Star Trek (TAS) “The Eye of the Beholder”
After producing three “retrotorials”, I’ve decided to return to my bread and butter: recapping episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series. God help the unwary…
The Enterprise arrives at the planet of… Is Kirk saying “Lactose VII”? It’s probably something else*, but in case I don’t have enough jokes, I’m going to milk this name for all it’s worth.
[*It’s actually “Lactra VII”, but Shatner’s delivery really does make it sound like “Lactose VII” to me.]
The stardate is 5501.2, and I can’t help but wonder if the producers were ever laying some elaborate practical joke on us. Are the stardates in Star Trek really that random? Is there some sort of secret code locked in all those numbers? Is there even now some nerd locked away in a basement poring over lists of equations, attempting to decipher the riddle of stardates? Oh, who am I kidding? I live on a planet with people who think it’s flat and that someone else wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Of course there’s a guy trying to decipher stardate meanings.
In his log, Kirk says that their mission is to find out what happened to the six-person crew of the USS Ariel. Six people? Man, first in “The Pirates of Orion”, the Huron only had a crew of three, and the ship in this episode only has six? Is there some sort of hiring freeze going on in Starfleet?
According to the log found on the deserted Ariel, three people headed down to the planet via transporter, and when nothing was heard, the other three beamed down to try and rescue them. Um, okay, so who stayed behind to operate the transporter? I know in “The Terratin Incident”, they could set the transporter to automatically beam them back, but that was kind of a desperate times/desperate measures sort of situation. Why not take a shuttle down? Or is Starfleet too strapped for cash, and doesn’t have a budget for, you know, auxiliary craft that might prove handy in rescue operations? I’d call OSHA.
Kirk states that what the Ariel’s captain Lt. Commander Markel did was against all orders. McCoy tries to stand up for the guy, but Kirk says the captain of a ship must follow the book. Aaaaannd my hypocrisy meter just broke. After what I’m sure was five minutes of hysterical laughter from Bones and Scotty, Spock essentially says humans seem unable to follow said book. McCoy responds to Spock’s blatantly racist hate speech with some blatantly racist hate speech of his own, but it comes out sounding just tired and dull. Huh, DeForest Kelly must have been thinking about that time he shot that movie about giant carnivorous rabbits and was wondering what the hell happened to his career.
Kirk asks Spock what they can expect on Lactose VII, and Spock says its gravity and atmosphere are “Earth normal”. He probably said “Earth normal” because he’s playing to his audience and knows it’s something the stooopid humans will understand. Kirk notes the people from the other ship beamed down six weeks ago and Spock gets all OCD by saying it’s been “five weeks, three days, two hours, and four minutes”.
Kirk replies, “Careless of me, Mister Spock.” That was probably this episode’s one intentionally funny line.
Kirk asks about life forms, and Spock says there certainly may be some; Lt. Arex is doing a comprehensive scan and the results will be ready in a while. But that’s not good enough for James T. He wants to get down to that planet now. McCoy points out it’s a risk and Kirk says, “That’s why we’re here, Bones.” No, Captain Jackass. You’re here to rescue six people, and you and your two seniormost officers (because you just know he’s bringing Spock and McCoy with him) dropping down onto a planet you know nothing about isn’t gonna help anybody. Is beaming down without a good idea of what you’re getting into in “the book”, Kirk?
Well, it’s probably in Jim’s book. Right next to that chapter about finding strange, new life forms and having sex with them.
Kirk wants Scotty to put them down in the same place the other party beamed down to, and does it make me evil to hope the plot calls for that to be a stretch of quicksand? It’d certainly solve the mystery of the missing Ariel crew, wouldn’t it? But instead of quicksand, Kirk and his two babysitters beam down and almost get their feet boiled.
Spock notes the blistering lake is a bit odd, but before he can provide further analysis, Kirk points out that maybe they’ve got bigger things to worry about.
Kirk warns that the creature might be able to walk on land, and McCoy is sure of it. Not because of any sort of keen insight; he’s just a pessimistic old bastard. The trio fire their phasers and drive it away. Hmmm. Considering how understaffed the crew of the Ariel was, I’m now wondering if phasers were in their operating budget. If not, then… mystery solved!
But wait! Kirk uses his communicator and picks up a nonverbal signal, meaning at least one member of the Ariel crew is alive and transmitting. Which at the very least suggests that person could run faster than the other two in their party. Kirk gets a bearing and leads the others into a desert, where they’re attacked by another creature.
Kirk orders phasers on stun again, and I’m wondering if he says that for the benefit of one of the other two guys. Does Spock or McCoy often set his phaser on kill?
Kirk’s phaser blast hits the creature and does nothing. Spock speculates that the creature gains strength from phaser fire, so what does Kirk do? He orders them all to shoot the creature together on the underside of its neck.
And it works. For some reason. The creature oversells the attack like an indie pro wrestler…
…and then promptly collapses on McCoy.
You see this? If I were McCoy, this is the part where I would quit and become a gynecologist on Risa. Kirk and Spock dig McCoy out, and he’s pretty chipper for a man who just had a front row seat to an alien dinosaur’s sphincter.
Kirk asks how much more desert they have to cross, and Spock tells him 1.1 kilometers, so the captain says they need to pick up their pace. Here’s a thought: why not beam back up to Enterprise, give Scotty the coordinates of where they need to be, then beam back down again? Because, you know, that beats risking running into a third hostile life form. I guess none of these guys would propose that; McCoy hates the transporter, Kirk wants to prove his manliness, and Spock, who was raised on a desert planet, is just fine and probably wants to watch the humans suffer. I mean, yeah, maybe the missing crewman is somewhere in that 1.1 kilometer stretch, but just get Arex to do a scan. Unless this entire exercise is because Kirk doesn’t think Arex knows how to do his job.
As they walk along, Spock asks Kirk if that last beast looked familiar to him, and Kirk says he saw something similar to it on Cannibus… Damn! I already used that joke for my “Pirates of Orion” recap.
Kirk says the deserts there are similar to the ones on this planet, and Spock asks him if he thinks similar environments would prompt similar evolution, in the same tone a fifth grade teacher would use to trick a student into committing to a wrong answer just to make him look stupid. And no, I didn’t hate my fifth grade teacher. Much.
Whatever Spock was going for with this line of questioning, McCoy ruins the flow by saying his shoes are full of sand. Spock replies that McCoy’s lack of interest in things scientific is amazing, in a tone suggesting he thinks that even for humans, the Doc is an idiot. McCoy retorts he’d be happy to discuss this with Spock next time he drops by his medical lab, with the subtext being that McCoy will let the man bleed all over his infirmary before treating him. I wish these two would find a cave or something and just deal with their unrequited sexual tension like adults.
What? I can’t be the only person who’s ever thought this.
Kirk, wisely, keeps his mouth shut and the group presses on. They reach a wooded area with a stream, and Spock asks Kirk if it seems strange to him that two such different ecologies would be smack up against each other like this. Kirk says he’s seen stranger (he’s been in every alien brothel from Antares to Zetar, after all) and Spock says it’s “merely an observation”. Look, Spock, if you’ve got some clever theory, stop being cute and just spit it out.
Kirk doesn’t take the bait (good for him) and calls up to the ship. Scotty tells him there’s what looks like a possible alien city 98 kilometers northeast of them, which is the same direction that signal was coming from. Spock tests the water and says it’s “too pure”, and then he finally explains his theory: He says everything they’ve been looking at has been manufactured. The trio’s discussion is interrupted by…
Waaaaaait a minute! Those look awfully familiar… I’ve got it! They’re the flying spaghetti dragons from “The Infinite Vulcan”!
For Christ’s sake, first we get the cheap-ass decision to not show the Ariel, and now this? It’s like the animation crew blew their budget on cocaine and hookers that month.
Kirk says the stun setting should work on these creatures, because they look just like the “dragons of Maravel” (personally, I would have loved it if Shatner had said, “They look just like those things from that time where we got a fifty-foot Spock”, but whatever). However, their phaser beams hit an invisible force field, even though the “dragons” have clearly been hit by phaser fire. Unless the phaser fire hit the underside of the invisible force field, maybe? The animation really sucks this time out (and considering this is Filmation we’re talking about, that’s really saying something) and it’s hard to tell. Kirk is about to say something, when suddenly…
And we now have a candidate for worst TAS creature, ladies and gentlemen. I daresay it gives the derpysaurus from “How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth” a run for its money.
Personally, I think the new guys win it by a nose.
Okay, I promise to retire that joke, if you promise to keep reading.
The… I’m going to call them elephant slugs… carry the trio northwest towards the city. No, that’s not a typo; apparently the editor was too high on blow to give a damn. So the elephant slugs reach their city…
…And Kirk exclaims it must be five square kilometers. Dude, London is 1,570 square miles. Five square miles is Hamtramck, Michigan. It’s like the author was told a kilometer was a newfangled unit of measurement but wasn’t told how big it was. But hey, the word “kilometer” is soooo much bigger than “mile”, so it stands to reason…
The gang is promptly locked up and the elephant slugs don’t seem much interested in talking, although Spock keeps getting psychic “impressions” from them. Kirk asks for ideas, and McCoy earns his pay by pointing out that, if he came across a weird alien life form, he’d make sure it was free of harmful bacteria, then he’d see if it was intelligent. Even Spock is impressed by that. Or he’s being a snarky asshole. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
The three of them spitball ideas around, and Spock determines the aliens are telepathic, but are thinking so fast he can only get impressions. They also figure out that the entire planet might be some sort of zoo, which would explain the different environments slapped together. But before they can brainstorm more, they’re snatched up by the aliens again and carted off. They’re dropped off in a compound with a pretty sweet house.
It’s at this point that two members of the Ariel crew make an appearance: Lt. Commander Tom Markell and their biologist, Randi Bryce.
Randi is voiced by Majel Barrett, who’s using voice #3 today. So instead of sounding like she’s someone from Cleveland, Ohio, she sounds like someone from Akron, Ohio. Sure, the difference might be subtle, but it’s there. Trust me.
Wait. Before I move on, I just want to point something out here. Check out Markell:
Look at that furrowed brow. You know what’s causing that? It’s because deep down, he knows it doesn’t matter that he has a name, and it doesn’t matter that he’s not wearing a red shirt. The main cast has shown up and that means if there’s an upcoming dramatic death scene in the works, his number’s up. Lt. Commander Tom Markell is a dead man walking.
Back to Nurse Chapel Lt. Bryce. She explains that the third member of their party, Lt. Randolph, is in the house and she’s pretty sick. Markell says they didn’t beam down in time to save the other three. Uh, what exactly happened to the other three? Is this like some sort of alien version of Big Brother, where the elephant slugs throw a bunch of people in a house and the ones who get evicted get dissected? Did the sphinctersaurus eat ‘em?
Markell explains they never sent that signal, so it was probably the aliens, who took their stuff like they did to Kirk and Co., and were messing with it and turned a communicator on. The Ariel crew tried all sorts of ways to escape and nothing worked, and all attempts to talk to the aliens failed, and after a while, their keepers built them this compound. Markell, like Spock, figures the aliens are telepathic and built this place based on images in their minds. If I’d been swooped up by the aliens, I think my compound would include a Burger King, a Dunkin’ Donuts, and a 7-Eleven.
A couple of aliens show up to check out the new exhibits…
…And Spock attempts to telepathically communicate with them, and all he gets for his trouble is an impression that the aliens were laughing at him. Kirk says they should find the others; he feels the need for some “human companionship”. Oh come on, Jim! You’ve only been locked up for five minutes! It’s a little early to be staking your claim to the womenfolk, isn’t it?
In the Big Brother house, Kirk checks out… I mean, checks up on Lt. Randolph. McCoy explains that her illness resembles a malarial infection, but without his medical kit, he can’t tell for sure. Markell notes that their stuff is just outside the compound on display with their other things. You know, so visitors can see how the animals use tools and think they’re people.
Here’s a nit. Hypothetically, let’s say some aliens showed up outside downtown Kansas City, and we locked them up. You know what our scientists would wonder about? Where the aliens came from! The writer is implying these hyper-intelligent aliens are capable of snatching up specimens for their planet-sized zoo, and are capable of incredible feats of terraforming, and consider even Vulcans so far beneath them that they can’t even conceive of them as another sentient species, but not a single one of them has ever wondered from whence these ugly bipeds came?
McCoy figures his medical stuff is probably out there too, and Spock points out the aliens are highly intelligent, so they should know the function of each device. If so, wouldn’t the aliens figure out the communicators are for communicating with a ship in orbit? Ah, my suspension of disbelief is taking a beating this month. McCoy says if Spock’s right, then they should know the med-kit’s function. Spock tells McCoy to think really hard about what he needs, and the aliens respond with this.
I don’t care if it looks like fruit. I’m getting a serious Soylent Green vibe here.
So Plan B is: everyone thinks really hard, and it works! The aliens give McCoy his med-kit. As McCoy does his thing, Kirk starts talking about escaping, and Spock says they need to be thinking logically; they’re specimens in a zoo and the aliens have taken every precaution. They are caged… for life!
Back from commercial break, the gang spends lots of time talking and speculating. Because that’s easier to animate than action, of course. McCoy figures Scotty will come to their rescue, but Kirk bursts that bubble by saying he forbade Scotty from staging any sort of rescue.
Seriously? This is a helluva time to finally tell McCoy and Spock. A decent person would have told the others in the landing party before they left that this was a potential one-way trip. Wow, not only is Kirk an idiot for jumping into danger without a net, and not only is he probably a racist dick for not trusting Arex to know his job, he dragged his two buddies with him without telling him there was no cavalry coming to their rescue!
So what’s their next play? Spock suggests they use the old let’s-pretend-one-of-us-is-ill trick. Then they’ll send out thought-waves to the aliens that the only way to get better is with a communicator. Uh, one of you already is ill, Spock: Lt. Randolph, remember? Okay, she’s a guest character and doesn’t matter, but still…
This plan is stupid and it’s something only a kid might fall for. Fortunately for them, a kid alien is on hand, and this stupid plan works. The kid grabs the communicator and gives it to Kirk, who’s faking being sick. Kirk uses the communicator to have Scotty beam them up, but the kid suddenly grabs the communicator back and, well…
Back on the planet, the kid’s parents are freaking out, wondering where Junior is. Spock says the aliens didn’t realize they could be a deadly species. Well, if they know what each and every one of their devices can do, wouldn’t they know what the phasers are for? I guess this is like those situations where people don’t realize just how dangerous chimpanzees are until one of them is tearing off your arm.
McCoy suggests they shouldn’t just be standing around talking about this, and they should be doing something. Like what, Bones? It’s Roddenberry’s universe, so prayer’s not an option, and other than that, I don’t know what else you can do. Before Kirk can offer up an idea, he’s given the mother of all ice cream headaches.
The aliens are mentally slapping him around, asking him where the baby is. Spock tells Kirk to fight it; the aliens think too fast, and if Kirk gives in for even a second he might go mad. Back on the Enterprise, the “baby” takes Scotty up to the bridge…
…And Scotty says that he thinks the thing is harmless. Lt. M’Ress (the budget was apparently so tight this week, they couldn’t afford to have Nichelle Nichols come in to say two lines) asks what Scotty wants them to do. Scotty responds, “Whatever it wants me to do.”
Okay, I was wrong: We had two intentionally funny lines this episode.
Back on the planet, Kirk is able to handle round one of the psychic fight, but now the aliens are preparing to gang up on him, and Spock says everyone needs to close their eyes and form a mental shield around Kirk. The aliens mentally assault Kirk, and what we get is a gloriously Shatnerian performance as he cries out that they’re tearing his mind apart. I’m just sad that this still…
…doesn’t do it justice.
Heh, look at Markell’s face. It says, “Better you than me, pal.”
Before Kirk’s brains are turned into a Slurpee, the baby shows up with Scotty, and the family is reunited.
Scotty explains the kid contacted him telepathically, and after taking the Enterprise on a joyride, Scotty was able to convince it they aren’t pets, and to bring them back. He says the kid is the equivalent of a six-year-old, but his IQ “is in the thousands”.
Also, the kid checked out all the Enterprise’s databanks, and he tells his parents all about the Federation and the aliens in it. Spock gets a mental hookup going, and the aliens decide maybe the humans don’t belong in their zoo after all. The episode ends with Spock getting a mental message from the aliens that they’ll be welcome back in a few centuries, after they’ve evolved.
This entire episode is pretty, well, meh to me. Really, the plot probably could have been easily resolved if Kirk had waited for Arex to complete his survey. Yes, I know, time’s a-wastin’ and James T. has got hisself a strange new world to explore, but I think when Landing Party B goes missing just like Landing Party A, then maybe a bit of caution is in order. We won’t see piss-poor examples of leadership decision-making like this until decades later with Enterprise.
It’s obvious they didn’t have a budget this time out, what with lots of still shots, recycled aliens, and Kirk doing his best impression of a mime as he presses against invisible force fields, like this:
You can see how making the aliens into giant slugs also worked well within the budget, as they didn’t actually have to animate moving appendages as they carried Kirk and the others around.
As for the plot itself? Humans being stuck in a zoo as specimens isn’t new; the original Twilight Zone had an episode which explored a similar theme. And a highly advanced alien race that sees humans as little more than insects? We’ve seen plenty on them on Trek. But I don’t mind a plot being recycled; Star Trek did it all the time. And this time out, the aliens were actually interesting, and unlike other episodes where aliens were unaware of humans being an intelligent species, there was an actual attempt here to make the aliens, well, alien. They were initially incapable of conceiving humans as being anything more than tool-wielding animals, like chimps using a length of straw to fish for termites.
“Eye of the Beholder” was penned by David P. Harmon, a prolific TV writer who also scripted the original series episode “The Deadly Years” (the one where Kirk, Spock and McCoy get old) and co-wrote “A Piece of the Action” with Gene L. Coon, which to me is one of the best episodes from that era of Trek.