Stardate: “3025…. uh point 3”
Original Air Date: December 29, 1966
Writer: Theodore Sturgeon
Director: Robert Sparr
“Follow the rabbit…”
This delightfully campy adventure takes us to an uninhabited planet in the Omicron Delta region. Presently, the crew of the Enterprise is exhausted after three months of hard work (with the exception of Mr. Spock of course) and they are relishing some much-needed rest on this quiet little planet, a corner of the cosmos which ironically closely mirrors the natural greenery and beauty of Earth –it is “almost too good to be true.” Even Captain Kirk is fatigued from three months of travel as he complains of a “kink” in his back. He rather amusingly asks Spock to work on his back until he discovers it is actually Yeoman Tonia Barrows (played by model Emily Banks) who is giving his massage. This breach of hierarchy is entirely unacceptable. Kirk quickly puts a stop to her massage because in his eyes decorum supersedes comfort. This little interlude is strange for a number of reasons, but nevertheless it foreshadows the coming chaos about to befall the Enterprise as rank-and-file order among the crew is soon thrown out the window when an ordinary shore leave turns into a bedlam nightmare of violence and sexuality.
At any rate, we find the landing party on this planet’s surface, it consists of Dr. McCoy, Mr. Sulu, and Esteban Rodriguez (Perry Lopez) and Angeline Martine who last appeared in “Balance of Terror” (played by Barbara Baldavin, whose character’s name in this episode was initially “Teller”). Mr. Sulu inspects the flora while Dr. McCoy makes an offhand comment about Alice in Wonderland. Only moments later he spots a young blond girl akin to Alice chasing a large white rabbit into the brush. Bones is immediately convinced he is losing his mind, however his concerns are merely laughed off. Under Spock’s strict doctorly advice, Capt. Kirk now beams down to the planet’s surface at just the moment that highly unusual things begin to transpire.
Each crew member starts seeing his/her thoughts transformed into reality. This strange 1960’s psychedelic nightmare begins as they follow a trail of the white rabbit from Dr. McCoy’s vision (even though the ship’s scans have clearly revealed no lifeforms on the planet). Soon Kirk encounters his old Academy nemesis Finnegan (Bruce Mars), as well as an old flame named Ruth (Shirley Bonne). Yeoman Barrows has a run-in with a cloaked man before falling into a farcical chivalric romantic fantasy with Dr. McCoy (she mentions her desire to rescued by a Don Juan-esque character), Mr. Sulu is then accosted by a samurai (he luckily finds a revolver), and both Rodriguez and Martine are hunted by a tiger while a World War II aircraft circles above. All of this light-hearted camp comes to a screeching halt when a medieval knight on horseback attacks, impales, and presumably kills Dr. McCoy. The crew manages to kill the attacker but the knight is quickly revealed to be little more than a non-organic dummy, composed of the same material as the planet’s multi-cellular plants. Additionally, Spock reveals there is a highly sophisticated energy source perhaps emanating from beneath the planet’s surface which has been disruptive to the crew’s communications.
When Kirk finally brings his crewmen back to some semblance of order and instructs them to clear their minds of all visions, a smiling elderly man in a robe suddenly arrives and dubs himself “The Caretaker” (Oliver McGowan). He apologizes and gently explains that this planet is akin to an amusement park for his alien race, it is a place where someone can imagine his fondest wishes and witness them come to fruition. “The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play,” as Kirk notes. The Caretaker declines to say much more about his species as humans are not yet capable of comprehending their breed (this opaque answer is both alluring and disappointing as we would like to know more about this strange species). Dr. McCoy then reappears after being repaired in a facility held deep beneath the planet’s surface (he stands beside two scantily clad women from a cabaret he recalled from back on Rigel II). The Caretaker next invites the whole Enterprise crew down for a tamed-down yet dream-filled shore leave, while Kirk wanders away with his old love Ruth. As long as people are careful about their thoughts, they will enjoy a fantastic shore leave. When the crew returns to the Enterprise some time later, Spock remarks on this illogical little escapade. He says, “I’ve already had as much shore leave as I care for” –a comment which elicits a wave of uncomfortably forced laughter from the captain.
Writer Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) was a celebrated science fiction author and winner of numerous awards, his novellas are often considered on par with Richard Heinlein’s works. Mr. Sturgeon’s initial script submitted for this episode contained simply too many fantasy-laden special effects. Gene Roddenberry assured the studio that re-writing the script was in order. However, producer Gene L. Coons got his hands on the script and revised it by actually increasing the fantastical elements. Gene Roddenberry was then left to revise the script on the fly while filming for the episode began in a haphazard manner.
Director Robert Sparr (1915-1969) was a television and film director. For this episode, he drew an unpopular reaction from the cast who felt this story was a bit of a misdirected mess. As a result, Mr. Sparr never again returned to direct another Star Trek episode. He died in a plane crash in 1969 while investigating a shooting location for a film in Colorado alongside fellow Star Trek cameraman Gerald Finnerman (Finnerman survived the crash though he had to wear a metal body brace for six years following the incident).
Star Trek Trivia:
- As in “The Naked Time,” “Shore Leave” finds the Enterprise crew in a threatened situation by the removal of all inhibitions.
- Ironically this episode marked a point at which Gene Roddenberry needed some “shore leave” of his own. He was exhausted after nearly two years without a break, first producing a show called The Lieutenant, then selling Star Trek to NBC, and maintaining heavy involvement in the show’s production. Shortly after “Shore Leave,” Mr. Roddenberry’s wife and doctor insisted that he take a vacation.
- Some have speculated whether or not Leonard Nimoy had a nasal-cold during this episode.
- The original script for this episode featured Yeoman Rand as part of the landing party, but as her character was written out of the series, her role was shifted to Yeoman Tonia Barrows.
- Although Kirk addresses “Angela” as “Teller” early in this episode, she is played by Barbara Baldavin, who previously played Angela Martine in the prior episode “Balance of Terror” (recall that her fiancé Robert Tomlinson died in the conflict against the Romulans). The script name for her character was “Mary Teller” but it was changed to Angela Martine on the set when somebody noticed Barbara Baldavin had already appeared in the show. In the closing credits, she is identified as “Angela”.
- According to interviews with Bill Blackburn, he not only voiced the White Rabbit, but also voiced the announcements dismissing different sections of the ship for shore leave in alphabetical order. He was a professional ice skater in real life.
- The “wind chime” planet sound effect heard here is unique to this episode.
- Most of this show was filmed near Los Angeles at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park and Africa, USA. Africa U.S.A. –a 100-acre wild animal preserve/compound located in Soledad Canyon, California. The Vasquez Rocks Park is well known to Star Trek fans. It was used several times in TOS, including the episodes “Arena,” “The Alternative Factor” and “Friday’s Child.”
- As detailed above, much of this episode was being re-written while being filmed and it led to conflicts between the cast and director.
- Apparently, William Shatner volunteered to wrestle one of the tigers for this episode but it was deemed too risky a stunt at the time.
- Bruce Mars who played Finnegan in this episode initially auditioned for a part in “The Corbomite Manuever” (he was denied the part) and then he later appeared as a police officer in the Season 1 finale “Assignment: Earth.” He quit acting around 1969 to become a monk with the Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles and eventually he took the name Brother Paramananda. Born in 1935, Mr. Mars is still alive of the time I write this post. In addition, Barbara Baldavin (born 1938) and Shirley Bonne (born 1934) are both still alive, as well.