This is one of the foremost contributors to the "Redshirt death" meme of Star Trek lore. Of the four red shirted security personnel who accompany the landing party, one is killed by a poison plant, one is killed by lightning, one is blown up by an exploding rock, and one is killed by a native.
This episode gives us an idea of how much it costs to train a Starfleet officer. When Kirk asks if Spock knows how much Starfleet has invested in him in this episode, he gives a figure of about 122,000 - credits, presumably.
The original script called for the ship to use an emergency saucer separation. This was dropped for budget reasons, although there is a line of dialogue about jettisoning the warp nacelles if needed. Saucer separation would, of course, be a feature of Star Trek : The Next Generation.
They proceed towards a nearby village, but along the way the planet offers up a few surprises. A rock explodes when tossed to the ground; a plant fires poison darts; a freak storm suddenly blows up and Spock is struck by lightning. It appears that Gamma Trianguli VI is not so pleasant a place after all!
Meanwhile on the Enterprise, the problem becomes worse - the antimatter pods have become completely inert, as if some external force had extinguished them. Without main power the ship is all but helpless and unable to beam the landing party up.
They reach the village, although two of the landing party are killed on the way by the planets strange dangers. Kirk manages to capture the native who is watching them, and they demand to know what is going on. The man claims to be the "leader of the feeders of Vaal." They continue on to the village with the man, who is named Akuta. He agrees to take them to Vaal - which proves to be a giant stone head reminiscent of a reptile. The head is surrounded by a powerful forcefield, making any approach impossible. They go back to the village to rest. Kirk notes that there are no children there - prompting confusion from the natives, who apparently have no idea what children are. Vaal, they say, has forbidden men and women to touch one another, and there is no reproduction allowed - much to McCoy's disgust. The Doctor scans the people and finds every one of them to be in perfect health, without any sign of ageing amongst them.
Vaal calls the villagers, and they bring supplies of food to place inside the head - the forcefield apparently allowing them in to feed their god. Kirk ponders whether Vaal might become weaker if it is denied the regular influx of food. Kirk and McCoy seem determined to destroy Vaal, claiming that it is stifling the right of the natives to a "free and unchained environment" and any chance to grow and develop as a culture. Spock warns that they are simply applying human standards to a culture which they may not apply to - the villagers surely have the right to choose a system that clearly works to provide them with long term stability.
Scotty reports that they are detecting a steady decrease in Vaal's power readings, possibly a result of the food being used up. He is working to boost the output of the ship's impulse engines, though this will take a good eight hours to accomplish. In not much longer than that the ship will fall into the atmosphere and burn up.
In the village, two of the natives observe Chekov kissing one of his female comrades and become curious as to what it is like. This apparently angers Vaal, who communicates with Akuta to tell him to kill the landing party. Vaal provides instructions on how to use violence, and the natives mount an attack. However, although one of the Enterprise crew is killed the natives are quickly defeated.
Scotty manages to complete his modifications and boost the ship into a slightly higher orbit, but he only gains an extra hour or so. Kirk decides to starve Vaal in an attempt to weaken it, and then orders the ship to direct a phaser barrage at the force field around it. Vaal is forced to expend its remaining energy to defend against the attack, and becomes inert. Without the field affecting the ship, full power is quickly restored.
Kirk tells the natives that the Federation will provide them with assistance until they can cope with life on their own. Although Spock expresses some concern with their actions the Captain is happy at the outcome, and the ship proceeds on course.
Imagine the following scenario : an alien race arrives at the Earth tomorrow. After some examination of the planet, they announce that computer technology on Earth represents an overall negative effect on human culture. They then proceed to blast every computer in the world to pieces, and forbid us from ever building another. You'd be pretty pissed off, right? Right. Of course, the complicating factor here is that Vaal is actively trying to destroy the Enterprise throughout. But then, we are frequently told that Starfleet officers pledge to give up their lives rather than violate the Prime Directive. Only they rarely actually do so, in practice. A rule followed more in the breach than the observance, as it were.
Still, at least the episode does depict this as a genuine dilemma by having Spock provide the other point of view and show us a little debate about it. No bad thing.
On the downside, much of the tension is generated by contrived means. The planet is littered with arbitrary dangers that make little sense. Exploding rocks? Poison dart plants? Random anti personnel lightning? It's only really there to give us a little action, and none of it makes any real sense. It is funny to see Spock taking the hits again and again, though, so at least there's that!
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