Harcourt Fenton Mudd appeared in only two Original Series episodes and one episode of the Animated Series, but he is probably one of the best remembered and best loved supporting characters Star Trek has ever had. Harry Mudd was the prototypical rogue and scoundrel, a petty thief, an outrageous liar and a brazen conman with a rap sheet as long as Kirk’s service record. He was a walking, talking, conniving refutation of Roddenberry’s whole concept of “evolved” human beings, and all the more interesting for it, if you ask me.
Harry is back for his second appearance in “I, Mudd,” having escaped from the rehabilitation colony where Kirk left him after the events of “Mudd’s Women,” and he has fallen in with a planet full of androids who are plotting to take over the galaxy. The androids have appointed him as their leader, catering to his every whim and need, a circumstance he obviously relishes except for the fact that they won’t let him leave. He concocts a scheme whereby the androids hijack the Enterprise and its crew to take his place, but the androids have their own plan to make everyone in the galaxy, including Harry Mudd, their pampered but carefully controlled captives. Unfortunately for them, they are no match for Captain James T. Kirk and his intrepid crew who are by now experts at talking megalomaniacal computers and robots into short-circuiting themselves. They join forces with Harry Mudd to bombard the androids with a series of hilariously absurd performances right out of a vaudeville talent show, which eventually leaves the androids twitching and smoking from their inability to make logical sense out of total illogic. These poor guys never even had a chance.
Not Just for Laughs
It’s tempting to simply lump this episode in with other farcical but entertaining installments like “The Trouble with Tribbles” or “A Piece of the Action,” but there is actually more going on here than meets the eye. Aside from the whimsical and lighthearted overtones of this episode, there are two recurring Original Series themes at work in “I, Mudd.” One is a generally distrustful and technophobic view of robots and intelligent computers as dangerous, usually bent on replacing, controlling or outright destroying humans or other living beings in one way or another. The other is a warning about the self-destructive threat to the spirit of mankind posed by total fulfillment and instant gratification through technology. I find both of these rather ironic in light of Trek’s later embrace in the 24th century era of “technology unchained,” including sentient androids like Commander Data. I have often made the argument that the Original Star Trek was very different philosophically from it’s later spin-offs and the underlying themes of this episode are perfect illustrations of why. Despite its optimistic view of humanity’s future, TOS was still very cognizant of real human nature with all its failings and weaknesses, not just in supporting characters like Harry Mudd but often enough in the main characters as well. This gave TOS, for all its low-budget campiness, a quality of plausibility and relatability that the spin-offs lacked, in my opinion. As I re-watched this episode, I found myself thinking ahead to Star Trek XI, which is supposed to revisit the familiar characters and approximate time period of TOS. Not that I expect J.J. Abrams, who is producing the film, to make anything as off-beat as “I, Mudd,” but I’m more excited than ever at the prospect of what someone like Abrams will be able to do with the types of characters and themes I always loved from TOS.
good robot…bad robot
New Voices, Glowing Rings and a Gut Full of Gadgetry
On the technical side, the visual quality is as good as ever with these newly remastered episodes. It will be really interesting when they finally get released on DVD and we can see them in their full high-definition glory, but in the meantime there’s still plenty of standard-definition goodness to enjoy. I continue to notice things I don’t remember seeing before, especially facial expressions and background details, and I have to assume it’s because the overall picture is simply sharper and more detailed than it has ever been. This episode also marks the first airing of a remastered episode with the added vocals to the opening theme song, newly performed by accomplished soprano Elin Carlson. I still notice the difference between the old and new versions, and Carlson’s delivery seems a little smoother to my ear, but none of those are bad things. The new theme song sounds better than it ever has, it just takes a little getting used to.
There are only a handful of effects shots in this mostly planet-based episode, most of them essentially stock footage, but a couple of them really stand out as memorable. The first is when the android named Norman flips open the access panel in his stomach to reveal the electronic innards within. In the original version, the edge of the flesh-toned panel was clearly visible even when closed and the workings behind it were a Heathkit-esque assemblage of wires and circuit boards. In the new version, the panel has been pretty effectively blended into the surrounding “skin” and the workings have been totally replaced by a much more sophisticated looking plastron of blinking lights, circuit traces and little rotating wheels that reminded me either of gears or the old reel-to-reel databanks they used to use before hard drives became ubiquitous. Stylistically, I thought it was maybe a little too sleek and modern looking for the TOS era but definitely an improvement on the original
The second noteworthy shot comes at the very end of the episode as the Enterprise breaks orbit from the android planet. Up until now, all of the planets we’ve seen in the remastered episodes were basically similar to their original versions, but this time the planet is much more vivid and colorful, surrounded by bright yellow rings and set off from the background of starry space like something out of a Chesley Bonestell painting. The ship arcs past and out into space with the camera panning to follow, and again I note that this is a move they could not have done in the 1960s without motion controlled cameras at the very least. The stars, the planet and the ship all could have been filmed separately and composited into a single shot, but they could not have replicated the camera moves by hand from one element to the next. The end result is stunning and beautiful, all except for those horrid nacelle caps which are still too bright, too orange and too washed out.
Still Room for Improvement
The rest of the effects shots are pretty standard and vary from quite good to persistently bad, especially in terms of lighting. Just after the first commercial break, there’s a side view of the Enterprise cruising through space that epitomizes the so-called “plastic look” so often associated with poor CG. Almost no texturing or surface detail is visible at all and the shadows are very flat and artificial looking. In CG, there are several ways, generally known as “global illumination,” to simulate realistic shadows so that they have depth and contrast, none of which seem to have been used in this case. I realize they are producing these effects under some fairly tight budget and time constraints but I really can’t understand why they insist on using such a washed-out lighting scheme.
I am just going to say one word ‘plastics’
As much as I enjoyed this episode, I’m really looking forward to the remastered version of Harry Mudd’s first TOS appearance, “Mudd’s Women,” though I have yet to see an airdate for it. Even though it, too, has its lighthearted aspects, it’s a more serious-minded episode and is pretty heavily loaded with opportunities for updated effects shots, including a chase through an asteroid field and lots of scenes down on the storm-swept planet’s surface. It will be interesting to see just how far the effects team is willing to go in updating those shots.