Star Trek: Spock’s Brain

Star Trek Blue LogoIt’s hard to imagine now but back in the late 60’s, Star Trek wasn’t well received.  The fandom simply wasn’t there.  So you’ve got to wonder what they were thinking for the start of season 3.  Was it, “maybe we can market remote control Spock toys if this episode goes over well”?  Sadly, I’ve never heard of a remote control clockwork Spock as a highlight of any Christmas list.  And what about the moral of the episode?  Was it that men are savage animals who throw things while women are all mindless, but pretty, idiots?  “Brain and brain!  What is brain?”  Or maybe women are dimwitted unless they put their mind to it?  No, wait, I’ve got it: women develop brains when they go to their hairdressers?  “I know nothing about a brain!”  Aha!  I’ve got it!  This was a man’s interpretation of a bad divorce: the writers ex-wife was a giver of pain and delight.  Maybe it was just a sexist tale, based on McCoy and Kirk discussing the “delights” they both observed!  Whatever you say about classic Trek and the morality plays that we often found ourselves watching, this episode is sheer comedy with nary a hint of a point!  “That girl took it!”

I have said on many occasions that watching this series with a critical eye does give me different insights.  For instance, Scotty seems really amazed that there’s “no sun, but there’s light” in the complex with the women.  Strange what electricity can do, Scotty.  We’ll teach you about it sometime.  How about Chekov? When they arrive on the planet, Kirk says “suit temperatures are 72” (though what he means by that, as they are just wearing uniforms and not space suits is anyone’s guess), yet Chekov heats up some rocks so everyone can warm their hands. Don’t know about you lot, but 72 is about as perfect a temperature as you can hope for! Unless, of course, it took them a few minutes to realize they left their “suits” back on the Enterprise! Did anyone else notice that when Kirk asks Uhura to prep the transporter room, rather than use her intercom, she gets up and leaves?  Did she have to do the work herself?  What about Kirk who, while doubled over in agony, can use the remote control to make Spock press buttons on a wristband he can’t even see!  And I can’t leave McCoy out.  He doesn’t know how long he can keep Spock alive but if Kirk can’t find his brain in 24 hours, Spock is dead.  Me?  I’d say that meant he knew he only had 1 day!  Also of questionable logic is Spock giving McCoy instructions on how to reconnect the vocal chords the way I walk people through hooking up a computer with color coded cables!  (All done from a convenient operating table with a perfect cut out for the top of Spock’s head!)

“His brain is gone!”  (Watch Kirk mouth that line right after McCoy says it!)  When this episode was over, I felt the same way.  The best I could say was that comparing a brain to a CPU was clever-ish, but that was about it.  There were things I liked about the episode but not enough to put it on a top 70 list.  I do like that upon beaming down, Kirk calls Scotty “Spock” before realizing Spock isn’t with him.  I’m often amazed that more shows don’t have that sort of dialogue because it’s very believable!  I enjoyed the wrist band of cool sound effects and the hairdresser of knowledge.  I really do hope one day we can have such a device to download knowledge right into our brains.  And I absolutely loved Scotty’s “uhh” to distract our lovely femme fatale.  Laughed out loud!

“This place is here!”  Well said.  Austin Powers couldn’t say it better himself!  As obvious as that is, an equally obvious idea was the resolution.  Kara, the leader of the women, doesn’t want Spock’s Brain to go back because they will all die.  Kirk could offer to help, take them somewhere safe.  Instead he says the women will have to work with the men.  Kara says they won’t help without pain to which Kirk points out “there are other ways!”  We can laugh about it now, it’s 50 years ago, but Kirk is pretty plainly telling Kara that for sex, the men might help.  WOW, really, Jim??  And while McCoy is losing his knowledge of surgery, the clear solution is for someone else to put the hairdryer of knowledge on to finish the job rather than risk McCoy connecting the wire for Vulcan salute to the Vulcan Finger by accident.

This episode gets a lot wrong for me.  By today’s standards, I’d call this tone-deaf, but this was the late 60’s so maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it.  Everything about the schism between man and woman is poorly handled and even the discussion about planetary evolution is off the mark assuming everything works by Earth standards.  I still have tremendous fun watching these, but wow, when Trek misses the mark, it misses by a long shot!   ML

The view from across the pond:

It’s Season 3 of Star Trek and a few things have changed. The opening titles have gone blue, Scotty has had some kind of a makeover, with his hair very much under control, and in the scripts department everyone has taken leave of their senses. This is a story about Spock having his brain removed, his empty headed body being walked around by remote control, and then his brain being put back in again. As an idea for a story, it doesn’t sound too credible, does it.

To be fair, I would place this in the “so bad it’s good” category. It certainly doesn’t deserve to be at the bottom of just about every list of Star Trek episodes, which is where it seems to appear. There’s a lot of fun to be had, but it’s silly fun. Don’t bother trying to believe what you are seeing. Certainly by the end of the episode any believability has been shattered by Spock telling McCoy what bits of his brain to reconnect, while he tries out one body part at a time.

The episode is actually quite promising to start with. When McCoy says, “his body lives, the autonomic functions continue, but there is no mind”, he delivers the line with such emphasis that it feels like watching a horror movie. Sadly he spoils it a few seconds later by overacting, waving his arms around in a panic (well, as near to a panic as McCoy ever gets):

“Where are you going to look for Spock’s brain? How are you going to find it?”

The answer to that question is found through a good bit of team work, which is probably the best bit of the episode, although it’s painfully obvious which of the planets is the one to visit, with an energy pulse coming from one of them. Sulu calls it a hunch, and Kirk confirms it, but it’s clearly a bit more than that, so as an attempt to paint Kirk as intuitive in an instinctive way it falls flat.

When they beam down to the planet we get to the really disappointing part of the episode. The divided society with men not knowing what a woman is, and vice versa, is incredibly silly, and makes no sense for obvious reasons. Note that this is not some kind of a brave attempt at showing a homosexual society, because nobody even understands the concept of a “mate” or a “companion”. But the big problem with all this is that it is used as a springboard for Kirk and McCoy to be incredibly sexist. Faced with a society of women, Kirk says, “take me to the one in charge. I wish to speak to him”, like there’s no way in his mind that these women could have built the superior civilisation on the planet without there being a man somewhere running the show. They are explained as “givers of pain and delight”, and it’s depressingly obvious what the “delight” means. Let’s put it this way, it’s probably not the couple of plates of chips being passed around to the men. As for McCoy, he basically spends the entire episode insulting the women in any way he can. His immediate assessment is that one of them has “the mind of a child”, simply because she doesn’t know what a man is.

“Mental faculties down here seem to be almost atrophied through lack of use.”

He’s wrapping his sexism up in flowery words, but he’s still basically saying these are a bunch of stupid women. McCoy continues to be by far my least favourite character in Trek. We’re into the third season, and I still can’t stand him.

If you can get past Trek’s trademark denigration of anything female, this episode will at least give you a lot to chuckle about, mostly unintentionally. So sit back and enjoy the spectacle of Spock’s empty-headed body being remote controlled by a couple of buttons, not just so he can walk, but so he can also perform complex actions like grabbing wrists and pressing buttons himself. Marvel as Kirk wins his fight of the week by kicking a man in the balls. Wonder at the sight of McCoy gaining some useful medical knowledge at last (I still don’t believe that man is actually a doctor) by sticking his head in a hair dryer… and finally delight in the moment that Spock emerges unscathed from brain surgery, confirming our suspicions that his hair clips on and off like a Lego man. I know who I think had the mind of a child here, and I’m not talking about the women.   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… Star Trek: The Enterprise Incident

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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2 Responses to Star Trek: Spock’s Brain

  1. scifimike70 says:

    As much as I may have relatively enjoyed Spock’s Brain along with the rest of Star Trek as a kid, it’s easy to understand now how it started a downhill slide for the classic Trek. Because the last season was the one where Roddenberry supposedly had the least creative control, chiefly due to loosening his grip on the show when the work schedule greatly exhausted him after the first two seasons, the guidance for Season 3 would in some regards seem aimless. Even Leonard Nimoy openly admitted to being somewhat relieved that Season 3 was the last, even though it had still earned him his third Emmy nomination for playing Mr. Spock.

    As for the portrayal of gender for this episode, it was indeed quite daring for many reasons, even if it certainly wouldn’t hold up to the more realistic gender divisions in TNG’s Angel One. The ending where Kirk tries to convince Kara that it’s time for her people, Morg and Eymorg, to live together in harmony, certainly for how easy he expected it to be, can in retrospect seem like the most arrogant exception to the Prime Directive. But as a chance to help people in their time of great change, Kirk naturally enough doesn’t turn his back. It certainly beats leaving them all to die which would have been genocide, something that not even the Prime Directive can justify.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh, yes… this one! I finally saw this a couple of years ago, and it certainly lives up (or should that be down?) to its reputation. I’ve heard stories recounted of how the burgeoning Star Trek fandom of the late 1960s was elated that they had saved Star Trek from cancellation and it was returning for a third year… only to tune in to this season premiere and experience abject horror at what was on their television screens. In the 21st Century when we have all of the Star Trek movies and Next Generation and DS9 and everything else Trek-related I can chuckle at how ridiculous “Spock’s Brain” is… but I definitely appreciate that for everyone watching it when it first aired it must have felt like a slap in the face. Thankfully there were at least a few quality episodes on the horizon. Still, I agree with the assessment that season three is the weakest of the original series.

    Liked by 2 people

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