Throwback Thursday: Retro Review—Star Trek: The Original Series—Shore Leave

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A couple of days ago, I was inspired by my children being on spring break, to write a somewhat spring break themed episode, which produced the piece “Retro Review: This Side of Paradise.” I currently still find myself among the trappings of spring break, and have decided therefore to produce another “retro review” in that same spirit. For while those aboard the Enterprise may not have spring break, they do have “Shore Leave.”

Season one episode fifteen begins with a physically and mentally exhausted Enterprise crew and none more so then their Captain. Upon arriving at a planet located in the Omicron Delta system, Kirk issues orders that the crew is to transport down to a class M planet that shows no signs of natives, animals, or insect life and enjoy a few days of shore leave. Finally the depleted and irascible Captain Kirk is persuaded by Spock to take some shore leave of his own down on the planets surface.

It seems to be an idyllic and peaceful planet at first, but it is not long before strange occurrences begin to take place.

Peculiar figures and events begin to occur, including but not limited to a sighting of Alice and the White Rabbit, a crew member being attacked by Don Juan, the appearance of Kirk's nemesis from his academy days, and of course it wouldn’t be Trek without one of Kirk's old flames making an appearance.

It is not long, however, before these strange and somewhat comical events become deadly, when Dr. McCoy is impaled by a knight who is then shot with a revolver by Kirk. Through further investigations, Kirk and Spock finally figure out that somehow the planet is taking thoughts or fantasies that they are having and manufacturing them into reality.

Finally, the “caretaker” of the planet appears and explains that the planet is basically a galactic amusement park where its visitors' thoughts and fantasies are produced underground and brought to the surface of the planet for them to experience. He goes onto explain that none of it is real, including the apparent death of Dr. McCoy, who had simply gone underground and been shown the facility where the people and objects are manufactured.

Kirk reinstates shore leave for the crew, and even stays on the planet himself to take his own shore leave with his old flame.

This episode went through several rewrites for Rodenberry found the original script to lean to heavily on the fantasy aspect of the story. Apparently, there was even a scene that was later cut, that depicted Kirk wrestling a tiger, which in my opinion, would have just been plain silly.

While I do find “Shore Leave” to be a solid outing for Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, I must say that upon another viewing, I have to admit that it is not my favorite episode of the original series.

Unless I missed it, it is never really explained how the Caretaker and his machines are able to read the minds of the planets' visitors. The caretaker just simply says that they are able to do so, and this is easily accepted because, well… it's Star Trek.

I find the concept of an amusement planet that uses the thoughts and fantasies of its guests to create the attractions an interesting one. However, Rodenberry’s thoughts seem to mirror my own, which is to say that the episode quickly delved a little too much into a realm of fantasy for my liking.

Please don’t misunderstand me. If you will forgive the pun, this is light years away from the worst episode of Trek or even the original series, I just found that it leaned fairly heavily on the fantasy tropes for my tastes.

            While it is a fun jaunt through a strange planet, this episode has a complete lacking of salient or poignant points to make, hard questions to ask, or any social commentary. It is a fun episode, and a clever blend of science fiction and fantasy, but it doesn’t seem like at any point do Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise face a moral or ethical dilemma.

Having said, it is not always necessary for a moral or ethical dilemma to be present. In fact some of the best episodes of Trek are completely devoid of those shades of grey and are largely comical (see “The Trouble with Tribbles”).

            In conclusion, while “Shore Leave” could be a little on the fantastic side for some such as myself, I still find it to be a solid episode of Trek, with an inventive story line and strong performances from its main cast as always.


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