“The Enterprise Incident”
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas
Season 3, Episode 4
Production episode 60043-59
Original air date: September 27, 1968
Captain’s log. Kirk is acting irrationally, being snappish with both Chekov and Spock and then ordering the ship to head for the Romulan Neutral Zone, in violation of treaty, and entirely on his own authority, as no order from Starfleet has come in that Uhura is aware of. They go through the Zone and into Romulan space. Three ships decloak: Romulan ships, albeit of Klingon design. The Enterprise is surrounded.
Sub-commander Tal contacts them, asking them to surrender or be destroyed, giving them an hour to comply. Kirk and Spock theorize that they would’ve just destroyed them right off normally, but they must want the ship.
Kirk holds a meeting. Their options are limited—and Spock points out that those limits are there because Kirk violated the border. McCoy—who has already recorded a medical log expressing concern about Kirk’s mental health—is outraged that Kirk did this without orders, prompting Kirk to dismiss him from the briefing.
Tal calls back. His commander wishes to meet with Kirk and Spock in person, and offers two Romulan officers as hostages. Kirk accepts, ordering Scotty to destroy the ship before letting the Romulans get their hands on it.
Kirk and Spock are escorted to the commander’s office, where she is sitting with her back to the door, and she turns around dramatically so 1960s audiences can gape at the notion of a woman in command of a fleet.
The commander talks to Kirk first, accusing him of espionage, and not buying Kirk’s bullshit story about instrument failure that led to their accidentally crossing the border. She then asks for Spock to come in and she is obviously taken with the first officer, telling Kirk that their common ancestry gives them a bond. Spock demurs initially, but eventually he admits that Kirk has been irrational and took the Enterprise over the border on his own initiative in an attempt to gain glory for himself.
Kirk is immediately arrested, and the commander contacts the Enterprise, stating that they don’t hold the crew responsible for Kirk’s acts. The commander also goes out of her way to make it clear that Spock’s testimony is what led her to this decision. She orders Scotty to let the fleet escort the Enterprise to Romulus to be processed and the crew will be released. Scotty’s response is to put their two hostages in the brig and inform the commander that he’ll destroy the ship before going anywhere with them.
The commander works Spock, playing on his superiority to humans as to why he should have his own ship and why he shouldn’t be taking orders from them. She makes all kinds of promises as to how he can thrive in Romulan space the way he can’t in Federation space.
Kirk is taken to the brig and he runs into the force field, badly injuring him. McCoy is asked to beam over (“I don’t make house calls,” he grumbles until he’s informed that it’s the captain). Meanwhile, the commander continues to hit all over Spock, inviting him to dinner and expressing hope that some day he’ll be able to walk down that forbidden corridor that only loyal Romulans are allowed to traverse.
They go to the brig, where McCoy diagnoses Kirk as depressed, exhausted, and generally a big ol’ mess. The commander declares Kirk no longer fit for command and Spock is now in command. Kirk calls Spock a traitor and jumps him, and Spock grabs his face. Kirk collapses, and Spock regretfully states that he instinctively used the Vulcan death grip. McCoy angrily retorts that his instincts are good and the captain is dead.
Kirk’s body is brought back to the ship, where we find out that Spock gave Kirk a nerve pinch that simulated death (there’s no such thing as the Vulcan death grip). Turns out Kirk and Spock were working under sealed orders from Starfleet. McCoy was read in in the brig, where he played along to get Kirk declared dead and shipped back to the Enterprise. Chapel is also read in when she helps revive Kirk—as is Scotty after McCoy performs elective surgery on Kirk’s ears to make him look Romulan.
The commander brings Spock to a cabin where Vulcan dishes are prepared for him. Spock declares the cuisine to be a powerful recruiting inducement, and the commander replies that they have other inducements as she passes him a drink. Wah-HEY!
After sharing a meal, the commander tells Spock that he will take a small Romulan boarding party onto the Enterprise and take command. Spock’s reply is to say that an hour from now would be just as well. She shares her first name with him by whispering it in his ear. He says it’s a beautiful name, incongruous from a soldier. She offers to change into something more appropriate, saying the soldier will disappear and be replaced by a woman. (Could’ve sworn she was already a woman…) While she changes, Spock contacts Kirk, who has already beamed aboard wearing the uniform of one of the hostages, and tells him where the cloak is.
Kirk heads to the forbidden corridor and beats up a guard, while Tal is informed that an unauthorized communication has originated from inside the ship. Tal interrupts Spock and the commander’s sweet passionate nookie-nookie to inform her that the unauthorized communication came from her quarters. Spock admits that it was him, holding up his communicator (they let him keep it????), and the commander has him bring Spock with her to safeguard the cloaking device.
However, Kirk has already made off with it, taking out another guard along the way, and beaming back to the ship. Kirk hands it off to Scotty to install onto the Enterprise. Kirk then heads to the bridge, where the crew is shocked to see him alive (and with pointed ears). He orders Chekov to isolate Spock’s bioreadings on the flagship so they can beam him back while Sulu sets a course for home.
The commander sends Tal back to the bridge to await her orders, and says that Spock will be executed as a state criminal after the charges are read into the record. Spock also demands the Right of Statement, which the commander grants. Spock explains that he was carrying out his duty as a Starfleet officer to maintain the security of the Federation, which was endangered by the cloaking device.
Chekov is able to eventually isolate Spock and beam him back—but the commander hears the transporter effect and wraps her arms around Spock, and so is beamed aboard with him.
Sulu legs it, and Tal gives chase. Scotty is having trouble installing the device, so Kirk tries to stall Tal by saying he has the commander prisoner. However, the commander orders Tal to destroy the ship anyhow, so that doesn’t work—but then Scotty manages to get it working in the nick of time, and the Enterprise makes its invisible escape.
The commander is brought to the brig, after she and Spock exchange dewey-eyed looks, and McCoy orders Kirk to sickbay to have his ears bobbed.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Kirk doesn’t actually inform Scotty that he has to install the cloaking device onto the Enterprise until he beams aboard with it. You really need to inform your engineers ahead of time when you want them to perform feats of awesomeness…
Fascinating. Spock plays the commander like a two-dollar banjo.
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy is magnificently snotty throughout the episode, from “I don’t make house calls” to “Do you want to go through life looking like your first officer?”
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu tells Kirk that he’s set a course for Romulan space at the beginning, and flies the ship very damn fast at the end. That’s pretty much it for him, since the ship is sitting still mostly.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura takes precisely none of McCoy’s nonsense, ripping him a new one when he snarks about not making house calls by informing him that it’s the captain who needs medical attention.
It’s a Russian invention. Despite Vulcans and Romulans being very similar biologically, Chekov manages to find the Spock needle in the Romulan haystack. Because he’s just that awesome.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Despite having no prep time or schematics to work from, Scotty gets the cloaking device hooked up and working. Because he’s just that awesome.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Spock and the commander are all over each other talking in vomit-inducing innuendo throughout the episode…
Channel open. “Will you join me for dinner?”
“I am honored, Commander. Are the guards also invited?”
The commander hitting on Spock, and Spock making it clear that he’d rather be alone with her. Wah-HEY!
Welcome aboard. Joanne Linville captivated the viewership with her portrayal of the commander, while Jack Donner plays Tal. Donner will return on Enterprise as a Vulcan priest in “Home” and “Kir’Shara.”
Other Romulans are played by Richard Compton (last seen as Washburn in “The Doomsday Machine,” and who would later direct TNG‘s “Haven“), Richard Gentile, Mike Howden (last seen as Rowe in “I, Mudd“), and Gordon Coffey.
Plus we’ve got recurring regulars George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, and Majel Barrett.
Trivial matters: D.C. Fontana’s inspiration for the episode was the Pueblo incident in early 1968.
This is the first episode to postulate an alliance between the Klingons and the Romulans, with the Romulans using Klingon ships. This was budgetary: the cash-starved third season spent good money on the Klingon models first seen in “Elaan of Troyius,” and dammit, they were gonna get their money’s worth…
Joanne Linville was apparently asked to reprise the role of the commander in TNG‘s “Face of the Enemy,” but she was unavailable.
Multiple works propose (mostly contradictory) fates and names for the commander following this episode. Among them: the novels The Price of the Phoenix and The Fate of the Phoenix by Sondra Marshak & Myrna Culbreath, Dwellers in the Crucible by Margaret Wander Bonanno, My Enemy, My Ally and The Empty Chair by Diane Duane, Section 31: Cloak by S.D. Perry, and Vulcan’s Forge, Vulcan’s Heart and the Vulcan’s Soul trilogy all by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz; and the comic books Star Trek Year Four: The Enterprise Experiment, co-written by Fontana & Derek Chester and Star Trek Unlimited #4 written by Dan Abnett & Ian Edginton. In addition, alternate timeline versions of the commander were seen in Killing Time by Della Van Hise and A Gutted World by your humble rewatcher (in Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions). Names she has been given include Thea, Di’on Charvon, and Liviana Charvanek.
McCoy will use the Romulan Right of Statement twice when captured by Romulans in the tie-in fiction in order to stall, in both The Romulan Way by Duane & Peter Morwood and the aforementioned Vulcan’s Forge.
When an experimental cloaking device is seen in TNG‘s “The Pegasus,” it greatly resembles the cloaking device seen in this episode.
Due to Spock’s continued popularity, “Spock’s Brain” and this episode were chosen as the first two episodes of the season to air.
To boldly go. “Why would you do this to me?” What a misbegotten disaster of an episode.
No, you didn’t stumble into the “Spock’s Brain” rewatch by mistake. Yes, I’m talking about “The Enterprise Incident,” which many people cite as one of the few bright spots of the third season, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why.
Most of the arguments I’ve heard point to the grand romance between Spock and the commander, but I don’t see a grand romance. Instead, I see a woman who somehow managed to attain the position of fleet commander in a major interstellar empire who nonetheless acts like a sixteen-year-old with her first crush going all woobly at the sound of Leonard Nimoy’s voice. I also see a Starfleet officer playing on that attraction and using it to further his ends—which is what he’s supposed to be doing, of course. It’s part of the assignment.
But what idiot came up with the assignment? Absolutely nothing in this episode makes sense, plot-wise. In fact, the entire story collapses like a house of cards right after the opening credits when Spock mentions that standard procedure for the Romulans would be to destroy the Enterprise for violating their space—which raises the question of what would have become of Starfleet’s sooper-seekrit mission to steal the cloak if the the Romulans had just blown up the invaders and gone on with their lives. The mission depended on the Enterprise being a good enough prize that they’d not blow her up right off—indeed, the commander says as much to Spock—but it’s still a huge risk to take.
Also the entire plan hinges on factors completely out of the crew’s control. They had to fake Kirk’s death on the Romulan flagship—but what if the commander had never invited the two of them over? For that matter, what if this major interstellar empire with space ships and such actually had, I dunno, surveillance in their cells, and they heard Kirk telling McCoy what the real plan was? What if—and McCoy actually brought this up in the episode—the Romulans decided to do an autopsy on the only-mostly-dead-not-all-dead Kirk? Chapel is aware that there’s no such thing as the Vulcan death grip, so why isn’t the commander also aware, especially since she seems to know so much about her “distant brothers,” the Vulcans? What if they’d actually taken Spock’s communicator away from him while he was on board the flagship?
This is your classic idiot plot, where everything that happens depends on someone acting like an idiot in order to make the story work. And the commander is a spectacular idiot, who at no point in the story actually behaves like the professional soldier she is professed to be, instead acting like a lovesick moron and getting her stupid ass captured. The first time we see a woman in charge of anything on Star Trek, and we get this doofus, who throws her entire career away because she thinks Spock is dreamy.
Warp factor rating: 1
Next week: “And the Children Shall Lead”
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Balticon 50 in Baltimore this weekend. The Author Guest of Honor is George R.R. Martin, and several of Balticon’s previous 49 Author GoHs will be there as well. I’ll be doing readings, autographings, panels, workshops (including an in-depth seminar on the business of writing, which you can sign up for here), a launch party, and a Boogie Knights concert. His full schedule is here.