The crew returns to the “Shore Leave” planet, only to find that the computer, resenting its role as a servant, has made fantasy run amok.
Plot Summary: The Enterprise crew arrives at the “Shore Leave” planet in the Omicron Delta region, where McCoy remembers seeing the White Rabbit the last time he visited. Shortly afterward, he is attacked by a pack of playing cards while relaxing at a Southern plantation, and Uhura is abducted by a flying robot. Kirk has all other crewmembers beamed back from the surface and beams down to retrieve Uhura, who is being held by the planet’s computer in its underground cave. The computer cuts off the landing party from all communication with the Enterprise and tells Uhura it plans to “turn them off,” though she manages to stall it. Evading attacks by pterodactyls that none of the landing party dreamed up, Kirk and Spock find the Caretaker’s tombstone and realize that, with the benign programmer dead, the planet’s computer has grown increasingly powerful. The computer tries to gain control of the Enterprise by beaming up its own components but Scotty and Arex are able to lock it out. Spock remembers that last time the crew visited, McCoy was taken underground after an apparently lethal injury and has McCoy inject him with a drug to knock him out so that he too can find the control room. Kirk follows him inside and, with the help of Uhura, convinces the computer that it is not a servant of humans but a partner in mutual understanding. The computer decides that this is logical and agrees to work with the visitors, allowing the crew to enjoy its shore leave.
Analysis: “Once Upon a Planet” is a pleasant yet largely forgettable episode…forgettable because one can’t shake the sense that one has seen it all before. The events that aren’t directly recycled from its predecessor, “Shore Leave,” seem borrowed from various other original series episodes like “The Ultimate Computer” and “Spectre of the Gun.” It’s cute, and it’s nice to see that when Uhura gets kidnapped by a malevolent computer, she not only keeps her cool and defends her friends but helps argue to change the computer’s unhappy ways. Plus Arex and M’Ress get a bit more to do, and Kyle reappears, and Spock once again uses logic to argue for peace, which always makes me happy. But the big blue pterodactyls aren’t much of an improvement on the flying purple dragon plants from “The Infinite Vulcan” and the Giant Kitty Cat of Doom is mostly giggle-inducing, not to mention the not-up-to-Disney-quality Alice in Wonderland animations. It’s all pretty harmless amusement, perfectly in fitting with Trek canon, it’s just not very exciting if you’re familiar with the franchise.
It’s all well and good to have sequels even if “Once Upon a Planet” is awfully reminiscent of “Shore Leave” – though perhaps when it first aired, original series reruns weren’t yet so ubiquitous that comparisons would have been inevitable. A lot of the charm of “Shore Leave” is that the audience gets to see bits about the crew’s pasts and interests not usually discussed on a starship – medieval dresses, World War II planes – and while I’m not particularly a fan of Kirk’s passive young girlfriend or stereotypical Academy tormentor, that charm is missing from “Once Upon a Planet” since it’s established early on that the planet is creating things like giant cats and dinosaurs on its own. How much more amusing if someone had been thinking of the time the crew got chased in a dungeon by a giant feline in “Catspaw,” which would be logical given that they’re talking to M’Ress, or even dreaming of flying on a pterodactyl. (Does anyone else expect Kirk to warn everyone not to think of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man?) Nobody who’s seen a handful of episodes will be surprised that McCoy fantasizes about being in the Old South or that Uhura likes to sing, so there’s no real character development, though nothing jarring either, just nice moments like Kirk expressing surprise that Spock has read something as illogical as Through the Looking Glass and McCoy telling Spock not to dictate medical dosages.
I wish the episode had been a bit longer so that the Shore Leave computer could have made more inroads into taking over the Enterprise. I always like episodes where the ship’s own computers are compromised and become a threat to the crew, and this one could have created a holodeck-like atmosphere throughout the ship, which might have been surreal and funny (pterodactyls in the corridors!). The planetary computer’s complaint that it is essentially a big toy, not allowed to grow and develop, seems reasonable enough, but its complaints are resolved awfully quickly considering that one of its initial demands is to get to spend more time with other superior computers – it doesn’t even try to reestablish the link with the Enterprise’s computer to confirm the truth of what the landing party explains about humans and computers needing each other. Instead everyone but Spock gets to have a picnic with a red dragon, while the Vulcan discusses the meaning of life with the machine that created it. Thus ends the children’s story version of “Shore Leave.”