Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Journey to Babel”

“Journey to Babel”
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Season 2, Episode 15
Production episode 60344
Original air date: November 17, 1967
Stardate: 3842.3

Captain’s log. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, in full dress uniforms and alongside an honor guard, meet the last of the one hundred-plus delegates the Enterprise is escorting to a conference on a planetoid codenamed Babel to discuss the issue of Coridan’s admission to the Federation: Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan, along with two aides, and his wife Amanda Grayson. Sarek treats Spock with obvious contempt, which makes it an even bigger surprise when Spock reveals that Sarek and Amanda are his parents.

Kirk conducts Sarek and Amanda on a tour. When they reach engineering, they see Spock, and while Sarek ignores him, Amanda does not, expressing disappointment (a) that Spock still hasn’t learned to smile (obviously she’s unaware of how he responds to vibrating Talosian flowers) and (b) that he hasn’t visited home in four years.

Deciding to play diplomat, Kirk asks Spock to explain the computer components in engineering, but Sarek tartly says that he gave Spock his first instruction in computer science, and dismissively adds that he is now wasting those skills in Starfleet rather than for Vulcan. Kirk apologizes for giving offense after Spock excuses himself, and Sarek says that offense is a human emotion. Right.

Sarek heads to his quarters to rest, leaving Amanda to finish the tour. She reveals that father and son have not spoken for eighteen years. Sarek wished Spock to follow in his footsteps, as Sarek followed in his father’s. Amanda describes the Vulcan way as better than the human way, but it’s also much harder.

Uhura reports a signal she picked up—a strong signal, with no obvious language, and with no traceable source.

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That night, there’s a reception for the delegates. McCoy mentions that Sarek had retired prior to this mission, and he asks why he retired so young, as he’s only 102.437 years old. Sarek’s answer is evasive. Then the Tellarite ambassador, Gav, asks Sarek what his vote will be on Coridan, and Sarek is equally evasive. The Andorian ambassador, Shras, gets into it as well before Kirk manages to defuse the discussion. Shras and Sarek apologize while Gav just storms off in a huff.

Amanda reveals that Sarek and Gav have debated before, and Gav lost. She also reveals to an amused McCoy that Spock had a teddy bear growing up, though Spock adds that the “teddy bear” in question was alive and had six-inch fangs.

Chekov reports that there’s a ship shadowing them at extreme sensor range. Kirk calls yellow alert and he and Spock report to the bridge. The configuration is unknown, and the ship refuses to answer hails. Kirk moves to intercept, but the ship stays away, moving at warp 10. When Kirk orders Chekov to resume original course, the ship parallels them again.

Back in their quarters, Sarek rebukes Amanda for embarrassing Spock. Amanda tweaks Sarek, saying he takes pride in Spock’s accomplishments, but Sarek doesn’t take the bait, saying only that he deserves respect as an officer.

Sarek returns to the reception, and takes medication with his drink. Gav then confronts him, and Sarek admits that Vulcan favors admission of Coridan to the Federation. He also mentions that Tellarite ships have been known to use Coridan dilithium crystals and makes noises about illegal mining operations. Resentful at being accused of thievery, Gav attacks Sarek, which the Vulcan ambassador effortlessly parries. Kirk arrives just in time and breaks it up.

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Later that night, Josephs, a security guard, finds Gav murdered in a Jefferies Tube. McCoy examines the body and explains that Gav’s neck was broken by an expert. Spock recognizes the Vulcan technique of tal-shaya, considered a merciful form of execution in ancient times.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy go to the ambassador’s quarters to question Sarek, who has been meditating.

Before the questioning can continue, Sarek collapses. McCoy’s preliminary exam reveals that it has something to do with his cardiovascular system.

Spock can’t get any solid readings on the ship shadowing them—it appears to be shielded against sensors in some way. There is a crew, but he can’t make out specific life-form readings. Meanwhile, Uhura picks up the weird transmission again, and this time she determines that the signal came from the other ship, and was directed at the Enterprise. The transmission is encrypted, but it matches no known code, so Spock can’t do anything with it.

McCoy reports that Sarek has a heart condition, and it turns out that he’s had three attacks like this before (without telling Amanda) and been prescribed meds for it. He also admits that he had such an attack when Gav was being murdered—but there are no witnesses.

Surgery is required to fix the heart condition, but it requires large quantities of blood, more than they have on board. Sarek’s blood type is rare. Spock has the same type, but it’s diluted by human elements, so he would have to give a boatload to make the operation work. McCoy and Spock find an experimental drug that would speed up replacement of blood. It works on Rigellians, who are similar to Vulcans. McCoy doesn’t think it’s safe, plus the side effects could kill Sarek in his condition. However, Spock is healthy enough that it’s less risky for him to take the drug, and it would enable him to transfuse Sarek with less risk.

There are still a lot of things that can go wrong, but Sarek will die if they do nothing—at least with the operation, he’ll have a chance.

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Thelev, one of Shras’s aides, jumps Kirk in the corridor. Kirk takes him down, but not before he’s stabbed in the side. McCoy is able to save Kirk, though he did get a punctured lung.

Unfortunately, with Kirk out of action, Spock can no longer aid in the operation, as he is now in command. He interrogates Thelev, but he reveals nothing, and Shras knows only that he has been an adequate aide, but knows nothing of him beyond that.

Amanda visits Spock in his quarters and begs him to relinquish command. Spock insists that the oath he took when he was commissioned requires him to be in command, especially given the one hundred delegates, not to mention the murder of one of those delegates, and the attempted murder of the captain. Amanda begs him to be human for a minute and think of his father. But Spock can’t risk interplanetary war to save the life of one person.

Kirk wakes up, and won’t let Sarek die, so he pretends to be better than he is long enough to relieve Spock and send him to sickbay. Once Spock’s gone, he’ll put Scotty in command and report to his quarters.

The plan works up until the last part, as once Spock leaves the bridge, the alien ship starts to move closer, and so Kirk stays in the center seat. Uhura picks up the transmission again, and it’s coming from the brig. Kirk has security search the prisoner, and Thelev attacks Josephs, but the other guard stuns him, and one antenna falls off, revealing a transmitter.

Kirk goes to red alert as the ship approaches, and has Thelev brought to the bridge, but the spy has no answers for him, just smug assurances that they’re all going to die. The alien ship fires on the Enterprise, which doesn’t make McCoy’s job any easier. The smaller ship is able to score plenty of direct hits, but it’s too small and maneuverable for the Enterprise to get a hit.

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Kirk orders power cut to the port side, and then a few seconds later, orders the same to starboard side. They play dead until the ship comes into weapons range to check them out, and they score a direct hit, disabling the ship. However, the ship explodes before Uhura can make a surrender request. Thelev says their orders were to self-destruct rather than be captured; and then Thelev collapses, revealing that he had the same orders, as the poison he took kills him.

Kirk goes to sickbay, where McCoy decides to give Kirk shit about shaking the ship around while he was trying to operate. Amanda rescues him and invites him to see Spock and Sarek, who are recovering nicely. Spock reveals what he figured out during the operation: it was probably an Orion ship, deliberately overpowered as it was a suicide mission. Orion smugglers have raided Coridan, and disrupting the conference, and possibly starting a war, would benefit them.

Amanda asks if Sarek wishes to thank Spock for saving his life. Sarek doesn’t believe one should thank logical behavior, and Amanda expresses her great frustration with logic, prompting Sarek and Spock to tease her on the subject.

Kirk then collapses, and McCoy puts him to bed, and won’t let Spock leave sickbay, either, until they’re both recovered. Kirk and Spock try to then tease him about how much he’s enjoying bossing everyone around, but he shuts them both up, and then takes great glee in finally getting the last word.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Orion ship operates at 100% power, making it appear to be more powerful than it actually is, which both serves to disguise its origins, and also allows the ship to do more cool stuff. It could afford to waste power that way because it was a suicide mission anyhow…

Fascinating. Spock chose a Starfleet career over the Vulcan Science Academy. That decision estranged him from his father until this episode. According to Amanda, Vulcans find the use of force to be distasteful, and she implies that Vulcans serving in Starfleet are rare. (We’ll later learn that this isn’t the truth; then again, it’s probably more Sarek’s bias than the entire culture’s…)

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I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy hates dress uniforms and loves when he gets the last word. He also insists that he’s studied Vulcan anatomy thoroughly, yet he doesn’t know whether or not Sarek’s blood pressure is good or not. (The very next episode will add Vulcan expert Dr. M’Benga to the cast, and you have to think it’s because McCoy was so totally out of his depth in operating on Sarek—a Federation diplomat of high standing whose life was in McCoy’s hands—that Starfleet insisted that someone actually competent to work on Vulcans serve on the ship.)

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura is the one who traces the signal Thelev was using to keep in touch with his bosses, which proves quite useful.

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty doesn’t actually appear in the episode, though he is referenced numerous times as one who can take command of the ship while Spock transfuses Sarek.

It’s a Russian invention. With Spock out of commission, Chekov does double duty as navigator (which includes firing weapons) and science officer, as he staffs Spock’s station as well.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Sarek and Amanda show affection for each other by a very simple touching of the first two fingers to each other.

Go put on a red shirt. Security actually does their job this week, starting simply by providing an honor guard for Sarek, then finding Gav’s body and reporting it, then finding the transmitter on Thelev and revealing that he’s not a real Andorian.

Channel open.

“Emotional, isn’t she?”

“She has always been that way.”

“Indeed? Why did you marry her?”

“At the time, it seemed the logical thing to do.”

–Spock and Sarek making fun of Amanda.

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Welcome aboard. Reggie Nadler brings a quiet dignity to the role of Shras, while John Wheeler brings a haughty arrogance to the role of Gav (aided by his makeup, which forced him to raise his head in order to be able to see, which wound up selling the notion of arrogance). William O’Connell plays Thelev, James X. Mitchell plays Josephs, and we have recurring regulars Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and Majel Barrett.

But, of course, the big guests are Mark Lenard and Jane Wyatt (who was credited as “Miss Jane Wyatt” out of respect for her lengthy and impressive career) as, respectively, Sarek and Amanda. Lenard previously appeared as the Romulan commander in “Balance of Terror,” and will also play a Klingon in The Motion Picture. He’ll return to the role of Sarek in “Yesteryear” on the animated series, in “Sarek” and “Unification I” on TNG, and in the movies The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, and The Undiscovered Country. The character of Sarek will also be played by Jonathan Simpson in flashback in The Final Frontier and by Ben Cross in the 2009 Star Trek. Wyatt will return to the role of Amanda in The Voyage Home; Majel Barrett voiced her in “Yesteryear,” and she’s played by Cynthia Blaise in flashback in The Final Frontier and by Winona Ryder in the 2009 film.

Trivial matters: This episode introduces many elements to the Star Trek universe that will remain major parts of the milieu: Spock’s parents, Andorians, Tellarites, and Coridan. It also shows the Orions as antagonists, where previously all we knew about them was that their women dance well.

Spock’s parents were established as being an ambassador and a teacher in “This Side of Paradise,” also written by D.C. Fontana. Fontana chose the name “Amanda” for Spock’s mother because it means “worthy of being loved.”

Mark Lenard was cast as Spock’s father despite being only seven years older than Leonard Nimoy.

Andorians and Tellarites will be seen again in “Whom Gods Destroy” and in background roles in several of the TOS movies. Many tie-in works stated that those two species, as well as Vulcans and humans, were the founding members of the Federation, which was established onscreen and fleshed out in the series Enterprise, which also did quite a bit to develop the Tellarites and especially the Andorians (Shran, an Andorian played by Jeffrey Combs, was a major recurring character in Enterprise).

It won’t be established until “Sarek” on TNG what the result of the conference was: Coridan was admitted to the Federation. Coridan was also seen quite a bit on Enterprise, starting with “Shadows of P’Jem.”

Spock being tormented by Vulcan children for being a halfbreed and his pet sehlat will both be seen in the animated “Yesteryear.” More such tormenting as well as his decision to go to Starfleet Academy rather than the Vulcan Science Academy will be dramatized in the 2009 Star Trek.

The 2007 remastering of this episode included an actual design for the Orion ship, which was originally just seen as a blob of light because NBC really liked the look of the various aliens in the episode and asked that it be rushed through post-production so it could be aired sooner.

The number of tie-in novels that feature Sarek and Amanda are too numerous to list here, but some of them include Sarek by A.C. Crispin, The Vulcan Academy Murders and The IDIC Epidemic by Jean Lorrah, Ishmael by Barbara Hambly, Demons by J.M. Dillard, Crucible: Spock: The Fire and the Rose by David R. George III, and Spock’s World by Diane Duane.

DS9‘s “Favor the Bold” will establish that Starfleet named a vessel the U.S.S. Sarek.

To boldly go. “Threats are illogical, and payment is usually expensive.” I’ve said this before, in my review of TNG‘s “Sarek,” and I stand by what I said four years ago: this episode is awful.

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Yes, it’s important in the grand scheme of things, in that it gives us Sarek and Amanda, and Spock’s parents are critically important parts of the franchise going forward. From just this one appearance in 1967, the Andorians and Tellarites captured the imaginations of tie-in writers and game writers even though the species themselves barely appeared again as anything other than walk-ons until 2001 when Enterprise debuted and took them on. And the closing scene with Spock and Sarek reconnecting over making fun of Amanda and McCoy getting the last word is truly a classic.

But the actual story just is wretched. First of all, the dynamic between Sarek and Amanda is cringe-inducing. After giving us two powerful, influential Vulcan women in “Amok Time” in T’Pring and T’Pau, we get this sexist drivel with Sarek and Amanda where the latter responds to Sarek commanding her to finish the tour with, “He’s a Vulcan, I’m his wife,” as if that explains why he treats her like an employee rather than a spouse. “This Side of Paradise” established both of Spock’s parents’ vocations, but while Sarek’s ambassadorial career is front and center, you’d never know that Amanda was a teacher from this episode. In fact, you’d never know she did anything but say “how high?” when Sarek says “jump.”

My biggest issue with the episode, though, is that the core conflict involving whether or not Spock will transfuse his father is presented as a dichotomy between Vulcan logic and human emotion and it so totally isn’t. Every single argument Spock makes has nothing to do with Vulcan philosophy and everything to do with the oath he took as a Starfleet officer and the duties he is forced to perform as first officer of the ship. Yes, the script casts it as Spock choosing the logical course of action, but that logic just gives him a clearer path to duty that has nothing to do with what planet he was raised on and everything to do with the braid on his cuff. And he’s right: there are a hundred high-ranking Federation delegates on board, there’s been a murder and an assault on the captain, and there’s a hostile ship trailing them. Yes, Sarek’s life is in danger, but there are more than five hundred people on board whose lives are also in danger just from the situation, and that’s not something he can fob off on the chief engineer.

On top of that, apparently being in command is so important that Spock can’t go off to sickbay, but it’s not so important that he can’t ass about in his quarters having a very lengthy argument with his mother on the subject.

I am abject in my love for Mark Lenard, and he infuses Sarek with dignity and experience, but he’s also, to be blunt, an asshole. Where’s the logic in not talking to your son because he made his own choice? Being brought up to do what your daddy done is a notion based in sentiment, not logic. And I’m less than impressed by his dismissal of human emotions given how thoroughly he’s grasped disapproval, contempt, and arrogance. Oh, and racial prejudice: “Tellarites do not argue for reasons, they just argue.” Yeah.

I know everyone talks about what a great episode this is, and I know that my take on it is not the popular one. But I’ve never liked this episode. I’ve never liked Sarek and Amanda’s “traditional” marriage that’s more at home with Jane Wyatt’s prior role on Father Knows Best than it is an alien species that has previously been shown to be logical and to appear possibly matriarchal or at the very least comfortable with strong women. I’ve never liked the plot contrivances.

Warp factor rating: 4

Next week:A Private Little War

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest work of fiction is “Streets of Fire” in the anthology V-Wars: Night Terrors, the third volume in the shared-world vampire series created and edited by Jonathan Maberry and published in print by IDW and audio by Blackstone.

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