Star Trek (TAS) “The Jihad”
Kirk opens up this installment with another log… and it’s taken me until now to realize every TAS episode opens up with a captain’s log. It’s pretty lazy, actually. I get the idea behind giving the viewer a little exposition to set up the scene, but couldn’t they have changed it up a bit, maybe have Kirk explain what’s going on to Bones, or start the episode in media res (a little Latin there, to show I’m edumicated), or something? Am I asking too much from a show geared towards seven year olds? Yeah, probably.
So Kirk is talking about how the Enterprise is making a rendezvous at the Vedala asteroid… which looks suspiciously like a stock footage planet to me. I bet if I was a bit more OCD and had a tiny bit more time to waste, I could find the TAS episode this planet was used in before. Maybe I should drop an email to the good folks at Memory Alpha to see if they have some sad bastard on their payroll doing things like this. At least, I hope the people at Memory Alpha are getting paid.
Orbiting the “asteroid” is the saddest collection of ships I’ve ever seen. It looks like the animators brought their kids in to work one day and gave ‘em some Magic Markers to play with, and the Filmation producers grabbed the wrong cells. A more disturbing notion is the animators might have in fact been kids, and the Filmation producers grabbed the right cells. Just what were the child labor laws in Taiwan in 1973, anyway?
We learn the Vedala are “the oldest space-faring race they know”. Older than the bug-eyed aliens seen in the very first TAS episode, “Beyond the Farthest Star”? Maybe Kirk means the oldest race that they know personally, like the Vedala regularly invite other races over for garden parties or something. Why are the Vedala living on an asteroid, anyway? Is it like what a lot of old people do when they move into condos, because an asteroid is less upkeep than a full planet?
The “oldest space-faring race they know” have asked for specialists like Spock and Kirk to show up because there’s a serious threat looming, and while I can see why a guy like Spock, who’s an expert in just about every scientific field might come in handy, I’m not sure why the Vedala need a specialist in bar hopping and STDs. Before Kirk and Spock head down, the captain tells Sulu to keep the ship where they parked it, and to Scott, he says that if he and Spock don’t make it back, “You have your orders.” Bear in mind, the last time Kirk told Scotty something like this, it involved everyone’s favorite Scotsman preparing to drop photon torpedoes on every major city on Eminiar VII.
Not that the wholesale destruction would have amounted to much, as their cities apparently were made mostly of matte paintings.
Spirk head down, and there they find a bunch of aliens waiting for them.
The first alien is cat-like and the presumed Vedala, and sounds just like Nurse Chapel.
Either Majel isn’t up to par this time out, or the aliens are just using Chapel’s voice to mess with Kirk and Spock. Hey, they’re old aliens; who knows what makes ‘em laugh? What would make this episode even funnier is if that wasn’t a Vedala, and they just sent their house pet out to deal with inferior races.
And in two minutes, I just made this episode a million times more awesome for myself.
The Vedala’s housecat with Chapel’s voice explains that the group has to team up to tackle an insurmountable objective. The gang includes Tchar, hereditary prince of the Skorr.
Tchar looks pretty badass, and he’s got that look on his face like he can handle this whole mess all by himself, and Kirk and the rest are just going to get in his way. In other words, he and Jim are probably going to either become man-bros, or wind up trying to murder each other.
Next, we get a way cool looking reptile named Sord, also called the “Master of the Iri”…
…who doesn’t say much. Guess he’s trying to out-stoic Tchar, angling for best mysterious alien this time around. Or Doohan had laryngitis the week he had to do Sord’s lines, and they had to change the script.
Next, we get what appears to be the Disney Caterpillar’s uglier kid brother.
He says everyone would call him and his (unnamed) species cowards, and he was sentenced to this “mad expedition”, meaning he’s here against his will. The cat says that as an expert lock-pick and thief, his skills are going to be useful. So I’m wondering if his race sent the most qualified member of their species, or the most expendable. Then the housecat says his name is “Em/3/Green”, and I’m sitting here scratching my head. Is that like 3D Bingo? Someone invent that now. What am I saying is, some Star Trek fan probably invented 3D Bingo years ago. Then I realize that that’s the guy’s name… or maybe it’s his prison convict number. Anyway, for the rest of the article, I’m calling him M3G.
I’m wondering who’s doing M3G’s voice, and the obvious answer is James “Man of a Couple Voices” Doohan, but it turns out we’ve got a celebrity guest star: writer David “The Trouble With Tribbles” Gerrold! Apparently, he was hot to get his SAG card, and this gig qualified him. What, he couldn’t get a part as a car accident victim on Emergency? A drug smuggler on Hawaii Five-O? The man could have played a Sleestak on Land of the Lost. But no, he settled for TAS. Keep aiming low, Dave. You’re always bound to hit something, even if it is just dirt.
Next up is Lara…
…who’s an expert tracker with a “flawless directional sense”, which apparently will be important where they’re going. I’m wondering if that “sense” includes enough common sense to make Kirk pull over at a gas station to ask for directions. That joke would have been a lot funnier twenty years ago before you millennials and your smart phones and Google Maps came along. I’ll be right back; I have to tell some punk kids to get off my lawn.
Huh, looks like every member of the animal kingdom is represented here, except for fish. Oh, wait, Kirk and Spock were once fish, weren’t they?
Guess we now know why Kirk and Spock are on the team. Actually, Spock’s been chosen for his analytical mind, but I get the feeling he might be along more for his little-known talent for being a master of disguise.
Kirk is here due to his “leadership and adaptability”. At first, I was going to say that Spock could have done double-duty here, but he’s the guy who got half his crew killed on his first away mission.
Tchar lays down the skinny. It turns out his race used to be a badass monoculture warrior race with advanced weaponry and the ability to breed loads of fighters. But then they all became civilized because of their token Christ figure, Alar. Alar’s brain patterns were recorded before his death (which is either awesome or creepy. Or both) in a piece of “indurate sculpture”. Go ahead, guess what was stolen. If you said the Soul of Alar, you get a thousand quatloos (and another thousand if you got that reference)! Tchar’s race is now collectively pissed off, and they’re getting ready to go to war with, well, everybody.
Spock says the threat is pretty real; in just two years, the Skorr could breed an army of two hundred billion warriors. Wait, let me watch that bit again… Yup, he said two hundred billion. Either Nimoy flubbed his lines and the producer didn’t give a damn, or the writer didn’t know how many zeroes are in a billion. Knowing this series, it could go either way.
Let’s assume there will be two hundred billion warriors in just two years. How are they going to be armed? How are they going to be able to transport two hundred billion warriors around the galaxy? Do the Skorr have enough warships? And this is assuming their warriors will be ready for combat immediately. And how will they feed two hundred billion people? Where do they live?! Gah, it make Tom head hurt bad!
The government is keeping a lid on the theft, but once people find out, all bets are off and the mega-breeding will ensue. I wonder if Kirk will ask the Skorr if he can be in on said mega-breeding. And no, Kirk man-whore jokes never get old to me.
Jim asks who stole this episode’s MacGuffin, and the Vedala’s cat says they don’t know, but the motive is obviously to provoke a holy war. A… jihad, if you will. Now, if they don’t know who the thief is, how do they know the motive? For all they know, somebody ripped off the Soul because it would help their living room’s feng shui. However, they do know where the soul is: a “mad planet”.
The Vedala’s cat says the “mad planet” is a geologically unstable rock with earthquakes, tidal waves, and you know it’s serious when the cat gets all science-y and breaks out the Kelvin scale and says temperatures range from “20 Kelvin to 204 above”. Wait, 20 Kelvin is -250 degrees Celsius . The coldest spot on planet Earth is only -92 Celsius. I guess Kirk and Spock will be breaking out the force field belts on this one, right?
Of course not; that would make too much sense. Just wait ‘til you see what the gang is going to be using on this unthinkable assignment.
The cat says three expeditions have been sent, and three have been lost. Wow, the Skorr’s government is doing a pretty damn good job of covering up the theft. Kirk asks if the Vedala are so badass, why don’t they get the Soul themselves? But the cat claims her owners can’t survive on the planet, so they’re sending disposable lesser beings in their place. She doesn’t quite say it like that, but it’s all in the subtext.
So, Kirk and his preposterous operation force are shown the gear they’ll be using. Just what sort of high-tech marvel are the Vedala providing our heroes?
Better get that fifth team assembled, just in case.
Man, I’ve seen some ugly cars. I should know, I was a kid in the ‘70s, the era of Pintos, Pacers, and Gremlins. But this? This is just sad. I haven’t seen a car this ugly since the Homer.
The Vedala send the gang off to the planet instantly with their clown car. M3G offers to drive and hops in, then proceeds to mess with the controls. The directional finder immediately breaks, but Lara says she knows exactly where they need to go, and as much as I tease the cast for being bad voice actors sometimes, I have to say Majel Barrett does a pretty good job with Lara; she sounds confident and quite un-Chapel like.
Tchar is skeptical of Lara, but Spock points out the Vedala woudn’t have picked her if she couldn’t do her job. While Tchar scouts ahead from the air and Spock checks out the dune buggy’s supplies, Lara tells Kirk there aren’t a whole lot of men on her planet, and when a woman gets a-hankerin’ for one, they say so. And Lara’s sayin’ Kirk is one tasty lookin’ man. She asks Kirk what he thinks of her, and he says “fascinating” and then says they’re not on a pleasure cruise.
Before Kirk has to find out just how hungry Lara is for Kirk’s, um, beef, Spock saves the day and reports the deathmobile is “adequately supplied”, including weapons. But no force field belts. Just sayin’. Kirk points out there’s no life on the planet, but Spock points out there is: them! Dun dun dunn…
To my surprise, we do not cut to a commercial break with that ominous sound, and Spock goes on to point out something might be guarding the Soul. The gang heads out and the weather instantly turns to a wet mess that Portland, Oregon would be proud of. Hell, man, even the Homer had a roof.
Lara says, “Real weather!” in that way people used to grin in 100 degree (Fahrenheit, not Kelvin) weather and say “Hot enough for you?” I say “used to” because those people are all dead now. But suddenly, the rain stops, burned away by sudden sunshine. Ah, so they’re rolling through Southeast Michigan. A volcano erupts, and much shaky-cammage ensues. M3G laments that they’re all gonna die, and Spock says that yeah, the odds say that’s probably going to happen. I think it’s been established by now if you’re looking for someone to give you a comforting lie, Spock’s the last guy to go to. Tchar lands on a precipice and points dramatically, saying he’s sensing the Soul of Alar…
…coming from some glowing futuristic circus tent. But before M3G (I wonder if that translates into an RGB color, or CYMK?) can get the D-Team van in gear, they’re faced with a lava flow.
Back from commercial, there’s a shot of the Enterprise… and that’s it. No log from Scotty, nothing. Just the Enterprise floating in space, like they meant to put in a Scotty scene, realized they ran out of time, cut the scene, but left in the Enterprise. It’s as badly edited as one of my videos. Maybe the Enterprise has a clause in her contract where she has to appear for a certain amount of time in each episode? Bear with me, I’m reaching here.
Back on Hellworld, Kirk suggests they can stop the lava flow with a barricade. Here’s a thought, Jim: drive away! Seriously, the gang is standing around talking about how a barricade won’t hold the lava flow back long, but then they spend allllllll this time coming up with a plan. They spend a full eighteen seconds panning across a scene of active volcanoes spewing out smoke and lava, like the animators were so proud of it.
Alright, I have to admit for the time it is a nice piece of art. I just wish there was a point to it. Tchar spots a ravine where the lava can be diverted, so Kirk, Lara, and Sord drop rocks into it. Bet it feels nice for Jim to have a reptile throwing rocks with him and not at him.
The gang returns to the car, where Spock and M3G have rewired the power packs to give them an uber-boost of speed, and just in time, too, ‘cause the lava flow is finally [!] on its way. Honestly, with all the time wasted spent on rewiring and rock-tossing, the gang could have just driven away. It’s just false drama, made worse when one of the car’s three different kinds of tires hits a rock and Spock goes flying out. So, no roof, no shock absorbers, no seat belts. Spock calls out to the others, saying they should go on without him, but Kirk won’t leave his wingman behind, and he rushes back to rescue him. They get back in the car and go tearing up the side of a hill.
Or try to. Add bald tires to the list. The gang does the first smart thing on this entire adventure and abandon the car. At the top of the hill, Spock tells Jim he shouldn’t have come back for him, and that the mission and team come first. Kirk twists Spock’s logic around by saying he agrees, and that part of the mission includes not losing Starfleet’s best science officer. Personally, I could have come up with a better reason, like without Spock’s huge brain they’re all screwed, but whatever. The weather now takes a nasty turn for the worse as it suddenly begins to snow.
And Kirk is channeling his inner Zoolander as he strikes a pose. See, I’m hip, I’m with it; I watch your movies and know your slang, dawg!
So, what does the episode consist of so far? Introductions, exposition, time-wasting pan shots, and forced drama. And why are our heroes driving around in a car when they could fly? Yes, fly! Tchar spends most of his time airborne, so there’s no reason they can’t be using a shuttle. What morons drive when they can fly?
M3G says the power pack is burnt out, and Kirk replies that they’re going to have to carry the equipment. The gang heads across a frozen expanse… and now I’m wondering, has the sci-fi circus tent moved? Tchar saw it; the gang drove like hell towards it. Or are they implying the frozen field covered all the rock instantly? If so, shouldn’t our unprotected heroes be, you know, dead from exposure? You know what would come in handy right now? Force field belts. Just sayin’.
A crevice opens up under M3G’s feet, almost swallowing him up, but a little teamwork prevents him from dying. He says that he can’t go on, and that he’s not scared anymore, just tired. I know how you feel, my little lepidopteran friend. Kirk orders Sord to carry 3MG.
That little thing on the ground, Sord? That’s what’s left of M3G’s dignity. You can leave it behind; he wasn’t using it anyway.
Tchar spots the circus tent, and I guess it moved. Or something. It was said earlier that the planet’s surface shifts, so I guess I have to go along with the idea that the tent didn’t just get buried by a lava flow or swallowed up by a fissure. Hey, maybe that glow Tchar saw earlier was a…. protective force field?
The gang exits some woods, and how the hell trees are still standing on this planet is a mystery to me. Sord says he saw something move in the brush, and Spock says for what I think is the third time that there’s no life on the planet, which tells me there’s definitely life on the planet. They near the tent and Tchar says he’ll scout ahead. Kirk tells Tchar to be careful, which is something I’ve never understood. I mean, if a person is naturally reckless, they’re going to ignore the advice, and if a person is the cautious type, that’d just be insulting. Then Kirk says he’ll scout ahead on his own, and Lara goes with him. Dammit, people, dungeon crawling 101: you don’t split the party!
Alone, Kirk and Lara reach the outskirts of the tent. Lara suggests that maybe they could have some “green memories”, which is about the safest way for a woman on a kid’s show to say she wants to shag a guy. Kirk says he already has a lot of “green memories”, and Lara says, “Oh,” like she’s either sorry to see her attempt to sleep with Kirk failed, or she didn’t realize he was such a slut when she made her offer.
The pair go back and collect the others, and outside the structure, Spock asks Tchar if the shape of the place is like his people’s “primitive temples”. Wow, that just sounds so arrogant, like Spock thinks Tchar’s religion is soooo quaint. Whatever Tchar is thinking, he keeps to himself, and he instead points to the door.
M3G goes right to work on it… and this seems to be a strange time to cut to commercial, but okay.
Back from the break, we get another of those cutaways to the Enterprise, this time hanging over the Vedala asteroid. Honestly, at this point, I think the producers would have been better served just by selling extra fifteen-second ad spots rather than these pointless Enterprise shots. Back on Mad Planet, everyone’s favorite caterpillar reveals that if he doesn’t open the door in a certain amount of time, it’ll blow up in their faces. And with that big reveal, the gang is attacked.
Damn, those things look familiar. Are they… yes! They’re the creatures from “The Eye of the Beholder”, which were recycled from “The Infinite Vulcan”. I know the budget’s tight on this show, but damn!
While Sord covers M3G, the others take out the creatures, which turn out to be robots. I have to admit I’m surprised, as Spock constantly saying there’s no life really made me believe they were going to be attacked by lava people or something. Tchar is carried off, and Kirk says the mechanical creature that took him exploded (off-camera, because I’m guessing they exceeded the budget by now), and the only way to save him is to get inside the temple and see if they can get to the roof from there.
M3G is able to get the door open and the gang wastes a full thirty seconds saying how they want to press on. God, this episode is full of so much filler they could have had a TNG style B-plot to fill in a good five minutes. Maybe have Scotty go on a drunken binge or something. Anything.
The gang (finally!) head inside, hoping they can get to their comrade from inside the “primitive temple”. Inside, they spot the Soul…
…Huh, so that’s what a piece of indurite looks like. It kinda looks like a long strip of glowing magnetic computer tape. Brain patterns stored on computer tape? Where have I seen that before?
…And once again, Star Trek is ahead of everybody else.
The team discovers the walls are pretty sheer and virtually impossible to climb. Kirk speculates that each expedition met with failure because some inside man was sabotaging them from within (sadly, it’s Spock who uses the term “sabotage” and not Kirk; I was so hoping to hear Shatner pronounce “sabotaaage” again). The gang climbs up the un-climb-able walls to a ledge, but Sord isn’t built for it, and has to stay behind. They almost reach the Soul and start to speculate on how to get it, when they’re shot at. And it’s then that the turncoat is revealed.
I was kind of hoping it was M3G, myself. No joke here, I just thought it would have been cool if the coward was revealed as the mastermind. Tchar goes on a rant about how weak his people have become, and how he wants to make them badass again through war. And if they lose, well, it’s no big deal, because they would have gone out in a blaze of glory. Tchar shuts off the gravity, so they have a fair chance.
M3G says Kirk should just shoot Tchar, but Jim points out the dude controls the phasers in the temple, so it’s gotta be “on his terms”. Too bad for Tchar that Kirk and Spock have had zero-G combat training.
Kirk hooks the Soul with the… sole of his boot, and Lara calls for retrieval as Tchar begs to die. Sorry, Tchar, it’s a children’s show; no onscreen deaths here.
Back on the Vedala asteroid, the cat explains that Tchar will be cured of his madness. For the good of the Skorr, everyone’s memories get wiped, and Kirk and Spock beam back to the Enterprise and discover they’ve only been gone two minutes. Kirk says the Vedala changed their minds, and the danger has passed, and they’ve got places to be, unaware that they saved civilization. Man, the Vedala are dicks.
“The Jihad” was penned by Stephen Kandel, a prolific TV writer who was the creative brain behind the TOS episodes “Mudd’s Women” and “I, Mudd”, and was also responsible for arguably the worst animated series episode ever, “Mudd’s Passion”. And yes, he also wrote episodes of Mission: Impossible.
“The Jihad” isn’t the worst TAS episode ever, but it’s far from the best. There’s a lot of dead air, and I can’t help but feel that they could have easily thrown in another crisis or two rather than pad things out with pointless conversations and needlessly dragging out the lava scene. Maybe it was due to budgetary constraints or sloppy editing, but I think there was the kernel of a good plot here that was ruined by circumstances.
Still, there are a couple of bright spots. The design of the various aliens is very well done, once more showing how an animated show could exceed in ways a live-action television series couldn’t at the time. And the voice acting was largely top notch. Scotty’s Sord and Tchar, Majel’s Lara, and guest actor David Gerrold’s M3G did a great job here. Despite the flaws in the script, it really felt like everyone was doing their best here.