Stardate: 5784.2 (2268)
Original Air Date: November 22, 1968
Writer: Meyer Dolinsky
Director: David Alexander
“Plato wanted truth and beauty and above all, justice.”
In response to “desperate distress calls from an unknown planet,” a trio of Enterprise crewmen –Kirk, Spock, and Bones– beam down to a planet rich in high-energy deposits known as kironide. Supposedly, the Enterprise scanners show no life forms on the planet. However, they find towering columns and statues a la ancient Greece and the crewmen are quickly greeted by a small-sized court jester named Alexander (Michael Dunn). He explains that there are beings on this planet. Where did they come from? Alexander explains that the sun near their home planet Sahndara went super-nova a millennia ago. They had since instituted a mass eugenics program focused on longevity of life (they are each over 2,000 years old), and they transported themselves to ancient Greece on earth in order to study under Plato. After Plato died, they traveled to this new planet (which they now call “Platonius”). Here, they have built a utopia where 38 inhabitants live a life of quiet contemplation and self-reliance, a perfectly democratic society. They also possess “psychokinetic” powers, seemingly emanating from something in the atmosphere. Alexander has apparently been enslaved by the Platonians as a “court buffoon.” Kirk reassures Alexander when he says, “where I come from, size, shape, or color makes no difference.”
However, the Platonians have one downside. Unfortunately, they have fragile bodies with weak immune systems. We then meet Philana (Barbara Babcock) who explains that the Enterprise has been hailed to Platonia because their Philosopher King Parmen (Liam Sullivan) has sliced his leg and the injury has become infected for which he needs urgent medical attention. Apparently, their eugenics program has bred them for contemplation, not for productive medical treatment. Bones gives him a hypo needle, but Parmen simply uses his own strange supernatural powers to inject the hypo himself. Meanwhile, several toga-wearing Platonians, Eraclitus and Dyanid, play an odd game of chess in the background.
The second half of this episode runs off the rails for me. The Platonians use their powers to begin toying with the Enterprise crewmen and they soon entrap the Enterprise. They force Kirk to slap himself in the face, while demanding that Bones remain on Platonia as their chosen physician –they offer Kirk the shield of Pericles, Spock a kithara instrument, and Bones an ancient scroll of Greek cures written by Hippocrates himself. However, Bones refuses the invitation to stay on Platonia, thus the Platonians begin conducting a strange torture ritual upon Kirk and Spock for sadistic enjoyment. Then Uhura and Nurse Chapel are beamed down for more degrading entertainment. The crewmen are all outfitted in Greek regalia and forced to perform humiliating songs and even kiss onstage –Nurse Chapel kisses Spock (despite longing for this moment, she does not wish to be compelled to kiss Spock for mere alien entertainment) and of course Kirk and Uhura share their famous interracial onscreen kiss, as well. The crew are then forced to torture one another, until Parmen attempts to force Alexander to kill himself with a knife, but suddenly Kirk feels his own “psychokinetic” power rising and he somehow overpowers Parmen and both Alexander and the Enterprise crewmen are released. The presence of kironide on this planet allowed for “psychokinetic” to grow and expand, and any future ships from Starfleet can be dosed with kironide, as well, thereby effectively rendering the Platonians’ powers ineffectual. In the end, the Enterprise cruises away after rescuing Alexander from the cruel Platonians.
My Thoughts on “Plato’s Stepchildren”
This is an altogether silly episode –particularly the extensive scenes of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy frolicking around on the floor, under penalty of torture, and the scene of Captain Kirk being ridden like a horse by a court jester –however, in my view, even these ridiculous episodes still have their bright spots. Kirk demonstrates the moral superiority of the Federation as he treats Alexander with respect and dignity rather than mockery. He also shows mercy rather than vengeance toward the Platonians, when a much more satisfying ending would have involved their downfall.
Unlike in the Season 2 episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” which sees the Enterprise crew entrapped by a planet of Greek gods, this trip to classical Greece strikes me as a bit more of a farce. As much as I delight in reading Plato and Aristotle, an episode like “Plato’s Stepchildren” shows the dangers of misinterpreting classical philosophers and their esoteric teaching, perhaps best exemplified in Socrates’s recalcitrant student, Alcibiades.
Assuming there is anything worth truly examining in this episode, the following are a few questions I have about the internal logic. Why do the Enterprise scanners show there is no life on this planet when there are clearly life forms present? Also, do we believe that beings in possession of such immense knowledge and supernatural powers require a mere mortal physician like Dr. McCoy to heal their wounds? Shouldn’t they be able to research medical knowledge and heal themselves? At any rate, the redeeming parts of this episode come in Leonard Nimoy’s surprisingly emotive acting (especially when Spock claims he feels a sense of hatred), as well as the iconic kiss between Kirk and Uhura and a memorable appearance by Michael Dunn. Otherwise this is not essential Trek in my view.
This was the only episode written by Meyer Dolinsky (1923-1984) who also wrote scripts for shows like The Outer Limits, Wagon Train, Mission: Impossible and others. His original title for this episode was “The Sons of Socrates.”
Director David Alexander (1914-1983) directed two episodes of Star Trek: “Plato’s Stepchildren” and “The Way to Eden.” He also directed a variety of episodes for popular television shows like My Favorite Martian, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, and The Munsters.
Star Trek Trivia:
- Leonard Nimoy has a scene in this episode where he gives a rare performance of singing.
- A kiss is shared between Spock and Nurse Chapel while staging a performance for the Platonians, and, of course, there is also an iconic interracial kiss sequence, one of the first on network television, between Kirk and Uhura. William Shatner later recalled that NBC insisted their lips never touch (the technique of turning their heads away from the camera was used to conceal this fact). The kiss led to a huge amount of positive fan mail, and surprisingly very little uproar despite NBC panicking over it.
- The initial script explored other possible alternatives for the interracial kiss, such as Uhura with Dr. McCoy or Spock, but William Shatner apparently insisted on Kirk.
- This was one of several episodes not screened by the BBC because of its “unpleasant” content, including torture and sadism, which were not in-line with the BBC’s billing of the show as essentially a children’s program. It did not officially air in the UK until 1993.
- This episode regularly ranks among the worst of Star Trek.
- Apparently, in the early developed of the show Michael Dunn was once considered to play the role of Spock. Gene Roddenberry’s initial vision was for Spock to be a short person. Michael Dunn was also considered for the role of Balock in the Season 1 classic “The Corbomite Maneuver” instead of Clint Howard.
- After Desilu was acquired by Paramount, shows like Star Trek suddenly had access to all manner of new resources, such as sets and costumes, the likes of which were used in this episode.
- Ancient Greece has appeared in the Season 2 episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?”
- Barbara Babcock, who played Philana in this episode, also appeared in a variety of additional Star Trek episodes. She played Maya III in “A Taste of Armageddon” and she completed voice work as Trelaine’s mother in “The Squire of Gothos,” and other voice work in “The Tholian Web” and “The Lights of Zetar.”
- Apparently, at one point in this episode Kirk makes a specific ribbit-noise which is a nod to Aristophanes’s The Frogs.
Michael Dunn as Spock would have been very interesting. Thanks for including that in your Trek trivia.
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Horrible episode. Can’t watch it. The only good thing about it is a fanfiction in which Bones is left at the planet in order to save Spock. Kirk’s guilt, Spock’s anger, Bones’ self-sacrifice are all well-depicted.
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