Wednesday, April 2, 2014

TOS Rewind #61: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

And now we land on For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky (11/08/1968)

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Once again, our heroes find themselves with a wayward society run by some ancient civilization's computer. This time, they're on an asteroid that happens to be a spaceship and will soon collide with an inhabited world unless it's put back on course. Oh, and this computer really doesn't like to be told what to do and is kind of a control freak.

I think it's pretty safe to say that this episode is very heavily borrowed from earlier science fiction, including Robert Heinlein and even earlier this very season in "The Paradise Syndrome". The ideas here are very similar:  "primitive" group of people being guided by a now-faulty caretaker computer. Our heroes get to fix things.

This one would be pretty much a throw-away exercise in lazy duplication were it not for the focus on McCoy. The plot element where Bones self-diagnoses himself with a fatal, incurable illness is quite melodramatic. It could be that we have already gone so far beyond this point in Star Trek to not take McCoy's impending death seriously but in the episode it seems subdued as well. Kirk seems to display very little emotion when he hears the news and callously orders Starfleet to send out a replacement doctor. This part of the episode seems inconsistent given how close the main characters are by this time. I have to wonder if the writers felt this would make it more realistic when McCoy decides to stay behind with his new girlfriend.

However, the romance between McCoy and Natira, the leader of the people on the asteroid, is the primary attraction of this episode. Unless I'm forgetting something, this is the only other episode with the exception of "The Man Trap" way back at the beginning of the series where McCoy is portrayed as having any relationships other than those of friendship (with Kirk/Spock). Abbreviated as it is, it's nice to see this character branch out just a little and the scenes have a certain sweetness to them. On the other hand, like many other subplots of the original series, the relationship has no life outside of this episode.

Otherwise, the costumes are extremely silly and the sets reused or cheap. We do get an unusual scene with Kirk talking to Starfleet; that didn't happen all the time but there's not that much new or interesting going on.

The new effects for this episode look nice and improve on the shots where the Enterprise is following the asteroid/ship.


Eric's take:

The best word to describe my feelings about "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" is meh. Profound mehness.

To be fair, there are things I like about this episode. McCoy getting the girl is a refreshing change of pace. I wonder, though, what happened behind the scenes to convince Mr. Ego (aka Bill Shatner) to relinquish his sex god role, if only temporarily. I also enjoyed, as usual, the interactions between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. By this point in the series, both the writers and actors know the characters inside out, so even the average (or pitiful) episodes have good character moments. And lastly, there really isn't any overt or egregious sexism or misogyny.

But now the reasons for this episode's aforementioned mehness. To begin with, the sub-plot of McCoy having a terminal illness seems like a contrived plot device. It could be argued that it provides the necessary incentive for him to stay on Yonada with Natira, but I question whether it is necessary given McCoy's admission of deep loneliness. It actually would've been more genuinely dramatic for McCoy's decision to leave the Enterprise to simply be a life choice.

Also the premise of the story--our brave captain and crew versus the artificially intelligent supercomputer--is derivative of at least three much better episodes: "Return of the Archons," "The Changeling," and "The Ultimate Computer." And in a similar vein, the story also plagiarizes one of my favorite science fiction books by one of my favorite science fiction authors. "Orphans of the Sky" by Robert A. Heinlein is a novel about a massive starship full of colonists who not only do not know they are colonists, but also do not know they live inside a starship. (As you might guess, I recommend this book quite highly.)

So "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" is neither great nor excremental. It's just, once again, meh. The next episode, though, is a real gem.

Next time: "The Tholian Web"

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