Operation: Annihilate! is an extremely dense episode. James T. Kirk finds his brother Sam and his sister-in-law Aurelan (Joan Swift) only to lose them soon after. He saves his nephew Peter (Craig Hundley) for whom he worries for half the episode and then forgets all about him: either he’s still in the infirmary or he’s left on the planet after losing his parents. Spock becomes completely blind, except recovering fully after a few minutes, and the captain looks much more worried for him than for the tragic fate of his family. Finally, a new form of life is discovered and Kirk and his companions don’t hesitate to wipe it out without even trying to find alternative and less cruel solutions (like, for example, they did in The Devil in the Dark). Wow!
This episode continues along the path of science fiction/horror that we’ve seen already a few times in Star Trek: The Original Series. Some single-celled aliens which cannot be detected by Starfleet instruments are annihilating civilization after civilization and the USS Enterprise is sent to investigate. Things are mysterious until the creatures are discovered (funnily enough, the creatures work in a similar way to those of Ceti Alpha V and used by Khan in Star Trek II), and then they get very tense after we see their devastating effects on human beings and on poor Mr. Spock. And then our brave captain finds a solution to an apparently insoluble problem!
It seemed like a good final episode for the first season. Although worse than the wonderful The City on the Edge of Forever, it’s a good story in which the relationships between the main characters are strengthened (for example, it’s remarkable to find out how much McCoy admires Spock) and in which some secondary characters shine too, above all the stubborn Scott. Incidentally, I recently discovered that James Doohan was a hero of the World War II, he had a very interesting life!
So, what about this first season? Watching it has been a wonderful experience, in fact I see it as the most solid debut of all the various Star Trek series I’ve seen! Clearly, as a viewer in 2019 I had to overlook a number of television clichés of its era in order to fully appreciate the product. The obligatory love story between Kirk and the blonde girl in each episode, the expendable and nameless crew members (the famous red shirts), the close-ups with the lines of dialogues acted in a theatrical way, the rhythm sometimes very slow compared to today’s canons, the sexist jokes and the lack of sensitivity with respect to certain themes that weren’t considered much at the time… all these things make The Original Series a bit dated, but for me they are negligible details which in some cases make me smile.
Many episodes are very solid even today and, above all, the majority of the ideas used in all the subsequent Star Trek incarnations was born in this first season: the exploration of space for scientific and diplomatic purposes, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, time travel, star bases, colonies on remote planets, more advanced races than the Federation, the Federation itself, an embryo of Q, the Starfleet trials, the theme of the many personalities within ourselves, pacifism… Yes, maybe in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine these ideas were better developed and brought to an even higher level, but without the first season of The Original Series we wouldn’t even talk about it! I truly admire Gene Roddenberry and all the writers who worked on the series.
Knowing the issues that the series had in making the two following seasons, I expect a decline in quality, but at the same time I can’t wait to see other episodes that have made the history of Star Trek and of television all, I’m sure there will be many! Ciao!
Previous episode: The City on the Edge of Forever
Next episode: Amok Time