Star Trek 1.15: Shore Leave

Shore LeaveShore Leave” is an episode I remember vividly – for being a bit silly. It’s certainly more whimsical and lighter in tone than many other episodes, but watching it again now I found that it wasn’t quite as ridiculous as I remembered.

It does begin oddly, with McCoy and Sulu amongst a landing party on a new planet, apparently covered in idyllic vegetation but with no animal life whatsoever. When Sulu goes off to take some botanical examples (showing again an apparent interest in botany which I’d never noticed before this rewatching of the series), McCoy spots a giant white rabbit complaining that it’s late, followed by an obvious Alice in a blue pinafore dress. Has McCoy been fiddling with his medicinal drugs, you may ask.

The planet they’re on is another ugly and unrealistic looking thing from the orbital view, this time a bright lime green. On the bridge, Kirk apparently has a new Yeoman, replacing the unfortunately lamented Janice Rand. We later learn this Yeoman’s name is Barrows, as she plays an important role as a romantic interest for McCoy.

Kirk joins McCoy on the planet, convinced the doctor’s report of a white rabbit is some sort of joke. They hear a gunshot and run to find Sulu practising with a revolver, which he says he found just lying on the ground. He says it’s a vintage weapon, which would make a good addition to his collection (another case of Sulu having some random hobby for one episode), and has to explain to Kirk and McCoy how it works. This raises the question of how or indeed if Kirk and McCoy recognised the noise of the gunshot that brought them running.

Things get even more mysterious, with a first-person POV shot of some sort of antenna tracking the landing party as they walk across the terrain. Yeoman Barrows suffers clothing damage in an encounter with Don Juan, prompting McCoy to gallantly escort her. Meanwhile Kirk bumps into Finnegan, an old rival from his Academy days, and then Ruth, an old flame. Sulu encounters a samurai warrior, who attacks him with a sword. Also on the planet are extras Lieutenant Rodriguez and Angela Martine (who was the unhappy bride-to-be in “Balance of Terror“). They encounter a tiger, then Angela does one better than getting her fianc√© killed in the previous episode, and is strafed to death by a mysterious fighter plane.

There are a couple of small continuity/production errors. The appearance of fictional characters and other people and animals on a planet scanned to be devoid of animal life is explicable as part of the plot. But in a couple of scenes we also clearly see insects buzzing around – a fly and a butterfly – which are not obviously related to the eventual explanation of the other stuff. Presumably these were just random inclusions of insects in camera shot during the filming that they never removed. Also, when Sulu runs along a shaded section of a small gully, you can see him generating three sharp shadows, obviously from film lighting.

Yeoman Barrows fantasises about a beautiful fairy-tale princess dress to replace her ripped uniform, and lo, one appears. She changes into it as McCoy half-averts his eyes. The pair are then attacked by a black knight on horseback, with a lance. McCoy states that “these things are not real; hallucinations cannot hurt me” and stands his ground. Clearly he believes they are merely hallucinating all of these weird people and objects – which raises an interesting question about what he thinks Barrows is really wearing now. The black knight runs McCoy down and kills him!

Kirk encounters Finnegan again and bests him in an inevitable fist fight, magically suffering major shirt damage in the cut between two directly adjacent scenes. He goes down wearing an undamaged uniform, and in the very next shot is shown lying on the ground with his short half torn off! After Finnegan is beaten, Spock appears, beaming down to inform Kirk that the transporters no longer work (after his last risky use of them). This begins the long tradition, seen throughout Star Trek, of the transporters being such a powerful plot device that to enable any sort of story where crew are trapped somewhere, they first have to have the transporters suffer some sort of malfunction or be mysteriously jammed by alien influences.

Spock conjectures that the planet is somehow producing the people and animals in response to the landing party’s thoughts – citing the example of Rodriguez thinking of a tiger just before seeing one. Except at this point they haven’t found Rodriguez again and there’s no feasible way Spock could know that Rodriguez had even encountered a tiger, let alone been thinking of one beforehand! A benign advanced alien then appears and explains that this is a pleasure planet for his race, designed to manufacture anyone’s desires, and that Angela and McCoy have been “repaired” and are now alive again. McCoy shows up in the arms of two fur bikini-clad girls, demonstrating that this is indeed a pleasure planet, to the jealous dismay of Barrows. All is well again!

Except I’ve always found this “resurrection” of McCoy to be a bit creepy, ever since the first time I saw this episode. Apparently all the constructed people are made of plant matter, and as we see in the case of the Black Knight, appear to be plastic dummies on close inspection. McCoy was, for all intents and purposes, really dead at one point, and was somehow brought back to life by being patched up with this same plant material. I’ve always had a hard time seeing this patched-up, revivified version as the real McCoy (so to speak). Lurking in the back of my mind there’s always the fear that from now on the Enterprise‘s medical officer is actually some sort of Stepford clone…

A final point on this episode is that it shows just how amazingly inadequate the Enterprise scanners are. A fantastically powerful and technological construction lurks just under the ground of this entire planet, yet the scans showed nothing – no technology, no refined metals, at all. I guess if you want to hide totally from Starfleet, all you need to do is live in a cellar. We saw this before on Talos IV in “The Menagerie“, in fact – scans showed no technology on the planet, yet there was an entire underground alien civilisation. Maybe they should invest in some ground-penetrating radar.

Body count: Angela Martine, Dr McCoy – both brought back to life by the planet’s manufacturing abilities.
Tropes: Fleeting Passionate Hobbies, Uncanny Village, Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure, Lying In The Dirt Together, I Wish It Were Real, Your Mind Makes It Real, Amusement Park Of Doom, Pleasure Planet, I Got Better, A Lady On Each Arm, Fur Bikini, Everybody Laughs Ending.
(Image © 1966 Paramount Studios, used under Fair Use.)

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