by Jeff Bond
Long before The Jeffersons, Rhoda and Private Practice, Star Trek got an early start on the idea of spin-off series with this peculiar but very entertaining stealth pilot for a series that would have starred Robert Lansing as Gary Seven, a human being trained by aliens to keep a secret watch over Earth during one of the most dangerous periods in its history.
The last broadcast episode of Trek’s season two, “Assignment: Earth” takes the once shocking concept of time travel as depicted in “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” and “The City on the Edge of Forever” and makes it so commonplace that it’s merely another routine task for the Enterprise to slingshot around the sun and travel back to 1967. What’s not commonplace is Seven himself, a seemingly superpowered humanoid who appears on the Enterprise transporter pad with his cat, almost overpowers Spock and some security guards before succumbing to a phaser stun.
The opening scenes with Seven are well done, effectively establishing an urgent aura of mystery around the man and emphasizing Kirk’s anxiety at the potential disaster inherent in messing with history. Once Seven escapes the Enterprise and Kirk and Spock don civilian Earth clothing to pursue him, the episode shifts easily into comedy with Teri Garr’s scatterbrained and amusing secretary Roberta Lincoln trying to make sense of her strange new boss and the two oddball strangers who invade his office. Yet there’s still room for some interesting dramatic moments, as when Seven broods over the death of two fellow agents “in something as meaningless as an automobile accident.”
It’s interesting to wonder how this might have played out as a television series, a kind of earthbound companion piece to Star Trek (one fan went so far as to design a title sequence and record a piece of theme music for the show that “Assignment: Earth” might have been…see below for more). Robert Lansing was always a popular and intriguing television performer in everything from Twelve O’Clock High to his role as Control on The Equalizer. At the time of “Assignment: Earth” Terri Garr had primarily found work as a dancer in Elvis Presley pictures—her Star Trek guest shot was a breakthrough role for her and demonstrated a quirky comic presence that would later be used to great effect in films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Tootsie. And Trek staple Barbara Babcock conspires with art director Matt Jefferies, Trek special effects guru Jim Rugg and the Trek sound effects editors to create a memorably bitchy computer in the Beta 5, an obvious first cousin to Richard Daystrom’s M-5 unit.
Oddly Kirk and Spock get very little comedy to play in this episode as they spend the bulk of the story in hot pursuit of Seven, But Kirk’s anguish and tension over the mystery of Seven and what kind of havoc he might wreak in Earth’s past is well played and the missile detonation countdown finale, simply staged though it is, is a nice suspense sequence.
As for CBS-D’s contribution to this episode I have only one thing to say: AGAIN with the Earth-like planets! I’ve had it up to HERE with you people—I mean show some imagination for once! Would it kill you to show a planet that wasn’t—what? Oh, this IS Earth?
Some nice shots here, and placing the moon into several of them really helps differentiate these not only from the original shots but also from other Remastered episodes that feature Earth. There was a lot of talk on the boards about replacing the gantry shots or other stock footage of Saturn boosters intended to stand in for nuclear missile launch platforms or whatever—I suppose some of that could have been done but I don’t remember really being bothered by the stock footage use in the original episode. The quality of the original rocket footage was good enough and the episode does a rather clever job of putting Mr. Seven into the gantry environment, so the few orbital shots done here are more than sufficient for the episode.
REMASTERED v ORIGINAL
by Matt Wright
Bonus Video: Assignment: Earth…the series
Here is a glimpse at a possible opening theme for the Trek spin-off that never was…
This was created by musician and school teacher Andy Patterson (with help from his brothers Michael and Phillip). Andy wrote the music for the theme and recorded the original music using real live musicians. There is also an alternative ‘jazzier’ version at YouTube. Visit Andy’s Gary Seven Website for more.
Seasons One and Two discounted at Amazon
The Season Two box set is now available at Amazon for pre-order, discounted to $63.99 (Amazon has a low price guarantee that if they drop the price before ship date of August 5th you will get that lower price). Amazon has also discounted the Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is to $96.95 (retail is $194.99).