“The Eye of the Beholder”
Written by David P. Harmon
Directed by Hal Sutherland
Animated Season 1, Episode 15
Production episode 22016
Original air date: January 5, 1974
Captain’s log. The Enterprise is investigating the disappearance of the crew of the U.S.S. Ariel, a six-person ship that was on a scientific mission to Lactra VII. In a briefing, Spock shows Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty the last log entry made by Lieutenant Commander Markel. Half the crew beamed down and disappeared. Markel and the other two beamed down to try to find them. Nobody’s heard from any of the half-dozen crew in six weeks.
While Arex conducts a sensor scan—he has detected several different types of life forms, but no cities or other indications of civilization—Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to the coordinates that Markel and his party transported to.
They materialize in an open area near a lake filled with boiling water. A sea monster moves to attack them, but they drive it off with phasers set on stun. Kirk tries to raise the Ariel crew on his communicator, but while there’s no voice response, the communicator does get a signal from one of the Ariel crew.
They trace it, and encounter a large creature that also moves to attack. Once again, phasers are used to drive it off, though it seems to feed on phaser energy rather than be stopped by it. However, it’s vulnerable on the underside of the neck. The good news is that when they focus their fire there, the creature falls over. The bad news is that it falls right on McCoy. Spock and Kirk manage to dig him out, and they proceed to follow the signal.
Kirk recognizes the creature as coming from Canopus III, and it’s living in a desert area similar to that world. Shortly thereafter, they’re in a rainforest region, and Spock comments on the oddity of such diverse ecosystems so close together. Scotty reports that there’s what may be a city northeast of them, in the direction they’re already going.
When they reach water, Spock scans it, and it’s far too pure to be natural—he hypothesizes that the differing ecosystems on this world are all manufactured.
They’re attacked by a bunch of dragons similar to those on the planet Maravel, and once again, the landing party use phasers, but they’re completely useless. However, the dragons do seem to hit a force field, which drives them off—but the landing party isn’t exactly safe, as they’re grabbed by large tentacled creatures—the Lactrans—and brought to the city Scotty mentioned.
They’re placed inside a cell, and McCoy believes that they’ve been quarantined to make sure they don’t have any harmful bacteria. Spock is able to receive some vague telepathic impressions from the Lactrans, but not much beyond that. He thinks they’re much more advanced than the Federation.
The Lactrans take the landing party from their cell and put them in an environment suited to them. En route, they see a menagerie of alien beings in other small cage-like environments. (Ahem.) Inside, they encounter Markel and another Ariel crew member, Randi Bryce. They confirm that this is a zoo, and they’re the exhibits.
Another of their crew, Lieutenant Nancy Randolph, is ill. McCoy examines her, while Spock tries to make direct telepathic contact with the Lactrans. Unfortunately, the Lactrans’ response is to just laugh at them. (“Aw, look at the cute humanoids!”)
McCoy can’t do much for Randolph without his medikit, so Spock suggests they all think solely about the medikit. Sure enough, the Lactrans sense this and give McCoy the medikit, which is undamaged. While he treats Randolph, Kirk tries to find a weakness in their cage to allow them to escape.
Spock suggests that one of them pretend to be sick and the others think hard about the communicator as a necessary component to heal the sick person. Once they get their hands on a communicator, Scotty can beam them up. Sure enough, this works—to a point. The young Lactran who gave Kirk the communicator grabs it as soon as it realizes that Kirk was tricking them, so Scotty winds up beaming the child to the Enterprise. On the surface, the Lactrans are concerned, as they didn’t view the humanoids as harmful up until now, but they just made their kid disappear.
Immediately, they interrogate Kirk telepathically, trying to find out what happened to the kid. Meanwhile, the kid grabs Scotty and brings him to the bridge, which Scotty orders cleared immediately. The kid figures out all of the Enterprise systems by reading Scotty’s mind, and actually takes the ship out of orbit—but then Scotty convinces the kid that he’s not a pet, and that they should go back to the planet. They beam down, and in the nick of time, as the Lactrans were coming very close to burning out Kirk’s brain trying to find out what happened.
The Lactran adults are very glad to have their kid back, while the kid tells them all about the Federation. The Lactrans realize that the two landing parties are sentient, and therefore don’t belong in a zoo, though they’re still pretty laughably primitive by the Lactrans’ standards. They let them go, and say to come back in twenty or thirty centuries.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Spock says the communicator signal is 1.1 kilometers away, but Scotty later says the city (where the signal originated) is 98.5 kilometers away. Scotty also reports that the city is to the northeast, but the Lactrans take the landing party northwest to the city. Nice to see D.C. Fontana was putting that script editor title to good use…
Fascinating. Spock goes on at great length about how intelligent the Lactrans are, then suggests that they might fall for the sick-prisoner trick. Sure.
I’m a doctor, not an escalator. McCoy spends the entire episode bitching and moaning and picking fights with Spock for no reason except that McCoy’s supposed to do that.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty saves the day here, as he actually makes significant contact with the kid and enables everyone to finally talk to each other.
Hailing frequencies open. M’Ress is at communications this week, though she’s only on screen long enough to follow Scotty’s order to clear the bridge.
Channel open. “Doctor, your lack of scientific interest is amazing.”
“I’ll be happy to discuss that that with you, Mr. Spock, next time you drop into my medical lab.”
Spock insulting McCoy and McCoy explaining why it’s a remarkably stupid insult.
Welcome aboard. This is another episode that only uses James Doohan and Majel Barrett for additional voice work—I guess George Takei and Nichelle Nichols got a week off after being so prominent in “The Slaver Weapon“—so Doohan does Scotty and Markel while Barrett does Bryce and M’Ress.
Trivial matters: David P. Harmon also wrote “The Deadly Years” and co-wrote “A Piece of the Action.” He was reportedly less than happy with this episode, mostly because he thought animation couldn’t convey the depth necessary for a good Trek story.
The U.S.S. Ariel was likely named after the character in The Tempest by William Shakespeare.
The series of small enclosures filled with alien creatures that the Lactrans bring the landing party past on the way to the humanoid enclosure is very reminiscent of the similar enclosures used by the Talosians in “The Cage.”
To boldly go. “We are considered simplistic, but in the process of evolving into a higher order.” There’s a good episode to be made from this premise, but the actual script is a tremendous mess. Distances and directions change from line to line, the initial science team beamed down from the Ariel yet the ship is inexplicably never seen, and Spock and McCoy’s bickering has never felt so forced and unnecessary.
Worse, Randolph, the sick Ariel crew member, is introduced and then forgotten about. We never find out if McCoy made her better or not, and even worse, they concoct a plan that requires a sick prisoner and they have a sick prisoner right there! Yet Kirk decides to pretend to be sick instead! What the heck????
On top of that, William Shatner’s overacting sounds even worse here when he’s resisting the Lactrans’ telepathic contact than it does in live-action, where at least he can sell it to some extent with body language. Here, he just sounds like he’s reading the script very very badly.
Which is too bad, because there’s some good stuff here. In particular the episode is one that works far better as an animated episode, as the aliens are far more alien (though the dragons are just a reuse of the swoopers from “The Infinite Vulcan“), and the Lactrans in particular are very distinctive, and not really possible to do on a 1970s live-action budget, but easy enough to do justice to even with Filmation’s limited animation.
I also love the fact that the day is saved by a six-year-old kid who doesn’t have the adults’ preconceived notions and is therefore open to actually talking to the “animals” rather than just laughing at their silly antics.
Still, it’s obvious that Harmon didn’t put his best effort into this—he is on record as being unimpressed with animation as a storytelling medium for Star Trek, and that disdain shows in the slapdash nature of the script—and it seems that rewrites weren’t in the budget for this one. Either that, or it was rewritten and this is the improved version, which is even scarier. A grave disappointment either way.
Warp factor rating: 4
Next week: “The Jihad”
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at I-Con 32 this weekend in Brentwood, New York, alongside fellow Trek scribes David Gerrold, Peter David, Christopher Golden, and Glenn Hauman, as well as Cory Doctorow, Daniel Knauf, Cecil Baldwin, Rikki Simmons, Pamela Gay, and tons more. You can find his schedule here.