Our Favorite Dorothy Fontana ‘Star Trek’ Episodes

Dorothy Fontana’s death on December 2nd was a huge loss for Star Trek fans everywhere. Her contributions to, and impact on, Star Trek were enormous, and cannot be overstated. Her stories bore a richness of theme, character and dialogue, and continue to resonate decades later. She, along with Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, and Bob Justman changed the television medium forever.

She also had an immeasurable influence on the development of Spock, a character who captivated fans, TV critics, and future generations of writers. And it was Fontana who introduced Gene Roddenberry to costume designer William Ware Theiss, who helped shape the look of The Original Series as much as anyone else involved.

In honor of Dorothy, we each chose one of the episodes she wrote to talk about what makes them so memorable.

Christine  –  “The Enterprise Incident”

Dorothy’s threads were woven throughout all of the Star Trek scripts she was involved with, and she was instrumental in developing Vulcan society and customs. This episode is the first mention of an alliance between the Klingons and Romulan Empires. We had seen Sarek and Amanda doing that sensual finger touchy thing in “Journey to Babel,” and then Spock and the Romulan Commander do it in “The Enterprise Incident.” I liked the seductive interactions between Spock and the Romulan Commander, even though later Fontana remarked that the scene was her biggest objection. It’s a side of Spock we don’t normally see, whether he is merely acting or actually allowing himself to feel his human feelings. And the way they parted leaves you wondering… did he indeed feel emotion/arousal, or was it all an act? Spock tells her that his interest wasn’t all pretend and “I hope you and I have exchanged something more permanent.” Fontana thought that the Commander would have suspected Spock of something shifty, but I like to think that she was simply smitten with Tall, Dark, and Pointy-Eared.

In this episode, we are told that Vulcans are incapable of lying, but that “it is not a lie to keep the truth to oneself.” Given that it’s an episode about subterfuge, we are left wondering if this is true. Spock not only puts on an act of ambition and flirtation for the Romulan Commander, but feigns a fake Vulcan Death Grip on Captain Kirk after telling the lie that Kirk is mentally unstable and saying, “I say now and for the record, that Captain Kirk ordered the Enterprise across the neutral zone on his own initiative and his craving for glory.”

An interesting background note from Memory Alpha states that Fontana was flooded with letters from fans. Aware of the pon farr and believing it meant Vulcans had sex only once in seven years (which was Theodore Sturgeon’s original idea), they complained that the scene was out of character. Years later, Fontana wrote sex scenes into the novel Vulcan’s Glory, establishing that the pon farr is only a fertility cycle and that Vulcans can have sex anytime.

The Enterprise Incident

Spock and the Romulan Commander get handsy in “The Enterprise Incident”

Brian – “The Ultimate Computer” (teleplay)

The reluctant installation of the M-5 aboard the Enterprise and the machine’s subsequent malfunction could have easily become yet another cautionary tale about technology run amok, and the episode does indeed show the effects of that, but it’s the quieter character moments that make this story so memorable. Kirk’s insecurities about having his livelihood threatened and Daystrom’s overwhelming need to prove himself gives the story a great deal of emotional weight and makes this episode a classic. 

Dorothy’s gifts for character and dialogue are on full display in this episode. Richard Daystrom could’ve easily been a one-note caricature, but she carefully created a well-rounded character whose longtime resentments ultimately drive him over the edge.

The moments where Kirk receives counsel from Spock and McCoy are very touching, and her inspired use of John Masefield’s “Sea Fever” leads the captain to reveal just how much being an explorer means to him:

You could feel the wind at your back in those days. The sounds of the sea beneath you. And even if you take away the wind and the water, it’s still the same. The ship is yours. You can feel her. And the stars are still there, Bones.

It’s one of my favorite moments in the series, and a lovely, romantic piece of writing, written by a great talent whose impact will be felt long after she’s gone. Godspeed, Dorothy Fontana.

The Ultimate Computer

Dr. Daystrom and his M-5 with a skeptical McCoy, Spock, and Kirk in “The Ultimate Computer”

Denes – “Tomorrow is Yesterday”

Written by D.C. Fontana from an uncredited treatment by Bob Justman, “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” marks Star Trek’s first proper foray into time travel.

There are a lot of things that make this episode great. I love that Captain Christopher’s first indication that he’s aboard a futuristic ship is the presence of female crew members. There’s a ton of humor in it, much of it through understatement, which is twice as fun in my eyes.

It’s a great Spock episode; Spock makes a number of jokes, is the straight man for several sight gags, and his relationship with McCoy is playfully acerbic. It’s a great Kirk episode; there’s a fantastic fight sequence where Kirk takes on three Air Force officers, and Kirk is by turns impishly humorous, commanding, exasperated, and insightful. There’s a poignant little moment where Kirk empathizes with the unconscious Capt. Christopher, “I know how he feels, but I can’t send him back.” True, there are some sexist moments mid-episode where Spock grimaces at the stereotypically-female new personality of the ship’s computer, but that scene also mentions a planet dominated by women who are skilled computer programmers—avant-garde, even while being sexist.

But the moment I always remember is the humanity of the scene in sickbay, while Spock, Kirk, and McCoy are debating the serious implications of time travel, where Capt. Christopher smiles in his own world as he realizes he’s going to have a son one day. It’s a powerful, counter-cultural message that has stuck with me all these years—it’s okay if your chief contribution to the history of the world is the children that you raise.

Humor, intelligence, advancement of women, and a true humanity amidst the science fiction: That’s what makes this episode a classic, and all are hallmarks of the lady who wrote it.

Tomorrow is Yesterday

Captain Christopher finds out what the future holds in “Tomorrow is Yesterday”

Laurie – “Journey to Babel”

It’s easy to talk about this episode in terms of the information it delivered: we see Andorians and Tellarites for the first time and learn that they are founding members of the Federation, and get a look at how Starfleet diplomacy works. We hear about sehlats, find out that McCoy can’t do the “Vulcan salute,” and learn about tal-shaya, used by Vulcans for merciful execution.

But what this episode does best, and what Dorothy Fontana always did, was weave character and story together so expertly and seamlessly that every piece fits, and each scene reveals something new. Every revelation we get about Spock and Sarek, Sarek and Amanda, Kirk and Spock, Amanda’s life as a human on Vulcan, Spock as a Starfleet officer, is all revealed as the story moves forward, scene by scene. No need to stop down for character development or create an A and B story; it’s all happening at every single step along the way.

Fontana gives us the nuanced relationships between deeply fascinating characters inside a conflict-filled, event-packed mystery story. “Journey to Babel” is about friendship, family, battle strategy, politics, diplomacy, subterfuge, communication, sacrifice, duty, and love, all at the same time, all in a sci-fi setting, all with amazing subtlety.  It’s layered storytelling, with the characters of Sarek and Amanda so well-drawn that other writers (including Fontana herself) would come back to them in movies and other series for decades to come.

When I rewatched this episode, I was struck by all the subtler moments. Christine Chapel and Amanda both know what Spock’s plan is to save Sarek before McCoy figures it out, because they both see the emotional side of Spock that McCoy often doesn’t. Spock’s anguish when his mother leaves after he tells her he can no longer save his father’s life is palpable without a word of dialogue spoken. We don’t need to hear anecdotes about Amanda and Sarek’s courtship to see how they were drawn to each other. When Kirk comes up with a plan to get Spock to give up command and save Sarek, we see how deep their friendship is and how well he knows Spock. He knows he has to create a way for Spock to make the choice he wants to make but can’t, and does it for him in the only way he can.

And in that final scene in Sickbay, Spock and Sarek are reconciled without any sappy sweetness: it’s a shared joke and a raised eyebrow that tells us these two are on a new path, united by their love of Amanda and their understanding of each other.

Dorothy Fontana knew how to tell a story in the most powerful of ways, giving us big action (space battles! murder! pirates! peril!) along with deeply personal character moments, interweaving them in a way that feels organic and effortless. She is one of my all-time writing heroes, and an inspiration.

Journey to Babel

Kirk meets Sarek and Amanda and THEN finds out they are Spock’s parents in “Journey to Babel”

Iain – “Friday’s Child”

For all the talk of Trek’s “holy trinity” of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, episodes focusing on the good doctor are few and far between. Fontana’s “Friday’s Child” is one of the precious few where McCoy takes center stage, and she gives DeForest Kelley a great showcase for his talents. I love how the episode expands on his traditional role, showing him as an expert on Capellan culture, and his inspired bickering with guest star Julie Newmar (we’ll skip over that very non-PC slap he gives her). It has one of the all-time great “I’m a doctor, not a… ” lines (“an escalator” in this case), and of course, there’s his glee in the final scene when he reveals the baby was named after him and Kirkit’s second only to his reaction in “Journey To Babel”’s tag (also a Fontana episode).

Elsewhere, Fontana gives others a chance to shine, from Kirk and Spock’s defense against the Capellans and the Klingon Kras, to Scottycommanding the Enterpriseengaged in a battle of wits with a Klingon battle cruiser. Eleen (Newman) is one of the series’ strongest female characters, more than holding her own against both the trio of Starfleet officers and her own kind.

Fontana also skilfully sidesteps making the less technologically advanced Capellans seem simplistic, imbuing them with a detailed, fascinating culture. Trek’s portrayal of less advanced cultures can occasionally fall into the trap of coming off as patronizing (such as TNG’s notorious “Code Of Honor”), but in Fontana’s hands, we’re presented with a richly detailed, believable race.

Although both Genes Roddenberry and Coon polished the script, it’s Fontana’s episode through and through. It may not get the kudos awarded to her next script “Journey To Babel,” but it’s every bit a warm, humorous and exciting episode. Plus it’s got Catwoman!

Friday's Child

He’s a doctor AND a midwife. McCoy with Eleen (Julie Newmar) in “Friday’s Child”

We’d love to read about YOUR favorite D.C. Fontana episodes in the comments.

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Kev-1

She was superlative. Those episodes not only have terrific personal scenes but fantastic action as well. It’s unusual for a writer to be as recognized as she is — usually it’s the main writer/creator like Gene Roddenberry, or Rod Serling or Kenneth Johnson who gets recognition — and that’s not to denigrate her great contribution. Her stuff is just that good. The double ending on “Tommorow is Yesterday” (they slingshot twice) gets me every time. I love the scene in “This Side of Paradise” where Kirk finally breaks the spore influence just before he beams down — that sets up Kirk’s stubbornness — an essential character trait of his. Thank you for terrific entertainment.

Michael Hall

What I especially love about “Tomorrow is Yesterday” was how the episode takes an initially serious conundrum — our heroes trapped centuries in the past — and winds up treating it as a (mostly) lighthearted romp. The scene where the hapless Air Force Colonel interrogates an increasingly sarcastic Kirk ranks as one of my all-time favorites.

c d

“That ought to be just about right.”

TonyD

As much as Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon, DC Fontana’s fingerprints were all over the original series. She will be missed.

Yesteryear from the animated show was another standout DC Fontana episode for me. It further fleshed out the character of Spock and even gave us a glimpse into his formative years.

“Yesteryear” is the episode I always think of when her name comes to mind.

ML31

I know it’s a popular choice but I think of Journey to Babel. But This side of Paradise kicked some serious ass as well.

I Khan Believe it's Not Butter

Wonderful and amazing woman.
Lessons lost on the current crop of Star Trek controllers.
Now we get Red Matter, Magic Blood, Spore Drive and Red Angels…WTF happened?

To be fair, some or all of them may also be wonderful and amazing women. They’re just not particularly good writers.

Garth Lorca

“Now we get Red Matter, Magic Blood, Spore Drive and Red Angels…WTF happened?”

The comic book movie has happened. Red Matter, Superblood, Spore Drive, Red Angels etc. is the direct result of the CBM hype and Star Trek trying to compete with it.
The other part is the rise of R-Rated movies and TV-MA shows that will soon infuse plenty of guts and gore into Trek as well…

Star Trek has always tried to incorporate contemporary elements… going to the big screen after Star Wars, doing a prequel after Star Wars, the semi-reboot end of the aughties… You may not always like the outcome but it is logical.

kmart

Blood and gore are sometimes quite appropriate, and I think Trek often didn’t go far enough in its depiction of violence. The first post-TMP PocketBooks Trek novel, Vonda McIntyre’s THE ENTROPY EFFECT, at one point has Kirk shot to death on the Enterprise bridge. There’s a reference reading something like ‘blood spattered the illuminated data screens’ that is as cinematic as anything I can recall offhand from the early novels (I think it is around page 70 or so if anybody has it and wants to check.)

Sometimes I think the McIntyre scene is why Spock’s death in TWOK isn’t 100% successful for me; I read Meyer wanted Spock’s hand to leave a trickle of green blood on the glass partition, but the makeup man simply didn’t get what he was being asked to do and just covered Nimoy’s hand with green pancake makeup, so they abandoned the idea on the spot. I’d say Spock’s death IS about 90% successful, which puts it 8 zillion percent and a Kessel Run ahead of Kirk’s miserably executed death in GENERATIONS (even the shot-in-the-back discarded one is bad. They needed to have everybody watch the end of Don Seigel’s THE SHOOTIST and then make sure everybody understood THAT is what they needed in the moment, not more slow-moving Shatnerisms.)

DeanH

I know most will not agree, BUT the concepts behind Fontana’s Encounter at Far Point were pretty good. I know the acting was pretty wooden or just plain bad as the actors struggled in their new roles and some of the lines were less than Emmy-worthy, but just having Star Trek back on TV was more than memorable. Fortunately, the acting tremendously improved and the tales of the Enterprise D and its crew went on to become legendary. RIP D.C. Fontana. I hope that you found today’s world, despite its many problems, was an improved one where you would not have to hide your female names. Thank you so much for breathing life into the characters we cherish so much.

TG47

When our youngest came home from their middle school with a couple of DC Fontana’s TOS novels from the school library, it really sank in how enduring her legacy is.

It would be great to see a DVD set of remastered DC Fontana episodes and for Simon & Schuster to put out a set of omnibus volumes of her books in trade paperback, or cloth-bound for libraries.

This is the kind of coherent content marketing that the merged ViacomCBS should be going for to celebrate the franchise and DC Fontana’s contribution.

Just Another Salt Vampire

Encounter at Far Point was a good pilot. They got the characters established and created a classic antagonist with Q. The scene with Data and McCoy remains very moving and a fitting send-off to TOS (even though it would be revisited many times in subsequent episodes and series).

“Encounter at Farpoint” is great, in my opinion. A few bits here and there don’t work, but otherwise, it’s very good (provided one doesn’t expect it to not feel as if it was made in 1987).

JoeTrekFan

I enjoyed Encounter at Farpoint. In fact, I was and like many people, was very excited that Star Trek was back on tv in a new setting, new crew, new sets, Visual FX by ILM to start with and all in glorious STEREO! As with any new series, it took a little time to find its stride.

I remember Tom Shales, former TV critic of the Washington Post poking a little fun at the storyline, but he did end his review as stating there is nothing else on tv that compares to it, which I thought was great praise for a first episode.

Our original TOS people are getting up there in age. *sigh* I hate to think of who is going to be next and when.

I’mPaul

My dad and I watched Encounter at Farpoint together on Thanksgiving. He had just heard about ST:Picard and got the CBS app to look it up. Encounter at Farpoint came on automatically after the Picard trailer and we quickly became totally engrossed. I hadn’t seen it in ten years or so and as far as I know he hasn’t seen it since 1987. More so than any other Trek pilot, the action gets started immediately. I had never appreciated Farpoint quite so well. I think it’s underrated. It was a really fine piece of sci-fi

Tiger2

I been doing a lot of TNG rewatches since Picard was announced but I have not watched Encounter at Farpoint at all. Haven’t seen it in probably a decade or more either. I just added another episode to my list! :)

Tiger2

Like others said, I never had a big problem with Encounter at Farpoint. As a kid at the time it was just so exciting to have new Star Trek and I loved how it all looked. It felt like I was watching a movie. It is definitely the weakest out of all the other spin off pilots and yes not great in some places but I always liked it for what it was, introducing us to this new world of characters and era.

And it gave us Q! Although yes that came from Roddenberry and not Fontana.

ML31

When I watched EaF I was excited to see Trek back on TV. I still was unhappy about shifting the show into the future and it would be a while before I understood and accepted why that was done. I was not expecting it to be awesome. My memories of watching it was that my reaction was, “Meh. But let’s see what they do later.”

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I start my first rewatch of TNG since it aired. And I finally see EaF for the first time since 1987. And I am sorry to say it was way worse than I ever remembered. Funny thing, I rewatched Voyager for the first time years ago and liked it better than I remembered. I suspect the main reason behind this is probably because TNG was the first foray back into Trek in 20 years. And they did have their problems. Whereas Voyager (and DS9 and even Enterprise) had the tremendous advantage of being able to learn from TNG’s growing pains.

And for the record, I had forgotten about this, but the first handful of episodes very much look like they were essentially planning of either spinning off Wesley to his own show or were working at making Wes the lead character of the show.

Michael Hall

Wow. I happen to regard all of these episodes highly — well, with the exception of “Friday’s Child,” as its Cold War-style allegory always struck me as stale and reductive for Trek, even without Roddenberry’s unfortunate rewrite. But, seriously, no love for “This Side of Paradise”? Beautifully written and directed, with every performer bringing their A-game to solidly ground a very human tale of longing and loss, for me it represents the gold standard not only of Fontana’s work, but of Trek in general.

Paradise is a fave of mine, but I went with Ultimate Computer. We all picked ones we had a particular fondness for.

Michael Hall

Certainly, and no worries. We all have our favorites; I’m just surprised that “Paradise” didn’t make the cut with anyone connected with the site.

kmart

PARADISE would be tops for me on this list as well, though with ULTIMATE and BABEL right behind. In fact, PARADISE is my alternate or backup to ERRAND OF MERCY when introducing folks to TOS. Neither have got a ton of space stuff, which puts some people off (don’t ask me why.)

While Fontana didn’t make any public explosions over the revelation of Spock’s half bro that I can recall, I think that if GR’s notion for a TMP followup had actually gone into production, she would have been a vocal detractor, given that it included Amanda being gang-raped by klingons (one account of the story is that she is then eaten by them — this is the same time travel story that had other people up in arms over the JFK aspects.)

I’ve been troubled by her misleading statements about her involvement with CITY ON THE EDGE, which included a letter to CINEFANTASTIQUE denying her involvement. But that’s probably the only incident I’m aware of that has tarnished her standing as a person and writer.

Michael Hall

Kmart,

Fontana always said, once the cat was out of the bag regarding her involvement in “City,” that her reticence was mainly due to her fear of how Harlan Ellison might react, given that they’d had a fairly cordial relationship. Can’t say as I blame her for that given his reputation.

I just yesterday spoke to one of your former colleagues at CINEFANTASTIQUE who informed me that Fontana refused him an interview some years back solely on the grounds that she didn’t see how it would advance her career. None of us walks on water.

kmart

Actually, I only ever did one piece for CFQ, and that was for the later iteration that came about for a short while this century. I did get a letter from Fred Clarke about six months before he killed himself asking me to write for the original mag, but the rates were ridiculous and I had a full-time staff writer job at that point. Plus the place I worked for frowned massively on moonlighting for ‘adjacent’ publications. They even gave me crap for freelance writing cinematography articles.

I’d like to know the context for her refusal there. It might have been a way of heading things off that just wasn’t as politely worded as would be considered ideal.

Michael Hall

Could be. Around that same time my friend had written a (non-CFQ) article that mentioned in passing his distaste for the David Gerrold-penned TAS episode “BEM.” (Which was indeed — sorry, David — pretty awful.) The word quickly got back that Gerrold was not pleased. Given his close relationship with Fontana it’s possible he may have blackballed my friend with her; we’ll never know.

The River Temarc

I actually think of “Friday’s Child” as perhaps the most underrated episode of TOS. The ending is a tad weak, but otherwise I think it works as a Cold War allegory every bit as much as “A Private Little War.”

albatrosity

True and it’s got a great score

Cmd.Bremmon

God speed DC Fontana; you were one of the best. I loved all her TOS episodes. Reading “The Making of Star Trek” you really got the impression she was a world builder – working out the Vulcans; discussing the names of the twelve constitution class ships. She really got the fun of today’s humanity free to explore the universe.
I don’t blame her for how bad Encounter at Farpoint was, I think she did the best she could with 90s Roddenberry bland anti TOS directives.

Who cares

Re: Friday’s Child. She slapped McCoy first, he had every right to respond in kind.

Kamdan

I’m honestly surprised The Enterprise Incident was chosen over This Side of Paradise. Apparently, Fontana was not keen on the romance between Spock and the Romulan Commander. It was more of a gimmick show to showcase Shatner in Romulan make-up. Paradise triumphs over Incident by all accounts.

Harry Ballz

RIP ROBERT WALKER JR

TG47

Can’t agree on that Kamdan.

If I think about the TOS episodes that left the strongest imprint on my primary-grade child mind in first run, The Enterprise Incident and Journey to Babel are definitely in the top 5. The others would include Devil in the Dark, the Doomsday Machine, and the the Holman Web.

Kamdan

TG47, you must have been either in the bathroom or simply not paying attention during the scene when Kirk has to confront Spock in Paradise. That’s truly a defining moment for the series. Incident just had Shanter doing his stereotypical overacting “I’LL… KILL YOU!” screams until they slapped the pointy ears on him.

Michael Hall

Completely agreed. “Incident” has its moments, and by third season standards it’s definitely a standout show. But in addition to the issues with Spock’s characterization it loses a lot of momentum in its second half, and as David Gerrold once pointed out, its ends-justify-the-means realpolitik is fairly awful.

Tiger2

I rewatched The Enterprise Incident last year and yes its definitely one of the best episodes in third season for sure but there is still a LOT about it that felt really really sloppy. The idea is great but it still pretty bad in some places.

c d

A very good article. A lot of information and insight into the episodes D.C. Fontana wrote and how much of Star Trek was from her. She created a great deal of what we know of Spock and Vulcans, of course, but I did not think about, until I read this article, all the other episodes she wrote and contributed to, and her non-writing contributions as well. She really did bring a humanity and a perception that gave a great deal of richness and depth to Star Trek.

Godspeed Dorothy.

c d

And just for the fun of it, go to IMDB and look at her other credits. Battlecat!

PaUl

DC was a class act & a big part of why TOS endures to this day! I wonder if we will ever get to see & hear her Star Trek Secret Of Vulcan Fury scripted PC game which cost a lot of money & then ran out of budget in the late 1990s. It had most of the original cast recording their characters all we need is someone somewhere to bring it out of the vault its in & finish it off!

alphantrion

I am gonna go ahead and say this, Gene Roddenberry may have created Star Trek but without the contributions of names like Gene Coon and DC Fontana I don’t believe Star Trek would have existed into our current times. This legendary lady will always be remember by Trekkies. I raise my glass to her. May she Rest in Peace.

Tiger2

Agreed. Funny thing is you can say the exact same thing about the TOS movie era and then TNG. Roddenberry had concept and characters down but literally every era of Star Trek he oversaw, it was really others that came in that made it shine.

ML31

And that is why I have often claimed that Roddenberry is not the deity many have made him out to be. I give him credit for the concept but it was others who clearly made it work, IMHO.

Forward Propulsion

so glad i had the chance to see her in person 3 years ago at a 50th anni screening of some of the trek movies here in hollywood… with a great panel of people who worked on the original series… she looked great, was totally sharp and had so many great memories and details… did not look her age… so shocked she passed away. she was a treasure trove of information. so smart. she will be missed.

Ian

A lovely tribute, thank you!

Dr Zaius

You already listed my favorite D.C. Fontana episode, Journey To Babel. The TAS episode Yesteryear is a close second. She truly enriched Star Trek.

Corylea

She was a fabulous writer, and she was also very generous about giving interviews for the 50th anniversary, for the new book about the animated series, and for other works about the history of Star Trek.

It amazes me that she became the story editor of the show when she was all of 27, and that she was able to write with such subtlety and nuance before she even hit 30.

I’ve been hoping that Kurtzman would hire her to write for Discovery, but now that hope is dashed.

Rest well, dear Dorothy; we love you and miss you.

J-R

Dax. It always made me hope she’d write more DS9.

albatrosity

Bless her, she elevated Trek to the quality we know it for today. She’s one of the few writers who can say they changed the course of history with her work.

Lukas

Those are all timeless episodes. She was way ahead of the curve. Would’ve been good to have someone with her talent and integrity in the STD writers room.

DaddlerTheDalek

RIP DC Fontana…