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The Importance of ‘The Naked Time’ (Star Trek: TOS, S1, E4)

In Berlin, the thing that excited me the most was not the Brandenburger Tor (which is cool), or Checkpoint Charlie (also cool), or a bit of the Wall (also cool), but Queen Nefertiti. And then, after Queen Nefertiti and the stuff from Schliemann’s Troy —

English-language cinema.


First, Iron Man 3. Then Star Trek: Into Darkness. And, for all its flaws, the latter was a good time. I’m glad I saw it in the theatre, and I enjoyed the ride. But it has reminded me of … well … Star Trek.

So now, when I’m not locked away reading books for fun or for work, I’m going to be watching Star Trek and Doctor Who. This will tide me over until the new season of Castle begins. And today I watched ‘The Naked Time.’

‘The Naked Time’ is the fourth aired episode of Star Trek back from 1966. In it, the crew of the Enterprise become infected by some sort of alien disease that Dr. McCoy can’t figure out, the result of which is to bring sublimated desires from the subconscious to dominate the entire conscious behaviour.

Most famously, the intrepid George Takei as Hikaru Sulu turns swashbuckler:

Another very famous moment is when Mr Spock has an emotional breakdown in one of the briefing rooms. He weeps and pours out his heart to Captain Kirk, saying that he’d never told his mother that he loved her — a poor Earth woman living on an alien planet. He admits that he feels shame when he feels friendship for Jim Kirk.

Kirk becomes infected. Kirk who is ridiculously caricatured by J J Abrams/Chris Pine as an incorrigible womaniser, declares himself wed to his ship (not unlike the Doctor in the first Neil Gaiman-penned episode of Doctor Who, ‘The Doctor’s Wife’). He notices Yeoman Rand, but there’s nothing he can do. There is no walk on the beach for Jim Kirk. The Enterprise is his love, and the life of a starship captain has no room for romance.

This is a very important scene that brings out the two relationships that undergird all of Star Trek, in an episode mostly remembered for its comic moments of Mr Sulu and Mr O’Reilly.

First, Kirk and Spock. The third in the triad is McCoy, but he’s too busy saving the day to bare his soul. James Tiberius Kirk and Spock are fast friends, bound together by the starship, by their past experiences, by a genuine affection. They work well together as commanding officer and science officer, and captain and his number one, as human and Vulcan, as one friend to another. The Kirk-Spock dynamic, where each is a foil for the other, where we see that they have a long history together, is what binds together the scattered episodes of Star Trek, from Gary Mitchell to Spock’s brain to Tribbles to Khaaaaaaan!!!!

This moment in ‘The Naked Time’ is an important step in the journey towards one of the most famous lines and moments in all of Trek:

I have been — and always shall be — your friend.

Second, Kirk and the Enterprise. No Orion Slave Girl could ever take her place in Jim Kirk’s heart. His sense of duty and calling will even keep him away from pursuing interest in Yeoman Rand and her beehive hairdo. Before all else, James Kirk is a starship captain. This fills his life and all of his adventures. The Enterprise is home to Kirk. Without her, he is lost in the 1980s … well, lost anyway. When we understand this, those many women, human and alien, whom he is so fondly remembered as having romanced, wooed, kissed — sometimes under alien mind control — make sense; he cannot lead a settled life with wife and children, so this is all he’s got. In ‘The Naked Time’, Kirk says of the Enterprise:

She won’t permit me my life. I’ve got to live hers.

He goes on to say to her:

Never lose you… never.

So do not underestimate any episode of Star Trek. As I make my voyage, I hope that even ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ will reveal some of the deeper undercurrents of the Enterprise and her intrepid crew.