10.26.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 95: Spectre of the Gun

October 25, 1968
The consensus in the comments section for "The Enterprise Incident" was that it is the 3rd season's best episode. And it more than likely is. Is it my personal favorite, though? Nope. "The Paradise Syndrome," soaring aloft on the jetstream that is "I Am Kirok," clocked in at 84.75 points vs. 71.5 for "The Enterprise Incident." I'm curious to see where this one falls, as it too has always been a favorite. And, like "Enterprise," vastly more serious-minded than practically every other Season 3 episode, "Paradise" most definitely included.

I knew from the get-go that this was my favorite Visual Design (5) of the series.

Years later, when I saw Amazon Women on the Moon, this dinosaur-Jack-the-Ripper thing brought the Melkotians to mind. (And continues to do so.)
Like so many great moments in cinema, this episode's distinctive visual style was borne of production necessity and not (original) creative inspiration. Here's The Star Trek Compendium with the scoop:

"The original script specified filming the episode on location in an outdoor Western town. However, due to budget restrictions, filming was confined to the regular studio stages. To avoid having to build a complete Western town set, the concept of an incomplete town, put together from "bits and pieces" out of Kirk's mind, was developed, thus allowing the episode to be filmed within budget."

It also allowed for a wonderfully surreal dreamscape which enhanced the script and story considerably.


By 1968, as TV production grew more sophisticated and less and less black-and-white sets were sold, the Western-soundstage familiar to any viewers of The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, or many others with fake backdrops, was falling out of favor. "Spectre" knowingly reflects this aspect of the era's artificiality.

The acid-drenched Monkees movie Head also came out in 1968, and its director (Bob Rafelson) likes to take credit for being the first to lampoon the visual "nowhereness" of the Western soundstage. (At least in the Mojo magazine interview I read.) Head is certainly filled with visual puns that get the point across.

For example.
But sorry Bob: "Spectre of the Gun" beat you to the punch by two whole weeks.


Title (1.75) Am I alone in getting a red pen for always spelling "Specter" as "Spectre" on account of this episode? James Bond didn't help, either. I was deliberately misled.

Guest (3.5) I reckon no one here is anyone's favorite guest star of all TOS, but with seven fairly substantial parts, each performer has real presence and individuates his (or her) self.

(l to r) Ron Soble, Rex Holman (later Sybok's right hand man in STV) and veteran of countless Westerns Charles Maxwell.
Sam Gilman (back, right) plays Doc Holliday.
I know that whenever Tombstone comes around on cable, I amuse myself by calling it Anti-Melkotian propaganda, mainly because of the grim, no-nonsense villainy of the Earps in memory from this.

As for our heroes' allies (I use the term loosely:)

Bonnie Beecher plays Sylvia.
Bill Zuckert plays Sheriff "Kill 'em any way that you can!" Behan
Charles Seel as Ed the bartender: prone to giggling at Ike Clayton's antics.
According to the credits, Jeannie Malone plays a Yeoman in this one. I missed her during my screencapping, but here's her Memory-Alpha page and a pic:

Given how many background scenes she's in throughout TOS, I should probably acknowledge her in this category at least once before hanging up my spurs:
Kirk and the Gang (33) 

Some great stuff from Doohan throughout this one.
"He called me Ike-you-Frank-Bones-Tom. And..."
"Billy?" It's way funnier (and improbably so) in real-time, but I couldn't resist including it still-life here, as I've been imitating Shatner's rapid-fire delivery of this line practically my whole life.
Story and Theme (9 / 9) Have always loved this idea: thrown into a dreamscape plucked from incomplete mental images and reliving a moment from history. As Twilight Zone as Trek gets.

 

There are, allegedly similarities between this story and the Doctor Who episode "The Gunfighters." Never saw it myself, so I have no idea.

    

Chekov's death and resurrection is as fun a commentary on said trope as the set is for western soundstages. His death is "overruled" because the bullets are not real and therefore could not have killed him. A better example of suspension of disbelief and its fundamental importance to theater would be hard to find.

Probably should have put these in Kirk and the Gang, but I love that the script sets up a non-violent Zen takedown of the concept but then contrives to have Kirk in a knockdown fistfight.
I shouldn't, probably, but it's the sort of thing that just amuses me, like the way Marvel superheroes always used to get into mistaken-identity fights before becoming friends. (Maybe they still do; I have no idea.)
Internal Logistics (2.25) I'm not sure what is so important about the Melkotians that the Federation is ramming first contact down their throats, but hey, I'll give the Starfleet brass the benefit of the doubt. (Likewise Kirk's convenient knowledge of all the particulars of the OK Corral; that's a little easier, though. It's an enduring bit of folklore and at least conceivable it would survive as legend through the coming centuries.)

One thing I never noticed before, though:

As the Earps walk solemnly to the OK Corral, Doc Holiday awaits them. As they step out of frame, he joins them in-step, not missing a stride.
Somehow he ends up second-from-the-end, though, despite clearly being on the end in the shot above.
The order is changed once again once they get there. No matter how you mix-and-match the angles, it's a different order almost every time.
Let's just say this was a "confusion to our enemies" how-did-they-do-it gunfighting strategy pioneered by the Earps and move on.

Memorability (4.5) Somewhere out there, some future blogger (maybe even a future Trek writer) is watching this one and listening to the howl of the wind and the ricochets of the bullets and dramatic music cues and puzzling over the strange set design and forging a new link in the chain.

Total Points Awarded: 68 

Well, apparently, it's my third favorite from Season 3. Thank you, Dog Star Omnibus Ratings System, for helping me work that out.


I wrote most of the above a few weeks ago and am adding this part now (10/26/13.) When I mapped out this madness at the end of July, I had all of the screencaps done but not the points or the writing. I had an idea, though, which episodes I'd have nominated if forced into a top 10 situation. There turned out to be only 13 Saturdays between then and now, which made for an awkward grouping. 

So, channeling my inner Julius Schwartz, I "showcased" those and chose Spectre, Wink of an Eye, Wolf in the Fold, Piece of the Action, Mirror Mirror, The Menagerie, City on the Edge of Forever, Shore Leave, What Are Little Girls Made Of, Arena, This Side of Paradise, Amok Time, and Return of the Archons as my at-the-onset favorites. The ones who'd earned home field advantage, so to speak, based on the impression left in my imagination.

Really, the points awarded conceit has been only for myself, a way to bring a little order to this particular file cabinet in my head. Most of the episodes listed above fared as I expected them to but some didn't, which was interesting to discover. (ha - well, for me, anyway.) "Spectre" was one that unexpectedly fared a little less when I broke it down into the categories I picked. That's the nature of categories, I suppose; by imposing them, you shape the outcome. But for what it's worth, I tried to be as objective as possible in pursuit of my completely subjective desert island TOS.

Oh but this isn't the end quite yet, just the conclusion of the Saturday Night Trek Showcase series. (Collect all the variant covers: Destination: 2029 eBay! ) Two more to go.

STARTING WITH:
Monday

11 comments:

  1. The Melkotians kind of creep me out even to this day. Right up there with those weirdo "meep-meep-meep-aw-haw-aw-haw" things from Sesame Street. *shudder* But they're a terrific design; highly memorable. The Melkotians, that is. Well, both; but definitely the Melkotians.

    On the specter/spectre front, I've always used the "specter" spelling when referring to an actual ghost or phantom, and "spectre" when referring to a metaphorical one. But as for whether that is actually correct or not, I do not know. I tend to assume it's another one of those things where "spectre" is the British spelling and "specter" the dumb-American spelling. But I don't know for sure, and am too lazy to research it.

    You mentioning "The Gunfighters" immediately makes me want to go watch some old Doctor Who. I run hot and cold with that series in all its incarnations, but I do love William Hartnell, the First Doctor, who was in that particular serial.

    I've never seen that one, either, but I find it hard to imagine that it could be more fun than "Spectre of the Gun." This is just a delightful episode, and I agree that the visuals are a massive part of the charm. The colors! The sets! Just terrific.

    As for the surprises of the way your scoring system breaks down...well, as you know, I've encountered similar surprises myself. But that's part of the fun, isn't it? It always is for me, at least.

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    1. Absolutely part of the fun. And a journey of self-revelation for your humble narrator, to boot!

      Yeah this episode rocks. Along the lines of the above, I get an extra kick when I discover something I've loved for years acquits itself well under questioning.

      If you check that Gunfighters episode out, let me know how it breaks down. I've seen so little of Doctor Who. I've watched this a hundred times, though:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjtzib0G9Rs

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    2. Tesla coils are awesome.

      I suspect I might be in the mood to watch a bit of "Who" prior to the 50th-anniversary episode. If so, I'll make "The Gunfighters" part of that agenda and let you know how it stacks up.

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  2. When I was a kid, this was my favorite episode of them all. Since then, I like it a lot less. I try to remember why it appealed to me so much then, and I don't remember why.

    I still like it, but I think it would have been much better shot on a lot rather than a sound stage.

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    1. I think that would be a rather incredible mistake. It nullifies the entire point and appeal of the episode. No wonder you don't like it anymore!

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    2. I still like it. It just doesn't rank as one of my favorites anymore.

      I always thought Star Trek looked good when shot on location. I wonder what it would have looked like shot on a movie lot.

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  3. I liked this episode when I was younger and seem to be appreciating it more as I get older.
    For me, the highlight of this episode has to be Spock's revelation about 'all of this is unreal'. They really don't write stuff like this anymore. Mr Nimoy at his Spockiest best.
    I'm not sure whether the episode would have been better filmed on a lot as opposed to a sound stage as the shadows against the red sky in the prelude to the showdown help add an extra layer of surrealism.
    Note also, that the Earps and Doc Holliday rarely blink throughout the entire episode. Admittedly they do when at the OK Corrall and the wind is blowing debris into their faces, but this is another inspired bit of writing/direction as this too helps to add ghostly qualities to their characters.
    All in all, a top episode (in my top five along with Corbomite, Arena, Doomsday and The Enterprise Incident). A fourth season of Star Trek should have seen more episodes with telepaths but, although I would have loved this, I fear that the quality of the franchise may have deteriorated even more and, who knows, may not have helped develop the clamour for more Star Trek as was the case after only 79 episodes. Who knows?

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    1. I can't say I ever noticed that before about the lack of blinking - nice!

      It's fun to speculate about what may have happened in a 4th season had the winds of fortune blew differently. Have you ever taken a look at DC Fontana's Year Four that she did for IDW? It's pretty good IMHO.

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    2. I haven't seen DC Fontana's Year Four-could you let me have a few more details if possible?

      The only thing that I have read regarding Year Four is that they were planning to do an episode where Dr McCoy's daughter comes aboard the Enterprise and Kirk falls for her (leading to some conflict between Bones and Kirk).

      Also note, that during the mind-meld sequences Kirk, Scotty and McCoy do not blink as well. I can't remember if 'meldees' do not blink in any of the other episodes but this again adds to the mystical feel of this episode. Gene L Coon (Lee Cronin) was a true genius for writing Spectre along with others such as Arena, etc.

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    3. Agreed on Gene L. Coon - he was a maestro.

      Year Four was a comic series put out by IDW written by DC Fontana. I honestly don't recall too, too much of the plot, only that it definitely felt like vintage Trek. (Unsurprisingly, I guess, given its author!) Good stuff.

      I believe the plot you mention re: Bones' daughter was originally the plot for "The Way to Eden." But they changed her to Chekov's old girlfriend. (That plot also touches the TAS episode "The Survivor.")

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    4. Thanks very much for that-much appreciated.

      I see you've reviewed some other episodes so I'll have to have a look at them :) Some good writing on this blog-keep up the good work!

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