by Lisa M. Lynch
It’s the Star Trek episode that isn’t quite Star Trek.
At the end of its second season, the return of The Original Series was in doubt and creator Gene Roddenberry wanted to find something to replace his imperiled show. In 1966 he had unsucessfully pitched a pilot script to Desilu studios entitled “Assignment: Earth.”
With the help of writer Art Wallace (“Obsession”) Roddenberry reworked the script into a Trek episode, hoping it would serve as a springboard for a new series.
The USS Enterprise, employing light-speed breakaway factor, has arrived from the 23rd century to study 1968 Earth and learn how its inhabitants survived such a volatile period of history without blowing themselves up. The perhaps ill-advised trip back in time is justified by the Enterprise’s use of deflector shields to avoid detection.
But just like their previous trips to the past, something happens that could profoundly alter life as they know it. The Enterprise inadvertently intercepts a powerful transporter beam. Something materializes aboard the ship from a point 1,000 light years away. Scotty is baffled, as the year 1968 boasts no transporter technology. Even in the 23rd century, nothing could beam in from such a great distance.
The object beaming aboard the Enterprise is actually a dapper gentleman by the name of Gary Seven. He holds a black cat with a jeweled collar named Isis, and it appears they can communicate with each other. Seven is confused and demands to know how humans could have intercepted his transporter beam since they shouldn’t have the technology. However, as soon as he gets a glimpse of Spock’s telltale ears he realizes he’s looking at a Vulcan, and he is on a ship from the future.
Seven claims to be a 20th-century human from a distant and undetectable planet, and he has come to Earth with a job to do. If he is not allowed to finish it, Earth’s history will be forever changed. Captain Kirk refuses to allow him to continue to the planet for fear he is not what he says he is. He calls security to detain Seven. Seven makes an effort to beam back down to Earth with his cat, but the security guards fight him. Seven has no trouble escaping their grasp. Even Spock’s Vulcan nerve pinch has no effect on him. Only Kirk’s phaser finally brings him down.
Kirk orders Seven held in the brig until he can ascertain Seven’s true purpose on Earth, since the story of his origins from some unknown planet were so fantastic he couldn’t trust that Seven wasn’t an alien bent on destroying the earth. He orders Dr. McCoy to examine Seven to see if he is truly human. McCoy later reports that not only is Seven human, but he’s a perfect specimen.
While Kirk and Spock hold a meeting to decide what happens next, Seven deactivates the force field in his holding cell with a small device called a servo pen, stupefies the security guard with it, and escapes to the transporter room and down to Earth.
Seven and Isis arrive at an office in a New York City skyscraper. Seven communicates with a computer called Beta 5 in the office, which comes from his alien home planet. During his interaction with the computer we learn Gary Seven is an agent descended from a race of humans who were taken from Earth to a hidden planet 6,000 years ago by mysterious aliens. The aliens sent Seven to find two missing agents, who were on Earth to disable an orbiting nuclear missile set to be launched within the day. The United States planned to launch the missile in response to an orbiting missle launched by another country. The aliens were concerned that the Earth humans’ rate of technology was increasing faster than their common sense, so the agents needed to step in to prevent them from annihilating themselves.
Gary eventually learns from the computer that the two agents had been killed in a car wreck on their way to McKinley Rocket base where the missile is set to be launched. Now Seven must complete their mission.
Roberta Lincoln is a secretary hired by the previous two agents, although she did not realize their true identities or mission. She was told they were working on research for a new encyclopedia. When she arrives at the office she finds Gary Seven, who immediately assumes she is one of the missing agents. He demands to know where she’s been the last three days and insists she sit down at the typewriter and file a report. She gets ready to type, but is confused to see the typewriter typing everything she says without her even touching the keys. Her confusion and frustration are so pronounced that Seven begins to realize she is not the agent after all. Seven convinces Roberta that he is actually from the CIA (the Beta 5 computer had printed out a false ID saying so) and that she must help him for the sake of her country.
Roberta chooses to help him. Throughout the episode she proves sincere, albeit somewhat ditzy and prone to calling the police. The Beta 5 computer reports that Roberta is extremely intelligent, however, and she ultimately helps Gary Seven complete his mission.
The Star Trek Part of the Show
Kirk and Spock are relegated to chasing Seven around while Kirk agonizes over Seven’s true purpose. They follow Seven to his office and then to McKinely Air Force base where they are captured by security. While being held, they watch the rocket’s countdown knowing that Seven is up there tampering with it while they are powerless to stop him.
Meanwhile, Roberta inadvertently finds Seven’s servo pen and accidently transports him back to the office with it before he gets a chance to finish working on the rocket. The rocket blasts off while he is there. He must complete his mission using the Beta 5 computer or else the missile will reach the ground and detonate due to Seven’s initial tampering. Nuclear retaliation and planet-wide destruction would be the final result.
Kirk and Spock show up at the office after Scotty rescues them from the Air Force base and again Kirk is conflicted over whether or not to let Seven finish his job. Roberta points the servo pen at Kirk and demands he let Seven do what he needs to do, but Seven takes it from her, informing her it was set to kill. He then gives the pen to Kirk as a sign of goodwill.
Spock finally tells Kirk to trust his intuition, and Kirk decides to let Seven continue. Seven goes back to the computer to work, and after a few tense moments the missile explodes safely in the sky. The Earthlings are sufficiently shaken up by the errant missile’s close call. They will stop sending nuclear missiles into orbit, thus preventing their self-annihilation. History is made right once again.
At the end of the episode before they leave, Spock opines that Mr. Seven and Miss Lincoln have some interesting adventures ahead of them. And they just might, but unfortunately those adventures would never be televised.
Gary Seven was portrayed by screen and theater actor Robert Lansing. Approached by his friend Gene Roddenberry for the role, he originally balked because he had considered Star Trek a kids’ show. Upon reading Roddenberry’s script, however, he decided he would indeed like to do it.
After “Assignment: Earth” Lansing continued acting up until his death in 1994.
An interesting bit of trivia: From 1956-1968 Lansing was married to Emily McLaughlin, who later married Jeffery Hunter shortly before his death in 1969. Hunter portrayed Captain Christopher Pike in the unaired Star Trek pilot “The Cage.”
Terri Garr played the role of Roberta Lincoln. She is a comedic actress well-known for her roles in Tootsie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Oh God, Mr. Mom and other films. She’s also made several guest appearances on television shows like Newhart, M*A*S*H, Barnaby Jones, and even Friends. But her big break was her role as Roberta Lincoln in “Assignment: Earth.”
Beta 5 Computer
Actress Barbara Babcock is the voice of the rather smug Beta 5 computer. She is a veteran guest star and voice actor for TOS, starring as Mea 3 in “A Taste of Armageddon” and Philana in “Plato’s Stepchildren.” She is also the voice of Trelane’s mother in “The Squire of Gothos,” the voice of Loskene the Tholian in “The Tholian Web,” and the voice of Zetar in “The Lights of Zetar.”
Isis the Cat
Three different black cats played the role of Isis. Isis’ meow was provided by Barbara Babcock as well. At one point in the episode, Isis the cat briefly transforms into a beautiful woman who sits on a couch in the office, startling Roberta Lincoln. The woman was uncredited on the show, but she is Victoria Rathgeb—known at the time as Victoria Vetri—Miss September 1967 and Playmate of the Year 1968. Interestingly, Rathgeb made the news in 2010 when she was charged with attempted murder after shooting her husband of 20 years.
The Original Script
Gene Roddenberry’s original story had Gary Seven as a human from the future sent back in time to fight an alien race called the Omegans who were planning to destroy the earth. The stories would follow his adventures with Roberta Lincoln at his side. Isis would be joined by another cat, and instead of being Seven’s companions, they would be two evil shapeshifting Omegan agents.
The weekly narration during the show’s introduction was to be this:
In the hands of this one man…
could rest the future of all mankind.
His name…Gary Seven…
born in the year 2319 A.D.
The only survivor of Earth’s attempt
to send a man back through time to today.
Assignment…fight an enemy
who is already here, trying to destroy us.
If he fails, there’ll be no tomorrow!
“Assignment: Earth” may not have been turned into a TV series, but Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln did make appearances in several short stories, comics, and even Star Trek novels. They remain an interesting part of Trek history and a testament to Gene Roddenberry’s prolific imagination.