Sunday, November 15, 2009

1967 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation – STAR TREK, “The Menagerie”

Star Trek is certainly a watershed in science fiction. It draws heavily from published science fiction works, and especially works like Asimov's Foundation with its interstellar politics, and faster-than-light starships. There's also plenty of odd (but usually humanoid) aliens, telepathy, and time travel thrown in - the show hits pretty much all of the sci-fi tropes. In the context of all of the Hugo reading I've done, it's easy to see this show as derivative - merely a translation of ideas and themes that are old hat in the written medium to the newer medium of television. I don't think there is any question though, that science fiction from here on bears the stamp of Gene Roddenberry's creation. I think Trek re-canonized these ideas at a time when sf was drifting away from them.

I'm not the hugest fan of the Original Series - despite the fact that the show is blazing lots of new ground with material we've never seen on television before, it quickly falls into a few stock stories. 1). Godlike aliens test the Enterprise, and the crew must make a case for the innate goodness of humanity or the importance of freedom. Or, 2). the Enterprise discovers a planet that exactly resembles some period of Earth history. Those two plotlines cover about 80% of Star Trek episodes. These limitations were probably in part the results of budget constraints (plot #2, especially, saves money on sets by utilizing locations already on the studio lot), but it can still be frustrating.

Nonetheless, the 8 episodes that received Hugo nominations during the series' three year run (all five Hugo nominations for best dramatic presentation in 1968 went to Star Trek) are all very good examples that do break the mold. The losing nominees are an intriguing lot: "The Corbomite Maneuver" is an early episode in which Captain Kirk must match wits with a powerful alien presence. It's worth it for the odd, offbeat ending. "The Naked Time" sees the crew descend into madness following an alien infection and is most famous for allowing George Takei's Mr. Sulu to run around with a fencing sword rather than playing to racial stereotypes with a samurai sword. "Amok Time" delves into Vulcan mating rituals, which tend to involve arena combat. In "Mirror, Mirror," the crew must combat evil (and sometimes goatee'd) versions of themselves from a parallel dimension. "The Doomsday Machine" pits the Enterprise against a giant, planet-gobbling weapon from another galaxy, while "The Trouble with Tribbles" pits them agains cute little fuzzballs that quickly multiply and create a Malthusian crisis (an early example of the perils of biological invasion).

In 1967, "The Menagerie" won the big prize (I'll talk more about 1968's winner soon). It's actually the series' original, Shatnerless pilot, repackaged as a flashback set in a two-part framing story. Captain Christopher Pike is kidnapped by godlike aliens (see???) who want to use him in a breeding program. They offer him lots of sex with what appears to be a beautiful woman who will cater to any number of fetishes, but Pike would rather live free in reality than trapped in the aliens' sexy zoo. Ironically, in the framing story, Pike has been horribly burned in a starship accident, and his old second mate Spock has decided to return him to the sexy zoo where he can live free in the aliens' illusion rather than trapped in his wheelchair. It is an intriguing storyline that highlights much of what Trek is about (strong characters, godlike aliens, sexy women in short skirts), though it's probably not Trek at its best.

Grade: B

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