Star Trek: TOS – S01E18/19 “Shore Leave” and “The Squire of Gothos”

“Shore Leave”

Season 1
Production Order #18
Airing Order #15
Directed by Robert Sparr
Written by Theodore Sturgeon

After last week’s shockingly bad “The Menagerie”, I am ready to move on but before we do, I have a few things to say about the ratings. While I mentioned my reasoning behind grading all the way back in my review of “The Daleks” for Doctor Who, many of you reading this don’t and/or didn’t read that and even if you did, it was buried at the end of a review from over a year ago so it’s about time to clarify/reiterate things even though it is just as true then as it is now.

First of all ratings are really arbitrary and I only give episodes them to give a nice little sum up of how I felt about them and to help me remember whether I liked them (the most important reason). While heavily based off the AVC system (for obvious reasons), I do feel they tend to be rather generous with their grades and as a result mine are going to be lower than they would be there. I’m still judging the show merely against itself (since comparing episodes of unrelated shows is a fool’s errand), but A’s and A-‘s will be rare (as will F’s but those episodes truly earned my first lower than a D grade and only my fifth lower than a C- on either show) and something like a C or C+ isn’t really a condemnation of the episode like it is there. Of course no system like this is perfect and what may seem like a peak could be SOP in a season and what seems like a nadir could be hopelessly quaint later on (an experience I am currently suffering through on The Flash) so we’ll see just how I’m feeling when we get to “Spock’s Brain”.

Now with all that boring stuff out of the way, it’s time for a bit of “Shore Leave”. The crew has been travelling for months without rest and is suffering from fatigue. They discover a beautiful, Earth-like planet that Kirk quickly calls “too good to be true” (because we needed that point drilled into us more…). Spock manages to trick Kirk into ordering himself to take some leave time (did not need the wacky music to back it up especially since any viewer could see it coming) by describing a crewman suffering from fatigue but I like Spock loosening up some at least in his interactions with Kirk.

The episode doesn’t even try to be subtle about things as McCoy soon says that “it’s like something out of Alice and Wonderland”. Frankly, this is just a weird comparison to make as when I see some pretty scenery that is not even in the top 1000 things I would think of. Then of course the giant white rabbit and short blond Alice stand-in show up as wacky music plays and it becomes painfully obvious we are setting up one of those episodes. At least this one recognizes it as such and doesn’t try to pretend it isn’t weird and on top of that mostly just drops this random reference point.

Sulu finds a gun that he’s always wanted while Kirk then sees offensive Oirish stereotype and old cadet-mate Finnegan right after he mentions him. While it was obvious after the Alice bit that this world conjures things up after you think about them it becomes painfully obvious at this point and only driven in more when Kirk conjures a blond woman from his past (you can’t say that he and the show for that matter doesn’t have a type). It’s from here that the episode embraces its wackiness as a samurai goes after Sulu and McCoy and random woman of the week (if the episode isn’t going to try and characterize her I sure as shit won’t) get thrown into some stale fairy tale plot.

McCoy is attacked by a knight and “killed” which immediately ruins that stakes since I know the show wouldn’t (and didn’t kill him since well I knew he hadn’t gone anywhere). What should be a big stakes and tone changing moment just becomes a “guess how they are going to bring him back” especially with his body taken away. It truly shows the reason we have all these redshirts to at least pretend there are stakes. The revelation that the knight is only a dummy is hardly that and by the time that the caretaker of the place reveals that nothing is permanent and the planet is an amusement park, all I could manage was a shrug. It’s a minor episode, not necessarily bad but inessential. Star Trek can do a number of things but like Doctor Who it just doesn’t handle wacky comedy all that well.

Grade: C

Stray Observations
– One last bit about my ratings, coming into today’s episodes, Season 1 of Star Trekwas (and still is) ahead of Seasons 1 and 3 of Doctor Who and not far behind on the Seasons 2 and 4.
– If I never see another episode/film taking influence from Alice and Wonderland it will be too soon.
– Spock sees running about as a waste of rest time and would rather actually rest, it’s good we are back to proving why Spock is the best
– This time in Star Trek’s view of women, the women seem to get far more distracted by the beauty of the world at the expense of work. The one woman also has an only character trait of wanting a man to come take her away and at one point is nearly savaged by Don Juan and dresses like a princess.
– McCoy sounds like Buffalo Freakin’ Bill when he tells the woman the dress will look better on her. He just has this aura of sliminess all over him especially when he shows up at the end with two stage girls.
– The constant twinkling wind chimes sound in the background of outdoor scenes seems to have been done specifically to drive me mad.
– There is a lot more Sulu this time out which makes me happy but Uhura is barely seen, gets no lines, and doesn’t even get shore leave, while Scott doesn’t even get to appear.
– I give the episode credit for one thing, when Spock beams down, they resist the urge to pull out the twist that he wasn’t actually real. The non-twist was the one thing that actually got me this episode.
– The caretaker has a real John Hammond-like vibe to him and for once the sci-fi park actually works perfectly.


“The Squire of Gothos”

Season 1
Production Order #19
Airing Order #17
Directed by Don McDougall
Written by Paul Schneider

As the Enterprise passes over a desert planet, Sulu and Kirk disappear and are nowhere to be found. They do not appear to be anywhere on the ship and there is no one alive on the planet. This would be a bigger mystery but by this point disappearing crew that can’t be communicated with is hardly original for the show. Something on the surface sends the Enterprise a strange old-timey message inviting them to join. A crew is sent down to the surface to search for their missing crewmates and find that the planet somehow has the same atmosphere as ours and despite supposedly being a barren desert there is plenty of vegetation and a castle.

Kirk and Sulu are found appearing almost as wax figures but are quickly freed as a Liberace-like piano player claims the place as his and that he went through all this just to bring them down to the surface, quite the over complicated method since all it would have taken is the invitation. Introducing himself as the titular Squire and retired General Trelane while he speaks a confusing mix of older English as if he walked out of Blackadder II but with all the successful comedy gone. His viewing screen of Earth has him believing it is like it was in the 13th century if you go by what year Star Trek is agreed to have been set in but is far more likely to be the early 19th considering the many references. It’d be a nice twist on the “make the humans feel like they are at home” (especially since he can replicate the look but not the feel of Earth not understanding such basic things as fire is hot and food has taste) trope if it wasn’t for one minor thing.

It doesn’t take long for the squire to reveal himself as completely insufferable. He wants to hear about humanity and won’t let anyone leave, showing the ability to alter reality (bringing back memories of “The Cage”) but merely uses it for stupid parlor tricks. He wants to play trickster God but his tricks aren’t impressive and he’s too annoying to be compelling. The crew is temporarily rescued when they are all beamed up to the ship (Trelane is apparently not a real life form and as a result isn’t beamed up) only for him to bring himself onto the ship and brings them back.

Kirk launches into a plan by challenging the general to a duel and shooting the apparent source of his power which lets them escape for the time being. It’s clear this doesn’t depower him as he still can disappear and keeps making the planet appear in the path of the fleeing ship. Kirk’s desire to move on the entire time neatly mirrors my own and it’s telling that a show with characters driven by curiosity (to the extent that Kirk has gotten into conflict before over it) still couldn’t raise up a bit of interest in the whole thing. Again, Kirk sets up a plan by agreeing to a hunt of himself in exchange for letting the ship go free which sets up a tepid The Most Dangerous Game type thing which the episode barely cares about actually showing.

I really am not sure what the tone of the episode is supposed to be. When Kirk shoots the mirror, all sorts of goofy sound effects go off, the kind that belong in a sitcom of the era. I’m not sure if the titular Squire is meant to be a comic and/or threatening figure but like Mudd before him just fails at both. The fact that this was meant as an anti-war episode (though who knows how much was left by the end) is just bafflingly as any attempts at a condemnation of the human race fall flat because it is coming from someone who not only doesn’t understand the human race but is judging them based off a specific centuries old period of history. Star Trek really should just stick to unintentionally proving humanity sucks.

He has his planet taken away by two parent-like energy beings who speak to him like a child (he is their child but he’s also takes the form of someone who is very much an adult) and it just makes the whole thing feel like an even more lackluster retread of “Charlie X”. It’s the second straight episode where no one dies and it is all just like a game though this time by a more petulant force as opposed to playful. I spent the whole episode just wanting this shit to end with only the distaste that everyone had for Trelane even in episode keeping it from being any lower rated.

Grade: C-

Stray Observations
– Spock doesn’t understand romanticism of the Old West. Considering the rampant sexism and desires for masculinity that the crew of the Enterprise seems to desire to display (not to mention the influence of the Western on the show) it’s not shocking that they are drawn to the stereotypical image of it.
– Trelane at one point assumes Uhura was captured on raid (it really is a shame Uhura didn’t get to smack him because she gave him quite the stare down) and forces her to play piano
– I love that Spock gets to do the log entries when Kirk is gone and they are searching for him.
– Trelane somehow knows who Alexander Hamilton is despite this being centuries after he would have had a look into the planet Earth. The episode description itself refers to him as being obsessed with Napoleon meaning it is clear the writers had no fucking clue when the show was set since this is a swing of half a millennia. Best guess is that this episode takes place sometime around 2710 in the minds of the writers.
– This week in misogyny, we have a blond yeoman (and they are all blond) whose entire job is to be ogled by the squire and Kirk and to worry over Kirk. It’s the second straight episode where they dress up a blond in fancy yet somewhat revealing old style garb and have them visibly pleased with this development.
– This time in Spock being extremely relatable, Spock’s withering contempt for the squire that he doesn’t even try to hide may not be normal Spock but it sure reflected my feelings at the time.

Next Up: It’s back to Doctor Who on Monday with “The Ice Warriors”. Considering how busy I’ve been, I can’t promise more than one episode at a time of Star Trek: TOS though I will still keep trying to do two with one of the best regarded and one of the least regarded episodes in “Arena” and “The Alternative Factor” next in line. This is not how you encourage me to watch two episodes Star Trek.