Saturday, October 19, 2013

Writing 'A Private Little War,' Star Trek's Allegory for the American War in Vietnam (Part Three)

Still from 'A Private Little War' (1967)
Don Ingalls delivered his second draft story outline a month after the first, on June 1, 1967 (during the second day of filming on ‘Who Mourns for Adonais?’). His revised version of the story had a new title, ‘A Private Little War,’ and was three pages longer than the first draft. Structurally, the two drafts are very similar, but with added length, the revised version has room to clarify a few story points and expand upon the parallels to the American War in Vietnam. Among the changes Ingalls made in his second draft:

-- The Enterprise’s last visit to Neural is said to have been three months ago, rather than the two year figure given in the first draft.

-- Neural is now described as “one of the several planet groups to which the Federation has made commitments to protect against any acts of aggression… It is absolutely vital to the maintenance of interplanetary peace that the Klingon threat be met head-on.”

-- Ingalls attempts to explain the conceit that only Kirk can carry a phaser, writing, “if their real identity remains unknown, [the landing party] must obviously forego their normal weapons, except for a ‘just in case’ small hand phaser which Kirk himself wears on his belt.”

-- The conflict between the Klingon Empire and the Federation is framed in terms that bring to mind the Domino Theory of the Cold War. “If the Klingons are let move in here, or anywhere, and they do as they wish,” writes Ingalls, “the Klingons gain not only satellite-group strength, but also discredit the Federation’s word and soon other border-line planets who haven’t yet taken sides, will see that our word is useless. They too will then swing to the enemy orbit, seeking the best deal they can make….and the strength of a dangerous, fanatical enemy will grow…and grow. We must protect those we say we will protect…we must keep our promises.”

-- The idea of bringing back Kor from ‘Errand of Mercy’ has been dropped. Instead, the character of Krell appears, although he still recognizes Kirk when the Captain infiltrates the camp.

-- The dangerous beast in the story is called the “Neural Great Ape” in this version.

-- The positions of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy on arming the Central people are more clearly established in this version. Spock points out that with both sides armed, “the slow but sure decimation of both camps” could result. McCoy, on the other hand, presents an uncharacteristically hawkish view. “Why kill a man with slow poison?” Ingalls has the doctor ask. “If one side is right… morally… if an aggressor must be squashed… well then squash him! Quickly, humanely! Give Ty-ree advanced weapons that will make the enemy rifles seem like pea-shooters.” Kirk decides that the only way to follow his orders and maintain the balance of power on the planet is to provide Ty-ree with the rifles, although he does try to make peace by meeting with Krell first. That meeting fails, however, when Krell says he will only accept “the unconditional surrender of the Central people [and] the withdrawal of Kirk and any representatives of the Federation.”

-- Ultimately, after he provides Ty-ree with the rifles, Kirk tells McCoy, “I had to do it, you know.” In response, “Bones shakes his head…it was a cruel thing to do…what’s our purpose in this whole thing, anyway?! What’s yours?! A private little war, with men instead of chess pieces?” Passing a dead soldier, Kirk tells the doctor, “I’m like him, Bones. I obey orders, and I hope my way is right… This ‘little’ war has been fought a million times before in a million different places, and it will probably be fought a million times more…and there isn’t a damn thing you or I can do about it.”

-- Aboard the Enterprise, at the very end, Kirk wonders, “We have advisors there now… how long will it be until we have troops?”

At this point, script consultant D.C. Fontana chimed in with a memo of her own, dated June 8, 1967. Like Roddenberry before her, she was worried that the episode had “a close resemblance to ‘Friday’s Child.’” Looking for a way to set the two episodes apart, Fontana suggested using the Romulans instead of the Klingons, and also asked if there was “any point to making the Neuralese less Arabic and perhaps more Mongolian or Apache Indian or something?”

Although Ingalls had changed Kor to Krell – which Fontana pointed out “were the dead ancients…in the movie Forbidden Planet” – since the Klingon still recognized Kirk on sight, Fontana asked, “Does everyone in the galaxy know Kirk?” On the same point, she argued that “Krell should not know so much about Kirk. Kirk is only one man in the entire Star Fleet.”

Despite her reservations, however, Fontana’s memo was a short one, clocking in at less than one page. Considering she opened it by praising the story as being “much improved,” I suspect she was onboard with “A Private Little War,” at least in outline form.

Roddenberry, too, thought the revised story was an improvement upon the first try, calling it “a good, highly professional outline” in a June 9, 1967 memo to Gene Coon. He went on to praise Ingalls in the memo, going as far to state that, “Properly handled Don Ingalls could become a principle and highly useful STAR TREK writer.”

Still, Roddenberry’s three page memo was not without criticisms. Among them:

-- He asked that the episode begin on the planet, thrusting the episode straight into the action.

-- He wondered if it was necessary for Kirk to have revealed he was from outer space during his previous visit. “On a semi-primitive world like this, starship personnel visiting the planet could easily claim they were from some “village” on the other side of the planet,” wrote Roddenberry. “It would further preserve the integrity of the theme that we interfere not in the slightest, not even by giving out knowledge of exactly who we are and where we come from.”

-- He found it impossible for the Enterprise to have manufactured so many rifles and ammunition in only three hours, “unless they had an automated armory already in operation.”

-- He felt Spock and McCoy were underused and unimportant to the story, and suggested “doing exclusively a Kirk story.”

-- He asked that the Klingons operate less in the open, and compared their intervention directly to Vietnam, writing:

If Earth knew the Klingons were on the planet…then Earth obviously would be obligated to not only set things right here, but take action against the Klingons. In other words, the situation is even closer to the Viet Nam [sic] situation. North Viet Nam [sic] tries to preserve the illusion, or at least tried to preserve it for sometime, that they were not sending men and material to South Viet Nam [sic]. And that way they insisted it was the United States which was the meddler and the aggressor.

-- Writing more on the story’s parallels with the American War in Vietnam, Roddenberry further revealed his stance on that conflict:

Don has done a good Viet Nam [sic] parallel in this but somehow I sense something is missing.  Perhaps it is carrying the parallel all the way--i.e. in the Viet Nam [sic] situation if either side makes a mistake there will be a world wide [sic] holocaust.  So the stakes are terribly great.  In this story, not to be unkind, mistakes seem merely that Earth or the Klingon Empire will probe the other is “cheating” and there will be angry words but it will end there.  At any rate let’s discuss.

Ingalls delivered one more revision to his story outline on June 10, 1967, but this version was largely the same as the second draft, making only cosmetic changes. With Roddenberry and Fontana pleased with the outline’s potential, Ingalls went to work on the teleplay.

(To be continued in Part Four)

(Part One can be read here, Part Two here).

Image courtesy of Trek Core.


The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Unseen Trek: 'The Planet Eater' by Norman Spinrad

Still from 'The Doomsday Machine' (1967)
I'd like to announce my new partnership with Orion Press. I'm sure most of my readers are familiar with the site's writing about Star Trek, but if you haven't visited Orion Press yet, I strongly encourage it.

In exchange for providing the site with the material needed to complete their page devoted to The Unseen Elements of the Original Series Episodes, I have been given permission to re-post new articles from that page, beginning with David Eversole's write-up of 'The Planet Eater,' Norman Spinrad's story outline that would become the episode 'The Doomsday Machine.'


Story outline written by Norman Spinrad, dated March 6, 1967
Report & Analysis by Dave Eversole

Ladies and gentlemen, I have almost nothing to say.

For something like seven years I have had the privilege of reviewing Star Trek's early draft scripts and story outlines for Orion Press, and have enjoyed cataloging all the changes a story goes through from its first broadly sketched strokes to the unveiling of the work on the canvas that is your television set. Some aired episodes bear almost no relation to the author's initial story treatment, some change very little.

This one changed less than little. It is that good, that concise! It says a lot when one of the three or so changes is the title change to the less-pulpy 'The Doomsday Machine.' And it was Spinrad's first stab at writing for the medium of film. Hard to believe. His story points are familiar to us, his characters make the same decisions. Well, Curt Decker does ram the shuttlecraft into the side of the planet eater, but it inspires Kirk to go down its maw with the Constellation.

The only noticeable change is that Spinrad posits that the "Eater" is a living entity. Not a machine in the least.

I've often heard that he was displeased with the final wind sock design, and had envisioned it covered entirely with wicked weaponry. This initial outline doesn't quite bear that complaint out.

From the description in the outline:

...a huge metallic creature...a kind of cylindrical "living atomic rocket" at least ten times the size of the Constellation, apparently from beyond the galaxy, with a posterior rocket and a great anterior funnel-mouth big enough to swallow a ship with a cluster of atomic blaster beams and tractor beams around the funnel, not a machine but a living organism with a nuclear metabolism.

Still, I can see how, over the years, the story might have been misremembered as "covered entirely" with weapons.

This has been Dave with little to say except, "Bravo, Norman!"

Oh, almost forgot, another change from outline to episode: Kirk relieves Decker of command and turns the ship back over to Spock through his authority as the Enterprise's "Captain-of-record."


Image courtesy of Trek Core.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Writing 'A Private Little War,' Star Trek's Allegory for the American War in Vietnam (Part Two)

Still from 'A Private Little War' (1967)
'A Private Little War' probably began as a pitch by Don Ingalls, who had previously written 'The Alternative Factor' for season one of Star Trek. Ingalls had been a police officer alongside series creator Gene Roddenberry in the LAPD, where the two became friends. And like Roddenberry, Ingalls eventually left the force for a career in television writing, which began by the late 1950s. By the time he was writing 'A Private Little War,' Ingalls was a television veteran with dozens of writing and producing credits to his name.

There's no record of Ingalls' pitch, but it was enough to convince the production to commit to a story outline, which Ingalls delivered on April 30, 1967, a few days before the second season was scheduled to go before the cameras. Ingalls called his story 'Ty-ree's Woman.'

Ingalls' first draft story outline contains many elements which would be eliminated or changed by the time the episode went before the cameras. Some of the more notable differences are:

-- A late, hand-written note provides a different explanation for the Enterprise's departure than the final episode, "to make contact with Federation agents who are hiding out on a planet torn by civil war."

-- The planet Neural is much more inhospitable than the "Garden of Eden" presented in the final version. Not only is there "the Neural Great Bear Creature, a sort of king-sized Grizzly-Hyena," but there is "scaring [sic] heat, sand storms, and clouds of ammonia belching from crevices in certain areas."

-- Kirk is slightly injured by the flintlocks in this version, not Spock, who escapes unscathed. There is therefore no subplot aboard the Enterprise dealing with Spock's injuries.

-- Kor, from 'Errand of Mercy,' is the Klingon discovered to be aiding Apella and the outer people, not Krell, as it is in the final version.

-- The outline ends on a downbeat note aboard the Enterprise as Kirk watches the planet fade from sight on the viewscreen, sensors indicating two sides fighting a stalemate war.  He wonders:
Would any of the personal tragedy have happened if the Neuralese had been left untouched, the first place? If there is an answer to such a question, it hasn't been found yet. If there is one, it hasn't been evolved, developed, mutated, or invented by any of God's children. If there is one, it is still hidden somewhere in the dark recesses of thought....waiting for discovery.....
Gene Roddenberry read Ingalls' first draft story outline a week later, and then dictated a two-page memo about it to producer Gene Coon on May 8, 1967. Roddenberry felt the story outline was far too problematic to go to teleplay, but expressed confidence in his friend from the LAPD:
We are going to have something of the same problem we had on 'Friday's Child' i.e., a lack of urgency and jeopardies [sic] involving our main characters, a lack of unified dramatic build, a lack of science fiction elements. Am sure the script can be made to work with Don’s inventiveness and talent, but we must challenge him to find these elements before he goes any further.
The lack of science fiction elements Roddenberry lamented had to do with the story's hill people, which he felt were too human, "almost exactly like us in person and customs." NBC often pushed for the show to exploit the concept of "strange new worlds," and here, Roddenberry shared their outlook:
Whether our audience would articulate it or not, they would have to be at least subconsciously disappointed in the fact we travel so far across space to see things which we could have seen in our own backyard here on Earth.
On the subject of Vietnam, Roddenberry asked:
More important, what is the theme? Don writes best when he has a meaningful, powerful theme. What is he saying here-- don't screw up simpler societies? If he is aiming for a Viet Nam [sic] theme that certainly can’t be it. The things at stake in Viet Nam [sic] are much more important and powerful than a charitable attitude toward simpler people in the world.
Roddenberry asking if Ingalls intended to pursue a Vietnam theme suggests that the idea to parallel that conflict belonged more to Roddenberry than it did to Ingalls.

Probably owing to the busy schedule of production, Bob Justman didn't deliver his comments about the story outline until a few weeks later, in a four page memo to Gene Coon dated May 26, 1967. Like Roddenberry, Justman was concerned that the story was too familiar, although he compared it to the yet unproduced 'The Omega Glory' rather than 'Friday's Child' (which had just completed its fifth day of production). More importantly, Justman thought the entire story was a mix of unbelievable, contradictory, and unresolved elements, which he took to task with his usual irreverence.

"Why is the only weapon taken along the hand phaser which Kirk wars on his belt?" Justman asked, especially since, "one of the two life-groups on the surface of the planet is essentially warlike." On the same subject, Justman wondered why Kirk didn't simply use his phaser against the Great Bear Creature when attacked. "Does he just use it for shaving," he quipped, "or can he use it to dispose of this horrible adversary?"

Justman was also confused why Ty-ree and Apella had been made aware of Kirk's true identity in the first place. "If such knowledge could inflict a disruptive and destructive effect upon the mores, standards and values of the simple Neuralese Peoples," he questioned, "then why were even the two leaders allowed to know about the existence of Captain Kirk and his party in their previous visit?"

Justman also wondered if the use of the Klingons, and the character of Kor in particular, made the Star Trek universe too small. "Here were are in the outer reaches of our galaxy," he wrote, "and who should Captain Kirk run into, but good old Kor ­­– an adversary that he has encountered before... Just think of it – billions of stars and millions of Class M-type planets and who should he run into, but a fella he has had trouble with before. No wonder Kor doesn't recognize him at first. The coincidence is so astounding, that he must feel certain that it couldn't possibly have happened."

Justman doesn't refer to any Vietnam parallels in his memo, but he does question Kirk's entire course of action in arming the hill people:
If I were Kirk, I would attempt to come to grips with Kor and solve the whole situation man to Klingon. I wouldn't attempt to arm my friends with rifles and ammunition, so that they and their opponents could go around ventilating each other with buckshot. Kor is the fly in the ointment. Kor is the key to the puzzle. Kirk is the jerk.
Finally, Justman was concerned about the way the story left many elements unresolved:
At the end of the story, Kirk and his friends leave the planet and fly away. The conflict between the two opposing forced on the planet has been left unresolved. We also never resolve the situation between Ty-ree and his woman and Captain Kirk. Not only have we left the conflict unresolved, but we are leaving the planet secure in the knowledge that these two groups are going to shoot each other to smithereens. Also, whatever happened to Kor, the Klingon?
Although Bob Justman and Gene Roddenberry had different views about what troubled the story, they agreed on one thing -- the story wasn't ready to go to teleplay. Don Ingalls went to work on a revised story outline.

(To be continued in Part Three)

(Part One can be read here).

Image courtesy of Trek Core.


The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Writing 'A Private Little War,' Star Trek's Allegory for the American War in Vietnam (Part One)

Still from 'A Private Little War' (1967)
I doubt that many Star Trek fans would cite 'A Private Little War' as one of their favorite episodes. Indeed, a brief sampling of online reviews demonstrates decidedly mixed reactions. The A.V. Club awarded the episode a B+. Dauntless Media bestowed the episode a far less generous D+. Jammer's Reviews gave the episode two and a half out of four stars. And in their evaluation of the entire original series, ranked 'A Private Little War' as 51st best of 79 episodes.

Despite this response, however, 'A Private Little War' is often brought up when looking back at the series. When asked by the BBC if Star Trek had storylines which "reflected the changing world around them," Robert H. Justman agreed and named 'A Private Little War' as his example, since the episode "was an allegory for Vietnam." Indeed, the episode's Vietnam allegory has been a source of constant discussion, by members of the cast, academics, and even conservative bloggers.

'A Private Little War' was not the first time Star Trek had done an episode that could be read as an allegory for the American War in Vietnam, but it was by far the most overt. Although the war is never identified by name, there is little doubt to what Captain Kirk is referring to when he compares the conflict on planet Neural to "the twentieth century brush wars on the Asian continent."

One of the more familiar anecdotes about the writing of the episode has to do with the differences between Don Ingalls' first draft of the teleplay and Gene Roddenberry's filmed rewrite, specifically over the episode's Vietnam allegory. It appears this particular anecdote first appeared in the original edition of Alan Ashermann's The Star Trek Compendium (1981):
Don Ingalls wrote the first draft script of 'A Private Little War.' This earliest version contains more specific references to the Vietnam conflict; the Neural tribesmen dress in Mongolian-type clothes, and Apella (the puppet of the Klingons) was described as a "Ho Chi Minh" type. A security man was shot during the initial attack, and Spock stayed with the landing party.
--Allan Ashermann, The Star Trek Compendium (1981), p.128
In the thirty-two years since Ashermann's book was first published, this account has filtered into Star Trek fandom, appearing on Memory Alpha and even making its way into an academic's overview of the series:
An obvious allegory of the Vietnam conflict, the original script by Don Ingalls was firmly dovish and McCoy voices many of his arguments. By the time Roddenberry had rewritten it, however, the episode advocated the US involvement in Vietnam explicitly.
--Ina Rae Hark, Star Trek: BFI Television Classics (2008), p.51-52
The other component to this account seems to have been added by David Alexander's Gene Roddenberry biography. Alexander writes:
Being Gene's friend did not guarantee escape from his rewrite gauntlet. Even Don Ingalls, close to Gene since their days at LAPD, felt the point of Gene's pencil. His first Star Trek script, 'The Alternative Factor,' was rewritten only a bit, but his second, 'A Private Little War,' written specifically as a critique on the Vietnam War, was heavily rewritten; so much so that Don was thoroughly irritated with Gene. He stayed mad at him for a year. Further, he insisted on a pseudonym for his credit on that particular show. He chose "Judd [sic] Crucis," a variant on the Latin for "Jesus Crucified," which he said was emblematic for having been crucified on the show.
--David Alexander, Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry (1994), p.289-290
It's certainly a compelling narrative. Don Ingalls, Roddenberry's friend from the police force, writes an episode which overtly criticizes American policy in Vietnam, only to be betrayed by his old friend, who rewrites the episode into one that advocates for the American War in Vietnam. Disgusted, not only does Ingalls take his name off the episode, he uses a pseudonym invoking the crucifixion of Christ. But is this account true?

Over the next few weeks, I will be going over the writing process of 'A Private Little War' in close detail, from Don Ingalls' first draft story outline to Gene Roddenberry's final draft shooting script, and all the memos (written by Bob Justman, D.C. Fontana, Gene Coon, and Gene Roddenberry) in between.

(To be continued in Part Two)

Image courtesy of Trek Core.


The Star Trek Compendium (Alan Asherman, 1981)

The Star Trek Compendium (Alan Asherman, Revised 1993)

Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry (David Alexander, 1994)

Star Trek: BFI Television Classics (Ina Rae Hark, 2008)