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Star Trek TOS - Season 3 - Episode 01

Star Trek TOS - 3x01 - Spock's Brain

Originally Aired: 1968-9-20

Kirk pursues aliens who have taken Spock's brain. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 3.53

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# Votes: 146 28 22 68 21 13 12 24 29 10 51

Filler Quotient: 2, filler, but an enjoyable episode nevertheless. You can skip this one, but you'd miss out on some fun.
- There's no essential plot or exposition in this episode that renders it unskippable, but it's a decent episode, if a bit goofy.

- Both Kirk and Sulu mistakenly refer to Sigma Draconis VI as Sigma Draconis VII in their log.

- Another slightly revised opening theme debuted in this episode.

Remarkable Scenes
- Kirk: "Lifeform readings Mr. Spock? Er... Mr. Scott..."
- Remote control Spock. Hilarious!
- Spock inside a computer, talking to Kirk and McCoy. I love how well Spock takes being disembodied.
- Kirk using remote control Spock to remove the pain belts.
- I love the profound change in the alien girl's behavior and intelligence after she underwent the knowledge helmet.
- Spock dictating to McCoy how to perform his own brain surgery.

My Review
Despite what the episode's title may imply, this story is anything but cerebral. On the contrary it's pretty goofy but in ways that are entirely intentional and the comedy is quite effective. The central amusement of the story is how well Spock takes being disembodied. He spends the whole episode reveling in the novelty of the experience and even objects to his own rescue at one point on the grounds that the odds for success are too low and pose too great a risk to the landing party. Unfortunately the episode's rather simplistic tone is its greatest weakness as well, as a deeper exploration of the cost-benefit analysis of whether or not to attempt a rescue of Spock could have made for some interesting drama.

For instance, throughout much of the episode McCoy objects to the rescue attempt in a sort of half-hearted way on the grounds that he lacked the surgical knowledge to restore Spock's brain to his body. Kirk simply barrels on ahead assuming that the people who did this to Spock could undo it, which was by no means certain, and that in addition he could also somehow convince them to undo the brain theft even after all the painstaking work they went through to perform that surgical strike in the first place. A better episode would have forced Kirk to truly wrestle with the possibility that Spock's best chance for survival was to remain disembodied rather than have Kirk never lose faith in his own abilities to coerce surgical magic out of the aliens of the week.

There are a whole host of other smaller flaws as well. It's never quite explained why the aliens of the week took such great care to extract Spock's brain without doing irreparable damage to his body, which turned out to be rather convenient! Likewise, when they follow the ion trail to the Sigma Draconis system they conclude rather hastily that none of the remarkably three M class planets in the planetary system are capable of launching an interstellar flight despite obvious evidence to the contrary. Then another awkward line emerges when it's claimed that the crew lacks the time to search three different M class planets in the same planetary system. Why not send three landing parties?

And then there's Kirk's silly requirement that they tote around Spock's zombie body with them wherever they go. Why not locate the brain first and then beam down Spock later if he needs to be down there for some reason? It's also stated that the Federation lacks ion propulsion, which seems unlikely as the technology was already beginning to mature in the real world by the time this episode was produced. Granted, the exact term used was "advanced ion propulsion" so maybe the fact that it's "advanced" should connote something more stunning. Also McCoy at one point injects a stimulant into a humanoid alien on the planet. Is it really safe to use human drugs on an unknown alien? I guess that looking exactly like humans thing sometimes goes further than just skin deep!

Setting aside the smaller flaws, there was one other larger issue with the story. At the end the motives of the aliens of the week are finally established. It's stated that they periodically go hunting for presumably highly evolved alien brains to power their Controller computer. This leads to a moral dilemma nearly as interesting but just as poorly explored as the risk analysis of whether or not to rescue Spock. Is the need for a Controller for the aliens greater than Spock's need for his freedom? The obvious answer is that Spock's freedom should not be subverted against his will for the benefit of any group of people, no matter how large. But the episode barely explores this question at all and Kirk's solution is needlessly cold.

At the end of the story Kirk simply condemns the aliens of the week to living in the harsh conditions of the planet's surface with little more than a pat on the ass and an insistence that natural selection will take care of the rest. Given how painfully stupid the aliens were, what with choice lines like, "Brain and brain! What is brain!" I have my doubts that Kirk's faith in their survival is terribly justified, especially seeing as how it's established that a biological atrophy of their mental faculties has taken place due to generations of non-use. That, and the males who were already inexplicably condemned to the surface didn't seem much smarter.

However, while this story certainly had themes with the potential for greater depth, despite that missed opportunity the episode is funny and entertaining largely because it doesn't take itself too seriously. Watching Spock comment on his disembodiment is highly amusing and none of the flaws of the story add up to the sorts of show stopping technical problems that a few noteworthy episodes from the previous two seasons have delivered so what we get in the end comes off merely as slightly below average.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Jem Hadar on 2009-05-16 at 11:08pm:
    Some problems:

    - Doctor McCoy says he has no idea how long Spock can last without his brain, and then says he has 24 hours a minute later!

    - Why did Chekov only heat one rock? He can heat all the rocks around him and they wouldn't have to huddle around one rock.

    - When McCoy was operating and started forgetting what he knew, how would Kirk know he would die if put the Teacher on again? Also, why wouldn't Kirk himself (or Scotty) put it on and then finish the operation after McCoy forgot what he knew?

    However, I like this episode. I'd give it a 7.5/10.
  • From Jadzia Guinan Smith on 2010-09-29 at 2:07am:
    I totally agree. Spock's Brain isn't as bad as its reputation. In fact, it's about an average episode for TOS, which, in all honesty, is a stunningly bad series (but would be a magnificent mini-series if whittled down to about 15 episodes).

    Granted, the premise of Spock's Brain is stupid and the story that unfolds gets increasingly absurd. But its deadpan presentation has a farce-like quality that makes it kind of fun to watch and poke fun at. Plus, I think the episode deserves credit for NOT following one of these recurring plot patterns in the Trek repertoire:
    1. someone acquires and abuses superhuman powers, 2. a machine grows powerful enough to threaten everyone
    3. they go back in time to pre-warp earth
    4. they go to a planet where a pre-warp earth colony (somehow) exists
    5. they encounter an alien culture EXACTLY like some culutre on pre-warp earth
    6. they encounter an alien culture moedeled after a specific pre-warp earth culture because of an early human traveler's inexplicably significant influence
    7. they encounter a superior alien speicies (or a single member of such a species) who, for some reason, takes a deep interest in some aspect of pre-warp earth civilization and recreates it for amusement.
    8. they encounter a disembodied "mind" or "consciousness" that (a) has somehow managed to exist outside of the biological body in which it emerged, or (b) for some reason has a gender and the same desires as biological beings even though it emerged through non-biological processes. [for some reason we're supposed to assume it's nothing supernatural like a "soul" even though there seems to be no scientific explanation for its existence]

    Also, the stuff I find most obnoxious in TOS (the nauseating misogyny I've come to expect from just about ANY episode featuring ANY female characters) is sort of kept in check for the most part in this episode. Don't get me wrong, it's hardly free of the usual bits of TOS-style gender politics (and of COURSE there's plenty of gratuitous titilation). But for the most part, Spock's Brain neither dwells on sex/gender nor makes any wildly sexist characterization of gender and its role in the universe. For me that's almost enough to make it tolerable.

    Hey, it's TOS. The bar is LOW :-)
  • From Orion on 2010-12-27 at 4:10am:
    I just watched the blu-ray version of this episode and it's still a bad episode despite being cleaned up.

    The beam down scene has been "enhanced" by adding snow-covered mountains to the background. It looks nice, and it also looks like it's always been there, which is good. However, when they cut to a close up of everyone after the beam down the mountains are no longer visible in the background. Instead, it's just the original blue screen. So they actually created inconsistency in the episode by trying to enhance it.

    I do love most of the enhancements they have done with the series, it's just some of the decisions didn't seem well thought out.

    As for the episode overall, I think it's pretty bad, but maybe not as bad as some of the other TOS episodes (Omega Glory, That Which Survives). It's important to note that the ribbing this episode gets isn't just from the viewers, both Shatner and Nimoy have stated that they were embarassed while filming the episode.

    You do sense that the actors weren't into it. Just watch the part where they're all in sick bay discussing what to do. Not only do Mccoy and Kirk seem detached, but the dialogue is almost too unbearable to listen to.

    What's with the scene where Checkov is heating a rock? It seemed like they were trying to kill time because there was not enough material to fill the whole episode.

  • From Dude McMann on 2014-09-16 at 5:07pm:
    I have to disagree. This is an astonishingly dumb episode. The worst Star Trek novels never reached the depths of stupidity and lazy writing that this episode did (and there are some pretty bad ones.) There should be an international vote among fans to remove this from the canon.

    That said, I like your reviews and I know that no two fans agree on everything. (I thought Miri was an okay episode.)
  • From Kevin on 2017-04-01 at 6:30pm:
    Honestly a very lame episode, but oddly kinda entertaining, in a silly way. The idea was at least different.Years later I find a lot of the silly episodes to be more watchable.
  • From Chris on 2018-01-13 at 10:26pm:
    At first, I found this episode to be beyond stupid, silly and totally unwatchable.
    Now, I love it and think it's hilarious!

    I give a lot of credit to Shatner, and Kelly for their acting when McCoy first tells Kirk about Spock's brain having gone AWOL. The expressions of disbelief and confusion are spot on to how one might react to the news!

    I'm confused as to how McCoy was able to install Spock's brain without so much as a drop of blood anywhere and absolutely no scarring anywhere!
    Yes, I know that McCoy doesn't sew people up like 'garments', but still!!!

    Come on, man!
  • From Alan Feldman on 2022-08-26 at 12:10am:

    I think your review is mostly spot-on. Re ion propulsion: Yes, we have that now, but mostly for mid-course corrections. I don't recall launching anything with it. They would need something more powerful than that to move the _Enterprise_ around!

    Also, I'm not sure the high-level discussion bout what's moral and ethical about the whole thing is really doable in Star Trek. It's pretty much Kirk is always right. That's one reason I loved it when he was wrong in "The Galileo Seven." It's like the two or so episodes where Bugs Bunny doesn't have the upper hand.

    Oh, those controls are amazingly specific in what they do, esp. when Kirk was guiding Spock to grab the girl and press the release button, given how few buttons there are on his remote.

    Not a great episode, but I'd rather watch this than the "Mark of Gideon" or "The Savage Curtain" or "Requiem for Methuselah," and maybe also a few others.

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