After Kirk is dead McCoy informs Spock that strange as it may seem, he is Captain of the Enterprise now. Seriously? Starfleet regulations allow an officer to rise to command by murdering his Captain?! What is this, the Mirror Universe?!
McCoy is having a chat with Kirk when he points out that Spock has been acting rather strangely of late, even for him. Kirk is inclined to blow this off as nothing serious, but as the two pass by the First Officer's quarters they observe him yelling at Nurse Chapel, apparently in an angry rage. Spock demands to take some leave on Vulcan, pointing out that they can divert to the planet with the loss of only a few days. Kirk, however, notes that they are on the way to Altair VI, a planet with excellent shore facilities at which Spock can take his leave. When Spock practically begs Kirk to take him to Vulcan, the Captain accedes and orders the course change.
Unfortunately, the ship subsequently recieves a message from Starfleet. The inauguration ceremony they had been due to attend on Altair VI have been moved up by six days, giving them no time to divert to Vulcan. Kirk apologetically orders the ship back onto a straight line course.
Later on, after mulling over the situation in his quarters, Kirk calls up to the bridge and asks Chekov if they can still make the detour if they accelerate to maximum. A puzzled Chekov points out that they are already back on course for Vulcan, as ordered by Spock. Kirk takes Spock from the bridge and asks for an explanation, but whilst he does not deny that he ordered the course change Spock states that he has no memory of doing so. He refuses any further inquiry, which prompts Kirk to order him to sickbay for a full examination and change course back to Altair VI.
The results of the examination are startling - Spock's body chemistry is massively out of balance, and is growing worse. If the imbalance is not corrected soon then he will die. Since McCoy has no knowledge of the condition he has no idea how to cure it. Kirk talks to Spock and manages to convince him to explain. Spock states that Vulcans experience a periodic mating cycle which he calls the Pon Farr. Like many creatures, during this time Vulcans are compelled to return to their home to mate.
Kirk calls Starfleet and requests permission to divert to Vulcan, but this is refused point blank. He decides to divert anyway, judging that Starfleet is exaggerating the importance of the Altair VI inaguration. The ship heads off for Vulcan at Warp 8.
They arrive to be greeted by T'Pring, Spock's wife to be. Spock, Kirk and McCoy beam down to the planet for the ceremony, which is officiated over by T'Pau. A highly respected and important member of Vulcan society, T'Pau is and the only person ever to turn down the offer of a seat on the Federation Council. T'Pring arrives accompanied by Stonn, a pure-blooded Vulcan. However, as the ceremony gets underway she abruptly halts the proceedings, declining to go through with the marriage and invoking the koon-ut-kal-if-fee, her right to a physical challenge between her husband and a champion who will fight on her behalf. Surprisingly, she picks Kirk to be her champion.
Spock asks that T'Pau forbid the challenge, since Kirk "does not understand" what is happening, but T'Pau allows Kirk to decide, telling him another champion will be selected if he declines. Kirk accepts the challenge, reasoning that if he refuses then T'Pring will just pick Stonn as her champion since the two are obviously together. Whilst Stonn would probably win over the weakened Spock, Kirk figures that he can just throw the fight and let Spock win. Only after he accepts does he find that the fight is to the death.
Despite Spock's condition he is a formidable opponent, and appears to be quite skilled with the traditional Vulcan weapons they are using. Kirk, on the other hand, is fatigued by the intense heat and thin atmosphere of the planet. McCoy objects to the conditions, telling T'Pau that Kirk is seriously disadvantaged. He suggests he inject Kirk with a tri-ox compound to compensate for the thin air, which T'Pau allows. The combat continues but despite the injection Kirk is unable to compete with his First Officer and Spock is able to strangle him. McCoy pronounces the Captain dead and beams back to the Enterprise with Kirk's body.
Spock remains behind to discuss the outcome, asking T'Pring to explain her actions. She tells him that he has become much known amongst their people, practically a legend, and that she "did not wish to be the consort of a legend." She also developed a preference for Stonn, something Spock fails to understand. T'Pring points out that she could only legally end her arrangement with Spock through the koon-ut-kal-if-fee, but if she had chosen Stonn as her champion then Spock might well have killed him. By choosing Kirk there are only two outcomes; Kirk wins, in which case he is unlikely to want a complete stranger as his wife and so she will be free. Or Spock wins, in which case he may well free her anyway since she had resorted to the challenge. Either way, she would be able to be with Stonn. And even if Spock had won and then decided to hold her to the marriage, he would have gone back to his life in Starfleet leaving her behind with control of all of his land and property, "and Stonn would still be here". Thus she stood to gain no matter what the outcome. Spock congratulates her on her sound use of logic, and frees her to be with Stonn - though he points out that, logic or not, Stonn may find in time that marriage to T'Pring is not as satisfying as he might hope for.
Beaming back up, Spock announces that he intends to resign his commission and submit himself to Starfleet for disciplinary action. However, Captain Kirk proves to be alive and well - the injection McCoy gave him was a neuroparalyzer which simulated death. Spock cannot contain a moment of pure joy at seeing Kirk alive, though he subsequently denies this completely. He also notes that engaging in the combat on the surface has apparently resolved his biochemical imbalance, leaving him fit and well. Better still, a message from Starfleet indicates that T'Pau has intervened with the Federation, clearing Kirk of any negative consequences for his disobedience to orders in diverting to Vulcan. With the situation resolved, the ship proceeds on course.
It's hard to really grasp today just how big a deal the Vulcans were in Star Trek. Today we judge alien species in sci fi by how well constructed they are as a species - what are their motivations, and how do those motivations shape their actions, their culture, their way of dealing with one another? There are so many well developed alien cultures, even just in Star Trek itself, that it's hard to really grasp that back in the 60s this kind of thing really hadn't been done with television science fiction. Sci fi aliens tended to be either monsters or pretty much just the same as humans. What Amok Time does is present us with Vulcans as a species which, whilst they look pretty much like us, have some truly fundamental differences. To see that their biology differs so fundamentally, and that their culture builds relationships around this the way it does, was pretty ground breaking at the time and even now remains truly fascinating to watch.
It also plays well with what we already know about Vulcans. Up to now they have been all about the logic and discipline, and to see Spock struggle with the prospect of losing this is amazing. Nimoy does a fantastic job in throughout the episode, though my favourite is the scene with Chapel mentioned in the quotes section. It's also quite remarkable to see how T'Pring treats him - by Human standards she's being an incredible bitch here... but that's the point. It's not a matter of Human standards, but of Vulcan ones. And when she explains her actions to Spock he seems not only to accept it but to be quite impressed by the sheer cold blooded ruthlessness she displayed. And yet, in his words to Stonn, there is a faint underscore of scorn, of "yeah, you think you want this woman around? Try it and see, mate." Great stuff.
I also have to give a nod to Celia Lovsky's T'Pau. I love her "take it or leave it" attitude to questioning. This is their way, this is what they do, and if you don't like it then you're not a real Vulcan in her eyes and you can stuff off and do your own thing someplace else. When Spock objects to fighting Kirk she just pointedly asks him if he's a Human, or a Vulcan - if it's the former then he can object to their ways all he likes, if it's the latter then he can shut up and get on with it. When McCoy objects to the conditions she shrugs it off with "The air is the air, what can be done?" She's clearly not acting out of any kind of malice here - she does offer Kirk a way out and does let McCoy do his injection after all. She's just completely committed to doing things properly, come what may. A great character and a real presence in the episode for such a small role.
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