We’re about halfway through the first season of Star Trek, so maybe it would be a good idea to finally have a Spock-centric episode. Spock has been largely a supporting character so far. Fascinating in his own way, he’s more of a dues ex machina at times. Spock is the alien that can do things that are convenient for the plot because someone has to be. But he’s also one of if not the most interesting characters on the show. Part of that is just the way Leonard Nimoy plays him. The other part is just his general alien nature.
So, what happens when he’s on his own and in command in a perilous situation?
Now, it should be pointed out that Kirk doesn’t entirely sit out the episode. He’s still there on the bridge of the Enterprise, and he does set things up for the audience. He’s escorting a “Space Commissioner” named Farris to a distant planet to deliver medical supplies and following standing orders and investigate a quasar. That means sending out the shuttlecraft Galileo to get some readings of the quasar. On the shuttlecraft are seven crewmembers: Spock, Scotty, Dr. McCoy, three guys, and a woman. And we have a title!
Why are Scotty and McCoy on this mission? It doesn’t make sense in terms of the mission. Did they need a medical doctor and an engineer on a mission like this? Now, as the episode plays out, it does make sense for them to be there. McCoy plays off Spock very well, and this time the two are stuck together without Kirk’s moderating influence. As for Scotty, well, given the shuttlecraft crashes on an alien planet, someone has to fix the engines to get everyone back to safety.
By the by, it did seem to me Scotty is the only man on the mission who never once questions Spock in any way, even showing a bit of admiration for Spock’s seemingly desperate final gambit. We need more men like Scotty sometimes.
Why would everyone else be upset with Spock? Well, after the shuttle crashes on said alien planet, he’s in charge as ranking officer. Of course, his insistence on logic means he clashes with most of the crewmen in the shuttle with him. There are hostile giants on the planet’s surface, and Spock decides the only thing to do during his first ever command is to apply logic to all situations. When Scotty points out there isn’t enough fuel to get everyone off the planet, even with the use of the hand phasers’ power sources, Spock says he will use logic to decide who doesn’t get off the planet. When the giants kill one crewman, Spock believes a simple show of force and power will convince the giants to leave them alone.
He never stops to consider the feelings or needs of the crewmen. Why would he? Feelings are, or so he claims, a foreign concept to him. That the giants, hostile to begin with, would not react logically to his show of force never occurs to him. Possibly because he can’t think that way.
That said, at least with McCoy, there’s still a bit of amicability there. McCoy may not like Spock’s insistence on logic, but at least he doesn’t seem to hate him. I can’t say the same for one Lt. Boma, who’s own frustrations with Spock push more into the realm of the hostile, particularly when he insists Spock say a few words for the two crewmen who died. He insists Spock show that humans have some dignity in death and so forth. McCoy does agree with Boma, but Spock once again can’t see the point. Meanwhile, Scotty keeps working on the engines and the lone woman in the group sits there and looks scared.
Now, Spock does end up saving the survivors,. And he may not be everyone’s favorite, but the survivors stand by him. That’s a good thing. See, Spock’s venting of burning plasma gets the Enterprise‘s attention, rescuing the five remaining passengers before they burn up on re-entry. Spock, pressed by Kirk, will not admit to feeling any emotion when he vented the burning plasma. He will agree with Kirk that he’s a stubborn man. That concession causes far too much laughter from the bridge crew.
By the by, Kirk doesn’t sit the episode out, but he mostly just clashes with Commissioner Farris. Farris keeps insisting Kirk call off the search and resume the original mission to deliver the medicine in the first place. That’s a very Star Trek thing. On the one hand, Farris is a stubborn jackass. On the other hand, he is trying to deliver medicine. It’s a good reason to want to be on his way, though even his general attitude shows the medicine may not be needed all that quickly if he can wait for two days.
But when he takes over to resume the delivery of some much-needed medical supplies, is he really wrong? I know we as the audience are supposed to care what happens when happens to Spock, McCoy, and maybe at this point Scotty. But the Commissioner isn’t exactly wrong. From a storytelling perspective, it does add a ticking clock. But on the other hand, it also makes Kirk look like someone who would risk the health of an unknown number of people for seven members of his crew. That’s both the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do. It doesn’t really affect the Spock plot, but it does make Kirk look a little worse as a result.