Review: “Spock’s Brain” Remastered

“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.

“Spock’s Brain”

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?”


Spockbot

“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.


Good riddance to a bad matte

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.
 

Sort by:   newest | oldest

First !!!

“Brain and brain ? What is brain?” will live in the anals of the most embarassing lines in television history. Ed Wood could scarcely have done worse.

You mean this ep wasn’t a comedy in the last place ? I think the Improv Theatre stage play says it all — not one line was changed and it was instant MST3K.

Good review, Dennis.

Still a guilty pleasure. Still love those go-go boots and the beauts in em.

last o' the timelords

“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.”

Ah, there must be an original script that was intentionally funny then. Anyone know if it exists?

Hey No 2 FredCFO, not to be cruel or anything, but you’re rapidly approaching Ed Wood territory yourself when you write of “the anals of the most embarassing lines in television history”.

You do realize you should have written “annals”.

Mind you, there’s plenty of humour to mine in the typo. : )

By the way, I don’t usually comment on people’s grammer, spelling etc, but you made me chuckle out loud.

Hope you’re not miffed.

Should read “grammar”.

Sigh.

It’s a GREAT episode!!!

I don’t care what anyone thinks…

TTM

How could a threat to Spock’s life be funny? I don’t see any way this episode could have been a comedy…

In fact, I think this is one of the most dramatic episodes of the entire series. I think it would have made a great two-parter with the fate of Spock hanging in the balance at the end of part I.

Slightly re-written with an added element of danger, but this could have been a great two-parter. It’s a shame they didn’t do it. Part one could have ended with Kirk’s narration about McCoy’s memory of the Teacher’s training on brain restoral should have ended part I.

I would take the worst episodes of TNG, DS9 , VOY or ENT over this. its just plain BAD.

*puts his sunglasses on and Gets his Brain Neuralizer and flashes*

What you saw was”The City on the Edge of Forever” if this was a actual episode you have to be completely stoned to enjoy it.

Plan 9 From Sigma Draconas…

What I can not understand is why, considering this show was teetering on the brink of cancellation, would the producers even ACCEPT this storyline to begin with. Especially considering this was a season opener, typically a higher rated event. Did the need to get Spock’s name in the title outweigh any consideration for what HAD to be perceived as a horrible and nonsensical storyline. Seems to me that If you’re hanging on to your jobs by the weekly Nielson ratings, this is the last show you want out front in the season opener – even if things ARE going downhill fast. Even back then, when I was 11 years old, I couldn’t help laughing at the ridiculous of a remote controlled Spock. No wheechairs on the Enterprise?

Plan 9 From Sigma Draconas…

What I can not understand is why, considering this show was teetering on the brink of cancellation, would the producers even ACCEPT this storyline to begin with. Especially considering this was a season opener, typically a higher rated event. Did the need to get Spock’s name in the title outweigh any consideration for what HAD to be perceived as a horrible and nonsensical storyline. Seems to me that If you’re hanging on to your jobs by the weekly Nielson ratings, this is the last show you want out front in the season opener – even if things ARE going downhill fast. Even back then, when I was 11 years old, I couldn’t help laughing at the ridiculous of a remote controlled Spock. No wheechairs on the Enterprise?

I don’t think that Freiberger and Singer considered this to be a bad episode at the time it was produced. They liked it.

It’s also not always a fair assumption that series producers have a big selection of finished scripts to choose freely from at the beginning of a season. That’s true in some cases and not in others. The original “Star Trek” had a writing staff of only a couple of people at most – the majority of assignments were let to freelancers, and there was a major turnover of producers between seasons two and three.

I just checked, and this was the sixth show to be produced for the third season. Those that preceded it were:

“Spectre of the Gun”
“Elaan of Troyius”
“The Paradise Syndrome”
“The Enterprise Incident”
“And the Children Shall Lead”

Assuming that all of those had been completed through post-production, the decision about which to run first would have been NBC’s, not Paramount’s.

Something else that’s mildly interesting is that the first few live action shots of this episode are cut together from stock footage of the bridge, rather than shot for this episode.

First is a close-up of a “red alert” light that’s not even actually on the bridge set – looks like it may be Engineering.

Second is a momentary closeup of the flashing light atop the Transporter console, standing in for the flashing light between Sulu and Chekov on the navigation/helm console;

Third is footage of the bridge showing the characters in the velour uniforms from the first two seasons – the actors manning the stations to the left of frame are not the actors who in the following shots, and a blond actor with a conventional haircut is manning Chekov’s station rather than Walter Koenig

After a quick close-up of Spock (which actually may have been shot for this episode; it’s definitely third season) we see a side angle of Sulu who is again wearing a first or second season uniform. Different actors at the port side stations.

The first dialogue shot features all of the characters in the third season outfits.

Something else that’s mildly interesting is that the first few live action shots of this episode are cut together from stock footage of the bridge, rather than shot for this episode.

First is a close-up of a “red alert” light that’s not even actually on the bridge set – looks like it may be Engineering.

Second is a momentary closeup of the flashing light atop the Transporter console, standing in for the flashing light between Sulu and Chekov on the navigation/helm console;

Third is footage of the bridge showing the characters in the velour uniforms from the first two seasons – the actors manning the stations to the left of frame are not the actors who in the following shots, and a blond actor with a conventional haircut is manning Chekov’s station rather than Walter Koenig

After a quick close-up of Spock (which actually may have been shot for this episode; it’s definitely third season) we see a side angle of Sulu who is again wearing a first or second season uniform. Different actors at the port side stations.

The first dialogue shot features all of the characters in the third season outfits.

Nice review. And I’m harsh on reviewers. :)

I’m glad there *was* a Spock’s Brain, because, forty years later, there are still new jokes to make about it. But the only episodes I can think of that were worse are “Shades of Grey,” “Precious Cargo,” “Patterns of Force,” and, of course, the finale of Enterprise, which was so horrible I dare not speak its name.

Robert Simmons A.K.A Vice Rear Admiral Nerd ( TOS Trek Purist / SFB Gaming Dude )

Totally agree with Dennis. Need chips to go with this cheeze.

Redone shots look nice.

Am I the only one who recognizes that “Spock’s Brain” was the precursor to the premise of ST:III, where the crew is desperately fighting both a time constraint and foe in order to return Spock’s brain (katra) to his physical body? Bwahahahaha……….

And, of course, the original working title of Star Trek III was “The Search For Spock’s Brain”!!!

Dennis, I know you get a lot of flak for the smarminess of your episode reviews (not from me, though, I’m all about smarmy), but the fact that you decided to forego it for this review shows just how astute you are. When the glass already overflowing, there’s no need to add more to it. On the other hand, with (a lot) of tweaking, I think “Spock’s Brain” could have been a very dramatic episode. Here’s my treatment for a revision: The opening is basically the same. Ion Ship. Girl beams onto bridge. Uses magic bracelet. Crew goes nighty-night. McCoy finds Spock in sickbay. His brain is still gone, but it wasn’t surgically removed; it’s been transported out of his body. Kirk figures that if it was beamed out, it can be beamed back in, if found. Scotty says “nae” because their own transporters don’t have the ability to do that. Kirk mentions that the transporters dis-assemble and re-assemble entire people and things all the time. Scotty says that’s the problem. The transporters are set up to scan people or objects in their entirety, not as an assemblage of parts. There are also problems with coordinating a transporter beam into such a small, confined area such as the inside of someone’s skull. Kirk orders McCoy and Scotty to find some way of restoring Spock’s brain to his body, then sets the Enterprise in pursuit of the mysterious ion ship. Things again progress as in the original episode. Cold Planet. Short… Read more »

FredCFO – June 14, 2007
“Brain and brain ? What is brain?” will live in the anals of the most embarassing lines in television history. Ed Wood could scarcely have done worse.

You mean this ep wasn’t a comedy in the last place ? I think the Improv Theatre stage play says it all — not one line was changed and it was instant MST3K.

I think we all know that this line came from the Executies who laid out the schedule for the next season! (without ST)

Who am I to augure with FredCFO ?

#20 Buck,

Sorry, A no-go with me…. you added scotty and a transporter to the pile and some comic relief. It doesn’t do anything to help with the overall premise, just keeps Spock’s bangs in place.

Thank you Dennis for a much improved review, in my opinion. Compared to your other reviews I found it less flippant (which as you state was the goal) and you focussed on the material at hand. Unlike your past reviews, which I felt were good episodes and launched cheap shots at them, you could have had a flippant party on the awful “Spock’s Brain,” but instead you gave a good and thoughtful review. Thanks.

#20
Nice shot Buck (is that to be forever more known as buckshot?), but it’s like trying to make shit into shine-ola!

20. Buckaroohawk;
Nice try-it’s a stimulating possibility. Wish the actual episode was at least that good, as opposed to the stinking mess that it is.
But that was the 3rd season for you… Roddenberry had moved onto other things and was no longer interested or involved in the show. Budgets were being slashed left and right, and morale was low.
—————————————————–
Thanks Dennis Bailey-a very thoughtful review of this episode.

#16: The final episode of Enterprise misused two of my favorite characters to tell a story that was not theirs to begin with. One wishes for a Pharaonic order to strike the show from the record ala Rameses I’s directive in “The Ten Commandments”…

The scale is all wrong on the new “matte” shot. Look how far away those “distant” mountains are. Unless they are hills, and I don’t think they’re supposed to be, this is all wrong.

While I really liked the new matte painting, the fact that they didn’t use it for the rest of the surface footage (which, I know, would’ve been prohibitively time-consuming) seemed like a glaring continuity error to me. When the scene switched from the high-angle (with mountains) to the low-angle (no mountains), it was really jarring — all I could think was “woah — where did the mountains go?!” It didn’t seem to me that the second camera angle was low enough that you wouldn’t still see them.

Oh, and — good review, as always DB. “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” had me laughing out loud.

And, re: the rumor that this was originally intended to be a comedy, that strikes me as a little too much like wishful thinking on the part of some fan (or, probably, thousands of them). “They can’t *really* be serious, can they?”

Just like with the guys who did the play straight…the snarkiest way to cover Spock’s Brain is to cover it straight. it is selfsnarking

Thanks Dennis.

But don’t strip your reviews of humour because of a few bitches. You write excellent reviews and I enjoyed this one, even if it was a tad toned-down!!! ;)

Ahem…

“Anals” was not a typo…. :)

Cervantes ( looking for that CBS DIGITAL follow up interview... )

#26 Qweefer Bukakke

You’re not wrong… but as it’s an “alien” planet I can live with it’s “little” mountains. ;)

# Cranston

Agree with you and others who have pointed out the jarring lack of continuity with the new matte background and it’s transition to the next bit of footage, which then has NO mountains to tie it in with the previous establishing shot. It’s the unfinished quality of instances like this in this project which undermines the good work that the effects team HAS done.

:(

Cervantes ( looking for that CBS DIGITAL follow up interview... )

In hindsight, perhaps the scale of that “mountains” matte painting itself is fine, but the size of the beaming down crew against it has been misjudged…

Dennis,

Very nice review. As usual, your byline was enough to catch my attention. A word about LIS’s “The Great Vegetable Rebellion”.

It has always been to the credit of the crew and cast in that episode that they actually knew at the moment just how bad that episode was. This is most clearly evident in the second act.

At the moment when Stanley Adams (the Carrot King and our beloved Cyrano Jones) is making his most threatening demands, it was impossible for Mark Goddard (Major West) to hold character. You can actually seen him ducking behind the women for cover his laugh. According to Goddard, no about a editing could save that take.

Dennis, you sure drew the short stick by getting this one, but you made the best of it. Good review!

The funniest thing about your review is that no one seems to get that your entire premise for the review is to be as flip as ever by choosing this episode to review “straight” and by your hilariously deadpan synopsis — casually relating the most absurd plot points.

Brilliant!

Personally, as much as I love Star Trek (esp. TOS) I enjoy poking a little fun at it. I’ve had 40+ years of taking it seriously!

Greetings,

I believe that “Spock’s Brain” may be the only TOS episode when a rear-projection system was utilized to display an active star field on the main view screen.

#9 Redshirt: I think I’d take Spock’s Brain over VOY’s Threshold any day.

Wait! Wait! Wait! Spock’s Brain is a joke! David Gerold, writer of Tribbles even says so (somewhere) He was pissed at Gene and wrote it as a joke. He did not think it would be made. Lots of scripts weren’t made. Gene made it on a dare. It really is a JOKE! For god’s sakes, email David Gerold!

The space hippies episode was far worse. At least this is fun. Still better than any of the worst episodes of TNG.

Lord Garth Formerly of Izar

Nice review from our beloved crumodgeon as usual. Although I and many of my fellow posters seem to love the episode for the pure dumb fun of it
I am not as old as most of you decrepit bastards so I didn’t see the Original SNL first run, but I did grow up with the reruns. and much like Spock’s Brain and Bad Theater with Leonard Pinth Garnell, even the lamest episode of Original SNL was leaps and bounds superior to anything The Next Genie or Voyager came up with. That Original Not ready For Primetime cast was infinately funnier than any of the other incarnations of SNL. In fact much like Star Trek, SNL has not really been any damn good since the early 90’s. (Although the gut who does MacGruder is very talanted and the other who does Al Pacino and Vincent Price is a genious)

Bwaahahaha… nice review Dennis. I imagined Dan Aykroyd’s best character voice while reading it. lol! :D

I like Dennis’ reviews, and far from dialing down his snarkiness for this episode, I think he just refined it beautifully. I love classic Trek for its strengths but I also love it for the eccentricities of the period and there’s a wealth of laughs to be mined from that still–we kid because we love…

As usual this reviewer has some snide and wrong comment to make regarding Star Trek.

The opening sequence of the new 3rd season shots they did of Enterprise and this Enterprise shot from the original is FAAAAAR better in every way than the cartoon like cgi filmation looking crap, that they they stuck in just before the Ion ship shows up Mr Bailey!

…(which with regret i admit to liking better than the original)…so I can see why Ensign Bailey ancestor here might need a sip more of his Tranya.

Anyways…Horrible cuts on a horrible episode, AS FILMED…Yes your right, that was a written as a comedy originally but as Freiberger himself said in 1998, for the scifi ch ..
” you can’t hit a home run every time, and if I had it to do over again I would have kept it as a comedy as Gene Coon had once written it in hindsight..” unquote.

p.s. i’m a “trekgirl”…who knows her contacts with the series over the decades, and the facts from the start….yeah, im an old battle/Axeship
(take yer pick) and could give a fiddlers squat…and so what , big deal.

So have a nice weekend and cheers to all!

I had forgotten that SNL sketch. I just bought the first season DVDs and it’s not on there…or is it? Who hosted that particular episode?

“I think I’d take Spock’s Brain over VOY’s Threshold any day.”

Refresh my memory. How awful was it. Course it’s VOY so it goes without saying.

After watching this I was most impressed with Shatner’s performance. He’s noticeably edgy, frustrated and cranky from the minute he find’s out he’s got only hours to restore Spock. His eyes are narrowed and he jerks around almost the whole show. Very well done. I think this is an easy target for a joke review as a show; but even a bad show has good scenes. Love when Kirk “drives” Spock at the leader, releases the belts. Yeah, the show has dated sexism, though.

Elliot Gould was the host of the SNL with the Star Trek parody. John Belushi does a great Kirk and Akroyd as McCoy is classic.

#43: “The opening sequence of the new 3rd season shots they did of Enterprise and this Enterprise shot from the original is FAAAAAR better in every way than the cartoon like cgi filmation looking crap, that they they stuck in just before the Ion ship shows up Mr Bailey!”

You’re wrong – it’s dreadful. The matte’s registration is way off, as you can see by looking at the frame reproduced above. Watching the original version on DVD on any large tv screen undeniably reveals the compositing error.

#43: “p.s. i’m a “trekgirl”…who knows her contacts with the series over the decades, and the facts from the start…”

Arguable.

#43:”.yeah, im an old battle/Axeship…”

Okay.

Dennis is right. That first shot of the Enterprise in Spock’s brain is terrible. Bluescreen spill city.

Back this “Spock’s Brain was intended to be a comedy thing”: HOW could anyone think the premise could be funny? This plot and script never lent itself to anything other than UNINTENTIONAL comedy….

You’d have to be pretty twisted to find Spock’s life in jeopardy (especially in such a morbid way) funny.

TTM

“47” ” ..lets agree that we are killers..but….we…wont….kill,..today!
It’s that …simple!..” as Kirk might say..

Mr Bailey…I was one of the “official” Helpers at the first official Star Trek Conventions in the early 1970’s, and knew The Roddenberrys well enough to baby-sit young Rod, while Majel was giving a speech, and not to brag but even helped The good Captain himself, William Shatner, keep his cool (and Tupee on) when the insane screaming fans made a rush for him as he and we helped him make his escape to his suites upstairs above the ballroom at the old Commadore Hotel on 42,nd st. and Lexington in NYC!

I knew about the “Spocks Brain” script being a “comedy” back in 1973 when David Gerrold was talking with Joan Winston and myself on the floor of the convention that year, she bought up a stack of scripts that particular day for research on one of her books, I was on her Star Trek Wellcomitee as staff from 1972 through 1976, Ask, Joan Winston, David Gerrold and Barbra Wenk about “TrekGirl” …thats me!…My credentials are impeccible, and I am not being a snobby know-it-all bitch, but what are yours?

Lastly I still say again the third season shot’s filmed in various and new looks from the previous two seasons were and are far superior to most of the work done by cbs/cgi…to date…not all but the majority of Big-E Shots!

Have a nice weekend whats left of it!

for more on our host:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturday_Night_Live_TV_show_sketches#Leonard_Pinth-Garnell

other quotes from Mr Garnell
# “Stunningly bad!”
# “Monumentally ill-advised!”
# “Perfectly awful!”
# “Couldn’t be worse!”
# “Exquisitely awful!”
# “Astonishingly ill-chosen!”
# “Really bit the big one!”
# “Unrelentingly bad!”

…and Shaye…you may not like a review or an opinion…and that is your right. But to call it ‘wrong’ implies you are the supreme arbiter of all that is ‘correct’ in Trek…including other people’s opinions. Since we do not really have the facilties here to have everyone run their opinions by you to ensure them being correct or not correct I think we will have to forgo your determinations of what is right and wrong in the future.

wpDiscuz