When the Denevans first attack the landing party, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and one of the two redshirts all fire on them - whilst Yeoman Zahra and the second redshirt stands in the background doing nothing. The redshirt seems to hold his fire because the other officers are blocking his line of sight, so he just holds his phaser at the ready instead. Zahra just stands there... but then she has no choice - because closeups of her walking around show that she's not armed! Now it's not technically her job to be shooting people - Kirk makes clear in the transporter room that she's along to make a full record of everything they see and do on the surface. But even McCoy carries and uses a phaser. Surely Zahra should have at least been carrying one so she could defend herself if she got separated from the rest of the party. So why wasn't she armed? Could it have possibly been because she was (gasp!) a woman?
The original script had the Enterprise defeating the creatures by going to their home planet and destroying it. With their central brain gone, the rest of the creatures died.
Continuing to Deneva, Kirk leads a landing party to the surface. They find the city deserted at first, but soon a crowd of men appear and attack them - despite yelling that they don't want to hurt them and the officers should leave. The landing party use phasers to stun the group, but on inspecting them McCoy finds that their nervous systems are highly active, as if they were being stimulated by something.
A scream is heard, and the crew run to a nearby location where they find a laboratory. Kirk's brother Sam is there, dead, whilst Sam's wife Aurelan is hysterical and her child, Peter, is on the floor unconscious. It appears that Aurelan has been trying to keep something from forcing its way into the room. She screams that "they're here!" but is unable to talk further due to hysteria and signs that she is in terrible pain. McCoy sedates her and beams back to the ship with her, along with Kirk. Spock remains below to continue investigating.
In sickbay, Aurelan wakes and tries to explain what has happened, but again appears to be in terrible pain. She manages to tell Kirk that "things" appeared eight months ago, invading the planet. But the pain grows to such an extent that her body cannot take it and she collapses, dead. It appears that the colonists have been infected by some alien life form, something that controls them by inflicting massive pain.
Kirk beams back down. Their scans show no alien life forms but on investigating, they find something inside a building; roughly disc-shaped creatures, clinging to a wall. Phaser fire does virtually nothing to them. The officers begin to withdraw but one of the creatures suddenly flies across the room and clamps onto Spock's back. Moments later if falls away, leaving a strange wound on his back.
Back on the ship McCoy investigates Spock's wound, removing a small strand of tissue - but leaving behind much more of whatever it is. The tissue is wrapped around Spock's nervous system, far too completely for surgery to remove it. When Spock awakes he is in agony; he storms onto the bridge, determined to take the ship away from Deneva. Although he is subdued, McCoy confirms the worst; the tissue within him was deposited by the alien being and is a living entity, which can issue orders to the victim and inflict any level of pain necessary to enforce compliance.
Spock wakes again, claiming to have used Vulcan methods to suppress the pain. Kirk isn't so sure, and leaves him in sickbay as he goes to the bridge. Spock escapes from sickbay and attempts to beam down to the surface, forcing Scotty to hold him at phaser point. Spock explains to Kirk that he is not acting under compulsion; rather, their study of the creatures requires a live sample and since he is already infected it is only logical that he be the one to collect one. Kirk reluctantly agrees.
Spock returns with his specimen and they begin to study it. It resembles a gigantic cell, prompting Kirk to wonder if the creatures are parts of a single giant entity, connected by unknown means. This, he thinks, explains why they are so resistant to phaser fire - and cell attacked can draw strength from the rest. McCoy tries to find some way of killing the creatures, but nothing seems to work. Kirk faces the grim reality that he might have to wipe out the whole surface of the planet to destroy the creatures, sacrificing the colonists in the process.
Their minds turn back to the pilot of the Denevan ship. His message proclaiming that he was free moments before he died suggests that something about his situation killed the parasite. They suggest that it might be the intense light, and McCoy tests this by subjecting their specimen to an incredibly bright light - which kills it instantly. The test is run on Spock next, and he reports that the creature within him is indeed killed - yet at the cost of being blinded by the intense glare. Although McCoy and Kirk are horrified, Spock regards it as an acceptable tradeoff and thanks the doctor. However, mere moments later the labs report that it was not the visible part of the spectrum that killed the creature, but rather the ultraviolet. Using ultraviolet light alone would have saved Spock's eyesight.
The Enterprise rigs up a formation of 210 satellites in a low orbit around the planet, drenching it in ultraviolet light so bright that it penetrates even into the buildings. The creatures are rapidly killed, and soon the population is free and working to restore order. In the aftermath Sock returns to the bridge, reporting that the blindness was temporary after all - Vulcans have a second inner eyelid, which was enough to protect him from permanent damage. The now happy crew head off on their next mission.
Does this episode put enough of a new spin on things? I think so... but only just. For instance, in the novel the creatures (which are from Titan) remain attached as a separate entity. You can pull one off a person relatively easily. Also, they exert direct control - once on, the alien moves your arms and legs around whilst you are helpless. In these respects the Trek version is like a rather nastier cousin; it only has to hit you for a second or two, and you are permanently infected. And it can't control you, other than its almost infinite capacity to hurt you. It's not that much of a distinction, but it's enough to make this a different spin on Heinlein's idea.
The idea of the creatures being invulnerable to phasers is rather silly, as is the explanation that they draw strength from one another through some mysterious means. I can buy the fact that things like telepathy exist in Trek... they don't exist in the real world as far as I can see, but Trek treats them like they're just some as yet undiscovered ability that some alien races and a few humans have, something that is known and explainable and relatively sensible in how it operates. Whatever these creatures have would have to operate over huge distances - potentially even interstellar distances - and not only serve to allow them to communicate, but allow them to become immune to attack. It just doesn't make a lot of sense.
The episode also suffers from generating a little false drama and pathos around the "blind Spock" thing. It is Kirk who presses McCoy to do his experiments, Kirk who pushes for a live test on Spock, right now, no waiting - and then Kirk who instantly blames McCoy when it goes wrong because they didn't wait. Yes, we can say that Kirk was just desperate for an answer given what was at stake, and yes, we can say that he lashed out at Bones out of guilt, but the whole thing comes across as a bit contrived.
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