Top 5 Classics-y Episodes of Star Trek

Is this the geekiest list you've ever seen, or what?!

This probably requires no further introduction, except to observe that all but one of these are from the original series, which probably indicates something quite interesting about attitudes to Classics and ancient civilizations in the 1960s vs the 1990s. Or - actually more likely - it reflects the popularity of ancient world movies in the 1960s, as opposed to the 1990s. If only there was a current Star Trek series, we might get a few more, since ancient world movies have become popular again since 2000 and Gladiator.

5. Plato's Stepchildren
Is this is good episode? No. It is completely and utterly awful in almost every way.
Should I watch it? Yes. Partly because, as terrible as it undeniably is, 'Plato's Stepchildren' is terrible in a very amusing way, especially if you watch it with friends and some beverages of your choice. If nothing else, at least watch the clip of Kirk's horse impression on You Tube.

Also because it features the first interracial kiss on US television, though the fact they're both being mind-controlled at the time does rather spoil it.

Where's the Classics? The mind control-y aliens claim they've based their civilization on Plato. I don't know what copy of Plato's works they're reading, but it sure doesn't resemble mine.
We can see the Classics in... Spock and Kirk's random laurel wreaths and tunics. And Spock's lyre, though I think that's generally a Vulcan thing.
Worst moment for Classics fans: The bit where the aliens claim their civilization is based on Plato.
Best moment for Classics fans: Erm.... honestly, just watch the horse impression. It's hilarious.

4. Who Mourns for Adonais?
Is this a good episode? Not bad. It's the one with the weird disconnect between Spock reassuring Uhura that she's their best mechanic on the ship (yay, feminism!) while down on the planet, the mini-skirted-female-guest-star-of-the-week is objectified by Scotty and the god Apollo (boo, objectification of one gender but not the other! Although to be fair Apollo isn't wearing much either).
Should I watch it? Yes - after all, on how many shows can you see a giant green hand grab a spaceship?
Where's the Classics? This week's alien with god-like powers who wants to mess with the crew is the god Apollo - considering how much Gene Roddenberry loved that particular plot device, it's actually surprising it took him until season 2 to use an actual mythological god.
We can see the Classics in... Apollo's home is Greek-temple-like. Guest Mini-skirt's sparkly pink dress is less authentic.
Worst moment for Classics fans: Guest Mini-skirt insists that Apollo the Greek god was 'gentle and kind'. Which Greek myths has she been reading?
Best moment for Classics fans: Apollo doesn't like Spock because Spock reminds him too much of Pan.

3. Balance of Terror
Is this a good episode? Yes, very - in terms of pure quality, this is the best episode on the list (it's at No.3 because it's less inventive in its use of Classics).
Should I watch it? Yes, especially if you're a fan of Cold War drama and submarine movies.
Where's the Classics? This is the episode that introduces the Roman-inspired Romulans, and they're at their most 'Roman' here.
We can see the Classics in... I think the Romulans' pink carpet-drapes are supposed to resemble an imperial purple stripe on a toga, but really it's mostly in the names and ranks, like 'Centurion'.
Worst moment for Classics fans: Since the Classics connection is unspoken, there aren't any really wince-inducing moments in this one.
Best moment for Classics fans: The Romulan commander uses his friend and comrade's dead body as a military asset - I'm sure the ever practical and military-minded Romans would have approved.

2. Bread and Circuses
Is this a good episode? Yes, if you ignore that one scene where Kirk takes sexual advantage of a slave girl.
Should I watch it? Yes, you should always watch any episode in which Spock and McCoy have to become gladiators.
Where's the Classics? This is the episode that introduces Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planet Development, and uses it to explain that this is, essentially, a planet where the Roman Empire never fell - so our crew land in 20th-century Rome.
We can see the Classics in... Everything is designed to be a 20th-century version of something Roman - the deliberately flat, painted amphitheatre set for the televised gladiatorial games is my favourite bit.
Worst moment for Classics fans: Despite the fact they literally met the god Apollo a few months earlier, our heroes are under the impression that the Romans didn't have a sun god.
Best moment for Classics fans: The whole extended metaphor about gladiatorial games and (reality) TV, which I liked so much I've written an entire academic paper on it.

1. Muse
Is this a good episode? Yes. Star Trek: Voyager's sixth season was not its best (this is quite often true of sixth seasons, as the ideas start to run out) but 'Muse' was one of the highlights, a really nice, fun episode and a great take on fan-fiction.
Should I watch it? Yes - just pick up an old VHS of this episode or something. Not much more of season 6 is all that great! (Exceptions - 'Riddles', 'Memorial', 'Ashes to Ashes', and I quite like 'Alice').
Where's the Classics? This episode may not name-check Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planet Development, but B'Elanna has clearly landed on a planet in the middle of its 'Ancient Greece' phase.
We can see the Classics in... The costume and set designs in general, but especially the theatrical masks - although the actors hold them on sticks and remove them to talk, in deference to modern tastes and unlike ancient Greeks, the fact that they bother to use them is lovely.
Worst moment for Classics fans: Aside from the fact the episode uses the tired old trope of aliens with superior technology being mistaken for gods, just why does the poet's girlfriend think the audience will be unhappy at finding a goddess in their midst? You'd think they'd be pleased... (maybe they've seen 1960s Star Trek and learned to employ a healthy degree of caution when it comes to god-like aliens).
Best moment for Classics fans: Kelis wants to write a play that can stop a war. Quite a lot of Aristophanes' comedies (and perhaps some of Euripides' tragedies) look like they might have been written with the same intention.

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  1. I love this post. What joy! "You should always watch any episode in which Spock and McCoy have to become gladiators."

    P.S. I once blogged about the Myth of Adonis in other media. You can see it here: Who Mourns Adonis

    1. Thanks! I remember your Adonis post - some great pics of that episode's spangly costumes alongside more traditional art!

  2. I can't recall that Voyager episode... but looking at the others reminds me of why I'm glad I never got into watching repeats of the original series!

    And yes, Apollo in mythology had times when he could be, well, a real jerk.

  3. Gave up on Voyager long before its end, but, ah, the real thing can't be beat.

    I watched Run Silent, Run Deep for the first time the other weekend (great film, by the way), and realised that there are at least three Star Trek episodes lifted from the plot of that film — in some cases the lines are so similar I had to smile. 'Balance of Terror' is the most blatant one, with the anti-German prejudice of the film's character replaced by the anti-Vulcan bigotry of Stiles in the episode, and any number of other elements swiped directly (loading the bodies of the dead Romulans into the tubes, for example). It just doesn't get better than this.

    And the Spock-McCoy exchanges in 'Bread and Circuses' are amongst the best in the series. I did always think the 'son of God' bit at the end was a little heavy-handed, but, hey, 1967.

    1. Yeah, in some ways I like that the original series has less of a tendency to make most main characters atheists, but that son of God bit was definitely OTT!

  4. I think you miss the point of the title of Plato's Step-Children due to the changes in our views of blended families in the more than half-century since the early 1960s when the episode was written and then filmed.

    They are called "Plato's Step-Children" (and not simply his Children) because they demonstrate by their actions that they have betrayed Plato's ideals rather than lived up to them yet refuse to admit it!

    Back when the series was made, blended families were still quite uncommon, and the terms "step-mother", "step-father", and "step-child" still held a negative resonance in the public mind.

    In the popular mind, the offspring a parent trusted and respected was often referred to as his or her child regardless of whether he or she was a child by blood or adopted or a step-child or simply a protege with no official kinship at all, whereas the offspring who abandoned his or her parent or was abandoned by his or her parent was sometimes referred to as a "step-child". (This is even addressed in one of the few genuinely serious episodes of the 1960s sitcom The Brady Bunch, when one of the children wonders if he's allowed to think of his step-mother as simply his mother. It was a different era back then when it came to family structures!)

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