Saturday, December 29, 2012

Star Trek: The Corbomite Maneuver

The first episode of the original series of Star Trek produced after the 2 pilot episodes was The Corbomite Maneuver.

Lt. Uhura, Yeoman Rand and Dr. McCoy make their series debut. McCoy's character really makes a mark here as he ignores a red alert to finish a physical on Kirk, is quick to pour drinks with Kirk, challenges Kirk's decisions and more. The writers gave Deforest Kelly some real material to work with here and he did a fine job jumping into the character. While some Trek characters like Spock evolve over time, the audience knows McCoy right away.
Spock, Scotty, Uhura (in gold!), McCoy, Kirk, a random Red Shirt & Sulu
Just about the only thing that Uhura does is say "Hailing frequencies open, sir." I am guessing here (I didn't actually count them), but she says this nearly dozen times in just this one episode. Perhaps that is why in a future episode she says "sometimes I think if I hear that word frequency once more, I'll cry."

There's plenty here for Kirk, Spock and even Sulu to do react to in the episode. Anthony Call guest stars as the navigator Lt. Bailey, who is overwhelmed by the circumstances. In the episode the Enterprise encounters a rotating Rubik's cube, "some kind of space buoy".

After it blocks their path and emits harmful radiation they destroy the cube only to encounter the Fesarius, a ship that Spock says is nearly a mile in diameter.

The ship's commander, Balok (above, right) threatens to destroy the Enterprise. Kirk counters the threat with a bluff, saying that the Enterprise is carrying Corbomite,  "a material and a device which prevents attack on us. If any destructive energy touches our vessel, a reverse reaction of equal strength is created, destroying the attacker."  He adds, "since the initial use of corbomite more than two of our centuries ago, no attacking vessel has survived the attempt."

The bluff works, Balok backs off in destroying the Enterprise only to launch a small ship that takes it in tow toward a planet of the First Federation.

Naturally, the Enterprise manages to break free, but Balok's ship is damaged in the process.  Everyone (even Spock!) is surprised when Kirk turns the ship around to the damaged vessel and offers aid. Here's how that plays out:
Uhura: A signal, Captain. It's very weak. It's Balok. It's a distress signal to the Fesarius. His engines are out. His life-sustaining system isn't operating. The message is repeating, sir.
Kirk: Any reply?
Uhura: Negative. The signal is growing weak. Sir, I doubt if the mother ship could have heard it.
Kirk: Plot a course for it, Mister Bailey.
Spock: For it, Captain?
Kirk: Dead ahead. [Addressing the crew] This is the Captain speaking. The First Federation vessel is in distress. We're preparing to board it. There are lives at stake. By our standards, alien life but lives nevertheless. Captain out.
Bailey: Course plotted and laid in, sir.
Kirk: Mister Scott, ready the transporter room.
Scott: Aye, sir. (leaves)
Kirk: Mister Sulu, bring us to within one hundred metres. Ahead slow.
Sulu: Ahead slow, sir.
McCoy: Jim, don't you think
Kirk: What's the mission of this vessel, Doctor? To seek out and contact alien life, and an opportunity to demonstrate what our high-sounding words mean. (Addressing everyone on the bridge) Any questions?
This is where Star Trek shines. They stop to render aid to aliens who referred to them as "primitive and savage," who then threatened to kill them. The classic response would be to strike at them while they are down, right? But Kirk and Trek show just what humans of the future are and how we all should be today. It is moments like this one that that make this show special and why I keep going back to Trek.

It ultimately turns out the Balok was simply testing them and not at all what anyone suspected. The image of Balok that they saw as no more than a puppet.

It is Clint Howard as the real Balok
Composer Fred Steiner, in his Star Trek debut, wrote just over 7 minutes of music for this episode. The rest was music that was tracked from other episodes. His score first gives a real sense of both the rotation and the danger represented by the space buoy (check out a preview of "Space Cube/Condition Alert"  from La-La Land Records) before then taking on the danger of Balok and the Fesarius. While there isn't much of Fred Steiner's music here, it is good stuff. Fortunately, Steiner returned to provide the music for more episodes.

If you haven't seen The Corbomite Maneuver in a while, track it down and give it another watch. It is worth your time. Next up, Mudd's Women.

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