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Star Trek – What Are Little Girls Made Of? (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

What Are Little Girls Made Of? is the first episode from a script written by Robert Bloch, perhaps best known as the author of Psycho. Interestingly, it wasn’t the first script Bloch wrote for the show. Apparently Bloch contributed Catspaw first, when the show asked him for a Halloween special, even though it wouldn’t be produced until the series’ second year. And, to be fair, you can sense that What Are Little Girls Made Of? is a bit more comfortable with the Star Trek conventions than Bloch’s other two episodes. An uncredited re-write from Gene Roddenberry probably helped.

With Bloch’s third script, Wolf in the Fold, serving as a loose adaptation of (or spiritual successor to) his celebrated short story Yours Truly, Jack the RipperWhat Are Little Girls Made Of? stands out among Bloch’s contributions to the show. It’s an iconic episode, one that has undoubtedly influenced the way that we remember Star Trek, serving as the source for all manner of Star Trek memes like Kirk overwhelming a hot android with his sexual charisma, and defeating a less physically attractive robot with a logic puzzle. It features some of the most iconic costuming of the original Star Trek show, and also serves as the root of the whole “what constitutes life?” philosophical strand that would find itself embodied by Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It helps that, like so much of this first season of Star Trek, it is just good pulpy fun.

A cold reception...

A cold reception…

To be fair, for all that it is iconic, What Are Little Girls Made Of? doesn’t really do anything too original. Indeed, it feels like a fun blending of a few of the Star Trek tropes that have already been established at this point in the series – mixing and matching from a list of set ingredients to create a fascinating cocktail. We have the seemingly obligatory long-dead civilisation (The Man Trap) with incredible power that an arrogant human attempts to tap (Charlie X), throwing in a rogue Federation official who has “gone native” (The Man Trap, again) and an evil double of Captain Kirk (The Enemy Within).

Of course, reducing an episode like What Are Little Girls Made Of? to a set list of genre tropes does it a massive disservice, and I’m certainly not going to dismiss it on these grounds. It is just a way of indicating that the show has really figured out the kinds of stories that it wants to tell and how it wants to tell them. The genius of What Are Little Girls Made Of? is the way that it blends these ideas together to provide a fascinating result, distinct from what came before. What Are Little Girls Made Of? provides a cornerstone of the way that Star Trek would approach the idea of artificial life, bleeding through into later episodes of the original series (I, Mudd) and even into the various spin-offs.

Seeing double...

Seeing double…

After all, What Are Little Girls Made Of? is packed with memorable and iconic images. Since The Cage never actually aired until it was broadcast as part of The Menagerie, Sherry Jackson has the distinction of being the first truly iconic female guest star to appear on Star Trek. Her costume is a legitimate piece of sixties pop culture. It is instantly recognisable, to the point where it transcends the show itself. It’s also perhaps the most effective example of the famous Theiss Titillation Thesis, which states that “the degree to which a costume is considered sexy is directly proportional to how accident-prone it appears to be.”

Even Ted Cassidy’s gigantic sinister android is also one of the most memorable images of the series, skulking around those caves dressed in an outfit that is almost as ridiculous as that worn by his co-star. Cassidy himself is an iconic actor, instantly identifiable as the original Lurch from The Addams Family, but his appearance as Ruk is one of those distinctive Star Trek images. He’s a demonstration of the wonderful way that the show’s (slightly campy) make-up and prop work could occasionally push the aliens into the uncanny valley, similar to the Balok puppet from The Corbomite Manoeuvre.

Ruk's Kirk impression is seamless...

Ruk’s Kirk impression is seamless…

What Are Little Girls Made Of? also provides the first real sense of the debate over what constitutes life, and at what point artificial intelligences could be considered self-aware. Discussing Andrea, Korby asks, “Remarkable, isn’t she? Notice the lifelike pigmentation, the variation in skin tones. The flesh, the flesh has warmth. There’s even a pulse, physical sensation.” Later, he notes of robo!Kirk, “He even has your sense of humour.” There’s no doubting that these are incredible replicas of humanity, making it all the more difficult to determine where life begins and how unique that spark must be.

Of course, What Are Little Girls Made Of? also features Kirk effectively using his raw sex appeal to blow Andrea’s fuse – something which has grounded decades of parodies as far afield as Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. It is a decidedly sixties solution to the problem – Kirk is just too much man to handle, baby – but it’s hard not to feel sorry for Andrea. For all the jokes it inspires, for all the camp influence it has on pop culture, it’s easy to forget that What Are Little Girls Made Of? ends with a double suicide by two androids in the midst of their mental breakdowns. No matter how you cut that, it’s pretty bleak.

She's apparently fully functional...

She’s apparently fully functional…

Which brings us to the subtext of What Are Little Girls Made Of?, lurking just beneath the bright blue and green and the wonderfully fake cave sets. Despite the show’s user of bright colours and decidedly “pop!” aesthetic, the first year of Star Trek can be quite existentially bleak. Kirk and his crew are exploring the cosmos, offering a vision of a brighter future for humanity, but there’s a sense that the universe is a chaotic and hostile place. Part of this is an inevitable consequence of the show’s format. A television science-fiction adventure needs stuff to happen, so the crew have to stumble into tense situations and suspenseful encounters. However, the series also has several recurring elements that hint at a bleaker philosophical underpinning.

As noted before, it seems like the universe is littered with dead or dying civilisations. Humanity is presented as the new kid on the block, with Kirk’s gung-ho enthusiasm promising an optimistic tomorrow for the human race. However, it seems like space is populated with remains, relics and ruins. You can’t seem to throw a stone without hitting the last surviving evidence of an ancient culture. This would change a bit as the series progressed, with the Enterprise stumbling across more primitive and more technologically-advanced races, but there’s a sense that the cosmos itself is filled with nothing but death.

Shadows of the past...

Shadows of the past…

What Are Little Girls Made Of? offers another example of that sort of decay. Offering a brief introduction to Exo III, Spock explains, “It may have been inhabited once, but the sun in this system has been fading steadily for a half million years.” That’s a period of time it’s almost impossible to grasp. Recounting his discovery of the advanced technology buried beneath the planet’s surface, Korby explains, “Ruk was still tending the machinery when we arrived here. How many centuries? Even Ruk doesn’t know.” Ruk is a computer, who has been maintaining these facilities so long that even he has forgotten how long it has been.

However, What Are Little Girls Made Of? goes a little bit further, developing on a theme that has been bubbling away in the background of stories like Charlie X. In that adventure, the Enterprise was only saved by the intervention of the long-thought extinct Thasian civilisation to take Charlie home. However, they seem to treat the Enterprise and its inhabitants as something of an after-thought, at best a curiosity. They are more worried that Charlie escaped than they are with the damage he may have caused – they repair the damage he did relatively easily, but their primary focus is on repatriating Charlie.

Spock's Kirk impression is coming along nicely...

Spock’s Kirk impression is also coming along nicely…

The same idea would recur in The Squire of Gothos, when an omnipotent troublemaker’s reign of terror is ended by the arrival of his parents. There’s a sense that humanity really isn’t a big deal to some of the alien creatures out there, and that we are perhaps more like ants or insects than sentient creatures when measured against some of the powers operating in the wider universe.

If one were feeling especially cynical, one could see traces of “cosmicism” in these early outlooks, the literary philosophy developed by American horror author H.P. Lovecraft. Quoted in H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, the author defined the view as follows:

The human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure ‘Victorian fictions’. Only egotism exists.

To be fair, Gene Roddenberry’s humanism is too strong to ever acknowledge that the human race will disappear, or that we might just be a blip on the scale of grander cosmic history. This is, perhaps, why this thematic strand became a lot weaker as the show went on, when – to quote Ronald Moore – Roddenberry “sort of started to believe in himself as more of a visionary than a writer.”

A bit of a hole in his plans...

A bit of a hole in his plans…

However, these early episodes of Star Trek do strive to give the universe the same sense of cosmic scale, and to suggest that humanity is just the latest race to venture into the wider universe. It is a cruel and random universe. In Where No Man Has Gone Before, the Enterprise faced the possibility of becoming stranded on the very edge of the galaxy, taking years to return home. In Charlie X, the Antares was destroyed on the whims of a god-like child. In Balance of Terror, two decent men are forced by circumstance to try to kill each other. The universe is a vast and uncaring place, full of literal and existential horrors.

Here, we see Kirk defeat Ruk by demonstrating that the universe is an inherently chaotic and irrational place. It is impossible for a being of pure logic to navigate through existence – and, as such, provides Kirk with a weapon he can use against those beings foolish enough to think that they can impose order on even their perception of the universe. It does make me a bit sad for Spock, though. Kirk uses logic to turn Ruk against Korby, despite the fact that Korby is trying to advance Ruk’s agenda.

Turned on...

Turned on…

Ruk only seems to come truly alive when he recognises the contradiction that his creators could have been the biggest threat to him, an inconsistency so great that it’s implied Ruk buried it rather than attempting at reconcile it. “That was the equation!” he declares. “Existence! Survival must cancel out programming.” That the two would be at odds seems inherently contradictory – for an android, surely to be programmed is to exist? Kirk pushes the point home, underscoring the inconsistency of Ruk’s situation. “You can’t protect someone who’s trying to destroy you!”

Androids can’t seem to exist in the original Star Trek because the universe is so chaotic and so uncertain. “You are inconsistent,” Ruk protests. “You cannot be programmed. You are inferior.” The irony, of course, is that Ruk can’t cope with these inconsistencies.Indeed, there’s an inherent tragedy that these seemingly logical and rational creatures are created by those most irrational and illogical living things. As Kirk demands, notes, there’s something quite sad about “machines that wanted logic and order and found that frustrated by the illogical emotional creatures that built them.”

Feat of clay...

Feat of clay…

It is impossible for androids to process reality as we perceive it, because the universe is not a logical place. That’s quite a frightening and bleak thought – that the galaxy is so random and so arbitrary that it’s impossible to reconcile existence within anything approaching a logical framework. It is quite Lovecraftian. After all, if androids can’t process our reality, who is to say that we could process the reality of those ascended aliens like the Thasians or even the Talosians.

Of course, there’s a reason that What Are Little Girls Made Of? fits these Lovecraftian tropes especially well. It was written by Robert Bloch, an author who is considered one of the closest professional colleagues of H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft encouraged Bloch’s early writing and even dedicated The Haunter of the Dark to Bloch. Bloch is one of many professional writers to contribute to Lovecraft’s ever-expanding Cthulhu mythos.

Staying handy...

Staying handy…

And it’s quite clear that What Are Little Girls Made Of? owes a substantial debt to Lovecraft’s writing. It feels like an affectionate homage to one of Lovecraft’s most iconic stories, At the Mountains of Madness. It’s hard to read the script’s description of Exo III (“a semi-twilight landscape of barren wasteland buried in deep snow; jagged ice peaks loom in b.g. against a dark and sinister sky”) and the vast underground corridors (giving “the impression of movement through time and space, a long walk towards the centre of the planet”), without thinking of Lovecraft’s iconic tale of an ancient city buried beneath Antarctica.

Both stories have remarkable similarities. The Star Trek Compendium points to the use of Lovecraft’s “Old Ones” and the pyramid-shaped doors, but there are other areas of overlap. Both stories feature an ancient civilisation buried beneath the ice, capable of making life. At the Mountains of Madness has been identified as a key influence on the notion of “ancient astronauts”, an idea which reverberates throughout pop culture. The story features strange creatures which may have created us. Here, we discover that the Old Ones could fashion something quite like life from something quite like clay.

Causing a Ruk-us...

Causing a Ruk-us…

Both extinct societies used their gifts to create a labour force from nothing. The Old Ones of At the Mountains of Madness created the Shoggoth, shapeless monstrous beasts for labour. Limited by the budget of a sixties television show, the Old Ones in What Are Little Girls Made Of? created Ruk. Both societies were then destroyed by their own creations, ending up lost in time – nothing more than a faded memory of a time that has long since passed.

Indeed, there’s something almost mystical about What Are Little Girls Made Of? Although there are fancy computers and robots, it is still the story of an ancient society that retreated into literal and metaphorical darkness. As Brown explains, the decision by the Old Ones to withdraw under the surface of the planet was a massively important symbolic turning point:

When you were a student of his, Christine, you must have often heard Doctor Korby remark how freedom of movement and choice produced the human spirit? The culture of Exo III proved his theory. When they moved from light to darkness, they replaced freedom with a mechanistic culture.

The society of Exo III literally left the light to embrace the dark arts. There’s something almost religious about the creation of the androids, which seems to consist of nothing more than tying the subject and a lump of clay to a table and spinning it very fast. Fashioned from what seems to be some sort of clay, the duplicate of Kirk might as well be a form of golem – a man shaped from lifeless raw ingredients.

Edging ever closer...

Edging ever closer…

Of course, this is Star Trek, so we accept that this must be technology managed by rational rules, even if those rules are beyond our comprehension. That just makes it all the more terrifying. Korby’s fears about the reaction to Exo III feel somewhat justified. “Do you realise the number of discoveries lost because of superstition, of ignorance, of a layman’s inability to comprehend?” he asks Kirk. However, the gut reaction to something like Exo III is so strong and so uncomfortable that it’s hard to dismiss as “superstition” or “ignorance” or “a layman’s inability to understand.”

Which, to be honest, is interesting. Star Trek is, broadly speaking, an optimistic universe where knowledge is valued and recognised as inherently valuable. We work hard to get past our instinctive and visceral reactions to those things we find alien – we learn to accept them as what they are. However, the early episodes of Star Trek seem to justify those reactions, to play into them. The salt vampire in The Man Trap is the last relic of an ancient civilisation, but it is so abhorrent that it must be killed. Andrea might look sweet and innocent, but her suicide at the end of What Are Little Girls Made Of? is treated as a tragic necessity.

Not quite the throw-down Kirk was looking for...

Not quite the throw-down Kirk was looking for…

There’s a sense that these early episodes of Star Trek are actually quite conservative in their outlook – that there are clearly some things that man is just not meant to know. It’s quite similar to the way that Gary Mitchell’s ascension in Where No Man Has Gone Before was presented. The universe might be a fascinating and diverse place, but these very early episodes seem very wary of anything truly different and truly alien. Of course, that’s a necessary part of cosmic horror and cosmicism, so the show’s moral outlook would shift as it moved gradually away from that particular vision of outer space. After all, watching What Are Little Girls Made Of?, you’d assume Data was an abomination.

What Are Little Girls Made Of? is a great addition to the Star Trek pantheon, and a rare existential horror from the franchise. It’s deliciously pulpy, but also surprisingly thoughtful, offering us both a wonderful selection of iconic Star Trek tropes and some food for thought.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the first season of the classic Star Trek:

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