Star Trek is nothing if not inventive, but I think this has got to be one of the worst episode I’ve ever seen. In fact, while I remembered it was a weak one, it was actually embarrassing to show my wife and son. I was so glad my wife fell asleep when the cast starts working on invisible bombs and whistling death to one another. What you have to remember while watching this is that at the time, it was new and clever but by now we’ve confused enough computers that this one comes off as absolute trash. The best thing about it is the parting shot in the remastered version.
In a universe of inconsistencies where multiple planets have “the creators” and androids were being built all over the place, we get some magical things as Harry Mudd! Mudd has escaped custody in the most convoluted non-sense explanation ever after his first meeting with Kirk in Season one’s Mudd’s Women. How? By selling some Vulcan tech to the Denebians, who took umbrage with it. How he got out of custody to even offer them the tech is anyone’s guess, but who cares. Mudd is funny enough that maybe it will play out alright; and that is the only thing making this episode bearable. Yet that’s hardly scratching the surface. Mudd is trapped on a planet and promises the androids there that he will help them get more humans to study. But he’s not instrumental in that at all. Through some other magic, an android gets on the Enterprise and takes it over before the opening credits role. The chief Android ends up being the very brain behind ALL the androids so… how did he leave his world and what the hell was going on back there when he was away? Not to mention, were Teletubbies popular in 1966? When this android identifies his race, he lifts his shirt to show us what he is and the only thing I could think was “Teletubby!” I certainly didn’t think “android”. Especially not one that is very well versed in karate chops! Then after napping for 4 days to get Kirk and crew to their destination … 4 days in which the crew can’t figure out what to do but go along with their abduction… Norman (yes, that’s his name) tells the crew who will beam down. In a nutshell he says “All the main cast. We’ll leave one behind because he’s filming another series right now, but we’ll get him down here eventually.” (Technically, Sulu doesn’t show up but he was probably on botany duty that afternoon.)
Thing is, there’s a lot of fun in this episode but the acting is so ham-fisted that I can only think that the fun was had by the actors, not the viewers. For me, it was just painful to watch Chekhov jump around when told to stand still and Scotty dies at being whistled to death. It’s a special skill. The only “one says true things and the other says false” ploy is ultimately used on Norman, but prior to that Spock tells one twin he loves her but the other, that he hates her and this causes a nervous breakdown too. The twins, who are all over this episode, spend most of the time looking vacantly off-camera as androids do (do they?) but that didn’t make them any more appealing to me! The idea of knocking Mudd out for Uhura to throw a “spanner” in the works fails because it achieves nothing beyond giving Kirk a split second to make it look like he’s going to smack her. Try that in today’s corporate environment! Admittedly, some of the dialogue did make me laugh even if it made no sense in the context of the story. “Opportunity?… believe me, you couldn’t sell fake patents to your mother,” Mudd tells Spock. His reply, “I fail to understand why I should care to induce my mother to purchase falsified patents!” You and me both, Spock. You and me both!
In the end, all the twins in the world wouldn’t make me love this episode… (well, if Dr. Helen Noel was duplicated 500 times…) The only thing I did really get out of it is that Star Trek has always been considered a utopian vision of the future, but that is clearly bogus. This is at least the second episode (after This Side of Paradise) where Kirk denies his people a taste of heaven because we humans need our pain. We strive on challenge and difficulty, according to utopian Trek. I’m glad my wife fell asleep – I wouldn’t want her to believe there’s a place where we don’t work and we are waited on hand and foot. But does Kirk really have the right to deny his people that? And how are the Federation making friends with aliens anyway? What should have happened is that Kirk should have offered the opportunity for some of his people to stay behind to experience the pleasures of real utopia in exchange for the androids being able to study humanity. In fact, the knowledge these androids could give the Federation would be putting Kirk’s time ahead of the tech in Discovery. (Oh… right, it’s supposed to already be there, isn’t it? Silly me!) The androids study humans, humans get some time treated as kings and queens, and we have an ally in the Federation that is worth its weight in gold pressed latinum! Alas, paraphrasing Spock’s words to McCoy, I find this episode “…strewn with gaping defects in logic!” Let’s move on to better episodes and leave this one in the dust. Ahead warp fact 90! ML
The view from across the pond:
This episode starts in a promising manner, with a new crewmember causing trouble for the Enterprise. He’s referred to as Mr Norman, but is just credited as Norman, so I’ll assumed for the purposes of this article that his name is Norman Norman.
First of all Norman Norman starts messing with the flashy lights (I’m still waiting for computers to have those) and then when his dastardly deeds are discovered he lightly touches Scotty on the chest. James Doohan then does a fine job of jumping backwards into a wall. It turns out that Norman Norman is an android, and has taken over the ship. Having done that, he has a little nap. I was amused to see Uhura bumping into him like he was an extra piece of furniture in the room.
Down on the planet, Kirk and his pals find some interesting doors that open diagonally, leaving bits sticking out at the sides. Most illogical Captain. Behind the illogical doors “Mudd the First, ruler of this entire sovereign planet” is sat on his throne. Unless I’m forgetting something, Mudd is the first returning villain in Star Trek. I can see why he was chosen for that honour, as 60s viewers presumably found him a funny character. Note that I’m choosing my words carefully there. In his second appearance, he still failed to raise a smile for this viewer. That’s not to say I can’t understand the appeal of Mudd, but I just think he’s “of his time”. Personally I find him incredibly tedious.
He should really be a similar character to the Master in Doctor Who, and there are shades of that in the way he was jailed at the end of the last story and then just turns up here, with his only explanation “thereby hangs a tale”. But the Master had style and the Master was dangerous, whereas Mudd never comes across as a credible villain and is lacking in any kind of charm of charisma. I think the people making Trek thought they had come up with a likeable villain, somebody we love to hate, but instead he’s just distasteful. I felt so sorry for those poor actresses, having to all line up while Mudd pervs over them. It’s not just Mudd, either. The good guys perv over them as well:
“We are programmed to function as human females, my lord.”
That’s a response to Chekov unsubtly hinting at whether he can use one of them as a high-tech sex doll.
There were elements of what could have been a good story here, with the idea that a human brain could be transplanted into a robot that will live for 500,000 years, and the way the androids betray Mudd, but let’s face it this is far from being The Robots of Death. I groaned at hearing that old riddle about who’s lying, and by the time Norman Norman’s head was steaming, with yet another iteration of a computer being sent mad with some well chosen words it couldn’t compute, my head was in my hands.
So, as the illogical doors closed on another illogical adventure, my thoughts echoed a quote from the episode:
“So far this thing has had its amusing aspects.”
That might sound like damning with faint praise, but until this series does something to engage the brain there’s not much else for me to do. RP