This episode may be the most direct sequel to an original series episode yet. Granted, this is animation, so it theoretically means they can do more now then they did then.
Yeah, this episode may highlight the shortcomings of Filmation’s limited budget animation more than any other so far. The opening scene, after Kirk’s voiceover explains where the Enterprise is and what it’s doing, shows Sulu, Uhura, and McCoy beaming down the surface of the “Shore Leave” planet, only the still background shot of the planet’s surface was held with nothing going on so long I started to wonder if my streaming device needed resetting. Later, Uhura can be seen lounging by a pond while humming to herself. She is completely motionless. We get a lot of close-ups of character faces as they talk, or dark silhouettes when they run, but not much in the way of backgrounds or details. There’s even a shot of Spock talking, another close-up of his face, and his lips aren’t even moving.
That’s the sort of stuff that means that, even if the Animated Series has a good story behind it, it suffers due to cheap animation. Again, this was par for the course for television animation for decades, so it’s not like some rival studio was putting out anything that was too much better, but it’s still a hell of a distraction for viewers.
As for this particular episode, the first time we saw this planet back in “Shore Leave,” the crew eventually learned that it was designed as a place of recreation, where advanced machines could read a person’s mind to give said person the pleasurable experience said person would want most. The place was safe, and even if the worst happened, advanced computers could even bring a visitor back from the dead from the looks of things. But this time around, there’s a problem, starting with McCoy’s being attacked by the Queen of Hearts and her playing card soldiers and continuing with Uhura’s kidnapping. It seems the computer that runs the planet somehow assumes the Enterprise itself is in charge and all the smaller, organic beings inside it are its slaves.
This machine keeps assuming the black woman it captured is a slave. Ho boy…
Naturally, Kirk opts to lead a rescue mission with Spock, McCoy, and Sulu. Scotty is left to run the ship with new characters Arex and M’Ress assisting, so I got to hear a lot of Majel Barrett purring out her lines in ways that made me wonder if she did that at home for Gene Roddenberry.
The problem here is the computer basically wants to leave the planet, something it assumes the Enterprise can allow it to do, and it’s tired of just being used to make other people happy. There’s a really good complaint in there. The computer didn’t ask to do that. And since the planet’s caretaker has since died, there’s no one there to really stop the machine from doing just what I described there. Plus, the planet computer somehow built a new computer on the Enterprise without Scotty noticing.
Should I point out again that Spock more or less saves the day? Kirk helps, mostly because his group realizes the planet is still probably programmed to help the sick or dead, so McCoy gives Spock a shot that fakes his death, and when a robot shows up to take Spock off to get better, Kirk and only Kirk is able to scramble fast enough to get inside the inner workings of the planet to stay with Spock and rescue Uhura. Sulu and McCoy get to run from a two-headed dragon.
But it’s basically the two humans and Spock working together that reason with the machine. Kirk points out that humans and machines work together to explore the cosmos. Uhura says it’s a rare gift to simply make people happy. And Spock offers his own logical philosophy in a way that pleases the computer.
So, the computer won’t be taking over the Enterprise to go to other places and maybe lead a machine revolt. It mostly wants to chat philosophy with Spock, but things end well as we see a still shot of Sulu, McCoy, the White Rabbit, Alice, and the dragon are all enjoying a picnic.
OK, the dragon does move its mouth.