Star Trek: TOS – S01E07/E08 “The Naked Time” and “Charlie X”

“The Naked Time”

Season 1
Production Order #7
Airing Order #4
Directed by Marc Daniels
Written by John D.F. Black

After some rather questionable decisions last week, most notably from an episode where Kirk’s inner desires were let out, we return to Star Trek ready to recycle the basic theme. In spoilers for the rest of the review, this time it is far more successful. On a frozen, formerly Earth-like planet, Spock and a crewman beam down on a mission is to find out how the planet failed. They discover frozen bodies left in a state of lack of care including a man taking a shower fully clothed and the whole thing as a definite parallel to Miranda (though they do an awful job here of making it seem creepy) and now the Firefly comparisons are starting to flow more easily.

In some bits of science that would make the scientists of Prometheus look like well… scientists, Spock’s disposable, Darwin Award-winning partner takes off his glove (in a full environmental suit albeit one that looks like it would be insufficient for use on Earth) on a fucking ice planet, puts it down on the frozen console and puts it under his helmet to scratch his nose. Unsurprisingly, a mysterious red liquid makes its way onto him and infects him, setting off the episode. The man starts acting like a dick to everyone and saying what’s on his mind before threatening (and committing) suicide and accidently infecting a giant Zach Woods-looking dork and Sulu by method of sweat who are busy trying to save him. The infection begins spreading though the rest of the crew as we get a “deeper” look at some of the characters.

It’s a shame that the episode doesn’t take complete advantage of its premise on named characters and leaves a lot of it offscreen as a lot of the characters could stand some development. Sulu chasing people through the halls, bare chested with a sword is a ton of fun and there’s a lot more Scotty this episode (despite remaining unaffected), but too much of the time is spent on not-Zach Woods’ comical Oirish accent. We get the debut of Majel Barrett as Nurse Chapel and the infection manifests in a declaration of love to Spock. It’s the kind of reveal that would work a lot better if this wasn’t the debut of the character and at the point it is revealed, it’s basically her only characteristic. At least it is a completely sensible attraction since Spock is the best but it would be nice if female characters not named Uhura (who is barely a character) weren’t defined singularly be their relationship to male ones.

Spock breaking down crying after being unable to reciprocate is a far more effective and well-handled development though. Even as he is infected, it’s clear that the human part of himself craves to feel, and yet the Vulcan half holds him back. Watching him struggling to keep it together and regretting with.is heart breaking in the middle of an otherwise comedic episode. It’s the kind of restraint Star Trek hasn’t exactly shown yet and almost feels out of place in the episode despite being the thing that makes the whole endeavor worthwhile. We also get another week of Kirk losing his inhibition but thankfully he doesn’t try to rape anyone this time, just chews all the scenery as rambles about desiring a serious relationship.

Everything sorts itself out though in the nick of time with the old sci-fi standby (well now it is) of mixing antimatter and matter to fix everything. At least this time though there are actual proportions involved and forming the crux of the final scenes of the episode instead of just mashing them together and hoping for the best. The episode ends with a time warp as the Enterprise heads back in time three days, introducing the concept of time travel to the series with a huge bit of foreshadowing that more of it is to come. It’s a huge premise changer that opens up the world significantly but the show doesn’t treat it as anything special or worth getting excited about. While shows bringing time travel into the mix (that aren’t specifically about it from the start like say Doctor Who or Continuum) is usually a recipe for disaster, it is a heck of hook to go out on and along with Leonard Nimoy’s acting, makes the episode much better than it was shaping up to be.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations
– Sorry I already went back on trying to get these up early but I spent yesterday dealing with my fancy computer dying for the second time in its less than a year of existence.
– There’s some more McCoy racism towards Spock but once again Spock is able to burn him back by saying he’s glad he’s not like him. I really am starting to question if McCoy being a terrible wasn’t intended since it is getting far too obvious to be anything but and he’s not even trying to hide that he’s a big old racist.
– Another week, another male character harassing a female (this time Nurse Chapel) and the show really does have a poor (albeit accurate) view of men.
– Boo on seeing Kirk slapping infected Spock. Hooray, on Spock slapping him back. With all the (presumably unintentional) parallels between being Vulcan and being of a non-white race thus far in the show, I’m treating this as the In the Heat of the Night moment of the series (though in this moment it is at least somewhat understandable since everyone is counting on Spock to live).
– I also appreciated that this slapping about didn’t seem to do shit and it was the talking Spock down (and seeing Kirk ham it up) that seemed to help Spock regain control of himself.
– I’ll admit that when they first mentioned the time warp, I figured they were going to reveal this planet was really Earth all along. All the foreshadowing the show does about how this could happen to Earth one day would work a lot better as a message about the environment or something (yes I know that is to come), not as a message about how the Earth sure is fucked if an inhibition removing sweat virus comes into being.
– A virus or whatever that they sure were able to cure quickly both in time for the cure to take effect and in time to develop it.

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“Charlie X”

Season 1
Production Order #8
Airing Order #2
Directed by Lawrence Dobkin
Written by D.C. Fontana

Even beyond the fact that I write my reviews out of order (I usually write the introduction for the following week’s episodes right after posting the current week’s), the fact that I’m reviewing these out of airing order makes my tense and description choices confusing as hell for myself. For example, today (which is really a week from when this is being written) we will be looking at the (unrelated) follow up episode to last week’s second episode (which I just finished writing about an hour ago and oh god, this must be how Doctor Who writers feel…) which was the inauspicious debut of the series for audiences in 1966 despite being the sixth one made. So in a way, this has to be the hook to anyone unsure about continuing with the series and expand on the introductions (that never happened) of the “first” episode yet it was never intended to do such a thing.

In the modern day where we can view these in the proper order, it’s tricky having to judge the show as the second episode (a rough one for a lot of shows) it aired as, and as an episode from a part of the season where a show should be really finding itself. For example Doctor Who was wrapping up “The Daleks” by its 8th episode (looking at some slow developing shows, “Angel”/”Witness” were episode 7, “Lessons” was episode 8, and “Hero” was episode 9). Therefore, audiences should have been getting an early peek at almost a different era of a show’s quality and in parts of the episode, they certainly do.

The plot this time out is almost a sci-fi version of The Wild Child with the Enterprise picking up from a cargo ship the sole survivor of a shipwreck when he was three who spent fourteen years alone. Even with the implied lessons he’s been having on the prior ship, he seems remarkably normal in behavior. He’s freaked out by automatic doors and women while being amazed by the number of people on board but he speaks perfectly normally and freely even with his habit of interrupting. Of course, like every episode before it, the show has to well show its hand and reveal his creepy eyes almost immediately and then show it affecting crew members. I get that you only have 50 minutes to set up and sort everything out but stop rushing through your intro and vary things a bit.

Of course Charlie takes the opportunity to be creepy to Chapel, I get that it would make sense for him to be awkward around women but it’s just getting tiresome at this point. It’s especially made worse when Kirk initially dismisses her concerns as just “he’s a seventeen year old boy” and seems more impressed by the boy than anything else. We get to enjoy Uhura singing and making Spock look visibly uncomfortable while he plays the harp which is as fantastic as it sounds, but sadly it has to be interrupted so Charlie can show off his stupid magic tricks and hit on Chapel despite Uhura being right in front of him (there’s no accounting for taste). He might have just latched on to the first women he sees since Chapel tries to set him up with (well pawn him off on the poor, innocent girl) someone closer to his own age and it doesn’t take, but Chapel’s entire role thus far is just to be harassed by men so I have to believe it is supposed to be something about her looks that gets the series to write this way.

The show isn’t even subtle with showing that Charlie has supernatural powers and it quickly becomes tedious waiting for everyone to catch up. Well everyone but Spock who is on to him very quickly about his powers. It takes until halfway through before Kirk seems him make someone disappear for laughing at him. It’s less Carrie and more comedy in execution as he’s far too dopey looking to make for an intimidating premise. I love Kirk standing up to Charlie even with his power to unmake someone and the look he gives is truly a fantastic staredown complete with the noir styled lighting of his eyes. Going to Kirk for a talk about women is comedy gold since he’s the last person you’d want to talk to about that but at least he teaches the impressionable youth that hitting women is bad (and hitting men is alright because he clearly needs the encouragement to act like a douche…) in his attempts to be a dad. The Kirk as dad thing continues throughout the episode through the end (and we’ll get to that garbage in a sec).

Kirk actually beats Spock in 3D chess and I like when the show is more subtle and creative with the differences between Spock’s rigid approach and Kirk’s more creative approach to problems. Chess is a mind game as well as one of intelligence and memorization and Kirk is able to overcome his disadvantages in the latter two by making use of his ability to improvise and use out of the box solutions. It also evens things up from their last game. It puts them on an equal level which is why they have so far been a much better duo than when they try to bring in McCoy to the mix. The scene also serves to set up Kirk turn to solve the mystery as he figures out that Charlie is overtaxing himself and that he can challenge him for control of the ship. Granted it’s a deus ex machina that swoops in and saves the day, but it was still a good plan.

Kirk considering keeping Charlie just made me angry at the episode. I don’t care if he’s just a kid and that they restored all the Enterprise people, he’s still a mass murderer and the fact that he gets to live at the end of the episode is terrible enough. We can only hope his true people (or at least the ones who gave him this power), the Thasians, torture him by denying the thing he craves, emotion. The episode tries to generate sympathy for him at the end because he won’t be around a feeling race anymore but screw that. Everyone should be happy that dick will never be seen again and not willing to expose him to countless innocents who would be living under his whims. He didn’t learn a lesson at the end, he was only pleading out of fear. Once that fear went away, he would have been free to menace everyone again. If only Kirk cared about his crew with any sort of consistency he would not have been so easy to forgive. Call it overreaction for not taking away more from “The Enemy Within” for its ending but the end gave the episode a significant letter drop and knocked it from being an enjoyably flawed episode (a Star Trek episode in other words) to something truly unpleasant.

Grade: C-

Stray Observations
– This is the first episode written by D.C. Fontana who would go on to be the story editor, a female voice on a show whose relationship with women thus far has been poor at best. Regrettably it didn’t seem to make too much of a positive influence yet.
– The Wild Child is a great film and one of the best François Truffaut films (had a chance to see it in the theaters a number of years ago) so go watch that instead.
– There are 428 people aboard the Enterprise at this point
– There’s some really questionable sound design early as if they messed up and overlapped the audio tracks.
– I know they tried to explain away how he can talk at the beginning of the episode with him talking to tapes but how the hell did someone who was abandoned at age 3 figure out how to work them?
– Kirk in only spandex pants, wrestling with a seventeen year old is truly terrifying.
– As is Spock being forced to recite poetry which should be more hilarious than it is.
– Charlie is a sore loser and I appreciate that they didn’t give him the usual superintelligence that goes with being a psychic on television. Well that’s not true as he still is able to figure out how to work a ship and other stuff by himself but he quickly lost at chess which by TV logic makes him not too bright.
– The question is raised of what to do with a being that can murder everyone at will, is willing to do so, and has the power to stop any attempts against him. The seeming inability to do anything combined with Charlie’s inability to kill them off since he needs them to fly the ship creates a nice layer of tension that is the episode’s strength. Shame they had to undermine all that.
– Why did he turn that one woman into a lizard just completely randomly? It’s such a bizarre choice even beyond it being unprompted and I just want to know what the hell they were thinking choosing an iguana.
– I would be angrier about the fact that the Thasians just swooped in and reversed all the death and mayhem he caused on the Enterprise rendering the whole thing so cheap, but frankly I’d just as soon forget this episode ever existed so I’m just going to imagine they are just the show’s version of some exec producers swooping in to change things before they go too off the rails (for better or worse).

Next Up: We look at one of Star Trek: TOS’s most beloved episodes in “Balance of Terror” and we ask “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” on Friday. Coming up this Monday however, check in with Doctor Who as we say goodbye to half the cast with the departures of Ben and Polly.