55 "Assignment: Earth"

(airdate: March 29, 1968)

Story: Gene Roddenberry and Art Wallace     Teleplay: Art Wallace
Director: Marc Daniels

Gary Seven: Robert Lansing
Cromwell: Don Keefer

Roberta Lincoln: Teri Garr [as Terri Garr]
Sgt. Lipton: Lincoln Demyan

Stardate: Unknown

Captain's Log: The Enterprise has traveled back in time to 1968, to study Earth's history. While in orbit around the planet, they intercept a powerful transportation beam, containing what appears to be a 20th-century human and his cat. This human is Gary Seven, and he's been sent to Earth to encourage humanity to develop along a less destructive path. Gary Seven's goal is to sabotage the launch of a US nuclear orbital platform, to make it seem like it's malfunctioning and going to detonate on the surface but then detonate it in the atmosphere, thus making Earth realize how close it just came to nuclear war. The Enterprise is uncertain of whether Gary Seven's intentions are pure or not, but they ultimately let him go through with his plan. The missile detonates just as Gary Seven intended, and Earth decides to ban such weapons - just as history said happened. The Enterprise thus leaves Gary Seven to his own devices, confident he's a safe pair of hands.

Whoops!: Why don't the transporter room doors open up all the way when Isis walks through them? And when Gary beams down using the Enterprise transporter, the pattern resembles Gary's own transporter, rather than the usual shimmering Enterprise version. [Gary's transporter intercepted the Enterprise beam and brought him the rest of the way down.] And who thought it was a good idea to dub in a person making cat noises, rather than just recording an actual cat? It's also a little weird how Roberta goes from deeply mistrustful of Gary Seven to suddenly vouching for him when Kirk and Spock show up. And why doesn't the Enterprise simply look up the historical record, once they figure out what Gary Seven's target is? Or why not just look up Gary Seven himself? They don't seem to have any problems doing that after the crisis, based on Kirk's parting comments, and it sounds like it's clear Gary Seven's one of the good guys. And actually, why does the historical record say that the US launched an orbital nuclear device and not mention the part about it going off-course and nearly starting World War III? That seems like a pretty important piece of information.
     So the nuclear warhead detonates exactly 104 miles above the ground. Fine, they've avoided killing a ton of people in a nuclear blast, but the resulting electromagnetic pulse will have likely fried a lot of the communications and electrical grid, thus still causing problems, particularly since it apparently went off somewhere over Eurasia. [We know this, incidentally, because nuclear tests at similar altitudes ended up causing electromagnetic pulses that affected Hawaii and test sites in Russia - and those tests weren't directly over populated areas.] The US President must be incredibly persuasive if he was able to convince the Soviets that this was indeed a mistake, not an act of war, and for the USSR not to retaliate despite all the damage. [Maybe it knocked out France instead of Eastern Europe.]
     But this all overlooks the biggest problem: at the time of broadcast, both the United States and the Soviet Union had already signed the Outer Space Treaty, which specifically forbids placing nuclear weapons in orbit - the problem that the whole episode is based around. In fact, the treaty was signed in January 1967 - nearly an entire year before the first draft script of the Star Trek version was even written. (It's not before the very first draft in November 1966, from back when this was just a series pilot, but there's no mention of orbiting nuclear weapons in that version.) And it's not like the Outer Space Treaty was a quiet thing - it made the front page of the New York Times, after all (although the main headline dealt with the Apollo 1 disaster, which happened the same day, so maybe Roddenberry missed it). Now, it may just about be possible that neither Gene Roddenberry nor Art Wallace knew about the treaty, but how is it that no one else mentioned this? You'd think at the very least de Forest Research would have brought it up.

Don't Wear a Red Shirt: Gary Seven knocks out a security guard when he escapes from the Enterprise brig, as well as two redshirts in the transporter room.

Library Computer: The Enterprise can travel back in time (by means of the "light-speed breakaway factor" [the slingshot effect]) and can monitor Earth communications as a matter of historical research. [The most curious thing about this is how time travel is treated so matter-of-factly, with no one worried about changing history or creating paradoxes. This won't be true in subsequent episodes/films - perhaps it was the near-alteration of history here that led to much stricter controls on time travel (such as the Department of Temporal Investigations (DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations")).] They can use their deflector shields to remain unobserved by 20th-century Earth. The Enterprise's mission is to learn how Earth survived all the problems of 1968. The ship can intercept another transporter beam, albeit accidentally, and can bounce sensors off satellites, allowing the crew to view the ground - complete with the ability to adjust the magnification.
     Gary Seven was a human male from the 20th century, in perfect health, with light-brown hair and blue eyes, dressed in a 1960s suit. Although human, he was actually from another planet a thousand light years away; his ancestors were taken from Earth, and humans were bred and trained there to ultimately undertake missions designed to prevent Earth from destroying itself. [Gary Seven mentions that the ancestors of two other agents had been collected 6000 years ago; it's therefore likely that Gary Seven's ancestors were collected at the same time (assuming they're not in fact the same set of ancestors).] This planet was cloaked, even in the Enterprise's time, as its inhabitants wanted their existence to remain a secret; indeed, that part of the galaxy appeared to have no inhabitable planets. They were capable of beaming a person all the way from their planet to Earth - something not even [23rd-century] transporters could do. [But compare with the 2009 reboot and Into Darkness.] This beam was so powerful that it ended up fusing many of the Enterprise's recording circuits. Gary Seven appeared to be impervious to a Vulcan nerve pinch, albeit not a phaser blast. He was a class 1 supervisor, code number 194, and he was sent to Earth to check up on two other human agents, code-numbered 201 and 347. Agent 201 was female, while 347 was male. They had been sent to create a malfunction on a United States rocket that was set to launch an orbital nuclear platform, in response to a different country doing something similar. However, the pair of them had died in an automobile accident on Highway 949, ten miles north of McKinley Rocket Base [not a real place], so it was left to Gary Seven to carry out their mission before it was too late.
     The base used by the agents and then later Gary Seven was located in New York City, at 811 E. 68th St., Apartment 12B. There were many futuristic items in the apartment, including a typewriter that could take dictation, a large computer concealed behind a bookcase, and a transportation device concealed inside a large safe, hidden behind a drinks cabinet. The transporter was revealed by moving a penholder on the desk down like a switch, and it created a large black and blue swirling pattern that a person could step into, in order to be transported where they needed to go. The computer, meanwhile, was a Beta 5 model, with a large circular display and various flashing lights. It had a feminine voice and required a certain threshold of identification before obeying commands - Gary Seven disliked this "snobbery". The computer could also create documents, such as CIA, NSA, and NYPD identification papers, along with a map of McKinley Rocket Base. Gary Seven also had a pen-like device which could accomplish a number of things, including locking doors, deactivating force fields, and making people targeted by it happy and susceptible to suggestion. It apparently also had a "kill" setting, although we don't see that used here. [Weirdly, across the Atlantic Doctor Who introduced its own special pen-like device, the sonic screwdriver, less than two weeks earlier - a case of synchronicity, it seems.] Gary Seven also had a black cat named Isis, who wore a shiny collar. Isis was in fact a shapeshifter, temporarily taking on humanoid form; however, Gary Seven could understand her even in her cat form. Spock found himself drawn to Isis in her cat form.
     Agents 201 and 347 had hired a human secretary named Roberta Lincoln. She was 20 years old, 5 foot 7 and 120 pounds, and her hair was currently honey blonde. She was dressed in a short, loose-fitting orange and purple striped dress, with white tights with a purple stripe down the side. She appeared scatterbrained, but this disguised a high IQ. She had a small mole on her left shoulder, and a star-shaped birthmark somewhere else. She had been hired by Agents 201 and 347 under the cover that they were conducting research for a new encyclopedia.
     A number of events happened on Earth this day: there was an important assassination and a dangerous government coup in Asia. The most important event however, at least as far as Gary Seven was concerned, was the launching of an orbital nuclear warhead platform by the United States, in response to similar launches by other powers. ["Assignment: Earth" aired on March 29, 1968; six days later, on April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated - the same day that the Apollo 6 mission experienced trouble when the Saturn V rocket began pogo oscillating due to combustion instabilities, affecting the engines and sending it off its projected course. No coups happened on April 4, however.] This event happened at McKinley Rocket Base. The launch director there was a man named Cromwell. He drove a Plymouth Satellite. The missile appeared to launch smoothly; however, Gary Seven had tampered with it, allowing him to control it and send it off course, as well as arming the nuclear warhead aboard and preventing the ground from sending a destruct signal. Gary Seven ultimately denotated the warhead exactly 104 miles above the ground, somewhere over the Eurasian continent. This incident resulted in a stronger international agreement against the use of such weapons.
     The time period including 1968 was one of the most critical periods in Earth's history, according to Gary Seven [although given he's not a time traveller, it's not clear how his minders know this]. Orbital nuclear devices were one of the era's greatest problems.
     Multiple nuclear suborbital devices being launched by multiple powers in order to maintain the balance of power nearly led to the destruction of planet Omicron IV, at some point prior to 1968.
     According to the Enterprise history records, Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln "have some interesting experiences in store". [Not that we ever see or hear about any of them.]

Final Analysis: "Captain Kirk, I am of this time period. You are not. You interfere with me, with what I have to do there, and you'll change history. You'll destroy the Earth and probably yourselves too." As a backdoor pilot, "Assignment: Earth" largely sidelines the regulars in favor of the mysterious Gary Seven. It's somewhat difficult to imagine what a series based on this would have actually looked like; would Gary Seven have transported across the planet every week, saving humanity from new threats of its own making, or would they have introduced antagonists to the series? That said, Robert Lansing does a great job as Gary Seven, anchoring the proceedings with his matter-of-fact performance. But the whole thing doesn't really feel confident enough to stand as its own story - but neither does it feel enough like Star Trek, meaning it's trying to please two masters and not quite succeeding at either. Still, there's nothing too embarrassing here, even if it's not as exciting as it hopes.

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Page originally created: January 28, 2018
Page last updated: January 28, 2018

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