Monday, October 29, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 17 (The Squire of Gothos)

Undefeatable antagonists don’t generally impress me.  In movies and TV shows, they’re difficult to write for and generally require some greater force to get rid of them.  The protagonists often have to amuse the antagonist, who could easily end any one of them.

When The Enterprise encounters a rogue planet, the find that its sole inhabitant is Trelane, who happens to have god-like powers.  He pulls Captain Kirk and Sulu off the bridge.  When a landing party goes down to the planet, they find something resembling the Earth, but from several centuries ago.  Trelane introduces himself as a retired general and the squire of the planet, hence the title.  He spends the episode entertaining himself and finding new ways to torture the crew of the ship until an intervening force rescues them.

I remember bring entertained by the episode when I first saw it.  It was the first time I had seen such an entity.  Part of the reason that it holds up to some degree is that Trelane is portrayed as being somewhat immature.  He can create food, but doesn’t consider that it’s supposed to have taste.  He fails to account for the speed of light in his observation of Earth.  He’s powerful, but not wise.  In fact, the machine he uses could easily be seen as training wheels.  Destroying the machine slows him, but doesn’t stop him completely.  (Trelane was said to be a Q in a Next Generation-era novel.  I don’t recall if any of this was addressed or not.)

I think the one saving grace of the episode was to have William Campbell play Trelane.  He’s able to do it with just the right amount of flamboyance.  He pulls off that child-like quality without appearing child-like.  According to IMDb, the part was written for Roddy McDowall.   His portrayal probably would have been similar, but I don’t know if it would have been the same.  (I don’t know if any screen tests were recorded, but it would be interesting to see how McDowall would have handled the part.)

This is probably the closest I’ve ever seen a story come to convincingly portraying a powerful being interacting with mere mortals.  Trelane doesn’t seem to have any specific ill will towards the crew of The Enterprise.  He doesn’t want anything from them other than as someone to play with.  The danger is there, but not the specific intent to harm.

This is where most stories of this type fail, in my opinion.  Humans pose no real threat to a being like Trelane, so how can they put up a fair fight?  Kirk is able to get the rest of the landing party off the planet, but he still needs the intervention of Trelane’s parents to leave the planet, himself, and to get the ship safely away from the planet.

It was still an interesting episode.  Trelane was someone who imitated without understanding.  It’s not enough to know what to do.  You actually have to know why, as well.  It’s strange that Q got to come back and Trelane didn’t.  It would have been interesting to see if Trelane had learned anything.

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