Ward’s Wayback Trek Reviews, Entry #16!

Wow! Has it really been *two months* since the last time I did one of these? Where did the time go?

(I know. I can hear some folks saying “What? It’s only been two months? Damn!” Today’s just not your day, is it?)

The latest in a (more or less) weekly series of reviews throughout 2010, on randomly-selected episodes of the original Star Trek series, and presented in a “live blog” format as I rewatch the episode. Why? Well…why not?

Tonight’s episode:
“The Tholian Web”
third season
episode #64
original airdate: November 15, 1968

Summary: The Enterprise finds a missing starship, the Defiant, and hijinks ensue. Oh, and this is the one with…you know…the Tholians. And Chekov screaming like a little girl. Again.


The Enterprise is cruisin’ along, and our first shots of the bridge is of everybody sitting at their stations and staring at the viewscreen with total “What the Fuck?” looks on their faces. This is always a good sign, right? Even Spock looks like he’s trying to watch a scrambled porn channel from the 1970s and hoping the screen will straighten out just long enough for him to catch some nipple flash.

See? I told you I wasn’t the only one who did that shit. Anyway….

Oh, wait. Kirk’s not actually looking at the screen. He’s standing near the rail at the back of the bridge, staring off into wherever like he’s listening for the sounds of somebody trying to break wind in the turbolift before the doors open. We hear the captain’s log and we learn that the ship is closing in on the last reported position of the U.S.S. Defiant, which has been missing for three weeks. According to the log entry, the Enterprise is in “unsurveyed territory.”

Uh, Jim? Defiant, remember? They beat you guys out here by something like three weeks. Doofus.

Spock’s picking up weird readings on the sensors, which in TrekSpeak means something hinky is about to go down. “Space itself is literally breaking up,” he says. I don’t know about you, faithful readers, but that sounds like some serious shit. Then Scotty reports that the warp engines are losing power, for reasons unknown. See, this is the part where I’d probably turn the ship around and haul ass, but that’s why I’m not the captain and Kirk is.

Chekov, attention whore that he is, calls out for Kirk to mosey on over to his station, where he reports “Visual detection of an object dead ahead.” Not, “I see something” or even “Check it out!” Seven words to basically say “Look!” George Carlin would’ve ripped this kid a new asshole and poured vodka in it.

The sensors aren’t detecting jack shit, but there it is on the screen: the Defiant, encased in an odd green glow. You just know that doesn’t look safe, right? So, what do we do when we encounter something which might be dangerous? Right! We send the captain, first officer, and chief medical officer over to investigate. Oh, and bring Mr. Visual Detection along, too. He might be good for a laugh.

Kirk and the boarding party, apparently hoping they’ll get a gig opening for Devo once the five-year mission is up, don Star Trek’s version of space suits….essentially Gort’s costume from The Day the Earth Stood Still with some garden hoses stapled to the front, and what looks like the head from Rosanne Barr’s bikini shaver for a helmet. They beam over and materialize on the Enterprise Defiant’s bridge, and find the bridge crew dead, including the captain with another crewman’s hands around his throat. That’s what happens when you call off serving ice cream with dinner, you dick.

We come back from the opening credits, and McCoy takes to examining the captain and the dude with the choke hold on him. Chekov demonstrates that he fell asleep during the “History of Starfleet” class at the Academy, when he asks if there’s ever been a mutiny on a starship before. Yeah, dude. It happened back during the first season. Remember “This Side of Paradise,” when everybody told Kirk to go pound sand, because they were heading planet-side for a little spore-induced bumpin’ of the uglies and whatnot? What, you say you weren’t on the ship back then? Guess Khan was full of shit all this time, huh?

Um, what was I saying?

Anyway, Spock seems to have forgotten about that little incident, too (Can’t imagine why.), so we’ll let it go.

McCoy reports that the Defiant’s captain’s neck is broken. That was one pissed off crewman, eh? Spock informs Kirk that the ship’s still got power, and that it’s logical to assume that the “mutineers” are still aboard, but that’s quickly ruled out as bullshit once Spock remembers that the ship has sensors which can tell him if there’s anybody aboard, and they in fact tell him that just ain’t so. “Odd,” Kirk notes. “Very odd, Mr. Spock.” Well, no shit, Skipper. What tipped you off?

While Kirk and Spock stay on the bridge, Chekov and McCoy are dispatched to other parts of the ship to see what’s what. On the Enterprise, Scotty is standing by, waiting on further orders, and Sulu reports that the Defiant is starting to drift. I’m sure that’s not going to present any sort of problem. At all.

McCoy finds everybody in sickbay is dead, with Chekov finding much the same thing in Engineering. No sooner does Kirk order the young lad back to the bridge then we see our favorite Russian navigator wince in pain. Something’s got this poor dude in rather a patch of distress, wouldn’t you say? As for McCoy, he arrives at the conclusion that the crew pretty much killed the shit out of each other. He has no idea what might’ve caused everybody to join the ship’s Fight Club, but he’s going to grab some notes from the Defiant’s doctor and see if he or she might have caught a whiff of something funky going down. It’s as he’s stepping into another part of sickbay that things take a turn for the weird, though, as he kneels next to a fallen crewman and his hand passes right through the dead dude’s body, prompting an immediate reaction from the good doctor: “WHAT THE FUCK???

(Sometimes it plays as “What the devil?” in reruns.)

Kirk hears McCoy’s outburst and wants to know what’s going on, but McCoy ignores him as he tries pushing his hand through this and that. A table proves to be something less than solid, and the doctor’s hand meets less resistance than Ray J got when he felt up Kim Kardashian.

Don’t sit there looking at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Perv.

Upon hearing McCoy’s report that the ship is “dissolving,” Kirk decides it’s time to beam their hairy asses home. Back on the Enterprise, Scotty and the bridge crew see the Defiant starting to flicker and fade, which in space as much as any other place is what most folks might think of as A Bad Thing, and it ain’t made any better with Spock’s revelation that whatever’s happening to the Defiant might well happen to the Enterprise. “Yo,” Kirk says to the boarding party, “let’s bounce.”

But, of course there’s a problem with the Enterprise transporters. God damn, but those things are really about as reliable in an emergency as FEMA…well…pretty much any time, don’t you think? I almost expected to see Michael Brown standing at the fucking console. According to Scotty, whatever’s affecting the Defiant is now doing its best to rip the shit out of the Enterprise. Transporter frequencies (whatever the hell they are) are jammed, but Scotty’s got three of them working…maybe. One member of the 4-man boarding party will have to wait for the others. Eeney, meeney, miney….

Oh, all right. We all know Kirk’s gonna stay behind and send his people home first. The man has ball’s so big, he has to use one of those weird anti-gravity thingees just to haul ‘em around. He’ll be okay until Scotty can fetch him. Spock tries to argue that he should be the one to stay, but we know that ain’t gonna fly, and in short order, Spock, McCoy, and Chekov are transported back to the Enterprise, but only after Scotty has to give it two or three tries. The transporter is still acting like a whiny little bitch as Kirk waits to be beamed back, but then Chekov activates a viewscreen that’s tuned to the Defiant Channel, just in time to see the other ship fade from view. It, and Kirk, are gone.

“I call bullshit!” Spock says, and he and Scotty proceed to continue working the console and looking for any sign of the captain which might be locked onto and beamed back to the ship. There’s nothing there, though. Gone means gone, dude.

Now in command of the Enterprise, Spock instructs to the computer to determine the interval of time between now and the next “period of special interphase,” when the Defiant should be visible again. He’s hoping he can grab onto Kirk when the other ship shows back up. Sounds like a simple, can’t miss-kinda thing, right? Well, we all know how shit like that tends to go. Meanwhile, Scotty’s bitching and moaning about not knowing whether he can hold the Enterprise in place long enough for the Defiant to show its glowing green ass up. Spock tells the big pansy to sack up; the space here is “very weak,” and any sort of weird bumpin’ and grindin’ will probably just make things worse. Blah blah blah.

Meanwhile, Chekov is slowly devolving into his own special kind of meltdown while sitting at the navigator’s station. Hey, if I had hair like he’s got in this episode, I’d set fire to the whole fucking bridge. He doesn’t get what’s so special about this region of space, and Spock looks upon that observation as an opportunity to expound at great, agonizing length about multiple universes co-existing within the same physical space, yadda yadda yadda. For brief intervals (“interphase”), areas of different universes overlap, allowing transition between the universes. Sounds like bullshit, right? Chekov certainly thinks so, because he completely goes off his nut and starts going off on pretty much anyone within arm’s reach. Sulu and Scotty show once again that they were sleeping through the hand-to-hand combat classes, but they at least manage to corral him away from any touchy consoles, lest he hits a control to blow up the damned ship or something. Spock grabs him by the stacking swivel and tries to get through to him, but Chekov ain’t havin’ any of that noise, at which time Spock pretty much says “Fuck it,” and gives him the old Vulcan Nerve Pinch.

Neat trick, eh?

Once subdued, everybody pretty much stands around trying to figure out why Chekov blew a gasket, which Sulu notes were preceded by several spasms. Oh, and Uhura points out that he seemed more angry than frightened. Oh, a pissed off navigator. Just the guy you want working the station that can pretty much send your ship crashing into a planet or sailing into the nearest sun. Somebody hook that bastard up to a Dimetapp I.V., all right? Of course, McCoy points out that Chekov’s reaction seems to be in line with what was found aboard the Defiant and that this “Space…..Madness!!!” could be communicable.

Uh oh.

Sulu announces that another ship is on an intercept course, and in short order everybody’s sphincter’s tighten as it appears on the big screen, looking about as threatening as a piece of candy corn can appear. Uhura announces that she’s getting a phone call, and the next thing you know WWE wrestler Rey Mysterio appear on screen. No, wait. Maybe it’s Jason Vorhees before he settled on the hockey mask. Whatever. The dude’s in a red mask, and he’s pissed off, okay? He/She/It identifies itself as Commander Loskene of the Tholian Assembly, and tells Spock to get the Enterprise off its lawn. Spock convinces the little prick to hold his water for a couple of hours until the Defiant appears, and Loskene caves, but not without telling Spock that if this is all bullshit, it’s gonna be his ass. Word.

In sickbay, McCoy, Nurse Chapel, and CREWMAN WITH NO NAME are working in the lab, seeking a possible antidote or treatment for the “Space…..Madness!!!” McCoy and Chapel are yapping as they look over a bottle of Windex or Listerine or whatever the prop guy put there on the table, all while CWNN starts twitching. He tries to sucker punch McCoy, but Bones is no slouch. He’s been workin’ out, watchin’ the diet, cuttin’ back on the smokes, because watch the way those forearm muscles bulge as he grabs CWNN’s arm and avoids getting cold-cocked. Well, that doesn’t really last long, as the dude quickly starts throwing the good doctor all around the lab like that gorilla used to do with suitcases in those old American Tourister commercials. Worry not, though, as Nurse Chapel grabs a hypospray that just happens to be sitting on a nearby table and sticks CWNN with it. We can assume it was a tranquilizer and not arsenic or motor oil or whatever, right? Not that she checked the thing before using it. Some fine nursing going on right there.

Meanwhile, Scotty’s working to beam Kirk back aboard, but it’s no joy. Scotty calls the bridge to let Spock know that the captain isn’t where he’s supposed to be…sounding a lot like a bitchy carpooler complaining to his passengers that Ed from Accounting isn’t standing at the corner with coffee like he promised he would be when he asked to join the group. Selfish bastard.

Now that it’s too late to do anything about it, Sulu apparently sees fit to report that the “sensor readings aren’t corresponding to what we received the last time we saw the Defiant.” Yeah, that would’ve been good info to have earlier, don’t you think? See what happens when you take half a year off to go film one of John Wayne’s shittier movies? You forget even the basic stuff. No soup for you. Anyway, Spock concludes that the Tholians’ arrival must’ve dicked something up. Now he has to figure out when the next interphase will happen, since they tend to be unpredictable little sons of bitches. However, things are going from bad to worse, as McCoy reports that the troubles affecting Chekov and CWNN are caused by the area of space the Enterprise currently inhabits. The longer the ship stays put, the worse things are going to get for the crew.

And if that’s not enough stuff on Spock’s plate, Sulu chooses that moment to turn and say, “Oh, hey. FYI. We’re being fired upon” with all the enthusiasm one might muster while requesting an extra slab of butter from the server at Bob Evans’.

The Tholians are back, and boy…are they pissed.

A brief skirmish erupts between the Enterprise and the Tholians, resulting in damage to both ships. Scotty reports that things are so bad, he can’t correct for any drift and they might just go sailing right on into that interphase whatchamacallit. McCoy gets up in Spock’s grill about why he chose to stay and fight rather than retreat from the dangerous area of space, but Spock tells him to suck it and get back to work finding an antidote for the “Space…..Madness!!!” Their spat only barely concludes before another Tholian ship shows up and connects to the first ship, and the pair of vessels then begin to unveil what has to be the most useless tactical device in the history of hissy fits: a web. Well, I guess it’s useful if the ship you’re enveloping in the web is disabled, but if you’re gonna destroy the enemy vessel, why not just go to guns?

Because “The Tholian Guns” is a shitty episode title, that’s why.

Anyway, the Tholians continue to spin their web around the immobilized Enterprise, so the natural thing to do at a time like this is have a memorial service for Captain Kirk. The senior staff and a roomful of extras shows up in the briefing room recreation room mess hall chapel, and Spock offers what amounts to a eulogy for Kirk. “The captain is no longer alive.”

:: Ahem.::

Though he’s looking at the group, Spock apparently fails to notice the dude in the red shirt twitching behind Scotty, at least until the dude goes ape shit and starts hitting people. Way to inspire the troops, Spock! Once the memorial service over, McCoy reminds Spock that Kirk’s left “a little sumpin sumpin” in his quarters for them to review: His “last orders.” How’s that for being a drama queen? Heading to Kirk’s quarters, they spend a few minutes looking through his Little Black Book and trying to figure out where he stashed his porn, all while engaging in more sniping at each other. Why they never just got married, I’ll never know. Finally, Spock finds the data cartridge with Kirk’s recorded message on it, and he and McCoy end up standing there as Kirk bitch-slaps them both from beyond the grave. Essentially, he tells them both to get over their whiny bullshit and learn to work together. Appropriately humbled, the two men get back to work, because…you know, the fucking Tholians are still out there spinning their web. Hello?

In her quarters, Uhura is just getting ready for her stint as a dancer on Laugh-In when she’s hit with the same kind of seizures experienced by Chekov and the others, followed by seeing an image of a space-suited Captain Kirk floating before her. Uhura goes tear-assing out of her quarters and down the rather empty hallway before running into McCoy and promptly collapsing. In Engineering, one of Scotty’s people is also afflicted and attacks several of his coworkers. Basically, people are popping their corks all over the ship. But hey, if you’re not convinced by this point, then you’re in luck, as Nurse Chapel confirms that the guy who attacked Scotty went berserk for the same reasons everybody else has. Thanks for that, Nancy Drew. McCoy, continuing his research, offers up the notion that he thinks the antidote might have its roots in a “theragen derivative.”

Theragen? THAT’S AWESOME! GREAT WORK, DOC! Wait…what the hell is theragen?

As the Tholians continue on with their merry webbing ways, Chekov is going rather insane while “restrained” in sickbay, frustrated no doubt by his inability to free himself from the strap that is literally just looped around his wrists. Seriously, dude, just twist your damned arms, and you’re home free. Nope, too tough, apparently. In an adjacent bed, Uhura is watching this trainwreck and asks McCoy if she’ll end up like Chekov.

“What? You mean fuck-stupid, with bad hair and screaming like somebody wrapped piano wire around your nutsack? Nah.”

As the next interphase approaches, Scotty sees Kirk floating around in Engineering. No sooner does Scotty arrive on the bridge than the Ghost of Kirk follows him there. He looks to be shouting for help, which is exactly what you want to be doing when your spacesuit is likely running out of oxygen. Whoops.

Later, Spock and Scotty are in Spock’s quarters planning for the next interphase, when McCoy arrives bearing drinks. Hey, it’s Tang! Actually, it’s that theragen stuff McCoy mentioned earlier. What’s theragen? A Klingon nerve gas. I know…I was thinking that sounded like the perfect antidote, myself. Apparently, if you water this stuff down and mix it with some booze from the doctor’s liquor cabinet, you’re able to quash the “Space…..Madness!!!” Scotty volunteers to see how it mixes with scotch, and I’m still waiting to hear from Chekov how it goes with vodka. As Scotty makes off with the bottle of theragen, I’m left thinking that having your chief engineer three sheets to the wind in the middle of a crisis situation isn’t something you really want, right?

Okay, enough stalling. SHOWTIME! Everybody’s cured and back to their stations, and ready for the next interphase. The Tholians are about to complete their web and haul the Enterprise off to parts unknown. How will our heroes escape this deadly trap? The web is finished and the ship starts to be dragged away, but Scotty throws all the necessary switches and the Enterprise stomps on the gas, shooting through the interspatial rift and well away from its last position. Spock mumbles some technobabble about Kirk hopefully being caught in the ship’s transporter beam and was therefore dragged along with the Enterprise. Lo and behold, there he is, right on the big screen? The dude working the transporter reels him in just in The Nick of Time. W00t!

Back on the bridge after his ordeal, Kirk asks Spock and McCoy about how they reacted to his “last orders,” and Heckle and Jeckle play all coy and shit about not having seen them. Kirk knows that’s bullshit, because he put the data cartridge underneath his DVD of Orion Slave Girls Gone Wild, which he noticed was missing from his quarters when he got back.

And so ends another weird mission for the gallant crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Roll credits.

—–

Yeah, I just spent almost 3,500 words snarking this episode, but “The Tholian Web” really is one of the highlights of the original series’ third season. A lot of that has to do with the depiction of the Tholians and in particular the special effects shots of the alien ships and their deadly web. The Tholian commander, Loskene, is basically just some shaped and colored tin foil, but the final result as shown on the bridge screen is still pretty decent. The exterior shots with the web were pretty heavy-duty stuff for 1960s tech, especially within the time and budget constraints of a weekly television series. As with all of these “Wayback Reviews,” I watched the DVD with the original effects shots, and I have to say that the Tholian ships and web still hold up pretty well, all things considered.

With Kirk out of the picture for most of the episode, Spock is the star of the story as he struggles with the trial by fire of being in command during a crisis situation. He doesn’t fall back too far into the “We have to do this and this, because it’s logical” shtick that was so prevalent in the first season episode “The Galileo Seven,” and you’d like to think Spock’s learned a few things since then. Though they spend much of the early going bickering at each other, Spock and McCoy do come together after listening to Kirk’s “last orders” and showcase what’s to love about the two characters and their relationship. Basically, they fight like brothers, but each knows the other has his back. Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley most definitely carry this episode, and do it very well.

This is a third season episode, and it shows here and there. The budget for extras must’ve been blown for the memorial service scene, since almost no other background players are seen walking the corridors throughout the rest of the episode. Still, the director manages a few nice camera angles that I’d forgotten until screening the DVD. One shot on the bridge is pretty memorable, with the camera positioned low and looking up at Leonard Nimoy as he sits in the captain’s chair with De Kelley standing behind him on the upper deck. That kind of thing was very prevalent during early first season episodes but tapered off as the series progressed, and it’s nice to see such work here.

After Kirk was rescued, we never see or hear about the Defiant again, but fans of Star Trek: Enterprise know that it returns with a truckload of style in a two-part episode for that series’ fourth season, “In A Mirror, Darkly.” A digital model of the Defiant was rendered for space shots, and the production crew was given the enviable task of recreating the bridge and several other original series-era sets, uniforms, and props. They even got to create a couple of new sets, as well as realizing a full-bodied Tholian and (somewhat less successfully) even a Gorn. For all the eye candy, those episodes do suffer from some serious scenery chewing, especially by Scott Bakula. That said, go check that out; it’s worth it for the geeky fanboy moments alone.

Long story short? All in all, “The Tholian Web,” while a bit slow and talky in places, is still a pretty solid episode.

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About Dayton Ward

Freelance word slinger, husband, daddy, Trekkie, Tampa Bay Bucs fan, Rush fan (the band), observer and derider of human behavior. I know where my towel is.
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