“The Cloud Minders”
Written by David Gerrold and Oliver Crawford and Margaret Armen
Directed by Jud Taylor
Season 3, Episode 19
Production episode 60043-74
Original air date: February 28, 1969
Captain’s log. The Enterprise has arrived at Ardana at top speed to nab a shipment of zenite, which is the only substance that can cure a botanical plague on Merak II. High Advisor Plasus requests an audience in Stratos, Ardana’s cloud city—it literally floats in a cloud—but Kirk doesn’t have time to waste on diplomacy, and instead beams directly to the mine entrance. But the zenite isn’t there—however, a bunch of Troglytes are. The Troglytes are the ones who mine the zenite, and a quartet of them ambush the landing party, led by a woman named Vanna. Kirk and Spock fight back, and then Plasus and two guards beam down from Stratos and scare off the Troglytes.
Plasus explains that a group called the disruptors have been agitating. They lied and said the zenite shipment would be waiting, hoping to get valuable hostages. Plasus sends his sentinels to search for the zenite shipment and invites Kirk and Spock to Stratos.
Upon arrival, Plasus introduces his scantily clad daughter Droxine, who thinks Spock is dreamy, and then sends them to their quarters to rest until the zenite can be located. Two sentinels find a Troglyte who has no transport card or work permit, but he jumps over the railing to his doom hundreds of feet below rather than give up the disruptors. Plasus is way more concerned with the lost intelligence than the loss of life.
Kirk naps while Spock has a wholly unnecessary voiceover that explains the plot for those of us too stupid to grasp it, comparing Droxine to Vanna, and wondering how Droxine would react to Vanna’s violent self. He wanders off to find Droxine so they can flirt woodenly, allowing Vanna—now dressed as a Stratos city dweller—to try to attack Kirk in his sleep. Luckily, Kirk’s a light sleeper, and after some grappling on the bed—which he enjoys more than she does—he questions her.
The disruptors are under the impression that the Enterprise is here to help Stratos crush the Troglytes under their heels, not believing that a starship would perform so menial a task as ferrying medicine. Vanna—who served in Plasus’s household for a time (which means that Vanna and Droxine already know each other, making Spock’s voicover even stupider)—insists that the Troglytes want equality with Stratos. Droxine insists that the Troglytes couldn’t possibly appreciate the joys of Stratos. Their eyes are unaccustomed to sunlight and their brains can’t handle logic or appreciate art. It’s a pretty revolting worldview, but it seems to be the status quo here—making one wonder how the hell these guys wound up joining the Federation, exactly.
Vanna is taken away and put under the very imaginatively named “rays,” which serve to torture her—another sterling example of Stratos’s enlightened society. Kirk and Spock are appalled, and refuse to allow the torture to continue. Plasus provides the same party line as Droxine about how the Troglytes can’t handle enlightened society, and Kirk calls the same bullshit. Plasus’s response is to send Kirk and Spock back to the ship, and orders his sentinels to have the captain shot on sight if he returns. (This strikes me as a really bad career move, but it makes a nice dramatic end to the act before commercial break.)
McCoy reveals that zenite in its raw form emits a gas that retards the brain function and heightens aggression—which explains the lower intellects and violent tendencies of the Troglytes. The disruptors are likely people like Vanna—Troglytes who have served in Stratos and are therefore not as regularly exposed to the gas.
Kirk proposes giving filter masks to the Troglytes, but Plasus refuses, thinking Kirk is just being a schmuck. So Kirk goes to Vanna, beaming straight to her prison cell. Kirk asks her to provide the zenite shipment, and after much convincing, she agrees, but only if he takes her to the surface. They stun the sentinel who brings her food and steal his transport card in order to beam down. As soon as they arrive, Vanna has the disruptors take him hostage—she didn’t buy Kirk’s act for a second. She removes the filter mask from Kirk’s face and forces him to mine with his bare hands.
Vanna sends the other two disruptors away on errands, and Kirk is able to subdue Vanna on his own. He uses his phaser to seal the chamber, then contacts Spock and tells him to beam Plasus to the cavern as well. Vanna is appalled, and so is Plasus when he arrives. Kirk—who is pretty obviously becoming a bit unhinged—makes both Plasus and Vanna dig zenite by hand. Eventually, things degenerate to the point where Kirk and Plasus get into a fistfight. Vanna realizes that the gas really does exist, and grabs Kirk’s communicator to beg the Enterprise for help.
Spock beams the three of them up, and eventually they calm down.
Vanna agrees to supply Kirk with the zenite, and Kirk in exchange provides the Troglytes with filter masks. Plasus agrees not to press charges against Kirk for kidnapping him if Kirk agrees not to press charges against Plasus for attacking him. Kirk and Spock take their zenite and beam away to save Merak II, leaving behind a grumpy Plasus, a determined Vanna, and a dewy-eyed Droxine, who hopes that Spock will come visit her again, or at least friend her on Facebook
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Zenite gas has the remarkably plot-convenient properties of being odorless, colorless, and having absolutely no long-term side effects even after repeated exposure that does brain damage. Sure.
Fascinating. After literally being willing to die rather than discuss Vulcan mating rituals with his two closest friends in “Amok Time,” Spock just blithely babbles to Droxine all about it. I mean, I know she looks hot in the outfit, but damn, son….
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy announces that the Troglytes have been gassed for centuries just by examining one sample of raw zenite, making you wonder why no one has examined raw zenite before this.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura doesn’t roll her eyes when Kirk keeps adding on bits and pieces to the message of Plasus telling the high advisor that he’ll beam to the surface, not the city. But you can tell she kinda wants to.
I cannot change the laws of physics! After Kirk insists on beaming down to Stratos himself because he’s working unofficially, he blithely orders Spock and Scotty to kidnap a head of state. Spock and Scotty gleefully go along with this, with Scotty only commenting that he can’t wait to see the look on Plasus’s face.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Spock is all over Droxine, and she on him, pretty much from jump. There’s, like, no subtlety whatsoever. Meanwhile, Vanna evinces no interest in Kirk, even though he flirts with her on three separate occasions.
Channel open. “I have never before met a Vulcan, sir.”
“Nor I a work of art, madam.”
Droxine’s first words to Spock, and Spock showing that Kirk ain’t the only playa on the Enterprise.
Welcome aboard. Jeff Corey shouts a lot as Plasus, while Charlene Polite matches him shout for shout as Vanna. Diana Ewing is supremely vapid and uninteresting as Droxine, though she wears the outfit really well. Various Ardanans are played by Kirk Raymone (last seen as a Capellan in “Friday’s Child“), Jimmy Fields, Ed Long, Garth Pillsbury (last seen as a scheming crewman in “Mirror, Mirror“), Harv Selsby, and—in a rare Robert Knepper moment for the TOS Rewatch—Fred Williamson! The former football great had just started getting into acting when he was cast in the small role of Anka, a year before his first big role as “Spearchucker” Jones in Robert Altman’s MASH.
We’ve also got recurring regulars James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols.
Trivial matters: This story had its origins in a pitch by David Gerrold, which he outlined in his seminal 1973 reference work The World of Star Trek. The pitch had the same separation between haves and have-nots as the final story, but there was no drug affecting the have-nots, and the story had a much more complex message and a not-very-happy ending. Gerrold was, to say the least, not pleased with the final result, which was rewritten at the story stage by Oliver Crawford, and then again by Margaret Armen, who wrote the script off her revised treatment.
Another likely inspiration for the story is the 1927 film Metropolis.
Ardana and the Cloud City of Stratos will be seen again in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Signs from Heaven by Phaedra M. Weldon, where the titular engineers attempt to stop Stratos from falling to the surface. The planet is also seen as being under attack by the Borg in Destiny: Lost Souls by David Mack and recovering from that attack in your humble rewatcher’s A Singular Destiny.
The bulk of the action of my Mirror Universe short novel The Mirror-Scaled Serpent (in Obsidian Alliances) takes place on the MU version of Ardana, where the Alliance has established a scientific base on Stratos.
Two more sources of zenite are found in novels postdating this episode: Remus in Vulcan’s Soul: Exiles by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz and Raknal V in your humble rewatcher’s The Art of the Impossible.
One of Manny Coto’s plans for the fifth season of Enterprise that never was included a prequel to this episode, showing off the Cloud City with 21st-century special effects.
James Blish’s adaptation in Star Trek 6 is mistitled “The Cloud Miners.” It’s an honest mistake.
To boldly go. “Extreme feminine beauty is always disturbing, madam.” If I didn’t know about David Gerrold’s original proposal for the episode, I would merely hate this episode, but knowing what this could have been, I despise it. Gerrold’s notion would have had a legitimate dispute between the cloud city and the miners, and also would have included a subplot where McCoy is left to treat the many children who are sick and injured on the surface. After Kirk forces the two sides to sit down and talk to each other, Kirk is all self-congratulatory about how they’ll eventually find peace, and then McCoy asks, “How many children will die in the meantime?”
That would’ve been a cool episode.
This is not a cool episode.
The basic premise—which is the same as Gerrold’s—still works in the abstract, though one has to wonder how the heck this planet was made a member of the Federation. We’ve had far too many lines of dialogue about how there is no racial prejudice in the future (just as recently as “Day of the Dove,” it was spoken of as a foreign concept), yet somehow this incredibly classist, violently oppressive society that permits torture as an interrogation tool is allowed in. Buh?
But by making the zenite gas the culprit, it takes the wind out of the plot’s sails, because it suddenly becomes not the Stratos city dwellers’ fault. They didn’t know about the gas, they just thought the Troglytes were stupid! It was an honest mistake!
And yet, the script goes out of its way to make the folks on Stratos as revolting as possible, from Jeff Corey’s blustery performance as Plasus, giving nothing like the impression of the leader of a city of artists and philosophers, to Diana Ewing’s overwhelming vapidity as Droxine. (Also, Spock? What the hell? You won’t give Leila Kalomi the time of day, unless you’ve been whammied by spores, anyhow, but you hit on this twit? Seriously?) Plus there’s the use of “the rays” (up all night coming up with that one, huh, Margaret?), which aren’t some ancient device brought out of storage but a thing they have lying around for everyday use. So they’re simultaneously off the hook but also so stereotypically evil that they are utterly unredemptive as bad guys. There’s no nuance to the performances, making it impossible to care about either side.
It’s amusing to see Fred Williamson in an early role (seriously, Fred Williamson!!!!!), and Diana Ewing looks really good in one of William Ware Theiss’s sexiest outfits (and Charlene Polite doesn’t look too shabby in her formal Stratos outfit), but ultimately, this one’s a train wreck.
Warp factor rating: 2
Next week: “The Way to Eden”
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at New York Comic-Con this week, roaming around and spending time signing and selling books at the WordFire Press booth throughout the con, as well as a signing at the Joe Books booth on Thursday from 3-4pm.