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Star Trek Special #1 (1994) – The Needs of the One (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

In many ways, the Star Trek movies feature more character development and exploration for the cast than the entire three seasons of the television show. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home are true ensemble pieces, but there’s also more of a sense that this is a family rather than a bunch of people who just hang out together. I’d argue that the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation remain the tightest ensemble that the franchise has ever produced, but the first six movies portray the crew of the original Enterprise as a bunch of people who have been to hell and back together.

Michael Collins’ The Needs of the One represents a bit of an interlude between The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home, taking place during the crew’s three month “Vulcan exile.” While Collins’ script suffers from its inability to decide whether it’s a Spock-centric character drama or a day-in-the-life of the renegade crew, it’s a fascinating story situated in a lacuna of the movies’ chronology. It cements the idea that Spock has been radically altered over the course of the film series, and that his character arc spans the first four films.

Indeed, Collins’ opening sequence tying together his failure to achieve Kolinahr in Star Trek: The Motion Picture with his decision to once again rejoin the crew in The Voyage Home.

When all Kirk asked for was a tall ship, he probably should have been more specific...

When all Kirk asked for was a tall ship, he probably should have been more specific…

To be fair, the story is burdened with a little bit too much continuity. Spock’s spiritual reawakening on Vulcan necessitates a certain retrospective outlook. His memories of Yesteryear and Amok Time are pretty important moments for the character, as they helped inform and define him during his first life. That said, the comic leans a little bit too heavily on past events. While Spock revisiting Amok Time makes sense, it feels weird to draw in his would-be wife T’Pring for a cameo (and reveal she was present during The Motion Picture).

Similarly, the crew’s constant references to early events feels a little bit too much like Collins flashing his geek credibility and less like smooth storytelling. To be fair, the references he makes all fit in context, but they make it seem like the crew lives in the past – constantly uttering variations on the phrase “remember that time when…” For example, McCoy’s casual dropping of Spock’s Brain into conversation with Amanda feels a little esoteric, even if it broadly fits into the category of “times Spock was not himself.”

Memories run Amok...

Memories run Amok…

The idea of linking Spock’s experiences here to the events of The Changeling makes a certain amount of sense. As Uhura notes, her memory was wiped, and Scotty was temporarily dead. This is an interesting angle for several reasons. Most obviously, it demonstrates that Spock’s experiences are not unique in the Star Trek pantheon. This sort of stuff happens, so it’s not as if Spock’s resurrection is completely out-of-left-field. It also hints that the events of the television show were probably more profound than it really allowed them to be.

Uhura’s loss of memory and Scotty’s death were treated as points of suspense in The Changeling. They very obviously weren’t massive character moments, as the show didn’t give side characters like Uhura and Scotty big moments like that. After all, Shatner probably would have stolen them. So Collins draws our attention to the fact that The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home aren’t necessarily doing anything too dramatic or radical within the context of Star Trek. However, the novelty is the depth with which it is treating these ideas.

Although Spock is of Vulcan, he will find no rest there...

Although Spock is of Vulcan, he will find no rest there…

It’s a nice idea, but the execution feels somewhat clumsy, with the references to Nomad feeling a little out-of-context. They don’t even come up in the same conversation. They are raised separately, and prompt the characters to talk about things that happened years ago. There’s no real sense of how this informs the crew’s understanding of Spock’s situation, even if the comparison is valid. Still, Collins is on to something here, and it’s a smart observation.

Spock’s death and resurrection is treated as a massive character arc. As much as The Voyage Home is a comedy, it is anchored in the notion that Spock needs to learn to be himself again. In particular, his ability to act human, rather than Vulcan. (That’s another change from the show. The show was more content to let Spock be Spock. His character arc in the films was learning to be more human.) The movie’s big character moments come when Spock refuses to leave Chekov behind and when he accepts that he will have to guess the calculations for the ship’s return voyage.

His logic is uncertain where his son is confirmed...

His logic is uncertain where his son is confirmed…

Collins alludes to this too. Foreshadowing this development, the Vulcan priests and priestesses from The Motion Picture reflect on his departure. “Spock is lost to us,” one remarks. “He was never really of us.” Given how much pride and stress Spock put on being Vulcan in stories like Journey to Babel and The Naked Time, it represents a considerable departure for the character. Spock was never the perfect Vulcan, but the movies represent his ability to come to terms with that.

To be fair, a lot of what Collins does with The Needs of the One is to tie up and connect various threads running through the film series that weren’t necessarily as tight as they might have been. For example, he makes a point to include a reference to Sybok, Spock’s half-brother who mysteriously appeared in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and was never really mentioned again. “Mother, do I have a brother?” Spock asks Amanda. She responds, “Yes. Yes you do.”

Spock's an animal out there...

Spock’s an animal out there…

It’s a blunt acknowledgement, a far cry from the rather pointed reference that DC Fontana had her make to Spock as the only son of Sarek in Vulcan’s Glory, a novel released in 1989 shortly before Shatner’s Star Trek film. However, Collins also notes the somewhat strange place that Sybok holds in the grander scheme of Star Trek continuity. As if a hardcore fan trying to parse the sudden revelation in The Final Frontier, Spock notes, “I can find no reference to him.” There’s really very little need to reference Sybok, much like there’s little need to devote an entire page to the fate of Maltz, the Klingon officer that Kirk and his crew captured at the end of The Search for Spock.

Collins also borrows a cue from Vonda McIntyre’s novelisation of The Voyage Home in an attempt to make Scotty’s messing with history appear a little less cavalier. “Who invented transparent aluminium?” the computer asks Spock. “Dr. Brandon Nichols,” he replies, referencing the character to whom Scotty would give the formula. “Earth, nineteen ninety-six.” Like Kirk’s glasses, it could be read as a clever pre-destination paradox gag. (The ninety-six is either a dodgy reference to the year to which the crew travelled – 1986 – or an acknowledgement that it probably took some time to figure out all of Scotty’s formula and put it into action.)

"Do it! You'll spare the universe Star Trek V!"

“Do it! You’ll spare the universe Star Trek V!”

More interesting, however, is the decision to include Sarek in the story. To be fair, Sarek’s appearances in The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home fit together quite well. In The Search for Spock, he finally admits his love for Spock. In The Voyage Home, he eventually offers Spock that “well done, son” conversation that Spock has very clearly wanted ever since he was a child. There’s no indication that there’s anything missing from the character arc, save the audience wondering why Sarek didn’t just finally tell Spock how proud he was on Vulcan. The logical conclusion is that Sarek had to (or chose to) leave before Spock was sufficiently recovered to handle the conversation.

Collins tries to complicate matters a bit here. While it feels a little convoluted (Sarek falls right back into “disdainful father” mode here – “you must stay on Vulcan,” he instructs, “follow the life of a scholar, as I once wished”), he manages to make the delayed emotional pay-off fit. Along with the conversation about Sybok, Collins suggests that Sarek is trying – in his own very Vulcan and repressed way – to look out for, and protect, his son. When Kirk confronts Sarek about it, the Vulcan asks, “Admiral, if our positions were reversed and your son had lived… would you let him leave you again?”

He is Spock...

He is Spock…

It’s a moment that doesn’t quite ring true. Sarek’s honest confession about his volatile state in The Search for Spock was a sign of desperation, and it seems strange he’d be so open about it here. (Even more confusing is the idea that Kirk recognises the decision as logical.) It might have made more sense to have Amanda offer justification for her husband’s behaviour. There’s a reason that Amanda is the parent who hangs around for the start of The Voyage Home. She’s the emotional one, the human half of Spock, the one who can assimilate and deal with these troublesome emotional moments. Sarek, for all his diplomatic skill, can’t do that.

Still, The Needs of the One is a nice little story set in a small gap between films. It’s a short character study that might be a bit overloaded with continuity references and nods, but it also offers a bit of insight into Spock’s journey across the first four films.

Check out our reviews of the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast:

2 Responses

  1. star trek is one of my favorite movies and series now comic books that why i love comic books im collecting and taking care of it long live star trek forever

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