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Star Trek – Amok Time (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Amok Time was the fifth show produced for the second season of Star Trek, but was the first show to air. This isn’t unusual. The production and broadcast order of various Star Trek episodes have not necessarily matched up. On shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this was usually due to production delays or changes on specific episodes. On Star Trek: Voyager, the first and second seasons produced episodes that would not be aired until the other side of summer.

However, on the original Star Trek, the production and broadcast order of the episodes is radically different. For example, Friday’s Child was the third episode of the second season produced, but the eleventh broadcast. This makes watching the show in production order on blu ray a delightfully frustrating experience. The first five episodes produced for the second season are split across three different discs.

Good wholesome family fun...

Good wholesome family fun…

Sometimes the changes in production order were purely practical. For example, The Man Trap was the first episode of Star Trek to air because it happened to be the most suitable of the episodes that had been produced to that point. The broadcast order of the first season introduced all manner of production and continuity glitches, with uniforms and cast changing seemingly randomly. Still, The Man Trap was felt to be, effectively, the least bad option to introduce new audiences to Star Trek.

Amok Time, the second season premiere, was an entirely different kettle of fish. This was easily the strongest of the three Star Trek season premieres, and there’s a sense that the production team knew this going into the episode. Designed to ruthlessly capitalise on the popularity and success surrounding the character of Spock, the episode was very clearly intended to put the show’s best foot forward for audiences returning to watch the second season. The result is one of the best episodes the franchise ever produced.

Spock remains as sharp as ever...

Spock remains as sharp as ever…

Re-watching Star Trek demonstrates what an impression the show made on the popular consciousness at time of broadcast. The series is packed with iconic moments and imagery. Even the show’s much-troubled and much-maligned third season is packed to the brim with images that linger in the consciousness long after the final credits have rolled. In some respects, Star Trek as a pop culture phenomenon is more a collection of iconic moments than classic episodes.

Amok Time is a particularly iconic example. There is no way to get around it.  Amok Time itself provides one of the show’s most memorable climaxes and also one of its best-loved audio cues. Even the most casual of Star Trek fans are familiar with the idea of Kirk and Spock fighting to the death as the drum and trumpet sections go wild. Michael Giacchino was wary of the music theme’s place in popular culture, but still incorporated it into The San Fran Hustle on the soundtrack to Star Trek Into Darkness.

Taking a swing at him...

Taking a swing at him…

In an interview with Emmy TV Legends, composer Gerald Fried joked that he knew the score was iconic when he started getting royalty cheques from The Simpsons:

I started to get royalty cheques from The Simpsons. I didn’t write any music for The Simpsons! What they did was that when Bart Simpson would get angry and cross the living room or something like that, they quoted the music from Amok Time. Did you know that? I didn’t know that!

Films like The Cable Guy have even lifted the fight sequence directly, pitting two “friends” against one another to the familiar music. T’Pau had an eighties pop band named after her. This properly iconic Star Trek, right here.

"I'm Leonard McCoy, and I endorse this tri-ox compound..."

“I’m Leonard McCoy, and I endorse this tri-ox compound…”

Star Trek itself absolutely loves the episode. Vulcan pon farr became a plot point on both Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. The weight of fan expectation made sure that Voyager was absolutely obligated to do a “Tuvok has pon farr” episode, even if the show relegated it to a subplot in the last possible season. Casting an attractive young woman as the show’s Vulcan science officer, Enterprise got to its “pon farr plot” towards the end of its second season.

The franchise is particularly fond of re-staging the episode’s climactic fight sequence. Ritualistic duals with exotic weaponry becomes something of a franchise staple in the wake of Amok Time. The first season of The Next Generation even frames something of a gender-reversed homage in the dire Code of Honour, while Enterprise swaps out the Vulcan first officer for an Andorian recurring cast member in United.

A cut above...

A cut above…

There is a sense that the production staff knew this going into the episode. Theodore Sturgeon had been asked to write the script for the first season, but he was not able to get the draft completed on time. Rather than rushing the script, These Are the Voyages: Season Two quotes Roddenberry as patient with Sturgeon’s writing:

This is a critical script for Star Trek! There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Spock characterisation has caught the public’s fancy. Carelessness now may see that character and characterisation irreparably damaged. This must be one of our best and most carefully thought out scripts of the year. If there is any doubt about this, I would much rather see this episode shot a month or two from now, replaced with something less important which we can quickly hammer into shape. Let’s not rush this one!

This certainly fits with the facts as we have them. Amok Time was the fifth episode of the second season produced, but the first to air. The episodes produced beforehand were all troubled to one degree or another. The first three episodes produced were shuffled into the middle of the season, airing seventh, ninth and eleventh.

Spock may need to clean up his act...

Spock may need to clean up his act…

Of course, there was reason to believe that Amok Time would be a success even without Sturgeon’s memorable and brilliant script. After all, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock had been the breakout character of the first season, to the point where Roddenberry himself was forced to brainstorm with Isaac Asimov about how to keep the audience interested in Kirk. Nimoy was receiving more fan mail than Shatner, and had used this popularity as leverage to renegotiate his contract with the studio.

So the idea of doing a season premiere centring around Spock as a bit of a no-brainer. In particular, a story that centred on Spock’s homeworld, allowing viewers a chance to get a glimpse of Vulcan for the first time. More than that, Amok Time traded on Spock’s status as the show’s most improbable sex symbol by teasing viewers with a glimpse of what Vulcan mating practices must look like. It’s hard to imagine a more perfectly calibrated episode to open the second season.

Spock may be ready to take a stab at commanding...

Spock may be ready to take a stab at commanding…

Amok Time is interesting because it presents the viewer with the first real glimpse into the world of the enigmatic Mister Spock. Literally, in the sense that this is our first trip to Vulcan. However, it also affords us the first real look at Mister Spock’s quarters. We had briefly glimpsed a small section of them in The Menagerie, but this is the first time that the audience has been invited to spend any significant amount of time in them. With beautiful sculptures that evoke Earth’s eastern cultures, shades of red and incense burning, these quarters hint at a more spiritual side to the show’s half-Vulcan character.

Indeed, Amok Time even hints ahead towards Journey to Babel later in the second season. Spock acknowledges that this ceremony takes place on land belonging to his family. “This is the land of my family,” he tells Kirk. “It has been held by us for more than two thousand Earth years.” Apparently Spock’s family is so important that a figure as well known and respected as T’Pau will oversee this ritual for him. “He never mentioned that his family was this important,” Kirk reflects to McCoy.

Slice of life...

Slice of life…

Of course, this makes a great deal of sense when Journey to Babel reveals that Spock’s father is one of the Federation’s most venerated ambassadors. As such, it seems quite reasonable that Spock’s family would have significant land holdings on Vulcan. It is also entirely in keeping with Spock’s character that he would never discuss this with Kirk or McCoy, just as he would never discuss his pon farr with either of his closest friends.

One of the more interesting retroactive twists on Amok Time is the suggestion that Vulcans aren’t really that concerned with privacy about pon farr. While still treating individual cases as a matter of privacy, it seems like it is reasonably well known in a general sense. It is discussed quite openly in various episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, and the Doctor seems quite familiar with it in Blood Fever on Star Trek: Voyager. This could easily be written off as an oversight on the part of the writers, but it also suggests that Spock is particularly sensitive about such things.

Stand-off...

Stand-off…

Still, Amok Time represents the first real look at Vulcan. As a result, it represents the first time that the franchise has visited the home world of a major character – the show hasn’t even visited Earth yet. In a way, Amok Time could be seen as a bit of early world-building for the franchise. This treatment and development of the Vulcans would pave the way for later development of the Romulans and the Klingons. Sins of the Father would not be possible without Amok Time.

In a way, this represents a pretty dramatic shift away from the first season. The first episodes of Star Trek were notoriously lax on continuity or detail. From episode to episode, the show could not seem to decide who Kirk was working for, or what the name of Spock’s species might be. It was only towards the middle and end of the first season of Star Trek that we got familiar terms like “Federation” and “Starfleet” and “Klingon.”

Smiles to go...

Smiles to go…

With the return of the Klingons in Friday’s Child and the visit to Vulcan in Amok Time, it seems that the show isn’t just trying to expand its world outwards. It is trying to add more depth and nuance to the world that is inhabited by these characters. Allowing Kirk and McCoy to beam down to the planet surface and witness a rather mystical and traditional ritual, the show is suggesting that Kirk’s mission isn’t just to push the frontier forward and discover new life-forms, but to learn more about the worlds he already knows.

The portrayal of Vulcan here is absolutely fascinating. Far from emphasising the logical nature of Vulcans, Amok Time stresses the emotions that must bubble beneath the surface. “What they are about to see comes down from the time of the beginning, without change,” she advises Kirk. “This is the Vulcan heart. This is the Vulcan soul. This is our way.” It adds an interesting conflict to the heart of the Vulcan character, suggesting the race’s rational and disciplined exterior hides a rather mystical core.

Bang a gong, get it on...

Bang a gong, get it on…

The production design seems to channel a decidedly eastern aesthetic. There is a rather New Age feel to proceedings. This could be seen to reflect Hollywood’s contemporary fascination with eastern philosophy. As Anne MacKenzie Pearson notes in From Thwarted Gods to Reclaimed Mystery?:

Roddenberry’s apparent sympathy for Japanese Buddhism may help to explain the Zen-like atmosphere of Vulcan culture which, like Zen, is presented as very ordered, disciplined and contemplative. Vulcan culture is, of course, also super-rational and, like Zen, has no beliefs in a personal god, yet it accepts a (benevolent) priestly hierarchy that oversees ritual rites of passage (e.g. the Vulcan “pon farr” and “kohlinar”). The moral philosophy of Vulcan culture is based on nonviolence, an important ethical precept of Buddhism. And for all the emphasis on logic and the purging of emotion, there are definite mystical elements to Vulcan ways. The picture seems to reflect a rather typical Western understanding of Zen Buddhism: simple, even austere but mystical, and, above all, supporting a philosophy that locates the search for truth as beginning and ending with the self.

The episode stresses other New Age aspects of the Vulcan character. “T’Pring, parted from me and never parted, never and always touching and touched,” Spock greets his mate, evoking the same sort of telepathy and extra-sensory perception that Roddenberry hinted at in Where No Man Has Gone Before.

For a private fellow, Spock can't help harping on...

For a private fellow, Spock can’t help harping on…

Amok Time is also notable for the introduction of the famous Vulcan salute and the iconic “live long and prosper” pronouncement. As Yonassan Gershom notes in Jewish Themes in Star Trek, the gesture was improvised by Nimoy and has its roots in Jewish culture:

Nimoy felt that there should be some kind of distinctive greeting among Vulcans, analogous to a handshake or bow. Alan Dean Foster’s novelisation, based on an early script, has Spock kneeling before the Vulcan matriarch, T’Pau, who places her hands on his shoulders, like royalty dubbing a knight. But Nimoy didn’t care for this idea. Previous episodes had already established that Vulcans are touch telepaths. Therefore, a touch on the shoulders would be an invasion of privacy. Instead, Nimoy drew upon his own Jewish background to suggest the now-familiar salute. Back in the 1960s, hippies who watched Amok Time thought the salute was a variation of the two-fingered peace sign. But we Jews knew better. The Vulcan salute came not from protest marches, but from the pulpit of Nimoy’s childhood synagogue.

These elements that would become so essential to the franchise that US President Barack Obama would greet Leonard Nimoy with the gesture. (Although it should be noted that James Blish wrote the novelisation.)

"Get the gimp."

“Get the gimp.”

Interestingly, the original draft of Amok Time featured extended sequences of dialogue in Vulcan. According to These Are the Voyages: Season Two, these were cut with the support of D.C. Fontana:

PLEASE eliminate all the Vulcan dialogue and keep it in English. Saves translation and it will keep everyone informed of which player is where. Also, I anticipate the biggest laugh of the year in Scene 58 when T’Pring utters some large Vulcan pronouncement and Spork stares back at her, saying, “T’Pring! Klart!”

A few words remain in the finished script, just enough to give a bit of local flavour to Vulcan. It is interesting that Star Trek drew the line at a Vulcan language at this point. It wouldn’t be until the films that the franchise reached the point where scenes could be filmed in an alien language – Vulcan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Klingon in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Knife to see you...

Knife to see you…

However, Amok Time is fascinating for what it represents even outside the exploration of Spock’s culture and his home world. Amok Time works rather well as an example of a Star Trek parable, a science-fiction story that works very well as a piece of social commentary on the world around it. In this case, Amok Time was being broadcast towards the end of 1967, in the wake of the “Summer of Love.” It was a period of sexual liberation, often deemed the sexual revolution.

It was a time at which the mainstream was having to confront all manner of sexual expression – often outside the norms as defined by society. Spock is presented as a deeply repressed individual, much like he was in The Naked Time. It’s telling that his first confession to Kirk concerns his own awkwardness around Christine Chapel’s obvious sexual attraction to him. “It is undignified for a woman to play servant to a man who is not hers,” Spock explains, as if complaining about unmarried flirtation.

Soups you, sir...

Soups you, sir…

When Spock tries to explain the process to Kirk, he can only use the euphemism “biological” instead of anything more accurate or specific. As Beth Bailey notes in Sexual Revolution(s), television often found it struggling to deal with the sexual revolution of the sixties:

In 1957 America’s favourite TV couple, the safely married Ricky and Lucy Ricardo, slept in twin beds. Having beds at all was probably progressive – as late as 1962 June and Ward Cleaver did not even have a bedroom. Elvis’ pelvis was censored in each of his three appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, leaving his oddly disembodied upper torso and head thrashing about on the TV screen. But the sensuality in his eyes, his lips, his lyrics was unmistakable, and his genitals were all the more important in their absence. There was, likewise, no mistaking Mick Jagger’s meaning when he grimaced ostentatiously and sang ‘Let’s spend some time together’ on Ed Sullivan in 1967. Much of the audience knew that the line was really ‘Let’s spend the night together’, and the rest quickly got the idea. The viewing public could see absence and hear silence – and therein lay the seeds of the sexual revolution.

Kirk tries to encourage Spock to be a little more open about it. “Well, there’s no need to be embarrassed about it, Mister Spock,” he assures his science officer. “It happens to the birds and the bees.” Spock simply replies, “The birds and the bees are not Vulcans, Captain.”

Three of a kind...

Three of a kind…

Science-fiction provided an appealing avenue to explore these ideas that couldn’t be openly discussed in the mainstream. As Camille Bacon-Smith observed in Science Fiction Culture, Theodore Sturgeon was among those who helped push that boat out:

In fact, stories with adult themes that included sexuality had no easy time finding an outlet in the United States, where issues of man’s relationships with technology were the norm as well as the stereotype until the New Wave of the 1960s expanded the sexual horizons of the genre. But ever since science fiction’s inception as a literature of technological romance, a subset of writers and fans have grappled with the definitions of sexuality that the genre would embrace. Theodore Sturgeon wrote passionate stories with sexual themes as early as the ’40s. In 1953, when the science fiction fans awarded the first Hugos, Philip José Farmer won the “New SF Author or Artists category” for The Lovers, a novella published in Startling Stories. Sometimes lagging behind the general population, sometimes surging ahead of it, the debate continues into the twenty-first century.

Science-fiction thrives on allegory and metaphor. As such, it should be no surprise that it could deal with themes and subtexts that were not really fodder for more mainstream consumption.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Fight! Fight! Fight!

In the same year that Philip José Farmer won a Huge for The Lovers, Theodore Sturgeon published The World Well Lost. As Wendy Pearson explains in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, this really shifted the portrayal of homosexual relationships within science-fiction:

Until the 1950s, homosexuality in science fiction and fantasy was either allegorical or used as a mark of evil. Eric Garder and Lyn Paleo note that overt images of homosexuality in this period were ‘overwhelmingly stereotypic and one-dimensional.’ Theodore Sturgeon is usually credited with the first sympathetic treatment of homosexuality in science fiction, The World Well Lost, a tale of both alien and human same-sex desire that sympathises with its characters’ dilemma even as it see no possible happy ending for either the alien lovers or the human spaceman in love with his captain.

As such, the rather strong sexual subtext of Amok Time seems unlikely to be a coincidence. With Amok Time, Sturgeon rather heavily heaps even more sexual subtext into the relationship between Kirk and Spock.

You can't go home again...

You can’t go home again…

Spock has always been relatively easy to code as a closeted gay man. He struggles to repress his urges and desires so that he may function within society. He is intensely private and withdrawn with the people around him. He has an awkward relationship with his father, who blames Spock for deviating from the life that was planned for him. Spock’s one romance of the first season – in This Side of Paradise – ends after a wrestling session with Kirk in the Enterprise’s transporter room.

Sturgeon plays up all those elements rather dramatically. Spock rejects the female crew member with an obvious attraction to him. Spock refuses to talk about his personal life, even when Kirk assures him that sex is a perfectly natural biological function. Once again, Spock sublimates his sexual urges into a fight with Kirk. Amok Time features Spock strangling Kirk in the middle of his “blood fever.” In an earlier insert, we practically see the eyes rolling back in Spock’s head.

China in your hand...

China in your hand…

It almost goes without saying that strangulation is coded as a method of murder with a heavy sexual subtext. Of course, it would have been very difficult for McCoy to revive Kirk had Spock beheaded him, and most other forms of death would likely have been deemed inappropriate for the audience at home, but it’s very hard not to read a homosexual subtext into that sequence. As soon as Spock has finished, his logic and rationality returns.

“It must have been the combat,” Spock explains to McCoy. “When I thought I had killed the captain, I found I had lost all interest in T’Pring. The madness was gone.” His lust had been sated. Of course, Amok Time could also be read as a commentary on the potential damage done by sexual repression. Spock is so buttoned down that his impulses must find expression in some form or another, so the lead to violence and murder – reinforcing common arguments about the links between sexual repression and violence.

Kirk should probably read the rules before volunteering next time...

Kirk should probably read the rules before volunteering next time…

Still, it seems like fandom picked up on the homosexual subtext rather quickly. The first romantic fan fiction pairing Kirk and Spock – The Ring of Shoshernhas been dated to 1967 or 1968. The climax of Amok Time served to make Mister Spock even more an icon than he had been before, with fan mail surging after the broadcast of the episode. Interestingly, Nimoy had noted a similar surge around the time that The Naked Time was broadcast, suggesting that audiences were responding to Spock’s sexual repression.

It is worth noting that – as with most scripts that passed through the production offices – Amok Time was heavily re-written and tweaked by the production staff to help it fit with their vision of Star Trek. This process was painful for Harlan Ellison when he developed The City on the Edge of Forever, but it did lead to a classic episode. With Amok Time, it seems like the process went rather smoothly.

Bride of Spock...

Bride of Spock…

D.C. Fontana was the writer tasked with giving Amok Time its polish, a decision that makes sense given her experience developing Spock as a character. As Fontana explained in These Are The Voyages: Season Two, this afforded her a chance to account for some of the problems with Friday’s Child:

And then, with the so-called love story — the bride and the man she really wants — I put in the fact that she was very calculating, saying, ‘You’ll be gone. I’ll still be here, and Stonn will be here.’ Like the Julie Newmar character [in Fridy’s Child], but Gene didn’t allow it there. So I brought some of that into this one… [And] the characters needed to be more clearly defined and motivated and — since I had become the resident ‘Vulcan expert’ — I got that task… But delving into the Vulcan culture that nobody had ever seen before — the ceremony, the formality, this woman who was the head of the council, T’Pau — that was all basically Sturgeon. But we made it more Star Trek.

Roddenberry had rather ruthlessly and effectively stripped the female guest character in Friday’s Child of any agency and uniqueness, reducing her to a cranky woman who becomes a proper mother as soon as a baby is put in her arms. With T’Pring, Fontana was allowed to develop a more manipulative and cynical guest character.

Learning about pon farr really helped Kirk to put things in perspective...

Learning about pon farr really helped Kirk to put things in perspective…

It is notable that T’Pring is treated like an object for most of Amok Time. As the ritual leads towards combat, T’Pau demands of her, “Thee are prepared to become the property of the victor?” It is a pretty damning indictment of Vulcan culture, even if T’Pring is allowed to choose her own champion. The idea that Vulcan law relegates a female to “property” of her mate is decidedly uncomfortable. T’Pring is not allowed to make her own decisions, except within a very narrow band. She has minimal freedom.

Interestingly, the male Vulcan can “release” the female from their bond, but the female cannot release herself. Sadly, this is not an unusual dynamic in classic Star Trek, where female characters frequently exists as pawns to be manipulated and controlled in games run by male characters. Amok Time just makes this more overt than it is in episodes like Who Mourns for Adonais? or What Are Little Girls Made Of?

"I got a fever! And the only prescription... is ritualised violence!"

“I got a fever! And the only prescription… is ritualised violence!”

However, unlike most of the female characters in the original Star Trek, T’Pring decides to react against the system that would reduce her to little more than chattel. When Spock asks her why she does not wish to be married to him, she replies, “And as the years went by, I came to know that I did not want to be the consort of a legend.” T’Pring does not want her identity to be subsumed into Spock’s. She wants to be more than just “Spock’s mate” or “the mother of Spock’s children.”

She plays the system for all that it is worth, cleverly manipulating events to ensure that the outcome is desirable. It is ruthless and cold, but it affords her considerably more agency than most female characters on the original Star Trek show. Given that Star Trek seems to treat most of its female characters as overly-emotional or fickle, this represents a bold departure – even if it arguably conforms to other unfortunate gender stereotypes. As Fontana notes, T’Pring seems quite like the original version of Eleen from Friday’s Child.

"Sure this is a lot of upkeep for a place we only use once every seven years, we also use this space for funerals and Shakespeare readings..."

“Sure this is a lot of upkeep for a place we only use once every seven years, we also use this space for funerals and Shakespeare readings…”

Amok Time also offers another glimpse of Gene L. Coon’s rather cynical view of Federation politics. As with Metamorphosis, one of the smaller moments in Amok Time has Kirk choosing between his duty to the Federation and the needs of individuals. In both cases, Kirk affirms the needs of the individuals over the “greater good.” In Metamorphosis, Kirk isn’t too worry about what the fusion of Nancy and the Companion means for Federation politics. In Amok Time, Kirk ignores orders to take Spock home.

Kirk is ordered to attend a Federation function on Altair Six. Starfleet stresses how vital the Enterprise’s presence is. “Altair Six is no ordinary matter,” Admiral Komack stresses. “That area is just putting itself together after a long interplanetary conflict. This inauguration will stabilise the entire Altair system.” That sounds pretty altruistic and idealistic, right? A nice show of neighbourly support for a planet emerging from a devastating war?

Kirk was immediately aware that this was not a Vulcan garden instrument...

Kirk was immediately aware that this was not a Vulcan garden instrument…

Naturally, this isn’t the whole picture. As with the Federation’s visit to Organia in Errand of Mercy and to Eminiar VII in A Taste of Armageddon, this diplomatic mission is ultimately military in nature. “Our appearance there is a demonstration of friendship and strength which will cause ripples clear to the Klingon Empire,” Komack adds, making it seem as if Starfleet could actually care less about all those people pulling themselves out of the wake of a devastating conflict. It’s just about showing off the Klingons.

Indeed, the episode goes even further, when Kirk reveals that Komack wasn’t necessarily painting the full picture. “I know the Altair situation,” Kirk explains. “We would be one of three starships. Very impressive, very diplomatic, but it’s simply not that vital.” Amok Time suggests that the Federation is ultimately more interested in posturing in front of an enemy (who has signed a peace treaty) than they are with the well-being of one of their own officers.

Flight officers of fancy...

Flight officers of fancy…

There are lots of other nice touches to Amok Time as well. The production design is absolutely fantastic. The music is iconic. The direction is superb. Even the script finds room for lots of little character moments that work very well. The short scene with Spock and Chapel reconciling in his quarters is a delightful character beat that could easily have been trimmed from the final broadcast episode, but which says a lot about both characters involved.

Although it was the fifth episode of the season produced, the fact that Amok Time was the first episode to air meant that it introduced audiences to the character of Chekov. A rather blatant attempt to cash in on the success of The Monkees, the only show to get more fan mail than Star Trek, Chekov was a character who added a bit more international flavour to the crew. Roddenberry famously boasted that he was inspired to create Chekov based on fan mail from Russia, which is a questionable piece of Star Trek lore.

"Don't worry, you get used to it."

“Don’t worry, you get used to it.”

Still, Amok Time does demonstrate some of Chekov’s potential appeal. Sitting at the helm and navigation station at the front of the bridge, he provides somebody to whom Sulu can talk. The cutaways to Sulu and Chekov add some nice levity to Amok Time. However, the show could equally have done scenes like that with Uhura, which would have given Nichelle Nichols something to do beyond opening hailing frequencies. So adding Chekov does seem like a very cynical move from a show that isn’t quite sure what to do with the supporting cast it already has.

Amok Time is a genuine classic. It’s one of the best pieces of Star Trek ever produced, and made a wonderful start to the show’s second season for those watching at home.

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

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27 Responses

  1. Very nice review.

    I admit I’m one of those people who never really saw Spock as an allegorical gay man, perhaps mostly because he seems more a character who respresents an allegory on race and culture. Spock seems so ashamed of being half human, so determined to be the most Vulcanish Vulcan he can be.

    I find the popularity of Spock with the groovy Sixties fascinating (no pun intended) because in some ways he is the most conservative of the main cast.

    • That said, I think that Spock really taps into counter-culture on a number of levels. He is repressed and buttoned-down, making him immediately sympathetic and in touch with how members of counter-culture saw the world. He has borderline psychic abilities and resembles an elf (at least, I thought, more than a demon) which probably appeal to the new age movement of the time. More than that, he has obvious issues with his parents – it is made quite clear early on that his relationship with his mother is strained and then it’s revealed that he chose to rebel against the life that his father chose for him. I can see that resonating with youth in the mid-sixties. More than that, he is a perpetual outsider, one misunderstood by everybody else, one different from everyone around him. Again, I think the right character at the right time. (Plus, Nimoy is phenomenal.)

      • I suppose so – I have to admit the character always left me somewhat cold.

        Though I still think there is something deeply conservative about his approach to race and ethnicity; however much he might have strayed from his father’s path it is his mother’s race he rejects. That is much more problematic, especially given the racially charged times the Original Series was made in. Its hard not think of Spock as a mixed race man firmly rejected his black side to pass as white and getting deeply offended if anyone dares call him black.

        That’s a fascinating character beat that, ironically, humanises Spock, but he is never really called on it in-universe or out and it is unsettling the counter-culture is so uncritical of their worship of him.

      • That’s a very valid point. I quite like that the movies seem have him dial back on that a bit, accepting that he is a child of two different worlds, and should not have to choose one over the other. The Motion Picture is a staggeringly clumsy film, but I think it has two pretty solid character arcs for Kirk and Spock. Kirk’s was so good (and so undercooked) that Bennett and Meyer just recycled it for The Wrath of Khan, giving it the attention it needed. Spock’s seems to set the template for Data’s character arc in TNG, even though I believe something similar had been planned for Xon in Phase II.

  2. Nice to see you reviewing Season 2 of TOS! I really enjoyed your Season 1 TOS reviews, and I’m glad to see you add Season 2. I find your reviews far more thoughtful than any others; I like the academic depth that you sometimes add.

    “Amok Time” is my favorite TOS episode; I love the depth it gives us about Vulcan culture in general and Spock’s character in particular.

    You can count me as one of those zillions of women who find Spock extremely sexy. There are lots of reasons for this.

    1. Spock has a truly admirable character; he’s the most ethical of the TOS crew, and considering that Kirk and McCoy are both highly ethical people, that’s saying something. Even in the Mirror universe, Spock was the best of a bad lot; his loyalty and decency go so deep that even the Empire couldn’t corrupt him completely.

    2. He has a magnificent mind. Spock knows nearly everything, and he’s capable of figuring things out incredibly quickly. He can do complex calculations in his head even while doing something else at the same time. He doesn’t have Kirk’s occasional flashes of tactical genius, but his raw intelligence is astonishing.

    3. Telepathy. Mind melds. People think of Spock as stand-offish, cold, formal, and so on. But think about it. If you were in a relationship with Spock, he could take you INSIDE HIS MIND and show you everything he thinks, everything he feels, everything he’s ever experienced. And he could come inside his partner’s mind and see everything she thinks or feels, see everything she’s ever done or ever desired. That means that one could have greater intimacy with SPOCK — with this supposedly cold character — than one could ever have with a human, because sadly, humans aren’t capable of mind melds on our own.

    4. Spock’s also gorgeous. Those expressive eyes, those astonishing cheekbones, those elegantly beautiful ears, those perfectly sculpted lips, those delightfully exotic eyebrows, that lovely jaw, that glossy hair … he doesn’t have a classically pretty face, but I find it all the more beautiful because it’s an INTERESTINGLY beautiful face, a very individual face.

    5. Spock is a very powerful person, and I don’t mean his position in Starfleet. He’s physically strong, intellectually gifted, fantastically disciplined, wonderfully knowledgeable. He could crush us in an instant, but he never would, because he’s so gentle and polite, even courtly. That sense of great power under restraint … lots of women find that sexy.

    6. People can’t achieve orgasm unless they let go somewhat. So anyone who had sex with Spock would get to see him in that instant of letting go. While most of us who love him love him because of who he is, we’d also love to be privileged to see him during that one time when every person lets go.

    7. Spock is a bit of a tortured soul. If you think about “The Naked Time,” he’s the only one who breaks down in tears when his inner self is revealed. The estrangement from his father, the sense that the humans always want him to be less Vulcan, and the Vulcans always want him to be less human, the essential aloneness of being the only human-Vulcan hybrid on the ship (possibly the only one in existence), all of this means that Spock masks great pain. And we want to soothe him and care for him and love him and appreciate him, to give this great and good man the unconditional acceptance that he so deserves … and that no one else gives him.

    I could go on forever — truly, there are lots more reasons to adore Spock — but you’ve probably stopped reading already. 🙂

    • Nah! Never stopped reading. It’s a solid list, and I think Spock is one of the great pop culture creations – I suspect you hit on a lot of the reasons!

      • One night after my husband and I had finished watching a TOS episode, I was raving about how fabulous Spock is (as I am wont to do. :-D) I turned to my husband and said, “You don’t mind that I love Spock, do you?”

        He replied, “ALL sensible people love Spock!”

        Reason #2047 to love my husband. 🙂

      • Fun story – I actually have a similar one. I went to see Star Trek with my better half in 2009. She loved it, which is really reason enough for me to love the Abrams films, despite any fannish faults I have with them. (And, even those fannish faults fall well short of the fannish faults with Generations, Insurrection, Nemesis.)

        However, she had a crush on Spock. She quite liked the bit where he lost it with Kirk on the bridge, and casually remarked that they should have done that sort of repressed thing on the show more often.

        Half-an-hour later, we’re sitting down to watch Amok Time. She loves it. (Although she’s not a Trekkie – and vehemently protests at any accusation that she might be softening towards the franchise – she also loves The Measure of a Man, The Wire and The Offspring. She cried at that last one. I may have, too, even though I knew the ending because I’d seen it before.)

  3. Nice to see you reviewing Season 2 of TOS! I really enjoyed your Season 1 TOS reviews, and I’m glad to see you add Season 2. I find your reviews far more thoughtful than any others; I like the academic depth that you sometimes add.

    “Amok Time” is my favorite TOS episode; I love the depth it gives us about Vulcan culture in general and Spock’s character in particular.

    You can count me as one of those zillions of women who find Spock extremely sexy. There are lots of reasons for this.

    1. Spock has a truly admirable character; he’s the most ethical of the TOS crew, and considering that Kirk and McCoy are both highly ethical people, that’s saying something. Even in the Mirror universe, Spock was the best of a bad lot; his loyalty and decency go so deep that even the Empire couldn’t corrupt him completely.

    2. He has a magnificent mind. Spock knows nearly everything, and he’s capable of figuring things out incredibly quickly. He can do complex calculations in his head even while doing something else at the same time. He doesn’t have Kirk’s occasional flashes of tactical genius, but his raw intelligence is astonishing.

    3. Telepathy. Mind melds. People think of Spock as stand-offish, cold, formal, and so on. But think about it. If you were in a relationship with Spock, he could take you INSIDE HIS MIND and show you everything he thinks, everything he feels, everything he’s ever experienced. And he could come inside his partner’s mind and see everything she thinks or feels, see everything she’s ever done or ever desired. That means that one could have greater intimacy with SPOCK — with this supposedly cold character — than one could ever have with a human, because sadly, humans aren’t capable of mind melds on our own.

    4. Spock’s also gorgeous. Those expressive eyes, those astonishing cheekbones, those elegantly beautiful ears, those perfectly sculpted lips, those delightfully exotic eyebrows, that lovely jaw, that glossy hair … he doesn’t have a classically pretty face, but I find it all the more beautiful because it’s an INTERESTINGLY beautiful face, a very individual face.

    5. Spock is a very powerful person, and I don’t mean his position in Starfleet. He’s physically strong, intellectually gifted, fantastically disciplined, wonderfully knowledgeable. He could crush us in an instant, but he never would, because he’s so gentle and polite, even courtly. That sense of great power under restraint … lots of women find that sexy.

    6. People can’t achieve orgasm unless they let go somewhat. So anyone who had sex with Spock would get to see him in that instant of letting go. While most of us who love him do love him because of who he is, we’d also love to be privileged to see him during that one time when every person lets go. 😉

    7. Spock is a bit of a tortured soul. If you think about “The Naked Time,” he’s the only one who breaks down in tears when his inner self is revealed. The estrangement from his father, the sense that the humans always want him to be less Vulcan, and the Vulcans always want him to be less human, the essential aloneness of being the only human-Vulcan hybrid on the ship (possibly the only one in existence), all of this means that Spock masks great pain. And we want to soothe him and care for him and love him and appreciate him, to give this great and good man the unconditional acceptance that he so deserves … and that no one else gives him.

    I could go on forever — there are so MANY reasons to love Spock — but you’ve probably stopped reading already. 🙂

  4. First off,excellent review. This is one of the most thoughtful articles about this episode that I have seen written.Secondly,it is interesting your writer mentions the World Well Lost. Have you read Sturgeon’s work outside of Star Trek? He was one of the all time great science fiction writers and one of the first truly literary writers to come out of the science fiction pulps. He was also friends with Ellison.

    Your mention of the gay subtext had me thinking about Sturgeon’s World Well Lost. and its parallels with this story. In that story there are two humans on the ship. The one captain is a tough macho womanizer. His more enigmatic first mate is secretly gay and in love with him. Interesting isn’t it? Before reading this review I had did not notice the similarity. Perhaps other people are not reading into the Kirk Spock relationship subtext of this story. A comparison might be interesting.

    The interest in hands and chocking also was in a early Sturgeon story called Bianca’s Hands. Read that if you have not already. There is another article on Sturgeon that commented on the use of hands in this episode. What you be interested in reading a copy?

    • Thanks Zeno!

      I’ll admit I’ve read very little Sturgeon except for a few pieces as research for this. I’ll have to dig out World Well Lost.

      I think it’s a real shame that the later Star Trek shows moved away from recruiting established science-fiction writers. The re-embrace of the concept is one of the things I really like about modern Doctor Who, the sense that the show welcomes these writers to contribute to the world and the mythos. If Star Trek ever comes back, it would be great to have John Scalzi pitch a stand-alone script, for example. Or Alex Garland.

      • Theodore Sturgeon was a wonderful SF writer, and I strongly encourage you to check him out. He’s unusual in that his short stories are generally stronger and better known than his novels. Check out “Slow Sculpture” and “The Skills of Xanadu,” for example. You can find many of his best stories in the volume “Selected Stories.”

        There’s an expensive multi-volume set of every short story Sturgeon ever wrote, which I encourage you NOT to check out the early volumes of, since it took Sturgeon awhile to gain command of his craft. (Those early volumes are heartening, though, to would-be writers. Sturgeon eventually managed to write short stories that may well be the Platonic ideal of the short story, but his early stories sucked. Wow. If THEODORE STURGEON used to suck, there’s hope for the rest of us. :-D)

        Speaking of real SF writers who could/should write an episode, I’d love to see Robert J. Sawyer write a new Star Trek episode or even a series. Have you read him? Sawyer is a serious Trek fan in addition to being a Hugo- and Nebula-award winning SF author; he co-edited an anthology of articles about TOS (some scholarly, some humorous, some fannish) with David Gerrold called “Boarding the Enterprise.” He frequently bases his SF novels on cutting-edge science, while making that science accessible to the reader. Given his writing skills, his grounding in real science, and his affection for Star Trek, he’d be a great person to jump-start the franchise.

      • Corlyea is not entirely correct. I own volume 1 and it does contain two classics that are worth the price of the book. They are the previously mentioned short story Bianca’s Hands and It. “IT” is the father of the swamp monster tales of the last seventy plus years. Both of these can be found in Selected Stories that she mentioned.

      • I would also like to add that Skills of Xandu is overrated. That can be found in Selected Stories and a earlier collection called Golden Helix. Helix contains one of his best stories called “The man who lost the sea”. It also has a great story called the Dark Room which I never hear mentioned but is great.

      • Volume 1 of “The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon” lists for $35 (discounted to $25 at Amazon) and contains mostly duds. The two — out of 46! — good stories in that volume are also in “Selected Stories,” which lists for $14 and is available for $10.60 on Amazon.

        If you’re trying to turn someone on to Sturgeon, it’s better strategy to suggest that they buy an $11 book that contains all gems than that they buy a $25 book that contains 44 duds and 2 gems. 😉

      • Corylea,God in the Garden and Helix the Cat are not too bad and they are in the collection.

      • Also remember this is a collection of everything he wrote including stuff that was not published. It seems he did not find his niche until a few years later. The Ultimate Egoist is the name of volume one and it is one of his stories also in the Golden Helix. Did not like that one. It is odd they picked it has the name of the collection.

  5. By the way,if you have a copy of the original script to Amok Time could you post it here or perhaps email it me?

    • I don’t have it, I’m afraid. Most of my research is secondary, alas. I don’t have access to the wonderful archival collections that inform the best research on Star Trek.

      Sorry!

  6. Two other interesting facts that you might want to mention. First the lady who played T’pring recently passed away. She was also in the Harlan Ellison written Outer Limit’s episode Demon with a Glass Hand.
    Andrea Martele was her name. T’Pau was played by Cecil Lovesky who was the wife of movie star Peter Lorre.

  7. I don’t know, I see Chevok’s inclusion as a fairly powerful gesture in the context of the Cold War era.

  8. Arlene Martel had previously worked with Leonard Nimoy in “The Hunted,” an excellent episode of THE REBEL from 7 years earlier. Nimoy played a close friend of Nick Adams’ Johnny Yuma, still on the run from a hanging despite being cleared of murder and determined to escape to Mexico at any cost. The final confrontation between two friends is fraught with tension, and it’s available on YouTube.

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