Stardate: 5818.4 (2269)
Original Air Date: February 28, 1969
Writer: David Gerrold, Oliver Crawford, and Margaret Armen
Director: Jud Taylor
“I have never before met a Vulcan, sir.”
“Nor I a work of art, madam.”
A botanical plague is devastating a planet in a quadrant of the galaxy where the Enterprise is operating at present. It threatens to wipe out all vegetation on Merak II leaving it uninhabitable. Therefore, the Enterprise is headed at warp speed to the planet Ardana where the only known source of zenite exists –zenite is the singular substance which can halt the plague. However, upon arrival at Ardana, Kirk and the crew discover a centuries-old dual class society. High up in the sky, kept in Sustained antigravity elevation, sits the beautiful and luxurious cloud city of Stratos – a purely intellectual society filled with art and culture, and devoid of violence. Far below on the planet’s surface are a race of working-class people known as “Troglytes” (taken from ancient references meaning “cave dwellers”) who toil in the zenite mines and provide for the lifestyle of the elite aristocrats of Stratos. Both classes despite one another. The denizens of Stratos rebuke the recalcitrant troglytes as “malcontents” and “disrupters” to their society, while the Troglytes claim they seek to break free from their servitude. The situation unfolds as if straight out of Plato’s Republic.
At first, Kirk and Spock beam down to Ardana where they stumble into a scuffle with some Troglytes, however they are quickly rescued by the High Adviser to Ardana’s Council, Plasus (Jeff Corey). Plasus takes the crewmen up to the cloud city of Stratos where they meet his beautiful daughter, Droxine (Diana Erwing) who immediately grows smitten with Spock. A rebellious Troglyte is soon captured but rather than face punishment, he leaps off the cloud city to his death far below.
While awaiting answers to their zenite request, Spock offers the following “fascinating” internal monologue:
“This troubled planet is a place of the most violent contrasts. Those who receive the rewarded are totally separated from those shoulder the burdens. It is not a wise leadership. Here on Stratos, everything is incomparably beautiful and pleasant. The high advisor’s charming daughter, Droxine, particularly so. The name Droxine seems appropriate for her. I wonder, can she retain such purity and sweetness of mind and be aware of the life of the people on the surface of the planet. There, the harsh life in the mines is instilling the people with a bitter hatred. The young girl who led the attack against us when we beamed down was filled with the violence of desperation. If the lovely Droxine knew of the young miner’s misery, I wonder how the knowledge would affect her…”
Needless to say, Spock and Droxine soon strike up a subtle romance while Kirk is attacked by a Troglyte leader named Vanna (Charlene Polite) but she is captured, tortured, and imprisoned. This leads to a slow-build conflict between Plasus and Kirk, despite the fact there are only 12 hours lleft to prevent annihilation on Merak II, and Plasus ultimately forces Kirk and Spock to return to the Enterprise. However, Kirk secretly returns to Stratos and helps Vanna escape from prison so she can lead him to the vital supply of zenite in the mines. As it turns out, there is a dangerous gas in the zenite mines which temporarily stunts people’s mental faculties. Kirk brings a to help acquire the zenite, but Vanna distrusts the Federation and she turns on Kirk, forcing him to dig for zenite with his bare hands. But then Kirk regains the upper hand and encloses himself in the mine with Vanna before ordering Plasus also beamed into the mine. Unfortunately, by this point the gas begins to affect Kirk’s mind. He grows irate and commands Plasus and Vanna to mine for zenite, before they are all beamed aboard the Enterprise and all is resolved.
In the end, the zenite is recovered and given to the Enterprise. Spock and Droxine bid each other a sorrowful farewell as she pledges to visit the Troglyte mines and forge a new friendship with the Troglytes. Kirk and Spock then depart, returning to the Enterprise with 2 hours and 59 minutes left to deliver the zenite.
My Thoughts on “The Cloud Minders”
Generally speaking, my assessment of Season 3 is more favorable than I thought it would be –the infamous Season 3 typically offers a fun collection of campy adventures, and while lacking much of the grandeur of earlier classics like “The City on the Edge of Forever,” or “The Doomsday Machine,” or “Balance of Terror,” the third season of TOS is decidedly not the unmitigated disaster often portrayed by some fans and critics. For me, “The Cloud Minders” bucks the trend toward and stands apart as a terrific third season diamond in the rough.
“The Cloud Minders” presents another puzzling Star Trek moral quandary which contrasts “us versus them” prejudicial tensions, dividing the haves from the have-nots on a remote mining planet. The lessons explored in this episode ring painfully true today. Loosely based on the dual caste society featured in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), I half expected to see Lando Calrissian wander out of a Bespin hallway as in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). All kidding aside, “The Cloud Minders” is an eminently memorable episode for me.
The initial impetus for this episode was to create a sequel to “The Trouble with Tribbles,” but Gene Roddenberry rejected the idea of turning Star Trek into a comedy. David Gerrold initially developed the storyline for this episode entitled “Castles in the Sky”, however producer Fred Freiberger did not trust Gerrold to write a successful scripty so he asked Oliver Crawford (who wrote “The Galileo Seven” and “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”) to perform rewrites, and finally he had Margaret Armen complete further rewrites. Freiberger’s intent was for Margaret Armen to become the new show editor much like D.C. Fontana.
Director Jud Taylor (1932-2008) directed a total of five Season 3 episodes, more than any other Season 3 director.
Star Trek Trivia:
- The beautiful cloud city Stratos was designed by Matt Jeffries. He constructed the model using foam pieces.
- In this episode, Spock reiterates the seven year “pon farr” Vulcan mating cycle which we first learned about in the Season 2 opener “Amok Time.” In this case, he notes the cycle can possibly be broken by “extreme feminine beauty.” Fans have noted how unusual it would have been for Spock to openly speak about this ritual.
- There is one particularly amusing scene in this episode of Kirk being clumsily dubbed over though his mouth is clearly not moving.
- Star Trek Enterprise executive producer Manny Coto had every intent of revisiting Stratos if Enterprise had a fifth season.
- James Blish’s novelization of this episode is entitled “The Cloud Miners.”
- The miners’ goggles reappear in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
- The image of the planet river, seen from the Cloud City balcony, is actually a photograph of the Hadramawt Plateau dry river basin in southern Yemen, taken by astronauts on the Gemini IV orbital mission in 1965 (per Memory Alpha).
- Apparently, the metal furniture and decorations around the city of Stratos was rented by an artist in Topanga Canyon.
- In the script zenite was spelled “zeenite.”
- In David Gerrold’s original script the planet is called Aronis (rhyming with “baroness”) where an oligarchic class of “Skymen” reign in floating cities over the Ballakies, a class of laborers who mine dilithium crystals on the planet below. The city in question is G’aela and Droxine is named Grandee.
The Cloud Minders was indeed one of the few saving graces of the classic Trek’s troubled third season. It was clearly an important story, repetitive though in the sense of how the Enterprise, when sent on a vital mission from Star Fleet to save a planet, gets delayed by unforeseen events. For the wisdom it was hoping to give us on how a truly enlightened society should be more considerate to the less fortunate, as the people of Stratos should have been to the Troglytes, Kirk’s and Spock’s interventions in a planet’s development in this case were probably among the most justifiable. Especially when Plasus tortures Vanna which was a blatant example that the people of Stratos, even Droxine as she looks on and does nothing, are not as highly evolved as they like to think they are. To be morally superior is to find the morally and ethically better solutions to all our problems. Finding it in our hearts to be more compassionate to unfortunates like the Troglytes was one of the best lessons that the Star Trek universe has even given us. Thank you for your review and trivia.
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