***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***
SERIES: Star Trek
EPISODE: S3.E1. “Spock’s Brain”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan
GUEST-STARRING: Marj Dusay
WRITER: Gene L. Coon (as Lee Cronin)
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: September 20, 1968
SYNOPSIS: A mysterious alien woman beams aboard the Enterprise and surgically removes Spock’s brain.
By Rob Siebert
We now move into troubled waters with the third season of Star Trek…
Star Trek consistently struggled with declining ratings, and was reportedly on the chopping block numerous times at NBC. To make matters worse, beginning with this episode, NBC began airing Star Trek Fridays at 10 p.m. Most certainly an undesirable time slot, particularly for the show’s younger fans. Fridays are a famously difficult night for television. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry would tell the Toledo Blade in 1968, “People who watch our show don’t stay home on Friday nights. They’re out to ball games and the like.”
Roddenberry would scale back his involvement in the day-to-day production of Star Trek as a result. He added that if the network wanted to kill Star Trek, “it couldn’t make a better move.”
An unfavorable time slot, along with a significantly reduced budget, put a significant damper on the show, both in terms of writing and general production. This cutback on quality is, for many, exemplified with “Spock’s Brain.” Generally, it is considered one of the worst, if not the worst episode of the original series.
“Spock’s Brain” wasn’t originally on my list of episodes for “Rob Watches Star Trek.” But when I saw the title and synopsis, I couldn’t help myself. It sounded like the stuff of B movie glory. Something I could love in the same vein as Kirk’s fight with the Gorn. And indeed, I got excited early on when Bones starts saying things like, “Jim, where are you going to look in this whole galaxy? Where are you going to look for Spock’s brain?”
Then the episode progressed, and I got it. “Spock’s Brain” feels spread thin in a way that previous episodes don’t. There’s a decent amount of padding, along with dialogue that’s often repetitive and stupid. That initial exchange between our heroes and the women of Sigma Draconis, for instance, made me wish someone would surgically remove my brain.
As if that weren’t enough, the episode has so many plotholes it may as well be Swiss cheese. We also have plot conveniences that are almost laughable. Cast in point, a magic device (shown below) that can teach anyone how to remove, then later restore, a brain with no lasting damage to the individual. Then at the episode’s climax, Spock is suddenly and magically able to talk Bones through said restoration process.
In another, better written episode? All this might have worked. But in this one? Nope. Not even close.
Still, the episode has some guilty pleasure moments. Our genius machine that can apparently teach a child how to safely detach a human brain? It’s essentially a big fish bowl with needles sticking out of it, and I love it. William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and James Doohan all seem to know they’re in a bad B movie, as they’re chewing the hell out of the scenery. Shatner especially. We even get to see Sulu take command of the Enterprise for a bit! Can’t say I expected that.
So does “Spock’s Brain” deserve the hate it gets? Does it deserve to be looked back on as one of the worst episodes of Star Trek? Yeah. It kinda does. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed for the sheer over-the-top lunacy that it is. When even your bad episodes are enjoyable. That’s truly how you know you’ve made something that will endure.
Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us out on Twitter.