Written by Theodore Sturgeon
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Season 2, Episode 5
Production episode 60334
Original air date: September 15, 1967
Captain’s log. McCoy expresses concern about Spock: he’s been increasingly restive, nervous, and hasn’t eaten in three days. Chapel has also noticed, and is bringing him plomeek soup. He rejects it, throwing her out of his cabin metaphorically and the soup out literally. His response to McCoy’s request for a physical is to threaten violence, and after publicly yelling at Chapel, he irritably asks Kirk for a leave on Vulcan.
Kirk confronts Spock. He’s never asked for leave before, in fact, he’s actively refused it (viz. “Shore Leave“). Kirk wants to know why now. Spock refuses to give specifics, so Kirk says that Altair VI has adequate shore facilities. Spock insists that it be on Vulcan. He is obviously a wreck, and Kirk decides to accede to the request. He does have McCoy put him under medical surveillance, however.
Unfortunately, the inauguration ceremony on Altair VI has been moved up a week, and the Enterprise no longer has time to divert to Vulcan. Spock says he understands, albeit with a very faraway look.
Later, Kirk asks Chekov if it would be at all possible to divert to Vulcan and not be too late for Altair—but Chekov is confused, as Spock has already ordered the ship to divert to Vulcan.
Kirk confronts Spock about the course change, but he has no memory of it. He begs Kirk to lock him away, that he should not be seen in this state. Instead, Kirk sends him to sickbay. McCoy’s examination reveals that Spock has a hormonal and chemical imbalance that will kill him within a week or so. The only solution he has is to get him to Vulcan, where whatever’s doing this can be fixed, at least based on Spock’s vague answers.
McCoy confines Spock to quarters, where Kirk again confronts him, and Spock finally admits to what the problem is, and only then off the record, as it were. It’s something Vulcans don’t even speak of amongst themselves, and never to outsiders except for those few who have been involved. It’s the pon farr, the time of mating, and it rips Vulcans’ veneer of logic and civilization away. Spock had thought he’d be spared this as a halfbreed, but the urges have caught up to him.
Kirk requests of Admiral Komack that they divert to Vulcan, but he won’t say why out of respect for Spock’s privacy. Komack refuses, saying the Altair situation is too important. Kirk, however, owes Spock his life, and he’ll die if he doesn’t get home. Spock’s life is worth Kirk’s career, and so he diverts the Enterprise to Vulcan anyhow. Chapel goes to tell Spock about the diversion, and he comes as close as he can to apologizing to her, and also asks for another bowl of the plomeek soup.
They arrive at Vulcan. Spock requests that Kirk and McCoy stand by his side for the ceremony that precedes the mating. When they reach the bridge, Uhura has Vulcan Space Central on the line. They give permission to enter standard orbit, and then put Spock through to T’Pring, the woman to whom he is to be mated.
They beam down to Vulcan, an arid, desert world. They arrive at a small outdoor arena-like space. In the past, it was used as a place where males fought for their females. Now it’s a bit more ritualized and less savage, though the name of the ceremony, koon-ut-kahlifee, does translate to “mating or challenge.”
Spock bangs a gong (so he can get it on?) and soon the wedding party arrives. The ceremony is led by T’Pau, one of the most impressive personages on Vulcan—Kirk says she’s the only person to turn down a seat on the Federation Council.
After Spock explains why he brought outworlders to the ceremony—they’re his friends—T’Pau starts the ceremony. But then T’Pring stops Spock from ringing the gong again. However, he’s in the plak tow—blood fever—and isn’t really coherent until the fever passes.
T’Pring wishes Spock to fight for her. She may choose a champion, and she will become the property of the victor. To everyone’s surprise—including Stonn, another Vulcan who obviously has the hots for her—she chooses Kirk. Stonn tries to claim his right, but T’Pau shouts him down. She gives Kirk the opportunity to refuse, and Spock also begs that Kirk not be allowed to participate. But Kirk doesn’t like Spock’s chances against Stonn, and he thinks he can handle Spock more humanely. McCoy points out that the thin air and the heat will make it way more difficult for Kirk, but the captain can’t back down in front of T’Pau, nor can he let Spock face Stonn.
So Kirk accepts. The first challenge is with the lirpa, a staff with an axe-like blade on one end and a thick bell weight on the other end. Only then does Kirk realize that the challenge is to the death. Probably shoulda asked that sooner…
They fight with the lirpa. Spock fights wildly, and Kirk holds his own, but he’s winded by the time T’Pau declares the first challenge ended. McCoy approaches T’Pau, asking that he be able to administer tri-ox to allow Kirk to breathe more easily in the thinner atmosphere. T’Pau allows it then brings out the ahn-woon, a strip of cloth with weighted ends. It can be used as a garrotte, a whip, or a bolo.
Spock gets the ahn-woon around Kirk’s neck, strangling him. McCoy declares him dead and calls the Enterprise to stand by to beam them up. Spock, the fever having burned itself out, orders McCoy to beam up with Kirk’s body and have Chekov set course for a starbase where he’ll turn himself in.
After they beam up, Spock confronts T’Pring as to why she challenged. She wanted Stonn and Stonn wanted her. Spock has become rather famous, and T’Pring does not wish to be the consort of a legend. But the only way to divorce was through the kahlifee. If Kirk won, he wouldn’t want her, and she’d get Stonn. If Spock won, he’d probably reject her because she challenged, and so she’d get Stonn. If Spock won and kept her anyhow, he’d still go off to his starship, leaving T’Pring alone on Vulcan as his Army wife, and she could have Stonn on the side. Spock approves of her logic, and gives her to Stonn.
Spock says goodbye to T’Pau, but when she returns the “live long and prosper” greeting, he says he’ll do neither, for he’s killed his friend.
But when he beams back, he is surprised to see that Kirk is alive. He even breaks into a big grin for half a second. Kirk explains that McCoy slipped a neural paralyzer in with the tri-ox, simulating death. On top of that, T’Pau greased the wheels with Starfleet, giving the Enterprise retroactive permission to divert to Vulcan. And so everyone lives happily ever after…
Fascinating. Spock speaks of pon farr as a closely guarded secret among Vulcans, yet future works will treat the must-return-to-Vulcan-to-spawn-every-seven-years thing as common knowledge (though the every-seven-years part won’t be established until “The Cloud Minders” in the third season). Either way, this episode establishes that Vulcans are just like salmon…
We also see the interior of Spock’s quarters in depth for the first time, after a glance in “The Menagerie, Part 1,” where it was obviously a redress of Kirk’s cabin. This time, it looks distinctive, complete with the “bedroom” area filled with art and other stuff.
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy basically saves the day, keeping either Kirk or Spock from having to kill each other by slipping the former a neural paralyzer that creates the illusion of death. Thus everybody wins: Spock’s blood fever runs its course, Kirk doesn’t lose his first officer, T’Pring gets her hunka hunka Vulcan love, Stonn gets T’Pring without having to risk being killed, and McCoy gets to see Spock break into a goofy grin that he can’t walk back with logic (though that doesn’t stop Spock from trying) and the doctor gets the last word as well.
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu is amused by the constant course changes, and tells Chekov to go ahead and change course again when Kirk asks for the call to be put through to Komack.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura does her usual thing of relaying messages and not much else, though she also gets to state the obvious and say how beautiful T’Pring is.
It’s a Russian invention. Chekov at one point declares he will get space sick from all the course changes. Thankfully, Spock is not present on the bridge at the time to pedantically correct him.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Vulcan marriages are arranged. At the age of seven, the intended touch each other, linking their minds so that when the pon farr hits, they are drawn to each other.
Chapel obviously still has the hots for Spock, bringing him soup and insisting he call her Christine. She’s rather shocked when T’Pring is introduced as Spock’s wife.
Channel open. “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”
Spock warning Stonn that the chase is often more fun.
Welcome aboard. Celia Lovsky brings a supreme dignity to the role of T’Pau. While it’s her only appearance in the role, a younger T’Pau will be seen, played by Kara Zediker, in the three-part Enterprise story “The Forge”/”Awakening”/”Kir’Shara.” In addition, a hologram of T’Pau, played by Betty Matsuhita, will be seen in the Voyager episode “Darkling.”
Arlene Martel plays T’Pring, with Mary Rice playing T’Pring as a child in the photograph viewed by Spock. Lawrence Montaigne, having previously played a Romulan in “Balance of Terror,” plays Stonn. Byron Morrow plays Komack; he’ll play a different admiral in the third season’s “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.”
Plus we have recurring regulars George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett (marking Chapel’s first second-season appearance), and Walter Koenig.
Trivial matters: Though filmed fifth, this episode was aired first to take advantage of Spock’s popularity. It was originally commissioned for the first season, but Theodore Sturgeon’s notoriously slow writing speed caused it to be bumped to season two and used for the season premiere.
This is the first visit to Vulcan, Spock’s homeworld, the only time we see the world on the series, though there will be a return to it in the animated episode “Yesteryear” and the movies The Motion Picture, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, The Final Frontier, and the 2009 Star Trek. The world is also seen in the TNG episodes “Gambit Part II” and the “Unification” two-parter, several episodes of Voyager (in flashbacks involving Tuvok), and whole bunches of episodes of Enterprise.
We also get our first look at the Vulcan salute and the ritual greeting of “live long and prosper.”
Peculiarly for an episode about his wedding, Spock’s immediate family is nowhere to be found—we won’t meet his parents until “Journey to Babel” later this season.
Onscreen, the pon farr will be seen again on Voyager in the episodes “Blood Fever,” when Ensign Vorik suffered from it, and “Body and Soul,” when Lt. Commander Tuvok suffered from it. It is also seen in several tie-in works; notably both Selar in the New Frontier novels by Peter David and T’Prynn in the Vanguard novels by David Mack, Dayton Ward, and Kevin Dilmore have bad pon farr experiences as part of their backstories.
The intention was for the Enterprise character T’Pol to be T’Pau, but that would have required paying a fee to Theodore Sturgeon’s estate for every use of the character. Instead, they created a new character, eventually using T’Pau herself in a fourth-season three-parter that portrayed an important time in Vulcan history.
A Vulcan ship was named the T’Pau, according to the TNG episode “Unification I.”
In the 1980s, a British rock band took the name T’Pau because the lead singer thought it sounded cool.
Komack was mentioned in “This Side of Paradise.” He also appears in the Vanguard novel What Judgments Come, the short story “First, Do No Harm” in Constellations, and the Starfleet Corps of Engineers eBook Where Time Stands Still, all by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, and the Crucible novel Kirk: The Fire and the Rose by David R. George III.
T’Pring and T’Pau both appear in multiple works of tie-in fiction far too numerous to mention here. Some highlights include The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah, Spock’s World by Diane Duane, and the Spock: Reflections comic book by Scott & David Tipton and David Messina.
Plomeek soup will continue to be referenced and seen as a Vulcan food, particularly on Enterprise and Voyager, which both had Vulcan characters in the cast. Bashir on DS9 was also established as being fond of plomeek soup.
The political situation on Altair VI that as of this episode involves sending three ships of the line to attend inaugurations, was spelled out in several different role-playing games from FASA and Last Unicorn, and your humble rewatcher used it as part of Captain Keogh’s backstory in The Brave and the Bold Book 1.
During Kirk and Spock’s duel, Gerald Fried’s iconic “fight music” is played for the first time. That motif will be used again during action scenes in several episodes, and would also be parodied in other places. Both The Simpsons and Futurama used it in spoofs of Trek fights, and Michael Giacchino used it as a partial leitmotif in the climax of Star Trek Into Darkness.
To boldly go. “The air is the air.” One of the most iconic and strongest of the original series episodes, and deserving of all its accolades. We get to see Spock’s homeworld, and while the lack of his parents is a bit glaring, the notion that the most powerful person on Vulcan is part of his family—and, naturally, Spock never said anything about it, as gloating would be illogical—is entertaining.
It is mildly disappointing that our first view of this world full of people who value logic and intelligence is an area that looks like Stonehenge in the desert. Yes, it’s firmly established as an ancient area—T’Pau’s words are “since the time of the beginning”—so it would be before the development of technology, but still one would hope for something a little more space-age for our first look at Vulcan.
But then, the point is that even Vulcans are helpless before their reproductive urges. We already know from “Balance of Terror” that Vulcans were once, in Spock’s words, “savage,” and the pon farr is one relic from those days that they still succumb to. Theodore Sturgeon does an excellent job showing us how the ultra-logical Vulcans deal with something so incredibly illogical as sexual desire: they shroud it in ritual and tradition, giving it a veneer of respectability. It shows us that Spock isn’t the only one who has to balance logic with emotion on that planet.
Everything about this episode works. The acting is superb, from Arlene Martel’s cold manipulations as T’Pring to Majel Barrett’s hopeless romanticism toward Spock as Chapel to Celia Lovsky’s matriarchal intensity as T’Pau to Leonard Nimoy’s desperate attempts to keep things in control as the pon farr-riddled Spock. Points also to William Shatner, who is so obviously trying desperately to do what’s right even though he only half-understands what’s happening (mainly because nobody tells him anything—Spock keeps not telling him what’s going on, and nobody mentions that the kahlifee is to the death until it’s too late), and DeForest Kelley who uncharacteristically underplays his concern for Spock, and who beautifully plays his cards close to the vest when he basically cheats in order to get everyone what they want.
Plus the fight choreography is excellent. I particularly like that Kirk actually handles the lirpa better than Spock—the half-crazy Spock is just swinging it wildly, almost as if it’s a sword rather than a quarterstaff with add-ons. Kirk’s handling of the weapon is much more sensible. Joseph Pevney’s direction is magnificent, with nothing overdone, the intensity building slowly.
There are a few minor flaws that cost this from a perfect score. Particularly given how important the two characters would become, the lack of Spock’s parents is glaring. McCoy’s “you just don’t give up, do you?” to Chapel is a horrible thing to say to her, and the fact that ultra-logical Vulcans consider wives to be their husband’s property (the exact word used by T’Pau) is absurd. Yes, those last two are a byproduct of it being 1967, but Jesus…
Warp factor rating: 9
Next week: “The Doomsday Machine”
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