2012.01.13 in The Original Series
A shuttle crashes on a planet leaving Spock, Bones, Scotty, and a few others stranded without fuel or reliable communication with the Enterprise. Command lies heavy upon Spock’s shoulders.
Stardate 2821.5 – A mere couple stardates after a war criminal and his murderous daughter were found out from an acting troupe. Almost two hundred stardates before the crew’s thoughts are manufactured instantly, leading to grave peril. There is absolutely no sense of episodic continuity. It’s so strange compared to anything produced in a long time. I suppose the difference is that most sci-fi tells a story and the original series tells stories.
The Enterprise diverts toward a quasar named Murasaki 312, interrupting a supplies delivery in the interest of scientific research. Overseeing the operation is Ferris, a High Commissioner who outranks even Captain Kirk. Naturally, he’s nonplussed by the distraction, but Jim reminds him of his obligation to explore the bounds of human knowledge.
These remastered editions have some pretty good CGI of the shuttle bay and shuttle “Galileo” taking off. No sooner than exiting the ship, the shuttle gets pulled in toward Murasaki, losing all control to the whims of the ionic radiation or whatever pseudoscientific gobbledygook they thought to blame.
It’s up to the Enterprise to find the Galileo, a tough task to begin with made more difficult by the interference from the star. Uhura reports a class M planet (capable of sustaining human life, as any nerd alreday knows) within the debris field, and they set course there. Pretty logical, considering it’s likely where Spock would have headed if he had any choice.
The shuttle’s crashed …somewhere. Spock, Bones, and Scotty attempt to make sense of their predicament; the other four crewmen (Boma, Gaetano, Latimer, and Yeoman Mears) are a touch befuddled. Spock gets some folks outside to look for resources, and alerts McCoy to their low odds of rescue. I’d wager the good doctor already had a handle on that.
Kirk wants another shuttle to get out and search for them; Ferris is insistent that he doesn’t miss the supplies rendezvous. He’s pretty arrogant for a dude wearing sleeve capes. The shuttle Columbus flies off anyway.
Spock and bones have a heart-to-computer chat about the Vulcan’s command. He neither desires nor fears it, and that is that. Scotty tells him they’ve lost enough fuel to mandate that they must ditch five hundred pounds of weight. Naturally, Spock jumps to the conclusion that three grown men must be left behind to save the shuttle and the other four. So far, Spock only has the one name. I’m going to posit that he’s got three, and that Spock is his middle name. Charles Spock Manson.
Latimer and Gaetano are exploring and hear a loud scraping noise coming from everywhere. This looks like a soundstage, which makes sense; Shore Leave had a bunch of location shooting. Suddenly, an alien either wearing a fur cloak or itself covered in fur launches a spear at the two, and Latimer catches it in the back, falling to his redshirt destiny. Gaetano fires his phaser indiscriminately into the fog. When Spock shows up, he dismisses the spear as inefficient. This is not the right assessment for the other crewmens’ ears. They may be disposable, but at least they’re not cold.
Ferris harps on Kirk as he tries a new approach to the search. Color me surprised.
Scotty continues repairs as Bones and the Yeoman (sounds like a band name) find some cargo they can offload. Minus that and Latimer’s lifeless husk, the shuttle is still at least 150 pounds too heavy to lift off. Boma wants to hold a funeral, and wants Spock to preside. I’m kind of with Spock on this one, they need to get this shuttle operational before they waste time burying a dude – he’ll keep a few hours.
Suddenly that scraping noise is near the shuttle – everybody but Scotty is outside planning how to deal with the dangerous creatures native to the planet. The crew thinks it wise to attack the beasts before the beasts attack the shuttle; Spock insists they stun only. He doesn’t wish to take any life indiscriminately, as he puts it in so many words. He and the remaining two redshirts track the noise and end up having to dodge a spear. The three find a good spot to protect, and Spock instructs the two to fire near but not at them, so as to inspire fear. He’s right that the creatures are simple, judging from their giant stone-age weapons, and his plan seems to work. Spock returns to the shuttle with Boma, leaving poor Gaetano to fend for himself, protecting the approach toward the shuttle. As Boma walks past Gaetano, you can almost see the silent “Goodbye, old friend” that passes between them.
Back aboard the Galileo, Scotty proposes to use the crew’s phasers as a substitute energy supply for the reactor. Spock agrees, and reminds the rest that the Enterprise has fewer than twenty-four hours before it must literally give up the ship. They’ve got this one chance before they’re resigned to die on this planet, and Spock knows that fear is a heck of a motivator.
Kirk decides to beam down landing teams, counting on luck to save the day. The problem there is that luck only saves the day when Kirk’s the one stranded.
Gaetano gets attacked by a creature whose coat looks warm as all heck. Spock finds his phaser and turns it over to Bones, along with his own, before walking off to find whatever’s left of Gaetano. McCoy and Boma return to the shuttle; Spock shortly finds the second dead redshirt and fireman-carries him back toward the Galileo before a few terrible throws of giant spears obviously horribly made. The creatures track him all the way back to the shuttle, where he locks the crew inside while Scotty finishes the reactor conversions.
Bones now gets a chance to harangue Spock for his lack of understanding: the creatures are not logical, but emotional, and the Vulcan experience cannot relate. Boma and McCoy are both so insistent that Spock react that they should by now probably have attempted to relieve him of command and take over with a new plan. The creature is attacking the shuttle now, hitting it with a big rock.
With fewer than three hours before the Enterprise has to leave to make its delivery, Ferris grows as testy as we’ve seen. Kirk seethes. He’s not bad at seething, to be honest.
Spock comes up with the idea to electrify the hull, that they might drive the creature away. I guess that won’t drain the fuel they’re siphoning from the phasers. Boma, when ordered to jettison further cargo, refuses to include Gaetano’s body unless they have a funeral. Talk about illogical.
A landing party returns to the ship after coming under attack from the creatures on the surface. Ferris alerts Kirk that his time is up, and demands that he give up the search. Jim knows where his bread is buttered, and dutifully though regretfully follows the High Commissioner’s orders. They’ve got twenty-three minutes before the Columbus makes it back on board, and then they must warp off to deliver their cargo. Those damn plague victims just have to condemn our Vulcan to death.
Scotty reports that the phasers are drained and they’re about ready to go; Spock instructs Boma and McCoy (sounds like a cop show) to bury Gaetano with his help. In ten minutes, they’ll take off. Nothing can go wrong in ten minutes.
The Columbus aboard, Kirk orders Sulu to proceed toward the rendezvous at “Space Normal Speed,” whatever that is. Like the interstellar equivalent of 35 MPH? It’s counter to Ferris’s orders, and Uhura and Sulu make a little stink about that, but Kirk’s all “listen up plebes who’s captain on board this ship” and they acquiesce.
In fewer than ten minutes on the surface, against all odds something goes wrong. The creature (or creatures? there’s only one costumed giant, but lots of spears from roughly different angles) attacks the crew outside the shuttle. Their spears don’t connect, but the rock that was being smacked against the shuttle lands just right to pin Spock to a rocky wall. He orders the rest to take off and leave him, but McCoy and Boma rescue him – only to find that the creatures are holding the shuttle on the ground. Spock kicks Scotty out of the pilot’s chair and gets them safely off the ground. For some reason they’re hooked on the idea of orbiting this planet, instead of rocketing themselves out toward where they came. Illogical.
They try the radio, which is still dead. Spock pulls, I think, the first example of a now-classic Star Trek move: he jettisons the remaining fuel and ignites it, blasting the shuttle on a fast path with a bright tracer trail behind. Sulu spots it on scanners, and Kirk decides to chase it. Finally we get a sense that Spock is not just intelligent but creative and willing to take a risk. Bones complements him on his human actions. Spock, naturally, is dismayed by this.
They’re not out of the woods yet, though: their orbit is decaying, and they have no idea whether the Enterprise noticed their impromptu distress flare. The shuttle hits the atmosphere and fills with smoke and heat – Kirk beams them out, and the Galileo burns up. The transport was fine, though, and the rescue is successful.
To wrap up the episode, we get a goofy little scene of Kirk trying to get Spock to admit to having an emotional response to the situation, and the more he refuses, the more the entire bridge crew laughs. If the scene paused as the credits ran, it would have felt like an episode of Police Squad.
I really really like this episode, though the sets and props and aliens were some of the cheapest-looking yet. It’s the first one not to focus on Kirk, and it might be the first without any sexual tension. We’re exploring this alien (sorry) concept of a being completely logical personality without emotion: how would a person with that behavioral constraint react in a crisis? It turns out that they took the easy way out, that he acts in what he knows might be his final moments as emotionally as anyone might. Out of desperation he risks his life and all his shipmates’ on a whim borne from a fear of death and a lack of options. He’s made human, which is a great thing for TV if not the best thing for the sanctity of the canon or internal consistency of the galactic metaphorical world they’re building. I understand the decision, as the characters and episodes need to remain accessible to audiences of any background; still, I don’t think that today’s best sci-fi would turn one of its main characters on its ear like that.
If there’s anything to be learned from this episode, it’s that a lot of humans tend to have a respect for the traditions surrounding other humans’ deaths. If that’s how I die, being attacked by an alien on a strange planet, while my shuttle is being repaired and time is of the essence, well, fuck it, leave my body and let them eat me or wear my skin or whatever. Just get off that rock while you can, and then if you want to later burn up some papers and chuck the ashes in an urn with my name on it. I’m not the average human of 1966, though, and I’m very much aware of how the world has changed in regard to spirituality and religion since then.
Maybe that’s why I like this episode so much, though. I feel like the world learned a lot about itself from that very lesson, and that’s why today’s fiction is more free to stay true to the characters within it.