Warp Factor Trek

The Star Trek Fan Website

In this episode, the Enterprise encounters a mind-altering disease that affects the crew like alcohol. It’s time to strip the episode naked!


The Enterprise orbits Psi 2000, a frozen planet about to disintegrate. Beaming down, Spock and Crewman Joe Tormolen discover the frozen corpses of a six-member science team that the Enterprise was assigned to collect. Tormolen is unaware that a dripping red liquid touches his ungloved hand. Spock notifies Captain Kirk that the science team’s demise is highly unique.

Wearing EV suits (which were, in reality, repurposed shower curtains), Spock and Tormolen are decontaminated by the transporter

Tormolen and Spock return to the Enterprise, cleared by Doctor McCoy, but Tormolen is deeply affected by the fatalities. In the rec room, he’s frenzied and sweating profusely. When Sulu and another crewman — Lieutenant Riley — join him, Tormolen tries to stab himself. The two intervene, but Tormolen is accidentally stabbed, and Riley’s hands are now also sweating.

The captain’s log reveals an onboard disease infecting both Riley and Sulu. Assisted by Nurse Chapel, McCoy operates on Tormolen, who dies as if he uncharacteristically gave up. Recording the planet’s decay requires the Enterprise to fly a difficult inward-spiralling orbit, but Sulu leaves his helm post for a workout. Riley heads to sickbay, where he infects Nurse Chapel.

Topless Sulu brandishing a fencing foil

Shirtless, Sulu goes berserk with a sword. The ship’s orbit decays, the engines and engineering unresponsive. Spock subdues Sulu with a neck pinch, but Riley has hijacked the ship from engineering. Tensions are high, with only about twenty minutes until atmospheric burn-up.

Crew conflicts increase. Kirk orders an alert, but it’s blocked by Riley and his maddening renderings of Kathleeen…. Kirk and Scotty rendezvous outside engineering as the spreading virus erodes crew efficiency.

Spock and Chapel have a heart-to-heart

Confessing her love for him, Chapel infects Spock, incapacitating his emotional control. As Kirk and Scotty access engineering — detaining Riley — Spock suffers a total breakdown. Kirk realises the ship can’t escape the planet’s gravity in time.

McCoy identifies the virus, realising the planet somehow mutates water into a complex molecule chain that’s transmitted through sweat. Given the first shot, Sulu recovers, but dispensing the serum proves difficult.

McCoy tries to arrange for the serum to be distributed, but the lab technician he talks to over the comm just laughs hysterically

Kirk finds the distraught Spock in a briefing room. Unable to make him realise the “gravity” of their situation, the captain slaps Spock until he can discuss a possible solution. Infected, Kirk talks emotionally about the Enterprise and Yeoman Rand. Spock departs with Scotty to plan the necessary calculations.

Kirk — determined to save the Enterprise — struggles to the bridge, where McCoy vaccinates him. To escape the atmospheric burn-up, the starship retreats and travels three days into the past.

The Enterprise crew continue their voyage


I appreciate the focus on a disease, as it’s a realistic threat on an alien planet. The concept that an antagonist could be an impersonal force of nature — rather than a character — was established here, and Star Trek is all the better for it.

It’s intriguing to watch this episode post-pandemic. A touch-transmitted disease which causes confusion? That could be said of both COVID and the Psi 2000 virus.

Tormolen with one hand ungloved

Tormolen’s lack of simple safety precautions is extremely daft. It’s shocking that apparently no-one thinks to disinfect the workstations on the bridge.

I love how the episode cleverly uses turbolift doors and reveals new ship areas, referencing auxiliary engineering and a bowling alley as well as showing a Jefferies tube. It also introduces Nurse Chapel and Scotty’s iconic pronouncement that he can’t alter the laws of physics.

Chapel’s first scene, in which she simply delivers a lab report to McCoy

Chapel’s introduction makes dramatic sense, as she can be a recurring assistant to McCoy and emotionally connected to Spock. Frustratingly, her first scene isn’t particularly memorable.

Spock calling Sulu “d’Artagnan” seems out-of-character. Leonard Nimoy’s performance is otherwise brilliant, especially portraying Spock’s breakdown, largely ad-libbed. I like how, despite the tech-heavy future setting, Spock acknowledges that technology has limits.

Actor Bruce Hyde and Director Marc Daniels during a break in filming a scene involving Riley

Riley’s Irish nationalism is overly stereotyped. His reaction to Spock asking Uhura to operate the helm station — Riley advocating “universal suffrage” — somewhat dates the episode, as females in crew positions should be considered normal. Riley’s disease-induced confusion might be the cause. After Sulu grabs Uhura — saying, “I’ll protect you, fair maiden” — she makes a welcome bid for feminism with the outstanding retort, “Sorry, neither,” before breaking free.

I find it interesting that Sulu’s shirtless scenes were significant in the formative years of many gay men. George Takei advocated for his character to be portrayed as homosexual at the time, but Gene Roddenberry declined over fears that some viewers would no longer watch the series. If Sulu’s shirtless duelling was breaking new ground, then I approve, though it’s a shame the show couldn’t have gone further in homosexual representation.

Politically active gay actor George Takei with Sulu’s sword

A rattlesnake sound effect aptly indicates viral contamination. Alexander Courage’s incidental music here is highly influential in the series, reused in later episodes.

By exploring mankind’s raw nature, this episode returns to a theme from “The Enemy Within”. Spock and McCoy’s banter about their anatomical differences and Sulu being mentioned as a keen botanist connect well with “Mudd’s Women” and “The Man Trap” respectively.

Sulu’s swashbuckling foreshadows his later action-oriented roles, such as in the movies The Search for Spock and The Final Frontier. Kirk vowing to protect the Enterprise ironically contrasts with his destruction of the vessel in The Search for Spock.

This is an episode where Kirk is definitely pushed to his limits

Kirk’s admission that he finds Yeoman Rand beautiful, but isn’t supposed to, follows the vicious version of him trying to rape her in “The Enemy Within” and explains why he ends up pursuing other (often alien) women. His statement “no beach to walk on” always reminds me of Benjamin Sisko’s beach walk with Jennifer in DS9’s “Emissary”.

Strange New Worlds offers excellent backstory for the romantic scene between Spock and Chapel. However, this episode’s impact is slightly lessened because, chronologically, Spock already experienced strong human emotions in the SNW episode ”Charades”.

Rating: 3.5/5

Written by John D.F. Black, this is a fun bottle show, with great character development and fascinatingly relevant themes. It even has a good deal of action, with Sulu’s famous fencing. The biggest downside is that it’s slightly repetitive and slow-moving by modern standards. Though the plot was later recycled as TNG’s “The Naked Now”, this is generally regarded as the better-executed episode.

Leave comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.