Not a great topic for a post, so I’m apologizing in advance. A few weeks ago I watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I can’t get it out of my head. And so, a review (you can watch it for free on hulu here, if for some reason you want to). But really, if you don’t like Star Trek, don’t read this post; I never really…engaged with the series, old or new, until just a few weeks ago, because it’s on Hulu and I’m always looking out for old pop culture and sci-fi I’ve not experienced yet. Star Trek is both. If you are interested in a review of a 25 year old TV show, well then, with that caviat emptor, read on.
“Skin of Evil,” from the series’ first season, appeals to me for two reasons: 1. there’s a super cool old school sci-fi sludge monster and 2. said monster eats Lieutenant Commander Riker, the crappiest actor of the 1980’s.
The basic premise of “Skin of Evil:” an envoy carrying Counselor Troi (as a kid, I referred to her as “Counselor Boobs”) crashes into a planet, the USS Enterprise must send down help. On this planet, whose name I forget, there is a strange ink pool which immediately rises up into an evil shiny blobman. Sort of like a tall scarecrow melting under oil. I find his special effects comforting; he reminds me of both The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Swamp Thing, and a little like the clumsy monster of The Blood Waters of Dr. Z (a half man/half catfish). The saddest part of this episode is when the Skin of Evil (which is the nasty side of a race of babe-a-licious super beings, left behind when they fled the planet) kills Lt. Tasha Yar, one of the best and most attractive actors on the show. After this event, which happens early on (and some subsequent beaming up and down), Lt. Riker returns to face the oilyblobmonster with Lt. Data, Lt. Geordi, and Dr. Crusher.
Counselor Boobs is trapped inside the wrecked shuttlecraft and communicates with the blobby skin of evil; soon after this, the evil skin envelops Lt. Riker and drags him into its sinister tar pit. The creeping shadow blob creature is an excellent digital effect for the time (physical costume aside), sliding around the planet’s landscape—a dry, rocky closed set. And then it goes and eats Lt. Riker, which cheers me right up. Riker (Johathan Frakes) is just a bad actor who stumbled on to a good thing; his wooden performance and butt chin stand in stark contrast to the striking profile of Patrick Stewart, his superior officer (and actor). Besides Sir Patrick, Brett Spiner, who plays Data (an android) is a fine actor; Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) is pretty good; everybody else is about a B, B-. Except for the painful Lt. Riker, who apparently grew a beard after season one to hide his butt chin (for some reason the studio even let him direct a few episodes; I hope they received ample hate mail from Trekkies). Wesley, the geeky boy genius who repeatedly saves the day, is kind of a pill, but he doesn’t feature prominently in this episode—which I just realized I’ve abandoned, in favor of more character evaluation. So, Captain Picard beams down to try and save Riker, and gets to argue with the skin of evil (he sort of looks like a garbage bag with molasses and other goo slopped all over, but lovingly slopped). The voice of this creature is kind of a low-fi dragged out cry, which has also aged well.
Patrick Stewart enrages the petulant monster, and the Enterprise is able to beam him, Counselor Boobs, and the no-name pilot of the shuttle-craft back up to the mothership. I apologize, again, for writing about an old TV episode; I’ve watched it four times in two weeks, just to see the drippy blob skin of evil monster. Who makes the episode feel like a sci-fi feature from 1963 condensed into four-five minutes. I was drawn back again and again; these awkward monsters warm my heart. Hope that now I’ve dissected an episode, I can progress from Star Trek: The Next Generation to some other series from the eighties I missed at the time. Any suggestions?