This is a plain misfire from the very beginning. First-time Trek writer and director collaborate on a story that seems like it was written as a stand-alone piece of sci-fi and then shoe-horned into the Star Trek format. It has distinct echoes of The Cage, only without any of the complexity. (This premise has not seen its last incarnation.) As plain adventure it has some minor merit. But it does little for our characters.
It also seems clear that Shatner knows he's got a dud going here. No less than two of the acts end with him screaming. This is pretty unusual, and seems to signal that he's run out of other ideas. (Of course, he had to spend at least a whole day acting with three brains under dome -- complete with their own steering wheel, no less.) It doesn't help the episode that Uhura appears to suffer an attempted rape, and Chekov is provided (in addition to a boom mic shadow) an unsettlingly androgynous thrall. These are ideas in search of a story, and they find none here.
If there is a saving grace to the episode, it is the dynamics going on between Spock, McCoy and Scotty while trying to find the lost crewmembers. These scenes are so different from those on the planet, that it appears a different writer put them together. But they have a comedic tone that is utterly inappropriate for the situation. They appear to have been beefed up to try and save an episode that would have been a dreary two-act drama otherwise, but the shifting tone is distracting and unwelcome. (If there is a second saving grace, it may very well be that silver costume which never stops defying logic -- and never stops drawing your eyes...)
Finally, the closing fight sequence is saddled with a concept that probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but was hopelessly impossible to execute -- and it shows. The Providers make a last-minute rule that Kirk must stay in the gold area or he will lose a weapon. My guess is that this was suggested by either the director or the fight choreographer as a way to make the fight more interesting (the two pages of the script which describe the fight are late inserts after the final draft was published). As a result, combatants have to jump over areas, and Kirk must hop around and use his weapon like a pole vaulter. The idea does clearly add visual excitement. But the shooting schedule obviously was too tight to practice these moves very much. Thus, thanks to the overhead camera, we are able to see that Kirk's very first step -- literally -- is out of his own area. It's not even close. He then steps out, and other characters step in, over and over throughout the fight.
There is an argument to be made about what is revealed on repeat watchings of programs that were intended to fade away pretty quickly. I'm sure that no one involved with the production of this episode expected they would still be watched -- let alone reviewed -- 40 years later. But that is no excuse for sloppiness here that would have been evident in the very first viewing.
This episode is just second season filler.
Rating: Bottom (6)