Warp Speed to Nonsense

Warp Speed to Nonsense

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

ST:TAS Season One, Episode Eleven: "The Terratin Incident"

"The Terratin Incident"
Air Order: 11
Star Date: 5577.3
Original Air Date: November 17, 1973

Sorry for this late posting. My schedule last week filled up in such a way that I wasn't able to find time to do my write-up. Then I got freaking food poisoning. Yaaaaay.


 Kirk's Log 5577.3: "So the mission this week is to check out some burned-out super nova called Arachna. We're gonna map it and stuff."

While prepping to chart the gas cloud Arachna, Uhura gets a call in that she can't decipher. She puts it on speaker, and Spock reports from the science station that it's just random noise, but then he interrupts himself to say that he is picking up a pattern in a code that hasn't been used in two hundred years. The one word that he can make out of "terratin." Uhura says that the code is being broadcast from Cepheus, a planet nearby that hasn't been explored. She attempts to answer back, but the signal isn't being acknowledged. Kirk decides to go to Cepheus to check it out. Bones tells him it's a damn waste of time to walk away from their mapping project to check out a noise in the dark. Kirk replies that he's going anyway.

Spock does some quick research and finds a little bit of info: basically, it's a class-M planet, and there are crystals everywhere on the surface. When they get in front of the thing, Kirk orders Sulu to put them into orbit. But before he can do so, they receive a very light impulse from the surface. We get a weird bit here and I can't figure out if they're killing time in a short episode, or if they're establishing how the ship works as a whole: Kirk asks around to make sure everything is still functioning normally. The various stations on the bridge check in, so Kirk calls engineering and sick bay. Scotty says his engines are "purring like kittens" and Bones reports back that all is well with the animals that they're experimenting on, which are apparently the ghosts of the mice from The Secret of Nihm.

Christine also chimes in to say that their "halo fish" is doing well, which means that things are okey-dokey, because the halo fish will change color if the environment changes. I guess this is the whole reasoning behind checking in with everyone after that very minor impulse - we have to establish that there is a fish tank in sick bay. Spoiler alert: someone falls into the fish tank later. Spoiled spoiler alert: it's Christine.
Determining that everything is fine, Kirk once again asks that they go into orbit around Cepheus, and that they do scans and sweeps and all that other crap that they do when they show up someplace randomly. Arax starts doing these tasks, and while reporting about lava flows and crystalline structures, there is a steady beam of light aimed at the E, and Arax yells out because he was looking directly at it.

So I guess that beam of light killed them all, because there's a lot of Dramatic music! and everyone becomes a flashing ghost.

Naw, just kidding. Everyone is fine. Kirk does another round of asking about the status of things, and all reports come back okay, but Scotty says the dilithium crystals are completely FUBAR. Kirk and Spock go down to check it out. The crystals look weird, and Spock says that they are falling apart in a spiral pattern. Some woman named Briel in the mess hall calls out over the com system that the people there are now much smaller than the chairs and tables. And then there's this super-sexist line:

Okay, we get it. Shit in there is big. Why isn't it "People are losing rings, hairpins. Some are near panic"? While it's less likely for a guy to lose a hairpin than a girl, anybody can wear a ring, and anybody can panic.
It's the same when Kirk and Spock reach the bridge. They argue whether the ship is expanding, or they are shrinking.
Dramatic music! Commercial break!

Kirk's Log 5577.5: "Well, we're screwed now. We tiny, getting tinier, and we don't have enough steam to get out of here."
Uhura can reach her controls and is having to crawl over the panels to work her station. Kirk calls Bones to see if the good doctor knows what the hell they're looking at. Bones suggests that he come down to sick bay to check out his research on it. I want to briefly call BS on this request: things are going to be easier if Bones just tells them what he has to say over the comm system. If the bridge is at the top of the ship, and sick bay somewhere roughly around the middle, then it will take them some time to get there at normal height. At the severely diminished height they are at, it will take them much longer to get there, and much longer to get back. They have to take a lot more steps in order to get the same distance. They'll take the lift, which will cut out a bunch of that distance, but not all of it.
Anyway, they cut the travel time out of the episode and merely show the trio standing on top of one of the medical tables.

So they hand out some explanation about how everything is the same physically with them, but the space between the molecules is shrinking, which is why they are smaller now. Bones says that weight and mass are the same, and the science here goes over my head, but someone on IMDB who sciences more than I do says that this is crap, because the characters are shown moving dials and levers, and there's a bit about weight and mass and stuff. I dunno. All I know is, some of the science on here sounds like pure BS, and some of it sounds do-able. I do know that writers were encouraged to contact actual scientists to make sure something sounded feasible, but this was the early seventies, so the science may have been incorrect then. It's also possible that writers just shrugged that shit off and figured that the fiction part of science-fiction would save their asses. "Nobody will notice the inaccuracy if it's entertaining... unless some dick-ish blogger comes along in forty years and calls me out on that."
*smiles and wiggles fingers at writers in most white girl way ever*                                      
So because everything that's living is shrinking, Christine points out that the caged animals are now too small to fit in the cages, and that the halo fish is now the size of a tadpole, which is a weird way to compare sizes. If I said to you, "That tiger is the size of a sofa," it would work. If all of us shrank down, tiger included, and I said, "That tiger is the size of a house cat," then yeah, that tiger really could be the size of a house cat. But relatively speaking if we all got smaller at the same rate, that tiger to us would still be the size of a sofa.
"Look how small the mice are!" she says, holding the mouse in her hand. The mouse always fit in your hand, Christine. This is not astonishing that you are relatively larger than said mouse.

You know what I actually really like about this episode? The clothing issue is addressed. In pretty much every show or movie or book or whatever where someone either grows or shrinks to crazy proportions, the clothes grow or shrink with them. It's a crapshoot as to whether or not accessories grow or shrink with them. Bruce Banner's clothes shred from his body when he becomes the Hulk, but amazingly, those pants seem to grow with him in the important area, so I guess those are magic. Here, Spock points out that their clothes are made of some kind of organic material, so they shrink at the same rate as the people wearing them. My God, was that so hard to come up with? Take note, other "incredible shrinking whatever" plots: it is possible to address this in logical ways. This is also the reason given for the non-shrinking metal accessories, like the hairpins and rings in that earlier comment.
So now we know that the shrinking thing only affected organic matter, and they explain this with the spiral thing that Spock was talking about in engineering. The spiral thing that was happening to the dilithium is happening to their DNA, which is a double-helix. Bones says that eventually, the DNA will stop winding, so Kirk is confident that they can figure out how small they get if they keep shrinking down.
I awarded points to Star Trek for coming up with that organic clothing thing, but now I must take them away. There is no travel time involved in any of this. First they were on one of the medical tables. Then they were on the floor. Now Spock is standing on the table with the fish tank. At no point in time did they stop their conversation to scale any furniture. Fuck, dude. Hasn't anybody on this show watched anything where the characters shrank?

But then in the very next scene, they take care to show Spock and Kirk on the bridge, and Spock scales his science station chair to get at the console.

Kirk's Log 5577.7: "Shit, son. We're gonna lose control of the ship in 32 minutes, when we become too small to run the controls."

Sulu starts to lose his shit. He insists that if they set the controls right, then they can fire the phasers at whatever on the surface is sending the shrink-ray wave-thing up to the ship. He tries to set a dial to do so, but the arm on the face of it swings around and knocks him off the console, breaking his leg. Despite the fact that everyone else was on other consoles on the other side of the bridge, they manage to dash to his side by the next frame.

So they splint Sulu's leg, and even though we get more time issues, we also get more logical problems that stem from being tiny: they help Sulu to the lift to get him to sick bay, but are now too small to be detected by the sensor that opens the lift doors. We'll ignore the fact that they probably would've wasted most of their remaining 32 minutes getting Sulu across the bridge. Also, the fact that gripping the handles inside the lift makes it go, and there's no way for them to have been able to climb the smooth, rounded walls to activate them.While we're at it, let's excuse the fact that they somehow had to climb onto the medical exam table with an injured man. Let's just skip straight to the part where Christine suggests that the best way to heal Sulu's leg is to use the bone knitter that's designed to be used on the middle ear.
Yes! Yes, yes! A regular bone knitter would probably be too big, but one designed for precision... awesome. Also, it was suggested by Christine, who is hella smart, but who only gets lines like "Yes, doctor" and "Right away, doctor." Two points, Star Trek!
She volunteers to get it, and while there isn't enough time for her to climb down, cross the floor, and climb another piece of furniture, we do see her making a bit of a journey amongst unidentified large objects. She grabs a thing that looks like a washer, but on her way back, she trips and falls into the fish tank.

Lots of dramatic music, and Christine yelling for help, despite the fact that she's at the bottom of a fish tank and her mouth is full of water. Hero Kirk somehow makes the journey to her in a split-second, and he tosses some string into the tank for her to grab ahold of before hauling her out. Miraculously, the laser bone knitter thingy is fine to use, despite taking a dunk in the fish tank. Sulu's leg is fixed.
Spock says that he has completed some calculations, and has determined that they'll probably stop shrinking around one-sixteenth of an inch, which is way too small to be able to run the ship.
Kirk decides that he should beam down to the planet's surface to see if he can stop the shrink-ray wave-thing before they become too small. Spock estimates he has twenty minutes left. I guess I'll go ahead and label that as Disable the Ship, but the timing in this episode is completely out of whack, so does it really matter? Kirk uses a huge comm device to call Scotty and request a team in the transporter room.

Kirk's Log, supplemental: "Rehash on the decision I just made. Beaming to the surface because I really don't have any other ideas right now."

Spock has thrown together a communicator that fits in Kirk's hand, and they ask Scotty to do an automatic beam-back in ten minutes. Spock mentions that the transporter has his original physical composition programmed in, and wonders aloud if it will restore Kirk to normal size when he beams down. Kirk is not certain. Scotty has a whole team of guys working the controls on the transporter panel, and they pull as one on the buttons to beam Kirk to the surface.

The hunch that Spock suggested was correct, and Kirk beams down full-sized, with a tiny communicator in his hand. I'm gonna be bitchy here and point out that that communicator should be much, much smaller.

Kirk calls the E and tells Spock that he was right about the transporter keeping his height and everything on file, then he gets a good look around. Shrink-ray beams, outcroppings of crystals, and exploding volcanoes. Spock lets him know that the shrink-ray wave-thing has stopped bombarding the E. There's an earthquake as a nearby volcano explodes, and Kirk is thrown backward. His comm device is eaten by lava, because of course it is. It's a bit of lame danger, though, as the transporter is set to bring him back in ten minutes. He didn't actually need it.

He runs toward the shrink-ray beams, and what the holy hell? A tiny city!

A few moments later, the automatic beam-back goes off, and Kirk returns to the E, full-sized. No one is in the transporter room. He ventures up to the bridge. Empty as well. Then he spots Scotty and three Reds on the floor near the helm. Scotty yells at him not to talk so loudly. Hmmm, points for noticing that a full-sized person would be exceptionally loud to someone with ears that tiny, but points off for not realizing that those Reds could not speak loudly enough to be heard by Kirk unaided.

Scotty yells up to Kirk that everyone is fine, but the bridge crew were transported off the ship a few minutes ago. Kirk sits at communications and tries to contact the tiny city. He's pretty pissed off that his bridge crew were taken, so he issues a threat: return his crew members, or be phasered off the surface of the planet. As a demonstration of his awesome powers, he disintegrates a crystal near the city.
The viewscreen turns on, revealing a dude and a bunch of other people. "Hey," says the dude. "I'm in charge of the Terratin people. Don't phaser me, bro. We have dilithium here for you. Sorry about the mess we made of your ship. We tried talking to you, but our communications are damaged, so we used our shrink-ray thing on you, hoping that you'd get our message. Our planet is dying."

"Yeah, that's awesome," says Kirk, waving them off. "Where are my people?"
"It's all good," says Arax, appearing on the screen. "The Terratins beamed us down. We're here in the city."
"So the Terratins are this lost Earth colony," exposits Spock from the surface. "Terrans called this planet Terra Ten, which is how that name came about. Their ancestors settled this planet, but the shrink-rays occur here naturally, and they were shrunk down to one-sixteenth of an inch high. Now it's just a genetic trait. That means that when Terrans swung by later to check in, they couldn't find the Terratins."

"We kind of screwed here," says the guy in charge. "The planet is dying, and we had no other means of contact. We're hoping you can help us out."
"Yeah, well, you screwed me," says Kirk. "You shrunk my guys, screwed up my fuel, then you kidnapped my bridge crew."
"It's cool, be cool," says the Terratin dude. "I'll send up your people with dilithium. When everything is good, will you help us then?"
So the bridge crew beams back on board with some crystals, and Kirk orders the remaining crew to beam down to the surface and back again in groups, to restore them to regular size.

Downstairs, the ground is cracking all around the city. The guy in charge asks the final batch of crew shrunken members if they will ask Kirk if he's going to save them or not.
Ex-squeeze me? Kirk has been using their transporters to make his crew right size again, and he hasn't even given the Terratins a straight answer as to whether or not he'll save their entire society, or even any of it at all? Damn, that's pretty douchey. I know he's pissed off, but shit, dude.

Up on the bridge, Kirk has the helm set course for Starbase 23, which instructions to get them the hell out of there.
"Um, hello?" asks Spock. "Tiny people on the surface, depending on our kindness? Hello?"
"Phaser the city," Kirk tells Sulu.
So we see phaser fire going off around the area surrounding the city, then it disappears, and reappears on the transporter pad. Kirk and Spock have miraculously made it down to the transporter room by the next frame, and Spock has had time to set up a macroscope.

Kirk uses the macroscope to tell the Terratins that they have a new planet picked out for them, ten days away.
"Cool, thanks," says the guy in charge. "We'd like to name your crew members honorary Terratins for helping us."
"We came pretty close to it being permanent rather than temporary," notes Spock.
"Yeah," says Kirk. "About..."
Wait for it...
Wait for it...
"...one-sixteenth of an inch close."
Ba dum tissssss.

Kirk's Log, supplemental: "Random rehash of everything that was just said in the previous scene, because the episode was a few seconds short."

This episode was kind of boring, to be honest. Normally, I enjoy a good miniaturization story line, but this was not terribly interesting. The good parts of those kinds of stories generally come from seeing the characters very tiny amongst things that are supposedly normal-sized. And frankly, an animated series is perfect for this kind of story, because no new sets need to be built. They can actually use background shots and stock footage from other episodes, then add the tiny characters on top. The thing is, part of the style of Star Trek is to do a lot of close-up shots, most likely in order to hide the fact that their budget was microscopic, and they were forced to phone it in on more complicated shots. So even though what you want to see in this episode is tiny Kirk against a backdrop of huge furniture, you're not going to get as much of that as you'd like.

Tiny Christine walks among the supplies on the shelf. What those
supplies are, we never learn. They only appear as giant orange columns.

Kirk in his chair at a half-way point.

The most interesting part of this episode came near the end, when we find out about the Terratins and their plight. I was really more interested in that story than the "how do we cope with this shrinking thing?" scenario. So out of a twenty-five minute show, I got about twenty minutes of "why are we shrinking?" and five of "this is why, and also lost colony of tiny people, and please relocate us." It was kind of along the lines of "bored, bored, bored, oh cool! Wait, it's over." Maybe it's the amateur archaeologist in me, but when Star Trek gives me an ancient civilization and then forces me to walk away immediately, I get annoyed.
"Hey! I was enjoying that! No, don't roll the credits - tell me more!"

Also, did anyone else notice a weird plot hole with the transporters? Maybe we were meant to fill in the blanks ourselves, or maybe it was explained in some earlier draft of the script and then eliminated, but when Kirk beams down to the surface, the transporter automatically corrects for his size, and beams him there at normal height, right? Not so for the bridge crew. The Terratins beamed them from the E into their city, at that one-sixteenth height. Are we supposed to fill in the blank, and assume that they had adjusted for the height differences ahead of time? And assuming that this was the case, what about all of the other crew members? They would have to be beamed from the E's transporter room onto the Terratin transporter pads rather than allowing the E's transporter chiefs to do it. Kirk set a whole crew in the transporter rooms once the bridge crew returned, so were they just there to supervise? What's more, it would have taken a chunk of time to restore the full crew to size. A complement of 430 crew members, around four transporter rooms with six pads in each room... that's 18 groups of people passing through the transporters, not once, but twice, and with dilithium in tow on the return trip. Seems like they should have run out of dilithium, time or both.

Lots of science this week, but with an extra dose of fiction to round it out.

Bratty discovers the joys of the heating pad.

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