Sunday, December 8, 2013

Star Trek: Catspaw

Star Trek Season Two begins with a Halloween episode:
Catspaw was the first episode produced in the second season of Star Trek. While this one certainly will not make my top ten list, there are a few fun things about it even though it doesn't really make much sense. 
Unlike in Season One, DeForest Kelly now gets billing in the show's opening credits. So, kudos to Dr. McCoy.

The episode begins with the Enterprise in orbit about planet Pyris VII. They've lost contact with the landing party when one of them, crewman Jackson, requests to beam up.
Immediately upon beam up, he collapses and McCoy pronounces him dead. Yet his mouth opens and without it moving we hear:

"Captain Kirk, can you hear me? There is a curse on your ship. Leave this place or you will all die."

Terrifying. Well, not so much.
Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to investigate and surprisingly encounter surface fog and then three witches who tell them to remember the curse before they recite this:

"Wind shall rise. And fog descend. So leave here, all, or meet your end."
Which leads to this exchange from Kirk and Spock:
Kirk: Spock. Comment?
Spock: Very bad poetry, Captain.
Kirk: A more useful comment, Mister Spock.
Spock: What we've just seen is not real.
Kirk: That's useful.
Bones meets bones.
Unfortunately from here the episode rapidly goes downhill. They unexpectedly find and enter a castle and become prisoners.
Back on the ship, Lt. DeSalle is in command and we meet Mr. Chekov, who desperately needs a haircut.

It has been said that the introduction of Chekov to the show was a response to the popularity of The Monkees TV series. Here's what Snopes has to say about that. I am curious to read what Marc Cushman says about it when These Are The Voyages TOS Season Two comes out, hopefully early next year. No matter why Chekov was added to the show, he certainly added much to the series.
Back on the planet, our heroes are brought to meet Korob and, eventually, Sylvia, who's wig is worse than Chekov's.

There's a lot of talk here and there about Halloween, familiars, the racial subconscious and other 'spooky' stuff. Korob attempts to bribe them into leaving with a fancy meal and then plates filled with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. When they decline to be bought, Korob announces that they, "have passed the tests" and, "you were warned to stay away and yet you came to save your comrades. That proves loyalty. Your bravery was tested and you did not frighten. And despite my failure with these bright baubles, I perceive that you cannot be bribed. In many ways you are quite admirable." 

Okay, then. This should mean the story is moving along, yes? Unfortunately, no. Sylvia wants to get information from Kirk, but we never learn what that is. When Kirk grabs a phaser and tries to save the day she shows him a cool little Enterprise on a chain, explains her voodoo and dangles it over a candle flame.

Kirk is allowed to call up to the ship and Chekov says that the temperature is "up sixty degrees in the past thirty seconds. We're burning up, sir."
Kirk backs down and then Sylvia then wants to know about feelings, power, and these new sensations she is now feeling. Kirk plays along until she realizes that his heart isn't in it. So, back to the dungeon he goes. Korob rescues them explaining that Sylvia is "irrational. The strain of adopting to your form, the insatiable desire for sensation and experience. She's a great danger and it was not necessary. We could have entered your galaxy in peace."

They make their escape only to encounter Sylvia in giant cat form. This 'special effect' is mostly done with the actors reacting to shadows of a cat on a wall and shots of a cat through a miniature hallway like the one seen in the episode. It looks pretty cheesy, unconvincing and goes on for far too long.

There's just one effect shot of the live actors with the menacing, giant cat:
I suppose these kind of shots were just too expensive back in the day, but some more of them might have added a bit more punch to the episode. Of course a better script would have done far more.
Finally, Sylvia confronts Kirk in human form. Thankfully Kirk ends it all by smashing their magic wand (the transmuter) on the table. The castle and everything created by the transmuter vanishes.
The crew then looks down on Korob (wait, didn't Korob die then the giant cat knocked the door down on him?) and Sylvia in their real form as they gradually disintegrate. Alas, the creature effects here were created with puppets and their strings are very obvious.

It is followed by the best shot of the episode, the Enterprise leaving the planet - thereby indicating that the story is thankfully over:
For me, the only real highlight of the episode was the musical score provided by Gerald Fried. It runs just over 32 and a half minutes. All of it is available on the fabulous collection of music from the original Star Trek series from La-La Land Records. You can hear a sample of one track from Catspaw here. It's good stuff. Much of this music was used again for later episodes too (The Changeling comes to mind).

After scoring season one's Shore Leave, Fried returned to score Catspaw and two more episodes in Trek's second season (Friday's Child and the breakout episode Amok Time) and one in season three (The Paradise Syndrome). Fried composed some of Trek's most iconic action music.

Next up, Metamorphosis.

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