Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Star Trek at 50: The Naked Time

Season 1
Episode 6: The Naked Time
Filmed: June/July 1966
First Air Date: September 29, 1966 (4th episode aired)

Karen:"The Naked Time" is nearly universally considered to be one of the best original Star Trek episodes. It was even nominated for a Hugo Award in 1967. As the fourth episode broadcast, it provided viewers with insight into the personalities of Enterprise crew, particularly Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. A strange infection causes deeply buried desires and traits to come to the surface, causing chaos on the ship. At the same time, the planet the Enterprise is orbiting is beginning to break up, creating a difficult navigational situation. This only gets worse when Lt. Kevin Riley, under the influence of the contagion, takes over engineering and shuts down the engines, resulting in the ship heading dangerously towards the planet's surface.

Karen: This episode was written by John D.F. Black, associate producer and script editor at the beginning of the first season. Black had both science fiction and TV and film screenwriting experience, and had even won a Writers Guild award for one of his screenplays. This had brought him to the attention of Gene Roddenberry. However, when Roddenberry decided to do some rewriting of Black's script, it caused irreconcilable issues between the two, as Black felt that Roddenberry had been tinkering too much with the scripts of other writers, particularly talented science fiction authors, and now his own script was getting the same treatment. Author Marc Cushman, in his excellent These are the Voyages Vol.1, looks evenhandedly at both sides of the argument. Black was quoted as saying, "I couldn't bear to see quality work changed to the point where the dialogue did not have the sharp edge that it had...I was watching too much good material getting screwed up and I couldn't take it."

Karen: For Roddenberry's part, it was a case of the creator feeling he knew best. "During those first shows, none of our writers knew what I wanted to do. Not fully. But I had this idea; I could see where to take it, who Kirk was, who Spock was." Roddenberry rewrote the script before Black was allowed to do a second draft,which went against Writers Guild rules. Black was furious. But he took Roddenberry's version and did his own draft. The script would go back and forth between the two several times. But only Black would be credited on screen. 

Karen: One of the notable things that Roddenberry added was the character of Nurse Christine Chapel, played by Majel Barrett. Barrett had played the role of Number One, the raven-haired first officer of the Enterprise in the original Star Trek pilot that NBC passed on. The executives had demanded Roddenberry dump the female officer, saying she was not likable. But since Barrett and Roddenberry were romantically involved, he was determined to get her back on the show. He might have thought putting a platinum blonde wig on her would fool them, but he was wrong. Bringing Barrett back was just one of the things that would make his already bad relationship with NBC worse.

Karen: Besides Roddenberry's rewrites, two actors also contributed their own ideas. Leonard Nimoy came up with the idea of having Spock seek privacy in the briefing room, where he breaks down. Originally, he was to walk down the corridor crying, and a crewman would paint a mustache on his face. That's it. Talk about a lost opportunity! The other change came from George Takei as Sulu. Writer Black had planned to give Sulu a samurai sword. Takei told Black, "Sulu is a 23rd century guy. I'm a 20th century  Asian-American, and I didn't grow up brandishing a samurai sword. I was swept away by Errol Flynn and The Adventures of Robin Hood. What about putting a fencing foil in Sulu's hand?" And so a brilliant, memorable scene was born.

Karen: And what of Lieutenant Kevin Riley, the descendant of Irish kings? Can anyone forget 'I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen'? Even if you tried, you probably couldn't. It's as bad as 'It's a Small World'. 

Karen: William Shatner also has a good turn as Kirk here, as the ship is starting to spiral down toward Psi 2000, when the audience finds out the extent of his dedication/obsession to his ship -"Never lose you" -is a great line. 

Karen: If there are any negatives, I'm hesitant to name them, because it's such a great episode. But when Spock and Joe Tormolen (what a name -turmoil?) beam down to Psi 2000, their special environmental suits look like they are made out of shower curtains. They are just awful. Then, Tormolen, a highly trained officer (one assumes), having been warned to be careful in this situation, takes off his protective glove and scratches his nose, and then touches the desktop at the station with his bare hand. Wow. Later, when he is infected, he tries to kill himself with what looks like a butter knife. And succeeds. So...a few weak points. But hey -who cares. The drama in this episode is great. I also noticed that when Kirk gives the order to Scotty to do the controlled implosion to restart the engines, he says, "Engage," so he beat Picard to that by twenty years!

Karen: Cushman points out that "The Naked Time" was originally conceived as Part 1 of a two-part story.At the end of the episode, the Enterprise is propelled back in time. Part 2 would have seen the Enterprise in the past, but the plan was scrapped. The idea though, was re-used as the germ for the later episode "Tomorrow is Yesterday."


Edo Bosnar said...

Love this episode, and damn! I really want to watch it again after reading this. It's actually been quite a while since I've watched any of TOS (I should really look into finally getting the dvds or something...)
You're right, Karen, in that this episode really fleshed out the personalities of the various characters, and the way it was done in a single episode by having everyone become bit insane due to an infection was nothing short of ingenious.
You're also right about the negatives: they're hardly noticeable and even less memorable.

J.A. Morris said...

Great episode, another great writeup from Karen. I'd never heard about Takei's contribution to the story before now. I thought Bruce Hyde did a nice job as Riley too. Hardcore Trek fans will remember that Riley also appears in "The Conscience Of The King."

Inspired by Karen's post, I did a bit of digging about Bruce Hyde and learned that he later got a PhD and served as chair of theater at St. Cloud State University. He passed away last year, here's short article about him:

Garett said...

Great episode! Nimoy wrote in his book about Spock's breakdown scene. Nimoy had one shot at it due to time constraints, and nailed his one take.

Anonymous said...

When I watched these as a child, I always loved the stills behind the end credits and imagining ‘wow, what on Earth is going on in THAT episode?’.

I remember Spock with a big cheesy grin, that flower which turned everyone into hippies, Jim kissing the green alien lady (which, when I was little, I thought was the inter-racial kiss which caused all the fuss!) and above all, Sulu with a sword. They were sometimes a disappointment when you eventually got to see them, but this one really wasn’t.

Correct me if I’m wrong here. A friend of mine, now sadly departed, wrote a sublimely beautiful song called ‘No Beach To Walk On’ (I mean, people who remember our band 30 years later still remember that song). I am sure he took that line from this, his favourite episode of Star Trek.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, this one's a classic. The personalities really start to gel here; too bad Riley didn't become a regular. "One more time...!"

Mike Wilson

david_b said...

A very good, very character-driven early episode. I'm soooooo glad that mustache scene didn't occur. The FIRST rule for any major character is 'Never embarrass them, dignity always should be upheld.'. That would have been a terrible regretful scene.

I mentioned Next Gen's 'The Naked Now' sequel-of-sorts last week. Oddly it was picked as the premiere episode in some markets for Next Gen since for a story like that to work, you need at least a few 'benchmark' episodes already shown in order to know just how the characters are **supposed** to act for that type of idea to work well. Hence why the original story worked good here for Trek (without the embarrassingly-terrible Picard speech at the end about everyone should keep maintain their dignity, blah blah blah..)

Oh well, the rest as they say is history.

Karen said...

David, I find the first two -maybe three-seasons of Next Gen to be almost unwatchable. There are a few decent to great episodes but most were terrible. I recommend the short documentary "Chaos on the Bridge" (it is on Netflix) all about the first few years of Next Gen, for some very illuminating interviews with the principals involved in the production.

Richard, yes, 'No beach to walk on' was Kirk's lament while dealing with the effects of the virus. That's a great choice for a song title!

J.A., thanks for passing on the Bruce Hyde info. I recall his passing. Riley would have been a fun addition to the crew. According to Cushman, Star Trek casting director Joe D'Agosta was directed by Desilu to find work for Hyde, as they had featured him in a pilot film called "Digby" that they hoped would get picked up by a network, and they wanted to keep Hyde close. (It wasn't picked up.) Another practice at Desilu, since they couldn't offer high guest star rates, was to sign an actor to appear on several of their shows. So they might offer them an episode of Trek, and an episode of Mission Impossible, and something else. Sort of a package deal! Actors were always looking for regular work, so it had an appeal.

david_b said...

Thanks Karen for the wonderful suggestion. I just watched a few snippets on youtube of 'Chaos'. Interesting.

I do find a nice sense of wonky charm in the first year..; in contrast, the second season's just as spotty in terms of quality story-telling, it's only **good** episodes I like are 'Measure of a Man' and 'Q Who', which typically both rank in most Top 10 Episode fan lists. By the 3rd year, nearly every episode was outright good and satisfying.

Both Treks had their share of writer problems (Harlan Ellison, anyone...?), but luckily both rose above those issues as time went on.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I'm lost. I know Ellison had disputes about re-writes, but I thought City on the edge of forever was a massive fan favourite and won awards? Back in the day, that one and the Menagerie were the ones I was always waiting for to comeback round again.


david_b said...

You're absolutely correct Richard, 'City' was a huge success.

But as we'll read in these future 'Trek at 50' columns, there were a lot of writer conflicts with Gene back then too.

Dougie said...

This was the very first Trek I ever saw. You may know it was first broadcast in 1969 as a replacement for Troughton's Dr. Who in the UK, in a late Saturday afternoon time slot. It was clearly perceived as a kids show by the BBC but as a six or seven year old, I found it quite unsettling and occasionally terrifying ( especially The Man Trap and The Deadly Years).

The image of the frozen scientists alone made this very different fare from DW- which, although it scared me too with a firing squad scene for the Doctor, some three months earlier, was not designed for adults then.

Bruce Hyde's Riley is such an entertaining character. His lantern jaw and rubber limbs would have made for a great Ralph Dibny if there'd been a 60s Flash series. I hadn't realised he had died.

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