On August 4th, 2013, the salivating masses of fanatical Whovians tuned in to the much anticipated unveiling of the Twelfth Doctor. The announcement came in the form of a live broadcast televised special hosted by Zoë Ball. I, like many salivating fanatical Whovians, tuned in with equal measures of excitement and apprehention. You see, I’ve been a dovoted fan for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of watching Tom Baker episodes at my grandmother’s house (she had cable). And as a devoted fan, the revival of the series in 2005 has sparked a resurgence in my obsessive fandom. So you get the excitement. But then there’s the apprehension.
Steven Moffat is an undeniably talented writer. His episode “Blink” is one of my favourite episodes of any series, and an accomplished stand-alone horror film in its own right. Weeping Angels creep me the heck out, to the point that, as I will include a picture of one in this post, I will never look at this post again after it’s published. Go ahead, laugh at me. Then send me a picture of a Weeping Angel just to freak me out. You won’t be the first. So we know that Moffat is capable of great writing. He’s also capable of very problematic writing.
The second pilot, and first episode filmed featuring William Shatner as “James R. Kirk”, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” very nearly captures all the elements that make up Star Trek. Noticeably absent from the mix, and to the detriment of the show’s chemistry, is Dr. Leonard McCoy whose brash demeanor and unabashed emotional displays serve to counterbalance Spock’s otherworldy logical exterior. Not to say the episode is without merit, far from it. There are some great performances and it’s far more cohesive than the first pilot under Jeffrey Hunter‘s Christopher Pike. But the episode feels incomplete. The chief medical officer in this episode is Mark Piper played by Mark Fix, a veteran of Westerns and Frontier movies. His inclusion is demonstrative of the original pitch of Star Trek as “Wagon Train” in space. His performance comes across as a ‘wise old man’ there to dish out advice to the young adventuring protagonist, but without being integral to the action, the way McCoy would prove to be time and again. He is calm and grandfatherly, much like Dr. Boyce in the first pilot. This doesn’t work on two levels. The Enterprise is on a mission of exploration. It is dangerous and they are equipped for war. Pitting this doctor as the human side of Kirk’s moral compass would be like seating a social worker next to the Captain’s chair. (No disrespect to Mirina Sirtis. Some of my best friends are social workers)
There’s a lot In this episode that comes across as clunky. It is obvious from the start that they were still finding their feet. Yet the episode remains a favourite for many with some iconic moments and a truly memorable villain in Gary Mitchell. While they had not yet found their feet, the foundation on which they stood was solid and they were clearly poised to create magic.