The first STAR TREK television series in more than a decade, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, premieres on September 24. To celebrate, we here at ComicsVerse are bringing you all things TREK all month long. What better way to celebrate a new show than by reviewing a really bad STAR TREK episode?

STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES will always be remembered as a classic. At its best, the show struck a perfect balance between 60s B-movie aesthetics and genuinely thoughtful science fiction; but, as you can imagine, getting that balance right was not easy. THE ORIGINAL SERIES is not without its share of clunkers. This brings us to one of the most (in)famous STAR TREK clunkers of all time: Season 3, Episode 1 — “Spock’s Brain.”

The Legend of “Spock’s Brain”

It has been rumored that the terribleness of “Spock’s Brain” was due to a deliberate writer’s revolt. Season 3 of THE ORIGINAL SERIES was given a lower budget and a worse time slot compared to prior seasons. This caused showrunner Gene Roddenberry to leave the series. He was replaced by Fred Freiberger, who was unable to maintain the show’s quality.

Because of this, people have speculated that the writer of this episode, Gene Coon, submitted a deliberately terrible script to protest the changes to the show. For whatever reason, this script ended up getting greenlit anyway, which resulted in “Spock’s Brain.” There’s no hard evidence backing this theory, but the fact that it exists gives you a pretty good idea of just how badly this episode was received.

Plot Recap

The episode begins with the Starship Enterprise coming across a fancy ion-powered ship. Fancy non-Federation ships are inevitably going to be bad news, so soon enough, a sketchy alien transports into the bridge.  This time, the sketchy alien is a pin up girl with a terrifyingly blank smile on her face.

Since she is a pretty woman in a skimpy outfit, the crew stares at her with wonder as the romantic music swells in the background. After a couple of seconds of that, Kirk introduces himself. The woman then knocks everyone unconscious with the press of a button on a device mounted on her forearm.

One theme song sequence later, the crew regains consciousness. Kirk gets called down to the sick bay, where he sees Spock lying down unconscious in some medical apparatus. McCoy tells Kirk what happened.

READ: Even with episodes like “Spock’s Brain,” the STAR TREK franchise has endured for over 50 years. Click here to learn why!

“His Brain is Gone”

McCoy tells Kirk that Spock’s brain has been surgically removed from his body. For the sake of Spock’s health, they need to get it back. While that might sound simple in itself, there are some issues with the way this information is relayed. First off, McCoy contradicts himself. He first says that Spock’s Vulcan physiology is what managed to keep him alive without his brain. Then, about a minute later, he says that Vulcans rely more on their brains for life support than humans.

The other problem is DeForest Kelley’s acting. As many of his co-stars can attest, Kelley was a very dedicated actor who put 100% into every performance. But that dedication just does not work for lines like “Where are you going to look for Spock’s brain?” Instead of sounding like a space doctor in a ridiculous situation, McCoy sounds like an actor crying for help.

READ: McCoy’s not the only doctor in the STAR TREK universe. Read our thoughts on how the “Doctor” archetype has evolved throughout the franchise!

Either way, it is all just a convoluted way of setting up the situation: Spock is not dead, but they need to get his brain back within 24 hours. The team follows the trail left behind by the fancy ion-powered ship, which leads to a couple of Earth-like technologically-unadvanced planets. Going off a hunch, Kirk decides to beam down to the least advanced planet due to its strange technologically indicative energy transmissions.

Primitive Glaciated Planet

The Spock’s brain search party gets down to the planet, and find that it is in the midst of an ice age. So, naturally, they get attacked by cavemen. The crew manages to fight the cavemen off, and Kirk manages to capture one for interrogation. The caveman reveals that he has no concept of the female gender, and says something cryptic about “givers of pain and delight.” We also learn that the cavemen refer to themselves as Morgs. He then breaks free and runs off.

Afterwards, the crew comes across a cozy cave with a basket of bread and a basket of weapons. They figure out that this is some trap for the Morgs. McCoy beams down and brings Spock’s body, which has been electronically rigged to be some remote controlled zombie. They all go together into the trap to find Spock’s brain.

Meanwhile, Chekov and some redshirts heat up a rock and sit down. From there, they practically disappear from the episode. That’s their whole plot.

At the Bunker

The trap turns out to be an elevator leading to a technologically advanced bunker. There they encounter everyone’s favorite problematic trope: childlike scantily clad women. Spock uses the communicators to talk to Kirk and crew, but because he is just a brain, he has no idea where he is. While searching, Kirk and co. get captured and come face to face with the head idiot, Kara, who was the intruder at the beginning of the episode.

As seen in the picture above, Kirk and his fellow crew members are also forced to wear fancy belts. The belts basically function as waist mounted shock collars that Kara uses to keep them in line. Remember, Kara was able to render the entire Enterprise crew unconscious with the press of a button. This makes one wonder why she bothered with the fancy belts in the first place.

READ: Speaking of STAR TREK and men taking off their belts, how about an article on the history of slash-fiction?

It turns out the women in the hi-tech bunker are called Eymorgs and are supposed to be the female counterparts to the equally dumb cavemen, Morgs. After a painfully drawn out conversation — featuring the phrase “brain and brain, what is brain?” — Kara finally reveals that their society is dependent on having a disembodied brain to power their technology.

Kirk and co. are imprisoned, but they beat up the cavemen the Eymorgs hired to guard them. Spock tells them where he is through the communicator. When they get to where the pretty ladies are holding Spock’s brain, Kara comes and tries to stop them. Kirk uses zombie Spock to get Kara’s controller and release the men from their fancy belts.

“The Teacher”

Kara reveals she learned how to do Vulcan brain surgery from a machine called “The Teacher” which temporarily boosts people’s intelligence. Kirk and co. force it on her, which makes her smart enough to threaten Kirk with a phaser gun. Luckily, Scotty is on the ground this episode, and he gets his moment to shine (albeit a brief one). He lets out a weird groan, which distracts Kara and allows Kirk to take the phaser away. She pleads for him not to destroy their brain-in-a-jar powered society.

McCoy puts on “The Teacher” and suddenly knows how to do Vulcan brain surgery. He proclaims that “a child could do it.” He then forgets how to do it midway through. Somehow, McCoy ends up reconnecting Spock’s vocal cords so that Spock can tell him what to do during the surgery. This contradicts the fact that while still in disembodied brain mode, Spock specifically said that Vulcan brain surgery was practically impossible. At this point, I’m just glad this headache of an episode is almost over.

Kara is unhappy about the basis of her society being taken away from her people. Kirk reassures her that hanging out in the icy wilderness with brutal cavemen who have never seen a woman before will be good for them. Spock starts explaining the history behind the gender-segregated caveman planet. McCoy, who hates explanations, expresses regret that he reconnected Spock’s vocal chords. Everybody laughs… except for Kara, who is still reasonably worried about the collapse of her civilization.

Thoughts on “Spock’s Brain”

In comparison to the entertainment of today, STAR TREK: TOS is a slow paced show. For good episodes, this contributes to feelings of suspense, and/or the exploration of thoughtful ideas. For bad episodes though, the slow pacing makes STAR TREK: TOS feel uncomfortably sluggish instead of fun.

There are quite a few bad episodes, mainly in season 3, that sounds like they would be “so bad, they’re good.” However, the premises end up getting killed by the pacing. The novelty of Captain Kirk joining a Native American tribe made up of painted Caucasian actors or having the crew of the Enterprise deal with pretentious hippies wears pretty thin when you are watching it for fifty minutes.

READ: STAR TREK has been around for more than 50 years! Check out how the franchise has critiqued itself in that time!

To be fair, as a part of the internet generation, I am used to things being faster paced. But in any case, being slow paced tends to work a lot better when the episode is actually good. However, perhaps having a lower attention span is the reason why I consider “Spock’s Brain” to be the worst STAR TREK: TOS episode I have ever seen. Plot holes and inconsistencies are bad enough, but having to pay attention to 50 slow paced minutes of straight up incomprehensible plotting is almost too much to bear.

Narrative Inconsistencies

When I talk with other people about what they consider to be the worst STAR TREK episode, “Spock’s Brain” is usually a runner up. No one is denying that “Spock’s Brain” is bad. However, other episodes in the series have their own glaring faults, some worse than stupidity. There are episodes like “The Paradise Syndrome” and “Turnabout Intruder,” which are blatantly racist and/or sexist. There are episodes like “And the Children Shall Lead” and “The Way to Eden,” which have ridiculously dumb villains that make the Morgs look cerebral by comparison.

However, as dumb as those episodes are, they at least feel coherent. “Spock’s Brain” is that special kind of stupid where you find yourself pausing and rewinding to make sure you understood all the plot holes.

Kara knocks out the entire cruise of the Enterprise with the press of a button. Yet when she holds members of the crew prisoner, she has to attach shock collar style belts to them to keep them under control. Spock makes the claim that technology has not advanced far enough to do Vulcan brain surgery. He then calmly explains how to do it while his very own brain is being operated on. McCoy also claims that Vulcan brain surgery is too complex of a process for him to handle. But he seems to know enough about Vulcan physiology to convert Spock’s unconscious body into a remote controlled attack zombie.

As someone who has dabbled in creative writing, I know that it is difficult to put together a coherent narrative. But I have no idea how a script for a nationally broadcast show could get away with being so lazily written. “Spock’s Brain” may not be most offensive STAR TREK episode, but it is the most half-assed.

“So Bad, It’s Good”?

As mentioned earlier, there are episodes of STAR TREK TOS that can be pretty racist and/or sexist. “The Paradise Syndrome” is centered on a tribe of Native Americans played by Caucasian actors in makeup. “Turnabout Intruder” had Kirk’s hysterical ex-girlfriend take over his body because she wanted his position of authority, and basically implies that women should never be in command. Compared to debacles like those, “Spock’s Brain” should seem like harmless “so bad it’s good” fun.

Now, “Turnabout Intruder” and “The Paradise Syndrome” are problematic, but they were written and produced in the 60s. To put that in perspective, every episode of STAR TREK TOS is older than my parents, so whenever the show expresses backward social values, it feels more like an effect of not aging well rather than immediate bigotry. By contrast, “Spock’s Brain’s” main fault is its inexcusable laziness, which cannot be justified by the passage of time. Even the most archaic of stories are usually narratively consistent.

As for being “so bad, it’s good,” I think that is a more of a matter of taste. Some people may find the constant contradictions to be funny; I personally find it off-putting. To me, the level of narrative sloppiness on display in “Spock’s Brain” just feels disrespectful to viewing audiences. Also, I think that there are better moments of unintentional comedy in other STAR TREK TOS episodes.

Final Thoughts

In sum, “Spock’s Brain” is a disjointed and lazily plotted mess that almost seems to be insulting you for watching it. Sure, there are other bad episodes of STAR TREK TOS that are hard to sit through, but “Spock’s Brain” is so hastily written that it actually takes mental effort to keep up with how inconsistent it is.

Another thing I find unbearable about “Spock’s Brain” is that, for the most part, STAR TREK TOS is actually a good show. I know it is the kind of show where fan-favorite episodes have names like “The Trouble with Tribbles,” but before all the nonsense that went down in Season 3, Seasons 1 and 2 of STAR TREK TOS were filled with great moments and actual competent writing. To go from episodes like “Amok Time” and “The City at the Edge of Tomorrow” to “Spock’s Brain” is… rough, to say the least. Sure, there are a lot of shows tend to lose their luster as they go on. But “Spock’s Brain,” and the episodes that followed it like “Turnabout Intruder” and “The Paradise Syndrome,” really represent the most egregious decline in quality ever put to screen.

Anyways, do you think “Spock’s Brain” is as bad as I think it is? If you got an opinion on it, make sure to leave a comment below!

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