Season Two - TOS

Star Trek: The Original Series – Assignment Earth – How You Spin-Off a Space Series

Written by Art Wallace and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Marc Daniels

This episode was conceived as an attempt to sell a new series to the networks. The series was much different from Star Trek, but Gene Roddenberry found a way to incorporate the characters from his potential new series into the Star Trek universe and attempt to sell it to the networks. Unfortunately, despite a promising start here, the series never materialized.

The Enterprise uses “light speed breakaway” to travel in time back to 20th century Earth for “historical research.” It’s the year 1968. As they are orbiting Earth, they interrupt a transporter beam and find Gary Seven (Robert Lansing) and Isis on the transporter pad. Isis is a gorgeous black cat – and maybe more.

Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) looks back and finds what is happening that day in history that could have brought them all to this moment. There’s about to be a launch of an orbital nuclear platform.

Gary Seven escapes and transports to Earth. He finds the offices of the other agents who were sent before him, but no sign of them. Their secretary, Roberta Lincoln (Teri Garr), appears and Gary at first mistakes her for one of the missing agents.

As the story develops, each of them is unsure of the other’s motives. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) must decide whether to prevent Gary Seven from interfering in events of the time period or help him. Roberta Lincoln wavers between helping Gary Seven and thinking he is trying to commit treason. Gary Seven has a singular focus but alternates between using the other characters for help and trying to complete his mission despite their interference.

There’s a lot to like in Assignment Earth. The character of Gary Seven was intriguing. He was a human who had lived on another planet where he was trained for missions like these. He’s a cross between James Bond and a Time Lord with his sonic-screwdriver-like tool. However, his greatest weapon is knowledge and steadiness under fire. Much like Bond, he outwits people rather than relying completely on gadgets and plot devices.

This was not Teri Garr’s first role in showbusiness, but it might be the earliest she is really known for. Just 20 years old at the time of this episode, her character is familiar to those who have followed her career. She’s not a “dumb blonde” but rather naive and flighty. She catches on quickly that there’s more to Gary Seven than meets the eye and is willing to put herself on the line for it.

As far as the Star Trek cast, they perform very well here. The time travel story back to 1968 seems to be pretty casually presented here, but the light-speed breakaway plot device is used a few times throughout the series’ (and movies) so at least it’s consistent. It’s mostly Kirk and Spock interacting in the story and they seem to assimilate into 1968 a little too easily (especially in light of how out of place they seem in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home). They are really secondary to Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln, but they participate enough in the story that it is a Star Trek story. Captain Kirk is on an equal level with Gary Seven, but neither is sure of the other so they are often adversaries throughout the episode.

I remember this being in heavy rotation in the reruns I grew up watching so I watched it quite frequently. I always felt Assignment Earth could have been a good series, especially from the 1960s and 1970s perspective.

History is replete with turning points. You must have faith that the universe will unfold as it should.

Mr. Spock

Would Gary Seven and Roberta have visited other historical time periods? Or would they have stuck with the “current” time of 1968 on? Sadly, we will never know and I think that’s a shame. The characters are interesting and the actors portraying them are very good. At least there are several Star Trek novels out there that manage to give these characters their due.

Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Bread and Circuses

Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Spock’s Brain

6 replies »

  1. ” his greatest weapon is knowledge and steadiness under fire. Much like Bond, he outwits people rather than relying completely on gadgets”

    That sounds like it would have made a good show.
    And, I love the cat!

    • As I recall, “Assignment: Earth” had already been rejected when Gene Roddenberry decided to use the revised scriptt pilot and incorporate it into the “Star Trek” series. The original final draft of the teleplay was completed in November of 1966 and was titled simply “Seven.” It had no connection to Star Trek (which, by the time Roddenberry had the basic concept of the new series down, was in its second season and suffering from low ratings and was about to be canceled). Roddenberry never saw himself as solely the creator of Captain Kirk and Mr.Spock; he wanted to write and produce shows for a living, so he needed a “backup plan” in case Star Trek failed to be renewed for the 1968-69 season.

      Alas, the networks shot down the new series proposal, so Roddenberry and Art Wallace reworked “Seven” into “Assignment: Earth” into the Star Trek universe, maybe hoping that if the episode “Assignment: Earth” got decent ratings, it might serve as a backdoor pilot to what would have been a spinoff, If that was the hope, well….

      • I did not know it had already been rejected. Still, I liked the episode. It just was aired so much when I was younger for some reason I got tired of it. Looking at it now with fresh eyes it was a lot of fun and probably would have made a decent series, depending on the writing.

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