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My ongoing mission: to watch classic television fifty years after first broadcast...
Back in the studio this week. The Enterprise is delivering medical supplies to Markus 3. En route they discover a nearby quasar and Kirk orders a small team led by Spock to investigate. I guess scientific research comes under their remit even if it’s not strictly “new life” or “new civilisations”, but I can’t help but wonder whether interrupting a medical delivery is the appropriate time… Still, I’m sure Kirk knows what he’s doing.
The Galileo shuttle transporting the research team soon gets stranded on a planet after being buffeted by “violent radiation”. They soon discover that the planet is inhabited by some unfriendly “huge furry creatures” – giants in animals skins who have appalling aim, apparently not having mastered how to throw their enormous spears with any degree of accuracy.
Kirk must have been expecting trouble as he sent his engineer and medical officer along on the mission. That’s Scotty and Bones of course. We’ve also got another new yeoman this week. However, this is really Spock’s story. It’s the first episode to really address the differences between his cold dispassionate Vulcan logic and the ‘irrational’ human way of following the heart. This is demonstrated in an early scene where a crewman is killed and Spock seems more preoccupied with the weapon that killed him than the body in front of him, much to the outrage of the other crew members.
Later he discusses sacrificing crew in order to reduce the weight load and leave on the crippled shuttle. Soon after this though he contradicts this seemingly callous attitude by reprimanding the others for their desire to kill the aliens: “I’m frequently appalled at the low regard you Earth men have for life.” But this is still a man acting on logic; he assumes the aliens will flee when they realise that the crew's weapons are superior to their clunky spears. Presumably attacking them would waste time and energy too when they could more easily be frightened off. As a furious McCoy later points out though, Spock hadn’t reckoned on the aliens acting angrily and impulsively with no consideration of logic. Perhaps rather illogically Spock spends time mulling over what he did wrong in the middle of another attack by the aliens.
As an aside, I have noticed that despite the jokey reputation this series gets for the weekly slaughtering of ‘red shirts’, 16 episodes in and I don’t think I’ve seen a single one yet. The two who get it this week are both yellow shirts, and I think the majority of away team casualties have been wearing that colour so far!
Red shirted Mr Scott, who I vaguely remember from an earlier episode (that feels like many weeks ago now), gets lots of lines in this one. Good job they brought him as he has to spend the whole episode fixing the shuttle. He gets there in the end and just as they prepare to leave they get attacked again and Spock gets trapped by a huge polystyrene rock which landed on his foot. Despite protestations to the crew to abandon him and save themselves (logic) the loyal men rescue him, jeopardising their survival (heart).
I note that’s it’s mentioned that this is Spock’s first command. I also recall last week that they have been on their journey for three months. So that puts all this pretty much in real time as we watch, which surprises me as I’d assumed that they must have had many offscreen adventures before the series started.
Drifting thorough space in the shuttle Spock burns and jettisons all the fuel, effectively leaving a ‘distress flare’ in the unlikely event that anyone could see it. Luckily of course someone does, i.e. Captain Kirk, and the five remaining crew members are rescued, beamed back aboard the Enterprise.
So it’s all about logic versus (com)passion. I have to say though, that I’m with Spock throughout much of this episode, particularly in the last scene where he gets teased by the captain for acting under desperation (a human reaction) when jettisoning the fuel. The bemused Spock really doesn’t understand this, and perhaps I must be half Vulcan myself because I don’t really get it either: if you know that there are no other options for survival and the only alternative is to sit back and hope for rescue and possibly die waiting, the logical thing to do is exactly what he did! It was the only proactive thing he could do. So the Captain, who just got two of his crew killed in the name of scientific curiosity, has lots of fun ending the episode by poking fun at his science officer, and everyone on the bridge falls about having a right old laugh at the big silly Vulcan.
So did I enjoy it? Yes, as a character piece it was pretty good actually. I liked the interaction between Spock and McCoy and we got to know the Vulcan very well his week. Up 'til now he’s been quite mysterious. I also enjoyed the word ‘chronometer’, which made me wonder at what point mankind decides to abandon the word ‘clock’…