Captain's Blog pt. 46: Plato's Stepchildren

I knew from the start of this project that I'd end things with a TOS top 50. (In my head, I hear a radio ad campaign: It ends where it all began... narrated by Morgan Freeman.) But I wasn't sure how I was going to approach it. I knew I didn't want to do an episode-by-episode re-watch, nor just transmit production details nor anecdotes. All of that stuff is great fun, but it's well-covered terrain.

Does anyone really need another reiteration of why "Turnabout Intruder" is so awesome stupid?

And while I liked the idea of a "Top 50," I didn't really want to approach it like a countdown. And I certainly didn't want to spend time summarizing any plots. I listen to the Mission Log podcast and read all the re-watches out there, and it amazes me how much time is spent recapping the episodes. Surely if you're listening to a Trek podcast or reading a re-watch online, you know that info already? Or know how to look up Memory-Alpha or any of the thousand other sites that exhaustively detail each episode?

At the same time, what was I going to do, just some random smattering of episodes, with no production detail? That struck me as an unfulfilling end to the Captain's Blog project. So, I compromised. I decided to rank every episode (and if you stay after class, I'll show you the spreadsheet; it's a work of art. You can sort the data by "Does Chekov Scream?" "Kirk Insanity," "60s-ness" and many other fun columns) but instead of presenting it in countdown format, I'm just going to riff on whatever episode of the 50 I whittled down as best/ personal favorites I want to riff about that day.

And to keep it fun for myself, I'll award points the way Clive Anderson did in the original Whose Line Is It Anyway? Slightly more scientific, but not very.

Have you guys ever played around with TV Tango? I love thinking about what was on when this stuff aired for the first time. Gives it all a whole different context. "Plato's Stepchildren aired on November 22, 1968, against Judd for the Defense on ABC.

Let me walk you through what you can expect going forward via an episode that is not in my own Desert Island Top 50, "Plato's Stepchildren."

SCRIPT / THEME: Because sometimes a script is terrible, but the idea or theme is kind of cool. Actually this happens often. Take "Plato's Stepchildren." It has some good lines and ideas, but the execution is ridiculous; the pacing is off, the set-up is flawed, inconsistent characterization (a hallmark of Season 3 episodes) and the arcs/ acts are problematic. And it undermines the niftiness of the theme, i.e. these aliens escaped their planet when it was destroyed - I'm sorry, when it "nova-ed," as Parmen says. I really want to see a planet go nova - went to Earth and lived as humans in the time of Plato, then took off again for the stars and settled on a planet where a rare and unique element -

which, naturally, McCoy can replicate from random stuff in his medkit -

turns them all into telekinetic blobs of lazy sadists. Except for Alexander, of course, the little person whom Kirk treats kindly and sticks up for.

I mean, this is a wacky assemblage of ideas. But it's kind of awesome, too, and I'd wager a big part of why TOS has such long-standing appeal is for stuff like this (or "The Savage Curtain") as much as it is for any of its more celebrated moments. It's almost a given for TOS that at some point someone will say "Yeah I know (this one or that one) sucks, but it's a personal fave/ guilty pleasure." POINTS AWARDED (out of a possible 10:) - 10 / + 5

SHATNER: If you only watch the show as a delivery mechanism for the blitzkrieg of insanity from William Shatner, then none of the above (or below) matters, of course.

And nor should it.

Unlike most other shows, entire episodes can become classics simply because they contain four or five seconds of Shatner-craziness, hence his having his own category.

POINTS AWARDED (out of a possible 10:): 10. To give you an idea, this category always yields at least 1 point, as Shatner gets a point just by showing up. Whereas "I am Kirok" gets at least 50.

VISUAL DESIGN: This is an umbrella category for fx, set, costumes, and lighting, all things TOS really excelled at for its time. Me-TV here in Chicago plays this as part of a Sci-Fi Saturday, and this really sticks out in-between Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Sure some of the fx are dated, but that gives everything a unique flavor, as well. This is undermined by the digital re-imagining of the series.

(Expect a lot of crankiness on the digitized episodes over the next 50-ish posts.)

"Plato's Stepchildren" is a good example of the sets/ costumes seeming to be surplus from the studio store or other productions. Not uncommon for TV in general but specific to TOS Season 3, it was mandated that every third episode had to use pre-existing sets and costumes.

At the same time, I'm happy to reward points for an episode that exploits its paucity of set design to great effect, such as "Spectre of the Gun." But for "Plato's," it's nothing special. (And in the case of some of the telekinetic fx, you can see the strings in a lot of shots.) POINTS AWARDED (out of a possible 3): 1.5

TITLE: Moreso than most shows, TOS had some wacky titles.

Sometimes they encourage you to read the episode through a much different lens. That's the case here. I'm not a Plato expert, nor does one need to be to understand the story. But it's an interesting frame for this story and nudges you to consider the actions of the characters along Platonic lines. The script keeps insisting the Platonians represent a corruption of Ancient Greek ideals, and that's certainly arguable. But does making them "step-children" suggest something else? Frankly, the script is messy enough where I don't feel the need to delve much deeper, but perhaps the episode is meant as a metaphor for the debate between between Platonic and Aristotelian theorists. (Or maybe it's named that only to make me wonder that.) POINTS AWARDED (out of a possible 3): 2.

INTERNAL LOGIC/ CONSISTENCY: I'll be pretty forgiving in this category, as all the Trek continuity we've been examining over the past 45 blogs was still forming over the 3 seasons of TOS. That's important to keep in mind; what we examine here was in no way assured of its immortality. For all these guys knew, they were making something as lost to TV oblivion as the aforementioned Judd for the Defense. Still, there are times where an idea is not well thought out, is inaccurately presented, or contradicts itself. In "Plato's Stepchildren," it's mainly the telekinesis.

I mean, making people walk funny is one thing...

but how exactly do the Platonians make people laugh and cry and speak in verse? This is a use of telekinesis that stretches the concept beyond plausibility. Or at least makes you ask why if they can control stuff like that, why can't they just heal themselves? If they can reach into your body and make your organs do stuff/ provoke chemical reactions, it stands to reason they could pummel bacteria to smithereens.

I was going to continue in this fashion, then I caught myself wondering too much about it / ready to go down an internet rabbit hole looking up corroborating info and smacked myself, Captain Kirk style. I'm just not going to get into a serious biological/ chemical reaction discussion via "Plato's Stepchildren."

POINTS AWARDED (out of a possible 5): - 10. (Additionally, the Platonians display a knowledge of Earth-isms like Pièce de résistance or the Mexican hat dance that seems well beyond them, not being telepaths or having any access to the Enterprise computer.)

GUEST: Almost every TOS episode features a substantial guest part. I guess most TV does, sure, but a strong performance or characterization for the Featured Guest (or Guests) of TOS has a definite impact on how I process the episode. This episode features three strong characters/ memorable performances:

Michael Dunn as Alexander. He had an interesting life; check out his wiki.
Barbara Babcock as Philana
She also appears in "A Taste of Armageddon" and was later recruited as one of Sam's handlers on Cheers:
As recounted here.
And Roger Sterling plays Parmen, the Platonian leader. *

POINTS AWARDED (out of a possible 5): 3.5.

MEMORABILITY: "Plato's Stepchildren" is an interesting example of this category. In general, I'm going to not take points away for this, only add, with the criteria being simply "Is this one that has had a lasting impression?" i.e. get ten people in a room and Trekkie or not, there are certain images, catchphrases, even sounds/ approaches that people recognize, regardless of whether they know what episode it comes from. (This was demonstrated pretty well in The Cable Guy. I watched that with some non-Trekkie friends, and all of them recognized the music/ lirpas as associated with Trek - I know, it says it in the dialogue, but we were all talking over it, so that's not where they knew it from. I asked.)

But "Plato's Stepchildren" is one of the most well-known episodes in television history, as it features the first interracial (a term I really can't stand) kiss.  But Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner don't actually kiss.

Not actually kissing. They even had people on the set who were watching to make sure.
It was shot two ways, one with lip contact, one without. The one without contact was what aired, thus saving America from a collective mental breakdown/ eternity in Hell. But the one with contact is the one people seem to think happened. So I guess what we have here is the historic first simulated kiss between two fictional characters from the same planet who happen to have different skin colors on a show regularly involving aliens of all colors.

Nichelle Nichols: "They went so far as to suggest changing the scene so that Kirk gets paired off with Nurse Chapel and Spock ends up with me. Somehow, I guess, they found it more acceptable for a Vulcan to kiss me, for this alien to kiss a black woman, than for 2 humans with different coloring to do the same thing. It was absolutely ridiculous. Strange how a 23rd century space opera could be so mired in antiquated hang-ups."


POINTS AWARDED (out of a possible 5): 5, I guess, but a qualified 5, as it's memorable for so many wrong reasons. Still, it's a legitimate part of television history.


And there you have it, folks. I won't drown you in every last bit of my criteria, but this will be the general set-up for each of the episodes that follows. And when we get to the end of it all, we'll have a de facto 50 Memorable Episodes. (Well, 50-ish; I actually screencapped a couple extra.)

* Okay, not really.


  1. Thanks a lot. I now have Leonard Nimoy speak-singing the phrase "bitter dregs" stuck in my head.


    1. ha - that's a Nimoy-penned original, by the by. Don't know how it never got a proper release...