Thursday, September 07, 2017

Star Trek Anniversary Top 20: Pierre Fontaine's List

[Animator, illustrator and writer, Pierre Fontaine, contributes for the blog his list of Top 20 Star Trek Episodes].

Season 1:
Charlie X - A great character story and nicely handled with a lot of character moments.  The core of the episode is Charlie's crush on Rand and how it's left to Kirk to help him through his adolescence while struggling to deal with Charlie's god-like powers to control the world around him. What's terribly interesting is that given all his powers, Charlie can't "will" anyone to love him.

Where No Man Has Gone Before - A great adventure story, again about a person given god-like powers.  I included this on my list because this second pilot provides a sense of history...the crew looks different, the uniforms are different but the core of the show is firmly in place.

The Corbomite Maneuver - One of my contenders for a "perfect" Trek episode.  An enemy is confronted only to find that they aren't what we expect them to be.  It's nice to see that Roddenberry's utopian future still had room for people who aren't perfect and can still learn important lessons.  A real standout for me personally.

The Menagerie/The Cage - Another episode that provides a sense of history to the show.  I think this episode and the pilot episode that it's drawn from truly cemented the feeling that the characters we've grown to like have a past history and that loyalty sometimes supersedes logic.

Balance Of Terror - Another contender for a "perfect" Trek episode.  It's a very exciting story and superbly presented.

Shore Leave - This "high concept" story just makes me happy.  There's a sense of fun, fright and exhilaration as the crew tries to determine what's happening around them on this strange and absurd planet.

Arena - Another classic and one that really showcases Roddenberry's desire to show that the human race can move past it's instinct for revenge.

Return Of The Archons - I've always liked this episode because the Archons are just so damn strange yet familiar.  Movies like "The Purge" series play on similar ideas of a polite society that needs to "purge" itself on a regular basis to keep itself on the straight and narrow path.  It doesn't make much sense but it is disturbing and still resonates with me.

Devil In The Dark - Yet another "perfect" Trek episode. Spock's mind meld with the Horta is absolutely riveting, as is Kirk and McCoy's reaction to its pain, leading to a desire to "heal" rather than "hurt".

City On The Edge Of Forever - I grudgingly include this in my top 20 because it is a classic episode with great ideas though I've never connected to it as much as others have.

Season 2:
Who Mourns For Adonais - A great concept and a fun simple as that.

The Changeling - Another "perfect" Trek story where the stakes are high and everyone has to think and act quickly to prevent a machine from destroying the crew, the ship and the universe beyond.

Mirror, Mirror - A fascinating opportunity to see how the crew reacts to a situation that is truly topsy-turvy.

The Doomsday Machine - Another "perfect" Trek episode.  Yes, it's another galactic threat but the inclusion of two ships, two captains with two opposing ideas about how to defeat this killing machine make for a really wonderful episode.

Journey To Babel - A necessary inclusion for the introduction of Spock's parents and the strained relationship he has with his father.

Season 3:
For The World is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky - As a kid, I thought the visuals were stunning, especially the technicolor asteroid.  It's one of the "crew in love" stories that occurred often during the third season but it always resonated with me personally.

The Lights Of Zetar - Yet another "crew in love" story but as with "For The World", I really like the story and the way it was told.  Besides, I've always liked James Doohan as an actor and really enjoy watching him "out of his element" and playing a love-struck engineer.

Spectre Of The Gun - This has always remained one of my all-time favorite Trek episodes.  I love everything about it; the basic dilemma, the surreal western town, the sense of dread when the crew realize that there's no escape, the death of Checkov, and the realization that if they can control their minds and their fear that even the bullets fired at them will have no effect.  Honestly, it remains up there in my top three favorite episodes.

The Tholian Web - A strong episode with unforgettable visuals.  A real treat for the mind and the eye.

That Which Survives - This is the first episode I can remember watching, and as a result this story has remained a favorite of mine.  Besides, the basic dilemma is riveting as is the way the planet's defense system is visualized as a alluring woman whose touch is deadly.

It doesn't surprise me that season 1 has the most episodes in my top 20 but I was surprised that season 3 matches season 2 with favorite episodes.  While Gene Coon was a fantastic writer and show runner, I felt he injected a bit too much whimsy into Trek, especially in season 2.  I personally like my Trek stories character driven and "serious", reflecting the dangers of space rather than making space travel feel familiar and safe.

Thanks for the opportunity to run through this exercise and try to define my favorite Trek episodes.  There were quite a few episodes that nearly made the list but had to acknowledge that some episodes like "City On The Edge Of Forever" are classics for a reason and deserve to be on any top-20 list.

Pierre Fontaine
Illustration, Animation, Paper Model design

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