The Great Star Trek Rewatch: Journey to Babel

The Enterprise is playing host to over a hundred diplomats as it transports them to a conference on the planet code-named Babel, and with so many different aliens on board, things are bound to get heated. The Tellarites are being aggressive and argumentative, the Vulcan delegation is headed by Spock’s parents – and someone on board is a murderer. Can Kirk, Spock and McCoy hold things together long enough to get everyone to the conference?

This really is a packed episode, and probably in one of the newer series it would have merited a two-parter. As it is, there’s lots to get through here, and it’s a great example of how much breadth and variety the Star Trek universe has to offer.

First up, this is our first look at Spock’s parents – the logical and dignified Ambassador Sarek, and the warmer and more personable human Amanda (mostly referred to as Mrs Sarek, alas). Even for a Vulcan, Sarek is cold towards his son, since Spock chose to join a military organisation instead of a career in the Vulcan Science Academy – although of course, secretly he is proud of his son. Amanda is keen that Spock doesn’t forget his human side, and even though she gets exasperated by her family’s logic, she does seem to believe that the Vulcan way is a better way, albeit a difficult one.

Assorted Vulcan facts

  • When he was a boy, Spock had a sehlat, which is the Vulcan equivalent of a teddy bear. A teddy bear, that is, that is alive and has six-inch fangs. There’s a whole episode of The Animated Series about young Spock and his sehlat, which was the only episode of The Animated Series to be considered canon.
  • Spock’s father Sarek is a sprightly 102, which is young for a Vulcan.
  • As a child, Spock was teased by his peers for not being a full Vulcan, and had to desperately not give in to the urge to cry. So much for Vulcans being emotionless, but then we knew that already.
  • Tal-shaiya is a Vulcan method for cleanly snapping someone’s neck. Vulcans may be peaceable now, but remember they had a violent past – and besides, if someone needs killing, doing it as quickly as possible is only logical.
  • This episode introduces the now famous Vulcan salute, which Nimoy based on hand gestures he saw during a blessing at synagogue. It also introduces the running joke that some people find it a hard gesture to make. I don’t find it difficult, but then again I spent my teenage years wishing I was a Vulcan.

Alien ambassadors

There are a wealth of different aliens aboard the Enterprise in this episode, but the main two aliens that are introduced here are the Andorians and the Tellarites.

  • The Andorians are blue-skinned aliens with antennae who describe themselves as a naturally violent race. I was always keen to learn more about them, but of course that required watching Enterprise. Along with humans and Vulcans, they are considered one of the founding races of the Federation.
  • The Tellarites are piglike aliens with a penchant for arguments. They too don’t get much development until Enterprise, when they too participate in the founding of the Federation.

If I Were in Charge of the Enterprise

  • Obviously for diplomatic reasons there are certain restrictions that can’t be placed on the ambassadors, but I probably wouldn’t let them near the warp core and bridge except on special supervised tours. And they wouldn’t get top secret descriptions about how the Enterprise computer works. Of course, given that vital control panels are located in the corridors, it might be hard to completely restrict access.
  • Why did Kirk have that whole fight with the Andorian before summoning Spock and security? Why doesn’t the captain have a panic button?

Bits and pieces

  • At the beginning, a purple girl with blonde hair can be seen chatting in one of the Enterprise corridors – could it be a forerunner of Trance Gemini from Andromeda (a Roddenberry idea that was turned into a TV series after his death)?
  • Going back a few episodes, Kirk claimed that Mudd and hs androids could not tempt the crew with precious stones because they could manufacture as many of them as they wanted on the Enterprise. Yet in earlier episodes mining for things other than dilithium did still seem like an important and profitable endeavour.
  • At the end of the episode, McCoy appears to break the fourth wall, but for the sake of sanity let’s assume that he was just talking to himself.
  • This is the first time that one alien species being surgically altered to resemble another is used as a plot point. Buckle up, because it’s going to be flogged to death from now on.

Summary – Journey to Babel: One ambassador aboard a ship usually means trouble, so many ambassadors is just that much more work.

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