Captain's Blog pt. 52: Amok Time

There's a great line in Emir Kusturica's Underground: "Let's stop this tradition of best friends killing each other." It probably won't surprise you to learn "Amok Time," the premiere episode of Star Trek's 2nd season, was the first thing I thought of when I heard it.

I'll start things off with the Memorability score: 10 out of 5 pts. Thanks in part to The Cable Guy - and is it just me or has the shelf life of that film been pretty short? It'd be a good candidate for The Dissolve's Forgotbusters feature - people can identify the music when you hum it for them and seem to associate it with some kind of arena combat, even if the terms Vulcan, lirpas, and koon-ut-kal-if-fee are unfamiliar. 

That's just among lay-people. One rung up on the pop cultural minutiae ladder from them, and I'd say this episode is pretty familiar. And of course, a few rungs up from that - where most Trekkies and Trekkers hang their hats - the idea of not knowing "Amok Time" from start to finish, what it means for TOS overall, and how it's the defining representation of the Kirk/Spock/Bones trinity, is unthinkable. 

"I am perfectly aware of the plot of 'Amok Time.'"
In the days before smartphones made such novelties obsolete, if you got jumped in an alley or found yourself in a to-the-death cage match and needed the appropriate soundtrack, you had to carry one of these:

Script/ Theme: 10 / 10 (out of a possible 10/10). This is one of the Trek episodes that isn't about critiquing American society in a way traditional 1960s television wouldn't allow. Theodore Sturgeon and the Genes didn't sit down to write an allegory about arranged marriage or reproductive biology. This is strictly internal Trek mechanics: the alien background and physiology of Mr. Spock. And of course the friendship between the main characters.

Could've been a serious misstep if done incorrectly. Instead it is arguably the series' finest episode. So many fine moments:

Kirk and Spock have "the talk."

(Has a bit creepier subtext in 2013.) 

Undoubtedly the fight between Kirk and Spock is the climax of the episode. (No pun intended re: the pon farr. But: it works.)

The script is packed to capacity with great lines, but the exchange between Spock and T'Pring at episode's end is just great. As are Spock's parting lines with T'Pau:

"Live long and prosper, Spock."
(matter-of-factly) "I shall do neither. I have killed my captain and my friend.

The title is fine and all, 

but I prefer its German translation: Weltraumfieber aka" Space Fever. 2.25 out of 3 pts.  

Visual Design: 2.5 out of 3 pts. Our first glimpse of Vulcan:

Vulcan as it appears in the remastered HD version.
A nice mix of how Vulcan appears in the original and in The Search for Spock.
Kirk and the Gang: 40 out of 10 pts. This is Spock's episode, obviously; everything hinges on Nimoy's performance. One of his all-time best. This is the sort of story that gives the actor many legitimate chances to truly lose himself in the part. Nimoy alternates between tortured, furious, embarrassed, remorseful, and resigned. 

And ultimately, as Spock himself says, "pleased."

No shortcuts, either in the script or the performance. "Amok Time" completes (and significantly expands) the work begun in "The Galileo Seven" re: Spock's character.

Deep in the blood fever.
Poor Christine.

Nimoy aside, this features some of Shatner's and Kelley's best work of the series, as well. Whoever was tuning into Hondo or Gomer Pyle instead of Star Trek on September 15, 1967 sure wasn't getting anything like this.

McCoy and Kirk discuss the situation in the "Skulls" room in Sick Bay.
Welcome aboard, Mr. Chekov.

Guest: 4 out of 3 pts. Celia Lovsky, who fled Europe one step ahead of the Nazis with then-husband Peter Lorre, is pitch-perfect as the matriarch presiding over the koon-ut-kal-if-fee.

She also appeared in the Twilight Zone episode "Queen of the Nile," which isn't where this picture from, just mentioning it.

Arlene Martel plays T'Pring, Spock's flawlessly-logical betrothed.

She later appeared as a Vulcan priestess in Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, along with Stonn, who, for some reason, is married to Uhura.

As Ginger in the cult movie Angels from Hell.

Internal Logisitics: 3 out of 3 pts. I have a minor quibble with one of the Warp 8 lines, but it's more of a quibble with warp-speed/ engine-capacity/ just-where-the-hell-is-Vulcan-anyway inconsistency over TOS (and TNG. And the movies. All right, over all the franchises, especially the last two movies) and not a result of Sturgeon's script.

Incidentally, it is a pleasure to reference this anytime Theodore Sturgeon comes up:

Until Sharknado, perhaps my favorite title of all time.

One of the projects I considered as a follow-up to the King's Highway was an overview of Theodore Sturgeon's short fiction, collected as it is in thirten tantalizing volumes. Can you imagine having published enough to fill 13 volumes of short stories? I've got the first two but haven't made a dent in them. I'm happy to take this opportunity to genuflect here, though. One of the more important voices in sci-fi of the 20th century.

Total Points Awarded: 81.75

Addendum: A few readers inquired about the Boat Chips (my old band) album I mentioned a ways back, "Set Phasers on Superboogie." Never one to turn down a request for further info/ a chance to share some Boat Chips, I uploaded the title track to Soundcloud. You can listen to it here. A friend of mine once referred to it as being trapped on some lunatic carousel, a description I've always thought fair. (And pretty cool.) Have a listen - hope you enjoy!

(The sound clips are from a variety of TOS episodes, but its connection to "Amok Time" is in the amusingly syncopated sound clip of McCoy saying "Spock, NO!")


  1. I'm listening to that Boat Chips track while trying to say some cogent things about "Amok Time," and I'm finding it incredibly difficult to concentrate. I may be on the verge of freaking out a little bit. Let's see if I can fight through it! ;)

    I love "Amok Time," but it brings into focus some of the problems I have with the Vulcan species as a whole. The whole pon farr thing has just never made any sense to me. Mating only once every seven years is a weird idea. I GUESS that I can imagine Vulcans deciding to do that; but it seems to be a biological thing, which means that surely the biology had to come first, eliminating choice from the equation. Except the idea seems to be that it was an evolutionary change due to the Vulcan shift toward logic over emotion. It's a knot I can't quite unravel.

    I also feel pretty sure that I think there's no real logic to the idea of choosing to be unemotional. Logical beings would surely realize that sublimating your emotions all the time must surely lead to problems of some sort; therefore, as emotional beings, would the logical thing not be to give them normal outlets?

    This is a thing you really have to just try to ignore anytime a Vulcan is onscreen. And generally, I'm capable of doing that; I just squint a bit and pretend/assume it all makes sense.

    About every third time I watch "Amok Time," though, I find myself extremely distracted by it. For that reason, it isn't one of my personal favorites. Great episode; just not one of my faves.

    1. Hope you enjoyed the Boat Chips. Be thankful I didn't post the 22 minute version, "Re-Set Phasers on Superboogie!"

      At some point, I'll have to upload more. At least "Spock's on the Crapper," as that would seem to fit the theme of the Captain's Blog and all.

      You raise some good points about Vulcans, here. It was so much simpler in 1967. I think you commented here or at Where No Blog Has Gone Before about how almost every Vulcan we see has some emotional outburst that makes you wonder if every Vulcan is like that - and if so, isn't it illogical? Though perhaps we're not meant to see the Vulcans as perfect, but probably as conflicted as we are, just in their own alien way.

      Blanket-statement-wise: I enjoy the non-emotional conflict of the Vulcans, though everything you say is certainly... well, logical. No pun intended. This aspect of the species was not always dealt with as compellingly or consistently as they probably could have.

    2. Well, "logic" itself is a tricky concept, isn't it? It occurred to me that I don't really know what the definition of logic is. So I looked it up. I looked it up, and that was about thirty seconds ago, and I've already forgotten what it said.

      Granted, I'm not a terribly bright fellow in some ways, so the fact that that definition bounced right out of my brain like a tennis ball on pavement is no surprise.

      I did, however, note that nowhere did the definition state -- or even imply -- a lack of emotion. So it's probably a case in which Gene Roddenberry -- or possibly one of his co-writers/co-producers -- decided to make Vulcans beings who prized logic above all things, and then misremembered the very concept of logic as being something that it really isn't.

      That might explain some of the inconsistencies that have (regularly) popped up ever since. It isn't a deal-breaker for me; it's just something I have to fight through a bit. Kind of like a pet who has smelly breath; eventually, you get used to it. More or less.

    3. Oh, and that's one vote FOR hearing "Spock's on the Crapper."