A Lost STAR TREK Episode Surfaces… [UPDATED]

Posted: February 24, 2012 by J. Marcus in Books, Science Fiction, Television
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In my opinion, one of the all-time greatest episodes of the original Star Trek was called “The Doomsday Machine.”  Written by Norman Spinrad, it stands as one of the most ambitious entries in the program’s 79-episode run.  A new take on Moby Dick (a running theme in the franchise’s history), the episode set the bar very high when it came to action, acting, special effects and music.  It is, by many accounts, the gold standard against which all original series episodes should be measured.

Recently, a fan of Mr. Spinrad’s brought him a script to autograph.  The script was written by Mr. Spinrad in 1967 for Star Trek.  The story was conceived as a dramatic story featuring, of all people, Milton Berle.  Trek producer Gene Coon, who is credited with some of the most lasting creations in Trek, wound up rewriting the script in an attempt to add comedy (something for which Berle was best known.)  The rewritten script didn’t sit well with Spinrad, who felt that Berle absolutely could pull off a dramatic turn, and found the new version to be less-than-funny.

As a result, Spinrad took the new script to Gene Roddenberry to voice his concerns.  Roddenberry agreed and the show went unproduced.  The script was thought lost forever until the fan brought it back to Mr. Spinrad’s attention.  Now Mr. Spinrad has made the script available to purchase on Amazon.com for $9 for the Kindle.

The script is called “He Walks Among Us” and is classic Trek in all its glory.  I downloaded it and read it straight through.  Not to sound cliché, but it gave me chills.  It is a stunning example of what Trek was like before it was polluted with unending treknobabble and gut-wrenching continuity lapses.

The story itself is old-hat for old-school Trek.  The crew encounters a primitive planet that is growing far beyond natural evolution.  It’s discovered that a man from the outside world crashed onto the planet and, in violation of the non-interference directive, set himself up as a god.  It’s possible that the story itself was cannibalized into “The Omega Glory” since it shares some of the same motifs.  But here the antagonist in question, Theodore Bayne, is a bit of a nature nut.  He believes that medicines are poison, he doesn’t believe in food processing and he believes the body can heal all.  Unfortunately, his beliefs disrupt the natural ecosystem of the planet and set the inhabitants on a course of starvation and extinction in just a few generations.

What’s worse, he is also the central figure in a feud between factions on the planet, who seek to kill their “god” and use his word to rule.  As a result, the crew of the Enterprise must find a way to remove Bayne from the planet without inciting a full-scale civil war, and to put them back on a natural path.

Spinrad’s script not only sets out a rich tapestry of characters to inhabit this world, complete with their own motivations, but he also found room to use every single main character available to him at the time.  Chekov and Uhura are part of the landing party which includes the big three (Kirk, Spock and McCoy).  They get into their own hijinks.  Scotty is on the Enterprise, left in command, trying to help as best he can when the crew is in danger.  The only crew member absent in this story is Sulu (George Takei did not appear through most of the second season).

The resolution to the story is equal parts exciting and entertaining.  You can see in your mind’s eye that Kirk was having a good time despite the heightened danger.  The script clearly needed a tweak here and there, as the characters’ voices weren’t quite spot on, but it would have been a very easy fix with little actual work.  The story was tight.

I’m a bit disappointed that we won’t get to see this story produced by the original team as presented.  I do wonder if the inclusion of Berle would have just been too much.  Mr. Coon, whose judgement I tend to respect, probably sensed that the audience wasn’t ready to accept Mr. Berle in a dramatic role and tried his best to tailor the script accordingly. Unfortunately, it didn’t work; for whatever reason, it seemed that the script would either be made dramatically with Berle or not at all.  And so it was killed.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the folks over at Star Trek: Phase II will try to get the rights to shoot this thing.  Not a bad idea for a company that’s been attracting top Trek talent like Walter Koenig and George Takei and has been able to shoot unused scripts from the likes of David Gerrold.

[UPDATE]: Mr. Spinrad has just posted on his blog that he has spoken to the folks at STAR TREK: PHASE II and they have added “He Walked Among Us” to their production schedule to shoot this fall, with Mr. Spinrad himself directing.

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