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Retro Review: The Pirates of Orion

Posted by Michelle - 12/08/11 at 03:08 pm


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Star Trek: The Animated Series

Season: 01 Episode: 17 (s01e17)

Original US airdate: 09/07/1974

Spock contracts an illness that is fatal to Vulcans, but the treatment is stolen by pirates looking for dilithium.

Plot Summary: While the Enterprise is en route to Deneb V, Spock contracts choriocytosis, a disease that is treatable in humans but deadly to Vulcans because of their copper-based blood. The only known cure, a drug called strobolin, is very rare. Kirk arranges to have the Starfleet vessel Huron bring the Enterprise a supply of strobolin, but before the freighter reaches the rendezvous, it is attacked by an unidentified red ship whose crew steals both the strobolin and the dilithium that makes up the bulk of the Huron’s cargo. Because the strange ship has left a radiation trail, the Enterprise is able to pursue it into an asteroid field. Realizing that the thieves are Orions, Kirk negotiates to have the captain give him the strobolin to save Spock’s life, agreeing in exchange to let the Orions keep the dilithium without reporting the incident to Starfleet. But the Orion captain is certain that Kirk will report the theft, and plans to destroy both his own ship and the Enterprise by detonating a bomb on one of the unstable asteroids. Because Kirk suspects a trap, Scotty scans the Orions and detects the bomb, defusing it with the transporter and beaming both Kirk and the Orion captain aboard the Enterprise. Unable to destroy themselves, the Orions are taken in tow to Deneb V which Spock recovers from choriocytosis.

Analysis: “The Pirates of Orion” doesn’t have one of Star Trek’s more sophisticated plots – it was written by high school student Howard Weinstein, and aired while he was in college – but it has precisely the sort of character interaction that made the original Star Trek such a success. Comparisons to its prequel “Journey to Babel” are unavoidable – a Vulcan suffering from a Vulcan-specific illness surrounded by humans with few immediate options to help him, a threat from an unidentifiable assailant who turns out to come from a species that chooses suicide over failure – but this comparatively short story holds up fairly well as a follow-up, though it’s clear that the mythology of the Orions hadn’t yet been fully developed (there’s no mention of the irresistible green-skinned women and the aliens’ names are even pronounced differently than elsewhere in Trek canon).

Poor Spock. As a Vulcan, he’s such an anomaly in Starfleet that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to his good friend McCoy when relatively harmless choriocytosis swept through the human crew to prepare in case his one copper-based crewmember contracted the disease. McCoy complains, “Blasted Vulcan, why couldn’t you have red blood like any normal human?” Spock has to suffer through the indignity of collapsing on the bridge and fretting that he may be the reason the Enterprise misses yet another diplomatic mission – as Kirk said in “Amok Time,” not vital, but it could cost him his career if he makes a habit of going off to save his first officer instead. McCoy has a drug that can slow the effects of the disease temporarily, but Kirk makes Spock cut his work hours and McCoy calls Spock a pointy eared encyclopedia when Spock wants to get right back to work. Yet despite all the joking, the entire crew is willing to risk whatever is necessary to save Spock’s life, even a vicious attack by pirates. In the end McCoy is still picking on Spock’s green blood and Spock complains that the doctor is gloating. It’s classic original series stuff.

There are nice moments for all the regulars – Scotty promising to squeeze a bit more out of the engines, McCoy wondering what’s the point of being a doctor when he can’t save everyone, Uhura saying she can excerpt the audio from the damaged Huron logs – she even gets to be on the away team, a relative rarity on the original series – Chapel too going aboard the damaged ship to treat the wounded and working with McCoy to care for Spock without a single moment of weepiness. The Orions may be the pirates but Kirk’s crew does more out-of-the-box thinking, from Sulu and Arex who realize that they can track the mysterious ship to Scotty who defuses the bomb by beaming out its antimatter trigger to Kirk who figures out first that the unstable asteroids could be used as weapons. Kirk’s also quite a good and fair negotiator; it’s not his fault that his adversaries are liars and cheaters, cherishing a false appearance of neutrality more than the lives of those serving on their ships.

I just wish we got to see more of the Orions; given that this is animated and there’s no additional cost involved to build sets or use makeup, there’s no reason we couldn’t have a fuller exploration of the Orion command structure and smuggling operation. Quite a bit of time is spent instead showing the Huron trying to make heads or tails of their pursuer (with Doohan, Barrett, and Takei very obviously doubling on the voices), yet we don’t get to see the actual attack that injures the captain and takes both dilithium and medicine – something that would give us a stronger opinion as viewers of the relative evils of the Orions, whether they are an honorable enemy or mere vicious thugs.

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  • http://twitter.com/AndrewAuCourant Andrew Filipe ✔

    Nice review, thanks for this.

  • http://twitter.com/darrell1001 Darrell Pitt

    I’ver really enjoyed your reviews of TAS. I’d like to mention one rather laughable inconsistency. At least twice McCoy appears to be on the bridge and in sickbay at the same time. I know the series was produced on the cheap, but I got a big laugh out of seeing McCoy standing next to Kirk while his voice is coming from the loud speaker at the same time.