Warp Factor Trek

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This installment shouldn’t be confused with the similarly titled TNG episode “Eye of the Beholder”. At Dorothy Fontana’s request, this episode was written by David P. Harmon, who also wrote the TOS episodes “The Deadly Years” and “A Piece of the Action”. Does this installment measure up to those?

Log Entry

Orbiting Lactra VII, the Enterprise is seeking six Starfleet science crew members and has recovered the log from their now-deserted ship, the USS Ariel. From it, they learn that three officers remained aboard the vessel when Lieutenant Commander Markel decided that they, including himself, would leave on an unregulated mission to rescue the first team. Kirk interrupts the log, criticising their illicit actions, though McCoy defends the desperate crew. Spock and McCoy exchange species-related jibes. They and Kirk  — equipped with phasers, tricorders, communicators and medical kit — are beamed down by Scotty.

The Enterprise landing party arrives on Lactra VII

On the planet’s surface, the Enterprise team discovers pools of boiling water and a ferocious aquatic beast. Kirk’s communicator picks up a staticky signal, supposedly from the Ariel crew, but no-one replies. The landing party starts tracking the signal’s bearing but is confronted by another fierce beast, which they stun with phasers. The creature falls on top of McCoy, though Kirk and Spock manage to free him. Kirk likens the critter to an animal he’s seen on Canopus III.

The group also finds radically different ecologies on the planet’s surface. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are captured by large, slug-like aliens.

A group of three massive aliens take the Enterprise landing party captive

The aliens confine the landing party behind a force field, making the three men zoo exhibits, and transfer them to an Earth-like manufactured environment. Also there are Lieutenant Commander Markel and a biologist from the Ariel, Randi Bryce. The two groups introduce themselves. Bryce explains that she and Markel heard Kirk’s communicator signal but couldn’t warn the Enterprise landing party because the aliens possess their equipment. Markel admits that his group didn’t arrive in time to save the first team from the Ariel. The other member of Markel’s landing party, Lieutenant Randolph, is ill. Attempts to escape and communicate with the alien Lactrans, which are telepathic, fail.

The Starfleet officers feign illness and focus on a communicator, one of the tools kept outside their compound. A child Lactran responds, bringing the communicator, with which Kirk calls for immediate beam-up. Instead, Scotty accidentally beams the Lactran child aboard the Enterprise. Spock determines that the adult Lactrans seem to think Kirk made their child disappear. While the child carries Scotty to the bridge and promptly sends the Enterprise out of orbit, the parents telepathically seize Kirk’s mind, almost killing him.

The Lactran parents and their child alongside Scotty

Kirk is instantly saved when Scotty and the Lactran child beam down. Scotty explains that the child is super-intelligent and established telepathic contact with him as well as the Enterprise computers. Scotty convinced the child that Humans are not pets and that it should return the ship into orbit. Spock realises that the infant has informed its elders about the Federation, which they consider simplistic. The Lactrans release the Starfleet officers.

Returned to the Enterprise, Spock receives a final telepathic message from the Lactrans, welcoming the Federation back in twenty or thirty Lactran centuries. Spock questions that duration, though Kirk points out that it won’t be their problem.

Status Report

With Kirk having been absent from the previous episode — “The Slaver Weapon” — it’s brilliant to see him back in action here, though him saying the captain of a starship should definitely follow protocol is highly hypocritical. He makes a fun callback to his “Risk is our business” speech from The Original Series episode “Return to Tomorrow”.

The discovery of multiple ecologies co-existing within close proximity to each other foreshadows those on the Genesis Planet in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. A landing party being kept as zoo specimens by aliens is reminiscent of what happens to Pike and co in “The Cage”. Spock using his limited telepathic abilities to ascertain the thoughts of a couple of whale-like creatures which become worried about their child makes for a fantastic prelude to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

The minds of Spock and Kirk being used on Lactra VII

The potential destruction of Kirk’s mind seems like a small stake, but it threatens major consequences. After he recovers, him telling Markel, “Offhand, I think we learned to keep our hands off,” is a wonderful line.

Markel is voiced reasonably well by James Doohan. The Ariel’s biologist, Randi Bryce, is voiced less well, recognisable as the voice of Majel Barrett.

Bryce and Markel

Markel and Bryce seem to know more than they should about the Lactrans. How, for example, did they figure out that the species is telepathic? It’s all a little convenient, but their knowledge does serve to further the plot. The intelligence level of the Lactrans meanwhile seems inconsistent.

It’s regrettable that the USS Ariel is only ever mentioned, never shown, and that the Enterprise landing party consists only of males, without any redshirts.

Despite his supposed aptitude with science, Spock seems out-of-character during a couple of moments in this episode. For instance, he asks Kirk whether the same environment prompts identical evolution and, in his final line of the episode, he is mathematically uncertain about the length of a Lactran century. These matters should come easy to Spock.

Rating: 4/5

The episode deals well with one of the most interesting science fiction concepts of the Star Trek universe — telepathy — and the sense of worldbuilding here is a highlight. The backgrounds of Lactra VII look beautiful (as usual for planet surface views in TAS), featuring excellent designs for the various aliens. Numerous shots — such as an overhead perspective of a forest clearing, and the screeching purple swoopers — are clearly recycled from previous TAS installments, slightly modified. Though Kirk at one point says McCoy criticising Spock “isn’t helping the situation,” it is fun to watch the bickering between them (mileage may vary). Ultimately, the episode plays like a thought-provoking adventure with classic Trek ideas, despite a few minor drawbacks.

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