Note: This review is part of the 2015 Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to check out this blogathon's complete schedule.
Writing about the original Star Trek in 2015 is like writing about The Beatles or The Wizard of Oz or sunlight. Everybody knows what it is, thousands of other people have already written about it, and at this point there doesn’t seem much left to add.
So rather than offer yet another tribute to the vision of Gene Roddenberry, or more praise for the show’s forward-thinking philosophy on race and class and technological achievement, and its optimistic view of mankind’s future, I thought it would be a more interesting challenge to find something praiseworthy in what is regarded by fans as the series’ worst episode.
That would be “Spock’s Brain,” the show that kicked off Star Trek’s third and final season. "Frankly during the entire shooting of that episode, I was embarrassed," was Leonard Nimoy’s recollection. And if you’ve heard his singing on “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” you know he doesn’t embarrass easily. Was it justified? Let’s find out.
Our story begins with the Enterprise approaching a mysterious alien craft. Before Captain Kirk can inquire if there might be any attractive young women aboard, one actually beams over, incapacitates the crew and then walks over to Spock and begins stroking his forehead.
Sometime later the crew wakes up. Spock has been moved to sickbay where a solemn Dr. McCoy informs the captain, “His brain is gone.”
“If it was taken out, it can be put back in.” Kirk responds, showing the quick thinking that made him a Captain. But McCoy warns that the procedure must be performed within 24 hours. Because, apparently, a body can’t survive without a brain for more than a day, unless it belongs to a Kardashian.
Thus begins the quest to reunite Spock’s brain with the rest of him, which requires the crew to beam down to a planet populated by cavemen wearing fuzzy blue skirts.
Sound ridiculous? Absolutely. But the next time this episode airs on MeTV and you’re tempted to change the channel, here are five reasons why “Spock’s Brain” is worth your time.
1. Marj Dusay
Before spending two decades on various daytime dramas, Marj Dusay was a frequent and always welcome guest star on many 1960s series like Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes and The Wild, Wild West. She specialized in seductive brunettes who try to lead good men astray. Removing someone’s brain is going to rather extreme lengths, but it does fit the pattern. As Kara, the woman who makes Spock an involuntary organ donor, Dusay also gets to deliver the episode’s most memorable and inscrutable line: “Brain and brain – what is brain!”
2. William Shatner Gives 110%
Every Trekker has his (or her) William Shatner-as-Kirk impression, complete with convulsive body movements, random pauses between words and other assorted histrionics. The thing is, you don’t see that Shatner in “The Space Seed” or “City on the Edge of Forever,” when the story could stand on its own merits. It was only when the script was lacking that he would try to forcibly inject some drama into substandard material. So when Uhura asks Kirk why someone would steal a brain, Kirk responds, “Yes…why…would…they…want it?” “Spock’s Brain” needs all the help it can get, and Shatner is happy to oblige.
3. It Makes a Perfect Drinking Game
As classic TV drinking games go, it’s hard to top the one for The Bob Newhart Show, in which participants drink every time a character utters the phrase “Hi Bob!” “Spock’s Brain” offers a variation on that theme: Count the number of times “Spock’s brain” is said by Kirk, McCoy and Uhura. If you’re drinking anything alcoholic, you’ll certainly start enjoying the show at some point.
4. The Sitcom Fadeout
Rarely does a Star Trek moment seem appropriate for a laugh track, but one certainly seems to be missing from the denouement of “Spock’s Brain.” After Dr. McCoy’s brain replacement surgery is successful, Spock immediately starts spouting dry scientific observations about the planet’s natives. “I knew it,” McCoy sighs. “I knew I shouldn’t have reconnected his mouth.”
5. It’s Still Better than “Threshold”
The reign of “Spock’s Brain” as the worst moment in Star Trek history ended in 1995. That’s when Voyager released “Threshold,” in which Captain Janeway and Tom Paris were turned into salamanders and had reptile babies. After that, this episode seems almost quaint in its silliness.
And here is one bonus reason to stay tuned: even substandard Star Trek is better than any episode of Dating Naked, Honey Boo Boo, The Real Housewives of Lompoc and much of today’s television, for which brains are also optional.