February 16, 2015
"Patterns of Force"
On this day, in 1968 (a Friday, in case you forgot), we were watching “Patterns of Force” for the first time. This shot didn’t make it into the episode, but a delightful scene where Spock has to stand on Kirk’s whip-marked back did. And that makes it worth watching if for no other reason. But what did the creative staff (Robert Justman and Dorothy Fontana) at STAR TREK think of this episode that producer John Meredith Lucas paid himself to write?
It was Gene Coon who wanted to do a “Nazis in Space” story, and hired writer Paul Schneider to cook one up (the unfilmed “Tomorrow the Universe”). When that script failed to please everyone, he put John Meredyth Lucas on assignment to come up with something.
Dorothy Fontana read Lucas’s script, and wrote to Coon, saying, among many other things:
Page 11 will bust our piggy bank. The only suggestion, outside of hiring Nuremberg Stadium and resurrecting the Third Reich, might be to take advantage of the fact that these people are advanced enough to have television. President Johnson does not appear in front of hordes to make his policy statements. He appears on NBC, CBS and ABC and a multitude of radio pick-ups. Let us have Gill and the others appearing on Telosian TV, and perhaps we can limit this sequence to a couple important characters, sound stage and TV crew. I don’t know if that’s any less expensive, but it beats an outdoor amphitheater crowded by cheering mobs.… [And] we might change the name of one planet from Telos to something else. Talos IV was the planet in “The Menagerie” and we referred to it many times.
Robert Justman, one day later, sent his thoughts to Coon, writing:
On the last page of this story treatment, we again have Captain Kirk deciding to hide information from Starfleet Command. He determines that he should not mention the mistake that John Gill made. As usual, Captain Kirk goes blithely on his way, changing history and hiding information from his immediate superiors. This sort of action is, as you are no doubt well aware, a general Court Martial offense. It also indicates that Captain Kirk likes to play God.
Justman had a bigger concern over the not-so-new story. He told Coon:
No doubt you are aware that this story bears great similarities to the property that Paul Schneider is working on and has been working on for these many months. I should like to suggest that we do not use Nazi Germany as our source material for this story.
Five days later, Dorothy Fontana wrote Coon:
Concerning our intrepid heroes and their escape from the cell: despite their star age technology, I seriously question whether they could make a laser with an electric wire and no tools of any kind. How about something really crude -- like the old ‘my buddy is sick’ gag? Something that Spock would consider totally illogical -- but which works, much to his dismay.
The solution for enabling a jail break was yet to be decided, but the “my buddy is sick” gag would not be used here and instead saved for “I, Mudd” … and “Bread and Circuses” … and “By Any Other Name.”
Justman wrote Coon the next day, saying:
Justman wrote Coon the next day, saying:
As far as I am concerned, this revision in the story is as much a bore as the previous version. For any definitive comments, I fear you will have to depend upon D.C. Fontana, as I find myself overcome with an immense lethargy in reading this submission. Since the story bears such marked resemblance to Paul Schneider’s piece, I suggest that we do the same with it as we have done with the other story.
Perhaps it would have been junked, if not for a letter that arrived from NBC a few weeks later. On August 4, Stan Robertson wrote to Coon:
One of the contingencies upon which this outline was approved was your statement that our previous considered story dealing with a Nazi type theme has been abandoned. We would add that it is our suggestion that we not dwell too heavily on the speeches, philosophy, etc., of the Nazi-like group, but concentrate more on the visual excitement which is obviously inherent in this well plotted storyline. (SR52-2)
Finally, a positive word. Robertson found the storyline to be “well plotted.” It had been a long hard road, but Gene Coon would have his Nazis in space ... even if it was not to be produced until after he left the series … and was replaced in the producer’s chair by the script’s writer, John Meredyth Lucas.
If you like seeing how the makers of Star Trek thought and felt about every episode, then help yourself to hundreds of memos like these, and letters, and shooting schedules, and budgets, and ratings pertaining to the making and first historic broadcasts of the first and best Star Trek, in These Are the Voyages, TOS [The Original Series]: Season One and Season Two, and just released, Season Three, all available here for the best price anywhere … and autographed by author Marc Cushman.
* While some of the images in the excepts are shown in color, all images in the book are in black and white.