Do you realize the number of discoveries lost because of superstition, of ignorance, a layman’s inability to comprehend?
Not knowing a lot about this, I kinda assumed – going by the title, and the infamous outfits – that we’d be in for another hour of sexist nonsense. I’m glad, frankly, that this wasn’t the case; three awful episodes in a row really would have been pushing close to the tipping point. I had set out on this rewatch to try and understand just why people love Star Trek – I wouldn’t want to end up hating it. (If nothing else, watching The Original Series has given me a much deeper appreciation of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine!)
Thankfully, however, this episode is not that bad. I would actually be inclined to call it good! At this stage I think I can finally stop making those pacing complaints, because we’ve got to the third or fourth episode in a row where, actually, the episode doesn’t feel overly padded, or as though it could easily have been cut down. (Equally it’s actually possible that I might have just gotten used to the style of the episodes now, so it’s not really something I notice particularly anymore.)
We’ve also got some more intellectual aspects – thin ones, but they’re there nonetheless – and some interesting science fiction conceits. The characters are treated reasonably well, there’s some rather intelligent twists, and the writing is actually quite strong throughout. While What Are Little Girls Made Of? is far from the best of the episodes I’ve seen so far (honestly I’m still inclined to give that title to Where No Man Has Gone Before), I think it’s among the stronger episodes. It is, perhaps, in many ways the median – it has the strengths you’d expect, none of the weaknesses we’d want to avoid, and is basically quite entertaining. All in all, a good episode.
Notable here is Majel Barrett’s Christine Chapel, who has here what is surely the largest role for a female character… well, at all, actually. Arguably you could say Elizabeth Dehner in Where No Man Has Gone Before perhaps came close, but even then, it’s not exactly comparable – Chapel is the Starfleet member with the most screen time bar Kirk, taking a role which you’d typically expect to be filled by Spock. I think it’s really nice to see her get this more substantial role, even if it was perhaps because of her relationship with Roddenberry that it happened. (At the same time, that feels perhaps unfair; I do think Majel Barrett is pretty good in this episode.)
It’s interesting, actually – and this has just occurred to me now – but there are some similarities between this and The Man Trap, aren’t there? In some ways, McCoy and Chapel parallel one another here, trying to reconnect with their past lovers, but ultimately having to confront the fact that they are very much a different person now – be it a salt vampire or an android. That, perhaps, might have been a nice thing to tack onto the end; McCoy and Chapel talking to one another in sickbay, having a bit of a heart to heart. In the end, though, there wasn’t time for that. It’s a shame, I suppose, that we don’t necessarily get that sort of character moment – it’s just some closing banter being Spock and Kirk. (I realise, of course, there are some people who would much prefer banter with Spock and Kirk to a conversation between Chapel and McCoy. Oh well, I suppose; can’t lose sight of the fact that this is, or ultimately should be, an ensemble program.)
Dr Korby was an interesting character as well, because he presented an alternative viewpoint – yet he was never quite an unsympathetic character, was he? He had an alien perspective, certainly, but it was one he believed in wholeheartedly and one he was able to back up reasonably well. I do worry, admittedly, that this might become something we’ll lean in on a lot; I already know that “humans justifying humanity” is quite the theme in Star Trek, and while I do think it was handled reasonably well here, I’d hope we can get a better argument in future. After all, just listing a few positive emotions in counter to negative ones isn’t really a particularly cogent case for why we shouldn’t all just become androids – far more interesting was the point about programming, which would perhaps have felt quite resonant at a time when WWII was still a recent memory for many.
What’s also worth noting, though, is something I’ve not really commented on so far – the production values. It struck me during one of the underground sequences, actually – specifically the creation of Kirk’s android – that this episode must have been a rather expensive one to produce. There’s obviously this reputation for all these old episodes being really cheap, made out of cardboard on a shoestring budget, but honestly, it doesn’t quite show here – it all looks pretty stylish, for the most part, and it’s generally quite effective. I imagine there are quite a few recycled sets here – it hasn’t been lost on me that we’re in an underground rocky place again – but nonetheless, it is rather impressive.
I quite liked the look of Ruk, the android; he’s essentially our first unfamiliar humanoid type figure, and he’s got an impressive sort of style. Good work on the design there. It’s also worth remarking on the costumes by William Ware Theiss, who’s quite an important figure on all the early days of Star Trek – those strange costumes for the women were typically his design. He had quite an interesting rule, actually, where he posited that you could get away with showing as much flesh as you wanted, so long as you still kept certain areas, such as the bellybutton, concealed – consider the outfit in this episode, with the two diagonal lines of fabric crossing at the bellybutton. Costuming isn’t really my forte, to be honest; you’d have to go elsewhere to find an intelligent discussion of what the clothes of Star Trek ultimately mean in the end. But still, it’s important to pay heed to these individuals who were notable at the beginning of the show.
In the end, What Are Little Girls Made Of? was a decent episode. It’s not great, to be honest, but nor is it awful – I described it as largely average earlier, but I’d say if this (an entirely competent and entertaining piece of television) is your average, the show isn’t in a bad place.