Lion of the Blogosphere

Star Trek TOS: Where No Man Has Gone Before, part 1

I was thinking that I should watch more original-series Star Trek, and instead of randomly jumping around as I’ve done in the past, I figured I should just start from the beginning, although even the “beginning” isn’t so clear cut. I decided that the beginning is this episode, which was the third episode aired but is actually the pilot episode: the second pilot episode. The first pilot, lost for a long time but now available on Netflix, didn’t have William Shatner in it, and most of the footage was recycled into a two-part flashback episode that aired later in the first season.

I know that some readers are thinking “Star Trek isn’t important, why aren’t you writing about Trump?” There has been too much writing about Trump, and Star Trek is damn important because of the very strong impression it made on nerds of my generation (late Baby Boomer and early Generation X) because every day when I came home from school, what was on TV (on Chanel 11) was reruns Star Trek. (I’m not old enough to have watched this when it originally aired.)

It’s strange re-watching the Original Series. In my memory it is so awesome, but then I watch it and it’s so dated, the special effects are so bad, the acting is so bad, and it’s so full of plot holes. Even Kirk seems less awesome than I remember. At the same time, I also see a lot of philosophical details that I missed entirely when I was younger.

Even though this pilot got some stuff wrong (such as Spock being a cowboy-like gunslinger toting around a huge phaser rifle), it sets up a lot of the recurring themes for the rest of the series, such as:

  • Kirk beats Spock at “chess” because Spock is put off by his “illogical” moves (more on this later).
  • Logical Spock argues with an emotional doctor (in this episode the female psychiatrist Doctor Dehner because McCoy isn’t around yet), with Kirk being the referee who understands both the logical and emotional points of view.
  • Kirk is concerned about the safety of his ship.
  • But then Kirk’s actions seem more like he has a personal grudge against Gary Mitchell. Alpha males don’t like to be crossed, and overreaction to being crossed is what makes people afraid to cross them in the first place.
  • Kirk gives an overacted speech that saves the day. (Speeches never save the day in real life, but it happens all the time in Star Trek.)
  • Kirk gets into a fistfight, and during the fight his shirt gets mysteriously ripped. You would think that they’d have more advanced fabrics in the future that don’t get ripped so easily.

Let’s talk some more about this “tridimensional chess” that we see Spock and Kirk playing. For starters, it’s not a real game, it’s just a prop that was designed to look cooler, more futuristic, more advanced and harder to play, than regular chess. The chess theme is pretty dated. Chess was more popular in the 1960s than it is today, partially thanks to Bobby Fischer the American chess champion of the 1960s.

Today we know that computers can outplay even the best humans at chess. Even a chess program running on your iPhone can beat the best human grandmasters. And computers operate on pure logic, so it’s totally illogical that Kirk could beat the more computer-like brain of Spock through illogical moves. I suppose the intent was to show that pure logic isn’t enough to be a Starship Captain. But for playing chess, yes, pure logic is what you need. That computers can beat any human at chess has ruined the mysteries of the game and is partly responsible for its decline in popularity.

Gene Roddenberry liked to believe that people in the future would be “better” than they are today, so they are seen entertaining themselves by playing a game of chess (perceived as a game for smart people) that was even more advanced and difficult than regular chess. The reality, at least in the short term, is that people in the future would entertain themselves by watching reality TV shows and playing mindless videogames. Gene Roddenberry total got that wrong.

In Star Trek the Next Generation, the crew is often seen playing poker, and that’s a more likely game that will be played in the future than some funky version of chess.

This post is taking me longer to write than I thought it would, so I will continue tomorrow with a review of the actual plot of the episode.

* * *

Read part 2 of the review.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

July 30, 2018 at 9:59 AM

Posted in Nerdy stuff, Television

30 Responses

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  1. My recollection of the time was that nerds were more influenced by SF novels. 2001; A Canticle for Leibowitz; Childhood’s End, stuff like that.


    July 30, 2018 at 10:05 AM

  2. I never liked Star Trek and almost never watched it in reruns in the late 70s as an early gen-xer. But there was one early episode, perhaps one of the pilots you speak of, that was very creepy and fascinating, featuring the “older” Enterprise captain (?), who was barely alive and existed only as a head hooked up to a computer. This seemed to prefigure the classic unforgettable scene in Alien where they find that one of the crew is a company-owned droid, and then they interrogate him and destroy him with a flamethrower. For that one episode alone, Star Trek deserves some praise.


    July 30, 2018 at 10:11 AM

    • Spock’s solution to Captain Pike’s infirmity was to bring back to a planet where the aliens would, using more modern lingo, hook him up to a Matrix where he’d be able to live the life of a vigorous young man once again.

  3. I think poker is unlikely in the Star Trek version of the future because people no longer use money, so not much incentive to win.


    July 30, 2018 at 10:13 AM

    • The show was always very inconsistent about that. When they wanted to make a point about about utopian futures, Picard would condescendingly put down the old ways in which people used money. But then in the next episode, they are playing poker for money, or buying stuff.

    • But then in the next episode, they are playing poker for money, or buying stuff.

      They played poker with chips just so they could keep score of the game. There’s no indication they traded it in for money unless it was with a species like the Ferengi that still used money.

      The Undiscovered Jew

      July 30, 2018 at 8:33 PM

  4. In the first season episode “Court Martial,” Captain Kirk is framed for the negligent homicide of his former friend Commander Ben Finney. Finney alters the ship’s computerized logs to make it look like Kirk panicked and prematurely launched Finney to his death in an ion storm monitoring pod. Spock discovers the log tampering by playing the computer at 3D chess and beating the machine, something he normally should not be able to do…under normal circumstances, the best Spock should have been able to expect was a draw.

    Oswald Spengler

    July 30, 2018 at 10:19 AM

  5. Never been a huge Trekkie, but I’ve been watching it more now since you’ve started reviewing it, and with all the different series on Netflix. It’s funny and interesting at times, but I’m not addicted to it.

    I’ve been finishing up Dexter. Great show.


    July 30, 2018 at 10:31 AM

  6. Is it prole to watch Star Trek? I’ve known some very prolish proles who’ve watched Star Trek.


    July 30, 2018 at 10:40 AM

  7. I also see a lot of philosophical details

    That’s what TOS is about, man. None of that other stuff you mentioned matters. I’m looking forward to this series, even though I’m almost certain that you will have different opinions than me.

    SJ, Esquire

    July 30, 2018 at 10:49 AM

  8. Speaking of coming home from school and watching tv in the late 70s in the nyc metro area, who doesn’t remember the 4:30 Movie? That thunderous dramatic theme with the logo of a cinematographer operating a camera as large as he was… If you look at any Web site devoted to it you will see the offerings were sparse, compared to the giant cable tv explosion of just one or two years later, but I will say that Von Ryan’s Express, which I must have seen at least 3 times on the 4:30 Movie, made me a lifetime fan of Sinatra, the actor. The final scene of that prison escape film, at the tunnel (sob)! Who cares if it was fake and Frank was a wannabe gangster? Then again I probably should have been outside playing baseball or motocross instead of staring at that stupid glass screen. Life is too complicated, too many choices.


    July 30, 2018 at 12:18 PM

  9. I compare Star Trek to what came just before, Lost in Space and just see the gulf. Blew everyone’s minds.


    July 30, 2018 at 1:34 PM

    • The first few episodes of the old b&w Lost in Space are actually pretty good, with cool aliens and gadgets and that doctor is actually sinister instead of being comic relief.


      July 30, 2018 at 9:14 PM

  10. I don’t see how anyone can fault the acting in TOS. The range shown by Kirk in various situations, from rage to calm to bemusement, is as good as anything in any other series, even if the value of speechifying is overrated – that’s a different issue. If you want to see Shatner at his funny best, check out the video for Brad Paisley’s “Celebrity.”


    July 30, 2018 at 2:05 PM

    • If you want to see Jason Alexander at his unfunny worst, watch the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Think Tank”:

      Shatner is a comedic genius:

      Later Trek series suffered from being so damned stuffy and self-important. It’s hard to take them seriously after watching online parodies such as these:

      Stan Adams

      July 30, 2018 at 5:22 PM

  11. Sorry to change the topic, but people on Star Trek TNG manage to do a lot of things by `being more enlightened`. This especially applies to making even the slow kid in the class a math prodigy by todays standards. Genetic engineering is explicitly outlawed, so presumably everyone has the same genes for intelligence that they do.

    Also, being enlightened seems to make 30 year old single men on a ship with an 80/20 male to female ratio want to use the holodeck to put on the equivalent of high school plays, clarinet recitals, and murder mystery weekends. Seriously, no one’s running the Caligula program. Not even Wesley Crusher who must have been at least a little curious about girls. Simply being enlightened stops him from using it for what he would have used the Internet for in our reality.

    By going through the long march of Star Treks that existed during Roddenberry’s lifetime, we can see some evolution of left oriented thinking in American culture.

    Of course it’s logical to expect that people in the future will be essentially superior to people who are alive now; so long as one of your premises is that people who are alive now are essentially superior to those who lived long ago. The idea that people in the past were bad is an integral part of left-oriented politically correct thinking. We see it manifested now in the tearing down of statues and monuments.


    July 30, 2018 at 5:36 PM

    • Even in squeaky-clean TNG, there are a few episodes that hint at the sexual aspects of the holodeck.

      Riker meets the holographic Minuet, his dream woman, in an early TNG episode. Picard interrupts their romantic interlude:

      Lt. Barclay, an engineer with severe social-anxiety disorder, creates holographic equivalents of the senior officers, including a sexpot version of Troi:

      Geordi falls in love with a holographic representation of the female engineer who designed the Enterprise warp core. He later learns that the real thing is a cold-hearted bitch who (surprise, surprise) already has a husband. At one point, she stumbles upon the holographic version of herself and assumes the worst:

      A scene cut from Season 3’s “Evolution” shows Wesley turning down an invitation to hang out in the holodeck with his best friend and two attractive teenage girls. The only version of the clip available on YouTube is part of one of the parodies I mentioned earlier:

      Stan Adams

      July 31, 2018 at 3:44 AM

    • To be fair, Barclay was caught using the holodeck programmed with look a like female crew members as slave girls. For the 80’s, it would be creepy to suggest he would have taken it further, but the hint was obvious.

      Mike Street Station

      July 31, 2018 at 6:17 AM

    • Yes, I remember that, and probably should have mentioned it all. In reality, if people -could- do that in the holodeck, then it wouldn’t be a rare exception (which happens less frequently than alien possession). It would be what everyone was waiting to do as soon as their shift ended (with the possible exception of female crew members because holograms have extremely low social status).


      July 31, 2018 at 10:00 AM

      • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Quark could apparently program his holosuites to function as basically holographic brothels. I remember there were a couple of episodes in which Dr. Bashir used the holodeck to play at being a James Bond like secret agent, and Bashir and his pal Chief O’Brien were always reenacting famous battles from Earth history like The Alamo and The Battle of Britain.

        Oswald Spengler

        July 31, 2018 at 5:50 PM


    If you want some insight into Roddenberry’s utopian philosophy regarding humanity’s future and the creative struggles to bring Star Trek:The Next Generation to television, watch the documentary Chaos on the Bridge. Many writers during the series’ first two seasons (including ST:TNG showrunner Maurice Hurley) believed that Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of an enlightened humanity and an idealized Federation society stifled creativity since it limited the possibilities for conflict (the impetus for any drama worth its salt). Writers in the first couple of seasons were invariably limited to conflict between the Enterprise-D crew with some extra-Federation party (the villain of the week).

    Oswald Spengler

    July 31, 2018 at 12:09 AM

  13. […] previously reviewed the second pilot (Part 1, Part 2). This is the first pilot that the network […]

  14. […] “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (previously reviewed), Gary Mitchell gets super psychic powers and becomes a danger to the whole crew and the entire […]

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