Captain's Blog pt. 89: The Cloud Minders

February 28, 1969.
"It's hard to believe something which is neither seen nor felt can do so much harm."
"That's true. But an idea can't be seen or felt. That's what's kept the Troglytes in the mines all these centuries, a mistaken idea.

Script / Theme: (6 / 9) Let's start with the theme. David Gerrold came up with the original idea and was upset at the changes made. Here's what he has to say about the story that didn't get made, reproduced (mostly) in full from The World of Star Trek:

"It was intended as a parable between the haves and have-nots, the haves being the elite who are removed from the realities of everyday life - they live in their floating sky cities. The have-not were called "Mannies" (for Manual Laborers) and were forced to live on the surface of the planet where the air was denser, pressure was high, and noxious gases made the conditions generally unlivable."

Stratos from the re-mastered ep.
"The Mannies torn between two leaders, one a militant, and one a Martin Luther King Jr. figure. (Mind you, this was in 1968, shortly after King was assassinated, and just before the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.) In my original version, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Uhura were captured by the Mannies when their shuttlecraft was shot down by a missile. The Enterprise desperately needed dilithium crystals. This planet was one of the Federation's biggest suppliers, and Kirk's concern was to restore the flow of crystals. He didn't care who worked the mines, just that the supply was not interrupted."

"In the process of the story, Kirk realizes that unless living conditions for the Mannies are improved, the situation can never be stabilized. Because Uhura has been injured in the shuttlecraft crash, McCoy starts treating her in a Mannie hospital. But he is so appalled at the condition of the other patients there, especially the children suffering from high-pressure disease, that he begins treating them as well."

"The story focused primarily on the lack of communication between the skymen and the Mannies. Kirk's resolution of the problem was to force the two sides into negotiation. He opened the channels of communication with a phaser in his hand. You - sit there! You - sit there! Now, talk! And that's all he does. He doesn't solve the problem himself; he merely provides the tools whereby the combatants can seek their own solutions, a far more moral procedure."
"In the end, as the Enterprise breaks orbit, Kirk remarks on this, as if inaugrating the problem-solving procedure is the same as solving the problem. He pats himself on the back and says, We've got them talking. It's just a matter of time until they find the right direction. And McCoy who is standing right next to him, looks at him and says Yes, but how many more children will die in the meantime?"

"This answer was not a facile one; the viewer was meant to be left as uneasy as Kirk. But in the telecast version, the whole problem was caused by Zenite gas in the mines, and If we can just them troglytes to all wear gas masks, then they'll be happy little darkies and they'll pick all the cotton we need..."
"Somehow, I think it lost something in translation."
My thoughts:

a) I think it's incredibly more applicable to third world energy resources than to "darkies" and cotton production, but he's essentially correct. That being said:

b) I personally was never unclear on how to read the end of the episode and never once assumed the band-aid solution to ensure the continued export of Zenite off the planet was  a happy ending. Maybe it's just me, but even the truncated version gets across the uneasy ending Gerrold describes. It's there, at any rate, just (quite) muddied up.

c) It's interesting to see what was cut from the episode and what remains. He structured things as a very Marxist exploration of the means of production. Which jumps out at me, as there is an extremely-Soviet-style montage (with Spock providing the detached voiceover the Party would provide in the Soviet version) about fifteen minutes in:

This chapter tag (difficult to read in that first screencap) is fantastic.
and d) Keeping it as dilithium would have avoided the yet-another-unobtainium trope. I'd love to watch the Ur-Kindle version of Gerrold's original story ("Castles in the Sky") and compare and contrast the two. Or perhaps he'll resurrect it for Phase II now that he's showrunning over there. (Fingers crossed.)

(And while we're talking titles, I prefer "The Cloud Minders" immensely. Evocative, to-the-point, and poetic. Points awarded: 3.)

As for the script, it's not bad. There are some good lines. The story hums along well enough. But it's undermined by some fairly contrived plot points/ conflicts and the inexplicable Spock/ Droxine romance. (Although there's nothing illogical about their flirting.)

I guess the paragraph is Internal Logistics; might as well do that while we're here. (1)

I'm sympathetic to budget restrictions and all, but you can't blame Vanna for not believing this flimsy looking thing would filter out the gas. (Incidentally, "You thought you would fool me with talk of your filter." always cracks me up. I hope someone memes that up .)
Speaking of the mines, Droxine's stated intention to go and work in them is ridiculous, of course. But it's completely the sort of thing someone like Droxine would say in the situation, so I'll allow it.

She'd only smudge that Season 3 eye make-up.
You too, Vanna. "DIG!"
Kirk mentions how the Federation Bureau of Industrialization will be happy to help Stratos and the Troglytes learn to work together and maximize Zenite exploitation. I actually don't like that. Having the obvious acronym like that draws attention to it, and then I'm forced to consider the parallel and it doesn't fit. The FBI is not the organization sent in for such a job. I like the set-up between Stratos, the mines, and the Federation; it, too, is on the nose but in a more acceptably broad way. (Since they went there, I have to say: a much better fit would be something like the Interplanetary Monetary Fund.) It mixes up the messages of the episode.

Anyway, one last thought on the script - Margaret Armen's involvement was news to me. I always assumed (mainly because of Spock's "let me just tell this one lady I just met about these things no offworlder may know" business) this was one of those Season 3 eps written by folks unfamiliar with Trek's characters/ concepts. But she certainly was... well, who knows. At any rate, the script has a definite problem with being too on-the-nose in spots, such as the screencaps below, a long zoom-out from the one immediately above to the wide shot, where city dwellers casually walk by someone being tortured:

"We have eliminated violence" is the voiceover accompanying this, to boot. Oh the irony.

and going for subtlety in others. Basically, any episode that has the Kirk/Zenite-gas sequence should just forget about subtlety. Which brings us to...

Kirk and the Gang: (40) To be clear, 35 of these points belong to Shatner. He is so wonderfully out of his mind in this episode. It's a delight to behold, each and every time.


Spock carries himself well. Spock is often even more interesting in the episodes in which Nimoy's checked out mentally. He gives good autopilot.

Visual Design: (2.75) The set and costumes for this one are top notch.

In a world where the audience has no Pause button...

Guest: (3)

Droxine is probably the least of Spock's TOS love interests, but she plays the part of the innocently clueless ingenue clothed in lavish privilege perfectly well.

Her costume, while somewhat ridiculous, is undoubtedly awesome.
And Jeff Corey as Plasus. aka
Image from here, a pretty cool blog I just found randomly. Love when that happens.
Technically, I would not include Plasus on a list of "Genius Jew" tropes, but the physical resemblance cracks me up. No angry letters, please.

And then came Vanna, who gets more costume changes than anyone else.
This happens twice. Women try to stab Kirk a lot. Ergo, tackling.
Memorability: I'll go as high as 3.5 because that "I said DIG!" stuff is the proverbial cat's pajamas.

Total Points Awarded: 68.25 (Whoah! That seems too high. I stand by the DSO Points Awarded System, but this total puts it above "The Menagerie," which is definitely wrong. I'll find somewhere to deduct 10 points to fit it into the rankings better for when I make my report to the IMF.)


  1. Ah, yes; math gone awry. It happens!

    I've always liked this episode, and I guess I'm a bit more on the slow-to-catch-on side of things, because the ending always HAS struck me a happy one.Or a happy-ish one, at any rate. So this review has given me a completely different context to view the episode in. Well done!

    I can understand Gerrold's frustration. It's probably something most tv writers of that era had to deal with, though; probably of this era, too.

    That dress of Droxine's is worthy of an Emmy. Maybe even an Oscar and a Tony, too, just for the hell of it. It really can't be overpraised. I went to Dragon*Con for ten straight years, and never once saw anyone wearing a replica. Where's the justice in this world?!?

    1. The dress is definitely a work of art. I'm actually surprised to hear no one's opted for it as a cosplay adventure, especially Yaya Han or one of the other more well-known cosplayers. (Incidentally, if you'd told me softcore cosmetically enhanced models would be descending on conventions in Psylocke and Scarlet Witch and Slave Leia outfits in the 21st century, I'd have gotten the quite-mistaken impression the future would be some enlightened land of sexytime mystery...)

      Yeah, I have total sympathy for Gerrold's position. I'd have been a bit pissed/ exasperated at it all, too. I'd have locked myself in Freiberger's office and put him under phaser guard. "We'll LEAVE. When the GAS. Takes EFFECT."

      Glad you enjoyed!

  2. The episode is one of those I find fun to watch. That fight between Kirk and Plasus is among my favorites. I mean, this old dude who'd obviously never fought in his life should have been dispatched out of hand by Kirk; instead, it was involved enough to necessitate stunt men. I said it a long time ago, and I'll repeat it here: what the hell is Starfleet teaching these days?

    Another thought: why was it so hard for scifi writers of the time, in TV, movies, and even literature to an extent, to grasp the implications of some of their basic premises? In this case, the planet has tech good enough to levitate entire flippin' cities, but it can't automate the mining process on the toxic surface? I get that the basic story requires this clash between haves and have-nots, but for a genre that's supposedly predicated on looking into the future, a lot of the authors seem rather limited in vision. I'm not saying dispense with the main premise, but at the very least give me something, anything, a line of dialogue, a matte painting, something, that at least makes a pass at explaining this oddly backward way of doing things.

    1. Completely agreed on all counts. These things seem such simple fixes. I can only imagine the answer lies in 11th hour production decisions, but it's still well worth pointing out.