Back in the day-when many of us used to watch Star Trek in syndicated reruns in the 70's-every episode was accepted as law; as almost god-given. The plausibility of the ideas or theories presented in the stories was rarely questioned-I mean, hell-that's all there was, man! Three seasons of gospel-and rumors of a second series that were treated with the awe and respect of a second coming prophecy. I, like many other science fiction fans of my generation, were weened on Star Trek: TOS.
With the objectivity, however, that a few decades brings-as well as with a belly full of canon science fiction-from Asimov to Zelazny-I think I now know what makes a good science fiction story-whether it's a short story, novel, film or tv show. The genre or form or size of the canvass-whatever-shouldn't matter. Good Sci-Fi is simply good Sci-Fi.
And just maybe, if the producers of Star Trek back then had been able to predict how iconic the show would become to generations unborn and fandom as yet unknown, then maybe they would have taken a little more care with the storywriting in the later two seasons. "A Piece of the Action" is not just bad science fiction; it's much more than that. Historically-looking back to the time in which the episode was written and aired-it is downright irresponsible. I mean, we're at the height of The Vietnam War, and what we need right now is good thought-provoking parables for the cold-war era, like "The Doomsday Machine," "A Private Little War," and others. Some may argue that because "A Piece of the Action" is partly or fully comedic, it should be taken lightly. Well, okay-let's compare apples to oranges for one moment. Consider the film, Dr. Strangelove. Now there's a good science fiction/speculative fiction comedy-and it's responsible-for the time it was made, or for any time.
Come on! A planet society ruled by gang bosses modeled on 1920's Chicago, where Kirk comes in like a clownish amalgamation of Al Capone and Eliot Ness, and assumes the role of baby-sitter/colonizer/what-have-you; like he's going to convince them all he's the biggest dog on the block with one wide-beam ship's phaser blast (on stun setting, no less), with no real plan at all, and merely send a ship every year to check up on them and collect The Fed's cut. Good luck. I give them three months-tops-before they're back at war with each other again. There was an opportunity here to satirize mid to late 20th century colonialism, and the writers simply missed it.
I mean-sure, Kirk characteristically goes off the handle sometimes, leaping before he looks. As Christopher Plummer's Chang says of Kirk, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, "His record shows him to be an insubordinate, unprincipled opportunist-with a history of violating the chain of command whenever it suited him."
Chang's assessment may sound a triffle harsh, perhaps-but as can be seen in such examples as the episode under discussion, Kirk does, indeed, have a very maverick way of interpreting The Prime Directive. However, when he simply brushes off McCoy's admission that he left his communicator in Bela's office (thereby, serving to further contaminate Iotian society by providing them with the 23rd century's equivalent to the microchip) with the final line, "Well-in a few years, the Iotians may demand…a piece of our action!" I submit to you that, as another Christopher-this time, Christopher Lloyd, playing Jim Ignatowski, in Season 4 Episode 4 of Taxi, "Jim Joins the Network"-might put it, "Captain Kirk would just never say something like that!"