Weekly Trek – December 19-25, 2016

We’re almost at the end of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary year, and this week we have reached the last post talking about the way the various Star Trek series, both on television and in the movies, ended.  It’s the final finale (for Trek so far).

When Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled in 2005 after four seasons on the air, it marked the end of 18 years of continuously televised Star Trek.  Combining those years with the original  and animated series added up to 726 episodes.  That is…well…a lot.  And while Enterprise’s ratings weren’t terrible, they certainly didn’t measure up to the shows that came before it.  Perhaps viewers were tired.  The term “franchise fatigue” was tossed around quite a bit.

I just think the show was doomed from the start.  Creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had been working on Trek for over a decade (Berman almost from the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1986), and their decision to make Enterprise a prequel smacked more of “Well, Star Wars is doing it” than a choice made because of any real creative spark.  They have also said in interviews that the network, UPN, imposed certain ideas on them (Namely the temporal cold war plot). 

Enterprise also tried to distance itself from Star Trek.  When it first premiered, Star Trek wasn’t even part of the title.  The show became Star Trek: Enterprise later in its run.  It also went against the tradition of orchestral openings, instead opting to use a version of “Faith of the Heart,” a pop song by Diane Warren that was originally featured on the soundtrack of the 1998 film Patch Adams.  This choice was…controversial, to say the least.  I can’t say that I ever liked it, which is a shame since the opening credits, which used images from the history of exploration, were great visually.

The series also had the misfortune to premiere two weeks after the events of September 11, 2001 shook the world.  Star Trek has a history of commenting on society, and something as major as 9/11 couldn’t help but affect the show.  I have no idea of Berman and Braga originally intended the series to go in a darker direction, but it definitely did.  This culminated in the third year’s season long arc, in which Earth is attacked by the Xindi and then the Enterprise attempts to prevent the Xindi from returning with a weapon capable of destroying the entire planet.

This darker turn didn’t serve Scott Bakula, who played Captain Jonathan Archer, well either in my opinion.  Based on his work on Quantum Leap, I felt that Bakula was a fantastic choice to take the lead in Enterprise, but I quickly realized that his everyman persona didn’t really fit with commanding a starship.  Even before the Xindi arc, he seemed stiff in the role, but by season three Bakula’s Archer just seemed to be angry all of the time.

The remainder of the main cast never really got their due.  I don’t know if the writers were just having problems coming up with stories for them, but, outside of Archer, T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), and Tucker (Conner Trinneer), the cast got very little development.  By the fourth season, I started comparing the Enterprise crew to the crew on The Love Boat.  They were there week in and week out, but the show was really about the guest stars.

Enterprise was really three different shows over the course of its run.  For the first two seasons, it was a prequel in name only and, other than a few episodes with the Vulcans and Andorians, made episodes that weren’t too far removed from other Star Trek series, giving viewers a sense that it had all been done before.  Season Three was the aforementioned Xindi arc that took the show into much darker territory.  Then in Season Four, Berman and Braga stepped away, and a new showrunner, Manny Coto, came in.  At this point, Enterprise became more of a prequel to the later series, using several two and three episode mini-arcs to tell stories that set up things we would see again later. 

At this point, I felt the show really came into its own.  When anyone expresses an interest in watching Enterprise, I suggest that they watch the pilot episode, “Broken Bow,” which is quite solid and then skip to the third episode of the fourth season (The first two have to wrap up some nonsense involving Nazi aliens that was leftover from the previous year.  As a side note, over the course of Star Trek’s history, there are three different storylines involving Nazi aliens.  It’s at least two too many.).  From there, I tell them to watch up until the next to last episode and skip the finale.

“But…we’re here to talk about the finale, aren’t we?” you ask confused.

Yes.  Yes, we are.  Unfortunately.

Despite the major improvements in Enterprise’s fourth season, the damage was done, and UPN cancelled the show.  Manny Coto wrapped up his last arc in the show’s penultimate episode, but Rick Berman and Brannon Braga decided that they would write the overall series finale themselves.  More than that, though, they wanted to mark the end of 18 years of continuous televised Star Trek with an episode that they hoped would be a valentine to their fans.

The resulting episode, “These Are the Voyages…,” ended up being one of the most reviled episodes in all of Star Trek, disliked by the fans, the actors involved, and even Rick Berman and Brannon Braga themselves.  I give Berman and Braga a lot of credit for that.  They did quite a lot for Star Trek over their time with the franchise and don’t deserve a lot of the fan hatred sent their way.  In the case of this episode, I believe they really wanted to do right by the fans and Star Trek.  But now they admit that their idea backfired horribly.

So what was that idea?  They made the final episode of Enterprise  an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Seriously.  The entire episode is squeezed into the middle of the Seventh Season TNG episode, “The Pegasus” with Commander Riker (played by Jonathan Frakes) taking advice from Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) to observe events on board Archer’s USS Enterprise in the holodeck as Riker struggles with whether or not to tell Captain Picard about what really happened on the Pegasus.

Viewers really need to remember the events of “The Pegasus,” which originally aired 11 years earlier for Riker’s dilemma to have any impact.  Yes, Riker and Troi spend part of the show’s very brief runtime (Minus commericals and credits, it’s about 38 minutes long) rehashing the issue, but it suffers from a lot of telling rather than showing.  Additionally, a large amount of time had passed since the original episode, and Frakes and Sirtis had definitely aged since their previous appearance.

The events that Riker visits on the holodeck aren’t all that momentous, certainly in comparison with the series finales of TNG, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager.  In terms of the Enterprise timeline, the episode jumps six years beyond the previous episode, and the ship is on its way back to Earth so that Archer can deliver a speech at the signing of what we are led to believe is the Federation charter.  On the way, they encounter an old ally who needs their assistance with a personal problem.  They do, some things go bad, but they make it back to Earth so that Archer can deliver his speech…

…which we don’t see because Riker has made his decision.  He shuts down the holodeck and walks out with Troi.  That’s it.  Watching the episode again for this post for the first time since it aired, I was struck by how lifeless the whole thing felt.  I didn’t care about the characters or anything that was happening on the screen.

Worse than any of that, though, is the fact that this storyline makes the Enterprise cast guest stars in their own series finale.  I didn’t count, but I would wager that Riker has more lines and screen time in this episode than every Enterprise character except Archer and possibly T’Pol.  Tucker is also a big part of the episode, but, without spoiling too much, that aspect was also something that angered fans.  Reed, Phlox, Mayweather, and Sato are left with little to almost nothing to do in their final appearance.

It’s sad, really, and I completely agree with the near-universal dislike of this episode.  “These Are the Voyages…” is so bad that the official Star Trek novels, which treat every bit of filmed Star Trek as absolute gospel, retconned it out of existence in their series of books based on Enterprise, chalking the whole thing up to a historically-inaccurate holodeck program.  But as far as filmed Trek was concerned, “These Are the Voyages…” was how Star Trek ended, at least in terms of the universe that began in 1966. 

The website Memory Alpha summed up the situation very nicely, “The poor performance and reception of Nemesis – hard on the heels of the equally dismal performance of Insurrection – , combined with the failure of Enterprise (even though its last season was a triumphant one), was for the franchise conglomerate the reason to cease any and all further investments in prime universe Star Trek. Pursuant the cancellation of Enterprise, the studio one-and-a-half years later sold off their entire warehouses' contents of Star Trek production stock assets in the 2006-2009 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection, and It's A Wrap! sale and auction wave of auctions, save for a limited amount for exhibition purposes, making it abundantly clear that Paramount was done with Star Trek as has been.”

Star Trek would return four years later with the 2009 movie directed by JJ Abrams, which created the new timeline (Officially called the Kelvin timeline, after the ship that is destroyed at the beginning of the film) and went back to the early days of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. 

With announcement of the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, which is scheduled to premiere in 2017, “These Are the Voyages” is about to go from being the final televised Star Trek episode ever to just the ill-advised ending of a troubled series.  I think we would all be better off, though, if we just pretended that it doesn’t exist.

And so we have finished the finales, and we are almost done with 2016 as well as these Weekly Trek posts.  One more to go.  See you next week.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – December 5-11, 2016

I’ve spent the last few weeks discussing the various final episodes and films across the Star Trek franchise.  I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to rewatching, “Endgame,” the final episode of Star Trek: Voyager this week.  Now I wasn’t facing this episode from 2001 with the dread that I have for the last two posts of this series, but the truth is that I don’t have especially fond memories of Voyager or this episode in particular.  

Voyager premiered with a great deal of hype in January 1995 as part of the launch of the United Paramount Network.  The fact that the series would have the franchise’s first female captain as a leading character (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home also featured a female captain in a small scene) made headlines, and the show’s overall concept had a lot of promise.  In the pilot episode, “Caretaker,” the USS Voyager and a ship of Maquis (a rebel group that wasn’t too fond of a treaty between the Federation and the Cardassians) are thrown to the far reaches of the Delta Quadrant, 70,000 light years from home.  The Maquis ship is destroyed, but its crew of about 20 end up joining the Voyager for the 70 year trip home.

It all sounded exciting.  A Starfleet ship all alone and forced to come up with ways to survive, a test of Federation ideals away from the comforts of home, and a crew made up of Starfleet Officers and Maquis, who wouldn’t necessarily get along.  There was a lot of potential in that set-up.

By the end of the pilot, most of the tension between the Starfleet and Maquis crews had vanished.  It would occasionally get mentioned, but for the most part they became one happy crew.  And being all alone didn’t seem to make life too tough for the Voyager.  Yes, they had their issues, but nothing that couldn’t be completely fixed by the next week.  Even the so-called “Year of Hell” (Which was chronicled in the aptly named “The Year of Hell” two-parter) was erased by the time travel reset button. 

Compared to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which was aired concurrently for five of Voyager’s seven seasons, Voyager felt light-weight.  While DS9 was dealing with heavy issues of ethics, politics, religion, and racism with the fate of the Federation in the balance, Voyager was more in the vein of sci-fi adventure.  At the time, I was very hard on Voyager because of this.  On DS9, Captain Sisko is trying to decide how far he will bend his principles in order to save the Federation.  Meanwhile, on Voyager the crew is trapped as the French Resistance in a holodeck simulation while alien hunters play the Nazis.

With the distance of 15 years, I feel like I can appreciate Voyager more for what it actually was rather than what I had in my head that it should be.  This brings us to “Endgame,” the series finale written by Kenneth Biller and Robert Doherty from a story by Biller, Brannon Braga, and Rick Berman (who was the overall head of Star Trek at the time).  Unlike the DS9 finale, which is really part of a nine episode final arc and the culmination of years of plotlines and multiple characters, the Voyager finale really only has to answer one question: do they get home?

Because of this, you could really watch “Endgame” with no knowledge of the series beyond the fact that it’s about a ship lost a long way from home.  I wouldn’t recommend it, though, since the episode starts in the future, ten years after the USS Voyager made it back to Earth.   

“So they made it,” you said.  “Then why am I watching this?”  Ah, but it’s not that simple.  While it’s ten years after their return, it’s twenty-six years after the show’s “present.”  It took Captain (Now Admiral) Kathryn Janeway and her crew an additional sixteen years to get home, and as we learn over the course of the first half of the episode, she is not happy about that state of affairs due to the toll the journey took on her crew.

Admiral Janeway engages in some time travel shenanigans to go back to Voyager twenty-six years earlier and show them a way to get home earlier.  There are just two minors problems.  First, there are Borg swarming all over their shortcut, and secondly, Janeway’s younger self wants no part of the Admiral’s plan.

Upon going back to watch this episode for the first time since it aired, I quickly discovered that the version of “Endgame” that had existed in my head for the last 15 years wasn’t quite accurate.  I remembered it having a short future sequence but that most of the episode involved battling the Borg and getting home.  Instead, “Endgame” really takes its time in the future sequence to show where everyone is and what is motivating Janeway to want to change things.  It’s rather well done, and I found myself feeling a fondness for these characters that I hadn’t really seen much of in a long time.

I was also reminded of just how damn good Kate Mulgrew is as Janeway.  Her affection for her crew is evident, and she is able to play everything from compassionate concern to capable commander convincingly.  I have no trouble believing that she can handle everything the universe has to throw at her.  Moreover, she spends large chunks of “Endgame” playing scenes against herself.  In interviews she has stated that it was tremendously difficult due to the technical demands as well as they fact that she was often acting against nothing.  In the finished episode, the conversations are seamless, which is a testimony not only to her but also the effects personnel and editors involved with the series.

Beyond Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, who plays Seven of Nine, and Robert Picardo, who plays the Doctor, are both excellent.  Robert Beltran, who plays Chakotay, was a vocal critic of the show over the years, but he is also quite good in his scenes with Seven in the episode.

Is the episode perfect?  Absolutely not.  The premise borrows a bit heavily from some aspects of the Star Trek: The Next Generation finale, “All Good Things…,” as well as other Trek time travel stories.  Garrett Wang, who plays Ensign Harry Kim, is given a speech in the second half of the episode that is supposed to be inspiring but just isn’t well-written enough to pull it off.  He gives it his all, though. 

The episode’s villain is problematic.  When the Borg were first introduced on TNG, they were this scary force that could not be reasoned with with.  Their hive mind made the billions of them act like one, and they just seemed unstoppable.  Star Trek: First Contact introduced the concept of the Borg Queen, which didn’t really fit what we knew of the Borg up until that point, but I can understand it from a storytelling standpoint.  The villain needed a face and form that could be fought.  

Voyager brought in the Borg as a major adversary (They’d been mentioned sparingly prior to this) at the end of their third season.  The aforementioned Seven is a human who had been a drone for years before being freed from the Borg Collective.  Janeway and company dealt with the Borg and their Queen on multiple occasions leading up to “Endgame,” but having a single ship consistently overcome such overwhelming odds defanged the Borg quite a bit. 

“Endgame” was able to bring back the First Contact actress, Alice Krige, to play the Borg Queen again.  In prior Voyager episodes, a different actress had played the role, and she does what she can with the role.  For much of the episode, though, she’s basically the Wicked Queen from Snow White, watching events unfold in her magic mirror (or viewscreen in this case) as she cackles to her drone minions.  Throughout it all, the Borg come across more as a minor nuisance than a major galactic threat.

My biggest issue with “Endgame” though is that it is attempting to do too much.  The writers are trying to have an adventure, wrap up the characters (which is doesn’t really, since it’s showing an alternate future), and end the story all in the space of about an hour and a half.  It is rushed, and some major events are just glossed over or not shown at all.  I feel like the episode tries to get around some of this criticism in Kim’s speech, which states that it’s all about the journey.  Viewers spent seven seasons with these characters, and, unlike with the TNG cast, it was not like these characters were going to be making the jump to the movies (Well, one did, but we’ll talk about that next week.).  It would have been nice to have a bit more closure. 

Still, as far as finales go, “Endgame” was a lot better than what was to come.  Brace yourselves.  These next two weeks are going to be rough. 

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – November 28-December 4, 2016

I’ve spent the last few weeks discussing the various final episodes and films across the Star Trek franchise.  This week, we have reached “What You Leave Behind,” the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), which aired in June 1999 at the end of the series’ seventh season. 

To be honest, when I first came up with the idea for this series of posts, I knew this was going to be the problematic one.  How the hell can I talk about this episode on its own?  Sure, it’s the final episode of DS9, but it’s also the culmination of a nine-episode arc tying up not only the main cast and many of the recurring characters that have become prominent over the show’s run but also two plotlines that have been going for multiple seasons.

In short, this IS NOT a standalone episode.  As such, you absolutely should not watch it unless you’ve seen the episodes leading up to it.  And by “episodes leading up to it,” I mean pretty much the entire series.  Sure, there are a few in the first couple of seasons that you could skip (Let me know if you need a list), but DS9 spent years developing the characters and plotlines that “What You Leave Behind” deals with.

Much of that is due to the nature of DS9’s situation.  Unlike any Star Trek before or after it, DS9 was set in a single location.  Sure, the USS Enterprise or USS Voyager are locations, but each week they are somewhere new.  Space Station Deep Space Nine is in Bajoran space near the Cardassian Empire.  It has a history predating the series, when it was Terok Nor, a Cardassian station in use when the Cardassians conquered and ruled over the planet Bajor.  As of the pilot episode of DS9, “Emissary,” the station is situation at the entrance of a wormhole leading thousands of light years away to the Gamma Quadrant (Star Trek’s Milky Way galaxy is divided into four quadrants.  The Federation and Klingons are in the Alpha Quadrant.).

The crew wasn’t just going to swoop in, have an adventure, and then move along to the next star system.  They were there dealing with these species week in and week out.  As such, Captain Sisko and his officers had many encounters with Gul Dukat of the Cardassians, or Winn Adami of Bajor, or the Vorta Weyoun, or the “simple tailor” Elim Garak.   The final episode had to resolve all of these stories (Fortunately, the lead up episodes had wrapped certain other characters, such as Rom and Leeta.).

Also, unlike the final episodes of the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation, “What You Leave Behind,” which was written by showrunner Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler, is truly an ending.  Storylines are resolved.  Some characters leave.  Others die.  By the time its runtime as completed, everything has changed.

Ok.  I just spent several paragraphs explaining why it is hard to talk about this episode.  So what can I say?  It’s a satisfying finale with space battles on a scale that TOS and TNG could only dream of, emotional moments, and excellent performances.  In some cases, its reach exceeds its grasp, since it’s trying to show a galactic war on a television budget.  Some areas, particularly scenes on Cardassia, suffer from the show’s inability to stage large sequences.

I would also argue (not that I think there’s much of a counter-argument) that the two main plotlines “What You Leave Behind” is wrapping up mesh particularly well.  Most of the episode is dedicated to one story, and when it cuts to what two other characters are doing far removed from everything else, it feels more like an annoying interruption.  Get me back to the important stuff!  And then after the main plot is resolved, getting to that second seems almost like an afterthought.  Oh wait.   I need to go over here now and do this totally unrelated thing.

Still, even having not seen the episode or any of the ones leading up to it in years, I was quickly sucked back in.  I know most people argue for Kirk or Picard as their favorite captain, but for me it is Avery Brooks’ Captain Benjamin Sisko.  He was an excellent commanding officer, but also possibly more human than any of his counterparts.  He was a husband and father and had so much more to his character than his Starfleet career. 

Rewatching “What You Leave Behind” also instantly reignited the crush I had on Nana Visitor’s Kira Nerys through much of the 1990s.  While he doesn’t get as much to do in the episode as some of his others during the run, but Jeffrey Combs, who plays Weyoun, is perfect in every scene he’s in.  He’s so good at being awful. 

Near the end of the episode is a montage sequence showing the main characters getting ready to move on to the next phase of their lives.  It’s incredibly sappy, but it absolutely works.  It is to this day one of my favorite sequences in all of Star Trek.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine can be a little tough to get into.  The first two seasons have some solid episodes and some…ehhh…ones as the series establishes its setting and characters and finds its way.  But I recommend DS9 whole-heartedly.  It’s well worth the time investment and has some of the best character and storyline work in the entire franchise. 

“What You Leave Behind” is a worthy and satisfying conclusion to DS9, but you really need to take the entire journey to appreciate it. 

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – November 21-27, 2016

As this 50th anniversary year winds down, I am spending these last several posts talking about the way the various Star Trek series, both on television and in the movies, ended. 

When Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) premiered in the Fall of 1987, there was a certain amount of skepticism among fans that this new show would measure up to the legacy of the original Star Trek television series.  Yes, Gene Roddenberry was back in charge, but suddenly there was a bald British guy pretending to be a Frenchman (without the accent, fortunately) commanding the ship, the bridge looked like a living room, and they had a Klingon and, even worse, kids on board.  The show’s first two seasons did little to ease these concerns.

But by Season Three, TNG really hit its stride.  Whether or not Gene Roddenberry’s failing health and reduced involvement with the show had anything to do with this is up for debate.  Regardless, the show’s quality improved, and over the ensuing seasons TNG reached a level of popularity TOS never achieved during its original airing. 

Season Seven was to be TNG’s last, but the show was going out on its own terms and at the height of its popularity.  The finale in the Spring of 1994 was not to be the end of the adventures for Captain Picard and his crew, though, since they were moving straight from the series to the movies.  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, released three years earlier in 1991, had marked the end of the films with the TOS cast, and now Paramount wanted to hand things off to the TNG crew. 

Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga were tasked with writing both the TNG finale and the subsequent film, and I imagine the pressure was immense.  For the finale, they had to provide a satisfying ending to a massively popular television series while still leaving everything in place for a feature film with those exact same characters.  According to Moore and Braga, they had to write both at the same time and occasionally ended up confusing the two stories in their minds.

Despite those challenges, the resulting episode, “All Good Things…” is fantastic.  In it, Captain Picard, played by Patrick Stewart, finds himself moving back and forth through time from his present (Stardate 47988) to first day on the USS Enterprise-D seven years earlier to a period 25 years in the future.  In each of these time periods, he is faced with the mystery of a spatial anomaly that threatens to destroy everything. 

The scenes in the past do an excellent job of bringing the series full circle, and it’s fun to see Tasha Yar and Miles O’Brien back on the bridge.  As for seeing the first and second season uniforms again…well…it makes you appreciate the newer uniforms that much more.  And the future scenes, other than some dodgy old age makeup on Jonathan Frakes’ William Riker, are nicely done, and it’s enjoyable to see what happened to the members of the command crew.  Data’s future is probably the most fun, but it’s great to see where Dr. Crusher has ended up as well.

I’ve tried to avoid too many spoilers in these posts, but I need to get into that territory here.  If you really don’t want to know anymore, skip this paragraph and don’t read the guest star credits of the episode.  Everyone ok?  Good.  As I implied a moment ago, the opening credits unfortunately give a big spoiler about the source of the mystery by revealing that Q, played by John de Lancie, is in the episode.  I assume Screen Actors Guild rules were involved in this.  In any case, seeing his name pretty much lets you know that the godlike Q is behind all of this somehow.  More than that, though, Q’s appearance helps bookend TNG, since he was in the pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint,” as well.  His actions then have quite a bit of relevance to the events of “All Good Things…”  And de Lancie is in wonderful form, seeming to relish every bit of dialogue given to his character.  Q later shows up on several episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, but if this had been his final appearance, it would have been a great one to go out on.

While “All Good Things…” does give every member of the main TNG cast their moments, it really is Picard’s episode.  Patrick Stewart is in practically every scene in all three timelines, and he’s particularly good as the older Picard trying desperately to convince his comrades that he isn’t a crazy old man.  The best scene of the episode for me, though, is its last when (and here’s another spoiler) Picard joins the rest of his crew for a poker game.  The universe isn’t at stake.  There’s no great drama and no sad goodbyes.  It’s really just Picard realizing how much these people mean to him as the Enterprise-D sails on to its next adventure. 

The title of the finale may have invoke the phrase “All good things must come to an end,” but Star Trek was far from done.  We would next see the TNG cast in movie theaters along with a few members of the TOS crew in Star Trek Generations that November.  Meanwhile Star Trek continued on television with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which had premiered in January 1993.  DS9 was soon joined by Star Trek: Voyager, which premiered in January 1995 as part of the launch of the United Paramount Network. 

With all of that happening, the mid 1990s were a great time to be a Trekkie.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – November 7-13, 2016

As this 50th anniversary year winds down, I am going to spend some time talking about the way the various Star Trek series, both on television and in the movies, ended.  In most of these cases, the showrunners or filmmakers knew the end was coming and planned accordingly.  We may not always have liked what they came up with (I’m coming for you Star Trek: Enterprise!), but an effort was made to wrap up the characters and stories.

This wasn’t the case for the original Star Trek television series (TOS).  “Turnabout Intruder,” the last episode of the show’s third and final season, is really just another episode.

By the time Star Trek reached this point in its run, creator Gene Roddenberry had really stepped away from being heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the show.  According to Roddenberry, it was due to his continuing battles with NBC.  They had promised that Star Trek would air on Monday nights, which would attract a larger audience.  Instead, they put the show on Friday nights at 10PM, a time traditionally known as the Death Slot, since most of the series’ core audience, young people, would either be in bed or out enjoying themselves.  Because of this, Roddenberry walked away.

Many of the names that had helped shape TOS, such as Gene Coon, Dorothy Fontana, and Robert Justman, had also greatly scaled back their involvement with the show at this point.  Instead, Star Trek was in the hands of Fred Freiberger, who joined the show between the second and third season.  Freiberger is often blamed for the perceived decline in quality during the third season, but from interviews with him and others who knew him, he seems to be a man who was trying to make the best show he could within the confines of a decreased budget and major losses of personnel (the aforementioned Coon, Fontana, and Justman) on the behind-the-scenes side. 

Season Three contains what is generally considered to be the worst episode of TOS, “Spock’s Brain,” and frankly the final episode, “Turnabout Intruder” isn’t a hell of a lot better, in my opinion.  In it, the Enterprise is summoned to Camus II by a distress call from the archeological team working there.  Of the team, only Dr. Coleman and Dr. Janice Lester have survived, but Lester is dying from radiation. 

Or not.

Actually, Dr. Lester is one of Captain Kirk’s ex-girlfriends, and she has found a device on Camus II that will allow her to switch bodies with the captain, giving her two of her deepest desires: command of a starship and revenge on Kirk for their relationship ending.

Throughout most of the episode, William Shatner is acting as Lester pretending to be Kirk, and while his performance has its moments and some wonderful touches (which is even more remarkable considering the horrible flu he was suffering from during filming), the overall episode is silly…and seriously problematic in its sexual politics.

Lester makes many comments about her womanhood and that Starfleet won’t allow women into its world of starship captains.  Thanks to Star Trek: Enterprise (Which was admittedly made later), we know that there are female starship captains decades prior to this episode, and it’s hard to see the 23rd century of Star Trek being that sexist.  The “best” reading of many of the remarks is that Lester has a deep sense of self-loathing and has chosen to blame discrimination based on gender rather than her own short-comings.  She’s also just not stable.

The episode itself feels very small.  Outside of one set on Camus II, the entire episode takes place on the Enterprise, and it doesn’t seem like they were willing to spend much on extras.  The corridors are relatively barren of crew.  Uhura isn’t even in the episode because Nichelle Nichols had a singing engagement that week.

So why would they choose this episode to go out on?  Or to make it at all?  Well, the latter part comes down to Gene Roddenberry.  While he may have stepped away from the day-to-day running of the show, he was still Executive Producer.  “Turnabout Intruder” was his idea, and he wrote the early drafts of the teleplay (Arthur H. Singer) has the final teleplay credit. 

Also, they didn’t know that this was going to be the final episode.  NBC had ordered a 26 episode season, but during the filming of “Turnabout Intruder,” which was episode 24, the cast and crew received word that NBC had cut the order to 24, effectively cancelling the show.

Considering all of that, I find it remarkable that “Turnabout Intruder” is at all entertaining, and while it is not a great episode, the cast is doing the best they can with what they have to work with.  Shatner is obviously having a blast despite his illness, and Scotty gets a nice moment with Dr. McCoy. 

While “Turnabout Intruder” does not give TOS a fitting end, perhaps that was for the best.  I don’t know that Star Trek would have been any less popular in syndication if the series had ended with a final episode that provided…well…finality, but with the non-ending, everything was left in place for the future.  No characters were killed.  The ship wasn’t destroyed.  When Star Trek returned in animated form in 1973, the show was able to pick up as though almost nothing had changed.  And that series did not have a finale as such either.  I talked about its last episode, “The Counter-Clock Incident,” in THIS POST.

In the case of TOS, the series may have been cancelled, but the mission didn’t end.  In the minds of the fans, the five-year mission of the USS Enterprise was able to continue.  The fan film series Star Trek Continues literally did exactly that in a vignette that picks up right at the end of “Turnabout Intruder” and continues (see what they did there) from that scene.  You can watch it HERE.  Granted, that’s a much more recent example.

Throughout the 1970s, though, fans wrote their own stories, started holding conventions, and even petitioned NASA to name the first space shuttle the Enterprise.  Star Trek didn’t end, so the fans were primed and ready when their beloved ship and crew made the jump to the movies.

- Alan Decker

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