Recurring Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Forest DeKelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig
As we lumber into the third season of the original Star Trek series, monotony has well and truly sunk in. In being reliable television, Star Trek has robbed itself of a cadence, so as we tune in each week, every experience is pleasantly expected but frustratingly predictable. The Enterprise rocks up to a weekly planet/solar system/abandoned vessel and find themselves at the mercy for an unexpected foe. The setting and enemy are interchangeable (ranging from airborne disease, almighty alien race or sometimes just a good old-fashioned Romulan invasion), but the feel of each story feels familiar. It doesn’t help that the series has its favourite plot points to fall back on each week. Half of the crew will be trapped on a planet with no communication or transport back to the ship. An alien race will be predominantly superior but be defeated by its lack of human characteristics. Kirk will usually save the day by seducing the inexplicably attractive woman who happens to be involved in the disaster somehow. Yes, these are all familiar occurrences, because they were also present in the first two seasons. Season One had a bit more variety, whereas Season Two did become more attached to a safe trend, but it isn’t until this season that the lack of invention became painfully apparent. Not all the episodes are bad, in fact, they deliver that usual Star Trek sense of bravado and fun. Kirk is sucked into an alternate dimension, putting a mourning Spock and Bones into a reluctant leadership position. The Lights of Zetar has a few surprisingly creepy moments, including the dying rasps of the victims of the lights. And the finale, while still caught in the writer’s lack of will to push the boundaries, is good fun, with Kirk’s scorned ex-girlfriend taking over his body, giving William Shatner endless fun, playing a merciless female villain undercover as the captain. They are enjoyable episodes, but as soon as the usual cliches begin to kick in, namely Kirk almost starting an intergalactic war by not being able to keep his hands off of the weekly beautiful woman, there is a sense of the series being held back. Rather than saying farewell to the final season of Star Trek, we are left in agreement that it is definitely time for a change.
But what the writers fail to get across, the actors fill in the gaps. There are several moments in this season, where you are surprised at some of the depths the characters get to. Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley and occasionally the others, all get a chance to really explore the boundaries of their characters. Mainly this is the season where Spock really comes into his own. We get a better understanding of what makes the Vulcan tick. Sometimes it is the simple things that the show falls back on, like softly reaffirming the friendship between Kirk and Spock. In Season One, they were often at each other’s throats, but in this season, there are moments where Spock genuinely opens up. Nimoy is an incredible actor for mining these more emotional moments, but without betraying the essence of the cold, logical character. Other moments see the Vulcan being twisted by the alien threat of the week. When the crew succumb to a disease, it is always interesting to see the effects that the virus has on the Vulcan mind. We see Spock fall back on the barbaric origins of his species in one episode, reminding us just how dangerous and precise a Vulcan can be. Perhaps the highlight of Spock’s arc in this season however is one episode where the crew finds themselves the playthings of Greek aristocrats, with the power of Gods. The episode does perhaps drag on due to its excessive sequence where Kirk, Spock, Uhura and Nurse Chapel are forced to act out the aliens’ wishes, but its pay-off is seeing Spock come closer to giving into anger than we have seen him before. As he struggles through his rage, only to swallow it and show mercy by the end of the episode, you will have a greater respect for the character. The world would be a much better place if we were all a bit more like Spock.
Final Verdict: Star Trek Season Three isn’t necessarily any worse than the seasons that came before, but the formula is looking very tired.