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The Trek Nation - Spock's Brain

Spock's Brain

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at August 4, 2006 - 3:39 PM GMT

See Also: 'Spock's Brain' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: During a routine day on the Enterprise, a woman in a glittery purple outfit beams aboard the ship, knocks out the crew and steals Spock's brain. McCoy tells Kirk that the surgery was so sophisticated that none of Spock's other organs have been affected, but he cannot keep a Vulcan body on full life support for more than 24 hours. Following an ion trail, Kirk plays a hunch that the sixth planet in the Sigma Draconis system may be more developed than the Federation believes, but when a landing party beams down, the crew is attacked by a group of cavemen who don't know what women are. Entering the caves, the crew discovers a sophisticated underground culture run by the females, who control the men for hard labor and breeding. Both the men and women are descendants of a culture whose technology they no longer understand, and the women have taken Spock's brain to serve as Controller for the computer system that regulates their life support and other tasks. McCoy beams down with Spock's body, using a remote-control device to make him move, and learns along with Kirk of a device called the Teacher that can temporarily transmit knowledge to the women. McCoy puts it on to learn how to reattach Spock's brain, but he begins to forget before the operation is finished and a barely conscious Spock must talk him through it. Meanwhile Kirk suggests to the women that they move to the surface of the planet with the men and find ways to keep warm that don't require a Controller.


Analysis: There are episodes of Star Trek that fall apart in the final minutes, like "The Omega Glory", and there are episodes of Star Trek that are poorly paced, like "Metamorphosis". There are episodes of Star Trek that are painfully sexist, like "The Man Trap", and there are episodes of Star Trek that are just sort of doofy, like "Who Mourns for Adonais?" But of all the bad episodes of Star Trek, none can equal "Spock's Brain" for sheer jaw-dropping awfulness...and this is how the original series kicked off its third season. The only way to make it tolerable is to scream crude comments at the screen during the most atrocious scenes, like giving McCoy advice about which of Spock's body parts he should move next while he's testing the reconnected ganglia.

Watching it again after all these years, I confess that I found the episode hilarious and not in the least boring, even though I know it well enough to recite along with it... "Brain and brain, what is brain?" Nothing about the episode makes any sense at all - not why the women choose a Starfleet vessel to search for a Controller when they could presumably go directly to Vulcan or somewhere else and have their pick of many fine brains, not why she left the body intact and cared for - well, maybe that's because Spock without a brain is only slightly less intelligent than the people of Sigma Draconis 6 - not why the Controller is left very nearly unguarded, not why the women wear thigh-high boots and tinfoil leotards. I suspect that the costumes, like the sets, the staging of the fights and most of the performances, were chosen to be as outré as the script. If "Spock's Brain" had been written to be a parody of the worst in science fiction, it could hardly have done a better job.

I don't find this episode as agonizingly misogynistic as "Turnabout Intruder" or even "That Which Survives" - and the latter is far less funny and more boring - though I do want to smack Kirk at the end when he suggests that the women find some way to control their men without pain belts and move to the surface to become cave-wives. Obviously they did something right if they're the ones controlling the underground technology and enslaving the men, even if they need a male brain to run their entire society. For once Kirk doesn't check out every babe in a skirt - it never occurs to him to use seduction to try to get Spock's brain back - and it's suggested that the women are weaker than the Enterprise crew, not because they're female, but because they're untrained in physical fighting because they count on their electronics to do their tough stuff for them. This is essentially the same storyline as "The Apple" except the men and women already know how to reproduce and the all-powerful Controller that has prevented the society from developing has been stolen from the Enterprise; there are no Prime Directive issues here, and Kirk promises to send advisors to help everyone acclimatize to living together on the surface.

William Shatner takes a lot of crap for his Star Trek acting style, but really, given the kind of dialogue he must contend with in episodes like this one, I think he does a rather miraculous job of making Kirk believable and sympathetic. Kirk must play a hunch about which of the three Sigma Draconis planets might be playing host to Spock's brain, and agonizes, "If I guess wrong, Mr. Spock is dead. Spock will die!" with an appropriately anguished expression that's rather moving despite the absurdity of the scenario. He has to march around demanding, "What have you done with Spock's brain?" to women who give him straight-faced, wide-eyed blank stares and ask politely what a brain is, since it's something they apparently lack. And there's that sweet moment on the surface when Kirk starts instinctively to call to Spock, only to realize it's Scotty standing beside him. Shatner and Doohan both play this very well -- enough that one can forget, for a moment, the idiotic plot to bring Robo-Spock down to the surface.

For me, the best way to watch this episode is through slash fan glasses - that is, to assume that the entire original series is a subtextual romance between Kirk and Spock, and in this installment, a panicked, pouting Kirk must rescue his beloved from the evil horde of bimbos who have no proper appreciation for his body. There are many delightful moments for K/S fans, particularly the numerous times Spock's voice can be heard over the underground comm system and Kirk turns to gaze longingly at Spock's animated corpus as if perhaps it will throw its arms around him and shout, "JIM!" like at the end of "Amok Time" when Spock had thought Kirk was dead. Miraculously, the brain-voice sounds just like Spock, though the women didn't steal his vocal cords, and Spock tells Kirk that "there is a definite pleasurable experience connected with the hearing of your voice!" I don't even have to make this stuff up!

McCoy has a couple of great moments, first asking Chekov to please send him stomach down when a lift drops very quickly from the surface, then regretting that he reconnected Spock's mouth after the surgery. In my household there were also several questions from the 12-and-under crowd about whether McCoy could control parts other than Spock's arms and legs with that remote control, making it very difficult for me to keep a straight face, though the kids' primary interest was more in the toilet humor direction. Really, Paramount should have considered marketing life-size Remote Control Spocks to lonely fans. I know, we're supposed to love him for his brilliant Vulcan mind, but really. We come, we give pain and delight! Brain and brain, what is brain? Who needs it, anyway?


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.