“Friday’s Child”: The original Star Trek’s Christmas episode?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Actress Julie Newmar attends Day 2 of the Third Annual Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo held at Los Angeles Convention Center on November 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Actress Julie Newmar attends Day 2 of the Third Annual Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo held at Los Angeles Convention Center on November 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images) /

Was “Friday’s Child” meant as the original Star Trek’s “Christmas episode?”

Recently, the MeTV network advertised a Christmas-themed “Sunday Block Party” during its weekly, late Saturday night rerun of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS). I thought it a shame that TOS didn’t have a “Christmas episode” of its own to add to MeTV’s holiday mix.

Yes, Dr. Helen Noel—she of the seasonally appropriate surname—makes that tantalizing reference to “the science lab Christmas party” in “Dagger of the Mind,” and implants a false memory about it in Captain Kirk’s mind that leaves him, briefly, grinning ear to ear. But one scene does not a Christmas episode make, especially not an episode so somber and disturbing as “Dagger of the Mind.”

But then I remembered something Allan Asherman wrote, in the first edition of his Star Trek Compendium (Simon & Schuster, 1981), about “Friday’s Child.” I no longer have a copy of Asherman’s book, but if memory serves—and I’m quite sure it does—Asherman called the eleventh episode  of TOS’s second season “Star Trek’s ‘Christmas episode.’” He did so because the story features the birth of a baby in a cave, and because “Friday’s Child” first aired on December 1, 1967, just in time for the holiday season.

MeTV’s TOS rerun cycle is currently in the second season, and “Friday’s Child” was on deck earlier this month. I hadn’t watched this episode in decades and remembered very little about it, other than that Julie Newmar (pictured above) was a guest star, playing Eleen.

But I kept Asherman’s “Christmas episode” comment in mind as I watched. Had he been right to label it as such? TOS’s second season did, after all, bring us “Catspaw,” explicitly intended as a “Halloween episode.” Was it possible “Friday’s Child” was meant to be, as Asherman contended in the Compendium, “Star Trek’s ‘Christmas episode’”?

“Friday’s Child” evokes the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt

In “Friday’s Child,” Eleen does give birth to a baby boy in a cave, as the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus in a cave. (Luke 2.7 specifies only a manger—an animal’s feeding trough—not a stable, and the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem is built over the cave traditionally identified as Jesus’ birthplace.)

But this superficial similarity in itself does not make “Friday’s Child” a Christmas episode. We have no reason to think the conception of Eleen’s child was miraculous, as Christians claim Jesus’ conception was. And it seems unlikely Dorothy Fontana, who wrote “Friday’s Child,” meant Eleen to draw comparisons to Jesus’ mother.

Indeed, in an interview for These Are the Voyages: TOS Season 2, Fontana said:

"My feeling was that not all women are mommies. Some women do not like their children; some women do not want to have their children; some women abuse their children, and that was a very real fact for me."

Indeed, in Fontana’s original script, Eleen sacrifices her baby to save her own life. The Bible’s Christmas stories, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, give readers no reason to believe Mary would have made a similar choice.

The episode as we have it includes but softens Eleen’s dislike of her baby, especially in the corny but undeniably effective “The child is yours” exchanges she and Dr. McCoy have. But Eleen may yet be like Mary, and newborn Leonard James Akaar like the newborn Jesus, in a different way: They are political refugees.

In an interview in the May 1987 issue of Starlog, also preserved by Jarrah Hodge at her Trekkie Feminist website, Fontana said she “felt the story in which a woman and her unborn baby were the most interesting pawns in the game was an interesting one.” Because Eleen’s son is the rightful Teer of Capella, the lawful ruler of “the ten tribes,” he is a threat to Maab, who has killed the child’s father, Akaar. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy must take Eleen, still “great with child,” to the Capellan hills so she and her unborn child will be safe.

It’s all reminiscent of how Joseph takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2.13-15) to protect the child from King Herod, who views the newborn Messiah, the “King of the Jews,” as a threat to his own power. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were refugees, fleeing danger as much as Eleen and her baby do with the help of our Enterprise heroes.

“Friday’s Child” may be Star Trek’s Christmas episode, then, but not for the reasons Allan Asherman cited. Instead, like the Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel, “Friday’s Child” illustrates the dangerous lengths to which some people will go to hold on to power—and how a newborn child can be both a powerful threat to an unjust status quo, and a promise of a brighter future.

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