The Great Star Trek Rewatch: This Side of Paradise

When the Enterprise visits the planet Omicron Ceti III, they anticipate visiting the site of a tragedy. Three years ago, an Earth colony made their way out here, but the deadly Berthold rays that bombard the planet would surely have killed any humans who ventured to the surface long ago. Imagine their surprise then, when all the colonists appear alive and well – in fact, in impossibly good health. Could it be something to do with the mysterious alien plants that grow all over the settlement – plants that emit spores that can cause even the stoic Mr Spock to lose all emotional control?

Three episodes ago, we saw the Enterprise crew in danger of being absorbed into a vacuously blissful culture, and here it is happening again – right after a pair of really good episodes. With that in mind, This Side of Paradise feels like a much weaker entry, albeit one with quite a different spin on it to Return of the Archons.

Whilst most of the crew just get to act like they’ve broken into Dr McCoy’s secret stash of painkillers, the true focus here is Kirk and Spock, each of whom react to these spores of bliss in different ways. For Spock, they allow him to express the emotions he has spent his entire life suppressing; he can smile, laugh, play, and even reciprocate the feelings of a woman who loves him – yes, for once, Spock gets the girl instead of Kirk!

Kirk, on the other hand, has a quite different reaction. We’ve talked already about his only long-term relationship is with the Enterprise, and, loathe as I am to talk about the dreadful Star Trek V, it does see Kirk resist Sybok’s brainwashing because he “needs [his] pain”. Here, it’s Kirk’s strong ties to the Enterprise and his duty that lets him overcome the effects of the spores and save the day. He even picks a fight with the freakishly strong Spock to help Spock break free, giving us a fight scene, the sad sight of Spock losing his emotional freedom, and a feeling that Kirk goes for those anti-Vulcan a little bit too easily. Many a true word spoken in jest, and all that.

Character facts

  • Despite his previous interest in botany, Sulu doesn’t seem that bothered by the work of the botanist on the landing party. Maybe he’s moved on to new hobbies.
  • Back on Earth, Spock caught the eye of Leila Kalomi, a botanist. Leila has loved Spock for years, but without the aid of bliss spores he does not reciprocate her feelings. Spock claims he cannot love Leila, but since his father married a human, we know that Vulcans can develop intimate relationships with humans. Of course, Spock has always had to work that much harder to control his emotions than a full Vulcan, which probably makes it harder for him to let go and openly feel romantic love for someone. Or maybe he’s just asexual.
  • McCoy once had his tonsils and broke two ribs.
  • Spock has another name, but to us mere humans it is unprounceable.

Could this incident have been prevented?

I feel like incidents like this should be guarded against – had Kirk not been able to resist the spores, the entire crew would have beamed down to the planet’s surface, and apparently been unable to even get back to the Enterprise. I guess ideally the crew would have gone down in environmental suits that would have stopped the spores, but we know that that’s never going to happen. At the very least, checking for human life before going down would have been a good idea, as well as some safeguards to make sure the spores could not have been beamed directly aboard – enforced beaming to a decontamination chamber perhaps. Also, the Enterprise ventilation systems should have been set to filter out the spores, so that the entire crew would not have been affected.

Most illogical, Captain

  • Why would tonsils or appendices grow back if no scrap of tissue remained? Also, how did McCoy’s tonsils even grow back so quickly?
  • Since the planet had no animals or insects, how were all those plants getting pollinated? Wind pollination does occur, but it’s not especially directed or efficient, and would be insufficient for growing crops.
  • Were no surveys made of the planet by starships like the Enterprise or small scouting crews before sending out an entire colony’s worth of people and animals? Sending out a colony to a world that turns out to be deadly sounds like a terrible waste of lives and resources.

Summary – This Side of Paradise: For the first time in my life, I was happy.”

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