What can you come away with from the episode Miri? An important life lesson as taught by Jim Kirk himself: NO BLAH BLAH BLAH!
I could end the review there, but what would be the fun in that? Kirk and crew are picking up a distress call from a planet too far out to have had Federation involvement. Oh, sorry, Space Control, apparently. Yes, the episode ends with Kirk mentioning that he’s contacted Space Control after leaving a planet full of (300 year old) children on their own. How does this guy ever get promoted!? Not just that! While on the planet, he hits on Miri who is a teenager in appearance and attitude regardless of her nearly being 300 years of age And suddenly I hear the song “Girl, you’ll be a woman soon” playing loudly in my head. Ok, if we’re fair, “Mr. Lovey Dovey” may think he’s making a young girl feel good, winning her confidence by telling her she’s very pretty, but it comes off a bit creepy. You know what else is creepy? The words “life prolongation”. And as if to remind the audience that those words shouldn’t go together, each member of the crew then repeats it. It’s horrible. Speaking of creepy, how much time has gone by since The Enemy Within where doppleganger Kirk tried to rape Janice? Clearly enough time that she is ok admitting that she always wanted Kirk to notice her legs. Thing is, how could you not?! Those dresses leave nothing to the imagination. Especially on the remastered footage! I would think, knowing about his “interesting side” (as Spock pointed out), she might never want to reveal that even if she once had wanted Kirk to notice those legs.
Looking at other elements of the story, it’s very telling that when McCoy experiments on himself with the “beaker full of death”, as he collapses he calls out to Spock! Yeah, ok, Spock was nearby but he could have tried to call out to Jim. The telling truth is that even though these two have amusing banter about humanity, they evidently like and respect one another. In other “Space Central” news, when the landing party arrives, 2 security guards are with them, but they take it upon themselves to run off for what, a smoke break? Where were they most of the time and were they infected by the plague? The little we see of them would suggest not.
But there are two things to examine in this episode that are real. Well, I say “real” meaning, something to think about. Kirk (after throwing one kid to the floor for blahblah-ing) makes a point: the “grups” (grownups) are not the ones causing pain; the children are. “You’re growing up to be what they were”, he says. Now that is interesting. Until a young person recognizes the danger of becoming that which they hate, a child will grow up to be his or her parents. How many families start with an abusive mom or dad and have the children turn out the same way, then their children hate it but end up being the same thing and the cycle never ends. It goes on and on, generation after generation. Someone, somewhere, has to make the realization: a change is needed. Kirk delivers that message, loud and clear. The children learn… until he leaves them on the planet all over again. Damn it, man!
The other thing that warrants thinking about: so far we’ve been in space with the crew since episode 1. We’ve never been to Earth. This planet resembles 1960s Earth that we know. I have seen this show dozens of times since my youth but it was the first time it ever hit me that the planet Kirk and company find in this story could in fact be our earth. Wherever they come from might not be the “real” Earth. We always assume they are from the same planet we are, being humans, earthlings. But why? None of what we see from them indicates our planet, while this episode does. Our egos could come up with a “life prolongation” program and try to create eternal childhood. Our world already has tricycles and signs written in English. Can we say the same for Kirk’s Earth? Maybe one day we will… but for now?
I’m probably just reading too much into it. I should remind myself: No blah blah blah! ML
The view from across the pond:
The title of the episode before this one is “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, which would perhaps have been a better title for this one, because Kirk seems to be keen to answer that question.
“Pretty name for a pretty young woman.”
Okaaaay. Of all the strange things that happen in Star Trek, I can’t say I would have ever guessed we would be seeing the captain of the Enterprise hitting on a child. We’ll be charitable and assume he’s trying to earn her trust by getting her to have a crush on him… or something.
“I like that name.”
“Good. I like yours too. I like you.”
“Do you really?”
“I wouldn’t lie to you.”
Okaaaaay. It seems he really does want to go where no man has gone before. Things are made a little less icky to watch by the fact that Kim Darby was actually about 18 at the time this was filmed, and when you see Kirk and Miri walking along together and see that there isn’t a lot of difference in their heights it does kind of betray the illusion of her age. She plays a child very convincingly, but that’s one tall girl who is supposed to be just on the verge of puberty. What really doesn’t work here is Michael J Pollard still trying to play a pre-pubescent child at the age of 27, which is so ridiculous it almost made me laugh out loud when he first appeared on the screen.
“She likes you Jim. She’s becoming a woman.”
Yeah, but that’s because he chatted her up. I can hear the Trek fans protesting as I write this: yes, but she’s actually older than him! But no, these are specifically still children, who have just stayed children for a very long time: “Children who never age.”
Speaking of which… that really doesn’t make any sense, does it. Whilst I can understand the potential science behind halting (well, slowing to a crawl) the ageing process in childhood, these would still be simply adults who look like children. There is more to adulthood than a number. It’s about life experience too. Nobody can live for hundreds of years and still have the mind of a child unless the brain is damaged, and that’s clearly not the case here.
There were other problems with the episode as well. I wasn’t keen on McCoy’s casual xenophobia (“it’s dead”) and you can’t just represent centuries of language change (which would happen) with one contraction of “grown ups” to “grups”. There was one of those magic sci-fi vaccines that remove sores and leave the skin unblemished, and the episode posed the question at the start of why another planet exists that looks exactly like Earth, and then promptly forgot about it. We keep repeating ideas between episodes that are too close together. Recently we had two different doubles of Kirk cropping up in quick succession, and now we have consecutive episodes examining the consequences of failed attempts to cheat death. The relationship between Kirk and Janice took a depressing turn away from the professional towards the googly-eyed, as if no woman can just do her job without falling for the charms of Jim (“back on the ship I used to try to get you to look at my legs”). That was at least used as an important plot point, because Miri wasn’t too pleased about Janice and her legs, leading to her betrayal of child predator Jim.
By the way, let’s not forget about our Trek Tally. Miri added to our tally of screaming women (well, she’s a woman to Jim), and then #8 was mad crusty woman Louise. We won’t try to count the screaming kids. When I saw two random red shirts beaming down with the four regulars I was expecting a couple of additions to our minor crewman deaths. I would like to say that it was refreshing that it didn’t happen, but to be honest I think the writer just forgot about them. They didn’t even seem to get the disease. They were little more than occasional background scenery, people functioning as props.
But there was also a lot to enjoy here. The depiction of death by crustiness and insanity was brave enough not to pull its punches, leading to a BBC ban that stayed in effect until the 90s. The first death of a crusty was actually a really emotional moment, with him speaking like the distressed child that he was in his mind:
“Somebody please fix.”
Honestly, I could cry at that line. Even at the moment of his death, the poor old man / child just wants to ride his tricycle, having just been beaten up by the mean grup (this is the episode where our brave hero beats up one child and hits on another).
The first ever location filming in Trek gave the episode a more professional appearance than the usual polystyrene rocks, and the oppressive sense of impending doom hanging over the whole episode was palpable. The seven day deadline was actually really clever, enough time to make the mental decline of Kirk, McCoy, Spock and Janice feel gradual and real, while retaining that ticking-clock sense of desperation. And McCoy becoming desperate enough to inject himself with an untested vaccination that might just have killed him was a powerful moment. In the end that’s probably the word that sums up this episode the best: powerful. Sadly, thanks to Jim’s shenanigans this week there’s also another: disturbing. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Star Trek: Dagger of the Mind
You both make strong points about Miri’s crush on Kirk and how Kirk affectionately responds to her. Truth be told: I’m sure that many of us in our teens via crushes on older people, whether it was one of our school teachers or a famous actor, can identify with Miri. Even when Kirk in his quite blatant attempt at humor tells Janice at the end: “I never get involved with older women, Yeoman”, I never read too much into it. I felt that Kirk handled it all responsibly enough and especially when he has to make Miri finally understand, to help save her from the infection, that she’s becoming a woman.
As for this planet being a duplicate of Earth, maybe somehow entering our universe from another like in Another Earth, I was fascinated and consequently disappointed that there was no scientific explanation given, which is something I always enjoyed in the classic Trek. It certainly benefited how adventurously strange the Trek universe would be and this was around the time when other Earths, via Dr. Who: The Tenth Planet and a 1969 film called either Doppelgänger or Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, were making themselves known in SF.
This was the first Trek episode to dramatically deal with a deadly disease to be cured. So seeing how it involved so many children, subjected to violence from the adults and left to survive on their own for centuries because of a life-prolongation project gone wrong, made it interestingly unique. Trek could give it a strong message as good Trek always does. But it could be harder for fans to watch again today for how it reminds us all of the global disease our Earth is facing now.
Thank you both for your reviews.
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It only occurred to me some time ago that John Megna, who played one of the children in this Trek episode, was the same child actor who was Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird. Other stars from that movie classic to have appeared throughout Star Trek are William Windom, Frank Overton, Paul Fix and most notably Brock Peters.
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Kim Darby as Miri was indeed pretty as Kirk told her. But I found her, especially more in retrospect, to be pretty in a way that departed from most pretty girls on Trek. Miri wasn’t glamorous and intentionally so because of what she had gone through. So she reminds Trekkers and SF fans of how realistically feminine beauty could be seen on classic Trek, whether it was a seductive villainess who used her beauty to trap men, as with Darnell’s doom for The Man Trap, or a fallible beauty who plays a pivotal role (that’s enhanced by Kirk’s romantic involvement) in the ensuing adventure. Kim as Miri proved how realistic this would be in Trek so long as we could be wise enough to look beyond the ‘made-up’ beauty. She was wonderful casting for that.
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Star Trek’s treatment of women is, well, sometimes problematic. There will unfortunately be quite a bit more of that throughout the original series. It was an issue that regrettably resurfaced in The Next Generation. In certain respects Gene Roddenberry was very progressive, but in others he was very much a product of his time. I think that, looking at these episodes in the 21st Century, it is a fair to point out both their virtues and their shortcomings, as long as it’s done in an intelligent manner.
When I did a 50th anniversary retrospective of the original Star Trek on my blog I wrote the following…
“The show is, in hindsight, not nearly as diverse as it could have been, with the three lead characters of Kirk, Spock and Doctor McCoy all played by white males. There is a good deal of sexism & sexual titillation in many episodes. Yes, Star Trek did show men and women serving alongside each other in a military organization. But most of the females in Starfleet were relegated to secondary roles. The women of Star Trek were often characterized as emotional & irrational, and many of them were clad in extremely revealing outfits.”
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I’m only on season 2 but one thing that interests me in comparison with Doctor Who is how Who was actually almost always brilliant at avoiding the sort of racism and sexism that was inherent in 60s and 70s television, and gets jumped on for its occasional transgressions. In comparison, Trek is praised all the time for being progressive and yet is almost always hideously sexist and its main villains are white men in blackface. I’m certainly, enjoying watching it, but let’s just say I’ve been a little surprised. On average, I would say it’s worse than most 60s series I’ve seen in terms of racism and sexism (there’s another “ism” that it does brilliantly with, but that’s a matter for season 2), so I have been quite surprised at how the reality differs from the reputation.
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Thankfully Uhura, Sulu, Chekov and Scotty made important impacts, even if they weren’t as characteristically developed as Kirk, Spock and McCoy, due to how that Freudian Trio dominated most of the classic Trek.
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Ben, thanks so much for taking such an interest in our site.
The one thing to remember is how much the network execs had to say about some of those things you mention. Roddenberry was a bit of a ladies man, so some of that may have been him too, but considering what Voyager and Enterprise did with sexualizing women to the extent they did, I’m going to say that was more the network than his choice.
Talking to a friend recently, he said B5 was not as popular because it had fewer “hot women”. While he was joking around, I often am reminded that truth is often spoken in jest. My counter argument is that it didn’t need to use sex as a lure to watch because, by and large, the story was strong enough to keep us glued to the screen. Trek had good stories at the time, but the bulk of them do not hold up well. There are a dozen good classic trek episodes; the rest are disposable. It came down to the characters and that leading trio had fantastic chemistry. Still delightful going back and re-watching now though, especially seeing Roger enjoy it for the first time. It’s nice to get a fresh perspective on something I know so well. ML
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I can certainly agree more in retrospect that several classic Treks may not have been their best. Particularly with how far SF adventure shows have come since then. But mainly the intentional appeal of classic Trek was the important message reflecting the times which, in Roddenberry’s understanding of how SF can openly send those important messages over the network’s heads, doesn’t always necessarily require a story to be at its best. All it can sufficiently demand is a good-enough story that still leaves enough room for whatever we take away from it to be individually up to us.
I’ve learned to appreciate this even more over time. Star Trek succeeded most entirely as a game-changer for 60s television. Coming after The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Dr. Who, Trek had a lot to build and improve upon. So fresh perspectives can still find the foothold they need in comparison, contrast or both with all the pivotal SF successes in the industry.
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