Weekend Trek “Plato’s Stepchildren”

There is an excellent episode of Star Trek that accurately depicts the supreme physical and mental humiliation torture can do on a human body when the captain of the Enterprise is taken against his will and run through the ringer by an alien simply because said alien can.  I am referring, of course, to what Captain Picard goes through in the two-part Next Generation episode “Chain of Command”.  “Plato’s Stepchildren,” showing Kirk and Spock being abused by powerful alien psychics, is not on that level by a longshot.

Then again, this episode was actually banned, but not for the reason anyone expected it to be.

“Plato’s Stepchildren” features a single moment notable enough that Wikipedia gave it its own page.  That would be when Kirk, under the telekinetic power of the cruel Platonians, kisses Lt. Uhura.  This may or may not have been the first interracial kiss on American television, but at the least, it’s the first one people kinda remember.  True, it wasn’t a kiss of passion, but it still happened.  It was enough that Gene Roddenberry and the network were sure Southern affiliates would just outright not run the episode.  But that never happened, and according to Nichelle Nicols, not only did the show get the highest pile of fan mail in the series’ history for it, the only even mildly negative response came from a Southern man who, even though he did not approve of mixing the races, admitted that it would be hard-pressed for any man to pass up a chance to kiss a woman as beautiful as Uhura.

That reminds me a bit of something I heard George Takei say in an interview once, where he tried getting a pro-gay episode done, but he accepted it wasn’t going to happen when Roddenberry basically explained how he’d probably used up all his pull just getting the interracial kiss on the air.  At any rate, methinks Takei might have been one to pass up that chance to kiss Uhura if it had been offered.

And that’s not even getting into what else I’ve since read about the kiss’s staging.  William Shatner claimed that, at the network’s insistence, that the two not even touch lips while filming the scene, and used good blocking to make it look like it was happening when it really wasn’t.  Nichols, for her part, claimed in her memoir that no, they did touch lips.

At any rate, all that is a long way of saying that everyone involved in this episode was sure that the episode would be banned in the South, and that didn’t happen.  It’s worth remembering Sesame Street didn’t originally air in parts of the South due to the fact it was depicted as an interracial neighborhood, and that was just for the “crime” of people of different races living next to each other.

No, the thing that got this episode banned was for the aforementioned torture sequences when the BBC deemed it too “unpleasant” for its audience.  This wasn’t the first time the BBC decided not to air an episode of Star Trek, though, and it was for the torture.

Now, I know I was a bit hard on the torture depiction above, but that comes down more to a general comparison to a much better episode of an arguably better Star Trek series.  But much of what’s happening here is in the spirit of classic Trek as the Enterprise answered a call for help from the Platonians, alien beings who apparently visited Earth and conversed with Plato and Socrates.  They then left to go to the planet they currently inhabit, during which most of them developed long lifespans and telekinetic abilities. The lone exception is Alexander, a little person the others use their powers to abuse for their own amusement.

However, for all their mental power, the Platonians are vulnerable to simple infections, and when their Philosopher KIng/general ruler Parmen gets a bad one from a splinter, McCoy is needed to cure the man.  McCoy does so, and as a result, the Platonians decide he should stay.  Kirk objects, so the Platonians use their powers to prevent Kirk, Spock, and McCoy from beaming back to the Enterprise and further forcing Kirk and Spock to sing, dance, nearly step on each other, and, in Spock’s case, laugh hard and long in a manner that McCoy thinks will kill Spock.

You know, as someone who is highly literate in sci-fi and superheroics, I don’t think telekinesis works that way.  Sounds more like telepathy and mind control.  How do you move something to make a Vulcan feel?  And don’t Vulcans have feelings they generally repress except for, like, every seven years or so for the men?  Heck, we’ve seen Spock react before.  It’s almost like they make up stuff as they go along on shows like this!

But then the Platonians decide they need some women from the ship to show up, too.  They force Uhura and Nurse Chapel to join Kirk and Spock on the surface, even forcing the men and women to pair up for the infamous kiss (and the, by default, more forgettable kiss between Spock and Chapel).  By then, though, McCoy figured out something in the Platonians’ diet was giving them powers, aside from Alexander whose dwarfism prevented the stuff from working on him.  Kirk, given a super-dosage, was able to fight off the mightiest of the Platonians (obviously Parmen) and then…offers to help the Platonians adjust to dealing with others.  He only had to talk Alexander out of stabbing Parmen with something bond to kill the Philosopher King with another infection.

Now, here’s where Alexander gets what he wants, and all he really wants is to leave.  And after Kirk explained that his people didn’t judge people based on their appearance or anything along those lines, he will make a mild joke about Alexander’s height all the same.

Don’t ever change, Kirk.

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