Category Archives: Galactic Powers

Who’s who in the Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma quadrants

“Journey to Babel”

The United Federation of Planets, in a nutshell, circa 2267. Not sure why the Klingons or Romulans were worried.

The Enterprise transports a group of dignitaries to a conference regarding Coridan’s admission to the Federation. We meet the Vulcan representative Sarek, Spock’s father (Mark Lenard) who travels with his human wife and Spock’s mother, Amanda (Jane Wyatt). Spock’s relationship with Sarek and Amanda is strained, an important point when it’s learned that Sarek needs a blood transfusion from Spock to live, as he’s been hiding a heart condition. Meanwhile, a Tellarite dignitary is found dead and Kirk is stabbed by what appears to be an Andorian (really, an Orion agent cosmetically altered). With Kirk in sickbay, Spock refuses to yield command and commence with the transfusion, so a wounded Kirk heads to the bridge to relieve Spock, hoping to fool him into undergoing the procedure. Spock leaves and McCoy begins the operation, while a weakened Kirk must command the Enterprise through a battle with unidentified aliens (who turn out to be Orions with mining interests on Coridan). Kirk’s tactical genius saves the day once again, and McCoy completes the operation, saving Spock and Sarek.

No idea.
The Lollipop Guild was a Federation member, apparently. Also, is that a space bong?

Why it’s important

Well, with a summary like that, you can see where there was a lot of plot and a lot of foundation. We’re introduced to the Tellarites and the Andorians — who, as a result, are later shown to be early members of the Federation — the Orions (beyond the slave girl stuff in “The Cage”) and, of course Spock’s parents. D.C. Fontana’s scripts were often written with continuity in mind as she commonly brought back an earlier enemy and fleshed them out (“Friday’s Child” and “The Enterprise Incident”). The Tellarites’ argumentative tendencies and the Andorians’ warrior traits are first shown here, too, and define both species in “Star Trek: Enterprise.” That relies on the somewhat hoary sci-fi crutch that all members of a race pretty much act the same (not to mention that they look the same and dress the same). But this is one of only three times Andorians appear in TOS and one of two times Tellarites do — and it’s the only episode where they’re not just sort of personality-less background dudes or henchmen.

Meanwhile, Spock’s estrangement from his family is established here. It’s (ahem) a fascinating bit of backstory for one of Star Trek’s cornerstone characters, even though it’s not Earth-shattering (galaxy-shattering, Vulcan-shattering?) in what it means to the rest of the franchise. In other words, Spock’s backstory wouldn’t have, say, changed Federation history or anything. But it is good stuff.

“Oh, come on, Bones. That female Tellarite was HOT.” “Might be time for a stop at Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet, Jim.”

What doesn’t hold up

Not a lot of issues here. The Tellarite mask is pretty terrible, but whatevs. It is interesting that Spock won’t yield command when lower officers have been left in charge before (e.g. Sulu in “Errand of Mercy” or Scotty in like half of the third season). But that can mostly be explained by Spock’s sense of duty/logic with his pops around. Oh, and I wonder if Spock ever mentioned to Sarek that his identical twin happened to be a Romulan commander? Eh, it’s not their way, I guess.

Now, there was that scene way back in “The Corbomite Maneuver” that made it sound like Spock’s parents (or, at least Amanda) were long-since dead. She WAS a very happy Earth woman, remember? Interestingly enough, the same thing happens with Sisko’s father in DS9. And, of course, there’s that line in “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” where Spock says one of his ancestors was human. I suppose an ancestor could be his mother, but that seems like a stretch.

Final thoughts

This episode really is the only time in TOS when the Federation appears (with visual evidence) to be much more than humans and Vulcans, so it’s extremely important. There’s some dumb-looking background aliens who could have been straight out of “Buck Rogers,” but it’s cool that the Andorians, Tellarites, Coridanites (not seen here) and Orions (not really seen here, either) all pop up later.

This episode isn’t the first time the United Federation of Planets is mentioned. The first reference was in “A Taste of Armageddon,” after a smattering of terms like the United Earth Space Probe Agency, “Space Central” or just mentions of Earth for much of season one.  But “Journey to Babel” is the first time we see the intergalactic community that’s taken shape with humans at or near the center of it. We’ll learn in “Star Trek: Enterprise” just how pivotal Earth was in the founding of the Federation.


I do not have a totally parochial attitude. I do not have a totally parochial attitude ...
“I do not have a totally parochial attitude. I do not have a totally parochial attitude …”

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.

Can this shuttle take me to an island full of naked women?
“Can this shuttle take me to an island full of naked women?”

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.

Cochrane's bachelor pad. He can even offer you a hot bath.
Cochrane’s bachelor pad. He can even offer you a hot bath.

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.

Final thoughts

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.

“Amok Time”

This fight is to the death. Thee should be used to that by now.
“This fight is to the death. Thee should be used to that by now.”

After behaving strangely for several days — throwing soup and stuff — Spock tells Kirk he must go to Vulcan to engage in a mating ritual, a diagnosis McCoy confirms. Kirk, never one to devalue a good mating ritual, defies orders and takes Spock to Vulcan, where he and McCoy accompany Spock to a sort of wedding ceremony. But Spock’s betrothed wife T’Pring (Arlene Martel) chooses a challenge (invoking an ancient right) and surprisingly picks Kirk as her “champion.” Figuring that the weakened Spock might be in trouble if he has to fight someone else, Kirk agrees — and then learns the fight is to the death. Spock, unable to stop himself because of his “blood fever,” goes full on after Kirk, before McCoy sneaks in an injection he says will help Kirk deal with Vulcan’s arid climate and atmosphere. Shortly thereafter, Spock appears to kill Kirk, and McCoy beams back to the ship with the body. Spock then learns T’Pring picked Kirk as a way to ensure she could be with another dude (the details aren’t that important). Back on the ship, Spock arrives in sickbay, all set to turn himself into the authorities when Kirk (alive and well) comes from behind a corner. Spock briefly reacts with joy, in a signature moment of the series, and learns McCoy actually injected Kirk with a substance to knock him out and simulate death. Then, Kirk and Spock head back to the bridge to mind the store.

Hey Spock, he's got an "aw wound." Get it?
“Hey Spock, he’s got an ‘aw wound.’ Get it?”

Why it’s important

This is the original series’ closest look at Vulcan culture and the only time we get to Spock’s home planet before the movies. The idea of a society built on logic, steeped in antiquity, is established here and we get the clear message that Vulcans work so hard to suppress their emotions because they were (and are) capable of such rage. Spock, at one point, says his “blood burns.” McCoy even says that the ordeal Spock and other Vulcans go through once every seven years might be the price they pay for suppressing their emotions most of the time. It’s interesting stuff.

We get our first idea of the look and feel of Vulcan culture, too. Some of it works, though I’m not sure why the wedding officiant T’Pau (Celia Lovsky) speaks in Old English (maybe she really digs malt liquor?). Of course, we see T’Pau nearly 40 years later in “Star Trek: Enterprise” in a well-intended and mostly successful callback to TOS. She appears in the prequel series’s fourth season as a member of a group said to understand the “true” teachings of Surak, the father of Vulcan logic (though she doesn’t speak like a she’s doing Shakespeare in the Park in those episodes, thankfully). Turns out that T’Pau’s group actually has it right and that she and others help turn Vulcan society into what it is in 23rd century Star Trek (dignified pacifists) — as opposed to Vulcans we see in the 22nd century (treacherous bureaucrats).

I just had some great plomeek soup!
“I just had some great plomeek soup! Want some?”

What doesn’t hold up

It’s a nice moment when Kirk and McCoy explain (sort of) why T’Pau is important — because it shows that the Federation isn’t all about humans (a real problem in Trek’s first season). However, it seems like Kirk would know more about T’Pau if he knew she turned down a spot on the Federation Council. In “The Savage Curtain”, where we meet a recreation of Surak, Kirk’s never heard of the guy. So, Kirk’s heard of T’Pau, but not the Vulcan messiah, whose true teachings were uncovered (in part) by T’Pau in a spiritual awakening that changed Vulcan culture and involved Starfleet? Wouldn’t this be like Spock knowing who George Washington was but only that he was the first U.S. president — and not a famed general in the American Revolution?

It’s also odd that we don’t see or hear of Spock’s parents in this episode. In the first season, he speaks of them as if they were dead, but later this season in “Journey to Babel”, they’re quite alive and on Vulcan. Maybe the rift between Sarek and Spock was the reason they didn’t attend this ceremony. Or, perhaps parents aren’t supposed to attend such ceremonies, as part of tradition. Either way, it’s odd when we learn they are, in fact, alive (and that one resembles a certain Romulan commander). The simplest answer, of course, is that the writers decided Spock’s parents were dead until “Journey to Babel.” Same sort of thing happened with Captain Benjamin Sisko’s father 30 years later, FWIW.

Final thoughts

I’ve always felt this episode was somewhat overrated. The fight scene is fine — and the music is pretty great — but such fight scenes were such a part of TOS that this episode isn’t anything close to groundbreaking. That said, as TOS tropes go, it’s not on par with exposition dialog miraculously diagnosing a complex problem, Kirk outsmarting computers or Bones’ medical pouch containing scores of day-saving goodies.

Also, while McCoy’s plan was fairly smart, it also was incredibly lucky. What if the order of the weapons used in the challenge had been reversed? If the bladed weapon had been the second one used, Spock could have easily beheaded Kirk — or bashed in his skull. Or, what if Kirk had simply passed out at a moment when Spock wasn’t attacking him? Then, what?

And, of course, T’Pau’s failure to explain the ancient ritual is a huge conceit. Would it really have been that hard to tell Kirk, before he accepted the challenge, that the fight was to the death? This flaw could have been fixed, by the way, by Spock simply being unhinged during the fight with the matter of “to the death” being vague. I know T’Pau telling Kirk the true stakes of the fight — after he’s accepted — is a thunderclap moment, but it’s too hard to swallow. It either means T’Pau wasn’t smart enough to consider Kirk wouldn’t just know that the fight was too the death or that she was too obstinate/prideful to tell him. The second option doesn’t fit with the idea that Vulcans are logical pacifists.

All that said, there are moments in this episode that I like a lot. Seeing Vulcan and the land owned by Spock’s family was pretty cool (this is an episode that really benefited from the new remastered effects, BTW). And T’Pau was certainly an interesting character. I liked her questioning of Spock’s humanness — in lines that (I believe) were sometimes cut for syndication. There are a couple other moments I didn’t love — was Spock about to seduce Nurse Chapel in his quarters when she came to tell him they were heading to Vulcan? — but Nimoy and the writing staff really did a good job overall.

The episode’s best moment, though, is when Spock asks McCoy to attend the ceremony for his “closest male friends.” It’s an important moment because it shows Spock and McCoy are not actually enemies, despite their trademark bickering. I know the surprised/happy Spock is what everyone remembers from “Amok Time,” other than the fight music that would show up again and again for the next two seasons. But Spock’s moment of vulnerability with McCoy was really wonderful.

“Errand of Mercy”

“By your comman — I mean, today is a good day to die.”

Kirk and Spock travel to Organia, a primitive planet about to be in the crossfire in a looming conflict between the Federation and some newly introduced baddies, the Klingon Empire. As Kirk tries to convince the Organians that they should let Starfleet establish a base on the planet, the Klingons arrive, led by Commander Kor (John Colicos), and establish a military post as Kirk and Spock are forced to go undercover (and as the Enterprise leaves orbit). With the Federation and Klingon fleets poised to begin fighting — Sulu’s in command of the ship with Scotty and McCoy apparently on Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet or something — the Organians reveal themselves as extremely power aliens, and stop the conflict from happening. This, of course, sets up decades of Cold War-style conflict between the two heavyweights, one of the key aliens in all of Trek, and bat’leths hanging over many a nerd’s fireplace.

“Starfleet’s about exploration. But I just said I’m a soldier, not a diplomat. But sometimes, my job calls on me to be a diplomat. And my medical officer keeps saying he’s a doctor … and not a bricklayer or a moon-shuttle conductor. And one time, he said he wasn’t an escalator! Basically, I’m really confused all the time.”

Why it’s important

The Romulans technically arrived first, but the Klingons were TOS’ main bad guys, a fact that is especially true in the movies (Klingons appear in five of the six TOS films). Instead of being mysterious and enigmatic like the Romulans, the Klingons clearly have had lots of recent dealings with the Federation, as Kirk is able to describe them — or, at least, how he sees them — without much couching to the Organian leaders. Klingon bastards.

The Klingons really became the Bad Guy of the Week in Trek’s second season, whereas the Romulans only appear twice more in TOS (only once more with actual actors playing Romulans) and only briefly in the movies and never as the main bad guys. It’s hard to imagine Star Trek without Klingon-heavy moments like the final battle scene in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” or the tense scenes at the Genesis Planet in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” — to say nothing of the Klingons’ role in the next four series. “Star Trek: Voyager” is the only show without a lot of Klingon stories, despite the presence of a half-Klingon chief engineer.

And it all started on a little world called Organia.

“I don’t like the tights you’re making me wear.”

What doesn’t hold up

Of course, the Klingons here LOOK very different than they do starting in “Star Trek — The Motion Picture”. Up until the events of the fourth season of “Star Trek: Enterprise,” this was arguably the biggest wink-wink-nudge-nudge item of the franchise, with DS9 even acknowledging it as such in perhaps Star Trek’s most meta moment in “Trials and Tribble-ations.” Later, of course, we learn that the change in appearance had something to do with Klingons’ attempts to create Super Klingons by riffing on human genetic-engineering methods. Oh, and Anakin Skywalker actually built C-3PO. Yuck.

As was the case for a lot of the Klingon depiction in TOS, the warrior race that is so concerned with honor in TNG sure doesn’t seem very honorable here. The Mind Sifter — a tool Kor uses unsuccessfully on Spock to determine whether he’s a spy — is straight out of the Romulans’ playbook. But, to paraphrase Worf in another episode, “They are Klingons, and it is a long story.”

Also, Starfleet is at its most militaristic here, with Kirk actually calling himself a soldier (not a diplomat). Was Gene on vacay on the Jersey Shore with Majel when this episode was filmed? While TOS is certainly the most militaristic series in Trek (DS9 competes at times) with lots of talk of “the service” and “braids on shoulders,” etc., “Errand of Mercy” takes it to the extreme. That’s not necessarily a problem in an episode where everyone’s worried about a war. But it is noteworthy.

Final thoughts

This is a great Kirk-Spock episode (not to be confused with a Kirk-Spock-Bones episode, which is actually a very different thing). It’s my favorite example of Spock not being an overt pacifist (talking about crimes against science) while also not being a caustic jerk (proposing to off Jim’s long-time buddy who just happens to be evolving into a god or something). Shatner also is about pitch-perfect in this episode (“Go climb a tree”) and Colicos is great as Trek’s first real Klingon. Kor’s final line about how the averted war “would have been glorious” might have laid a foundation for Klingons as much as anything else.

This isn’t a great episode, but it’s a very good one. The biggest mark against it is that the plot here is too similar to what happened in “Arena.” In both episodes, Starfleet is prevented from taking action (combat) against an enemy — and god-like beings intervene (with different details). The Organians here are somewhat more interesting because they’re posing as simple backwards aliens — which sets up the big twist when they reveal they have the power to stop the Federation and the Klingons. But the lesson that Kirk learns at the end (that humans aren’t the most powerful beings in the universe) isn’t at all new. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.

“Balance of Terror”

“I can’t figure out why there’s a camera right here. Guess I’ll call tech support …”

The Romulan Star Empire — a mysterious former nemesis of Earth unheard from for a century — returns and destroys several border outposts with a mysterious and super-scary weapon. The Enterprise responds and has protracted battle sequences (think submarine warfare … in space!) before Kirk’s tactical genius bests Spock’s dad — err, the Romulan commander (Mark Lenard) — and destroys the invading ship preventing another war and cementing our boy Jimmy as, well, our boy Jimmy. He’s apparently of a kind. And a sorcerer!

Why it’s important

“Balance of Terror” introduces one of Trek’s main villains, the Romulans, and does so in a way that is amazingly consistent with what we see of them for the next 40 years — unlike, say, the Ferengi, who go from allegedly eating their enemies to caterers and bartenders in six years flat. Of course, the episode also has the big reveal that the Romulans are offshoots of the Vulcans and introduces the concept of the cloaking device to Star Trek. It’s an extremely foundational hour of the franchise. Just think if that racist dude Stiles (Paul Comi), the Enterprise’s navigator in this episode whose ancestors fought and died in the previous conflict with the Romulans, had stuck around!

“Just a second, Enterprise. I need to make sure you get video from me even after my outpost is destroyed.”

What doesn’t hold up well

The previous conflict with the Romulans as stated by Spock and others, is too Earth-centric even for first-season TOS standards — and especially if you consider the events of “Star Trek: Enterprise” (but even if you don’t). Apparently, Earth’s war with the Romulans occurred after the coalition that would become the Federation was established in Enterprise’s final episode “These Are the Voyages …” but before the Federation itself was formed. Or something.

Dramatically, it’s interesting in “Balance of Terror” that the Romulans have never been seen by humans (and it sets up the Big Moment™ when Spock sees a dude who looks just like his pops on the viewscreen — even though we don’t see Mark Lenard playing Sarek until season two). But it’s hard to believe that no visual communication or prisoner taking was previously possible, based on the 22nd-century technology on “Enterprise,” to say nothing of the visual communications technology available in the real world in the 21st century. It’s too bad that Spock didn’t just say that the Romulans refused visual communication back in the day. That would have been more believable than the apparent lack of Skype on Romulus or Earth 150 years from now. Maybe the Romulans were just way into Snapchat?

“Enterprise” also later pisses all over the wonderment of the cloaking device by giving Jonathan Archer’s crew’s a clear understanding of the technology and knowledge that the Romulans (and others) use it. “Selective bending of light,” indeed, Mr. Science Officer.

Lastly, the bad science of TOS pops up by asserting that the Romulans are a real threat despite their vessel’s lack of warp drive. Maybe Romulans have warp (even though the Bird of Prey seen in this episode doesn’t) making the Romulans a threat to the Federation in a larger sense, as opposed to being on par with the goofy aliens from TNG’s “The Outrageous Okona.” But the cat-and-mouse game is undercut by the fact that the Enterprise should be able to outrun the Romulan vessel several times over.

“My bigotry is too big for my quarters. Sir.”

Final thoughts

Complaints aside, it’s possible that this episode set up the very idea of recurring villains in Star Trek, a huge, huge deal. Soon after, the Klingons were introduced, and the two main rivals of TOS were set (with all due respect to a certain dude in a certain rubber lizard suit and Harcourt Fenton Mudd). Beyond that, “Balance of Terror” is fascinating because it’s willing to show actual bigotry (from a 23rd-century human!) as a way to show why bigotry is wrong and something humanity was still working to move past (and mostly succeeding). It’s very effective, but it’s also unusual for Trek and would have been unheard of in TNG, when all humans were apparently beyond such things.