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Star Trek: Catspaw

Spock: "Under these conditions, fog is highly unlikely, Captain."

There aren't a lot of Halloween episodes on science fiction shows, possibly because witches, haunted castles and black cats don't blend that well with starships and aliens. I wrote a review of the Rocky Horror Picture Show last weekend and I couldn't stop thinking about it while writing this review. It was a dark and stormy night, and our starship broke down. Didn't we pass a castle back down the road a few miles?

Much of this episode is fun, though. The many scenes where our heroes were chained in the dungeon had some great humor; at one point, Kirk turned to McCoy, started to address him as "Bones," noticed the skeleton behind him and changed it to "Doc." At another point, Shatner looked pointedly at the same skeleton drooping hopelessly in its chains, and aptly mimicked its position. I've always liked the voodoo thingy with the Enterprise in a block of plastic, too. (I'd love to have that prop. It's now in the Air and Space Museum.)

And I have to give them points for Sylvia as the giant black cat. Does anyone doubt that if their pussycat was suddenly twelve feet tall, they'd be in serious trouble? And they did have a pretty good explanation, that Korob and Sylvia were aiming for the conscious mind, missed, and hit the subconscious. Maybe Jackson had a serious Halloween phobia or something.

There are some elements that come off as pretty silly, of course. The three semitransparent witches singing their lines were probably the least effective. Sulu and Scott as automatons was too familiar. Korob's and Sylvia's actual physical appearance was pretty funny; they reminded me of blue parakeets in Mardi Gras outfits.

But this was the first of several episodes featuring wildly inhuman aliens taking on human bodies and getting all confused by their brand new hormones, and I always rather enjoyed that theme. (It was a way to write stories about very alien aliens while still making it easy to cast the roles; there aren't a lot of blue parakeets in Hollywood looking for work.) It seems to be a Star Trek rule that most aliens and all androids don't experience physical pleasure before encountering our heroes – but once they get a taste, they want it all the time. Another parallel to Rocky Horror.

And doesn't "transmuter" sound a lot like "transducer?"

Ben says...

Spooky! I am thinking maybe holiday themed episodes don't work all that well. There is something incongruous about Earthly holidays in space, and Halloween is already so separated from any original meaning that taking the spook-fest into orbit doubly doesn't work.

But boy, that "I am a god-like alien with an incredibly fragile power source who had chosen to appear as a character from human history/mythology" is the gift that just keeps on giving. What is less well-known is there were several other scripts that were floated with the same basic theme.

Top 3 God-like alien disguises rejected in season 2 episodes:

3. Truman Capote and Harper Lee (Title: "For Fame is Hollow but I Have Touched a Guy." Power source: martini glass. Rejected as too debauched)

2. Lassie and Rin-tin-tin (Title: "Who Mourns for a Doggie" or "DogsPaw." Power source: flea collar. Rejected as a shaggy dog story)

1. Lenin and Marx ("Mirrorski, Mirrorski" in which the Enterprise is run by Communists and the shoddily built transporter never works, oh wait... , Power source: Steel factory. Rejected as too likely to get Gene Roddenberry blacklisted)

Don't get me started on the whole Jesus, Mohammad and Buddha in a space lifeboat, just describing it would get me excommunicated, a fatwa put on me and make my next three reincarnations as a lower form of life (y'know squirrel, lawyer, something bad). But as always, I digress.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 3018.2. Pyris 7.

— This episode was the first one produced in season two, but they held it back in order to air it right before Halloween.

— Spock knew about Earth legends, demons and wizards, but had never heard of Halloween traditions?

— Sylvia is the first beautiful female alien we see turning into a black cat. But not the last.

— DeSalle was left in command. He changed his tunic from gold to red, and left all of his facial expressions at home.

— In this week's hair report, the hurricane force winds outside the castle made Kirk's hair nearly take flight. And Chekov was back in his bad wig, because this episode was filmed earlier and out of order.

— I wonder why there were so many close-ups of Uhura's console? It sort of went with the close-ups of the jewels on the plates in the castle. Perhaps the director was intrigued by small, bright, shiny objects in primary colors?


McCoy: "The man is dead."
Perfect opportunity for "He's dead, Jim." But no.

Kirk: "Spock. Comment?"
Spock: "Very bad poetry, Captain."
Kirk: "A more useful comment, Mister Spock."

Kirk: "If we weren't missing two officers and the third one dead, I'd say someone was playing an elaborate trick or treat on us."
Spock: "Trick or treat, Captain?"
Kirk: "Yes, Mister Spock. You'd be a natural."

Kolob: (to Spock) "You see all this around you and yet you do not believe."
McCoy: "He doesn't know about trick or treat."

Two out of four giant black cats,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Ben, those ideas are hilarious! Especially no. 1... (on a side-note, one of the good things about Who Mourns for Adonais, I think, is that Apollo is supposed to have really been Apollo, not just taking on a familiar form, which makes this plot - which I find both tired and tiresome already and we're only near the beginning of season 2! - marginally more intersting).

  2. This one is probably my least favourite episode. Apart from the humorous dialogue in some parts, it just bores me.

  3. "...and I couldn't stop thinking about it while writing this review. It was a dark and stormy night, and our starship broke down. Didn't we pass a castle back down the road a few miles?" Love this part! I watch a large chunk of classic horror and this is a such a common event!

    I have always liked this one as it brings 2 of my 3 favorite settings for stories (sci fi, fantasy, and horror), and it almost brings all 3 together, as it does borderline on fantasy for a time, and it's a good Halloween romp that works.


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