“For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”
Written by Rik Vollaerts
Directed by Tony Leader
Season 3, Episode 10
Production episode 60043-65
Original air date: November 8, 1968
Captain’s log. The Enterprise is fired upon by a spread of old-fashioned missiles. Kirk orders Sulu to blow them up with phasers, and then Chekov traces their course back to an asteroid, toward which the Enterprise heads at warp three.
While the ship is en route, McCoy announces the results of the crew’s annual physicals: everyone’s in great shape except for McCoy himself, who has xenopolycythemia, a terminal illness for which there is no cure.
The Enterprise arrives at the asteroid, which is pursuing a course through the solar system under its own power. Spock detects an independent inner core with a breathable atmosphere, though he’s detecting no life signs. The ship is over 10,000 years old.
The ship is also on a collision course with an inhabited planet. Luckily, it’ll take more than a year to hit it, so they’ve got a bit of leisure time. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam over—though Kirk intended for it to be only him and Spock, McCoy insists on going along also.
Despite detecting no life signs, the landing party is ambushed by sword-wielders, led by a woman named Natira, who is the high priestess of the people of Yonada. The landing party are taken underground, where there are lots more people, so the catacombs must be shielded from sensors somehow. Natira takes them to an altar before which she kneels, and the landing party is forced to do likewise. She prays to the Oracle for guidance.
McCoy also notes that she called this the “world” of Yonada, and he and Kirk hypothesize that they may not know they’re on a ship.
Kirk says they come in friendship, and that’s when the Oracle speaks: he wants them to learn what it is to be an enemy before becoming a friend and zaps them with a beam of electricity that renders them unconscious. Nice guy, the Oracle…
They wake up in a room on comfy beds. McCoy takes longer to regain consciousness, and Kirk tells Spock about McCoy’s condition, which irritates McCoy when he wakes up.
An old man comes in and gives them pills to make them feel better. He confides that he once climbed a mountain, even though it is forbidden, and actually touched the sky. As he speaks, he feels tremendous pain, and dies. McCoy notes a subcutaneous implant at his temple. His story makes it clear that the people are deliberately being kept in the dark about the nature of their world.
Natira and two priestesses arrive with food and drink for the prisoners, and Natira also kneels and intones a prayer for the old man, including a mention that those who speak ill are punished.
Natira also expresses an interest in McCoy’s health, and announces that the Oracle has now decided that they are to be treated as honored guests. Kirk notices Natira’s interest in McCoy, teasing him a bit about her poor taste in men, and encourages McCoy to occupy Natira’s attention while Kirk and Spock look around. Natira actually encourages this as well, as they are now indeed honored guests and can have free rein of Yonada and speak to the people.
McCoy asks about the old man, and Natira explains that the Oracle knows everything they do, say, and think. Natira also expresses romantic interest in McCoy, which he returns—though she goes a step further and proposes marriage (or the Yonadan equivalent, anyhow). In the interests of full disclosure, McCoy explains that he’s only got a year to live, which won’t make for much of a relationship. However, Natira would prefer a year of McCoy over nothing with him, so she’s down with it.
Kirk and Spock wander the corridors, getting stared at by the locals, and musing about the world. They arrive at the door to the Oracle’s altar, but it’s locked. Spock recognizes the writing as Fabrini, a civilization that was believed destroyed in a supernova. It’s possible that these are the last of the Fabrini, en route to a new world.
Spock gets the door open and they look around. The Oracle seems dormant—it was probably activated by Natira kneeling on a platform—and the writing in the room seems to confirm their idea that these are the Fabrini.
Natira comes in, and Kirk and Spock hide behind a monolith. She kneels and asks the Oracle for permission to take McCoy as her mate. The Oracle will only agree if he becomes one of the people. (Just like any mixed marriage, sometimes you have to convert to make it work…)
However, the Oracle now detects Kirk and Spock and zaps them. This is sacrilege and they are to be punished with death. McCoy pleads with her to let them return to the Enterprise. In exchange, he’ll stay with her and become her mate. He couldn’t be happy with her if he knew she ordered his friends to their death. So Natira agrees.
Kirk tries to order McCoy to beam back with them, which he refuses. For some reason, McCoy doesn’t mention the part about how he got their death sentences commuted.
The two beam back and start working on how to divert Yonada’s course so that it doesn’t crash into an inhabited world.
McCoy agrees to have the instrument of obedience (the subcutaneous implant) placed within him. Then they are officially mated before the Oracle in what is actually a very sweet ceremony. She then shows McCoy the book that is to be opened when they reach their new home. Nobody has opened the book in living memory, and Natira refuses to until the appointed time.
The Enterprise has failed to alter Yonada’s course. Admiral Westervliet orders Kirk to move on and let Starfleet Command deal with it. However, McCoy then contacts the ship to tell them about the book—but in mid-sentence he screams and collapses. The subcutaneous implant is punishing him.
Kirk and Spock immediately beam over to find out what’s wrong. Spock removes the implant, and only then does McCoy regain consciousness. Natira says she’s forced him to violate his vow of obedience, but Kirk says he’s granted him freedom from the Oracle’s oppression.
Having nothing to lose, Kirk tries to explain the truth to Natira, who is skeptical to say the least. However, as Kirk speaks the truth to her, her own implant starts to activate which, if nothing else, proves him right. But she insists that he’s lying, that this is a planet not a ship, and she runs away to the Oracle.
Once McCoy’s recovered, they follow Natira to the altar, where she’s collapsed. She realizes that the Oracle has kept them in the dark on purpose. McCoy removes her implant and tells Kirk and Spock to retrieve the book from the monolith.
The Oracle is kinda peeved at this notion and superheats the room, but Kirk and Spock retrieve the book anyhow, which tells them how to access the control chamber. Spock neutralizes the heating elements, and then they are able to repair Yonada’s engine and put the ship back on course.
McCoy wishes to continue to travel the galaxy to try to find a cure for xenopolycythemia, and wishes Natira to come with him. But Natira cannot abandon her people. She frees him from his vow to stay with her, and asks only that, should he find that cure, he come back to Yonada.
And then Spock finds something cool: the entire database of Fabrini knowledge, including a considerable amount of medical knowledge, like the cure to xenopolycythemia. It’s a Christmas miracle! Kirk promises to make sure the Enterprise is nearby when Yonada reaches its intended destination in a year.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Yonada is off course because it never occurred to the builders of this super-awesome asteroid/ship that the engines might need maintenance over the course of ten millennia.
Fascinating. The moment when McCoy wakes up and Spock puts a hand on the doctor’s shoulder is a masterpiece of subtle acting, as Leonard Nimoy’s facial expression doesn’t significantly change from its usual I-am-in-control-of-my-emotions bland affect, but you can see the respect, the concern, the friendship.
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy typically avoids drawing any attention to himself or his illness. Chapel has to do an end-run around the doctor and call Kirk to sickbay for an emergency, which is the only reason why McCoy even tells Kirk, and he swears both nurse and captain to secrecy, though Kirk does later tell Spock.
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu blows up the missiles. Because he’s just that awesome.
It is a Russian invention. Chekov plots the missiles’ course back to Yonada. Because he’s just that awesome.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura, um, does communications stuff, I guess.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty, um, does engineering stuff. Well, actually, no he doesn’t even do that. He gets to be in command of the ship a lot, so he answers the phone when Kirk calls, but, um, yeah.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. It’s love at first sight for both Natira and McCoy. Even McCoy is taken aback when Natira goes from, “Hey, you’re kinda cute” to “Let’s get married” in about twenty-five seconds, but he eventually goes along, figuring he should spend his last year alive being happy.
Channel open. “But things are not as they teach us. For the world is hollow, and I have touched the sky.”
The old man discussing the results of his mountain-climbing trip. You know, that would make a dandy title…
Welcome aboard. Jon Lormer makes his third appearance on Trek, having appeared twice in the first season, in “The Cage” (and again in “The Menagerie“) as an illusory survivor of the Columbia and in “The Return of the Archons” as Tamar. Byron Morrow makes his second appearance as an admiral, having played Komack in “Amok Time,” he plays a totally different admiral named Westervliet in this one.
Katherine Woodville is radiant as Natira, while recurring regulars George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan (doing double duty as Scotty and the voice of the Oracle), Walter Koenig, and Majel Barrett are all present and accounted for.
Trivial matters: The notion of a multigenerational “ark” ship goes back to the early twentieth century, and has been used in prose stories by Olaf Stapledon, Don Wilcox, Harlan Ellison, and Robert A. Heinlein, among many many others, as well as in comics (a Fantastic Four comic by John Byrne) and television (The Starlost, Doctor Who). The notion would also be seen in the TOS novel The Galactic Whirlpool by David Gerrold and in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Orphans by Kevin Killiany.
The Mirror Universe novel The Sorrows of Empire by David Mack establishes that the alternate McCoy from the MU of “Mirror, Mirror” died of xenopolycythemia, as the I.S.S. Enterprise never encountered Yonada.
The novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Gene Roddenberry established that McCoy’s time in civilian retirement between the end of the five-year mission and the first movie was spent researching Fabrini medical technology. This was expanded on by J.M. Dillard in her novel The Lost Years, which filled in that gap in more detail.
Regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett revisited the Fabrini in a post-The Motion Picture time frame in his novel Ex Machina.
This is the only Trek script by Rik Vollaerts, a hugely prolific television writer of the 1950s and 1960s. (He also penned “The Bookworm Turns”/”While Gotham City Burns” on the 1966 Batman.) It is also the longest title of any Trek episode ever.
To boldly go. “A lot can happen in a year.” This episode is an object lesson in why the execution of a story is far more important than an idea. Because the idea here is a strong one.
For starters, we have McCoy dealing with a terminal illness, which he’s approaching by avoiding any undue attention, preferring to keep it off the record, and when Chapel takes that choice away from him, to at least keep it under wraps. Then there’s the generation ship that isn’t aware that they’re in a ship. And there’s the love story between Natira and McCoy.
But it’s all a big mess in execution. Much like another Rik Vollaerts script I reviewed for this site, stuff happens without rhyme or reason or explanation or followup. The Yonada’s missile attack on the Enterprise is never explicated, nor even mentioned after Sulu blows the missiles up. It’s just there to create artificial suspense for the cold open. The Oracle’s heel turn from enemy to friend just happens without justification. Natira tells Kirk and Spock that they have free run of Yonada, but then they get in trouble when they enter the Oracle room even though they were never told they couldn’t. The admiral orders Kirk to go away, and then McCoy calls so they don’t have to go away (so why have the admiral call in the first place?).
I’ve said in the past that love-story-in-an-hour episodes fall on the back of the guest actor, and this episode serves as a reminder that the talent of the actor is irrelevant if the script sucks. McCoy and Natira take one look at each other, spend all of half a second talking to each other, and it’s all hearts and flowers and I’ll spend the rest of my life with you, even if that’s only a year and I have to put an implant in my head. It just stretches credulity and makes the whole relationship absurd.
This script would have benefitted greatly by aping the structure of another third-season love-story-in-an-hour episode about a planetary collision, to wit, “The Paradise Syndrome.” (This despite the latter episode being inferior to this one.) The episode would have worked far better by taking more story time in the hour, giving McCoy and Natira’s relationship a chance to grow the way Kirk’s and Miramanee’s did, and have the Enterprise‘s efforts to get Yonada back on course take a certain amount of time and effort.
No one ever went wrong letting DeForest Kelley cut loose and be the focus, and it wouldn’t be the first time he was the saving grace of a bad script (as recently as “The Empath,” in fact), and Katherine Woodville makes Natira a worthy character, strong and impressive. But ultimately, this episode fails its premise.
Warp factor rating: 4
Next week: “Day of the Dove”
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Shore Leave 38 in Cockeysville, Maryland this weekend. Among other things, the convention will have the debut of Altered States of the Union, the alternate-U.S. anthology with Keith’s story “We Seceded Where Others Failed.” Other anthology contributors who will be guests at the con: Russ Colchamiro, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, Meredith Peruzzi, and Aaron Rosenberg. Other con guests include fellow Trek scribes Christopher L. Bennett, Paula M. Block, Greg Cox, Terry J. Erdmann, Dave Galanter, Jeffrey Lang, David Mack, Larry Nemecek, Marco Palmieri, Dayton Ward, Howard Weinstein, and many many others; fellow Stargate scribes Jo Graham and Melissa Scott; actors Karen Gillan, John Noble, Anthony Montgomery, Zoie Palmer, Michael Trucco, Anthony Lemke, Barbara Bouchet, and Michael Forrest; and tons more writers, artists, scientists, actors, and more. Keith’s full schedule is still being finalized, but he will be at Meet the Pros Friday night at 10pm signing and selling his books, performing with the Boogie Knights Saturday at 11am, and doing a practical self-defense workshop on Saturday afternoon. Keep an eye on his blog for the final schedule later this week.