About Great Books Guy


Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) Director: J. Lee Thompson

“Lousy human bastards!”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The setting is North America, 1991 (18 years later the events of 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes). The intelligent baby chimp from the previous film (the offspring of Cornelius and Zira) has been smuggled away by Armando (Ricardo Montalbán) but a deadly virus has struck earth from space and it has destroyed all of earth’s cats and dogs for some reason. Now, the apes have been enslaved by a one-world dystopian government. The baby chimp Caesar is played by Roddy McDowall who previously played Caesar’s father Cornelius in three of the earlier films, and after Armando is captured, interrogated by the gestapo, and forced to kill himself, Caesar keeps silent and assimilates among the ape slaves. After witnessing horrendous crimes and abuses of power, he soon leads an uprising with the support of his girlfriend Lisa (Natalie Trundy), though in the end Caesar makes efforts to rise above the allure of cruelty.

This fourth installment in the Planet of the Apes series was shot at Century City and at UC Irvine –the use of some clever camera work with the outdoor sets gave the impression of a dark futuristic city. This was initially intended to be the conclusion to the Apes series, but it was later expanded into a fifth film the following year before being rebooted again decades later. The plot for Conquest draws upon themes directly taken from the civil rights movement, as well as the Watts riots in Los Angeles at the time, making this perhaps the most explicitly political film in the series. It serves as a metaphor for the revolutionary spirit of the ’60s and ’70s. Conquest was shot on a low budget, but I still thought this was a surprisingly powerful entry into the series. The film drags at points, but I thought it was perhaps the best Apes story since the original Planet of the Apes, which none of the sequels come close to rivaling. Whereas in the original the theme of nuclear war looms large, in Conquest the primary concern is enslavement and social unrest. It is a fitting movie to reflect the mood of the era, and perhaps in some ways it holds a mirror up to our own age, as well. Interestingly enough, the 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a somewhat loose remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Seven “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”

Stardate: 5476.3 (2268)
Original Air Date: November 8, 1968
Writer: Rik Vollaerts
Director: Tony Leader

“But things are not as they teach us.
For the world is hollow, and I have touched the sky.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

While traveling through space, the Enterprise suddenly encounters a red alert. Several missiles have been fired out of nowhere and the Enterprise engages in evasive maneuvers to quickly deflects them. Where did these missiles come from? At Warp 3, the Enterprise heads toward the missiles’ point of origin –an asteroid 2 hundred miles in diameter. Chemically the asteroid checks out, however it is curiously not in orbit like a normal asteroid, and instead it appears to be pursuing its own independent course. The asteroid –or perhaps space ship—is actually on a collision course with Daran V in approximately 396 days (a planet with a population of 3.724 billion). This poses a serious problem that requires further investigation. Scotty is left at the helm of the Enterprise while Kirk and Spock beam aboard the asteroid (they are joined by an insistent Bones who has recently revealed to Kirk that he has been diagnosed with Xenopolycythemia, a rare and incurable disease which gives him only a year to live).

They soon learn that the asteroid/ship is over 10,000 years old. On its surface, they find several large containers from which a group of colorful robed, sword-wielding humanoids suddenly emerge and attack the Enterprise crewmen. Kirk, Spock, and Bones are all led underground to a chamber of the Oracle who decides their fate. When Kirk professes to have only peaceful intentions, a bolt of electricity strikes them and they are imprisoned. This place is known as Yonada and the Yonadans are apparently unaware that they are hurtling through space on a faux asteroid. An old man enters their prison chamber and tries to explain this fact (he echoes the episode title “…for the world is hollow and I have touched the sky”)but he suddenly falls down and dies after acknowledging a strange discomfort in his head –the result of an “instrument of obedience” worn at the demand of the Oracle.

Bones is brought before the high priestess of the Yonadans, Natira (Katherine Woodville), who professes her love for him. She requests that the good doctor remain with her on Yonada as her mate. Meanwhile, Kirk and Spock escape confinement and head for the Oracle chamber where they peruse an ancient script written on large protruding triangles on the walls. The writing comes from the ancient Fabrini people, a civilization wiped out ten thousand years ago when their star went nova. They retreated underground and engineered this asteroid to be guided by a computerized Oracle. The goal was to send a multi-generational ship into space in order to locate a habitable planet. The Yonadans are the descendants of the Fabrini people.

The Oracle then condemns Kirk and Spock to death, but Bones trades their lives in exchange for his hand in marriage to Natira. Admiral Westervliet of Starfleet then video conferences with Kirk and orders him to abandon further engagement with Yonada, Starfleet Command will handle the situation from here. Do we trust him? Should the Enterprise abandon Dr. McCoy? A solution arrives when Bones learns of an ancient book in the possession of the Yonadans which is intended to be a guide as they reach “the new world of the promise.” However, Bones then collapses in pain resulting from his “instrument of obedience.” It is up to Kirk and Spock to rescue Bones. They also explain the truth of Yonada to Natira –regardless of it being a potential violation of the Prime Directive—and at first, she refuses to believe that Yonada is a mere asteroid, but she soon accepts the situation.

Somewhere along the way, the Oracle has made an error. Using the ancient book, Kirk and Spock overpower the Oracle and alter the course of Yonada such that it will not collide with Daran V. In the end, Natira and Dr. McCoy embrace in a tearful goodbye, knowing they can never be together. In a characteristic twist of fate, Spock uncovers an extraordinary medical library of the Fabrini located within the memory banks on Yonada. Using this information, Bones undergoes a rigorous treatment which rebalances his hemoglobin and cures him of Xenopolycythemia. The episode ends as Kirk acknowledges the Enterprise is scheduled to cross paths again with Yonada in approximately 390 days, a fact which gives Bones some hope of seeing Natira again.

“Perhaps, if it is permitted, you will find Yonada again…”

We have seen the notion of multi-generational space travel once before in Star Trek, in the Season 2 episode “By Any Other Name” (the Kelvans). However, the Yonadans in “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” are unique in that they are unaware their own survivalist mission. They are actually the unwitting future of the ancient Fabrini race, the last hope for an ancient civilization.

Despite a few minor smirking moments in this episode, such as Dr. McCoy’s rather contrived life-threatening disease that miraculously happens to find just the cure it needs, I thought this was another great episode. Once again, Star Trek conveys a deep skepticism toward computers like the Oracle (we have seen this before in numerous instances like “The Ultimate Computer” or “The Return of the Archons”), and it also continues the theme of hesitance toward religious groupthink. Had the Yonadans questioned their Oracle, perhaps they may have discovered the unpleasant truth –that they are traveling on a spaceship modeled as an asteroid which is on a mistaken collision course with a planet. This leads me to wonder, why has the truth of Yonada never revealed to its own people? What is gained by keeping them in the dark? Perhaps at least the rulers and priestesses should be made aware of the situation. On these voyages, we have seen one too many oracles and computers go astray.

Lastly, this episode offers a rare glimpse into the lonely life of Dr. McCoy. In some ways, I was reminded of the Season 1 opener “The Man Trap” which sees Dr. McCoy confront his long-lost lover, Nancy, though sadly she turns out to be nothing more than the mere phantasm of a shapeshifter –everyone’s favorite “salt vampire.” At least in this episode “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” there is hope after Dr. McCoy recovers from his disease that he will reconnect with Natira again in a year’s time.

This was the only episode written by Rick Vollaerts (1918-1988). He was an old acquaintance of Gene Roddenberry’s after they worked together on a previous show. This was also the only episode directed by Tony Leader (1913-1988). He had previously directed episodes of The Twilight Zone and Lost In Space. By this point, Ralph Senensky had been fired and John Meredyth Lucas was asked not to return to direct this episode after he previously went over budget. The tumultuousness behind the scenes only seemed to continue.  

Star Trek Trivia:

  • Katherine Woodville (1938-2013), who played Natira in this episode, also appeared in Mission: Impossible and Wonder Woman.
  • The Yonadans were played by: Frank Da Vinci (1933-2013), a stand-in for Leonard Nimoy in many TOS episodes; Byron Morrow (1911-2006) was a WWII veteran and previously appeared in the TOS episode “Amok Time” among many other popular television shows like Lost In Space and Get Smart; Jon Lormer (1906-1986) plays the old Yonadan man in this episode who actually utters the title’s name. He also previously appeared in other TOS episodes like “The Cage” and “The Return of the Archons” as well as a variety of Westerns.
  • James Doohan voices the Oracle in this episode.
  • The idea of a generational space ship has been explored in numerous science fiction works, such as George Zebrowski’s Macrolife (1979) or Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky (1941).  
  • Apparently, in the Star Trek novel The Sorrows of Empire, Dr. McCoy’s double in a mirror universe contracts xenopolycythemia and actually dies. He is then succeeded as chief medical officer aboard the Enterprise by Dr. Joseph M’Benga.
  • In an early draft of this episode, it was Scotty who fell ill instead of Dr. McCoy.
  • The theme music from “The Cage” is re-used in this episode.
  • This episode title is the longest in the TOS saga.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Seven “Day of the Dove”

Stardate: None given, Kirk mentions the date is “Armageddon” (2268)
Original Air Date: November 1, 1968
Writer: Jerome Bixby
Director: Marvin Chomsky

“Federation ships do not specialize in sneak attacks!”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A landing party beams down to Beta XII-A, a distant human colony located near the border with the Klingons. However, upon arrival they quickly discover that the entire colony has mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Dr. McCoy notes that a distress call had mentioned an attack from an unidentified ship. As they walk around this craggy, deserted planet, a non-corporal ball of light is strangely hiding in the shadows, but only we in the audience are seemingly aware of its presence. Out of the blue, a Klingon battle cruiser appears followed by a landing contingent led by Kang (Michael Ansara). He claims that Kirk has illegally attacked his cruiser, which Kirk denies. In turn, kirk accuses Kang of attacking eta XII-A, but Kang denies this accusation, as well. Both Kang and Kirk accuse each other of violations of the Organian Peace Treaty (from “Errand of Mercy”) –Kang believes the Enterprise has tested a new weapon which has damaged his ship, whereas Kirk believes Kang has detonated a new super-weapon which has utterly wiped out all trace of the Beta XII-A colony. Kang threatens torture as punishment and he attempts to forcibly take control of the Enterprise.

When requesting to beam aboard, Kirk secretly issues a red alert to Spock at the helm. Once aboard the Enterprise, the Klingons are quickly betrayed and captured. Despite their fears and rumors of Federation “death camps,” Kirk assures the Klingons that they will be humanely treated. Meanwhile, the incorporeal glowing bright light also quietly boards the Enterprise and begins roaming.

The Enterprise beams aboard the remaining Klingon crew and then fires phasers upon the damaged Klingon cruiser, presumably destroying it. However, communications suddenly go down and phaser power begins disappearing as medieval swords spontaneously appear where advanced weaponry once lay –an effect which Spock deems “instantaneous transmutation of matter.” Gradually, the crew loses control of the entire Enterprise as it is mysteriously commandeered by an unknown force. The ship begins accelerating wildly outside the galaxy while 400 (later 392) crewmen become trapped beneath bulkhead doors below deck. In a spontaneous sword fight, the Klingons break away and freely roam the ship. Kang then quickly gains control of the engineering bay and he begins depriving other sections of their life support systems so that they will feel “like the icy cold of space.” The ball of light and Kang are now both working against Kirk and the crew.

Meanwhile, a general sense of hostility has gripped the crew. A raging Chekov grabs a sword and demands vengeance on the Klingon “Cossacks” for the death of his brother Piotr on a Federation outpost on Archanis IV (however, Sulu later reveals that Chekov does not have a brother, he was actually an only child). Then, Dr. McCoy also grows agitated in demanding violence against the Klingons, as does Scotty, and even Spock’s partly human side reveals a brief moment of malcontent. When Kirk briefly restores sanity, he and Spock speculate that there must be some other force at work aboard the Enterprise. Recent events have unfolded such that base hostilities among the crew have been magnified, particularly racial bigotry. They surmise that the alien force is a both a catalyst and feeder upon violent, confrontational energy.  

Time is running out as the unknown alien life force begins draining the Enterprise’s dilithium crystals. The crew captures Kang’s Klingon wife, Mara (Susan Howard), and despite being filled with propaganda about the viciousness of the Federation, she soon realizes Kirk is not the brutal murderer she was led to believe. Kirk, Spock, and Mara corner the incorporeal ball of light and attempt to make peace with the Klingons in order to regain control of the Enterprise. Following another sword fight with Kang, Kirk manages to persuade him to lay down his arms in order to defeat of their mutual enemy. In the end, the alien finally flees the Enterprise out into open space amidst an eruption of laughter and backslapping between the Klingons and Enterprise crew.

This episode offers a terrific examination of hostility and racial animosity by showcasing the effects of propaganda on both sides of a war between the Federation and the Klingons. Aside from the old adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” perhaps there is another Cold War lesson to be drawn from this episode. Peace may be possible, even with bitter enemies like the Klingons, but only if a mutual enemy is identified. Maybe we cannot escape the existence of enemies, the possibility of peace implies some sort of enemy to contain. In the end, the true enemy of both the Federation and the Klingons is the poison of prejudice. Not unlike the famous “Christmas Truce” along the Western Front in 1914, both the Enterprise crew and the Klingons under Kang must maintain an armistice despite being aware that fighting will resume again shortly. It is also worth noting that both the Federation and the Klingons have clearly been pumped full of propaganda from both sides –in particular, the Federation “death camps” were very clearly a lie. Both sides are quick to assign blame, but they are slow to identify solutions. As is always the case, the most difficult role is assigned to the peacemaker.

What that being said, what actually happened to the colony on Beta XII-A. Was it a real colony? Or was it simply another fiction crafted by the unnamed war-loving incorporeal alien? Or, on the other hand, was it simply mere propaganda by the Federation and never truly existed? The true origins of Beta XII-A would be an interesting plot thread.

On a final note, there was a uniquely interesting moment in this episode wherein the Enterprise was essentially capable of entrapping the Klingons in limbo while they were beaming aboard. This kind of temporary technological imprisonment strikes me as important, I wonder if it will return again in future episodes.

Writer Jerome Bixby (1923-1998) was a prolific fiction writer known for his 1953 short story “It’s A Good Life” which became the basis of the classic Twilight Zone episode. He also crafted many other Western and Science Fiction novels which inspired movies like Fantastic Voyage and Alien, as well as certain writings by Isaac Asimov. Mr. Bixby died in 1998 at the age of 75. In his original draft script for this episode, the Enterprise receives a false distress call en route to celebrate “Peace Day,” the anniversary of peace through the Federation. The aliens were also described with humanoid features, though they were actually “blobs of light.”

Director Marvin Chomsky (1929-2022) was the cousin of leading contemporary linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky, and this was the second of three episodes he directed for Star Trek. As of the time of this writing, Marvin Chomsky passed away only a few months ago.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • The working title of this episode was “For They Shall Inherit.”
  • John Colicos was originally slated to return as the Klingon Commander Kor in this episode, however he was already committed to another project.
  • Actor Michael Ansara later returns in DS9 to reprise his role as Kang (“Dead Oath”) and then again in Voyager (“Flashback”).
  • A Klingon “agonizer” is used again in this episode, this time on Chekov. Previously, the device appeared in “Mirror, Mirror.”
  • This episode establishes that the Klingon cruiser is capable of carrying 440+ Klingons.
  • At one point, Chekov tries to attack the Klingons (again shouting “Filthy Cossacks!”) as he claims the Klingons a colony on Archanis IV. This colony reappears in the DS9 episode “Broken Link.”
  • Beta XII-A is apparently explored further in the TNG expanded novels.  
  • This is the only TOS episode to feature a woman in the role of a Klingon.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Six “Spectre of the Gun”

Stardate: 4385.3 (2268)
Original Air Date: October 25, 1968
Writer: Lee Cronin (Gene L. Coon)
Director: Vincent McEveety

“The violence of your own heritage is to be the method of our execution.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Enterprise is on a mission to make first contact with a reclusive alien race known as the Melkotians. As the ship approaches the planet Melkot, the Enterprise discovers a mechanical device of unknown properties. Spock conducts a reading which reveals no life forms aboard, however the strange glowing object appears to be tracking the Enterprise. Then a booming voice echoes out: “Aliens, you encroached on the space of the Melkot, you will turn back immediately, this is the only warning you will receive!” It speaks in every available human dialect (Kirk hears English, Chekov hears Russian, and Uhura hears Swahili).

Kirk decides to ignore the warning and the Enterprise proceeds forward toward Melkot. A landing party of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Chekov, Scotty beam down to Melkot where they find a planet entirely encased in a thick fog with no communications availability. Then, a terrifying alien beast appears through the fog. He reminds Kirk of the buoy’s warning, and since it has been ignored, “you are outside, you are disease, and disease must be destroyed…” Suddenly, the landing party are transported into a surrealist representation of an old western town, complete with a dusty road under a bright red sky. A nearby newspaper reveals it is Tombstone, Arizona and the year is 1881.

The situation quickly becomes clear –the crewmen are being punished by the Melkotians for trespassing and they are condemned to relive the shooting at the O.K. Corral. Kirk and crew are to play the role of the Clanton gang in their battle with Wyatt Earp (Ron Soble) and Doc Holliday (Sam Gilman), and though Kirk (or Ike Clanton) attempts to stop the fight, the tension continues to build for a 5 o’clock showdown. Along the way, Chekov (a.k.a. “Billy Claiborne”) engages in a romance with Sylvia (Bonnie Beecher), but it is stopped short when Chekov is sadly gunned down by Wyatt Earp. Could this be the end of Chekov?

Attempts to flee the town prove fruitless as the Melkotians have erected a forcefield. Spock and Bones try to create a hand grenade and a tranquilizer, but both efforts fail. With time running out, Spock persuades the others that this whole simulation is merely a figment of their minds. If they simply believe they will not die in the shootout, it will be true. With Kirk and Bones being unable to avoid creeping fears of death, Spock performs a mind-meld on his fellow crewmen just in time before the shootout begins. And just as predicted, the bullets do not kill the Enterprise crew. When the ammo runs out, Kirk tackles Wyatt Earp to the ground, but instead of killing him, Kirk shows mercy. Moments later, they are returned to the bridge of the Enterprise –and Chekov has been restored to perfect health! Because Kirk has proven Starfleet’s peaceful intentions, the Enterprise is now properly invited to Melkot, and this time they will be welcomed by a Melkotian delegation.      

“I wonder how Humanity managed to survive.”
“We overcame our instinct for violence.”

Why does Starfleet order the Enterprise to make contact with the Melkotians? A little backstory would have been helpful here because otherwise it seems odd that the Enterprise is so aggressive as to ignore hostile warnings. Are there valuable minerals on Melkot? Or will the Mellkotians serve as key allies against the Romulans or Klingons? Perhaps their unique telepathic powers could prove useful (their limitless telepathy seems to echo the Talosians from “The Cage”).

There is a subtle theme replete throughout this episode which contemplates mankind’s optimistic future as it overcomes its’ own violent impulses. Whereas Kirk’s ancestors once violently conquered the old west, he is capable of breaking the curse by declining to murder Wyatt Earp. In doing so, he earns the respect of the Melkotians (thankfully they do not respect the honorable death a la the ancient warrior’s code).

This episode offers another fun and slightly surrealist side quest for the Enterprise. It delivers a nod to the prevailing Western genre (i.e. shows like Bonanza and Gunsmoke, as well as movies like Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West which was released that same year) and also this is perhaps a wink at Star Trek’s own creation as “Wagon Train to the stars.” This episode is a bit of a guilty pleasure, right down to the partially completed set pieces, but it is hardly peak Trek. In a way, it reminded me of episodes like “Bread and Circuses” or “Patterns of Force” or even “A Piece of the Action.”

Originally titled “The Last Gunfight,” this episode was written by former show producer, Gene L. Coon (albeit under the pseudonym “Lee Cronin”).

This was the sixth and final episode directed by Vincent McEveety.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • This was the first episode produced for season 3, but the sixth to air.
  • James Blish’s novelization was entitled “The Last Gunfight.”
  • The date in which this episode takes place is October 26, 1881.
  • In one amusing scene in this episode, Scotty tries to order scotch at the saloon but the bartender reminds him that they only carry bourbon –“unless you want corn whiskey!”
  • In this episode, Kirk says his ancestors pioneered the American frontier.
  • This episode aired one day before the 187th anniversary of the true gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
  • DeForest Kelley had previously played Morgan Earp in the 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
  • This episode was shot on a studio stage with partially completed sets in part due to budget constraints but also to give a fragmentary view of Kirk’s mind. The sets were designed by Matt Jeffries.
  • According to later interviews, James Doohan despised his back-combed hairstyle as featured in Season 3. Apparently, it was not his choice.
  • Bonnie Beecher (1941-present) who played the role of Sylvia in this episode, appeared in a variety of other popular shows, including in The Twilight Zone episode “Come Wander With Me.” She had previously dated Bob Dylan in college and there have been speculations as to whether or not Dylan wrote the song “Girl From The North County” in her honor. She and her husband run a youth camp in Mendocino and they have one son together. She is still alive as of this writing.
  • The booming Melkotian voice was performed by Abraham Sofaer in one of his two appearances in the Star Trek series.
  • Other actors in this episode also appeared in popular Western shows: Ron Soble, Charles Maxwell, Rex Holman, Sam Gilman, Charles Seel, and Bill Zuckert.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.