I never liked The Paradise Syndrome. That might sound like a funny thing to say because who doesn’t like paradise, but Kirk ending up on a planet with a bunch of American Indians just wasn’t my idea of what Star Trek was supposed to be. Where were the monsters? Where was the science fiction? But it is an interesting thing watching Star Trek as an adult with a critical eye on what is happening on screen! And there is a lot happening!
The mission this time is to prevent an asteroid from hitting a planet because Starfleet is now moonlighting as galactic protectors of all creatures great and small. (Conceptually I can say: Armageddon, eat your heart out! Trek got there first.) But there is a lot of illogical behavior on this unnamed planet. First, they go to check out the planet that’s going to be destroyed. (That’s more than the Vogons ever did!) Mostly, this is a chance for Spock to identify the various Indian tribes that exist here… no, not “similar to”, he claims they are a mix of a few different American tribes. Ok, anyway… Spock says they have 30 minutes before they have to leave which gives Kirk the idea that he wants to check out the previously investigated obelisk again before they leave. “But first, I want another look…” With that, he falls into a trapdoor and has his memory erased (by what is later called a “memory beam”). He emerges as Kirok, but not before a healthy dose of internal monologue, a first for Trek. This isn’t a “captain’s log”; it’s actual internal thought that the audience is privy to and it happens throughout the episode. Now, if we accept that taking another look shouldn’t have been a bad idea, the next thing is: Spock and McCoy can’t find Kirk. Spock says they have to get back to the ship while McCoy says they have to stay to find Kirk. If Spock were so logical, instead of giving McCoy a physics lesson with stones, he should have offered to leave Bones behind to search for Kirk knowing they’d be back in 2 months anyway. At the very least, send a search party with a nurse on hand, assuming Spock wanted to keep the chief medical officer on board.
Another thing that struck me as odd is how much time goes by in this episode. This must be the longest episode of the original series taking place over 2 months during which time Kirk gets married and his (stunning) wife, Miramanee becomes pregnant with his child. On board the Enterprise, McCoy and crew blame Spock for what happened when they failed to destroy the asteroid at a distance but over the weeks that go by, McCoy stops blaming Spock and even gives him some long overdue praise for making the best command decision he was able to make. I never recall so much time going by on one mission! I mean, even Jim’s sideburns show signs of change! While Jim’s memory may be responsible for his embarrassingly funny stunted speech in the start of his time with the natives, it hasn’t dulled his ability to use the convenient tree to fight his rival, Salish. (I need to perfect the double-fisted punch and the “use a tree to kick someone” maneuver before I die!) Still more odd behavior occurs when Spock and McCoy come back to the planet and instantly find Kirk. They arrive just after Kirk and Miramanee get stoned – no, not 1960’s style but biblically, like with rocks – they both are lying on the ground, injured. Spock and McCoy run over to help Kirk who asks for his wife. Spock, the logical one, asks if he’s suffering hallucinations and neither of the Enterprise crew even attempt to help the injured woman lying right next to them. It’s as if they both go out of their way to ignore the statuesque beauty lying there. Then, while every second counts, Spock attempts the Vulcan “mind fusion”. When did it get called that, and why not just get out of there? To really kick us while we’re down, McCoy, the surgeon of questionable repute, says Miramanee is not going to make it. What?!?! She got hit with a few rocks and didn’t bleed from any of them! You can’t save her? Or the child? What sort of future is this?!?
Amazingly, for really being bothered by a lot with this episode, I did find some interesting things about it. Miramanee takes the time to wonder how to get Jim’s shirt off because it has “no lacing”. It’s a subtle thing, but a sign of intelligent writing that acknowledges that these garments would be strange to the native. But more than that was the reference to the “wise ones who planted us here”, as the elder says. It’s not until later that Spock explains to McCoy that “The Preservers” saved them and may have seeded life throughout the galaxy leading McCoy to share that he always wondered why there was so much humanoid life. Spock says he too has wondered that. In a single, rather lackluster episode of classic Trek, we may have the reason why all aliens look just so human! It was an idea that would come back by the time of The Next Generation.
It’s a weak episode in the grand scheme of Trek stories, but it does have merit because it adds to the lore of Star Trek. And it examines the simple life and how idyllic it could be to go back to living with less technology. Although, it is ultimately technology that saves the natives, so maybe the idea that “paradise is simple” doesn’t hold up when examined closely. But that’s been the best part of watching these again; we get to see what really comes to the surface when we examine these episodes closely. And sometimes we uncover the most amazing things… ML
The view from across the pond:
Curiosity killed the Kirk… at least for a while. Taking his place for most of this episode is an amnesiac, Kirok, who inadvertently stomps all over the Prime Directive, although that never really gets a mention. Kirok brings the (not) alien civilisation the concepts of lamps, canals, irrigation, and the preservation of food for times of famine. All good things, and used by many reviewers over the years to criticise this episode for a supposed white supremacy stance. Long term readers of this blog will know that I’m not shy to flag up those kinds of issues, and in fact my general opinion of the series has been that Star Trek gets a lot more credit than it deserves for being progressive when in fact it was often quite the opposite, but here is one instance where the criticism is unjustified. Kirok doesn’t problem-solve and save a life due to some kind of innate superiority. He isn’t a born god – that’s the whole point. Instead he achieves these things specifically because memories are resurfacing from his past, piecemeal. Kirok simply makes use of Kirk’s knowledge, and that sets him up as a fake god.
There are a lot of notable things going on here. We start with a very un-Trek-like pan across some beautiful countryside, and the setting makes this rather an unusual episode. I groaned initially at yet another distant planet “exactly like that of Earth”, but at least this time there was a point to it, with a race of spacefaring “Preservers” trying to do good:
“I’ve always wondered why there were so many humanoids scattered throughout the galaxy.”
It’s a while since I watched it, but I’m sure TNG came up with a different explanation for that, but perhaps it linked in with this episode. Please feel free to use the comments section for clarification/speculation on that point.
Kirok falling in love, getting married, and his wife getting pregnant should be the most brave and interesting thing about this episode, but at the end it’s all a bit of a cop-out, with Miramanee dying before the child can be born, saving Kirk from the decision about whether he walks away from a wife and child or not. Of course, that only happens because McCoy isn’t really a doctor.
If you’ve read a few of these articles you will probably be familiar with my theory that McCoy is just some down-and-out who accidentally wandered aboard the Enterprise one day, and isn’t really qualified to do the job he’s doing. The plight of Miramanee is a case in point. McCoy calls for Nurse Chapel to attend to Miramanee and Kirk, and then she beams down with a tiny first aid kit. So why can’t McCoy carry one of those around? I thought the whole point of him going on the away missions was to have a doctor present? He’s certainly worse than useless in any other capacity. Then McCoy and Chapel attend to Kirk, who is physically fine, and ignore Miramanee, who is dying. For some reason they feel the need to stand and watch Spock mind melding with Kirk instead of helping Miramanee, and then eventually McCoy orders Chapel to “do what you can” for her. So how about doing that ten minutes ago, McFool?
Our fake doctor is also incredibly irritating back on the Enterprise. I have never understood why he stands on the bridge beside the captain’s chair so often. He doesn’t have a chair of his own, so he’s clearly not supposed to be there, but he hangs around like a bad smell, undermining Spock as per usual. For the next two months he’s a thorn in Spock’s side.
“You took your calculated risk in your calculated Vulcan way and you lost.”
But the worst McCoy moment is when he tries to fight Spock about leaving Kirk and then coming back after they’ve dealt with the asteroid. Seriously, does McArse want to sacrifice the population of an entire planet for one man, who they can return to help in, what, a few hours, maybe a day or so as far as he’s aware? He costs them valuable time by arguing, and he’s so damn stupid that Spock has to explain the concept of an asteroid approaching the planet by demonstrating with a rock. Having seen that childish science lesson, pea brain finally understands. I can’t tell you how much I detest McCoy as a character. Seriously, I’m completely baffled that anyone likes him.
Spock’s attempts to divert the asteroid are quite exciting, although it’s hard to take the dangerous situation seriously with Scotty’s amusing attachment to his engineering components going on in the background. It’s played as a joke, and it’s quite funny, but it does kill the tension a bit. Spock still manages to be the hero of the hour, despite being constantly distracted by McIdiot.
Quite why “Kirk to Enterprise” are the magic words to open a trap door I have no idea. At least the obelisk was an impressive prop. All in all, I thought this was one of the better episodes of classic Trek, although it’s not exactly one that leaves you feeling cheerful at the end. Somebody needs to get hold of that fake doctor though, and sling him off the ship. RP
Amnesia story episodes in sci-fi franchises like Star Trek may have their dramatic uses. When sci-fi TV got round to Dark Matter, with its entire main cast starting off with amnesia, it proved that there was still useful creativity in the amnesia genre after all the easy opportunities that Star Trek, Doctor Who and other sci-fi shows had occasionally seized. But The Paradise Syndrome is an episode that I don’t re-watch anymore. Chiefly because it’s another fatefully sad-ending love story for Kirk, which like several others in the classic Trek have become too much of a trial for me to sit through. But the science-fictional notion of a primitive people being protected from an asteroid collision, by both the Enterprise and a form of advanced technology already on the planet, which is successful in the end, is certainly a comforting one.
Sabrina Scharf who plays Miramanee would later play Sarah in Easy Rider.
Thank you both for your reviews.
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