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Star Trek

Season 2 Episode 26

Assignment: Earth

Aired Unknown Mar 29, 1968 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
151 votes

By TV.com Users

Episode Summary

Kirk must decide whether to thwart or help a traveller from the future sent back to 1960s Earth on a secret mission.

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  • The Enterprise visits the 20th century and stumbles upon a mysterious Earth man.

    With Star Trek facing possible cancellation, Roddenberry asked Art Wallace to fashion this backdoor pilot for a series Roddenberry had been trying (to no avail) to sell to the networks. The result is a unique offering that often seems more like Kirk and Spock making cameos in another show than your usual episode of Star Trek; yet it's entertaining nonetheless.

    Robert Lansing and Teri Garr step into the featured roles as an Earth man (Gary Seven) raised by aliens and his naive, quirky counterpart (Roberta Lincoln). It's basically just Dr. Who refashioned, and the idea is that the two characters exist in the "present" (1968) as opposed to the future. This gives the writers the issue of working the Enterprise into the thing, though fortunately "The Naked Time" establishes time travel, giving writer Art Wallace a method. The more tricky issue, however, is establishing motivation, and Wallace fails here, having the Enterprise crew head back to 1968 simply to see how the people of the time overcame their problems. (Wouldn't some old films work just as well?) What the script really needs here is some direct evidence of Seven's meddling that gives Kirk and Spock a reason to go back and try to stop him. Instead, they just sort of stumble across him for no reason and spend the episode waffling on what to do. It's a poor showing, and it makes you wonder why they're mucking around with history in 1968 to begin with.

    On the other hand, Seven and Lincoln are a delight, with Lansing giving his character a comfortable ease and Garr showing a comic side that finally proved to the industry that she was more than a dancer. (Nearly thirty years later, Sarah Silverman would play a virtually identical part in a VOY two parter set in the 1990s). And exposition issues aside, the episode has a nice composition, shrewdly intermixing original and stock elements, location and stage shooting, and real and fictional history. (Interestingly, Spock says, "There will be an important assassination Six days after the episode first aired, Martin Luther King was killed. Two months later, Robert F. Kennedy was too).

    As the episode approaches its climax at the fictional "McKinley Rocket Base", Robert C. Johnson provides an authentic sounding voice for Mission Control that serves as the glue that holds together the stock footage (mostly from both the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral) and the new footage to make all the elements seem like a seamless whole. (Barbara Babcock, the voice of Gary Seven's computer as well as his cat, is a poorer casting choice, coming off as cartoony in both her parts).

    Unfortunately, as the climax approaches and comes and goes, it only amplifies the fact that this one isn't really about the Star Trek characters (or Star Trek universe) at all; but it's always nice to see the Earth, and a spinoff attempt, this one works fine... even if it ultimately failed to sell the new series.

    Remastered Edition: There's actually very little redone here, with CBS Digital satisfied with the original's liberal use of stock footage. (In addition to footage of Mission Control, the episode uses pictures and film of the various Saturn V rockets that were around at the time, including some that hadn't launched yet. The footage is all pretty good, and the only bad effect in the episode is a shot of a an office building combined with a photo of the rocket... which probably looked passable in 1968 but looks fake on today's high definition sets. As a static shot that could have been inexpensively improved by CG technology, it was a missed opportunity for the digital effects team). We do, of course, get new shots of the Enterprise and Earth.


    lame attempt o capitalize on the success of James Bond by making a new series as a spin off. This is barely a Star Trek episode. Being a bond fan and a star trek fanI found this Isolde offensively lame.
  • Neat premise

    This is the first time TREK goes back in time deliberately, as opposed to "oopsie, there's an explosion and now we're out of time and a fish out of water". The goal is to study history, but interfere with a traveler who might be there to save mankind from itself... or to sabotage it. The crew must determine if he's sincere, without upsetting the flow of time.

    As a season finale, made before the days of expectation where something big and epic would have to happen to appease the bread and circus audiences, seasons just ended with an episode. To save on costs, this pilot was crafted in a way that could be aired in a way pilots of the day weren't . "The Cage", Gilligan's Island's original pilot, et al, were not aired to general audiences).

    And the result? As a time capsule, this episode rocks.

    As a premise for a TV show, this episode rocks.

    Terri Garr and Robert Lansing put in top notch performances, even in scenes where the music dares to camp those scenes up.

    I don't know why the show wasn't picked up because the idea of exploring modern society was daring and brilliant, and long-term would serve as a neat time capsule for future audiences to fathom, rather than saying how the people of the older era would be fans of the newer one out of any form of hubris or conceit... but before I digress...

    Could such a show be made today? I'm not sure. The political correctness of the sorts exhibited by both left-wing ideologists and right-wing ideologists and all their insensitivity to be open to observation, applauding, and criticism would have such a show canned very quickly. Just like how "All in the Family" can never be remade (audiences will scoff, and did, despite the formula being "the same but updated for a modern and supposedly more sophisticated audience"), and why "Boston Public" (not "Boston Legal") can also never be remade...

    But it's a lost opportunity. :(moreless
  • Meet ... Gary Seven and his pet cat, Isis - oh, and Phoebe's mum!

    As a STAR TREK fan I felt a little cheated by this episode. It's not really STAR TREK at all, but actually the first episode or pilot for a new show Gene Roddenberry wanted to sell. Piggybacking it onto STAR TREK should have made the concept easier to float past the public with little financial risk. But there wasn't enough interest to make anyone - networks, audiences - want to take this any further.

    You can kind of see why. The premise is actually quite interesting. A human that was raised by aliens as a saviour for the human race (I'm thinking more of Green Lantern than any religious figures) is a pretty cool idea. Kind of like The Champions, only good. But it's the scripting rather than the concept that lets this project down. There's simply not enough interesting stuff going on. And some truly dumb story devices. Like why does Gary Seven need a paper map to find the rocket base - why, so he can leave it behind in his office for Kirk to find. It's this kind of lazy plotting that sank Assignment Earth (or whatever the show was going to be called).

    Fun to see Phoebe's mum - Terri Garr - in a early role, and Victoria Vetri made a gorgeous black cat (a couple of years before Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth). But overall, a bit disappointing. It could have been so much better.moreless
  • In this pilot for a spin-off series that didn't sell, the Enterprise, time travelling back to 1968, encounters an intergalactic spy from the future, who may or may not be an enemy, and is trying to intervene with a key 20th Century event. A so-so story...moreless

    As every good 'Star Trek' fan probably knows, this episode served as a backdoor pilot for a proposed spin-off series, also to be called 'Assignment: Earth', revolving around the adventures of intergalactic traveller Gary Seven. Hence, much more time of this episode is given over to him, with Kirk and Spock only being seen intermittently and featuring much less prominently than usual.

    The proposed series didn't sell, but it offers an interesting glimpse into what might have been.

    The episode starts off with an off-the-cuff explanation about how the Enterprise has travelled back in time to 1968. I found this to be too casual, and trivialising the complexities of time travel.

    Robert Lansing puts in an interesting performance as Mister Seven. Lansing is a veteran of numerous television shows, and I primarily identify him as playing the recurring 'Control' in 1980s series 'The Equalizer'.

    Watching this episode 'cold' (i.e. without knowing the back-story), you really wonder who's side he is on. I'm not sure how well this shady character would have transferred to a regular series; maybe he would have livened up a bit more with time.

    Teri Garr puts in a good performance as Roberta Lincoln, Seven's ditzy would-be assistant for the series that never materialised. The character is annoying, but in a good way. However, there are a number of irritatingly 'over-convenient' moments, such as when she awkwardly pulls Spock's hat off to expose his Vulcan ears (in a very unbelievable move – watch the sequence to see what I mean), and none more so than the silly moment when she uncovers Seven's time travelling vault, managing to get through all the lock devices with barely batting an eyelid.

    I wonder what 'Assignment: Earth' would have been like as a series. It has some interesting elements, and would have probably been no worse than some of the other sillier 1960s TV offerings.

    Things such as Seven's giant, blinking computer which pulls out of a wall are very dated, but the episode generally still holds up quite well.

    And Seven's multi-function pen device reminds me a lot of Doctor Who's sonic screwdriver.

    This was the last of Gary Seven that was ever seen on-screen, but a number of various literature spin-offs made mention of, or continued with, Seven's adventures.

    The story itself is very so-so, but the episode makes for an interesting glimpse of what might have been.

    ---second season overview---

    The second season had some very good stories, but also a number of weaker instalments. I personally wouldn't rank it as highly as the first, which had more polished and thoughtful scripts. Although there are series classics, such as "Mirror, Mirror" and comedy episode "The Trouble With Tribbles", a number of the scripts feel rehashes of earlier ideas, noticeably 'out-thinking super-computers' and 'parallel Earths'.moreless
William Shatner

William Shatner

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy

Mr. Spock

DeForest Kelley

DeForest Kelley

Dr. Leonard Horatio "Bones" McCoy

Robert Lansing

Robert Lansing

Gary Seven

Guest Star

Teri Garr

Teri Garr

Roberta Lincoln

Guest Star

Don Keefer

Don Keefer


Guest Star

Majel Barrett

Majel Barrett

voice of Beta 5 Computer (uncredited)

Recurring Role

James Doohan

James Doohan

Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott/voice of Mission Control (uncredited)

Recurring Role

George Takei

George Takei

Lt. Hikaru Sulu

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (9)

    • There are absolutely no clouds visible in the shots of the Enterprise orbiting Earth. (fixed in the remastered version)

    • In one scene when Mr. Seven's cat goes through one of the ship's doors, the door opens up just enough to let a cat through. How does it know how far to open for a cat? You could argue that the door senses how big the object in front of it is, but then why when it opens up for people does it not just open enough for the width of one human?

    • Why does Enterprise security leave Seven with his pen-device? Even if it's disguised as a 20th century pen, you'd think they take away anything from the prisoner that might be used as a weapon or tool.

    • Seven takes forever to figure out that Roberta isn't Agent 201.

    • Seven seems to sense he is about to be beamed up, rolls over, and sits up (while Isis jumps into his lap). The transporter seems to be working awfully slowly here - earlier, the policemen don't have any time at all to react before they are beamed up.

    • During the early briefing Scotty chips in on the viewscreen from Engineering, but the image fades out before Kirk turns off the viewer (and there's no indication Scotty does it at his end either).

    • Spock claims that history is unchanged at the end of the episode according to the library tapes - how would he know? If history changed, the tapes would change too. And unlike in "City on the Edge of Forever", there's no Guardian around to keep people from being influenced by an altered timeline.

    • Why don't they just shoot down the warhead from the Enterprise? It seems likely Scotty or Sulu could make it look like an accident.

    • Why is Seven immune to Spock's neck pinch? McCoy examines Seven later and determines he is basically human. Phaser stun affects Seven normally, so why wouldn't Spock's pinch, which basically just manipulates the nerves to stun/knock out a human? If Seven has some kind of physical alteration (even though McCoy's dialogue suggests he doesn't), wouldn't his immunity work against both?

  • QUOTES (5)

  • NOTES (7)

    • The episode was written to introduce a hoped-for spin-off series that never materialized. It would have featured Robert Lansing as Gary Seven, Barbara Babcock as Isis, and Teri Garr as Roberta Lincoln. In the new series, the intrepid three would have worked to make sure humanity achieved the destiny glimpsed via the Trek characters and Seven's mysterious extraterrestrial information.

    • Further indicative of the pilot-nature of this episode, Robert Lansing is listed as a guest star in the first-act credits - the only time anyone is so listed in the entire series.

    • Many elements of this episode would later be "borrowed" by Roddenberry for his Questor Tapes pilot/movie, particularly the idea of an alien race sending a "special person" to Earth to save it from itself.

    • In this episode, Spock goes over the events for the week that the Enterprise arrives in 1968. Among the events he mentions was an "important political assassination". A few days after this episode aired, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

    • This is the first and only time in the series that Kirk basically holds a ship-wide briefing, telling anyone to "break in at any time with analysis of that information."

    • This episode spawned a sequel, albeit a novel, Assignment: Eternity, by Greg Cox. It features Seven and Lincoln traveling into the future to Kirk's time, and talks briefly about their adventures after this episode, involving them with the Avengers (Emma Peel and John Steed), the Cybernauts, reporter Carl Kolchak (The Night Stalker), and many more fictional/TV 20th century characters.

    • Desilu No: 5149-55.


    • Isis
      Gary Seven's cat takes her name from that of the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, who by many accounts was "queen" of the Egyptian pantheon and capable of great magical feats. The ancient Egyptians are well known for holding cats in high regard.