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Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Seven “Catspaw”

Stardate: 3018.2 (2267)
Original Air Date:
Writer: Robert Bloch
Director: Joseph Pevney

“Everything’s vanished!”

Rating: 2 out of 5.

A landing party (consisting of Sulu, Scott, and crew member Jackson) is overdue for a routine check-in on Pyris VII. When contact is finally made with the Enterprise, Jackson’s lifeless corpse is beamed back aboard the Enterprise while 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 along with a haunted castle complete with a black cat. Kirk, Spock, and Bones are quickly trapped 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 reveal that 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).

There is something charming about the sillier episodes of Star Trek like “Catspaw.” Here, we find an interesting blend of science fiction and campy 1960s horror tropes coupled with other familiar themes. At the very least, I found the twist 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 which can devise an elaborate illusion for humanity can also pose dangerous problems 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.”

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.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Six “The Doomsday Machine”

Stardate: 4202.1 (2267)
Original Air Date: October 20, 1967
Writer: Norman Spinrad
Director: Marc Daniels

“Gentlemen, I suggest you beam me aboard.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise receives an automated distress call from the partially destroyed ship, the USS Constellation. Something has destroyed system L-370 (seven planets) and system L-374, where only two planets remain. Spock notes that the U.S.S. Constellation is suspended in space with limited power but it is capable of sustaining life. In order to investigate this derelict ship, Kirk, Bones, Scotty, join a damage control team abeam aboard the Constellation.

Lying alone near the ship’s controls, they find a badly shaken Commodore Matt Decker (William Windom). Commodore Decker details a harrowing situation: the Constellation had attempted to contact Starfleet when it arrived in L-374 but the fourth planet seemed to be breaking apart and the interference prevented any communication to Starfleet. Most of his crew was on the third planet as it was destroyed along with everything else in the system by a giant machine, miles long, using beams of antiproton to destroy entire planets. In a word, it is a doomsday machine: a mindless robot which travels through the cosmos destroying planets and ships alike.

While Kirk and Scotty attempt repairs aboard the Constellation, the doomsday machine appears and suddenly attacks the Enterprise disabling its transporter. Kirk and Scotty are stranded as Commodore Decker assumes command of the Enterprise, very much against the wishes of Spock and Bones, and he proceeds to lead the Enterprise on a maniacal quest a la Captain Ahab in order to attack and destroy the doomsday machine. This leads to a wild chase which nearly destroys the Enterprise but eventually Spock relieves Commodore Decker under Kirk’s direct orders from afar. Embittered and questionably sane, Commodore Decker hijacks a shuttlecraft and leads it on a kamikaze suicide mission into the mouth of the doomsday machine but it tragically fails. The exterior of the machine is made of solid neutronium, and thus Kirk attempts a similar mission –Scotty rigs the full force and power of the ailing Constellation to detonate the power of a Hydrogen Bomb (equivalent to a fusion explosion 97 megatons) which destroys the doomsday machine. Kirk is beamed back aboard the Enterprise at the final moment. He and Spock are left to wonder if any other “Planet Killers” like this exist out in deep space.

“The Doomsday Machine” is classic Trek at its best –a derelict ships adrift in space, dark secrets, an all-powerful monster destroying solar systems, danger in deep space– these are all the hallmarks of a great episode. It bears striking similarity to episodes like “Space Seed” and echoes of others like “Balance of Terror.” Literary allusions also abound in this episode, from Moby Dick to The Bhagavad Gita. I cannot level enough praise upon this installment!

Writer Norman Spinrad (1940-Present) was a prolific science-fiction author. Unfortunately, this was the only produced episode of Star Trek he contributed though he worked on several other Sttar Trek related projects that were never completed.

Director Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1968 as “Best Dramatic Presentation” (it lost to “City on the Edge of Forever”).
  • “The Doomsday Machine” features a completely original score by Sol Kaplan. It is a brilliant score with early echoes of the iconic score for Jaws.
  • This episode often ranks among the best of Star Trek by fans, though curiously D.C. Fontana once remarked it was her least favorite.
  • Episode writer Norman Spinrad based the script for this episode on his novelette “The Planet Eater” which had been rejected by a number of publishers. He later expressed disappointment in the casting selection for Commodore Decker and the “Planet Killer.”
  • William Windom also took inspiration for his performance from Humphrey Bogart’s role as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (1954). In the film, Queeg fidgets with a pair of ball bearings while in the episode, Windom’s character fidgets two small square-shaped data/cassette disks.
  • Some sources claim that the episode was influenced by Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker series.
  • Interestingly enough, in Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Willard Decker is identified as Matt Decker’s son.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Five “The Apple”

Stardate: 3715.3 (2267)
Original Air Date: October 13, 1967
Writer: Max Ehrlich
Director: Joseph Pevney

“Well, there goes paradise.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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…”

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Four “Mirror, Mirror”

Stardate: 2267, along with an unknown date in a parallel universe date
Original Air Date: October 6, 1967
Writer: Jerome Bixby
Director: Marc Daniels

“What will it be: past or future? Tyranny or freedom?”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kirk and crew fail to persuade a Council on the planet Halkan to mine dilithium crystals on their planet while an ion storm gathers overhead. Kirk pledges not to use overwhelming force to destroy the Halkans in exchange for the dilithium crystals. However, when Kirk, Bones, Scotty, and Uhura beam back aboard the Enterprise, the ion storm causes a strange transporter malfunction. Much to his horror, Kirk notes that the general appearance of the ship has been altered, the behavior of the likes of Spock (now brandishing a goatee) has become “brutal, savage.” The crewmen are fierce and violent, easily instigating mutiny, and readily willing to now destroy the Halkans on the planet below. Torture in an “agony booth” is a preferred means of punishment and Kirk apparently has an alluring mistress named Marlena Moreau (BarBara Luna).

Kirk masquerades as the captain of this strange new ship, all the while it becomes clear the transporter malfunction has launched them into an alternate, parallel universe. Kirk learns that in this parallel universe, the Federation has been replaced with a harsh, tyrannical “Terran” empire and that Kirk once gained command of the Enterprise only by assassinating Captain Pike and this was followed by a massacre of 5,000 people on Vega IX. The crewmen all use a strange hand signal reminiscent of the Nazis and they now don strange golden robes. Alternative Kirk rules the ship as an iron-fisted warlord. However, when Kirk refuses to immediately destroy the Halkans, an imperial order is issued for “bearded” Spock to kill Kirk and resume command of the Enterprise.

Through a series of covert foibles, Kirk et al manage to hatch a plan to return to their universe via the alternate transporter, however they are nearly prevented by “bearded” Spock until he mind-melds with Bones and learns the truth. In the end, he helps Kirk, Bones, Scotty, and Uhura transport back to their own universe –but not before Kirk courageously tries to persuade parallel Spock to pursue a higher, more logical path.

In the trademark light-hearted epilogue back aboard the Enterprise, Kirk teases Spock about his mirror persona, while Spock notes how savage vicious and ugly their doppelgängers were while imprisoned. Spock suggests it was a welcome change of pace. The episode ends as the real Marlene Moreau appears (she has recently joined the Enterprise crew).

“Mirror, Mirror” is a classic example of a parallel universe flawlessly implemented in Star Trek. This essential episode marks a wonderful opportunity for the cast to flex their acting muscles while trapped inside a parallel universe where injustice rules the day. In fact, this episode reveals some of the finest acting in the whole series by Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nicholls, and especially George Takei whose scar-faced obsession with Uhura is a surprising twist.

Transporter malfunctions are somewhat commonplace in Star Trek, already in TOS we have seen a similar malfunction in “The Enemy Within” leading to Kirk’s good and evil sides being split apart. While at times we should be concerned about technology being used to its maximal effect, in some cases we should perhaps be more concerned about malfunctioning technology, thereby revealing strange new modes of being. Technology is not error-proof.

Writer Jerome Bixby (1923-1998) was a prolific fiction writer known for his 1953 short story “It’s A Good Life” which became the basis of the classic Twilight Zone episode. This episode was the first of four Star Trek scripts he drafted which were made into episodes. He based this story on one of his short stories entitled “One Way Street.” He crafted many other Western and Science Fiction novels which inspired movies like Fantastic Voyage and Alien, as well as certain writings by Isaac Asimov. Mr. Bixby died in 1998 at the age of 75.

Director Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • Star Trek’s mirror universe concept will later be employed to great repute in Deep Space Nine and other iterations. An alternate universe became the grounds for the new series of films taking place in the “Kelvin” timeline.
  • This episode was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1968 (it lost to fellow Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever”).
  • “Mirror, Mirror” regularly ranks among critics as one of the best episodes of TOS.
  • BarBara Luna contracted strep throat while filming this episode.
  • Controversial at the time, Star Trek was one of the first television shows to display a woman’s exposed belly button.
  • Fred Steiner crafted a wonderful score for this episode, based on “Balance of Terror.”
  • South Park spoofed this episode in which Cartman dons a goatee in an alternate reality.
  • Many subtle distinctions can be seen in the topsy turvy mirror universe –for example, phasers are worn upside down.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.