Stardate: 3018.2 (2267)
Original Air Date: October 27, 1967
Writer: Robert Bloch
Director: Joseph Pevney
A landing party (consisting of Sulu, Scott, and crew member Jackson) is overdue for a routine communication on the planet Pyris VII. When contact is finally made, Jackson’s lifeless corpse is beamed back aboard the Enterprise, and an echoing voice begins emanating from his mouth. The voice claims the Enterprise is cursed and must depart immediately or else face certain death.
In spite of the warning, Kirk, Spock, and Bones beam down to Pyris VII, a foggy planet seemingly devoid of water. Much like the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, they encounter a ghastly trio of witches as well as a haunted castle complete with a black cat. Kirk, Spock, and Bones are quickly locked in a dungeon and imprisoned. Sulu and Scott have apparently become entrapped in some form of mind control by two strange alien being: Korob (Theo Marcuse) and Sylvia (Antoinette Bower). The two beings use odd methods of “magic” to control this unfolding situation (though they also reveal that they do not trust each other and actually have competing plans for the captured humans). Eventually an escape is launched. In the end, Kirk manages to shatter Sylvia’s wand, or her “transmuter,” thus ending this whole charade. The entire castle disappears. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Sulu, and Scotty all awaken as if from a dream, and Korob and Sylvia assume their natural forms (they appear as two tiny bird-like creatures who promptly disintegrate and die).
My Thoughts on “Catspaw”
There is something charming about the sillier episodes of Star Trek like “Catspaw.” Here, the whimsical and the horrific are blended in a way that only a show like Star Trek in the ’60s could have accomplished. It offers an interesting blend of science fiction and campy 1960s horror tropes coupled with other familiar themes. At the very least, I found the twist of this episode ending to be compelling –I am always intrigued by unique or wildly imaginative forms of alien species found in the Trek universe. Notably, a species like this which, despite being tiny creatures, can actually devise elaborate illusions which pose dangers for the Enterprise. As far as their illusory powers go, Korob and Sylvia bear certain similarities to the Talosians in “The Cage” or even Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos” who were also powerful image-makers. Generally speaking, however, I would suggest avoiding this episode.
Writer Robert Bloch (1917-1994) was a legendary science-fiction and horror writer. He was a Hugo Award winner, and is perhaps best remembered as the author of Psycho (1959) which later became the classic Hitchcock movie. In addition to this episode of Star Trek, he also penned the script for the far superior Season 1 episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” Both episodes curiously reference a group of ancient “Old Ones.”
Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed.
Star Trek Trivia:
- This spooky episode was deliberately delayed in order to be released around Halloween (hence, why “trick-or-treat” is referenced in this episode.
- This was the first episodes filmed for Season 2.
- This was technically the first episodes filmed with Walter Koenig and his infamous shaggy wig.
- Writer Robert Bloch based this episode on his short story “Broomstick Ride” (1957).
- “Catspaw”, is a term that describes a person used by another as a dupe.
- Actor Theo Marcuse tragically died in a car accident one month after this episode aired. As of the time I write this, Antoinette Bower is still alive.
- The small miniature copy of the Enterprise seen in this episode was donated to the Smithsonian by Gene Roddenberry.
- The Ornithoid life forms at the end of this episode (Koroh and Sylvia’s true forms) were mere marionettes composed of blue fluff, pipe cleaners, crab pincers, and other materials. In the original series the strings holding them up could be clearly seen, however this has been corrected in the remastered version.
- Chronologically, the events of this episode take place on Stardate 3018.2 or immediately after the events of “The Menagerie, Part II”, which took place on Stardate 3013.1-3013.2, and before the episode “Shore Leave” which take place from Stardate 3025.3-3025.8.
Aliens creating illusions for the Enterprise crew have certainly become somewhat repetitive in the Star Trek universe. To boost our confidence that we can overcome illusions, it can naturally be an appreciably repetitive drama in Trek or other sci-fi. For personal reasons, and because of my own regard for the story of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, I certainly appreciate the optimism for sci-fi stories of this nature. So maybe Catspaw in that sense can resonate enough for me in that sense. I also admire Antionette’s beautiful performance as Sylvia who’s one of Trek’s best villainesses. It’s certainly healthy to find something subjectively favorable in even the silliest TV episodes, which is how I became a fan of Red Dwarf. Thank you for your review and trivia.
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