nsmtnz: Do you enjoy bizarre sci-fi-esque westerns like Wild...


Do you enjoy bizarre sci-fi-esque westerns like Wild Wild West and Westworld? Alternately, have you been doing a lot of drugs? Then this episode is for you!

Seriously. First of all, the reason given for the Enterprise visiting this planet either makes no sense at all or makes them look like assholes, which always gets us off to a glowing start. Second of all, this episode takes place in a 19th-century Wild West town that apparently did not feel the need to put walls or ceilings on any of its buildings, something that is never, at any point in the episode, commented upon by anyone.

They do, however, have this fabulous floating sky clock. Trade-offs.

Basically, Kirk, following orders from higher-up, approaches a planet that has done them the damned courtesy of sending a probe telling the Enterprise in no uncertain terms that they are not at home to visitors, thanks. Naturally, this means that when the away party beams down, they find themselves quickly lectured by an almost unbelievably shoddily-constructed Guest Alien who informs them that because they can’t follow simple instructions or respect sovereign space, they must now be executed… in the weirdest fucking way I have ever heard of, even in Star Trek.

Death by toxic exposure to your own shitty past? I mean, it’s novel.

Basically, they’re zipped to Pretend Tombstone Arizona, the away team is cast as the Clantons, and the Earps are going to kill them if they don’t skip town by 5pm. Yes, Death by O.K. Corral. Supposedly this was chosen from Kirk’s mind because he (and his crew) must die by the “violence of [his] own past.” The fact that Kirk’s ancestors are from Iowa, not the Wild Wild West, is apparently immaterial to the moment, but… whatever.

Obviously the away team does not perish at the hands of the Earps and Doc Holliday (weirdly cast as Snidely Whiplash-level black hats in this story). But neither do they, really, escape via application of their smarts, as usual. They work out that the whole Wild West set is an illusion, but that the bullets can still kill them if they believe in them. But do we get to see the power of human imagination being wielded as the ultimate weapon against violence and death? No. It turns out that humans? Just too emotional to logically believe that an illusion is unreal.

Fortunately Spock is around to give them the psychic equivalent of an anti-anxiety pill.

Like, there are parts of this episode that definitely come out the other side of Bad and all the way back around to This Is Amazing, but the ten minutes of our lives we gave up to Spock doing the most awkward series of mind-melds ever really didn’t help.

Floating sky clocks can only make up for so much.

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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]

I mean, it’s a lot less dark than Westworld. Somehow manages to make less sense. Sorry, I’m still hung up on the total lack of walls.

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nsmtnz: This week’s episode is widely considered


This week’s episode is widely considered to be the worst of the Original Series, and while we beg to differ on “worst,” it’s still pretty damn bad. From inconsistent characterization to random dialogue to one of the most random stunt-casts in our shared experience, this ep goes from “uhh” to “what?” to “umm, no” with great speed and all the agility of a drunken wildebeest.

This week’s Sailor Moon Says? Don’t Trust Orphans.

The ship’s first mistake is answering a distress call. Seriously, when does that ever go well? They arrive at Triacus to find that all the adult members of the archaeological expedition have committed suicide, leaving only their children alive. Children who are… shall we say disturbingly unaffected? Creepily cheerful? by the horrible deaths of their parents, apparently right in front of them.

Now you know, and I know, that creepy orphans are not to be trusted, especially in sci-fi, but the crew takes the kids aboard without even a biohazard scan (yet another checkmark in the fail column for the Enterprise crew!) and they promptly take over the ship.

You can’t stop the darkness with ice cream. At least, not for long.

What follows doesn’t make a whole lot more sense than what comes before, nor does the tone get any less inconsistent. We discover that the children are being manipulated by some kind of immortal demon, Gorgan, a translucent holographic dude who most closely resembles an inverted lampshade, but the villain’s motivations - beyond “conquest!” - and the children’s reasons for going along are never really explained or, when they are explained, even remotely plausible. Not to mention that for an episode centred around children, the children themselves are so bizarrely written that we have to wonder if the people writing them had ever met a genuine human child.

Unless the human child was the kid from The Exorcist. In which case, fair.

Verdict: baffling, off-key, and left us cold. Even Shatner’s famous, oft-mocked performance in the Homoerotic Turbolift Scene couldn’t save this one.

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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]

So many jumpsuits. So little writing.

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nsmtnz: So we’ve been looking forward with - not


So we’ve been looking forward with - not anticipation? More like trepidation? Dread? knowing this episode was coming up pretty soon, and here we are: The One Where Kirk Gets Amnesia and Cosplays A Hollywood Native American. To give you an idea of the level of cultural sensitivity on display for this episode, the alternate episode title was “The Paleface.”

Is this episode, super, super-racist? Why, yes! How did you guess?

Just to give you an idea: this happens.

So to summarize, briefly: there’s an asteroid headed for a planet that is home to a pre-warp culture. The Enterprise is going to divert the asteroid and keep it from killing everyone, which is apparently nbd in the 23rd century. Cool. Fine. I’m with you.

Except then for no reason at all, even though they are on an extremely tight schedule (this is mentioned at least three times in the first five minutes of the episode), Kirk, Spock and Bones beam down to gawk at a) the weird alien monolith that seems strangely out of place on a world with no industrial development and b) the natives, who look curiously like pre-European-contact Native Americans of the These-Are-What-We-Had-In-Wardrobe tribe, and write an ode to how “idyllic” and “uncomplicated” their lives seem. (This is the first mention of The Preservers, aka: the omnipotent aliens who went around plucking up “primitive” cultures and preserving them in situ on other worlds, who we can only assume were invented to retroactively explain away all the highly questionable Alternate Earth writing decisions so far.)

Should we, white men, feel funny about this framing? …nah.

They’re in a hurry, so naturally Kirk has to trip through a hole and get lost, forcing Spock and Bones to leave him behind in order to keep their appointment with the planet-killing asteroid,

Kirk gets himself electrocuted, gets amnesia, and emerges from the monolith to be greeted by the tribe’s priestesses, one of whom promptly falls in love with him. Kirk - or rather, Kirok, as he comes to be called - gets adopted by the tribe as their new, uh, wizard? And worshiped as a god? and it only gets worse from there.

Naturally, the one canonically white dude gets immediately worshiped as a god. Nothing uncomfortable about this at ALL.

For what should be pretty obvious reasons, we were not huge fans. In addition to being ultra-terrible and full of holes big enough for a starship captain to fall through - the conflict makes very little sense, when it turns out that the planet had an asteroid deflection machine all along, and Spock comes to the solution mainly via inspirational lute-playing - but rife with the kind of infantilizing characterization of Native Americans/First Nations people that should give any decent human contact humiliation. Kirk’s whole character arc in this episode is a desire for a condescendingly-idealized “simpler life” that’s handily delivered to him by amnesia and being slotted into a position of power and basically worshiped as a god. Not to mention the rampant brownface and the fact that the sole female guest star exists only to…

…no. I could go on. But honestly, you can probably guess, and if we had to watch this, so do you.

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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]

I would kind of prefer to never think of this episode again but honestly, I also want you all to suffer with me.

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nsmtnz: So mostly we loved this episode because it contains a...


So mostly we loved this episode because it contains a novelty for TOS: a take-no-shit female leader in the form of a Romulan Commander whose authority is so unimpeachable that we don’t even get to learn her name. 

Witness the birth of the traditional Romulan Power Lounge. Her legacy, it is grand.

I mean, there are downsides. We encounter RomCom (we tend to come up with abbreviated nicknames for guest characters and this one was too good not to share) in the course of the Enterprise 100% participating in cross-Neutral-Zone espionage, and she ends up losing the day at least partly due to her having the hots for the tall drink of pointy-eared water that is Commander Spock. There are, of course, counter-arguments to the interpretations of both of those things, and as a bonus, the episode was written by our girl, D.C. Fontana, which lends at least two-thirds of us some confidence that our ultra-progressive headcanoning of this episode are at least a little right.

Come home with me and be my kept man. It’ll be awesome.

I do have to question the wisdom of Starfleet’s plan here, though, at least at the outset. The plan itself is relatively sound: manufacture a situation in which Starfleet personnel can get onboard a Romunal ship? Fine. Probably you do need to cross into Romulan space to do that. Suggest a possible explanation for this highly illegal action that does not represent a breach of the Federation-Romulan treaty (e.g. Kirk Has Gone Mad Again, something that happens often enough that you’d think people would start to get suspicious)? Cool. I’m with you so far. I’m even with you as far as part C of this plan, i.e. While You’re On Board, See If You Can Get Your Hands On Some Cloaking Tech, which I look on as a sort of value-added bonus-level option. 

Tech which, evidently, is much more modular than the level of tech onscreen so far might have led you to believe.

My objection arises in the initial planning stages, in that surely there were easier ways to go about acquiring this intelligence. Doesn’t the Federation have spies? I’m confident that Romulus does. Later on, I know that the Federation does. What is diplomacy for if not to serve as a flimsy cover for international espionage?

Learn from your neighbours, Federation. After all, isn’t that what you’re all about?

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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]

Oh, look, it’s one of my favourite episodes!

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nsmtnz: Welcome to season 3 of both TOS and Not So Much The...


Welcome to season 3 of both TOS and Not So Much The Neutral Zone! Can you believe we’ve been doing this for this long?? Neither can we!

In less cheerful news: we are so. Sorry. America. The existential dread we feel on your behalf actually came in handy this week, though, because this episode is basically what it says on the tin. That is: repetitions of the title also comprise roughly 25% of the episode dialogue.

In what feels very much like a great big middle finger to the network, this week’s adventure begins with a purple-booted alien lady booping onto the bridge with little warning (in fairness, Kirk did call security, they just didn’t get there in time), knocking everyone unconscious, and then stealing Spock’s brain and making off into the night. The crew wakes up, finds a newly-brain-free Spock on the floor of Sickbay, and then vow to track down the thief and return Spock’s brain to him. Never mind the fact that the medical technology to do that doesn’t actually exist in the Federation: Kirk knows his heroic role and that ultimately, the universe will bend itself to his whims.

I really don’t need this shit, Jim.

Ultimately it turns out that the brain-thieves live on an ice-age planet where the men and women are segregated into surface-dwelling cavemen and bunker-dwelling lamé-clad cave-ladies who live underground, control all the technology, and enslave the men through the use of pain belt devices. They apparently stole Spock’s brain to replace their previous Controller, another brain that finally kicked it after ten thousand years of running their underground complex.

They’re also really, really stupid. The episode really, really wants you to know that the bunker-women are stupid. Or at least I assume it does, given how many times and ways the male Starfleet officers repeat it. Apparently their mental faculties have “atrophied” after generations of having their lives run by the Controller. Setting aside that that’s not how brains fucking work, let’s focus on the relevant questions, like: if they have such tiny, atrophied lady-brains, how did their leader sneak onto the Enterprise, perform cutting-edge neurosurgery, escape, and install Spock’s brain into its new home?

I’m so glad you asked, because the answer is Space-Age Hair Curler.

Apparently the answer is “the computer gave her a temporary upgrade,” but the knowledge only lasts for three hours.

No, that’s not how brains work either, I know. But on the upside, this episode solves the question of “how are we going to get a major cast member into every scene of this episode if his brain has been literally removed from his head?”


Better than the remote-control BB-8 we use to taunt the dog? …still no.

This episode is fundamentally bananas, but let’s all sit back and appreciate the solid brass balls of the writer who first had this idea, then spoke it aloud in front of other professional adults, and then managed to convince them to use it. Hats off, unknown writer.

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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]

Please allow me to assure you that this episode is at least 200% more bananas than it seems to be.

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nsmtnz: Now, I’m sure this will come as no


Now, I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you, the habitual sci-fi consumer, but here’s a pro tip: when you give a New, Amazing, Cutting Edge Computer the sole charge of a starship/town/space station, Shit Goes Down.

In this episode, Dr. Richard Daystrom (who later gave his name to The Daystrom Institute, one of the Federation’s premiere scientific institutes of research and learning) is here to field-test his shiny new M5 computer, a device designed to take over the running of a starship in order to make a human crew redundant. Dr. Daystrom, as it happens, is, uh, a liiiiittle too emotionally involved with his Ultimate Computer.

As a rule, excessive fondling of the technology is not an encouraging sign.

Now, a nearly infinite number of questions might immediately spring to mind, but we think the principle ones are:


wouldn’t that make the entire mission of Starfleet redundant?

haven’t any of the top brass who approved this field test ever seen a sci-fi movie?

moreover, why??

Also, naturally, the moment Daystrom comes on board he just can’t shut up about how pointless human crews and, more importantly, human Captains are, and how the future is all about super-genius computers doing the work of all these folks who have dedicated their lives to, uh, you know, running a starship, and making them obsolete. He’s getting a mystifying amount of support from Starfleet brass, even from Kirk’s so-called “old friend” Commodore Wesley, who after the M5’s first successful outing goes so far as to address Kirk as “Captain Dunsel,” which is Starfleet Academy-ese for “you serve no purpose.”

Your best man speech was great and everything, but now you’re obsolete.


Obviously, obviously, the M5 goes a little spare, takes over the entire ship, and - oops! - murders upwards of three dozen crew on the other ships involved in the field test. Even in tech support we couldn’t label that as “expected behaviour.” It comes out that the M5 isn’t actually a pure AI, but an “imprint” of Daystrom’s own brain, and it would appear that the hybridization isn’t exactly… what’s the word? Oh yes: stable.

Pro tip #2: hit the kill switch before the computer kills the first redshirt, not after.

Honestly, we think, as always, that the #1 qualification for admittance to Starfleet Academy is genre savvy, e.g. maybe a quick skim of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

On the plus side, it appears that “once built a pseudo-computer that went rogue and murdered dozens of Starfleet personnel” is not a disqualifying CV item when it comes to getting vast, prestigious research facilities named after you, so there’s that. In the Federation, anyone really can be anything.

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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]

Just basic genre-savvy. That’s all I’m asking.

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nsmtnz: You know it’s a bad week when


You know it’s a bad week when “starship crew reduced to little piles of salt” is the high point of the episode.

Okay, here’s a partial list of acceptable scenarios under which you may portray generally Earth, or specifically the United States of America, as existing on an alien planet or anywhere that is not our universe:

alternate timelines

alternate universes

cultures that deliberately imitate Earth

cultures that have been plucked from Earth/America and plonked down on another planet and directed to develop that way

cultures that have been plucked from Earth/America and deliberately preserved, in situ, by omnipotent alien museum curators

alien training programs that mimic and live as humans for the purposes of infiltration/invasion

Scenarios where this just pisses us off:

alien planets thousands of light-years from Earth spontaneously developing parallel China and America, right down to the Stars & Stripes, the Christian Bible and the Declaration of Independence for the purposes of making a sloppy point about how The Cold War Is Bad And We Should Stop, with bonus White Indians, yes you read that right

Guess which one happens in this episode.

What the ACTUAL FUCK, Gene Roddenberry.

The frustrating thing is that this episode contains at least three barely-connected episodes, and 1.75 of them could be good stories. Unfortunately, they’re made retroactively irrelevant by the general shittiness of the final, out-of-the-blue, America, Fuck Yeah! minutes of the episode are, especially since the entire debacle could have been avoided by a refresher course on Biohazard Protocols (yes, we’re back here, again) and Keeping In Touch With Starfleet.

This makes me so? irrationally?? angry???

Mystifyingly, this was one of Gene Roddenberry’s submissions for the original pilot, but NBC - rightly - made him shelve it until late in the second season when, presumably, they could no longer stop him.

Possibly this episode would seem less wretched to an actual American, but we seriously doubt it.

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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]

I’m still just, so angry? And even more angry about the parts of this episode that are too real up against the current state of Americaland.

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nsmtnz: So with guest-host Trisha joining us this week, the...


So with guest-host Trisha joining us this week, the NSMTNZ crew is 50/50 on loving this episode and finding the Kelvins some of most genuinely scary villains of TOS so far.

The story begins rather generically, with the Enterprise responding to a distress call… and then being immediately taken prisoner. “Thanks for picking up the phone,” says Chief Villain Rojan. “You, your ship, and your crew are now ours to command.”

“…huh,” says Captain Kirk.

-50 points for attempted galactic domination. +100 points for alien conqueror gender parity.

The thing about this story is that you expect it to go down just like every other episode: our brave crew, taken prisoner by seemingly all-powerful aliens, notices a flaw at the outset, makes a plan to exploit that flaw, and ultimately defeats said all-powerful aliens. And ultimately, that’s what happens. Intellectually, as viewers, we know that ultimately, the Enterprise crew will triumph. But the difference in this episode is, chiefly, two-fold.

First: the episode defies your assumption that the crew will progressively one-up the aggressors by having the Kelvins repeatedly, ruthlessly, foil our protagonists’ attempts at rebellion, starting with a calculated, cold-blooded murder in the first five minutes of the episode. This murder is not only utterly cold-blooded, but deliberately calculated for the purposes of breaking Kirk, and making him less likely to take risks later on in the episode.

It’s like a really, really dark version of Follow the Lady. Like, LAYERS of dark.

And the crazy thing? It works. Former-space-squid Rojan reads Kirk like a book in the first forty seconds of their acquaintance and works out exactly what will keep Kirk in line when faced with the deaths of more of his crew, to the point of making Kirk decide against initiating a self-destruct that will protect the Federation and the entire Milky Way Galaxy.

Second: the crew gives up. Not for long, admittedly; the time between “oh, we’re fucked” and “oh hey, a plan!” is a matter of seconds, in-episode. But it happens, and the Eureka moment that gives them the idea for their plan is essentially an accident: their enemy makes a mistake. But if that hadn’t happened? Damn. Who knows?

Because we wouldn’t want to go an entire episode without cultural stereotypes, Scotty’s solution is get everyone super-drunk.

It’s a rare episode of Trek that can convince us, even for a fraction of a second, that maybe this time, just maybe, the good guys might not win the day. And even though the solution to the problem descends into Wacky Hijinks - tricking the Kelvins into giving in to the unexpected barrage of inconvenient urges that come hand-in-hand with stuffing an ultra-rational space-squid into a tiny human body via booze, makeouts and fisticuffs - that qualifies it, IMHO, for entry into the Surprisingly Good Episodes Hall of Fame.

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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]

Despite the bananas parts at the end there were parts of this one that were genuinely scary??

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I appreciate that it’s a much-loved standby,

I appreciate that it’s a much-loved standby, like the ridiculous thing where they estimate time of death by the time a watch stopped, but it always throws me out of a murder mystery when the detective works out the identity of a killer because a dog doesn’t bark. The rationale here, I guess, is that dogs don’t bark at people they know or love. 

My question is: have the people who write these stories ever, ever owned a dog?

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