When Wrath of Khan hit theaters in the summer of ’82, the local station that ran syndicated episodes of Star Trek held a two-night “event” with four episodes of Star Trek airing in the prime time block. Because the event tied into the release of Khan on the big-screen, I convinced myself that somehow the station involved was actually going to air parts of the just-release movie during that block.
Turns out I was horribly mistaken.
But what I was able to do was convince my dad to let me stay up later (it was summer) and to watch at least one night of the two with him.
I can’t tell you what the other three episodes featured over the two nights were (but part of me strongly suspects “Space Seed” had to be in there). But what I vividly recall is that “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was lead off the block – and that it made quite an impression on me.
To this point, I was aware of Star Trek without necessarily having watched much of it. In the wake of Star Wars, any movie with the word “star” in the title must be good and it seems like a lot of my comic book collection in 1979/80 had a back cover ad for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I even managed to convince my mom to take me to see it, convinced it would have epic space battles and be something similar to Star Wars or my other favorite movie at the time The Black Hole.
Instead, I came away thinking the Motion Picture was the dullest movie ever made (a feeling it would take years for me to dispel). But there was something there that convinced me that Star Trek was worth discovering more about. I tried to watch an episode one night while visiting my grandparents only to have them switch channels when a commercial came on that they thought was “too scary.” The other times I tried to watch a syndicated repeat I always managed to catch “The Cloud Minders.”
And so it was that I encountered “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and it all suddenly clicked as to what all this hype about Star Trek was all about.
I can’t help but feel executives at NBC might have felt the same way back when they screened this second pilot in the mid-60’s and decided to give the series the go-ahead.
While I like “The Cage,” I have to admit that “Where No Man Has Gone Before” looks and acts more like Star Trek. And while we’re still not quite to the bright colors and the full crew compliment we’ll come to know and love, we’re a lot closer.
A lot of this simply comes down to your leading man. No disrespect to Jeffrey Hunter (who is superb in one of my all-time favorite films The Searchers) but he’s no William Shatner. From his first moment on screen as Captain James T. Kirk, Shatner owns the screen and commands your attention in a way Hunter didn’t in “The Cage.”
It helps that the story about centers on Kirk’s struggle, both internal and external, about what to do about Gary Mitchell. Does his loyalty lie to the friend who has been there all these years, saving his life, career and pride on more than one occasion or does it lie with his ship, his crew and the rest of humanity who Mitchell would most likely squash like a bug or subjugate to his rule given his new-found powers.
The script does a superb job of establishing Mitchell and then having him become a power-mad maniac in 50 minutes of screen time. It also allows for a lot of action, suspense and just all around great drama to unfold. Whether it’s the consoles blowing up as the Enterprise goes through the galactic barrier, Kirk and Mitchell fighting it out on the Delta Vega wasteland or the superlative scene where Spock points out that Mitchell should be killed and killed quickly to prevent his power from increasing to the point that no will be able to stop him.
As this series of reflections on classic Star Trek continues, you may begin to notice that I have a lot of admiration for the character of James T. Kirk and the acting work of William Shatner. It’s easy to find those moments when Shatner swung for the fences and maybe went over the top a bit. But for every one of those moments, I’d argue there are at least three more that show just Shatner was a sought after leading man in the mid-60’s and why Trek was lucky to get him.
That starts here. Whether it’s the give and take with Spock in the opening scene with the 3-D chess or the clear confidence as he leads the crew into the barrier or the pained expression as Spock points out that the commander of the Reliant probably asked himself the same questions now facing Kirk, Shatner just embodies James T. Kirk and owns the role from the get-go.
Yes, Leonard Nimoy is also great as Spock and I’ll give you that a lot of what makes classic Trek work so well is the way these two complement each other. (Again see the briefing room scene). But I’d argue that Trek without Shatner wouldn’t have lasted more than a dozen episodes and become the franchise that we’re celebrating fifty years later.
I also have to admit that this is one of the few episodes in the remastered editions that I think is served well by the upgraded effects. I still like and prefer the original models and effects, possibly because I’ve seen the episode that way so many times before. But there’s something about new images of the Enterprise in the barrier that works well.
Of course this time around in my viewing I decided to watch the Blu-Ray extra bonus of the episode as it was originally presented to NBC and not the final aired version. Not really any huge differences here. In fact, the most obvious were that each act repeated the title and gave the act number. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same episode that hooked me into this great series and franchise all those years ago.
And don’t forget the Mission Log episode examining if this one holds up.