• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek – The Galileo Seven (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.

It’s amazing to think that only now, almost half-way through the first year of Star Trek, the show is doing a Spock-centric episode. Spock is an iconic and instantly recognisable part of Star Trek lore, to the point that Leonard Nimoy’s version of the character served as the link between the classic series and JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the franchise. The character appeared in The Cage, the very first episode of Star Trek ever produced. He is perhaps even more iconic than James T. Kirk himself.

So it feels slightly weird, then, that The Galileo Seven should serve as the first episode of the series completely devoted to Spock as a character, pushing Jim firmly to the background as we get a look at Spock’s first command experience.

Talk about carrying dead weight...

Talk about carrying dead weight…

Of course, the classic Star Trek wasn’t quite as generous when it came to sharing screen time among the regular cast members. Sulu and Uhura, for example, would have to wait until the feature films to receive first names. (Uhura had to wait until 2009 to have her first name – Nyoto – confirmed on screen.) Sure, the show had done ensemble pieces before. Spock, in particular, had got significant development in his few scenes as part of The Naked Time.

However, The Galileo Seven is the first time that Kirk is very clearly pushed into a secondary plot so the story can focus on one of the officers under his command. As such, we get a really character-centred episode here, one devoted to exploring Spock’s rigid adherence to logic as a guiding principle. Even McCoy’s relationship with Nancy in The Man Trap didn’t really offer too much character insight, even if it provided an effective climax.

Alien go Boma...

Alien go Boma…

“Well, I can’t say much for the circumstances, but at least it’s your big chance,” McCoy notes when the eponymous shuttle crashes on a barren rock. “Command. Oh, I know you, Mister Spock. You’ve never voiced it, but you’ve always thought that logic was the best basis on which to build command. Am I right?” Of course, Spock would never admit that he might harbour an interest in becoming a starship commander.

His general willingness to remain second-in-command to Kirk throughout the franchise’s extended history suggests that this isn’t just false modesty. The closest Spock came to becoming a commanding officer was when he supervised cadet training on the Enterprise during Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was hardly the most demanding of positions, and Spock was happy to surrender command to Kirk when the situation called for it.

Not conducive to a constructive working environment...

Not conducive to a constructive working environment…

After that, Spock sort of fell back into the role of Kirk’s second-in-command. After Kirk “died” in Star Trek: Generations, we’re told in Star Trek: The Next Generation that Spock stepped away from Starfleet for a bit. He ended up working as a diplomat, and that’s where we join the character in Unification – and that’s how the character comes to be involved in the 2009 Star Trek reboot. While Star Trek: Nemesis would end with William T. Riker assuming his first official command, Spock never really grew in that direction.

It’s worth noting that, even though he eventually moved on, Riker’s perpetual position as second-in-command became a recurring plot point on The Next Generation. Whenever the show wanted a nice character beat for Riker, it would suggest that he had lost some ambition or that his enthusiasm had been tempered with experience. For some reason, Spock’s status as Kirk’s second-in-command never really became too much of a plot point. Perhaps breaking up the iconic duo of Kirk and Spock was too much for the franchise to ever truly fathom.

Yes, sending a shuttle into a big green glowy thing is a great idea...

Yes, sending a shuttle into a big green glowy thing is a great idea…

Or perhaps The Galileo Seven really said all that needed to be said about Spock as a commanding officer. As you might expect, commanding a marooned crew, Spock behaves in an entirely rational manner here. And it doesn’t help at all. As the natives threaten to tear the shuttle apart, and as the crew seem to be on the brink of mutiny, Spock seems frustrated by it all. He’s not actually upset, in the way that most people facing a grisly death would be. Instead, he seems more confused, like somebody who made an early mistake in a crossword that is now stopping it all from coming together.

“Strange,” he muses. “Step by step, I have made the correct and logical decisions. And yet two men have died.” When McCoy laments the monsters banging against the ship, Spock concedes that he didn’t necessarily handle them well. “I do seem to have miscalculated regarding them, and inculcated resentment on your parts. The sum of the parts cannot be greater than the whole.” Nimoy is – as ever – fantastic here. Nimoy really is an integral part of the character’s lasting appeal, and his performance is masterful. The character is more intrigued by the fact that the pieces don’t add up than he is worried about how things might turn out.

A finely crafter episode...

A finely crafter episode…

One wonders if Starfleet has special courses for Vulcans who want to command. I imagine that commanding a ship full of Vulcans must be relatively easy, but I can’t help but wonder if Spock should probably have been trained for the realities of working with illogical species. He is confident that logic will win the day, but – as McCoy points out, “Mister Spock, life and death are seldom logical.” Sometimes that is literally the case.

Indeed, Spock bungles the death of the first crew member. The survivors want to hold a funeral. Spock thinks it’s more efficient if McCoy directs it. “Doctor, perhaps you know the correct words for such an occasion.” McCoy responds, “Mister Spock, that’s your place.” Although Spock takes great pride in his stoicism, the character is frequently characterised as stubborn (a point he concedes in the closing section of the episode). At points here, he seems to blame the situation on the creatures outside, as if they are trying to sabotage his experiment. “Doctor,” he protests, “I am not responsible for their unpredictability.”

Here there be fur...

Here there be fur…

(It probably doesn’t help that Spock’s first proper command announcement is that he will be leaving two or three of the crew behind on the rock. “As commanding officer, the choice will be mine,” he explains when Boma offers to draw lots. Spock’s inability to understand why his blunt assessment of the situation could cause trouble is one of the episode’s highlights. It’s a concept that fits Spock’s world view perfectly, but also demonstrates the gulf between him and the other stranded officers. Although it does foreshadow Spock’s whole “the needs of the many…” bit in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.)

Of course, the episode would seem trite if it were just fifty minutes of Spock learning that humans are just inherently better. There are several nice touches that demonstrate Spock is slowly learning from his experience. After witnessing the trouble caused by his decision to ignore the first burial, he risks his own life to recover the body of Gaetano. In a nice quick little shot, the episode establishes that Spock took the time to give the second casualty a proper and respectful funeral. Spock has learnt something from the experience.

Under the hood...

Under the hood…

That said, there are some problems with the episode. The crew of the shuttle turns on Spock rather viciously. Even McCoy, whose jabs at Spock are usually good-natured, feels especially brutal. As Spock tries to put it all together, McCoy exclaims, “And you’ve brought our furry friends down on us!” While McCoy’s reservations about Spock are certainly in character, McCoy is generally presented as relatively professional.

McCoy voicing opinions like that in front of the crew feels a little strange, and it’s little wonder that Bomo and the others can be so casually disrespectful of their commanding officer. You’d almost expect McCoy to try to defend Spock to the rest of the crew. Despite their disagreements, the show has always suggested that McCoy and Spock harboured a great deal of respect for one another. The Galileo Seven seems to undermine that. McCoy doesn’t seem to be trying to use reverse psychology, he’s just openly undermining Spock.

Talk about a shake-down cruise...

Talk about a shake-down cruise…

As an aside, I do like how wonderfully professional Scotty is while all this is going on around him. He seems to trust Spock implicitly, in the way that you’d expect McCoy to. Scotty just gets on with his job of trying to save the crew and following the orders given by his commanding officer. Supporting characters like Scotty were generally established by small flashes of character like that, and I tend to think of Scotty as he is defined here – the quintessential “sound man” of the Star Trek franchise, which makes Wolf in the Fold all the more effective.

It is worth noting that writer Diane Carey would revisit The Galileo Seven in her first Star Trek tie-in novel, Dreadnought. In Dreadnought, it is revealed that Boma was court-martialed for his insubordinate behaviour here. We are told, somewhat fittingly, that it was Scotty who “pushed for” that disciplinary action – which is a nice touch. It adds a great deal of shading to the episode and remedies what is probably the biggest flaw with the adventure.

"I knew I should have brought a few more red-shirts... um... no offence, Mr. Scott."

“I knew I should have brought a few more red-shirts… um… no offence, Mr. Scott.”

That said, I’m not entirely convinced that Boma should have been court-martialed while McCoy wasn’t. I suppose that even retroactive continuity cannot punish a regular character, so we have to settle for closure concerning a one-time guest star. Ah well, I suppose that counts for something. The crew dynamic within the crashed shuttle is still the weakest point of the episode, and one that undermines a lot of the good stuff about it.

Aside from Spock’s experience in command, I do like the pulpy feel to the adventure as the shuttle crashes in an abandoned sound stage and is menaced by a dry ice machine and some tall people wrapped in brown towels. It’s the kind of thing that only Star Trek could pull off, and I actually quite like it. The notion of a downed shuttle craft coming under siege from the monstrous primitive natives of some forgotten world is the kind of image that belongs on a trashy paperback cover, and I think The Galileo Seven does a wonderful job bringing it to life.

Another green world...

Another green world…

It is a nice touch that the episode actually subverts a lot of the conventions that you might expect. Despite the show’s (somewhat exaggerated) reputation for killing red-shirts, both members of the team dressed in red survive the episode. Of course, it probably helps that one of them is Scotty and the other was originally going to be Rand. It’s also nice that the black member of the cast doesn’t die first… or, you know, at all.

That said, the episode is still absolutely ridiculous, but then a lot of Star Trek is. That said, The Galileo Seven is one of those episodes that will test just how lactose intolerant your audience is. The obviously plastic spears – designed to mirror primitive hunting tools, apparently fashioned from wood on a barren planet – are very cheesy. It does seem a little strange that Spock cites an Earth reference for the weapon, right down to a handy trivia piece for the audience to note.

A rocky landing...

A rocky landing…

“There’s a remarkable resemblance to the Folsom Point discovered in 1925, old world calendar, New Mexico, North America,” he notes, hoping that the kids in the audience are paying attention. “A bit more crude about the shaft, I believe. Not very efficient.” That said, I do like the idea that the radical concept of attaching a sharp rock to the end of a stick is a sign of humanity’s ingenuity in the shared Star Trek universe. The monsters themselves are shot relatively well, but there’s no hiding the fact that they aren’t among the show’s best.

Kirk spends most of the episode playing mission control, trying to keep the episode’s obstructive bureaucrat from ordering him to abandon the search for his men. These scenes are far too frequent, and they aren’t helped by the fact that John Crawford is pretty much phoning it in as Ferris. Star Trek didn’t always have the strongest guest actors in the world, but it did well enough. Crawford isn’t terrible, but he’s just rather bland. It probably doesn’t help that his character already feels like a cliché, despite being the first example of this character type in the franchise.

The... um... commanders of command?

The… um… commanders of command?

It does occur to me, though, that Kirk was kinda a little reckless in authorising this little away team at this particular moment in time, while the Enterprise was on that mission. “No problem, Commissioner,” he boasts. “And may I remind you that I have standing orders to investigate all quasars and quasar-like phenomena wherever they may be encountered. Besides, it’s three days to Makus. And the rendezvous doesn’t take place for five.” He does have a two-day margin of error, to be fair.

However, it’s also clear that the Enterprise is carrying vital supplies. “The plague is out of control on New Paris,” Ferris explains. “We must get those drugs there on time.” It isn’t as if they are carrying tea and crumpets. I would hope that – while carrying emergency supplies – the primary objective of the ship carrying the supplies was to get them to the destination as soon as possible. Even if that destination is just a way point, it’s still prudent. Getting there early leave room to deal with problems. Plus, you know, if the other ship just happens gets there early then less people die. Risking that, even slightly, seems a bit reckless.

I hate to think what the insurance premium is on those shuttles...

I hate to think what the insurance premium is on those shuttles…

Okay, so The Galileo Seven isn’t necessarily the most robust episode of the first season. However, it is a nice pulpy adventure that shifts the show’s focus just a little bit. It gives us our first real episode directed to Spock as a character, and that makes it well worth a watch.

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

7 Responses

  1. Amazing essay on this episode and the Trek canon and history overall. I like this entry and I’m glad that IDW has re-visited this story in the new Trek comics. Awesome job!

    • Thanks Victor.

      I’d actually love to dig into those IDW comics, but they don’t seem to be releasing them in decently-sized colelctions. I don’t want a bunch of four-issue paperbacks. Give me an oversized hardcover and I’ll tuck in. I’d be particularly excited to see the creative team adapt these stories for modern sensibilities and with the new cast. Plus, word of mouth is quite solid.

      • IDW doing some volumes would be cool. Maybe they have something like that up their sleeve. We’ll see. As it stands they have been doing stand alone issues with the Trek crew in separate stories. They’ve done the G7 and Gary Mitchell stories. I’d would love to see more classic Trek stories done.

  2. I love Spock’s character in general, and I feel that this episode mis-portrays him. Yes, he’s made a god of logic, but he HAS encountered humans before, and his behavior towards them is usually far more nuanced. Spock is both intelligent enough and enough of an anthropologist to understand that when commanding a roomful of humans, you have to take their emotions into account.

    And he’s far too certain about the reactions of creatures that he’s never seen before, which Spock as a scientist would not be. I think the writers of this episode didn’t really “get” Spock and are portraying a cardboard version of him, rather than the actual intelligent and experienced Vulcan that we know him to be.

    Nimoy does his best with what he’s given, but I would love to see a version of this episode written by someone who actually understands Spock.

    • I don’t know. I’d respectfully disagree.

      One of the unique things about Spock is that he generally shies away from command. He occasionally takes the bridge when Kirk is away, but Kirk very often brings him with him. There’s no sense that Spock is “captain in waiting” in the way that other Star Trek executives were. His Executive Officer functions seem to amount to being the voice of Kirk’s reason. (He’s much more useful as a science officer.)

      Compare Spock’s career to that of Riker or Kira. Riker angled for command for a while, before we had one of the best Star Trek episodes ever tell us that maybe he didn’t want it bad enough. Still, Riker closes out the final TNG movie commanding his own ship, suggesting this is the ideal place to leave him. Kira ends Deep Space Nine in charge of the station, a full circle from rebel to leader. Even Chakotay seemed more ready to assume command than Spock. Spock would never pull crap like Chakotay did in Scorpion or Equinox, even if Voyager’s dodgy characterisation meant that Chakotay normally wouldn’t have either. (T’Pol less so, but it is worth noting she was never a Starfleet officer.)

      In contrast, Spock becomes a Captain, but trains recruits. At the first sign of trouble in WoK, he hands the ship back to Kirk. He then branches out into diplomacy and becomes an ambassador.

      I think that The Galileo Seven really explains why that is. I don’t have trouble believing that Spock has difficulty understanding the degree to which human emotions impair their ability to function. (I agree with you that he’s smart enough to know they’re there – I just assumed he expected the humans to be able to push them aside.) I can see Spock rationally deducing that command isn’t the path for him, if he ever thought it was.

      I actually have a much bigger problem with McCoy’s characterisation here. It’s a complete exaggeration of two character traits. His behaviour towards Spock has always had some unfortunately racist undertones, but it is too nasty and too overt here. And he’s also downright unprofessional. McCoy is the ship’s conscience, but he’s not that reckless and indifferent to command structure.

  3. You presented a great discussion of this episode, but I really hated this episode, particularly all the bullshit about the dead in it and the grief directed at Spock over it. I put this one, and the stupid themes and moralising within it, on par with the regular show theme about humanity versus technology nonsense, as well as the occasional diatribes against space travel.

  4. One thing I find interesting about this episode in contrast to the Wrath of Khan is just how much disrespect Spock gets in the show. Spock is constantly being undercut or undermined by someone else. In Balance of Terror, Spock is the XO, and yet Styles isn’t disciplined when he disrespects his superior multiple times. Even Kirk takes pleasure in proving Spock wrong in Space Seed, and not taking his objection to their admiration of a genocidal tyrant seriously. On the show, Spock always felt like the outsider.

    Compare that with Wrath of Khan where Captain Spock is treated with a great deal of respect, the recruits look up to him, and Kirk respects everything Spock says. Bones and Spock feud over the Genesis topic (a charged topic), but for the most part, Spock is the respected Captain of the Enterprise and a solid pillar of the original cast. The only time he isn’t shown proper respect from an underling is when Saavik expresses shock that he lied over the comm. In this movie, Spock feels like an integral part of the franchise.

    As for Spock’s command on the away mission, he does seem to possess some command ability. Spock remains calm and rational, and his predictions about the native life at first had be convinced that everything was under control. The key problem with this mission seems to not rest with Spock, but with the lack of discipline among the crew. Spock probably should have rationally understood that logic does not dictate the actions of everyone, especially savage natives, and as Science Officer, he should have already known that. Perhaps it would have been more interesting if Spock was merely using logic to bluff the crew into keeping moral up, but the script seems too hard pressed to prove the dangers of logic. It’s interesting the see the flaws in Spock, but the script curbs Spock’s intelligence in order to do it. Still, it helps the the script does subvert the classic tropes of the series. It is a fascinating moment in the franchise to see Spock in such a cone of confusion. “I don’t understand how Lt. Latimer could have died on this away mission, I have a red-shirt and a black dude with me, this is COMPLETELY illogical!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: