Flashback | Recap | Star Trek: The Original Series S1E4: “The Naked Time”
Star Trek: The Original Series
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While investigating the strange deaths of scientists on planet Psi 2000, a strange virus begins to spread amongst the Enterprise crew, removing their inhibitions and potentially sending the ship, along with the planet, spiralling to its demise.
Let’s Dig Deeper into The Naked Time
This is one of those episodes that you either hate or you don’t, because the awkward factor is just off the charts. We’ve got a half-naked Sulu swashbuckling down the corridors, Spock tearing up about his mother, Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett) breaking all kinds of HR regulations, and random crewmen just painting the walls (with what I hope is actually paint!). It’s bonkers in a lot of ways, and I love it!
The plot of The Naked Time takes a back seat as the episode digs into the crew’s emotions. Everyone’s filter is just taken away, and we see some really raw moments from each member of the crew. However, that was the point. As John D.F. Black, writer of “The Naked Time” said, “What Star Trek always strived to do, from my perspective, is to take things people can relate to now because it’s real in our own lives, and move them”; for example, here, Black “purely and simply…[took] drunkenness and remove[d] the slurs and staggers from it” (Gross & Altman 118). This allowed the show to explore an entirely different range of emotions and aspects of characters, bypassing the sixties’ censors. This drunkenness without “the slurs and staggers” is great, creating chaos.
The slow burn pacing of “The Naked Time” works well: there’s a mystery that needs solving, a contagion being passed along (albeit in sweaty palms), and a ship in danger. There’s a fearful symmetry in these elements. As the ship descends toward an ever-spinning planet that’s about to break apart, so do the characters’ minds begin to lose control.
Tormolen (Stewart Moss), for all his foolishness, posits quite a few decent questions about scientific progress, certainly a propos of the time:
TORMOLEN: We’re all a bunch of hypocrites. Sticking our noses into something that we’ve got no business. What are we doing out here, anyway?
SULU: Take it easy, Joe.
TORMOLEN: We bring pain and trouble with us, leave men and women stuck out on freezing planets until they die. What are we doing out here in space? Good? What good? We’re polluting it, destroying it. We’ve got no business being out here. No business.
RILEY: Take it easy, Joe.
SULU: Now calm down.
TORMOLEN: If a man was supposed to fly, he’d have wings. If he was supposed to be out in space, he wouldn’t need air to breathe, wouldn’t need life-support systems to keep him from freezing to death.
Of course, as Tormolen asks these questions, he spirals out of control and ends up falling on a knife he’s been flailing about, and his questions aren’t answered. But he has a point: the Enterprise, for all its noble ambitions of exploration and discovery, gets into many tough scrapes – does it help enough people? What’s its goal? In season three of Enterprise the series, those same questions come up again, because the mission has brought destruction back to earth. We could ask the same thing of nuclear power or genetic experimentation: were we meant to delve into those deep waters?
I’m not sure what this episode is trying to say about drunkenness or inhibitions, other than that in this case the loss of inhibitions is a catalyst for everything that happens. It allows us to see beyond Spock’s frosty exterior for the first time, to glimpse beyond the cracks in his stony facade. We find out about his half-humanness, how he can’t tell his mother he loved her, and how his respect for his father’s culture made him despise Earth and feel shame for his friendship with Jim Kirk. Their face-off works so well. And man, can Leonard Nimoy act. Put him alone in a room and just watch him go. I’m always impressed.
While Spock is dealing with his own emotions breaking through the wall of logos, Kirk’s ethos is on full, uninhibited display:
KIRK: I’ve got it, the disease. Love. You’re better off without it, and I’m better off without mine. This vessel, I give, she takes. She won’t permit me my life. I’ve got to live hers.
KIRK: I have a beautiful yeoman. Have you noticed her, Mister Spock? You’re allowed to notice her. The Captain’s not permitted…Now I know why it’s called she…Flesh woman to touch, to hold. A beach to walk on. A few days, no braid on my shoulder. [Spock leaves with Scotty; Kirk looks up and says to The Enterprise] Never lose you. Never.
Kirk obviously (though, who are we kidding here) can’t have a relationship with the women aboard the Enterprise, because of propriety and because his wife is his ship. This is something always implied, but rarely spoken in this way, and it is successful because it brings the Enterprise right into the fold as a character in the show, as important as the trio.
Random Thoughts on Star Trek
Star Trek author Keith R.A. DeCandido, during his interview on The Next Trek podcast, mentioned Joe Tormolen’s death as one of the stupidest in all of Star Trek, right alongside Chief Landry’s in Star Trek: Discovery at the teeth of a pissed off tardigrade. Tormolen, because of his absolutely bone-headed decision to take off his glove and break quarantine, infects the entire crew. Everything bad in this episode is on him. Everything. (We’re going to forget for a minute that his biosuit is clearly made out of a shower curtain and suspend our disbelief… it was definitely taking off his glove that did it!)
Closest thing to true continuity we’ve had so far is Sulu and Lt. Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde) talking about Sulu’s love for botany (which has apparently faded). I appreciate even the little callbacks.
Speaking of Riley, he comes back once more, and it’s a true shame that we don’t see more of him. He’s a delight on screen, and could easily have been a regular.
Finally, this episode brings in Commander Montgomery Scott, the Scotsman (get it, his name is Scotty!) engineer, played by James Doohan. We love him. If there was a fourth in the Kirk, Spock, McCoy triumvirate, it’d be Scotty.
MCCOY: Mister Spock, Your pulse is two hundred and forty two, your blood pressure is practically nonexistent, assuming you call that green stuff in your veins blood.
SPOCK: The readings are perfectly normal for me, Doctor, thank you, and as for my anatomy being different from yours, I am delighted.
– And who says Spock can’t make a joke?
SCOTTY: I can’t change the laws of physics…
– Since when, Scotty?
Keep Watching Star Trek: The Original Series?
Yes! Remember, I said this is an episode you either love or you hate. If this turns you off, don’t worry. There’s another installment in the anthology that goes in a completely different direction coming up!
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