Star Trek and Conventional Wisdom

January 12th, 2010 by Max Allan Collins

I am immersed in the writing of KISS HER GOODBYE, just completely absorbed by Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane and their world.

Nice things keep appearing on the net about my work. For example…

My pal Ed Gorman was kind enough to write about the Nolan novel, SCRATCH FEVER, as one of the weekly “Forgotten Books” at Patti Abbott’s website, but also on Ed’s own blog, with some interesting comments only seen there. Easiest way to read SCRATCH FEVER is to track down the omnibus paperback, TOUGH TENDER, which has it and HARD CASH combined.

ROAD TO PERDITION is number one on another list of comic book-derived movies, specifically ones that some people apparently don’t know came from comics.

Barb and I are working our way through the third season of STAR TREK on blu-ray. All day I work on Mike Hammer, and all evening I watch STAR TREK (and in the company of a beautiful blonde). Life is good. But I am reminded by how much I truly, deeply despise conventional wisdom and regurgitated opinions.

I’ve revealed here previously that I am a first-generation Trekkie (not Trekker — Trekkie was the term Gene Roddenberry preferred). Here’s proof: Barb and I went to see William Shatner in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH at the Pheasant Run theater outside Chicago; and attended a George McGovern rally in DeKalb, Illinois, because Nimoy was hosting. Satisfied?

Anyway, Barb and I have watched the second season and third on blu-ray essentially back to back, and the first season not so long ago. Conventional wisdom says the first season is great, the second season very, very good, and the third season an embarrassment. The truth is STAR TREK in all three seasons has embarrassing episodes. And every season has a bunch of solid, meat-and-potatoes episodes. And a handful of excellent ones. If I had to nominate a weak season, it might be the second one, with its many, many earth culture planets (the Roman planet, the gangster planet, the Nazi planet, OMEGA GLORY with its tattered and very unlikely American flag, etc.). But the second season also owns AMOK TIME, one of the very best episodes.

Is There In Truth No BeautyThe third season admittedly has the two worst stinkers in the entire STAR TREK line-up – LET THIS BE OUR LAST BATTLEFIELD, the dismal racial parable (the one where Frank Gorshin does the Riddler as half black and half white, chasing around the Enterprise his fellow scenery chewer Lou Antonio who is half white and half black) and the truly abysmal WAY TO EDEN, the hippies in outer space episode, which manages to waste Charles Napier. But the third season has also the surrealistic gem SPECTRE OF THE GUN (one of the first negative views of Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral – and with DeForest Kelley, who was in the Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas film version, as one of the Earps!), and possibly the three best STAR TREK episodes of all, THE EMPATH, IS THERE IN TRUTH NO BEAUTY and ALL OUR YESTERDAYS. Some of the best STAR TREK episodes feature music by George Duning, sometimes re-frying his BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE score.

Without breaking it down, I would say (looking at the entire run of the show), there are probably about eight great STAR TREK episodes, and probably about half a dozen really, really lousy ones. The rest are solid entertainment, if of varying degrees.

I have always felt the success of the show had more than anything to do with the combination of Roddenberry’s concept and an exceptionally well-assembled cast. Say what you will about Shatner, he provides a dashing, charismatic hero (and you have to go to the lousy episodes, where he is really working hard, to find him truly hammy), and Nimoy’s Spock remains one of the great series TV characterizations, endlessly fascinating (I said I was a Trekkie), while DeForest Kelley provides compassionate glue, a friend and irritant to the other two leads, as need be. The rest of the cast is excellent, too, with its interracial components. In the third season, my old friend Walter Koenig in particular shines as Chekov, whose character is poorly defined by the writers but is beautifully portrayed and pulled together by the actor.

Live long, prosper, and quit listening to conventional wisdom.


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6 Responses to “Star Trek and Conventional Wisdom”

  1. mike doran says:

    Having spent much of my life listening to “conventional wisdumb” of all sorts, I applaud your latest comment.
    It’s always easier to make sweeping statements than to check out the original material – but then, how would learned references be written?
    AS it happens, I’ve never been into STAR TREK. My brother was, big time. He got onto their mailing list early; one Saturday morning, the postman brought a huge package, bursting with scripts, photos, and loadsa stuff, causing our parents to shake their heads in mixed awe and dismay. I found a lot of it interesting, the scripts wth their multicolored revisions in particular – not enough to turn me into a Trekkie, but it did whet my curiosity about what similar packages from other shows might yield even today.
    I’ve long felt that the “up – down – even” approach to judging TV series quality is the most sensible, which means that I reject the whole “jump the shark” attitude. I’m guessing that you do as well. (at least I hope so). I can go on about various other shows I’ve seen over the years, but I’ll spare you the filibuster – at least until the next time I see you in person (you’ve been warned).

    A bit off-topic: just in case you haven’t already heard from your other Chicago friends, MEtoo TV (digital ch.26.3) , which has been running the hour-long NAKED CITY late at night, has stared running the half-hour version on weekends. They just started this past Saturday. Thought you’d like to know; could the DVD set be far behind? Or at least maybe an enterprising QC station could call whatever Columbia Pictures TV is calling it self these days and ask for a price?

    (I still can’t get the Rap Sheet to respond. Been almost a whole month now. *help*)

  2. Brad Schwartz says:

    As a mystery writer/Trekkie, I wonder if you’ve seen the pictures of Leonard Nimoy playing Sherlock Holmes onstage back in the seventies, I think? I know it’s been said Holmes was the first Vulcan, and I must say the deerstalker suits Spock.

    I’m glad to find someone else that appreciates SPECTRE OF THE GUN, which I don’t believe “conventional wisdom” has regarded too highly. I always found this early negative depiction of the Earps interesting if, in my view, inaccurate. I was going to talk about it in a term paper I wrote last semester on cultural depictions of Wyatt Earp, but ultimately focused on an Earp movie from the seventies with obvious Vietnam parallels instead.

  3. Nathan Collins says:

    Ha! I googled for the Nimoy/Holmes picture, and it’s fantastic! Here’s the link:

    Mike, I’m stumped by your problem with the Rap Sheet. I don’t know why it would be blocked but not the rest of Blogspot (or Google, which hosts it). My understanding was that those usually block by IP address, which would be the same for all those sites. One workaround would be to log on to (or create an account with) Google Reader ( ). There you can “Add a subscription” to “”. You’ll be able to read his posts through their service, although they won’t be formatted as nicely as on his website itself. And while you’re there, you can subscribe to FOMAC as well! “”

  4. Barb and I saw Nimoy as Holmes on stage in Chicago in the ’70s. He was great but it was that old Gillette wheeze, not much of a play though an elaborate production. He also played Holmes on a math-oriented PBS short, but I’ve never seen it. I did get a chance to briefly talk to him about Holmes at the Disneyworld launch of the Techno Comix line, of which we were both a part (I was there with Mickey Spillane for MIKE DANGER).

    SPECTRE OF THE GUN is wonderfully surreal, as well as scary and funny, with a great use of the recurring characters. It’s beautifully shot, and the colors really pop on blu-ray. Any historical accuracies can be put down to the Earps being drawn from Kirk’s memories and impressions. It’s the rare episode that actually benefits from not being shot on location.

  5. BNPeeler says:

    After viewing SPECTRE OF THE GUN as a youngster, it was years before I realized that Wyatt Earp was the “good guy.” Also, could you provide some details of the apparently aborted Star Trek novel that was listed on Amazon for pre-order for a while that listed you as the writer? I can’t recall the title. (Nathan Heller vs. Bela Okmyx, maybe?)

  6. I am Trekkie enough to recognize the Bela Okmyx reference, but PIECE OF THE ACTION is not one of my favorite episodes. It has a couple of nice moments but is one of those typical second season shows where Kirk and Spock beam down to a Nazi/Roman/whatever planet, get caught, escape, get caught, and so on. I dislike those episodes fairly intensely.

    I don’t know how the STAR TREK novel got listed. I do know I was approached by an editor at Pocket Books to write an ENTERPRISE novel — the show was about to debut. I was thrilled, and watched the premiere with a lot of excitement; I was a QUANTUM LEAP fan and liked Scott Bakula a lot, and really just couldn’t wait. But the two-hour premiere was pretty dismal, and I never warmed to the show. Still, STAR TREK is STAR TREK, and I figured I could do a good novel. I wrote two different proposals, and what I ran into was this: both proposals got a response that went something like (I’m just winging it here) “this is too much like episode 37 of DEEP SPACE NINE” or “this is just like episode 23 of VOYAGER.” I had not seen any of those shows, and I suddenly realized that coming up with a STAR TREK idea that hadn’t been thought of already…when I wasn’t familiar with the secondary shows much less all of the tie-in novels…was a suicide mission. I bowed out, but somehow one of the two proposals got formulated into an Amazon listing, apparently by somebody at Pocket Books. I guess one of the proposals almost got accepted.

    Similarly, I got asked to an X-FILES novel proposal, worked very hard with an editor at HarperCollins until we both liked it, and it was submitted to the X-FILES powers that be, who never got back to us. Then years later I got asked to do the novel for the second movie, which was a kick. I liked that movie, by the way, and loved doing the novel. Yes, I was also a big X-FILES fan. I would like to say my influences include Camus and Proust, but mostly I am a Spillane and Roy Huggins kind of guy.