Star Trek: Spock's Brain   Rewatch 
August 15, 2015 10:23 AM - Season 3, Episode 1 - Subscribe

An alien female beams aboard the ship, and after incapacitating the rest of the crew, surgically removes Spock's brain. Kirk and the crew have just hours to locate and restore it before Spock's body dies.

"Spock's Brain" is the first episode of the third season and was first broadcast September 20, 1968. It was the first episode to air after NBC moved the show from 8:30 P.M. to 10 P.M. on Friday nights. It was repeated July 8, 1969. It is episode #56, production #61, written by Gene L. Coon (under the pseudonym Lee Cronin) and directed by Marc Daniels.

Many consider this episode to be the worst of the series, after the budget was cut and Gene Roddenberry stepped down as the show runner.

Memory Alpha Link

The episode can be viewed on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
posted by Benway (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, not their best work.
posted by bowline at 12:06 PM on August 16, 2015

It's really comedy gold, though. (FWIW, I think the worst episode of the series is "Turnabout Intruder," but I'm probably in the minority there.)
posted by holborne at 2:18 PM on August 16, 2015

I think this episode is great if you approach it as self-parody, which IIRC was what Gene Coon intended. It's hilarious. Certainly miles better than The Alternative Factor, for instance, which is damn near unwatchable unless you're into endless scenes of some actor with glued-on facial hair listlessly wrestling with his stunt double. Spock's Brain is definitely so bad it's good, while a few other episodes of TOS are just plain bad.

I think Turnabout Intruder is pretty solid for third season TOS. It's got some dated attitudes about gender, sure, but the plot's OK and the actors have fun with it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:35 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like the AV Club review linked above, my main feeling watching this episode was imagining how it must have felt to have been part of the massive letter-writing campaign that got the show renewed - to tune in for that S3 premiere with happy pride, and then descend into bewilderment. (I have only ever written one 'please renew this show' letter to a network, and it was for CBS's Beauty & the Beast, after the 2nd season. I well remember watching that S3 premiere, in increasing horror, feeling like I'd made a wish on the monkey's paw. I have never tried to save a show since.)

I wonder what the past decades of Trek would have been like if Gene L. Coon hadn't died so young? Since he declined to be involved in writing for ST:TAS, I don't know that the would have been involved in the movies or the spin-offs. But I imagine he might have been drawn into the convention circuit, or at least his being alive and able to speak up for himself might have changed how Roddenberry represented himself to the fandom.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:29 PM on August 16, 2015

Yeah, it seems like almost always if fans rally to save a show, the resulting final season is not nearly as good as what came before. I don't think anybody got burned that way as badly as Lexx fans though. When it came back for that third and final season it was bad in this really weird, unpleasant and often incoherent way. You really got the feeling that the people making the show just hated the show by then and hated you for watching it. (I've often compared TOS Trek and Lexx, because both were spectacularly uneven from week to week, swinging between greatness, mediocrity and dreck. And both had final seasons that were sometimes just embarrassing.)

There also seems to be a rule that if you have really raved about a show to your friends or family, when they finally sit down to watch it, it will be the episode that goes down in history as the show's low point.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:38 PM on August 16, 2015

Well, probably no one really wants to talk about this one. What is there left to say?*

However: In the early days of his late night teevy show, David Letterman used to feature a segment called Limited Perspective, in which people who were not professional film critics were invited to review recently released Hollywood movies from the limited perspective of their unique professions.

Thus, on Letterman's very first show in 1982, a dentist reviewed Reds (finding the dentition unconvincing and anachronistic). Later, a pair of construction contractors reviewed The Verdict, a stuntman reviewed The Big Chill, an expert in self-defense reviewed Ghandi and so on.

In that spirit, I present to you a perspective on "Spock's Brain" from Edward J. Hoffman, NASA's Chief Knowledge Officer.
The story is not as masterfully written as "Amok Time" or "The City on the Edge of Tomorrow"[sic], but for those working in knowledge services, the plot has a certain attraction. . . .

[F]or all the drawbacks of this knowledge-transfer teacher, we are almost tempted to want one. NASA could place the dispersing workforce -- changing jobs or leaving details or retiring altogether -- into this dome and capture much knowledge for easy transfer to someone else.

The problem with the teacher is its application on this frozen planet: it is not employed democratically, and it not applied with clarifying moral context. In short, the teacher is abusing and abused.

The NASA Knowledge Policy defines the terms: Explicit Knowledge, Tacit Knowledge, Knowledge Transfer, Knowledge Gaps, Knowledge Management . . .

Although the dialogue from "Spock’s Brain" does not use these terms, the concepts are built into the episode’s mission, solving the mystery of Spock’s missing brain, as sure as NASA is on a mission to be successful capturing and sharing knowledge.
Dr. Hoffman closes with these few words of sage counsel, as it were, advice:
A little suspension of disbelief goes a long way in enjoying this classic TV show, the launch of the franchise. The Star Trek Universe is complex and varied: it is loved not for always getting its plot points perfect but for its human endeavor of boldly going where no one has gone before.

Bonus: Knowledge Management: Access to an Untapped Resource
A presentation by: Dr. R. M. Kaplan uses the problems faced by the crew of the Enterprise in "Spock's Brain" to illustrate the difference between data, information, and knowledge.

*When I wrote this, there were still zero posts on the FPP. Now I see that there've been some brave souls, after all. Good on ya, intrepid crew of ST: Fanfare .
posted by Herodios at 7:51 PM on August 16, 2015

Again, I think this one works very well as comedy. If you think of it like one of those goofy self-parody episodes that The X-Files did a few times too often, I think it works very well. It's kind of an Amazon Women on the Moon-esque parody of sci-fi tropes. I gather that Coon was pissed off and on his way out the door he handed in this script that he knew was just crazy and ridiculous. I think it's a lot of fun, seen as a total goof.

I think that Coon's contributions to the show are vastly underrated, but sometimes I get the feeling the pendulum is swinging so he gets more credit than Roddenberry. Roddenberry is the guy who gave us The Cage, and without that there's no Trek. I think the early seasons of TNG gave us a pretty clear idea of what Roddenberry thought Trek should be (it is very Cage-like, in many ways) and it was kind of awkward and stiff and proved how badly he needed a Gene L. Coon. But still, I think Roddenberry was the prime mover on TOS. For all his faults, Trek was his baby.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:36 PM on August 16, 2015

Many consider this episode to be the worst of the series . . .

imagining how it must have felt to have been part of the massive letter-writing campaign that got the show renewed - to tune in for that S3 premiere with happy pride, and then descend into bewilderment.

I did and I did.

I think this gets to why this particular below-average ep gets bagged as worst. There's still a lingering background radiation of disappointment from its status of season premier following the renewal campaign. But it's merely dumb, and there are many great dumb eps.

It still has some enjoyable moments. Kirk's reaction to the news. Scotty's feint/ faint. DeForest Kelly chewing the scenery. I happen to like the group-think scene on the bridge. The minor characters get to contribute; In a sense, closing ranks to cover for the missing Spock, Kirk's chief adviser. Uhura's comment keeps us on track: Why would somebody steal a brain, at all?*

No, in retrospect, it's not the dumb episodes that are the worst; it's the dull ones. Dumb as they are, I'll watch "Spock's Brain" or "Way to Eden" three times before I'll watch "Alternative Factor", "And The Children Shall Lead", or "Mark of Gideon" once.
* Not taking Uhura on this particular mission, by the way, was a hell of a missed opportunity! You are not Morg. You are not Imorg. . . .
posted by Herodios at 8:37 PM on August 16, 2015

Admittedly I haven't seen "Mark of Gideon" for a while and it's definitely not the show's finest hour, but I always kind of liked it. I would agree though that dull ones are much less fun to watch than the real howlers. "Way to Eden" is just awful, but it's awful in a way you just can't stop watching. TOS was a genuinely bizarre show sometimes.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:37 PM on August 16, 2015

There also seems to be a rule that if you have really raved about a show to your friends or family, when they finally sit down to watch it, it will be the episode that goes down in history as the show's low point.

After literally years of my trying to get her to watch Buffy, my friend decided to give it a try one day. It was Doublemeat Palace.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:42 AM on August 17, 2015

When I was a kid, I watched Star Trek reruns on Saturday mornings. A lot of the episodes I remember watching multiple times. I don't think I ever saw Spock's Brain.

I don't know exactly how reruns work, I guess they might pick the better episodes instead of just running the entire series?

So I just watched it now. Thanks to whatever anonymous TV employee decided this wasn't worth re-running, it's the only Star Trek episode I've watched for the first time as an adult.

It's perhaps not miles away from some of the weaker episodes, but I did feel like it was slow, or low-stakes? I suppose they're saving Spock's life, but most of the conflict is only very loosely connected to that. Like, let's have a whole scene discussing which of three planets this ship could have come from. But the ethical question of "needs of the many vs. needs of the few" is brushed past, with Kirk assuring everyone that these mentally-stunted people will totally figure out how to fend for themselves on the surface. (Not to mention whether Kirk is endangering the rest of his crew to save his friend. I guess that's why they don't kill any red shirts in this episode.)
posted by RobotHero at 11:07 AM on December 18, 2016

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