Kirk, Spock, Bones and Federation Commissioner/Fun Chick at Parties Nancy Hedford (Elinor Donahue) crash a shuttle on a planet inhabited by a mysterious human who turns out to be long-lost creator of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane (Glenn Corbett). Cochrane, who has the appearance of the vice president of rotary club, has lived on the planet for 150 years, thanks to a mysterious entity/energy field he calls “the Companion,” which also brought the shuttle to the planet to keep him from dying of loneliness. After Hedford goes to that big negotiating table in the sky — Kirk and Co. were taking her to get medical attention for some ailment or something — the Companion merges within her body, creating a human woman, complete with an echo-ey voice! After initially feeling used by the Companion when it’s discovered to have female characteristics, Cochrane decides to live with it on the planet and Kirk and Co. hit the old dusty trail. The Big Three, as they leave, promise to keep the happy couple’s existence secret.
Why it’s important
The Cochrane backstory explains much of how humans were able to leave Earth’s solar system, though without a lot of details. The character is hugely important in “Star Trek: First Contact” and his existence is one of the linchpins of “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Meanwhile, Kirk’s dialog with Cochrane (“We’re at 1,000 planets, and spreading out”) is a key moment for the franchise and for TOS. After a first season that made Starfleet sound Earth-centric, this is an episode that opened things up. It also adds scope in that it shows that the Enterprise isn’t just some ship that randomly gets into adventures. It’s part of something MUCH larger.
We’re also shown the Metron recording device — I mean, universal translator. While I stay away from technological developments (e.g., which episode the dilithium articulation chamber debuts in), this is an instance where technology is worth mentioning. Without the UT and its Sunny D Mom properties (magic!) Star Trek would be very, very different — and far less digestible. This also is one of the few times we see the UT as an actual device.
What doesn’t hold up
Well, for starters, Cochrane here looks nothing like Cochrane in “Star Trek: First Contact,” when he’s played by James Cromwell. There’s some speculation that the movie Cochrane was affected by radiation, which is why he looks rougher and less like a Fox News anchor in the 1996 film, and then “rejuvenated” after landing on the Companion’s little rock of love. OK, fine — I’ll give the creators that one. But Cochrane in “Metamorphosis” sure seems to ACT much differently than Cochrane in “Star Trek: First Contact.” It’s hard to believe that the drunk who invented warp drive as a way to end up on an island full of naked women — something Cochrane tells Riker in the movie — would have the “totally parochial attitude” we see here, to quote our favorite half-Vulcan science officer. Oh, and in case the idea is that Cochrane became a new man after discovering warp drive and meeting the Vulcans, an episode of “Star Trek Enterprise” has a line of dialog about how Cochrane was “frequently intoxicated” in later years.
Beyond that, Cochrane is strangely referred to as “of Alpha Centauri” in this episode. Maybe the creators, at the time, were implying that humans got to Alpha Centauri and developed warp there? But that, obviously, doesn’t square with Cochrane developing the technology in an abandoned missile complex in central Montana. Now, it’s possible that Cochrane resided on Alpha Centauri before he left for deep space, but the matter is never really addressed.
It’s interesting to watch “Metamorphosis” and see how it became a foundation piece for Star Trek (inconsistencies and all) while an episode like “Whom Gods Destroy” introduces another supposedly important historical figure (Garth of Izar) who is immediately forgotten. I like to think about the creative process there: “You want to write a movie bringing back the crazy dude with different colored boots and the green girlfriend or the guy who looked like a ’50s yearbook photo who fell in love with a yellow energy cloud?”
I’ve also always had a soft spot for this episode. It’s got some great Big Three interaction, but Shatner absolutely sells the point about the expanding galaxy. It’s an important exchange and it really gives us an idea of the scope of Star Trek.