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One of the very last handful of original Star Trek episodes broadcast, “That Which Survives” is a rather joyless exercise in mystery with beauty queen (and onetime Catwoman) Lee Meriweather as a planetary siren who kills Enterprise crewman with a touch—and with just the right amount of reluctance.
It’s a plot that doesn’t leave much room for anything but redundant scenes of Meriweather’s Losira threatening the Enterprise landing party—including Kirk, McCoy, Sulu and an expendable geologist named D’Amtato. D’Amato is so expendable in fact that after he’s killed the grieving Kirk, McCoy and Sulu bury him with a gravestone that they mark “Lt. D’Amoto”—didn’t any of them know this guy’s first name?
That means ample time for a typical classic Trek “B” plot—something which more often than not took the form of a technological problem on the Enterprise, a ticking clock and an exasperated Scotty fulminating on how the ship’s whatsis wasn’t designed to take this, etc.
The stuff on the planetoid is grim, lifeless, right down to the deep purple lighting scheme, enlivened by the ongoing appearances of Losira, who disappears with an eerie vocal cue and a collapsing “door” effect. The Enterprise scenes are more entertaining, although as in “The Gamesters of Triskelion” (which also features Spock in command of the Enterprise, trying to track a landing party across the galaxy), Spock’s literalism and impatience with ordinary human reactions and emotions is pushed to the point where it becomes downright annoying. Scotty gets more than his usual screen time and James Doohan does a good job of playing off Nimoy, and his one-man-show inside a dangerous engine chamber is probably the most entertaining scene in the episode. There’s also nice support from Booker Bradshaw as Dr. M’Benga. Although he has far less to do than he does in the much better “A Private Little War,” Bradshaw makes enough of an impression in two episodes to register as one of the strongest supporting players in the series.
While CBS-D doesn’t have much to do here they do conjure up a convincingly barren, mysterious-looking planetoid and add a subtly blurring, “shifting” effect to indicate the Enterprise being thrown 990.7 light years away from the planetoid. “That Which Survives” features a lot of hand phaser fire and it’s better-animated than usual, not really requiring any touch-ups from the new effects team. With or without redone effects this one’s a tough slog.