Stardate: 3715.3 (2267)
Original Air Date: October 13, 1967
Writer: Max Ehrlich
Director: Joseph Pevney
“Well, there goes paradise.”
A landing party (Kirk, Spock, Bones, Chekov, Yeoman Martha Landon [Celeste Yarnall], and four red shirt security officers) beams down to a pleasant tropical planet known as Gamma Trianguli VI, a Mediterranean paradise with remarkably rich soil, green grass, and an easy 75 degree climactic temperature, but it also has revealed strange sensory readings. One red shirt security officer sniffs a moving flower which emits a strange poison gas, and he is then promptly killed –even though the flower is soon revealed to be a mere artificial object. Rocks are also revealed to be explosive, leading Kirk to remark that this place is like “the garden of Eden with landmines.”
The crew pick up strange vibrations and life forces while Spock is nearly struck dead and three. However, yet again they face some sort of transporter malfunction caused by an energy field. Several more crewmen are killed following the discovery of a primitive humanoid habitat populated by a race of creatures called “The Feeders of Vaal” or “The People of Vaal.” They make contact with Akuna (Keith Andes), a shirtless purplish figure who has antennae sticking out of his neck to serve as the eyes and ears of “Vaal.” What is Vaal? He appears to be some form of a god, later revealed to be a 10,00 year-old self-conscious computer. They are introduced to a strange religious ritual before Vaal’s giant dragon’s head, and the crew are notified that Vaal expressly forbids intimacy of any sort (Chekov and Landon embrace one another nonetheless in an act of impiety).
Akuna soon receives word from Vaal to kill the strangers but in the end, the Enterprise manages to destroy Vaal before it can be fed by the villagers. The death of their god promises an exciting new opportunity which Spock likens to eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Good and Evil in Genesis to which Kirk whimsically asks if he is then set to play the role of Satan.
Why does Starfleet insist on the Enterprise making contact with the denizens of Gamma Trianguli VI? To what extent does the Enterprise violate the Prime Directive in this episode? And why does Vaal prohibit demonstrations of affection, or procreation? Won’t this ensure the civilization will soon die out? How have the Vaalians survived for 10,000 years? Has the Enterprise actually liberated this primitive group from their god? Or have they opened their eyes thus ensuring they will surely die? Spock argues in favor of leaving the Vaalians alone, while Bones cannot fathom abandoning these primitive Calibans (a la Shakespeare) to live without the full fruits of civilization.
There is an underlying theme of 1960’s sexual liberation in this episode. It celebrates the death of old gods in pursuit of a celebration of all things human. As with other TOS episodes, there were also vague echoes here of “The Return of the Archons” (Vaal and Landru are cut from the same cloth) as well as the spore plants on “Shore Leave,” however I would suggest this is not the best of early Trek. While I do enjoy some of these less memorable campy adventures, there are better episodes in Trekverse.
Writer Max Ehrlich (1909-1983) wrote several books and for a variety of television programs. This was the only Star Trek episode he wrote.
Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed.
Star Trek Trivia:
- This episode is rife with obvious allusions to the Garden of Eden.
- This episode guest stars a young David Soul (of Starsky & Hutch fame) as one of the “Feeders of Vaal.”
- In reality, Gamma Trianguli is a real star located about 112 light years from earth
- The episode makes the only TOS reference to the saucer section being able to separate entirely from the rest of the Enterprise.
- In this episode, Spock sustains a lightning injury which burns a hole through his shirt. The shirt was later auctioned off at a science-fiction convention in 1967.
- This episode is a classic example of red shirts being killed off.
- This is the first episode which shows Walter Koenig without his wig.
- Celeste Yarnall wore Grace Lee Whitney’s costume in this episode (she had to be reassured that Grace Lee Whitney will never return to the show).
- There is an intriuguing moment wherein Kirk shouts at Spock begging him not to die because of how much Starfleet has invested in him, and Spock curiously responds: “One hundred twenty-two thousand, two hundred…”