Coming off a powerhouse episode like Balance of Terror, the crew aren’t the only ones who need a break. Everyone is looking for a bit of Shore Leave and the audience is privy to some too. So Kirk and company find a stunningly lovely planet to land on and explore. But all too soon, things go wonky. McCoy sees a giant rabbit and Alice (of Wonderland fame), runs by. As the story continues, more and more bizarre things happen. What is behind it all?
Over the years, I’ve picked up an odd phrase from a friend, “that which does not add to the story, takes away from the story.” Now, I get the meaning, but recently watching The Sarah Jane Adventures, I realized this is not entirely true. This episode of Star Trek made me realize it too. It’s a subtle thing and doesn’t really add anything; it could have been avoided but it is not. Kirk, tired and in need of shore leave himself, stumbles over the stardate. He actually says “um” in the middle of the date, like he’s trying to think of what the date is. I love when subtlety is used because it may not “add to the story” but it adds dimension to the characters and sometimes that’s worth more, especially in a continuing series. And this story is all about character especially once the danger is proven to be… not so dangerous! Let’s take a look!
One has to love the way Spock tricks Kirk into ordering himself to the planet for shore leave. Spock clearly knows his audience. Kirk would insist he is not in need of it until Spock tricks him into it. Brilliant!
In other Kirk news, Kirk sees his old flame Ruth, who he hasn’t seen in 15 years. Two episodes ago (The Conscience of the King), Kirk was dealing with someone from 20 years ago. I really want to understand how old Jim is at this point in the series. I think we can push it to 40, which means he and Ruth knew one another when he was 25, but I’d think that’s a leap. I’d put him around 35, which in fact, was Shatner’s age when he took the role. So sure, he and Ruth could have been a thing when he was 20, but 15 year old Kirk would never remember Kodos enough to be of any use identifying him. I have a 15 year old; trust me! I don’t know if he’d recognize his teacher from last year in a lineup!
Angela, last seen in Balance of Terror one episode ago, is grieving her late fiancé. So much so, she spends a lot of time with Rodriguez in this episode; holding him in times of trouble. She seems really into him, so much so that she runs through the woods holding hands with him… until he runs her face first into a tree. Maybe that’ll knock some sense into her. Remember your fiancé Angela!!! (Of course, production could have been out of order, but checking IMDB does indicate that the same actress is playing “Angela” in both episodes, so make of that what you will!)
McCoy does a lot of flirting in this episode, first with Yeoman Barrows and then with two playmates (cabaret girls, according to him) who come out wearing… well, very little. He seems quite pleased with himself. I wonder what else he got up to!
Barrows, meanwhile, offers us a few great moments. The first is when she’s massaging Kirk’s back, which he thinks is Spock until Spock walks out next to him. (The look is priceless!) Then she gets attacked by Don Juan who tears her dress. The tear moves from right to left through the episode.
Speaking of specials, Sulu claims to find an old “police special” (revolver), of a sort he always wanted. Clearly it is so special that it fires 7 shots! In fairness, this could be explained easily enough once the plot is revealed as a planet where whatever you imagine can come true. I know what I want…
Of course that says nothing about the mannequin. Who was imagining one of those!? When it shows up, its eyes are wide open, but when they cut to it later, the eyes are drooping. And why did Kirk feel the best thing to do was poke the mannequin in the face?
The episode is tremendous fun. My favorite line is, unsurprisingly, Kirk’s: “follow the rabbit. I’ll backtrack the girl!” Damn you, you blackguard! Your euphemisms don’t fool me! If nothing else, the episode takes a humorous look at the value of play and recreation. This one may never be a science fiction masterpiece, but it’s Star Trek at its most lighthearted and it is a very enjoyable episode. ML
The view from across the pond:
It’s nice to see some location filming in Star Trek, because that has been a rarity so far, but McCoy’s summary of his surroundings is a bit odd:
“It’s like something out of Alice in Wonderland.”
It’s not too far removed from the idyllic childhood of Alice Liddell, with boat trips on the river, but is that really the first thing that would pop into your head when you see some trees and some grass? Maybe McCoy has just been reading the book or something, but even then the connection seems a strange one. That’s because, like most of this episode, it’s completely contrived in order to shoehorn certain things into the episode.
If you google this episode, one of the things that comes up straight away is its difficult production. The original writer apparently wanted much more of a surreal fantasy and that was changed at the last minute, with hasty rewrites on location. The end result is predictably a neutered mess of a story, with the fantasy elements that remain never being given the screen time they needed or the surreal approach. Ironically, all the stuff the was written out in haste was everything that would have made this a good episode.
So we do get Alice, and she’s played very cutely by Marcia Brown, but she gets all of about 30 seconds of screen time, following in the footsteps of a borrowed rabbit costume. This should have been Star Trek‘s version of The Mind Robber, and instead it’s a series of fleeting cameo appearances of pantomime characters, in amongst endless running around and the obligatory stunt men action for Kirk’s fight of the week.
The germ of a good idea here is the ability to turn thoughts into reality. There are various ways in which that could have been turned into an effective episode (basically falling into the category of [a] surreal or [b] scary) but everyone taking four fifths of the episode to figure out the blatantly obvious isn’t one of them. Just about the only thing that works well is McCoy’s apparent death, because we are early enough in the run for that to be almost a convincing possibility, and being stabbed with a lance is pretty final. It also inspires our Screaming Woman #10 in our Trek Tally, the new eye-candy yeoman Tonia Barrows.
The rest of the conjured up characters are even less inspired than Alice, and that’s saying something. They could have done anything they wanted here, and what do we get? Don Juan, and Kirk’s infuriating old school friend who is “still 20 years old”. In your dreams pal. He looks like he won’t be seeing 40 again. It’s an irritating bit of miscasting. The lancer who looked like a dummy was a momentary scare, but another example of how nobody seems to realise the potential here. Let’s have more of that, and get them up and walking. Then you would have… well, you would have the Autons, but at least you would have something scary and there would be point to this all. Instead, all common sense is thrown out of the window, with what could have been a simple explanation twisted round into something silly:
“These experiences were intended to amuse you.”
He says to the man with blood running from his mouth.
“It’s what the doctor ordered, Jim.”
He says to the man with blood running from his mouth.
Oh, and Tonia’s uniform somehow repaired itself on one side and got re-ripped on the other.
“Ha ha ha ha. Ho ho ho ho. Ha ha ha ha.”
I’m glad somebody found it funny. RP