Sunday, November 17, 2013

Star Trek: The Animated Series Episode 11--"The Terratin Incident"

In some of my earlier posts on Star Trek: The Animated Series, I've compared my impressions upon re-watching the episode to my memories of it.  However, I can't do that here.  Until viewing it again this morning, I had absolutely no memory of this episode.  That's surprising considering that the writer of "The Terratin Incident," Paul Schneider, also authored two of the finest, and most memorable, episodes of Star Trek's first season, "Balance of Terror" and "The Squire of Gothos."  Its also somewhat surprising given some of the bizarre imagery in this episode.  Honestly, I just don't know how I could have forgotten images like the one of Kirk and the giant communicator that accompanies this post, or that of a cadre of redshirts struggling mightily to pull a relatively huge lever on the transporter console.
Because I'm running behind schedule on this post, I'll take the lazy blogger route and skip trying to summarize the episode in my own words and  simply quote the Wikipedia entry for the episode:
"...(W)hile observing a burnt-out supernova, the Federation starship Enterprise picks up a strange message transmitted in a two-hundred-year-old Earth code.
The signal is traced to a nearby planet. When the Enterprise enters orbit, it is hit by an energy beam that damages its dilithium crystals and makes the crew begin to shrink (and apparently their clothing has also shrunk, because they are organic). The cause is the inhabitants of a miniature city called Terratin. Terratin is a lost Earth colony; its inhabitants have mutated, because of the supernova's radiation and are now all microscopic size. Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy determines that the crew will continue to shrink beyond their ability to control the ship unless a cure is found.
Captain Kirk beams down to the surface and finds that the transporter can reverse their size. Kirk returns to the ship, but the crew are now microscopic. Meanwhile, the Terratins have beamed the bridge crew down to their city, where the crew learns the Terratins' fate. The crew are beamed back to the ship and return to normal size. However, the Terratins have been small for generations and cannot be restored to normal size. Their planet is in peril from massive volcanic activity, so the whole Terratin city is beamed aboard the Enterprise, and moved to another planet."
This is another episode that had me laughing out loud at several points, although in this case, I don't think that's quite the effect Schneider was going for. 
In the famous essay "Notes On Camp," Susan Sontag notes that:
"In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve"
Using that standard, I would classify "The Terratin Incident" as pure, glorious High Camp.  The basic premise of the episode is utterly ridiculous.  It almost seems as if it could have been lifted from one of those dreadful Gold Key Star Trek comics, although the execution is better than those comics would have done.  That said, the sight of the shrunken crew members trying to operate the ship's relatively huge controls made me chuckle several times and the deadly earnestness with which the cast deliver their lines only adds to the unintentional hilarity.
Finally, I just want to say that "The Terratin Incident" is a really great looking episode.  The burnt out supernova at the beginning of the episode and the city of Terratin itself are wonderfully rendered, and the erupting volcanos on the planet's surface are quite effectively depicted.  

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