Monday, April 26, 2010

The Original Series, Season 2: Metamorphosis

The Original Series, Season Two
Airdate: November 10, 1967
32 or 80 produced


Kirk, Spock and McCoy are transporting Assistant Federation Commissioner Hedford back to the Enterprise for some desperately needed medical treatment, but are compelled by a mysterious force to land on a lonely planetoid. When they explore further, they discover a refugee from Earth's past. Can they solve the mystery of his presence and their captor before it is too late to save her life?

I may have been stuck on this planetoid for centuries, but at least I've got this sweet-ass orange jumper...


Matthew: At its core, this story is about loneliness, and I think in that respect it works. The setup works well, and really makes the viewer think about what it would be like, cut off and alone, with only a strange creature for companionship. I would have liked it to go a little further in terms of the effects on Cochrane - wouldn't he have gone just a little nuts, or forgotten how to talk, or something? Does he have literature? Entertainment? Sexual release? I admit there are things they couldn't do on sixties television - but I would have liked to see more development in areas they could explore. We are given the contrast with Hedford, who apparently because she is a working woman is lonely in a different but analogous way. Sexist? Probably. But at least she's a working woman with real hopes, ambitions, and competence, not just some old maid.

Kevin: I agree it was nice to see the strong female character played with a little more depth than other attempts in the series. I also appreciate that while we again have a high ranking Federation bureaucrat demanding to be taken places to do their job, this one doesn't have to mindlessly ignore some other obligation of Kirk's command to do so. I'm just saying it's nice that there are no perishable vaccines on board. My one complaint is that for a diplomat, she's pretty non-diplomatic, but I suppose they can't all be serene.

Matthew: We are introduced to the Universal Translator, a device that was in the original Trek series proposal, Star Trek Is..., but was never seen or mentioned until this episode. Is it a good idea? Maybe, maybe not. Is it a sci-fi idea? Certainly, big-time. Its basic concept is described in this episode, somehow interpreting brain waves and matching them to similar concepts in humans. Although not discussed in this episode, it apparently also alters the brainwaves of humans, allowing them to see alien lips moving in time with English pronunciation. Here, it is modified to work with non-corporeal life, giving voice to the Companion - which bring me to one of my story problems: why would a non-corporeal life form have a feminine aspect? If this life form is some sort of manifestation of the planet (as implied in dialogue), there would seem to be no sexual reproduction in its evolutionary path. Why would it then be "female," other than simply to make the story more comfortable for us? It would be a better story, I think, if the Companion were completely alien. Can a human love a non-human romantically and erotically? This is much more interesting than "can a human male love a non-human female?"

Kevin: I appreciate naming the Universal Translator as a thing. It's really no less a convenient plot device than finding aliens who speak perfect English, but it shows that the writers are aware of the problems and take steps, to solve them. I agree with you about the gender thing. I have the same issue with Odo in DS9. I think it could have also been more interestingly to explore non-romantic concepts of love. Rather than try to fit their relationship into human molds, try to develop a new framework for a unique relationship.

Matthew: My other story problem - Why did the Companion's health field not simply cure Hedforld?

Matthew: Overall, I would say this is in the upper half of Gene L. Coon's TOS tales. He's written some classics such as Space Seed, Devil In The Dark, and Arena. But he's also behind Spock's Brain.

Kevin: Despite our complaints, I thought the scenes themselves were well done and certainly touching. Also, I will add that I liked the request not to reveal what happened. I assume the log will say Ms. Hedford died after the landing and that's that. It adds a level to First Contact that we know something about Cochrane's future that not even the TNG cast know.


Matthew: Elinor Donahue is good as Nancy Hedford. Although she is a bit too prickly for my liking before her metamorphosis, I really can see how it fits the character. Is Hillary Clinton wonderful to be around all the time? Maybe not. But does she get shit done? Heck yes. Of course, this all may be helped by the fact that Donohue is quite lovely here, and becomes even more so after she begins smiling and loving and living in tandem with the Companion.

Kevin: I also enjoyed her nifty babushka.

Matthew: Glenn Corbett as Zefram Cochrane works for me, but I will admit I get more of a "test pilot jock" feel from him that a "guy who could have invented warp drive" feel. Nonetheless, Corbett ably performs in the role, seeming genuinely pleased at human companionship while also being disturbed by the way it came about.

Kevin: I will get more into this in our review of First Contact, but I debate how I feel about the two performances. Do they feel like the same person? Maybe Cochrane's hard drinking and gruff edge's get softened by a century of living with the companion. In any event, I agree, I get a test pilot vibe from Corbett's performance, and I think that works, especially for the show at the time. NASA astronauts were pulled from Navy test pilot programs. Granted they weren't designing the rockets, but still, I'm okay with it.

Matthew: Frankly, I like this Cochrane a bit better than the James Cromwell one. I found Cromwell to be playing it too much for laughs to believe that this guy was a scientist behind humanity's greatest invention, well, ever. Anyway, the rest of the cast takes a bit of a backseat to the two guest stars here. Shatner does what he can in his lines, and he does well. McCoy is given Doctor things to do, and Spock has a few witty asides. Nothing really stands out. The rest of the cast is relegated to one or two minutes on the Enterprise. At least they got paid, I guess, since they all had speaking parts.

Production Values

Matthew: This is one of the few episodes that really jumps out in my mind for the music. There is something eerie, mournful, but also lovely about the background orchestral themes of this episode. It really accentuates the personal sacrifices and the loneliness of the characters.

Kevin: I particularly liked the open space on the asteroid. One of my frequent complaints about some of the alien landscapes is they appear small and full of fake rocks. Here, we see a convincing and compelling vista. The color scheme is alien without being abrasive and accentuates the sense of isolation.

Matthew: Cochrane's home is a beautiful set, there are no two ways about it. The overall architectural design fits with a sixties future aesthetic, but with just enough reference to real life to lend it verisimilitude.It is decorated by loads of period appropriate art, sculpture, and hardware.

Kevin: I agree, the place looked not just lived in, but lived in for a long time. The tchotchkes particularly reinforce that.

Matthew: The shuttle is not one of my favorite sets, plain and simple. It is so boxy whereas the Enterprise is so sleek, it pulls me out of the vibe a little bit.

Kevin: I really hope that one person, like a random PA, wasn't responsible for the shuttle, cause I'm sure by now we have given him a complex.


Matthew: I think the casting and the production values are exceptional. The story is good but not great. This episode rates a 4, and is one that grows on me with each viewing. It definitely has classic attributes, but misses greatness due to a lack of follow-through.

Kevin: I am going to go with a 3.  This is a good episode and everyone does a good job, and maybe my reaction is based more on just this story not resonating with me the way it does for you, but I think it's on the high side of average, not great. That makes a total of 7.


  1. I haven't seen this one yet (so, not as caught up as I thought I was) but the description of the human-alien relationship reminded me a lot of 'The Man Trap', where the shape-shifting alien kills the scientist's wife but he accepts it taking on his dead wife's form and continuing the relationship. I loved the awesomely creepy exploration of just how two desperate beings (one the last of its species and the other widowed and alone on a deserted planet) could come to a loving but horrible compromise. The repeated plots where somebody's horribly alone in space gives TOS much more of a frontier feel to me, even though TNG talks a good game about colonies and outposts.

  2. "Mudd's Women" is another example of the loneliness of space colonization, and the lengths both the men and women will go to for companionship. "This Side of Paradise" shows how tenuous colony life can be. Good point, Betsy!