Star Trek: The Original Series episode 15 review

Our high definition retrospective of Star Trek's first season takes some Shore Leave...

Episode: 15Title: Shore LeaveStar Date: 3025.3Writer: Theodore SturgeonFirst Shown: 29th December 1966

One of the charms of the original series is its ability to have serious and dark stories followed by ones that are quirky and weird. Shore Leave is one of those odd episodes that seem designed to bemuse the viewer rather than tell us anything new about the characters or their lives.

The crew of the Enterprise is tired, and they arrive at an uninhabited world looking for some shore leave. The planet seems ideal, being entirely devoid of animal life, but soon those in the first away party start to encounter figments of their imaginations that appear entirely real.

Bones is the first to see something peculiar, when he sees a time obsessed white rabbit followed by a small girl with an English accent. He thinks he’s hallucinating, but it’s soon not only him that sees objects and people from their memories.

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Kirk imagines up a nemesis from his academy days, Sulu a pistol and a yeoman is attacked by Don Juan. Actually the two very attractive women they bring with them are rather revealing that this future reflects the sexist views of the era in which it was made; the girls scream, are in need of protection, and get excited by new outfits.

Not that the interest of Doctor McCoy in Yeoman Tonia Barrows (the lovely Emily Banks) isn’t understandable, but their blossoming romance isn’t continued beyond this story as this was the character and actress’ only Star Trek appearance.

The other Yeoman has appeared before, although a strange identity crisis surrounds her. Kirk calls her ‘Teller’, and in the script she was Mary Teller. But the actress Barbara Baldavin appeared previously in Balance Of Terror where she was Ensign Angela Martine, and in the credits she’s ‘Angela’. She’d appear in four episodes in all, three as ‘Angela’ and once as a ‘Communications Officer’.

Having watched this story again, this is a relatively easy one to pick holes in both the plot and the continuity. There is obviously something strange going on, but McCoy seems entirely distracted by Tonia, to the point where he doesn’t actually make rational choices. He’s not alone. Kirk takes a pistol away from Sulu, leaving him with a phaser. And it takes Spock to work out the connection of thoughts to the appearance of the real things, where it’s rather obvious early on what’s occurring.

What’s better is that in the final act there’s a deft switch from bemusing to lethal, when McCoy is killed by the Black Knight, and then Angela is shot by the Thunderbolt, Corsair, Harvard, Zero (pick your choice from the stock footage). And suddenly the crew need to start thinking more about what’s going on than just accepting it’s weird.

And then, almost like Mr. Benn, the Caretaker appears and explains that they’ve wandered into a galactic amusement park, somehow missing the visitors centre and numerous concession stands. Then McCoy reappears having been ‘fixed’ by the race that runs the facility, conveniently. We never actually get their names or what the cost per head entrance fee is.

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What’s good about it is that almost the entire show is shot on location, at both ‘Africa, USA’ (where Tarzan was shot) and the famous angled formations of Vasquez Rocks near the Antelope Valley. The mischievous Finnegan character that Kirk imagines is also really interesting, and many people wondered, with some of the new movie occurring at Star Fleet Academy, if he’d reappear.

The story was directed by Robert Sparr, who, according to at least one book written about this era, wasn’t much liked by the cast, explaining his single contribution.

Theodore Sturgeon was an experienced sci-fi writer, and would go on to produce the seminal Amok Time story that opened season two.

The remastering to Blu-ray of this episode is both interesting and revealing. They’ve replaced the ship graphics as expected, although in the original series the strangeness of the planet was signalled by the Enterprise orbiting left to right, which for whatever reason they didn’t recreate. The other changes are mostly to bring the colours out of the existing footage, which they’re done a spectacular job of.

However, in places the colour is distracting when it appears where you’re not expecting it. There are some scenes with McCoy where the amount of make-up he’s got on is very obvious. But the part that made me chuckle most was one at the end where McCoy reappears uninjured with Rigelian cabaret girls, one of whom ends up draped around Spock. She’s wearing some bright yellow fluffy creation, and when she moves away large amounts of the yellow colouring adhere to Spock’s tunic.

Shore Leave isn’t a pivotal story or much substance to deliver, but it did demonstrate that the show could be different when it wanted to be.

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Next up is one of my personal favourites, when Mr. Spock briefly gets his own command in The Galileo Seven.