Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Week: "The Gaileo Seven"

Stardate: 2821.5

Aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise is Galactic High Commissioner Ferris (John Crawford), a dignitary who is being transported, along with medicine, to Makus III. There, a terrible plague has broken out in the New Paris Colony.

En route to Makus III, however, the Enterprise encounters the quasar phenomenon known as Murasaki 312. Captain Kirk has standing orders to investigate all quasars, no matter the circumstances, and prepares a shuttle mission to do so over Ferris’s objections. The Enterprise has just two days to learn about the quasar before the ship must resume course for the plague-ridden planet.

Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) commands the shuttle mission, and must soon contend with more than anyone bargained for.  The “Murasaki” effect blinds the shuttle’s instruments -- and the Enterprise too -- and hurls the Galileo to the inhospitable surface of nearby Taurus II. 

There, on the mist-enshrouded planet, a tribe of hostile, ape-like giants threaten the shuttle crew, which includes Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley), Chief Engineer Scott (James Doohan), Yeoman Mears (Phyllis Douglas), Lt. Gaetano (Peter Marko) Lt. Latimer (Rees Vaughn), and Lt. Boma (Don Marshall).

The humans resist Spock’s attempts to command logically, especially as the situation grows increasingly deadly, and their numbers begin to die.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise searches for the missing shuttle, even as Kirk laments that the search is like “looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Much like “Balance of Terror,” “The Galileo Seven” seems largely inspired by another production from film history.  In this case, that film is Five Came Back (1939), the story of a small airliner, the Silver Queen, which crashes in a South American jungle with nine people aboard.

As is the case in “The Galileo Seven,” a number of difficult choices must be made if anyone is to survive the crash in Five Came Back. As the survivors in the Amazon repair the plane, they must cast off any unnecessary weight, repair a fuel leak, and contend with hostile natives and their deadly weaponry).  

All three of these concepts are translated “The Galileo Seven." 

The crew removes unnecessary equipment (to lighten the load for escape velocity), and Scotty drains the crew’s phasers to use as energy after a fuel leak. And, of course, those giant ape monsters and their over-sized spears substitute for the natives in Five Came Back.

Intriguingly, Spock's inspiration -- to electrify the shuttle hull and scare off the aliens -- seems piped in from another work of art, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In that book, by Jules Verne, the Nautilus's hull is similarly electrified, so as to repel attacking cannibals.

But as was the case in “Balance of Terror,” Star Trek (1966-1969) is not content merely to emulate.  Instead, it utilizes the outline or structure of Five Came Back (which starred a young Lucille Ball) to examine more deeply the character of Mr. Spock.

We are told, explicitly, for example, that this mission represents Mr. Spock’s first command.  Although in “The Menagerie” we learn that he has been in the service for at least 18 years, this is apparently Spock's first opportunity to lead a landing party. Naturally, Spock believes that logic is the basis by which he should lead (and which others should follow), yet must contend with a boatload of highly-emotional and occasionally down-right insubordinate humans.

In "The Galileo Seven" Spock serves as the veritable calm in the storm that surrounds those agitated individuals, and one wonders what, exactly they think would be served if he were to join them in their panic and dismay. 

In times of a crisis, cool heads -- not panicky, reactive ones -- are what is required, and Spock proves his dignity and intelligence again and again in this episode by not taking the bait from Boma, Gaetano and even McCoy on several occasions.  They are combative, insulting and rude, but he never stops being analytical and decisive.

Therefore, one can see how this episode is really about leadership, and what it takes to lead, inspire, and save lives in a crisis situation.  Spock proceeds from a brilliant point of view, that “there are always alternatives,” and then uses logic as long as it seems useful in achieving its ends.  When logic is no longer useful, Spock does what any good leader would: he adapts to the facts on the ground.  

In the episode’s final scenes, he determinedly commits an illogical act, realizing it offers the only possibility of survival for those wards he commands. Specifically, Spock ignites the remaining fuel, creating a visible distress signal in space. His hope is that the Enterprise will see it...and he is right.

The line “there are always alternatives” comes back in Star Trek history, after a fashion, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), but as the synonymous “there are always possibilities” instead.

Another great line in the episode establishes Spock’s respect for all life, even if it is openly hostile. “I’m frequently appalled by the low regard you Earthmen have for life,” he says, and Spock has a point.  

The denizens of Taurus II -- as blood-thirsty as they may seem -- are on their own planet, and it is the crew of the Galileo that comprises the invading force under these circumstances. These primitive beings don’t act all that differently than we might, were an alien vessel to land on the surface of Earth, in close proximity to our homes. The humans aren’t able to contextualize this experience, and thus prove as vexing to Spock as the ape creatures do.  They just want to kill, out of a need to defend themselves.  Spock's saner head prevails, though at a cost (especially for Latimer and Gaetano.)

What I love about Spock is that as an outsider, he can comment on this matter of humanity's low regard for life. At the same time that he is on humanity’s side, he can point out that our brutal, murderous, fearful impulses run deep. 

Boma and Gaetano are extremely disrespectful and rude to Spock, yet he still does everything within his means to save their lives, thus actually proving his respect for life. They view him as callous and disregarding of life, yet the opposite is true. Spock is playing an a whole different level, realizing that he must save his crew while not attacking or destroying alien life…which abundantly has a right to exist on its own world.

When “The Galileo Seven” focuses on Spock, his value system, and his attempt to better understand what leadership is, the episode really works brilliantly. 

By contrast, the scenes aboard the Enterprise are not nearly so effective or well-wrought.

For example, Kirk is nasty and mean-spirited to Commissioner Ferris from the first moment the character appears on the bridge.  

And here’s the thing: Ferris is right. Many people are dying in New Paris, and so that is where the captain’s primary responsibility must rest.  No matter Kirk’s standing orders regarding quasars, he makes a mistake putting a scientific study ahead of an emergency. 

One must assume Kirk had some idea that a quasar could result in scrambled scanners and communications.  One must also assume that Kirk knew he would be working against an extremely tight deadline: just 48 hours.

Also baffling is the fact that Kirk assigned his first officer, chief medical officer, and chief engineer to such a dangerous, time-limited mission.  

What exactly is Scotty’s purpose in this investigation? McCoy’s? 

Yet instead of taking responsibility for his choice -- and also decimating his command staff -- all Kirk does in “The Galileo Seven” is take a piss on Ferris.   

Really, given Kirk’s verbal affronts, Ferris acts with tremendous (and commendable) restraint. Kirk really should be reported to his higher-ups for jeopardizing not one mission, but two, and then for taking out his anger on the commissioner.

But, “The Galileo Seven” also sadly includes a not-really-great aspect of Star Trek that re-appears in the franchise again and again. 

What is this trope?  

That Starfleet officials (and particularly diplomats) are viewed as arrogant, know-nothing, power-hungry, and occasionally corrupt individuals.

These officers have names like Stocker (“The Deadly Years,”) Fox (“A Taste of Armageddon,”) Nilz Baris (“The Trouble with Tribbles,”) and Morrow (The Search for Spock) to name just a few. The overall impression is that only Kirk and Enterprise crew members know best, and are reacting from honest or pure motives.

It's a little naive.

Outside of that select group of crew-members stands the “the purview of the diplomats” (to quote The Undiscovered Country), and it is a terrifying place, apparently. 

This cliché of wrong-headed superiors continues into the era of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and it’s a bit offensive not because diplomats are always right, but because these individuals usually appear to create some sort of artificial dramatic threat or challenge for the main characters and their camaraderie.

It’s easy to create an outsider to do that, instead of having a regular character voicing a provocative view-point. yet it would be wonderful, too, to show that the wisdom of the Federation and Starfleet extends to those high-up in hierarchy, as well as those on the front lines of battle/exploration.

Basically, “The Galileo Seven” has an A story and a B story. The A story is a space-age Five Came Back and a fascinating exploration of Spock’s ability to lead (and deal with human prejudice). 

The B story on the Enterprise is a time waster that relies on Kirk making bad decisions, and also on the presence of a character who exists solely to be a pain in his ass, even though his cause is actually just and worthwhile.

Finally, the episode has an absolutely risible conclusion. Everybody on the Enterprise bridge guffaws -- for an uncomfortably long time -- at Spock's stubbornness, and boy is the scene cringe-inducing.  Spock's comments aren't that funny.

And on a realistic basis, should Captain Kirk be encouraging the tormenting and mocking of the dignified Vulcan science officer on the command deck of his starship?  

After all, we just saw, on the planet surface, what happens when humans treat this character so informally, and lightly.  They are encouraged to be nasty to him, and to question his orders. 

One last observation about "The Galileo Seven:" I like the actress who plays Yeoman Mears, but it is impossible, again, not to consider how much stronger a show this would be if it were Grace Lee Whitney’s Yeoman Rand aboard the Galileo with Spock and the others.  Rand is greatly missed in these shows, and instead we get a rotating list of mostly interchangeable yeoman (Barrows, Mears, Ross) instead.


  1. I always liked "The Galileo Seven" for two reasons. First, the story with these characters in danger, although I thought it was strange that you would need that many people to investigate Murasaki 312. It was a shuttlecraft filled with "red shirts" ready to be killed for the story. Secondly, the production design, that is the entire episode use of the Galileo 7 Shuttlecraft.


  2. One of my most disliked episodes.

  3. Anonymous10:13 PM

    Another favorite of mine and my parents.