Written by Stephen Kandel
Directed by Hal Sutherland
Animated Season 1, Episode 16
Production episode 22014
Original air date: January 12, 1974
Captain’s log. The Enterprise arrives at Vedala, along with representatives from several other species, summoned by the ancient space-faring race for a special mission. Kirk and Spock are specifically summoned, along with Tchar, hereditary prince of the birdlike Skorr, Sord, from a lizardlike species, M3 Green, an insectlike lockpick, and Lara, a humanoid hunter.
The mission comes from Tchar: the soul of Alar, the spiritual leader of the Skorr, was archived in a sculpture, which has been stolen. The Skorr government has kept the theft secret from their people, but they won’t be able to keep that secret forever, and when they learn that the soul of Alar has been stolen, the Skorr will launch a holy war against the entire galaxy.
To avoid that, this team of specialists must find the sculpture. It’s been located on a mad planet, one that is geologically unstable with massive temperature variations. The team is sent there, with a little dune buggy, by the Vedala. (The Vedala themselves claim they could not survive on that world.) This group is the fourth expedition to be sent—the previous three all failed.
The dune buggy tracking equipment doesn’t work on this world, but Lara is an expert tracker, and she can trace the direction to go in, and after a time, Tchar can sense the soul. They drive through rain and sun and earthquakes. A volcano erupts nearby, and they’re endangered by lava. Tchar finds a ravine that Sord, Kirk, and Lara throw rocks into in order to divert the lava, while Spock and M3 Green have to work quickly to rewire the dune buggy for greater speed and power in order to outrun the lava flow. They eventually attain higher ground, but the dune buggy is burned out. They continue on foot, now through snow. At one point, M3 Green falls through a crack in the ice, and Kirk, Spock, and Tchar have to rescue him. M3 Green tries to give up, but Sord simply carries him.
They make camp for a bit, while Tchar, Kirk, and Lara all scout ahead. Kirk and Lara find a replica of a Skorr temple. M3 Green works to pick the lock, while winged mechanical sentinels attack them. They blow up most of them, but Tchar is taken away. M3 Green opens the door and they go in to find the soul of Alar—but it’s high up. Tchar is the only one who could reach it, and he’s still missing. All save Sord climb up the wall to try to reach them—but then Tchar reveals himself to be the one responsible for all the other expeditions failing. He’s the one who stole the soul, because he wants to restore the Skorr to their rightful place as the conquerors of the galaxy.
Tchar turns off the gravity in the temple so they can all die like Skorr: in the air. Kirk and Spock manage to engage him while Kirk hooks his foot into the sculpture, and then Lara sends the recall signal that brings them all back to Vedala.
In order to preserve peace, all knowledge of the theft of the soul must remain secret. The Vedala return everyone to their ships only a few minutes after they left, and their memory of the mission will soon fade as well.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Spock and M3 Green are able to hotwire the dune buggy so it can outrun the lava flow. Because they’re just that awesome.
Fascinating. Spock is supposed to be on the mission for his scientific expertise, which comes into play solely when it comes to hotwiring the dune buggy, which seems like a waste…
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty gets to silently beam Kirk and Spock down.
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu expresses surprise that Kirk and Spock beam back so soon, which is when they realize that some manner of time-travel shenanigans have been engaged in by the Vedala.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Lara hits all over Kirk, but he rebuffs her, putting the mission first, though he doesn’t reject the possibility of future nookie out of hand.
“You ever quote anything besides statistics, Vulcan?”
“Yes. But philosophy and poetry are not appropriate here.”
–Lara asking a snotty question, and Spock providing a snotty answer.
Welcome aboard. Veteran radio actor Jane Webb provides the voices of Lara and Vedala, a rare case of a female voice not provided by Majel Barrett or Nichelle Nichols (who get this episode off). David Gerrold, writer of the two tribble episodes, and more besides, does the voice of M3 Green, James Doohan does the voice of Tchar, and George Takei does Sulu, while one of Filmation’s regular voiceover actors does Sord.
Trivial matters: M3 Green’s species is established in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series as being the Nasat, with P8 Blue, a member of the buglike species, serving on that series’ ship the U.S.S. da Vinci. The Nasat culture and homeworld are explored in depth, building on both the S.C.E. series and this episode, by Heather Jarman in the novella Balance of Nature (collected in the Breakdowns trade paperback). Other Nasats are seen in various bits of tie-in fiction, including some as staff in the Federation government in your humble rewatcher’s Articles of the Federation.
The Vedala are seen again in Christopher L. Bennett’s Department of Temporal Investigations novel Forgotten History.
David Gerrold lobbied to do the voice of M3 Green so he could get a Screen Actors Guild card, which Hal Sutherland agreed to even though he couldn’t pay him much.
To boldly go. “We’ll all die here!” I’ve always loved this episode. It’s not great by any stretch, it’s fairly easy to figure out who the bad guy is (my fiancée figured it out pretty much instantly), and that particular revelation doesn’t actually make much sense. If Tchar was the one who stole it, why is he involved in the coverup to keep the theft out of the public eye? It’s possible he’s going along with it in order to appease the Vedala, but the script doesn’t make that at all clear.
Plus, the “mad planet” is pretty much impossible, scientifically speaking. (Although it does kind of remind you of the Genesis planet in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, doesn’t it?)
And yeah, all that’s a problem, but I don’t care that much, because I enjoy the heck out of this episode. Stephen Kandel worked on Mission: Impossible, and this has a similar structure to that show, with specialists brought in to do an off-the-books mission that is damn near impossible. We get a collection of truly alien aliens, three of whom are of a type that would be difficult to pull off in live action (Tchar and M3 Green in particular). I like the basic heroism of everyone involved—even the self-professed coward M3 Green comes through when it’s important to the mission—I like Lara’s up-front flirting with Kirk (nice to see the shoe on the other foot there), and yes, I even like the fact that the most advanced species in the galaxy is feline (for all that they mostly just reused and recolored the character design for the Kzinti to save money). With the peculiar exception of Spock (who mostly just plays Captain Obvious in this one), everyone has something important to do, and it’s a fun little adventure.
Sigh. Now that I’m actually writing all this down, I’m realizing that this episode really isn’t all that and a bag of chips, but dammit, I enjoy it anyhow. David Gerrold’s whiny voice as M3 Green, Lara flirting, Sord’s obnoxiousness, the MacGyvering of the dune buggy—it’s just fun. And I like it. So there.
Warp factor rating: 7
Next week: “The Pirates of Orion”
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at (Re)Generation Who 3 this weekend in Baltimore, Maryland, alongside Doctor Who actors Sylvester McCoy, Ingrid Oliver, Katy Manning, Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, Peter Purves, Terry Molloy, and Richard Franklin; fellow writers Andrew Cartmel, George Mann, John Peel, and Paul Magrs; and tons more cool folks. Keith will have a table, where he will be selling and signing books, and will also be doing a one-hour presentation Saturday at 4pm and a panel on writing science fiction with Peel and Mann Saturday at 7pm.