Star Trek Review: TOS – The Naked Time (1×04)

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Attention cooks, this is your captain speaking. I’d like double portions of ice cream for the entire crew.

This episode has something of a reputation, I suppose, as being a bit of a weird one. It is, after all, remembered primarily as the episode in which Sulu dances around shirtless, because they’re all space drunk. That is pretty much the long and the short of it, so I was expecting this to be quite poor. (I was also, I suppose, a little worried, given quite how bad that The Naked Now is – my fear being that the original would be as bad as its sequel was.)

Having watched it now, though, that was perhaps unfair. If nothing else, The Naked Time is actually pretty entertaining, Sulu and all. (Mind you; all the recent controversy about his sexuality, but by his third episode he’s asking his friend to come to the gym and do some workouts to relieve stress together? Interesting.)

What stands out about this episode is that it is actually… reasonably funny. Not in the regards that it wants to think it’s funny, of course; Kevin Riley singing and blathering on about ice cream wasn’t particularly amusing, but it’s Kirk’s exasperation that’s entertaining, or Spock sighing when he sees “Love mankind” scrawled across the walls – that sort of thing. It’s the moments where the episode reaches for humour that’s a bit more self-aware that the episode works; the rest of it is just a bit inconsequential. Perhaps it would have been better had it been a little bit more conscious of some of the implications of this virus; after all, the first person to come down with Psi 2000 is driven to madness and kills himself. We remember this episode as a bit of a camp runaround, but in places that’s quite dark – I can’t help but feel as if, had the episode been a bit more willing to take itself seriously at times, it might have been a little stronger.

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A question that is worth asking, though, is just how appropriate this episode is for when it is. I don’t mean 1966, of course, but rather the episode’s placement in the season. I can’t help but feel that this should have been something closer to the 15th episode, as opposed to the fourth; it feels very much like mid-to-late season filler, as opposed to the sort of thing you show when you’re still trying to define the concepts and characters of the show.

The idea, I think, is to explore the characters when they lose their inhibitions. Which is… a good idea, to an extent, though I would question just what some of these things are supposed to tell us. It does feel a little as though the choices were made on the basis of being entertaining rather than about their characters in some cases, though. And in many ways that’s the problem with this episode – because it happens so early on, the majority of the characters aren’t really fully formed yet. But here we are, starting with “this is what these guys are like when they’re not acting normally”. In a very real sense, we’ve ended up defining some of these characters in the negative. To some extent, it works, but it’s quite a misguided choice – we can appreciate it in hindsight because to us these characters are archetypes we’re quite familiar with already, but I can’t help but feel that this was a bad idea back in the 60s.

Spock is really the only character for whom this works, and there’s two reasons for that. The first is the simplicity of it; we’ve already been able to get a pretty firm handle on his personality, because it’s easy to understand. He lacks emotion. The opposite to that is also clear – when Spock loses his inhibitions, he has emotion. Makes perfect sense. And so, with this now, we actually are learning about Spock and about his character, and that’s a pretty cool thing to have here.

It really works, though, because Leonard Nimoy is a very skilled actor. When Spock is having his meltdown here, it’s absolutely note perfect; it would have been quite easy, I think, for this to slip into melodrama, but it’s actually quite well done. In all fairness, despite my reservations about defining the cast in terms of what they’re not, this sort of emotional turmoil and the battle to keep his human side in check is actually going to be quite important for Spock. Here is where we get perhaps the first glimpse of what lies beneath the surface, and it is really effective.

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The only other thing I have to say, really, is something that keeps occurring to me. Each of these episodes feel quite… strangely paced. To an extent, this is presumably just the fact that I’ve been trained on a much faster moving style of television, but I’m not actually so sure that they’re slow moving as such – rather, the scripts are all low on incident. Not much is actually happening, which means we take a lot of time to do not a lot at all.

It’s probably not so fair of me to single out The Naked Time for this, because it actually handles things far better than Charlie X or The Man Trap did; when we realise the virus has got out, there is a decent amount of tension as to the potential for the spread of the disease. (There’s an interesting moment where Kirk and Uhura start shouting at one another, clearly having lost their tempers; it feels like a hint that the virus is now airborne, and has got to them too, but this isn’t really explored further. It’s just a weird little moment there, that felt like something more.) But outside of that, I don’t really know that the script justifies a fifty-minute runtime. There should have been more of a focus on McCoy developing the cure, for example, alongside the rest of it. Much like the rest of the episodes I’ve seen so far, there’s a real lack of a B plot, and rarely enough exploration of the A plot. It’s all a little thin on the ground.

That’s not the biggest problem – I realise to an extent that’s just the style of the episodes, and it’s easy enough to tolerate. But it is a clear sign of the manner in which these episodes are still, to an extent, quite of their time. (To say nothing of the casual sexism that still permeates episodes; however, it was definitely nice to see both Uhura and Janice Rand taking on the conn at different points.)

Ultimately, The Naked Time was alright, actually. Undoubtedly it’s pretty naff in some places, but it’s got a fair amount of decent stuff too. I still just can’t help but feel it would have been better off had it been done a little later in the day.

7/10

Related:

Star Trek: The Original Series reviews

Star Trek: Discovery reviews

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