No Beach to Walk On: TOS “The Naked Time”

An infection brought on board the Enterprise causes crew members to reveal their innermost fears and desires, as the ship spirals in toward a disintegrating planet.

  • This time the planet is blue, appropriately, since it’s a cold ice-planet. In the enhanced graphics, there’s a new shot of the domed building of the scientific outpost.
  • The story is triggered by a doofus move – an idiot plot device – in that not only are the suits that Spock and Tormolen beam down in not sealed (so that any airborne contagion could still infect them), but Tormolen takes his glove off, to scratch his nose, and then touches a surface and gets infected.
  • Trek physics: the crisis of the episode depends on the idea that this planet, Psi 2000, is “breaking up”, which somehow means that its mass and magnetic fields are changing, which affects the Enterprise’s orbit, which is problematic because people on board are infected with a disease that renders them unstable and that puts the ship in jeopardy. What were they thinking of? What does it mean for a planet to “break up”? Real astrophysics suggests planets are extremely stable unless they are hit by something, in which case chunks might be blown out of them, yet would still remain largely stable (as Earth perhaps survived an impact that split off the Moon). Otherwise… even if a planet were disintegrating for some reason, its mass would have to go *somewhere*; that mass wouldn’t somehow just disappear, disrupting the Enterprise’s orbit.
  • Later in the show there’s a line about how, as the planet shrinks, the Enterprise adjusts its orbit to “maintain the same distance” from the planet’s surface. Why would it need to do that?
  • The enhanced graphics exacerbate the problem: we see the planet surface spinning past so fast, beneath the Enterprise, on the view monitor, that it’s amazing the ship doesn’t slingshot away into space. The new graphics aren’t any more valid scientifically than the old.
  • There’s a serious ethical theme here, as Tormolen wonders “if man was meant to be out here…” It’s not as trivial an issue as it might have seemed at the time, as here in the 21st century we realize what humanity has done and is doing to this planet.
  • This has long been a favorite episode – it was a Hugo nominee – mostly I suppose for its revelations of character among the crew: Sulu and his rapier; Riley and his song; Spock and his confessions; Kirk and his anguish.
  • Sexism: Riley, infected, locked into the engineering room, gives out fanciful orders over the intercom to the entire ship, focusing on women’s makeup and how their hair should be worn loosely around their shoulders.
  • It’s been one of my favorite episodes for one particular reason: the rhythm and pacing, especially of the second half of the show, maintains a tension unmatched in any other episode. You see it ratchet up, in a yin and yang of competing forces: routine communications alternating with increasingly emotional outbursts: Uhura to Kirk rather blandly: “Have you found Mr. Spock?” Kirk responds, almost hysterically: “YES I’VE FOUND MR. SPOCK I’M TALKING TO MR. SPOCK RIGHT NOW!” at which point Kirk realizes he’s infected too.
  • There are plot issues, of course – any show, like a series produced every week, is done so quickly it’s amazing they get so much done that still seems right decades later – but I couldn’t yet notice that, why weren’t Kirk and Spock infected earlier, when they brought Sulu down, instead of later via Nurse Chapel’s tears?
  • Famous line: Sulu, infected and playing swashbuckler, presumes to protect Uhura, calling her a “fair maiden”. To which Uhura replies, so quickly you almost don’t notice, let alone absorb the implications of what she says, “Sorry, neither.”
  • First time we see the (first season) engine room. I think. I really should watch these episodes in production order, rather than broadcast order.
  • And first time we see Scott’s “Jeffries Tube”. I think.
  • And first time we see Spock’s neck pinch, or nerve pinch, I think.
  • Trek physics: talk about the engines having been turned off, the “intermix formula” for matter and antimatter, and having to raise the temperatures of those without risking “implosion”.
  • The enhanced graphics include a chronometer on the nav panel where Sulu sits – it shows not only a clock but a *stardate* counter, which, in keeping with the dialogue and story line, changes from 1705.0 back to 1702.0.
  • Trek physics: the “theoretical relationship between time and antimatter”, as Spock says, results in the ship going back in time, and moving “faster than is possible for normal space”, as they start the engines anyway and escape from the planet. This sets up the later episode, “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”, in which they accidentally go back in time to Earth in the 1960s.
  • Still, the enduring highlight of this episode is the revelation of the characters. Spock’s breakdown was a last minute story idea (according to Memory Alpha), was shot in a single take, and resulted in fan mail to Nimoy going exponential.
  • The end: calm. They acknowledge the potential for time travel, to any era, any planet, and suppose they might try it someday. And Kirk says, “steady as she goes.”

Blish’s adaptation, in ST1:

  • Blish avoids the contamination scene, in which Tormolen takes off his glove and exposes himself to an infection, entirely. Blish has Kirk make some plausible speculation about why the dead members of the observation station behaved the way they did, in response to having some infection (e.g., someone would take a shower with clothes on in a hurried attempt to decontaminate themselves).
  • Blish has the planet named some long technical string, and the nicknamed “La Pig”, rather than the Psi 2000 of the script.
  • Blish tries to rationalize the idea of the planet’s breakup, and how it would affect the Enterprise orbit, p79t: “As the breakup proceeded, the planet’s effective mass would change, and perhaps even its center of gravity – accompanied by steady, growing distortion of its extensive magnetic field – so that what had been a stable parking orbit for the Enterprise at one moment would become unstable and fragment-strewn the next.”
  • There are substantial differences between Blish’s version and the broadcast story, since the latter involved some elements introduced in the last stages of production. In particular: Spock’s breakdown in the briefing room, and the entire time travel sequence at the end, are not here. Nor is Scott’s phasering through the wall to get into the engineering room. Instead, McCoy’s antidote to the disease involves a gas spray into the ship’s ventilation system. Riley recovers in the response to that, and lets the others into engineering himself.
  • At the same time Blish has some remarkably implausible sequences in which, Kirk having thrown emergency bulkheads inside the ship, to stop the spread of the disease, has Uhura crawl between the hulls and communicate the McCoy by knocking on the metal in “prisoners’ raps”…! The crews’ communicators don’t work inside the ship?
  • Instead of Spock’s breakdown and recovery seen in the broadcast version, in Blish’s story Spock experiences a “general malaise” and excuses himself to his quarters. At the end of the story, he is heard crooning to himself in his cabin and playing some instrument that “nobody else on board could stand to listen to it”.
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