Gene Roddenberry's and Gene L. Coon's names appear together in the writing credits on just one Star Trek episode, from the second season titled "Bread and Circuses." In it, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy land on a Roman Empire-like planet but with 20th century technology (and, as we find out in a surprise ending, a 20th century New Testament.) Though their Starfleet weapons are far superior, the Prime Directive rule about not interfering with a planet's internal development (a rule nonchalantly disobeyed in just about every other episode) means the trio inevitably end up fighting in televised gladiatorial games. There's apparently a loophole in the Directive that allows Scotty, back at the Enterprise, to shut off the planet's electricity, and in the confusion, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam back to safety. Now, when I say it was written by both Roddenberry and Coon, I don't know that the two were in the same room banging it out on the same typewriter. Some sources say the two split up scenes, others say they worked on entirely different drafts. In fact, there does seem to be two different narratives going on here, one a sobering drama about the oppressiveness of totalitarianism, the other a funny satire of television. I betting Coon was responsible for the latter, including the line "You bring this network's ratings down, Flavius, and we'll do a special on you!" as well as having Spock give a gladiator the Vulcan nerve pinch to prerecorded boos. This was the last Trek Coon produced, though an episode he co-wrote was shown later that season.
Even before Coon left, and despite what I have to believe was his best efforts to do otherwise, a Good vs Evil, i.e. Human vs Alien mentality had seeped back into the show. That's not to say that the second season, whether produced by Coon or his replacement, John Meredyth Lucas (who also wrote the episodes "The Changeling", about a rogue computer that wipes Uhura's mind clean, and "Patterns of Force", about a visit to a Nazi planet) wasn't tremendously entertaining. It was just a tad more reactionary, as if Dr. McCoy was now running the show. A giant amoeba? ("The Immunity Syndrome") Fascinating! Now blow it to bits and show previews for next week's episode. And whereas in the first season advanced beings were shown as being benevolent if somewhat preachy ("Arena" "An Errand of Mercy"), the highly evolved brains in the "The Gamesters of Triskelion" were inveterate gamblers who could have used a good preaching to themselves. How'd all this happen? Bread and circuses. Not the episode but real life. NBC, and the various sponsors eager to push consumer products upon the citizenry via 30-second commercials, demanded an action-adventure show, and with tight schedules and tighter budgets, that action-adventure easily became violence, violence from and violence toward any new worlds, new life, and new civilizations that the Enterprise happened to come across. At least there was an elegiac wistfulness to the demise of aliens in both "Who Mourn for Adonais" ("They [Greek gods who were actually aliens] gave us so much .... In a way, they began the Golden Age. Would it have hurt us, I wonder, just to have gathered a few laurel leaves?") and "Return to Tomorrow" (two doomed aliens: "Oblivion together does not frighten me, beloved. Promise we'll be together" "I promise, beloved.") Now go out and buy Geritol!
Decades later, shows that Paramount slapped the Star Trek label on, such as The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, as well as Warner Brothers' non-Star Trek series Babylon 5, had relatively more freedom to do stories that were about aliens without necessarily being against aliens. With his episodes "The Devil in the Dark" and "Metamorphoses", Gene L. Coon helped pave the way.
|Gene L. Coon 1924-1973|
|Gene Roddenberry 1921-1991|
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