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He's Not a Godlike Being, He's a Very Naughty Boy!
Star Trek: The Original Series Vol. 09: Shore Leave / Squire of Gothos (DVD)
Member Name: Frankingsteins
Star Trek: The Original Series Vol. 09: Shore Leave / Squire of Gothos (DVD)
Advantages: Two entertaining and memorable comedy outings for the Enterprise crew.
Disadvantages: Lacks the drama and social commentary of other episodes.
Passing the half-way point of its lengthy first season, Star Trek's writers continue to dabble in comedy with some surprisingly successful results, especially for those who thought the show's only humour came in some of its dodgy alien designs and plot clichés. Both 'Shore Leave' and 'The Squire of Gothos' are memorable, light-hearted offerings that nevertheless both possess sinister undertones until the final revelation comes about and everything ends conveniently-ever-after. The first episode in particular remains one of the most fondly remembered of the original run - though I may be a little biased, as it's the first episode I saw as a child.
The premise of the opening episode is no more complex than necessary: the crew take shore leave on a planet and weird stuff happens. The Enterprise has been hard at work exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilisations for seriously ages now, and the crew is quite frankly knackered; as luck would have it, the starship comes across a solar system with an apparently uninhabited, idyllic world, and everyone beams down on captain's orders to indulge themselves. At first, Captain Kirk takes no notice of his medical officer's urgent and confused communications, putting his claims of a man-size white rabbit being chased by a young girl in a blue dress down as a practical joke, but when the rest of his officers experience similar "hallucinations," from Mr. Sulu's discovery of an antique firearm and Yeoman Barrows' assault by Don Juan to Kirk's own visions of a mischievous upperclassman who taunted him in his Academy days, the search is undertaken to find the answers of the riddle of this mysterious "paradise." The problem escalates when the Enterprise loses its transporter ability, stranding the crew with illusions that can become deadly, as Dr. McCoy learns when facing down a black knight and winding up lanced through the heart before he can even declare, "I'm dead, Jim."
It's an episode not without its problems, particularly in terms of distracting plot oversights and contradictions presumably caused by an overdue writing deadline that saw Gene Roddenberry scripting last-minute scenes under a tree on location, but 'Shore Leave' is the original series at its light-hearted best. The location filming is always a welcome relief from the claustrophobic and less than convincing soundstage used for most alien worlds, and it's easy to share in the holiday atmosphere as Kirk and crew let their hair down (albeit still wearing those velour uniforms), making this ideal follow-up viewing after one of the series' more serious instalments. It isn't all frivolity however, and writer Theodore Sturgeon makes sure to delve a little deeper into the regular characters with the fantasies they experience, revealing the younger Kirk's slightly unusual attraction to older women, expanding on Sulu's interest in ancient weaponry (introduced in the earlier classic comedy episode 'The Naked Time'), and letting McCoy flirt with the new Yeoman. As this focus on the ensemble cast faded slightly in later seasons, it's something of a shame that James "Scotty" Doohan was missing from so many of these early episodes due to other commitments, though Uhura's absence from the planet scenes seems like a bit of an oversight.
The second episode, 'The Squire of Gothos,' returns to a theme Star Trek has dealt with a couple of times before, and would continue to explore countless times hereafter: the interference of a mischievous, godlike alien. Unlike Gary Mitchell and Charlie Evans in previous episodes, the Squire's intentions for the Enterprise officers he abducts to his quaint castle seem to be to provide the alien with entertainment or companionship, but his destructive potential is far superior. Trelane is able to manipulate his entire planet through space at impossible speeds, blocking the Enterprise's path as it attempts to escape his clutches, but the captured landing party finds hope in the "omnipotent" creature's evident flaws: his knowledge of Earth is based entirely on visual and audio signals he has received from the planet across the vastness of space, causing his sense of fashion, architecture and culture to be more anachronistic to his guests' tastes than he made allowances for, and Mr. Spock even deduces that Trelane is dependent on a nearby power source for his theatrics. Kirk seems able to outwit the superior being by chastising him like an errant child, but the Squire soon tires of the game and sets up a traditional hunt in which the Captain is his prey...
Unmasking godlike pretenders was a key theme of Roddenberry's liberal humanist series, and while this is one of the lesser examples for being diluted with silliness, that also makes it less preachy and demanding of the viewer than something like the later 'Who Mourns for Adonais?', which aimed to debunk all contemporary religions by presenting the literal Death of God (a Greek God, in that instance). Noble intentions aside, this is primarily a fun episode enhanced by William Campbell's dedication to the role of the alien trickster that may well have been the inspiration for John DeLancie's Q, the recurring sometime-villain in the later sequel series 'Star Trek: The Next Generation,' particularly in that character's early appearances. What could easily have been overlooked as a daft episode to get over with quickly was fortunately turned into a labour of love for the production team, set designer Matt Jeffries having cited the castle set as one of his personal favourite contributions to Star Trek (outside of designing the Enterprise, of course), and the compartments of Trelane's museum provide regular viewers with a fun game of species-spotting by including the empty suits of monsters from previous episodes; DeForrest Kelley's double-take at the salt vampire from his character's first major episode is an especially nice touch.
While these episodes are primarily comic in nature, the writers continue to explore significant sci-fi themes, however much these lean towards the "fi" side of things. The notion of light taking centuries to reach Trelane is interesting, however accurate it may be, as well as a clear sign that nobody had decided just how far into the future this series was supposed to be set at this point - Kirk's comment that Trelane's manor resembles Earth "nine hundred years ago" would place the story several centuries further down the line than the twenty-third century eventually established in the feature films. 'Shore Leave' is still the highlight of this set, and the first season in general, and I'd have to place it among the ten-or-so best episodes the series produced, for being one of its more successful comedy outings along with 'The Naked Time' and the following year's 'The Trouble With Tribbles' (the latter of which saw the return of Campbell to play the less silly role of the Klingon Koloth). You have to admire an episode that asks you to take an absurdly fake-looking rabbit suit seriously, yet still manages to contrive a plausible and satisfying justification by the end, and Shatner gets his shirt all torn in a soily fight if that's the kind of thing that interests you. There are no special features on this basic DVD, but you can find it cheaply online.
Summary: 'Shore Leave' & 'The Squire of Gothos' (1966-67).