Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Long Title, Good Episode: "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky!"

The Good: Dr. McCoy's character development, Decent acting, Interesting premise
The Bad: Overused theme, Somewhat predictable, Reuse of special effects footage
The Basics: When Dr. McCoy is diagnosed with a fatal disease, he leaves the Enterprise to marry a woman whose people might have a cure for him.

Star Trek, in many ways, embodies the best that the 1960s had to offer in terms of science fiction. It pushed the envelope with its social commentaries on issues of the day by couching them in adventures on strange new worlds, it developed a higher standard of special effects for space scenes and it had some of the most incredible costumes to grace television before or since. With "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky," Star Trek presented a fairly intimate character study of the oft-neglected Dr. Leonard McCoy, a reasonably clever idea for an alien civilization, some pretty nifty costumes and two of the most basic recycled themes in Star Trek.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is tracking an asteroid that appears artificial when Dr. McCoy reports to Captain Kirk on the crew physicals. One of the members of the crew is dying of an incurable disease: Dr. McCoy himself. With only a year to live, McCoy insists on living his life to the fullest and he accompanies Kirk and Spock to the artificial asteroid, where they are promptly captured by the people who live there. The colony vessel called Yonada is on a course that will cause it to crash on Daran V and Kirk and his team soon find themselves at the mercy of the Oracle and its high priestess Natira. Natira and McCoy hit it off and are married, a process that involves him joining the Yonadans and taking on one of their obedience devices. While Kirk and Spock try to prevent the collision course, they realize that Yonada is the last vestige of the ancient and powerful Fabrini race, a race that might possess the knowledge of how to cure McCoy, if not for the Oracle . . .

"For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky" once more utilizes the "overbearing technology god-thing" plot that was first introduced in the first season episode "Dagger Of The Mind" where a small colony is enslaved using a new technological device. The Oracle is a less overtly evil force, until it is angered; initially it appears as a reasonable guide and social control, albeit one that has a religion built up around it. The other somewhat overused concept is the obedience device, much like the one used in "The Gamesters Of Triskelion,” though this one is subdermal instead of a collar.

What makes this episode memorable is that Dr. McCoy has a love interest - and she's pretty hot - and the relationship seems like a good and reasonable one. McCoy's love for Natira is based on mutual attraction and in some ways on the fact that McCoy is dying, so when he marries her and Kirk and Spock are forced to leave, there is a sense that this might be a very real parting for the doctor.

But more than that, this episode focuses on Dr. McCoy's humanism in a way that we never get to see as explicitly before or after. McCoy, who often argues like a pacifist, yet belongs to the military/exploratory arm of the Federation, StarFleet, here is given the choice to continue to serve or follow the pursuits of his heart. He chooses - fairly easily - to leave StarFleet and join the Yonada colony to pursue love and happiness and fulfillment. It's a refreshing character choice and one that would not have worked with Spock and certainly not with Captain Kirk. As a result, the character here moves the story and the willingness of McCoy to take on the instrument of obedience to be with Natira shows that his stated goals of love and liberty in past episodes were not simply talk.

Natira, for her part, is one of the more interesting women Star Trek creates, though she is a bit underused like most of the female guest stars who show up on the show. She believes in the cause of the Oracle, in its guidance and wisdom and she has a legitimate conflict when the dictates of her heart conflict with the demands of the sentient computer guiding her life. Kate Woodville, who plays Natira, adequately creates one of the more on-the-ball alien women who does not quite speak fluid English. Whereas some of the prior alien women who are characterized by esoteric speech patterns seem dim, Natira never does.

But it's not all fun in the hollow ball for this episode. "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky" focuses on McCoy for most of the episode, but when it does not, the episode goes into weaker, more predictable territory. As Kirk and Spock try to avert the collision with Daran V, they stumble into the rather overdone conflict between man and machine that Star Trek had already done several times before this episode. As well, they conveniently run into the idea of the plot-predictable cure for McCoy's incurable disease.

And therein lies one of the problems with this episode. Kirk and Spock come to realize they can cure McCoy and when they do their usual taking on of the technological monstrosity enslaving the people, in this case the people of Yonada, they leave McCoy with no dilemma. Indeed, after the first four acts, wherein McCoy becomes committed and loving enough with Natira to leave the Enterprise and his friends, it seems like a dramatic oversight that Rick Volleerts did not create any sort of wrestling on the part of McCoy with leaving Yonada. The result is a vastly oversimplified resolution to the episode and one that undermines much of the character work done in the earlier parts of the episode.

As well, "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched the Sky" (in its original version) reuses footage of the giant asteroid from "The Paradise Syndrome" and it's not even a clever reuse, it's simply the same shot over again. That's disappointing to fans of the series.

What is not disappointing is most of the acting. Sure, there's the hammy old man dying and saying the name of the episode and he drags the viewer out a bit, but guest actress Kate Woodville is much more than just a pretty face stuck in an incredible dress. Woodville has a sense of compassion and the ability to portray Natira in an authority role that gives her a leadership quality that seems natural and somewhat effortless.

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner have supporting roles for much of "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky" and they do a wonderful job of both presenting their characters and giving DeForest Kelley his chance to shine. Nimoy is allowed to soften Spock with quiet gestures of compassion and his use of muted but recognizable body language is wonderful. Shatner's portrayal of Kirk in the first half of the episode is also decent and understated, making for a performance that does not outshine Kelley.

It is DeForest Kelley who rocks "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky," though. Kelley has to sell the viewer on the probability that McCoy will not be staying with the Enterprise and he does it beautifully with his forceful, yet effortless, delivery of impassioned lines. He is convincing when he must play McCoy as weakened by his disease and equally convincing when he looks at costar Kate Woodville with affection. The two have great on-screen chemistry and the interactions between them make for a believable situation.

But because this is very much a character study of a beloved character in the Star Trek universe and because it relies on some pretty obvious science fiction bailouts, this episode is hard to recommend to anyone who is not a fan of the Star Trek franchise. It's a good character study, but it might not be enough for fans of straight-out drama and its predictability as a work of episodic television is likely to leave some feeling cheated.

But for my money, it's worth it to see a different side of Dr. McCoy and that alone will likely delight fans of Star Trek and those looking to get into the series.

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


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing!

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

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