Star Trek

Season 3 Episode 1

Spock's Brain

Aired Unknown Sep 20, 1968 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
185 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

Stardate 5431.4: The Enterprise is intercepted by a starship of unknown design and a woman from the ship beams directly into the bridge and uses a device to render the Enterprise's crew unconscious. She then walks over to Spock... When the crew awakens, McCoy summons Kirk to sick bay and informs him that the alien visitor apparently removed Spock's entire brain without even performing surgery. After Spock's body is fitted with a device that allows McCoy to control the Vulcan's motor functions with a remote control, Kirk starts a search for Spock's brain, hoping it can be recovered and somehow returned to Spock before his body decays.moreless

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  • Spock's brain is stolen, and Kirk and company try to retrieve it.

    It's the infamous king of the bad TOS episodes, though its faults are so lovable, "Spock's Brain" is more entertaining than "The Alternative Factor", "The Omega Glory", or "And the Children Shall Lead"... even if lacks the poetic title. (Why is it that the same series with titles like "By Any Other Name" and "The Conscience of the King" couldn't come up with something better than "Spock's Brain"? I suppose, however, that the lack of subtlety in the title matches the tone of the episode).

    Written by Gene Coon before he left the series, "Spock's Brain" is so classically bad, there's a persistent rumor that it was written as a comedy before being misinterpreted as a drama. (Coon, who agreed to polish up his work before leaving Star Trek, requested a pseudonym for be used for any of his work that was used in the third season so he wouldn't appear to violate the terms of his exclusive contract with Universal In truth, this episode is a serious attempt to create a science fiction story inspired by the first human heart transplant (performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard on December 3, 1967). There is merit in Coon's story, originally conceived by producer Bob Justman. It's interesting how we create devices that mirror how our brain internally handles our bodies, like air conditioning and heating to regulate temperatures, communication systems to exchange messages, and sensors to gather information. The idea of a human brain used control an entire underground colony is an interesting science fiction extension of a transplant, and offers the main characters with an exciting search.

    The execution of the story, however, is dreadful. To steal the brain, a scantily clad woman flies her spaceship to the Enterprise and uses her magic wristband to subdue the crew. (Why not just have her steal Spock's brain while he's on an away mission, as Coon's early drafts had it?) But Kirk follows her back to the planet, reasoning that if she took it out, she can put it back in. (Wouldn't it be better to chase her down in the name of justice and find out as a surprise that Spock's brain is still active?) Kirk takes Spock's body with, operating it by remote control, and eventually finds the brain he's seeking, which communicates in Leonard Nimoy's voice. (Unfortunately, we never actually get to see the brain, which makes me want my money Fortunately, the planet has a device (also known as a writer's cheat) that helps McCoy (with some advice from his patient) save the day... all without even messing up Spock's hair. (And here's where Star Trek really misses the boat: why not use its own established technology to make this more believable? Kirk could TRANSPORT the brain back into Spock's head and get around having to show the surgery. Heck, to make it more believable, Kirk could even use more sophisticated transporter technology available on the planet they're visiting!)

    It all ends with a joke and some laughter. Yet the real joke is that some NBC executive chose this over Coon's "Spectre of the Gun" (shot first) to kick off the third season.

    All the same, "Spock's Brain" isn't without some positives. It's one of the few episodes to use rear projection for the viewscreen, allowing the director to easily integrate its display with the actions of the characters. This leads to a nice scene where Kirk has Chekov punch up a chart of a solar system and has a discussion with his bridge crew while he stands in front of it and uses it for reference. It works from both a technical and story standpoint, giving a great visual while simultaneously offering a rare opportunity to see the crew collectively problem solving. (Maybe this is how they came up with a new hairstyle for The episode also features an original score by Fred Steiner that has portions reused throughout the remainder of the series.

    Yet the episode, with its female guest stars that add little of value and its ample padding to stretch out the story, is shoddy sci fi that's only entertaining as a guilty pleasure.

    Remastered Version: With the original effects cheaply done (except for a new ice planet sphere only seen in this episode), CBS Digital's upgrades here are a welcome treat. Apart from new shots of the Enterprise, we get a new ship for the brain thief, a more realistic planet, and a new matte painting for the beam down with the original beamdown shot composited into it. (This would be even better if the CBS team faded from the matte painting to the next shot, but instead the team simply cuts from its gorgeous planet vista to the small stage set the live action was shot on... which doesn't blend as well). Unfortunately, with all the action happening in front of the (rear projected) viewscreen, this is one of the few episodes CBS is unable to replace its contents (including previously mentioned solar system chart). Fortunately, the original effects hold up quite well.

  • Not as bad as people say

    Everyone always told me to avoid this episode cause it was "the worst" but I for one enjoyed it. The plot was good and everything made sense. The only reason you wouldn't like it is if you don't like Star Trek!
  • Cheesy good

    Mmmmmmm like grilled cheese sandwich baby.... So bad it's gooooooooooooooood. So funny I died laughing.
  • Oh the pain, the pain...

    (to borrow a line from another S.F. show's icon...)

    Caught this on the remastered run and if anything it's even worse then I remember. First up is the bad bad music cues. They beam Spock's body down to the planet, Kirk looks at in, zoom in on Spock's blank face, and... bombastic horror/music sting loud enough to rattle the windows. Cripes, the Horta didn't get this kind of musical buildup. Later when Kirk and the guys fight the Morg guards the music is equally blaring, and again there's an inexplicable cut to Spock's blank face for a "reaction" shot. Here's a hint, guys: there's no point doing reaction shots if the people you show don't have any reactions.

    I read Blish's short story adaptation and thankfully he omitted the whole remote-control windup Spock (which is noisier than the Tin Man from Oz: oil the joints, guys!). There looks like there are 10 buttons on the controller, and they keep hitting button number 1, so maybe they were rating this episode. One imagines Chapel helping McCoy perfect the mechanism.

    There's also a goofy cut to Sulu giving a supplemental log reading where he says... well, nothing we don't know already. The syndication cut even removes his finishing line about Chekov camped out on the planet.

    And of course at the end there's another god-like piece of technology that we'll never hear about again. Scotty even says he'd like a crack at it: why doesn't he or McCoy or the other 420+ crew just use it once each and dictate everything they know down. Then the Federation could be doing removals every week. Then again, we might get more episodes like this. Thankfully we were spared "Picard's Brain" in TNG. Although that's another bad thing about this episode: the title sounds like a bad 50s B-Movie. Also, if you're in the mood have a drinking game and take a shot every time they say "brain." Thankfully, you'll be passed out by the end of the episode.

    And there's cringeworthy moments like Kirk throwing himself on his knees to Kara to beg her for a chance to visit Spock. Ugh. And the unflattering torture belts. And the weird directorial touches like a camera shot through the helmet onto Kirk's face, or the dramatic frenzied-eye closeups of McCoy during the operation. Nobody does frenzied eyes like DeForest Kelley, check out "City on the Edge..." for another good example.

    Overall this definitely is a bad episode. All you can do is assume that everyone responsible for it knew it was a joke and wanted to pass that on the audience. Unfortunately, they seem a bit too sober-faced and you get the impression they really thought they had a winner on their hands. Oh well.moreless
  • Gene L. Coon's script played straight and executed badly

    Spock's Brain was actually penned by Gene L. Coon who intended the show to be played as a comedy. Unfortunately, the season 3 producer of Classic Trek, Fred Freiberger, didn't quite like comedies and decided to play it straight...which resulted in this catastrophe. In season 3, there were few comedic scenes except at the end of an episode such as when McCoy asks Kirk if he wants to look like Vulcan officer for the rest of his captaincy in 'The Enterprise Incident' or at the end of 'The Tholian Web' when Kirk is puzzled that McCoy and Spock never consulted his emergency recordings--in case he was dead or missing (and the rest of the crew quietly laugh). These scenes usually happened after the tension in an episode was resolved, however.

    Freiberger was a 'serious' science fiction producer and even David Gerrold recognised this when he wrote or rather re-wrote'The Cloudminders'--an allegory on social inequality. By the way, in Herb Solow and Robert Justman's 1996 book 'Inside Star Trek: The Real Story', Bob Justman candidly admits that it was he who suggested that Spock speak to and guide Dr.McCoy through the brain operation. Oh well, at least he admitted that this mistake. But no one could counter Star Trek's clear decline in quality as a result of NBC's budget cutbacks in its final season.moreless
Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy

Mr. Spock

DeForest Kelley

DeForest Kelley

Dr. Leonard Horatio "Bones" McCoy

William Shatner

William Shatner

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Marj Dusay

Marj Dusay


Guest Star

James Daris

James Daris


Guest Star

Sheila Leighton

Sheila Leighton


Guest Star

Walter Koenig

Walter Koenig

Ensign Pavel Chekov

Recurring Role

George Takei

George Takei

Lt. Hikaru Sulu

Recurring Role

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (21)

    • Kara says the knowledge lasts two or three hours, and McCoy says that's just enough time to do the operation. So... how did Kara earlier get the knowledge, go on an open-ended trip hoping to find a suitable brain, do the surgery on the Enterprise, and get back using the knowledge to pilot the ship?

    • When Kara activates the belt-torture devices, it only affects the landing party even though the Morg slaves are wearing the same belts. She only has three buttons, so how does she get such precise control?

    • Is Spock really so impressive that Kara stops with him and leaves with his brain? Maybe there's someone else on the next deck with an even better brain.

    • While performing surgery on Spock, McCoy seems to be standing with his hands at a noticeable distance from where the top of Spock's head is.

    • An entire scene is devoted to discussing which of three planets to send the landing party to search for Spock's brain. But there are hundreds of people aboard the Enterprise. Kirk could conceivably send a hundred searchers to each planet and still have more than enough personnel for a skeleton crew to run the ship.

    • As McCoy tries to reconnect Spock's vocal chords, Spock himself tells the doctor to "finish reconnecting my speech center" so he can help out. But given that he just manages to say that, there doesn't seem to be much, if anything, left in that area to reconnect.

    • Chekov heats a rock with his phaser without melting the snow right next to it.

    • Kirk orders phasers on stun when they enter the caves because he wants them conscious. However, "stun" doesn't typically leave its victims conscious.

    • Despite the reference to suit temperature controls which were used just after Kirk and the landing party beamed down to the planet, Chekov then has to heat a rock with his phaser to keep him and his guards warm. Why couldn't they just turn their temperature controls up some more?

    • Before beaming down to the planet, Kirk mistakenly says the stardate is 4351.5 instead of 5431.5.

    • After deciding to go to the Sigma Draconis system, Kirk orders Sulu to take them there at "maximum speed". Sulu acknowledges the order with "Warp Six", but the Enterprise's maximum speed is Warp Eight on the 2260s scale.

    • While discussing Spock's missing brain in sickbay, McCoy says he doesn't know how long Spock can survive without his brain, but only a few seconds later, he randomly puts a 24-hour time limit on restoring the brain to Spock's body. Does he know how long Spock has or not?

    • When Kara tells them the knowledge implanted by the teaching device last for three hours, McCoy comments that that would be just enough time to restore Spock's brain. Um, how does he know how long this surgery -- thousands of years beyond his ability -- will take? Even if he were using the removal as a reference point, putting the brain back in is bound to me a very different matter than taking it out.

    • When Kirk and the crew reach the underground city, he stuns Kara and removes the bracelet from her arm. After he removes it, the unconcious Kara quite deliberately lays her hand flat on the ground.

    • The remote control that enables Scotty to control the brainless Spock only has a handful of buttons on it, yet Kirk is able to use the controller do make Spock perform some pretty inctricate movements with his arms and fingers. This seems a little odd.

    • When they arrived in the system they said they were heading for the sixth planet in the system of Sigma Draconis, but in his captain's log about halfway through the episode, Kirk calls it Sigma Draconis VII.

    • The rocks that the male locals initially throw at the landing party float like the styrofoam they really are.

    • Spock has cranial surgery, twice, and has perfect hair both times afterward. That's pretty advanced technology!

    • Why doesn't someone else (Scotty or Kirk, or beam down someone from the ship) get their brain enhanced to do the surgical operation on Spock after McCoy loses it?

    • Kara gets her intelligence boosted and then pulls out a phaser from her clothing already set on Kill. How did she know how to set it to "Kill" before she got her brain enhanced?

    • Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty manage to sit upright in those teeny little low-backed chairs despite the fact they're unconscious.

  • QUOTES (9)

    • McCoy: I'll never live this down--this Vulcan telling me how to operate.

    • Spock: While I might trust the doctor to remove a splinter or lance a boil, I do not believe he has the knowledge to restore a brain.
      McCoy: Thank you.

    • Kirk: Readout, Mr. Chekov.
      Chekov: No structures, Captain. No mechanized objects that I can read. No surface consumption, no generation of energy. Atmosphere is perfectly all right, of course. Temperature, a high maximum of 40. Livable.
      Kirk: You have a thick skin.

    • (after McCoy's successful surgery restoring Spock's brain)
      Kirk: How do you feel, Spock?
      Spock: On the whole Captain, I believe I'm quite fit. It's fascinating! A remarkable example of a retrograde civilization at the peak, advanced beyond any of our capabilities and now operating at this primitive level which you saw. And it all began thousands of years ago when a glacial age reoccurred. You see, this underground complex was developed for the women. Men remained above. And male/female schism took place. A fascinating cultural development of a kind...
      McCoy: I knew it was wrong, I shouldn't have done it!
      Kirk: What's that?
      McCoy: I should have never reconnected his mouth!
      Kirk: Well, we took the risk, Doctor.

    • Kirk: No one may kill a man. Not for any purpose. It cannot be condoned.

    • Kara: You are not Morg. You are not Eymorg.

    • Kara: How will we live?
      Spock: You'll learn to build houses to keep warm. You'll work. ... Humans have survived under worse conditions. It's a matter of evolution. Give it time.

    • Kara: Brain and brain! What is brain?

    • (Engines start)
      McCoy: Call Chekov and tell him to send my stomach down.

  • NOTES (6)

    • In the 2007 remastered version of the episode, the ship that Kara arrives in is changed from a 1960s missile/rocket design to a more modern advanced ship that looks nothing like the original. The ice planet also receives a makeover, showing ice and snow in the longer matte shots.

    • For the first time, the main viewscreen image is rear-projected live during filming in order to allow the actors to interact with the display. Previous viewscreen images were superimposed after the scene had been filmed.

    • The opening theme music now features a mix of a female soprano and a Theremin.

    • In this season, the opening credits are in blue instead of gold.

    • This episode was written by Gene L. Coon under the pseudonym Lee Cronin.

    • Starting with this episode, the third season saw Star Trek moved to a death timeslot: Friday nights @ 10:00!