To boldly go where no man has gone before…
I first reviewed a Star Trek disc for DVD Verdict on April 4th, 2000. It was Volume 8, containing parts one and two of “The Menagerie,” quite possibly the best episode of the Original Series. In that review, I lamented that it would be a long time before “Spock’s Brain” would be available on DVD. Well, that day has finally arrived, and now I have the dubious pleasure to review what is widely considered — cue the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons — the Worst Episode Ever!
Lovely go-go clad female “commandos” mysteriously appear on the Enterprise. As quickly as they appeared, they leave. What was the point of their clandestine operation? An operation all right…to remove Spock’s Brain! Yes indeed, the ladies took a five-finger discount on Spock’s highly advanced gray matter, and it’s up to Kirk and the rest of the Trek Gang to recover it! You’ll laugh! (At the ridiculous sight of McCoy leading Spock’s body around — sans brain — with a radio control unit.) You’ll cry! (At the insipidly bad dialogue, even by Trek standards.) You’ll hurl! (At the thought that this episode was ever aired, which it was, as the all-important season premiere for Trek‘s third season.)
The disc’s other episode, “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” finds the Enterprise once again playing intergalactic taxi service for a strange and unusual ambassador from one world to another. This particular ambassador is a box. No, you read that correctly: a box. Okay, so the ambassador lives in the box, but all you ever see is the box because supposedly the ambassador is so hideous to look at that he drives mere humans mad. Spock, fresh from having his brain reattached, can view it if he wears goofy red goggles. Oh, and the ambassador has a female human companion (played by Trek regular Diana Muldaur) who he doesn’t influence because she’s blind, but she does an admirable job of fooling everyone because she has garments designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier that serve as eyes for her, or something.
It’s time to buy a new thesaurus. The one I have only lists six synonyms for “hideous”: ghastly, grisly, frightful, repulsive, hateful, and revolting. None of those words is quite superlative enough to describe how mind-bendingly horrible these two episodes really are.
As we all know from the famous opening narration, the Enterprise was supposed to be on a five-year mission. It’s no wonder that we only got three of those five years on the air. Trek started out as something like “Wagon Train to the stars,” a conventional TV drama like the westerns that were popular at the time, only transplanted to the new and interesting environs of space, unlike the weird, trippy TV sci-fi of the time like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. Trek started off great; many of the series’ best episodes came from that first season, like “The Menagerie” or “Space Seed” (which served later as the inspiration for Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan). The second season wasn’t bad either, but the writers often fell back on trite attempts to put the crew of the Enterprise into environs that were familiar to Earthlings: the Roman gladiator planet, the American Indian planet, the Nazi Germany planet, the Chicago gangster planet. In the third season, they tried to veer back into pure science fiction, but the result was disastrously bad stories like the two on this disc.
“Spock’s Brain” very nearly leaves me speechless. From beginning to end, at every level and in every conceivable way, it is terrible. It plumbs the depths of Ed Wood Jr. badness, but therein lies its sole redeeming factor — it’s so bad that it’s fun to watch, if for no other reason than you can laugh at it. McCoy leading Spock around like a mechanical wind-up doll is only the beginning of its perverse joys. The Neanderthal-grade males who live on the planet refer to the smart females who live underground as the “givers of pain and delight.”…a howlingly funny, yet incredibly apt description of women no matter what planet you’re on. Spock’s brain, acting as a computer to control the female inhabitants’ underground lair, cluelessly thinks it’s hooked to a body. McCoy’s dire predictions, punched up to hyperbolic heights as never before, lead to a countdown timer until the time when supposedly Spock’s body will cease to operate. I guess they should’ve used Energizer batteries in that thingy they put on Spock’s head to replace his brain. The best…err, I mean, worst…part of the episode is watching McCoy, recently vitalized with medical knowledge, suddenly forgetting how to reattach Spock’s brain into his head. Oh, but wait! If he hooks up Spock’s vocal cords, Spock can walk him through it!
“Is There In Truth No Beauty?” on the other hand isn’t funny-bad; it’s just plain bad. The plot is so contrived and ludicrous that to get me to watch it again would require restraints of Kubrickian deviousness. This was Diana Muldaur’s second appearance on the Original Series. In the second season episode “Return to Tomorrow,” she played a researcher on the Enterprise who is a host body to an omniscient being. Later, on Star Trek: The Next Generation, she spent a season playing Dr. Kate Pulaski, McCoy’s female doppelganger. Why she was invited back after turns in such appalling episodes is beyond my comprehension.
All the Trek discs are alike, so once again I’m called upon to cut and paste the disc description.
Each of the Star Trek episodes have been digitally remastered, and they look as good as a television show from the 1960s can hope to look. The image is sharp and detailed with excellent color fidelity and no bleeding. The only problems with the image are inherent to the source material. The picture overall is a little grainy, particularly noticeable in special effect model shots, and can have a few blips caused by dust on the negative. The audio has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Keeping with its mono roots, sound is mostly restricted to the center channel. Directional effects are used for starship fly-bys during the opening credits, and infrequently throughout the episodes. The purist in me would rather have seen the mono tracks cleaned up and utilized, rather than an unnecessary remix. The only extra is the “preview trailer” for each episode.
Just as no Trekkie’s collection wouldn’t be complete without the discs containing “The Menagerie” or “Space Seed,” likewise you cannot be a true Trek fan without owning “Spock’s Brain.” Yes, it’s bad, but that’s precisely why you must have it.
You’re damn right it’s guilty! However, I see no reason to incarcerate it further.