Star Trek: The Original Series
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
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47 comments on this post
Thu, May 28, 2009, 7:34pm (UTC -5)
Thu, May 28, 2009, 7:54pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Jun 28, 2010, 10:16pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Apr 14, 2011, 1:45pm (UTC -5)
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.
Thu, Sep 20, 2012, 6:19am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Mar 17, 2013, 11:23am (UTC -5)
Sun, Mar 17, 2013, 1:34pm (UTC -5)
There are FAR worse episodes of TOS. This middle-of-the=pack fair.
Sat, May 18, 2013, 1:32am (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Jun 14, 2013, 9:03pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Feb 19, 2014, 4:16am (UTC -5)
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?
Fri, May 2, 2014, 7:59am (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, May 14, 2014, 3:14pm (UTC -5)
-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.
Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 11:33am (UTC -5)
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 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.
Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 11:43am (UTC -5)
1. Amok Time
2. Mirror, Mirror
3. The Doomsday Machine
5. Journey to Babel
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.
Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 7:37pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 8:42pm (UTC -5)
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?).
Tue, Aug 26, 2014, 8:59pm (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Sep 26, 2014, 12:48am (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 18, 2014, 11:10am (UTC -5)
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.
The Trouble With Tribbles.
Journey to Babel
Honorable mention goes out to Obsession.
Tue, Sep 13, 2016, 1:19pm (UTC -5)
It's not the best episode of TOS but still fun in its way, I thought.
Wed, Jan 25, 2017, 12:53am (UTC -5)
The young Teri Garr, a delightful actress with great comic timing, adds a sassy and fresh voice to the male-dominated cast that makes the show a bit more fun to follow than usual. Her body language even in simple scenes, as when she tries to get around a pedestrian on the sidewalk, is pretty amusing. And although she's not always integral to the main plot, her charismatic screen presence allows us a sympathetic then-contemporary viewpoint on the proceedings which makes them a bit more accessible.
Robert Lansing's Gary Seven oozes 1960s cool, adding to the Cold War espionage vibe of the story, and I liked his gadgets. The cat Isis (phrasing?) is pretty cool too. Overall, lots of interesting stuff here, including the orbiting nuclear weapons plot point that still feels somewhat relevant today.
Unfortunately, once Mr. Seven starts crawling around the nuclear warhead and our heroes follow him, the pace of the episode stalls out. Considering that Gary Seven might have explained his mission to Roberta (Garr) and our heroes sooner, all the double-crosses between the lot of them in the last act felt a bit frustrating, as one had the impression it might have been avoided.
Having said that, the pro-disarmament plot of Mister Seven traveling back in time to destroy US warheads in the interest of preventing earth's self-destruction is a nice idea, fitting with Star Trek's idealism. The time paradox dialogue at the end doesn't really make sense, but I do appreciate the humanitarian optimism of this one. Not really sure why some people here dislike it so much; "Assignment: Earth" is not great or perfect by any means, but it's an entertaining hour with some nice ideas, and that's pretty much all I ask from an episode of Trek.
Fri, Jun 9, 2017, 10:33pm (UTC -5)
I was getting a bit bored with all the footage of the rocket launch/control center. Have to also say that the plot is a bit ridiculous - like the Enterprise can just go back in time to whenever no problem. And then the final resolution, Kirk/Spock just have to trust Gary Seven that he intends to detonate the nuclear warhead at the right altitude - since they cannot in time. Not much to it.
It is noteworthy for a young Teri Garr (Tootsie) - her character was sort of ok but makes sense that it's part of a pilot.
I want to know: was the black cat the same as the one in "Catspaw"?
Not a really strong episode but not awful as some other commenters have said. I'd give it 2 stars out of 4.
Fri, Jun 9, 2017, 10:36pm (UTC -5)
Wholeheartedly agree with you re. "Metamorphosis" - nobody will consider this episode one of the TOS classics or among its very best, but it is one of my favorites. It is the best sci-fi love story I've ever seen. George Duning's terrific soundtrack is perfect for making it a very moving story.
Sun, Jun 11, 2017, 1:30am (UTC -5)
Yep, it was a pilot for another show. And what you wrote got me to thinking...
I read recently that the original series never broke the top 50 in ratings, and of course we know NBC tried to cancel it after each of its first two years. Now, taking all of that into consideration, why in the world were they using it as step-stone for a new show? If they did not believe many people were watching, how was this going to help the new one get off the ground?
That just seems weird to me...
Have a Great Day Everyone... RT
Sat, Nov 4, 2017, 3:14am (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 13, 2017, 7:59pm (UTC -5)
I think we can basically pretend that this is not really a Star Trek episode.
Sat, Aug 4, 2018, 8:09pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Sep 27, 2018, 1:49am (UTC -5)
Sat, Oct 20, 2018, 3:47pm (UTC -5)
The precedent for repetition was set by TOS. Brannon Braga is a one-trick pony (I heard there is no explanation of "one-trick pony" in the dictionary, it simply says "See Braga, Brannon"). But to be honest, the more I revisit TOS, the more I realise the man revered by generations, Gene Roddenberry, was like a 60s version of Braga. It's all redshirts dying, a single female character introduced who happens to be a major babe, close-ups on Shatner's face with light across his eyes and trips to old Earth.
It's ironic that the ones which avoid these cliches happen to be the absolute shining stars of the series. For example, the mind-f*** episode with Scotty being possessed. Fair enough, this also borrowed straight from Earth's past, but it took the Ripper idea and brought it forward to other worlds and other species. TOS created a living, breathing universe that we rarely see in TNG, VOY or ENT, which all focus on one ship and one crew with no consequences for 99% of their actions.
It's easy to see why TOS was so popular/influential. But it's also easy to see why it was canned after the shortest run of any live action Trek. If it had shown more creativity in its storylines and explored that optimistic future more, it might have run for longer.
Fri, Jan 4, 2019, 10:53pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Feb 11, 2019, 4:24pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 1:07am (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 9, 2019, 10:52pm (UTC -5)
Thu, May 16, 2019, 12:36pm (UTC -5)
The story held my interest and I liked both our guest stars - their characters and performances. The cat was intriguing.
One of my favorites for the series.
Didn't really care for the fact that the Enterprise is shown as easily traveling through time, at will and for no compelling purpose, but it's won't be the first, and definitely not the last, time we'll see the franchise play fast and loose with this sort of thing.
I especially liked that our "alien of the week" was refreshingly honest and non-hostile.
Thu, Jul 25, 2019, 10:45pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jul 31, 2019, 10:50am (UTC -5)
Anyway, I'm still trying to figure out what that cat that turns into a woman was all about. It looks like a template for a Sailor Moon character. :3
Thu, Mar 12, 2020, 1:58am (UTC -5)
On another note: from what I can remember NSA's existence wasn't officially admitted until the 80s (?), thus making this episode (one of) the first soft disclosure of the organisation?
And yeah, what was that woman/cat all about? Her name being Isis certainly is interesting.
Mon, May 4, 2020, 3:02pm (UTC -5)
In my mind, this should not even be viewed as a ST episode, but rather a pilot for another show that guest-starred the crew of the Enterprise. That's exactly the vibe I get whenever I watch it, which is why I can't even bring myself to review it. (Even though I kinda just did.) Shame on Gene for unofficially concluding season 2 at episode 25.
Wed, Oct 21, 2020, 11:10pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Dec 25, 2020, 5:06am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jan 8, 2021, 9:32am (UTC -5)
Season 1 had a more personal touch because the theme of the season was Man. Or rather man with increasing powers, up to and including the power of the gods. Whether we had gods as teenagers (Charlie X) or men and women as gods (Where no Man has Gone Before) or man & paradise (This Side of Paradise) or enhanced man (Space Seed), the point of Season 1 was to explore man, especially how man would react to being placed at all levels of power and pleasure up to and including ultimate power and total bliss.
Season 2 was more impersonal by design. So many episodes were thought-experiments that put a slight spin on society - an alternate Earth almost like our own planet, but just different enough to accentuate a particular aspect of society - some aspect the show wanted to explore or highlight for the audience (like public manipulation through television in Bread and Circuses, or the cruelty of a purely intellectual elite in Triskelion).
Assignment: Earth also gives us vivid insight into the mindframe of the 1960’s audience. In that way, it is a model for Star Trek: Voyager episodes like "11:59" and "Future’s End," both of which did a good job exploring the mindset of the 1990’s.
Assignment: Earth's 1960’s audience was obviously a nervous lot - neurotic about all sorts of events transpiring around them. If we have Climate Change today, they had nuclear holocaust to worry about back then. And in all that upheaval, who was there to protect them? Not God. Maybe it gave the audience comfort to think that Kirk and Spock - or Gary Seven - was up there looking down at us - looking out for them, like an Angel.
ROBERTA: Mister Seven, I want to believe you. I do. I know this world needs help. That's why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know. We wonder if we're going to be alive when we're thirty.
What were they so worried about?
SPOCK: Current Earth crises would fill a tape bank, Captain. There will be an important assassination today…
5 days after this episode aired, Martin Luther King was killed. He was 39. I wonder what the theme of Season 3 will be?
Tue, Apr 27, 2021, 2:19am (UTC -5)
There were many good moments, most of them supplied by Miss Garr’s ability to convey naivety, kooky disbelief, and resourceful intelligence, all at the same time. The cat was also an interesting addition, especially when briefly adopting human form at the end.
But the geopolitical angle of the 60s was heavy handed and obvious, and not something that escapist sci-fi should have been involved with except in a ‘parallel’ type of story, e.g. a similar scenario set on a different world, as a metaphorical parable. But I recognise that setting it on Earth was a budget-saving exercise.
Not a bad way to end Series 2, entertaining to watch. But “could have done better “. I’d give it 3 stars... just about. I just wish they’d found a role for Roberta Lincoln on the Enterprise.
Wed, Dec 1, 2021, 3:41pm (UTC -5)
The regular cast are reduced to guests in their own show! I suppose the story involving Gary 7 could be interesting except for the crucial fact that I DON'T CARE.
Sun, Apr 3, 2022, 9:08am (UTC -5)
The slightly outdated potrait of a secretary was amusing and entertaining.
Thu, Nov 10, 2022, 7:54pm (UTC -5)
To answer the point about why didn't the secretary know Seven, her employers were the couple who died. She'd never met him before.
This is one of my least favourite episodes. The ditsy secretary is just irritating to me. The normal cast are reduced to hanging around, at a loss what to do or prisoners in the case of Kirk and Spock. It is fairly boring. I did wonder when I rewatched it recently if the same cat was used for Catspaw. I imagine the cat/woman mystery would have continued in the projected series and that Isis was one of the aliens despite having the name of an Ancient Egyptian goddess. Anyway for me, this really is a pilot for a show that wasn't picked up that the ST crew were unfortunate enough to be forced to appear in.
Fri, Nov 11, 2022, 3:56pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Dec 11, 2022, 10:16pm (UTC -5)
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