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E2 Star Trek episode guide : Original Series : Season Two

Amok Time

Episode number: 30
Airdate: September 15, 1967
Stardate: 3372.7

Writer: Theodore Sturgeon
Director: Joseph Pevney

Background

Amok Time is one of the most famous episodes of the original Star Trek series. In a nutshell, Spock begins to endure the Vulcan mating ritual of pon farr and must be returned to Vulcan in order to be reunited with the fiancée no one knew he had.

This is the oft-cited episode during which Kirk and Spock fight each other on Vulcan.

Story (with spoilers)

Spock is, to put it mildly, having a bad few days. He's irritable and he even gets uncharacteristically violent when Nurse Chapel brings him some soup. He pleads for some time off so he can return to his home planet and Kirk agrees, though Starfleet puts the kibosh on that when it orders the Enterprise to attend an inauguration on another planet.

Spock defies Starfleet (and Kirk) and clandestinely orders Pavel Chekov, an ensign newly promoted to navigator, to head back to Vulcan. When Kirk confronts him, he doesn't remember doing it. Spock submits to a medical exam, and while Dr. McCoy can't pinpoint exactly what's wrong, he acknowledges that something's happening to Spock and, left untreated, it could kill him.

Kirk, confused, demands to know what's going on. Spock is embarrassed and doesn't want to talk about it. Pressed further, and after Kirk promises him he won't tell anyone, the Vulcan explains that it concerns biology — reproduction, to be precise. Vulcans go through a mating cycle called pon farr every few years and have to return to their home planet in order to make it happen. And he'll die if he doesn't go.

"The birds and the bees are not Vulcans, Captain."

Faced with the possibility of losing his first officer, Kirk disobeys Starfleet and takes the ship to Vulcan. Nurse Chapel, who's in love with Spock, goes to his quarters to tell him they're headed to his home planet after all. He suggests they not "protest (their) true natures" and asks her to make him more of the soup she'd attempted to bring him earlier.

As the ship nears Vulcan, an incoming transmission conveys a message from T'Pring, whom Spock identifies as his "wife." (Nurse Chapel looks crushed.) They're not officially married yet; the deal gets sealed on Vulcan in a ceremony to which he's allowed to bring his friends. He invites Kirk and McCoy to go with him and they beam down to the planet.

Once at the appointed place, they meet up with T'Pring, a Vulcan named Stonn who's always next to T'Pring for some reason, and T'Pau, a Vulcan elder. It all seems very straightforward; T'Pau will officiate and the others will be witnesses. (Or will they?)

Things hit a snag, however, when T'Pring invokes her right to have the whole thing settled with a cage match between Spock and someone of her choosing. She doesn't even choose the guy who's been standing next to her the whole time; she chooses Kirk. The captain is relieved, since he thinks he can just let Spock overpower him, bringing everything back to normal. T'Pau sets him straight, however; this is a fight to the death, and Spock's pleas that Kirk not be allowed to participate go unheeded.

And so, accompanied by some totally rad fight music, Kirk and Spock duke it out. McCoy receives T'Pau's permission to inject Kirk with something that will help level the playing field since he's not accustomed to exerting himself in the planet's thinner atmosphere (doping was not a hot-button issue on Vulcan, it seems). The fight continues until Spock overpowers Kirk, dealing one particularly effective blow, and the captain appears lifeless.

Thinking he's killed Kirk, Spock snaps out of the pon farr-induced state he's been in for the last few days. McCoy takes Kirk back to the ship, leaving Spock to tell T'Pring that he doesn't want to go through with it. It turns out that she doesn't either — to no one's surprise, that Stonn guy is the one she's interested in — and she didn't choose him to fight Spock because she might lose him that way.

Back on the ship, Spock attempts to tell McCoy that he's going to surrender to Starfleet for having killed Kirk, which would put Scotty in command of the ship. Kirk appears then, asking Spock why he wouldn't check with him first. It turned out that McCoy had injected Kirk with a substance that would render him unconscious, simulating death. Seeing Kirk alive, Spock grins widely before realizing he's displayed emotion in front of people.

Spock explains that the fight seems to have snapped him out of the mating insanity. Uhura checks in, notifying them that T'Pau has cleared things up with Starfleet and secured them retroactive permission for their unapproved trip to Vulcan. McCoy calls Spock on his emotional display and Spock says his reaction was logical; he was merely relieved that "a highly proficient captain" hadn't been lost. McCoy doesn't believe him.

Review

Endlessly referenced and parodied, Amok Time is almost universally considered one of the best Star Trek episodes. How can you not love that legendary fight music? How can you not love that last scene? How?

This episode marks the first time we actually see Vulcan (though we find out that it has no moon in The Man Trap). The remastered DVD features shiny new establishing shots of the planet. It's pretty much a given that Kirk doesn't actually die — he's in the rest of season two as well as season three and the first seven Star Trek films (though the fact that a character who actually dies in Star Trek II appears in subsequent films does throw a wrench into that logic) but it's interesting to see how it's handled.

It's also nice to get some insight into some Vulcan traditions, even the ones they consider embarrassing (though necessary). Spock's half-human side is referenced when he begs T'Pau to not let Kirk fight (she more or less insinuates that his human half makes him a bit of a chicken) and we get some insight into what they think of that on Vulcan, as well.

On the whole, it's a more serious episode (not as intense as The City on the Edge of Forever but certainly not a light-hearted romp like Shore Leave) with great lighter moments capping it off.

It's one of my favourites. I can't even decide on a favourite part, but I'm awfully fond of the look on McCoy's face after Spock grins.

Trivia

  • The Futurama episode Why Must I Be A Crustacean In Love? parodies Amok Time, specifically with a sequence mirroring the fight scene. Sources such as Wikipedia don't currently note that prior to the fight, attendees are asked to stand for the national anthem, which turns out to be the Amok Time fight music. Win.
  • That same music would be used again in The Gamesters of Triskelion, during a similar fight sequence.
  • Listen carefully and you'll notice a slower version when Spock first talks about pon farr. Man, they got a lot of mileage out of that thing.
  • This episode marked the first appearance of the Vulcan salute and the expression "Live long and prosper."
  • Auduster says "This was written during one of the worst of Sturgeon's dead patches (he suffered severe writer's block, that only really broke when he fell in love with someone new). I think this was when Harlan Ellison had taken him under his wing and he was living in his spare room. Harlan takes a lot of credit for the last classic Sturgeon period of the 60's, and I think this is of that."

References:

http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Amok_Time
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0708416/
Several viewings.

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