living memory for those making the show and the Klingons here are portrayed as rather akin to the Nazis, taking hostages and making the local government implement their orders. Commander Kor, the military governor here, would not be out of place in a SS uniform (the Klingons wear jackboots), calmly drinking champagne as he shoots a captured resistance fighter with a Luger P08 pistol. If this was broadcast today, you'd almost certainly have a helpline number given out at the end of the credits; there would be those watching who had encountered real life 'Klingons'.

Kirk and Spock therefore end up acting as a mini-resistance against the Klingons, blowing up a munitions dump with a 'sonic grenade', which is probably no relation to a sonic screwdriver. It's a rather enjoyable tale of 'derring-do' reminiscent of a comic book at times.

Knowing the twist in this episode actually makes it better, because you can see all the little details. That said, the twist does raise further questions related to future events in the franchise and also is notable in a prediction becoming entirely true.

Anyway, back to the Klingons. They would become the main antagonists for the Federation in TOS, mainly because it was easier to do the make-up than the Romulans. John Colicos (half Greek, half Canadian - who also played Count Baltar in the original Battlestar Galactica and Mikkos Cassadine in General Hospital in a long career) who played Kor, came up with the distinctive look, intending to invoke Genghis Khan, although Khan lacked the crazy eyebrows. Many of the Klingons just look like they've used the wrong sort of bronzer to me... there are of course unfortunate racial implications, especially with the Fu Manchu style moustache of Kor, although he doesn't use a silly accent.

However, the Klingons would rise far above that (indeed many Klingons don't have dark make up in TOS, although all the key ones were played by white actors), even if it wouldn't be for a while. The forehead ridges don't come until the movies; I would also point out the Klingon ships seen here are CGI add-ins for the remastered version.


A classic debut for a classic race.