Stardate: 4040.7 (2268)
Original Air Date: March 29, 1968
Writer: Art Wallace/Gene Roddenberry
Director: Marc Daniels
“I know this world needs help. That’s why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know? We wonder if we’re gonna be alive when we’re thirty.”
Using the light speed break-away factor (or the “slingshot method” which was previously discovered in the Season 1 classic “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”), the Enterprise has once again moved backward through time to the 20th century. In orbit around earth, the year is 1968 and the Enterprise is conducting “historical research” when suddenly an alert rings out as a transponder beam hits the Enterprise from 1,000 light years away.
A suit-wearing man with a black cat (named Isis) beams aboard the Enterprise asking “why have you intercepted me?” His name is Gary Seven (Robert Lansing), a human being from the 20th century. He had been living on a distant planet, far more advanced, he was in the midst of beaming to earth when he was suddenly intercepted by the Enterprise. The planet secretive, not even the Enterprise in th e24th century can be made aware of its location. It is critical that he be sent down to earth immediately, but as Kirk notes, what if Gary Seven is a hostile alien invading earth? Kirk has him arrested, a battle ensues, and Kirk stuns him.
Dr. McCoy conducts a medical analysis wherein he finds Gary Seven does not possess any biological flaws, with certain human readings. Meanwhile, Spock offers a historical report –there will be an important assassination on this date, as well as a dangerous government coup, and the launching of an orbital nuclear device by the U.S. to counter other nations. The slightest miscalculation of orbiting H-bombs could lead to a highly volatile nuclear holocaust. Shortly thereafter, Gary Seven breaks free and successfully beams down to earth inside a tightly sealed office bunker in a New York City skyrise. He begins speaking to a computer, identifying himself as “194” and a “Class-1 Supervisor” but he soon learns that three other agents like himself have disappeared on earth. It appears to be an espionage program.
From here, the episode runs a bit off the rails with a flighty human secretary working in his office named Roberta Lincoln (Teri Garr). She claims she was hired to work in an office building a new encyclopedia. A chase ensues as Kirk and Spock hunt down the whereabouts of Gary Seven. At one point, they encounter a pair of bumbling police officers who are accidentally beamed aboard the Enterprise. After some. hijinks with Roberta, the Enterprise eventually tracks Seven to the U.S. nuclear rocket launch wherein a warhead explodes about 104 miles above the earth –but this all happens exactly as it should have according to historical record tapes after all. The episode ends with Seven and Roberta facing an “interesting” future ahead of them.
Throughout Season 2 of TOS there have been numerous social commentaries sprinkled throughout on the culture and politics of the 1960s, however “Assignment: Earth” takes a more direct approach as we are brought backward in time to a serious nuclear crisis in 1968. The crew of the Enterprise are placed in the position of gods as they must decide the appropriate natural development of earth’s history. Can they trust Gary Seven? Should they allow him to commandeer a nuclear weapon? In the end, the typically villainous alien is proved to be benevolent and earth avoids nuclear catastrophe. “Assignment: Earth” is rife with Cold War espionage themes as Gary Seven is even mistaken for being a member of an intergalactic CIA or FBI at one point. Like James Bond, Seven uses a myriad of gadgets, most memorably his “servo” pen device. I found this episode to be a smirkingly intriguing episode, though boring during the middle section, and a bit heavy-handed. Despite the fact that it has not held up all too well, “Assignment: Earth” still has something to say about our ascendant nuclear age.
This episode was originally written as a stand-alone television series by Art Wallace and Gene Roddenberry (entitled “Seven”) but when no network bought the idea, it was reworked as a backdoor pilot Star Trek episode. The spin-off series was never produced. Shortly after this episode was released, Gene Roddenberry took a second job at MGM. This was one of two episodes drafted by Art Wallace.
Director Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed. This was the thirteen of fourteen episodes he directed.
Star Trek Trivia:
- In this episode, Kirk refers to the Enterprise as the “United Spaceship Enterprise.”
- Robert Lansing who played Gary Seven was a notable stage performer who reluctantly accepted this role on Star Trek from Gene Roddenberry. Lansing had previously appeared in several shows, including the Season 5 episode of the The Twilight Zone “The Long Morrow.”
- Barbara Babcock performs the voice of the Beta 5 computer used by Gary Seven. Her voice was used in several other TOS episodes.
- The uncredited human form of the cat Isis was portrayed by actress, dancer and contortionist April Tatro. Her identity was apparently unknown until 2019 when The Trek Files podcast cited a production call sheet for extras dated January 1968. Fans previously falsely believed Victoria Vetri was the actress. The real cat’s name was supposedly Sambo.
- “McKinley Rocket Base” is a fictional base resembling Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Much of the stock footage in the episode was borrowed from Cape Canaveral. NASA provided Gene Roddenberry with the footage of a Saturn V rocket, the Apollo 4 capsule, and other footage.
- Characters from this episode have been featured in various extended Treklore, including comic books and novels.
- Teri Garr played the role of the secretary Roberta Lincoln, this was her first big break. She also appeared in classic movies like Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Tootsie. In 2002, she contracted multiple sclerosis and retired from acting in 2011. She is still alive as of the time I write this post (2022). Apparently, she had such an unpleasant experience with participating in this Star Trek episode that she has often been reluctant to discuss to it.
- There is a fascinating website devoted to the fanlore surrounding this episode: https://www.assignmentearth.ca.
- In this episode, Spock notes that an important assassination was soon to come. In a dark twist of fate, about a week after this episode aired Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
- The wide sweeping shots of Manhattan were borrowed from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
- The character Gary Seven was one of only a few characters who were impervious to the Vulcan Nerve Pinch –others being Vians and Khan. In the extended Treklore, he is apparently said to descend from an ancient alien race called the Aegis.
- In “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” the Enterprise traveled back in time to 1969, whereas in “Assignment: Earth,” they travel back one year earlier in 1968.
- Elements of this episode were incorporated by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon into a made-for-TV-movie called The Questor Tapes in 1974.