Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Assignment: Earth"

**1/2

Air date: 3/29/1968
Teleplay by Art Wallace
Story by Gene Roddenberry and Art Wallace
Directed by Marc Daniels

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise travels back in time to Earth, 1968, to witness a historic nuclear crisis unfold. But once there, they encounter the mysterious Gary Seven (Robert Lansing) beaming in from another planet, and Kirk must decide whether his presence is a proper aspect of history or an alien threat. Meanwhile, Mr. Seven escapes his holding cell and begins conducting his undercover operation on Earth, centering on the scheduled launch of a nuclear device into orbit.

The time-travel motivation is dubious (why in the world would Starfleet risk timeline contamination to research history?), but the story has some good ideas. Unfortunately, the execution is off-kilter, with so much cross-cutting and off-pacing that the show turns choppy. Also, the episode comes across like the spin-off pilot show that it was intended as; at times it's more interested in providing a backdrop to a series that would never come to be than it is in making its story the priority.

Robert Lansing is on target as Mr. Seven, but Teri Garr is too annoying and unfunny as his secretary. The plot is reasonably good, but the bottom line is that I felt more like I was watching a good marketing ploy than I was watching good science fiction.

Previous episode: Bread and Circuses
Next episode: Spock's Brain

Season Index

19 comments on this review

Dave - Thu, May 28, 2009 - 7:34pm (USA Central)
Yours is the first source that I have ever read (seen) that speaks of Assignment: Earth as being a Pilot for a spin-off. Where in Trekdom is this substantiated? I actually liked the episode - and Ms. Garr's quirky playing of her out-of-sorts character I thought proved effective in showing her total confusion with all the high-tech stuff that was flashing in front of her. PLUS - shes was supposedly just filling in for a friend at that job - wasn't she?
Jammer - Thu, May 28, 2009 - 7:54pm (USA Central)
^ Re: "Assignment: Earth" as a pilot:

http://en.wikipedia.or g/wiki/Assignment_Earth
dlabtot - Mon, Jun 28, 2010 - 10:16pm (USA Central)
I remember watching Assignment:Earth when it first aired; I was 7 years old. It was all anyone could talk about in school the next day. Gary Seven seemed like the coolest guy ever. So maybe my love of the episode is tinted by some boyish nostalgia.
Stubb - Thu, Apr 14, 2011 - 1:45pm (USA Central)
1. Assignment: Earth is listed as a potential pilot in David Gerrold's "The World Of Star Trek", from 1973. I'm pretty sure it's received wisdom.
2. Since we're listing 'favorite middle-tier episodes', I want to put my two cents in for "Metamorphosis". While justly not considered among the series' very best, I have always been deeply moved by 1) the Companion's indelible passion for Cochrane, 2) the analysis of love provided by Kirk/Spock/McCoy, and 3) Cochrane's surprisingly parochial response to the Companion's affection for him. Is it because he's centuries old? Regardless of the reason, it adds the perfect left-field touch to what I consider the most achingly romantic episode TOS ever did.
Jhoh - Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - 6:19am (USA Central)
Personally, I thought this episode was godawful.

The Enterprise just intentionally flies back in time to 1968 just to observe stuff? Seriously? They're serious with that? And best of all, it all happens off camera, before the episode even starts. Not even Voyager at its worst would do this. Stargate might.

But the worst is that Kirk and Spock stand around a room waiting for permission to grab a communicator to beam over to Seven's secret base, so they can stop him, but in the end just let him do what he wants, because "it's for a good reason." Yeah I'm sure detonating a nuclear weapon over another country can only have POSITIVE consequences for history, and sure enough the episode insults the viewer enough to pretend that's indeed what happens as a result, and they all smile and wink at the camera as they drop this incredibly morally questionable act and end the second season (and almost the entire show) with it.
Simon Hawkin - Sun, Mar 17, 2013 - 11:23am (USA Central)
I have just watched the episode for the first time. And the last time. What utter BS on all levels, from the awful acting to the pompous idiotism of the script. If the second season ended with this I am not surprised the original series was cancelled prematurely -- I am just glad it did not do the whole Star Trek in.
Paul - Sun, Mar 17, 2013 - 1:34pm (USA Central)
Oh, this episode isn't that bad. Clearly, the creators were trying to set up "Assignment: Earth" as its own show, but if you get past that conceit, this episode works OK, not great.

There are FAR worse episodes of TOS. This middle-of-the=pack fair.
Brundledan - Sat, May 18, 2013 - 1:32am (USA Central)
Absolute bottom-of-the-barrel, the nadir of TOS. It's the worst episode of the original Star Trek because it ISN'T an episode of Star Trek at all; Gary Seven is the prime mover of events from beginning to end, while Kirk and Spock are reduced to standing around like idiots who can do little more than hope everything works out. As for the real stars of this ep, Seven's a smug prick and Roberta's an insufferable airhead.

And all of this happens under the "Star Trek" title because "oh hey, by the way, we time-traveled back to 1968." From this, through the idea that there were orbital nuke platforms in '68 (which would have been a surprise to everyone in the viewing audience) and that Seven's purposefully detonating one in the lower atmosphere would save the Earth rather than trigger World War III, right up to the Enterprise's history tapes spoiling the entire spin-off series before it can even get started with the revelation that everything that just happened was supposed to happen all along and Seven and Roberta are destined to succeed in all of their missions, the episode treats its audience like complete morons.

The worst the third season had to offer still beats "Assignment: Earth", and the third season featured a whinny-ing Kirk being ridden around the room by a midget.
Tom E. - Fri, Jun 14, 2013 - 9:03pm (USA Central)
Actually, orbiting nuclear platforms were indeed a concern of the mid-1960s. Check out the beginning of the space sequence of "2001: A Space Odyssey" (released Summer 1968) - it looks like everyone has militarized space!
Adam - Wed, Feb 19, 2014 - 4:16am (USA Central)
The episode was intended as a pilot for a spin off series (Assignment:Earth).

The most interesting thing for me is that Gary Seven is like an American Doctor Who! He travels in time, has a companion, and even a sonic screwdriver! Maybe Gene Roddenberry was inspired by the famous British sci fi series. Who knows?
DutchStudent82 - Fri, May 2, 2014 - 7:59am (USA Central)
While in general an enjoyable episode,

I HAVE to point out :
-There WAS no time travel possible in kirk's era.. time travel was only possible in the 27th century, and only became mainstream in the 29th.

-the technolony kirk supposingly uses to time travel, is not even remotely fitting technobabble, even in 1970's fysics had improved way beyong this kind of unfitting crap.

So I may be a critic looking back on a show that was aired over a decade before I was born.. but still I am glad they became more professional (though not enough) in later star trek series.
dgalvan - Wed, May 14, 2014 - 3:14pm (USA Central)
-I THOUGHT this episode seemed like an attempt at a spinoff. Jammer mentioning it in his review made it all makes sense. Would have been a silly but probably entertaining show if it had actually gotten picked up by the network.

-Roberta came to work like she'd done it many times. . . so why is she surprised to meet her boss? They didn't explain that at all. . . was she just . . . like. . .a temp showing up to work somewhere she'd never been before? Weird.

-The cat clearly had a human making the "meow" sounds for it the entire episode. This made me laugh more times than it probably was meant to. When the cat attacked a red shirt in the transporter room I started cracking up. "RREEEEEEOOOOWWWWW!" Those poor redshirts always get the short end of the stick.

-The time travel: It was indeed silly to have the enterprise travel back in time for historical research.
That said, I must disagree with DutchStudent here: Time travel in the 23rd century was "nearly routine.The Enterprise had traveled in time before using a "slingshot around the sun" technique, back in "Tomorrow is Yesterday" (season 1). And they did the same thing again in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I'd say two TOS episodes and a movie make it canon: Starfleet personnel could travel in time if they wanted to. There was some "temporal prime directive" background on this in later episodes of Deep Space 9 and Voyager.
William B - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 11:33am (USA Central)
It's that time again. Ratings for the season, where my ratings are distinct from Jammer's (with the difference in parentheses).

Amok Time: 4 (+1)
The Apple: 1 (-1)
Catspaw: 1.5 (-1)
I, Mudd: 2.5 (-.5) (a little distance made this drop a little)
Journey to Babel: 3.5 (+.5)
Friday's Child: 1.5 (-.5)
Wolf in the Fold: 2.5 (-.5)
The Gamesters of Triskelion: 1.5 (+.5)
Return to Tomorrow: 3 (+.5)
Patterns of Force: 2 (-.5)
The Omega Glory: 0.5 (-.5)
Bread and Circuses: 2 (-.5)
Assignment: Earth: 2 (-.5)

Season overall:

Season two is definitely a step down from season one; the first season was bursting with invention, running in many directions at once, occasionally stumbling but almost always in an interesting way. There is a shagginess to this season, especially as it gets closer to the end. It's nothing compared to what season three will bring, and season two, unlike season three, has a number of remarkable highlights, breaking new ground: Amok Time, Mirror Mirror, The Doomsday Machine, Journey to Babel, and The Trouble with Tribbles are very obviously *essential* TOS, in terms of both quality and in terms of what people think of when they think of the show and in terms of laying the groundwork for these characters' histories (and the movies and spinoffs), with Obsession, A Piece of the Action, and The Ultimate Computer not far behind. There are other fine episodes, as well as some episodes with some successful elements in an overall story that doesn't gel.

There is also a real sense of repetition. I actually liked both Return to Tomorrow and By Any Other Name -- but they are very similar to each other, and I feel as if combining the best episodes of each into one could have led to one classic rather than two good episodes with a lot of Venn overlaps. There was no reason to have A Piece of the Action, Patterns of Force, The Omega Glory, and Bread and Circuses so close to each other -- especially when only one of them (A Piece of the Action) was actually successful, and there successful as a lighthearted romp with serious subtext. The Deadly Years' moving moments about the nature of aging and obsolescence ultimately fail to buoy the episode from its various significant problems -- so I feel as if a little more time spent on that fear of obsolescence in The Ultimate Computer could have "covered" those themes admirably. Obsession and The Immunity Syndrome are both very good episodes, but they suffer a bit from being so close to The Doomsday Machine (for different reasons). The Ultimate Computer is a somewhat new take on the evil computer regular theme of TOS, but it's still a little familiar, and The Changeling and I, Mudd feel redundant in the wake of season one's various man vs. machine plots.

There are only so many stories to tell, and I don't begrudge a certain amount of repetition of themes -- that is to be expected, and even encouraged to a degree, if the series is going to establish and reestablish a firm POV. In the case of something like Obsession, I think it's worth being glad the series returned to familiar themes and plot elements from The Doomsday Machine, since the result was so successful. But the problem comes when so many of the episodes feel halfhearted and lazily or incompetently put together, and I get the impression that the reason for this is a lack of anything new to say in these episodes.

And this is to say nothing of the cynicism of "Assignment: Earth" as the season finale. I don't think it's a bad episode exactly, and as just a random episode of TOS it's...well, below average, I think, but okay. As a season finale and possible *series* finale, it's really disappointing. Roddenberry didn't particularly think that Trek would be renewed, so he used the last chance to spend with these characters to do a backdoor pilot? Classy! I wouldn't really have minded this earlier in the season, or even as second-last episode, but really. It adds to the feeling that even in season two, the creative forces were losing things to say.

Which, again, makes it weird that there are so many absolute gems this season! This season seems to me like a good argument for the cable channel model of shorter seasons. It's possible that if they were given 13 eps instead of 26, they would have just produced a season of The Apple, Catspaw, Friday's Child, The Gamesters of Triskelion, The Omega Glory etc. But I prefer to think that they would have given a season of Amok Time, Mirror Mirror, The Doomsday Machine, Journey to Babel, The Trouble with Tribbles, etc. Combining the ideas from Return to Tomorrow and By Any Other Name into one mega-classic instead of two decent episodes. That type of thing.

All that said, I'm very glad to have season two of TOS. It's rough and rocky, and especially toward the end there is a pervasive sameness, but its highs are very high and essential, and its middling episodes still have a lot to offer.
William B - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 11:43am (USA Central)
Along those lines, my ideal lineup for a shorter, tighter season two:

1. Amok Time
2. Mirror, Mirror
3. The Doomsday Machine
4. Metamorphosis
5. Journey to Babel
6. Obsession
7. The Trouble with Tribbles
8. A Piece of the Action
9. The Immunity Syndrome
10. A Private Little War - with heavy rewrites
11. Return to Tomorrow with some ideas from By Any Other Name
12. one other "parallel Earth society" episode -- maybe mostly based on Patterns of Force but with some heavy rewrites. The Spock/McCoy material from Bread and Circuses can go here.
13. The Ultimate Computer

Obviously any season of standalone episodes can be improved by just chucking out the worst episodes, but I think the big gap between the best and the worst of season two makes it an ideal candidate for some rejiggering.
Grumpy - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 7:37pm (USA Central)
As it happens, William B, I've been pondering a similar experiment for all of ST:Voyager. Throwing out all the episodes that don't advance the overall plot, theme, or characters, the entire series can be boiled down to approx. 26 episodes of essential material (though some are two-parters), plus an equal number of runners-up. The "essential episodes" experiment could also be done for DS9, though it had a lot more ongoing threads. However, I never contemplated the "cable channel model" for TOS because of its minimal continuity. It was always an anthology, not a novel.
William B - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 8:42pm (USA Central)
@Grumpy, agreed on the anthology format of TOS. With an anthology, then, the big qualities you're looking for are consistency of quality and novelty over the course of the different episodes, making sure the "important themes" the series returns to (which form the bedrock of the...I'm going to say "thematic continuity" between episodes) as well as the character development that does occur, to the extent that TOS does explore characters, particularly with the Big Three. A cable channel model for an anthology brings the advantage that the anthology can just be less meandering and more forceful in the episodes that remain. I think a similar case can be made for trimming down, say, The Twilight Zone, which I watched all the way through a few years ago whose hit to miss ratio is probably around that of TOS -- it's a true anthology series.

All that said, it's hard for writers, producers, actors etc. to know which episodes are going to be hits and which misses while making them. So, it's not as if reducing the number of episodes will mean that the episodes that get tossed are going to be the bad ones.

With DS9 and Voyager (and TNG), there's actually a similar problem, if you want to emphasize continuity and character/plot development: it is not obvious, on a first pass, which elements of a story are going to be important and which are going to be dropped. To take TNG as an example, if you want to be a strict adherent to continuity as the guideline, then "Lonely Among Us" can't be discarded because it's the start of Data's Sherlock Holmes fascination; this could easily have been a recurring subplot that was binned, but instead it became a pretty essential facet of Data's character.

I'm not sure what point I'm making, except that it's much easier to do this type of thing with the benefit of hindsight and the whole series before us than it would have been for the writers at the time.

To elaborate on my choices, I do enjoy "The Changeling," "I, Mudd," and "Wolf in the Fold" enough that I probably would keep them on if I were really limiting myself just to "episodes I think are worth rewatching," rather than picking a (somewhat arbitrary) 13, which is chosen as half of 26 (and is a standard, though by no means the only, choice for cable shows, i.e. Mad Men mostly did 13-episode seasons before the split final season).

I'd be curious which episodes you peg as essential and runner-up for Voyager. Maybe on one of the Voyager pages (Endgame?).
Grumpy - Tue, Aug 26, 2014 - 8:59pm (USA Central)
Whatever point you're making, William B, I get it. Even anthologies can center on a theme, though obviously in the case of TOS (and Twilight Zone, which I've recently watched, as well) the theme emerged without conscious design. Roddenberry didn't set out, as far as I know, to make a show that consistently illustrated how, for instance, humans are not ready for paradise (or, in Rod Serling's case, how you can't go home again). But toss out stories that don't service that through-line, you've got a coherent package of episodes.

With Voyager, though, the premise was clear from the get-go (though Elliott might still disagree about what constitutes a "premise"). Therefore, it's immediately obvious which episodes are germane and which are time-fillers, put into production because there were no other ideas for scripts that week. It's not a matter of retroactively recognizing quality or serendipity of execution, or capitalizing on unforeseen potential. Voyager (more so than DS9) had a story from the beginning, which becomes more evident when 5/7 of its episodes are stripped away.

I'm tempted to post my list, but I don't know where. It would be lengthy and deserves much debate (as I am not uniquely qualified as curator). I considered "Eye of the Needle," since that's what inspired the list, but I dunno.
W Smith - Fri, Sep 26, 2014 - 12:48am (USA Central)
This episode was just awful, a preposterous and silly plot from beginning to end. The cavalier attitude towards time travel to do historical research was beyond ridiculous.
Stallion - Tue, Nov 18, 2014 - 11:10am (USA Central)
I enjoyed season two, but one thing that hurt it was that they had to many parallel earth. Not only that, but these parallel earth episodes were aired to close together. Ironically this is what Gene Roddenberry wanted to do with Trek is time parallel earth stories that mirrored problem of the present or past.

I love that fact that Scotty and Uhura got a lot more to do this season. Chekov was a great addition to the cast and I'm glad he didn't turn into boy wonder the wiz kid. I feel bad for George Takei who lost out on a lot of great moment for his Sulu character due to filming the Green Beret. It's pretty obvious a lot of great moments that he could have had went to Scotty and Chekov. Takei likes to blame Shatner for his shortcoming on Trek, but he obviously lost out on a chunk of good material because of Green Beret.

Top 5 episodes.

Amok Time
Doomsday Machine
Mirror, Mirror,
The Trouble With Tribbles.
Journey to Babel
Honorable mention goes out to Obsession.

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