Thu
Jan 27 2011 11:56am

Star Trek Re-watch: “That Which Survives”

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesThat Which Survives
Teleplay by John Meredyth Lucas
Story by Michael Richards
Directed by Herb Wallerstein

Season 3, Episode 17
Production episode 3x14
Original air date: Jan. 24, 1969
Stardate unknown

Recap: David Mack

The Enterprise crew discovers an “impossible” planet. Only a few thousand years old and the size of Earth’s moon, it has Earthlike gravity, density, atmosphere, and vegetation—none of which could have developed naturally in so short a time. Captain Kirk decides this merits investigation. (Gee, you think?) He assembles a landing party consisting of himself, Dr. McCoy, senior geologist D’Amato, and helmsman Sulu—because the pilot is the first guy you want to take on a planetary survey. Screw those lazy botanists.

As the landing party starts to beam down, an alien lady whose eye shadow sports more colors than a bag of Skittles appears in the transporter room and declares, “Stop! You must not go!” Then, with one touch she kills the transporter operator—ironically, the only person who could have halted the process.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesAn earthquake shakes the planet and turns the rocks under the landing party into a carnival ride, while in orbit the Enterprise crew gets shaken up—and looks up to see no sign of the strange planetoid. They are alone in deep space.

Back on the rock of the week, D’Amato reports that during the “tremor” his tricorder detected “immeasurable power,” which abruptly ceased—and he’s certain the reading had nothing to do with the seismic distrubance. Kirk replies, “That’s strange.” Wow, Skipper Jimmy’s batting a thousand today. He tries to hail the Enterprise but gets only dead air. Sulu and D’Amato confirm that the Enterprise has vanished from orbit, prompting Kirk to remark, “We’re stranded.” Way to boost morale, Jimbo.

Sulu gets in on the negativity by presuming “the Enterprise must have blown up.” Kirk debunks that notion, so McCoy takes a turn playing Nervous Nellie: Could the Enterprise have crashed into the planet? Sulu starts yammering about the Tunguska event, but Kirk says, “If I’d wanted a Russian history lesson, I’d have brought along Mister Chekov.” Match point to Skipper Jimmy.

Time to go to work, Kirk says: Without the Enterprise, the landing party has to focus on basics. It needs food and water, quickly. He tasks Sulu and D’Amato with making a survival-oriented planetary survey, on the double.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesBack on the Enterprise, the crew finds the dead transporter officer. Intrigued, Spock orders a full autopsy report from Doctors M’Benga and Sanchez, and he tells Scotty to pop the hood on the transporter. Meanwhile, relief conn officer Lt. Rahda (the WASPiest Desi woman I’ve ever seen) reports no sign of planetary debris. Good news: the planetoid didn’t blow up (they think). Bad news: the ship has been hurled nearly a thousand light-years away by an unknown power.

Spock rules out explosions as the cause of the Enterprise’s positional change and pins it instead on an unknown method of “displacement.” Scotty nearly wets himself with excitement:

SCOTTY: What you’re saying is, the planet didn’t blow up, and the captain and the others—they’re still alive!

SPOCK: Please, Mister Scott. Restrain your leaps of illogic. I have said nothing. I was merely speculating.

Nobody craps on a parade like Spock, eh? M’Benga calls with the fastest autopsy results in medical history: the transporter operator was killed by cellular disruption. Something made all his cells go kablooey from the inside. Wasn’t a virus, the doctor says, leading Spock to suspect foul play. He orders the Enterprise back to the planetoid at maximum warp.

SPOCK: Can you give me warp eight?

SCOTTY: Aye! And maybe a wee bit extra. I’ll sit on the warp engines myself and nurse them.

SPOCK: That position, Mister Scott, would not only be unavailing, but also ... undignified.

Damn, Spock’s in rare form this week.

On the planetoid, the landing party has found no animals, all the plants are toxic, there’s no surface water, and the only other life form is a virus. Kirk tells his team to split up (because that never backfires): he sends D’Amato looking for underground water, has Sulu run an atmospheric analysis, and tells McCoy to study the local flora and the virus. (Kirk, meanwhile, will take a nap.) Why all these tasks couldn’t have been accomplished while the four of them stayed together is one of Star Trek’s enduring mysteries.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesSulu alerts Kirk to an off-the-scale, on-and-then-off energy reading unlike any he has ever seen. Elsewhere, D’Amato turns and is confronted by the same strange woman who appeared in the Enterprise transporter room. She tells him not to be afraid, reaches out to touch him, and says, “I am for you, Lieutenant D’Amato.” She tells him not to call his friends, and D’Amato, apparently fooled into thinking he’s about to get lucky, complies.

McCoy calls Kirk to say he just detected an intense new life form on his tricorder, as if out of nowhere. No, wait—it’s gone again. It came from D’Amato’s area. Kirk calls the geologist: no answer. The landing party finds D’Amato dead, every cell in his body disrupted.

As Kirk tries in vain to excavate a grave with his phaser, Sulu remarks, “What a terrible way to die.” Kirk sagely opines, “There are no good ways, Sulu.” Then we learn that a phaser beam at full power is 8,000° centigrade (roughly 14,000° Fahrenheit), as hot as the Sun—and unable to cut through the planetoid’s rocky surface. They bury D’Amato under some styrofoam rocks, and Sulu says, “It looks so lonely there.” McCoy retorts, “It would be worse if he had company.” Apparently, Sulu is the landing party’s straight man.

In space, the Enterprise hauls ass at warp 8.4 and all is going well, but Scotty calls the bridge to report the ship “feels wrong.” Oh, those silly engineers, always going on about their feelings. Spock tells him to sack up and get back to work.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesScotty sends Crewman Watkins to check the engines, but Watkins is ambushed by the freaky alien woman. They have a long conversation in which she apparently reads his mind and learns all about the engines. Only when she starts repeating, “I am for you, Watkins,” does it occur to him to call for help, but by then, of course, it’s too late. Miss Skittle-Eyes vanishes by folding herself from three dimensions to two to one to none. Scott throws a fit, and Spock puts the ship on Red Alert.

Sulu tells Kirk the planet’s rocky surface is an unnatural alloy. Kirk posits that it’s an artificial planet. Sulu asks where its creators/inhabitants are. Remembering past missions, Kirk speculates the world might be hollow. (Quick, Jimmy, try to touch the sky. It’s right behind that paper maché boulder.) They call it a day; Kirk and McCoy take a nap while Sulu stands first watch.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesOn the Enterprise, Spock and Scotty figure out that whoever or whatever they’re up against, it’s advanced, powerful, and hostile—which means the landing party is in big trouble! Speaking of which: back on the planet, the crazy lady is back, and this time she is for Sulu. Being smarter than the average redshirt, Sulu actually tries shooting her. When that fails, he calls for help. She grazes his shoulder and wounds him. Kirk and McCoy arrive, and McCoy tends to Sulu while Kirk faces off with Miss Skittles.

Her touch has no effect on Kirk, though. He asks why she’s trying to kill them. She protests that she doesn’t want to, but that she must touch Sulu. Kirk asks her if there are men on this planet. (Jeez, he just met her, and already he’s angling for a date? That Jimmy is one smooth operator.) She makes another reach for Sulu, and Kirk stops her. She retreats, folds herself flat, and vanishes. Kirk wonders if they’re on “a ghost planet,” Sulu asks how someone so beautiful can be so evil, and I consider fast-forwarding through the rest of the episode.

The Enterprise has a new problem: the engines are malfunctioning! They try to reduce speed, but can’t. The gizmo in the whatchmacallit has been sabotaged, the ship is stuck in acceleration mode, and in fifteen minutes the ship will go ka-boom. And, as Scotty explains, “Nothing in the universe can stop it!” Not that he ever exaggerates.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesSpock says that a doodad, if used properly inside the skinny crawlway, can save the day. Scotty protests that Spock would be killed if he tried that, but Spock says they all will die if he doesn’t. Persuaded, Scotty volunteers for the job. While he’s doing that, Spock performs the fastest molecular analysis of an entire starship that has ever been conducted in history. Just because he can.

Kirk figures out that the alien woman can target only one of them at a time. They plan to take turns defending each other—and then Kirk’s phaser overloads without warning. The captain tosses it away barely in time, and they hit the deck as it goes boom.

Scotty shimmies on his back through a pipe full of deadly animated lightning to fix the busted antimatter gizmo. One mistake and he will blow up the ship. Scotty tells Spock to jettison him and the whole gizmo pod to save the ship if he can’t fix the gizmo.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesThe landing party meets another Skittles Chick. This time she has come for Kirk. Normally, that would be cause for celebration, but not today. Sulu and McCoy become offensive linemen defending Quarterback Kirk, who gets the woman to identify herself as Losira, “commander of this station.” She keeps saying she doesn’t want to kill Kirk, that killing is wrong, but that she must because she “is sent.” She can’t let them enter the station.

Kirk asks if there are others on the station. Losira reveals, “They…are no more.” When he asks how long she has been there, and if she’s lonely, she does the origami two-step and disappears. The landing party goes looking for the entrance to the station, and they find it in about fifteen seconds. They realize they’ve been led to it. But why? (Apparently, none of them hear Admiral Akbar shouting, “It’s a trap!”)

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesLight-years away, Spock gets his computer analysis: the Enterprise is out of phase to some minuscule degree. Meanwhile, Scotty, with only seconds left before the ship explodes, is about to do his thing. But if the setting of his doodad doesn’t precisely match the gizmo, they all die! Fortunately, Spock is a quick thinker, and he has Scotty reverse the polarity on his doodad. It works! Nice save, guys—it’s Miller Time.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesSulu, McCoy, and Kirk find a control room. They’ve entered Losira’s base; now she’s pissed. The first to appear says she is for Kirk, so they huddle up. A second Losira appears, for McCoy, followed by a third, for Sulu. The guys play musical victims, hopping around to face one another’s would-be assassins in a potentially fatal game of tag.

Luckily for them, Spock beams down with a redshirt. Kirk orders Spock to destroy the big glowy computer cube on the ceiling. One phaser shot does the job, and the three Losiras vanish.

Their victory triggers a recorded message from the original Losira. She greets her fellow Kalandans and warns them to beware a virus that has slain her people on the station. She is the last member of the advance force sent to crew the outpost, she says, and she is recording the message because she will be dead long before her countrymen reach her. Her final actions will be to set the outpost’s automated defenses to protect it from all life forms but the Kalandans.

McCoy deduces that Losira’s reinforcements never arrived—that the same ships that supplied her outpost had infected it, and that her people never returned because they died out. Spock suggests the computer modeled its automated defender on the only template it possessed: Losira. Kirk notes the computer’s simulation was too perfect: its simulacrum of Losira was so accurate that it felt remorse for performing its lethal function.

KIRK: She must have been a remarkable woman.

McCOY: And beautiful.

SPOCK: Beauty is transitory, Doctor.

KIRK: I don’t agree with you, Mister Spock.

SPOCK: Indeed?

KIRK: Beauty … survives.

The landing party beams up and moves on as we… FADE OUT.


I don’t want to step on Dayton’s analysis, so I’ll keep my own comments brief. This was actually a fairly enjoyable episode, in my opinion. An interesting mystery, a serious threat, the beautiful Lee Meriwether, a classic foam-rock set… what’s not to love? Also, there were a number of great lines throughout the episode, plenty of humorous character moments, and a classic pulp-SF conceit in the super-advanced but vanished civilization.

Though not a highlight of the series or the season, this was a solid hour of fun.

David’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1 to 6)

 

Star Trek episode That Which Survives

Analysis: Dayton Ward

After “The Mark of Gideon” last week, I was thinking just about anything that wasn’t “And the Children Shall Lead” had to be at least something of an improvement, right?

As it turns out, this week’s offering manages to meet that goal… to a point.

There’s an interesting premise here, certainly. A mysterious world that exists in defiance of everything presently known about how planets form? The discovery of a long-dead civilization, with an autonomous guardian assigned to protect them who doesn’t realize its mission no longer seems to have a purpose? Such themes are really only teased, however, as the episode quickly sets about giving us yet another “Kirk’s in trouble; the ship’s in trouble” outing.

The problems start right from the very first scene, with the Enterprise in orbit above the odd “ghost planet,” and Kirk and Spock discussing how the planet is too young—geologically speaking—for vegetation or even an atmosphere to have evolved naturally. The notion that that it might be an artificial construct never seems to enter either man’s mind, and this is where we as viewers have to go, “Huh?” Have they already forgotten the Yonadan asteroid from “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”? Okay, in their defense, I’d almost forgotten about it, too. Dagnabbit.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesIt’s to be the first of several instances where our stalwart heroes are portrayed as being oblivious—if not outright incompetent—as a means of driving the plot. It’s the landing party that discovers that the planet is artificial, something that would seem an easy can-do for the Enterprise’s sensors to accomplish before Kirk and company beam down. When the ship is flung (transported) away from the planet, nobody seems to notice that until the crewmember replacing Sulu at the helm points to the screen and tells everybody that the stars look different. What? No sensors or other instruments make note of this? We have to wait until somebody basically looks out the window?

As for Losira and the Kalandans’ planetary defense system, nothing much is revealed as to why the planet’s builders even considered such measures to be necessary, other than “Just because.” Again, it’s an intriguing premise like this that gets short shrift in the name of just showing our heroes reacting to the planet’s dangers.

As for the system’s main weapon—a “projection” of Losira, the last of her people sent to prepare the planet for an eventual Kalandan colonization that never happens—one has to wonder what the builders were thinking. Sending out one version of her at a time in order to target a specific individual doesn’t seem to be a practical strategy, particularly since the computer overseeing the whole thing doesn’t seem to consider sending multiple versions of Losira after the landing party until their fourth encounter with a “defender.”

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesHowever, the approach does offer actress Lee Meriwether an opportunity to imbue some warmth and even a hint of passion into what essentially is a lifeless, computer-generated simulation of what her character might have been. Meriwether is able to convey the moral conflict that the computer has inadvertently fused into what should be a soulless, program-driven automaton, and we see the internal struggle she wages as she resists carrying out her deadly tasks.

Is it this remnant of Losira’s conscience and morality which prevents her from outright destroying the Enterprise at the beginning of the story, rather than simply flinging it hundreds of light-years away? When she reappears on the ship to sabotage its vital systems, is that the computer attempting to reassert itself over its wayward program? These are interesting questions, which the episode never receives a chance to explore to any meaningful degree.

There’s a moment when the dialogue trips over its ’60s-era chauvinism, when Sulu confronts Losira and proclaims, “I don’t want to have to kill a woman!” C’mon, dude. She’s a threat, and so far as you know she’s the one who killed D’Amato and the poor transporter dude on the Enterprise. Uhura would slap you silly if she’d heard you say that.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesThis episode is a fun one if you’re a fan of the famous “planet set” the show utilized throughout its run (and I admit to being one of those folks who think the set has its charms). The “earthquake” that precedes the Enterprise being sent on its little field trip might look hokey, but I credit the series’ ever-resourceful production designer, Matt Jefferies, with giving the scene an added kick even while constrained by time and budget. He fashioned a “rocker plate” for the set, upon which were placed several of the rock formations and other boulders, which could then be moved independently as the camera was shaken and the actors staggered around to simulate the quake’s effects. The only time the illusion really suffers is when you wonder why the rock formations in the background are dancing like that gopher from Caddyshack, and when Kirk stumbles from a rock ledge to the very much unmoving sandy ground.

Still, in a season consisting of so many “bottle shows,” it’s nice to see this change of pace with respect to shooting locations. Though the direction is nothing exemplary, the use of different camera angles, along with the placement of boulders and plants as well as the movement of the actors around the different rock formations almost manages to sell the notion that the indoor planet set is larger than it really is.

Matt Jefferies is to be commended for every last drop of creative juice he squeezed from his meager budget to aid the look and feel of this episode. In addition to the planet set—which includes the underground cave eventually found by the landing party—he also found some money to construct the “service crawlway” in which Scotty frantically works to save the ship. Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesRather than resorting to the ever-reliable and oft-used “Jefferies tube” mini-set which had ably served the series over the years, Jefferies created a slightly larger crawlspace which he then decked out with all sorts of thingamajiggers and other cool-looking engineering-like whatchamahoozits. The larger area allowed for multiple camera angles, including great close-ups of James Doohan’s face as Scotty fights to complete his repairs before the ship blows up.

Speaking of Doohan, he does get some nice scenes in this episode. My favorite is when he’s stalking around engineering like a mother hen, trying to sniff out a problem he knows is there just because his gut tells him so. Though we know the ship won’t be destroyed, it still presents Doohan with an opportunity to really shine as the “miracle worker,” placing his life on the line for his crewmates, even if he gets a bit hysterical right at the end there. It’s also nice to see him vindicated when Spock realizes that the human engineer’s gut feeling wasn’t just an emotional reaction to the situation, but actually based on something tangible that Scotty sensed ahead of everyone else.

Star Trek episode That Which SurvivesWhich brings us to Spock: did anybody besides me just want to punch him in the junk? If he’s not being a smarmy tool, then he’s telling everyone they’re wrong, or imprecise, or wrong, wrong, wrong. Also, after this much time serving with and living among humans, you’d think he’d know by now that sometimes humans react to intuition, and that they color their emotional reactions with observations that might not always be germane to the problem at hand. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong, but at the very least he should have given Scotty credit for not just being goofy and that his years of experience working in and around starships might give him some insight into their operation. And what is that gizmo he’s playing with all the time? You’d think he just came from the iPhone store and couldn’t stop texting his BFF, or something.

The truth behind the planet and the Kalandans isn’t revealed until the episode’s very last moments, crammed into a few bits of exposition after Spock and a redshirt arrive in the nick of time to save Kirk, McCoy, and Sulu from being killed by multiple Losira projections. We get no further information about the Kalandans themselves, what might have motivated them to create this planet, or why they felt the need to arm it with a defense system that behaves so oddly. The storyline fell victim to the series’ episodic nature, as there’s no talk of attempting to follow up on the mystery.

When I watched the episode, I jotted down notes into two lists, comprising the “pros” and “cons” as I saw them, and my initial list was far harsher in my assessment than I ended up being when I wrote out my analysis. I suppose after last week’s episode as well as some of the ones we’ve suffered through so far this season, “That Which Survives” deserves a little leniency for what manages to still come through after the script was put through the budget filter. Most of that can be credited to Lee Meriwether and her performance as Losira. It’s not among the season’s worst offerings, but neither is it one of the year’s unpolished gems. If I had to boil my feelings down to a single word, it would be “disappointment” at the lost potential the story represented.

Dayton’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1 to 6)


Next episode: Season 3, Episode 18 — “The Lights of Zetar.” U.S. residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.


David Mack is for you, Olga Kurlyenko.

Dayton Ward is for you, Diane Lane.

13 comments
Mike McCaffrey
1. earlgrey
David,
Sulu was a Science Officer during the first season prior to becoming the navigator/pilot.
Dayton Ward
2. daytonward
Actually, Sulu was an "astrophysicist" in the second pilot, then was moved to the helm positionwhen the series went to production (no onscreen explanation was ever provided, so we're left to infer that he opted for a transfer to the operations side of things). That said, he was shown in "The Man Trap" to have an interest in botany.
David Mack
3. davidmack
^ Okay, so who's more qualified to be on the landing party? A professional botanist, or a trained astrophysicist-turned-starship pilot who lists "botany" as a hobby on his SpaceBook page?
Kurt Lorey
4. Shimrod
@3 davidmack.

Well, I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express once. Surely that would qualify me to go along with a shore party as "the unnamed red shirt"?

Now, that I think about it, "professional science officer" wasn't exactly a ticket back to the Enterprise on a noticable number of episodes either.
David Mack
5. davidmack
^ Precisely. There were no redshirts on this mission, but that didn't prevent a fatality. The one scientist they brought on this mission—senior geologist D'Amato—was the first to buy the farm. I guess he figured wearing a blue shirt meant he could get cocky.
Dayton Ward
6. daytonward
^ He'd been going through the motions for a couple of years, anyway. Nothing left to live for, everything important in his life ripped away from him by fickle fate, yadda yadda yadda.

AND WHOSE FAULT WAS THAT?????
john mullen
7. johntheirishmongol
I always thought it would have been cool if there was some reaction to the disrupted cells so they exploded or something. I did enjoy this episode, they had all sorts of dialogue fun, and wanted to see the whole triplet action they got going. Just tackle the girls! How hard is it???

I always liked Lee Meriweather, but she played a lot of supporting roles, never had much to do. I would have wanted to see her stretch a little bit more than she did.
jon meltzer
8. jmeltzer
It looks like Bill Theiss was getting a bit tired of the NBC censors' "no navel" restrictions. They wanted Lee Meriwether's navel covered, so he designed in that redundant and silly stomach flap to make _sure_ her navel was covered.
subcontinental
9. subcontinental
"Meanwhile, relief conn officer Lt. Rahda (the WASPiest Desi woman I’ve ever seen) reports no sign of planetary debris."

All readers of Indian descent, please report to Mr. Mack for instruction in approved standards of appearance and deportment for your race.
David Mack
10. davidmack
#9 - The line about Lt. Rahda was intended as a joke about Star Trek's (and, more generally, 1960s-era American television's) practice of casting "ethnic" roles with white actors in token makeup or costumes, rather than making an effort to cast actual minorities.
subcontinental
11. Blue Jean
Oh, I'd like to punch a couple of people in this episode, but Spock isn't one of them. By the time I watched the third season, I'd gotten used to Spock's barely concealed impatience for the comparatively low intelligences surrounding him, and, given that both D'Amato and Sulu seem to be carrying the idiot ball for this round, I can't say I blame him for his attitude.

Think about it; you're stranded on an alien planet, with no food, no water, no intelligent life, and no way to communicate for help. All of a sudden, an intelligent life form DOES show up, who not only shares your species but speaks your language. What do you do?

If you're D'Amato, you act like you've landed on the Planet of The Bubble Headed Space Babes (one per universe) and patronize your potential rescuer, leer at her, and do everything but pat her on the head. "Lucky D'Amato...let me call the captain and then we'll have a little conference about sharing your food and water." Sorry, D'Amato; this isn't one of the women from the "Spock's Brain" planet, though if you'd had Spock's Brain inside your own head, you probably would have lived longer than thirty seconds after you met Losira.

If D'Amato acts like a drunk at the Playboy Mansion, Sulu acts like a bank robber about to take a customer hostage. I don't blame him for being jumpy, but the first thing he does is level a phaser at Losira and start barking orders at her. Not a good idea when you're on a potentially hostile planet, as Klaatu learned to his cost. If Sulu had used a few grains of respect, he might not have had his shoulder "disrupted". Then again, if he had used a little politeness, he'd be Spock, the problem would have been solved in half the time, and the episode would have been over ten minutes early. So YMMV.

On the plus side, the portrayal of the long dead Losira as a wise, compassionate leader of her people (rather than the shallow "bitch be crazy" stereotype beloved of so many hacks) almost makes up for the sexism of "Spock's Brain". Almost.
subcontinental
12. Eugene R.
I'll also toss in an appreciation for the Losira "fade-out" effect, wherein she goes from 3-D to 2-D to gone. It was suitably alien and distinct from the usual transporter schtick.

And the concept of automated defenses that turn out to be deadly is one that received some previous air-time, like the M5 in "The Ultimate Computer."
subcontinental
13. hawkwind
I second the appreciation for the flatgirl effect, which is what most people remember about the episode if they haven't seen it for a few years. It's pretty imaginative and nifty even now.

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