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Retro Review: The Survivor

Posted by Michelle - 20/05/11 at 02:05 pm


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Star Trek: The Animated Series

Season: 01 Episode: 06 (s01e06)

Original US airdate: 10/13/1973

The Enterprise crew rescues a missing philanthropist whose fiancee is aboard the ship.

Plot Summary: The Enterprise discovers a damaged ship near the Romulan Neutral Zone and rescues its occupant, the wealthy philanthropist Carter Winston. Winston explains that after disappearing five years earlier, he had been saved by a friendly alien. Winston’s fiancee Anne Nored is a security officer on the Enterprise, but he shocks her by ending their relationship. Then he turns into a creature with tentacles and attacks Kirk, knocking the captain out and taking his form to order the ship into the Neutral Zone. When the real Kirk awakens, he is too late to order the ship away before the Romulans demand its immediate surrender. Meanwhile, the creature takes the form of McCoy to avoid letting the doctor report on Winston’s unusual medical readings. When Kirk and Spock find the real McCoy, Kirk guesses that the intruder must be a shapeshifting Vendorian. The crew pursues him, but Nored refuses to shoot a man who looks like her fiance, leaving the Vendorian free to sabotage the Enterprise’s shields. Kirk now knows that the Romulans must have sent the Vendorian to the Enterprise to lure it into the Neutral Zone, yet “Winston” is feeling the emotions of the man whose form he has assumed, not wishing to harm Nored. He takes on the form of the sabotaged shield circuitry long enough for the ship to escape the Romulans, then explains that he was the alien who cared for the dying Winston. Nored asks to guard him and suggests that he strive to become even more like the human he is impersonating.

Analysis: If you’ve seen the original series episode “The Man Trap,” the plot summary for “The Survivor” will sound awfully familiar. The crew tracks down the long-lost lover of someone serving on the Enterprise, discovers that the lover’s survival story sounds too good to be true, has crewmembers disappear mysteriously, eventually realizes there’s a shapeshifter on board, and is able to appeal to the shapeshifter’s humanity to minimize the damage it causes. I must admit that, although it’s absurdly derivative, there are several aspects I prefer about the shorter animated series episode: the alien doesn’t rely on sex appeal to distract crewmembers from duty, the fiancee doesn’t get huffy and possessive, and best of all, nobody dies. Yet being considered menial among Vendorians seems like an awfully trivial reason to become a spy and saboteur – the salt vampire was pursuing humans for survival, and only as a last resort – and it’s hard to accept that an alien who took care of and apparently came to care for the human Carter Winston would be so quick to accept a position threatening others of his species, including his beloved Anne.

The plot isn’t the only thing that’s recycled, either. It’s all too obvious that Nichelle Nichols is voicing Anne Nored, and Ted Knight, who plays Carter Winston, sounds so much like William Shatner that they might as well have had Shatner do the role. While it’s somewhat entertaining to hear someone with Uhura’s voice declaring love for someone with Kirk’s voice, it’s also rather distracting, and in the scenes in which Winston and Kirk are speaking to each other, it sounds as though space trader Winston must be Kirk’s long-lost twin. Plus it’s a toss-up which looks sillier, the giant furry costume on the actor playing the original series’ salt vampire or the floating orange octopus illustrating the Vendorians’ natural form; I would expect a shapeshifter that didn’t have specific requirements like the need for tentacles to suck salt out of living creatures to be more amorphous, and not to have what look like multiple angry glaring eyes.

Still, it’s quite a funny episode, sometimes even intentionally. While we’re probably not supposed to be snickering as the tentacled creature attacks Kirk, we certainly are when Kirk figures out that the creature has now become a biobed. We get our first glimpse of cat-woman M’Ress. And McCoy in particular has some great lines, first spouting off his patented accusation that Spock is cold-blooded when Spock demands to see Winston’s identification, then apologizing for having taken a nap on the laboratory floor, and announcing, “I saw that, but I don’t believe it,” when he sees the biobed turn into the octopus creature. At the end, McCoy expresses his relief that the creature has been caught because if he’d turned into a second Spock, it would have been too much to take, to which Spock retorts that if he’d remained a second McCoy, the medical efficiency on the ship might just reach acceptable levels.

We also get to hear Kirk and Spock decide that the unreal McCoy must be an intruder because he admits he might have made an error in examining Winston, and a nice bit of background when McCoy explains that the real Carter Winston rescued his daughter along with everyone else on the planet where she was in medical school when the crops failed. It’s too bad Winston’s love interest isn’t a series regular, because it would have been nice for character development. We already know what happened to Christine Chapel’s fiance from “What Are Little Girls Made Of,” another similar situation in which he returns not as a man but an android. But imagine if Nichelle Nichols hadn’t been playing a stranger, but Uhura. We’d get some backstory on her romantic life, we’d have some emotional investment in whether the alien survived, and it would be easier to believe when the alien changed sides because her warmth and intelligence impressed him so much. I wouldn’t even have a problem with her refusing to shoot the image of her fiance, considering that McCoy did the same thing with his lover’s salt vampire lookalike.

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