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Star Trek TOS - Season 2 - Episode 10

Star Trek TOS - 2x10 - Journey to Babel

Originally Aired: 1967-11-17

Synopsis:
Tensions run high when the Enterprise transports ambassadors to the Babel Conferences. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 9

Fan Rating Average - 7.1

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Filler Quotient: 0, not filler, do not skip this episode.
- Aside from being one of the best episodes of TOS, this episode also is the first to feature Spock's parents, Andorians, Tellarites, and the Vulcan salute.

Problems
- While Spock is giving blood, he recalls a crucial tactical detail about the ship pursuing the Enterprise. Rather than contact the bridge with the information Spock forgot to communicate, McCoy and Chapel sedate Spock instead, endangering the lives of everyone on the ship! It sure is a good thing Kirk saved the ship without this information...

Factoids
- This episode further establishes that humans have lots of trouble pronouncing Vulcan last names. This detail was first mentioned in This Side of Paradise.
- This episode establishes that Vulcans have extreme longevity. Sarek is quoted to be 102, which is, according to McCoy, relatively young for a Vulcan.
- This episode establishes that the Enterprise is incapable of flying at warp 10.

Remarkable Scenes
- McCoy having difficulty doing the Vulcan salute.
- Spock revealing that Sarek and his wife are his parents.
- Sarek: "Tellarites do not argue for reasons, they simply argue."
- Spock, regarding his sehlat: "On Vulcan, the teddy bears are alive and they have six-inch fangs."
- Amanda pleading with Spock to save his father's life.
- Kirk retaking command despite his injury just to get Spock to leave the bridge and save his father.
- The Andorian losing an antenna.
- Amanda: "Logic, logic! I'm sick to death of logic. Do you want to know how I feel about your logic?" Spock: "Emotional, isn't she?" Sarek: "She has always been that way." Spock: "Indeed. Why did you marry her?" Sarek: "At the time, it seemed the logical thing to do."
- Kirk, regarding McCoy having both Kirk and Spock in his sickbay at the same time: "Dr. McCoy, I believe you're enjoying all this." Spock: "Indeed, captain. I've never seen him look so happy." McCoy: "Shut up!" A long silence ensues. McCoy: "Well what do you know, I finally got the last word!"

My Review
Journey to Babel is a skillfully written story which benefits mightily from the utilization of multiple plot threads, an unfortunately rare quality on Star Trek so far. The result is a fascinating array of tidbits, factoids, and drama relating to Federation politics and Spock's family. The reveal of Spock's parents to both Kirk and to the audience simultaneously was a terrific opener and sets a marvelous tone for the cultural differences between Vulcans and humans, as neither Sarek nor Spock wanted to reveal that fact until they were socially forced to, on the grounds of its lack of relevance from a strictly logical perspective.

Indeed, Sarek's devotion to logic is unwavering and his skill at it easily rivals Spock's. Since Spock is half human, his characterization has always varied somewhat between the emotional and the unemotional, but we see a new side to Spock as when in the company of his father he actively tries to ratchet up his unemotional, logical persona. When Amanda asked Spock if there was any part of her inside of him, she should have realized that Spock's emotional attachment to Sarek, something he and Amanda have in common, is what makes Spock want to act outwardly so much like his father in the first place.

Spock's desire to be more like his father is further illustrated with a brilliantly symbolic metaphor during the conception of the medical procedure to save Sarek from his heart problems when Spock proposes synthesizing pure Vulcan blood from his diluted hybrid blood by filtering out the human factors. This is of course a metaphor for what Spock has been doing all his life: trying to make himself less human. On top of that, McCoy's reference to the Vulcan heart being constructed in such a way to make surgery difficult is a nice metaphor for Vulcans in general struggling with their feelings.

What didn't work quite as well in the family drama was Sarek's disapproval of Spock's career path. Although Sarek's objections seem to stem from disapproval of Starfleet's organizational purpose, which he regards as primarily military in nature, the reasons for why that's such a problem to begin with are not explored in as much depth as I'd have liked. Sarek claims Spock's scientific interests would have been better suited by a life at the Vulcan Science Academy, but that assertion is left to be taken at face value rather than being fleshed out in any detail.

On the Federation politics side, we learn that Tellarites routinely engage in illegal mining operations, despite being members of the Federation. We also learn that the "carefully neutral" Orions raid non-Federation worlds, which motivated their duplicity in this episode. The fast, maneuverable Orion ship and the Orion murderer disguised as an Andorian were exciting details and Kirk leading his crew through the space battle despite suffering from a stab wound was excellent drama. I think I would have preferred to actually see Babel though, including the political chamber, the vote itself, and the admission of a new world to the Federation.

Given all the potential for depth and nuance that this episode simply didn't have the time to get to, I think Journey to Bebel could have benefited greatly from being a two part episode. Part 1 could have focused on the murder mystery as-is in the episode, with increased time spent developing the career conflict between Spock and Sarek. Part 2 could have resolved the murder mystery as-is while giving us time to actually see the political aftermath at Babel and the admission of a new world to the Federation. Even without that additional detail though, Journey to Babel stands out as one of the best episodes so far.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From TashaFan on 2008-10-25 at 8:57am:
    If you're referring to TNG, I'm not sure heart surgery is all that perfect in the 2300's - despite all the regeneration technology, Picard still ends up with an artificial heart when a Nausican stabs him as a cadet (and was that guy prosecuted?) but even so the new heart requires unexpected maintenance, (Wesley asks, naively "why would anyone use a faulty artificial heart" as though they planned it that way) and then the surgery goes so poorly that the Enterprise has to be called to the medical facility so that Dr. Pulaski can intervene (TNG "Samaritan Snare").
  • From Orion Pimpdaddy on 2010-05-02 at 7:35pm:
    I just watched the Blu-Ray version of this. Despite being cleaned up for the upgrade to high def, there are some serious issues with the picture quality in some of the scenes. From time to time the screen gets blurry as if it's being filmed with a 9mm camera. This isn't anything to do with the conversion to Blu-Ray; it had issues beforehand. I guess they couldn't repair some of the images.

    They did do a good job with the special effects upgrades. There's a map screen that Checkov stares at a lot in this epidode, and it's been redone and looks more high tech. Also, the mysterious ship has been redone, but it's still mysterious because it's never shown up close.

    Very good episode.
  • From JB on 2010-10-05 at 7:47am:
    This is so far the best TOS episode I have seen. I started with TNG some years ago, and have seen DS9, Voyager and all the movies. Now it's time for TOS :) And so far this is my favorite :) 10/10
  • From tigertooth on 2011-01-04 at 11:09pm:
    Overall it was quite good, but I was confused by one thing: early on, Spock is all for the transfusion/operation, but Bones and Spock's mom are both strongly against it. Then when Kirk is incapacitated, Spock changes his mind. So far, so good.

    But why did Bones and Spock's mom suddenly decide that it was imperative for Spock to undergo the transfusion? What made them change their minds?

    Before Kirk is hurt, Spock's mom says "I can't lose both of you" at the thought of Spock undergoing the risky procedure. Then after Spock changes his mind, suddenly his mom is slapping him for not doing it. WTF?

    I also found it quite odd that in one scene, Sarek is well enough to easily defend himself against the Tellarite ambassador, but soon after he's on his deathbed requiring immediate risky surgery. They could have easily explained this by saying that he was poisoned by the spy on board (everything about the transfusion and the experimental drug would have fit), but instead it was just a big coincidence that his health problems came to a head right as he was about to attend an important summit. And he didn't even bring a doctor with him.

    Anyway, apologies for focusing on the negatives when overall it's quite a fun episode.
  • From McCoy on 2012-04-13 at 10:05am:
    I disagree about this being better as a two-part episode. While I agree that seeing the summit would have been fun, it's really just one scene. TOS is notorious for "stretching" episodes with useless filler that bog down the excitement. I can see this as a two part episode getting a review like "why couldn't they just remove all the useless parts and make this a single episode"...
  • From Ser Mosh on 2012-07-07 at 12:01am:
    I really liked this episode. Until a month ago, I had only ever seen the movies, but I decided to go through all 700+ episodes of all Star Trek series recently. Your site has been a great source of information.

    Also, I just wanted to say that the Vulcan salute (along with the "Live long and prosper" line) was shown at the end of Amok Time, so this isn't the first appearance.

    Thanks for all the work you put into these reviews!

  • From Scott Hearon on 2014-04-06 at 9:02pm:
    Excellent episode. The only thing that I didn't like was the hyper-fast cut to Kirk as he's right in the middle of the assassination attempt. It seemed like a really bad editing job, and the fight itself (like pretty much every TOS hand-to-hand fight), it downright silly in terms of physical action.

    Every thing else is solid gold. All that we learn about the various alien races, Spock, and his parents is interesting enough. When it's all blended into a gripping tale of intergalactic politics, intrigue an action, both inside and outside of the Enterprise, you have one of the most well-rounded stories of the series.

    I love the twist of a wounded Kirk's ruse to get Spock off of the bridge going slightly awry and forcing him to stay, tough it out, and see his ship to safety.
  • From Mike on 2017-08-13 at 5:47pm:
    This was the first episode of Star Trek television I ever saw. I'd seen "Wrath of Khan" as a kid, and had heard that it was based on a TV show. At the time, the brand new TNG was only airing on Monday nights and I was usually too busy with homework to watch it, so didn't see it for its first few seasons. But TOS episodes were running in syndication on weekends.

    I got lucky in seeing this one first, as it kind of introduces you in a way to the Federation itself, the mission of Starfleet, the character of Spock, and the relationships between Kirk, McCoy and Spock primarily. The episode also has an exciting plot, with plenty of intrigue and action involving the delegates and the Orion ship shadowing and battling the Enterprise.

    I do agree it could've been a two-parter, flushing out the Babel conference plot a bit more. But the suspense of the episode was excellent. Even after we realize Thelev is involved and in contact with the unidentified ship, we still don't yet know why any of this is going on until it's reveled that Thelev is actually an Orion.

    We also see in this episode, to an extent, that the Federation isn't always a big happy family, and that member worlds sometimes have competing or diverging interests. It adds to the intrigue.

    The plot involving Spock's parents is wonderfully done, with a very interesting dynamic. It's reveled that Sarek doesn't approve of Spock's career path, a typical father-son problem. And Spock, throughout this episode, is presented with a problem: logic dictates that he fulfill his duty in Kirk's absence, but he must weigh his obligations to the ship against his father's health, a dilemma that is not made easier after Amanda's pleadings.

    This is a classic Trek episode that is just as enjoyable with repeated viewing.

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