Blah, blah, blah!
We’ve now reached the point at which, for the most part, I actually don’t know a lot about what’s going to happen. Miri isn’t an episode I even knew existed, to be frank; we’ve well and truly scratched away the surface of my relatively superficial knowledge of the original show, and we’re getting into an aspect of Star Trek that I’m just not all that familiar with. In some regards, that’s actually really exciting, because it means I’m viewing these episodes almost completely as if they’re new.
I think Miri starts quite well, actually. You’ve got a really interesting hook, right from the beginning: this alternate Earth. Obviously, this is conceived of primarily as a cost-saving device – I’m under no illusions about that. At the same time, though, it’s a great premise from which to start the episode, and this episode gives us Star Trek’s best pre-credits sequence so far, to my mind. There’s an immediate level of intrigue, not just because it sounds strange to us, but also because the crew are baffled by it; there’s something immediately appealing about a phenomenon that isn’t known to our heroes. (Although, I suppose, if they are seeking out that which is strange and new, this probably shouldn’t be quite as exciting a pitch as I found it. Hmm.)
Beam down, though, and it gets even better. I’ve spoken about the idea of the juxtaposition of the fantastic and the mundane a lot, particularly in terms of Doctor Who, but this is the first time that Star Trek actively engages with it – because here’s the first time we see Kirk, Spock, and McCoy wandering around in a setting that we recognise. They’re quite explicit about that, actually, with Spock likening the surroundings to 1960s America; this is Star Trek interacting with our world. (Of course, since I’m watching this about 50 years on, it does take on a rather different feeling; this is Star Trek interacting with the world contemporary to it, not my world. And yet the effect remains broadly the same, given it’s still playing upon an iconography familiar to me and alien to their usual setting.)
Despite starting well – and, to be fair, continuing well for the first twenty minutes, until the rather excellent revelation that Kirk has contracted the disease – the episode does gradually begin to fall apart.
The primary issue, I think, is that they don’t really follow through on the original premise. Rather than exploring this Earth, and why we have an exact replica of Earth in the 1960s, we end up substituting that plot for what is essentially a riff on Lord of the Flies; it becomes painfully evident that, despite how tantalising an idea it made, this 1960s setting really is just a cost saving measure. That’s a shame, to be honest; I can’t help but feel as though the writers should have made a more concerted effort to work within their limitations, as opposed to essentially just ignoring them. The idea of a society that exactly reflects Earth is a fascinating one; I also know it’s something we’ll return to later, so I don’t feel too hard done by, but I can’t help but feel as though the ball was dropped here. Even then, though – the new Lord of the Flies type plot feels astonishingly underdeveloped. There’s actually quite an interesting idea at the core of this too; the children live for a very long time, but because of the social structures in placed, they’re never really forced to mature or to grow up. You could do a lot about a society like that, and really dig deep into the concepts at the heart of it… but they just sort of don’t. Thus we end up with a rather empty feeling town, and though at times it can be a bit unsettling and creepy to hear the children chanting, mostly I only feel disappointed we didn’t get something better.
Still, there’s certainly engaging aspects to it; our crew are, as ever, pretty reliably fantastic. DeForest Kelly stands out in particular, as he so often does, because of how fantastic his performance is; McCoy getting increasingly stressed and agitated is a really impressive thing to see. It’s great to give the actors the opportunity to play against type, because we really get the chance to see how talented they are, and the range they’re capable of. (Shatner, admittedly, doesn’t do quite as well here with his aspect of the angry acting.)
The biggest flaw in the episode is Miri herself, to be perfectly honest. It’s… creepy, to be honest, to see her interacting with Kirk. Her crush on Kirk is, I suppose, meant to be played as though it’s little more than that, just a young girl infatuated with this amazing gentleman. However, since she was being played by a 19-year-old, it doesn’t really read that way. Indeed, given it’s followed by Kirk giving her instructions and telling her to clean and do tasks and such, it either comes across as him being quite manipulative, or of her finally maturing to the point she’d ready to be a wife, or some such similar. It’s really just quite uncomfortable.
It gets worse, though, because Miri is contrasted with Janice Rand; Janice is seemingly quite jealous of Miri, because Kirk appears to be interested in her. Don’t forget, of course, that we’re meant to read Miri as pre-pubescent, so about 12 or 13 maybe. Janice is captured, and given lines like “I always wanted you to look at my legs”, and in the end, she’s almost the butt of the final joke – when Kirk says “I always stay away from older women”, that’s a reference to the fact that Grace Lee Whitney was older than William Shatner.
And so, in a way, Miri is pretty much the end of Janice Rand. It was her last episode filmed, as I understand; even if we see her again, this is basically her final outing. It also marks the start, arguably, of Kirk’s love interest of the week; even if Miri is a pretty creepy starting point, you can see how the show is picking up on a precedent established with the android yesterday, and developing this idea of Kirk having a new alien (or variations thereupon) babe to hook up with in each episode. After that, there just isn’t much space for Janice Rand, is there? Who needs a romantic lead when you’re making it part of the fabric of your show to swap in a new one each week? Janice is also the only one who points out that the Kirk/Miri interactions are a bit creepy, so there she’s quite literally getting in the way of Kirk womanising his way across the galaxy.
When I began this trek, if you will, I wasn’t really aware of Janice Rand as a character. In theory, sure, I knew the broad details of who she was, but I’d never seen a single episode that she was actually in. Generally speaking, I’ve actually quite liked her. But I also can’t help but look at her as the symbol of Star Trek’s early failures, and the manner in which it began as something very far from the utopian ideals we like to impose upon it. It was just as sexist, and at times outwardly misogynistic, as the rest of television in the 60s.
Because of it, Star Trek failed Janice Rand, and that’s a failure the show will always have to try and fix.