Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Star Trek" Gets Randy On Its Own With "The Naked Time!"

The Good: Decent premise, Moments of character, Acting
The Bad: Some of it just seems flat-out silly.
The Basics: When the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is overcome by a virus that causes them to lose their inhibitions, the ship spirals toward death!

Because I am reviewing an episode of Star Trek that is fairly silly, I wanted to open my review of "The Naked Time" by letting those who read my reviews know about something I think is silly: reviews of Star Trek episodes that start by telling the reader what the stardate is. Not quite a pet peeve, this is more something that makes me shake my head and wonder what value reviewers think readers will get by knowing what the stardate of an episode is. Any other series in the Star Trek franchise, that number might be useful; there was a methodology to it and it puts episodes in a chronological order for the series. Not so with Star Trek. The stardates here are completely random numbers that do not correspond with any date in the show or in any order. It's silly, but it's a pretty decent way to open a review of the silly episode "The Naked Time."

The U.S.S. Enterprise is orbiting Psi 2000, a planet that is in the process of destroying itself. Arriving to remove a scientific team from the planet, Spock and a crewman discover everyone on the planet is dead, frozen to death and all indications are that they were blissful when they died. Despite undergoing a decontamination in the transporter, Spock's cohort brings aboard an infection that soon begins spreading among the crew through perspiration. The infection causes members of the crew to lose all inhibitions and run wild through the ship. The effects range from acting completely drunk to flat-out crazed to artistic to the point of painting on walls. And it would all be well and good, but the Enterprise is trapped in orbit around a planet that is about to be destroyed and the gravitational forces begin to become unbearable . . . just when an infected crewman barricades himself inside Engineering!

"The Naked Time" establishes a trend in the Star Trek pantheon for the standard "love sickness" episode. Star Trek: The Next Generation flat-out ripped off the premise with "The Naked Now" while Star Trek: Deep Space Nine attempted it with a little more finesse with "Fascination." But the basic idea is a solid and oft-imitated one: the crew loses inhibitions and people act freely and wildly, especially in matters of love and violence.

The most clever thing about "The Naked Time" is, sadly, not the character works, but rather the nature of the infection. The explanation for how it got through the biofilters is plausible and interesting and the concept works. I mean, the creepy musical cue tells us early on that something is wrong and exactly when the infection is spread, but it does not explain how it works. Dr. McCoy figures that out and the answer is pretty original.

The tension aspect with the destruction of Psi 2000 works fairly well as well. Captain Kirk is presiding over a disintegrating crew and it might be amusing to watch, were it not for the real menace of the ship crashing into the nearby planet. Keeping a time element to the problem works well . . .

. . . until the episode simply disregards it. Scotty gives an estimate that he claims he cannot beat, then does, for the first time in the series. While some see this as heroic or a display of great competence on the part of the character, I see it as poor writing, a cheap attempt to manipulate viewers with a false sense of threat. Shame on you John D. F. Black!

That said, what writer Black does quite well is explore some of the character aspects of the principle characters, notably Kirk and Spock. While Lt. Riley is annoyingly serenading the ship with "Kathleen" and Sulu is running around with a rapier all sweaty and bare-chested, Spock is having a very real emotional crisis over never being able to tell his mother he loved her. And Kirk, Kirk begins to be a sad drunk as he longs for Yeoman Rand and begs for a day when he is not in command so he could actually be with her. Black writes one of the most beautiful lines Kirk ever utters with his desire for a day without the gold braid on his shoulder.

Even this early in the series, the writer and director (Marc Daniels) knew that Kirk was bound to the ship like no other character and that Spock had demons associated with his hybrid heritage. As a result, what could have been written off as a silly expedition into the territory of ridiculousness becomes a worthwhile episode that is a successful comedy in Star Trek and mixes it with a very real sense of thriller drama. The result is a fairly solid hour of television.

Indeed, all that truly drags the episode down is the emphasis on supplemental characters, which makes the pace a bit uneven. Bruce Hyde and Stuart Moss, who appear as Lt. Riley and Joe Tormolen respectively, are quite good in their roles, but the time spent on them is time spent away from the main characters who can always use more opportunities to shine. George Takei shines as Sulu, but we are not treated to any real character development or insights in his character in "The Naked Time." All we learn is that he has many hobbies (which we know by the fact that here in episode 7 he has already had two different positions on the ship and an unrelated hobby prior to this episode) and he looks pretty good without a shirt on and with a sword in his hand.

"The Naked Time" is one of those episodes that makes the viewer wish that Star Trek was a serialized show because the consequences of this episode would be much more interesting to watch than the episode itself. Ironically, with the resolution to this episode, "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" was supposed to follow it as a second part, but that idea got scrapped. As a result, the next episode picks up as if this one never existed and there are no enduring consequences to this episode.

"The Naked Time" lets William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy shine . . . when they are given the screen. Shatner is wonderfully in command until he gets the virus and begins to exhibit symptoms, though they are more mellow than many of the other characters'. Shatner plays his infected self as very subdued and it's a wonderful change from his usually commanding bearing on the show.

It is Leonard Nimoy who steals the show in "The Naked Now." Nimoy's Spock will come to suffer as a character as embodying Spock only through word-of-mouth. What I mean is quite simple: most of the assumptions about how Spock acts come from characters simply saying Spock acts a certain way. Apparently every moment Spock is not on screen, he is logical, unemotional, and highly disciplined. The problem is roughly every other episode we see Spock doing something that is anything but logical, usually emotional and often undisciplined. Sometime, I'll have to do a hard count of that, but with "The Naked Time," it works because it is early on and the viewer is impressed because Nimoy's performance of Spock breaking down is wrenching to watch. He has a very literal battle with himself on screen and it is powerful and difficult to watch. Spock should never cry, so when he does, Nimoy truly has to sell it and he does amazingly!

Ultimately, though, it's a tough sell for anyone who is not a fan of the series. This episode expects viewers to accept the fantastic and fans of straightforward dramas will be unlikely to make that leap. And most who will will be less likely to appreciate the significance of the character moments, like Nurse Chapel professing her love to Spock. But fans are likely to get a kick out of it and, at worst, it is entertaining.

[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 my index page.

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

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  1. Hi.

    It's not my favourite episode but it's nice to see, sometimes the main cast all acting out of character for once, but since it is the very beginning of the show and that, at that time, we bearly really knew them at all, I think they shoud have saved and aired this episode much later in the series.

    But this episode is a thousand times better than his Star Trek Next Generation follow-up : the absurd and dreadful episode The Naked Now.

    1. Agreed. "Tomorrow Is Yesterday," much later in the season, was supposed to be a second part to this episode!

      "The Naked Now" is just legitimately terrible outside two scenes.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!