“For the World Is Hollow and
I Have Touched the Sky”
Written by Rik Vollaerts
Directed by Tony Leader
Season 3, Episode 8
Production episode 3×10
Original air date: November 8, 1968
Recap: Dayton Ward
Bopping along through space, the Enterprise picks up six primitive missiles moving at sublight speeds on an intercept course.
Sublight. … Sub. Light. … Slower. Than. Light.
Rather than dodging them at warp speed, everybody on the bridge pretty much just stands around soiling their respective diapers and waiting to meet their maker, until Kirk finally orders the phasers to end this nonsense. We’re off to a bad start already, aren’t we? Kirk has just enough time to order a course change to the weapons’ point of origin before he’s called down to sickbay by Nurse Chapel.
There, he meets with McCoy, who informs the captain that he’s completed the crew’s annual physicals, and everybody is in ship-shape save for one person: McCoy himself. The doctor has discovered that he’s contracted a terminal disease with no known cure: xenopolycythemia.
Now faced with the knowledge that one of his closest friends has at most a year to live, Kirk has no choice but to let Starfleet know he needs a replacement doctor, after which he quickly calls dibs on McCoy’s Pokémon card collection.
The Enterprise closes in on an asteroid that Spock determines is following an “independent course” through this area of space. He also figures out that the asteroid is… wait for it… hollow (!), and its interior has an atmosphere. Apparently, this giant space rock is on a collision course for a heavily populated planet, and urgent calls to Bruce Willis are not being returned.
Kirk, probably thinking there’s a computer or something inside the asteroid that he can persuade to turn itself off, beams down with Spock and McCoy. They’re surprised to find a barren, rock-strewn plain inside the asteroid. What’s that about? I mean, if you’re gonna make the inside of an asteroid look like a planet, why not something nice, like Tahiti? The landing party finds a series of silos, two of which rise up to reveal doors through which emerges a gang of thugs who look to have escaped from the secret lair of a 1960s Batman villain. A fight breaks out and I keep waiting to see “BIFF!!!” and “ZOWIE!!!” cards superimposed over the action. Overseeing the squabble is a pretty lady who catches McCoy’s eye…just long enough for him to get bonk-bonked on the head.
The pretty lady is Natira, “High Priestess of the People,” and she welcomes them to their world, Yonada. She orders the landing party taken below, where they find what looks to be the casting call for a Hair revival. Natira leads the way into a fancy room with a dais and an odd obelisk. When she kneels and starts chanting mumbo-jumbo, and the obelisk starts babbling back at them, Kirk and company realize that Yonada’s inhabitants think they’re living on a real planet. Talk about leading a sheltered life. Wonder what the TV lineup’s like? Anyway, when Kirk tells the obelisk that they come in peace, the thing responds by saying it’s time to learn what it means to be an enemy.
Yeah, that kind of thing never works out well for anybody.
The landing party awakens in what looks like it could’ve been a spare bedroom in the Brady house, and that’s when Spock learns of McCoy’s condition. (And shows the appropriate, restrained-like-a-true-Vulcan level of concern for his brother from another mother.) They give brief lip service to upholding the Prime Directive and not telling the Yonadans they’re living inside a big rock, but that goes out the window when they’re interrupted by an elder Yonadan, who’s quick to figure out that Kirk and company aren’t from around here. Then he starts twitching in pain, which gets worse as he tries to tell them about his attempts to climb the mountains “up above,” which apparently are a Big No-No. He knows the world is hollow, and he has touched the sky!
He then promptly keels over dead, and the landing party realizes that someone or something is deliberately working to prevent the Yonadans from learning they’re on a space ship. Throw in some Kool-Aid™ and a website, and we’ve got ourselves a full-blown cult here, all ready for reality TV.
Natira shows up with some snacks, and after making goo-goo eyes at McCoy, she tells Kirk that the Oracle has declared them honored guests, which means we’ve probably seen the last of them getting that nasty shock treatment action, right? Naturally, Kirk is already figuring out an angle, telling McCoy to…uh…pretend to be sick or something, and distract Natira while he and Spock go snooping around.
While McCoy is singing “Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,” Kirk and Spock sneak back to the Oracle room, and Spock figures out that the Yonadans are descended from a long-dead race called the Fabrini. The asteroid is an ark of sorts, ferrying a selected group of survivors into space, the future generations of which will settle a suitable planet where the people can begin rebuilding their civilization. Kirk and Spock have to hide when Natira shows up, asking the Oracle if she can keep McCoy and promising to feed him and walk him and all that stuff. For this to happen, the doctor has to agree to the insertion of an “instrument of obedience.” (Um, ow?) The Oracle suddenly sniffs out Kirk and Spock hiding in the shadows, which means it’s electro-shock time! While they’re being microwaved like cheap popcorn, the Oracle orders them put to death.
When McCoy learns of his friends’ pending executions, he agrees to stay with Natira if Kirk and Spock can return to the Enterprise. After the friends part ways without so much as a fierce man-hug, McCoy is implanted with his “instrument of obedience,” and the next thing we know, he’s now a member of the club. Suck-AHHH!
at the Hall of Justice on the Enterprise, which is maintaining a parallel course with the asteroid, Kirk finds out Starfleet will be handling the Yonadan asteroid from now on. Translation? The rock’s about to be used for target practice. When Kirk tries to contact McCoy to tell him what’s what, the doctor reports that he’s found some information which may be helpful in correcting the asteroid’s course. That’s when the Oracle lays the smackdown on him.
Kirk and Spock come running, and Spock’s able to remove the gizmo from McCoy’s noggin. When he comes around, the doctor tells Kirk about a book he’s found that holds the knowledge of Yonada, its journey, and how to control it. After Kirk tries to convince Natira about the reality of life on the asteroid and that its control systems must be repaired in order to keep it from colliding with a heavily populated planet, she goes running to the Oracle for some answers. Its reaction is to give her the shock treatment, which is enough to convince Natira that she’s been backing the wrong horse all these years. McCoy removes Natira’s obedience instrument while Kirk and Spock work at getting access to the book and its secrets. The Oracle, naturally doesn’t like the idea of these guys crashing its crib, and sentences them all to death by activating the room’s Easy-Bake Oven™ feature. Mmmm…cookies.
The room heats up even as Kirk gets the book and Spock scans it, finding the secret switch to the Oracle’s control room. After turning off the oven, Spock gets busy with the rest of the complex controls. The consoles, at least according to Kirk, appear remarkably similar to those you might find on the Enterprise, which should surprise no one, as they look exactly like what you might find in engineering or the auxiliary control room. Budget cuts? Nah. Probably just a coincidence.
Spock figures out what’s ailing the control systems (Reboot? Microsoft so rocks!), and everything is back to normal. There’s also a massive database of lost Fabrini knowledge, which is to be made available to the Yonadans upon reaching their final destination. And hey! Whaddaya know? There’s even a huge medical database, which just happens to include the cure for McCoy’s disease. How’s that for awesome? Looks like Bones will have to suffer through the remainder of the season like the rest of us.
For me, “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” is a decent idea, in and of itself. The idea of a generational ship encased in an asteroid is well worth exploring. After all, variations on the concept were already a staple of science fiction long before Star Trek came along. My biggest problem is why someone—the Fabrini—felt it necessary to conceal the truth behind the “worldship” from its population. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the generations of Yonadans to be informed as to their purpose, and be working and training the next generation(s) to be ready for when the ship arrives at its destination? Instead, they’re wandering the halls, apparently doing little more than tossing Frisbees and getting the occasional spanking from the Oracle. As for the whole “McCoy’s gonna die” subplot, did anyone ever really think he wasn’t going to make it? How many times have we been down this road by this point in the series? And looking ahead, we’re still not done with that tired trope.
The episode is typical of the third season: Long on talk, light on action, adequate yet hardly spectacular in execution. It’s yet another average outing for our heroes, particularly when you stack it against what’s coming next week.
Dayton’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
Analysis: David Mack
The first thing that occurred to me as I watched this episode was its peculiar similarity to “The Paradise Syndrome,” which aired only five weeks prior. Both episodes involve the Enterprise being tasked with altering the trajectory of an asteroid headed toward a populated Class M planet, discovering a displaced culture with a love of peculiar obelisks, and one of our series regulars getting married to the culture’s high priestess. In fact, these episodes are so similar that they reused the effects shot of the asteroid from “The Paradise Syndrome” as a stand-in for the asteroid-disguised generation ship Yonada. (This duplication was corrected in the remastered version.)
Of course, this time the stakes have been raised considerably; the planet in Yonada’s path is a Federation world with a population of more than three billion persons, and whereas Kirk was afflicted with mere amnesia, McCoy has been stricken with a terminal, incurable blood disease called xenopolycythemia. (Try saying that that five times fast after a few drinks.) Like much of the science in Star Trek, this disease was inspired by a real ailment, polycythemia, and gussied up with the all-purpose “xeno-” prefix.
This verbosely titled hour of the third season (obligatory geek trivia note: this episode’s title is the longest of any filmed episode or movie of Star Trek) is hardly action-packed. Aside from a brief altercation when the natives ambush Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, there is little true action. Much of the episode’s second and third acts are consumed by a long, heartfelt conversation between McCoy and
Natira Natira. This is necessary, however, because the writers needed to “sell” the audience on the notion that not only could Natira fall in love with McCoy at first sight (apparently, a grouchy middle-aged man with a terminal illness is what gets her motor running) but also that McCoy could be persuaded to accept Natira’s proposal of marriage, even though it would mean turning his back on his life as a man of science and accepting the absolute authority of a malfunctioning computer posing as a cruel, autocratic deity. (Wait, this sounds familiar, too. Landru? Is that you, you old joker? Or is it Vaal, back from the dead?)
Adding gravity to McCoy’s decision to marry Natira and remain aboard Yonada is the fact that, if its course cannot be corrected, Starfleet intends to blast the worldship into dust. (It’s not clear whether they would try to evacuate the inhabitants first. One could argue such an action would violate the Prime Directive, but I have trouble mustering much respect for a law that prohibits one from rescuing and/or educating a people such as the Yonadans but sanctions their genocide without notice or recourse to due process.)
Spock’s discovery of the Fabrini databanks at the end of the episode feels far too convenient. I was willing to wave away my disbelief that Spock and Kirk would be able to operate the controls of a spaceship built ten thousand years ago by an alien civilization by figuring that their shared recognition of the Fabrini meant it was a subject of study at Starfleet Academy. But then Spock sees some lumps on the wall, scans them with a tricorder, has no trouble patching into and parsing the alien database, and immediately finds the cure for xenopolycythemia. Seriously? Try and wirelessly link two Mac laptops running different generations of the Apple OS. It’s nearly impossible. But Spock’s tricorder downloads the knowledge of the Fabrini in less than ten seconds? I’m sorry, but this referee is throwing a flag on that play: “Illegal use of an info-dump! Penalty: minus one rating point! Fourth down.”
The ending of the episode also leaves a number of unresolved questions: Are McCoy and Natira still legally married? If so, does she receive half his paycheck? Also, Spock estimates that the worldship will reach its destination in a mere “390 days,” at which time the Enterprise might be there to greet it. Where, exactly, is the Yonadans’ promised world? It sounds as if it’s within Federation territory. What if someone else colonized that planet in the ten millennia between when Yonada launched and when it arrives? (For anyone who has ever wondered what became of the Yonadans after their journey was completed, I recommend the superlative novel follow-up to this episode, Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett.)
The episode’s performances are quite good, all things considered. William Shatner’s scenery chewing is kept in check, and DeForest Kelley brings a quiet dignity to his portrayal of McCoy facing his own imminent demise. The argument between McCoy and Nurse Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett) feels genuine and heartfelt, and Leonard Nimoy brings the perfect degree of quiet compassion to the moment when Spock, having learned of McCoy’s illness, reaches out to steady his wounded friend, and McCoy reacts with understated surprise at Spock’s sudden display of concern. In fact, that scene is the best one in the entire episode, because it captures the dynamics of the three principals’ friendship in a single, eloquently dramatized moment.
All that being said, I simply didn’t buy the romance between McCoy and Natira. Despite the best efforts of the writer, the director, and the cast, it just didn’t convince me. I also felt that the quick resolution of McCoy’s medical crisis felt like a cheat, in that it was concocted specifically to make him emotionally vulnerable enough to accept a marriage proposal from a woman he had only just met, and then, when that story had run its course, he needed to be magically cured so that the show’s precious status quo could be restored before the end credits. This is reset-button storytelling at its most egregious.
I could go on and on recounting various bits of trivia about this episode (such as the Fabrini’s Book of the People being the same prop tome as Chicago Mobs of the Twenties), but I figure if you were looking for that, you would read it on the Memory Alpha article about this episode.
Bottom line: I think this was far from the worst episode of Star Trek’s third season, but that’s a long way from saying it was good.
David’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.
Dayton Ward is watching Sports Night on CSC, so stick around.
David Mack has touched the sky numerous times, usually with the assistance of his good friends Jack Daniel and Jim Beam.