Many Such Journeys: TOS #28, “The City on the Edge of Forever”

The Enterprise visits a planet where a time portal enables a drugged McCoy to change Earth’s history, forcing Kirk and Spock to travel to 1930s Earth, where Kirk falls in love.

  • This justly celebrated episode is not without its problems. The premise is striking, the situation dire, the characters and drama compelling, the awful moment of decision tragic and heart-wrenching. But its theory of time travel is a little loosey-goosey, and the pacing – after endless revisions by the producers from Harlan Ellison’s initial version – is rushed, with enough story to have filled another 15 minutes of airtime had it been available.
  • The story opens as the Enterprise is orbiting a mysterious planet that is the source of “ripples in time,” a phenomenon that manifests itself, seemingly, as road-bumps in space, causing the Enterprise to shake and Sulu’s helm panel to overload and erupt in sparks.
    • Kirk’s hasty summary, recited not as a log entry but as a report Kirk instructs Uhura to send to Star Fleet, describes how “something or someone down on this planet can affect changes in time causing turbulent waves in space displacement.”
    • Well OK, time and space are related. Still, one might speculate how else “ripples in time” might have been depicted. Brief flashes of events from the near past – or near future? Intriguing idea.
  • Yet it takes another physical jolt of the Enterprise to trigger the plot: McCoy, summoned the bridge to treat Sulu, injects him with a few drops of cordrazine – a fictional heart stimulant. Then a big jolt knocks McCoy over as he handles the hypospray device, and causes him to empty the complete vial of cordrazine into his own abdomen.
  • The effect, within seconds, is to transform McCoy into a raving paranoiac, screaming about “killers” and “assassins,” evading a security guard and disappearing into the turbolift.
  • Kirk’s Act I Captain’s Log is a “supplemental entry,” an odd event because there has been no previous log entry in the episode we’ve seen; presumably one might have been scripted and some point, and gotten cut in later drafts (or even recorded and deleted in editing for time’s sake, as sometimes happened). The effect is we get no stardate for this episode.
    • There’s one later log entry in this episode, in which Kirk states “No stardate,” because of the situation; but it begs the definition of what stardate actually means. In fact, the producers and scriptwriters rather arbitrarily assigned more-or-less progressive four-digit stardates to scripts as they went into development, but none too carefully; thus you have a couple episodes – “The Corbomite Maneuver” and “The Man Trap” – with overlapping stardates. Someone later tried to rationalize this, explaining how the stardate was determined not just by the passage of time, but by the ship’s position in space, yada yada. That has some superficial plausibility based on our understanding of relativistic effects. But how to account those effects with warp drive? Anyway, the point I’ve made before is that, if stardates can repeat themselves, then they are useless as a measure of identifying the progression of events, even if only the subjective progression of events on any given starship. And the mention of stardates during Star Base visits (e.g. in “Court Martial”) suggests they are meant to be definitive. This was an error of writing and production that no rationalization can ever explain.)
  • In any event, the log entry here emphasizes the effects of cordrazine as a “madness” that will have some indefinite effect on McCoy. Spock’s research in the next scene elaborates its effects.
  • For whatever reason, McCoy heads to the transporter room, overcomes the transporter chief, and beams himself down to planet. And the transporter, Spock explains, was – for whatever reason (well, to move the plot along) — focused on the center of the time disturbance.
  • And so Kirk and a landing party – Spock, Scott, Uhura, and two security guards – follow McCoy down to the planet. They see stony ruins in every direction – as well as large donut-shaped object, which Spock identifies as the source of all the time displacement.
  • As Kirk and Spock speculate on its nature, it speaks – in English, of course – synchronously glowing as it does. “Since before your sun burned hot in space, and before your race was born, I have awaited… a question.” And, “I am the Guardian of Forever.” Both machine and being, or neither. Spock doesn’t understand. “I answer as simply as your level of the understand makes possible.”
  • This is good stuff, mostly, albeit a little vague. We’re used by now to experiencing effects and beings apparently operating in ways outside human experience, sometimes by orders of magnitude (e.g. the Organians).
  • Spock realizes that, in a perhaps limited sense, that it’s a time portal. It replies: “A gateway to your own past, if you wish.” And we see, in the center of the donut, a montage of film clips from old Hollywood movies, depicting the history of the human race.
  • McCoy is found and subdued, apparently. Kirk wonders if they might use this time portal to take McCoy back a day, to relive and avoid the accident? (A remarkably trivial thought, it seems to me, considering the infinite potential of such a time portal.) But Spock notes time is passing too quickly to make that practical.
  • He suddenly realizes he should be recording these “centuries of living history…” and turns on his tricorder.
  • And then McCoy wakes up, jumps up, and before anyone can react, runs toward the portal, and jumps through.
  • A moment later, Uhura says she’s lost contact with the ship. Nothing wrong with the communicator.
  • The Guardian explains: “Your vessel, your beginning; all that you knew, is gone.”
  • Kirk and the others – again, very quickly, compared to the pace of other episodes, especially the talky Gene L. Coon originals we’ve just seen– realize what’s happened. History has been changed. Kirk: “Earth’s not there, at least not the Earth we know. We’re totally alone.”
  • Now wait a minute. If history has been changed to the point where the Enterprise never existed – then presumably Kirk and the others wouldn’t exist either. Certainly not in their present state. Yet here they are, their memories of the Enterprise and their own pasts intact.
    • The literature of SF includes hundreds of time travel stories, many of them with uniquely different notions of how time travel would work. Perhaps the most famous is Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” in which stepping on a butterfly in the distant past changes everything in the time traveler’s future. Similar ideas in Alfred Bester’s “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed” and R.A. Lafferty’s “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne.” Canonical time travel stories, with paradoxes, include Robert A. Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps” and “All You Zombies.”
    • A big issue is the so-called grandfather paradox, which is close to what Trek is invoking here: if you go back in time and kill your grandfather, before he marries your grandmother and they have children, what happens to *you*? If you vanish, then do you not exist to go back and time to kill your grandfather..?? And so on.
    • Some of the theories: you can’t change the past, it has a momentum that isn’t affected by specific changes in the past. Or: you can change the past, but doing so creates an alternate, parallel history, from which you may or may not be able to return from. Or: you can visit the past, but not change it. Many other variations.
  • Presumably here Kirk and the landing party are protected by some kind of time bubble, being close to the Guardian of Forever, and so immune to the changes in history that McCoy effected; it’s easy to imagine a couple lines of dialogue to justify such a notion. But in a crowded, busy script, there was no time to do so; and for obvious story purposes, we need Kirk and his landing party active characters.
  • Quickly, the story moves on: in Act II, Kirk narrates a “no stardate” log entry, in which he states “For us, time does not exist” – well, yes it does, they are still experiencing their own existence in a linear, time-forward fashion – and summarizes the situation and their plan: to have the Guardian repeat its display of Earth’s history, and for him and Spock to go back into history and try to “set right whatever it was that McCoy changed.”
  • In the moments before Kirk and Spock take the leap, they square things with those they are leaving behind. Kirk: “Scotty… when you think you’ve waited long enough… each of you will have to try it.” Scott: “Good luck, gentlemen.” And Uhura: “Happiness at least, sir.”
    • This last line is the first of many in this episode that seem unusually inspired — without denigrating the work of Trek’s tireless regular writers and producers, it’s tempting to attribute such lines to Harlan Ellison, though I have no way of telling; only intuition. I won’t dwell here on the well-known history about how Harlan Ellison’s initial script was rewritten heavily by the producers, to his eternal distaste; his original script has been published in at least two books, one his own (, that describes this entire history.
    • Marc Cushman’s book lists the dates of various outlines and script drafts. Ellison was assigned the script in March, 1966, delivered his first full teleplay in June – presumably the one in print in those books – and then did three further drafts of the script, as late as December, 1966. (Ellison, like fellow Trek scripter Theodore Sturgeon, was notoriously slow to deliver, by TV standards.) Thereafter, as with virtually all scripts submitted by outsiders, followed revisions by Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana, and Gene Roddenberry, all the way until February 1967, with the last page revisions by Roddenberry *during filming*.
    • Since Ellison submitted a script as late as December, it’s plausible that some of his dialogue from his last drafts survived into the final filmed script. I have no way of tracking this down. Yet several inspired dialogue passages suggest the input of an inspired writer, that survived the rewrites of Coon, Fontana, and Roddenberry.
    • At the same time – this episode is possibly the best example of how the Trek staff *needed* to rewrite Ellison’s original submission into something that was both filmable on a budget – the original script imagined grandiose sets, scenes in New York with large crowds – and which was consistent with the Trek universe (Roddenberry’s idealism that many petty human conflicts would be overcome by the 23rd century) and with how the Trek characters really behaved (Ellison’s original script had a character on the Enterprise dealing drugs).
  • And so Kirk and Spock leap through…. To a street in 1930s New York.
    • (Filmed at the same studio backlot where “Miri” and “Errand of Mercy” and “The Return of the Archons” and even “The Cage” were filmed – see this section,, of, and follow the links, to see revealing photos of how individual scenes from these episodes were filmed in the same small area.)
  • They attract attention, in their funny clothes, and with Spock’s ears. Passing old women scowl. They rush across a street – almost hit by a car, an amazing foreshadowing of the episode’s climax – and spot some clothes hanging on an alleyway balcony. [The same alleyway as… see link just above.]
  • But are spotted by a local policeman. If Gene L. Coon couldn’t end this episode with humor, he injected it here. Kirk tries to explain Spock, his ears. “My friend is obviously… Chinese. I see you’ve noticed the ears. … The unfortunate accident he had as a child. He caught his head in a mechanical…. rice-picker.” And so on. Spock uses a similar ploy as in “A Taste of Armageddon” to distract the officer momentarily in order to apply his famous neck pinch. They flee… run down a street and around a corner (past the visibly labeled 21st Street Mission), and down some steps into an unlocked door to a basement.
  • Then follows a bit more time-travel theory. Spock thinks they’ve arrived about a week before McCoy. Kirk: “Arrives where? Honolulu, Boise, San Diego? Why not Outer Mongolia for that matter?” Good question.
  • Spock: “There is a theory…. That time is fluid, like a river; currents, eddies, backwash.” Kirk: “Then the same currents that swept McCoy to a certain time and place might sweep us there too.”
  • Of course the reason for this theory is necessitated by plot, as Spock says: “Unless that is true, Captain, we have no hope.”
  • Spock is frustrated that he can’t access the history replay in his tricorder. Kirk wonders why. Spock: “In this zinc-plated, vacuum-tubed culture?” And Kirk teases, “Yes well, it would post an extremely complex problem in logic, Mr. Spock. Excuse me, I sometimes expect too much of you.”
    • But this isn’t a problem of logic. It’s a problem of resources. Trek promulgated a very loose idea of what ‘logic’ was about, in reference to Mr. Spock, more often than not insisting logic in scenes where technical logic did not actually apply. As here.
  • And then they are discovered by the kindly Edith Keeler, who is generous to a fault, inviting them to stay – despite their breaking in, despite their white lie about it being cold outside – to work, cleaning up her 21st Street Mission, for 15 cents an hour, 10 hours a day.
  • The next, key, scene has Kirk and Spock in the ground-floor soup kitchen, accepting the food down a cafeteria line and then listening to Edith Keeler preach. An old man at their table warns them: “You expect to eat for free or something? You gotta listen… to Goodie Twoshoes.”
  • And Edith speaks, urging the men who’ve taken refuge there: “I do insist that you do survive. Because the days, and the years ahead, are worth living for.”
  • Her speech gets more extraordinary by the moment, especially considering that Kirk and Spock are hearing her: “One day, soon, man is going to be able to harness… incredible energies… maybe even the atom. Energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in… in some sort of space ship.”
  • And so on. Spock: “Speculation? Gifted insight?” (Or currents in time that have swept them to a like-minded local?)
  • Edith finds them a “flop” – a flat, a place to sleep – in her building.
  • Later, in their flop, Kirk returns with groceries. Spock is trying to build a mechanism to connect to his tricorder so that he can slow the speed of replay down to examine the history of where they are. The mechanism is spread out across the bed. Spock advises Kirk that he needs a couple pounds of platinum. Kirk advises him that’s not practical, and Spock replies that Kirk is asking him to “construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins.”
    • Isn’t “mnemonic memory” redundant?
  • Spock pilfers a clockmakers set of tools to help him construct a mechanism. Edith discovers him; Kirk apologizes. She wonders why they both seem so out of place. Kirk wonders where she thinks they belong.
    • Edith: You? At his side, as if you’ve always been there and always will.
    • ‘Captain.’ Even when he doesn’t say it…
  • Kirk is falling in love with Edith Keeler.
  • And then follows a beautiful scene, with that inspired dialogue, as Kirk and Edith walk down the street. To the background tune of “Goodnight, Sweetheart.”
    • Edith: Why does Spock call you ‘Captain’? Were you in the war together?
    • Kirk: We… served together.
    • Edith: And you, um, don’t want to talk about it? … Whatever it is, let me help.
    • Kirk: “Let me help.” A hundred years or so, from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over “I love you.”
  • A truly lovely thought. But then here’s the science-fictional perspective, in the following lines:
    • Edith: Century from now? Who is he? Where does he come from – where will he come from?
    • Kirk: Silly question, want to hear a silly answer?
    • Edith: Yes.
    • Kirk (pointing up into the sky): A planet… circling that far left star in Orion’s belt. See?
  • Maybe my favorite lines of dialogue in the entire series.
  • The plot quickly thickens. Spock finishes his device, and shows Kirk the replays of the history he recorded: in one version, a “social warrior is killed” here in 1930 – Edith Keeler – in a street accident; and in another version, Edith Keeler, in 1936, confers with the president, as a pacifist, and thus delays the United States’ entry into the World War II. Alternate history: the US delay enabled Germany to build the a-bomb first. And thus, it’s implied, Germany’s takeover of the world prevented the entire future history of humanity’s ascent into space, the formation of the Federation, the existence of the starship Enterprise.
  • Spock’s conclusion is ominous: Edith Keeler must be allowed to die. Somehow McCoy must have prevented her death.
  • Act Four begins with striking scenes, as McCoy erupts from the time portal onto the same street where Kirk and Spock appeared – but some weeks later, and at night. McCoy is still insane with effect of cordrazine, screaming out “Assassins! Murderers!”
  • Again, insightful dialogue. McCoy spots a street tramp.
    • “What planet is this??”
    • And he looks around, seeming to perceive Old Earth, and looks up into the sky: “The constellations seem right.”
  • And McCoy, realizing where he is, realizing what medicine was like in 20th century Earth, sobs to himself about how hospitals needed sutures and needles, sewing up people like garments… until he collapses on the ground, passing out.
  • And the street tramp, poking at McCoy’s body, finds his phaser. And stepping away, activates it, and disintegrates himself.
  • The final scenes involve the coming together of the characters. McCoy wanders into Edith’s 21st Street Mission, where Edith takes care of him, unaware of his connection to Kirk and Spock. McCoy wonders where he is.
    • McCoy: I am unconscious, or demented.
    • Edith: I have a friend that talks about Earth the same way that you do. Would you like to meet him?
    • McCoy: I’m a surgeon… not a psychiatrist. I am Leonard McCoy, senior medical officer aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise.
    • Edith: I don’t mean to disbelieve you, but… that’s hardly a Navy uniform.
    • McCoy: It’s quite all right, it’s quite all right, dear… Because I don’t believe in you, either.
  • And a random reference to a “Clark Gable” movie brings all the characters down onto the street. Kirk and Spock greet McCoy in jubilation; Edith, across the street, wondering what’s going on, starts to cross the street—
  • And doesn’t see the truck that strikes her down. Kirk sees it. McCoy sees it. McCoy makes a move to rush to save her—and Kirk stops him. A scream, then silence. McCoy is aghast: “You deliberately stopped me, Jim! I could have saved her! Do you know what you just did??”
  • Kirk, in existential anguish, cannot speak.
  • Spock replies: “He knows, Doctor, he knows.”
    • Worth noting just one more thing about Ellison’s original script: in that Kirk *was willing* to save Edith, for love, even if it meant the sacrifice of his future and the entire Federation. And Spock stopped him. A different ending; a different reading of Kirk’s character.
  • And then, magically, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, all back in their original uniforms, emerge out of the Guardian, where Scott observes that “You only left a moment ago.”
  • Guardian: “Time has resumed its shape. All is as it was before. Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway.”
  • Uhura observes that the Enterprise is there, asking if they want to beam up.
  • And Kirk, bitterly, curtly, says, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
  • There is no cute final scene, no Enterprise flyaway. We see the Guardian, only, as the final credits appear.

A couple music notes, to be filled out:

  • The music of the Guardian of Forever is a creepy, organ version of the main Corbomite theme.
  • As Kirk and Spock flee the policeman, we hear Finnegan’s fight music from “Shore Leave.”

17aug17: initial draft posted, to be filled out and refined.



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Pure Energy: TOS #27: “Errand of Mercy”

The Enterprise attempts to claim the peaceful yet strategic planet Organia from the rival Klingon Empire, only to find a curious indifference by the natives to any kind of threat.


  • This is the episode that introduced the Klingons, a heretofore unmentioned alien race who are posed as representing an existential threat to the Federation – in obvious analogy to the two sides of the Cold War in the 1960s when the episode was made.
  • Indeed, the story opens as the Enterprise reaches “the designated position for scanning the coded directive,” a bit of spy vs. spy fluffery, and Kirk learns that the Klingons are about to attack. His mission is to head for the planet Organia, a strategically positioned world to both sides, and prevent the Klingons from occupying it.
  • And suddenly the Klingons attack! And in the enhanced graphics of the remastered episode, we even see the Klingon ship!
    • This sight is a bit of cognitive dissonance, because though we see the by now familiar Klingon ship design, that design wasn’t seen in the original series until the third season! The Klingon battle cruiser was designed at built for the third season’s second episode (in production order), “Elaan of Troyius,” though confusingly was first seen in the episode “The Enterprise Incident,” produced later but broadcast earlier – and, in further confusion, in that story occupied by Romulans, who had borrowed the Klingon design.
  • In any event, the Enterprise quickly dispatches the Klingon ship (the enhanced graphics show debris scattering), and Kirk and Spock assess the situation.
  • The script here is the second in a row by producer Gene L. Coon, famed as a fast writer who could crank out a script in a few days, and it exhibits some common notes with the previous “The Devil in the Dark,” including talkiness. Here at the end of the teaser, characters say and repeat things we already know.
  • Kirk leaves Sulu in charge, with instructions to avoid confrontation with any other Klingon ships, and he and Spock beam down to the planet.
    • Again, putting the two senior officers in potential danger was… not smart, but it was built in to the TOS premise and was unavoidable in order to make best use of the show’s two lead stars.
  • They find a placid, agrarian village, at the base of a hill topped by an ominous-looking castle. An elderly man, Ayelborne, greets them (he speaks English of course) and takes them inside to meet the Council of Elders, which Ayelborne leads. A group of placidly smiling, elderly white men.
  • Kirk lays it out: he’s here to help them resist the Klingons, a military dictatorship, who would take control of their planet.
  • Ayelborne calmly assures Kirk that the planet is in no danger. Kirk doubles-down, with talk of slave labor camps, prisoners, killings. Ayelborne and the others pretend to confer.
  • As they do Spock comes in, from some private reconnoitering, and reports that “This is not a primitive society making progress toward mechanization. They are totally stagnant.” And, “This is a laboratory specimen of an arrested culture.”
    • This is a theme I didn’t notice when I watched these shows in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but it stands out glaring now. Again and again, the Enterprise encounters cultures, both alien and human, who fail to exhibit the kind of ‘progress’ and technological development that Kirk, or the Federation, or more correctly Trek’s 1960s producers and writers, feel is necessary for a proper society. We just saw it in “The Return of the Archons” and “This Side of Paradise”; coming up, 2nd season’s “The Apple” comes to mind. In contrast, some factions of humanity, here in the 21st century, are recognizing that ‘progress’ that entails indefinite economic growth that in turn consumes resources on a finite planet and threatens to wreck the global environment… is not sustainable for more than a few more decades, or perhaps centuries. Something will have to give. Even a breakout to other planets, even interstellar travel, would only help the travelers, not the still-expanding population back here on Earth.
  • Kirk takes Spock’s cue and spins his appeal to help the Organians feed their people, educate the young, remake their world. He pleads, “All we ask in return, is that you let us help you. Now…?”
  • He’s interrupted by Sulu reporting that a fleet (now the enhanced graphics show a fleet! Well, six.) of Klingon ships converging on the planet. With the Enterprise’s shields up, Sulu can’t beam up Kirk and Spock out of danger.
    • Again, danger to the Enterprise is a common plot ploy to keep the show’s stars involved on-planet, instead of using that too-convenient transporter to beam themselves away and end the story. We saw similar ploys in “The Return of the Archons” and “A Taste of Armageddon.”
  • Act I ends with a rhetorical flourish virtually identical to that in “The Devil in the Dark”: Kirk turning toward the camera and grimly assessing their predicament.
  • And then the Klingons arrive, troops of men in glittery uniforms, dark beards, and  swarthy skin. Their leader is Kor, compact but sneeringly intense, who marches into the council chambers – where Kirk and Spock have changed into local clothing – to issue orders (in English, of course), threatening to kill any Organians who disobey the slightest of them. Kirk is presented as a local, Baroner, while Spock is passed off as a Vulcan trader. Kirk, even in disguise, cannot hide his disdain for Kor, and Kor notices. In fact Kor recruits Kirk (Baroner) to be a liaison, takes him to his office, and hands out lists of rules – in English of course, quite readable in the blu-ray disc’s resolution. Kor alludes to a device they have, a “mind-scanner,” or “mind-ripper,” which can extract every thought and memory from a man’s mind. Spock, of course, manages to evade its effects.
    • Several times, including in this scene, Kor refers to ‘human’ as if this describes both the Federation’s representatives, and the Klingons.
  • Kirk and Spock are released, left alone, but Kirk cannot leave well enough alone. That night he and Spock rig an explosion of a Klingon munitions dump, providing a “most satisfactory display.”
  • But the next morning Ayelborne protests the violence of the act – and here the story starts to deepen, not as one about whether Kirk can defeat the nasty Klingons, but as one about the mysterious Organians, why they insist they are not in danger, why they are so concerned about any demonstration of violence, by either side.
  • In fact, when Kor quickly confronts them, Ayelborne, without any sense of betrayal, calmly informs Kor that ‘Baroner’ is actually Captain James T. Kirk – a name Kor recognizes!
  • Kirk becomes frustrated and bitter, at the Organians.
  • Kor invites him to have a philosophical discussion, over a drink (there’s a similar scene in “A Taste of Armageddon”), claiming that at base they are similar species. On this planet of “sheep,” they are “Two tigers… predators, hunters… killers. And it precisely that which makes us great. And there is a universe to be taken.” Kirk defies Kor’s request for intel about the Federation, and he and Spock are locked up.
  • And then Ayelborne shows up at their cell, having magically unlocked the door and avoided the guard, and lets them out – because they plan violence, which he cannot allow.
  • Kor, learning the next morning that his prisoners have inexplicably disappeared, broadcasts via loudspeaker the sound of 200 Organians being killed by Klingon phasers. And promises 200 more deaths every two hours, until the ‘Federation spies’ are turned over to him.
    • Here is also, of course, the recurring Trek conceit that one little village represents the entire planet. Here reached by loudspeaker.
  • Ayelborne insists that “nothing has changed,” but Kirk, growing increasingly frustrated, demands that he return his and Spock’s phasers. Ayelborne accedes, then commiserates with his fellow Claymare that “we cannot allow it. To stop them is…very bad.” They seem as reluctant to interfere, as to interfere to prevent violence.
  • Kirk and Spock take off for the citadel – that castle on the hill – and take down a couple Klingon guards to gain entrance into the castle.
  • Kirk wonders about the odds of their success, and Spock replies with a replay of a scene from Gene L. Coon’s “The Devil in the Dark” – “Difficult to be precise, Captain. I should say approximately seven thousand, eight hundred twenty-four point seven, to one.” Kirk, skeptical, repeats the number, and Spock confirms it.
  • Naturally, it only takes a couple more scenes before Kirk and Spock reach Kor’s office, and hold him at bay with their phasers.
  • Kor informs them that a Federation fleet is on its way to Organia, to meet the Klingon fleet. They ponder the potential outcomes. Kor distracts Kirk for a moment, then summons his guards, who rush in—
  • –But everyone suddenly finds their weapons too hot to handle. They drop their phasers on the floor. Even physical violence is suddenly impossible—striking another produces a similar sensation of extreme heat.
  • We see a brief scene on the bridge of the Enterprise, where Sulu is in charge, and where everyone suddenly leaps up in panic, their control panels too hot to touch.
  • Back in Kor’s office, the doors open and Ayelborne and Claymare calmly enter. “We are terribly sorry to be forced to interfere, gentlemen, but we cannot permit you to do harm to yourselves… We have put a stop to your violence.”
  • Kirk and Kor contact their respective ships to confirm the situation. On the bridge, power goes off.
  • Ayelborne explains, in a metaphysical bit that recalls the Thasian’s words at the end of “Charlie X”; Ayelborne says, “As I stand here, I also stand upon the home planet of the Klingon Empire, and the home planet of your Federation, Captain. I’m going to put a stop to this insane war.”
  • Alliances shift. Suddenly Kirk and Kor are on the same side – how dare the Organians interfere in their war??
  • Kirk: “You can’t just stop the fleet! What gives you the right??”
  • Kor: “What happens in space is not your business!”
  • Kirk: “You should be the first to be on our side. Two hundred hostages killed!”
  • And the mystery of the Organians gets weirder and weirder. Ayelborne and Claymore: “No one was killed, Captain. No one has died here, in uncounted thousands of years.”
  • Kirk and Kor persist: “Even if you have some… power, that we don’t understand, you have no right to dictate to the Federation – or our Empire – how to handle their interstellar relations. We have the right—“
  • Here is the climactic moment. Ayelborne: “To wage war, Captain? To kill millions of innocent people? To destroy life on a planetary scale? Is that what you’re defending?”
  • Kirk is stumped. He realizes he’s trying to defend exactly what he should most be trying to avoid. And in this, Kor is on his side. Kirk tries to step it back. “Well, no one wants war… Eventually we would have…”
  • Ayelborne: “Oh eventually you will have peace…. In the future you and the Klingons will become fast friends. You will work together.
  • Kor is repelled by the thought. Of course, this is an ironically predictive moment, since by the second Trek series, TNG, the Klingons had aligned with the Federation to the point of having a Klingon officer on the bridge.
  • The mystery of the Organians culminates. Claymare: “We do not wish to seem inhospitable, but gentlemen, you must leave.” And he does seem in some kind of physical discomfort. Ayelborne: “Yes, please leave us. The mere presence of beings like yourselves is intensely painful to us.”
  • And: “Millions of years ago, we were humanoid, like yourselves. But we have developed beyond the need of physical bodies.” Their appearance, and the entire village, was mere appearance, for their sake.
  • And then Ayelborne and Claymare begin to glow, their bodies overlaid by increasingly bright blobs of light. The others in the room shield their eyes. The glowing blobs gradually expand, then fade out, and disappear.
  • Spock quickly deduces what they’ve seen: “Fascinating. Pure energy, pure thought. … I should say the Organians are as far above us on the evolutionary scale as we are above… the amoeba.”
    • The notion of beings consisting of “pure energy” recurred more than once in Trek, but I remain skeptical that the idea has any kind of physical plausibility.
  • And so Kirk and Kor can’t fight. Kor bemuses, “A shame, Captain. It would have been glorious.”
  • The final scene, again with Coonian rhetoric, repeats the point. Kirk: “I’m embarrassed. I was furious with the Organians for stopping a war I didn’t want.” Spock tries to console about how they beat the odds. Very mild Coonian joke by Kirk: “We didn’t beat the odds. We didn’t have a chance. The Organians raided the game!”

Music notes:

  • The episode opens, typically, with Alexander Courage’s Enterprise fanfare #1, and then immediately follows it with the Enterprise fanfare #2, written by Fred Steiner for “Charlie X” and used almost as frequently as fanfare #1 throughout the first season.
  • The music that underscores the Organians’ transition into energy beings is the Alexander Courage music from “The Naked Time” as the Enterprise plunges back in time.
  • This and other posts will be further annotated with comments about how music written for earlier episodes was re-used in later ones.
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The Instinct Can Be Fought: TOS #24: “A Taste of Armageddon”

The Enterprise attempts to initiate diplomatic relations with a planet conducting a computer war with its neighbor, a war in which theoretical causalities voluntarily go to die in disintegration chambers.

  • This is one of Trek’s best ethical conundrums, a contact with an alien civilization whose warrior ethical practices are not only problematic, but which threaten the Enterprise and its crew.
  • The Enterprise is on its way to star cluster NGC 321, with a Federation ambassador on board, Robert Fox, whose mission is to establish diplomatic relations with the civilizations “known to be there”. Fox wears a tight suit and comes across as stuffy.
    • We have here another example of Trek’s rather haphazard approach to using astronomical names and designations. “NGC” is short for New General Catalogue (, compiled in 1888 to list thousands of objects in the sky that included pretty much everything not obviously an ordinary star. Thus its contents include things we now know to be star clusters, galaxies, and planetary nebulae, all very different types of objects. Its designations are still used, as are Messier’s (, from a century earlier, when those designations are convenient to use.
    • NGC 321 is, in fact, a spiral galaxy (, which means it’s completely outside our own galaxy, likely tens of millions of light years away (considering that the nearest spiral galaxy to our Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy, is 2.5 million light years away), and so completely implausible as a target for the Enterprise’s visit. Presumably the script writers chose it at random, as an astronomically plausible name.
  • It’s unclear what “known to be there” implies; Kirk, in his opening log, mentions that the principle planet of the cluster is Eminiar Seven, and moments later Uhura receives a signal from that planet: Code 710. Meaning under no circumstances is the Enterprise to approach the planet.
  • So, how does Eminiar Seven, whose culture the Federation has no contact with, know what Code 710 means? Perhaps they’ve been vaguely aware of one another, but without that formal contact? Yet, to the extent that Eminiar knows Federations codes..?
  • The ambassador insists the ship proceed, on the grounds that “thousands of lives have been lost” in the quadrant that might have been saved with a treaty port here.
    • The ambassador/commissioner type character recurred several times in Trek (earlier in “The Galileo Seven,” later in “Metamorphosis”), a convenient plot device to force the plot into an area Kirk’s own judgement might not go.
  • In Act I, Spock provides some background: the planet was contacted 50 years before, by an “Earth expedition,” the USS Valiant – a ship that failed to return. But it reported that Eminiar Seven was at war with its nearest neighbor, a planet later mentioned as Vendikar.
    • The recurrent reference to historical space missions as being from *Earth* begs the question of how the Federation came into existence – implying it was Earth’s idea, that Earth gathered in other civilizations, like Vulcan’s, to form the Federation. (All the Federation Commodores the Enterprise occasionally consults or takes orders from are human.) This might be an echo of the 1950s supposition, in SF in general but particularly in John W. Campbell’s Astounding magazine of that era, that humans were by nature smarter and cleverer than any other aliens they might meet. It’s insupportable; logically, it’s far more likely that if similar species evolved on other planets and developed interstellar flight, there would have been many others that made that leap *before* humans did, and had a Federation already set up. Or, maybe the presumption was just a lack of imagination on Trek’s part.
    • There’s another nomenclature issue. The name Eminiar Seven presumably means the 7th planet of the star Eminiar. What’s Vendikar then? Another planet in the same system? Or a planet in some other system? Either way, why not a parallel name?
  • Kirk and his party – leaving Ambassador Fox back on the ship, with Scotty in charge – beam down to the surface. There’s a lovely scene combining a small soundstage set with a large matte background painting of an impressive futuristic city (see above), where the landing party appears, and is met by the locals.
  • Naturally, the aliens speak English. With cultured British accents, even.
  • Cushman’s book notes that the sets look dated, like something from a Buck Rogers serial – and I agree, though not from seeing Buck Rogers, but from seeing some cheesy Sci-Fi movies from the ‘50s that had similar sets, especially those weirdly angled, impractical, doorways.
  • The landing party is met by a lovely woman (Barbara Babcock) who calls herself Mea 3. She takes them to the Division of Control, where the leader, Anan 7 (played by the exotic and intense David Opatoshu), announces that his planet has been at war with Vendikar for *500 years* (!) and that they, and the Enterprise, are in imminent danger.
  • The situation quickly unfolds. The discussion with Anan 7 is interrupted by an attack on the city, by fusion bomb; Anan 7 steps into an adjoining war room. A map displays a hit, in the city. (A crude blob of light on a crude map.) Kirk and party hear nothing, detect no radiation. Spock observes and deduces the situation: the war is simulated, fought by computers. Anan insists the war is real: half a million people have just been killed – and will report to disintegration machines within 24 hours.
  • This way people die, but their civilization goes on.
  • Kirk is aghast. “Do you mean to tell me… your people just walk into a disintegration machine when they’re told to??”
  • But Spock sees a certain logic to it; yet he says “I do not approve. I understand.”
  • But Anan has been advised by his assistant Sar – “Just as it happened 50 years ago” – that the Enterprise, in orbit, has been registered has the target of a cobalt-bomb, and classified as destroyed. Its passengers and crew, Anan tells Kirk, are to report to disintegration chambers. They are already dead.
  • The situation and premise established early on, by the end of Act I, the middle of the episode consists of routine action scenes and ploys. An attack from the surface cuts off the Enterprise from rescuing the landing party (and simply leaving); Kirk and the landing party break out of their confinement quarters, and destroy a disintegration machine or two.
    • One of these scenes includes Spock’s priceless line, as he walks up to a guard by a disintegration machine, “Sir, there is a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder.” – a brief distraction than enables Spock to nerve-pinch the guard.
    • The Enterprise is subject to “sonic vibrations” and navigator DePaul describes them as “Decibels eighteen to the twelfth power.” Another little bit of Trek’s mathematical illiteracy. But this development is another way Trek episodes forced the plot: Kirk, standing in for the Federation, is nominally for the non-interference of other civilizations, yet again and again, the plot forces Kirk into interfering anyway, just to save his ship.
  • A recurring here theme is the credulousness of Ambassador Fox. Anan 7, who somehow can mimic Kirk’s voice, contacts the Enterprise and assures them all is well. Moreover, that the crew is all invited down for shore leave! Fox, believing this voice, tells Scott to lower the shields. Scott refuses. Fox gets angry. Scott still refuses.
  • Meanwhile, on the planet, the situation culminates with a confrontation between Kirk and Anan, about the ethics of fighting a war with no long-term consequences – only the immediate formalistic consequences of citizens committing to voluntary suicide, for the good of the state. This is one of Trek’s best ethical debates. The stakes are raised as Kirk gets a brief communication to the Enterprise to order General Order 24 – meaning that, unless the Enterprise hears back from Kirk, the ship will destroy the surface of the planet in 2 hours.
  • Kirk expounds. “Death… destruction… disease, horror… That’s what war is all about. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided. You’ve made it neat and painless… so neat and painless, you’ve had no reason to stop it. And you’ve had it for five hundred years! Since it seems to be the only way I can save my crew, and my ship, I’m going to end it for you.”
  • And so Kirk and Spock destroy, with their phasers, the war room computers.
  • This explicitly breaks the contact and agreement between Eminiar and Vendikar, and Kirk advises Anan 7 that a *real* war might likely ensue, with real weapons that would actually destroy their planet – unless they try to make peace.
  • And here’s a key thought. Anan insists “There can be no peace! Don’t you see, we’ve admitted it to ourselves! We’re a killer species; it’s instinctive—it’s the same with you, your General Order 24!”
  • And Kirk gets the best lines: “All right, it’s instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We’re human beings, with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it! We can admit that we’re killers – but we’re not going to kill, today. That’s all it takes. Knowing that we’re not going to kill – today!
  • And Kirk urges them to contact Vendikar and enter negotiations for peace. Ambassador Fox is there to volunteer his help.
  • The tag scene, on the bridge, underscores Kirk’s ploy. “It was a calculated risk… I had a feeling that they [the Eminians] would do anything to avoid [actual war] – even talk peace.”
  • Ending with a relatively mild Gene L. Coon quip about believing in luck, or miracles.

Memory Alpha summary:

The crucial theme here is relevant to our times. We understand, much more deeply than anyone understood in 1967, that human nature has certain instincts, that might be lived with, and understood, yet which should be overcome, for the health of a multicultural, global society, which is inevitable, as the human race expands to fill up the planet. This theme applies to the Google controversy of this past week, and even the violence in Charlottesville last week. Do we presume that all our base instincts are true and must be acted upon? Or do we try to understand them and rise above them?

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Conservative Story-Telling

One of my themes here is about the nature of story-telling, how the human bias to understand things in terms of narrative is more widespread than we recognize, and how that tendency can blind us to an understanding of the real world that does not, outside human experience, operate in terms of beginnings and ends, causes and consequences.

Here’s an essay from Salon, by writer and producer Judd Apatow: Judd Apatow nails why conservatives make bad entertainment.

The essayist Gabriel Bell quotes Apatow and concludes,

And there it is: The conservative viewpoint indeed has difficulties admitting fault, admitting weakness, admitting doubt or any kind of internal battle. So much of what makes good television or movies hangs on character development, and — in many ways — the conservative viewpoint only allows characters to develop in one, mostly unquestioned way: toward faith and complete confidence. This may be why we get “Last Man Standing” instead of “Catastrophe”; why we get “Atlas Shrugged” instead of “Ulysses.”

So– there’s more drama in being non-conservative, in not thinking all the questions are already solved by ancient wisdom, and so on. People can change — the core element of story. Conservatives, by definition, don’t change. Can’t learn.

Interesting idea. Does this explain why those religious movies like “God Is Not Dead” get such terrible reviews?

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Forcing Us to Build Ships for Them: TOS #29: “Operation—Annihilate!”

The Enterprise comes to the aid of a colony planet – where Kirk’s brother lives with his family – that has been invaded by alien neural parasites that cause mass insanity.

  • The last episode of the 1st season, both in production order and airing order.
  • This is a somewhat grim episode; it has a solid SFnal premise, and it benefits from location filming in an urban setting, but its resolution involves a huge, unforgivable scientific blunder.
  • We begin as the Enterprise approaches the planet Deneva — note the planet itself has a name, instead of being referred to via its star, as designations like Beta V or Omicron City III — which has gone radio silent. Spock provides background: a pattern of planets suffering mass insanity over the past few hundred years, with Deneva being apparently next in line.
    • Spock illustrates this by pointing to a ‘star map’ of sorts on the screen above his station. It’s very crude; a photo of several clusters of stars, each slightly differently colored, which Spock points to, one by one, as being different planets.
  • The episode has a personal angle in that, as McCoy recalls and Kirk confirms, Kirk’s brother Sam and his family are stationed on this planet (which is a human colony). This kind of personal angle was used perhaps a bit too frequently in Trek; it’s a useful device for writers to heighten the stakes of whatever drama or threat that ensues, but used too often it becomes improbably coincidental.
  • The opening teaser ends with a dramatic scene involving a Denevan ship flying directly into the sun – with its pilot crying out, “I’m finally free of it!” just before his ship incinerates. (In the enhanced graphics of the remastered episode, we see a tiny image of the ship, which I don’t think was there in the original.)
  • Trek physics: As the Enterprise, trying to rescue the Denevan ship, approaches its sun, Spock advises that the “gravimetric pull is increasing” and then when they pull away, that gravimetric pull is “approaching tolerance level.” Trek writers and producers never took physics 101.
    • (To spell it out: there’s no such thing as “gravimetric pull” from being close to the sun that would tug at the ship, as Spock seems to imply; there is only the effect of the sun’s gravity on the Enterprise’s path through space near it. No one aboard would feel increased ‘pull,’ nor would the ship experience any kind of ‘gravimetric’ strain.)
  • Kirk’s log at the beginning of Act 1 mentions that the planet Deneva is “one of the most beautiful in the galaxy,” a claim which ties to the production filming on location, at the TRW site in Redondo Beach, a campus facility with modern buildings surrounding grassy plots and ponds. More about that in a moment.
  • Kirk has Uhura try a private transmitter channel, and gets snippy when contact is broken. That personal angle.
  • Kirk and his landing party beam down, into the center of that TRW office park. (See image above.) What I didn’t realize until seeing the episode in high-definition Blu-ray (and seeing it for the first time in 30 years or so), is that those futuristic sculptures, the red spiral and the white teardrop shapes, are actually small structures *on top of a roof* in the immediate foreground. They are not on the ground, and scaled to the size of the buildings we see in the background, as I’d always thought. It seems obvious now, but on ’60s TV my impression was this was a beautiful city with huge sculptures the rivaled the surrounding buildings.
  • There’s a moment when Kirk points to a building and says that’s where his brother’s lab is. There’s a short establishing shot of the building – and it’s not at the TRW office park, it’s the Knudsen Hall of Physics at UCLA, which I recognized when watching this episode ever since I attended UCLA in the ‘70s (and took many physics classes in that building). Here’s an image: You can recognize the building by the panels of tiles along the top between the columns.
  • They walk around the seemingly empty area, until attacked by four men with clubs, and dispatch them. They hear a woman scream, and follow the sound, into a building, where they find (coincidence!) Aurelan, Kirk’s brother’s wife, screaming about the invaders, as Kirk’s brother lies dead on the floor, and his nephew Peter lies still barely alive. It’s a heart-rending scene, as Shatner expresses Kirk’s grief, yet determination to duty, effectively. Shatner really was, in those days, a terrific actor.
  • Aurelan is subdued and is beamed up, along with Peter, to the ship, where in sickbay she provides background: the creatures appeared 8 months ago, carried by a vessel from another planet, Ingraham B (the same Spock identified earlier as last before Deneva), by taking over the vessel; not their fault. The creatures control them, she explains, through pain; and then she herself gives up to pain, and dies.
    • There’s a striking angle here: the creatures were an *invasive species* brought by a ship from one environment [planet] to another. The same thing has been happening on Earth, over the past few centuries – the past century especially, with air travel – and the effects have been almost equally disastrous, on smaller scales. See Elizabeth Kolbert. (my review:”)
  • Kirk returns to the landing party, as it tries to locate the invaders. We see an interior room, with a short flight of steps down into an anteroom, following a buzzing sound. We see the creatures: flat, pancake-sized white globs, pulsing. One of them flies into the air and hits Spock flat on the back, and he collapses in anguish.
  • Act II: Back in sickbay, McCoy and Chapel operate on Spock, lying back-up, until McCoy gives up, to Nurse Chapel’s distress. He takes a specimen to the bridge to explain to Kirk: the creature implanted a stinger, like a wasp or bee, that grew tentacles entwined throughout the body, impossible to remove by conventional surgery.
  • Spock loses control, breaks out of sickbay, makes his way to the bridge, and tries to “take the ship down” by overpowering Sulu, until Kirk and the others overpower him, and return him to sickbay.
  • Where Spock, being a Vulcan with (as always) superior physical and mental abilities than humans, learns to control his pain, and insists he’s able to return to duty. Kirk hesitates. Spock prevails; he makes his way to the transporter room, insisting on beaming down, and convinces Kirk and McCoy that a specimen must be captured and he’s the only man for the job.
  • Spock returns to the surface. There’s a lame act break as a local threatens Spock with a club, until after the commercial, when Spock subdues and pinches him. He gets a specimen.
  • Back on the ship, we’re in a new set, a new medical lab (perhaps the decompression chamber from “Space Seed” is off the left side?), with a containment device into which Spock has placed the specimen. He explains that it’s like a single brain cell, one that connects with all the others. Kirk says, “like something from a different galaxy”; Spock replies, “or from a place where our physical laws do not apply.” Ecch. Both comments are unjustified or nonsensical.
    • To spell it out: First, there’s no reason something unlike anything ever seen before need be from another galaxy; it might as well be from the next planet. [Somehow ‘galaxy’ just seems more intense, I guess.] The second comment is a cop-out, since there’s no reason to expect that any such place exists, and every reason to think such a place is logically impossible. Unless we’re talking alternate branches of the multiverse, perhaps, a concept ahead of Trek’s time.
  • In any event, several scenes go by as McCoy tries to find ways to kill it, unsuccessfully. He gets exasperated. “I’m sorry, Captain. I’ve tried everything I can. Varying radiation, intense heat…” Effects which would kill the human hosts, anyway.
  • Kirk realizes if they can’t find a way to kill this infection, he’ll have to wipe out the million people on the planet, lest it spread to yet another planet.
  • And so they brainstorm—what else was there about the sun, that the Denevan who flew into it seemed to become freed? Maybe…light?! So McCoy rigs up a chamber to floor “a million candles per square inch” of light on…Spock, who’s the only logical test candidate. Spock enters the chamber.
  • McCoy hesitates—they realize what this will do to Spock, right? He tells Kirk, “Mr. Spock’s the best first officer in the fleet.” Kirk tells him to proceed.
  • The test is successful. Spock emerges from the chamber, free of the creature. But he is also… Blind. Stumbling into a table.
  • Now, this is inexcusable since, boys and girls, light *is* radiation. If McCoy tested all types of radiation, he should have tested all types of light. Worse, as the screenplay acknowledges moments later, as Nurse Chapel walks in with “results of the first test on the creatures,” visible light is only a very narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum. The story here ratchets up the tragedy of Spock going blind by having McCoy realize that he didn’t have to throw the “total spectrum of light” at Spock. As we learn a bit later, only UV light is needed to kill the creatures.
  • Kirk stares daggers of hatred at McCoy for this blunder. It is McCoy’s fault, but it’s really the scripters’ fault, for making such a boneheaded mistake. McCoy had already tried “radiation,” but apparently the scriptwriters didn’t realize that radiation would have included, oh, say, UV light. This is the kind of mistake a bright high-schooler would have caught, had he read the script before filming. (I made a similar comment about the boneheaded scientific mistake in Danny Boyle’s 2007 film Sunshine.)
  • And so the Enterprise, very quickly!, deploys 210 UV satellites in orbit about the planet, to project the light that will disinfect the million inhabitants there.
    • Sulu explains they’re put in orbit at 72 miles altitude, “permanent orbit”. This isn’t plausible—it’s too low. Typical “low Earth orbits” begin about 100 miles up ( This is ironic since Trek is always worried about the Enterprise’s orbit decaying if the ship isn’t kept under power. A 72 mile altitude orbit would indeed decay pretty quickly; a typical Enterprise orbit, suitably high, would not decay and would not need ship’s power to maintain itself indefinitely.
    • The remastered episode’s enhanced graphics visualize the scene of the Enterprise deploying these satellites – a scene only implied in the original episode. But the new scene is a prime example of intuitive, wrong, Trek physics. A panel opens at the very bottom of the ship’s lower hull – like a bomb bay door on a plane – and these little satellites drop out, as if dropped downward in gravity, and then sorta bob into place behind the ship, like objects being dropped into the ocean from an aircraft carrier and following in its wake. Wrong in so many ways.
  • The satellites work, of course, and soon all is well on the planet below.
  • Even Spock is well. The tragedy of him going blind wasn’t just the result of a stupid scientific blunder, it’s also a dramatic cheat. We knew, in a 1960s TV series like this, that the major characters will survive each episode, in order to return fresh for the next. Knowing this, even a viewer at the time might cynically wonder, without worrying in the slightest that Spock will be OK, what explanation the writers will concoct for taking back the consequences of that earlier tragic scene.
  • Why, it’s the little-known fact that Vulcans have an inner eyelid, because of their planet’s bright sun, of course! So Spock’s blindness was temporary.
  • The writers even seem to acknowledge this handy Vulcans-are-special gambit, as McCoy mutters to Kirk, “I might have known he’d turn up with something like that.”
  • And, to conclude… there’s a mild Gene L. Coon joke about what McCoy said about Spock earlier, and Spock’s hearing.
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The Chamber of the Ages: TOS #26: “The Devil in the Dark”

The Enterprise comes to the aid of an underground mining colony where miners are being killed, and machinery destroyed, by an unseen monster that moves through solid rock.

  • This is a justly famous episode that challenges our assumptions and overturns our preconceptions about who the victims are and who the devils are, in classic Trek fashion.
  • It’s also famous as being a story inspired by a stunt man (Janos Prohaska) wearing a funny suit, who came through producer Gene L. Coon’s office, that inspired Coon to crank out, in his typical fashion, a script in four days; and it went before the cameras just six weeks later. (In contrast to many Trek scripts, that went months between initial outline and final script.)
  • At the same time the script is rather talky – with characters repeating in dialogue things we already know – and with lapses of credibility, as Cushman’s book notes, with mining guards being stationed *alone* and not in pairs even after 50 others have been killed. And limitations of production: how the floors of the mine are completely flat and smooth; how the tunnels the Horta make are perfectly round. This was TV in the ’60s, with a limited budget.
  • The story opens in the mining tunnels of Janus VI, as a miner put on guard post is attacked, off-screen, and found by mining chief Vanderberg moments later as having been “burnt to a crisp.” Memory Alpha ( notes that this is the only teaser in TOS that does not include any of the Enterprise crew.
  • At the same time, it’s notable that the besieged miners mention that “the Enterprise is on its way”. Perhaps we haven’t realized the reputation the Federation’s starships have, perhaps especially the Enterprise.
  • In Act 1, the Enterprise has arrived, and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, where they are briefed by Vanderberg. Spock is fascinated by a silver sphere, about a foot across, displayed on Vanderbeg’s desk (this is the episode’s proverbial gun on the mantel).
  • We then see another monster attack, of a man stationed outside the mine colony’s reactor room. As Kirk and the others receive this news, and learn that the reactor’s circulating pump has been stolen (by the monster, apparently), we have Kirk walk up to the camera to declaim about their choice between asphyxiation and radiation poisoning. (An identical dramatic resolution ends Act 1 of Coon’s next script, “Errand of Mercy.”)
  • As Scott works to install a replacement pump, Spock speculates about “life as we know it” and the possibility of other forms of life based on silicon. It’s an idea that goes way back, to SF of the 1950s I’d guess (Arthur C. Clarke?), and the script has McCoy voice a couple obvious objections to the idea. (“Especially in an oxygen atmosphere.”)
  • Nevertheless, Spock adjusts his tricorder to register silicon—and picks up a life form. As an Enterprise redshirt is killed by the creature, Kirk and Spock pursue the signal—and see the monster. A rock-lumpy blob, skittering across the floor, with a fringe of hairy tendrils. Kirk fires his phaser at it, and breaks off a chunk, before it slithers away.
  • Spock examines the surrounding caverns, and observes that there is only one creature, and far too many tunnels to be the result of one creature. Is it, perhaps, the last of its kind? (Trek was prone to this device, which I’ve always found implausible; e.g. in “The Man Trap”. We would see it again in 2nd season episodes that involved, if not last surviving specimens, then apparently unique creatures or devices without any concern about how they came about – “The Doomsday Machine”, “Metamorphosis”, “Obsession”, “The Immunity Syndrome”.)
  • And so Spock notes that to kill this creature, the last of its species, would be a “crime against science.” But Kirk insists the creature must be killed, anyway, to protect the miners [or perhaps protect the mining operation!], and Spock is forced to agree. (I might think if this story were made now, or even anytime in the past 30 years, there might indeed be a motivation to shut down the mining operation to protect an endangered species. The rationale might well be different on another planet than here on Earth…. Yet.)
  • Then there’s a bit about whether Kirk and Spock should stay together, or split it, due to the risk of being killed by the monster. Of course this begs the larger issue of why the senior Enterprise officers are always beaming themselves down into danger – a flaw of TOS that, as I’ve noted, was addressed by TNG. (Perhaps due to David Gerrold’s contributions, as he’d described this flaw in his 1973 book The World of Star Trek.) Here, though, we have a Gene L. Coon moment: Spock claims the risk of their both being killed is 2278.7 to one. Really?, Kirk asks, and repeats the number. Really. There’s an identical scene in Coon’s next script, “Errand of Mercy.” It’s absurd, and implausible.
  • Kirk and Spock explore…and Kirk finds a cavern of nodules, those silver spheres we saw one of which in Vanderberg’s office. Spock, without explaining what he suspects, advises Kirk not to damage any of them.
  • And then the creature emerges to confront Kirk. It’s smart enough to know that Kirk’s holding up his phaser is a threat, and stands back.
  • Spock catches up with Kirk, and understands they can be near it without danger (as long as Kirk has his phaser)… And then ensues a long scene, alternatingly creepy and moving, in which Spock ‘mind melds’ with the creature. He initially experiences **pain!!**…. But quickly understands that the creature, calling itself a “Horta”, is intelligent, and sensitive. Spock channels its feelings – it’s despairing, on the verge of a sort of suicide: “the chamber of the ages!… the altar of tomorrow!…. murderers… devils… kill!… strike back!” And then “It is the end of life… eternity ends…”
  • Meanwhile Kirk has McCoy beam down to treat the creature, which has a large scar from Kirk’s earlier phaser fire. McCoy is aghast, but quickly pursues a plan – he beams down some concrete, and patches the wound with that. “By golly, Jim! I’m beginning to think I can cure a rainy day!”
  • And Spock explains the big reveal. Those silicon spheres are the Horta’s eggs. Babies. It only started attacking the human miners when they started destroying its eggs.
  • And—every 50,000 years the entire race dies, except one, this one, who is left to regenerate her race.
  • Ahh… this is evolutionary nonsense, of course. No species dies every few thousand years and regenerates through a single specimen. The risk of survival, of a single specimen, is too great.
  • The story ends as Kirk makes a deal with the miners – not to kill this ‘monster’, but to let her live, and have her babies. The tunnels those babies build will open up this mineral-rich planet, for the miners’ benefit.
  • This is the classic Trek reveal and reversal – the alien isn’t the monster; to it the humans are monsters; to understand the monster is the benefit of everyone.
  • The final, scene, back on the Enterprise bridge, cements the story’s theme. Kirk takes a call from Vandenberg, who says that though the miners find the Horta’s appearance “revolting,”, he thinks nevertheless they can get used to it.
  • Spock responds to Kirk, “What Chief Vanderberg said about the Horta is exactly what the mother Horta said to me. She found humanoid appearance revolting, but she thought she could get used to it.”
  • It’s the classic Trek – and science fiction’s in general – tactic of undermining human assumptions of normality, and superiority.
  • And then there is a Gene L. Coon joke about Spock’s ears, in the final moments.
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Dan Savage on “Sex Dread” Education

Vox: “Sex dread” education could be on the rise under Trump. Dan Savage is ready to fight it.. Subtitle: Dan Savage on why abstinence-focused education doesn’t work.

Of course. Because conservatives just *know* things to be so, despite evidence.


Alexander Bisley

The Trump administration is moving toward abstinence-only sex education for teens.

Dan Savage

Mmhm. That’s going to be counter-productive. They don’t seem to learn much from research or data.

And a couple days later, I’m struck by this comment by Dan Savage:

One of the things I like to say is that we’re told this lie when we’re children that one day we’re gonna grow up and have sex, when in reality one day we grow up and sex has us.

It can make it hard to talk about, because we’re all implicated and we’re all powerless in the face of our sexual desires and interests. Not in acting on them, we all have the ability to make our own choices and be sure that we’re acting consensually. But powerlessness in the face of desires existing within us. Our sexual interests, whether we’re talking about genders that people are attracted to, or even our kinks and what turns us on, in a way those are all assigned to us whether we like it or not. And that experience is always going to be a little alienating. It makes sex a little difficult for everyone to talk about.

Sex has us. It’s the evolutionary drive.

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Right-wing Fake News

From a few days ago… Case study of how right-wind media misrepresent or simply lie about an essay (by Jerry Coyne) on the philosophical implications of euthanasia…

(As always my thought about conservative panic and alarm is that, if they had reasonable cases to make for their positions, they wouldn’t need to misrepresent and lie about their opponents positions.)

Jerry Coyne’s site: Heather Hastie analyzes the attacks on my euthanasia stand.

The usual suspects: Brietbart, Daily Caller, TownHall, NewsMax, and even a couple sites (I’m not going to look them up) called “Evolution News” which I would bet are anything but.

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The Good of the Body: TOS #22: “The Return of the Archons”

The Enterprise visits a planet run by a computer in the guise of religious belief to the all-seeing “Landru”; a computer Kirk defeats through a battle of logic.

  • This is a fascinating episode because it encapsulates, as well as any episode does, the tension between the supposed ideals of the Federation, and Kirk’s mission, with the ideals of the writers and producers of 1960s TV.
  • It begins in media res: Sulu and another crewman, O’Neil, dressed in, what, 19th century?, period clothes, are on the run from some threat, in some town on an alien planet. (These scenes were filmed on the same Desilu backlot as “Miri” was.) Sulu calls the ship for an immediate beam-up, but it doesn’t come quickly enough: sinister men in robes, carrying long metal rods, steadily approach him, and touch him with a rod. Sulu experiences some kind of transition – a relaxation of all his worries – just as he is beamed up.
  • (Why is Sulu in a landing party? He’s the ship’s helmsman. Well, just to give Sulu, i.e. George Takei, something interesting to do, most likely. In the context of the show’s premise, it doesn’t make much sense.)
  • Sulu appears in the transporter room, now rather spacey. He sees Kirk and the others, and observes “You’re not of the Body!” Kirk asks what he means. Sulu replies, “They’re wonderful. They’re the sweetest… friendliest people in the universe… It’s paradise, my friend… paradise.”
  • Watching these episodes slightly out of order, I’m struck now by the similarity of the theme in this episode with that in “This Side of Paradise.” Both episodes feature some kind of ideal world, in which everyone is happy and content. But at what expense? And in both cases, the suggested philosophical explanation is arguable.
  • The Act I captain’s log reveals the backstory: this planet, “Beta III” (pronounced Beta Three), was where the starship Archon disappeared 100 years ago; that’s why the Enterprise is here to investigate.
    • A starship named Archon? A peculiar name.
    • 100 years ago? Were there starships like the Enterprise 100 years before the era of the series we’re watching? Or does ‘starship’ refer to some earlier kind of craft?
    • A captain’s log at the end of the episode mentions that Beta III is in the star system C-111 (pronounced See One Eleven). Trek never settled on a consistent scheme of naming planets, and designations like these were especially uninformative. Note comments about Bayer designations in previous post.
  • And so, two of his crewmen having been lost or somehow converted, *Kirk* himself, along with Spock, McCoy, and others, beam down to the planet. The notion that Kirk, the captain of the ship!, and senior staff would continually put themselves in danger was a flaw in the premise of Trek TOS, one which David Gerrold examined in his book The World of Star Trek, and one which Trek TNG tried to address.
  • Like many other episodes, this one assumes that locals on an alien planet speak English. This was another grievous flaw that I’m not sure even later Trek series fully addressed. (At some point in Trek TOS it was alluded that landing parties carried some kind of translator devices.)
  • Kirk and party beam down and observe all the locals walking through the town in zombie-like slow motion. Spock notes they exhibit “mindlessness” and “a vague contentment.”
  • But then the clock strikes 6, and suddenly a ‘Festival’ ensues – in which all the slow motion zombies burst out into exuberance and violence, smashing windows, assaulting each other.
  • Kirk and company take refuge in a local house, and watch the violence outside throughout the night. At 6am it abruptly stops – all the rioting locals suddenly revert to their previous slow, zombielike, states.
  • Interesting aside: Spock apparently sleeps with his eyes open. If you can draw that conclusion form the brief shot we see of Kirk, in the morning, waking up the others.
  • The most interesting thing about these opening scenes is that, as Kirk and his crew pursue the identity of “Landru” and the fate of the starship Archon, the idea and purpose of the “Festival” is never referred to again.
    • In a tightly controlled society, it’s easy to understand that citizens might need some kind of relief valve, a way of releasing their pent up emotions, periodically. It’s a reasonable premise. Yet it’s odd that this idea is never addressed later in the episode, with this or any other explanation.
  • This episode has as provocative a theme as any in the series in that it challenges passive religious dogma (by revealing that that dogma is based on delusion and trickery). When Kirk and the landing party take refuge, and ask about the violence outside, they are told “It’s the will of Landru”; when one of the men in that house, Hacom, is suspicious about these newcomers, he asks “Do you say that Landru is not everywhere??” Another, timid, man, Tamar tries to assuage Hacom’s suspicions. “Surely the Lawgivers already know. Are they not infallible?” Hacom spits back, “You mock them! You mock the Lawgivers!” A more potent mocking of puritanical religious fundamentalism could hardly be imagined; it’s one of many examples of how Trek dealt with political and philosophical issues by placing them in the context of science fiction, where they seemed nonthreatening compared to analogous stories set in the present of 1960s TV.
  • Reger, head of the safehouse where Kirk and party have spent the night, is alert to their strange appearance. He asks, “Are you… are you..?” but can’t quite say it. But Hacom realizes, “You are *not* of the Body!” And runs off to alert the Lawgivers. We quickly gather that the society here, all these zombie-like people, are part of some group-mind, ‘the Body’, that is overseen by someone or thing named Landru. And later Reger has the courage to ask, “Are you…Archons?” That starship’s visit a century ago has attained legendary, prophetic status.
  • The Lawgivers – two men in robes, carrying long metal staffs – show up to challenge the meek Tamar, and kill him. The Lawgivers then tell Kirk and his party that “You will be absorbed. The good is all. Landru is gentle. You will come.” We gather that this metaphor of ‘the body’ treats any threat, outsiders, as infections to be absorbed, or destroyed.
  • Kirk refuses. The Lawgivers don’t know how to respond. Kirk and his party leave the house, walking slowly outside through the town to try to fit in, until they see all the townspeople freeze — Reger explains that Landru is “summoning the Body” – and these townspeople slowly pick up weapons and then converge on Kirk and his party. It’s a very creepy scene. Kirk and party use a couple phaser blasts to escape.
  • Reger takes them to an underground room, built of large stone blocks, where he takes out a flat square panel that exudes light – obviously an example of high tech. “From a time before Landru.” Further dialogue explains that the earlier starship Archon was “pulled out the sky”; later dialogue that Landru was a savior, some 6000 years ago, who rescued a war-torn world by returning it to a simpler way of life.
  • Kirk checks in with the Enterprise and learns from Scott that the Enterprise is under attack from some kind of heat rays, that could pull the ship down from its orbit in 12 hours. Is this plot development a reasonable consequence of the Landru theme – or an excuse for Kirk to take extreme measures to bring down the local society in order the save his ship? (The latter.)
  • And then, the image of Landru appears – a truly striking image, a calmly voiced man with hugely swept back hair, preternatural. “I… am Landru,” he says, calmly and confidently. “You have come to a world without hate, without fear, without conflict. No war, no disease, no crime. None of the ancient evils. Landru seeks…tranquility. Peace for all. The universal good.”
  • But Landru treats Kirk and party as infections, and knocks them out with hypersonics. When the party awakes, their phasers and communicators have been taken, and McCoy and two others are gone. McCoy soon returns, spaced out like the locals. “Can I help you, friend? We all know one another in Landru. He knows. He watches.”
  • Kirk is taken next, and then Spock. But they meet Marplon, a dissident aligned with Reger, who only pretends to ‘absorb’ them. Kirk and party manage to overcome a couple Lawgivers, don their robs, and have Marplon lead them to the “Hall of Audiences” where they might speak with Landru. Except that Spock has already deduced that Landru is not an actual person.
  • Marplon and Reger, despite their dissidence, are afraid in their cores; somehow they still ‘believe’. Marplon is obsessed by prophecy. Kirk brushes his concerns aside.
  • Spock mentions the prime directive, the Federation’s non-interference directive; and Kirk replies that that only applies to a “living, growing culture.” This is the core of the problematic thesis of this episode. (What’s wrong with a living, stagnant culture, that might be stable forever?)
  • Kirk and Spock are led the “Hall of Audiences” and use phases to blast out the wall to see that – Landru is a computer. Of course. One created by the original Landru, 6000 years ago; but a computer that regulates a human society as a computer would.
  • Then we get the climactic scene, in which Kirk argues into destruction a computer – a theme that recurs three or four times in the series.
  • Landru argues that “the good of the Body is the prime directive”. “The harmonious continuation of the Body. The good is peace, tranquility.”
  • Kirk challenges Landru: “The body is dying. *You* are destroying it. … Without freedom of choice, there is no creativity. Without creativity, there is no life. The Body dies. The fault is yours.”
  • –There’s a huge philosophical issue presumed here. Landru is sustaining a calm, orderly society – without freedom of choice or creativity. Is that bad? The culture sustains, perhaps indefinitely. There’s a parallel here to the calm colonists in “This Side of Paradise”; the presumption, here and there, is that such societies are ‘stagnant’ and thus somehow inhuman. Kirk presumes that individual creativity, self-determination, is key to a healthy society. I think this is a luxury of 20th and 21st century western cultures; many Asian cultures might disagree, those that stress social conformity, as well as religious communities in the US that try to be insular and resist outside secular influences.
  • The interaction between Kirk and the computer Landru derails logically when Kirk states “You must create the good. That is the will of Landru. Nothing else.” And then Landru replies, “But there is evil!”.
  • Non sequitur. Evil? At what point did Landru think there was some ‘evil’ present? Landru might otherwise have reasonably argued that its strategy for maintaining social order was more important than individual creativity and self-determination. Certainly some actual societies have determined that.
  • Nevertheless, Kirk’s battle with the machine plays out dramatically. The computer Landru, confronted with an apparent paradox, self-destructs, dramatically – not by simply freezing up, as our PCs do occasionally, but by bursting into flames and emitting smoke.
  • And in the final scene, back on the Enterprise bridge, Kirk repeats the central theme about computers having no ‘wisdom’, or ‘soul’. Spock replies, “Predictably metaphysical. I prefer the concrete, the graspable, the provable.” And then Kirk responds with a Gene Coon joke: “You’d make a splendid computer, Mr. Spock.”
  • And we hear from the crewman left behind on the planet: “Already this morning we’ve had half a dozen domestic quarrels and two genuine knock-down drag outs. It may not be paradise, but it’s certainly human.”
  • Spock: “How often mankind has wished for a world as peaceful, and secure, as the one Landru provided.”
  • Kirk: “Yes. And we never got it. Just lucky, I guess.”
  • Music notes:
  • As Sulu appears in the transporter room in the teaser, we hear Vina’s theme. Same them when the townspeople are ‘summoned’ to attack Kirk and his party.
  • As Kirk and company watch the ‘Festival’ violence outside, we here the “Corbomite Maneuver” cube theme.
  • When the light panel appears, we hear the Corbomite child theme.
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Complete Health and Peace of Mind? TOS #25: This Side of Paradise

The Enterprise visits an Earth colony whose inhabitants, infected by alien spores, live in idle contentment; one of whom met Spock and fell in love with him years before.

  • The Enterprise approaches the planet Omicron Ceti III, where a group of colonists from Earth settled several years before, prior to the discovery of deadly “Berthold rays” there that by now should have killed them all. But when Kirk and company beam down, they’re greeted by the happy, healthy head of the colony, Elias Sandoval.
  • It’s curious to see on the bridge yet another navigator, this time named Painter. Chekov became the regular navigator in the 2nd season, but the first season, perhaps it was cheaper to pay bit players to say a line or two each than to pay a regular cast member; and of course the expansion of regular cast members only came as the show succeeded to get to a 2nd
  • Naming the planet here Omicron Ceti III is curious, because Omicron Ceti is a real star, more commonly referred to by the name Mira, and perhaps the most famous variable star in the sky. ( It’s fairly unlikely a habitable planet would be in orbit there. It’s also odd that the settlers on the planet, or any planet with a Bayer designation (e.g. Alpha Centauri, Gamma Orionis, etc.), wouldn’t have invented a single commonplace place for their new home (like “Earth” instead of “Sol III”).
  • The episode is shot on location, partly at Golden Oak Ranch (, a large facility owned by Disney specifically for film and TV production, and located just off Highway 14 in Newhall (on the way to Vasquez Rocks, from LA). The script has the colony devoted to a ‘simple way of life’ to justify the appearance of wooden farm buildings, and lack of 23rd century technology.
  • Coincidence! One of the colonists is a young woman named Leila Kalomi, who met Spock on Earth 6 years ago – and fell in love with him, despite his inability to reciprocate. Spock recognizes her but remains impassive.
  • The landing party notices the lack of animals. McCoy gives the settlers physicals and is amazed by their excellent health. Kirk gets orders from Starbase to evacuate the colonists – but Sandoval, unconcerned, refuses.
  • And then Leila takes Spock to ‘explain’, and takes him into a field where the large flowers explode their pods into Spock’s face. Spock collapses in pain – “I am not like you!” – but the effect takes hold, and Spock realizes to his amazement he can respond to Leila’s feeling for him. “I love you… I can love you!” And they kiss.
  • This episode has a nice balance of threat, emotion, and humor, as in the next scene when Kirk comes looking for Spock, finding him hanging from a tree branch, and can barely believe his eyes. “I gave you an order to report!” he barks. Spock replies casually, “I didn’t want to.”
  • McCoy and Uhura both get turns expressing the effects of the spores; McCoy turns into a southern gentleman, drinking mint juleps; Uhura into a spacey saboteur, as she wrecks the communications panel (so Kirk can’t call for help).
  • Kirk, the last one left uninfected, tries debating. Sandoval talks about their “complete health and peace of mind.” And that’s paradise, Kirk asks? They have no wants or needs. “We weren’t meant for that,” Kirk says, “Man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is.” This is an interesting philosophical premise – though not an inarguable one. So what if “man stagnates”? Most of human history has been only about getting enough to eat, surviving diseases, and ensuring the next generation. It’s only the adventurers like Kirk who think that’s stagnation.
  • At the same time, the issue reflects the difficulty of telling stories without conflict. Trek had by this time already established the idea of “prime directive”, the idea that the Federation should not interfere with other societies – but individual episodes keep finding reasons to ignore it, as in “The Return of the Archons”, and in 2nd season’s “The Apple”.
  • Kirk has a great scene on the bridge, as he realizes he’s the only one left on board. He can’t pilot the ship by himself; he’s marooned. “I’m beginning to realize just how big this ship really is, how quiet.”
  • But then he’s blasted by the spores and converted, just like all the others. “I’ve joined you” he tells Spock. There’s a strong undercurrent in the theme here of the effects of drug culture – remember this is the 1960s.
  • But then there’s a scene I’ve never entirely understood – despite summaries of it. Kirk is ready to activate the transporter, to beam himself down. He flicks some switches; something seems to be wrong. Some kind of fury wells up within him, and he cries out in frustration, “I… can’t… LEAVE!”
  • Wait, why? I’ve seen this before as Kirk reacting to some problem with the transporter. Or is it instead that Kirk’s inner devotion to his ship wells up against the idea that he is about to leave the ship forever? If the latter, I don’t think it was well enough played.
  • In any case, something gives – you see Kirk realize it — and he realizes he’s free of the spores’ effects. And quickly realizes how to make this happen for the others.
  • And then the famous scene in which Kirk instigates a fight with Spock, via crude insults, to instill powerful emotions to overcome the spores. And then the plan to beam subsonic transmissions to make everyone on the planet irritable and fight-prone.
  • Meanwhile there’s the very sad scene in which Leila is beamed aboard the ship and realizes that Spock is free of the spores. Spock seems genuinely sorrowful, and tries to explain. “I am what I am, Leila. And if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”
  • And Leila’s anguish and sorrow causes her to be freed from the spores as well.
  • She asks Mr. Spock if he has another [first] name. Spock ruefully replies, “You couldn’t pronounce it.”
  • The upshot confirms Kirk’s opinion of this supposed paradise. After a scene in which Sandoval tells McCoy his services as a doctor will no longer be needed, and McCoy replies, with one of his best lines in the entire series, “Would you like to see how fast I can put you in a hospital?”, they fight, and Sandoval comes to. And immediately realizes, about their original plans for the colony, “We’ve done nothing here.”
  • And Kirk underscores it as the Enterprise departs. “Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise. …”
  • But Spock gets the last line, asked about his experience on the planet, he says, almost wistfully, “I have little to say about it, captain. Except that for the first time in my life, I was happy.
  • Music notes:
  • We hear the “Charlie X” wonder theme as the landing party initially is led through the settlement.
  • Most of the scenes with Leila Kalomi are scored with the one prominent love theme Trek had by that point, the one written by Gerald Fried for “Shore Leave”.
  • Sights of the pod flowers are accompanied by the twangy Talosian theme from “The Menagerie”.
  • Two or three times with hear the “Miri theme”, the library track by Joseph Mullendore first heard, IIRC, when Kirk discovers the girl Miri hiding in a closet.
  • Spock’s infection by the spores, and his pain, is scored to “Vina’s theme” with a throbbing pulse underneath.
  • As fights break out on the planet, we hear the “Corbomite” cube theme.
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