|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.15 “Shore Leave” – (Original air date: Thursday, December 29, 1966)

TrekShoreLeave

Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “Shore Leave.”

  • This day in history: The #1 single in the US and UK simultaneously is “I’m a Believer,” by The Monkees. At #5 on the UK charts is Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” Superman or Green Lantern ain’t got a-nuthin’ on me.
  • Also on the evening of this day, at EMI Studios on Abbey Road, Paul McCartney begins work, alone, on the first takes of “Penny Lane.” He works from 7 PM until 2:15 AM the following morning.
  • It’s been two weeks since “Balance of Terror” aired. Another difficult act to follow, which may have influenced my opinion of this episode, which—I’ll warn you—isn’t very high. This is compounded by the fact that Yeoman Janice Rand has suddenly become a persona non grata in the Star Trek universe and is unceremoniously replaced in this episode. Also, Scotty doesn’t appear in the episode, and I don’t like it when regular cast members are missing.
  • If that isn’t enough griping for you, I’ll add the fact that Lieutenant Uhura doesn’t get to go on shore leave for some reason and no one ever offers me an explanation for this. Spock could have run communications by himself.
  • The script—at least, the original script—was written by famous science-fiction author Theodore Sturgeon. I know I’ve read Sturgeon’s fiction over the years, but I can’t name a single thing at the moment, so I know he was never a favorite of mine. He also wrote “Amok Time” for TOS, which will introduce the concept of pon farr, the Vulcan hand symbol, and the phrase “Live long and prosper.” For this alone, I would still respect the late Sturgeon’s memory.
  • This episode was still being rewritten even as it was being shot. Roddenberry thought the original script had too much fantasy and lacked believability. It’s difficult to imagine an episode with more fantasy elements in it.
  • Enough hemming and hawing. Let’s get to it, shall we?
  • In the very first scene of the episode, we see that Captain James T. Kirk has a new pretty female yeoman to replace Janice Rand. This one’s name is Tonia Barrows, which we find out later in the episode.
  • Since her role was essentially replaced, I have to wonder why Grace Lee Whitney was fired. She admitted to being on diet pills while on the series, in order to fit into the outfits. But, in her memoir, she also revealed that she was sexually assaulted by an executive associated with the series not long before receiving her walking papers, but she refused to name names. As it turns out, two of the other female regulars on the show—Lt. Uhura and Nurse Chapel—were both sleeping with Gene Roddenberry at some point. And, of course, Nurse Chapel married him. Just sayin’.
  • Kirk complains about a kink in his back as he’s speaking to Spock in this bridge scene. He thinks it is Spock who begins to massage his back, but it is, instead, Yeoman Barrows, who is doing her best to bring late-’60s sexism to the 23rd Century.
  • As Kirk delivers lines such as “Push hard. Dig it in there, Mister.” Spock steps forward to reveal that it is Yeoman Barrows, not he, who is massaging the captain’s back. This apparently embarrasses Kirk.
  • Some people see homosexual subtext in this. I’m not sure why.
  • Spock points out that after the difficult three months the crew has just had, everyone on board is in need of some rest. Well, except for Spock, of course. Vulcans don’t need rest, apparently.
  • The name of this episode is “Shore Leave.” I’m sensing a theme here.
  • We cut to the planet surface, where Dr. McCoy and Sulu are conducting a survey to approve a possible shore leave for the crew. They are in what will come to be called The Glade on this episode, and both men are happy with what they find.
  • Sulu is playing with plants again, collecting samples to take back to the ship. Astrophysicist, botanist, helmsman, swordsman. Sulu wears a lot of hats.
  • Dr. McCoy suddenly sees the White Rabbit and the girl Alice straight out of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. This is where the episode takes a sharp left turn for me and begins to lose most of my interest. I’m not crazy about mixing in too much fantasy with my science-fiction. Holodeck malfunction shows aren’t my favorites either.
  • Speaking of psychedelia, Jefferson Airplane recorded their song “White Rabbit” on November 3, 1966, nearly two months before this episode aired, even though the single wasn’t released until the following summer. Small world.
  • Dr. McCoy’s visitation by his own White Rabbit, which looks like a dime store Easter Bunny costume, signals the end of the teaser. Bleh.
  • Roll opening credits with the four cool pings, Shatner monologue, and less-than-futuristic musical theme.
  • From the Captain’s Log, we learn that this unnamed, uninhabited planet is in the Omicron-Delta region. It is incredibly Earth-like and seems almost too good to be true.
  • Uh-huh. That’s what he said.
  • McCoy reports his “hallucination” to Kirk, but Kirk thinks it’s just the doctor trying to convince him to beam down to the planet. Then Spock tricks Kirk into taking shore leave by reporting a crewmember who’s showing signs of stress and fatigue. This crewman’s reaction time is down nine to twelve per cent, with associational reading norm minus three. He’s becoming irritable and quarrelsome, yet refuses to take R&R, which is his right.
  • Kirk says a crewman’s right ends where the safety of the ship begins. Kirk says that man will go ashore on his orders. What’s his name?
  • Of course the man’s name is James Kirk. Spock tells his superior officer to enjoy himself.
  • There was a nearly identical scene, beat for beat, in the TNG episode “Captain’s Holiday,” in which Dr. Beverly Crusher tries to convince Jean-Luc Picard to take a holiday on Risa. (Episode 3.19)
  • During an establishing shot of the planet surface again, we hear Spock’s voice off-camera saying that scouts have detected no animals, artifacts or force fields of any kind. While he’s saying this, a rock raises up to reveal a revolver concealed underneath.
  • Kirk and Yeoman Barrows beam down to the planet, where they are met by two crewmembers whom Kirk addresses as Rodriguez and Teller.
  • I could just whistle past this but in an episode that’s already asking me to suspend my disbelief more than I’m willing to, it’s obvious that the crewmember Kirk just called “Teller” is Angela Martine, the young woman whose fiancée died in the episode which aired immediately prior to this one. So, I have to retcon this in some way to keep my head from exploding. Perhaps “Teller” is her nickname because Angela Martine used to work in a bank. Or, she married someone else since her fiancée died a couple of weeks ago. If that’s the case, she seems to be cheating on him already with Rodriguez, with whom she seems quite cozy. She did tell Kirk she was all right in that chapel scene in the last episode. This lady is resilient.
  • Kirk and Barrows find McCoy. There’s physical evidence that McCoy wasn’t just imagining things. Giant rabbit prints.
  • Suddenly, a shot rang out.
  • Was this script written by Sturgeon or by Charles M. Schulz?
  • Kirk, McCoy and Yeoman Barrows run towards the sounds of the gunshots instead of away from them as any rational, right-thinking person would. They find Sulu engaged in target practice. He found the revolver that was under a rock in that other scene.
  • Sulu is apparently a gun nut—or “enthusiast” if the word “nut” offends you. He identifies the firearm as an old-time police special. It’s a .38-special, unless I miss my guess. I’m not a gun nut. Sulu says he doesn’t have anything like it in his “collection.”
  • Add “gun enthusiast” to astrophysicist, botanist, helmsman and swordsman on Sulu’s resume.
  • Kirk takes the gun from Sulu, saying that this place has made his helmsman trigger-happy.
  • As they continue to examine rabbit tracks, an old-fashioned aerial-type antenna comes up from somewhere, directly in front of the camera, but behind the backs of Kirk and McCoy. We should assume that this antenna is somehow reading their thoughts.
  • Kirk says this entire situation is like some elaborate practical joke, which makes him think of his old nemesis from the Academy, a guy named Finnegan who used to torture him mercilessly.
  • Then, the way people on television shows and horror movies do all the time, Kirk decides that they should split up. He’ll backtrack the footprints of the little girl McCoy saw (that would be Alice), while McCoy continues to follow the rabbit. Sounds like a plan.
  • Who should Kirk run across other than Finnegan himself, who, of course, speaks in a horrible Irish brogue, which seems to be the go-to Trek accent? Finnegan punches Kirk in the face and goads him into fighting him.
  • The two men begin to wrestle, but are interrupted when a woman begins screaming off-camera. Kirk runs towards the screams as he would towards a gunshot.
  • The screams were from Yeoman Barrows. Her tunic has been ripped and she is distraught because she was attacked by a man wearing a cloak and carrying a jeweled dagger.
  • McCoy says that sounds like Don Juan. I’m not up on my Don Juan, obviously, because I was thinking Jack the Ripper.
  • Funny thing, Barrows was thinking about Don Juan just before he appeared. I’m not sure why it was McCoy and not Barrows who identified him by name. Sulu went chasing after her attacker. Kirk tells McCoy to stay with Barrows while he goes after them.
  • While Kirk searches, another of those antennae pops up and seems to be tracking him.
  • Much of this episode was shot on location at Africa, USA, a park located in Soledad Canyon at the time, and at Vasquez Rocks. When Kirk begins searching for Sulu, I think we have moved on to Vasquez. This location has been used in many television and movie productions over the years, including several episodes in the Trek franchise. In certain scenes in this episode, I kept expecting a Gorn to attack Kirk along with Finnegan.
  • Kirk is momentarily distracted in his search for Sulu and Don Juan by some pretty flowers. Kirk picks one of these, which looks a lot like a fake plastic flower, and smells it. He’s reminded of a woman he once knew named Ruth.
  • No, I’m not reading Kirk’s mind. That’s what the antennae do, because suddenly a young woman appears and Kirk calls her Ruth. She kisses him on the cheek and this is as good a place as any for an act break.
  • As Act Two begins, Kirk seems to be in an euphoric state, as if drugged. He can’t believe how Ruth doesn’t seem to have aged at all in fifteen years. He should be reminded, as I am, of that hicky-making salt-sucking monster from “The Man Trap.” But, he’s not. McCoy contacts him on his communicator, but Kirk seems unable to even hold a conversation. He tells McCoy he’s certain Sulu is all right.
  • Everyone wants to talk to Kirk. Rodriguez reports in and says that he saw an entire flock of birds flying after the sensors reported no lifeforms on the planet. This seems to get Kirk out of his stupor. He tells Rodriguez to rendezvous with the search parties at The Glade, and then reluctantly leaves Ruth, who says she’ll be waiting.
  • Spock reports that he’s detected an energy field on the planet that is draining power and interfering with communications. The patterns are consistent with industrial activity and may be subterranean. Kirk asks to be kept posted, and then continues his search for Sulu.
  • McCoy and Yeoman Barrows are getting better acquainted as they spend more time together. Barrows thinks she should be dressed like a fairy tale princess with a tall hat and veil. The two flirt and make goo-goo eyes at each other, and then, of course, they come across an outfit that looks exactly as Barrows described it.
  • This made me think about the first TNG episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” when Dr. Beverly Crusher wanted a certain kind of fabric and the magic jellyfish alien creature caused it to materialize out of thin air. Maybe this planet is being run by giant magic jellyfish aliens.
  • Barrows changes into the princess costume, telling McCoy not to peek.
  • McCoy says, “My dear girl, I am a doctor. When I peek, it’s in the line of duty.”  McCoy isn’t a creepy, lecherous man at all.
  • Elsewhere, Rodriguez and Teller (nee Martine) are being terrorized by a tiger. Whose fantasy was this?  Frank Stockton’s?
  • Kirk speaks to Spock again, trying to make some sense out of all the nonsense happening to them. Spock’s no help. He says there must be a logical explanation.
  • Sulu, still in Gorn-Land, is attacked by a Samurai who comes out of a hatch in the ground. Sulu should have been fantasizing about swords instead of guns. His phaser does not work, so he has to dodge the Samurai’s sword. I guess this means that Sulu was thinking about samurai while he was searching for Don Juan. These Starfleet people have strange fantasies.
  • Kirk and Sulu are reunited as Sulu runs towards the captain. The Samurai is nowhere to be seen. Kirk tests his own phaser. It doesn’t work now either.
  • Having just been to Shogun World while watching the second season of HBO’s Westworld, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that show while watching this. The idea of an amusement park where artificial lifeforms are created to fulfill guest fantasies is the same. “Shore Leave” predates Michael Crichton’s original Westworld by a few years. I wonder if it influenced him at all. I can’t imagine the idea was fresh even when the TOS episode came out, though.
  • Spock manages to beam down to the planet with some difficulty, just before they are completely cut off from the ship. It’s convenient, because the landing party needs Spock’s help.
  • Who’s in charge of the ship now? Scotty, one would suppose, but he’s MIA. I guess it’s Uhura, then. Who didn’t get to go on shore leave.
  • Back at The Glade, the Black Knight appears suddenly. McCoy doesn’t think the villain can hurt him because it isn’t real, but then the Black Knight runs him through with his lance and kills him.
  • Yes, Dr. McCoy was killed by the Black Knight, who was, in turn, killed by Kirk, who uses the .38 revolver he took off of Sulu earlier, since his phaser no longer works. Kirk and Spock then run over to where McCoy is stretched out on the ground, blood on his shirt. Yep, he’s dead. End of Act Two.
  • As Act Three begins, Kirk calls McCoy “our ship’s surgeon” as he reports him dead. Maybe they never stop calling him that.
  • Barrows is hysterical, saying McCoy’s death was her fault, which I guess it was, since the whole princess thing was her fantasy.
  • Sulu calls Kirk over to look at the body of the Black Knight. He’s obviously a dummy, an artificial life form of some sort. Spock does a tricorder analysis and says it has the same basic cell structure as everything on the planet. It seems that everything on the planet has been manufactured.
  • Elsewhere, Rodriguez and Teller-Martine are strafed by Japanese zeroes, because, in the 23rd Century, when you’re not daydreaming about Don Juan or medieval knights errant, you’re fantasizing about samurai and WWII Japanese fighting planes. It appears that Teller-Martine is struck by machine gun fire.
  • Back at The Glade, McCoy’s body disappears, and soon after, the Black Knight’s.
  • When Kirk’s old Academy nemesis Finnegan reappears, Kirk decides to go off chasing him as he tells Spock and Sulu to find McCoy’s body. Kirk and Finnegan go from sylvan beauty to Vasquez Rocks again. Finnegan taunts Kirk, seeming to vanish and reappear in unexpected locations. Everyone’s always after his Lucky Charms, it seems.
  • One of the longest, most boring fight sequences ever filmed follows. Finnegan finally fakes a back injury and then knocks Kirk out when he tries to help him. Kirk lies unconscious, his uniform tunic ripped just enough to show off his hairless pecs. And thus ends Act Three.
  • An aside: Are all fight scenes filmed at Vasquez Rocks boring?  I’m looking at you, Gorn.
  • Act Four begins with Kirk regaining consciousness. Forget for a minute that the fact that Kirk was unconscious at all means he’s suffered some heavy-duty head trauma. We’ll whistle past this Casual Knockout Moment, which is a trope that seems to span all of television and film. Concussions are no joke.
  • The long, boring fight continues, but beating the daylights out of Finnegan seems to be a cathartic experience for Kirk. Kirk and Spock seem to realize that they’ve landed on Fantasy Island at the same time. They run past the tiger, the samurai, strafing Japanese zeroes, and Don Juan. Kirk orders the gathered landing party to not think of anything.
  • Try that. Try not thinking of anything. Can’t do it, can you?
  • A distinguished-looking gray-haired man appears. He is the Caretaker of this planet, which is a giant amusement park. The Caretaker is like Mister Roarke or Robert Ford.  Or the recently deceased Walt Disney.  Anything one can think of can be manufactured on this planet, and none of it is permanent.
  • He proves this when McCoy reappears, with a couple of chorus girls who are replicas of dancers McCoy once met at a cabaret on Rigel II. Barrows claims McCoy from the two dancers.
  • The Caretaker offers Kirk and his crew the use of this Shore Leave Planet. He declines to tell them about his species or their home planet because “your race is not yet ready to understand us.” Which is a cop out, and lazy writing.
  • Kirk is ready to accept everything as perfectly safe, although Martine is still dead as far as I know. Accepting everything that the Caretaker says as gospel truth, he plans to allow the rest of the crew to beam down for the best shore leave they’ve ever had.
  • Kirk has decided to return to the ship until Ruth appears again. He changes his mind and decides to spend some time with a sexbot instead. He should know that the Delos Corporation is recording his thoughts and sampling his DNA the entire time he’s in the park.
  • A quick postscript on the bridge. Spock asks Kirk and McCoy if they enjoyed their “rest” on the planet. They both say they did and everyone laughs as Spock says, “Most illogical.”
  • I’m with Spock if this is a meta-comment on the purpose of this final scene.

Most people reviewing “Shore Leave” give it a middle-of-the-road to slightly higher score. Everything is subjective, of course. There are some things to like about this, I’ll begrudgingly admit. A few character moments with McCoy, mostly, who is emerging as the true Mac Daddy of this series. It’s also amusing to find out that Kirk fantasizes more about fighting than getting busy with Ruth.

But, a little amusement doesn’t excuse sloppy storytelling, faulty internal logic and giant bunny suits. This one gets a measly 2 out of 5 stars from me.

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