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.