It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #6!
This week’s episode is “The Naked Time”and a combination of a killer premise, dynamite scripting and camerawork and a bravura breakdown from Leonard Nimoy make this a brilliant counter to last week’s terrible episode.
We open to find the Enterprise orbiting the frozen wasteland of Psi 2000,a planet Spock says at one point was much like Earth in its distant pas before its sun went dark, but is now set to implode due to age. Spock and Lieutenant Joe Tormolen (Stewart Moss) beam down to the planet to discover that a scientific team stationed there are all dead in bizarre fashion: a woman has been strangled to death and one of the men has frozen to death in a shower with all his clothes on. Tormolen removes the glove of his contamination suit (which looks like a hazmat suit was covered in bubble wrap) to scratch his nose, and a small blood-like substance on the ice moves forward and jumps inside of his hand. Unknowing, Tormolen takes the substance back to the ship and it leaps from there to infect Lieutenant Sulu and Lieutenant Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde), who is the ship’s current navigator.
So what does this substance do? Well, specifically it causes the infected to lose their inhibitions and let their emotions run unchecked. So, in short order we have Tormolen rave hysterically about how mankind shouldn’t be in space and try to kill himself, Riley become maniacal and hole himself up in Engineering giving himself complete control over the ship’s engines and Sulu does…this…
(Really, this happens.)
He runs around hysterically with a fencing foil acting like one of the Three Musketeers. It’s both awesome and a little scary how unhinged Sulu gets here, but it fits the episode well. Riley, in a fit of madness, disables the ship’s engines, plunging the Enterprise straight toward the imploding planet. It’s a race against time as Kirk and the rest try to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it…
This episode is GREAT. John D.F. Black’s script is a treasure, with a killer hook, a great villain in Riley and some wonderful narrative tension. Marc Daniels’ direction is brilliant too, perfectly capturing a ship full of professional spacemen quickly turn into a madhouse. He also gets the cameras up close and personal for an absolutely great scene.
Slight spoilers here, but eventually Spock contacts the strange substance. Given that, as a half-human/half Vulcan, he’s constantly battling between full emotion and cold logical reason, he’s understandably afraid that he’ll break down as a result. Isolating himself in the briefing room, he attempts to calm himself down, but breaks down completely as Daniels’ camera gets up close. Filmed in a documentary-esque manner, there’s no doubt we’re witnessing this highly rational man have a complete emotional breakdown. According to the Memory Alpha page for this episode, this scene was shot on the last day of filming and completely improvised by Leonard Nimoy; if that’s true, then holy crap have we underrated Nimoy as an actor. Seriously, this 2 1/2 minute sequence makes the whole episode worthwhile.
What that scene reminds me of is a later episode in The Next Generation called “Sarek.” The titular character, Spock’s father and a legendary diplomat, comes aboard the Enterprise-D to negotiate a treaty. It turns out that he is succumbing to Bendii Syndrome, which causes 200+ year old Vulcans to lose emotional control. In order to go through with the negotiations, Picard agrees to mind meld with Sarek so he can experience all of his emotional anguish while Sarek does his job. This culminates in a similarly harrowing breakdown scene courtesy of Sir Patrick Stewart. Undoubtedly, whoever scripted that episode had this scene in mind.
This is a great episode that shows just how much tension can get into this show, even without an external villain. George Takei shows some bravura chops as an unhinged Sulu. Moss is wonderful as the tormented Tarmolen and Hyde is great fun as the loopy, hysterical Riley. This episode also marks the debut of Gene Roddenberry’s wife Majel Barrett as Nurse Christine Chapel; she’ll come back here, and also on TNG as the voice of the ship’s computer and the outrageous Lwaxana Troi. Definitely recommended.
Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.