The Animated Series’ “One of Our Planets is Missing” in Review
Here’s a predecessor to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In this episode, an intergalactic cloud serves as a conceptual precursor to V’ger and Spock has a bizarre mind meld…
The Enterprise has been dispatched on a mission to investigate a highly unusual and gigantic cosmic cloud. Both the starship and the cloud are in the Pallas 14 system, the same solar system as Mantilles, the Federation’s most remote inhabited planet. The cloud engulfs another planet in the system, Alondra, and essentially devours it, before changing course towards Mantilles. The Enterprise races to prevent that planet’s impending destruction. At Doctor McCoy’s urging, Kirk decides to alert the planet’s governor, Bob Wesley.
When the Enterprise finally reaches the cloud, Spock opines that it originated from outside the Milky Way galaxy. The cloud wraps around the starship. When the vessel fires phasers at it, the cloud seems to consume the phaser energy. The ship shakes violently and is drawn into the centre of the cloud, undamaged. Some odd gaseous antimatter objects approach, but firing a couple of antimatter charges from the shields eliminates them. Spock concludes that the cloud is alive.
McCoy and Spock concur that the cloud has components that resemble those of living organisms, which both of them warn may soon absorb the Enterprise and its crew. Kirk speaks remotely with Governor Wesley, who says there’s only time to evacuate the children of Mantilles. The starship’s crew plot a course out of the cloud.
However, the Enterprise — as it maneuvers through the entity — encounters explosive antimatter “villi”, which Scotty at one point uses to regenerate the ship’s engines. With time running out, Kirk suggests saving Mantilles by using photon torpedoes to destroy the cloud’s “brain,” a plan that shocks the rest of the bridge crew but which Kirk is adamant about.
The captain nonetheless voices a concern over whether this is the morally right course of action. Spock calculates that the torpedoes won’t destroy the cloud’s “brain,” so Kirk instead plans to cause the ship to self-destruct, which will. With Mantilles’ evacuation underway, Kirk also wants to ascertain whether the cloud is sentient. Therefore, Spock endeavours to make telepathic contact with the entity.
Linking telepathically to the cloud and allowing it to body-swap with him, Spock persuades the lifeform to cease its approach to Mantilles and return the way it came, which the cloud admits will be “a long journey.” Uhura relays to Governor Wesley that the evacuation can be cancelled. Spock advises a route to safely exit the cloud and confides in his captain that he perceived the astounding “wonders of the universe.”
I like that this episode begins in media res, with the Enterprise already sent to encounter the cloud rather than detecting it or being notified about it afresh. Unfortunately, though, the episode involves the overdone trope of the Enterprise being the only available starship in the vicinity of an invading force.
I have a few nitpicks with this episode. For example, firing antimatter charges from the ship’s deflector shields seems a bit of an odd process. Also, Spock’s pronouncement that the cloud is firstly “a living thing” and secondly “alive” seems slightly too wordy, given that he could simply say that the cloud is alive. Frustratingly, a room identified as Kirk’s “quarters” looks much more like a briefing room.
The reactions amongst the bridge crew to Kirk’s suggestion of destroying the cloud’s “brain” are brilliant, showing deep respect for intelligent life. This ethos is obviously a key component of the Star Trek franchise, and it’s great to have it included in this episode, elevating it from “cartoon” status to a well-considered animated production.
The episode was written by veteran TOS director Marc Daniels and goes to show that, to his credit, he paid attention to the source material. As such, there’s some cool continuity here. A massive organism in space, the cloud is similar to the space amoeba in “The Immunity Syndrome”, albeit with the planet-destroying capability of the so-called “planet killer” from “The Doomsday Machine” (one of the episodes directed by Daniels). Bob Wesley — in reality, a pen name Gene Roddenberry used before creating Star Trek — returns as a governor after appearing as a commodore in the TOS episode “The Ultimate Computer”, and Kirk references his “not to kill today” speech from “A Taste of Armageddon”. A reference to Wesley having an eleven-year-old daughter called Katie is also a nice touch of character development.
I appreciate how colourful the cloud is and its dialogue is scripted quite well. However, Majel Barrett is far too recognisable in the role. The plot does incorporate several highly thoughtful concepts, a boon to the show, but it’s concluded with a rather silly pat ending. Overall, this is a good episode, despite some noticeable flaws.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinated the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.