Stardate: 5476.3 (2268)
Original Air Date: November 8, 1968
Writer: Rik Vollaerts
Director: Tony Leader
“But things are not as they teach us.
For the world is hollow, and I have touched the sky.”
While traveling through space, the Enterprise suddenly encounters a red alert. Several missiles have been fired out of nowhere and the Enterprise engages in evasive maneuvers to quickly deflects them. Where did these missiles come from? At Warp 3, the Enterprise heads toward the missiles’ point of origin –an asteroid 2 hundred miles in diameter. Chemically the asteroid checks out, however it is curiously not in orbit like a normal asteroid, and instead it appears to be pursuing its own independent course. The asteroid –or perhaps space ship—is actually on a collision course with Daran V in approximately 396 days (a planet with a population of 3.724 billion). This poses a serious problem that requires further investigation. Scotty is left at the helm of the Enterprise while Kirk and Spock beam aboard the asteroid (they are joined by an insistent Bones who has recently revealed to Kirk that he has been diagnosed with Xenopolycythemia, a rare and incurable disease which gives him only a year to live).
They soon learn that the asteroid/ship is over 10,000 years old. On its surface, they find several large containers from which a group of colorful robed, sword-wielding humanoids suddenly emerge and attack the Enterprise crewmen. Kirk, Spock, and Bones are all led underground to a chamber of the Oracle who decides their fate. When Kirk professes to have only peaceful intentions, a bolt of electricity strikes them and they are imprisoned. This place is known as Yonada and the Yonadans are apparently unaware that they are hurtling through space on a faux asteroid. An old man enters their prison chamber and tries to explain this fact (he echoes the episode title “…for the world is hollow and I have touched the sky”)but he suddenly falls down and dies after acknowledging a strange discomfort in his head –the result of an “instrument of obedience” worn at the demand of the Oracle.
Bones is brought before the high priestess of the Yonadans, Natira (Katherine Woodville), who professes her love for him. She requests that the good doctor remain with her on Yonada as her mate. Meanwhile, Kirk and Spock escape confinement and head for the Oracle chamber where they peruse an ancient script written on large protruding triangles on the walls. The writing comes from the ancient Fabrini people, a civilization wiped out ten thousand years ago when their star went nova. They retreated underground and engineered this asteroid to be guided by a computerized Oracle. The goal was to send a multi-generational ship into space in order to locate a habitable planet. The Yonadans are the descendants of the Fabrini people.
The Oracle then condemns Kirk and Spock to death, but Bones trades their lives in exchange for his hand in marriage to Natira. Admiral Westervliet of Starfleet then video conferences with Kirk and orders him to abandon further engagement with Yonada, Starfleet Command will handle the situation from here. Do we trust him? Should the Enterprise abandon Dr. McCoy? A solution arrives when Bones learns of an ancient book in the possession of the Yonadans which is intended to be a guide as they reach “the new world of the promise.” However, Bones then collapses in pain resulting from his “instrument of obedience.” It is up to Kirk and Spock to rescue Bones. They also explain the truth of Yonada to Natira –regardless of it being a potential violation of the Prime Directive—and at first, she refuses to believe that Yonada is a mere asteroid, but she soon accepts the situation.
Somewhere along the way, the Oracle has made an error. Using the ancient book, Kirk and Spock overpower the Oracle and alter the course of Yonada such that it will not collide with Daran V. In the end, Natira and Dr. McCoy embrace in a tearful goodbye, knowing they can never be together. In a characteristic twist of fate, Spock uncovers an extraordinary medical library of the Fabrini located within the memory banks on Yonada. Using this information, Bones undergoes a rigorous treatment which rebalances his hemoglobin and cures him of Xenopolycythemia. The episode ends as Kirk acknowledges the Enterprise is scheduled to cross paths again with Yonada in approximately 390 days, a fact which gives Bones some hope of seeing Natira again.
“Perhaps, if it is permitted, you will find Yonada again…”
We have seen the notion of multi-generational space travel once before in Star Trek, in the Season 2 episode “By Any Other Name” (the Kelvans). However, the Yonadans in “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” are unique in that they are unaware their own survivalist mission. They are actually the unwitting future of the ancient Fabrini race, the last hope for an ancient civilization.
Despite a few minor smirking moments in this episode, such as Dr. McCoy’s rather contrived life-threatening disease that miraculously happens to find just the cure it needs, I thought this was another great episode. Once again, Star Trek conveys a deep skepticism toward computers like the Oracle (we have seen this before in numerous instances like “The Ultimate Computer” or “The Return of the Archons”), and it also continues the theme of hesitance toward religious groupthink. Had the Yonadans questioned their Oracle, perhaps they may have discovered the unpleasant truth –that they are traveling on a spaceship modeled as an asteroid which is on a mistaken collision course with a planet. This leads me to wonder, why has the truth of Yonada never revealed to its own people? What is gained by keeping them in the dark? Perhaps at least the rulers and priestesses should be made aware of the situation. On these voyages, we have seen one too many oracles and computers go astray.
Lastly, this episode offers a rare glimpse into the lonely life of Dr. McCoy. In some ways, I was reminded of the Season 1 opener “The Man Trap” which sees Dr. McCoy confront his long-lost lover, Nancy, though sadly she turns out to be nothing more than the mere phantasm of a shapeshifter –everyone’s favorite “salt vampire.” At least in this episode “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” there is hope after Dr. McCoy recovers from his disease that he will reconnect with Natira again in a year’s time.
This was the only episode written by Rick Vollaerts (1918-1988). He was an old acquaintance of Gene Roddenberry’s after they worked together on a previous show. This was also the only episode directed by Tony Leader (1913-1988). He had previously directed episodes of The Twilight Zone and Lost In Space. By this point, Ralph Senensky had been fired and John Meredyth Lucas was asked not to return to direct this episode after he previously went over budget. The tumultuousness behind the scenes only seemed to continue.
Star Trek Trivia:
- Katherine Woodville (1938-2013), who played Natira in this episode, also appeared in Mission: Impossible and Wonder Woman.
- The Yonadans were played by: Frank Da Vinci (1933-2013), a stand-in for Leonard Nimoy in many TOS episodes; Byron Morrow (1911-2006) was a WWII veteran and previously appeared in the TOS episode “Amok Time” among many other popular television shows like Lost In Space and Get Smart; Jon Lormer (1906-1986) plays the old Yonadan man in this episode who actually utters the title’s name. He also previously appeared in other TOS episodes like “The Cage” and “The Return of the Archons” as well as a variety of Westerns.
- James Doohan voices the Oracle in this episode.
- The idea of a generational space ship has been explored in numerous science fiction works, such as George Zebrowski’s Macrolife (1979) or Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky (1941).
- Apparently, in the Star Trek novel The Sorrows of Empire, Dr. McCoy’s double in a mirror universe contracts xenopolycythemia and actually dies. He is then succeeded as chief medical officer aboard the Enterprise by Dr. Joseph M’Benga.
- In an early draft of this episode, it was Scotty who fell ill instead of Dr. McCoy.
- The theme music from “The Cage” is re-used in this episode.
- This episode title is the longest in the TOS saga.