I’m not really sure how to feel about The Taybor. It’s not a bad episode per se, but it doesn’t do anything exciting either. A space traveler arrives with merchandise to sell, ogles Maya for a bit, and immediately gave the impression that he was going to offer a “too good to be true” solution in exchange for her. No surprise, he can offer the Alphans a way home and will give it in exchange for Maya. Oh, didn’t see that coming.
What I ponder is: how would people really react? I sincerely hope that we’d do as the Alphans do and say “no way” but I was left thinking about it so in that way, The Taybor did get me thinking and that is what I love in my science fiction. The Alphans may be growing closer to Maya through their journey but she’s not one of them. Is it that she’s pretty? And that’s exactly what the episode does explore. The Taybor does abscond with Maya; he technically outplays the Alphans and has the power to keep her, so what goes wrong?
I don’t think there’s a person alive who hasn’t heard the expression that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. It’s a maxim that we can all appreciate. As a “for instance”, my wife saw Maya and thought she was “creepy” looking. I could have a calendar of Maya up all year long. (Alas, when I looked for one online, it was a different Maya; as in Mayan…) Since The Taybor escapes with her and the Alphans have no way to get her back, why does he give her up? Simply, because she transforms into a pudgy, old woman who looks like a female version of the rotund Taybor. After no short amount of time, he just rejects her and sends her back to Alpha. But that made me wonder if Maya were monstrous, would the result have been the same? I think this could have been a far better episode. I’d like to know if the Alphans would have fought so hard to save her. A trip to earth in exchange for Ugly McDuckling? Maybe it’s the value she brings to the crew – she can transform after all, which is pretty useful in a pinch. What if Ugly McDuckling was also inept at learning Alpha’s systems? If she brought little value other than to being a passenger with them, would the audience want her to stay or go? This is one of those times that the episode had the potential for greatness but failed to achieve it. (In fairness, this is a miss even decades later when Voyager introduced 7 of 9; had they left her sporting her Borg implants instead of flaunting her more human ones, would we have had a similar idea to explore? Alas, we may never know.)
It’s not just in the story department that things go off the rails. John comes up with a compromise (a rare time Koenig seems to be wearing his leadership hat): they can create a duplicate Maya. So for the production, we see Maya’s head in closeup before the camera starts pulling away to show the head on a box and the full Maya sitting next to it. I imagine the idea was to shock the viewer into seeing two of her but it fails to make any sort of sense. The Taybor then places customizations: can she smile more, or have slightly wider eyes. Helena holds a tool over those areas of Catherine Schell’s face so the actress can adjust her face accordingly, but it begs the question: can the Alphans just fabricate androids? If so, why ever go on a dangerous mission. Tony says the Taybor is being tricked with a waxwork dummy with a voice box but when the Taybor defeats John and company, he destroys the fake Maya and it’s clearly more than waxwork. I could almost accept the waxwork dummy since we’ve seen Helena’s sculpting power before when she had a head of herself made of clay (The Exiles), but that’s a far cry to a perfect android-like replica. So the production suffered almost as much as the story.
And the thing is, I keep going back to the story. Taybor gives them an aphrodisiac perfume to send John and Helena into places I don’t even want to think about. Perfume and gifts of beauty seem to be the order of the day so there’s a message here, but it gets muddied by some really poor writing. In fact, the first gift to arrive (in a fashion that would be mirrored decades later in Doctor Who, The Power of Three) blinds the recipient. For that matter, the episode opens with a bunch of bikini-clad women in the Solarium. So beauty and perhaps blindness to what really matters is clearly an idea worthy of exploration in this story but I think it could have been better written.
I do have to give some credit to the writing though. This is another story where the promise of going home has come up and Maya, again, looks sad – maybe even a little scared at that prospect. At one point, she explains that her home no longer exists, so we know that plays a part, but I think it’s also the fear of losing the people she now considers family or at the least, friends. This would be a story well worth exploring by modern writers. Unfortunately I see this as a series with loads of potential and, like the moon itself, no one at the helm. Had someone taken the time to pay attention to some of these issues, we might have had a classic series on our hands instead of a rogue satellite floating through our TV landscape. ML