It’s time for…Star Trek Saturdays #30!!!
This week’s episode is “Catspaw” and it’s the closest to B-grade horror Trek ever gets, with a nice mix of melodrama and suspense that recalls the old horror classics in an appropriate theme for this Halloween season.
We open with the Enterprise orbiting the distant planet Pyris VII while a landing party of Sulu, Scotty and crewman Jackson explore it. The crew is worried because they’re not making their routine check-ins. Suddenly, in response to Uhura’s urgent hailing, Jackson (Jay Jones) responds saying there’s only one to beam up. Concerned, Kirk orders the transporter room to beam up Jackson but has McCoy meet him there.
As soon as Jackson materializes, he falls to the ground, dead. But that’s not all; a mysterious voice emerges seemingly from Jackson’s mouth and tells Kirk that there is a curse on the Enterprise and they must leave the planet immediately or die.
Putting Asst. Chief Engineer DeSalle (Michael Barrier) in charge of the ship, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet at the point where Jackson was beamed up. The planet’s surface is actually really foggy, something Spock notes is unlikely due to the environmental conditions; the planet is very rocky and desolate. Noting a reading of nearby lifeforms, the three head towards them and they encounter…three witches.
Yeah that’s right, witches. Anyway, they warn the men to leave by reciting this following poem before vanishing:
“Captain Kirk! … Captain Kirk! … Captain Kirk!”
“Go back! … Go back! … Go back!”
“Remember the curse!”
“Wind shall rise!”
“And fog descend!”
“So leave here, all, or meet your end!”
After they vanish, Kirk asks Spock if he has any comment. “Very bad poetry, Captain,” Spock says.
They continue moving, despite being blasted along by wind and fog. They eventually come to a large forboding castle, which is the source of the lifeform readings they’ve been getting.
They go in and spot a black cat, which they follow until the floor gives out from under them, plummeting them down into the castle and knocking them out.
Sometime later, Kirk awakes and finds himself and the others chained up inside a dungeon.
Scotty and Sulu appear; Kirk’s happy to see them, but quickly realizes that they’re not in control of their own minds anymore. The two free him and the others and make them walk at phaser point. A brief fight breaks out, but suddenly, they’re all in another room. A room with a table where, sitting with the black cat from earlier and a wand in wizard’s robes, is a man who calls himself Korob (Theo Marcuse),
Spock comments that all mapping expeditions so far have not recorded any lifeforms on the planet. Korob confesses that he is, not in fact, a native of this world. He makes a fabulous feast appear out of nowhere, then does the same with hundreds of gemstones. He does this in the hopes that they’ll leave without asking any questions. Kirk, however, informs him that since they could just manufacture all these gems on the ship, the ones Korob is offering them have no value. Korob then says this was all a test, and he’s learned that the landing party is loyal, brave and incorruptible.
The cat then makes some gesture and Korob bends down to it “Of course,” he says. The cat jumps down and walks out the door; then right after, a ravishing woman calling herself Sylvia (Antoinette Bower) and clad in all black appears.
She tells Kirk that she can control men’s minds. Kirk overpowers Scotty, steals his weapon and aims it at her. In response, Sylvia tells Kirk that she can perform sympathetic magic. To prove it, she makes a small model of the ship appear and holds it over a candle. Up above, the real ship–where Uhura, DeSalle and junior officer Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) are frantically trying to locate the party–begins growing hotter.
Who ARE Korob and Sylvia? And what do they want with Kirk and his men and Pyris VII?
This is one fun episode, as it’s basically trying to ape the old-school horror movies of the ’30s and ’40s but in a Trek setting. While other franchises could have this sort of experiment blow up in their face, here, it works really well, largely because the threat of the unknown–which fuels all horror–is an undercurrent of Trek anyway that they bring naturally to the forefront here.
And as a bonus, this episode introduces Chekov, one of the most famous cast members of the Original Series, what with his really, really fake Russian accent and all. But here, he looks a little different from normal.
Yikes, that is one heck of a bowl cut wig, huh? Well, according to Memory Alpha, Koenig was hired for his youth, as NBC executives wanted someone who looked like Davy Jones. Yes, the Monkee’s Davy Jones. Really. Anyway, Koenig’s hair wasn’t long enough when he was hired to pull that off, so until then, he had to wear that wig. Regardless, it’s cool to see this character finally show up.
The script here is written by Robert Bloch, based on his own short story, “Broomstick Ride,” and I’d really like to see the original if it’s as good as this. The weirdness and tension just keeps going up, and it’s terrific. Not only that, there’s some great beats and one-liners for just about everyone here. I like especially how, when Kirk wakes up in the dungeon and sees a skeleton chained next to McCoy, he goes “Bones? Doc?”
Joseph Pevney is back once again as director and, as usual, he nails it. This episode actually aired the week of Halloween in 1967, and was meant to be a Halloween-type episode (the only sort of holiday episode Star Trek as a whole has ever come close to), hence the overall tone. Pevney takes this mandate and makes it work, really calling back to the old-school horror movies of the ’30s and ’40s. As always, his directorial work is stupendous. I should also note that there are some visual effects involving enlargening a cat that are extremely goofy…but they’re the right kind of goofy that supplements rather than distracts the material.
The cast here also makes this material work quite well. Nimoy takes advantage of putting Spock up against the unexplained with dry wit and aplomb. Shatner pulls off the dashing man of action bit quite well; no wonder, given that he probably was in a few low-grade horror movies himself. Marcuse and Bower are also quite good, with Marcuse playing the mysterious spook quite well and Bower vamping it up in fine fine fashion.
This is a fun episode and a nice break from normal Trek. Check it out.
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.