Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 1, Episode 29
Original Air Date: April 13, 1967
I didn't care for the episode in the early going as everyone infected screams incoherently. However, the story gets more interesting as solutions are explored. First, Kirk must grapple with the possibility of having to destroy the planet and its million inhabitants just to keep the creatures from spreading further. Then, when the parasites' vulnerability to intense light is discovered, Spock submits himself as a test subject with dire consequences. He is left blind.
Immediately after the test on Spock, Nurse Chapel reveals that the creatures are only vulnerable to ultraviolet light - great news for the population on the planet but not so great for Spock who was blinded needlessly. Spock takes it like a Vulcan, of course, but both Kirk and especially Dr. McCoy are racked with guilt. Considered independently, the story might have been better if it had ended there. But this is television and the series must go on, a blind Spock too much of a limitation for the screenwriters going forward. Due to a peculiarity of Vulcan eyelid anatomy, Spock's condition is only temporary and his sight is restored. Kirk and Bones are off the hook.
Thoughts on Season 1
I was very impressed by the first season of Star Trek. A more casual fan of the series growing up, I thought of Trek as stilted and formulaic. Exploring in-depth, I was more impressed by the acting than I expected to be, particularly that of William Shatner. Yes, he can chew the scenery from time to time but his investment in character is total from Day 1, as if he had been Jim Kirk his whole life. That's a lot harder than most people realize and contrasts with the stiffer performance of other cast members in the early going.
As to formula, I know that becomes more of an issue in the next two seasons but the writers did a respectable job of mixing things up in the initial run. A lot of their story lines became franchise staples over the decades to follow. All of those cliches had to start somewhere.
Favorite Episode: "Balance of Terror"
The episodes I enjoyed most in Season 1 were the ones in which Kirk engaged in mental sparring with a well-established adversary: Khan in "Space Seed" or Kor in "Errand of Mercy." The Romulan Commander in "Balance of Terror" is unnamed. He and Kirk bear no hatred toward one another - merely soldiers, playing their parts, seeing to their duties. Mark Lenard's performance in the role is subtle, convincing and thoroughly chilling. Other episodes have garnered more praise over the years but for me, this was the best of the batch.
Least Favorite Episode: "Mudd's Women"
Perhaps it is not fair to judge a story from the 1960s by the moral standards of the 2010s. But for a television producer who made admirable efforts at social progressiveness, Gene Roddenberry dropped the ball with this one. Harry Mudd is essentially a pimp who keeps his interstellar mail order brides beautiful with drugs. When off the meds, they're not so much ugly as ordinary and all of the men are horrified. This episode left me feeling icky.
Favorite Guest Star: Mark Lenard as Romulan Commander in "Balance of Terror"
This would be a logical jumping off point if I were to discontinue my weekly Star Trek posts but I'm definitely up for more. The months in between the two seasons were certainly interesting times in world culture. In June of '67, The Beatles would release Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that transformed the music industry. The Summer of Love was soon to follow. The audience had been through a lot by the time the series resumed in September. I don't expect similar upheaval between now and next Wednesday, but you never know.
Set a course, Mr. Sulu...