Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Spock’s Brain”

“Spock’s Brain”
Written by Lee Cronin
Directed by Marc Daniels
Season 3, Episode 6
Production episode 60043-61
Original air date: September 20, 1968
Stardate: 5431.4

Captain’s log. The Enterprise is being pursued by an unidentified ship with unique technology. They’re not responding to communication, and the ship is on alert with weapons standing by. There’s only one life form on board.

Said life form suddenly transports on board the ship, a woman named Kara. Two security guards enter the bridge, at which point Kara touches a control on her wrist, which knocks out both main power and the entire crew. (In sickbay we get a great shot of Chapel’s underwear as she tumbles to the deck.) She then goes right for Spock.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

When the crew awakens, power is restored, and everyone wakes up right where they fell—with one exception. Spock is in sickbay, laying on a table, with his brain completely missing, having been expertly surgically removed. McCoy and Chapel are able to put him on life support, but that’s a temporary stopgap.

Kirk is determined to find Spock’s brain, which had to have been taken by Kara. McCoy points that putting the brain back in is a surgical technique way beyond his ability, and regardless they only have 24 hours before Spock’s body will die, even with the help of sickbay’s technology.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Sulu is able to track the trail given off by the ship’s ion propulsion design. The trail ends at Sigma Draconis, which has three Class-M planets. Kara’s ship had an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, so she probably went to one of them. Two of the planets have civilizations, one at about a 19th-century level, the other at a 21st-century level, neither of which are advanced enough to create that ion propulsion drive. The third is an ice-covered world with only primitive life—but Uhura is also detecting energy pulses that are far too consistent and regular to be natural.

They blew 15 of the 24 hours they have just getting to Sigma Draconis, so they really only have time to try one planet before Spock’s brain-free body fails. On a hunch, Kirk tries the third one, Sigma Draconis VI.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Kirk, Scotty, Chekov, and two security guards beam down. Kirk asks “Mr. Spock” for life form readings out of habit, and Scotty is graciously unoffended. Five caveman-types try to ambush the landing party, but thanks to their tricorders, they ambush the ambushers, and thanks to phasers, they win the fight, since the big dudes only have clubs (which they throw for some inexplicable reason) and rocks (which they also throw, but that, at least, make sense).

After stunning one, the other four engage in the run-away! maneuver, and Kirk and Scotty interrogate the one they stunned, who is confused by the landing party, thinking they’re like the others, the givers of pain and delight, because they’re so small. He’s also completely confused by the notion of females.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Chekov has found readings indicating an underground city buried deep. Scotty has found a cave with food and forged weapons, which seems to be a lure to trap the big dudes. Kirk has McCoy and a remote-controlled Spock body beam down. Chekov stays behind with the security detail while Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Spock’s body spring the trap. It turns out to be an elevator that goes straight down.

As they go down, Scotty reports that he’s picking up the power source Uhura got from the ship. It’s either a nuclear pile a hundred miles long or ion power. Jackpot!

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

They arrive and another woman dressed the same as Kara is waiting for them. Consternated at their arrival, she goes for the control on her wrist, and Kirk stuns her before he can zap them. McCoy revives her. She’s just as confused at the concept of “him” as the big dude was at the concept of “her,” and she knows nothing of Spock’s brain (lucky her).

The woman is named Luma, and she is confused because they are neither Morg nor Eymorg. McCoy explains that she has the mind of a child. Spock’s voice comes through the communicator, to everyone’s delight, and they try to figure out where his brain is hiding. But then they encounter Kara, who zaps them.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

They wake up in a conference room, belts attached to them (even Spock’s body). Kara has no memory or even understanding of the notion of beaming on board the Enterprise. In fact, she doesn’t understand anything about how the place works or what a brain is or anything like that. But soon they realize that the Controller is what they want—somehow Spock’s cerebellum is now the Controller, but the Controller is apart and alone, and none may see it.

Finally, Kirk gets down on his knees and begs overdramatically to see the Controller. Kara zaps them again, which is the only sane response to William Shatner’s overacting. She’s convinced that they’re there to steal the Controller and destroy them.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

They’re left alone with two guards, as well as all their equipment laid out on a table. It’s obvious that whoever built the underground city is long gone. Neither the Morg nor the Eymorg have the cranial capacity to invent all this stuff.

Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy take out the guards with manly manly fisticuffs, and then use the communicator to again contact Spock’s medulla oblongata. Spock thinks they’re crazy to risk their lives to restore him, as the ability to do so is beyond McCoy’s surgical skills.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

But Kirk insists. Spock manages to beam out a signal from wherever he is to lead them to him. Along with Spock’s RC body, the foursome follow the trail. After a rather endless scene of the landing party walking through corridors, they get to a door.

Inside is Kara and a large computer. Kara zaps Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty with pain, but it doesn’t affect Spock’s body, so Kirk manages to use the remote control (while contorting in pain) to walk Spock’s body over to Kara and deactivate the pain belts.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Kara insists that they must have the Controller. The last one is dead, and they must have this one or they will all die. They finally determine how Kara did what she did: the Doofy Helmet Of Smartness that contains all the knowledge of the builders. But it can only be used under proscribed circumstances.

Kirk, however, is in no mood to argue, so he puts Kara under the helmet to get the knowledge needed to put Spock’s cranial matter back into his cranium. Once she has all the teacher’s knowledge, she becomes much more ept, speaking more intelligently—and more nastily, especially when she whips out a phaser set to kill and points it at Kirk.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Kara insists that they keep Spock’s brain, as her people will die without it. Kirk manages to get the phaser away from her, but she still refuses to help. However, McCoy thinks he can put the Doofy Helmet Of Smartness on and get the mad surgical skillz. Spock cautions that it might cause irreparable damage to McCoy, but the doctor thinks it’s worth it in case he retains what he learns–he could advance surgical techniques in the Federation.

Sure enough, once he’s worn the magic helmet, he realizes how easy this is and he goes at it. Kirk assures Kara that the Eymorg and the Morg will be able to coexist. Kara is not so sure that they can work with the Morg without the pain belts, but Kirk assures them that they can, and the Federation will help.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

As the operation progresses, the knowledge fades from McCoy’s mind, but he reconnects Spock’s vocal abilities so Spock can talk him through the rest of the operation. McCoy grumbles about Spock having to tell him how to do his job, and when it’s over he has no idea if he’s done it right, but Spock wakes up and moves around all on his own, and then immediately starts in in a lengthy lecture about the history of the planet. McCoy grumbles that he should never have reconnected his mouth, which barely even slows Spock’s lecture down…

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Whoever built the machinery on Sigma Draconis VI built it so that the people didn’t have to be smart, they could just have whatever info they needed downloaded temporarily into their brain meats. And the computer lasted 10,000 years before they needed an upgrade, which puts it several up on Microsoft… 

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Fascinating. Easy week for Leonard Nimoy, who mostly gets to wander around slowly while staring straight ahead, 90% of his dialogue ADR’d in later.

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy is willing to risk his own sanity to save Spock and bring medical awesomeness to the galaxy, though the latter goal is not met, and he keeps being a smartass throughout.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu manages to trace the ion trail of Kara’s ship to Sigma Draconis. He’s also left in charge of the ship when Kirk’s landing party beams down, and he gets to record a log entry and everything! 

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura picks up the energy emissions that lead to Kirk deciding that Spock’s cerebellum must be on the sixth planet.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

It’s a Russian invention. Chekov betrays his Russian heritage by saying that a place with high temperatures of 40 degrees is “livable.”

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty comes up with the RC Spock—one assumes, anyhow, since that’s an engineering thing, and it’s the only way Kirk’s instruction to Scotty to help get Spock ready makes any kind of sense.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Go put on a red shirt. Amazingly, both of the redshirts survive this episode. It’s a Christmas miracle!

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. The Morg talk about the givers of pain and delight. We see the Eymorg give pain, and the delight is assumed to be related to their skimpy outfits… 

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Channel open. “I should never have reconnected his mouth.”

“Well, we took the risk, Doctor.”

McCoy and Kirk’s commentary on Spock’s running off at the mouth the minute his brain is restored.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Welcome aboard. Marj Dusay does an excellent job doing both the childlike and smart versions of Kara, a perfect transformation following the donning of the Doofy Helmet Of Smartness. James Daris and Sheila Leighton create no impression at all as the Morg and Luma, respectively.

And we get recurring regulars George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, and Majel Barrett.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Trivial matters: As with “Amok Time” last year, this Spock-focused episode was aired first due to Spock being the jinkiest. Unlike last year, this was not putting the show’s best foot forward…

This is the last episode directed by Marc Daniels, one of the show’s most prolific directors.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

During the filming of this episode, the famous psychologist Dr. Benjamin Spock was sentenced to prison for encouraging draft-dodging. A gag picture was taken of Leonard Nimoy in full makeup and costume, and also in handcuffs with a gun being pointed at him, holding a newspaper with the headline “SPOCK GETS 2-YEAR PRISON TERM, FINE.”

The planet in the episode is referred to as Sigma Draconis VII in both Kirk and Sulu’s log entries, rather than Sigma Draconis VI. Kirk also flips the numbers of the stardate in his second log entry.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

In their guidebook Star Trek 101, authors Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann gave a “Spock’s Brain” award to each episode of each series that they considered the nadir. The awards went to “The Lorelei Signal” for the animated series, “Genesis” for TNG, “Profit and Lace” for DS9, “Threshold” for Voyager, and “These are the Voyages…” for Enterprise.

To boldly go. “Brain and brain, what is brain?” In 1980, Harry and Michael Medved, in their book The Golden Turkey Awards, dubbed the Ed Wood film Plan 9 from Outer Space the worst movie ever made. Since then, the notion that Plan 9 is the worst movie ever made has taken root in the popular consciousness.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Here’s the thing: it’s nonsense. Not only is Plan 9 from Outer Space not the worst movie ever made, it’s not even the worst movie Ed Wood ever made! Have you seen Glen or Glenda? I mean, at least Plan 9 has a cohesive narrative plot structure. Not a very good one, mind, but it’s got it! Glen or Glenda is just a series of bizarre and barely connected images of buffalo stampeding, cross-dressing, angora sweater fetishes, and so on, all unconvincingly linked by Bela Lugosi sitting in a chair crying out, “PULL DE SHTRING!” at the top of his lungs for no compellingly good reason. Plus there are lots of other movies that are way worse: Evil Brain from Outer Space, Sextette, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (a movie surprisingly short on zombies and surprisingly long on musical dance numbers), Can’t Stop the Music, Mac and Me, Manos the Hands of Fate, the 1998 Godzilla, and so on.

But thanks to the Medveds’ silly book, everyone just assumes that Plan 9 is the worst movie ever.

So too with “Spock’s Brain.” I mean, look, I’m not gonna say it’s a good episode by any means, but the worst? Each season has something more painful to watch: “The Alternative Factor” in the first, “The Omega Glory” in the second, and “Plato’s Stepchildren” upcoming in the third.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Besides, there’s one thing that this episode has that it doesn’t get anywhere near enough credit for: the scene on the bridge where Kirk, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov put their heads together to try to figure out where Kara has taken Spock’s gray matter. Usually when stuff like this has to get done, it’s just Spock sucking all the air out of the room and doing it himself while the rest of the crew sits there and pushes buttons and says, “Aye aye, sir,” a lot. This scene, though, does a wonderful job of showing the teamwork of the crew that’s been in rare evidence since the earliest days of season one—and it’s also an interesting preview of the more ensemble-directed spinoffs.

The biggest problem with the script—well, okay, besides the title, because honestly, the fact that it’s called “Spock’s Brain” is half the reason nobody takes this episode seriously, which the script doubles down on by using the phrase “Spock’s brain” fifteen times throughout the hour, and you keep waiting for them to use the words “they saved” right before it—is that it doesn’t have enough story to fill the hour. The episode opens with about seventeen establishing shots (half of which are stock footage, of course), scenes drag on endlessly, from the wandering around the planet’s surface to Kara’s repetitive interrogation of her prisoners to the landing party wandering around the corridors to the endless brain-restoring surgery scene. And I honestly think that this episode is where Shatner got the outsized reputation for overly dramatic pauses, because he takes more of them than normal in this episode in what is obviously an attempt to actually make the running time.

Star Trek the Original Series, Spock's Brain, season 3

Yet, hilariously, it also skimps on the actual story of the Morg and the Eymorg, which could actually be compelling, but we don’t even get the whole story until Spock’s infodump at the end, which is interrupted and superseded by Kirk and McCoy making fun of their friend.

 

Warp factor rating: 4

Next week:Is There In Truth No Beauty?

Keith R.A. DeCandido urges folks to support the crowdfunding campaign for Altered States of the Union, an alternate history anthology being put together by Crazy 8 Press and ComicMix, featuring a story by your humble rewatcher about the Conch Republic of the Florida Keys, as well as stories by Trek scribes David Gerrold and Michael Jan Friedman, as well as Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald, Brendan DuBois, Malon Edwards, G.D. Falksen, Alisa Kwitney, Gordon Linzner, Sarah McGill, Mackenzie Reide, Ian Randal Strock, Ramon Terrell, and more besides! The book will launch at Shore Leave 38 in July.

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