Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Shore Leave”

“Shore Leave”
Written by Theodore Sturgeon
Directed by Robert Sparr
Season 1, Episode 17
Production episode 6149-17
Original air date: December 29, 1966
Stardate: 3025.3

Captain’s log. The Enterprise has been in space for three months. They arrive at a planet, and Sulu, McCoy, and a bunch of others take a landing party down to investigate it. Kirk is tired and needs sleep, something he’s been told by McCoy as well as Yeoman Tonia Barrows. (He complains of a kink in his back, and Barrows gives him a massage; Kirk thinks it’s Spock, but when the first officer moves to stand next to him and he’s still getting the backrub, Kirk quickly tells her to stop. This, children, is how slash fiction gets started.)

Down on the planet, McCoy and Sulu are raving about how magnificent the planet is: no animal life of any kind, just plants, dirt, and water. McCoy thinks it’s perfect for shore leave, as it’s right out of Alice in Wonderland. Then, when Sulu goes off to catalogue some plants, McCoy sees a human-sized white rabbit in a waistcoat checking a pocket watch and declaring that he’s late. He runs off, and a girl in a pinafore dress shows up and asks if McCoy has seen a giant white rabbit. Stunned to uncharacteristic silence, McCoy just points in the direction the rabbit went. After she curtsies and goes on her way, McCoy throws his head back and yells, “SULU!!!!” at the top of his lungs. Sulu comes a-runnin’, but of course, he didn’t see anything…

Star Trek The Original Series episode Shore Leave

Kirk authorizes shore leave on the planet. Barrows notices that Kirk’s name isn’t on any of the shore parties, and he says that’s right, he’s just tired, and he’s not going, so there, nyah, nyah. McCoy then reports what he saw, which Kirk interprets as a ploy to get Kirk down. Spock then shares a report he saw from McCoy’s medical log about a crewmember who is fatigued, irritable, reflex response unacceptably low, yet he refuses to take shore leave, which is, of course, his right. But Kirk self-righteously says that the person’s rights end at compromising the safety of the ship, and that crewmember will go down on his order.

The crewmember is, of course, James Kirk. And if you needed more proof that he needed leave, it’s that he fell for Spock’s obvious rhetorical trick…

Down on the planet, Lieutenants Esteban Rodriguez and Angela Martine are doing their survey. Martine is trying to get Rodriguez to relax and not work all the time. Kirk and Barrows beam down. The captain tells the pair to finish up their report, send it Spock, and go enjoy the planet. He goes over to McCoy to tease him about his rabbit story—but there are also giant rabbit tracks in the dirt. Kirk puts the shore parties on standby. McCoy objects, but until Kirk has an explanation for a rabbit and a girl on a planet that has no animal life, he doesn’t want to bring his people down.

They then hear gunshots. The three of them run to find Sulu target practicing with a police special, an antique firearm that he’s always wanted for his collection, and which he found lying on the ground. Kirk confiscates it, telling him he’ll get it back at the end of the school year.

Star Trek Original Series episode Shore Leave

Barrows notices that McCoy’s rabbit came through there. Sulu and Barrows follow the tracks while Kirk and McCoy go back to the glade where he saw them. McCoy and Kirk joke about the situation, although the doctor is glad for the tracks, as he was starting to feel a bit picked on. Kirk sympathizes, as he was the designated victim of a practical joker in the Academy named Finnegan. They also find the girl’s tracks, and so McCoy follows the rabbit further while Kirk backtracks the girl’s footprints.

Turning a corner, Kirk sees Finnegan, a giggling buffoon in a cadet uniform, who hauls off and belts Kirk, and then goads him into taking a shot back at him, which is what he’s always wanted. But before he can return the favor, he hears Barrows scream. Finnegan taunts him for running away, but Kirk ignores him and he meets up with McCoy as they find Barrows crouched over near a tree, her uniform torn. She reports that she thinking that the planet was a like a storybook, and that all a girl needed was Don Juan—and then Don Juan showed up and attacked her with a jeweled dagger. Sulu went after him, and Kirk goes after Sulu, leaving McCoy to take care of Barrows.

While searching for the helmsman, he comes across some lovely flowers—and then sees an old flame from his Academy days, Ruth. He’s totally goofy over her, and completely forgets about his search for Sulu. It takes both McCoy goading him and Rodriguez reporting a flock of birds (on this planet with no animal life) before he finally remembers reality and tells everyone to rendezvous at the glade.

Star Trek The Original Series episode Shore Leave

Spock then contacts him, reporting an energy field beneath the planet’s surface, one that’s draining power from the ship and interfering with communications.

McCoy escorts Barrows—she has a hand in his arm, and they flirt pretty outrageously—and she comments on how in a place like this a girl should be dressed as a fairytale princess with a big hat. They then come across the very dress she was talking about. She raves about how she’s a princess of the blood royale to be protected. McCoy encourages her to try it on—she’s reluctant, but he insists. While she changes, Rodriguez contacts McCoy, but the connection is awful, and he’s barely able to tell McCoy about the rendezvous. McCoy shouts into his communicator before he realizes he doesn’t have any bars and closes it. Then Barrows comes out in the dress and froofy hat and McCoy is totally smitten.

Star Trek Original Series episode Shore Leave

Rodriguez and Martine are menaced by a tiger and Sulu is attacked by a samurai. Worse, phasers no longer work, while communications are entirely down. Spock beams down—barely. The last of the energy the ship had was enough to transport Spock, and the energy drain is getting worse.

McCoy and Barrows are the first to arrive at the glade. McCoy makes an offhand comment about how a princess shouldn’t be afraid when she has a brave knight to protect her. Then an armored man shows up on horseback with a spear and attacks McCoy. Convinced that it’s a hallucination, McCoy stands his ground—and is impaled by the spear. Kirk, Sulu, and Spock show up just as McCoy falls. Spock tries to shoot it with his phaser, which doesn’t work, but Kirk still has Sulu’s revolver, and he takes out the knight with it.

Star Trek The Original Series episode Shore Leave

Barrows bursts into tears, blaming herself. Kirk gets her under control, and then Sulu notices that the “knight” is an automaton—and not only that, the knight has the same cellular structure as the plants and dirt and water here. Everything on the planet has been artificially created to mimic the real thing.

Rodriguez and Martine see a twentieth-century military plane, which does a strafing run, killing Martine. When it flies over the glade, it distracts the rest of the landing party long enough for McCoy’s body and the knight to be taken away.

Spock hypothesizes that the planet is somehow making everyone’s thoughts come to life. He queries Kirk on what he was thinking about, and then Finnegan shows up again. Kirk chases him, ordering Spock and Sulu to find McCoy’s body.

Kirk eventually catches up to Finnegan and they get into a manly manly fist fight. At the end, right before a bloody, bruised, shirt-torn Kirk kayos Finnegan, the latter says that Kirk is exactly what he expects him to be.

Star Trek The Original Series episode Shore Leave

Spock catches the tail end of Kirk’s catharsis, and they realize that Spock’s hypothesis was on the nose. Spock, of course, stupidly cites Rodriguez thinking of a tiger, and the tiger naturally shows up. As they head away from the tiger and back to the glade, they are strafed by the plane and attacked by the samurai.

Barrows changes back into her uniform (which is now torn in a different place), and is attacked by Don Juan again. Sulu and Rodriguez drive him off, and then Kirk orders everyone to stand at attention and not think of anything.

Only then does the planet’s caretaker show up and explain everything. This planet is a futuristic amusement park, where one’s heart’s desire is made real instantly—but none of it is permanent. As if to prove the point, both McCoy and Martine show up, the former with two female members of a chorus line he remembers from Rigel II. A jealous Barrows immediately claims McCoy for herself, leaving the dancers to go for Sulu and Spock. Also Uhura contacts Kirk, reporting that the power drain is gone. The caretaker says that humans aren’t ready to know about their people and their advanced technology, but he can go ahead and send shore parties down. Kirk, inexplicably, finds this acceptable and orders Uhura to let transporting commence.

Spock gives his dancer to Sulu (wah-HEY!) and says he’s had all the shore leave he needs and will go back to the ship. Kirk’s about to insist he stay and that Kirk himself will go back, but then Ruth shows up and he decides to stay.

Star Trek The Original Series episode Shore Leave

Later, we see Kirk, Sulu, McCoy, and Barrows reporting for duty and saying they had an awesome shore leave. Spock tut-tuts and calls them illogical, and everyone laughs for an unconvincingly long time before Kirk orders them to leave orbit.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The people of the planet are able to read people’s minds with something that looks like a cheap radio antenna and produce things instantly within moments of their thinking it. Fancy stuff. You have to wonder if this first contact eventually led to the replicator technology we see in the 24th century.

Fascinating. Spock doesn’t understand these silly humans with their notion of gadding about in the grass when they “rest.” To his mind, you should rest by taking a nap (not in so many words, but that’s what it boils down to). This actually makes him sound less like a strange alien who doesn’t understand humans and more like an old man who just finished shaking his fist and telling the kids to get off his lawn.

Star Trek The Original Series episode Shore Leave

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy is the first to be given a “present” by the planet’s owners, and it freaks him right the hell out. And then he gets killed, but they’re able to easily repair a spear wound.

Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu’s latest hobby is firearms, following botany in “The Man Trap” and fencing in “The Naked Time.”

Star Trek the Original Series episode Shore Leave

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura’s on the bridge the whole time. The impression is that she didn’t get shore leave, since she’s still sitting there with Spock when everyone else beams back at the end. Poor her…

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. In Ruth we have yet still another woman from the captain’s past. The ending implies that he spent his shore leave with the fantasy version of Ruth, and I have to wonder how the real Ruth would feel about it. (Probably as pissed as Leah Brahms was…)

Meanwhile Martine is apparently over Tomlinson, since she’s flirting with Rodriguez, McCoy and Barrows are all over each other, and McCoy had some fun on Rigel II once.

Star Trek The Original Series episode Shore Leave

Channel open. “An old Earth name for a place where people could go to see and do all sorts of fascinating things.”

Spock failing his saving roll versus “descriptive phrasing.” Seriously, the best Mr. Nit-Picky Specific can do is “all sorts of fascinating things”?????

Welcome aboard. We’ve got recurring regulars DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei, and the rest of the landing party is played by Emily Banks (Barrows), Perry Lopez (Rodriguez), and Barbara Baldavin (returning as Martine following “Balance of Terror“). Oliver McGowan plays the Caretaker, and the various creations of the planetary theme park are played by Paul Baxley (the black knight), William Blackburn (the white rabbit), Shirley Bonne (Ruth), Marcia Brown (Alice), Bruce Mars (Finnegan), James Gruzal (Don Juan), and Sebastian Tom (the samurai).

Star Trek The Original Series episode Shore Leave

Trivial matters: This is the first of two scripts written by science fiction great Theodore Sturgeon, the other being “Amok Time” in season two. This script was heavily rewritten by both Gene L. Coon and Gene Roddenberry, as Sturgeon’s original draft (which was called “Finagle’s Planet”) was too expensive to film and too fantastical. Sturgeon submitted two other story outlines to the show, but they were never produced. One was a sequel to this episode; the other was “The Joy Machine,” which was later developed into a novel by James Gunn.

The animated series did a sequel to this episode called “Once Upon a Planet,” which we’ll cover when we get that far. It’s unknown how much of Sturgeon’s sequel (and/or Sturgeon’s initial draft of this episode) was used by scriptwriters Chuck Menville and Len Janson.

This is one of four episodes not adapted by James Blish, but rather by his widow J.A. Lawrence after he died while in the midst of Star Trek 12. Lawrence wrote the adaptation for this episode, as well as “And the Children Shall Lead,” for that volume, as well as the two Harry Mudd episodes in Mudd’s Angels.

Allegedly, William Shatner hoped to wrestle the tiger that was used, but was talked out of it. There were also plans for an elephant, but it never materialized.

Like Mears in “The Galileo Seven,” Barrows was originally written as Rand, and the sexual tension was between her and Kirk. In their rewrites, Coon and Roddenberry changed it to flirting with McCoy and added the character of Ruth for Kirk to be goofy eyed at. There has been some fan speculation that the “blonde lab tech” that Kirk almost married, mentioned in “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was Ruth.

At one point, Kirk refers to Martine as “Teller.” She’s only credited as Angela, and was originally written as a different character named Mary Teller, but it was changed when Barbara Baldavin was cast.

Both Finnegan and Ruth appear in Star Trek Annual #2, published by DC, which chronicled Kirk’s Academy days. It was by Peter David, James W. Fry, Curt Swan, & Arne Starr. In addition, Finnegan appears in the novels Captain’s Peril and Collision Course, both by William Shatner with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, and the My Brother’s Keeper trilogy by Michael Jan Friedman. Finnegan also shows up in the final two issues of the Who Killed Captain Kirk? story arc in DC’s first Star Trek run from issues 49-55 by David, Tom Sutton, & Ricardo Villagran; that story takes place in the movie era and shows that, three decades later, Finnegan’s still a practical joker, but also is a commander for Starfleet Security who investigates a murder attempt on Kirk.

Barrows appears in the McCoy novel in the Crucible trilogy by David R. George III, which establishes that the pair of them eventually married, and also in the final issue of DC’s first Trek monthly volume, issue #56 by Martin Pasko and Gray Morrow.

To boldly go. “I’ve already had as much shore leave as I care for.” One of my favorite authors is Alfred Bester, but whenever I introduce him to people, I always have to qualify it by saying that he wrote his best work in the 1950s, and so his attitudes toward women and non-white people is somewhat backward. If you can filter that out, you can appreciate The Demolished Man (one of the best stories about telepathy in the history of the world) and The Stars My Destination and his amazing short fiction.

As with Bester, so too with this episode. The mainstream of 1966 was one where women were referred to as girls and yearned to be protected and where men speaking to them condescendingly in a don’t-worry-your-pretty-little-head tone was actually seen as somewhat respectful. Plus it was perfectly okay to do horrific ethnic stereotypes, so it never occurred to anybody that the portrayal of Finnegan as a giggling goon with an Irish folk music motif playing every time he’s on screen would be spectacularly offensive.

Star Trek The Original Series episode Shore Leave

I expected all that going in. I knew that Finnegan would make me roll my eyes and I knew that McCoy’s drooling over Barrows and Barrows’s notions of what “a girl should have” would make me nauseous. Filtering that out, I was able to enjoy episode—

—at first. The first seventy-five percent or so is actually fun in a turn-off-your-brain way. In particular, I was overjoyed to see the larger crew camaraderie return, with Sulu and McCoy’s chat in the beginning, the flirty conversations between Rodriguez and Martine, Kirk and McCoy’s joking about the rabbit, and so on.

But it kinda fell apart at the end, starting with the simply endless fistfight between Kirk and Finnegan at Vasquez Rocks. Seriously, the stupid fight lasts about seventeen days, straddling a commercial break, and I wanted to gnaw my leg off at the knee by the end of it.

And then our heroes who are specifically in space to seek out new life and new civilizations are perfectly okay with these alien douchenozzles who’ve messed with their minds and lives, and killed two of them (brought them back, yes, but still…), say, “Oh, we’re just really advanced, too much for you to understand,” and they just accept that? And Spock agrees with him? This isn’t the Starfleet we met in “The Corbomite Maneuver” that values meeting new life and opening relations with them. These are aliens who can read people’s minds without their consent, and our heroes’ response is to just go along with it?

On top of that, the scenarios and things they get are so unimaginative. It’s all 19th and 20th century stuff (except Barrows’s medieval fairy princess and the black knight), but it feels like a missed opportunity. Why couldn’t Sulu have found an early laser pistol prototype from the 21st century? Why couldn’t Rodriguez dream up a super-villain from a current popular three-D drama? Why is everything they think of from the distant past? This was a chance to show a bit more of the life of people in this future and they blew it.

Still, mostly a fun episode. Except for McCoy being creepy and Finnegan being awful and the bad ending.

 

Warp factor rating: 5 (if you can filter out the period sexism and stereotyping); 3 (if you totally can’t)

 

Next week:The Squire of Gothos

Keith R.A. DeCandido is involved with two nifty Kickstarters, one for a superhero anthology called The Side of Good/The Side of Evil (in which Keith will have a story), the other for a web series that combines 50s and 60s pulp sci-fi with a modern sensibility (think Buckeroo Banzai meets Emma Peel) starring Singularity & Co.’s Cici James called Atomic Annie (for which Keith will be putting together a short-story anthology).

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