>Star Trek’s Top Ten #1: Amok Time

>So, here it is. Forty years ago today, the very first episode of Star Trek aired on NBC. “The Man Trap” kicked off what would become a huge franchise and, arguably, one of the great American myths. For the past eleven days, I’ve counted down my favorite episodes of the orignal series. And now, at long last, we reach the top slot on my list with my all-time favorite episode, “Amok Time.”

Penned by celebrated sci-fi author Theordore Sturgeon, “Amok Time” kicked off the second season of Star Trek in a big way with a visit to Spock’s home world of Vulcan.

The story can be quickly summed up as “Spock goes into heat and must return to Vulcan to mate or die” but that is doing this classic episode a huge disservice. The story comes well into the Gene Coon era of Star Trek (Coon was a producer who helped shape Star Trek) and it shows all the trademarks of the era–solid story, humor, and strong, dynamic character work. The entire original series cast in on hand for this one, though the focus is clearly on the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic.

Spock is behaving strangely, demanding shore leave immediately on Vulcan. The Enterprise is on her way to Altair for a presidential inaguration ceremony but will have time to swing by Vulcan to drop Spock off. But then the ceremony is moved up two days and Kirk is unable to grant Spock’s request. At which point Spock supercedes Kirk’s orders and orders the ship to Vulcan.

Kirk finds out and is not pleased, leading to one heck of scene on the bridge. Kirk comes out of the turbolift and orders Spock to come with him. The two men talk in the turbolift, at which point Kirk orders Spock to sickbay to be checked out by McCoy. McCoy runs his tests and reports that Spock must get to Vulcan in the next several days or else he’ll die.

Kirk goes to ask Spock about it and off the record learns that Spock is experiencing the pon-farr–a Vulcan mating drive. He must return to Vulcan to mate with his bethrothed or else die. Kirk takes this under consideration and speaks to McCoy about it. Kirk analyzes the Altair situation, deciding the Enterprise is one of four ships that will be there–nice but not necessary. He decides his friendship with Spock is worth throwing away his career for and orders the ship to Vulcan.

This leads to one of the great, defining scenes for the big three in the turbo lift, riding up to the bridge upon arrival at Vulcan. Spock realizes McCoy has figured out what is going on and thanks him. He then says that there is a brief ceremony on the surface and says he may be accompanied by his closest friends as is his right. He asks both Kirk and McCoy to go, to which McCoy responds, “I would be honored sir.”

The trio beams down and meets the wedding party. It’s headed by T’Pau, the only person to ever turn down a seat on the Federation Council. We meet Spock’s bethrothed T’Pring and Spock begins the ritual, going deep into the blood heat. Hanging around in the background is another Vulcan named Stonn. More on him later. T’Pring halts the ceremony at one point, invoking the kunit-kalife, which is where she chooses a champion to fight to the death with Spock. The winner gets T’Pring.

T’Pring chooses Kirk, who agrees thinking he just needs to knock out Spock or get knocked out. He also doesn’t want to look weak in front of T’Pau of Vulcan. He agrees, not knowing the fight is to the death until it’s too late to back out. The two friends begin the fight with McCoy looking on. After the first round, Kirk is winded due to the thinner air on Vulcan. McCoy offers a triox compound to help Kirk breath and injects Kirk with it. He and Kirk discuss the fact that he’s going to have to kill Spock or else be killed.

The fight resumes and Spock kills Kirk in the battle. McCoy confirms this and tells Spock he’s in command. The two beam up to the ship. Spock finds that having killed Kirk, the blood fever has passed. He also figures out T’Pring doesn’t want him, but Stonn. Spock is becoming a legend on Vulcan and T’Pring doesn’t wish to be married to a legend. Her logic was if Spock won, she gets his title and estate while he’s off in Starfleet and she still has Stonn. If Kirk wins, he will release her and she can have Stonn. Spock releases her from the obligation and tells Stonn “You may find, in time, that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but it is most often true.”

Spock returns to the ship, prepared to surrender himself to the authorites only to have Kirk emerge from sickbay. Spock’s emotions overcome him and he smiles at the sight of Kirk alive. Seems McCoy slipped Kirk a mickey to knock him out and prevent Spock from killing him. Then Enterprise then gets a message that T’Pau pulled some strings and they won’t get in trouble for diverting to Vulcan.

The ship then heads out for its next mission….

As an episode, “Amok Time” has it all when it comes to Star Trek. You’ve got a solid story, great character work, good acting and some great action. The fight scenes between Kirk and Spock are superbly done and accompanied by the famous “Star Trek fight music.” The score was written specifically for this episode, though it’s used many times over in the upcoming episodes. It works best here and is memorable.

The peformaces by regular and guest cast alike are univerally superb, though the highlight is Leonard Nimoy as Spock. The struggle we see with our usually stoic Spock is shown to us in body language a lot. We see Spock’s arm quiver nervously and there are times when Spock succumbs to emotions of anger and rage, which we see played out on screen. Nimoy goes from rage and upset to being the stoic Spock on a dime.

It’s also an episode that epitomizes what the big three were all about. The friendship and loyalty between Kirk, Spock and McCoy is great–from the scene in the turbolift to the scenes on Vulcan. McCoy serves as a great sounding board and friend for both Kirk and Spock in this episode. He’s the one who spurs Kirk onto action early in the episode, noting that Spock is acting strangely.

It’s the perfect balance of all the elements of Star Trek in one episode. And there’s not one plot thread left as a loose end when it’s all wrapped up.

Now, it does feature another left-in blooper from the filming, though it’s not as obvious as the one used in “Space Seed.” It’s easier to spot if you know where to look for it. In the third act, as Kirk speaks to T’Pau about the pon farr, Spock is in the background of the shot. Not knowing it was a wide shot and needing to be in character, you can see Nimoy leaning against the set. He then realizes the cameras are rolling and snaps back into character. Again, not as obvious as the “Space Seed” thing but it’s still there and something to watch for on the 700th viewing of the episode.

And so, there you have it–my top ten of classic Star Trek. I hope you enjoyed it and I thank all of you for your indulgance in reading my ranting about one of my favorite shows.

Happy 40th anniversary to Star Trek.

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