by Jeff Bond
Finally Trek Remastered arrives at one of the biggest targets where classic Trek third season silliness is concerned: Star Trek’s infamous space hippies episode. You know the drill: the Enterprise overtakes the space cruiser Aurora which explodes while attempting to escape the starship; elephant-eared Dr. Sevrin (Skip Homier) and his gang of followers are beamed onboard, Spock-jams ensue. While people who actually watch the show may conjure up “Spock’s Brain” or “And the Children Shall Lead” as representing the worst of Trek, I’d argue a lot more casual viewers—or people who’ve never sat through an entire episode—can recall that there was a terrible Star Trek episode about space hippies.
So we all know the bad—I’d like to try to concentrate on what’s actually good about this episode.
Okay, gimme a minute…
Seriously—if you remove a few key squirm-inducing elements (Charles Napier’s grinning whack-job performance as Adam, the jam sessions and the soapy romance scenes between Chekov and his old flame), “The Way to Eden” is a serviceable episode with a few nice touches. Remember that the American counterculture was a huge force at this time, something both terrifying and compelling to the millions of viewers who would have been watching this show in 1969. Like Kirk himself, the production crew of the original series was made up of quite a few military men, and you have to acknowledge the bravery of the attempt here to reach out to the angry youth culture that was rebelling against the status quo at the time.
“Way to Eden” functions best as a time capsule—its hippy outfits aren’t really much more out there than a lot of what was being worn at the time, and if anything the whole story is just too on-the-nose. Where better Trek episodes clothed their metaphors in more elaborate sci fi trappings, Arthur Heinemann’s teleplay simply puts recognizable hippies in outer space (and the story is radically different from Dorothy Fontana’s original script “Joanna,” a story that would have not only fleshed out McCoy’s character but offered some unusually hard-hitting inter-character drama and conflict for Trek’s third year).
Nevertheless, the decision to have Spock mediate the conflict between authority figure Kirk and the countercultural Edenites was right on the nose. Spock was a figure who conceivably spoke to the counterculture well before this episode was written—he was hugely popular with young people and it’s clear from Leonard Nimoy’s thoughtful performance that he took the responsibility of playing this episode seriously. Shatner’s Kirk too is put in an interesting position, confronted with a group for whom he represents unthinking authoritarianism. Kirk is clearly ill at ease with the Edenites, yet Shatner underplays enough that there’s a sense that he’s rather more crestfallen and a little embarrassed than offended that these people just don’t “get” him. (By the time Shatner has to portray being attacked by sonic waves, however, any remaining subtlety is out the airlock)
Dr. Sevrin himself is a compelling figure and his concealed illness is quite forward-thinking as a concept—if you listen to McCoy and Sevrin describe it, they’re talking about the kind of “super-bug” that’s actually threatening hospitals right now due to the over-prescribing of antibiotics (and for all we know, the use of antibacterial soaps). Having Sevrin totally reject a technological culture that’s made him into a deadly Typhoid Mary, yet having him be in total denial about his situation, makes perfect sense. And blue-haired Tongo Radd is an interesting minor character, well played by Victor Brandt.
As for the rest, well…how do you produce a handful of songs that play as counterculture anthems but sound like they could be played 300 years from now? Charles Napier (who would follow up this role with bits in a number of Russ Meyer soft-core porn films before doing movies like Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and Silence of the Lambs) co-wrote and performed his own songs in the episode, and as goofy is the lantern-jawed actor looks in his half-dome wig and bare chest, he’s got a tough role (and some of the worst lines in the teleplay) as the poetic cheerleader for the Edenites. At least he’s better than Mary-Linda Rapelye as Chekov’s old flame Irini and her dueling Russian accents scenes with Walter Koenig (watching their two-shots in the new hi-def transfers you’re just blown away by all the friggin HAIR sticking out all over those shots). As for the songs, yes, they’re lame—but I’m more amused than embarrassed now by scenes like the Enterprise bridge crew rocking out while Scotty shakes his head disapprovingly. In fact, I’ve developed a weird fondness for Napier’s “Headin’ Out To Eden” song—so one of the big annoyances of the syndication cuts this time is that they eliminate it almost entirely from the episode, which drains the impact of some purely instrumental quotes of the material late in the story.
Speaking of which—the fact that Eden is a.) found so easily, and b.) covered with acidic plants doesn’t really help matters. It’s ironic, but wouldn’t Sevrin’s own disease killing off his followers have been a bit more appropriate? In any case, we can all give thanks for one thing about this episode: it inspired Shatner’s unforgettable Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. And in that one God’s planet was every bit as easy to find as Eden.
As CBS-Digital moves into the final handful of episodes on the Remastered project they seem to be pulling out all, or at least some, of the stops, which is ironic in itself since the episodes they’re lavishing some bold new shots on are generally considered to be the worst of the original series. “Way to Eden” gets a brand new Aurora, a nicely-detailed retooling of Harry Mudd’s ship from “Mudd’s Women” (appropriate since the opening chase sequence is almost a blow-by-blow remake of the Mudd pursuit sequence minus the asteroids). CBS-D takes a subtle approach to the Aurora’s overheating, adding a glowing impulse/antimatter mixing deck and gradually glowing engines to replace the overall red glow on the original miniature, as well as a nicely detailed explosion.
Other than library Enterprise shots that’s it until the starship reaches Eden, where CBS-D conjures up what may rank as the most “super-Earthlike” of all their Earth-like planets (so super it’s got two moons). But it’s also enhanced by a ravishing matte painting that really helps to open up the original’s simple planet set. Somebody should produce some posters of these matte shots as they crystallize Star Trek’s idealized Chesley Bonestell aesthetic better than just about anything I’ve seen.
Remastered vs. Original
BONUS VIDEO: Spock Rock
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). The Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is available now for $129.95 (retail is $194.99).