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Star Trek – Whom Gods Destroy (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Whom Gods Destroy is a mess.

In a lot of ways, Whom Gods Destroy is shoddy and lazy. In many ways, the episode plays like a collection of familiar Star Trek elements blended together to pad out forty-odd minutes of television with no regard for internal logic or plotting and with minimal regard for the characters caught in the middle of it all. There are very few ideas in Whom Gods Destroy that have not been done before, and done better. The episode is not only a rehash of familiar concepts, but it is an exercise in diminishing returns.

Dance with destiny.

Dance with destiny.

This is to say nothing of the chaos unfolding behind the scenes during the production of the episode. It seemed only appropriate that Kirk’s latest mission would take him to what is effectively a gothic asylum in outer space, because it seemed more and more that Star Trek was turning into a madhouse. Veteran staffers were leaving the show in droves, while tensions were mounting on the set, and Fred Freiberger was struggling to keep the budget under control. More than that, there was a clear sense that the series was over, and this was the end of the line.

Whom Gods Destroy really sounds like a disaster. It is certainly not a good episode of television. However, this is the third season. Whom Gods Destroy is interesting enough that it works much better than the season’s weaker episodes. It is elevated by a manic energy that goes some way towards covering for the more illogical elements of the plot, and three central performances that play into the high camp of the premise. Whom Gods Destroy is far from classic Star Trek, but it is much better than it has any right to be.

Absolute madness.

Absolute madness.

The plot is very much a collection of familiar Star Trek tropes and iconography, as if constructed by a production staff that had binge-watched the first season of the show been asked to put together an episode from various left-over elements. The idea of setting an episode on the “Federation funny farm” harks back to Dagger of the Mind from the first season, a similarity that even Leonard Nimoy noted in his memos to the staff. Marta is the first Orion Slave Girl to appear since The Cage. Shatner plays a duplicate evil (and hammy) Kirk like he did in The Enemy Within.

Indeed, the institution itself seems cobbled together from bits and pieces of the prior two seasons. Garth’s primary henchmen are an Andorian and a Tellarite, aliens introduced to great effect in Journey to Babel. Doctor Donald Cory wears the same kind of overalls worn by the staff in Dagger of the Mind. Even the rehabilitation chair was lifted from that first season episode. There is very little original to be found in Whom Gods Destroy. In many ways, that feels appropriate. The third season often feels like it is about preserving the iconography of Star Trek.

Music to his ears.

Music to his ears.

Whom Gods Destroy is in many ways iconic and influential. It is the only episode in which Kirk actually interacts with an Orion Slave Girl, despite the inclusion of stock footage in The Menagerie, Part II. Vina predates Marta, both in terms of production and broadcast, but Marta is very much Kirk’s original “green-skinned space babe.” That alone gives the episode a certain cultural cache. This is to say nothing of the extent to which fandom has fixated upon the character of Garth of Izar and “the Battle of Axanar”, despite the episode’s rejection of those two concepts.

None of which is to suggest that Whom Gods Destroy is a particularly well-written episode. In fact, as both Plato’s Stepchildren and Let That Be Your Last Battlefield demonstrated, it is entirely possible for an iconic and influential piece of Star Trek to be quite terrible when judged on its own terms. Whom Gods Destroy is arguably a stronger episode than either of those two examples, at least affording itself the luxury of high camp that makes it oddly enjoyable. However, it is still incredibly clumsy and awkward, refusing to make any sort of sense.

Putting the matter to bed.

Putting the matter to bed.

Whom Gods Destroy is credited to science-fiction writer Jerry Sohl. Sohl had previously contributed The Corbomite Manouevre to the early first season, although the episode had been heavily rewritten. Somethign similar happened in this case. Sohl explained the situation (and his original pitch) to Starlog:

“My idea,” explains Sohl, “was that one of the missions of the Enterprise is that it must stop every once in a while at prison  planets and check on them to make sure that  everything is all right, or if they need anything. So, they stop at this planet, beam down and the person there in charge of all the inmates takes them as prisoners before they know he’s really the chief of the inmates. All of the people who were the keepers are now in the dungeons. It’s a reversal, and of course this guy is really nuttier than hell. The upshot is that he must be  destroyed and it makes for a lot of suspense.  That was very nice. Unfortunately, once I saw the direction they wanted to go with it, I said, ‘Look, go ahead and take it. I’ve really got too much to do to screw around with it,’ and I think that was the end of my association with Star Trek, althogh I thought the series was a good thing.”

Neither producer Fred Freiberger nor script editor Arthur Singer seemed bothered by the similarities to Dagger of the Mind. Had Gene Roddenberry been more invested in the third season, he might have caught it. It seems likely Robert Justman might have done more if he were not also on the way out during the production cycle.

Sohl long and thanks for everything.

Sohl long and thanks for everything.

There is something rather gothic about the basic set up in Whom Gods Destroy. The Enterprise arrives at an institution for the criminally insane in the Federation. Although much of the dialogue references the “justice” and “compassion” afforded these individuals, the particulars suggest otherwise. They are stranded on a barren rock, kept in by a planetary force field, and surrounded by green gas that is toxic enough to kill anybody exposed to it within minutes. It recalls the eighteenth century image of such institutions built in remote locations or on cliffs over the sea.

There are a number of obvious antecedents for Whom Gods Destroy. In keeping with the whole gothic tone, the set-up of the story recalls Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, in which a visitor slowly comes to realise that the inmates have taken over the asylum and locked up the staff. However, there was also a much more modern influence on the episode. Much like Spectre of the Gun seemed to draw its influences from Hour of the Gun, Whom Gods Destroy was riffing on another piece of contemporary sixties pop culture.

Running the asylum.

Running the asylum.

The episode is undoubtedly inspired by Marat/Sade, the controversial sixties play that featureed a play-within-a-play set at an asylum and “directed” by the Marquis de Sade. The play was revolutionary:

It’s very hard to invoke this production without sounding nostalgic. It changed the lives of most people who saw it, including future innovative artists such as Mike Leigh and David Hare. People as different as Marowitz himself and the right-wing critic Bernard Levin hailed the breathtaking boldness of Brook’s production, which used no props, no black out, but insisted on an environment – brilliantly designed by Sally Jacobs – of grey benches and sunken baths.

You can still “smell” this production in Brook’s 1967 film, which was made in just 17 days, surely a record: Jackson as a fantastically erotic Corday, Ian Richardson as a maundering Marat (posed in his bath like the Jacques-Louis David portrait) and the unrivalled Patrick Magee as a controlling De Sade; it’s one of the best “theatrical” films ever made.

And, at the end, the audience on film who are watching the movie rise up and destroy the theatre in a potent metaphor of future cultural priorities; the inmates take over the asylum and undermine the artistic message and commitment of the actors, just as the Marquis de Sade suggests they should.

Garth does something similar over the course of the episode. He “plays” the role of Kirk at certain points, staging an elaborate break-out in which Kirk is an (initially) unwitting actor. He stages a showy coronation ceremony.

You don't have to be mad to work here. At least you didn't, before the coup.

You don’t have to be mad to work here.
At least you didn’t, before the coup.

However, there is more to the overlap than that. While Whom Gods Destroy is in no way as provocative or bold as Marat/Sade, it does seem to inadvertently borrow just a little bit of that prophetic magic. If Marat/Sade seemed to predict the future of the strange relationship between artist and consumer in late twentieth century and early twenty-first century art, then Whom Gods Destroys can feel like a futurist in-joke. It teases ideas that seem funny when examined through the lens (and comfort) of hindsight.

There are quite a few moments in the third season of Star Trek that seem to hint obliquely at the future of the franchise in the way the production team could never have accurately predicted. That Which Survives is a trial run of The Arsenal of Freedom. Somewhat ironically, the idea of the “inmates taking over the asylum” feels appropriate for Star Trek in general and Whom Gods Destroy in particular. Look at the blurred lines between fan and creator during the Axanar controversy.

Tell it to the Tellarite.

Tell it to the Tellarite.

Of course, it could be argued that Star Trek had to deal with the issue of “running the asylum” long before the controversy over Alec Peters’ “fan” film. An entire generation of young Star Trek fans would become writers on Star Trek: The Next Generation, with their influence becoming particularly strong during the run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Even Manny Coto, the producer in charge of the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise and who wrote Bound focusing on Orion Slave Girls, is a self-described “fan.”

Beyond that, the basic premise of Whom Gods Destroy fits quite nicely with the themes and tones of the third season as a whole. Insanity and irrationality are core themes of the third season of Star Trek, as if the very universe itself is on the cusp of collapsing. This was a clear reflection of anxiety on the part of the show; whether anxiety about the inevitable cancellation or about the state of contemporary culture. Anybody looking at television in the late sixties might reasonably wonder whether the whole world had gone insane. Star Trek reflected that.

The king on his throne.

The king on his throne.

Is There in Truth No Beauty? featured an alien races whose mere appearance could drive people insane, leading one such individual to push the Enterprise outside the universe. And the Children Shall Lead threatens mass insanity spreading across the universe. Kirk finds himself psychologically afflicted and altered in Elaan of Troyius and The Paradise Syndrome. Spock has his mind abducted in Spock’s Brain. This is to say nothing of the mental manipulation of the crew in Day of the Dove, their memories and identities distorted to perpetuate war.

As such, having the Enterprise visit a planetary asylum feels like a logical extension of these themes. Indeed, the episode seems to obliquely hint at the idea that Garth is able to impose his own insanity upon the universe. He can change his form, literally distorting reality and reshaping it to his specifications. The episode offers a pseudo-rational explanation, like Wink of an Eye did for its fair folk, but it is very much a half-hearted handwave to account for something that makes absolutely no sense in any rational universe.

The twin dilemma.

The twin dilemma.

“The people of Antos taught him the techniques of cellular metamorphosis to restore the destroyed parts of his body,” Cory tells Kirk. “By himself, he later learned to use the technique to recreate himself into any form he wished.” Reprinted in These Are the Voyages, the script had Cory suggest something even more far-reaching:

My theory is that it’s a combination of several factors. Garth has a tremendous ego and a brain that is unique in the galaxy. He may be a madmanm but he was and is a genius. … You see, his disease has placed him permanently in a world of fantasy but it also gave him the force needed to change his fantasies into reality, even if only partially and temporarily. I think now that he learned the secret during his restoration and recuperation on Antos IV. The Antos people restored his body but may inadvertantly have done something to his mind.

The implication in the script is that Garth effectively has the ability to impose his own will upon the universe. His insanity is contagious and infectious, capable of distorting the perception of those around him. This is in many ways a continuation of the recurring third season anxiety that reality is easily fractured and shattered.

"I reject your reality."

“I reject your reality.”

Garth’s singular ability to impose his own will upon the universe also hits upon one of the more interesting ideas hinted at in a chaotic and unfocused script. The third season of Star Trek is a lot more important than most fans would acknowledge, codifying a lot of what fans expect from the franchise despite its dysfunctional production. In particular, the third season of Star Trek truly embraces the more utopian ideals of the franchise. It suggests that the futuristic world of Star Trek is truly a paradise, in marked contrast to earlier scripts.

After all, the core Star Trek ideal of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” was first articulated in Is There in Truth No Beauty?, which would seem to be hard to reconcile with the panicked reactions of the miners towards the Horta in The Devil in the Dark. In many ways, The Empath perfectly distilled the humanism that would inform so much of the later shows. Even Day of the Dove suggested that the Federation had moved far past considering warfare as a viable political tool, in spite of earlier episodes like Errand of Mercy.

A gas old time.

A gas old time.

This is clear even in the opening scenes of Whom Gods Destroy, which make a bigger deal of a high-security psychiatric institution within that Federation than Dagger of the Mind. “The Enterprise is orbiting Elba Two, a planet with a poisonous atmosphere where the Federation maintains an asylum for the few remaining incorrigible criminally insane of the galaxy,” Kirk states in his opening log. Later in the teaser, even Spock downplays the facility’s existence. “A total of fifteen incurably insane out of billions is not what I would call an excessive figure.”

In fact, the episode is so utopian that it is implied that the Federation has actually managed to cure all forms of psychiatric illness. “We are bringing a revolutionary new medicine to them, a medicine with which the Federation hopes to eliminate mental illness for all time,” Kirk states in his opening log. The closing scenes of the episode seem to suggest as much, with the Enterprise crew curing the inmates – including Garth. This is as much a game-changer as the transwarp in Threshold or the long-distance transporter in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Fighting the future.

Fighting the future.

These utopian ideals are more than just trappings. There is a strong utopian theme running through Whom Gods Destroy, most obviously in the strained relationship that exists between Garth and Kirk. Whom Gods Destroy very heavily suggests that Garth was driven insane when he was treated by the Antos people. Describing his attempt to destroy Antos IV after they healed him, Garth simply states, “I had changed.” The implication is that his wounds (or his illness) or the treatment drove him insane. “The disease that changed you, it’s not your fault,” Kirk states.

However, there is also a clear suggestion that Garth represents something old-fashioned and outdated. Garth is presented as Federation war hero. On discovering that Garth is now an inmate at the institution, Kirk reflects, “When I was a cadet at the Academy, his exploits were required reading. He was one of my heroes.” Later, in conversation with Garth, Kirk goes even further. “You were the finest student at the Academy, the finest Starship Captain,” Kirk boasts. “You were the prototype, the model for the rest of us.”

Princes of the universe.

Princes of the universe.

This idea of Garth as “the prototype” plays out even in the context of Garth’s relationship to Kirk. When Kirk declines to play the role of “human sacrifice” during Garth’s mock coronation ceremony, Garth replies, “All right, how about crown prince? That would make you our heir apparent. Heir apparent, I believe, is the proper role for you.” Kirk is very much the successor to Garth. Indeed, those are the ground on which Garth appeals to Kirk to join him. “You, Captain, are second only to me as the finest military commander in the galaxy.”

This is ultimately the biggest difference between Kirk and Garth. Garth is a warrior, the product of an earlier time. In the context of Whom Gods Destroy, Kirk has moved past that. “I am primarily an explorer now, Captain Garth,” Kirk explains. Garth responds, “And so have I been. I have charted more new worlds than any man in history.” However, for Garth, exploration is couched firmly in imperialist terms. He describes himself as the leader of “the future masters of the universe.” He stages a coronation, with a real crown.

Gun barrel diplomacy.

Gun barrel diplomacy.

In other words, Garth is a throwback. He is an ancestor of James Tiberius Kirk in the same way that Columbus or Magellian might claim to be. Garth is an explorer, but only in as far as exploration is connected to the idea of power. Even his ability to shape-shift is appropriated from a society encountered during his exploration. When Kirk asks why Garth tried to murder the population of Antos IV, Garth responds with the familiar refrain of the jingoistic explorer. “Well, I could say because they were actively hostile to the Federation.” They were the enemy; a threat.

However, Garth is not simply a throwback to the so-called “Age of Discovery.” In many ways, he is a throwback to the earlier iterations of Star Trek as a television show. He is presented as a predecessor of James Tiberius Kirk with an Orion Slave Girl companion, elements that suggest obvious parallels to Captain Christopher Pike. His attempt to destroy Antos VI is a reminder of the destructive power of the Federation, as emphasised in earlier episodes. Kirk had threatened to destroy an entire planet under General Order Twenty-Four in A Taste of Armageddon.

Garth Vader.

Garth Vader.

This was arguably the central point of Mirror, Mirror. In that episode, Kirk finds himself beamed on board an alternate version of the Enterprise that seems far more likely to subscribe to Garth’s version of diplomacy. When mirror!Enterprise discovers a pacifist planet unwilling to trade with the Terran Empire, the mirror!Enterprise is ready to destroy the civilisation from orbit. Although Kirk would not consider such a possibility in the prime universe, it is a reminder of the kind of power that the Federation wields and the temptation that comes with it.

Indeed, even the early scenes of Whom Gods Destroy reinforce this idea. As Kirk and Spock struggle with Garth on the planet, Scotty and McCoy wrestle with their responsibility on the Enterprise. When Scotty insists that the Enterprise cannot take down the force-field around the base, McCoy reflects, “How can we be powerful enough to wipe out a planet and still be so helpless?” This would seem to be a recurring theme of Whom Gods Destroy, the sense that Star Trek is a utopia but has not always been.

Immaterial.

Immaterial.

Kirk confesses as much to Garth. “I agree there was a time when war was necessary, and you were our greatest warrior,” he concedes. The implication is that this time has passed. Star Trek has embraced a form of utopianism suggested in earlier third season episodes like The Empath or Day of the Dove. Garth’s refusal to accept this reality are what mark him as insane. Garth is a throwback and a deviant. He is a warrior in a society that has moved beyond warfare. In some way, Garth prefigures Captain Balthazaar Edison from Star Trek Beyond.

As such, Garth of Izar comes to represent a vision of a past or parallel iteration of the Federation, one cleanly divorced from the institution as it exists in the third season. Garth is more of a soldier than an explorer, and an embodiment of what Starfleet was (and could be again) if the organisation is not careful. Kirk has moved past those urges, grown from his experiences. Compare his interactions with Kor in Errand of Mercy to his collaboration with Kang in Day of the Dove. Garth would approve of the former far more than the latter.

Brought to heal.

Brought to heal.

(Of course, this reading does lend an uncomfortable Orwellian subtext to “curing” Garth. There are shades of the moralising that would later be found in episodes like Lonely Among Us, The Last Outpost or The Neutral Zone, where Federation values are presented as so self-evidently correct that they will brook no other perspective. However, given that Garth is a dangerous and genocidal madman, his incarceration and treatment seems perfectly rational. It helps that Whom Gods Destroy makes it clear that Garth is legitimately psychotic.)

The idea of Star Trek as a truly and purely utopian vision of the future is beginning to solidify. The third season is much maligned, but there is a clear sense that it is laying a lot of groundwork that the franchise will develop in the years ahead. Barring the occasional episode like The Enterprise Incident, the third season truly embraces the idea of the Federation as a futuristic paradise. Whom Gods Destroy plays upon that theme in a number of intriguing ways that render the episode more interesting than most critics would readily concede.

"Well, this is a fabulous coat."

“Well, this is a fabulous coat.”

Star Trek might depict a utopia, but there was chaos behind the scenes. Robert Justman had departed the show during the production of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, which seems like an appropriate title upon which to bid farewell to the last of the show’s veteran senior staff. Gene Roddenberry had resigned from the series before the lauch of the third season, but was even less actively involved in the show than he had been at the start of the year. The result was that Fred Freiberger lacked a support structure that was intimately familiar with the show.

There were also rising tensions on the set. As very members of the production team have noted in tell-all books and interviews over the years, tensions between William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy reached fever pitch during the third season. In fact, both leading men seemed to wind up engaged in their own aggressive conflicts with senior members of the production team over their perceived place in the show’s heirarchy. Shatner seemed to fight for himself as leading man, while Nimoy aggressively defended Spock as a character.

Hard for Nimoy to swallow.

Hard for Nimoy to swallow.

Nimoy had already fought it out with Gene Roddenberry about the IDIC in Is There in Truth No Beauty? However, he was incensed by issues with the script for Whom Gods Destroy. In response to the episode, he rather boldly worded a sarcastic and scathing memo critiquing key decisions:

My primary interest in contacting you gentlemen is my concern over my lack of experience in playing dummies. Perhaps you could arrange to get me educated in this area. Maybe if I watched some Blondie episodes and watched Dagwood as a role model, I could pick up some pointers. Or better still, I could get right to the bottom line by wearing some braids and feathers and learning to grunt, “Ugh, Kimosabee”?

Watching the episode, it is hard not to sense Nimoy’s frustration. The basic plot of Whom Gods Destroy hinges on all manner of contrivances and inconsistencies, logical gaps and irrational decisions. Although rich in theme and imagery, Whom Gods Destroy is a phenomenally weak script.

Stunningly poorly thought out.

Stunningly poorly thought out.

There are all manner of elements that make no real sense. Most obviously, Garth should have been exposed the first time that he failed to complete the “sign” and “countersign” with Scott. Although it seems like an unusual precaution that Kirk has never employed in similar situations, the whole point of having such a safeguard is that it might serve as a warning. No matter what excuses Garth!Kirk might have made in conversation with Scotty, the gig should have been up at that point. Scotty and the Enterprise should never have trusted him after that point.

However, Nimoy was particularly frustrated about the way that Spock was treated by the script. The scene at the climax relies on Spock confronting Kirk and Garth!Kirk, unable to identify the real article. Instead of approaching the matter logically, Spock is overwhelmed and allows the two versions of Kirk to wrestle for a little while. He eventually stuns Garth!Kirk, who is unable to retain his form while unconscious. As such, it seems reasonable to ask why Spock would not stun both versions of Kirk in the beginning.

Nimoy was a real drag.

Nimoy was a real drag.

Nimoy’s scathing and sarcastic memo served to put further strain on an already tense relationship with producer Fred Freiberger. In I Am Spock, the actor acknowledged that he was having great difficulty continuing under these conditions:

Fred, naturally, sent me a memo letting me know how unhappy he was that I had again gone over his head. I wasn’t happy that I’d done it, either – but I felt I had not choice. The alternative was to watch the character of Spock slowly deteriorate.

By the end of the third season, I was still under contract to Paramount for an additional two years. However, I was so distressed by the problems with the scripts that I was prepared to resist coming back to work – which would probably have led to suspension from my contract, and legal proceedings.

In some ways, this demonstrates the difficulties that Nimoy was having with his most iconic role. The third season was emotionally draining for the actor, who seemed to be constantly at odds with the production team around him. It is understandable that he had little interest in returning for a hypothetical fourth year.

Reenacting Fred Freiberger's response to Nimoy's pithy memo.

Reenacting Fred Freiberger’s response to Nimoy’s pithy memo.

In fact, Nimoy would struggle with reconciling himself and Spock for many years. He would write memoirs titled both I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock. , the latter featuring chapter introductions as dialogue between actor and character. The story ultimately has a happy ending. Despite Nimoy’s troubled relationship with his alien alter ego, JJ Abrams would convince him to reprise the role for Star Trek. “Ambassador Spock” would serve to bridge the generations of the franchise.

These difficulties with Leonard Nimoy cast a pretty heavy shadow over Whom Gods Destroy. In fact, during these sequences, Nimoy’s disinterest is palpable to the audience watching at home. Nimoy was probably the strongest actor in the ensemble, but there are several points in Whom Gods Destroy where he seems bored. In fact, the whole climax of the episode is rather limp, with Spock effectively outwitting his captors by using a lame “sleeping prisoner” ruse before hitting them with a nerve pinch and standing by while Kirk and Garth!Kirk fight.

Striking a nerve pinch.

Striking a nerve pinch.

Although Nimoy’s memo was a source of controversy, there were other issues brewing. William Shatner was having his own personality difficulties, this time with guest star Yvonne Craig. As Craig told Starlog:

“He wasn’t as warm a person. He was tired of the green makeup because it was marking up his clothes. We were supposed to shoot a love scene, and he was getting pissy that I  wasn’t allowed to touch him because he didn’t want any makeup on his costume.  And I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do a love scene with him if I can’t  touch him?’ So, I figured I would just play with his hair a little— surely the makeup wouldn’t show up in his hair. One night, I go in to say goodnight to everyone and  Shatner is standing there with his hair in his hand— I didn’t know he wore a toupee!  And I’m thinking, ‘Damn! Now, he won’t let me touch his hair either!'”

To be fair, shooting a television series is a long and draining process, but Craig is far from the only person working on Star Trek to take exception to William Shatner.

Green with envy.

Green with envy.

To be fair to Shatner, he invests a lot more effort in Whom Gods Destroy than Nimoy. Fans and critics tend to deride Shatner’s performance style as hammy and excessive, but the truth is that Shatner generally pitches his performance to the level of the episode in question. When Shatner goes overboard, he is hardly the worst part of a given episode. Shatner’s performance in The Omega Glory is frequently mocked, but it is very much the best thing about that disaster of an episode.

In Whom Gods Destroy, Shatner is invited to play yet another alien masquerading as Kirk. He has tremendous fun with the role. In particular, Garth!Kirk’s temper tantrums are something to behold. When Scotty refuses to beam Garth!Kirk to the ship, Garth!Kirk proceeds to bang his fists angrily against the communications console before rolling himself into a ball on the ground and hammering the floor with sheer rage. Shatner is having a great deal of fun, and it fits the tone of the episode around him.

"GAAAAAARTH!"

“GAAAAAARTH!”

This applies as much to the episode’s guest stars. Whom Gods Destroy is notable for completing a hat trick of Batman! guest stars following Lee Meriwether in That Which Survives and Frank Gorshin in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. This time, Yvonne Craig plays an Orion Slave Girl. According to an interview with Starlog, the make-up posed quite the challenge:

“Susan and I were supposed to be from  the same planet. Only they couldn’t  remember how they got Susan green in the first season episode — they somehow had lost  the makeup. So, they had to devise a substitute formula. I had skid marks because the makeup wouldn’t stay on. Then, they sprayed me with Liquid Bandage, which has to be removed with acetone, so my skin was all burned — I was a walking disaster. When you perspire, Liquid Bandage won’t stick, so here I was, walking around with moss hanging from my arm-pits. It was just hideous. I would take two showers at the studio, then go home and take an oil bath, and then take another shower to get the remainder of it off. Then, I would start all over again the next day.”  Craig repeated this sequence of events for eight days, a time in her life that “I remember clearly, because I thought, ‘There isn’t enough money in the world to make me go through this again.’ Three weeks later, I still had traces of green makeup in the cuticles of my toes — I couldn’t get it out.”

Nevertheless, Craig has great fun with the part. Marta is delightfully camp and ridiculous, with Craig playing her as if she suffers from hyperactive attention deficit disorder. Marta is constantly cocking her head, her attention seldom focused on one point for too long. The best writing in Whom Gods Destroy comes from the exchanges between Marta and Garth as they plot to take over the universe.

"Seriously, Garth. The plot holes are THIS big."

“Seriously, Garth. The plot holes are THIS big.”

When Marta treats the crowd to a poem that she wrote, Garth objects, “It was written by an Earth man named Shakespeare a long time ago!” Marta objects, “Which does not alter the fact that I wrote it again yesterday!” When Garth threatens to beat her to death, she doesn’t miss a beat. “No, you won’t, because I am the most beautiful woman on this planet.” Garth replies, “You’re the only woman on this planet!” Commenting on her habit of killing her lovers, Garth!Spock suggests Marta has perfected “an infallible method for assuring permanent male fidelity.”

Steve Ihnat is equally impressive as Garth, playing a delightfully deranged lunatic who is capable of alternating between the menacing tones that one expects of a Bond villains and the ravings of a demented spoilt child. These three performances from Ihnat, Craig and Shatner serve to make Whom Gods Destroy a lot more enjoyable than it might otherwise be. These three actors seem to embrace the sillier b-movie set-up of the script and choose to play into it rather than against it.

"Have you ever thought the surroundings might not be conducive to our patients' recovery?"

“Have you ever thought the surroundings might not be conducive to our patients’ recovery?”

Still, there were a number of significant issues during the production of the episode. Guest star Luke Keye explained to Starlog that production was actually held up by work on the episode’s central prop:

“I was scheduled to leave for England the day the show finished, but I couldn’t because the torture chair was such an elaborate electronic affair that they couldn’t get it finished in time, so I had to stay over an extra day. My agent came down to the set, and I went with him in his little Volkswagen, taking off my costume and  removing my makeup as we drove to the airport,” Luke grins wryly.

Given how tight scheduling had become on the series, this was a pretty major problem. The third season of Star Trek was facing impossible production demands.

A sharp stabbing pain.

A sharp stabbing pain.

Cementing the sense that the production of Whom Gods Destroy was as chaotic as Garth’s tenure running the Elba II facility, there was also a stabbing on the set. In her biography From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond, Yvonne Craig recalls filming the wrestling sequence with Shatner on the bed:

In the struggle, he was accidentally (I swear!) stabbed in the fleshy part of his palm. Such drama! Though it was a minor injury, we shut down shooting while minions rushed to get him a soothing shot of whiskey to calm his nerves. I personally thought it would have served a more medicinal purpose had it been poured into the wound to sterilise it, but by then no one was consulting me.

It seems almost like the production was cursed. There is a book to be written about the production of Whom Gods Destroy alone, delving into the episode’s troubled production history and its turbulent production schedule. It is no wonder that the finished episode feels disjointed and uneven.

"Now let's never talk of it again."

“Now let’s never talk of it again.”

Indeed, looking at the production of the episode, it is no surprise that Whom Gods Destroy should have ended up such an unholy mess. The big surprise is that any of the episode works, even in a hokey b-movie style.

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  1. The plot is indeed quite similar to Star Trek Beyond. A former great captain is using technology to change his appearance in the hopes of destroying the Federation. I have to say that this episode did a better job with the former great captain plot who is now insane than Star Trek Beyond did. In this episode, it is a central theme, and it is clear that Kirk respects the man Garth was, and wishes that he could come back mentally. In Star Trek Beyond, it was an incredibly ill thought out plot twist, and I never got the feeling that anyone really cared that Krall turned out to be Balthazar Edison. It would have been interesting if they had made Krall Admiral Pike. The Federation could have tried to bring him back to life using Khan’s “super blood,” but it goes wrong, and Pike becomes deranged. The plot would have needed reworking, but I think it could have been interesting.

    • Funny you mention that. I thought that Admiral Marcus would have been better served by Bruce Greenwood playing him (in Into Darkness). It felt right for the character to become more hawkish after his torture from Romulans in the future.

      I don’t think they should have gone so far as to make him insane, but it seemed like a more natural place to take his relationship with Kirk… Killing in the first act struck me as too obvious.

      The twist with Edison was a good one, although it left us scratching our heads. We all had to consult the wiki afterwards to figure out who was who and what the hell happened. (Apparently the pink chick was another member of Franklin, having drained the life energy from a different sort of alien…such confusion.)

      • I sort of your like your idea of making Pike take the place of Marcus in Into Darkness, as I would have loved to see more of Bruce Greenwood. At the same time, however, his death is pretty emotional, and I feel the film would lost something without his death. After all, it is his death that leads to Kirk behaving so rashly in the film.
        I have to disagree with the twist of Edison being good, however. It made very little sense. Here are some of my questions about it:How he did he get the technology to look like an alien? Why did that make him immortal? Where did he get his henchmen? I don’t mean just the pink lady, but all those soldiers who attack the Enterprise. How did he develop this swarm technology? If he served in both the Romulan and Xindi war, then why did he not get promoted to Admiral or something? Also, why did he not attack the federation earlier? His swarm seemed to pretty devastating, even without the radiation superweapon, so why was he just trapping people.

      • To be fair, most of that is covered in the expository log at the end of the film. Edison explains finding “drones” that I think are implied to be meant for mining; a lot of the soldiers attacking the Enterprise are drones. He also explains finding advanced life-expanding technology.

        As for serving in both Romulan and Xindi wars, it’s possible he was an anonymous MACO on the Enterprise during the Expanse mission and then probably more senior in the Romulan War. I’m under the impression that Kirk (or even broader Star Trek) style promotions are much rarer in real life than on television and in cinema. I don’t think it’s unfeasible for him to have been at a level after the Romulan War where “give him his own ship” was a feasible reward for his contribution. After all, Garth was only a Fleet Captain and he apparently saved the Federation. I can buy “war hero” translating to give the dude an old ship. (And the Frnaklin is implied to be quite old, being a Warp Four ship, although the serial number is new.)

      • Yep. And the guy who killed Jaylah’s father, I believe.

        Although the film never explains why she stops speaking English or why Edison takes the name Krall.

    • I don’t know.

      I think Krall could have worked if they just went with “it’s Captain Balthazaar Edison and he is super-p!ssed” from the start, instead of trying to hide it. Or if they stuck with “he’s an alien who just doesn’t like a bunch of people building giant snow domes in his backyard like they own the place.”

      I think bringing back Pike would maybe seem a bit cheesy. As much as I like Bruce Greenwood, I think bringing him back would undercut his death in Into Darkness.

  2. >In keeping with the whole gothic tone, the set-up of the story recalls Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, in which a visitor slowly comes to realise that the inmates have taken over the asylum and locked up the staff.

    …Which was a particular favourite of Robert Bloch, inspiring several tales of his and bringing us back full circle to Trek! A Robert Bloch-written version of “Whom Gods Destroy” would have been great (if it had been done in the first 2 seasons).

    • Yes. Yes it would. I really liked the insanity of Wolf in the Fold.

      Although we seem to be in the minority in our Bloch love. Let’s have a Bloch party!

  3. About episode quality: I can forgive a tremendous amount of poor quality if what I’m watching is simply enough FUN that I don’t care.

    About fandom and Garth: yes, I’m one of these people who was really hoping “John Harrison” would turn out to be him. Unfortunately, between Admiral Marcus and Captain Balthazar, he’d simply be redundant if he showed up now.

    About your review: I just realized for the first time that the prison planet was called “Elba II.” Elba was the island Napoleon was exiled to after his defeat. Pointedly, NOT the one where he grew old and died – that’s Saint Helena – but the one he escaped from, very nearly leading him to restart his career as a conqueror. Definitely not an accidental name.

    • What I find so fascinating about Napoleon’s exile at Elba was how it seemed to bring out the best in him. He improved their agriculture, developed their mines, and overhauled their legal and educational system. The people of Elba clearly loved him, as they have a parade every year to commemorate his death.

      • I did not know any of that. I like the idea of a retired conqueror devoting his time and energy to something as small as making an island sustainable.

    • I would agree with fun forgiving a lot of issues with… well, most things.

      That’s a fair point about Garth being a little redundant after Into Darkness and Beyond. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind giving Fuller a crack at the character if he wants. I suspect Fuller’s approach would be sufficiently distinct from the Abrams aesthetic.

      Good spot on Elba II!

  4. ‘Shatner’s performance in The Omega Glory is frequently mocked, but it is very much the best thing about that disaster of an episode.’

    Heh, I agree. I am unashamedly a Shatnerophile. I’m also reminded of Roger Ebert’s review of ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’ where after mentioning Alan Rickman’s performance as being out of kilter with the rest of the movie means “at least the audience is being entertained.”

    As I’ve said before I’m fascinated by the idea in the novelisation of ‘Star Trek the Motion Picture’ that the Pike/Kirk-era Starfleet is a bastion for Federation conservatives frustrated, or at least alienated, from the evolved utopianism back home. This is most strongly shown in ‘The Undiscovered Country’ but you can see it popping up again and again with Garth and Edison representing the extreme reactionary edge. I don’t think its a coincidence that both men are cited as heroes by Kirk, who is far more self aware and critical but at the same time feels a level of empathy and identification with them.

    Finally I thought Marta was great fun, but it does show the stupidity of the ‘Enterprise’ retcon that Orion women are all supervillainesses with mind control powers and that, by Kirk’s era, Starfleet has known this for a century. I’m glad the new films dumped that nonsense.

    • “all supervillainesses with mind control powers…”

      Sounds like we’re about due for the Orion species to be neutered and made into a member of the Enterprise (oops, too late.)!

      • Given the Orions as super-secret-brainwashing-matriarchy dates only from ‘Enterprise’ and as I note above makes no sense whatsoever given all ‘later’ appearances by the Orions I’m happy with dropping ‘Bound’ from continuity.

        (I would in all sincerity love to see an Orion on the ‘Enterprise’ though as more than a cameo – I thought Gaila in the 2009 was pretty amusing.)

      • Yep, it also wreaks of half-hearted handwaving about what’s a fairly sexist genre trope. “It’s okay to enjoy this, because they are secretly empowered!” Which is almost worse than just playing the trope straight, because it tries to paint something that is trashy and silly as good. (I have less of an issue with Borderland than Bound, for example.)

    • Yep. I think there are moments at which TOS is a lot more ambivalent about Kirk than most fans would accept. (Kirk is not the most super-awesome thing ever in scripts like Errand of Mercy and Spectre of the Gun, where the point of the episode is that Kirk is not as evolved as he really should be, and that it is a constant battlet o work past his baser impulses.)

      • It does add a lot of pathos to his fears of obsolescence that you’ve brought up in your reviews. There is also that moment in ‘Flashback’ where Janeway is talking with Harry Kim about the Kirk-era Starfleet:

        “… Of course, the whole bunch of them would be booted out of Starfleet today. But I have to admit: I would have loved to ride shotgun at least once with a group of officers like that.”

      • The irony being that Janeway is probably the most free-wheelin’ lead of the 24th century shows. Even Sisko was careful to get sign-off for his plan in In the Pale Moonlight.

      • >“… Of course, the whole bunch of them would be booted out of Starfleet today. But I have to admit: I would have loved to ride shotgun at least once with a group of officers like that.”

        Took a lot of chutzpah for Kathryn “What Prime Directive?” Janeway to shove Kirk off his pedestal. The man saves Earth twice, destroys the Doomsday Machine and brings about peace with the Klingons to what legacy? Embarrassing ancestor? What were her professors smoking? Did Finnegan write all the history texts on Kirk as a prank?

        (then again, academia is a long history of intellectuals saying, “everyone who came before me had it wrong”)

        I much prefer Sisko the Kirk fanboy, particularly as it revealed something new about his character – he’s a Kirk man, not a Picard man. Like Kirk, Sisko is a warrior (often reluctant, but frequently tested by fire) and he has to struggle with inner demons (a facet of Kirk which Darren has helpfully noted each time it appears).

        Kirk wouldn’t have been obsolete had he lived to see the Dominion War – Sisko silently realizing Weyoun is preparing an assault in “A Call to Arms” was like something out of Kirk’s field of diplomacy mixed with bluffing and a will to fight. The ambiguity of the conflict would have welcomed another captain who frequently charted such waters.

      • I’m actually kind of disappointed that Patrick Stewart was far too famous to film a guest appearance on Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War. I think it would have been interesting to see Picard as he was affected by the Dominion War. You make a good point that Kirk would probably handle the conflict quite well, but it’s more interesting to imagine how Picard would react to it. More than Archer or Janeway, Picard is the diplomat and the man of peace. What toll would that conflict exact upon him?

  5. This is the only episode of TOS to feature Spock’s neck-pinching two people simultaneously. I figure the episode is worth it for that, if nothing else. 🙂

    I loved Steve Ihnat’s performance as Garth, but I thought he was way too young for the role. Kirk goes on and on about how Garth used to be a great captain long ago, but Garth didn’t look old enough for that. And indeed, IMBD says that Ihnat was three years younger than Shatner.

    Please, do not perpetuate the lie that Leonard Nimoy wanted Spock killed in TWOK. Mr. Nimoy has said over and over again that it was NOT his idea to have Spock killed off in that movie! The writers of TWOK decided to kill Spock off, and as Mr. Nimoy said in interviews, since he thought TWOK was going to be the last Star Trek movie, it made sense to have Spock go out in a blaze of glory, saving the ship and being a hero. But it wasn’t his idea.

    • Thanks for the head’s up. I’ve removed the phrasing that could be ambiguous.

      I didn’t mind that about Ihnat. I kinda imagine that being a shape-shifter allows you to avoid aging. I can see the appeal of appearing before Kirk as his young and dynamic self.

      Yep, it’s strange that Spock doesn’t just use the same manoeuvre in The Mark of Gideon. Although I suppose the episode needed an obligatory action scene.

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