Star Trek

Season 2 Episode 1

Amok Time

9
Aired Unknown Sep 15, 1967 on NBC
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  • Kirk must rush Spock to Vulcan for a mating ritual which turns into a battle to the death.

    10
    Capitalizing on Mr. Spock's popularity, Star Trek opens its second season with a visit to his home planet to look at the culture that shaped him. It's a landmark episode that the producers knew from the beginning was vital to get right, because fans would take something away from it that would forever shape how they view Mr. Spock, for better or for worse. For writer Ted Sturgeon, following his own law that "nothing is always absolutely so" this makes his story all the more ambitious, with the script playing against expectations, showing Vulcans in their most sexualized and illogical state. Yet the daring risk pays off, with the idea providing a forum for Spock to turn his internal battle into a believable external conflict between him and Captain Kirk.



    Fresh off a healthy raise, Nimoy throws himself into the unusual role with gusto, running Spock through more emotions in the second season opener than in the entire first season. While we see the first officer bear great sadness in "The Naked Time" and experience blissful joy in "This Side of Paradise", only Amok Time takes forces him to run the gamut, with anger, grief, and bewilderment added to the mix. Meanwhile, Shatner holds point, with the script generously keeping Kirk in the midst of most of the drama and putting the definitive stamp on Kirk/Spock friendship. (How far they've come since the pilot!) The Kirk/Spock fight to the death itself is undeniably the most memorable and best done fight of the original series. It's not the first between these two characters, but the environment, the way it's shot, and the lack of obvious stuntmen separate it from just about any other conflict the show has to offer. As a counterpoint, DeForest Kelley (finally part of the opening credits) gives an understated performance that illustrates the underlying friendship between McCoy and Spock.



    Yet it's Guest star Celia Lovsky (T'Pau), using her Austrian accent and impressive stage presence to create an incomparable Vulcan monarch, who sets the stage for Nimoy's finest moment in the episode. With the first Vulcan hand salute and the first mention of "live long and prosper", the two actors (who resemble each other in appearance) define the Vulcan culture in the way that's still the template all these years later.



    With a script that has a literary quality, complete with timeless homilies ("After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting"), and an all new musical score by Gerald Fried that's hands-down the best of the original series, the elements come together to form a mythic quality television is not known for. Director Joe Pevney ("City on the Edge of Forever") even employs some hand held camera shots to truly set the episode apart from the regular Star Trek offering.



    Amok Time would prove to be the only visit to the surface of Vulcan in the original series, making it all the more special. (It's also the only time the expensive costumes for the ceremony are used). T'Pau herself, played by a different actress, appears as her younger self in a three parter featured in the fourth season of Enterprise ("The Forge", "Awakening", and "Kir'Shara").



    Remastered: Surprisingly, there aren't a lot of changes for this one, but what little has been redone goes a long way. In addition to new shots of the Enterprise and a more realistic version of Vulcan (replacing a red tinted version of the "Operation--Annihilate" planet), CBS Digital adds a homely background to a picture of T'Pring that Spock looks at in his quarters. More notable, however, is what they've done with the Vulcan surface. With the episode including no location shooting, this was all originally shot on a (small) stage with a red cyclorama sky. Ideally, the CBS team would add clouds, architecture, or... something... to make it look more real. In this case, however, there are so many shots with the sky, some with hand-held cameras, that redoing it would blow the budget out of the water. So instead, the team replaces a live-action shot of Kirk, McCoy, and Spock walking to the arena with two CGI shots that show the (very small) characters walking to the arena (via a bridge) through a gorgeous Vulcan landscape, courtesy of two digital matte paintings. With the Vulcan city of Shi'Kahr (introduced in the animated episode "Yesteryear") in the distance and geology that's reminiscent of Vulcan's appearances in the feature films, it ties "Amok Time" into Trek's future. More importantly, it establishes the arena as being a highly elevated area with a sheer drop off each side, an idea that carries through the remainder of the episode, explaining why the characters stay in such a small area and why the sky is so featureless, with no architecture or geologic forms to break it up.

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