The Enterprise crew are on their way to some well-deserved R&R when Starfleet orders them to investigate the radio silence from the billions of inhabitants of the Gamma 7A system, as well as the loss of the starship Intrepid, crewed (despite being named for a U.S. aircraft carrier) by Vulcans. The Enterprise discovers a huge black splotch, which Spock identifies as “a zone of energy which is incompatible with our living and mechanical processes.” Worse, inside lurks—I kid you not—a giant space amoeba, some 11,000 miles wide (the metric system having fallen by the wayside for this episode).
Fortunately, McCoy has one of his philosophical moments, musing, “Here we are, antibodies of our own galaxy, attacking an invading germ. Be ironic indeed if that were our sole destiny, wouldn’t it?” Kirk suddenly makes the leap from antibodies to antimatter, and realizes that perhaps our old friend antimatter might save the day. (Of course, this should have occurred to him much earlier, particularly given that just the previous week, in original air-date order, he’d used antimatter to destroy the vampire cloud in “Obsession.”)
The antimatter does the trick (by making the amoeba and the zone of darkness simply disappear—no explosion is ever shown). Spock, who to this point had been lost in the protoplasmic soup aboard a shuttlecraft, is dragged to safety by a pair of tractor beams.
Most of the regulars have good bits in this episode, although Sulu is absent, so John Winston is back, this time at the helm, although Kirk inexplicably calls him Cowl instead of Kyle throughout.
It’s interesting that CBS decided to syndicate this second-season episode immediately following third season’s “The Tholian Web,” as they have several similarities, and, sadly, “The Immunity Syndrome” suffers by comparison. Both are set entirely aboard the standing ship sets, both deal with a region of space that induces unfortunate behavior in the crew, both have a major crew member lost off the ship (Kirk in “Tholian,” Spock in “Immunity”), both have soliloquies that the characters wish people to listen to after their deaths (Kirk’s taped instructions to Spock and McCoy in “Tholian"; Spock and Kirk’s separate testimonials to the crew in “Immunity”), both have classic Spock-McCoy power struggles, and both depended on visual effects.
(“The Immunity Syndrome” also suffers sadly in comparison to Trek’s other mindless giant space thingy threatening the galaxy special-effects extravaganza, “The Doomsday Machine,” which had originally aired three months earlier.)
Still, this episode, penned by Robert Sabaroff and crisply directed by Joesph Pevney, does have its winning moments. The opening, in which Spock senses across the light-years the deaths of 400 fellow Vulcans aboard the Intrepid, is gripping. And seeing McCoy as an enthusiastic bio-scientist, instead of just a crusty country doctor, is terrific. Although he never gets to finish a thought, we’re reminded of just why this guy chooses to be out in space: “Jim, that organism contains chemical processes we’ve never seen before and may never see again. We could learn more in one day …” and “Do you think I intend to pass up the greatest living laboratory since—”
The interplay between McCoy and Spock, as they walk to the hangar deck, is some of the must powerful in the entire series:
McCoy: “You’re determined not to let me share in this, aren’t you?”
Spock: “This isn’t a competition. Whether you understand it or not, grant me my own kind of dignity.”
McCoy: “Vulcan dignity? How can I grant you what I don’t understand?”
Spock: “Then employ one of your own superstitions. Wish me luck.”
McCoy—but not until the hangar doors have closed behind Spock, so that he cannot hear: “Good luck, Spock.”
Of course, all is forgiven later:
Spock (via radio from the shuttlecraft): “Captain, I recommend you abandon the attempt. Do not risk the ship further on my behalf.”
McCoy (with gusto): “Shut up, Spock! We’re rescuing you!”
Spock: “Why, thank you, Captain McCoy.”
Classic Spock/McCoy moment
The new CGI effects for this episode are some of the nicest yet. They are way more respectful of the original source material than what was done with The Tholian Web. Indeed, when the teaser began, with a three-quarters beauty shot of the Enterprise, I thought for a second that my local station was accidentally showing the unremastered version, so perfectly had CBS Digital matched the original shot; by this, Trek’s second season, the Enterprise was looking fabulous in the model work. Only when the remastered shot moves in closer, and we start seeing detail within the windows on the rim of the primary hull, is it clear that we’re looking at a loving restoration.
The fine work continues with a beautiful bow-on pan across the Enterprise over the episode-specific titles. But the zone of darkness actually looked better in the original version, I think; featureless black with a neon border looks harsh and cartoonish when rendered as CGI.
The neon zone
Of course, the money shot in this episode is the big reveal of the space amoeba. CBS Digital decided to very closely copy the original design: no extended pseudopods, no visible organelles except the nucleus, and lots of psychedelic colors (reminiscent of several other trippy effects in the original series, ranging from Redjack on the briefing room monitor in “Wolf in the Fold,” to the deep void of space in “Is There in Truth No Beauty”). I’d quite missed the groovy purples and greens of the asteroid in the remastered “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky,” and the loss of the colored-gel light effect on the Tholian ships in “The Tholian Web,” and so was glad to see the Sixties sensibility retained here.
There are great shots of the Enterprise, mostly dark (although still obviously illuminated to some degree by an off-camera light source) inside the zone of darkness. However, although the nucleus shows a little more detail as Spock’s shuttle gets closer to it, I think CBS Digital might have gone even further in detailing the amoeba from the inside.
This episode has probes launched several times, including the “warhead” (as Scotty calls it) containing the antimatter. CBS Digital chose not to insert quick cutaways of the probes leaving the Enterprise, which is too bad.
However, we do get an interesting shot of the shuttlecraft Galileo leaving the Enterprise, as seen from the rear (with the clamshell bay doors still rolling open as it zooms out). Interior hanger-deck shots are obviously recomposited from elements used in other shows, including “Journey to Babel,” but the Columbus, visible in that episode parked in the hangar, is gone here, presumably because the dialog in “The Immunity Syndrome” repeatedly implies that the Enterprise only carries one shuttle. (Also, the exterior landing-beacon lights below the hangar doors are still off, even when launching a shuttle, which seems wrong to me.)
Still, CBS Digital did nicely add a tiny Galileo being dragged out of the amoeba by the Enterprise’s tractor beams as the starship backs its way out. Also, throughout the episode, when the Enterprise is applying forward thrust to the slow the ship being sucked into the amoeba, the impulse engines glow bright red.
In the end, it’s a credible effort by CBS Digital, and although “The Immunity Syndrome” is no one’s favorite episode, it has always been a visual feast, and now is even more so—a fine choice to take along for a nice period of rest and relaxation on some lovely planet.
A little forward thrust
Robert J. Sawyer is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning science-fiction writer from Toronto.
His 17th novel, Rollback, was published in April 2007.
His website is at sfwriter.com.