“Welcome to Bad Science Fiction Theatre…”
“I am your host, Leonard Pinth-Garnell.”
Some readers of this site have expressed concern at what they consider the undue flippancy with which I’ve summarized some previous episodes of “Star Trek.” Therefore I shall endeavor, this week, to stick strictly to the facts of the plot in my synopsis.
An alien spacecraft approaches Enterprise and beams over a young woman in a purple miniskirt and matching vinyl thigh-high boots. She presses a button on her bracelet and knocks everyone on the ship out. When they come to, she’s disappeared with Spock’s brain.
The Enterprise follows her to Sigma Draconis. McCoy and Scotty attach a gadget to Spock’s head so that they can operate him with a hand-held remote control.
The crew beams down to the planet to find that the local men (“morg”) all live on the surface and the women (“imorg”) all live underground. The women put food in an elevator disguised as a cave and use this to trap men to mate with and to use as security guards.
Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Spock’s body are captured by the miniskirted thigh-booted imorg, who are as puzzled as the morg by the androgyny of the humans (“you are not morg. You are not imorg”).
It turns out that Spock’s brain has been installed in a plastic light box and is being used to run the lights and air conditioning and plumbing. There’s also a plastic helmet called “the Teacher” which gives otherwise completely ignorant human beings the immediate ability to perform complex brain surgery for a couple of hours.
McCoy uses the Teacher to learn how to put Spock’s brain back into his body. When he starts forgetting everything in the middle of the operation, Kirk orders him to reconnect Spock’s vocal cords so that the Vulcan can explain it as they go.
The operation is a success. Kirk tells the imorg leader that her people will have to abandon their civilization and go live on the surface of the planet, because without Spock’s brain there’s no way to run the heating and air-conditioning and plumbing. Spock spontaneously launches into a lecture comparing Sigma Draconis to ancient Rome, and McCoy says that he shouldn’t have reconnected Spock’s vocal cords.
“There… That wasn’t so good now, was it?”
“The pain…oh, the pain.”
This is certainly among the most underrated and noteworthy of “Star Trek’s” third season…
Nah, I’m just messin’ with you. We’re talkin’ about “Spock’s Brain.”
Originally airing as the first episode of Trek’s third and final season on NBC, the story is completely bereft of the intelligence, plausibility and disciplined imagination that had characterized the series in its premiere season two years previous. It’s as hollow and nonsensical as any given episode of “Lost In Space.”
In fact the show would be no sillier if, instead of having his brain scooped out, Spock had been turned into a giant walking talking carrot. The episode might actually have been improved by substituting Doctor Zachary Smith for McCoy and Will Robinson for Captain Kirk.
Contemplate the story’s premise for a moment: a civilization capable of creating a machine that could maintain itself for millennia and teach advanced knowledge and skills in seconds to totally ignorant humans couldn’t come up with a better solution for maintenance than “oh yeah, when the air circulator breaks down jump in this interstellar space ship and fly around looking for a brain to steal.”
Let’s move on.
Nimoy delivers a credible reading delivery of a disembodied brain, and Shatner gives about as flat and uninteresting a performance as he ever would. To be fair, Kirk is scripted as such a smug and superficial character in this instance that Shatner is just being true to the material.
It’s been said that this script was originally written as a comedy, but that the third year producer (Fred Freiberger) didn’t care for that and had it rewritten as a straight “drama.” Gene Coon used a pen name on this episode (“Lee Cronin”) so it’s pretty likely that a whole lot of something he didn’t like was done to his script. There are certainly what seem to be vestiges of comic dialogue and set-ups in the show – Shatner’s delivery of lines like “I’ve certainly noticed those delightful…aspects,” and the whole ending with Spock delivering his lecture while seemingly oblivious to the eye-rolling reactions of his crewmates and the utter lack of comprehension on the part of the imorg leader.
Would have been better with a laugh track?
The actors may have walked through their roles on this episode while the long-time producers looked for other projects to carry them beyond the nigh-inevitable series cancellation that was on the horizon, but Walter Jefferies and Fred Steiner continued to give it their best. Jefferies creates a plausible suggestion of an advanced underground complex from a few odd arches and plant-ons (a number of the wall panels feature spray-painted styrene coffee cup lids as controls). The design of the “Teacher” helmet remarkably suggests high technology on a very low budget (in this new Remastered transfer, the sphere it’s stored on looks like a green bowling ball…maybe it was). Steiner’s music is memorable, incorporating everything from a new arrangement of Courage’s “Star Trek” fanfare to electronic sounds reminiscent of “Forbidden Planet” and even a brief segment on the planet’s surface featuring percussion very much like Goldsmith’s score for “Planet Of The Apes.”
Let’s give the show’s producer the last word, here: asked in 1980 what he considered to have been his failures as “Star Trek’s” producer, Freiberger listed four episodes: “The Cloud Minders,” “That Which Survives,” “The Way To Eden,” and “Spock’s Brain.”
Jeffries makes do
The New Effects
The Remastered episode opens with a treat – an intriguing new version of the imorg ion-drive starship, which was originally represented by what looked like a rejected design for Tom Corbett’s Polaris. The first appearance of Enterprise herself is a much-needed upgrade, as the original version of this featured one of the worst matting jobs seen on the series. An early close-up on the saucer section nicely incorporates the story-specific element of a darkened bridge dome, matching the lowered lights on the live-action bridge set in the very next shot.
Now that is cool
One new effect is a digital matte used to open up the beam-down shot on Sigma Draconis. The use of such mattes to enhance otherwise stage-bound planetary exteriors has been used before in the Remastered series, most notably in “Amok Time.” The incorporation of live footage of the actors into the matte in this episode makes it even more effective.
Another great matte painting…do more of these CBS!
Though that matte is the most striking of the remastered effects, I was most pleased by the several shots of Enterprise in space and in orbit. CBS Digital has finally gotten the starship looking as it always should have looked, in every shot, and that’s a lovely thing.
Still, where "Spock’s Brain" is concerned, all the remastering and updatedeffects in the world can’t accomplish much more than putting lipstick on a pig.