Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Joys Of Androids Revealed In "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

The Good: Good character development, Decent plot, Interesting effects
The Bad: Moments of campy acting
The Basics: When the Enterprise finds the lost scientist Dr. Roger Korby, they fall into a trap designed to replace all organic life with androids in an episode which is real good!

If the early episodes of Star Trek are any indication, Majel Barrett - who played Nurse Chapel and would later become Majel Barrett Roddenberry - had every reason to think she would be a major character on the show. After all, Barrett had played the first officer in the original pilot ("The Cage") and in "The Naked Time" she professed her love for Spock as Nurse Chapel. And with "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" an episode where Nurse Chapel is pivotal, she had every reason to believe it was time to invest in a new house (or whatever).

Sadly for Barrett, after coming in strong these first several episodes, she will not be called upon to perform again until very late in the season with "City On The Edge Of Forever." She does appear in "The Menagerie," but only in the footage reused from "The Cage." Bummer for Barrett.

The U.S.S. Enterprise journeys to Exo III as part of a vain search for Dr. Roger Korby, who was last seen on the planet, but every expedition since that has searched for him on the frozen rock has failed to find. The Enterprise has something no other ship had, though, Nurse Christine Chapel, Korby's lover. Dr. Korby responds to the Enterprise's attempts to reach him and Kirk, Chapel and a bunch of red shirts beam down to find why the good doctor has not replied to anyone else's attempts to find him. Unfortunately for the red shirts, Dr. Korby and his subterranean laboratory is protected by a giant killer android who (no kidding) tosses every security guard who beams down into a pit that is effectively bottomless.

Dr. Korby, it seems, is hiding the fact that he has discovered an ancient laboratory that allows him to replicate humans as androids. Protected by Ruk, one of the original androids of the native population, Korby and his android buddies believe that they can end famine, disease and death by stealthily replacing organic individuals with android counterparts, starting with Captain Kirk . . .

"What Are Little Girls Made Of?" is actually one of the few tension-geared episodes that really holds up over multiple viewings. If you're lucky, you won't read The Star Trek Compendium before seeing the episode and have the best moment of the episode ruined for you (screw you, Alan Asherman!) like I did, but generally, this is an episode that does not hinge so much on reversals as it does differing philosophies. What is surprising in the first viewing keeps the viewer rewatching the episode for clues they missed in subsequent viewings, as with The Usual Suspects.

Part of the reason that this episode works as well as it does is that it as a solid plot. Unlike some of the episodes that are remarkably convoluted and attempt to be witty, but open themselves up to genuine problems on closer analysis, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" is solid and direct, making it easy to follow and difficult to deconstruct. Woman goes into the galaxy to find lost love, she finds her genius lover, android kills people and captures others, Kirk has to turn everyone against each other in order to have a fighting chance at escape. It works.

Sure, there are moments the show becomes a bit campy as a result of the execution of the plot, but sometimes it works. For example, Ruk, the massive android played by Ted Cassidy (of The Addam's Family fame, at the time) is able to imitate the voices of anyone he hears so at one point the giant is speaking with Majel Barrett's voice and that's disturbing to watch. And the costumes are definitely a product of the times (though in this case, hooray for the '60's!).

The characters are interesting in this episode as well, especially Dr. Korby. Korby is not truly a villain; he is portrayed at the outset of the episode as a genius who revolutionized archaeological medicine (wrap your brain around that concept!). Korby is intelligent, generally principled and with Chapel he is affectionate and essentially loving and kind. And even his goals - despite the twisted execution of them - are laudable. Korby wants to end suffering in the galaxy and he makes a very human case for that.

But yeah, his methods are monstrous and he has surrounded himself with killer androids and we all know we get judged by who we associate with!

On the regular crew front, this might well be the closest Nurse Chapel gets to her own episode. Sure, Captain Kirk is with her, but he's a sidekick for the first half of their underground expedition and she has some decent moments when she is reunited with Korby. Chapel - traditionally a background character - is actualized as a loving human being with goals and ambitions of her own in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" that make one wonder what the stories are behind others on the Enterprise.

But of course, it falls on Captain Kirk to save the day (with the help of Mr. Spock, of course) and this episode provides a wonderful example of how Captain Kirk is able to improvise and use his cunning when needed over his weapons. The androids are more than a match for Captain Kirk physically so it is only through his wits and guile that he is able to take on his captors and his methods are pretty ingenious (this being early in the series, we have not yet seen him employ this technique on virtually everyone he has encountered yet, though this episode does have some enduring originality as well).

William Shatner gives a decent performance as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy plays Spock with the wonderful dispassion we only hear about in other episodes. Supporting actors Ted Cassidy and Sherry Jackson are properly robotic as Ruk and Andrea.

But it falls to Majel Barrett and Michael Strong to sell the episode and they rule in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" First, they have wonderful on-screen chemistry. Strong and Barrett act like two people who haven't seen one another in a long time who are in love and are reunited would act (well as much as one could on network television!). Barrett does the moon-eyed lady-in-waiting thing wonderfully and Strong actually seems like a loving and reassuring guy when the two play their first scenes together.

But more than that, Strong acts like an idealist. When presenting Dr. Korby's views, which could seem like a lot of exposition, Strong has the bearing and emphasis of an idealist presenting his case. He sells us on the reality of the situation and Korby's views and he does it wonderfully.

"What Are Little Girls Made Of?" is a strong science fiction piece, which makes sense because it was written by horror writer Robert Bloch. It holds up very well as a science fiction piece, but the emphasis on the jargon and the necessity of explaining some of the finer plot points of android manufacture make it a matter of taste as to whether or not one who is not a fan of genre works will go for it.

As a fan of science fiction, this is an easy choice for me and it remains one of the underrated first season episodes of Star Trek.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into "Star Trek - The Complete First Season" on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!


For other "Star Trek" reviews, please check out the index page!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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