Warp Speed to Nonsense

Warp Speed to Nonsense

Monday, June 22, 2015

ST:TAS Season One, Episode Three: One of Our Planets is Missing

"One of Our Planets is Missing"
Air Order: 3
Star Date: 5371.3
Original Air Date: September 22, 1973

A "yay, animation!" moment: look how cool the planets and starscapes are now.

Kirk's Log 5371.3: "There's this weird-ass cloud thing out near the edges of explored space. We're heading in the direction of Mantilles, which is the farthest inhabited planet we have."

The E catches up to this cloud thingy near an uninhabited planet called Alondra, and Arax finally gets some lines. His voice is kind of best described as that of K9 from Doctor Who, kind of high-pitched without being squeaky.

Anyway, Spock says that the cloud is huge and made of both matter and energy, and while they're scanning it, Alondra disappears. Spock confirms that the cloud appears to have eaten Alondra, and Uhura says that it seems as though the cloud has changed course.
"The hell?" asks Kirk. "That would make it intelligent. Also, that would mean it's heading for Mantilles, and everyone on the planet would die."
Soooo, I guess this is another Doomsday Machine? Blargh.

Kirk's Log, supplemental: "Racing toward Mantilles. Trying to get there before the cloud does. But it's like, a kajillion times bigger than us."

Bones unnecessarily repeats that a shit-ton of people could die, and Kirk adds that if this thing seeks out inhabited planets, it could spell trouble for the entire galaxy. Hooray for Duh Moments!
There's a group discussion with the bridge officers about whether or not they should warn the inhabitants of Mantilles, so some of them could escape, and Bones warns that with a little more than four hours until the cloud reaches the planet, it might incite planet-wide hysteria. There also isn't time to evacuate everyone.

Kirk recalls that the governor of Mantilles is a retired Commodore Robert Wesley from "The Ultimate Computer". He says the Wesley is not the kind who will panic, so he deems it okay to warn the planet of their impending doom, and has Uhura call Mantilles. 
The E approaches the cloud and Spock begins reading off sensor information, saying that he thinks the cloud came from outside of the galaxy. (Okay, I know the galaxy is a pretty vast place, but I'm awarding a Duh Moment to that statement. If it was from inside their own galaxy, wouldn't there be something in the computers about it?) Anyway, Spock just keeps reading out his info while the ship is being fucking eaten by the cloud, while Kirk yells out evasive maneuvers and gives Sulu permission to fire phasers. Spock has no fucks to give for anything but his readouts. 

So they're now inside the cloud (and Spock is still fucking droning on about some science break-down that no one is paying any attention to), and we get some some full-on Sexy Budget backgrounds. I can't be 100% certain, but I think that's tempura paint, like the kind you fingerpaint with in preschool? And good God, it's gorgeous. I'm reminded of the illustrations of Leo Lionni (the guy who did the kids' book Swimmy). Plus, it works so well here! Okay, I'm gonna move on before I start geeking out about saturated color.

So we're inside the cloud, and oh, no! Here come some rock things! Spock says that they're made of "gaseous anti-matter" and Scotty calls to say that the drain on the power supply is really heavy right now because so much of it is being dumped into the shields. Kirk decides to zap the rocks with some kind of anti-matter charge several times. The rocks blow up.
"Spock, what the hell just happened?" he asks.
Well, your ship was eaten by some kind of space cloud. Then, while you were in the space cloud, your ship was approached by rocks. Without doing anything but a material scan, you panicked and had them destroyed. You have no idea what those things were. As per the usual, you shot first, and asked questions later.

So Spock has a theory as to what is going on: he thinks the cloud is alive. Bones concurs and says (despite not having been given any information on this earlier) that they're floating in some kind of enzyme, which will eventually corrode the hull of the ship if the shields fail. So there's our Disable the Ship subplot: the shields could fail.

Uhura says that she has Governor Wesley on the line, and Kirk has it transferred to his quarters. Wesley tells Kirk that he can only save some people, so he's saving the kids, some 5,000 people out of millions.

Was someone not paying attention, or did they just not care that Bob
Wesley's shoulder ended up in the wrap-around screen?

This doesn't sit well with Kirk, who goes back to the bridge and tells his senior officers that they have to come up with a plan to get the ship out of the cloud and simultaneously save millions of people. Kirk treats everything like the Kobayashi Maru: everything is solvable if you cheat right, and also, because he's the all-powerful Kirk. I don't know if it irks me more that every week, he asks the impossible of his crew, or if it's more annoying that, every week, they magically pull the solution out of their asses.
So they start a convo about their situation, and Spock surmises that the cloud is like the planet-killer from The Doomsday Machine, only it uses the planets as food. Bones thinks that the rocks that are again surrounding the ship act like teeth, breaking up the stuff that the cloud consumes. Arax puts up a slide that someone made of the cross-section of a head of cauliflower, and that's what the inside of the cloud looks like. He's even added a yellow dot. The cloud is a shopping mall shaped like a cauliflower, and YOU ARE HERE.

While trying to figure out where the food court is, and remembering that the whole thing IS a food court, and that the Enterprise is that cheap taco place, Kirk decides that the opening that they came through is closed, but that they can probably escape through the opening at the other end. I'd like to point out three things here: one, the opening they came through is still clearly open; two, he is proposing that they allow themselves to be literally shit back out into space; and three, if you haven't guessed it already, this is Star Trek's version of Fantastic Voyage
Apparently, the idea of shrinking a ship and crew down to microscopic size and injecting them into a living being is such a darling of the science-fiction crowd that it's actually referred to as a "Fantastic Voyage plot." I bet you can name half a dozen shows that have had one. It's just another troupe on Star Trek Bingo.
So The Shat gives the command for the ship to be shit out the back.

The E moves into a different part of the cloud's anatomy, and some explosions go off within the cloud. Bones says that they've moved into what corresponds with the small intestine, and that the forms they see outside are similar to villi, which live in said intestine and help the body absorb nutrients. However, these villi things are made of anti-matter, so if they touch one, they'll explode. Gee, why don't you just shoot them like you did with the rocks? No? You're gonna navigate around to the anus instead? Okay, then.
We get some shots here where everything is shown through that wavering filter, like everything is under water, but it isn't consistent.

Scotty calls. "Bitch, what'd I tell you about the shields draining the power to the engines?"
"Yeah, sorry," says Kirk. "Crank that shit up," he tells Arax when he hangs up with Scotty.

Kirk's Log, supplemental: "We have 15 minutes until we run out of juice for the engines, and about 3 hours until the cloud eats Mantilles."

Kirk goes down to engineering to talk to Scotty.
"Quit wasting power," says Scotty. "Shields or engines: pick one." 
Kirk shakes his head. "Gotta have both."
"Um, didn't you say that the villi are made of anti-matter? What's to stop me from building a containment unit, using a phaser to slice off a piece of one, beaming it into the container, and then dropping it into the engines?" asks Scotty.
Kirk considers it. "Yeah, but... what about the matter part of the engines? We have to refill those too."
"So what? There's chunks of planets floating around in here. We'll just beam some of that aboard as well," answers Scotty.

Look how much cooler the animated engine room is!

So they slice off a piece of the villi things, and beam it into a box. For whatever dumb reason, Kirk goes back to engineering with Scotty to help him put the thing into the engine. Why is another Red shirt not doing this job? It's dangerous enough to warrant that the captain not be involved. Also, shouldn't his ass be on the bridge where it belongs? I'll tell you why. Because Kirk has major Fear Of Missing Out, that's why. Straight-up FOMO says that he has to have his fingers in every damn pie available. He can't even claim that it's regulations or anything. Remember in "The Ultimate Computer" when the M-5 computer unit puts together an away team for a hypothetical mission, and it does not include Kirk or Bones because they're "unnecessary" to the mission? Yep. Kirk has FOMO, and always picks his friends for his teams.
So anyway, you remember that chain-link fence in the engine room that indicates that there is space and stuff back there, but it's inaccessible to most people in most cases because of the fence? You can actually see it in the background of the screencapture above. Through the magic of animation, we get to see the space behind it in the next scene:

Kirk and Scotty have two minutes to get the box with the villi down to the door at the other end of the corridor. Why they couldn't just beam the whole thing onto the other side of the door is beyond me. So they run it down, push it into the next room, and comm an unseen Red shirt to close the door and remove the box, leaving the villi inside. Then they high-tail it back out of there.

Hey, look at that, Kirk and Scotty have found the clitoris. This show
really does boldly go!

It works. Scotty has (partially) saved the day. So that's the first half of Disable the Ship taken care of - now they have to get it out of the cloud. Then they can save millions of people.

Up on the bridge, Spock tells Kirk that he thinks that the cloud-thing has a brain.
"Cool," says Kirk. "We can destroy the brain with photon torpedoes."
There we go. Kirk has decided to kill another space buffalo. How awesome. As they should, everyone on the bridge turns and gives him their best WTF faces.
"Not cool," says Bones. "We're not here to kill intelligent life forms."
Spock starts to talk about Starfleet regulations, but Kirk waves him off, because he's already appointed himself as judge, and decided that the cloud is worth killing if it means saving Mantilles.

Kirk's Log 5372.0: "Even though everyone thinks it's a dumb idea and against regulations, I've set Uhura and Spock to figuring out where we should fire the torpedoes to kill the cloud."

So now Kirk starts Hamletting in his chair.
"Am I doing the right thing?" he asks Bones, even though he said a few minutes ago that he was. "Is it cool to kill this thing?"
And even though Bones a second ago said it was the wrong thing, he's now pointing out that Kirk can't let the cloud eat Mantilles.
Okay, I get it. It's a difficult decision. But is it so difficult that characters who were saying "yes, definitely" two seconds ago are now saying "no, definitely not"? because it makes Kirk appear wishy-washy, and Bones now looks like a bad adviser.
"Hey, so, your dumb plan isn't going to work anyway," says Spock. "Because I ran all the numbers, and even if we threw everything we had at the cloud-brain, it still wouldn't make a difference."

"Actually," he adds unhelpfully, "if you really wanted to kill the brain, you'd have to convert the entire ship to energy, and use that as a weapon. That would do the job."
Oh yes, Spock. Suggest to Kirk that he become a martyr. That's a great idea.
Kirk calls Scotty and has him set up the self-destruct sequence in engineering, with the controls routed to the bridge.
Governor Wesley calls. They have thirty minutes left, and can see the cloud approaching. He said there was some hysteria, but they have made plans to evacuate those 5000 kids. Just to sprinkle on some feels, Star Trek has Kirk ask Wesley where his eleven-year-old daughter Katie is, and Wesley replies that she is there with him.
Now, after having Scotty set in motion a plan that would have the entire crew sacrificing themselves in order to murder an alien life-form, Kirk asks Spock if there was a way to establish whether or not the cloud is really intelligent. He suggests a mind-meld. Spock thinks about it, and while he says that he would need physical contact for that, he can pseudo-science his way through it using other means. Uhura offers to patch the alien's responses in through the comm system, filtering it through the universal translator.

Kirk's Log 5372.1: "We have seven minutes left until the cloud eats Mantilles. Spock and Uhura have been working on getting the communications stuff up and running to see if we can talk to it."

Scotty confirms with Kirk that he has the big red button set up. Spock is ready to go, and he gets his gear ready, then sits in his chair, reaching out with his arms while reaching out with his mind. The rest of the crew looks away politely, because he looks ridiculous. He establishes contact.
"Hey, hi out there," he says in his mind. "You're not alone."
"What?" comes the response. 
It's Majel Barrett, affecting her best alien-cloud voice. Also, this is a pretty good response. If you suddenly started getting messages from the vending-machine burrito you ate for lunch, wouldn't your first words to it be "what?" as well?

"I'm inside you," he says.
"What?" it answers again.
He tries to put into words an explanation for "very small ship in your digestive tract, which holds four hundred living beings." He then tries to explain "living beings on the planets you consume will die if you consume them." The cloud then replies that it senses the people on Mantilles, but says they are small enough that it does not recognize them as life.
Spock says that he would like to swap minds with the cloud for a bit. He has the common decency to at least ask and get permission first. When he stands up and opens his eyes, Kirk says to Bones that the cloud has inhabited his body. I'd like to point out that all they have been hearing is the cloud's part of the conversation, so there's no way for him to have known that. It's exposition thrown in so that the audience will understand, but it's done in a way that makes no sense.
With a minute or so to go, Kirk asks Uhura to put up shots from Earth on the viewscreen so the cloud-thing can experience them through Spock. included are a few short sequences from an animated Lassie show that Filmation probably had lying around.

Both Scotty and Sulu asks Kirk what he wants to do concerning the whole "blow up the ship" thing. But then Spock gets back in his chair in his "testify!" pose, and Sulu reports that the cloud has stopped moving toward Mantilles, and the cloud-voice says "I understand. I do not want to eat the beings."
The cloud is shown backing off Mantilles. Spock tells the cloud that it will encounter a lot more planets like that, with beings on it, and if it doesn't wish to consume the beings, then it must avoid them. He suggests that it returns to its point of origin. The cloud agrees.

"Hooray!" says Kirk. "You did it!"
He sets Uhura to telling Wesley he can bring the kids back, and Sulu is told to navigate out through the back end of the cloud... kind of where the brain is.
"What was it like, being joined with that cloud-thing?" Kirk asks Spock. "Was it awesome?"
"It was," says Spock. "It was pretty freaking sweet."
And the cloud craps out the Enterprise.

So this episode was okay. It utilized the medium of animation pretty well, including backgrounds, sets and special effects. But the story was kind of contrived, and melded the "Fantastic Voyage" trope with the old "we found a thing in space and need to communicate with it" story that Star Trek likes to write. I like it better when they encounter new races, but "random space thing" isn't the worst idea ever. I'm sure there are random things in space that one would struggle to communicate with, so devoting an episode or two to that topic is alright. I find myself asking what the main plot was, and what the side plot was - "we have to save Mantilles from the carnivorous cloud?" or "we have to escape from this cloud." It seems like a weird grey area. Netflix descriptions of this episode list the saving of Mantilles as the plot, but they spend so much more time not only exploring the cloud, but plotting how to escape it than they do on Mantilles itself.
The title also presents a grey area for me. It's sort of... I dunno, little kids' show? The title of a book for beginning readers? I looked into it, to see why they would select such a thing. After all, if the planet we're talking about is Alondra, it isn't missing - the cloud ate it. And Alondra, while being the hook for the beginning of the story, is talked about for all of two minutes. Turns out, the original phrase is "One of our aircraft is missing" and was the phrase used by the media in England during WWII to indicate that people were missing in action and presumed injured or dead. It's also the name of a film about the same subject, and quite a few other films and television shows have used the phrase "One of our X is missing" either as an homage to the original movie, or a parody.


Rumor came home from drill last weekend, and he brought the plague with him, so naturally, I'm having to work, run errands, and watch Netflix with a freshly grated and zested throat. I asked Google what kind of tea is most beneficial to that sort of thing, and while I assumed it would be like Lemon-Ginger or something, it turned out to be chamomile. Of course, that is the one tea we have none of. We did, however, have a bunch of loose packets of Constant Comment that Roomie pilfered from somewhere, like an old lady stealing saltine crackers from a restaurant. 
I had yet to try it, and was intrigued by the story behind the name: the Bigelow company had made this blend with no name, and a friend of the owners threw a tea party where she was encouraged to brew the blend. The party-goers kept remarking on the aroma and flavor, basically "constantly commenting." They decided that this was a good name, and it stuck.
So I said "Screw it," and brewed a cup of that. Or I would have if I had a voice left. All of this lovely snark is wasted in the echo-chamber of my own head.
What does it taste like? A spicier chai? Something that includes the word "holiday" in it's name? One of those. It's a spicy black, not really my cup of Earl Grey, but not terrible, either. I added honey (seriously, like half that bear is gone because I've been using it in place of Nyquil), which was actually pretty good.
Bottom line: if you like a spicy tea, you'll probably enjoy Constant Comment.

Tiny Kirk


  1. Hey!! I do not pilfer saltines!

    1. I didn't say you pilfer saltines. I said you pilfer individual tea bags like old ladies pilfer saltine cracker packages. Sim-i-le, nerd-o. Schoolhouse Rock.