The Naked Time – First aired on September 29, 1966
It might seem like the concept of “let’s get our whole crew drunk and have them do ridiculous things” is a little bit simple at first. However, one of the tricky side effects of alcohol is that it tears down the walls of inhibition that we place in our minds. This often results in us saying things that we otherwise would never even dream of uttering aloud. Usually, this just results in superb moments of embarrassment. We get plenty of that from the Enterprise crew, as well as an intriguing look at some of the deeper thoughts and motivations buried within their personalities.
Of course, the crew doesn’t become inebriated through drinking, no Starfleet Officer would ever be drunk while on the job! No, the crew isn’t done in of their own accord, but rather by the inability of a certain Lieutenant Joe Tormolen, to follow standard procedure. The Enterprise has been sent to monitor the breakup of a planet, and when they get there Joe goes on an away mission with Spock to investigate the strange deaths of some scientists. Joe removes his glove because of an itchy nose and comes in contact with some blood-like substance. We never find out if it was blood or if it was something else (they do call the thing affecting them a virus, but the virus could still have been contained in another organism). Personally, I like to think that it was not blood. The reason for that is because when we see the clip of the substance dripping onto Joe’s hand, it “drips” sideways. It is possible that gravity was doing some funky things on this planet because it was beginning to break up. I find that unlikely though because a shift in gravity would have affected other things in the environment as well, such as Joe himself, but that didn’t happen. I prefer to think that maybe this red liquid was some kind of life form, perhaps one that was indigenous, or perhaps one that evolved due to the circumstances of the planetary breakup. At least that would explain why it seems to defy the laws of physics. It also gives the episode a much creepier tone when you see a goopy red life form reaching out and infecting Joe rather than just a sideways blood drip.
When Joe and Spock return from their mission, they are both medically cleared to continue their duties since McCoy can find nothing wrong with them. Joe heads to get some food, but he winds up having a meltdown in front of Sulu and Lieutenant Riley where it becomes apparent that the deaths of all the scientists/mannequins has really gotten to him. He eventually brings up what is probably one of the core questions that Star Trek tries to answer, is man supposed to go out into space? Joe brings up many points, basically focusing on the fact that man was not designed to go out into space and that by being out there we are endangering ourselves and “polluting” the space around us. I think that this has been a pretty constant question ever since humankind sought to explore beyond our planet. There are even some recent events that show us just how dangerous it can be out there even with all of our modern technology. As the son of a NASA engineer, I most assuredly am biased on the subject, however, I think that the benefits we have gained from space exploration, such as new technologies, new ways of seeing and understanding our planet, improved international unity through the ISS, etc, far outweigh the risks involved.
Joe, unfortunately, is too distraught over not belonging out here and is too confused as to why these people/mannequins had to die and not him. He finally ends his tirade by resorting to suicide. When Sulu and Riley try to stop him, they become infected as well. Once he is fully infected, Sulu doesn’t concern himself with any deep philosophical questions like Joe did, instead he just grabs a fencing foil and starts chasing around the crew pretending he is a swashbuckler. While he may not be contributing much tot he heart of the episode’s theme, I love this scene because we finally get a solid Sulu character moment. We see that he is a fun loving guy, slightly mischievous, who is, at heart, an individual seeking adventure. In a way, this does bear some relevance to the questions Joe brought up. It could well be that this is Star Trek’s way of saying that space exploration is truly one of the greatest adventures out there. Why else would someone who craved adventure so much be on the Enterprise? If Sulu thought it was boring he could have just stayed on Earth and done something else, but instead he chose to be on the Enterprise. Not only that, but he is also the navigator most of the time, so he gets to be the person who controls this ship and sends it on all of its adventures.
While Riley isn’t a main character (he only shows up in one other episode) he sure does make his day in the spotlight count. Since he doesn’t require any character development, he gets the enjoyable task of causing mayhem across the Enterprise. This is probably one of the funniest, yet supremely annoying moments in the entire series. The “all of a sudden extremely Irish” Riley gives Spock some smack on the bridge, and then proceeds to infect Nurse Chapel, make fun of his dead friend Joe, and take over the Enterprise from Engineering. Once there he proclaims himself captain and begins to serenade the crew with his rendition of an Irish folk song (poorly). I found an interesting interview with him here and a nice compilation of all his shenanigans, unfortunately I couldn’t find one cohesive clip. After listening to how he sounds today though, I think we are lucky he sang the song back then, I’m not quite sure what happened to his voice but it sounds like some serious smoking was involved!
Spock eventually heads down to check in on McCoy and his search for the cure, but all he gets out of the trip is a babbling Nurse Chapel who has been infected and now feels the need to express her strong hidden love for Spock. Perhaps due to his Vulcan physiology, or perhaps due to the need of the plot to keep moving, Spock feels an immediate effect when Chapel infects him. He turns her advances down, but we see that he is truly sorry that he must and that he understands the difficult feelings that she is experiencing. On the heels of this rare sign of emotion from Spock we get even more when he goes off alone to try and regain his calm and collected manner. In what was interestingly an unscripted and single take scene devised by Leonard Nimoy himself, we see Spock verbally battling his loss of emotional control. I think that this scene is pure gold because it does a great job of showing us what must be going on in Spock’s half human and half Vulcan mind every day; he simply exercises his emotional control to keep it in check. Ultimately, Spock isn’t able to succeed in controlling himself until Kirk slaps some reality back into him in the scene below.
In what is probably one of the best Kirk and Spock moments of the show, we get a glimpse of what is just below the surface of these two. With Spock, we see that he really does care about Kirk and their friendship, that he is more than capable of forming emotional connections such as with his mother who he admits he loves, and that he is deeply ashamed of all of this. With Kirk we see that he is completely devoted to the Enterprise but that he is tormented by the toll it takes on him. “This vessel. I give, she takes. She won’t permit me my life. I’ve got to live hers”, he says. It seems like every captain has to face these issues at some point in Star Trek, and any decision that has to be made that involves the ship is always a more difficult one than it may appear to be. The preeminent struggle, at least for Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and to a lesser extent Archer is that they are married to their ship and that prevents them from devoting themselves entirely to any romantic relationships (Janeway was 70,000 light years away from her husband so we don’t get to see a whole lot of this from her and any that we do see is more geared towards the fact that she is already spoken for). I think it will be very interesting to see if this concept ever becomes prevalent in the reboot movies.
Thankfully, McCoy finds a cure at the last second, and Spock and Scotty manage to figure out how to perform a cold restart of the engines so that the Enterprise can get away in time. No pun intended there of course since the act of performing a cold matter/anti-matter implosion actually causes the ship to go back in time so that they are now three days in the past. This of course sets up future time travel opportunities for the crew later on in the series.
The only thing I don’t understand about the ending here is that usually Kirk gets into some sort of shenanigans when he dabbles in time travel. Here however, he simply moves on. He could have gone back to meet himself and his crew as they orbited the planet, and he maybe even could have tried to save Joe before he killed himself! I guess since it was his first time going back in time, he didn’t have a timely realization of all the time possibilities in time to act.