by Jeff Bond
Trek nears the bottom of the barrel with this nonsensical mix of romance and science fiction written by Shari Lewis, better known as the puppeteer behind Lambchop. Based on this script, it’s clear that puppeteering is her true talent—“Lights of Zetar” is a classic “Mary Sue” storyline profiling a female Enterprise officer who’s the latest woman since Lt. Caroline Palamas to drive Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott to irrational acts of incompetence.
The “Mary Jane” stories, staples of Trek fan fiction, usually involve a heroic female character who spends the tale being loved—or at least admired—by Trek’s male characters. It’s a bit of romantic wish fulfillment that’s particularly sad given the show’s tentative depictions of female equality—you’d think a female fan writing for this particular show could do better than to create a female character whose only function is as a romantic object.
Jan Shutan plays Lt. Mira Romaine, a records officer (librarian?) who has Scotty dizzy over her from the show’s opening scenes. The romance is notable enough that Kirk devotes an entire log entry to it, and most of the bridge crew spends the opening moments of the episode commenting on “the girl” (as Romaine is continually referred to throughout the episode, even by Spock). Sample dialogue: Chekov: “I didn’t think Mr. Scott would go for the brainy type.” Sulu: “I don’t think he’s even noticed she has a brain.” Ah, Star Trek—always ahead if its time…
In a virtual replay of the kickoff scene from “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (so much so that Alexander Courage’s score from that pilot is used throughout the episode), a swarm of alien lights invade the ship, finally lodging inside Romaine; shortly thereafter this “storm” attacks Memory Alpha. The lights of Zetar make people talk in slowed down croaks while processed color effects wash across their faces. Apparently they’re a lost race looking for a physical home to settle down in, and they’ve decided that a fetching brunette with great legs would be the best possible environment in which to live.
It’s sad enough to see Scotty, who’s shown to be not only a brilliant engineer but also a coolly competent starship commander in so many other episodes, reduced to the whimpering romantic puppy dog he becomes here. But just as in “Is There In Truth No Beauty,” Kirk, Spock and McCoy are also made into a Mira Romaine cheerleading society, lavishing more praise on the woman than poor, long-suffering Uhura, Sulu or Chekov will ever get. But unlike Dr. Miranda Jones, Mira Romaine isn’t a particularly impressive character—her chief accomplishment seems to be not whimpering in fear like some of the other female guest stars on the series. Shutan seems capable of playing a strong, intelligent woman, but the script undercuts her few contributions, instead opting for shots of her beaming winsomely at Scotty or otherwise surrendering her fate to the newly met command crew of the Enterprise who she “trusts implicitly.” Her experience as a records officer doesn’t play into resolving the plot’s dilemma and by the end of the story she’s merely an inert object floating in sickbay’s decompression chamber as Kirk, Spock and McCoy work to rescue her.
Meanwhile, Scotty’s behavior in this episode is despicable, if not insubordinate. He directly disobeys Kirk’s order to stay at his post on the bridge rather than follow the injured Romaine to sickbay, and he fails to report symptoms and behavior on the part of Romaine that have a critical bearing on both her survival and the safety of the ship and crew. His few acts of outright idiocy in “Who Mourns for Adonais?” are almost excusable in the heat of the moment, but you’d think a court martial would be in order after “Lights of Zetar.”
The episode’s one interesting idea is the Memory Alpha archive, although as shown in the story, placing a star-spanning civilization’s entire compilation of knowledge on one vulnerable planetoid turns out not to be such a great idea. The loss of these priceless records doesn’t get the impact it deserves as the episode wraps up tidily once the Zetars are exorcised from Romaine’s body. Presumably Lt. Romaine will spend the rest of her life trying to put Memory Alpha together again.
With its blinking lights, color-shifted faces and interstellar storms, “Lights of Zetar” was an effects-based episode, and as with “Day of the Dove,” the challenge for CBS-D is to retain many of the episode’s original optical effects as they are overlaid on live action scenes while taking advantage of the outside-the-ship scenes to broaden the palette of action and detail. The Zetar “storm” was simply but interestingly rendered on the original series as a kind of floating piece of interstellar gelatin with flashing interior lights, and the new effects expand marvelously on the original look, combining a bubbling, transparent red cloud with a series of coruscating, pulsating interior lights. The object is combined with the Enterprise in a number of very effective shots that take advantage of the possibilities for interactive lighting and seamless compositing. The only downside is the overlaying of these effects on top of the original optical effects of glimmering lights inside Romaine’s eye pupils and a rather effective dolly shot of the lights invading the corridors of the Enterprise late in the game. The combination of the new light effects on top of the originals just winds up being overly busy, while either effect on its own is quite striking and effective—given that the Zetar lights are operating in entirely different environments (something that becomes an important plot point at the episode climax) the original effects of the lights inside Romaine and the Enterprise could probably have been safely left alone.
Another ambitious addition is the revamping of Memory Alpha from the familiar colored globe of the original episode to a new, Mars-like planetoid that shows a huge, visible structure of linked domes—far more visually interesting and something that actually measures up to the momentous concept of Memory Alpha. With all these touches, and the dynamic look of even simple shots of the Zetar cloud pursuing the Enterprise visible on its viewscreen, this comes off as one of the more spectacular efforts by CBS-D. It’s almost enough to make “Lights of Zetar” worth sitting through again. Almost.
by Matt Wright
Remastered vs. Original
Scotty protects his new younger girlfriend
Seasons One and Two 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). The Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is available for $129.95 (retail is $194.99).
Seasons One and Two of TOS-R ($129.95 and $63.99 respectively)
The remasters make everything look so good. How long does it take to do a typical episode over?
Any others votes from readers, that CBS-D is adding film grain to the Enterprise special effects shots?
CLARIFICATION: Any other YES votes from Trekmovie.com readers that CBS-D is adding film grain to the Enterprise special effects shots?
Oh, lost oportunities. This could have been a decent episode with some revision. Making Scotty less of the love-struck teenager would go a long way! In fact, Lt. Romane isn’t even needed. Oh, well, like things in sci-fi, it is an interesting idea killed by poor planning and execution.
I like this episode more than Jeff Bond. I think for 1960’s TV Star Trek romances were appropriate for that era. Besides those aliens really creaped me out as a child. It had a real Outer LImits feel to it.
As I write this I am first. Let’s see where I wind up when I post it.
Is it just me or does the cloud look more fake than it originally did?
The planetoid is a fantastic addition though. Well done Mr Okuda!
At least Mira wasn’t wearing girlie coveralls and carrying a sock-puppet.
I like this ep, for a kid’s perspective, it moves along, it’s got emotional value (albeit wrong emotions) and it’s pretty. Plus, Scotty gets some stuff to do (albeit stupid stuff.)
I’ll disagree with Jeff Bond on choosing this ep as being one of the worst in terms of Mary Jane characters. Romaine comes off as composed, if not outright brave in the face of a perfectly rude alien race. We see it on TV a lot — invasion of the lite brite or whatever creatures. But, it would be absolutely terrifying to have someone else telling you what to do while shoving your consciousness into the rear seat. Romaine recognizes the threat and allows the others to help. That takes ballz.
Jeff, it’s “Mary Sue” not “Mary Jane”
I agree with Jeff Bond on all the above points — the episode is a real groaner. For a person touted as “the first Starfleet officer assigned to Memory Alpha” the male crew-members sure treat her like a 10-year old. Kirk calls her “the girl” at least four or more times, McCoy twice and Spock at least once — often right in her presence. Then Kirk further condescends her by smiling and explaining slowly that “sometimes crewmembers new to the Enterprise find our procedures…confusing”. Scotty fawns over her but doesn’t believe a word she says about her experiences instead prefering to chalk them up to ‘just a wee case of space madness, that’s all! Now lets go get a milkshake!’ Kirk appears to go out of his way to depersonalize Mira, as if he’s jealous a woman would shower her affections on anyone but himself. The episode is rife with mid-20th century sexist stereotypes. Mira Romaine, leaving the service (too demanding?) to become a librarian (who else would want Scotty but a spinster with no other prospects?) acting all delusional (who can understand the irrational mind of a woman?).
Another thing about this episode — just like Mark of Gideon — is it is painfully slow and boring. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to watch this episode through in one sitting and even Remastered I had to stop and watch the second half this morning.
Scotty is completely ineffective in this episode — practically inert. Despite all this there are a couple nice touches. The zero G chamber is particularly effective (this is one of the only attempts at the effect of weightlessness on a person in the series and much more effective here than in The Tholian Web). The appearance of the new Memory Alpha planetoid is welcome. The reverse angle viewer pursuit of the lights was nice and harkened back to a similar effect in Squire of Gothos.
“It’s almost enough to make “Lights of Zetar” worth sitting through again. Almost.”
There one oddity in the original DVD release: the credits are different from the broadcast versions. The second slide in the broadcast versions is the Balok puppet from “The Corbomite Maneuver “. However, it’s an overhead shot of the Providers from “The Gamesters of Triskellion” (with a studio clapboard visible no less) on the DVDs. You can see this in trekcore.com’s screencaps, which are from the DVDs.
As for “film grain”. I thought they’ve always added film grain to the SFX. What kind of incompetent CGI team would not add film grain? They would have to be complete amateurs not to give any grain at all to the film, when it’s supposed to be a live action show.
It may be that the team have recently decided to use a little more grain than before, but surely they wouldn’t ever have created CGI without grain. That would be like watching Toy Story or something!
I’m glad the CGI team didn’t try to remove my favorite effect from this episode: the discarded newspaper on the floor of sickbay during the end scene ( just look past Spock’s right elbow, through the door to the other room ). I think it’s hilarious that no one noticed it and it got left in the shot.
One observation; I don’t think they explained why putting the girl in an anti-grav pressure chamber will kill the aliens. Also they’re eplanation of how the aliens became from corporal form on a dying planet to a non-corporal form on Zatar was lacking. There were a lot plot holes in TOS, but I just assumed all these years that the parts explaining the plots further were edited out during syndication. Now that I can watch them uncut on cbs.com, I realize that they were script errors.
I never noticed that before. You could almost read the advertisments on it. Also, when they go to a closup of McCoy, the newspaer is gone.
I don’t know if that’s a newspaper, but it sure seems like a mistake:
links are “forbidden…”
The pressure gets up to 40 atmospheres before the Zetars are driven off. That’s 588 psi. So why isn’t she dead?
I do hope this episoade gets the MEGO TREK THEATER TREATMENT, that would be amazing ly funny as would a Robot Chicken version of this episode.
Regarding Memory Alpha:
It’s always been my thought that, even though Memory Alpha contained all the historical information of Federation member worlds, it wasn’t the sole repository of that information. It just doesn’t make sense that every planet in the Federation would simply “dump” their histories into one (apparently remote and poorly protected) location. Rather, I see it more like the Library of Congress. You can find the information contained there in other places as well, but this location holds everything and different items can be cross-referenced and compared more easily. In other words, each Federation planet sent a COPY of their history to Memory Alpha to be cataloged, but they all still have the information on their home worlds as well. That way, the loss of Memory Alpha would still be a significant event, but not a total tragedy. I simply cannot imagine Federation planets not keeping a back-up of such important files. Highly illogical, indeed.
As for the new FX, the Zetar lights look very, very cool, but the choice to overlay the new FX with the interior ship scenes has me stymied. It’s not that the scenes now look too busy. I’m thinking of all the hand phaser shots and other FX (like the transporter) from previous episodes that they chose NOT to spruce up. It makes things that much more inconsistant.
Darn it, there’s that word again. “Inconsistant.” Like a ghost haunting the TOS-R project…
Not a bad episode overall. The remastered effects were great but i do agree about the lights within the Enterprise. That could have been done better. The effect where the people of Zetar invaded the Enterprise could have been done better. Overall 8/10
CmdrR, I can’t call that an error, some of those stills seen during the closing credits were on set snapshots taken during production.
I recall the shot of the stand in taking off his android makeup from Return To Tomorrow.
Oh those newspapers were there because McCoy’s dog had a litter of puppies and he was giving them away to whoever wanted them!
Smitty — yeah, was calling the papers the mistake. The clapboard w/ the bad brains is just cool.
This episode sucks, but CBS didn’t make it better. The lights look like the space amoeba now – a bubble – rather than a cloud of sparks. The enterprises evasive bank lacked mass, as many of the E’s action shots have in the past.
And adding their own new effects over the old, to over power the original, just looked muddy and crowded. Better to have simulated the old effects in space perfectly and left the live shots alone.
Heres’ a question , The Zatarans are incorporeal energy, that have survived the vacumne of space, yet they can be killed by a pressure chamber? Excessive Atmospheric pressure should not be able to affect them let alone kill them. and also how is it that they can pass through the Enterprise deflectors and ships hull effortlessly yet, they cannot pass through the simple walls of the of a pressure chamber. Does anyone else see a probelm with this?
I have to admit, some of the original shots in this one were slightly better.
I agree with some of the things mentioned above. Particularly the way they portrayed women. It seemed to go against the show’s concept a lot. Which could have been the reason why they show originally failed. The concept was great, and as Spock said about Edith Keeler, Roddenberry was right, but at the wrong time. While it was a good concept, it was one the world at the time wasn’t ready for. One thing I disagree with is the lost information in the library, As far as I knew, none of the archives were lost, just the people.
#26: Who says they didn’t? THey never said they were dead, just “Gone.” That could mean anything.
No tin this case gone means dead, again incorporeal how would they even be affected by Pressure, this is a very obvious example of bad writing , plus its a Fred Friedberger and he gave little thought to such things as good writing anyway. I believe even McCoy mentioned something about Pressure killing them.
Why the negativity over this ep? Aside from the usual sexist 60’s dialogue, I have always liked this one, and do not consider it to be a Mary Sue at all. Usually, Mary Sue characters are unbelievably strong, beautiful, intelligent women who have either Kirk or Spock (or both) falling over themselves to lick the woman’s toes. Mira Romaine is a temporary crewmember who happens to like Scotty. Insofar as Scotty’s behavior is concerned, at least it is consistent with his “Scotty’s in love” behavior seen in Adonis. This story has a good plot and keeps one wondering what is going to happen next, which is more than I can say for many of the other third season shows. Totally disagree with Jeff Bond on this.
“It’s a bit of romantic wish fulfillment that’s particularly sad given the show’s tentative depictions of female equality—you’d think a female fan writing for this particular show could do better than to create a female character whose only function is as a romantic object.”
It’s funny reading all the feminist pretensions at this site. Haha! You people, male and female (or should I say Morg and Eymorg?) need to get out around normal people. Feminism is a relic of the past and no one really cares for such a doctrinaire, killjoy, and sterile — and I mean that literally — ideology that is thoroughly discredited by anyone with active hormone glands. Or memories of the same.
Out here, in the real world, girls enjoy being girls and they enjoy the attention they get from “the boys”. Then they get married and have a lot of kids and never look back at their bitter single “sisters” who complain because no boys will even give them the time of day.
But then, I’m not a scientist, pretend scientist, or computer
persons who live in hermetically sealed, theoretical worlds that act as you want them to act! I’m one of those 0.9% of surveyed Star Trek fans who happens to earn his living based on a verifiable, testable, and ruthless compliance with human nature – that being, business. Ideologies don’t stand a chance in my world. That leads to this thing we call “bankruptcy” and “disgrace”.
Boy meets girl. Boy chaces girl. Girl lets boy catch her. All is well :-)
It boring and forgettable (well, I thought so anyway), so the usual sexist 60’s stuff stands out a little more than usual. Also, the Memory Alpha idea is a little dated. Back then they thought a computer would have to be huge to hold that much information. Now we have Wikipedia.
All in all, I just don’t think about this episode much.
#31–Sure, whatever. “Ideologies don’t stand a chance in your world”? Right–like being a bitter reactionary who would keep half of the human race (and God only knows who else) in their place isn’t, somehow, being an idealogue. Here’s a clue for you: women, whether they call themselves feminists or not (and, your caterwauling to the contrary, a fair number still do) don’t need your sort to inform them how they should best live their lives. Any more than the rest of us do.
“Mr.Spock says its alive… maybe I can talk to it.”
Thank you Sherri Lewis… for the Trek quote of MY day.
BTW… this ep. totally reminds me of the first TNG Pocket book “Ghostship”… that book rips-off the isolation chamber and “gelatinous” disembodied space-light-consciousness thing.
wow… I just geeked myself out with that one.
Also, this episode is a classic example of Shatner over-acting!
But I agree, if they overlaid lights over live-action, why not overlay new phaser beams? As #21 said: Inconsistency. Heck, it almost makes me wonder if they decide how much they are going to go out on for episodes by drawing them out of a hat…
I guess being one in his late 20’s, I found the sexism rather appalling. Geez, it seems like they were practically 2 seconds away from saying “Shut up woman and make me a sandwich.”
One of these days Alice…
Great effects, but the episode was a Clunker.
Conversation with my wife:
Me: Did you hear that?
Me: That noise
Wife: What noise?
Me: That CLUNK !!!
I got a pair of rolling eyes.
On the other hand, the idea of the Federation, and the use of the Anti-Grav chamber worked well, and the stomach-gargling noise was actually creepy enough to be effective.
Wow. I am also in business. I am from the US. You? The US has a 50% divorce rate, and in the 2nd term of the Bush Administration, non-married couples surpassed married couples for the first time in quantity. Where are all these happily married baby-making wonder-wives?
Hilary Clinton almost became the Democratic nominee for President. Could she have done it in 1968?
The depiction of women, men, races, nations, physically challenged, etc., in Star Trek is a key element of the show. And I think the discussion here is more about 1960s sexism than Gloria Steinem-style feminism.
And it’s interesting to note that Trek in the ’80s and ’90s actually removed male-female sexual interaction from the show. You could have sex if at least one of you was an alien, under the influence of a space-borne illness, were married, in love, in a Q-induced illusion, or an android.
In any case, “Zetar” is a true bottom-feeder.
I just wish the shape of the Zetar lights in space shifted a bit. Throughout the screenshots above — regardless of the angle — it looks the same shape.
What’s with the sound of the Enterprise 1:41 or so into this video? It cuts out and then comes back in while the music is playing and Kirk’s voice over continues. I guess this was originally several shots turned into one, but the sound was never fixed. The same thing happens a few seconds later in another sample in this clip.
A major problem with this episode is the story structure. Who is the protagonist? Who changes? What is learned? Most glaring of all is the resolution. You don’t just pull the resolution to a story crisis out of the air. It’s the product of a character’s development – of information or skills they’ve gained. But, since there is no character development in “The Lights of Zetar,” Kirk inexplicably intuits that “pressure” will kill the Zetars but not harm “the girl.” There is NO explanation for how he arrives at this conclusion. It’s not Spock the scientist who makes this discovery, nor McCoy the physician. It’s Kirk the captain, suddenly an expert on how to kill a novel form of incorporeal life. He might as well have said, “Spock, I believe the Zetars can be killed by smooth jazz.”
I must admit, “Lights of Zetar” is my least favorite TOS episode. Even “Spock’s Brain” or “Way to Eden” can be watched for the “hoot factor,” but “Zetar” just sits there desperately needing another re-write from a production staff who were too discouraged to remove discarded newspapers out of shots anymore.
One has to envy Lt. Romaine’s next assignment, though – dropped off alone at Memory Alpha with what now (thanks to remastering) looks to be several hundred thousand corpses
@21 & 36:
Regarding the lack of re-work on phaser shots and transporter effect you should remember that they were on a very strained budget and time schedule. I think they realised they would have to leave it out in every episode to keep the consistency you’re talking about. If they would have re-worked those effect from the start it’s possible they would find themselves not being able to do it in every episode which would really have been inconsistent!
I doesn’t bother me though as I don’t think theres anything wrong with those effects, they still look good today, about 40 yrs later.
@35 , yes i remember TNG Pocket book “Ghostship” , and come to think of it your right they did totally rip this esp off !!!
I haven’t watch this in a while, but doesn’t Scotty incorrectly have a sciences division insignia the whole episode?
Hey, I love Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse…..cut them some slack Trekkers!
That Mira Romaine is easy on the eyes.
Mira Romaine – another gorgeous woman from original Star Trek. I love how sexy the women were in 1960s Trek. There actually was a kind of equality in the show: Mira Romaine is a records officer ***and*** all these guys fancy the hell out of her – not surprising given they spend large amounts of time isolated in deep space.
If you go to any workplace in this day and age, you’ll find men and women still discuss each other in ‘sexist’ terms, even if it’s just to be ironic. The strange, slightly uncomfortable view of human sexuality doesn’t turn up until the 24th century. You can almost imagine those characters drawing up legally-binding contracts before they have sex. Oh, and curiously enough, for all the lack of believable male/female interaction, there’s the Risa, which is effectively a planet-size whorehouse – what’s with that?
I always remember Zetar from my early Trek viewing experiences (aged about 4 in 1979) The whole possession thing really freaked me out. `it’s easy to be harsh on season three of Trek, but if you were new to concepts such as ‘possession’ the whole thing was truly mind-expanding!
It’s not the 24th century per se, but the 21st. ENT had the same “restrictions,” apart from the unlikely pairing of Trip and T’Pol. Since she was not human, and they fell in love, they were “allowed” to have sex by the writers. Archer was the most asexual of all the captains in Trek.
When GR had control, I think he tried harder to depict sexuality than ended up the case later on. In Farpoint, Riker gets a hiney-gaze from a female crewman, and Worf gets to describe Klingon sex a few eps in. Then there was that planet with half-naked people running around where Wes gets the death sentence.
Also, in TMP, the Deltans were a society where sex was not taboo, and was a natural part of their body’s functioning (as it is with humans, as well, but we are “sexually immature”). And penetrating V’Ger was a big colorful metaphor.for “it.”
Now’s the time to bring it on back, JJ.
Regarding the newspaper… that’s not as bad as the huge dusty bunny garbage on the floor during the court-martials scene in “Space Seed.”
#32 “Now we have Wikipedia.”
Which anyone can alter and fill full of baloney. Wiki is about as reliable and accurate as my Aunt Mildred.
Always loved the whole idea of memory alpha, and aside from Scotty tripping over his feet with the love -bug, this isn’t a bad episose at all. It’s nothing spectacular but it’s always a fun watch….and with the remastered effects, even more so.
All the problems in this episode can be chalked up to the care-less attitude of the third season producers. In their mind’s it was a kid show, so who cared?