Written by Steven W. Carabatsos
Directed by Herschel Daugherty
Season 1, Episode 29
Production episode: 1x 29
Original air date: April 13, 1967
Star date: 3287.2
Disaster seems to have visited another Earth colony just ahead of the Enterprise, this time on the planet Deneva, which lies on a path of “mass insanity” that has destroyed three other civilizations in the system in the past two hundred years. While they try to contact Deneva, sensors pick up one of its vessels intentionally heading straight for the sun. The Enterprise pursues it and opens a hailing frequency, urging the pilot, who may or may not be named Icarus, to turn back. As with the planet itself, there’s no response until they receive a transmission shortly before the smaller vessel burns up: “I did it. It’s finally gone. I’m free! I’m—” The Enterprise sets course for Deneva, Kirk more anxious than ever to make contact. Dr. McCoy, demonstrating his blunt bedside manner, comments: “Jim, your brother Sam and his family, aren’t they stationed on this planet?”
Uhura finally contacts a private transmitter on Deneva, at a call sign that Kirk provided. A woman delivers a brief and agitated message before cutting off:
Please hurry. Help us. I don’t have much time. They’ll know. Please! Please help us—
Kirk recognizes the woman’s voice as Aurelan, his sister-in-law. It sounds like the Denevans might be in some kind of trouble. He wastes no time in beaming down to the capital city with Spock, McCoy, Mr. Scott, a couple of disposable security officers, and a fashion model dressed as a yeoman to record everything.
For a planet with almost a million inhabitants, the streets are strangely empty and quiet, at least until a welcoming committee appears: four men waving lucite rods, screaming, “Get away! We don’t want to hurt you!” But phasers beat clubs every time, and they stun the men into unconsciousness. Then a woman screams somewhere. Kirk would know Aurelan’s scream anywhere; he leads everyone to Sam Kirk’s research laboratory, where they find Aurelan trying to cover a ventilation shaft, crying out “They’re here! They’re here!”
McCoy sedates Aurelan and discovers the dead body of George Samuel Kirk. Fortunately, the captain’s nephew, Peter, is alive but unconscious. Visibly shaken by the loss of his brother, Kirk beams up to the Enterprise with the doctor and what’s left of his family, leaving Spock in charge of the landing party. Kirk questions his sister-in-law in Sickbay. Aurelan is in great pain, every answer a struggle:
AURELAN: They came eight months ago.
AURELAN: Things. Horrible things! Visitors brought them in their vessel from a planet. Ingraham B.
KIRK: What kind of things?
AURELAN: Not the ship’s crew's fault. The things made them bring their ship here.
She explains that the things have been controlling the Denevans and forcing them to build ships. She begs Kirk to stop them from spreading, then, having exceeded her usefulness, she screams one last time and expires.
The captain beams back down to Deneva to search for the creatures. Spock tells him the only thing they’ve observed is an odd buzzing noise. They follow the sound to a courtyard and discover dozens of flat, circular things sticking to the ceilings and walls. And they can fly! Kirk fires on one with his phaser set to kill. The prolonged blast eventually causes it to fall from its perch, only stunned. Yeoman Zahra studies the pulsing latex pancake and correctly says, “Captain, it doesn’t even look real.” Spock covers for the shoddy special effect with, “It is not life as we know or understand it. Yet it is obviously alive, it exists.”
Spock wants to take it back to the ship as a new pet, but Kirk decides to get out of there. They leave the creature and as they walk up the stairs, it flies up and attaches to Spock’s back. Kirk pries the creature off, but it’s too late. The thing apparently floats like a Frisbee and stings like a bee; it punctured Spock’s skin with a stinger, which has entwined tentacles throughout his nervous system, causing great pain. Spock’s out of luck—McCoy and the other science teams are stumped on how to remove the tissue.
Spock tries to resist whatever is attempting to control him, while it leads him to the Bridge to take over the ship. It takes three men to subdue the powerful Vulcan, but they get him back to Sickbay where he apologizes and tells them he’s fine, it’s all under control. Kirk and McCoy are slightly skeptical and decide to keep him confined. Kirk tells McCoy to help Spock and his nephew, and the doctor reminds the captain that he has even more to worry about: all those colonists down on the planet.
Spock is nothing if not consistent. Having mastered the creature’s hold over him, he breaks free of his restraints, changes into his uniform, and heads to the transporter room with a bright red toolbox. But Scotty refuses to break orders and beam him to the planet. He holds Spock at phaser point and summons the captain. This time Kirk believes Spock is in control and allows him to return to Deneva for a specimen of the creature. Anyway, there’s little to lose, since Spock is already infected.
On the planet, Spock easily avoids another man who tries to club him, and successfully captures one of the creatures in his toolbox. He studies it on the Enterprise and learns that it is a “one-celled creature resembling, more than anything else, a huge, individual brain cell.” Kirk responds, “Yes, that would answer a lot of questions.” Spock calls the captain on pretending to know what he’s talking about:
SPOCK: Do you understand what I’m suggesting, Captain?
KIRK: I think so. This may be one cell in a larger organism. An incredibly huge organism, in fact.
SPOCK: And although it is not physically connected to the other cells, it is nevertheless part of the whole creature, guided by the whole, drawing its strength from the whole, which probably accounts for its unusual resistance to our phaser weapons.
KIRK: Existing so differently from any living matter or energy as we know it, that it may have come here, planet by planet, from an entirely different galaxy.
SPOCK: From a place where our physical laws do not apply. We may therefore find it difficult to destroy, Captain.
The only information they have is that sunlight kills the creatures, but they don’t know how or why. If they don’t figure out how to destroy the parasites without harming the hosts, the only way Kirk can stop them from spreading to other planets is to kill everyone on Deneva, including Spock and his nephew.
McCoy and the fourteen Enterprise science labs are ready to throw in the towel when Kirk realizes the only property of the sun they haven’t tested yet is light. McCoy is dubious, but he agrees to test it. He sets up a chamber and exposes the parasite Spock captured to “one million candles per square inch” of light, the intensity at the point which the Denevan was freed from its control. It kills the creature, but they still have to test it on a host. Spock offers himself, despite the risk to his optic nerves at that incredible brightness. McCoy knows they have to do it, but he hates sacrificing Spock. In private, he tells Kirk, “Mr. Spock’s the best first officer in the fleet.”
The experiment works. The parasite is killed, but Spock has also been blinded. Nurse Chapel walks in and hands them the report on the creature they killed. Whoops.
MCCOY: Oh, no.
KIRK: What is it?
MCCOY: I threw the total spectrum of light at the creature. It wasn’t necessary. I didn’t stop to think that only one kind of light might’ve killed it.
SPOCK: Interesting. Just as dogs are sensitive to certain sounds which humans cannot hear, these creatures evidently are sensitive to light which we cannot see.
KIRK: Are you telling me that Spock need not have been blinded?
MCCOY: I didn’t need to throw the blinding white light at all, Jim. Spock, I—
SPOCK: Doctor it was my selection as well. It is done.
They implement their plan to use 210 satellites around Deneva to flood the planet with ultraviolet radiation. It works and the parasites start dropping like flies everywhere, freeing the people from their control. Kirk calls Sickbay to inform McCoy and Spock that they succeeded. He also comforts the doctor and tells him it wasn’t his fault that Spock will never see a sunrise again, but it’s no consolation to the doctor.
A little while later, Spock walks onto the Bridge, his sight miraculously restored. He’d forgotten about the Vulcan inner eyelid, an evolutionary trait suited to their planet’s bright sun. Aside from the death of Kirk’s brother and sister-in-law, things are back to normal on the Enterprise.
KIRK: Mr. Spock. Regaining eyesight would be an emotional experience for most. You, I presume, felt nothing?
SPOCK: Quite the contrary, Captain. I had a very strong reaction. My first sight was the face of Dr. McCoy bending over me.
MCCOY: ’Tis a pity your brief blindness did not increase your appreciation for beauty, Mr. Spock.
KIRK: If you gentlemen are finished, would you mind laying in a course for Starbase 10, Mr. Spock?
SPOCK: My pleasure, Captain.
“The City on the Edge of Forever” is a tough act to follow, but this one largely holds its own as an interesting and emotional episode. I had only remembered it (unkindly) for the ridiculous Denevan parasites, and the revelations about Kirk’s family, but the rubber pancake creatures were actually more effective than I expected, at least when they aren’t moving; the one big weakness was the way they flipped and spun through the air on wires, but otherwise they were fairly creepy and passable as lifeforms. I thought they looked great in wide-shots, especially in the amazing pullback when we and the crew see them for the first time, affixed to the ceilings and walls. The scene triggered my natural revulsion for vermin, especially when they’re the size of dinner plates. I also thought the way the parasites melted and smoked under UV radiation was very well done, though it was a simple effect.
The premise isn’t terribly original, of course. Mind-controlling parasites had been done before, notably in Heinlein’s 1951 novel The Puppet Masters, and we’ve seen the same thing many times since. But this episode really shines in the personal conflicts: the death of Kirk’s family, his choice of destroying a million innocent lives, and Spock’s blindness. Kirk loses his brother and he’s determined not to give up on his nephew and friend as well, no matter what it takes. He’s the only person who holds out for a “third alternative,” always unable to accept death and that no-win scenario. Though Kirk is snappish and bossy in this episode, we can see him struggling, unable to take more than a moment to grieve because of his responsibility to his ship, his crew, and the Denevan colonists. The way Spock stalwartly faces his fate and McCoy wrestles with his guilt is also moving. Standout scenes include Spock stepping out of the chamber and bumping into a console, revealing his blindness; Kirk’s anguished and accusatory, “Bones,” when he realizes the doctor’s mistake; and Kirk ultimately apologizing to McCoy for blaming him. Shatner’s and Nimoy’s performances are exemplary, subtly showing just how tortured Kirk and Spock are by their respective internal struggles while they carry on with their duties.
McCoy isn’t his usual competent self in this episode, skeptical at every turn and unwilling or unable to see the possibilities that Kirk demands of him. I can’t really blame him for not considering that only one kind of light would kill the parasites, not with Kirk rushing him and so much at stake—and it made for a surprising and painful twist, a mean bit of irony reminiscent of Guy de Maupassant’s short stories. The equally surprising happy ending for Spock feels more like a cheat, but it isn’t completely unfounded; it does seem logical that his Vulcan physiology and the brightness of the sun would lead to such an adaptation. (Presumably, this is also why he doesn’t tan from his exposure to the intense light.) They obviously couldn’t have left him blind for the rest of the series, but the easy solution does drop quickly, and it might have been better for McCoy to find a way to restore his friend’s vision. Perhaps some kind of VISOR...
This episode excels in character moments, such as those mentioned above, and Nurse Chapel’s concern for Spock. Though I think we could have used a scene between Kirk and Peter (whatever happened to the kid, anyway?), and there are the usual smattering of scientific and plotty nitpicks, overall “Operation—Annihilate!” rises above its silly title, ending the first season on a solid note.
Eugene’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1-6)
Torie Atkinson: The bad science, it burns! I’m willing to forgive the fake vomit aliens on strings (how many times do you get to say that!), but to say that they’re “single-celled”? And that “single-celled” means they’re part of a collective consciousness? Dear lord, at least look it up in the dictionary! Remember the days of “The Naked Time” when they would beam down to planets they knew were infected with something and wear precautionary suits? Man, those were good days. McCoy is the worst violator here, shuffling Spock off into that chamber mere minutes before the test results (that would determine the worth of the incredibly dangerous experiment) are ready. You couldn’t hold a few minutes? And I can’t wait for them to come back to Planet UV Radiation in ten years when everyone has skin cancer and horrible genetic mutations beginning to take effect! Assuming the radiation successfully penetrated all those buildings and absorbing polymers.
I spent so much of this episode going “Uh, what?” So, we’ve got whole swaths of space affected by “space madness” that has progressed for two hundred years and yet no one has bothered to investigate, or consider that when choosing planets to colonize? They just go “Johnny, remember I told you about that job transfer? Well we’re all going to be moving to the Space Madness quadrant right in the path of the infection, but don’t worry your pretty little head about it! Aw, don’t cry! You’ll make new friends! They’re sort of flat and pulsating.” And given how long these creatures have been around, there’s still no record of what they look like, and no one is at all curious as to their motives? I suppose they’re just “animals” but they seem to display intelligence and if they can force people to create spaceships, as Aurelan implies, then surely there’s more going on in those squishy little pancake bodies, right?
Maybe it’s just because “City on the Edge of Forever” is such a tough act to follow, but the emotional weight here felt so forced and abrupt. Kirk has the briefest of moments mourning for his brother and then that’s kind of it. (Also, where are his other two kids, mentioned in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”) He’s clearly troubled by the possibility that Spock may have to remain behind and be annihilated, but he doesn’t seem to really believe—and neither did I. The moment when Spock emerges from the chamber, blind, is so powerful, and then ten minutes later ta da! He’s got his sight back. I resent the manipulation.
There were a few things I really loved, though, and one of them was the music. There’s a great music cue right when they beam down to the surface of the planet and start exploring—it’s effective and really evocative. The other is when Spock is strapped to the bed saying “I am a Vulcan!” Again, really effective. The other great moment: Scotty in the transporter room. His standoff with Spock is pitch-perfect.
When they discover the creatures, the yeoman says, “It doesn’t even look real.” Well, nothing did. The death of Kirk’s brother felt like a throwaway, and the emotional impact of Spock’s infection and blindness, too, felt like cheap tricks. You can do better, Trek! Can’t wait for “Amok Time.”
Torie’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)
Best Line: KIRK (after Spock overhears McCoy complimenting him): “You’ve been so concerned about his Vulcan eyes, Doctor, you forgot about his Vulcan ears.”
Syndication Edits: The opening scene that shows the Denevan piloting himself into the sun has four small cuts: a reaction shot from Sulu and an establishing shot of the viewscreen, Kirk asking Scott to use the tractor beam, more reaction shots from the crew on the bridge, and Spock’s report of the hull temperature; Spock’s report in the transporter room just before they beam down; the landing crew running up to the building and then entering once they hear the scream; Kirk saying “Oh....Sam” when he finds his brother; Kirk demanding answers from Spock before they beam back to the ship; Kirk asking about his nephew as McCoy gives him a report on a bridge; Kirk ordering a subdued Spock back to Sickbay (and telling McCoy to restrain him); one of Spock’s many repetitions of “I am a Vulcan”; during the Spock/Scotty standoff, Scott gives Kirk a report and McCoy objects to Spock leaving Sickbay; McCoy closing the door of the test chamber on Spock (dun dun dun).
Trivia: William Shatner doubled as the dead body of George Samuel Kirk, with the addition of graying hair and a mustache. The parasites were marionettes swung on wires, created by Wah Chang from novelty vomits covered with a clear, inflatable bladder. The original draft of the script was titled “Operation—Destroy!” with no mention of Jim Kirk’s brother; instead, Aurelan was in love with the Denevan man who flew his ship into the sun, and aided the Enterprise crew in destroying the parasites (as opposed to annihilating them). Apparently, a scene was filmed with Kirk talking to his nephew about returning to live on Deneva, but was cut from the final episode. Some screenshots and a portion of the script are available at StarTrekHistory.com (currently down, but preserved by the internet), along with images from deleted scenes from other episodes.
Other notes: Outdoor scenes in the Denevan capital city were filmed in Redondo, California at the headquarters of the T.R.W. Corporation (now Northrop Grumman Space Technology).
Attention re-watchers! Our next post will be a reflection on Season 1, followed by a brief hiatus before we start Season 2.
Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.