Why Star Trek: Discovery must deal with the legacy of Janice Rand

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Janice Rand is probably the most obvious victim of the strain of sexism and misogyny that ran through Star Trek’s early years – initially the programme’s female lead, Janice Rand was gradually phased out of the show across the first half of the season. She was on the receiving end of attempted rape, objectification, and frequently belittled and undercut by both other characters and the narrative itself.

Star Trek’s treatment of Janice Rand is fundamentally at odds with the utopian idealism that is so often sold as the franchise’s main virtue. For Star Trek: Discovery to now make attempts at returning to that 60s utopianism, it must by the same virtue address the legacy of Janice Rand within the narrative.

It’s become increasingly clear that Star Trek: Discovery is going to be very deeply entrenched in 60s nostalgia, returning to the aesthetic and many of the characters of The Original Series.

If Discovery is to do that, it’s going to have to address the failings of the original Star Trek – it’s going to have to put right what once went wrong.

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Star Trek Review: TOS – Miri (1×08)

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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.)

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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.)

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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.

5/10

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Rape culture, transporter accidents, and evil twins: Star Trek’s Worst Ever Episode

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The Enemy Within was first broadcast on October 6th 1966, the fifth episode of Star Trek ever to air. You’d probably know it, if at all, as the one where Kirk gets split in two, with William Shatner giving fairly memorable performances as “evil Kirk” and “good Kirk”. It is, if not iconic, certainly well remembered in its own right; it’s widely regarded as being a decent episode, which is a good representation of the sort of camp fun and high aspirations of The Original Series, given that it offers a sci-fi twist on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde story, a few references to Jungian philosophical ideas as well, and an alien that is quite clearly a dog with some straws taped to the back of its head.

So far, so ordinary. It’s not exactly the sort of episode you’d term “the worst ever”, nor – as I put it in a recent review on my website – “an episode that deserves to struck off the record – not just quietly forgotten, but actively disowned”. But, you see, this isn’t just an episode with a silly run-around after a transporter accident; it affirms and normalizes rape and rape culture in a way unlike any other episode of Star Trek.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing the early episodes of Star Trek. While I am enjoying them, I’m also finding them very, very frustrating – there are aspects of them that are just straight up awful and offensive and wrong. This is a pretty obvious example, and so I’ve been quite heavily critical of it.

For all that early Star Trek is very good, and it often is very good, I think we’re all a little too quick to make a hagiography of it – to say, you know, ooh, first black woman on TV ever, Martin Luther King loved it more than life, it was so utopian, how wonderful, and then that’s the end of the conversation. Much of that is true, but it’s not the whole picture, and it very much shouldn’t be the end of the conversation.

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Star Trek Review: TOS – The Enemy Within (1×05)

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We have here an unusual opportunity to appraise the human mind, or to examine, in Earth terms, the roles of good and evil in a man.

Someone described this as “Jungian” on IMDb, and while I’d never claim to have the best understanding of Jung’s works, it feels like a pretty simplistic reading of his philosophies to apply them to this episode.

Because this is a quite a simplistic episode. It’s a reasonably well structured, albeit quite basic, run around of an episode; it’d be largely forgettable and essentially forgivable were it not for one fundamental flaw, which I imagine would be rather easy to guess for those who have been following my blog for a while. More on that later, though. Typically, I like to at least start these reviews with something positive, because I think it’s nice to find something positive in everything, and I do think it’s worth questioning whether or not the episode is entirely irredeemable. If nothing else, to try and find the positive will help me to figure out just what my opinion is.

It’s a step in the right direction in terms of the pacing and structure; I mentioned yesterday that Star Trek episodes have been struggling with this, but I think that The Enemy Within does a rather decent job of making sure that the episode fills its runtime reasonably effectively. Thankfully, as soon as the other Kirk is revealed, he does start getting on and doing things; this isn’t another Charlie X situation where we reveal the threat and then kinda just do nothing for half an hour. Here, at least, things are happening. You’ve even got the secondary plot with Sulu on the ground, although admittedly it’s used more to add tension to the rest of the episode as opposed to being explored in its own right. Still, though – it starts out as reasonably effective television.

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You can perhaps make the argument, to an extent, that it’s a good episode for the characters. To an extent it perhaps is; I think we got a much fuller view of Sulu here than we have previously, which I certainly appreciated. I’m becoming increasingly fond of Sulu, actually – quite possibly I may have a new favourite here. It’s also interesting to see Spock and McCoy’s different command styles, and their different suggestions to Kirk for dealing with the problem.

(I can’t help but feel, admittedly, there was a much easier solution to any problem – Kirk should have been confined to quarters, with Spock temporarily assuming command. Presumably there would have been medical reasons for McCoy to relieve Kirk, and it would have been a lot easier to handle the other Kirk if they didn’t both keep getting in each other’s way.)

As for the plot itself? Well, it was alright. Again, rather unsubtle, but equally, it’s one of the first episodes we’ve had that is trying to do something that comes from within the concept. This sort of transporter malfunction idea isn’t really the sort of option they’d have on a traditional naval show, and perhaps plaudits are deserved for that.

Of course, it would have been better with Spock, obviously. To separate him into the human and Vulcan sides of his character would have been a far superior episode to this one; it would have allowed for a very interesting exploration of his character, for one thing, but also I think would have prompted a more nuanced examination of those aforementioned Jungian ideas. Although having said that, it’s possible that we would have ended up with something broadly similar, so perhaps it wouldn’t have been a huge improvement.

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The episode’s main problem, you see, is the rather reductive view of good and evil put forth, as well as the fact that, because they need to link Kirk back up at the end, The Enemy Within has to argue the necessity of evil.

Which would be all well and good if the other Kirk hadn’t tried to rape Janice Rand.

There’s no other way to put that, I’m afraid, because that’s exactly what it is. It’s quite horrific, frankly; other Kirk is trying to overpower her, she’s cowering, hiding behind furniture, all of that. It becomes worse later on in the… almost the interrogation scene, I suppose, where “good” Kirk, Spock and McCoy are talking to Janice about the incident. It’s deeply uncomfortable, really; Janice is quite shaken about the event, and you end up getting some quite disturbing moments. Hell, we’ve even got a line where Janice says she “wouldn’t even have reported it”, had it not been for the other crewmember seeing it too. Shatner really misjudges one of his lines, to be honest; the moment where he says “look at me” should have been gentle and reassuring, but rather he delivers it as being more stern and commanding. Had it been any other line of Captain-ly dialogue, that may well have worked, but it’s totally unsuited for the situation here. Not only is Janice Rand nearly raped, Kirk makes it all about himself, and his own confusion around the event – she even apologises to him at the end!

(It’s far worse to see this when you remember that Grace Lee Whitney, who played Janice Rand, would later be sexually assaulted by a Star Trek executive producer; possibly, although not necessarily, Gene Roddenberry himself. There’s an even more insidious tone to it – the distinct feeling that actually, this isn’t quite fictional.)

It is, to be honest, a rather disgusting thing to have come out of Star Trek, and it feeds into a general trend I’ve noticed with Janice Rand as a character; presumably by virtue of her being a pretty blonde, she’s on the receiving end of a lot of sexism and misogyny. It was bad enough in Charlie X, but this is on quite another level – it’s treated as such a normal thing, even something for Janice to just sort of get over; at the end, after all, it’s just brushed off. Not only brushed off, it’s played for a bloody laugh – Spock makes a joke about it! Spock! Christ.

For all that we tout Star Trek as being a glimpse into a utopian future, a series that was made by a group of visionaries, it’s at times quite blatantly not. Because this is an episode that posits that it’s okay for the lead character to try and rape another character (who was, let’s not forget, at this time considered the romantic lead of the show), being made by a group of people who presumably saw no issue with what they were doing.

You know what? It doesn’t matter if this is well made, or better structured that the prior episodes. Those minor positives do not outweigh the huge negatives. This is an episode that deserves to struck off the record – not just quietly forgotten, but actively disowned.

0/10

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Star Trek Review: TOS  – Charlie X (1×02)

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There are a million things in this universe you can have and a million things you can’t have. It’s no fun facing that, but that’s the way things are.

What becomes evident, even as early as this second episode, is how important the actors were to the success of Star Trek, particularly William Shatner. I must admit, I’ve always been a Picard guy (with a great deal of appreciation for Sisko, of course), but I’m absolutely starting to look at Kirk in a new light. Shatner does a great job portraying Kirk as a calm and easy going individual, but at the same time there’s a firm and assured sense of authority to him. He’s not really the immature, womanising scoundrel that pop culture seems to paint him as – or at least, not yet. Kirk has, thus far, come across as an entirely able Captain, and indeed quite a good one too.

I’m also growing quite fond of Dr McCoy, in no small part because of DeForest Kelly’s performance; he’s charming and charismatic, and it’s a pleasure to watch him on screen. You can clearly see the chemistry he shares with Kirk, we’re also starting to see some of that infamous banter between McCoy and Spock. Spock, incidentally, has long been a favourite character of mine, so it was nice to see him in a slightly expanded role, following on from last week.

It seems to me, then – and I imagine I’ll be throwing out a lot of hypotheses like this over the coming weeks – that part of the reason for the longevity of Trek is these actors, and the life they imbued in their characters. Clearly, it’s still early days yet – we’re yet to properly see Scotty, for example – and certain aspects are still being worked out, but it does seem to me that this was a fairly important part in securing the future of the franchise.

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Certainly, though, while I might point to the performances of our regular cast as being one of the reasons why Star Trek proved to last so long, I’m not all that convinced that anyone would be pointing to this episode in particular. The fact of the matter is that it’s… well, it’s not great. It’s okay, I guess, but while The Man Trap suggested a reasonably entertaining space navy television show, this was… just kinda meh.

The problem is most evident in terms of the pacing, I think. While the mysterious Charlie X is a decent hook, there isn’t really a lot being done with said hook; it becomes quite obvious to the audience quite early on that Charlie has mysterious powers – it’s heavily hinted as soon as he arrives, and confirmed not long after – so it’s not exactly accurate to say there’s a building tension across the episode. In a way, it’s almost frustrating that it takes the crew so long to cotton on to what we already know, and indeed somewhat aggravating that when they do find out, they don’t really do much about it. I found that particularly odd, actually, in light of the previous week – Kirk placed a lot of emphasis on protecting his crew, and was clearly quite angry about their deaths. That was, in the end, why he killed the Salt Vampire. Yet here his actions don’t quite seem consistent with that, as Charlie is making crewmen disappear (we don’t really get any confirmation as to whether or not the majority of them return, only Janice) and Kirk essentially just takes it all in his stride. You can fairly easily make the argument that he was just trying not to provoke Charlie, of course, but it remained just a little weird.

One thing I did appreciate, mind you, was Kirk’s talk to Charlie about love being a two-way street, and how it’s important to pay attention to what both parties want. It’s a pretty basic message, which should be obvious, but given the fact that it isn’t – even today – I was glad to see it there. That was far more in line with the progressive Trek I like to remember.

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Other than that? Well, there were a few little things that stood out to me. I found the interactions between Spock and Uhura to be quite interesting, actually; I’ve always felt that the relationship between the pair in the new series movies was a tad superfluous, and more than a little out of nowhere. Watching these early episodes for the first time, though, and you can see that there may well have been more to the Spock/Uhura relationship in the original series than we tend to credit it with. Certainly, it was there in The Man Trap (albeit in something of an egregious manner) and here again you’ve got Uhura and Spock singing to one another. So, that was interesting to note.

I also want to just point out, by the way, that Kirk totally shouldn’t have won that game of Chess. He was, after all, in Check; any move he then makes would first require him to move out of Check. I suppose it’s possible for him to do that at the same time as checkmating Spock, but from looking at the pieces, that didn’t really seem to be the case. (Then again, I don’t really know much about 3D Chess.) I find it entertaining to think that Spock’s general exasperation wasn’t at losing, it was at Kirk getting it wrong – or perhaps at Kirk deliberately getting it wrong, so he could go away and leave Spock with Charlie!

Ultimately, this was… it was okay. The main crew were decent; Charlie far less so. In terms of the actual plot, it was lacking, and I think it’d be quite easy to get bored if you’re not already invested in it to some extent. Certainly, I’d never show this to a friend in the hopes of getting them to appreciate Star Trek, because frankly it’s more likely to lead them to dismiss the show entirely.

But, you know. It’s fair enough to just have “okay” episodes.

6/10

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