The Great Star Trek Rewatch: Bread and Circuses

In search of the missing SS Beagle, the Enterprise comes across a planet remarkably similar to Earth, but with one key difference – even though it’s at a twentieth-century level of development, this is the world where the Roman Empire never fell. Now, Kirk, Spock and McCoy must beam down and search for the Beagle survivors, whilst trying to avoid getting enslaved – or ending up in the gladiatorial arena – themselves.

What is this, you might ask, a job lot on “parallel-Earth” type episodes? It certainly seems that way. Just two episodes after we had to put up with an Earthlike world where the Cold War became all-out war, we encounter a world where the Roman Empire never fell. Keen to cover their bases, the writers invoke “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development” as some sort of basis for the similarities, before piling it on way too thick – the inhabitants of the planet speak English, the other planets in the system have the same names as the ones in our solar system, and even Earth landmarks are duplicated. We didn’t need any of this – we would have accepted a similar-to-Earth world without overthinking it, instead of having our disbelief not only suspended, but completely shattered and crushed into tiny pieces.

So, the setting isn’t great, but what of the story itself? Well, it pretty much feels like it was patched together from many of the other Star Trek tropes we’ve seen this season. So, once again, it’s time to play…

Star Trek Bingo!

  • The landing party is comprised of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
  • McCoy argues with Spock about logic and emotion.
  • Kirk gets to kiss a beautiful blonde girl.
  • The landing party gets captured whilst trying to find a missing human from a previous expedition.
  • The captain of the SS Beagle has become a highly ranking person in the native society.
  • The landing party ends up in gladiatorial combat.

Notes and Nitpicks

  • Why does Scotty have to do this special power blackout thing? Can’t he do the ‘wide dispersal’ phaser thing from A Piece of the Action to stun everyone in the vicinity of Captain Kirk? Or maybe outfit them with subcutaneous transponders so that they can be beamed up no matter what?
  • Gene Roddenberry was notoriously keen for religion not to be a thing for future humanity, yet it has cropped up in this episode and the last. In the last episode, the M-5 computer spoke of “man and god”, whilst here the parallel Roman Empire is being threatened by a proto-Christianity, something which Kirk and McCoy seem delighted about, as if Christianity was the only way forward for this society.
  • Kirk hypocritically complains about Captain Merik’s interference in the Roman society and how it breaks the Prime Directive, right after interfering and breaking the Prime Directive by showing off advanced technology to the runaway slaves.
  • McCoy speechifies at Spock for no real reason. Which is a bit of a shame, as it’s an insightful speech about how Spock’s life is fraught with the need to always maintain control. It’s just a bit out of context, and it puts an added vitriol into their relationship which shouldn’t be there – their banter has always been more above the belt.
  • Spock engages in one-on-one combat for quite a few minutes before bothering to end things with a Vulcan nerve pinch. Why not just aim to do that from the start?
  • Why is English the language of the planet? Even putting aside how unlikely that is, if the Romans are the dominant society, why doesn’t everyone speak Latin, or one of its modern equivalents, such as Italian?
  • Starfleet Academy is referred to as “the space academy” in this episode.
  • A point from the last episode – Kirk made a point about how McCoy has clearance to go anywhere on the ship. What, like every random visitor who ever comes aboard? Hardly anyone has their movements restricted whilst aboard the Enterprise.

Summary – Bread and Circuses: Patched together from scraps of other Star Trek episodes.

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