Spike TV runs 3 hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation every weekday, providing background noise for my afternoon shifts at Paper Heroes. I have no idea how many times they've cycled through the entire series over the past few months, but I've learned to dread the arrival of the (excellent) series finale "All Good Things...", the harbinger that signals the imminent return of season one.
Case in point: Yesterday I was subjected to episode 4, "The Last Outpost," an inferior remake of the Classic Trek episode "Arena." Not only is this "update" of the first contact scenario a muddled mess of a story, especially in contrast to the starkly elemental nature of the original, but let's compare the 2 episodes' legacies. Because simply evaluating their individual contributions to the Trek mythos demonstrates that they are on opposite ends of the quality spectrum:
"Arena" introduced the Gorn, the most awesome alien in the Star Trek universe, while "The Last Outpost" was our introduction to the Ferengi, by far the most irritating.
Worse yet, while the Gorn made their point in one episode and then were never seen again (not counting their appearance on the non-canonical Star Trek: The Animated Series, or that CGI monstrosity on Star Trek: Enterprise), the Ferengi would never stay away, instead returning for countless appearances throughout Next Generation's run, each more grating than the one before, and collectively having a negative impact on the quality (and my enjoyment) of the series as a whole.
Coincidentally, I fulfilled a childhood dream on Saturday when I stumbled upon an action figure clearance sale at Suncoast, and purchased the Gorn figure by Art Asylum... for a dollar. Sure, when I was a kid in the '70s I had the Mego Star Trek dolls, but was never able to locate the elusive Gorn (which apparently was a Frankensteinian creation combining the head of Marvel Comics' The Lizard, a Planet of the Apes body, and a Klingon costume). Of course this was back in the Dark Ages when you actually had to go store-to-store and search the shelves. You kids today with your eBay -- where's the challenge? The frustration? The heartbreak?
Anyway, check out this kickass Gorn action figure. Is there any doubt it could beat the snot out of an entire starship full of Ferengi action figures, using nothing but its bare hands, a medium-sized boulder, or a makeshift dagger? And all he'd be wearing is that flimsy tunic, because the Gorn is like the Star Trek Universe version of the Sub-Mariner, who you always just knew was a badass because he'd routinely fight giant monsters, robots, and aliens wearing nothing but swim trunks.
Final note: Your "Arena" or Mine is an interesting blog post by John Kenneth Muir about the history of Frederic Brown's short story "Arena," first published in Astounding Science Fiction Magazine in 1944, and since adapted into episodes of, not only Star Trek and The Next Generation, but also The Outer Limits, Space: 1999, Blake's 7, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It's a classic story (I wish I could remember where I read it so that I could find it again), and it's interesting to see how the basic concept evolved over time.