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Retro Review: The Eye of the Beholder

Posted by Michelle - 22/07/11 at 02:07 pm


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Star Trek: The Animated Series

Season: 01 Episode: 15 (s01e15)

Original US airdate: 01/05/1974

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are imprisoned in a zoo by slug-like creatures who do not believe the Enterprise crewmembers are intelligent.

Plot Summary: The Enterprise visits Lactra VII to investigate the disappearance of the science ship Ariel. On the deserted vessel they find the ship’s captain’s log, which reveals that three crewmembers disappeared on the surface and he beamed down with the remaining two crewmembers to find them. Since that was weeks ago, Kirk decides that he, Spock, and McCoy must risk traveling to the surface. They are attacked by a red water dragon and a huge gray dinosaur, but are relieved to receive a signal in response to their communicator hail, indicating that thye landing party might be receiving them. When they follow the signal, however, they are captured by large slug-like aliens who imprison them in a walled city that Spock quickly realizes is a zoo with specimens from all over the galaxy. The three survivors of the Ariel are there as well; they have discovered that the Lactrans are telepathic, but they consider humans so inferior that they have no qualms about keeping them as specimens. Kirk manages to trick a young Lactran into giving him back his communicator, but Scotty accidentally beams up the Lactran instead of the landing party. The adult Lactrans are furious and threaten Kirk, but Scotty is able to convince the young one that humans are intelligent and beams down with it. The child tells its parents that humans are evolving and should be allowed to return in a few dozen centuries when they have matured.

Analysis: Star Trek: The Animated Series‘s “The Eye of the Beholder” – not to be confused with Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Eye of the Beholder” – feels redundant throughout, with a plot borrowed from “The Menagerie,” aliens swiped from several previous cartoons, and the crew once again using the “fake an illness” ploy in an escape attempt. It’s an entertaining episode visually, since the Lactrans keep changing the landscape to manipulate the crew into going where they want them, so that the scenery changes from something that looks like Yellowstone National Park to something that looks like Death Valley to something that looks like the Olympic Peninsula Rainforest, and the gigantic zoo is fascinating to see – it’s like a child’s Colorforms set where some kid has accidentally put the people instead of the animals into the cages. But the plot and characterization are a mess, and what should be a highlight – Scotty convincing the young Lactran that humans aren’t pets, something not even Spock could do – doesn’t even take place onscreen. It’s pretty obvious that things are off from the very beginning, when Kirk – Kirk? – objects that Commander Markel of the Ariel didn’t follow regulations when he chose to beam down with his remaining crew to find his missing officers. McCoy argues that it was an emergency and Markel must have been desperate, only to switch roles moments later when Kirk – Kirk! – announces that of course he will be leading the Enterprise landing party to figure out what happened.

It’s relatively easy to forgive the crew in “The Cage” footage from “The Menagerie” for making foolish decisions; they are, after all, being misled by the Talosians right from the beginning. The crew has no such excuse in “The Eye of the Beholder,” for although the Lactrans are manipulating the landscape, tossing such absurdities as sea monsters and dinosaurs at the landing party, the crew seems to have forgotten how to use any of their resources. The communicators work, so why not contact the ship when an unconscious dinosaur falls on top of McCoy to have him beamed to safety? The scanners work, so why not take a reading to see whether any big dragons are approaching? Even Spock is not thinking terribly logically, suggesting that they race off in the direction of the communicator signal instead of having Scotty scan the area or beam them there directly. (Spock also measures the distance in kilometers while McCoy is saying they’re lucky they didn’t materialize a few yards over; I am willing to overlook the fact that McCoy is still using yards in the 23rd century, but consistency within a single episode would be nice.)

So super-intelligent telepathic aliens that look like adorable elephant slugs show up, and carry the crewmembers in their tentacle trunks “for hours” to their city. You’d think that creatures that could build such a sophisticated zoo would have quicker, safer means of transport for their specimens. (I also harbor the delusion that a really advanced, telepathic species would be sensitive enough not to transplant and keep zoo specimens in the first place, but I suppose that when this episode was written, that was a fairly new concept.) Nor do the creatures seem aware that one of the Ariel crewmembers is seriously ill until Kirk, Spock, and McCoy come along with a plan to concentrate telepathically on the need for a medical kit. The super-sophisticated aliens aren’t very clever about examining the Enterprise crew’s toys, either, not understanding how the communicator works even though Kirk sent a signal to the captured one from the Arial before he was captured as well. One rather expects the Lactrans’ arrogance to be their downfall, but they’re saved by one of their children, though the little one has quite a tantrum aboard the Enterprise before realizing that it can learn from Scotty.

Many of these cartoons for kids have some little moral or message at the end, and “The Eye of the Beholder” seems like a perfect place for pointing out that different intelligences work in different ways and mutual respect is preferable to condescension. But after all the unnecessary business with the diseased crewmember and the trip to the city carried in alien tentacles, there’s no time to show what may be Scotty’s finest moment. I don’t blame the scientific contact team from the Ariel for being upset at how little they learned about the aliens, given that they apparently haven’t even interviewed Scotty. Will this planet that doesn’t want to see humans for another 20 or 30 centuries be put under General Order 7, the only death penalty that had been left on the books, so that the Lactrans can’t take any more humans into their zoo? Since we’ll never hear of it again in the animated series or even in subsequent installments with similar titles, it feels a bit irrelevant. I wouldn’t mind having a stuffed baby Lactran, though.

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