Review of Friday’s Child Remastered

While I’m curious as to why anything written by Dorothy Fontana would qualify as “underappreciated,” the second season episode “Friday’s Child” often produces a shrug of disaffection when you mention it to fans. I’ve never understood this and it’s always been a favorite of mine. Maybe it’s the patently ridiculous costumes, the mix of cyclorama “planet” sets and somewhat overused (but cool!) Vasquez Rocks location work, but I’ve always suspected that the chief thorn in many fans’ sides is one of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to the story: the unusual characterization of El’een, the pregnant tribal queen doomed to die by regime change. Despite being played by an actress known for her sex kitten roles, El’een is far from the usual green-skinned alien sexpot provided for Kirk to seduce. Pregnant, stubborn and disagreeable, she establishes her prickly personality early on by siding with the episode’s sneaky Klingon Kras (Mod Squad’s Tighe Andrews) when Kirk and company start their negotiations for the Capellans’ “rocks.” Even better, after Kirk valiantly sabotages her ritual execution after the coup, El’een asks for our hero to be put to death for daring to touch her!

For me the best Trek has always been about the surprising way different cultures think, the way ideas taken for granted by us might be (and likely will be) completely meaningless to an alien intelligence. “Friday’s Child” is a great execution of this premise as only McCoy’s prior experience on the planet Capella IV prevents Kirk and Spock from blowing it again and again. El’een may seem like an infuriating at first, but she has her own sense of honor, duty and purpose, and finally shows herself open to at least a little bit of human perspective.

This is an action-heavy adventure, particularly in its first half as a security guard bites the dust, Kirk engages in two unfortunate scuffles with Capellan guards, and there’s the mass mayhem of the coup itself. But the story’s pleasures are mostly character-driven. It’s great to see McCoy, the man who’s ill-at-ease anywhere but sickbay, be put in a position where he’s more comfortable and authoritative with an alien race than Kirk and Spock. The early parlay scene with Kras is exquisitely well-written, with the Klingon’s great, condescending speech about the humans’ weaknesses (“The sight of death frightens them!…What have you obtained from them in the past? Powders and liquids for the sick?”) and McCoy’s ball-busting comeback (“What the Klingon says is unimportant, and we do not hear his words.”). Michael Pate’s M’aab is a cool, unsettling heavy (“I begin to like you, Earth man…and I saw fear in the Klingon’s eye…”), Kras a malicious, sniveling villain who more than earns his comeuppance at the story’s bloody finale.

“Friday’s Child” is also a great platform for James Doohan’s Scotty, showing him a cool-under-fire starship commander just as he is in “Metamorphosis.”  But it’s mostly McCoy’s story, and his give-and-take with the fiery El’een makes for some great moments. The rock climbing scene is priceless with its un-PC exchange of facial blows between the two—I love that smirk of pure spite on Newmar’s face after she hits McCoy a second time, clearly thinking that this alien’s ideas of chivalry are going to allow her to smack McCoy around all she wants—until Bones surprises her by hitting back. Of course men hitting women wasn’t shocking in Sixties television, but here the meaning is different—working within El’een’s cultural ideas, hitting her is a way of gaining a warrior’s respect, and it’s interesting how McCoy has to think outside his box of caregiver to deliver that blow. There’s another nice little moment I never caught onto as a kid in the cave, after El’een announces the baby is hungry and McCoy shoots a dirty look to the watching Kirk and McCoy, forcing them to turn their backs as El’een breastfeeds the baby. You have to love Shatner’s reaction, grabbing McCoy’s arm after El’een asks Bones to bring “our child,” that sets up the genuinely funny tag with the baby being named “Leonard James Ak’aar”—which Spock understandably finds appalling. All three principals play the comic finale to the hilt as Kirk and McCoy wax poetic over their new namesake and Spock pronounces he thinks they will both be “insufferably pleased with yourselves for at least a month.”

Far too pleased with themselves

The biggest reason I love this episode is still probably Gerald Fried’s score. In Fried’s canon it’s overshadowed by “Amok Time,” but “Friday’s Child” is equally exciting and rather more epic than the Vulcan-based story. The opening and closing credit cues, with a thrilling trumpet figure playing against the familiar Alexander Courage Enterprise fanfare, is some of the most rousing music in the series (all the Enterprise shots in the episode get thrilling, brassy music cues); the tribal, pounding march that plays over the first tracking shot of the Capellan village perfectly establishes the warlike character of these people, and I love the sheer balls of moments like the cut back to the Enterprise bridge and Chekov’s screen at Spock’s station, Fried’s music laying down a furiously heavy downbeat just to show Chekov’s sensors losing track of the Klingon ship. Check out the staccato music playing over the scenes with Kras and the same theme urgently playing over the red alert klaxon’s in Scotty’s standoff with the Klingon vessel: that’s the first “Klingon theme” used in the series. And the gentle woodwind theme for El’een and the baby is memorable too.

I was looking forward to seeing “Friday’s Child” get the deluxe new transfer treatment since the original Sci Fi Channel redos, which were the versions that later made it to DVD, for some reason didn’t lavish the same tender loving care on this episode that they did on the others—it has always looked grainy and overly contrasty, which does not help its visually busy, rock-laden location work and questionable costumes. Sadly, the new transfer is only a moderate improvement: the image does show greater detail, but the colors aren’t pumped up as much (there’s an overall brown look to the show), the scenes in tents are grainy and the overly contrasty look remains a problem.

The effects work here continues the higher standard of more recent episodes using the new Enterprise model; two orbiting shots continue the wide pan approach of the opening titles of “The City on the Edge of Forever,” but with the improved model’s texture and lighting (I noticed on the opening title pan across the planet the rumbling Enterprise engine noise occurs seemingly in time with the far/near/far arc of the ship; I’m not sure if this is a happy accident or whether CBS Digital has suddenly found a way to tweak the sound effects they’ve been “married” to prior to this). The opening approach shot, looking over the disk of the Enterprise at Capella IV, is a first for the series and nicely duplicated with a more convincing movement of the planet (although the planet itself looks strangely flat in this shot without the highlights and subtleties shown in the bigger shots that happen later in the episode), and there’s a more dynamic shot of the Enterprise leaving orbit under Scotty’s command. There are some beautiful takeoffs of familiar Enterprise angles, like a side shot of the ship in search mode and a great closeup of the bridge with a warp nacelle in the background—both show very subtle banking movements that give the shots a realistic zero g feel, and you get a view of the subtle deflector shield grid on the top of the primary hull in the latter shot (at least one syndication edit cuts directly from the to the bridge without an establishing ship shot so we can assume at least one or two other Enterprise shots were cut for the airing).

Approaching Capella IV

As in “Arena,” the face off with the Klingon ship is a potential disappointment for anyone expecting either an obvious new “scoutship” design or just a closer shot of a D-7. This is a little more problematic in “Friday’s Child”—in “Arena” there never was a shot of the Gorn ship to compare the new version to, but “Friday’s Child”—like “Journey toBabel”—used an animated optical effect as its alien spacecraft, in both cases relatively large in the viewscreen frame. The “Friday’s Child” Klingon ship looked something like a glowing hot iron, while the new version may or may not be a D-7, or a newly designed scoutship that is definitely smaller in the frame (while Kras says his ship is a “small scout ship,” he may very well be lying as part of the trap prepared for the Enterprise—Chekov describes the enemy ship as “a Klingon warship” which is the standard nomenclature for the D7 on the show).

The lack of a big Klingon ship reveal in this episode may infuriate fans in a way but there’s still an obvious reason for this: the familiar Klingon ship design was ultimately revealed, with a lot of fanfare, in the third season episodes “The Enterprise Incident” and “Elaan of Troyius.” So if we see a Klingon ship up close and personal in “Friday’s Child,” it makes no sense for Scotty, Kirk and Spock to make a big deal out of seeing one “for the first time” in those third season episodes (in fact that timeline is also marred by the clear view of the Klingon warship in “The Trouble With Tribbles” when it was probably described as hanging a hundred miles off K-7 for a reason). In the original episode the vague, undefined shape of the animation effect did the job of creating the Klingon ship’s mystery; here it has to be the size of the ship in the frame.

Little touches again show the CBS Digital crew going the extra mile, as when they tweak Chekov’s bridge display screen (which originally just showed a blob of light appearing and disappearing on an undetailed blue background) into a more convincing technical readout—a nice added touch is the sweep of a sensor beam across the screen as Chekov tries to home in on the ship after it disappears. There are also viewer reflections added to the opening briefing room scene although they’re blocked by an intercom on the table top so you don’t see much interaction there.

The big addition is something that up until now had been considered undoable: rerendering the animated phaser effects in the live action footage. Here it happens at the show’s climax as Kras uses a stolen hand phaser to disintegrate a Capellan warrior and then the self-sacrificing M’aab. I grew up on the animated Trek phaser effects and while there are obvious technical problems with some of the shots I’ve always liked their pulp-sci fi aesthetic—when a phaser was fired on the old show it was a big deal, partly because it was expensive to do the animation so you didn’t see it very often, and also because on high power these weapons disintegrated people—which is pretty extreme! I never understood the gun battles on TNG and later where people were just blasting up the place Star Wars-style with these weapons, which were presumably even more powerful versions of the ones seen on the original series—yet all they would do was create a few sparks and knock people down. Ironically the danger in doing smoother, better-matched animation for Trek Remastered is in removing some of the power and mystique of these fanciful weapons.

Nothing seems to have been done with Kras’ first shot with the hand phaser, which detonates rocks near Spock, temporarily putting him out of commission—although the phaser beam seems more closely tracked to the actors’ slight hand motions. The last two shots of Kras killing a Capellan guard and M’aab are effectively tweaked, seemingly by freezing on the shots in question and animating over the actor being killed. The trickery is a little more obvious if you watch the second shot, aimed at M’aab, frame by frame—seems they start the new beam a bit early and if you can watch carefully you can see the original beam join it a few frames in. The replaced effect is subtle, capturing the look of the original and eliminating the cartoonish blue sparkles that give away the cel-animated origins of the original work. I know some fans would prefer every phaser shot be reworked from top to bottom but I’m glad that the aesthetic of the original effect has been retained here.

New Phaser Effects

Sounds like the remastered “Friday’s Child” is helping people take a new look at this episode; I wish that more could have been done to clean up and brighten the look of the original photography but it now looks like that is just an insurmountable problem specific to this episode. But the CBS Digital work continues to add entertainment value and interest to these shows.

JEFF BOND is the Editor-In-Chief of Geek Magazine and author of The Music of Star Trek. His short story, “Fracture,” appears in a 40th anniversary collection of Star Trek fiction, Constellations, from Pocket Books.

Check out Jeff Bond’s fabulous magazine Geek Monthly

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