A tour-de-force for Shatner, this episode also gives us an uncluttered look at what our main character is made of. Without the distraction of a guest star, and with a peril that's played in part for laughs, we get Kirk in all his glory. There's even a sly message about what makes for great leadership. Some of the technical things were yet to be perfected, but the story hits on all cylinders.
Shatner is very, very effective in his two roles. He is aided by some visual shorthand (the shirt, the make-up, some lighting changes) but he probably wouldn't need it. His two Kirks are so different, and the writing so sharp, that it's never in question which is which. His animal Kirk borders on insane at times, but it's so plausible to the character that we'd miss the excess if it were not there. His compassionate Kirk gets steadily weaker, but never drops off the cliff. Shatner manages to find gradations of weakness and gradations of mania, and this is a major part of the episode's success.
As mentioned, the script is solidly constructed and well-paced. The mystery lasts for about 10 minutes, at which point everyone knows what has happened and can begin finding a solution. In a quick fix scenario, the two Kirks would have run around the ship, narrowly missing each other and causing mayhem, for about 45 minutes, at which time a tech solution would be introduced. Matheson wants to talk about what it takes to be a starship Captain, and by extension what it takes to be a great leader in any context. He simply has to make the jeopardy last long enough to work through the character issue. This is always welcome because the jeopardy story serves the character story rather than the other way around. Matheson has taken Roddenberry's charge to heart, grabbed an issue worth discussing, and put it squarely within a sci-fi situation.
A couple of clunky moments when Spock bares his soul appear interjected into the script by someone other than Matheson. It's a minor distraction in the episode, but useful for helping us (and Nimoy) understand who Spock will become in the long-run. He's still not a fully-formed character, as is evidenced by his callous remark to Yeoman Rand in the tag. Her story is remarkably disturbing to watch, but perhaps that is due to changes within society since it was filmed. Her near-rape by a superior is certainly no laughing matter, and the scene itself is remarkably intense. This is Whitney's best moment in the series, and it is something of a mystery that the censors let this one past.
Also klunky is the use of Shatner's stunt double, who really doesn't look much like him. This is offset, however, by several marvelous split-screen shots (such as the one where they clasp hands), and two very clever straight cuts which allow Shatner to be in two places at once.
Set design continues to be masterful as we get our first look at engineering. It feels like a massive space deep in the bowels of the starship. The gigantic machines have a wonderful mysterious quality, as does the forced-perspective chamber beyond. To top it all off, colored lighting adds depth and character to the space.
Kaplan provides his first score and adds some very expressive musical themes to the growing collection of reusable material. Phillips does exceptional work at providing ever-so-slightly different make-up for the two Kirks (look at the eyes). Unfortunately, the scratches are a moving target which are much more effective in some scenes than others.
Lighting and sound continue to dazzle as the Enterprise is about as visually interesting as she would ever be, and the planet has its own distinctive soundscape. Again the cabin set serves double-duty through changes of light and props alone. There is one optical shot, of the ship emerging from behind and flying over the planet, which recalls the clunkiness of the pilot episodes. There is also one new stock shot at the very beginning, showing the ship approaching a planet, which is quite nice. And the shot of phasers warming rocks is well done.
In the first three episodes, we've seen Kirk beginning to form. Here we get to take him apart and see what makes him tick. This was the perfect moment in the series to tackle such a thing. What we learn Shatner learns with us. His considerable skill will allow what happens in this episode to serve as valuable subtext throughout the series run.
Rating: Very Top (1)
This is one of my favorite episodes, and your critique is right on the mark.
However, there are two major flaws in the episode; both have to do with editing.
The first is that the scene where Scotty explains that the transporter has malfundtioned and is duplicating things. This scene should actually end the act, and be *after* Spock assumes that there is "an imposter aboard". It doesn't make sense that he would assume there is an imposter if he already knew about the transporter malfunction. Also, Kirk's reaction to Scotty's news is a little strong if he's only concerned about the "dog". Then the second act starts out in the transporter room, and is obviously a continuation of the previous transporter room scene. The novelization of this episode by James Blish bears out this analysis.
The second is not a mistake, per se, but a poor choice of cut (this comes out in the novelization, too). In the scene in sick bay after capturing the duplicate Kirk, Scotty tells Kirk that he "found the new trouble with the transporter" (note the word *new*). It's from the phaser blast when Spock neck-pinched the double. There is a missing bit where Scotty tells Kirk that they fixed the transporter, but something else has gone wrong.
Posted October 3, 2008 09:29 AM by Guy Lester