Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Catspaw”

“Catspaw”
Written by Robert Bloch
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Season 2, Episode 1
Production episode 60330
Original air date: October 27, 1967
Stardate: 3018.2

Captain’s log. A landing party consisting of Scotty, Sulu, and Lieutenant Jackson on the uninhabited planet (at least according to sensors) of Pyris VII haven’t checked in for half an hour. Uhura finally gets through to Jackson, who requests a beam-up for himself, and won’t answer Kirk’s questions about what’s happening down there.

Kirk and Spock leave the bridge together, but only Kirk arrives in the transporter room (?), joined by McCoy. As soon as Jackson materializes, he collapses on the deck, dead. A voice speaks through his mouth, warning Kirk that the Enterprise is cursed.

With no obvious cause of death, and no word of Scotty or Sulu, Kirk beams down with Spock and McCoy to the spot from which Jackson beamed up, leaving DeSalle in charge of the ship. They materialize on a foggy plain, even though sensors indicate no temperature variations or bodies of water that would cause fog.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Spock detects multiple life form readings. Kirk tries to confirm it with the ship, but Ensign Pavel Chekov only detects the three members of the landing party—and then the connection goes bad. As they approach, three disfigured women appear and speak in semi-spooky sing-songy voices to warn Kirk to remember the curse and go back.

After they disappear, the landing party heads toward the life form reading—at which point they’re buffeted by an intense wind. Eventually, they come across a castle, which never registered on sensors.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

They enter to find themselves hissed at by a small black cat wearing a nice jeweled collar. Kirk and McCoy comment on the Hallowe’en-themed imagery they keep encountering: three witches, fog, castle, black cat, cobwebs. Spock is confused by the reference, but Kirk channels the Doctor by saying he’ll explain later.

On the Enterprise, Chekov loses the signal on the landing party as soon as they enter the castle. DeSalle orders Chekov to retune the sensors (when DeSalle suggests he get help, Chekov gets offended, saying he’s not that green) and Uhura to keep trying to punch through the interference.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

The landing party follows the cat, and the floor collapses beneath them. They fall to the next level, unconscious. They wake up in a dungeon, chained to the wall, along with a skeleton. Kirk is confused as to why they’re encountering so much Earth-based horror imagery on this alien world.

The door opens to reveal Scotty and Sulu, who appear to be drugged, the former pointing a phaser at them. Moving slowly and deliberately, Sulu frees each of them from their chains, Scotty covering them with the phaser.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Kirk and Spock try to jump Scotty and Sulu, but just as they start to, a voice yells, “Stop!” and they find themselves in a throne room. Sitting on the throne is Korob, the cat sitting next to him. He is boggled that Kirk beamed down after being warned away, but Kirk wants to know why Jackson was killed and why Sulu and Scotty are zombies.

On several occasions during the conversation, Korob seems to be getting advice from the cat.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Korob realizes he’s been a poor host and creates a table filled with a feast and insists they sit down and join him. Korob then tries to bribe them with jewels, which fails utterly, surprising Korob. But he then says that they passed the test: they showed their loyalty by not leaving after the warning in order to save their fellow crew members, and they resisted bribery.

The cat runs off, and then a woman named Sylvia enters, wearing the same necklace the cat did. She explains that it was easy to take control of Scotty and Sulu, as human minds are easy to manipulate.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Kirk suddenly jumps Scotty and takes his phaser, handing it off to Spock. Sylvia is unperturbed, and holds a chain with a tiny model of the Enterprise on it. She holds it over the candle and gives Kirk back his communicator. DeSalle reports that the temperature is rising on the ship with no known cause. Unwilling to risk the ship, Kirk capitulates, handing back the phaser. For some reason, Sylvia and Korob want information about the crew.

Korob then encases the Enterprise model in lucite, which translates to a force field that surrounds the Enterprise itself. There will be no attempts by the crew to send another search party down. Sylvia orders everyone save McCoy to go back to their cell.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

While chained to the wall again, Spock and Kirk hypothesize about Sylvia and Korob, who seemed surprised that they didn’t treat the setting they created as normal. Spock thinks they only accessed the subconscious of the human mind, and created something based on their fears, not their reality.

The door opens, and McCoy has joined Scotty and Sulu in the zombie brigade. Leaving Spock chained to the wall, they take Kirk to see Sylvia and Korob—who are arguing. The sensations that they’re experiencing in human form are quite heady, and Sylvia doesn’t want to give them up. Korob berates her for not following their duty to the Old Ones, but Sylvia could give a damn.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Sylvia talks alone with Kirk. Where she comes from, they don’t have sensations like humans do, and Sylvia wants to know more about how it feels. She offers a melding of their minds—she would get more sensations, and he would get power. (When Kirk asks about Korob, she dismisses him, unaware that Korob is eavesdropping.)

Kirk plays along, being flirty and seductive, and she shows off different costumes and hairstyles. Kirk also learns that they use a transmuter, a device that facilitates their “magic.” Unfortunately, it’s never a good idea to bluff a telepath, and Sylvia reads Kirk’s lack of sincerity in his mind. She angrily sends him back to his cell.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

On the ship, DeSalle has been hitting the force field with an electrical charge, which has made a tiny dent in the field. It’s not much—it’s barely even detectable—but DeSalle orders Chekov to keep at it.

Korob comes to visit Kirk and Spock in their cell, freeing them, giving them their weapons and communicators, and saying he’s also freed the Enterprise. Sylvia has become irrational, and Korob begs them to leave—but Kirk won’t leave without his people. Korob insists, however, that they’re not his people anymore, they’re Sylvia’s.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

As soon as they exit the cell, though, they’re menaced by Sylvia, back in cat form—but much larger now. She smashes a door that lands right on Korob; before he loses consciousness, he gives Kirk his magic wand, which is apparently the link to the transmuter.

Sylvia sends McCoy, Scotty, and Sulu after Kirk and Spock, but they manage to take them down with mad hand-to-hand skillz and nerve pinches. Sylvia herself threatens them until she realizes that Kirk has Korob’s link to the transmuter. So she takes him to the dining hall, away from Spock and the unconscious crew members, and tries to convince him to give her the transmuter. Instead, he smashes it.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

A flash of light, and then it’s all gone: the castle, the fog, the dungeon, all the illusions. They’re just on a barren planet. Even McCoy, Scotty, and Sulu are back to normal. They see Sylvia and Korob’s true form, which are tiny funky alien creatures, who die and disintegrate. McCoy is shocked that this was all an illusion, but Kirk reminds him that Jackson is still dead. And with that, they beam back.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The transmuter is powerful enough to manipulate matter and energy to an amazing degree, including apparently providing intergalactic travel, but it’s fragile enough to be easily smashed against a table.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Fascinating. Spock’s notion that Korob and Sylvia intended the setting to be natural rather than fearful belies much of the early parts of the episode, when fear was the obvious motivator: killing Jackson, the fog, and the witches’ warning.

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy gets socked in the jaw twice by Kirk while under Sylvia’s control. Poor bastard…

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty gets all of one line of dialogue at the very end. This episode is also one of the few times you can tell that James Doohan was missing part of his right middle finger. He was generally good about hiding it, but when he’s holding the phaser on Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in the cell, you can see that he’s only holding it with his index and ring fingers.

Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu doesn’t even get any dialogue in the episode. While Scotty and McCoy use weapons to beat up on Kirk and Spock, Sulu sticks to hand to hand, and does okay. But Kirk beats his ass anyhow, because captain.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Hailing frequencies open. With both third-in-commands on the planet from jump, and with the new navigator being an ensign, you would think that the ranking officer on the bridge would be left in charge of the ship. But that person is a black woman, and it still is 1967, so they drag DeSalle back (now in the position of assistant chief engineer) to be in command without Kirk, Spock, Sulu, or Scotty around. Sheesh.

It’s a Russian invention! Chekov is added to the cast with this episode to serve two purposes: a younger character to appeal to younger viewers, and also to address supposed complaints made by Soviet viewers and journalists, who decried that Star Trek‘s allegedly egalitarian future didn’t have anyone on board from the nation that was, at that point, the leader in the space race.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Chekov appears in this episode in a silly wig, which he’d abandon by his next appearance thanks to his hair growing long enough to look like one of the Beatles without help.

Go put on a red shirt. Jackson is killed before the episode even starts, his corpse used as a telephone, but credit where it’s due, his death is not forgotten throughout the episode, and even at the end, Kirk is angry about losing a crew member. 

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Sylvia thinks Kirk is dreamy, and tries to seduce him in order to feel more things. Erm, so to speak.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Channel open. “Spock, comment?”

“Very bad poetry, Captain.”

“A more useful comment, Mr. Spock?”

Kirk asking for Spock’s reply to the three witches, and Spock moonlighting as a literary critic.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Welcome aboard. Antoinette Bower plays Sylvia while Theo Marcuse—who died shortly after the episode aired—plays Korob. Rhodie Cogan, Gail Bonney, and Maryesther Denver portray the three witches. Plus we’ve got a brand new recurring regular in Walter Koenig as Chekov, along with usual suspects James Doohan, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols, as well as the last appearance of Michael Barrier as DeSalle, the first and last appearance of regular stuntman Jay Jones (credited as “Jimmy Jones”) as Jackson, and John Winston as Kyle.

Trivial matters: With the second season, DeForest Kelley is promoted to the opening credits as a co-star along with Leonard Nimoy. In addition, Gene Roddenberry is credited as the creator of the series starting with this season, and the writer and director credits were moved to the beginning of the episode instead of the end of it.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

While this episode was produced first, it was held off until Hallowe’en week for reasons that should be fairly obvious.

The witches were supposed to be disembodied heads—which is why they were wearing black turtlenecks—but the effect didn’t work. Hilariously, the 2006 remastered edition did not fix this, though it did show much more of the castle in establishing shots and make Sylvia and Korob’s natural forms look less lame.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

Like Robert Bloch’s previous script, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” there are Lovecrafty references to “the Old Ones.” Bloch based the script loosely on his own short story “Broomstick Ride,” which was published in Super Science Fiction in 1957.

This is the first of two times Trek will have extragalactic aliens who are done in by the sensations of being in human form (“By Any Other Name” being the next), and also the first of two times a creature will first appear as a black cat and then later as a beautiful woman (the next being “Assignment: Earth”).

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

To boldly go. “You can’t think a man to death!” This is the only time in the franchise that they ever did a holiday themed episode, and holy cow is it awful. Korob and Sylvia’s motivations are never made clear, and their attitudes change with the needs of the plot. Sylvia’s hedonism comes out of nowhere just in time for her to have her seduction scene with Kirk, and then it becomes the driving force of the plot. Spock’s line about the wizard and his familiar is brought up just in time for the whole cat thing to be abandoned—and it’s not clear why Sylvia felt the need to be a cat for so long, especially given how much she loves being human in the second half of the episode.

The episode also just looks awful. Every single special effect fails, from the attempt at the witches being disembodied heads to the forced perspective on the cat to make it appear huge (the parts where we only see its shadow work very well—the cat lumbering through a miniature corridor or being superimposed over the doorway, not so much) to Walter Koenig’s hilarious wig to the true form of Sylvia and Korob, on which you can actually see the marionette strings.

Star Trek, Original Series, season 2, Catspaw

And then in the end they just fall apart after Kirk smashes the transmuter, which you’d think would be constructed just a skosh more sturdily.

Adding insult to all this injury are the scenes back on the Enterprise. As forward-thinking as Star Trek was, this episode is a glaring reminder of how yucky 1967 still was, as they can’t even consider the possibility of Uhura in charge—made infinitely worse by bringing Michael Barrier and his wooden acting back for a third lame hoorah as DeSalle. Nichelle Nichols is the only thing that makes the Enterprise scenes watchable, tortured as we are by Barrier’s wretched line readings (the “I’ll bet credits to navy beans” line is a particular disaster) and Koenig’s comedy wig and comedy accent.

 

Warp factor rating: 2

Next week:Metamorphosis

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s Heroes Reborn eBook novella Save the Cheerleader, Destroy the World is now available for preorder. One of six novellas tying into the new NBC series, Keith’s tale will be released on the 20th of November, and can be preordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo.

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