“One of Our Planets is Missing”
Written by Marc Daniels
Directed by Hal Sutherland
Animated Season 1, Episode 3
Production episode 22007
Original air date: September 22, 1973
Captain’s log. The Enterprise is investigating a cosmic cloud that is entering the galaxy and is proximate to Mantilles, the inhabited Federation planet that’s closest to the edge of the galaxy. The cloud is huge, more than 800,000 kilometers wide, made of both matter and energy. It engulfs one of the planets in the system and destroys it, then changes course in order to head for Mantilles.
On McCoy’s recommendation, Kirk has Uhura contact Bob Wesley, the governor of Mantilles, to warn him and have him start evacuating the population, even though they’ve only got four hours before the cloud hits Mantilles. Wesley can only evacuate the children on the planet in time.
The Enterprise intercepts the cloud, and it starts to engulf the ship. Phasers have no effect. Inside the cloud, antimatter nodules approach the ship, but they’re able to neutralize them with an antimatter charge from the shields.
Spock hypothesizes that the cloud is a living organism, and McCoy agrees. Sulu’s scans show that the cloud has a central core, and Kirk has the ship fly toward it, hoping to distract the cloud away from Mantilles. They go through the cloud’s “digestive” system, which includes antimatter projections that destroy matter in order for the cloud to consume it.
The deflectors will only last another twenty minutes or so, as the power requirements are draining both the matter and the antimatter in the engines. Scotty suggests carving off an antimatter projection and using it to recharge the antimatter in the engines. That will keep the ship going longer.
Spock detects a region of the cloud that has high electromagnetic energy, which he believes is the brain. They don’t know if the cloud is intelligent, but Kirk can’t take the chance—Mantilles will be destroyed, and that means they need to kill the creature.
According to Spock’s readings the cloud’s brain is too vast for photon torpedoes to have any effect. They will have to activate the Enterprise self-destruct at the cortex in order to kill the creature.
Kirk suggests Spock try to mind-meld with the cloud, which Spock and Uhura manage to accomplish through the communications systems. As Spock speaks to the cloud, it becomes clear that the cloud has no idea about other life forms—they’re all too small for the cloud to even notice. But Spock is able to convince the cloud that the people on the Enterprise and on Mantilles are truly alive like the cloud is.
The cloud is unwilling to commit murder on that scale and so goes back to where it came from, even though it is a long journey. Spock also determines the best course out of the cloud, and Sulu and Arex fly the ship out. Mantilles is saved.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The cloud acts like a biological organism, with McCoy likening its functions to the digestive system of humans.
Meanwhile, being in the cloud somehow manages to drain the matter and the antimatter from the ship.
Fascinating. Spock is able to mind-meld with the cloud and convince it to leave the galaxy. Because he’s just that awesome.
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy provides useful advice on the cloud’s biology, and also convinces Kirk to contact Mantilles and warn them, even though it might cause a panic and even though there is little hope for rescuing the bulk of the population.
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu is the one who plots out the interior of the cloud, enabling them to find the brain as well as a possible way out.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura is able to tie the universal translator and the sensors into Spock’s mind-touch. Because she’s just that awesome.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty figures out a way to refuel the ship using the cloud itself. Because he’s just that awesome.
Forewarned is three-armed. Arex makes his second appearance, and this time gets dialogue! (And a name.)
Channel open. “Am I doing the right thing, Bones? Once I said that man rose above primitiveness by vowing, ‘I will not kill, today.'”
Kirk paraphrasing something he said in “A Taste of Armageddon.”
Welcome aboard. James Doohan provides the voices of both Arex and Wesley, as well as his usual role of Scotty, while Majel Barrett does the voice of the cloud. George Takei and Nichelle Nichols voice Sulu and Uhura, respectively.
Trivial matters: Wesley makes a return appearance, last seen as a commodore in charge of the Lexington in “The Ultimate Computer,” and played by Barry Russo.
This is the first Trek story written by Marc Daniels, who was one of the most prolific directors of the original series. It was only his third (and final) writing credit in his career, the others being episodes of Matt Lincoln and Nash Airflyte Theatre.
Images of Earth that Uhura shows to the cloud during the mind-meld are images taken from another 1973 Filmation animated series, Lassie’s Rescue Rangers.
To boldly go. “Listen to me!” A smart, taut, intense little thriller of an episode, particularly impressive coming from a director with comparatively little writing experience. Having said that, goodness knows Marc Daniels knows his Trek, having directed more episodes of the original series than anyone not named Joseph Pevney, and this is very much a Star Trek story in the finest sense: the default is to compassion, trying to save the lives of the people of Mantilles, but trying to find alternatives to killing the cloud if at all possible.
I particularly like that it’s Kirk who makes the initial decision to find a way to kill the cloud—because he has no choice but to at least have that be an option, as time is running out for the people of Mantilles—but also Kirk who suggests the mind-meld that ultimately keeps everyone alive. And also that both Spock and McCoy are aghast that Kirk goes for the option of killing the creature.
Like “Beyond the Farthest Star,” this episode feels derivative of other episodes. Daniels himself said he was partly inspired by “The Doomsday Machine” (which he directed), and the cloud shares elements with the planet killer, and there’s a whole lot of “The Immunity Syndrome” in here, too, but one advantage this one has over those two is the aforementioned compassion. At no point did anyone try to communicate with the planet-killer (which, to be fair, was pretty obviously a machine) or the giant space amoeba, and destroying it was the only option. I prefer my Trek stories to at least take a shot at compassion first, and I admire that this episode does that.
In addition, the alienness of the cloud is well played by Daniels’s script and Majel Barrett’s voice work. At first, you think the cloud is not very intelligent, but it quickly becomes apparent that it’s simply a difference in methods of communication (and of scale, as the cloud probably thinks it’s just been contacted by the equivalent of bacteria).
Another advantage this has over “Beyond…” is that the tension is more palpable, in part because of the danger to Mantilles. It’s a nice touch using Wesley—not really necessary, especially if you don’t remember who he is, but if you do recall “The Ultimate Computer,” it’s a nice callback that gives the danger more immediacy, especially since Wesley is one of the few other ship commanders we met in the original series who was actually steady and cool and smart and stuff.
Finally, what’s especially nice is that Uhura and Scotty have plenty to do. It’s Uhura who comes up with a way to make the mind-meld work, and Scotty who figures out how to fix the engines, not just Spock being brilliant and telling everyone what to do because he’s the smartest guy in the room, which was often the default on the live-action series.
Warp factor rating: 7
Next week: “The Lorelei Signal”
Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that his first Super City Cops novella, Avenging Amethyst, is on sale today! You can order it for your Kindle or your Nook, or get the eBook from Kobo. Cover and promo copy on Keith’s blog…