Star Trek 3.1: Spock’s Brain

Spock's BrainAnd so we move into season 3, which opens with “Spock’s Brain“, perhaps the single most infamously bad episode of Star Trek. As such, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to rewatching it. But undaunted, I plunged in headlong for the sake of completeness.

The episode opens with a noticeably long period of silence – the timer on my DVD player hit 47 seconds before anybody said anything. During this time, we see a strange vessel closing on the Enterprise. Scotty announces it has “ion drive”, which sends everyone into raptures of wonder at what is apparently a technology far in advance of what the Federation commands. Which is interesting, as we launched our first ion drive equipped test mission in 1964… oops, 4 years before this episode was released. Suddenly a woman appears on the bridge and everyone falls unconscious. When they come to, Spock is in sickbay, with his brain missing!

Miraculously, Spock’s body is still operational, as McCoy explains that all the nerves have been sealed off with astonishing precision beyond his medical abilities. Interestingly, the diagnostic readout above Spock’s bed shows a non-zero value on the “brain” reading. McCoy states they have 24 hours to find and restore Spock’s brain before his body dies – apparently an exact time limit because later in the episode they count it down by the minute. Kirk resolves to find the woman who evidently took Spock’s brain and follows an ion trail to a planet in the grip of an ice age.

Kirk, Scotty, Chekov, and two guards beam down to the icy surface and Kirk tells them, “Set temperature to 72.” They twiddle a knob on their wrists and stop shivering! So apparently they have some sort of personal heat fields to avoid freezing on cold planets – if only they’d given one to Sulu back in “The Enemy Within“. The landing party spreads out, with absolutely no semblance of a plan of action, or idea of where to look for the woman or Spock’s brain. A bunch of cavemen attack them and they capture one in the ensuing fist fight (naturally their phasers get knocked away first thing). He speaks English, but he has no word for “woman” – which is naturally the first thing Kirk asks him about. The native seems scared of ones he refers to as “the others”, and urges Kirk not to go looking for them. Kirk immediately does so, and finds a cave rigged as a trap.

Kirk calls McCoy down to the planet, with Spock’s body wired to be operated by a remote control device. They trigger the trap and descend with Scotty in a lift to a subterranean city populated by women. The woman from the bridge incident captures them and they come to with belts on them that can be triggered to cause excruciating pain. Kirk questions the woman Kara about Spock’s brain, demanding it be returned. Kara however has a childlike mind and doesn’t even know what a brain is. She speaks of the “Controller”, which Kirk figures out must be Spock’s brain running the city. As Scotty puts it, with excellent non-sexist tact, “There’s no way these women could have built this.”

They escape, there’s a fist fight with some enslaved males form the surface… ho hum… They find Spock’s brain in a machine that is running the city. They argue with Kara about returning Spock’s brain. Kirk wonders how Kara could have removed the brain so expertly, when she evidently doesn’t know anything about science or technology. Kara reveals that the Controller must be replaced every thousand years or so, and then one of the women dons a teaching helmet that infuses them with virtual omniscience temporarily. Shades of the Krell educator from Forbidden Planet. Kara watches mutely as McCoy dons the teacher and gains enough medical knowledge to re-implant Spock’s brain, which occurs in a comedic sequence in which he reconnects Spock’s speech centres first and then Spock makes amusing comments for the remainder of the operation. Kirk proposes that the Federation help Kara’s people to reunite male and female and develop as a more normal society without a Controller. Spock starts going into the fascinating history of the planet and Kirk tries to turn him off with the remote control device, prompting everyone to laugh.

Annoyingly, the subject of how the males and females of the planet have survived for thousands of years without interacting is never even raised, let alone explained. There’s the blackboard-scrapingly painful sexism of the dialogue. And there’s the absurdity of Spock’s brain being removed (why didn’t Kara simply kill Spock? That would have sidestepped any attempt to restore him.). But you know, despite all of this, this is not the worst episode. In this series of reviews I’ve already been exposed to worse episodes, and I know there’s at least one more to come in series 3 that outshines this one for offensiveness. And the plot of this one is actually kind of interesting. If you ignore the absurdity of the brain thing, it’s not a terrible mystery plot, with a tense chase across the Galaxy, a mysterious civilisation to investigate, and an interesting moral decision to be made about the well-beings of Spock and an entire civilisation. It’s still well below par, but honestly I don’t think this episode is as bad as its reputation.

Tropes: Who Even Needs A Brain?, It’s A Small World After All, Good Old Fisticuffs, Handy Remote Control, Elaborate Underground Base, Shock Collar, Agony Beam, Wetware CPU, Brain In A Jar, Terminally Dependent Society, Cool Helmet, Neutral Female, Everybody Laughs Ending.
Body count: None!

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