Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Mattel Edition)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Corgi Edition)

Comic-Book of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Gold Key)

Coloring Book of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Colorforms

Board Game of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Milton Bradley)

Lunch Box of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "That Which Survives" (January 24, 1969)

Stardate: Unknown

The U.S.S. Enterprise investigates a strange “ghost planet” which possesses unusual geological properties.

After Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley), Mr. Sulu (George Takei) and Lt. D’Amato (Arthur Batanides) beam down to the planet’s surface, a devastating earthquake strikes.

At the same time, the Enterprise is hurled 990.7 light years away, with Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in command.

Behind the unusual mystery is a lovely siren, Losira (Lee Meriwether), a woman whose touch can kill.

Losira is able to appear both on the distant Enterprise, and the planet surface, and she brings death to Enterprise crew at both locations.

While Spock and Scotty (James Doohan) struggle to get the Enterprise back to the planet with all due haste, Kirk and his party struggle to survive Losira’s murder attempts. 

As Kirk soon learns, Losira is a Kalandan, or a more accurately, a simulation of a long-dead Kalandan commander; one programmed by a computer to protect this distant, long-forgotten outpost of the Empire. Her people died out after creating an artificial planet, one that gave rise to a terrible disease

“That Which Survives,” like “Plato’s Stepchildren,” seemed to be on near constant-rotation on WPIX, Channel 11 out of New York City, in the 1970’s and 1980’s when I was first becoming acquainted with the series as a young man. 

I remember one occasion when the station actually aired "That Which Survives" two Saturdays in a row, in a 6:00 pm time slot. I was not a happy camper. I wanted to see different Trek episodes; not the same episode twice in two weeks.

Still, “That Which Survives” isn’t a terrible episode by any means, though nor is it often considered a great one. Overall, it’s a solid entry in the third season, for certain, and one buttressed by some fine qualities, notably a guest cast that sees the return of Booker Bradshaw’s Dr. M’Benga, and the introduction of memorable characters played by Arthur Batanides, Naomi Pollock and, of course, Lee Meriwether.

The episode is cast perfectly, and there is some considerable suspense in the last act (with Sulu injured, and the Enterprise on the verge of destruction.)

Also, “That Which Survives” features some remarkable special effects, particularly Losira’s unusual de-materialization process.  The character seems to flatten out, and contract "down" into a line, before vanishing all-together.

I also appreciate the purple color palette of the episode, seen in Losira’s wardrobe and the alien planet's sky/horizon. If one thinks of the color purple representing mystery, or, possibly ambition, the color scheme fits in thematically with a story of a “ghost” alien race that engineered its own destruction.

But I suppose I enjoy the episode “That Which Survives” in particular for how it fits in with the Trek chronology or history, at least on a speculative level.

In broad strokes, I see the development of the human race as one of technological thresholds/challenges that are met, and overcome. We develop fire. We develop gunpowder. We develop nukes. We develop FTL drives.

And then?

We develop the ability to create and recreate planets.  

In “Return to Tomorrow,” for example, Sargon spoke of a crisis in his civilization beyond the nuclear age. I wonder if this mysterious crisis involved technology akin to what we encounter here, in “That Which Survives,” among the Kalandans. These aliens created, essentially, a world; but the creation of that world saw the rise of a disease that killed him.

We know that Starfleet faces similar challenges in the Genesis incident of the movies, striving for the ability to create a planet, but seeing unintended side effects caused by proto-matter.

Does this mean that Starfleet and the Federation have passed the threshold that felled the Kalandans and Sargon’s people?

If so, I wonder what the next challenge is…

Clearly, not all humanoid civilizations survive each of the thresholds I named above. We come back to, again and again in Star Trek, a race between technological development and human development. 

If technology changes or advances too fast, humankind might destroy itself.

Losira is a fascinating personification of this very struggle.

In real life, she was an ethical, stable, responsible commander who safeguarded her people. Losira clearly took her duties and responsibilities seriously.

Her computer avatar -- designed, apparently to recapture something of her personality -- is, by contrast, programmed to murder.  Clearly, the “human” part of that program feels regret, guilt, and shame at her actions.  Kirk is able to exploit this part of the program to survive as long as he can.

Thus Losira is a representation of dangerous technology at the same time her “human” qualities endure, and carry meaning and fight for supremacy with "the machine."  She “survives” beyond technology, in a sense, even if her world, and people do not do so.  

“That Which Survives” may not fare better in the memory, or among fans, simply because it doesn’t feature any “trademarks” we associate with Star Trek. There are no Klingons and no creatures, so-to-speak. Plus, Kirk and Spock spend the majority of the episode far apart from one another, unable to interact meaningfully. 

On the Enterprise, however, Spock gets some great, deadpan funny lines, and on the planet, Kirk is the strong leader and curious explorer we root for. Scotty comes across powerfully in this episode too, which adds to the subtext about human and technological development.  

Scotty, who is as human as they come, is also "in synch" with the technology he loves: the Enterprise's engines.

In the final analysis, "That Which Survives" "endures. This is a solid show, even if it is not a beloved one.

Next week: “The Lights of Zetar.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tell Me Your Favorite/Best Star Trek Episode Choices!

Hi everybody,

Star Trek's (1966-1969) 51st anniversary (September 8) is just a little less than a month away, and as readers here know, I have been working since 2016 to review every episode of the original series as part of the half-century celebration. 

I am deep in a retrospective of the third season at this point, and anticipate being done with the series reviews by mid-October (just in time to celebrate TNG's 30th anniversary!)

But to celebrate Star Trek's anniversary this year, I am asking for your help and participation.  

If you are interested in joining the fun, I will post your top twenty episode choices here on the blog the week of 9/4 - 9/8/17.

The rules are simple:

I need to know your name to put on the post header. (Like, John Muir's Top 20 Star Trek episodes).

Then just rank your favorite or "best" 20 Star Trek episodes (ascending order, 20 - 1). No movies. No animated episodes. No spin-off episodes. Just the original series, please.

And then, the icing on the cake: write an explanation (as short as one sentence, or as long as you desire), explaining the reasons behind your choice.

Send me your top/favorite list by Wednesday 8/30/17, so I can start putting the following week together here on the blog!

I have spent a lot of time writing about Star Trek since 2016, and now I want to know more about what you think, and share your favorites with the rest of the readership.  

So please, join me!

Also, a final note: as I contribute my own list, I see that many of my choices go against conventional wisdom, or tradition.  

So please, feel no responsibility  or obligation to make your list conform with previous fan lists, or conventional likes. Tell the world what you like! 

Your reasons can be about nostalgia, quality, continuity, humor...anything that floats your boat. 

Send your top 20 Star Trek episodes list to:  

I'll post reader lists in the order I receive them! (But start getting them to me as soon as you can, and no later than August 30th, please.).

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Jekyll and Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson's 1866 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the key foundations or texts of the modern horror genre. The story concerns the duality of human nature, according to some, as the respectable Jekyll becomes the dark brutal Mr. Hyde.  

Others scholars the work as a study of how the unconscious mind can manifest its darkest desires; creating a personality of its own in the process.

The Jekyll-Hyde story is irresistible for cult-TV programming for a few reasons.  First, it exposes the under-side or dark-side of regular characters. 

On a more practical level, the Jekyll/Hyde duality allows a series actor to show a dark, violent side with no need for guest casting.  So the actor gets to show his or her chops, and at little expense to the production.

One of the most famous Jekyll-Hyde stories in cult-TV history comes from Star Trek (1966-1969). Here, in the episode "The Enemy Within," a transporter malfunction splits Captain Kirk (William Shatner) into two distinct personalities. One is good; the other is evil.  Although the evil Captain Kirk is a temper-prone, alcohol-guzzling rapist, it is also discovered in the course of the episode that his "dark" qualities help Kirk be the remarkable leader that he is.

Kenneth Johnson's The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982) is a series-long paean to the Jekyll/Hyde duality. 

Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) must rigorously control his anger and rage, lest the monster from the Id -- the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) -- manifest. The series examines, in many ways, how human beings must control their emotions, or see a dark side emerge.

The "Jekyll/Hyde" being has also been a monster-of-the-week on many occasions. In Filmation's Saturday Morning TV series, The Ghost Busters (1975), the ghosts of Jekyll and Hyde manifest in a local grave yard. Here Jekyll (Severn Darden) is a gentleman, but Hyde is a cave-man, even down to his wardrobe of furs.  He is not evil so much as he is primitive, which is an interesting take on this duality.

In the TV series Man from Atlantis (1977), Mark Harris's (Patrick Duffy) superior -- C.W. (Alan Fudge) --  accidentally spills a strange formula in his morning coffee, and turns into a hairy brute, a Mr. Hyde-type creature.  

Almost immediately, he steals money, jeopardizes the institute, and comes on to a gangster boss’s lovely girlfriend. After Mark and Elizabeth (Belinda J. Montgomery) contend with an underwater probe that has been programmed to self-destruct, they must extricate C.W. from the mess he has made for himself.  Here, the Mr. Hyde being gives C.W. the confidence that he doesn't typically manifest.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) offers a female spin on the classic story. In this tale, Buck (Gil Gerard) -- in "Cruise Ship to the Stars" -- must protect the genetically perfect Miss Cosmos (Dorothy Stratten) from a pair of thieves, unaware that one of his opponents is a dangerous “transmute.” Sometimes, the would-be-thief is the meek, gentle Allison (Kimberly Beck) and sometimes she is the avaricious, incredibly powerful Sabrina (Trisha Noble).  Here, the Hyde character is associated with material avarice and human vice.

Other cult-TV series, such as Penny Dreadful (2014-2016), have featured the good doctor -- and his alter ego -- adapting the characters and situations of the novella to a serialized format.