Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Original Series, Season 3: The Cloud Minders

Airdate: February 28, 1969
75 of 80 produced
76 of 80 released


In a desperate search for a substance which can avert a botanical plague on a Federation colony planet, the Enterprise visits Federation member planet Ardana, only to find a culture riven by economic inequity. Will they be able to navigate the tricky political minefield present in time to rescue the colonists?

So, Spock, was that thing about the penny true, or not?


Matthew: Although this is certainly in the allegorical category of TOS episodes (e.g. "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," "A Taste Of Armageddon," "A Private Little War"), the basic political message of this story is pretty overt - the ruling classes should not profit from the exploitation of the laborers. This script was produced in a highly altered form from a story idea by David Gerrold ("The Trouble With Tribbles"), in which the inequity becomes obvious due to the vast difference in medical care between workers and elites (similar to Voyager's "Critical Care"), with Kirk resolving the conflict by forcing the two sides to negotiate, with no obvious solution forthcoming (similar to "Battlefield").

Kevin: I think this episode's allegory works better than most episodes dealing with social injustice. It lacks the obviousness or the hamfisted-ness of other outings like "Battlefield." I also have to say that the same rhetoric of superiority and the dressed-up version of White Man's Burden came across far more chilling from characters like Droxine than Bele.

Matthew: Well, things got reworked, but in my opinion the meat of the message was left intact. Gerrold felt the solution was too pat, but I disagree. We don't know for a fact that the Troglytes will achieve equality, we just know they've been given a weapon in their struggle, gas masks that will close the intellectual gap between them and the Stratos dwellers. As it stands, there are still some juicy scenes, including Droxine and Vanna's spite-filled reunion, Kirk's polemic against torture (quite relevant today), and Droxine's attempted seduction of Spock. The only real hackneyed part of the plot is the old trope of the dire emergency on Colony X that requires Substance Y from Planet Z. But this really isn't terribly important, it's a MacGuffin at best.

Kevin: Overall, I enjoy the lack of a clean ending. There is no solution they could have come up with that would not have felt pat or hackneyed, so leaving it an open question felt more satisfying. I agree that the latest colony in mortal peril in need of a magic medicinal cure is annoying, but the episode needed a running clock for tension, and one reason is as good as another. I also like that the episode works as a discussion of both racial and economic injustice.

Matthew: In Spock's scene with Droxine, this episode lends credence to the theory that Vulcans can have sex even off of their normal Pon Farr cycles. One question - how could a Federation member have such a dysfunctional society? Perhaps membership policies were revisited after this incident.


Matthew: Jeff Corey was good as Plasus. He's one of those ubiquitous character actors who you feel you've seen a dozen times before. He really nails the fake-friendly/smarmy routine, which turns on a dime into ruthless and almost comically violent. Diana Ewing was good as Droxine, as well. In addition to her rock-hard abs, she was simultaneously very sweet and completely oblivious and elitist when confronted with the suffering of the Troglytes. Charline Polite was good, too, as the righteously indignant troglyte Vanna (and her abs weren't too shabby, either).

Kevin: Vanna was my personal favorite. I found her scheming quite delightful. Jeff Corey is another in a proud line of guest actors that manage to fill the screen, even opposite Captain Kirk. I found Spock's scenes with Droxine quite enjoyable, almost a hearkening back to "This Side of Paradise."

Matthew: For the crew, this was basically all Kirk and Spock. Dr. McCoy had a little scene devising the gas masks. Otherwise, it was the big two. They did fine. Nimoy was cool but showed layers under the seduction of Droxine, and Shatner was especially good when the mine gas was making Kirk aggressive.

Production Values

Matthew: There were a good number of experimental features in the production of this episode. The Ardanan terrain was an interesting shot of a Saudi Arabian floodplain taken from the Gemini spacecraft. It looked really cool. The effect of the Stratos city was neat and novel, both in the original and the remaster. We've never seen something in a TOS sky before. The other directorial feature was some interesting camera work on a voice-over sequence inside Spock's mind. The use of shots of different characters double-exposed with a shot of the city and the mines was very evocative and certainly broke the TOS mold. Director Jud Taylor's experiments didn't all work, but they were always interesting (he did five third season episodes, and all were pretty good, though his zoom work on the red alert indicator was kind of meh).

Kevin: The aerial shots of the landscape as well as the actual outdoor scenes were pretty good. I found the voice-over work interesting and novel in and of itself, but in the balance, I thought it felt a little slow. It's not fatal by any stretch, but still could have been trimmed a tad. I liked the masks. Sure, they're full of Nerds(TM) of various colors, but somehow, I just like it. 

Matthew: The set dressings on Stratos were very cool. I always enjoy seeing Sixties Modern artwork in the backgrounds of TOS shows. It really elevates the experience and gives you something interesting to look at in almost every frame.

Kevin: One of my favorite touches of the city was the multiple levels. All the rooms had sunken or elevated areas, balconies and terraces. It was a nice way of driving home the architecture of the city.

Matthew: William Ware Theiss created another masterpiece here with Droxine. Diaphanous, flowing, and revealing, this outfit really rocked. Plus...


Matthew: This one hit on all cylinders. It didn't go deep enough for a 5, but it had a strong premise, good acting and guest stars, and really neat production. It's squarely in the 4 range.

Kevin: I agree. This episode had drama, excitement, and a message that was maturely developed and executed. It gets a 4 from me too, for a total of 8.

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