There are two original series Star Trek episodes featuring the flamboyant con-man Harcourt Fenton Mudd: Mudd’s Women and I, Mudd. I’ve picked on the weaker of the two because I’m looking at episodes that connect with Star Trek: Discovery. In this case my least-liked Discovery episode, whose name I don’t have to hand because on my own list of episodes I re-titled it “Episode 7: Seriously WTF Discovery Scriptwriters”.
The connection is a simple one. Harry Mudd has been introduced as a recurring character in Star Trek: Discovery as a kind of continuity with the original Star Trek. With the episode I, Mudd in particular, Mudd gains control of the Enterprise (in a manner of speaking) and the end of the episode, Kirk uses Mudd’s wife Stella as an ironic punishment for Mudd’s actions. Both these elements are used in the Discovery episode.
I’ve yet to re-watch “Mudd’s Women” but I’m not looking forward to it based on what I could remember. I, Mudd though is a very, very bad episode. A quick precis of the plot.
McCoy confides to Spock that he finds something odd about a new member of the Enterprise crew. Sure enough, shortly after this exchange, the new crew member begins to sabotage the ship. After attacking key areas of the ship (a secondary control room, engineering) the dodgy crew member has gained effective control of the Enterprise and has set it on a new course. Kirk confronts the man on the bridge where he reveals that he is an android called Norman. He assures Kirk that he means no harm but any attempt to regain control of the Enterprise will lead to it being destroyed.
Days later the Enterprise reaches its destination – an inhospitable uncharted planet. In structure on the planet is Harry Mudd who is now the self-elected king Mudd the First. the population is all androids, let behind by an advanced race from another galaxy that died out thousands of years ago.
After various events, the androids decide that humanity needs more asseritve looking after and decide to keep Mudd and the Enterprise crew on the planet, while they take the star ship and basically conquer the galaxy.
Kirk, Spock et al defeat the androids by doing wacky stuff and throwing contradictions at them in a way that might not have been a cliche at the time but now, well, it is just sad.
It is worth distinguishing between Mudd as a misogynist character and the extent to which Mudd-centric episodes are themselves misogynistic but the difference is slight. In this episode, Mudd has persuaded the androids to build large number of beautiful women robots who are there to serve Mudd (sex, naturally, isn’t mentioned but is implied). In addition, Mudd has had an android version of his wife created, which he keeps in a vestibule. Every so often he activates the wife-android so he can tell it to shut up. This, like most of the episode, is played for laughs but the joke falls very flat (as does most of the humour).
The ironic punishment for Mudd at the end is that he is left with the now re-programmed androids including multiple copies of his wife-android. Mudd’s crimes here are unclear – they mainly stem from his early characterisation of the actions of the androids as being under his command as king. However, the android Norman is revealed to be effectively in command.
It boggles me that this episode is one that seems to have inspired Discovery’s writers. The take-over the enterprise plan and the wife-as-ironic punishment elements bookend both the original episode and the Discovery episode and while the core stories are different (Discovery running a nearly good time-loop plot) the intention looks very much like a shout-out to a classic episode. Is I, Mudd regarded as a particularly classic episode among Trek fans? If so then I’m mystified.
The other unintended (I hope) connection with Discovery is the mile-wide plot holes. The Androids (and Mudd) need the Enterprise to leave their planet…but Norman somehow must have left the planet, traveled to Federation space, infiltrated Star Fleet, and got a crew assignment to the Enterprise before the story even begins. Also, in this process he needs to have not discovered that humans can behave illogically (even though his motive is to learn more about humans) AND he is also the central control computer of all the androids who somehow had to manage while he was gone.
I don’t want to bash this episode too much – it was a product of its day after all – but when planning a new Star Trek series it would be better used as an example of what not to do. Nor can I fathom why they brought Mudd back as a character – certainly not as comic relief because the new version of Mudd is a cynical monster, with all the same failings as the original but none of the charm. Perhaps that was their thinking? They looked at the 60’s version of Mudd and thought ‘actually this person is actually a terrible person, so let’s bring him back but make it more obvious that he is a terrible person’? Maybe, but I still don’t see why they would bother – who would that be for? Die-hard trek fans are hardly going to be delighted by Grimdark Mudd and viewers less concerned about the canon aren’t going to appreciate that being returned to his wife is a suitable punishment.
Next Time: Trouble With Tribbles!