It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #17!
This week’s episode is “Shore Leave” and…it just might be the weirdest Trek I’ve seen so far. But it’s fun!
We open with Kirk stating in his captain’s log that the Enterprise has been through a grueling three months (what with the captain assaulting his yeoman, a super-powerful teenager wreaking havoc aboard the ship and Kirk being accused of killing someone, I’d tend to agree). Thus, they are currently orbiting a planet in the Omicron Delta region that seems lush and uninhabited; just the sort of place they need for shore leave.
McCoy and Sulu, along with several others, are on the planet’s surface as a landing party investigating to make sure it’s safe. McCoy, noting the surreality of a place this perfect, says it’s something out of Alice In Wonderland. He walks away from Sulu and then he sees the White Rabbit…
and Alice herself.
Believe it or not, it gets weirder…
Other crewmen beam down to the planet and also begin experiencing strange apparitions. Sulu finds a pistol on the ground and begins shooting targets with it–he collects vintage weapons, apparently. Lt. Esteban Rodriguez (Perry Lopez) sees a flock of birds and Kirk–who goes down despite his insistence on not leaving until Spock, in a brilliant, funny scene, reminds him that a Starfleet officer must perform efficiently above all else by telling him of a crewman whose performance is disrupted by his extreme lack of rest; that crewman is, of course, Kirk–sees two people from his past which bring out totally different reactions in him.
First, he sees Finnegan (Bruce Mars), who was a senior when he was a freshman at Starfleet Academy and always tormented him; he refers to Finnigan as “My own personal devil.”
Then he meets Ruth (Shirley Bonne), an old flame who entrances Kirk whenever she appears. Like Finnegan, she is from Kirk’s younger days at the Academy.
But things on the planet become even more sinister. Spock contacts the landing party and tells them that he’s detected an energy field on the surface of the planet that is draining the ship’s power, causing communications to become problematic. To make matters worse, more dangerous things crop up to torment the crew: Rodriguez and Angela Martine (Barbara Baldwin; remember how her character’s wedding got interrupted from “Balance of Terror“?) find themselves face-to-face with a tiger and then get attacked by a Japanese WWII fighter plane; Sulu gets chased by a samurai and Yeoman Tonia Barrows (Emily Banks) nearly gets assaulted by Don Juan.
After that, Barrows runs into McCoy and he calms her down. They then proceed to the beam down point where Kirk has ordered the landing party to rendezvous. While they walk, Barrows tells McCoy that this planet is such a beautiful place that “a girl can really feel like a princess.” Then what appears, but some princess clothes! Barrows, ecstatic, tells McCoy while she changes, “Don’t peek.”
“My dear girl,” McCoy replies, ” I am a doctor. When I peek, it’s in the line of duty.“” Leonard “Bones” McCoy: he’s awesome like that.
Continuing their walk, hand in hand, McCoy tells Barrows that if they ever run into any foul knights, he will protect her. Then, on cue, the Black Knight appears.
McCoy, firmly believing the Knight isn’t real, stands his ground as he charges them, and gets stabbed straight through the chest for his efforts. With McCoy seemingly dead, Kirk, Spock (who has beamed down by this point, in the nick of time as the transporter is now unusable), Barrows and the others must discover: who is responsible for all these things appearing? And why?
“Shore Leave” is a surreal little blast of an episode. The threats here are just as scary as those in earlier episodes, but the surreality comes from the central concept that this planet can apparently make anything appear at will in response to someone’s comment or thought. That quality of the unexpected keeps things interesting, as you never know what’s going to come next.
Another thing that works in this episode’s favor is that the cast is isolated, so the actors really have to amp things up and they do. Kirk gets all sorts of new depth as we learn that, yeah, he used to get bullied and yeah, he has an old flame he’s still hung up on. That’s a great deal of humanization. Interestingly, there’s speculation, according to Memory Alpha, that Ruth might be the woman Kirk says Gary Mitchell introduced him to and who he almost married in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Personally, I’m down with it, but there’s no official word.
The rest are great too: Spock gets to be funny and deadpan, McCoy gets to be heroic and hilarious and Sulu, although he’s a little shortshrifted, gets some nice moments. Lopez, Baldwin and Banks are all fine, too, particularly Banks because, even though Barrows never appears again, she makes a very strong impression and is a really interesting character. So interesting in fact, that, according to Memory Alpha, in the novels, she and McCoy wind up getting married!
But special attention must be given to Bonne’s Ruth and Mars’ Finnigan. Bonne is given a role that is, to me, rather underwritten, but in her short screen time, she makes the most of it. She’s alluring and mysterious, but the tenderness she has for Kirk, and he for her, is fascinating to watch.
And Mars is just awesome as Finnegan. Just plain awesome. Yeah, he has a corny Irish accent, but he’s also got undeniable charisma and energy. Mars was a model and athlete before getting into acting, and I can believe it; he has that natural eye-catching appeal that both those professions require, and he plays it well here, giving us a great one-off villain.
The story of this episode is a pretty interesting one: the script, credited to Theodore Sturgeon, was rejected by Gene Roddenberry for having too much fantasy and unbelievability. Roddenberry gave the script to Gene L. Coon to rewrite it, but he made things worse. Consequently, Roddenberry had to rewrite the script heavily himself during shooting. And while that could have made things disastrous, instead, everything turns out fine.
The script overall is, like I said, intriguing and interesting. That, coupled with some really nice direction by Robert Sparr that highlights the surreality of the story and the beauty of what I’m pretty sure is Yellowstone National Park, makes this a cool little detour from normal Trek. Check it out.
Before we go, I’d like to note that Malachi Throne, who played Commodore Mendez and voiced the Keeper in “The Menagerie” parts 1 and 2 and later came back as the Romulan Pardek in the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter “Unification,” died last Thursday at the age of 84. He did a lot of cool stuff as a character actor and you should check some of it out. My thoughts go out to his friends and family.
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.