Star Trek (TAS) “One of Our Planets is Missing” (part 1 of 3)
Hello, and welcome back to our Star Trek: The Animated Series recaps! It was one year ago this month that the guys and gals here at the Booth allowed me into their secret clubhouse, and I thought it might be nice if I did a written recap to observe the occasion, rather than a video review. The fact that my Space: 1999 video is taking longer to write than I anticipated has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my decision.
Well, what also prompted me to write this was the season finale of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that aired this month, where the writers poked fun at TAS. I wonder if some exec at Paramount is considering a Blu-ray TAS release as we speak…
This week, our heroes have been sent to the fringes of the Federation because a “huge cosmic cloud” has been seen entering our galaxy. As usual, the Enterprise is the only ship in the vicinity that can investigate. Their position is in the Pallas XIV system, which contains the planet Mantilles, the Federation’s most remote colony. Kirk has a map of the system thrown up on the screen, and…
Okay, where is the star? Is the green circle the star, and that’s a giant planet next to it, with a really, really close orbit? What am I looking at here? It looks like it might be an atomic diagram. If so, it could be lithium, if the inner dots represent three protons and neutrons each. See how proper use of the internet can make you sound educated?
Just how are the planets sticking together without the gravitational pull of a star, anyway? Do the planets just like each other? Are they sentient and the two in the middle are the parents and the ones orbiting them are their kids? That would make a much more interesting episode than what I’m getting so far.
Spock gives initial readings on the cloud, and says it’s irregular in shape… like most clouds are. It’s 800 kilometers wide and 400 kilometers deep. Good thing space is just two dimensions, so we don’t know how thick it is. Lt. Arex notes, “It’s immense!”, and is the diameter of Saturn, Jupiter, and Neptune together. Glad to see you’re up on your Earth Solar System trivia there, Arex.
Spock describes it as a strange mixture of matter and energy. I’d argue that could also describe a normal storm cloud full of lightning discharges, but whatever. Arex reports Ellondra, the outermost planet of the starless Pallas XIV system, has disappeared. Uhura suggests maybe the cloud just came between them and the planet, but Spock says no—the cloud has swallowed Ellondra. He further reports that the planet’s mass is breaking up. Kirk asks if it’s possible the cloud consumes planets, and Spock admits it may be.
Sulu reports that the cloud is changing course. Kirk says, “That’s impossible!” This coming from the guy who fought Jack the Ripper and miraculously survived a hundred alien STDs. And it’s okay to think a cloud eats planets, but that it can’t change course to eat more? Arex backs up his boy Sulu and confirms the cloud is now heading towards Mantilles. At this, Kirk orders Sulu to take the ship to warp eight so they can intercept the cloud.
Along the way, McCoy says to Kirk that if they don’t get there in time, millions will die. Thank you, Doctor Obvious. But what else would I expect from the guy whose catchphrase is “He’s dead, Jim!” Spock points out this cloud could even munch on stars; they have no idea what its diet is or what drives it. He compares it to an amoeba, which is kinda funny, considering what this reminds me of: the space amoeba from “The Immunity Syndrome”.
Note to the writer: don’t make obvious references to the episode you’re “paying homage” to.
Kirk turns to Bones, and in a moment that’s handled very seriously, Kirk asks him if they should let the people of Mantilles know what’s coming. After hearing the planet has only four hours to live, McCoy says there’ll be blind panic, but Spock points out some people might be saved. McCoy asks who the governor is, and Kirk says it’s Bob Wesley, a former Starfleet officer who’s “no hysteric” (Bob Wesley, for those of you who don’t know, is the poor bastard almost killed by the Enterprise when it was taken over by the M5 in “The Ultimate Computer”. Props to the writer for reusing the character). McCoy says they should tell Bob.
I must say this scene was very well done. I might give this series grief, but one thing the writers always did on this show was address the subject of death in a serious manner. If it’s McCoy being imprisoned for killing hundreds in “Albatross” to the Caretaker dying in “Once Upon a Planet”, the producers didn’t shy away from the subject. It’s sad that children’s programming became so immature during the ‘70s and ‘80s, where you had Challenge of the Superfriends and Solomon Grundy unable to punch anything, or G.I. Joe with its red and blue lasers that never hit anything and guys getting shot out of the sky and always being able to bail out in time.
Okay, enough editorializing.
Spock notes that the cloud is made up of elements not found in their periodic tables. I like how he uses the plural there, like Vulcans have a way cooler periodic table they won’t show humans. And while Kirk is waiting for Uhura to place the call (to be fair, it is a pretty remote place; Uhura is probably lucky enough to get one bar) to Bob, Enterprise is attacked by the cloud and sucked in.
How the hell does that happen? Space is, you know, huge. Why were they flying so close to it in the first place? Did Sulu just assume Kirk wanted them to keep heading straight in? Well, to be fair, there was that episode where Kirk had Sulu fly into an asteroid field at warp one, as in, the speed of light. So yeah, I guess I can see Sulu assuming Kirk wanted to take on this cloud. Or maybe Sulu was texting and he lost track of where he was.
According to Spock (and I had to replay this scene several times to get it right), the streamers that grabbed the Enterprise are a combination of “koinoenergy, almost an ambiplasma”. Christ, I hate technobabble, where the writers just throw out made-up words. It’s one of the things I despised about Voyager, the way they…
Oh. Oh, it seems that koinoenergy and ambiplasma are actual scientific terms, or at least ambiplasma is. I love ya, Memory Alpha, but I’d really like to have at least one other source on that.
McCoy says, “We’re in the cloud!” I sometimes wonder if when McCoy wakes up in the morning, he says stuff like, “I’m awake! On a ship! In space!” And when he’s eating breakfast: “I’m drinking hot coffee! And this donut is delicious, but it’s not good for me!”
Inside the cloud, the Enterprise is surrounded by strange objects.
Spock reports that they’re a form of highly charged gaseous antimatter. That would sound a lot more impressive if they didn’t look like cotton balls. They’re repelled and destroyed by an anti-matter charge through the shields.
After repelling the attack, Kirk turns to Spock and asks for his analysis. Spock has a theory that the cloud… is alive. And they didn’t know this before? It was suggested that the cloud feeds on planets and might even feed on stars, it (impossibly) changed direction to chow down on another planet, and it grabbed them with tentacles of “ambiplasma” and sucked them in. And just now Spock thinks it might be alive?
Spock, your job is to provide insightful analysis. It’s Bones’ job to state the obvious. Listen to the Rock, Spock:
McCoy points out that if they don’t get out soon, the cotton balls will surround the ship and break them down into “nice, digestible parts”. Spock actually agrees with McCoy. Did you feel that? The cold seeping up through the soles of your feet? Yeah, hell just froze over.
Uhura reports that she finally got through to Bob. Kirk has Uhura transfer the call to his quarters, while he has Sulu work up a map of the cloud. Bob says the only ones they might be able to save are the children. There’s nothing at all funny about this scene. Dammit.
While Kirk was away on his downer call, Sulu managed to get a diagram of the cloud put together.
The yellow dot is the Enterprise’s position, and Kirk points out that the entrance they came in is closed, and the only way out seems to be at the other end. So we have an entrance, an exit, and something in between that acts like a stomach. Sometimes this show makes it really hard for me to keep it PG-13.