"Assignment: Earth" is the last episode of the second season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek. It was first broadcast on March 29, 1968, and initially repeated on August 9, 1968, five months later. It is episode No. 55, production No. 55; it was written by Art Wallace, based on a story by Wallace and Gene Roddenberry, and directed by Marc Daniels.
Engaged in "historical research", the Enterprise time travels to 1968 Earth where they encounter an interstellar agent planning to intervene in 20th century events with motives uncertain to Kirk and Spock. The episode served as a backdoor pilot for a proposed spin-off television series, produced by Roddenberry, also to be called Assignment: Earth. Guest performers Robert Lansing, as Gary Seven, and Teri Garr, as Roberta Lincoln, would have continued in the new series had it been commissioned.
The Federation starship USS Enterprise, which has time-travelled to Earth in 1968 for historical research, intercepts a powerful transporter beam originating from one thousand light-years away. A man (Robert Lansing) dressed in a 20th-century Earth business suit materializes, along with a black cat. He introduces himself to Captain Kirk (William Shatner) as Gary Seven, and realizing that he is dealing with people from the future, warns Kirk that history will be changed if he is not released immediately. Kirk, having no proof of Seven's claim, orders him to be taken to the brig and asks Spock to search the history database for any critical events that will soon occur. Among other things, Spock finds that the United States will launch an orbital nuclear weapons platform in a few hours.
Seven, with the help of his "servo", escapes from the brig and beams down to an office in Manhattan, emerging from a vault. Activating a computer, he identifies himself as Supervisor 194 and inquires as to the whereabouts of Agents 201 and 347, who he learns have not been heard from in three days. Seven decides to complete their mission. A young woman arrives, whom Seven mistakes for Agent 201. After some confusion, the computer identifies her as Roberta Lincoln (Teri Garr, credited as Terri Garr), a secretary employed by the missing agents. Seven then tells Roberta he is a CIA agent, and, appealing to her patriotism, asks her to remain and assist him. The computer eventually discovers that Agents 201 and 347 have died in a car accident.
Kirk and Spock track Seven to his office. Roberta stalls them while he and his cat enter the vault and dematerialize. Arriving at McKinley Rocket Base, Seven stows away in the launch director's car as he leaves to make a final check of the pad. Riding the elevator to the top of the gantry, Seven climbs an access arm to the side of the rocket, opens a panel, and begins to rewire the circuits.
Kirk and Spock beam down to McKinley Rocket Base and are immediately detained. As they are questioned, the missile carrying the nuclear weapons platform is launched. On the Enterprise, Chief Engineer Scott (James Doohan) tries to locate Seven. In New York, a curious Roberta explores the office and accidentally discovers the hidden vault. Scotty locates Seven on the rocket gantry and tries to beam him up, but Roberta, randomly operating the transporter controls, intercepts the beam and brings Seven to the office. The computer tells him that he can still take manual control of the rocket.
Seven takes control of the missile, arming its warhead and bringing it off course. McKinley Base controllers frantically try to destroy the missile without success. After a failed attempt to call the police, Roberta bludgeons Seven with a heavy cigar box and seizes the servo. Seven pleads with her to allow him to proceed, "or in six minutes, World War III begins!"
Scotty beams Kirk and Spock from the base to Seven's office. Roberta, now trusting Seven, points the servo at Kirk, but Seven surrenders it, noting that it was "set to kill". He then pleads with Kirk to let him complete his plan, which is to destroy the missile at a low enough altitude to deter the use of such orbital platforms in the future. Kirk decides to trust Seven. With only seconds to spare, Seven retakes control of the computer and safely detonates the warhead at an altitude of 104 miles (167 km).
In the epilogue, Spock and Kirk explain to Seven that the Enterprise was meant to be part of the day's events, citing their historical records. Seven is curious to know more, but they reveal only that he and Roberta will have an interesting future.
In 2008, IDW Publishing launched an Assignment: Earth five-issue comic book series written and drawn by John Byrne. The stories show the characters' lives from 1968 up to 1974, including Seven and Roberta's peripheral involvement in the events of a prior episode, "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" (occurring before "Assignment: Earth" for the Enterprise crew, but after for Seven and Roberta). An epilogue set in 2008 depicts an annual reunion between Roberta and Isis (in her humanoid guise) at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to honor a friend who had been killed in that conflict.
In 2010, The characters appeared in issues #3 and #4 of Star Trek: Leonard McCoy Frontier Doctor.
Author Greg Cox has included Gary Seven and Roberta in three of his Star Trek novels: Assignment: Eternity; and a two-part novel, The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh. In the latter two novels Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln go on to eventually stop Khan Noonien Singh and his fellow genetically engineered humans from taking over the planet. In the Peter Clines novel "Fold" a character comes from an alternate universe and has a cat named Isis after the cat from her favourite TV series "Assignment Earth" with no knowledge of the show Star Trek. Her version from this dimension has a cat named Spock.
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The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.
John Byrne’s five-issue Assignment: Earth miniseries is fascinating, because it is perhaps the closest that fans will ever come to getting an actual series spinning out of the episode Assignment: Earth. Of course, the second season finalé had been planned as a backdoor pilot for a new television show, but it never quite materialised. Understandably, Gary Seven tends to appear in spin-off material as a guest star or supporting player. Assignment: Earth focuses on the adventures of Supervisor 194 on his own terms.
Coupled with Byrne’s decidedly old-school done-in-one storytelling structure, Assignment: Earth manages to tell four separate stories featuring Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln doing what they do in the late sixties and into the seventies. A series of unique and episodic adventures delivered on a regular, Assignment: Earth comes quite close to capturing the feel of a television show. Taking the television episode as his starting point, John Byrne manages to pitch a series of adventures that feel like they might hint at the direction the show could have gone.
Sensors detect a spin-off!
While the Assignment: Earth miniseries is ultimately disposable and largely forgettable, it is an interesting experiment. By their nature, prose novels like The Eugenics Wars can only focus on a single plot starring the character. Using his fairly compressed approach to comic book storytelling, Byrne can tell five different stories in rapid succession, each with a clear beginning, middle and end. While these stories are inevitably written from the vantage point of 2008, they still feel like they might offer a glimpse at what the show might have looked like.
In many respects, Byrne is hampered by his source material. While the writer and artist has a bit of fun with the concept, a lot of Assignment: Earth ultimately feels a little dry and a little heavy-handed. Despite all the nods towards relevance and social commentary, Assignment: Earth lacks the spirit of adventure and excitement that a television show like this would need in the longer term.
“You’ll have fifty percent less Nixon to kick around!”
The five stories told within the miniseries fit within the broad templates that you might expect for a series spinning out of Star Trek and based on the script to Assignment: Earth. The first issue, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns fulfils all the obligations of a pilot episode. It sets up the characters, their technology, the world that they live in. The opening page even offers another glimpse at the end of Assignment: Earth, providing an effective launching pad for the series.
The plot beats of Brighter Than a Thousand Suns are pretty much in line with the episode Assignment: Earth. The United States is testing something dangerous and nuclear-related, while Gary Seven and his allies have to prevent a potential disaster. Brighter Than a Thousand Suns avoids any of the ambiguity surrounding Seven’s conduct in the television episode, instead having him confront a Soviet saboteur infiltrating “Hercules”, a project to built “an enhanced fusion bomb” – what some call a “super-atomic.” It is quite straight-forward.
Send in the clones…
The Cold War provides a handy background for a few of these adventures. Brighter Than a Thousand Suns features a Soviet agent infiltrating a top secret military project. My Name is Legion features a sinister militaristic plot by the establishment concerned about the state of the war in Vietnam. Too Many Presidents… features the Russians and the Chinese teaming up to abduct the President of the United States and replace him with a doppelgänger. It is all very pulpy stuff, very much in the wheelhouse of a possible Star Trek spin-off.
The other two chapters fit quite comfortably for the early first season of an imaginary television show. Despite the fact that Kirk and Spock appear on the first page of the first issue, John Byrne dedicates the second issue to a crossover with the classic Star Trek series. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is actually a pretty clever set-up, exploring how Gary Seven responded to the time travel incident from Tomorrow is Yesterday. One of the joys of time travel; Gary Seven gets to meet an earlier version of the Enterprise crew.
He’s caught her dead to rights!
The issue consists of little more than Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln eavesdropping on scenes from the original episode, but it works better than it really should. It feels like a very cynical and self-aware crossover. It is the kind of thing that a network television show might have done early in its first year to shore up ratings; the decision to reference specific scenes from the classic episode feels like the comic book equivalent of stock footage. After all, the broadcast episode of Assignment: Earth was expensive. Costs would need to be made back somewhere.
Perhaps due to his admittedly difficulties with actors and likeness, John Byrne opts not to focus on the faces or features of the Enterprise crew members in Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. As a result, the comic tends to feature the familiar crew from the neck down. Like the constant referencing of dialogue and sequences from Tomorrow is Yesterday, it feels like Byrne is referencing another stock television trope in his panel construction. He is obscuring the faces of famous characters, while still involving those characters in his story.
Guest-starring Kirk’s right hand!
However, if Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow feels like a rather cynical television crossover episode constructed from stock footage, then We Have Met the Enemy… feels like the sort of world-building mythology episode that the show like this would need early in its first year. We Have Met the Enemy… allows Gary Seven to investigate the car accident that killed his predecessors, while allowing Roberta Lincoln to get a look at the people who dispatched her boss on his top-secret intergalactic mission.
It is a story that seems inevitable given the mysterious back story suggested in the televised episode. There is no way that Gary Seven’s predecessors died in an innocent automotive accident; not only would that be a little too convenient, it would also rule out any number of exciting story lines that could flow from the revelation that they were murdered. Who killed them? Why? What were they investigating? Is there a clear and present threat against Gary Seven? Is this the beginning of something bigger?
Give peace a chance…
We Have Met the Enemy… takes this nugget of an idea and runs with it. It reveals that Gary Seven’s predecessors were assassinated by “Counter Strike.” In keeping with the sixties science-fiction spy show aesthetic of the miniseries, it is revealed that “Counter Strike” are a rival organisation. “For centuries they swept across the galaxy,” Gary explains to Roberta, “raining down death and destruction on worlds they saw as having advanced too far, too fast. They struck indiscriminately… and utterly without mercy.”
In other words, they represent an effective ideological rival to Gary Seven. Whereas Gary Seven helps to guide humanity, these aliens seek to pervert it. In fact, these aliens also have their own operatives on the planet, with their own secret agenda. “You mean… they were the ones who gave us the atomic bomb and bad stuff like that?” Roberta asks. Gary Seven does not speak to that directly, instead suggesting that “Counter Strike” have done similar things before. It turns out that “Counter Strike” belong to the same alien species as Seven’s mysterious benefactors.
An Enterprising couple…
While this is not the best execution of the idea – the name “Counter Strike” is more than a little cringe-worthy – it does offer an example of the sort of angle that a series spun from Assignment: Earth could explore. After all, there are only so many nuclear tests for Gary Seven to foil, and only so many foreign operatives to apprehend. Engaging with the central mythology seems like a logical step for any story extrapolating outwards from Assignment: Earth. It is perhaps the most promising strand of the Assignment: Earth miniseries.
In many ways, John Byrne’s five-issue miniseries is more interesting than successful. It offers a range of different possible angles to explore the world of Assignment: Earth, but also hits upon some of the limitations built into the concept. Most obviously, the series is incredibly preachy, given its central premise. In My Name is Legion, Gary breaks up a plot to clone a race of Aryan super-soldiers. The comic handles the set-up in a way that is precisely as subtle as you might expect.
Going to pieces…
Not only do the Aryan clones brutalise an African-American guest star, but Gary Seven also lectures their creator. “Has Earth history taught you nothing, Professor?” Gary Seven demands, angrily. “How long before these perfect specimens of yours see imperfect mankind as the real enemy? How long before they round us up and exterminate us?” Just in case the reader does not get the point, we get a quick flash of the world that Gary is suggesting; one that bares an uncanny resemblance to the Second World War. It is very clumsy in execution.
It seems like Assignment: Earth has no choice but to embrace the American side of the Cold War. Russian and Chinese operatives appear across the miniseries, and they are always plotting to sabotage or undermine the United States. Although Gary Seven stops rogue elements of the military-industrial complex in My Name is Legion, there is never a sense that Gary Seven is interfering to stop CIA operations on foreign soil. As such, Assignment: Earth feels a little one-sided in its condemnation of the Cold War. (More Friday’s Child than Errand of Mercy.)
Home. Sweet home.
Similarly, there are points where the miniseries seems a little too ham-fisted. My Name is Legion features an epilogue at the Vietnam War Memorial that clearly wants to be touching; instead, it feels a little forced. In Too Many Presidents…, Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln protect Richard Nixon. Because the comic was written years after Watergate, of course Roberta Lincoln was always suspicious of Nixon. So, naturally, Nixon is presented as a shady lech with no moral fibre.
Indeed, the comic suggests that Seven and Lincoln may have replaced him with a duplicate; but nobody would care that much. Still, the comic is clever enough to observe that a lot of Nixon’s more questionable actions were deeply rooted, making it impossible to blame a possible imposter for everything. However, the script gets a little too on-the-nose at points. Having hypnotised Nixon with the Servo, Roberta ponders, “What if… while he’s like this… we just… ask him if he’s doing anything bad?”
You can never have too many Nixons!
For what it’s worth, Gary Seven replies, “Not without any evidence of malfeasance. It would be wrong.” However, he has no qualms making Nixon obey his commands or retrieving vital information from guards who are just doing their jobs. The ethics at play in Assignment: Earth seem largely arbitrary, and this is perhaps the more hilariously absurd scenario. While the idea of doing a fun romp with a duplicate of Richard Nixon is a fun idea, Too Many Presidents… is just too heavy-handed to work.
Despite these awkward references to Watergate, John Byrne’s writing style does feel very much in tune with the miniseries’ setting. Byrne has always been something of an old-fashioned writer, and so his voice sits rather comfortably with Assignment: Earth. There is no hyper-modern naturalistic dialogue, no dialogue beats, no stream of consciousness. If sixties script writers were working on a spin-off, it probably would not sound too different. Well, if the reader gets past having Isis talk or having Gary call her “babe.”
An endorsement from James T. Kirk!
In fact, We Have Met the Enemy and the epilogue to Too Many Presidents… even suggests something of a sit-com atmosphere to life with Roberta Lincoln, Isis and Gary Seven. Early in We Have Met the Enemy…, Gary is horrified at the mundane utility of Roberta Lincoln’s use of his technology. “Have you really be using a teleportation device capable of transmitting matter from one side of the galaxy to the other… as a… dress maker?!” he demands. At the end of Too Many Presidents…, Roberta plays a prank on Isis, suggesting a casual and playful office atmosphere.
The art of the one-shot comic is dying, and it’s good to see Byrne keeping it going; however, Assignment: Earth occasionally feels a little too rushed. The writer struggles to fit everything into his issues. The potential tension between Diana and Gary in Brighter Than a Thousand Sons is never allowed room to develop to the point where we care about their relationship. The ending of My Name is Legion feels a little convenient – appearing because the issue is running out of pages, rather than because this makes sense.
Assignment: Earth is a fascinating (if flawed) glimpse sideways. It feels like a possible snapshot of the first five episodes of the proposed spin-off. John Byrne is hardly working with the best source material on the miniseries, and so it remains a curiousity rather than a classic.
You might be interested in our other reviews from the second season of the classic Star Trek:
- Friday’s Child
- Who Mourns for Adonais?
- Amok Time
- The Doomsday Machine
- Wolf in the Fold
- The Changeling
- The Apple
- Mirror, Mirror
- The Deadly Years
- I, Mudd
- The Trouble With Tribbles
- Bread and Circuses
- Journey to Babel
- A Private Little War
- The Gamesters of Triskelion
- The Immunity Syndrome
- A Piece of the Action
- By Any Other Name
- Return to Tomorrow
- Patterns of Force
- The Ultimate Computer
- The Omega Glory
- Assignment: Earth
Filed under: Comics, Star Trek | Tagged: assignment: earth, Gary Seven, idw, John Byrne, star trek |