Up until this point in the series, the crew of the Enterprise always gets around via transporter. It makes sense that there would be shuttlecraft on board, but it leads us to a serious question: why were Sulu and company left on a freezing planet in The Enemy Within when a quick trip to the planet’s surface via Shuttlecraft would have made all the difference? At the very least, they could have mentioned it, even if they said “oh, Captain, even if I give ‘er full power, she’ll blow ‘erself to pieces”. Something! But no, the idea didn’t dawn on Kirk. So maybe what happens to the crew in this story is a bit of poetic justice. The Galactic High Commissioner is on board and has some important medical supplies to take to a colony but Kirk and Spock realize they have 2 additional days before they have to make their rendezvous so they want to study quasars. (Apparently Starfleet has a general order out to study them whenever they crop up!) As soon as the Galileo leaves with Spock, Bones and Scotty on board, they run into trouble. And the Galactic High Commissioner is too worried about offering humanitarian aid to the sick to offer humanitarian aid to crew of those giving him a lift. Jerk…
The biggest question is: why did we have 7 people all going to watch a Quasar? I might be able to justify Scotty’s presence, as his expertise might be needed to help with flying the shuttlecraft through the strange space, but McCoy? Maybe we could justify it with the idea that no one knew if the crew would get sick. But if they all started to feel unwell, so would McCoy. So the logical thing to do would be to turn around. How would McCoy’s presence help that? Spock spends the better part of the episode talking about logic, so surely he would have made the right decision without McCoy needing to be there. And by the way, there’s a big issue with these shuttlecraft – they have no seatbelts. Not only that, the chairs are just chairs! They are not bolted to the ground in any way! That’s nuts (without bolts… oh, yeah, I went there). A little turbulence, and you, along with your chair, get flung around the ship like nobody’s business. Later, when every ounce counts trying to offload weight for liftoff, I was pretty certain there were still chairs left onboard! (I could be wrong!)
Once the crew realize they are trapped on the planet with giant ape men, then tensions start to rise. Again, we see why classic Star Trek was so motivational for its time. Even as Spock’s logic guides him, which McCoy and Scotty don’t necessarily agree with, when he’s being attacked by fellow crewman, Boma, they support Spock. This is the social responsibility that I feel all good science fiction should respect. We’re seeing that even in stressful times, human decency and respect must win out or we are no better than the monsters we fight. And, though it would not be introduced for decades, one of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) makes an appearance here: put first things first. Spock realizes that prioritizing actions is the only way the stranded crew can survive. This is one of those life lessons that should (and perhaps does) show up on one of those posters: “Everything I needed to know about life, I learned from Star Trek!” If it doesn’t exist, I’ll have to work on it!
On the flip side, McCoy seems to be a bit harsh on Spock, accusing him of wanting command. Surely, McCoy is allowing some stress to get in the way of his judgement. What command is he talking about? The command of the crashed ship on the island of misfit Tarzans? This is the first episode I really questioned DeForest Kelley’s ability to act. I like McCoy, but as the ship is starting to burn up and then crash, he seems not only calm, but unbothered, even having enough time to crack a joke (albeit a great one). I can’t help but wonder if the director explained things to Kelley. (Oh, the joke was McCoy’s line as they are crashing; Spock admits he may have been wrong. McCoy says, “well at least I lived long enough to hear that!”)
Speaking of crashing, during their initial crash, Boma receives a bloody nose. It must have affected him, because he suggests giving the natives a “bloody nose” to scare them off. And while we’re talking about other crewman, did anyone notice the yeoman on the Enterprise who brings Kirk tea? She’s also in yellow. Must be a thing…
In the end, Spock teaches us the learning lesson of the episode, “there are always alternatives”. Even when we think all hope is lost, there’s always something we can try. Perhaps there will come a day when this does not hold true, but I’d like to hold onto the idea that it will always be true. Now, even as I typed that, I thought of those who did not make it back to the Enterprise. Maybe for them, they had no other alternative after all. But that happens when giant apes hurl harpoons into one’s back! Although Kirk hears that two people received a spear as soon as one of the other search parties arrived, the report is followed by “one dead”. Presumably, one of the spear recipients survived. But Latimer died with Spock’s party, along with Gaetano, whose brilliant idea is to climb up a sheer wall. Darwinism in action. (Uhura confirms 5 survivors, of the 7 that went down, plus the one from the search party.) So I count three more dead in this story. 409 and counting. (Hey, if I don’t count down, Sulu will. That man loves a countdown! Just wait and see!) ML
The view from across the pond:
This week Star Trek does a plane crash disaster movie, with a shuttlecraft instead of a plane, the first time we have seen one of those. Apparently the inspiration for this episode was a film called Five Came Back, which I have never seen, but looking at the synopsis The Galileo Seven does appear to follow the same storyline very closely, complete with the dilemma of who to leave behind, and the dangerous natives. There is a key difference that weakens this episode though. In the original film, the question of who remains behind is a source of tension and jeopardy right to the end, whereas here Spock gets let off the hook by Minor Crewman Deaths of the Week #20 and #21 in our Trek Tally (two more also happen off-screen, from the crew of the other shuttlecraft).
That kind of undermines what should have been the central ethical dilemma of the episode: who should decide who lives and who dies, and how should he make that decision? Instead we have debates playing out on the shuttlecraft and on the Enterprise, and they are basically the same debate: head vs heart. On the Enterprise we have Commissioner Farris wanting to get a move on and get Kirk to deliver some life-saving drugs to a world in the grip of a plague. There’s a problem with this: he’s right. Of course Kirk shouldn’t be pausing on his mercy mission to gawp at something swirly and colourful, but the writer does everything he can to make Farris into the enemy and Kirk into the hero.
The scenes set in and around the shuttlecraft have a similar problem, with the writer trying to pull us in one direction while our sympathies lie in another, or at least they should if we switch on our brains for a moment. This is a parable of human emotional and instinctive responses and basic decency vs Vulcan logic, and we are clearly supposed to side with the humans. But they are almost entirely wrong. To side with the humans is to side with people who want to react in anger to an alien threat. It is to side with trigger-happy people and it is to side with people who want to prioritise a funeral service over a race against the clock to repair the shuttle and save their own lives. The first time that happens is questionable enough, but the second time the shuttle is very close to being surrounded by giant monsters and only Scotty seems to be doing anything constructive while everyone else rages at each other.
And Spock is the one in the right, surely? He wants to keep working to save everyone’s lives, and instead they want him to stop and say a few words about the 21st death in 15 weeks, most likely resulting in several more. But I really don’t think the writer was expecting anyone to think along those lines. We’re meant to side with the five-against-one bullies, and tut tut at the heartless alien. No thanks.
It is also becoming increasingly evident that this whole idea of Vulcan logic is actually completely illogical, unless you want to substitute the word “logic” for “stupidity”. Right from the start it has made no sense at all as a way for anyone to live, riddled with inevitable inconsistencies. Here we have Spock failing to understand that not everyone would think like him and do the logical thing, least of all a bunch of aliens who behave like cavemen. He cannot understand why they acted in anger rather than doing the logical thing, which is… illogical. In the end his Vulcan logic is just as contrived as the staged laughter at the end of the episode.
It was frustrating because there was a spark of a brilliant idea here, and maybe in the 60s this was all a writer had to do to satisfy an audience ready and willing to accept a basic equation: our hero captain = good, nagging commissioner = bad; heroic, emotional humans = right, logical Vulcan = wrong. But I doubt that, because it was also an era in which series such as Doctor Who and The Prisoner were already challenging such flawed assumptions. Sadly this was an episode that showed us a bunch of humans ganging up on an alien, and expected us to side with the bullies.
Most illogical. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Star Trek: The Squire of Gothos