The Undiscovered Country
First Aired :
Although Valeris is only a Lieutenant she is wearing a commanders insignia.
So when Kirk is making his log entry about not trusting the Klingons, he turns around to find Valeris standing at the door listening, prompting him to complain that she "could have knocked". Huh? The doors on the ship are automatic - they open when you approach them, and then close automatically behind you, making a hissing noise each time. So wouldn't Kirk and the audience have heard the noise as his doors slid open? Worse still, these are his personal quarters - and we've seen that the doors on personal quarters don't open automatically, you have to ring a doorbell and wait for somebody inside to let you in. So how did Valeris even get the door open at all?
A point is made here that firing weapons on kill anywhere on the ship will set off alarms. To demonstrate this, Valeris pulls a hand phaser out from a wall box in the kitchen and vapourises a pot. So... they have a weapons locker in the kitchen? Those chefs must have to deal with some really hardcore food critics! And why does Chekov, a veteran Commander with almost thirty years in space under his belt, and the ship's chief tactical officer, need this explained to him by a Lieutenant?
In his quarters, Spock wonders aloud to Kirk if it's possible that "we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness?" Um, Spock is only sixty three. Whilst that's getting on a bit for a Human, Spock is half Vulcan and can expect to live well over a century. And indeed, we will see that he is still perfectly capable of being active and useful in the TNG era, when he's more than double the age he is here.
Okay this isn't a nit as such, but when the Enterprise is approaching Khittomer, Kirk asks Spock if they are there yet and Spock replies "Not yet, Captain. In two minutes... one fifty eight." Seriously, does he really feel it necessary to update everybody on their ETA after two seconds? And he continues in this way a few moments later... giving updates on the time every three or four seconds. This is rendered even more absurd by the fact that, for the first time ever, there are prominent digital clocks mounted on the walls of the bridge, all of which display the time to the second.
Great Moment :
Kirk's final log entry.
Body Count :
Probably lots of people on Praxis that we don't see. Several Klingons and Gorkon on Kronos One, one prisoner on Rura Pente, Martia, Burke and Samno, Chang and his crew, plus a Klingon assassin (who turns out to be Colonel West in the video version).
The Undiscovered Country was originally supposed to be the title of Star Trek II.
Rene Auberjoinis, who plays Colonel West, would of course go on to play Odo in Deep Space Nine.
The speech made by the warden outside of the Rura Penthe dilithium mine is taken almost word for word from "War and Peace", where Rura Penthe was a prison in Siberia. The only difference is regarding the electromagnetic shield around the prison!
The film opens with a colossal explosion which sends a subspace shock wave racing out into space, before cutting to the bridge of the USS Excelsior. Captain Sulu has recently completed a three year mission cataloguing gaseous anomalies and is clearly delighted with the way his ship and crew has performed.
When the subspace shock wave arrives it slams into the Excelsior, buffeting the ship badly but not causing any serious damage. The science officer calculates the origin of the phenomenon as Praxis, a Klingon moon. Sensors show that the moon has been largely destroyed by the explosion; a message from a Klingon military officer confirms that there has been 'an incident' on the moon but refuses any offer of help. Sulu informs starfleet of the situation.
A few months later Captain Kirk and his officers are invited to a high level Starfleet briefing. The Starfleet commander in chief informs the stunned group that the Klingon Empire has fifty years of life left to it, before turning the meeting over to the Federation special envoy - none other than Spock. Spock informs them that the Praxis explosion has badly damaged the ozone layer of Kronos, the Klingon capital. They will soon run out of oxygen, and due to their huge allocation of resources to the military they do not have the ability to evacuate the planet. Without Kronos, the Klingon Empire is expected to fall.
The Federation president has invited the Klingon chancellor to come to Earth to negotiate the ending of all hostilities between the Klingons and the Federation. Both Admiral Cartwright and Captain Kirk object strongly to the plan, suggesting that instead they have the opportunity to bring the Klingon Empire to its knees once and for all. They are overruled, and Spock informs the group that he has volunteered the Enterprise to escort Chancellor Gorkon to Earth. After the meeting Kirk shows his annoyance with Spock for being so presumptuous, and suggests angrily that they should let the Klingons die.
Back on the Enterprise, Kirk pilots the ship out of Spacedock on Impulse power, against regulations and much to the approval of his new helmsman, a Vulcan woman named Valeris. They head off to the Klingon border to meet with the Klingon vessel and begin to escort the ship back to Earth. Kirk invites Chancellor Gorkon and his party to dinner on board the Enterprise that night. The meal is a disaster, eventually descending into thinly veiled insults.
Afterwards Kirk heads to bed, but is woken when Spock calls to say that they are detecting a large surge of neutron radiation from nearby. As Kirk starts to investigate, a pair of photon torpedoes streak away from the Enterprise and strike Gorkons ship dead centre. The Enterprise crew begin furious efforts to find out what is going on as the Klingon ship spins out of control.
On board Gorkons ship, the gravity system fails and the crew flounder about in the air. A pair of figures clad in Starfleet space suits and gravity boots appear and begin making their way to Gorkons cabin, phasering anybody who gets in their way. The Klingons are helpless to stop them, and within minutes the two have shot Gorkon and returned to the transporter room to escape.
As the Klingon ship regains control of itself, one of Gorkons military advisors - General Chang - threatens to destroy the Enterprise in retaliation for the heinous attack. Unwilling to engage in a battle that would surely escalate into a full scale war, Kirk surrenders his ship. He and McCoy beam on board the Klingon ship to try and explain what has happened. McCoy tries to save the injured Gorkons life, but fails. Kirk and McCoy are both arrested for murder, and the ship returns to Klingon space with them aboard.
At Starfleet headquarters, Colonel West presents a plan to the President which would allow Starfleet to mount a mission into Klingon space to rescue Kirk and McCoy. The President is hesitant, and asks if this might not provoke a full scale war - only to be assured confidently that Starfleet is easily able to defeat them. When reminded that Kirk has literally saved the Earth before now, the President replies that now he will do so again - by standing trial. Gorkons daughter contacts him to say that she has been named as her fathers replacement. She is resisting calls for war from her military advisors, and wants to press ahead with the peace process. A secret neutral site is agreed for the conference.
On the Enterprise, Uhura is faking communications difficulties so that the ship will not have to return to base as ordered. Meanwhile, Spock confronts a mystery. According to their inventory, every photon torpedo is accounted for. Yet their computer logs indicate that they did fire the two torpedoes at Gorkons ship.
Kirk and McCoys Klingon trial is a quick and largely pre-determined affair. General Chang is the prosecutor, and he presents various circumstantial evidence - including one of Kirks own personal logs in which he states that he will never trust Klingons and never forgive them for killing his son. Despite the best efforts of the defence council Worf - an ancestor of the Worf from The Next Generation - the two officers are found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on the penal asteroid of Rura Pente - known throughout the galaxy as "the aliens graveyard".
On board the Enterprise, Spock determines that if the Enterprise did not fire the torpedoes then somebody else did. Since they did not see another ship, then it must have been a new design of vessel equipped with a cloaking device which allowed it to fire whilst cloaked. Spock surmises that either they did indeed fire the torpedoes, in which case whoever did so is on board, or they did not, in which case whoever altered the ships log is on board. In either case they have conspirators on the Enterprise. He decides to search the entire ship for the gravity boots worn by the assassins.
On the frozen wasteland which is Rura Pente, Kirk and McCoy meet Martia, an alien prisoner who tells them that they have a price on their head - they have been set up right from the beginning. Kirk manages to defeat one of the larger inmates in a fight, which gives the others some pause for thought and so gives him a little breathing space. Martia tells Kirk she knows a way out of the prison, but without a way to get off the surface they would simply freeze to death. Kirk indicates that he has a way off the surface, and the three agree to escape the next day.
While the Enterprise crew come up with more 'malfunctions' to prevent them from returning to Starfleet, Chekov finds some Klingon blood on the ships transporter pads - proving that the assassins did indeed come from the Enterprise. Spock expands the search to include all of the ships uniforms and in the process Valeris finally finds the gravity boots. However, they have been planted on another crewman and bring them no closer to discovering the truth.
On Rura Pente, Kirk is surprised to find the Martia is a Chameloid - a shape shifting being who had been thought to be legendary. She uses her abilities to help them escape, and they begin trekking across the frozen surface of the asteroid. Kirk reveals that he is wearing a patch on his back which will allow the Enterprise to detect his position from two sectors away; once they are clear of the prison Spock will bring the Enterprise into Klingon space to pick them up. However, before the ship arrives Kirk attacks Martia - the escape was so convenient that he realizes that she must be working for the Klingon guards, arranging for Kirk to be killed while attempting escape. As Martia and Kirk slug it out, the Klingon guards arrive and their leader reveals that the leader of the conspiracy has ordered him killed. Unfortunately, seconds before he reveals the mans name to Kirk the Enterprise beams he and McCoy off the surface.
As the ship escapes Klingon space, Scotty finds the missing uniforms with Klingon blood on them. They belong to Burke and Samno - unfortunately both men are lying dead in a corridor, killed by a phaser on stun at point blank range.
Kirk has Uhura announce over the ships intercom that the two men survived the assassination attempt and are about to confess. As Kirk and Spock wait in the sickbay the conspirator arrives to finish the job - none other than Lieutenant Valeris. She admits that she helped frame Kirk and the Enterprise, claiming that she is saving Starfleet. Kirk demands to know who else is involved, and she refuses to say. Spock uses a Vulcan mind meld to force the names from her, but although Kirk suspects another assassination attempt will be made on the peace conference Valeris does not know where it is being held.
Fortunately, Captain Sulu does. Kirk contacts him and both ships head for the conference on Khittomer at maximum speed. The Enterprise arrives first, and is attacked by General Chang on the new model Bird of Prey. Unable to fight back, the Enterprise is pounded by hit after hit from the Shakespeare-spouting Klingon. When the Excelsior shows up she can do little to help, and merely presents Chang with another target to hit. Meanwhile, on Khittomer a Klingon assassin is preparing to murder the Federation President.
Spock suggests that no matter what the technology employed, the Klingon ship must expend fuel and so produce some sort of plasma exhaust. He and McCoy rush to refit a torpedo with equipment which can detect the plasma trail as Chang continues to pound the Enterprise, knocking its shields down and blasting a hole right through the ship. Kirk fires in return, and as Chang watches in astonishment the torpedo loops through space before heading directly at him. His ship crippled and made visible by the hit, both Starships rain photons onto it to finish the job off.
On the surface, members of the Enterprise and Excelsior crew beam into the conference chamber and arrest the conspirators. The assassin fires on the President, but Kirk hurls him to the floor just in time. The assassin then tries to kill Valeris to get rid of the evidence against the conspiracy, but Scotty kills him before he gets the chance. When the body is examined it turns out to be a Human in Klingon disguise - none other than Colonel West.
Back in orbit, the Excelsior heads out into space for its next mission but the Enterprise is ordered back to Spacedock to be decommissioned. Spock sums everybody's feelings up when he comments "If I were Human, I would tell them to go to hell." When asked for a course heading Kirk quotes Peter Pan : "Second star to the left, and straight on till morning". His final log entry as Captain of the Enterprise states that it is now up to a new generation to continue the voyages they began, "journeying to all the undiscovered countries where no man... where no one has gone before". As he ends the log the ship breaks orbit and heads for home for one last time.
This film is one of Treks better offerings, if not the best of the lot. Like all of the good Trek films, it has a strong yet simple story. The plot is very obviously a reflection of the end of the cold war, with the Klingon Empire cast in the role of the USSR. While there was no one disastrous event that brought down the Soviets, presumably the Praxis explosion is an interstellar equivalent of Chernobyl. Around the time of the fall of the USSR there was much talk about conspiracies on both sides attempting to restore the cold war in order to guarantee continuing high military budgets, and it is this element that the film focuses on.
The conspiracy is quite well played out for the most part - my jaw hit the floor when I saw the Enterprise (apparently) launch those torpedoes at Gorkons ship for the first time, and the sight of Starfleet officers phasering their way through the Klingons to murder the Chancellor is a disturbing one. Some of Spocks logic regarding the conspiracy makes no sense - he admits himself that the idea that the assassins beamed over from the Enterprise is only one possibility, yet insists that the gravity boots must be on board. His statement that they could not have beamed back to the ship without their gravity boots also seems to assume that the assassins must have stood on the Klingon transporter pads to beam back, which flies in the face of many prior uses of the transporter.
Probably the weakest section of the film is Kirk and McCoys time in prison. This contributes little to the plot except to keep Kirk out of the way for a while so Spock can do his thing on the Enterprise. I would have liked to have seen Kirk interact with the Klingons a little more during this period - perhaps by stringing the trial out longer and having some scenes between Kirk and Worf. This would have given Kirk a better motivation for his eventual coming to terms with the Klingons as well as giving us a little more insight into how this whole process looked from the Klingon point of view.
Still, the bad points are generally not really important enough to drag the film down much and on the good side the story gives us quite a few good moments. Spock actually seems to attempt a couple of jokes in this film, when he claims "only Nixon could go to China" as a Vulcan saying and Sherlock Holmes as an ancestor - although in fairness, in the latter case the author Conan Doyle could be an ancestor of Spock since his mother is a Human. Still, this combined with Spocks admission to Valeris that "logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end" is a sign that he has finally managed to accept his own emotions and come to terms with his Human side.
One of my favourite moments is the scene between Kirk and Spock while they are on the way to Khittomer; it's always nice when the films tackle head on the fact that these characters are well past the age at which they should be galloping around the cosmos, and Spocks openly wondering if they have outlived their usefulness is a great scene.
The films special effects are generally excellent - the zero gee scenes on Gorkons ship are excellent, while the battle with Chang near the end is outstandingly well done. The first time I saw this film (at the end of a marathon showing of all six) half the audience actually cheered when Changs ship finally got what was coming to it.
One of the things which really sets this film apart from the others is the ending. From the Excelsior pulling out of orbit through to Kirks final log entry followed by the signing off of the main actors, any true Trek fan will go through the emotional wringer at the end of this film - hell, I just watched it for about the twentieth time to write this review and it almost reduced me to tears! It was, without a doubt, a superb way for the original cast to bow out and I can only hope that the TNG cast get such a good send off when their time comes.