The Great Star Trek Rewatch: The Naked Time

Yes, we’re finally here, at one of Star Trek’s most iconic episode – that one where Sulu brandishes a rapier in the corridors, and is ever more known only for his love of fencing. Anyway, to expand on that, in this episode the Enterprise visits imminently decaying planet Psi 2000, only for the non-Spock member of the landing party to contract a virus that is even more effective than alcohol at stripping away inhibitions. In short order, several key members of the crew are affected, rendering the Enterprise vulnerable with only minutes to spare before it burns up in the atmosphere of the dying planet.

The core of this episode is part fun romp, part character exploration, but while these parts are done well, it means we have to take several plot leaps to get there. If you’re a casual viewer just out for entertainment, and with the stomach to endure Lieutenant Riley singing “Kathleen”, then you probably won’t mind, but as the kind of geek who has chosen to blog in excessive detail about every episode of Star Trek, there’s a lot to point out. So, let’s dive right in with a whole new section that is likely to become a recurring feature.

Where Enterprise procedure is lacking

  • The infection, which is transmitted through perspiration (and presumably other fluids), is first brought aboard the Enterprise by a crewmember who takes the glove off his hazard suit whilst on the planet’s surface. Whilst I was pleased that Scotty made sure the away team were decontaminated when they returned, this still seemed like a stupid thing to do. I admit that the series would be less enjoyable if every away mission kept themselves in spacesuits all the time, but if they’ve gone to the trouble of wearing suits, why take them off? Then again, perhaps the suits were just magical thermal insulation suits, and were never meant to protect them from hazards.

Reasons for isolation suits on alien planets: Who knows what’s down there? There could be any number of contact and airborne poisons that the ship’s sensors failed to recognise.

Reasons against isolation suits: If something’s so alien that the sensors cannot detect it, it may actually be too alien to even infect humans. Or the isolation suits may not even be designed to protect against it – although some might say this is like arguing that there’s no point wearing a condom as it may split anyway. Also, clearly if there is anything deadly down there, a red shirt will die first and provide fair warning to the main characters.

  • Riley is able to take control of the Enterprise with amazing ease, and then lock himself into Engineering in such a way that the only way in is to laboriously cut through the wall and the circuits within. Even assuming that Riley is both a genius and an Enterprise sysadmin, why are there no failsafes guarding against this? The crew seem to be aware that people can go crazy in space, so why make it so easy for one person, however senior, to be able to take over all the systems and lock out the bridge?
  • Joe Tormolen – the first crewmember to be infected – reveals his doubts about space exploration and how shaken he was by discovering six dead people on the planet. As a product of its time, we can’t really blame the show for not doing it, but presumably in a future extrapolated from now, Tormolen would be suffering from PTSD and seeing the ship’s counsellor.

Character development

Seeing the characters stripped of their inhibitions is a great way to learn about them, and this episode doesn’t disappoint on that front.

  • Kirk: As captain, he’s disappointed that his position doesn’t let him bone Janice Rand, but more than that, infected Kirk is freed up to speak of how his duty binds him to the Enterprise, putting the pleasures of a simple life out of reach. The idea of Kirk being ‘married’ to the Enterprise is a strand that continues throughout the series and films – even if it doesn’t stop him having lots of ‘affairs’ with the alien beauties of the week!
  • Spock: Although he still shows some exasperation at his human crewmates, Leonard Nimoy is finally nailing it as Spock in this episode, with the calm and logical demeanour of a Vulcan, and just the right amount of banter with Dr McCoy. This episode also lets him play just the opposite, as the effects of the virus strip him of his control and reveal the deep emotions bubbling underneath the surface. There’s a real market for therapists on Vulcan.We also establish that Spock has a human mother rather than just a distant human ancestor.
  • Sulu: His hobby of the week is fencing. Take note of it as we continue to collect Sulu’s hobbies. Also, back in those days we didn’t know George Takei was gay, of course, but take a moment to see how eager infected-Sulu is to sneak off to the gym and get sweaty with O’Riley.
  • Christine Chapel: this is her first appearance (at least in this viewing order), and already we get to learn that she is in love with Spock – although she admits that even she doesn’t know quite why. We’ll see her mooning over Spock for much of the rest of the series.
  • Uhura is absolutely brilliant in this episode. When infected-Sulu barges onto the bridge brandishing a rapier, he sees Uhura and proclaims “I’ll protect you, fair lady”. Her swift response – “Sorry, neither”. Quite possibly my favourite moment of this episode.
  • Scotty gets to be both chief engineer and transporter operator here. He crawls about in a Jeffries tube, pulls off a miracle (with some mathematical help from Spock), and complains to Kirk that he can’t change the laws of physics. So all classic Scotty, then.

Other random oddities

  • At various points in this episode, Uhura takes the navigation station and Rand takes the helm. Either Starfleet training is so awesome that everyone has mastered every role (recall Sulu was a physicist when he came on board), or these jobs are so easy that anyone can do them. I guess it’s plausible that everyone has basic “keep an eye on that station and make sure nothing imminently bad happens” training, although surely much of that could be automated.
  • Tormolen manages to do serious damage with what appears to be a simple table knife.
  • Tormolen orders food with one of the same blocks of wood that pass for storage media on the Enterprise (a futuristic technology known as ‘tapes’). Is it like a punch card with his food order on it, or some sort of debit card? I know there’s no money in the 24th century, but it’s less clear as to whether there is still currency in the 23rd. Besides, we’ll be talking lots more about the economics of the Federation in later blogs.
  • At the end of the episode, we’re introduced to the slingshot effect that allows time travel in the Star Trek universe. Since time travel itself is a thorny issue, we won’t go into that in too much detail just yet, however this does feel a bit unnecessarily tacked on to the rest of the story. Also, the crew know they are travelling backwards in time because the clock on the bridge is running backwards, even though nothing else untoward is happening. Now, the clock might be measuring distortions in space and translating them into some kind of relative time, I guess (though relative to what?), but I really don’t want to introduce the effects of relativity and how that would affect Kirk and crew’s timeline as compared to that of someone living on Earth. For one thing, that would ruin all of Star Trek in a single stroke, and no one wants that. However, since most clocks are just measuring the frequency of some event, even if they start running faster or slower, there’s no real reason for them to run backwards. Maybe the bridge clock was just broken.

Summary – The Naked Time: Geeks, put aside your nitpicks (if you can), and enjoy some memorable character moments. And no, I’m not just talking about Sulu with a rapier.

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