It seems – at least to me – that there is a subset of Star Trek fans who really don’t like the third season of the original series (TOS). I’m basing this on comments or posts I’ve seen on various forums or pop culture blogs similar to this one over the past 10 or so years. Sometimes I’ve even seen it formulated like this: “I know [*insert episode name and/or number here*] is from season three, but it’s still pretty good.” This, frankly, mystifies me.
When I was watching Star Trek reruns as a little kid, and even later as a teen and well into my twenties, they all seemed of a piece to me. Indeed, since I never read any of the accompanying reference books or even fanzines like Starlog, I wouldn’t have even been able to tell anyone what season a given episode belonged to, except for a few that I could tell were made earlier, like The Corbomite Maneuver or Where No Man Has Gone Before. (Needless to say, I was also quite unaware of all the behind-the-scenes stuff going on at the studio, including staff shake-ups and budget cuts, that did truly distinguish the third season – at least in terms of production – from the first two.) So I only became aware of the alleged ‘suckiness’ of season three in the last decade or so, when I began to frequent pop culture sites like this one.
But I honestly don’t get the occasional across-the-board expressions of distaste I see for season three among people who are supposedly Trek fans. Sure, it has some turkeys like the infamous Spock’s Brain, but it also has a few episodes that I consider among the best of the entire series, like The Enterprise Incident, The Tholian Web, and Day of the Dove, as well as really strong ones like Is There No Truth in Beauty?, or Requiem for Methuselah. Heck, I even like some of the ones that are often the butt of criticism for their heavy-handedness, like Let That Be Your Last Battlefield or Plato’s Stepchildren (and not just because of that famous kiss), or the butt of jokes, like The Way to Eden – I loves me some space hippies.
Even some of the more problematic episodes, like The Paradise Syndrome (Capt. Kirk goes native) or the notorious Turnabout Intruder (with its troubling gender politics), are still enjoyable or at least watchable, with some solid performances by the actors involved.
I should also note that arguably the worst Trek episode ever, The Alternative Factor, is from season one. And I’ve always kind of strongly disliked (can’t bring myself to say hated) season two’s Catspaw (basically, the annoying Halloween episode). Furthermore, season two has several episodes which are entertaining enough (and are indeed memorable) but which are pretty damn silly if you really think about them: A Piece of the Action (basically, the Star Trek gang visits Prohibition-era Chicago), Patterns of Force (Star Trek fights literal Nazis) and Bread and Circuses (even in space, all roads, apparently, lead to Rome).
So all in all, I really see no reason to set TOS season three aside as bad or inferior. Neither do they: