The Original Series
Disc No :
First Aired :
1 Mar 1968
Kirk is amazed that Tracey would dare interfere in another culture in this episode. He says that a Starship captain would give his life, sacrifice his ship and its entire crew rather than do such a heinous thing. There follows a list of episodes in which Kirk has interfered with other cultures: "The Apple", "Miri", "The Return of the Archons", "A Taste of Armageddon", "This Side of Paradise", "Errand of Mercy", "Mirror, Mirror" and "Friday's Child". This is not a complete list, but I trust the point has been made.
McCoy claims humans are about 98% water. In actuality, it's more like 70%.
Great Moment :
The eerie deserted Exeter, with the crystallised crew bodies.
Body Count :
Thousands of Khoms killed by Tracey. Poor Lieutenant Galloway.
This episode was originally written as one of the three possibles for the second pilot.
Roddenberry thought very highly of this concept. He wanted to use it for the second pilot to the show, as noted above. The studio forbade it, insisting he shelve the whole thing indefinitely. Nevertheless, he pushed for it to be made and eventually managed it during the second season. He then personally submitted the finished episode to be considered for an Emmy award. Needless to say, his appreciation of it was at odds with most people's opinion.
This is the only episode to reference the fact that phasers are powered by replaceable power packs.
The Enterprise discovers the starship Exeter in orbit of the planet Omega IV, inert and not responding to any communication. Kirk leads a party aboard to investigate. They find the ship empty, with uniforms lying all over the floor, each with a pile of crystals in it. All four shuttlecraft remain aboard, showing that the crew did not evacuate that way.
McCoy scans the crystals, determining that they are composed of the chemical elements that make up the human body, only with all the water removed. The crew never left, but remained on the ship and died, converted into a crystal state by some unknown force. A taped message from the ship's surgeon is found, explaining that the crew was infected by a virus which was brought back by a landing party. Only Captain Ronald Tracey survived, by staying on the planet's surface. The message advises that the party has already infected themselves by beaming aboard, and their only chance of survival now is to beam down to the planet and stay there.
They beam down, finding themselves in a primitive village. They interrupt some locals, asian-looking people who are in the process of beheading two white people, a man and a woman. Captain Tracey appears and orders the villagers to lock up the two prisoners, whom he refers to as Yangs. He appears to be in charge of the village, which Kirk finds surprising. Even more surprising, the villagers seem to know of the "fire boxes" (phasers) that Kirk and his people carry.
Tracey explains that they arrived to find the villagers, whom he calls Khoms, to be friendly once they got over the shock of his white skin and realised he wasn't a savage Yang. He remained on the planet when the rest beamed up, to organise permission for a planetary survey with the village elders. Then the ship called, reporting a deadly virus spreading aboard. Fortunately there is some natural immunisation effect on the planet, so as long as they all remain there forever they will suffer no ill effects.
McCoy begins work on analysing the virus, noting that it somewhat resembles the biological warfare weapons developed on Earth in the 1990s. Kirk wrestles with the thought that Captain Tracey has interfered with lie on the planet, violating the Prime Directive. Spock arrives with an injured Lieutenant Galloway, who has been wounded by a Yang lance. They were near the village when a group of five Yangs attacked them, barely managing to escape without resorting to their phasers. Spock and Galloway both report that the Yangs act in a wild, savage fashion, incredibly vicious and contemptuous of death, almost as if they were insane.
However, Spock also reports that he found phaser reserve power packs, drained, amid the remains of several hundred Yang bodies. Clearly, Tracey has used his phaser to drive off a Yang attack and protect the village. A clear violation of the Prime Directive. Kirk moves to inform the Enterprise, but Tracey comes in with phaser drawn. When Galloway goes for his own weapon, Tracey vapourises him. The villagers take everyone captive, confiscating their equipment.
Tracey contacts the ship, telling them that the landing party did not arrive soon enough for the planet's immunisation effect and they have all fallen unconscious. Lieutenant Sulu, in temporary command, offers to send down volunteer medical staff who are willing to be infected, but Tracey refuses. He foils an attempt by Kirk to warn Sulu, and ends the call. Kirk informs him that he is under arrest.
Tracey begins to explain his actions, stating that no native on the planet has ever had any trace of any kind of disease. With this apparent total immunity, the people live to astounding ages - one local is four hundred and sixty two years old, his still-living father is well over a thousand. Tracey has found, so he believes, a fountain of youth on the planet. Tracey asks Kirk to order the Enterprise away. McCoy can work in peace on isolating the relevant factors, and when they have their immortality process they can bargain with the Federation for whatever they want in return. This is why he has been killing the Yangs, to allow him the time to work with the villagers to secure the immortality process.
Kirk breaks free of his bonds and fights Tracey. Tracey wins, and Kirk is subdued again.
Spock and McCoy are locked in a cell in the local jail, the Yang man and woman in a second cell. Tracey has McCoy removed so he can go to work, and Kirk thrown in with the Yangs. He leaves to ambush the Yangs using the confiscated phasers. Kirk is forced to fight the man off resisting incessant attacks as Tracey leaves. Spock manages to neck pinch the female, leaving Kirk with only one opponent. He also notes that the mortar on his bars is weak, and they might be able to work one loose.
As time passes, Kirk manages to hold the Yang off. He talks to Spock about what could have happened on the planet, Spock suggesting that there may have been a nuclear or bacteriological holocaust. Kirk mentions gaining their freedom, a word to which the Yang responds. He calls it a "worship word". Kirk begins a dialogue, explaining that they are not supporters of the Khoms. They work together on ripping a bar out of the window, but once achieved the Yang uses it to knock Kirk unconscious and escape.
He wakes over seven hours later, and he and Spock escape. They go and rescue McCoy and whilst Spock works on contacting the ship, McCoy says he has determined that there was some kind of biological war on the planet. The virus still exists, but over the years nature built up natural immunising agents in the food, the water, and the soil. These don't merely halt the virus, after a long enough exposure they completely cure it - had the Exeter landing party stayed just a few hours longer, they never would have died. Nor is anybody trapped there, they are all cured now and can return to the Enterprise whenever they wish.
Worse, there is no fountain of youth. The natives live longer because they survived the war, developing massive resistance to disease in the process. The only way to apply their fountain of youth to anybody would be to destroy your world with disease, in hopes that your descendants would live longer because of it - hardly a practical proposition.
Spock manages to modify a piece of equipment to contact the Enterprise, but as he finishes Tracey appears and vapourises it, badly injuring Spock. tracey is furious with Kirk - the Yang he helped to escape warned his people about Tracey. They launched a massive attack, sacrificing hundreds just to draw him out and then attacking with human wave tactics. The phasers were all drained, and still the Yangs attacked. Most of the Khoms are dead, or are fleeing.
Tracey forces Kirk to call the Enterprise and request ten phasers, with thirty extra power packs. Sulu refuses to comply with such an order.
Kirk jumps Tracey again, and once more they fight. The fight is interrupted by Yangs, who have arrived to take control of the village.
The Yangs hold a celebration of their victory. The officers realise that the planet is yet another parallel development of Earth. "Yangs" is a corruption of "Yankees" and "Khoms" is "Communists". The Yangs even have a US flag and a copy of the constitution, though they have somewhat corrupted the words and no longer know the meaning of them. The Yangs are not savages bent on killing for killing's sake, but rather a people trying to reclaim their own land which the Communists conquered.
When one of the Yangs begins to recite the constitution, Kirk provokes consternation by joining in. He tries to explain his origin as being one of the "points of light in the sky", and that they have a tribe like the Yangs there. Tracey joins in, claiming Kirk was cast out of heaven for being evil. He uses Spock's vaguely demonic appearance to back this up. The Yangs have Kirk and Tracey fight to show which one is the stronger, and therefore truthful, one.
During the fight Spock is able to use his telepathic ability to influence the Yang woman to activate the communicator, calling for help. Kirk wins the fight just as Sulu and some security beam down to help. Tracey is arrested, and Kirk tells the Yangs about the true meaning of their constitution, that they are words not simply to worship but to live by. With this the Enterprise crew depart, leaving the natives to sort their own problems out.
Yet again, we are faced with a parallel version of Earth. Roddenberry is said to have absolutely adored this idea, and forced it into the show at every opportunity. I can't imagine why he would want to. If that's his big idea, why not make a show more like Sliders?
As it stands, the idea that cultures would develop in parallel might be taken to have some slight basis in reality... I can certainly believe that in a galaxy filled with roughly humanoid aliens who think and act alike enough that they can communicate and work together, elements of culture might develop in parallel. But only if we confined ourselves to broad strokes. So we might
find that a powerful Empire which runs on slavery and enjoys bloodsports could exist, and it might share some cultural and religious values with the Roman Empire. But it's not going to call itself the Roman Empire, or have the Roman gods, or Roman clothing designs, Roman names, Roman terminology, etc.
Similarly, you might find a planet where a capitalist superpower faced off against a communist one. But they're not going to call themselves by those words, or have the US flag, or the US constitution written word for word. The idea is just ridiculous, and as soon as it appears the episode is dealt a blow it never recovers from.
So is there anything good here? Well, Tracey is a formidable opponent for Kirk. He even beats Kirk in a fair fight, something very rare in Trek. It's a shame, though, that he is so over the top. As I note above, Kirk has interfered in the natural order of societies numerous times himself, always with some thin justification. Hell, he does it himself at the end of this very episode, when he tells the Yangs the truth about their book! Wouldn't it be better if Tracey was a bit more ambiguous in what he's doing, something more like the stuff Kirk often does? With the same justifications? Imagine Kirk telling him he's wrong, only to have Tracey point out the numerous times Kirk has done much the same thing!
Outside of that, the idea of human wave attacks against phasers is a cool one. Though we never got to actually see it, for budgetary reasons presumably. And it's nice to see Sulu standing up to Kirk and refusing a direct order.
But all in all, it's a pretty damn bad episode.
The remastered version has the usual improved special effects.