Star Trek “And the Children Shall Lead...” (part 1 of 5)

Summary: The starship Enterprise answers a distress call from a scientific colony, and upon arrival, Kirk and Co. find all of the adult colonists have committed suicide. Though the children have survived, they’re pretty blasé about the whole affair.

After several rounds of incoherent philosophical discussion between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, we learn that a rather unimpressive manifestation of eeeeee-vil is controlling the children. In turn, the children use an especially mockable “gesture” to control the entire crew and turn them all into anal-retentive freaks.

Kirk and Spock are eventually able to overcome this mind control simply because they’re total badasses. Kirk then shows the kids some home movies, which causes their faces to become covered in glycerin. This breaks Evil’s spell, and everything instantly returns to normal. Unless you’re a Redshirt security guard, that is.

To celebrate the first anniversary of the Agony Booth (which was, um, about three weeks ago, actually. Sorry!), I decided it was a good time to pay tribute to the series that inspired the name and look of this website. And by “pay tribute”, I mean of course that I’ll be pointing out the weakest moments and most wrongheaded missteps of the entire Star Trek franchise here in a regular feature I’m calling The Worst of Trek.

The first piece of Crap Trekdom that I’ll be tackling is one of the lowest points of the original series, the episode “And the Children Shall Lead”. But readers shouldn’t take this as a statement on how I view the quality of the original series relative to its various spinoffs. Trust me, I’m well aware that there are plenty of terrible episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise that are just as deserving of reviews. But I’m beginning with the first series because it’s the one that inspired everything that came after: the books, the cartoon, the movies, the spinoffs, and not least of all, this website.

I have to admit, however, that even though this is probably the worst episode of the original Star Trek, it’s a total cakewalk compared to what the later shows would eventually vomit onto an unsuspecting public. So you can rest assured that I will definitely get around to “Shades of Gray”, “Profit and Lace”, “Threshold”, and the abominable “A Night in Sickbay” all in good time.

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Multi-Part Article: Star Trek "And the Children Shall Lead..."

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  • I seriously love TOS — I even enjoy “Spock’s Brain,” but the only good thing about THIS episode is your deliciously snarky commentary. Thanks for a good laugh!

    • Gallen_Dugall

      Agreed. I consider this the most cringe inducingly bad episode of Trek. Spock’s Brain is under-rated.

  • johnhay

    Belli’s presence is not “anybody’s guess.” A quick Google will tell you it’s because his son plays annoying little Stevie, he of the complicated ice cream orders. Apparently the producers thought he’d boost ratings. They were wrong.

  • Kid Charlemagne

    I own some of the old The Best of TREK paperbacks, collected from the now-defunct magazine for Trekkers. (I may own the whole set; I’m not sure how many were published.) Volume 1 contained, among other articles, a “TREK Fan Poll”. One of the questions was “Name the five worst Star Trek episodes in order of your distaste.” These were the results.

    #5: “The Omega Glory” (the only episode which did not come from the “Turd Season”)

    #4: “Spectre of the Gun”

    #3: “Spock’s Brain”

    #2: “The Way to Eden”

    I probably don’t need to say which episode won the Dilithium Turkey booby prize, but here goes:

    #1: “And the Children Shall Lead”

    The episodes which boldly sucked where no one had sucked before, folks. :P

    • Ryan Ann

      I disagree with “Spectre of the Gun”. That was actually a pretty good and very fun episode and one of the better episodes of the legendary Season 3. All of the cast members did good jobs and Walter Koenig named this as his favorite episode (Chekov, usually a boring character, did seem to have fun with this episode and was one of the standouts). He was actually quite funny in this and Nimoy again did an excellent job. If more episodes were like this one is season three it would have been an excellent season. But, no, we got crap episodes like “Mark of Gideon”, the God-Awful “And The Children Shall Lead” and the 2nd most god-awful “Plato’s Stepchildren”.

  • Jack Walker

    I just rewatched four TOS eps this weekend including this one, then went online to search for some comments. Terrific, detailed review; thanks for the pleasure of reading it. You’re genuinely hilarious! There were some things you pointed out that I had never much noticed, like the emptiness of Kirk repeating Spock’s lines in his quarters (maybe the script did not fill enough time) and Starnes not telling Starfleet that he suspected he was falling under alien mind control.

    I have never disliked this one as much as most (I’m a “‘Spock’s Brain’ is underrated” guy as well). For me, “The Way to Eden” is the worst of TOS, or perhaps the nonsensical, boring (!) “The Alternative Factor.” In fact, as a kid Gorgan scared the crap out of me, probably because of those Exorcist-like echoes on his voice. Stunt-casting and shower curtain aside, I actually thought that Belli did a decent job for a non-actor. I like how Kirk (having regained his badassery post-Shatnerian breakdown) walks right up to him and confronts him face to face and the ensuing dialogue. Another plus of the episode for me is the very creepy unfolding of what happened on Triacus. Tommy, Mary and Don (the African-American kid) can all actually act, too (compare some of the horrendous child actors in “Miri”), which works well.

    I actually like third season episodes because with the budget reduced, they had to stay on the ship and we got to see a ton of the Enterprise. (Which doesn’t explain why they didn’t use the engineering set in this one – I wonder if it was under repair or something.) And like quite a few other S3 episodes this one just needed a few script rewrites and it could have been much, much better. The unfortunate gesture by the kids, brilliantly sent up by you here, naturally needed to be changed. Shatner’s regrettable (but delicious) hamhandedness in the cave and the turbolift – well, it inspired decades of impressions. (Interestingly, I really like Shatner’s acting choices in every other scene in the ep but those – he comes across as guarded but calm and firmly in control in the face of the potential, then actual threat.) The disappearance of McCoy made no sense, as you noted, nor did the lack of transporter redundancies to prevent beaming people into empty space. Still, there was a scary story here with an interesting message and if you imagine better dialogue and plotting, you can see it even if you have to strain a little (or a lot). :)

  • Ryan Ann

    I am a huge trekkie but this is definitly the worst episode ever of Star Trek. This episode creeped me out and bugged me to no end. Those kids were such brats. All of the cast looked uncomfortable and Shatner and Nimoy definitly looked like they did not want to be there. I am surprised that Nimoy did not mention this episode in “I Am Spock” (he did mention “Spock’s Brain” as the worst episode but I disagree wholeheartedly). “And the Children Shall Lead” definitly leads the worst episode list. Bones also leaves and comes back at the end for no apparent reason either. Ughh, what an episode. I am sure Shatner and Nimoy and DeKelley never mentioned this episode at any Star Trek conventions.

  • gbj11

    I just watched this episode for the first time in about 20 years and I have to agree now it’s the worst. I was always one of those Spock’s Brain/Way To Eden guys when it came to the worst episode, but at least they had a so-bad-they’re-funny kind of vibe (and Chekov’s Russian gf in Eden is so gorgeous, well…) but Children Shall Lead has no comparable vibe. It is just tedious, gloomy, and poorly written. It’s sole redeeming quality is Melvin Belli as Gorgon, and he’s really not in it very much.

  • Robert J. Crawford

    Definitely one of the worst episodes. It’s not scifi, it’s stupid fantasy, basically enabled by inexplicable magic.