Star Trek Anniversary Top #20 - James McLean's List

[John’s Note: This is the list of my friend James McLean, my partner in crime on the John and James’ Excellent Journey Podcast, and a science fiction scholar to boot.]

20. “The Deadly Years:” It's memorable, fascinating, and the threat is palpable. Good TOS Trek is all about philosophy wrapped in tension, dipped in a bucket of the best pacing. Should be sugar coated with something to laugh about too. “The Deadly Years” does this. The resolution is vaguely silly science (and that's being kind), but sometimes the weak end justifies the enjoyable means, no?

19. “The Immunity Syndrome:” It's got scale, threat, a gradual mystery that unravels nicely. Spock's shuttle experience carries tension and some nice character moments.

18. “Return of the Archons:” I'm a little biased as this was one I had on VHS cassette first, but I still think it has a lot going for it. There's mystery, the backlot serves this tale well. It feels like there is a journey here “through the story. It doesn't really serve any particular cast member, which itself is unusual, and it’s full of TOS tropes, but somehow it is very re-watchable. There's nothing amazing about it, but nothing wrong at all.

17. “Spectre of the Gun:” It's bold, well-paced, and carries genuine threat despite its much scaled back theatrical style.

16. “Shore Leave:” It's an oddity. Engaging, yet fractured. The outside locations make this story feel fresh. It's more a collection of fun set-pieces, and a threat that resolves itself in a rather unusual, if simplistic way.

15. “Obsession:” There's some awkwardness here; the crew seem suddenly very distrustful of their heroic captain who has rarely put a foot wrong in their minds, but it does produce some potent character moments between the crew, a super act-break with Spock vs. Gas, and a great final act.

14. “All Our Yesterdays:” Far from perfect, certainly the Kirk storyline goes, well, nowhere interesting, but the McCoy/Spock dynamic makes this engaging watching. Spock gets to let loose on McCoy's constant teasing-cum-bullying. It's a fun idea, and having both Kirk and Spock/McCoy lost in time makes it all the more engaging - can both teams escape the past? Probably not.

13. “Whom Gods Destroy:” Let's forget the rather simplistic mental institution aspects, and the odd shape-shifting, it is quite a brutal and dark episode. Garth has power, and Kirk is constantly blocked by this crazy despot. It's got some kicks, this. 

12. “The Tholian Web:” A great McCoy/Spock piece. Shatner out of the way, they have a lot of fun with this. McCoy gets some good digs into Spock, Spock takes the blows as usual.

11. “Mirror Mirror:” Because it’s fun. It give the whole cast room to play/ham. It carries TOS usual blend of tension and pacing. 

10. “The Menagerie:” I used to hate this, but as I've got older, I can see the brilliance in adapting the pilot material into a new story without it being a simple flashback/call-back episode. Despite it being about Pike, it really is about Kirk and Spock. Very clever.

9. “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield:” I just love the sheer brilliance in the idea. The whole idea of breaking down racial tensions into such an abstract race still pops my mind. The audience really see no difference in these two races, yet they do. Surely a message for mankind who must view our own racial tensions as if they're watching “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”

8. “The Corbomite Maneuver:” This must be on everyone's list. You know why.

7. “The Squire of Gothos:” Some say it’s the character Q, I say: I really don't care. It's a great performance from all, and another solid blend of tension forged from the character interactions, and the popular original series theme of Man vs God. Only Kirk can face off gods with absolutely no cards in his deck. The ending makes for the perfect resolution, beautifully sent up in Futurama half a century later.

6. “Wolf in the Fold:” Again, it has that well-paced plot, and an enjoyable switch of location and genre conventions for the final act. Moreover, it has a very funny backbone running throughout, where the writers have found possibly television's weakest excuse for a case of woman hatred. It's a very flimsy attempt to try and frame Scotty as a potential woman-killer, yet somehow its terrible logic just makes the story even more charming in its silly naiveté. 

5. “Charlie X:” It's an example of what the original series did so well; good pulp sci-fi with no techno-babble. It's all about the idea. How do you face up to a child-god? If the original series had any faults, it was occasionally weak or unsatisfying resolutions. “Charlie X” is an exception to that rule.

4. “The Doomsday Machine:” The story is action packed, got a great pace, a fantastic soundtrack. It has some great tense moments. Spock's stand-off with Decker is engaging, and on top of all that, we have the hilarious camera facing close ups of Decker's journey into the Doomsday Machine. It's just so re-watchable.

3. “Amok Time:” I'll watch it over and over just for McCoy's glee at Spock's pleasure in Kirk's survival. That at the first act, an act I'd encourage all pop culture writers to watch - and any writer of the new films - so they can see Kirk is not impulsive and emotional. Quite frankly, he's a bit of a git. He gets Spock to reveal his deepest secret with no abandon. If it was McCoy, perhaps pushing Spock to explain his embarrassing sexual urges might have had some doctor-patient logic, but here it’s just Kirk shutting down Spock's every plea for privacy. It's sort of hilarious.

2. “The Galileo Seven:” It's a great vehicle for Spock, Scott, and McCoy, where we get to see a lot of interesting dynamics playing out. As always there's a pleasure of the subversive bully, McCoy, undermining his friend in usual style. I love McCoy. For such an enlightened future, he punches Spock below the belt at every opportunity, and this situation is just deliciously rich with logical choices to challenge. Likewise, Spock's struggles are, to coin a phrase, fascinating. Scott is equally fascinating, proving to be the only member of the crew who has some semblance of training in the chain of command. 

1. “This Side of Paradise:” This works on so many levels, and says so much about American culture of the ‘60s. Give them the framework of paradise, and it needs to be deconstructed because, essentially, paradise stagnates progression. Yet, is not progression the pathway to paradise? Well for everyone involved, that's true, bar Kirk, when seeing his whole crew happy, decides he must make them unhappy again because he can't fly his ship otherwise. Some great Spock scenes. An awesome moment where Kirk gets Spock angry, and even more awesome moment when Spock realizes he's lost everything. He deals with it in the only way he knows how: no, not logic, just pure acceptance than everyone on that crew has it in for him.


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